SGU Episode 872

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SGU Episode 872
March 26th 2022
872 sls on pad.jpg
SGU 871 SGU 873
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week
For scientists, transparency is a way to promote reproducibility, progress, and trust in research. For philosophers of science, transparency can help address the value-ladenness of scientific research in a responsible way. Nevertheless, the concept of transparency is a complex one.
Kevin C. Elliott, American professor of Philosophy[1]
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Show Notes
Forum Topic

Introduction, DST year-round in USA[edit]

Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Tuesday, March 22nd, 2022, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: (pauses) Wait. What do I say? "Hey, everybody"? Hello? (Cara and Evan laugh.) Oh shoot. Crap. (feebly) What's up!

S: Really?

Cara Santa Maria...

C: (laughing) Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: I can't top Bob, but hello, everyone.

S: Bob! Your second-worst intro ever.

(Rogues Laugh)

E: Oh snap!

J: That is saying something!

E: Ouch!

B: That's what I was shootin' for.

E: Second-worst!

S: Good. Well, mission accomplished. (Cara and Evan laugh.)

Was it just last week? Last week we were talking about the fact that just, out of nowhere, the Senate unanimously passed this bill[2] with a provision to make daylight savings time permanent, perennial—basically, year-round. And we all thought that was a great idea. And we got—this was our most email response-topic of the week. Just the—

E: —Definitely.

S: —offhand discussion that we were having. Everybody had basically the same feedback. We were saying how this was a great idea, but actually it's controversial or it could be a bad idea, and there are concerns about going to perennial daylight savings time. But here's the thing. We were only—there's two components to this, right? One is making one time permanent, and then the other is—

C: —Right. Not which time is it.

S: —Yeah. Is it DST, daylight savings time, versus standard time. And we were only really talking about the first bit. It's like, yes—and that is really not controversial. Everyone pretty much agrees, scientists, etc., no matter what angle you look at it, the feedback is, basically, everyone agrees we should have one, perennial time. And that most of the negative impacts come from the switching twice a year. Like there's definitely an increase in car accidents after the "spring forward" and more heart attacks and things like that. So let's talk about the second part, right, since we didn't talk about that last week: daylight savings time versus standard time. What do you guys think?

C: So, if we stay on daylight saving, that means, then, that the Sun is up later?

S: Mm-hmm.

C: Well, okay.

B: Yep. Yeah.

C: The day is shorter, regardless, in the winter. Right? The Sun is out for less time in the winter, regardless.

J: Mm-hmm.

B: Right.

C: But if we stay on daylight saving, we're pushing the Sun back slightly later, so there's a chance that people are going to work and school in the dark. And that seems to be the biggest complaint, right?

S & J: Mm-hmm.

C: And so if we do it the opposite way, our day starts with more sun, but it gets dark earlier in the day.

S: Right.

C: I guess the question is, (laughing) which is more depressing? And also, which is—honestly, like from a public health perspective—which is healthier? I think early morning sun is probably healthier.

E: Hmm… (sighs)

J: Well the changing of time, I've read many, many, many times—because I think this article comes out every year—that when the time changes, people die because of it.

C: Well, yeah, but we're saying, all things being equal, [if] there is no time shift, which one do we stick with?

E: Right. Which one do we lock in? The one where you get less sun in the morning or more sun in the evening? Err, no…

S: Those are the same thing, Evan.

B: Well it's the same.

E: Yeah, it's the same thing. (Rogues laugh.) More sun in the morning, more sun in the evening.

J: Evan solved the problem!

E: Yeah! Solved that.

J: I think we do the one that requires no change.

C: No, but any—either of them requires a change. (Steve and Evan laugh.) Either we default to daylight saving, or we default to standard time.

E: You have to choose one.

C: We're going to change once.

J: Standard time all the way, 100%.

C: Okay. So if we stick—

J: —Guaranteed. No risk, guaranteed.

C: So if we stick with standard time, you're saying what a lot of the emailers said, and what I just said about it's lighter earlier in the day.

J: Yeah.

S: Gets dark earlier in the evening.

C: The Sun's going to set at like four o'clock—

E: —I don't like that.

C: —in some parts of the country.

E: I like more light in the evening because—

B: —Me too.

E: —because if more—I imagine the majority of the people work a, sort of, the classic nine-to-five kind of workday. That extra hour in the evening of light allows you to do more activities in the evening, whereas you're not going to be doing those activities anyways in the morning. You're kind of squandering that morning light.

J: Well, Ev—

C: —Yeah, but from a purely circadian kind of health neurological perspective, waking up with the Sun is healthier. It is. Like, shift workers don't do as well.

J: Wait—

S: —Well, that's shift working, though. But hang on. So, now I'm going to give you the actual answer. (Evan Laughs.)

C: Oh, come on! (Rogues laugh)

E: I didn't realize this was a—

S: —And the answer is—

E: —Science or Fiction.

S: —my favorite answer to these questions: it's complicated. (Evan laughs.)

C: Aww!

S: But I did do a deep dive onto this one. What does the science say? Because right after this happened, the American Sleep Association said, "No, this is bad. It should be standard time because—" So there's this concept of social jet lag—

J & C: Mm-hmm.

S: —which is a disconnect between your work hours, like when you get up and go to bed, and the sunrise and sunset. And they said that standard time is better aligned with our circadian rhythm than daylight saving time.

C: Yeah!

B: Wait. So which one is standard, then? Just make that clear.

C: Standard is earlier sun.

S: Standard time is—

E: —More sun in the morning.

S: Yeah. So, like, in the winter that—winter is standard time; the summer is daylight saving time.

E: For us in the northern hemisphere.

S: Doesn't matter what hemisphere you're in.

E: It doesn't?

S: I said seasons, not months.

E: Oh right, okay.

S: But in any case, so if we take just the purely scientific view rather than the personal choice view, it's what I'm saying. The scientific view—

C: —That's what I was making an argument for!

S: I agree with you that—I agree that that's the standard—the answer, then. But I looked into that, and that's actually a really shaky conclusion. So there was a systematic review that was published a couple years ago because this question keeps coming up and coming up. And they said, "You know…the data is really not there, and scientists should be a little bit more soft on their recommendations." First of all, we don't really have any head-to-head dst versus standard time scientific studies. We just don't. So we—

C: —But we must have studies of people who work an earlier shift versus people who—like, people who drive to work in the dark versus people who drive to work in the light.

S: Well, again, what I'm reading is we don't really have any head-to-head studies.

C: Hmm.

S: So everything is inferred mainly from the time shifting, and that's not really a good, you know, because you—

C: —Not at all.

S: Yeah.

B: Yeah.

S: And so the real answer is we don't know. But, having said that, if you take the evidence that we do have, what you could say is, "All right. Even though it's secondary sort of inferential, it does—it is leaning towards that standard time is better than daylight saving time." But—

B: —Why?

S: —the effect size is not that big!

C: Yeah.

S: And that's the other thing. It's like, okay, sure, but does it really matter?

B: It doesn't matter anyway.

S: Is it—

C: —What about all the people who wrote in to say, "We tried that."

S: Well, yeah.

C: We tried that for two years, to shift to daylight saving, and everybody freaked out and hated it, and we shifted back.

S: Yeah. So there's lots of—there's other variables, though, too. One of the points that a lot of the people brought up as well: it's not as safe for children to go to school in the morning. But, we've talked previously about the fact that school starts too early anyway.

C & B: Yes!

S: So in the same organization—the same Sleep Association of America, or whatever—says that we should start school an hour later. You know, if you did start school and hour later—

C: —Yeah. That solves the problem too.

S: —that would completely offset the permanent daylight saving time.

E: Sure would.

C: But that's an example, Steve, of where we're making decisions based on that sort of social thing, not based on the health.

S: Yeah.

C: Like the reason kids go to school when they go to school is because it's convenient for the parents.

S: Yes! Right.

C: Because of their jobs. Yeah.

S: So this is what I think after reading all of this. I don't think it really matters is the bottom line. I think what does matter is going to one time. That's what matters. The shift is bad. Shifting twice a year is definitely a no-go.

B: Then why don't you want more daylight at the end of the day? (Cara and Evan laugh.)

C: We just said why!

E: Bob and I are in the same camp.

S: Bob, this is why. Let me get to my actual point. If the clocks don't change, then the only other variable is when do you start school, when do you start work? It's the social clock, right? And so that we can leave up to the individual and to the individual school system or company or whatever. Everyone isn't forced to change because the clocks are changing. You could decide, or the school system could decide, "Well, given that this is the time and everything else, we're going to have school start at this time to make sure that kids get enough sleep, and it's light out in the morning when they're going to school." Whatever. And it's fixed because the clocked is fixed. You know what I mean?

C: Yeah, but do you really think that would happen, Steve?

S: Well, I'm saying that's what should happen.

C: I think people are just going to keep doing things—yeah, but I think people are going to do things the way they way always did it because they think that's what they should do.

S: But that's social convention. We can't change—

C: —It sucks!

S: —the Sun, but we have 100% control over when we decide that school's going to start or work is going to start or whatever. (Cara and Evan laugh.) And companies—

C: —That would take such a momentous cultural shift to go, "From now on, we're just going to, like, go to work at 10 instead of 8." (laughs) I just don't think it's going to happen.

S: Well…I, I disagree with that.

C: It's so embedded in the culture.

S: First of all, a lot of companies have already moved to flex time, where people can go in—they could decide what 8-hour period they want—

E: —I'd set my own hours, that's for sure.

S: —to work during the day. They can come an hour early. They can come an hour late. And that helps, too, because then that spreads out rush hour, so we're not all trying to get to work at the same exact time.

C: But certain industries don't allow for it. It is an understood and known fact that out here in L.A., in the entertainment industry, our days start between like 9 and 10. In New York, in the financial services industries, the days start at 7.

S: Mm-hmm. Yeah, but again, that's con—

C: —There's just whole industries that have—yeah, that have convention.

S: —Convention.

C: But also: Wall Street is Wall Street. Like, if you have to be at work when the market opens, you have to be at work when the market opens.

S: Yeah, but can't the market just decide, "We're going to open at 8 instead of 7"?

C: (laughing) They can but they won't (Evan laughs) is what I'm saying.

S: But if we're—

C: —There's being idealistic, and then there's being practical.

E: —Realistic.

S: But if we're changing the time, right, we're changing the clocks (Cara laughs), that's a bigger change than—

C: —I have a solution!

S: Yeah?

C: I have a solution, Steve.

E: Daylight—leave it alone.

C: We're going to do what they do in some parts of India, and I think there's a couple other places in the [world] that do it, and it's batshit: we'll split the difference—

E: —Half-hour?

C: —and we'll make time on the half-hour (laughing).

S: Oh, well, that's stupid. (Rogues laugh.)

C: There are, literally, some regions that do that. Isn't that bananas?

E: There are some half-hour time zones. Yeah.

C: Their time zone is on the half-hour.

E: Yeah, look at the time zone map. There's some weird places—

S: —Well that's the other thing to think about this, though, is that we have one-hour time zones, so that means that there are people who are already an hour shifted compared to other people in the same time zone.

E: That's right.

C: Absolutely!

S: Again, that's my point:

E: —Living on the borders of those zones…

S:it doesn't really matter. You have to individualize anyway. If you're on the western edge of a time zone, you may decide that you're going to do things an hour early on the clock or whatever. That's why I think the only real important thing is that we—

B: —Stick to one.

S: —don't change twice a year. We just pick one—

E: —Lock it in.

S: —That's the time. And then, now, everyone can decide when they're going to do stuff. And not everybody is forced to shift their clock twice a year.

B: Right. All right, so I'm going to jump in [and] make an argument for Evan and me. All right—

E: —Thanks, Bob.

B: —another, first off!, I mean, yeah. (Jay laughs.) I want summertime in that I want the day to be as long as possible in terms of sunlight at the end of the day. To me, that's just like, "Yeah! Why doesn't everybody feel that way?" Secondly—

C: —But summer's already long even if you're on daylight savings.

B: I know! I know, alright. (Rogues laugh.) That extra hour at the end of the day, I love.

Secondly, I mean, you know, people complain about driving to work in the dark. First off, the sunrise is beautiful thing! How many do you see? How many sunrises are you going to see until the end of your life? Probably not that many because most people wake up when [the Sun] is already up. This way you drive to work, you see a sunrise five days a week! That's awesome.

C: That's a good argument, Bob. (Evan laughs.) This is like—we're doing the throw down right now, and you might be winning.

J: Wait, wait, wait—

B: —Yup. (Evan laughs.) The only time I would ever win it on the podcast. (Rogues laugh.) Not on the stage.

J: I think that most of the time, when people wake up, the Sun is out. And it would be great—

B: —Exactly.

J: Right? The Sun is already up. It's probably smart to really do this largely by when do kids go up to the bus stop? What is the earliest round of kids going up to the bus stop? I believe that that time is somewhere around 8:30?—is when the earliest bus stops start to happen?

E: Right now? No…6:00.

C: No…L.A.'s bus stops are way before 8:30.

S: Yeah, that's because your kids aren't in high school yet, Jay.

J: Well what's the high—

C: —Yeah, Jay, it's 6:00. 6:45, 7:00, 7:30.

S: —It keeps getting earlier.

E: —6:30.

J: Okay. So why don't we have the Sun rise at 7:15? Kids are on the bus at 7:30. It's light out when kids are going to the bus.

S: So you're making an argument for standard time?

C: You're on standard time.

E: For shifting…

J: Standard time, but with a very specific change to when sunrise happens, to help kids get on the bus for school.

C: So you're actually talking not just about sticking to standard time but potentially changing what time of day it is based on the Sun, to even earlier.

S: I think Jay wants to change the orbit of the Earth.

J: No! (Cara laughs.) Because couldn't—Steve, can we standardize what time the Sun comes up around the clock?

S: No. No. Because we have time zones, as I just said. (Cara laughs.) It's going to come up an hour later for people at opposite ends of the same time zone.

C: Yeah, the time zone is just a line, a literal geographic line, and you might be right on the edge of it.

S: And if you have mountains where you live, that delays sunrise too.

J: That's true.

E: Sure does. Yes.

S: So you can't standardize that. But you just have to pick: do we want the Sun to be rising earlier so that kids will have a greater chance of having daylight when they're getting on the bus, or do we want sun at the end of the day? That's basically…—

E: —Sun at the end of the day, start the school day later.

S: —A one-hour variable.

C: And, again—

J: I think it's important for the Sun to be up, to some degree, in the morning. Right? So if kids are going to walk out to the—

E: —So move the school day.

S: Then make school start later.

J: I agree.

S: That's the other shift.

J: That's what I'm—

E: —That's the—That's where you have the control.

S: —And they can—we already know that we should be doing that because kids will get more sleep, and they do better in school, and everything is better.

E: There ya go.

S: So if we do that, then we can do daylight saving time.

J: Okay.

S: Now, here, just a couple more things that haven't been mentioned. So first of all, the Senate did debate this very question. They debated daylight saving time versus standard time, and they—

C: —And they chose daylight saving.

S: —They chose daylight saving. That's because a lot of industries came in and said, "We want daylight saving time. It's better for our industry." And that won the argument over kids getting to school safely.

C: Why was better for their industries? Longer working days?

S: Whatever. More sales, people shop more—

C: —Maybe farming?

S: —Well farms, from what I understand, don't care because the cows get up when the Sun does. They're kind of on solar time anyway, so it's not as big a deal, but—

C: —So it's all capitalism. Just consumption.

S: Yeah, basically.

C: (laughs) Just more daylight to consume and buy. (Rogues assent.)

S: But here's the other point of view. Again, the review article I read said the thing is it's not that big a deal in a way because of LEDs, because of lighting. We actually have so much bright, artificial lighting that our circadian rhythm isn't tied to the Sun the way it used to be. It's really—we have more control over it because of artificial lighting. So it may not be that big of an issue. You just light the streets and who cares if the Sun's up or not?

So anyway, it's complicated, as I said. There really isn't any clear answer, and the thing is, we may need to tie other decisions to this decision.

J: Mm-hmm

S: That's kind of my points. We can't do this in a vacuum. But I think that—pick—and I actually don't even really care. I think just pick one, and that's this time, and there's no change twice a year, and then, hopefully, the societal changes will adjust to it.

C: We'll adjust to it.

S: And we'll find the balance in all of these things. But we don't have—

E: —Bob and Evan care. (Bob laughs.)

S: —You can't assume that everything else is going to stay the same, and this is the only change we're going to make, and it's have to work. And that's probably why it failed back in the '70s because they didn't otherwise adjust to the fact that they were not switching their clock. Anyway, I think that's the deeper discussion of it.

C: And I can imagine that there's like this huge listenership that doesn't fall within our ideal latitude band that's like (Evan laughs) "What are you talking about!? I live in northern Scotland!

S: (Steve laughs.) Yeah, right.

C: The Sun comes up at like 11:00 AM and sets at like 5:00 P.M. It's horrible! (laughs)

E: Well there's a solution for that, too.

C: You know, and in the summer it stays up all day, too.

E: Go south.

C: It's like, we're kind of lucky in that we have that kind of classic 12 hours of Sun—or I don't know what our standard hour—8 to 12 [hours] over the course of the year.

S: It varies, yeah, based on the season.

J: So what's likely to happen?

E: We're 9 to 15 in Connecticut.

J: They're going to change all these schedules. They're not going to do the ultimate intelligent thing to do. They're going to change—they're going to get rid of daylight savings time, make it just—the clock doesn't change. And then, what are they not going to do that you think they should do?

C: Change [inaudible].

S: Right now they're going to make daylight saving time permanent. That's—

J: Yes.

C: —Which means it'll be dark at the school—at the bus stop.

S: Which means it'll be dark in the morning, even in the winter months.

C: And then they're not going to change the time that school starts. (laughs)

S: And, yeah, they should make school start later for multiple reasons, now, and they probably won't.

B:(wistfully) And they could see the sunrise every day. (Cara laughs.)

E: Assuming it's not cloudy.

S: Yeah. It's a big social experiment. That's the bottom line.

E: Oh boy. (Cara laughs.)

S: And I don't know that we could actually—how much we could learn from what happened in the '70s.

C: Yeah, I didn't even know about that. I only know of it because of all the people that wrote in to be like, (small voice) "Don't you remember?"

S: [inaudible]

E: Ah, no. (Rogues laugh.)

S: We literally have, what, twice as much lighting than we did back then?

B: Whoa.

S: I mean, it's completely—it's a different world.

B & E: [inaudible]

S: It's a different world.

C: Right.

E: (sing-song) "A whole new world!"

S: There ya go. All right. Let's go on to some news items.

News Items[edit]

SLS is Here (18:06)[edit]

S: Jay, tell us about the Moon rocket that's finally here.

J: Steve, did you know--

B: --Yeah!

S: Probably.

J: --that a human, a human has not been on the moon since 1972.

S: [inaudible]

J: We're talking about the early 70s, we're talking about like─

E: Right.

J: ─talking about.

C: [inaudible] changing daylight savings.

E: Yeah, daylight saving experiments.

S: 50 years.

C: Oh god don't bring that aloud.

J: The time that disco, that disco came into being, a person has not been on the Moon. So NASA has finally guys, oh my god finally rolled out its Space Launch System, SLS, to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center. This happened on Friday, March 18th. As you know this has been in development since 2011. But, this effort goes way back to when? You guys know when it really really started?

E: 2002.

J: 2004. Good guess Ev.

B: Wow.

J: NASA was, was asked by the President of the United States, George Bush to go back to the Moon and then Mars. So that's what got this whole thing rolling. The Orion program was then created in 2005 along with the then named Ares I rocket. This original rocket was then changed to the SLS, you know, because there there was lots of actual, lots of like versioning and changes happening here.

E: Oh yeah.

J: But they settled on the SLS, finally. This is a really big rocket guys. It's coming in at 111.25 meters or 350 feet high. That's over, what, 32 stories high? That's, this is huge. This thing is enormous.

B: High.

J: You know, longer than a football field. Huge. NASA is conducting critical tests on the rocket to prepare it for it's likely May, late May, maybe, right? Maybe. But most likely a June test launch. And that mission is called Artemis I, that's the Artemis I mission and we are actually gonna live to see it. Even though it took longer than expected to develop, I think it's worth saying that there is a lot of great technology here, but there's a lot of reused technology in this build. I'm not sure you guys know about this. It borrows heavily from the Apollo missions and from the Space shuttle missions. I mean they're using like rocket engines that were on the shuttle. And they're using like designs that originated with the Apollo missions that they augmented. You know, again, I'm not saying that there isn't amazing technology here, because there is. But a lot of the build, is a modern version of these older technologies. And, you know, it doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. They didn't start from scratch because they were told not to start from scratch, by congress, right? They didn't want them to absolutely start from scratch, so they said okay well let's take what we have and what we built, which was very successful. And let's modernize it and and version it to make it, you know, use modern ways of fabrication, modern materials ,you know, everything. They modernize the whole thing. So you could, you could say hey, that, you know, maybe that's not a great way to go. But it got them there and, you know, NASA feels very very strongly about what they've achieved. So let's dig into it. You guys ready?

C: Yep.

E: Yes.

J: The rocket is at Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center. I just love─

E: Not 39a?

J: ─no they picked B. (Cara laughs) No I just love, I love how complicated all this is. You know, the, the machine that rolls out the space shuttle is the same machine that rolls out the SLS. Like the same one. You know what I mean? Like this is, this is the walker that they have, it's, you know.

C: Yeah, if it ain't broke, why fix it?

J: Right. It goes it goes back to the 60s, you know what I'm saying? Like this is old technology. But it works. You know, why change it? During the next month they will be conducting a fueling test. This is, this test includes filling the rocket with its propellants and then they run through the countdown launch system. This is called a wet dress rehearsal because of the propellants. Everything will be tested including the Orion capsule itself and its software, all the ground systems, the launch tower, the entire rocket. This thing is, you know, they have probably thousands of ways of measuring things and in levels and all that. They got to check everything, all the software has to be fully coordinated, the systems have to be flawlessly talking to each other. And this is when they test it. If they have any issues, this could easily extend the launch date, because they're preparing, they're prepared to test this thing for a month on the launch pad. Once they complete all the tests, they'll bring the SLS back to the vehicle assembly building where they'll actually finish prepping it for launch. These are the final final preparations that they do, right before they do a launch. Again, if this final prep goes well, and there's no issues to further delay the launch, they can wheel it back out and launch, and get it ready for possibly but very unlikely, late May, sometime in June.

E: Wow.

J: The SLS has two huge solid rocket boosters. The primary stage is filled with 733 000 gallons. 2.8 million liters of propellant. It's huge guys. It's a monster. This thing will propel Orion through the Earth's atmosphere and into orbit. That's, that's its sole job. The SLS is upper stage known as the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage. ICPS. This will then take over and propel Orion towards the Moon. After the Orion space capsule separates from the ICPS it will be powered by the European Service Module that was built by the European Space Agency. The Artemis I mission is to fly the Orion capsule to the Moon and stay in orbit for six days. And at that time it will come back to the Earth and do it splash down. Everything that's happening on this mission is a test, right? They're sending an Orion capsule to the Moon with a, with a you know dummy in the pilot seat. They're going to be pretending that people are on board, and testing everything, and making sure that everything works. It's a 26 day mission. And I read that it could be even longer, that they could extend certain aspects of the mission, they haven't fully decided. And I don't know when they have to do the final decision making, but from, you know, from very recent articles they're saying 26 day, but could be even longer, depending on if, you know, what they want to do when they're, when they get out there. Every step of the way NASA will be testing countless systems and procedures to ensure that they're ready for Artemis II, because Artemis II, as I hope everybody knows, this is the crewd mission to the Moon. This is when the tires hit the pavement guys. The SLS II mission however will not be putting people on the Moon, they will just be doing a flyby of the Moon. The SLS will be the biggest, most powerful rocket, probably, maybe, if not for a very long time, this could be the last gigantic rocket that's ever built. And you might ask why.

E: Why? (Cara laughs)

J: Because it's profoundly expensive. This system is not reusable. Wait until I tell you how much it costs, to just, to do a mission, right? You know, SpaceX, the starship will be able to lift just over half of what the SLS can do. But you know damn well that that SpaceX's starship missions are going to be reusable and be way less expensive. Like way less expensive. Not to to rain on this parade but it's incredibly inexpensive system to run. And it is unsustainable. I mean we have like, the people running NASA are saying it's unsustainable for the long haul. But in the in the short term though, it's going to do some very important things, which we should be very happy about. And another cool thing about the SLS missions, is that nations around the world will take part in going to the Moon. We're going to take astronauts and, you know, whatever they, whatever they're called in the nation that they're from, but people that are going to navigate, circumnavigate space, are going to be coming from all around the world, to go to the Moon, and I think it's something that that unites the world. You know this is a wonderful thing, especially in these times, right, in these times like, you know, who knew six months ago, when we were talking about SLS, that there'd be a massive war going on. But we need good stuff like this happening, right? Since its beginnings NASA has spent over 50 billion dollars to engineer the entire Artemis program.

C: Oh.

J: Oh yeah, that's, that is massive amounts. Keeping in mind that one billion dollars is a thousand million dollars, right? Cara laughs) I mean it's an incredible amount─

C: Just a reminder.

J: ─I just want you to put that into perspective. This includes─

B: A thousandth of a trillion.

E: Jeff Bezos could barely afford it.

J: ─I know, imagine that. (Cara laughs)

E: Barely.

J: Still, it still wouldn't change how you know his lavish lifestyle though. This includes, this whole thing though of course guys, there was a ton of new technology here. They had it, they had to to invent a lot of things. For example, we've talked about it on the show before, but they came up with the new spacesuits. They put in an incredible amount of time, consideration, iterations and a lot of money to bring the new, that new technology into reality. I mean it's just a staggering thing. In order to, you know, to construct new spacesuits from the ground up.

B: Yeah.

J: The innovations that they had to come up with, they're they are profound and they're legitimate. I'm not trying to take away any of, you know, the wonderfulness of of all of this, you know, but they did reuse a lot of technology. Which again, I'm not even sure if that's a bad thing. I'm just, I'm just saying what it is. You know the experts can comment on that. Beyond the build cost, in order to fly one mission a year, one mission a year guys. It will take, it will take, Evan, drum roll─

E: Prrrr.

J: 4.1 billion dollars a year. Where SpaceX─

S: It's nothing. We spend more on Halloween candy.

J: ─SpaceX, I know, but Steve, Steve (laughter) it adds up over time, you know, that 4.1 billion can turn into you know 100 billion, you know what I mean? Like depending on how long, we, this operates. And, you know, I'm not throwing SpaceX in NASA's face but SpaceX is doing it for hundreds of millions of dollars and they might even get it down to below hundreds of millions of dollars, you know, as they, as they ramp up and and their reusability quotient increases. These missions are over six years behind schedule as well and that costs a lot of money. NASA expects to have the crewed Artemis II mission in 2024 and like Artemis I, that's going to orbit the Moon, but then in 2025 or 26, the Artemis III mission intends to land on the Moon. This guy's, it's not far away, it's just not far away anymore.

B: Yeah, four years.

J: Yep, that's going to go by very quick. These missions are a big deal because NASA intends to build habitats and infrastructure in orbit around the Moon and on the Moon's surface. I mean there's going to be people living on the Moon. NASA has really leveled this time. And all of this is a precursor to turning their eye towards Mars. It's really looking like they're, that we're going to have human beings on Mars, within a reasonable amount of time.

B: All right, well put I guess.

S: Couple of points. One thing, you can't really compare, you know, the NASA program to SpaceX. The whole point is that NASA's doing the new, difficult stuff, and paving the way for private industry to come in behind and make things faster, cheaper, whatever.

C: Right, iterate.

S: Yeah, it's not, you can't compare the two, it's not really fair. The SpaceX would not be where it is, had not NASA spend billions of dollars blazing that trail to begin.

C: Also to be fair NASA is paying SpaceX too, yeah.

S: But NASA did something, something very very smart with the Artemis program. There are contractors in all 50 states, with responsible for about 70 000 employees working on, you know, the various aspects of Artemis. That means that every single senator has a─

E: As a stake in it.

S: ─stake.

B: Wow, I love it.

S: Obama and Trump tried to reduce the budget and then the congress would not let them do it, because, because of that. So they were, I don't, I don't know if how deliberate that was but that was the result.

B: Gotta be.

S: I think it was probably. I mean, you know, all 50 states sounds like they made an effort to like spread it out to make sure that they had continued support and it worked.

COVID Brain (29:59)[edit]

S: All right, Cara, tell us about the effects of Covid on the brain.

C: Oh yeah, and so this is only one piece of the puzzle. The puzzle, the puzzle of what happens to your brain, this is your brain on Covid. A new study was just published earlier this month in Nature Sars-CoV-2, is associated with changes in brain structure in UK Biobank. And I think an operative word in that in that headline is the UK Biobank. So for those who don't know what the UK Biobank is, a little background. And I'm going to take this straight from the Biobank website: "The UK Biobank is large-scale biomedical database and research resource, containing in-depth genetic and health information from half a million UK participants.". So this is a massive database that's regularly added to. It's globally accessible for approved researchers. And a lot of really important takeaways have, have come from this very useful database of of ongoing health information. So, what did these researchers do? Well they go hmm, a lot of people are getting Covid, we have this database full of information. A bunch of people in the database got brain scans. Like total brain scans, at certain points in time. There happened to be a global pandemic which means randomly, a certain percentage of those people who got these brain scans at different points in time, got Covid in between. So what, what information can we glean from that? So it's really interesting. It's you know it's sort of a convenient sample but that convenient sample is actually really really robust. So they looked at 785 participants, who had had two different MRI scans. And between those scans 401 of them had Covid, 384 of them did not have Covid. And they played with the statistics a little, like they compared them based on with, with no kind of accounting for severity. They also looked at it after taking out the people who had been hospitalized. So really that they were looking at more I guess you could call mild to moderate Covid as opposed to severe Covid and they said, let's look at those brain scans and just see if they're different. Let's see if there's any changes. And what they found was that, on average, there was a significant difference in the gray matter, and we're talking about the gray matter density. Like the actual amount of gray matter. And of course gray matter is like the cell bodies, the neural cell bodies, where they cluster together the squishy parts of your brain. As opposed to white matter which are the axons and the sort of the tracks, the nerves. And so after Covid-19, on average there was a significant reduction in gray matter in the parts of the brain that tend to be associated with smell. So let's talk about, you know, and we we know that Covid affects smell. And we, just a couple weeks ago I did a story about what's actually happening at the kind of cellular level, right? And the genetic level. They found that reduction in gray matter thickness in both the orbitofrontal cortex and the parahippocampal gyrus now both of these areas are involved in smell. They're also involved in a hell of a lot of other stuff but yes they're involved in smell. They also found actual markers of tissue damage in regions that are, that are actually physically connected to the primary olfactory cortex, so the main kind of smelling cortex in the brain. And, they did find on average, that the brains of people post Covid were reduced in size.

J: Everybody? Even if you had a light case?

C: Yeah, so that's what I'm saying. They took out the the 15 hospitalized patients and then re-analyzed and they still found those things to hold true. But, what do you think happened in the media when this paper was published?

E: You mean besides getting it wrong?

C: Right, like what do you think most of the coverage said?

S: That your brain shrinks when you get Covid.

C: That your brain shrinks, yeah. Or that Covid gives you brain damage or that Covid directly leads to yeah rotting of the brain, shrinking of the brain, withering of the brain. But what we have to remember is that your brain is constantly changing, constantly. And like literally everything makes your brain change. Like learning, learning makes your, reading books, doing puzzles, watching television─

B: Remembering!

C: conversations, remembering, not remembering, having an infection, working out, right? All of these things contribute to brain change and when we're, we're able to really look with a fine-tooth comb, when we have a really really high resolution, we're going to notice stuff. And so the big kind of question here, and the authors leave this as an open question, is we don't know, if this is actually a: permanent, we still need to do follow-ups of these very same people, months and years later. Did those changes go back? Did they change in a different direction? Did they hold? And also, are those changes linked to functionality. So we do know that there is a correlation here, because we know that when people get Covid they often lose their sense of smell. We also see brain changes and specifically reduction in gray matter density or thickness, in these very specific regions that we already know are associated with smell. So the question is this just a disuse thing, right? The whole time you're you can't smell, you're not getting smell inputs, are the brain regions that usually process smells and process memories and smells, and connect smells to all these other functions, just not being used. And then when we get our smell back again, do they just kind of bounce right back, and we don't know.

E:But there are other cases, in other words non-Covid related in which things like that have happened. In which people have lost their sense but it has come back.

C: Yeah, there are literally studies showing that if you have a stuffy nose, the brain regions involved in smell change.

E: Oh jee whiz, so it's that's very slight, I mean you know the slightest exterior, you know, external force can can change this whole thing.

C: Your brain is very, very plastic. And I think that's why it's important, I'm not, I'm not downplaying the fact that there may be something interesting here. They really were able to like, this is a really robust study and they were able to look at this data in a, in a very fine-toothed way. And and really make some good observations. What those observations mean, we still need to do more work here. How we interpret these results, I think is important. So we do know that Covid changes the brain. We do know specifically that, on average, Covid changes the brain in regions that are associated with smelling. We don't yet know if those changes are permanent. We don't know yet know if those changes actually are linked to any sort of outcome functions. And we don't yet know if those changes are significant or severe. I mean, they're significant in so far as they are statistically significant. But we don't really know the global impact of that. There's still more to learn, but it is interesting to see that we can measurably notice changes in people's brains, immediately after Covid.

J: You know, is this something to be worried about? Like lots of us got Covid.

C: I think, I think probably, I mean it's, it's, that's a kind of a loaded question. I think that once we see more downstream results, we'll better be able to answer that question.

J: Steve, would you be able to, to notice a slight dip in brain functionality?

S: What do you mean by notice?

E: Measure.

S: There's, well, there's different, measure is different than notice.

J: Right, I'm talking about me. Like sitting here, I got Covid, right? (Evan laughs) No I mean, Ii'm not trying to be, sound selfish. I'm using myself as an example. In my day-to-day life, like is there any way I can kind of test myself to see hey like maybe I took a hit, from Covid, you know from a mental perspective.

S: So, you know, that depends on what your baseline is. The more high functioning you are intellectually at baseline, the more subtle a deficit you will notice. And we will be able to detect it on like standardized testing before you will notice it in your day-to-day life. So there's different thresholds you know to test.

C: Yeah, but that also assumes that you'd have a pre-test level.

B: Right.

S: Well, that's, I know, but whether or not you have it, that's, that, you could detect it if you did a pre-imposed test, right? Which would be hard to do because why would somebody get a pre-test before Covid?

J: Yeah.

C: Right, we can sort of estimate pre-morbid functioning, usually with bigger, you know, with like bigger insults, we can estimate pre-morbid functioning, but it's really just an estimation.

S: Yeah and it's subjective, again if you don't have object, if you don't have numbers, so you didn't do a test, like if you are like a college professor who has to give lectures, you know, then you may notice that it's a little bit harder to do that. If you have a job that is not cognitively demanding, you may not notice, you know, a little bit of a hit. So, so that depends.

C: So that Jay, that is what neuropsychologists do. Like that is their bread and butter, as they do assessment. So, somebody comes in, they're worried that their memory's starting to go or they've just had a brain injury or you know whatever the case may be. We actually have a long Covid clinic at the hospital where I work. And so people come in and they get a neuropsychological battery, a bunch of different standardized assessments that are norm to their age and education level. And based on how they perform on those tests, we can say, not only are you performing like lower than average or higher than average, you know you have relatives, sorry, strengths and weaknesses in these areas. We can also say you have relative strengths and weaknesses, you know, compared to your kind of global performance, in this area you struggle. Like your baseline is, not your baseline, but your sort of like overall performance is here. But compared to your overall performance, over here you're struggling, but over here you're really kicking ass. And so, and but really what does that mean, from a behavioral perspective, it can inform diagnoses, right? A lot of neuropsychologists work with neurologists, who also are looking at imaging to be able to inform a diagnosis and maybe a treatment protocol. A lot of it is about rehab strategies, it's about, you know, what are some of the functional ways that we can adapt to this change, if we're struggling with memory, if we're struggling with cognition you know. And the tests are so sensitive that they give neuropsychologists really specific information to say you may find this type of job difficult. Or in these types of settings it may benefit you to use these tools. And that's really what it comes down to.

Origin of Life (40:22)[edit]

S: All right thanks Cara. Let's talk about the origin of life.

B: Yeah baby.

S: Not the evolution of life, but the origin of life, two different things.

C: Abiogenesis?

S: Abiogenesis, how did life come from non-life. So this is obviously of one of the deep, you know, unanswered questions in science. I don't like to say it's a mystery because, it's not really a mystery, it's just that we haven't answered the question. But we are making progress and there's certainly a lot of plausible hypotheses out there about how it could have come about. Recent study adds one tiny piece to our, you know, evolving picture of what could have happened or what's plausible but I'll build up to that. The basic idea about how life could have developed out of non-life is that it started with what scientists call a replicator, right? Some molecule able to replicate itself. And, in that replication process they would be the introduction of some variability. And that would allow for there to be selective pressures that would favor certain versions of the molecule over others. Once you have that, you know, you have basically a toehold in evolution. But even still there's a lot of steps between a replicator and a single living cell, right? And it's, you know, so there's lots of candidate replicators, you know, once you have a single living cell you're off to the races in terms of evolution. Trying to connect the dots between that molecule, replicator molecule and the single, you know, what we would consider that that's clearly alive, that is a living cell. That's, that's where, you know, we have only you know a scant idea what what could have happened and what actually did happen.

C: So are we talking like, what are we talking, like ribosomes? Like what are we talking, like, what's the replicator?

S: So let's talk about that.

C: Okay.

S: What's the replicator? There's three main candidates for what the original replicator could have been. DNA, RNA and proteins, right?

C: Yeah. Perhaps the leading candidate right now is RNA and this is the RNA world theory, right, where you had you know for a while, there was just RNA.

B: How long? A few weeks? A month? (Cara laughs)

S: Yeah more millions of years.

C: It would take a billion.

S: Yeah something like that. And so that RNA was the original replicator molecule, right, so that's one theory. So the study that I'm going to talk about is building on that notion. It's a study of RNA. Now one of the questions, there's lots of questions, but one of the questions with, you know, going from RNA world to life is, could multiple different versions of RNA have co-existed. Because one theory is that two different things, right, whether they're organisms or self-replicating molecules, couldn't occupy the exact same niche, because they would be competing for the same resources. And so one would, whichever one had even a slight evolutionary advantage over the other, it would predominate. So you're always going to end up with just like in any, in any niche you're going to have one thing filling that space. But we don't really know that that's true, that's just, you know, that is something that is generally observed in nature but it's not necessarily an absolute rule, right? So that's one thing that the researchers wanted to test. They also wanted to see if RNA itself could evolve and you know could be, could change over time in response to selective pressure. So what they did was, they purified an RNA molecule from a bacteria. And they made what they call a self-coded RNA replicase, right? So the chunk of RNA that they, that they started with, had code for RNA replicase. So it had coded for the protein that it needed to replicate itself. So you have a self replicating chunk of RNA. And then they basically said okay now let's see what happens, right?

E: Let it loose.

S: They gave it raw material.

B: Did they give any thought on how that could have gotten there?

S: No.

E: The first replicator.

S: It's starting with that, right? So again, when this kind of research comes up, the deniers, if you will, can always say what the research didn't show. And that instantly happened in the comments to my blog when I wrote about this. But, because there's so many different steps, you have to sort of break it down, say we're going to study this step just to see─

B: Right, right.

S: ─as a proof of concept, can we get from d to e. Forget about ABC you forget about everything after that. I just want to know can we get from D to E? You know, that's what the study is showing. And if, and to say, well it didn't show all the steps leading up to and following. Of course it didn't, it wasn't designed to look at that.

C: That that wasn't the hypothesis.

E: That's not the question trying to answer.

S: And if you're waiting for us to evolve life in a Petri dish, keep waiting, because that's not going to happen. (Cara laughs) You know we're talking about something that happened in the oceans of the world over millions of years and so that's not going to happen. We're not going to be able, you know, maybe we might simulate it one day in a quantum computer simulator.

B: Oh we will. (laughter)

S: But we're not going to reproduce it, yeah, I think, I think you're right, I think that's gonna be a really important line of evidence going forward. But so anyway, they wanted to know what happens if you if we somehow get to that self-replicating RNA you know molecule, what's next, right?

C: Right because and and, to be clear, right, "the naysayers" are asking a disingenuous question. Because they're operating on the assumption that life was created. And did not spont- I shouldn't say spontaneously─

S: Develop.

C: ─evolve, yeah, or develop. But but that abiogenesis, they're operating on the assumption that what we're talking about here didn't even happen.

S: Yeah.

C: So they're trying to find holes in the argument.

S: Of course.

C: Whereas all the scientists are saying, well we know this happened, we got to figure out how.

S: That's a very common rhetorical device, you should keep your, you know, that's like a name that logical fallacy kind of thing, it's very very common, to say what like the study is not showing when it's not relevant to what the study was looking at. Or like saying well random mutation can't, this is a very common creationist sort of talking point, like natural selection can't create increased information and mutations are unguided so therefore evolution can't happen. It's like well yeah, but the it's the natural selection that's guiding it and the mutations that are causing the increase in and variation.

C: It's like there's no context in your claim at all.

S: No it's exactly like saying well an engine can't steer the car and the steering wheel can't propel the car, so cars don't work. (Cara laughs) That's exactly what that is doing.

B: Screw them.

S: What they found was, here's a quote now from the article:

The RNA diversifies into multiple coexisting host and parasite lineages, whose frequencies in the population initially fluctuate and gradually stabilize. The final population, comprising five RNA lineages, forms a replicator network with diverse interactions, including cooperation to help the replication of all other members.

B: Nice.

E: And then network develops, nice.

C: And that just spontaneously happens?

S: Yes. That is very interesting so yeah, so again is this proof that this is how life evolved? Of course not. It's looking at one tiny slice of a very complicated multi-step process. But it shows that multiple RNA lineages can coexist. That they could form a network where they're sort of working off of each other, cooperating in a way.

E: Symbiotic.

S: Yeah symbiotically, you know and sometimes parasitically, which of course we all know that that happens. Or there may have been "viruses" before there were even cells. Think about that. There was parasitic, what's parasitic RNA other than a virus, right? So, sure.

C: Yeah it's cool, it's like you can't prove a positive right. Like we can't say this this is proof of how this happened back then. But what we can say is this provides evidence that it could have happened.

E: Right, that's one possible scenario.

C: We can't disprove that it could have happened this way.

S: That's what this research is focused on. What could have happened. Not what did happen, we don't know what would happen, we can't go back in time we can't, again, maybe one day we'll be able to look at other evolutionary systems at different stages, you know, when we travel to other worlds, but for for now what do we got we have proof of concept. This is what could happen. And maybe simulations, you know, computer simulations, that's pretty much it, you know, but we, there's no way to go back and look and say what actually did happen. I mean it might then, we may be able to infer it in some way.

B: Yeah, there might be some clues that really strongly point one way or the other but...

S: But that's, that's it. So this isn't, this answers a specific question, can multiple lineages of RNA coexist, even in the same niche of building up the same resources. It also showed something very interesting and that is these RNA molecules evolved, right? They were able to produce variation. There were selective pressures involved, they changed over time, they reached an equilibrium in their environment. And, you know, with multiple, you know, different lineages coexisting and even cooperating. So that I think really raises the plausibility of RNA world as the origin of life. You know as a possible pathway.

B: Well so what, so why Steve, why is it so important and good that that that you could have cooperating lineages instead of one lineage? How was it, why is that so much better than the other? And how, what would you be saying if it would they show that only one lineage could really predominate?

S: Well again it's, it's more, you know, what is the the more likely pathway, like what's a plausible pathway. This is what happens, you know, when they do that. It does create, it does increase the the probability that interesting stuff can happen, you know, in, when there's multiple different lineages. You could argue that the more important piece was the fact that they responded to selective pressures. You know, that they were able to not only self-replicate but─

B: I agree, totally.

S: ─change over time, right, so, the idea that a replicator is a stepping stone to life is supported by these results. But again, it's a tiny sliver of a very long process. But so far you know like we keep asking questions about could the building blocks of life spontaneously form out of just raw material? And the answer is yeah, it can be. And you know can these things self-replicate? Can these things you know interact with each other? Can they evolve over time? Like these, these questions are all turning out in the positive and it it does seem like there's a pretty plausible pathway for the emergence of life. These kinds of molecules will spontaneously emerge, these kind of molecules can evolve. And you know forming a cell is probably not that hard. You know, bilipid you know two lipid layers.

C: Oh it happens spontaneously if you just drop oil.

B: Yeah, right.

S: Exactly, happens spontaneously. So you have all these bubbles, basically the cell membranes floating around, and if any some of, you know, a cooperative, you know, system of RNA molecules gets inside of one that could have advantages and disadvantages, right? It's like okay now it's sort of protected, it might be able to sequester its resources so that it's a way of competing with other things. But then it needs to find some way to both get resources into its bubble and excrete waste out of its bubble. And now also the proteins that it's making could then blodge into the biolipid layer and make a functional membrane to do these things. And before you know it you have a cell.

C: Yeah. A cell with like capabilities, properties.

S: Exactly.

Orbiting Solar Power (52:23)[edit]

S: All right Bob, tell us about orbiting solar power. We have spoken about this before[link needed] but it's been a long time, so give us the update.

B: Okay this update is a little specific. The UK government is reportedly evaluating a 16 billion pound proposal, and that's not how much it weighs, (Cara laughs) to construct a solar power station in orbit around the Earth. So as we, we have mentioned it before. The the idea at its most basic is to collect energy in space from the Sun and beam it back to Earth and use it. Add it to the grid. Simple. George Freeman, the UK's minister for Science, Research and Innovation and muggles (laughter) is said to be meeting with a group to discuss this possibility and would possibly commit to at least a chunk, a chunk, a huge chunk or a big chunk of amount of money with the implied hope that other countries would join in. Freeman said to potential private investors and engineers in Westminster recently, that "this is being taken very seriously, we're up for being bold and we're not going to be able to fund the whole thing but we're up for supporting ecosystems like this" so that's nice. So the the whole idea of Space Based Solar Power SBSP, it goes back to the mid 1920s at least. Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the father of Russian space is ostensibly the first person to voice such an idea. And then he of course inspired many sci-fi writers like Isaac Asimov and for example his enjoyable 1941 short story Reason used this idea. Fun story, I recommend it. Since then space-based solar power has been increasingly taken seriously scientifically. And over the years and across the globe, there's been various committee, agency, departmental and governmental examinations, petitions, declarations, studies, plans, reports, proposals, research, announcements, patents and small scale technology demos. So yeah, this idea has been bandied about for decades, so you know, is it going to happen? What's going to happen? How is it going to happen? The advantage of the space-based solar power though is pretty obvious, if you think about it. When you compare it to solar panels on Earth and other renewables like wind as sophisticated as they're, as they're becoming. You've got near 24/7 access to the Sun in space with no dips due to the Sun. Setting or horrible overcast weather. And there's the also the added bonus, I hadn't heard of before, of capturing even more solar energy that bounces back off the Earth's atmosphere. So that could also be just a little extra icing on the cake. Now the disadvantages though I think are equally obvious. The biggest has always been the cost, right? Ever since, it's since the day we launched the first of anything into orbit. It's just been way too expensive to throw even tiny amounts of mass to the even the lowest of low Earth orbits. This is like so crazy expensive. Now of course if you've been following the space industry in the past decade, it's, it's really the cost per kilogram or per pound has dropped precipitously. Especially in the what, the past five years> And some countries think it's time to really, really start considering or even planning such projects dealing with space-based solar power. Now the UK's current plan, they already have a plan, that's fairly, you know, that's flushed out to a certain degree, they call it the Space Energy Initiative and that's part of the government's net zero innovation portfolio. The net zero innovation portfolio. Which they, which they want to use to help achieve net zero for them by 2050. Which of course is a very laudable goal, absolutely. So the current thinking is that, is that such a satellite would be, get this, 4.8 kilometers or three miles long, weighing several thousand tons and being assembled by robots in orbit.

C: Cool.

S: What orbit Bob, do they say?

B: They, they, my research didn't show any specifics beyond the fact that you would have access to the Sun like 99% of the time. So that probably would inform us about the orbit if I, if I dug that deep.

S: Yeah it's probably a medium to high orbit, would be my.

B: Yeah.

E: So you can't service it, easily, but the robots would do the service.

B: Yeah, there you go, there you go, yeah. Now the supporters of the project say that radical thinking is needed for the world to meet net zero requirements. The Times in the UK's report on this topic, which is like the only one that really had any decent detail. And I had to pay for a trial period for this, for this newspaper, so I hope it's actually good (Evan laughs) because I'm, I'm kind of committed for a little while. So they it said that (Bob chuckles)

E: I know that frustration.

B: ─right, it's the first time I really had to like pay money to get some damn research. Okay so large reflectors would direct sunlight onto solar panels. The power they produce would be converted into high frequency radio waves and beamed to an ellipse-shaped receiving station at ground level, possibly at sea which would be around 13 kilometers long and 6.5 kilometers wide. That's eight miles by four miles. The beam itself, it wouldn't, wouldn't be some death beam, you know, immediately giving you skin cancer or to anyone you know, to anyone who crossed the path of the beam. It would really only be about a quarter as intense as the equator's Sun. Or so so they claim. So that's pretty, that's pretty negligible. They do claim though that there, that more research is needed to see, what, how the beam might affect aircraft communication. So that sounds, that sounds fair, right? We've been talking about that enough lately. Now one of these satellite stations they claim would provide two gigawatts of AC power into the grid, which is nice, that's actually really nice. That if you look at the average, I did some research. The average, the average nuclear power plant is about a gig, gigawatt. So this is like double the average, so it's a good, good nuclear power station equivalent there. The space energy initiative co-chair Martin Soltau said that 15 of these satellites would fill 30 of the UK's electricity needs. Or the anticipated needs by mid-2040. 15! 15 of those.

E: Wait, 15 and with 15 of these also separate bases kind of on the Earth as well?

B: I think so, I'm not sure though, if you need separate bases. But I think you would, you might need these 15 separate ones. Or maybe they can, they could double up on each other.

E: At six kilometers each?

B: Dude, it's yeah, it's like.

E: That's massive.

B: Yeah. And advisory board chair Mark Garnier said "We all recognize the urgent need to think big and act now to reduce our clients on carbon fuels to better protect the environment and our precious climate". Okay so that's that's pretty much all the the facts I wanted to convey there. So here's my take on this. Now I totally agree, we need to think big and act now. Obviously, yes, we need a sense of urgency and being bold is becoming increasingly critical. If we want to really you know mitigate climate change. And of course I have to say that orbiting solar power stations are awesome, they're great and I'm kind of, I'm psyched that we actually are close enough technology wise where it's, it's feasible although probably quite expensive still. Taking this proposal, this specific proposal in isolation and when I was thinking about it. To me it just sounded really wacky and, and you know even it's just way overconfident, I think. If you think about it, think of what I, what I had just said, each satellite is five kilometers long. Several thousand tons each. And they're built by freaking robots in space. Has anything been ever built by robots in space? No. They've assisted and they do certain things, but we've never had anything built by robots or structures especially kilometers long, right?

C: Bob you don't sound like yourself.

B: I know. I'm just saying.

C: What's happening?

B: I mean if you've got an urgent task that needs to be accomplished, I wouldn't be relying on using on robots in space, building things that are kilometers long. 13 kilometers by 6.5 kilometers, that's the receiving station. Would we need 15 of those? Maybe. Maybe they could double up, I don't know. And 15 of them would give us 30%, just 30% of coverage and all by them by the mid 2040s. And the realizing on the cake for me was with the quote, when, when they compared it to a nuclear power station. Built by humans on the ground. And I was, and you know it made me think that, what, you know, why not just build a lot of nuclear power stations? That's got to be a lot easier, and a lot quicker than doing this. But then, but then I calmed down a little bit and I looked at their net zero innovation portfolio itself. And in that, in that context it sounds, it sounds more reasonable as a component, right? Because their portfolio has lots of interesting things. Future, like offshore wind. Nuclear advanced modular reactors. I think modular reactors are a fantastic idea, I can't wait to they actually really start getting into that. But also bioenergy, hydrogen, atmospheric greenhouse removal. Advanced carbon catcher. Disruptive technologies, my favorite kind of technologies, disruptive technology (Cara laughs). All these things, all these things that they're, they're considering. So if you throw into this space-based solar power, it's just like, okay, that sounds more reasonable. I mean, I would focus a lot, you know, I would probably focus in terms of like the share, I would put a lot more money into the nuclear reactors and things. But, but I think eventually it may be reasonable to really, you know, have these satellites in orbit. Although, I heard no numbers in terms of what's this going to cost to lift these behemoths into into orbit. It may, even with, even with Elon you know, Elon Musk SpaceX and the savings that he's bringing to bear, which they actually mentioned, they did, they commissioned the feasibility report. And they mentioned that private contractors like SpaceX could bring cost levels down to a level where it would make economic sense. Maybe, maybe not, maybe it still would be stupid expensive to even con loft that much into orbit. It may still not be reasonable, I haven't seen any of their numbers about that.

S: And Bob, we need to calculate the carbon footprint of launching that into space.

B: Exactly.

S: How are we going to get out of it.

B: Exactly.

S: It may not be carbon efficient.

E: And building these structures on the [inaudible].

B: Exactly, that's got to be factored. They actually, to be fair, they mentioned that Steve, precisely they mentioned that you've got to factor that in so they so that's not lost to them or at least to the the author of the article so that I read. But yeah, you gotta factor that in as well. Yeah, I fear it may not really be a reasonable project in the, and even for the next 20 years.

E: Does this thing, does this thing degrade over time?

S: Yes.

E: Is it good for 20 years, 50 years, 100 years?

B: It will, it will degrade faster than on the Earth, because you're, you know, you're subjected, you know, you're subjected to the you know just outer space and you know these materials will definitely degrade in certain, in some ways faster than than on the ground. You know there is no weather but you know there is space weather. And that's kind of, that's nasty, so there's that as well. And then there's maintenance and repairs. And how about this, I mean how hard would it be, you know, you've got 30% of your country's electricity is because of 15 of these satellites, that could be destroyed in an afternoon. You know, you've got, you get some some nasty, you get some satellite collisions that have debris that wipe out everything. Or you have laser systems that that blow them up. You know one laser shot.

E: One bad rogue, rogue country.

B: And that's it, there's 30% of your electrical production, that to me they're, they're way too─

E: Very vulnerable.

B: ─very, very vulnerable. Whereas if you had you know these modular reactors. You could have modular nuclear reactors underground that would be much harder of much, a much more difficult target to take out than these things you know in in orbit. So you got to consider that as well. So it's interesting, I'm glad that they're, they're looking at this type of technology and factoring it into their their portfolio. But I don't know, you know, if in 20, even in 20 years you know how far we would get with that.

S: Yeah, not by 2050.

B: Right.

S: Not by 2050. I think this is a technology for next century. Honestly, to be honest with you. Maybe the end of this century. I think that we need solar panels that are going to be at the 40 or 50 efficiency rate not the 22 or three or four that we're dealing with now. I think they've got to be much more resilient, they got to last 30-40 years.

B: Right, they are very light. They did focus, they have some good studies showing how light they they can be. But still, yeah, more efficient and lighter.

S: Cost of getting stuff to space has got to go down. There's a lot of things that have to have happened before this really becomes cost and carbon efficient enough to be worth the risk, as you say the vulnerability of having them there. It's a cool idea. You know, here's the other thing, is that the efficiency of the radio waves as a transfer of energy is really tiny. That's the limiting step right there. If we, I think we we need to figure out a way of getting a much greater percentage of that energy that it's collecting down to the ground, otherwise it's not worth it.

B: Yeah.

S: All right, thanks Bob.

Antarctic Temperature (1:05:30)[edit]

Who's That Noisy? (1:12:07)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
Lithium-ion battery in thermal runaway after being punctured

New Noisy (1:15:54)[edit]

[creepy, eerie, ringing tones]

J: ... So if you think what this week's Noisy is, guys, or if you heard something cool -- ...

Name That Logical Fallacy (1:18:15)[edit]

Science or Fiction (1:29:59)[edit]

Theme: Bread

Item #1: In 1943 sliced bread was banned in the US, with threats of "stern action" against private shops slicing bread, but the order was rescinded within 2 months due to public outrage.[8]
Item #2: Physicists recently developed a technique for leavening bread without yeast or chemicals by directly dissolving gas into the dough.[9]
Item #3: A recent systematic review of studies concluded that increased average daily bread consumption, regardless of type, is associated with a reduced risk of obesity and becoming overweight.[10]

Answer Item
Fiction more bread, less obese
Science leavening with gas
Science bread ban rescinded
Host Result
Steve swept
Rogue Guess
Cara more bread, less obese
Bob more bread, less obese
Evan more bread, less obese
Jay more bread, less obese

Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.

Cara's Response[edit]

Bob's Response[edit]

Evan's Response[edit]

Jay's Response[edit]

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

...purchase[v 1]...

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:52:48)[edit]

For scientists, transparency is a way to promote reproducibility, progress, and trust in research. For philosophers of science, transparency can help address the value-ladenness of scientific research in a responsible way. Nevertheless, the concept of transparency is a complex one.
– Kevin C. Elliott, American professor of Philosophy at Michigan State University[1]


S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at Send your questions to And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[11]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




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