Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Searching with The SciSchmooze

Lunar Eclipse – Copyright John Kraus, 2021

from the desk of Dave Almandsmith

Hello again, Friend of science,

Dr. Elizabeth Bik searches for faked images, plagiarized passages, and incorrectly interpreted data in scientific papers. She is amazing in her ability to recognize improperly re-used images even when they are reversed and rotated. She presented a paper on “Misconduct in Scientific Papers: Plagiarism, Fabrication, and Falsification” at the Bay Area Skeptics “SkeptiCal 2019.” Now she has been sued for exposing deficiencies in a study purporting to show the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19. Hopefully, she – and good science – will triumph.

If you wish to search data on COVID-19, the New York Times just published a wealth of interactive charts and maps.

Some scientists search for the most extreme extremophiles – organisms that survive in difficult circumstances, such as hot water and high pressure. Recently, microbes extracted from 100-million-year-old sediment resumed living and reproducing. Apparently, a slow mode of life in ancient sediments is possible because low levels of radioactive decay split water molecules to form metabolically active hydrogen and useful chemicals such as peroxides. Showing that microbes can survive millions of years in rock supports the idea of panspermia – that life can be transported between planets and perhaps between star systems. Indeed, elements from a distant supernova that occurred less than 3 million-years-ago, have (apparently) made their way to Earth.

It now seems a bit more likely that searches by Perseverance, or future expeditions, may find life on Mars – ancient microbes patiently waiting for better conditions.

Zhurong phone home. The Chinese Mars rover, Zhurong, keeps taking pictures and gathering data, but it cannot transmit that information until the single Chinese Mars orbiter, Tianwen-1, passes overhead. The orbiter, in turn, cannot transmit the info back to Earth until it is in the right position. Perseverance, on the other hand, transmits to any of three (or four?) Mars orbiters placed there by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). Infrastructure.

Ingenuity, the spunky little Martian helicopter, went searching the neighborhood and thankfully recovered from serious flight problems.

The search for a kitchen refrigerator for use on the International Space Station may finally be ending. (Imagine a home that has gone over 20 years without a kitchen refrigerator, although i wonder why they do not have one using a Peltier solid-state heat pump.) There have been refrigeration units for climate control and for experiments, but nothing for milkshakes.

If you are searching for a ride to space, you may be in luck (and out a bundle of cash). Virgin Galactic had another successful excursion into space this week – if you accept NASA’s definition of space being higher than 50 miles. The entire rest of the world is on the Metric System, so international agreements define space as being above 100 kilometers – the Kármán Line – which is 62.137 miles high.

One more bit of space news. The search for a site to launch satellites into polar orbit has settled on a bit of real estate in northern Sweden. If instead you just want to get a satellite into orbit, launching from near the Equator gains you about thousand miles per hour (1,600 kph) due to the Earth’s rotation. That west-to-east velocity is actually a hindrance for getting a satellite into a polar orbit, hence the value of a high-latitude spaceport.

If you are searching for some good live online programs this week, here are my picks:

After Dark: 500 Queer Scientists – Thursday 7pm PT (02:00 UTC) (explOratorium)
Maria Sibylla Merian, A Passion for Plants and Insects – Friday 11am PT (18:00 UTC) (UC Botanical Garden)
Live Telescope Viewing – Saturday 9 – 10:30 PT (04:00 – 05:30 UTC) (Chabot Space & Science Center)

While searching for good messages to share, i came across this pro-science article from the BBC and the proposal to resurrect FDR’s CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) with the establishment of Biden’s CCC (Civilian Climate Corps). Ever since serving in the Peace Corps, i have been a strong proponent of mandatory public service. There is also good news in efforts to limit CO2 emissions: batteries for electric vehicles continue to improve and the use of a new concrete called concretene.

Allow me to leave you with a mashup of Sixties Flower Children and Protein Synthesis (with apologies to Lewis Carroll for a ruthless slaughtering of the Jabberwocky).

Do a little gamboling and gimbling yourself this week,
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics board member

“One of the greatest joys known to man is to take a flight into ignorance in search of knowledge.”
 – Robert Staughton Lynd, Sociologist and author (1892 – 1970)

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