Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing around the Planet

30 JUN 2024

Starliner at the ISS orbiting 3rd planet from Sol – Credit Nathan Koga for NSF/L2

Hello again science fans! Xin chào một lần nữa những người hâm mộ khoa học! (2% of Bay Area residents speak Vietnamese at home)

I keep humming to myself, “Oh Lord, stuck in orbit a-again.” (With props to John Fogerty, a former El Cerrito teen) Not only is the Starliner crew – Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore – stuck in the orbiting International Space Station, none of the crew can even take a stroll outside since the ISS spacesuits are leaking coolant. Besides that, the entire complex was threatened by the explosive breakup of the Resurs-P-1 satellite last Wednesday. That satellite’s 6.5 tonnes of debris are spreading out – traveling at 7 km/sec – and threatening to destroy other satellites in low Earth orbit, and those collisions threaten to create yet more debris that in turn threaten even more satellites. I’ve written about this before – it’s called the Kessler Syndrome. NASA is tracking the approximately 9,000 tonnes of orbiting defunct satellites and debris in order to predict collisions.

Oh. And, by the way, living weightless in space with inadequate protection from cosmic rays is bad for your health. Partial list: bone loss, heightened cancer risk, vision impairment, weakened immune systems, mental health issues, and telomere lengthening.

Next Sunday, July 7 at 10:29 PM, step outside and wave to the ISS crew as they pass directly overhead. They could use a little cheering up.

There are always cool things happening in space. Check out the short videos here showing a recent fireball over Spain and Portugal. Also, i did not know that a star could create a nova explosion that repeats every 80 years – and T Coronae Borealis is about to do just that. (If you miss it, just wait 80 years for the next one.) A Chinese probe, Chang’e 6, collected regolith and rocks from the Moon’s farside and returned the samples for scientists to study. That’s a first.


We are offering a 12 oz glass beer stein with the molecular formula for Ethyl Alcohol. Just send an email before noon Friday to david.almandsmith [at] with your guess of an integer between 0 and 1,000.  Last time, Greg was the winner of a kinetic desk toy with his guess of 500.


There are at least three Sperm Whales who apparently and successfully sought assistance from human divers to remove ropes and nets caught in their jaws. Whales lack hands or they would probably do it themselves. ¿Has each of those Sperm Whales individually recognized that human divers could help, or have they spread that news by the use of language?

Another mystery concerns the bits of Neanderthal DNA that all of us have in our genomes, unless we are wholly African in origin. There appears to be a total lack of Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomal DNA in modern humans. Several hypotheses have been put forward for further research.

The taxonomic order of beetles – Coleoptera – consists of about 200 Families, 30,000 Genera, and 400,000 Species. Add a newly discovered species in a new genera. It’s about as long as my pinkie fingernail is wide, and resembles a fungus-infected bird dropping. Biological evolution is marvelous.

In contrast, there are only four species of monotremes – egg-laying mammals: three echidnas and the platypus. Back in the days of the dinosaurs, there were at least six species – three of those just recently described. Just imagine modern family life if humans laid eggs!


Undoubtedly you are aware that over a thousand pilgrims died from high temperatures in and around Mecca during the Hajj. In Mexico, Howler Monkeys fell dead from trees due to high temperatures there

For many thousands of years, the massive Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica has been slowly crawling into the ocean. Where the glacier meets the sea, it has to grind over the stone barrier – the grounding line – that forces it to move slowly. With rising sea levels and the warming of atmosphere and ocean, the glacier will speed its advance and its melting. New studies show this process is happening faster than earlier forecasts.

The solar energy contribution to the electrical power grid is growing rapidly – and that presents a problem: ¿How to store energy created during the day so it can be used at night? An efficient solution is to use excess mid-day energy to pump water from a lower reservoir to a higher one, and at night let the water flow back down powering electric turbines. But that doesn’t work where the landscape is level. Massive rechargeable batteries are sometimes used. On the Mediterranean Island of Sardinia, they inflate and deflate a big balloon! (Let me know if that article is behind a paywall.)

MY PICKS of the WEEK (Hint: save dates & times to your mobile phone)

Future of Human Exploration on Mars 7:30pm Monday, Cal Academy of Sciences, $

First Friday: Glow 6 – 10pm Friday, Chabot Space & Science Center, Oakland, $

Nike Missile Site Open House Noon – 3pm Saturday, Mill Valley

Skyline Ridge Preserve Morning Hike 9 – Noon Sunday,  Los Altos

A little farther along:SkeptiCal 2024 Online July 19 – 21


Last Wednesday I was delighted watching a River Otter and her two pups cavorting in our local pond. Several of our neighbors had spied otters there years ago but this was my first encounter. Very special.

About 20 years ago we went wildlife watching at Elkhorn Slough near Moss Landing. Disappointing. It looked to be in decline and lacking in wildlife except for a few species of bird. Today, Elkhorn Slough is thriving thanks to otters, Sea Otters.


Cutting-Edge Magic – Magic Friday – Joe Schwarcz – 2 mins (¿Know how it’s done?)

Science Saves Lives; It’s Written in Stone – ScienceSaves – 3 mins

A Bird with Claws on its Wings – Bizarre Beasts – Sarah Suta – 5.5 minutes

AI Learned to Lie – Sabine Hossenfelder – 6 mins

Electrons from Morocco to the U.K. – Just Have a Think – David Borlace – 12 mins

Space News 27 June – Dr. Becky – Becky Smethurst – 12 mins

Chat GPT 4.0 – 15 mins

Space-Time Portals – Sabine Hossenfelder – 15 mins

¿What if Singularities do not exist? – PBS Spacetime – Matt O’Dowd – 15 mins

Pseudoscience Support – Dr. Andrea Love – 22 mins

Antarctica – Joe Scott – 27 mins

[Whew! I’ve made it to the end without mentioning wars or politics.]

Have a great week (while exercising your empathy muscles),
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

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