Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

A Thanksgiving Postcard from Mars

A Postcard from Mars, @NASA

from the desk of Bob Siederer

Hello again Science fans!

We trust you all had a good Thanksgiving.

The picture above is a composite of two taken by NASA’s Curiosity Rover from the same spot, but at different times of the day. Both are black and white pictures, colorized by NASA, and were taken on the 3,999th day of Curiosity’s mission. Here’s some more detail on how this image was created. The picture is really something!

It has been quite the weekend for COVID-19, what with the discovery of a new variant, now dubbed omichron, that has around 50 mutations from the original COVID-19 virus. We don’t know much about this one yet, but some of these mutations have been seen in the Delta variant and are thought to make it easier to catch. Here’s the latest from the World Health Organization, which has designated Omichron as a “variant of concern”, their highest (worst) category. The lack of certainty regarding this variant isn’t stopping the general press from speculating, the stock market from reacting to the potential economic impact, nor governments from imposing strict travel restrictions. Those restrictions may be too little, too late though. The variant was first identified in South Africa and has since shown up in isolated cases in England, Hong Kong, Belgium, and Israel, and elsewhere. So far it has not been found in the US.

Here, an interview with a virologist at Emory University from The Atlantic about this new variant.

I’ve apparently been pronouncing the greek letter wrong all this time. The New York Times reports that the correct pronounciation is aa-muh-kraan. (British pronunciation is o-muh-kraan.)

So how did we get here? It might be useful to take a look at the path from a discredited 1998 study on vaccines to the public health crisis we face today.

Have you gotten your booster yet? A study from the UK Health Security Agency shows that the booster provides significant protection against symptomatic disease.

Moving on to space and the latest on the James Webb space telescope. The JWST was scheduled to go into space on December 18. A signficant vibration event that happened during final assembley of the payload caused a delay as NASA personnel examined and tested the scope for damage. None was found, so liftoff is now scheduled for December 22.

While the JWST will be looking at the universe in the infrared band of light, the Hubble Space Telescope uses the visible wavelengths. In almost 31 years, it has produced some spectacular images, 50 of which are showcased here by NASA. Of the 50, I think #36 is my favorite, showing two galaxies merging. Calling this a merge is probably being too polite as the gravitational forces at work must be enormous, and very destructive.

NASA also launched the DART mission this past week. DART is intended to crash into an asteroid to see if it is able to deflect it. This is a test of a process for altering the path of an incoming asteroid that might hit Earth in the future. Both DART and the booster rocket can be seen in a video taken by the Elena telescope in Italy.

All of the elements found in Nature come from the stars. For the first time, Fluorine has been detected in a galaxy over 12 billion light years away. Scientists have wondered what type of stars produced Fluorine and there are several theories. Fluorine is found in our bones and teeth, proving once again that we are all made of star stuff.

The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the stuff of the big bang, including neutrinos. For the first time, neutrinos have been detected in the LHC during a pilot experiment called FASER.

Lastly, here’s one for the kids. The California Coastal Art and Poetry Contest is for all California students, grades K through 12. Entries can be submitted online though January 31, 2022. Submissions must have a coastal or marine theme. See this link for details and submission. This contest is one of those submissions we receive at the SciSchmooze Calendar that doesn’t quite fit our format, but is worth mentioning. When we get those, we talk about them here in our weekly newsletter.

Have a great week in Science and a joyous holiday season!

Bob Siederer

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