Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Off to Mars with the SciSchmooze

from the desk of Bob Siederer

Hello again Science Fans!

Let’s start with news from the coronavirus world.  Why is it that people with contrarian views will latch onto the one published report that supports their position and ignore the many published reports that disagree, or outright refute it?  I guess people don’t want to admit they were wrong.  The most visible example of this at the moment deals with the effectiveness of masks worn in public.  With views ranging from masks are ineffective to they cause CO2 poisoning, here’s a case to prove that they do, indeed keep the disease from spreading.

I think another reason there’s so much controversy is the way media are jumping on the latest news, including non-peer reviewed, preliminary research, some of which is later retracted.  Once out there, it takes on a life of its own and never leaves the internet.  The various remedies that have been promoted for COVID-19 since we first heard of it have covered quite a range of effectiveness.  Here’s a good summary to bring you up to date on what works, and what doesn’t.

One of the mysteries of this disease is why it has such a varied list of symptoms, and why you can have it but be asymptomatic?  Why indeed?

On to space!

Thirty years ago(!) the US launched the Hubble Space Telescope into space.  Hubble has returned incredible images and aided in many discoveries.  I vividly recall my breath catching as I looked through an amateur telescope at Lick Observatory that was aimed and Saturn and saw the rings myself for the first time.  Hubble has just taken an incredible high definition image of Saturn that includes two of Saturn’s 53 moons, Enceladus and Mimas.  View this on a computer to see the moons.  This month’s SETI Talks discussed both Hubble’s history and discoveries and the newly-named Roman Space Telescope, formerly called WFIRST.  The new name commemorates Nancy Grace Roman, NASA’s first female head, and a strong supporter of the Hubble mission, who passed away in 2018.  The talk has not yet been posted to YouTube, but keep an eye out for it.

While we know of thousands of planets orbiting stars near and far, very, very few have been seen directly.  Astronomers discover them using several techniques to infer their presence.  The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope just released a direct image of two planets orbiting a sun-like star about 300 light years from us.  This is the first direct image showing more than one planet. Incredible!

Lastly, researchers have painstakingly studied data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and released a 3D map of the Cosmos that looks back in time 11 billion years.  Remember, the light we see from galaxies and stars in the sky left those places long, long ago.  So when you look at the sky, you are looking back in time.

While we struggle with the coronavirus, increased political unrest, and environmental issues, these images can help put our lives into perspective in the grand scheme of things.

We’re off to Mars!  Hopefully this week, the US will be launching Perseverence, the next in our series rovers to explore Mars remotely.  Chabot Space and Science Center is hosting a watch party for the launch, but you’ll have to be up early. There’s also an presentation on advanced materials used on the rover.  There are also several livestream events on Solar observation and other astronomy topics as well.

Have a great week in Science!

Bob Siederer

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