Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing to Infinity

Solar panel production in Dalton, Georgia [Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg]

Dear science aficionado,

Join us in another romp through recent (and not so recent) science revelations. But first, “Infinity.” Somehow i missed the Netflix movie, “A Trip to Infinity,” when it came out last year. Carve out 80 minutes this week to watch it. You won’t be sorry. The movie reminded me of a book i ‘absorbed’ during my senior year in high school: “One Two Three Infinity” by George Gamow. In 1956 Gamow was awarded the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for popularizing science. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sean Carroll, and Steven Pinker credit the book with informing or downright setting their careers. It was largely responsible for my majoring in physics at Cal. However, the book was first published in 1947 — so i’m recommending more recent books.


Some materials essential to industry – especially steel, aluminum, and cement – require a great deal of energy to produce and come with the  potential of releasing great quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere. As the United States, Canada, and the European Union clamp down on industrial CO2 release, it becomes more expensive to produce these materials domestically and cheaper to import them from countries with less stringent CO2 regulations. (Ex: steel from China) The typical strategy to boost domestic production is to levy import duties – a strategy fraught with political infighting and international tensions. ¿What to do? Enter CBAM – the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism just adopted by the European Union. The E.U. will gradually implement CBAM over the next three years at which time their imports will be taxed on the basis of how much more it is carbon-dirty compared to domestic production of that material – i.e., not taxed on political considerations. You get the gist: at the same time that E.U. domestic production is provided some protection, foreign producers are incentivized to clean up their production methods. It becomes a win for our planet but debate continues as to implementation details and fairness. Canada is working toward a similar system. The U.S. is making no progress in this direction. Here is a deep academic video discussion of CBAM made last December.

¿Want to do something for our planet? Encourage your federal representatives to implement a CBAM in the U.S.

Central Valley Flooding?
Tulare Lake continues to grow, submerging farmlands. A levee protecting Corcoran State Prison is being enlarged. Whether flooding becomes disastrous depends on how quickly snow melts in the Sierra Nevada. It does not bode well. The expected high temperature in Truckee today is 47°F (8°C). Next weekend they are expecting a high of 68°F (20°C). If heavy warm rains soon blanket the Sierra, flooding will indeed be disastrous.

Manda B. from Hartford, Maine won the Galileo Thermometer with her guess of 903, which was spot on. She chose to receive the Celsius version – a true nerd (meant in the nicest possible way). The prize this time is a SciSchmooze coffee mug with your name on it. Just send an email before noon Friday to david.almandsmith [at] with an integer between 0 and 1,000.

My Picks of the Week

– Music of the Spheres – Tickets go on sale Monday (and sell out fast!)
– A Star is Born – (Not a movie) 7:30pm Monday, Cal Academy, San Francisco, $
– Women in Astrophysics – 3:30 Wednesday, Stanford
– Extraterrestrial Life? – Livestream 7:30pm Thursday
– Climate Parables: Reporting from the Future – Live & Livestream Friday & Saturday 8pm


Hungry Star
About 5 billion years from now, Sol will eat Terra. That is, our Sun will eat the Earth. Throughout the cosmos, suns are engulfing their planets but until now astronomers had not seen such an event. Well, they didn’t see it in ‘real’ time but found the event in data from NASA’s NEOWISE (Near-Earth Object Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer). Watch a reënactment video of the planet’s last moments. The actual ‘swallow’ only took a moment.

Not so Tasty
It’s not a surprise, but extensive analysis of data collected in the last 50+ years agrees that our Moon has a solid core mostly of iron – and no green cheese.


¿Dancing Lessons?
Honeybees communicate the location of good nectar sources to other honeybees by using the waggle dance. It’s been assumed that the waggle dance comes ‘naturally’ to honeybees, and that’s partly true. Young honeybees raised separately did indeed use the waggle dance to communicate the location of nectar sources, but they were terrible at it. Apparently, young bees in a normal hive learn how to dance correctly from older bees, a surprising case of social learning among invertebrates.

Transportation Crisis
We are intimately aware of the COVID-19 Pandemic and many of us are – by now – aware of the Flu Pandemic of 1918, but few of us have heard of the Equine Flu of 1872. It is estimated that New York City at that time had 70,000 horses and mules drawing carriages, carts, fire-fighting pump wagons, streetcars, canal boats, and more. The equine flu spread rapidly throughout North America incapacitating horses and mules for weeks, but killing only about one percent of them. Imagine what would happen if all of today’s gasoline pumps suddenly went dry: commerce, transportation, shipping, and major events would come to a halt and fighting fires and transporting patients would be more difficult. That is what happened during the Equine Flu of 1872.

I rather like squirrels. We had a pet squirrel when i was just five years old and he was affectionate and delightful. (Today, keeping native animal species as pets is generally illegal.) So i was intrigued to learn that Eurasian Red Squirrels had been trained to sniff out drugs – in Chongqing, China – for real. Yes, dogs are great at sniffing out drugs, but dogs cannot crawl in and between large piles of packages.


Taking care of other animal’s young – SciShow – Hank Green, MS – 8 mins
Earliest galaxies too large? – Dr. Becky – Becky Smethurst, PhD – 19 mins
Fusion startups – Sabine Hossenfelder, PhD – 30 mins
Blueberry magic? – Cup o’Joe – Joe Schwarcz, PhD – 3 mins
How quantum computers break the Internet – Veritaseum – Derek Muller, PhD – 24 mins
What if alien life were silicon-based? – PBS Space Time – Matt O’Dowd, PhD – 22 mins

Get together and enjoy yourself with your friends this week,
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”
– Stephen Hawking (1942 – 2018) English theoretical physicist

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