Dinosaur Pizza and Extra-strength Placebos

Dear friend of Wonderfest,

The sky split open, and “something like the sun fell” through. This was one eyewitness account of last year’s meteor strike over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The 60-foot-wide, 13,000-ton hunk of asteroid exploded into several pieces, with consequences that injured 1000 people. The meteor’s total energy of impact equalled 30 Hiroshima bombs.

ChelyabinskSkySplit NASA planetary impact expert Kevin Zahnle reminds us that Earth is constantly struck by interplanetary debris: mostly tiny bits, but occasional big chunks, too. When a truly huge object smacks Earth, the devastation is spread far beyond the point of contact. Impact backsplash rocks are flung all over the globe. As they fall back to Earth, this backscatter reentry debris superheats the entire atmosphere. The dinosaurs, for example, were globally roasted as air temperatures rose to ~700°F (pizza oven temperatures!) following the K-Pg impact of 66 million years ago.

Dr. Zahnle will present When Worlds Collide at 8:30pm on Saturday, May 31, atop Mt. Tamalpais in Marin. His slide presentation in Cushing Memorial Amphitheater will be followed by a laser-guided star tour with Urban Astronomer Paul Salazar. Finally, attendees can look through the impressive telescopes of the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers (SFAA) for a close-up view of the heavens. This Wonderfest event is co-produced by Mt. Tam Astronomy Programs, SFAA, Friends of Mt. Tam, and California State Parks.


If you can’t attend When Worlds Collide, could a fake, inert, stand-in presentation provide some of the benefits? Of course, an ersatz Wonderfest event just can’t replace the real McCoy! But inert and inactive medical treatments often provide some of the benefits of real medicine.

Take a spectacular (and pointed!) example… As far as careful scientific studies can tell, acupuncture derives its health benefits entirely from the placebo effect! There may be no finer placebo expert on Earth than Dr. Howard Fields of UC San Francisco. Dr. Fields will present Placebo and the Illusory Nature of Perception at 7:00pm on Monday, June 2, at San Francisco’s StrEat Food Park.

The placebo effect is so powerful that this presentation (co-produced with Ask a Scientist) should come with a warning:



I hope you will register for — and are able to attend — both FREE presentations: “Collisions” on 5/31 and “Placebo” on 6/2.

Wondrous regards,

Tucker Hiatt
Executive Director

P.S. There’s still time to snag tickets to SkeptiCal, the Northern California Science & Skepticism Conference. Expert presentations will address science literacy, climate change, astrology, and, generally, the boundaries between science and pseudoscience. SkeptiCal takes place in Oakland on Saturday, May 31. BTW, there WILL be time to scoot from Oakland to Mt. Tam to make Wonderfest’s “Collisions” event later that evening.

P.P.S. “Live better, help often, wonder more” is the motto of Sunday Assembly, the deity-free church movement. If you haven’t enjoyed this newsletter, then you surely won’t enjoy my “wonder” presentation at Sunday Assembly Silicon Valley on June 8.  😉