Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Going Back in Time with the SciSchmooze

Griffin Warrior
The Pylos Combat Agate, tomb of the Griffin Warrior. Credit: YouTube

Hello again Science fans!

Before we go back in cosmic time today, I want to tell you about a more recent find (“recent” being relative, of course) in Pylos, Greece.

Two archeologists from the University of Cincinnati have been excavating a site there for over 30 years now. In 2015, they discovered a grave site in an abandoned olive grove near their excavation. What they found gives insight to the life, times, and artistic capabilities from around 1450 BC. Dubbed the Tomb of the Griffin Warrior by the archeologists, it has yielded numerous artifacts, including the amazing carving in the photo above. The detail on this very small seal stone is amazing.

Sharon Stocker and Jack Davis are the archeologists leading this work. I went to college with Jack and was a groomsman in his wedding. He was studying Clasical Greek then, and I remember asking him what he was going to do with this degree once he graduated. I may have called it a “useless” degree. He didn’t know, saying he would probably end up teaching others the same material. It didn’t exactly work out that way, fortunately for him.

There is a lot of information about Jack and Shari’s discoveries available on the internet, including some videos on YouTube, so I invite you to search. This article, which popped up in my feeds this week, is what inspired me to tell you about the discoveries. In 2019, Jack gave a series of lectures at UC Berkeley which are available on YouTube.

While 1450 BC certainly qualifies as ancient to us, what the James Webb Space Telescope has been showing us in its first images is truly ancient, including what may be the oldest solar system in the universe. The quality of the images is staggering. In the first deep field image from JWST there appears a small red dot, a galaxy 13.1 billion light years away from Earth, probably the oldest object we’ve been able to see so far. One can’t help but wonder what has happened to that galaxy since the light we see now began its journey across space/time to us.

Here are some thoughts on what JWST will show us in the future. And here is a link to a video describing the first four images JWST released to the public, including transitions from the Hubble images of the same areas to the Webb images, showing the differences between the two, complimentary telescopes.

A friend and reader of the SciSchmooze commented to me last week that we will probably be featuring images from the Webb telescope at the top of our newsletters for months. He’s probably right, but his comment also helped me select a non-JWST image to feature today.

I’m sure you share my admiration for the work the Ingenuity space copter has done on Mars. NASA planned for 5 flights. So far, Ingenuity has performed 31! A digest of articles about the firsts and discoveries await your reading.

Since I wrote last month, I’ve taken a road trip from the Bay Area to northeast Ohio. The contrast between the drought-stricken west and the greenery of the mid-West is striking. I was able to see how low the water level of the Great Salt Lake is first-hand.

But the more concerning lake level is that of Lake Mead, which is at the lowest level since 1937, just 27% of capacity. Lake Mead provides drinking water and hydroelectric power for more than 40 million people. NASA photographs show just how dramatic the lake level drop is.

Extreme heat is taking a toll on Europe, India, and other parts of the world. The highest temperature ever recorded in Europe was in Sicily in 2021, and Antarctica’s highest the year before. The highest temperature ever officially recorded on Earth was in Death Valley, California in 1913, a broiling 134 degrees.

Lastly, we turn to the visitor that won’t go away, COVID-19. The most common variant now is labeled BA.5. It is most likely the version currently infecting President Biden. It is more contageous, more likely to infect those who have already had COVID-19, and existing vaccines are not very effective in preventing it, although they are very effective at preventing serious cases. The NY Times Morning newsletter from Thursday details the current state of BA.5.

New versions of the vaccines should be available this fall that will include better protection against the Omicron variants, but America’s strategy for getting this vaccine out isn’t quite ready.

Also on the vaccine front, the Novavax shot, a more traditional form of vaccine, has been approved for use in the US. Those who are afraid of the new technology behind the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines may be more inclined to trust this one.

Have a great week in Science!

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