Dear science aficionado,
Another journey around the Sun is at its end. It is safe for me to say that each of us experienced delights and suffered hardships in this latest orbit, but unlike rocks and boulders we undoubtedly learned a little during our year. Hopefully during the journey you and i gained a little insight, adjusted to norms that changed a bit for the better, and expanded our spheres of empathy to include more individuals, groups, and living things that shared this journey.
¿Did your year whiz past? The passage of time is relative. The Future Library in Norway locks books away to be checked out and read 100 years in the future. The Long Now Foundation encourages us to think in terms of 10,000 years at a time. Our home planet has experienced over 4 billion years so far. Yet we live in a system where our governmental representatives are forced to prioritize activities that bear fruit before the next election; or they will no longer be in office. Civilization is a work in progress.
2023 IN SCIENCE
Rather than compile a list of the top science stories of 2023, i’ve compiled a list of lists:
RIGHT NOW IN SCIENCE
Statistically, most of us will at some time find ourselves with a seriously bleeding person: in the kitchen, on the highway, on a hiking trail, anywhere. I recommend you take the STOP THE BLEED online course. (It took me under 25 minutes to complete.) With the increasing incidence of gun violence, this course ought to be required.
THINGS TO COME IN SCIENCE – PARTIAL LIST
Batteries are constantly in the news as the world transitions – kicking and screaming – away from fossil fuels. Imagine this: a 3 meter diameter, 9 meter long cylindrical battery, Slip it into a facility with electric turbines and it will supply the electrical needs of 7,000 people for 8 years. Additionally it can supply warm air for heating nearby homes and factories.Then haul it away and slip in a new one. That’s the hype around Westinghouse’s atomic eVinci Microreactor. The Saskatchewan Research Council has one on order with a hoped-for delivery date of 2029.
The Artemis 2 mission will send 4 crew members around the Moon in 2024 but they will not orbit the Moon as did the Apollo 8 astronauts (Frank Borman, James Lovel, William Anders) in 1968. Instead, the Artemis Orion spacecraft will swing around the Moon and back to Earth on a free-return trajectory.
The Vera C. Rubin Telescope will likely come online in 2024. The observatory was designed for:
1) Understanding the nature of dark matter and dark energy;
2] Creating an inventory of the Solar System;
3) Mapping the Milky Way; and
4) Exploring objects that change position or brightness over time, called “transients”.
Yeah, that last one will greatly improve our chances of detecting an inbound asteroid before it’s too late!
AlphaFold 2 is an artificial intelligence tool that tells biologists with a fair degree of accuracy how amino acid strings fold into proteins. In 2024, the AlphaFold 3 AI will predict how proteins react with other molecules including other proteins. This is HUGE.
The American company AstroForge plans in 2024 to send a spacecraft to an asteroid to survey it for mining operations. The SciFi series “The Expanse” immediately comes to mind with all of the political, social, and economic turmoil that ‘came’ with asteroid mining.
Scheduled for January 8th is the launch of the privately built Peregrine Lunar Lander. It is carrying scientific instruments and three rovers. The smallest is a mere 1.5 kg 4-legged thing. Scientific data will be shared.
Tracy M won the Solar System Coffee Mug with her guess of 123. The prize this time is a color-change 8-cm diameter crystal sphere featuring a 3D image of your choice: Galaxy, Solar System, Jupiter, Saturn, or the Moon. It’s a desk ornament; it’s a nightlight. Just send an email before noon Friday to david.almandsmith [at] gmail.com with an integer between 0 and 1,000.
There’s a group that wants to kill the phrase, “Dead as a Dodo,” by ‘de-extincting’ the iconic bird. Because the biological sciences continue to advance, perhaps they will succeed.
The Mirror Test: When an animal looks in a mirror and then notices and touches a colored spot surreptitiously placed on its forehead, we conclude the animal perceives its reflection as an image of itself. (Humans range between excellent and obsessive in this test.) Research suggests that the ‘reverse’ outcome where the animal fails to explore the colored dot does not necessarily indicate the animal fails to recognize ‘itself’.
Starfish, aka sea stars, begin life as bilaterally symmetric larvae, but they grow into radially symmetric adults. ¿So what does the larval tail become and what does the larval head become? Biologists at Stanford and UC Berkeley have conclusively answered those questions for the first time: starfish ‘arms’ are the animal’s head and no part of the adult is the tail.
CLIMATE / ENVIRONMENT
The latest version of the National Climate Assessment came out last month and the news is not good. It states that climate change is ”harming physical, mental, spiritual, and community health and well-being through the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme events, increasing cases of infectious and vector-borne diseases, and declines in food and water quality and security.” For the first time it “unequivocally” blames the burning of coal, oil and gas.
Katharine Hayhoe (one of my favorite climate crisis crusaders) suggests that in order to get more people to accept the seriousness of climate change is to converse about how it locally affects “us.” For example: it has created jobs; fossil fuel air pollution continues to degrade health and shorten life spans; people most affected are generally least responsible.
Nine percent of California’s use of water goes to grow food for livestock. Some companies aim to significantly reduce that by feeding bugs to livestock in place of soybeans and corn. But the consumption of beef in the US may be on the brink of a significant decline according to researchers at Tulane University. They discovered that older Americans consume far more beef than younger Americans and predict that beef consumption will plummet as the elderly release their mortal coil.
Replacing gasoline-powered cars with EVs is the single best stratagem for ameliorating climate change, but fossil fuel proponents keep arguing against EV adoption. ¿What is fact and what is misinformation? Here are 21 false, mostly false, and incomplete arguments against transitioning to EVs.
Some trees are over a hundred meters tall, so let’s build wind turbine towers with wood. Their construction is less polluting and the wood stores away carbon.
In my previous Schmooze, i wrote about a jetliner crossing the Atlantic using 100% SAF – Sustainable Aviation Fuel – made from plants and fat. A British laboratory has figured out how to make jet fuel from an abundant resource – human excrement.
Here is a fun short read: Five Science “Facts” We Learnt At School That Are Plain Wrong
A major contributor to the Permian Mass Extinction may have been volcanism, according to a recent paper published in Chemical Geology. The vast Emeishan Traps of China were created during the time of that most devastating extinction event the living world ever experienced.
MY PICKS OF THE WEEK
First, plan a First Day Hike in one of our local State Parks. On the first day of the new year, there are 25 relatively easy hikes scheduled around the Bay Area for an uplifting communal start to the New Year. Use the map and hiking info to select the hike for you and yours. You will not regret it. (Tell your friends and relatives about the many hundreds of First Day Hikes planned across the country.)
After Dark: See for Yourself 6 – 10PM Thursday, ExplOratorium, S.F., $
Bhutan: The Happiest Kingdom on Earth Livestream 7PM Thursday
Solids, Liquids, & Gases Two shows 11AM & 2PM Friday, Lawrence Hall of Science, $
Mathematics – A Quick Revue 8PM Friday, Alcazar Theatre, S.F., $
The Physics Show Various times Saturday & Sunday, Foothill College, $
FUN NERDY VIDEOS
This particle accelerator is just 10 cm long – Sabine Hossenfelder – 2 mins
Magicians & critical thinking – The Right Chemistry – Dr. Joe Schwarcz – 4 mins
Octopus Garden – Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute – 5 mins
Brennan Monorail of 1909 – Primal Space – 8 minutes
Solar panel recycling – Undecided – Matt Ferrell – 13 mins
Searching for Aliens OUTSIDE our galaxy – Dr. Becky – Becky Smethurst – 14 mins
¿Is there a Black Hole inside the Sun? – PBS Spacetime – Matt O’Dowd – 18 mins
Game theory and life – Veritaseum – Derek Muller – 25 mins
Thank you for joining us SciSchmoozers this week. Feel free to share our Schmoozes with others.
Wishing you goodness during the coming orbit,
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics
Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better person. (paraphrased)
Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)
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