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  • Jerome Kocher

25. Follow the Science

This is NOT about COVID. Thank God! It’s not even about the United States. It is about a recent February edition of “Science News,” a magazine of the Society for Science founded in 1921 with the purpose to inform and inspire us lay people, non-scientists, about the wonders of the world(s) around us.

It helps me get out of our national navel staring competition and gives gentle reminders of how wonderful the universe is and we are, despite what Twitter says. The following are simple highlights that struck a chord with me.

Opposable Thumb

Forget the track pad or the mouse. One of the earliest and greatest innovations in technology was the evolution of the opposable thumb with anatomical changes about two million years ago. This allowed hominids to grasp and manipulate objects, leading to the creation of tools. Stone artifacts became much more common across the African landscape.

If only we could evolve the equivalent today with our ‘thinking” in order to “grasp” the critical issues of our time.

Milky Way Bath

“The Milky Way glows with a gamma ray haze, with energies vastly exceeding anything physicists can produce on earth.” This form of high-energy light is a “source of mysterious, highly energetic cosmic rays, charged particles that careen through the galaxy, sometimes crashing into Earth’s atmosphere. . . After cosmic rays are spewed from their birthplaces, scientists believe they roam the galaxy, twisted about by its magnetic fields. . . We live in a bubble of cosmic rays.”

So the next time you gaze up at the Milky Way galaxy, of which we are a peripheral part, imagine yourself being immersed in a bath of cosmic rays. A bubble bath to be exact.

Cosmic Warming

“According to a new study, the universe is 10 times warmer today than it was 10 billion years ago.” The universe is getting hotter every day. Move over global warming, meet cosmic warming.

That gives me a sense of relief about driving an SUV. I obviously do not have that much control over the universe. Less guilt is good.

Talent Search

The Regeneron Talent Search is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. The competition is designed to engage and inspire the next generation of scientific leaders. On the back page of Science News they published the names of all 40 finalists.

I could not help but notice that almost fifty percent had Asian names. It doesn’t surprise me because where I taught high school in Southern California the students who qualified at graduation for the prestigious California Scholarship Federation awards were disproportionately dominated by Asians as well. They were honored for academic achievement. Although some may call this racist, the fact is some cultures promote and encourage education more than others. The proof is in the numbers. It’s a merit based system, not based on skin color, but based on the content and achievement of your character, just as Martin Luther King, Jr. would want it to be.

Finally, What the Sun Gives, It Can Take Away

Everyone knows the sun is the source of our earthly life starting with light and warmth, all the way down to the chlorophyll producing plant world as the basis for our food production. But the source of this earthly goodness is an uninhabitable environment on the sun itself. Besides the obvious heat, solar storms shoot out intense pulses of energy with large bursts of charged particles towards the earth. In 1859 a solar storm hit the Northern Hemisphere in America and Europe knocking out telegraph systems and even electrifying some telegraph operators.

A more powerful solar storm is a corona mass ejection (CME) which can generate the dazzling Aurora Borealis near our poles. But it can also destroy our communication systems, overwhelming transformers and making them melt or explode. In 1989 a power blackout over the province of Quebec affecting New England and New York took out the electrical grid for over nine hours.The bad news is these electromagnetic radiations can possibly reach the earth in eight minutes. The good news is we have technology and satellites today that monitor solar weather so we can power down our grids and satellites as a defense. But all communication, airlines, military and yes, social media, are vulnerable. Technology today has improved over the telegraph, but it will also take a harder fall. And so will we.

This respite from domestic political theater masquerading as science was brought to you by Science News . . . because facts don’t care about your feelings! And neither does science.

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