Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing Uncertainty

Cumbre Vieja Volcano

f you are awed by volcanoes near as much as i, check out this live feed or this live feed of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma in the Canary Islands. (More interesting in daylight but more awesome at night.) Or view it from the perspective of a (suicidal) drone. Chunks of lava are being blasted over 300 meters high. The island has over 50 distinct cinder cones from previous Strombolian eruptions.

In June of 2019, i mentioned evidence that Sodom and Gomorrah might have been destroyed by a Tunguska-like meteor ‘airburst.’ Further research has just been published and the conclusions are gruesome. Not only were those cities (Tall el-Hammam & Tall Nimrin) obliterated, the airburst also brought down the walls of not-too-distant Jericho. The blast was so powerful and hot that it dismembered people and charred their fragmented bones. Ceramics and bricks shattered and melted. Bits of carbon were heated and compressed into nanodiamonds. The fertile landscape burned. Salt from water in the dead sea settled on the land, poisoning the soil. A fertile region that supported 50,000 people was abandoned until 600 years of rain finally leached enough salt out of the soil to again allow crops to grow and livestock to graze. Wow.

The authors compared that airburst to the Chelyabinsk event in 2013 (estimated 20m diameter meteor weighing 10,000 tonnes yielding a 440 kiloton blast) and to the Tunguska event in 1908 (estimated 50m diameter meteor weighing 150,000 tonnes yielding a 12 megaton blast). The authors concluded the event in 1650 BCE was greater still. I find it interesting that survivors of the 1908 event and survivors of the 1650 BCE event both ascribed the blasts to gods punishing wickedness.

This video takes a deep dive into the difficulties of dealing with climate change.

¿Remember the Kessler Syndrome? Space debris apparently explains the recent breakup of a Chinese satellite.

Among countries with more than 50 million people, only Brazil, Italy, and Colombia have lost a higher percentage of their population to COVID-19 than has the United States. COVID fatalities in the U.S. now exceed 700,000 persons. A professor in the U.C. San Francisco Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics expects that every person on this planet will be exposed to COVID-19.

¿Have you prepared for the next big one?

Another California oil spill is killing seabirds and fouling beaches. If captured while still healthy, many oiled birds can be cleaned and released to the wild – thanks to International Bird Rescue in Fairfield (and to yours truly when i was David Smith). 

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service moved 23 plant and animal species from the ‘endangered list’ to the ‘extinct list.’

If you’ve been paying attention, i’ve presented nothing but unsettling phenomena: volcanoes, meteors, climate change, Kessler Syndrome, COVID, earthquakes, oil spills, and extinctions. Yes, nothing is certain except – as the maxim goes – death and  taxes. Here is a doctor’s advice on living with uncertainty.

I’m so sorry about last month’s contest to win a model of SpaceshipTwo & WhiteKnightTwo since i neglected to include my email address: It was finally won by Andrew M. The random number was 582 and he guessed 669. This time we’re offering a pillow commemorating Inspiration4 and its beneficiary, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It’s puffy and would be 45cm (18”) square if you took out the batting. Send me an email (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. The person who came closest wins the pillow.

My picks for the week:

The COVID-19 Pandemic and What Comes Next – Tuesday 12:30 – 1:30pm
Local Decisions, Regional Impacts: Informing Sea-Level Rise Adaptation – Tuesday 5 – 6pm, $
What Happened in the Big Bang? – Wednesday 12:30 – 2pm, $
Bird-friendly Chocolate – Thursday 5 – 6pm, $

In Person:
After Dark: Extraterrestrials – Thursday 6 – 10pm, explOratorium, San Francisco $
Nightlife – Thursday 6 – 10pm, Cal Academy of Sciences, San Francisco $

Saildrone made in Alameda took video and data during a wild ride through Hurricane Sam a few days ago. And if that didn’t cause you motion sickness, try this static image!

¿Remember Nicolas Flamel from the Harry Potter stories? He was a real person!

Sho-Ka-Kola, Coca-Cola, Benzedrine, the 1936 Olympics, and World War II

¿How strong is 20 tesla? (We are talking about magnetic field strength, not electric cars.) A refrigerator magnet creates about 5/1000 of a tesla. A neodymium magnet creates about 1.25 tesla. The LHC superconducting magnets at CERN create about 8 tesla. The record for a sustained magnetic field is 20 tesla, and this has great potential.

I hope you found this missive informative and entertaining. We always appreciate your feedback.

Be adventurous this week; also expand your sphere of empathy – if only a little bit,
Dave Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics

“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”
– Alan Turing (1912 – 1954) Mathematician 

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