Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchnooze and Leap!

¿Do spiders dream of lethargic flies?

Hello again science fans,

Daniela Rößler (‘ß’ is a double-s symbol used in Deutschland) has gathered fascinating data suggesting that jumping spiders might actually dream while sleeping. ¿Sleeping spiders? Well, yes. Just about every animal has been observed in behaviors that seem to indicate sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is associated with dreaming in humans, and other mammals often move and sometimes vocalize during REM sleep. Problem here: the two big forward-facing eyes that salticids (jumping spiders) use for hunting prey don’t move; they’re fixed to the head. But their retinas do move! These tiny spiders look around their surroundings by moving their retinas back and forth – sorta like broad windshield wipers. Since young salticids are mostly transparent, Rößler filmed apparent REM sleep in a salticid species (Movie S2).

And then there are ‘sneezing’ sponges. Kid you not. Sponges secrete mucus to help trap ‘food’ (detritus, plankton, etc.) in their tiny little passages and every once in a while they expel that snot with a slo-mo sneeze.  

Gotta love this world we’re in!

There are monkeys in the Americas because some survived rafting across the Atlantic over 30 million years ago. Since then, old-world monkeys gave rise to apes including us – smart cookies that we are. Research on Capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica suggests that they have become rather social and intelligent here in the new-world resulting in close friendships, etc. Yet not all is vine and roses; Capuchins – as with many other primates – practice infanticide. 

Polio has not been eradicated. Wild poliomyelitis virus type 1 (PV1) is found in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and recently it turned up thousands of kilometers away in Malawi. More common are vaccine-derived polio viruses (VDPV). These are mutated forms of the oral poliomyelitis vaccine. Bummer. Apparently, hundreds if not thousands of people in England and in New York are currently infected with VDPV2 (vaccine-derived poliomyelitis virus type 2). Most people show no symptoms from polio, but for those who do develop symptoms, there is no cure and disabilities from the disease are generally permanent and can be fatal. (Which is a kind of permanence, i suppose.) Vaccinations are 100% effective but it’s anticipated that many will refuse to be vaccinated due to religious beliefs, conspiracy theories, and politics.

¿Seismometers in the air? Actually, yes. As the earth quakes, it creates low frequency sounds that travel much like other sounds. Seismometers firmly set on the ground work much better so why on Earth would scientists work on perfecting seismometers that hang from balloons? Because it has to do with Venus, not Earth. It’s too hot on the Venusian surface for instruments to survive, so the plan is to send a balloon-supported seismometer into the more temperate Venusian clouds

The James Webb Space Telescope – JWST from now on – gave us a spectacular view of the Cartwheel Galaxy. I’ll let astrophysicist Dr. Becky Smethurst of the University of Oxford tell you about it.

Kathryn H won the JWST mirror lapel pin when the random number generator disgorged 101. This time we’re offering a laser-cut kit of an 8-inch James Webb Space Telescope model. The photo shows the model completed by a previous SciSchmooze winner. Just send an email to david.almandsmith [at] (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 and mail the kit to the person who chose the closest number.

My Picks:

And a special event next month, but tickets will sell out fast:

  • Einstein: 7 – 830pm (followed by Q&A) Friday September 16, Davis

Important legislation was passed by the Congress! Imagine that! The oddly-named Inflation Reduction Act has much in it (over a third of a trillion dollars) that is earmarked for tackling climate change. Realistically, even that is insufficient – but it will help.

Space satellite studies of the Antarctic are revealing greater water loss than previous estimates. Some of that ice loss is from glaciers calving enough ice to cause a retreating glacier ‘face’. Another study shows that much of the continent’s surface is a few centimeters lower now than it was a few years ago. A study just published in Communications Earth & Environment estimates that the Arctic is warming up not twice as fast as the rest of our planet, but nearly four times as fast.

Take a tour through Meltsville to learn ways that higher temperatures affect cities.

Meanwhile, there are a host of developments that are reducing fossil fuel consumption. All-electric locomotives are shuttling train cars around rail yards. (Think of them as gigantic Teslas on rails.) Ocean-going ships are installing Flettner Rotors. So far, reduction in the use of fossil fuels by these technologies is slight – but they are pushing past the ‘proof of concept’ phase.

Approximately 600 humans die from COVID each day in the U.S. That is manageable from a public health standpoint – but horrific. Two older acquaintances of mine were treated with Paxlovid and both experienced ‘rebound’. Rebound is the term used when a person tests negative after a bout with the disease, but just days later symptoms return and tests are again positive. It is surprisingly and bafflingly common. The two suffered only minor symptoms and recovered fully.

I leave you today with a few fun and fascinating videos:

Be bold this week, reach out, expand your empathy space,
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations. Examples include the double helix in biology and the fundamental equations of physics. 
― Stephen Hawking (1942 – 2018) Theoretical physicist and cosmologist

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