Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982
James Webb Space Telescope

Welcome Dear Reader,

I’m sitting in the comfort of an RV with near-freezing temperatures outside (elevation 2,100 m) as i write this SciSchmooze missive. The RV park has WiFi so it’s much like working from home. Here are a few observations you may find interesting.

ONE: Renewable energy generation is obvious out in the southwest deserts. East of San Diego on edge of the Borrego Desert are oodles of gargantuan wind turbines. Between there and Phoenix are square miles of concentrated solar power (CSP) and photovoltaic power plants.

TWO: Landscapes on our wanderings are amazingly beautiful. (Cue oohs & aahs.)

THREE: Water resources in the deserts are egregiously overused. The aquifers are drying up. I learned from an architect who lives near Prescott, Arizona that residents with their own water wells are forced to drill the wells deeper. His 100 meter-deep well dried up. He paid a lot to increase its depth to 200 meters. His neighbor had to increase his well to 600 meters. A nearby shopping center sank their well to 1,500 meters to guarantee water access for years to come. The local residents worry that businesses will quickly lower the water table so much that home owners will not be financially able to reach water for their personal wells.

FOUR: We visited the extensive cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon National Park. They were built during the 125-year period from 1125 to 1250 CE. The level land above the near-vertial canyon walls was their farmland. Why they left is unknown but they may have become today’s Hopi.

FIVE: We went to the 50,000 year-old, world’s best-preserved meteor crater just 8 km off Route 66 – aptly named “Meteor Crater.” Awesome huge. The crater is about 1,200 m in diameter, 170 m deep, and the rim rises 45 m above the surrounding land. Most of downtown San Francisco could fit on the crater’s floor with the tip of the TransAmerica Pyramid poking slightly above the level of the rim. Before erosion of the crater’s sides, the floor was over 200 m deeper. The “impactor” was an iron meteorite about 50 m in diameter. I ogled the reasonably-priced fossils in the gift shop (ammonites, nautiloids, trilobites, etc.) but came away with just a couple of small black glass tektites produced from the impact.

As we continued east on Route 66 (Interstate 40, actually) we paralleled a speeding four-engine freight train. Freight trains in North America are diesel-electric: a fossil fuel diesel engine runs a generator that supplies electricity to the electric motors that power the wheels. By simply adding a “battery car” next to the engines, the train need not burn any fossil fuel at all. While battery cars are sitting around recharging for the ‘next’ freight train, they can serve as power storage for the electrical grid. This could really work! And why stop at freight trains? Cargo ships may soon use wind power to reduce costs. And beneath the waves we naturally find sex.

We hope to reach New Mexico’s White Sands this sojourn. Fossilized human footprints have been found there that might be over 20,000 years old. For a general overview of people in the Americas, i liked this video.

My ONLINE picks for the week:
What to Expect in 2022: COVID-19: Ask The Experts – 2pm Monday
Dangers of the “Lost Civilization” Trope – 7:30pm Thursday
The James Webb Space Telescope: Great science will be launching soon! – 8pm Friday

My IN PERSON picks for the week:
After Dark: Light Play – 6-10pm Thursday, Exploratorium, San Francisco, $
Saturday Cinema: Luminous Stories – Two showings at 1pm & 3pm, Saturday, Exploratorium, San Francisco, $
Afternoon Hike at Mindego Hill – 1-4pm Sunday, Los Altos

In spite of a gut-wrenching glitch, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is scheduled to be launched this month from French Guiana. Here is an in-depth article on the JWST and the science that it will address – if all goes well.

If you would like a large JWST pin to wear or to gift, send an email to (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 pin to the person who chose the closest number. Dimensions: 3.5 x 4.5 x 0.2 cm.

The Omicron is the current COVID-19 variant in the news, but we could exhaust the Greek alphabet unless global vaccine hesitancy is radically reduced. Of course medical scams continue due to distrust and ignorance of medical science. Scammers are able to bill up to $8,000 for a few minutes of “electroacupuncture” quackery.

Good news: a Gallup poll of people in 113 nations shows that “science” is globally gaining in respectability. What makes the 6 o’clock news, however, are the disturbing instances of people refusing to respect scientific findings.

Take advantage this week of what your existence allows, be it adventure, compassion, learning, loving, conversation, … the list goes on and on and on,

Dave Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics

“Without curiosity you’re no longer probing for what is true. If someone says, “I saw Bigfoot the other day,” there are people who say, “Yeah, that’s great!” And people who say, “No, you’re full of shit” — both of those responses require no brain work. What is the brain work I would like to see more of? It’s: Tell me more. When did you see this? Where did you see it? Did you find other evidence? You start probing. It’s the absence of curiosity that concerns me.” 
– Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist

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