Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Down to Earth with the SciSchmooze

Frank Rubio, Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitri Petelin, and friends

Dear reader,
I’ve assembled some ideas and information you might enjoy.


On Tuesday, go outside at 1938 hrs (that’s nerd-notation for 7:38 PM) to watch the ISS make a 6-minute pass over the Bay Area. (NW horizon to directly overhead (86°) to SE horizon)

Astronaut Frank Rubio and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin returned to Earth from the ISS after 371 days in zero gravity. Or if you instead count sunrises, there were about 6,000 of those during their stay in orbit. The trio had been scheduled to return over six months ago, but s— happens. 

The ISS is, of course, yet another Low Earth Orbit satellite that frustrates visual astronomers, but LEO satellites only interfere during the 2 hours after sunset and in the 2 hours before sunrise. At other times during the night they remain in the dark. Other factors degrade viewing the night sky, however: air pollution and light pollution. A new word has been introduced for this: Noctalgia.

BIOLOGY – “If I only had a brain.” 

Two recent studies concluded that individual jellyfish sleep and can learn stuff – even without a brain. Somehow these perspicacious cnidarians quickly learn to avoid a striped barrier while having just a few thousand scattered neurons at their disposal. Another jelly relative periodically shows evidence of being asleep and being ‘groggy’ when woken up. We all know that feeling.


The World Health Organization – WHO – just created a new position, Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health. They appointed Vanessa Kerry, MD, MSc of Massachusetts to fill that role. WHO anticipates that the annual number of people dying from the effects of climate change will increase each year by another quarter million.

Many cities across the world are implementing policies to get people out of their cars: free public transportation, no-drive zones, bike paths where once was curb parking for cars, fees to drive into city center, and money. Both Washington, DC and Denver are set to giving people vouchers to buy electric bicycles. The amounts range from $400 to $2,000 depending on income level and type of e-bike. Leave a comment to let us know what your city is doing.

NASA’s world climate data go back 143 years to 1880. This last July was, globally, the hottest of any month on record.

About 7% of all new cars being sold in the United States are all-electric, possibly reaching a tipping point. ¿But what about gas stations? Most EVs will “refuel” at home and only occasionally need a charging station. For many if not most gas stations, profits come from the sale of food and drinks, As customer traffic dwindles so will profits — and CO2 emissions.


Kathryn H. won the Strandbeest model kit with her guess of 797 – just 4 off the target. This time we are raffling off the book, Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World by Naomi Klein.  Just send an email before noon Friday to david.almandsmith [at] with an integer between 0 and 1,000.


COVID-19 has so far killed an estimated 20 million people worldwide. The current dominant strain of SARS-Cov-2 (the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic) is BA.2.86.  “So far, there’s no sign that infections involving BA.2.86 are more severe.” 

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) killed our cat Chewbacca two years ago. Like COVID, FIP is caused by a coronavirus that is similar to SARS-Cov-2. So this year when cats on Cyprus began dying of FIP in great numbers, it was decided to vaccinate cats with leftover COVID vaccine. It worked!

My Picks of the Week (put reminders on your mobile phone)

– Alzheimer’s Disease: advances & tips for prevention – Livestream Monday 6PM
– IEEE Panel: Ethical AI; Shaping the Future Responsibly – Livestream Tuesday 11AM
– Screening of ‘Collision’ – ship strikes on whales – Wednesday 7:30PM, San Rafael, $
– After Dark: Users – Thursday 6PM, San Francisco, ExplOratorium, $
– Studying Exoplanets with The JWST – Friday 8PM, San Mateo
– Critter Search at Sanborn – Saturday 8:30AM, Saratoga
– Five Dollar Day at The Lawrence Hall of Science – Sunday 10AM – 5PM, Berkeley, $


Good news: Deforestation in the Amazon is plummeting since Bolsonaro’s environmental policies have mostly been overturned

Bad news: The U.S. is using up its groundwater at an unsustainable rate.

News: Wolves are back in Deutschland.

Almost everyday i receive junk mail. It’s annoying, a waste of paper, a burden for the mail carrier, and generally bad for the environment. Just this week i learned that we can do something about junk mail. I will let you know how successful this is.


Major Depressive Disorder “causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest … and you can’t simply “snap out” of it.” Some patients responded well with a single dose of psilocybin, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Psychedelics were once banned as harmful and accidental deaths did occur, but now some are being evaluated for medical use


Every form of matter – electrons, neutrons, protons, etc – have an antimatter twin. If you bring a neutron together with an antineutron, they will self-annihilate, releasing lots of energy. One of the puzzles in cosmology is why the Big Bang ended with more matter than antimatter. Good thing. If they were in equal quantities, they would have mutually destroyed each other and the universe would only contain energy. Lots of science fiction stories employ antimatter to power spaceships and to create antigravity fields. ¿Would an antimatter penny fall up? Physicists were certain that an antigravity penny would fall down just like a normal penny, but there was no way to test that hypothesis – until now

¿Want a good mystery to solve? Discovering the cause(s) of Miyaki events should do. Analyses of tree rings reveal six times when trees absorbed higher concentrations of carbon-14. Since then similar excesses of carbon-14 have been found in ice cores corresponding to the very same years. The first such ring was found by Fusa Miyaki and dated to 774 CE. ¿What causes a Miyaki event? Let me know.

Nerdy Videos

The MSG story – Cup O’Joe – Joe Schwarcz – 4 mins
Telescope to see the early universe – Quanta Magazine – Cynthia Chiang – 6 mins
Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser debunked – Arvin Ash – 15 mins
Are room temperature superconductors impossible? – PBS SpaceTime – Matt O’Dowd – 17 mins
The week’s science news – Sabine Hossenfelder – 17 mins
Why lightbulbs might be the best invention ever – Veritaseum – Derek Muller – 18 mins
How did GPS get so good – Scott Manley – 27 mins

Flex those empathy muscles as you enjoy this week,
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“The path of reality is a narrow one and once you step off, all manners of nonsense become plausible.”
– Phil Plait (1964 – ) American astronomer, skeptic, and popular science blogger

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