Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

More Mars Schmoozing 7.30.18

by David Almandsmith

Always something new in science. Scientists studying data from a ground-penetrating radar experiment, put into orbit around Mars by the European Space Agency, announced that a thin (<1 meter) layer of  liquid water apparently exists that is 20 kilometers wide and 1.5 kilometers below Mars’ surface. If true, the significance is twofold. First, because that aquifer might have never been frozen in the billions of years since it formed, it might harbour living microorganisms that might have evolved during Mars’ early history when it had oceans. (“Might” is used thrice in that sentence.) Second significance: the money spent by the European Space Agency might have resulted in a remarkable discovery. (“Might” is used only once in that sentence.)

Water on Mars? Well, actually, water is found almost everywhere on the planet, it just happens to be ice. At the south pole, thousands of square kilometers of water ice are exposed and even more area is coated with “dry ice”, frozen carbon dioxide. In places, the polar water ice is over 3 kilometers thick. NASA has created a   Mars map showing how much ice is found in the ground down to a depth of a few meters. The highest concentrations of ice in the ground are shown in dark blue and the “driest” in red. This info is critical when deciding where to land people on the red planet because water can be turned into oxygen for breathing and into rocket fuel to get the people (at least the nice ones) back to Earth. (Water is also important for raising food, brewing tea, flushing the toilet, etc.) Just put the two wires from any solar panel into a glass of water and oxygen will bubble from one wire and hydrogen will bubble from the other. (Try it!) These two gases, when ignited together, can power rockets. But, being a fellow nerd, you already knew that.

Mars continues to be great viewing this week, except it is wearing a dust-storm veil so the only visible ‘details’ are the polar ice caps. Cool. There are organized viewing events this week in  Oakland, at  U.C. Berkeley, and at the  Lick Observatory. Or just grab your kids’ budget telescope and step outside.

The Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission is  offering $500 for the best idea “for redefining the way we travel in and around the Bay Area.” A key requirement: your idea must cost more than a billion dollars to implement. My proposal: Catapult Transportation: 1) passengers board a rocketship shaped vehicle; 2) linear induction rail system launches vehicle at a precise angle and speed; 3) vehicle lands in a huge net at the destination station. ¿What could possibly go wrong? Or ski-lift style gondolas crossing the bay. Or Hyperloop installations. Or, more realistically, a BART system that completely circles the Bay and extends to Gilroy, Tracy, Stockton, Vacaville, and Santa Rosa. Submit YOUR entry!

Another bit of transportation news: Last week, Virgin Galactic pilots went on a test flight and  flew their UNITY spaceship up to an altitude of 52 kilometers. By early 2019, they plan to take space tourists up to 110 kilometers to experience weightlessness, the blackness of space, and a loss in pocketbook weight. Hundreds of people have purchased tickets at $250,000 a pop, including Brad Pitt, Katy Perry, Tom Hanks, and the late Stephen Hawking.

Since  laughter has some therapeutic value, here is a chance to improve your health by  watching a man who claims the power of telekinesis.

My picks for the week:

  1.  Nerd Nite Eastbay: Key Streetcars, Deep Space Network, Art & Health Monday 7pm Oakland
  2.  Wonderfest: Andy Weir: Best-Selling Author of ‘The Martian’ and ‘Artemis’ Tuesday 7PM Palo Alto
  3.  ExplOratorium After Dark: Bounce Thursday 6-10PM San Francisco

My bonus pick for this week is the  2018 Novato Space Festival 10AM-4PM Sunday. See you there!

Experience the outdoors this week; it never fails to offer gifts of surprise and understanding.


David Almandsmith
Board member,  Bay Area Skeptics


“Studying whether there’s life on Mars or studying how the universe began, there’s something magical about pushing back the frontiers of knowledge. That’s something that is almost part of being human, and I’m certain that will continue.”
―  Sally Ride, Physicist and Astronaut, 1951 – 2012


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