Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Colliding with the SciSchmooze

A pair of glittering galaxies caught in the process of merging together
Colliding galaxies. (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

Hello again Science Fans!

Almost a month ago, July 24th to be exact, was the last SciSchmooze I wrote. David Almandsmith has been filling in for Herb, who’s traveling, and for me as I recovered from some successful surgery. Thanks from both of us to David!

In that Schmooze, I discussed the first images from the JWST, including what was possibly the oldest galaxy we’ve seen so far. Well, that distinction didn’t even last one week!

Imagine the night sky on a different planet in a different galaxy, one that is in the process of merging (that’s a polite way of saying colliding) with another galaxy. The view would be pretty awe inspiring. Here’s a description of the process, and potential views.

So far JWST has mostly been looking at objects very far away, and has provided us with some spectacular images. It will be focused on the next interstellar object though, once one is found. Oumuamua was the first such object ever recorded, and that happened in 2017. Since then, comet Borisov became only the second interstellar object. Now that JWST is up and running, it will be able to bring new tools to the table when the next one is discovered.

Of course, there are plenty of asteroids which orbit our sun, crossing Earth’s orbit occasionally at the same place. If scientists can find the remnants of such an asteroid, they can examine first hand rocks from the earliest times of the solar system. Some Mountain View-based scientists are doing just that.

Staying local, Bruce Mackintosh, formerly a physics professor at Stanford, has been appointed Director of UC Observatories, which includes Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton in San Jose. Congratulations Bruce!

NASA and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) are inviting amateur astronomers to become official Eclipse Ambassadors to prepare communities off the central paths for the upcoming solar eclipses crossing North America in October 2023 (annular) and April 2024 (total). Details on the program, and how to apply are here. Anyone 18 or over can apply.

Coming back from space, there is a lot of environmental news. First up is UniWave 200, an experimental sea platform that uses an artificial blowhole to generate energy. It has been in use off King Island in Australia for a year and has been more successful than expected.

Then there is the news that an extreme heat belt, where the heat index could reach 125 degrees F at least one day a year, is coming. While most of the area stretches from Texas to Illinois, locally the greater Mojave desert area is included. There is also the prospect of a massive California Flood.

Some communities are thinking outside the box to try to address the heat, including covering 1 million square feet of LA pavement with reflective paint.

While local involvement is good, and every little bit helps, there also needs to be a focus on the bigger picture. Climate change will make many currently populated areas unlivable, and the people who live there need to go somewhere. The world is not prepared for this migration. I’ve written before that Canada needs to prepare for an influx of southern neighbors in the upcoming years, but this is really a global problem.

Nuclear energy is also a potential solution, but it comes with big problems. California is considering keeping its one remaining nuclear plant open longer than planned, as is Germany.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, Russia is playing with fire by using the Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility, the largest in Europe, as a military base. Russia and Ukraine have been trading blame for attacks around the plant these past weeks. An accident, or deliberate false flag operation, would be catastrophic to the local area, as well as a wide swath of Europe.

I haven’t updated you about my friend in Ukraine in quite a while. She is back at home, which is in the city of Zaporizhzhia, about 30 miles from the plant of the same name, which is actually in Enerhodar. There has been some shelling in her neighborhood over the past week. While she’s worried about a nuclear accident, she also told me that this coming Wednesday, August 24, is Ukraine’s Independence Day, and the 6 month anniversary of the start of the war. The expectation is that Russia will try to do something “memorable” on that day. That, and possible retribution for attacks in Crimea, have her concerned. Me too.

Keep an eye on the news on Wednesday, and good thoughts for my friend and her family please.

Let’s finish up with some social science stuff.

Ever wonder why we can speak, unlike other primates? Turns out we have something missing from our larynx that all the other primates have. I hadn’t thought about this until I came across the article, but my larynx has been on my mind these past few weeks as my surgery involved removal of my thyroid. The thyroid is located in the neck, and the nerves that control the larynx pass behind it and are sometimes damaged during a thyroidectomy, affecting the voice. Fortunately, I didn’t have any problems and my voice is as annoying as always.

I’ve also wondered, from time to time, why those who know the least about a subject sometimes seem to think they know the most. This has become more obvious in the past two years as we confront COVID misinformation, exacerbated by social media platforms. Here’s a study that looks at the broader potential outcomes of such behavior.

I’ll be back next week with another edition of the SciSchmooze. Have a great week in Science!


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