Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing into Orbit

from the desk of David Almandsmith

I just bought 25 raffle tickets for a multi-day orbital journey. Since each orbit takes about 90 minutes, i’ll make 16 orbits each day while i’m up there. First, however, i need to win the raffle. ¿Would you like to buy a few tickets? Just donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Each dollar you donate in February gives you one raffle ‘ticket.’ The winner will ride in a SpaceX Dragon capsule with three other folk. Because of olfactory fatigue, you shouldn’t be too concerned about spending a few days in an unventilated capsule with three others – – and no bathroom – – and no DoorDash deliveries. (Hmmm. ¿Have you read or seen “No Exit” by Jean-Paul Sartre?)


Mars Missions:


Other space news:
According to cosmologists, only about 5% of the visible universe is composed of normal (baryonic) matter. Astronomers had only been able to detect about half of that. Then last year, astronomers used data from FRBs (Fast Radio Bursts) to find evidence that the missing mass was composed of thin clouds of gas. Last week, astronomers in Australia announced they were able to ‘see’ an otherwise invisible stream of gas using a clever method.


Earth news:
The United States is back in the Paris Climate Agreement, General Motors plans to phase out fossil-fueled vehicles by 2035, and South Korea just announced committing $43 billion to build the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

Geothermal energy production got an undeserved bad rap from the Tech Xplore website. A careful reading of the scientific paper reported on, reveals that only poorly-designed geothermal facilities would have longevity problems. The “quote” at the end of the Tech Xplore article appears to be a distorted version of a quote in the published research. Another example why it’s important to critically assess information – whatever the source.


Fun stuff:
I sometimes binge-watch live animal cams. Here is a list of a few out of thousands available: Giraffe, Rhino, Cape Buffalo; Jellies; Tembe Wildlife Park; California Condor; Platypus; Shark; Human, Bald Eagle. Some of these are in different time zones. A couple of these i learned about from Science in View, a science website hosted by Oakland resident Dave Boitano.


Deep Dive into Biology:
When our immune system produces antibodies to ‘combat’ an infection, the antibodies are typically about 1,400 amino acids in length. Then along came the discovery of antibody fragments in camels, alpaca, llamas, and other cameloids. These fragments are about 1/10th the size of antibodies and surprisingly, they also combat infections. They have been named “nanobodies.” They are ‘relatively’ easy to create in labs in billions of versions. Several labs have announced success in generating nanobodies that combat SARS-CoV-2 infections, i.e. COVID-19. Cool.


My livestream picks of the week:

Every doggone time, i forget to join several of my own picks. So this week i’ve told my phone to zap me in time to participate or watch. I recommend you do likewise for the ones you wish. (The Thursday pick is brought to you by the Bay Area Skeptics, of which i am a member.)


Ping Pong Balls & Passports
The Public Broadcasting Service, Joe Hanson, and 500 ping pong balls seek to explain and demonstrate phenomena of infectious diseases. (Put a white & red knit cap on Joe and – voila! – you’ve just found Waldo!)

Decades ago, i had to present a certificate showing that i had received my smallpox vaccine before i was allowed to travel to Europe. That requirement was officially dropped in 1981. However, countries around the world are reviving the practice of issuing vaccination certificates in response to the current pandemic. Forget paper certificates, however. Electronic vaccination passports are now being designed that will show your most recent COVID test and its result as well as vaccination information for a number of infectious diseases.


Living is a fantastic voyage. Enjoy the trip.

David Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics board member


“There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television or radio service inside the United States.”
T.A.M. Craven, FCC commissioner, 1961.

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