Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

by Bob Siederer

Hello again Science fans!

We have a lot to cover today, beginning with the California wildfires.  The Camp fire has been responsible for our unhealthy air quality these past days.  Just how bad it is where you are depends on the wind direction and strength, as well as proximity to the fire.  Many events around the area have been postponed or canceled, including some on our calendar.  This serves to remind you that you should always click through from our calendar to the website of the sponsoring organization for last minute updates before you take off to attend an event.  We often don’t receive notification of changes, so always check with the organizers.

Lawrence Berkeley Labs published a useful article on how you can protect yourself and your family from the damaging smoke.  Finding masks at this point is difficult as most stores have been out of them for a while.  When they get them back in stock, buy some so you have them for next time, because there WILL be a next time!

If you think fires are worse now than in the past, you’re right.  You can see why in just five charts!

Taking a broader, planet-wide perspective, Dr. Adam Frank (Univ. of Rochester) spoke at the California Academy of Sciences Dean Lecture series on November 5th.  This was not the usual astronomy talk that this series is known for.  Yet it was one of the best.  Dr. Frank’s positions include the thought that climate change is an inevitable result of life on a planet…any planet.  This lecture is worth a listen.  Dean Lectures are available on iTunes, but this one hasn’t been posted yet.  It should be available soon.  The lecture was based on Adam’s book “Light of the Stars – Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth”.

This month’s elections can be viewed from many perspectives, one of which being climate change.  Among other things, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology will be chaired by someone with a STEM background instead of a climate change denier for the first time in eight years!  But clearly, in many parts of the country, voters are not voting with the climate in mind.  Still, much progress was made in Congress.

Next Monday, November 26, the InSight Lander is scheduled to touch down on Mars.  You can watch this live(ish) from several locations including Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland and the Academy of Sciences planetarium.  The ExplOratorium will provide a link to the live feed that you can watch for free on the web.  The museum itself is closed on Mondays.

Black Holes spin.  Their spin rate is measured on a scale between 0 and 1.  This one is measured at .9, near the theoretical limit!  Most things we see in space evolve very slowly, by our measurements of time.  Yet earlier this year one supernova quickly appeared out of nowhere.

We measure things.  Time, energy, distance…all are measured in terms of some fixed value.  Way back when, distance was measured in multiples of the length of the King’s foot!  We’re a bit more standardized these days.  So it might come as a surprise that the kilogram, the basic metric standard for measuring mass, has just changed.  Temperature is measured by the vibrations of atoms under specific conditions.  So What is Absolute Zero?

This weeks picks:

  1. How CRISPR Gene Editing Is Changing the World – 11/20/2018 06:00 PM, at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco
  2. Science Saturday: Magnificent Monarchs – 11/24/2018 10:00 AM in Pacific Grove
  3. Full-Spectrum Science with Ron Hipschman: Making Color – 11/25/2018 01:00 PM (repeated at 3:00), at the ExplOratorium in San Francisco

From all of us at, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Bob Siederer

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