Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing in Orange & Black

Happy Halloween, y’all.

Take a look at the above illustration. To me it resembles a monstrous lupine head, jaws wide, confronting a screaming person with arms held straight. In reality, it was lava flowing down the side of Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands last week. Here’s a truly scary thought: Dinosaur sex. ¿How about avian dinosaurs reproducing without sex? Enjoy this video that is both creepy and fun. ¿Would you want to be decapitated and your head put on a different body? ¿Can you sleep at night knowing a rock could come crashing through your bedroom ceiling or an asteroid smashing into Earth? Please do not remember this video the next time you swim in the ocean. ¿How would you like maggots munching on you? Dr. Tania Lombrozo published her take on Halloween and culture when she was still at U.C. Berkeley. (She also gave a SkepTalk for the Bay Area Skeptics back then.) ¿But what about the candy? Nothing good (except the joy of indulgence). As i said, “Happy Halloween.”

The number of electric cars, busses, and trucks on the roads is increasing geometrically. New electric aircraft are being demonstrated, seemingly every month, but none of those aircraft can carry more than a half dozen people. ¿What about replacing airliners that hold a hundred people; or two hundred? In the short term, the airline industry is toying with biofuels. [[There was a distortion near the end of that video. We heard, “…by 2028, every flight from SEATAC will be powered by sustainable aviation fuel.” In fact their goal is that every aircraft fueled at SEATAC will be supplied with at least a 10% blend of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).]] The percentage of SAF in jet fuel will certainly rise, and investors are looking for better raw materials. Even seaweed may have a role. Although the use of biofuels produces just as much CO2; their advantage is in using carbon-sequestering plants rather than fossil fuels. Further into the future, the airline industry is considering hydrogen as a fuel. Today, however, hydrogen fuel is mostly “gray.” Hopefully hydrogen supplies will increasingly become more green.

Now for Out Of This World News:

“Orbital Reef” was announced last week. It’s a collaboration of Blue Origin, NASA, Boeing, Sierra Space, Redwire, Genesis, and Arizona State University among other colleges. I’m a bit surprised that Peet’s Coffee isn’t one of the collaborators. Maybe later.

¿Could there be planets in other galaxies? Well, of course. ¿Could we detect a planet in another galaxy? As unlikely as that seems, apparently it’s been done. Astronomer sleuths studying data from the Chandra X-Ray Orbiting Observatory (launched 22 years ago) found what appears to be the transit of a planet in front of an X-ray binary system in the Whirlpool Galaxy. That’s pretty freaking amazing!

In 1967, Jocelyn Bell made a discovery in astronomy so important that Antony Hewish and Martin Ryle were awarded the Nobel Prize. (???)

My picks for the week:

Your choice: Either online or in person:
The COVID Labyrinth: Where Are We In It and How Do We Escape? – 3pm Monday, Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, $5

New Views of our Solar System from the James Webb Space Telescope – Noon Tuesday
The drought cascade: Linking changes in climate extremes to changes in watershed function – Noon Wednesday
Humans and Alcohol: The Archaeology of a Deeply Entangled Relationship – 7pm Thursday
Movie: The Falconer – 7pm Friday
The Secret Lives of Sponges: Understanding Ancient Animals at Their Own Pace – 7pm Saturday

In Person:
After Dark: Discover Wonder – 6pm-10pm Thursday, explOratorium, San Francisco, $, Mask required
Nightlife – 6pm-10pm Thursday, Cal Academy of Science, San Francisco, $, Proof of vaccination or negative test required
Fall 2021 King Tides Program – 2pm-3:30pm Saturday, Eco Center, Palo Alto

SkeptiCal 2021 was a week ago and was pretty durn good, i’d say. It was strictly online with audience participation, has been recorded, and you can gain access to the many recordings with a ticket from the SkeptiCal Conference website. (Or you can wait until mid 2022 when the recordings will be released to the general public.)

The pillow commemorating Inspiration4 was won by Angela H. Her guess of 522 was closest to the randomly-selected 568.

This week’s Contest Prize is a 10cm (4”) diameter cloth patch commemorating Inspiration4 and its beneficiary, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Send an email to (only one) before noon Friday with an integer between zero and 1,000. We will then use a random number generator to select the target number.

Here’s a puzzle: A helicopter is trailing a long heavy rope as it flies along. ¿What shape does the rope assume? Again – as per usual – my answer was wrong.

Make the coming week one of exploration, learning, communication, and enjoyment – – and not too much candy.

Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“When the spooks have a midnight jamboree/They break it up with fiendish glee/The ghosts are bad but the one that’s cursed/Is the headless horseman; he’s the worst.”
From  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving (1783 – 1859)

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