Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing 4th of July with Rockets

July 2, 2023

Rocket’s Red Glare: VSS Unity & Euclid 2nd stage booster – Unity photo courtesy Virgin Galactic

Hello again, you who like me enjoys learning, enjoys fireworks, and enjoys sharing the 4th of July with friends and family. 


In 2003, Burt Rutan announced that Scaled Composites was building a sub-orbital spacecraft, SpaceShipOne. Pilots twice flew the craft to an altitude over 100 kilometers (the Karmen Line) in 2004 (i was there!) winning the $10 million Ansari X Prize. Last Thursday, SpaceShipTwo “Unity” carried six people and research equipment up to 85 kilometers. It was Virgin Galactic’s first “commercial” flight.

A scientific paper released last week supports the notion that we live in a wiggly 4-dimensional spacetime that is ‘bent’ by mass, jiggled by stellar mergers, and is continuously propagating gargantuan gravity waves. Some of these waves are light-years from crest to crest. Albert Einstein suggested we can think of spacetime as the body of a wriggling oyster or snail.

[T]here are no such things as rigid bodies with Euclidean properties. … For this reason non-rigid reference-bodies are used.  [They] might appropriately be termed a “reference mollusc.”
― Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special and General Theory

To measure the gravitational waves, scientists – get this – used the position of Jupiter.

The remarkable Euclid Space Telescope was launched on Saturday. Here is a video of the launch. Euclid is now on its way to join JWST at L2 well beyond the Moon, which will be a Super Moon on Tuesday.

We’ve learned that people living in free fall (microgravity or weightlessness) lose muscle and bone mass, develop vision problems, and suffer from low blood pressure when returning to Earth. Add another problem: brain ventricles become enlarged. To avoid such problems, NASA is considering a tethered rotating habitat for upcoming crewed Mars missions.

In our last raffle, Roz H. won a kit to create a model of the JWST. This time the prize is a 51 x 69 cm (20 x 27 in) 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle “Our Solar System” from the Smithsonian. Just send an email before noon Friday to david.almandsmith [at] with an integer between 0 and 1,000.


In 2018, 48% of American adults had “a great deal of confidence” in the scientific community. That dropped to 39% in 2022. Much of that decline is attributable to Republicans. Their numbers dropped from 45% in 2018 to 22% in 2022. A similar decline is seen in Republicans having high confidence in medicine: from 42% down to 26%. The numbers for Democrats have remained unchanged.

Although it was announced in February, Google has yet to release its videos in Europe designed to vaccinate people against “fake news”.  Maybe soon?

My Picks of the Week (put reminders on your mobile phone)

– BayCon2023: Science Fiction Convention  Monday & Tuesday, Santa Clara, $

– The Ideological Subversion of Biology  Livestream – Wednesday 4pm

– After Dark: See for Yourself  Thursday 6-10pm, ExplOratorium, S.F., $

– Night Life  Thursday 6-10pm, Cal Academy of Sciences, S.F., $

– Lifecycle of the Stars  Friday 6-10pm, Chabot Space & Science Ctr, Oakland, $

– Fun with Physics  Saturday 10-3pm, Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley, $

– Solar Observing  Sunday 2-4pm, Tilton Ranch, Morgan Hill


¿How did that tick get on me?  It probably took advantage of static electricity.

¿Why do mosquitoes ignore me for other people? Well, for one thing, i’m not pregnant.

As every cell ages, the chance increases of it suffering a cancerous mutation that will be fatal to the entire animal. Mice and rats have far fewer cells than humans yet cancer usually limits their lifespan to under 4 years. At the other end, the great whales have far more cells yet some live over 200 years. This is called Peto’s Paradox, named after English statistician and epidemiologist Richard Peto who in 1977 published this lack of correlation between cell number and cancer. A recent study supports the explanation that Peto’s Paradox is due to some animals being better at DNA repair. The SENS Research Foundation in Mountain View is studying numerous factors that contribute to aging with the goal of developing technology to end human mortality due to aging. ¿Impossible? The jury is out.

Researchers at University College London are studying our primate predecessors in their quest to learn about the origins of masturbation. (I must admit it’s noteworthy sexual self-pleasuring can be mentioned at all – anywhere. Seventy years ago, using the word “pregnant” in conversation was impolite.)

Do androids dream of electric sheep? Do octopuses have nightmares? By the way, Cephalopod Week just ended.


The number of people commuting to San Francisco via BART remains less than half of pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, commuting by (gas-burning) cars across the Bay Bridge remains high regardless of its snail pace. Temporarily raising the bridge toll would encourage a return to public transportation and a decrease in CO2 emissions, but some legislators want to protect their constituents from a fare increase

My partner just traded in her leased 2020 plug-in hybrid Niro for a 2023 all-electric Niro with no increase in her monthly payment! Part of the reason is a substantial price break for leased EVs. Check it out. If you would rather purchase, lists new and used EVs. (I do not know how “good” this company might be.)

By some estimates, “safe boundaries” have already been breached in our climate crisis. 

Ads and commercials by Chevron and other oil companies stress their advances toward clean energy. Don’t believe them.

Let me recommend the hourlong PBS Nova program, Chasing Carbon Zero.


With Jair Bolsonaro no longer leading Brasil, it was expected that the loss of Amazonian forests would abate. Sadly, that is not the case. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is finding it difficult to rescind the forest-destroying policies and sales of his predecessor.

I was recently fortunate to view a night sky full of stars horizon to horizon. We were visiting relatives in Joshua Tree where the park has been designated an International Dark Sky Park. Recent data shows that skies in populated areas are getting brighter at a fast pace.

Fun Nerdy Videos

Cleo the mysterious mathematician – Up and Atom – Jade Tam-Holmes – 1 min
(answer shown in the video should end with “square root of ϕ”)

¿How do we define a second? – Dr. Becky – Becky Smithurst PhD – 1 min

Monster Black Holes – NASA – 2 mins

Joseph Swan: Lightbulb Inventor – The Right Chemistry – Joe Schwarcz PHD – 5 mins

¿Is gravity a force? – Fermilab – Don Lincoln PhD – 10 mins

Why Nautiloids survived and Ammonoids did not – Geo Girl – Rachael Phillips – 12 mins

¿How close  a supernova is too close? – PBS Space Time – Matt O’Dowd PhD – 17 mins

StarTalk Cosmic Queries – Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chuck Nice, Matt O’Dowd – 53 mins

Have a safe (if not necessarily sane) 4th of July,
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.”
– John Adams (1735-1826) 2nd U.S. President

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