Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing with Uncertainty

from the desk of David Almandsmith

Water availability on the Moon?

It has been known for years that water ice exists in polar craters on the Moon. Sunlight never reaches some places in those craters and (surprisingly to me) ice there has not sublimated away into space. Now a study from the University of Colorado posits that ice could exist all over the surface in tiny nooks and crannies. And then, a NASA study confirmed finding water on the Moon on sunlit surfaces. Uh. Allow me to introduce a skeptical take on this. Phil Plait of “Bad Astronomy” suspects that the spectral signature of water found by the NASA study is best explained by water molecules trapped in glass beads that form when water bearing meteors smash into the Moon. Extracting water from glass beads doesn’t sound practical, and it is possible that ice does not exist in nooks and crannies in quantities helpful to future Moon missions. Water availability on the Moon for future manned missions? Uncertain.
Life on Venus?

Astronomers at Cardiff University announced the detection of phosphine in the clouds of Venus. Since chemists are unaware of a non-biological path to producing phosphine, perhaps life exists high in the Venusian atmosphere where temperature and pressure are not so extreme. However, several follow-on papers and communications point out problems with analysis of the original data. Back to Phil Plait: he wrote a column about these issues. What will future data show us? Uncertain.
Japan carbon neutral by 2050?

Last Monday, Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, announced that Japan  will be carbon neutral by 2050. He said that Japan would harness the power of innovation, and use regulatory reform to achieve this. We can all applaud that goal, however he failed to announce any concrete plans for reaching carbon neutrality. Will Japan reach that goal on time? Uncertain.
Have we reached “Peak Oil”?

Peak Oil is the term used for the world’s highest use of oil during any one year – for all time. British Petroleum believes we have reached that point. Oil use during 2020 is lower than 2019 due to the pandemic and BP expects that no future year will exceed the oil consumption of 2019. The graphs in this article are fascinating; they show projected global demands for oil, natural gas, coal, hydro power, nuclear power, renewable power, and overall energy. However, is BP correct? Uncertain.

For the last 3+ years, the ISS has been carrying the Japanese Tanpopo experiment which exposed several species of bacteria to space, and also collected ‘dust’ while in orbit looking for microbes drifting in space. The second part of that experiment is still being investigated, but they announced that several species of Deinococcus bacteria survived three years of exposure just fine, thank you. This result gives a little bit of a boost to the idea of panspermia, where life spreads between planets, and maybe even between star systems. Possible? Uncertain.
Life elsewhere in the Universe?

We are now pretty certain there are more planets than stars in our galaxy, and there is no reason to doubt the same is true in other galaxies. This week I stumbled upon an animation showing a hypothetical journey toward the middle of our galaxy. What is especially cool about the video is the amazing number of stars in the final view; and by deduction an awesome number of planets. This information does not guarantee that life exists on a planet other than Earth, but when we consider that there are more galaxies than stars in the Milky Way, it strongly suggests that life exists elsewhere. Final Answer? Uncertain. [Extra Credit: Respond with your favorite answer to the Fermi Paradox, and i may include your submission in a future SciSchmooze.]
James Randi, the Amazing Randi, died on October 20. He did more to expose charlatans and bogus claims of psychic powers than perhaps any other in the last half century. However, he has been accused of “destroying skepticism.” That accusation has been nicely countered while admitting that James Randi was “human.” The “Onion” paid homage to the Amazing Randi by ‘reporting’ that Randi continues to harass psychics who prey on the gullible.
My picks for the week:
Stanford Energy Seminar – Livestream, Monday 4PM
Can an Early Hot Mars Resolve the Faint Young Sun Paradox? – Livestream, Friday Noon
Is Anybody Out There? – What is the possibility of other intelligent life in the universe? – Livestream, Saturday 7PM
Guy Fawkes Day is Friday. In Alan Moore’s graphic novel, V For Vendetta, the man in the Guy Fawkes’ mask states, “Knowledge, like air, is vital to life. Like air, no one should be denied it.” I’ll second that.
Step outside tonight and enjoy a very bright Mars, and also note that Jupiter and Saturn are pretty darn close to each other in the night sky. Day by day they will continue getting closer until December 21 when they start to move apart again.
Please stay safe, and because the result is uncertain – if you haven’t already – vote.

David Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics board member
SCIENCE: “It’s less the parade of decisive blockbuster discoveries that the press often portrays, and more a slow, erratic stumble toward ever less uncertainty.”
Ed Yong, The Atlantic (1981 – )

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