Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Bob Siederer
8 April 2024

A total solar eclipse

Hello again Science fans!

Are you ready for the big eclipse? It may be my imagination, but I don’t think there was this much press and excitement for the total solar eclipse in 2017. Bay area weather looks pretty good so we may be able to see the partial eclipse well here. I spent 13+ years in Akron, OH and this is the first time I’m half wishing I still lived there, as they are in the path of totality. However, their forecast is for mostly cloudy tomorrow, which is pretty typical. Cleveland, which is 45 miles away and also in the totality path, is the third cloudiest locale in the US, after Seattle and Portland, but only by a couple of days.

We have several events listed for eclipse watching that you might want to try attending. Many San Mateo county libraries will be holding free viewing events. You can see the list here.

If you want to watch the eclipse from the path of totality, here are several webcasts…The ExplOratoriumSETI Institute, and NASA among them. Herb is once again with the ExplOratorium crew at the backup site somewhere in Mexico, where they are working with NASA to bring the stream to the public.

How do we know when an eclipse is coming? (Please don’t say I just Google it!). All sorts of superstitions surrounded ancient solar eclipses. Animals and humans were sacrificed to the gods in hopes the sun would return. It always did, so the gods must have listened! The history of eclipse prediction is an interesting read.

You have, no doubt, seen several maps showing the path of totality along with percentage bands that can be used to figure out how much of the sun will be blocked at various points outside the path. It turns out most of those maps are slightly wrong, according to Forbes! Imagine being the officials in one of those cities that was on the edge and promoted events for the public to come to their city to see the total eclipse, only to find it won’t really be total there! Oopsie!

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, there was an earthquake measuring 4.8 on the Richter scale on Friday morning. Most of the stories I saw were about how it felt in New York City and didn’t even mention New Jersey. Having grown up in the Garden State and having lived in a house my family built that is about a half hour from the epicenter, I’m well aware of the inferiority complex New Jersey has. It seems some things never change. Here’s a story about the Ramapo fault. It is kind of basic in some ways as it explains what causes earthquakes to those folks living in New Jersey who have never experienced one, stuff that’s old hat to us in California. Our building codes make our buildings safer from major quakes, but in that part of the east coast, buildings are not designed to withstand significant quakes.

Then there is the candidate for the NJ Senate who blamed climate change for causing the earthquake.

NASA did a test drive of the mini autonomous rovers that are planned to fly to the moon next year. They are part of some technology called CADRE and will be used to map the Moon’s surface in 3D.

NASA is also tasked with developing Coordinated Lunar Time, a new time zone for the Moon that you probably didn’t know you needed.

Every year around this time, forecasters at Colorado State University make their predictions for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season. This year will apparently be a doozie, with 23 named storms and 5 major hurricanes.

I’d guess most of us don’t think we’re easy to manipulate. Yet GPT-4 is better at getting us to change our minds than other people are. And if GPT-4 can see us, it gets really, really good as it can read our reactions and emotions.

David sent us this video link…April 19th is bicycle day and the origin of the day has nothing to do with exercise or the environment.

The gas station on my street installed a hydrogen pump a while back. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but soon lots of Toyota Mirais were lined up for a fill-up. California is the only state where hyrdogen-fueled cars are marketed. A target of 200 hydrogen filling stations in the state was set for next year. But the number of stations in operation is going down, not up, with only 66 remaining, and those that do exist are apparently plagued with problems. Seems the Valero on my street is a rarity!

Have you ever asked someone if they voted or not and their answer was something along the lines of “my vote doesn’t matter, it is just one vote”? Here’s a real world example from our literal back yard that proves it does matter! I live in this congressional district.

Heather Cox Richardson published a piece last Sunday on President Biden’s executive order to the National Park Service to “highlight important figures and chapters in women’s history”. Much of the article is about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and closes with a paragraph that stood out to me in these divisive times.

Ginsburg often quoted Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous line, “The greatest menace to freedom is an inert people,” and she advised people to “fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

Here’s the whole article, if you’re interested.

Enjoy the eclipse, and have a great week in Science!
Bob Siederer

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