Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

from the desk of Bob Siederer

Hello again Science fans!

Before we get into the science stuff for this week, a little housekeeping.  We have received occasional feedback that the SciSchmooze appears in a few subscribers’ email in a very small font.  We use a default font size (13 pt), but it seems various email processors think they know better and mess around with sizes.  Before mailing this out each week, we test-send the Schmooze to ourselves, and it always looks fine, although my phone does ignore the default font size we use. So this week I’m attempting to get around all that by sending the Schmooze in a larger font (it isn’t as easy it it might seem).  Let’s see if that is better.

For the first time in 19 years, a blue moon will fall on Halloween.  You all know the saying “once in a blue moon” which describes the fact that having two full moons in a month is fairly rare.  The last time Halloween and a blue moon coincided was in 2001.  Before that…1955!  There will be six in the 21st century, and two of them have already happened (including the upcoming one).  Rare indeed!

There’s lots more news in astronomy/cosmology.  Last month I mentioned that Osiris-Rex was about to attempt to obtain samples from the asteroid Bennu.  It was successful…too successful!  Think for a minute just what was involved in this mission.  First, launch the spacecraft, which is about the size of a minivan, and have it intercept Bennu.  Now get it to go into orbit.  Since Bennu is really small, it has almost no gravity, so achieving a close orbit wasn’t simple.  Now take lots of pictures of the asteroid to help determine a safe place from which to take the sample.  Then maneuver the spacecraft to gently touch the surface of Bennu, capture some of the asteroid’s material, and retreat.  Still to come is the stowing of the sample into a capsule, returning to Earth, and sending the capsule back to us on the surface.

Meanwhile, way out around Jupiter, Astronomers have observed the volcanic activity on the moon Io for the first time.

The light we see from distant galaxies began its journey to us a long time ago.  For the oldest galaxies, we’re talking 13.7 billion light years.  Earlier this month, astronomers announced the discovery of a giant black hole surrounded by a litter of young protogalaxies that dates back to the beginning of time.  The distance to such phenomenon can be calculated because we know the speed of light, which is faster than anything else.  Except when it isn’t.

From such grand scales to the smallest.  Scientists have now clocked the shortest time measurement ever, 247 zeptoseconds! That’s 1 trillionth of a billionth of a second.

The Hubble Space Telescope celebrates 30 years of discovery.  This week Dr. Dan Wilkins of Stanford University, gave a talk about the Hubble, how long it took to make it a reality, the problems with it once launched, how they were fixed, and the discoveries it has made since then.  This talk is fairly high level and I highly recommend you spend an hour watching it.

Here’s a reminder of just how interconnected things are.  For the first time in recorded history, the Laptev Sea has not yet frozen over by this time of year.  “So what?” you ask?  This isn’t just some water that’s late freezing over, but the start of a complex cycle of environmental activities that are messed up now.

A couple of years ago I was in Kansas City for a few days while on a train trip.  I wandered into KC’s train station where the public spaces were filled with exhibits from student science fair projects.  I was surprised by the complexity of many of the things these students were researching for their projects and spent several hours wandering around looking at the projects.  A 14 year old girl has won a $25,000 prize in a science competition for finding a potential cure for COVID-19!  Wouldn’t it be something if it turns out an eighth grader found the key to overcoming this virus?

Lastly, a reminder to vote!

Have a great week in Science!

Bob Siederer

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