A powerful and chilling article.
When I first saw the TV miniseries V, I thought the idea of the aliens making it seem that scientists were engaged in a conspiracy against the world to be ludicrous. That was unbelievable, I thought. That just smacked of stupidity--what would they hope to gain? (the answer in the show seemed pat and unconvincing)
Climate change and the debate around it have proved me wrong. Be it Theodore Beale, or Sarah Hoyt or a random publicity agent for the Koch brothers, there is a stratum of people who believe climate scientists are trying to control us all, or bring us to the dark ages, or are just deluded.
People WANT to believe they don't have to change. People WANT to believe untrue things if its advantageous for them to do so. (You don't have to stop burning oil, it's okay!). Ignore all the climate scientists are telling you. Keep calm and pollute on.
Does every species end its civilization like this, in the throes of greed and self interest?
I've mentioned before in this space that there are only four complete Triceratops skeletons in museums: At the American Museum of Natural History, at the Smithsonian, at the Milwaukee Museum, and this one. Except for the Milwaukee one, I've seen them all. As it turns out, this is the largest of the quartet.
Yep, time for more Dinosaur. This is a Stegosaurus, but you probably knew that.
So the President has made his announcement regarding the space program...
No more Constellation. Forget the moon. This is a "eat your vegetables" sort of space program vision, with an emphasis on robots, building private industries' presence in space, and, eventually, a trip to places beyond.
It's a good plan on paper. Where it is sorely lacking, though is, in the jazz. This proposal is uninspiring, for lack of a better word. For long term goals, it has things I can support. We need a bigger presence in space than just NASA. This plan seems designed toward that end.
But there is nothing here to excite the country. And if you can't excite the country about space and space exploration--then you are doing it wrong. Period.
Once upon a time, Omni Magazine (gah, I do date myself) had an article on the "Eight wonders of the universe", an imaginary set of man, alien and "natural" wonders found across the galaxy and beyond. From the Amazing Yonkers Airport to the planet where the speed of light is lower, it was a fun and visually arresting piece.
Now, Scientific American has come up with 8 real wonders of the Solar System. Hugo Award-winning artist Ron Miller provides the visuals.
My favorite, by a nose is Valles Marineris...but go and see it, and the rest.
Kamen Todorov of Penn State University and co-investigators used the keen eyesight of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini Observatory to directly image the companion of the brown dwarf, which was uncovered in a survey of 32 young brown dwarfs in the Taurus star-forming region. Brown dwarfs are objects that typically are tens of times the mass of Jupiter and are too small to sustain nuclear fusion to shine as stars do.
The mystery object orbits the nearby brown dwarf at a separation of approximately 2.25 billion miles (3.6 billion kilometers -- which is between the distances of Saturn and Uranus from the Sun). The team's research is being published in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal.
The existence of this companion upsets some applecarts in our understanding of how planetary systems form, and where they can form. The mechanism of how this companion formed is unknown, and interesting at the same time.
I am reminded of a Van Rijn/David Falkayn story by Poul Anderson I recently re-read, where an unusual planetary system was a very important plot point. It seems that Anderson was right--there really are some unusual systems out there in the zoo of planetary systems. He would have loved to have heard of this discovery.
Via my friend Kevin, and also the writer Paul McAuley,, a couple of youtube videos with animations
of flyovers over the Martian terrain,using the HiRise Data...
Over on the ESA site has some new imagery of the cosmic dust in our stellar neighborhood, courtesy of the telescope on the Planck satellite.
The image shows the filamentary structure of dust in the solar neighbourhood - within about 500 light-years of the Sun. The local filaments are connected to the Milky Way, which is the pink horizontal feature near the bottom of the image. Here, the emission is coming from much further away, across the disc of our Galaxy.
The image has been colour coded to discern different temperatures of dust. White-pink tones show dust of a few tens of degrees above absolute zero, whereas the deeper colours are dust at around -261°C, only about 12 degrees above absolute zero. The warmer dust is concentrated into the plane of the Galaxy whereas the dust suspended above and below is cooler.
Its a very, very interesting image. Even more interesting is that this image illustrates that the "cosmic void" between solar systems in our part of the galaxy is far more complex than we once thought.
You may have heard the story (I don't know if it went National) about the vandalism of a mexican gray wolf pen at the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake. Someone pried open the enclosure. The alpha female, "Medium Toast" escaped, leading to a merry chase that led from Forest Lake into the main Metro area before she was caught.
Now the consequences of that act of vandalism are clear--her return has led to her sisters rejecting her as leader. She was stressed, emaciate and weak from her excursion, and her sisters have displaced and rejected her so thoroughly, she is being moved somewhere else.
I hope the person who opened the enclosure in their misguided effort to "free" the wolves are happy about what they have done. These wolves, an endangered species,are not suited at this time to living in the wild--ESPECIALLY a metro area. I have no idea what the person responsible was thinking. This was not good for the wolf at all.
This is a link to a Star Formation game on Discover Magazine's website. I have seen an earlier version of this game, where you make careful explosions in a nebula designed to generate star formation, but this version is much improved over that original.
It's educational, and a lot of fun.
This NPR story on the fall of the Yellowstone Druid Pack tells part of the story as to why I have pictures of Coyote, Fox, and many herbivores, but I have no pictures of Wolves.
During my trips to Yellowstone, in 2005...
And in 2009...
The Druid Pack was not doing well in either year, despite years of success for the most famous and visible pack of Wolves in Yellowstone. Now, according to the NPR story, the pack is so devastated that its down to a lone female who has all but fled the Lamar Valley.
Sad, and doubly ironic, since the Olsons and I this weekend had watched a documentary explaining the travails and trials of the Druids a couple of years ago (which gave us a clue why we had so much trouble seeing wolves in 2009). That documentary ended on a hopeful, positive note. Apparently, that optimism, and the temporary re-rise of the Druids, was only that: temporary. Predation, a nasty disease that kills cubs, and intra-pack aggression have done in the druids.
Alas, it may be a while, or perhaps never, before another "photogenic pack" takes the Druids place in Lamar Valley.
A little less well known than the Hubble and its gorgeous images is the ground based ESO.
ESO Stands for the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere
ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in the Atacama Desert region of Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. ESO's first site is at La Silla, a 2400 m high mountain 600 km north of Santiago de Chile. It is equipped with several optical telescopes with mirror diameters of up to 3.6 metres. The 3.5-metre New Technology Telescope broke new ground for telescope engineering and design and was the first in the world to have a computer-controlled main mirror, a technology developed at ESO and now applied to most of the world's current large telescopes. The ESO 3.6-metre telescope is now home to the world's foremost extrasolar planet hunter: HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher), a spectrograph with unrivalled precision.
ESO, thankfully, was not affected adversely by the recent Chilean Earthquake.
Anyway, if you like astronomy pictures a la the Hubble, signing up for ESO releases (or following them on Twitter or facebook) is another way to get your fix. For example, a release, today, from ESO is of a nebula in a neglected corner of the Orion Constellation: "The Cosmic Bat"
Over on Universe Today, a link to a paper which puts forth the theory that 25% of all of the stars of the Milky Way are originally from other galaxies.
"It turns out that many of the stars and globular star clusters we see when we look into the night sky are not natives, but aliens from other galaxies," said Duncan Forbes. "They have made their way into our galaxy over the last few billion years."
Previously astronomers had suspected that some globular star clusters, which each contain between 10000 and several million stars were foreign to our galaxy, but it was difficult to positively identify which ones."
I think the lede is a little off. Instead of thinking of them as invaders, one might think of them as subjugated stars, since its more likely that the Milky Way *captured* them than any other mechanism. I recall a paper not long ago that identified a former dwarf galaxy within the bounds of the Milky Way, but this paper suggests there are many more dwarf galaxies and globular clusters engulfed by our galaxy than I thought.
King Tutankhamen, known as Egypt's boy pharaoh, probably spent much of his life in pain before dying at 19 from the combined effects of malaria and a broken leg, scientists say.
You may have read or heard this story already, giving a new analysis of the life (and probable) death of the boy king, King Tut.
Curved spine, cleft palate, malaria, injuries...even if he was a King, he didn't have that Kingly a life. I did not know that 100 walking sticks were found in the tomb. It makes sense, given the problems he likely had in life.
Shaped like a leaf itself, the slug Elysia chlorotica already has a reputation for kidnapping the photosynthesizing organelles and some genes from algae. Now it turns out that the slug has acquired enough stolen goods to make an entire plant chemical-making pathway work inside an animal body, says Sidney K. Pierce of the University of South Florida in Tampa.
The slugs can manufacture the most common form of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that captures energy from sunlight, Pierce reported January 7 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. Pierce used a radioactive tracer to show that the slugs were making the pigment, called chlorophyll a, themselves and not simply relying on chlorophyll reserves stolen from the algae the slugs dine on.
The findings have to be replicated, of course. It could be a mistake and the slugs are getting the chlorophyll from algae rather than manufacturing it completely by themselves. Still, it shows that Nature is far more strange than we imagined...
Via Paul McAuley
Dinosaurs diversified before spreading around the world
Fossils found in the US state of New Mexico are providing strong evidence that dinosaurs originated in what is now South America, and had already evolved into three main groups before spreading around the world.
The implication of the find at Tawa is that Dinosaurs had already diversified into their three main groups before radiating out of South America and into the rest of the world.
Via NPR, Sunday Edition looks at Asiatic bittersweet, a very pretty fruit laden vine that has spread from New England to the South and Midwest.
Asiatic bittersweet has spread from Maine to Louisiana and the Midwest since it was introduced from Asia in the 1860s. It can climb more than 60 feet, spiraling up the trunks and branches of its host trees like a snake. And like a boa constrictor, it chokes those trees.
Widespread infestations of the plant are nearly impossible to eradicate without herbicides. It's now illegal in many states to collect, move or sell Asiatic bittersweet.
Sure its a pretty plant, but its a biome wrecker. (Something we are very concerned with in Minnesota, with Emerald ash bores, invasive zebra mussels and other water species, and other exotic plants and animals). I think calling it Christmas Kudzu is entirely appropriate, don't you think?
NB: Unemployment has *not* done wonders for my reading time.
Next up is the latest in the Roadside Geology series, in my adopted State no less.
Richard Ojakangas is a native Minnesotan whose life has been spent in learning about and teaching Minnesota's geological history. He taught at the U of M in Duluth for over 30 years, and is the author of Minnesota's Geology, which is probably the definitive geology book on the North Star State.
That book, however, is not quite meant for the casual reader (although its less imposing than many other books of the type). Minnesota has lacked a Roadside Geology style book for too long. After years without one, Ojakangas has finally written a book for the non-scientist, the latest in the Roadside Geology series, the Roadside Geology of Minnesota.
It's been worth the wait.
After an introduction to the geological history of Minnesota (as you might expect, the Pleistocene, with its glaciations, gets a lot of space) as well as some basic geology to get those who avoided the rock science in high school or college, the book divides into several sections based on Geography. (Northeastern, Northwestern/Central, Southwestern, Southeastern)In each section, Ojakangas gives a general overview of the Geology of that area followed by the meat of the book, Road Guides.
There are plenty of photographs, maps and diagrams to elucidate the text and keep travelers oriented as they visit the various highlighted sites. I learned about plenty of sites that were just off of my route in previous travels that I will definitely visit with book in tow. I had no idea, for instance, of a beautiful beach of rhyolite pebbles lies just 3 miles north of Gooseberry Falls. I'd never heard of Chimney Rock, a spire of sandstone a few miles off of US 61 on the way south from St. Paul. In addition, I have an appreciation for places and locales I have seen, now having a better geological context for them. The composition and nature of Barn Bluff in Red Wing, for instance. I had no idea there's a fault that has shifted the layers on one side of it!
Armchair amateur geologists who buy the Roadside series of volumes will not want to miss this latest volume.I most especially recommend this book, though, for any and all Minnesota travelers interested in the physical geology of the state to buy the book, read it, and then take it with you on your next road trip to, say, Gooseberry Falls, or Winona, or the Boundary Waters, or Pipestone. I certainly will!
A crack in the Earth's crust - which could be the forerunner to a new ocean - ripped open in just days in 2005, a new study suggests. The opening, located in the Afar region of Ethiopia, presents a unique opportunity for geologists to study how mid-ocean ridges form.
it's possible that this crack will enlarge and grow over the next few million years, and be the basis for the formation of a new ocean someday. Or, the rift could fail, since there are plenty of failed rifts scattered across the world. The Mississippi river runs through such a rift. There is also one that forms the Lake Superior basin. And others.
A NASA DC-8 plane equipped with lasers, ice-penetrating radar, and a gravity meter is revealing a dynamic and complex world beneath the massive ice sheet that covers Antarctica.
The plane is flying over Antarctica for six weeks as part of a mission to use airplanes to replace a dying NASA satellite that's been monitoring polar ice.
But the stopgap measure is providing a major scientific bonus: The DC-8 flies just 1,500 feet above the ice and carries instruments that let scientists see right through the ice.
Listen or read the whole story. A look at the landscape underneath the ice sheets of Antarctica is too cool for words.
It looks like Slartibartfast had a hand in designing Antarctica prior to putting the ice sheet on it--there is evidence there are fjords underneath all that ice!
The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS will send an empty rocket part at 5,600 into the surface. Instruments on the satellite and telescopes on earth will study the dust plumes generated by the impact for signs of water. If there is more water than the thin amount of hydroxyl ions recently discovered, it should be obvious in the plumes.
Carl Sagan and Cosmos remixed for the win!
You've no doubt seen the news that there is "water" on the moon.
If you have read or seen more than the nightly news, then you know, of course, that the phenomenon isn't really as susbtantial as reports might lead you to believe. Outgassing of hydroxyl ions is exciting because its a geological/astrophysical process that we never, ever, expected to exist before! But its not like Armstrong could have dug a well and gotten liquid water out of the deal.
Still, the existence of this stuff could make a lunar base a much easier prospect, down the line.
You've no doubt seen the news about the T-Rex ancestor found...
Raptorex kriegsteini is 1/100th the size of T-Rex. Of course, given the size of T-rex, this means that Raptorex, at 9 feet tall, weighed about as much as an adult human!
Even stranger, this ancestor has the same "jaws on legs" body plan that T-Rex has: relatively useless arms, oversized skull and teeth. The fact that this body plan "scaled up" so massively suggests that it is indeed a recipe for Mesozoic carnivore success!
It also makes me think that this nonsense that "T-Rex was just a scavenger" is patent nonsense. I can't possibly see the evolutionary advantage to scavengers scaling up like this, and if Raptorex was a carnivore, why did the larger descendants change over to being obligate scavengers?
The new equipment on the Hubble is really, really keen. Its worth your time to take a few minutes to look at the pictures at the links above as well as the Hubble site itself.
My favorite has to be the Omega Centauri picture...
Humans are putting the brakes on the next ice age, according to the most extensive study to date on Arctic climate change.
Previously, researchers had looked at Arctic temperature data that went back just 400 years. (See photos of how climate change is transforming the Arctic.)
That research showed a temperature spike in the 20th century, but it was unclear whether human-caused greenhouse gas emissions or natural variability was the culprit, noted study co-author Gifford Miller of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
By looking even farther back in time, Miller and colleagues' newest study reveals that the 20th century's abrupt warming in fact interrupted millennia of steady cooling.
This suggests that the Fallen Angels idea of Pournelle,Niven and Flynn may not be that inaccurate, after all. (In the novel, extreme efforts at stopping global warming results in an Ice Age instead). However, I think we've gone so far into global warming that even if we stopped pumping CO2 into the atmosphere today (impossible, unless we all were transported off the planet en masse), the climate change we have wrought would still take decades, if not a century, to still run.
This report is NOT an excuse and a justification to stop doing anything about global climate change. It DOES give me, though, yet again, another SF novel idea...
Phobos-Grunt ("soil") is a planned Russian sample return mission to the Martian moon Phobos. It may launch in less than two months. On board will among other things be the L.I.F.E. experiment, a small canister full of hardy micro organisms, designed by the US Planetary Society. If all goes well, those microdaddies will go to Phobos and back, and then biologists will be able to compare them to their stay-at-home buddies to learn what the environment out there in interplanetary space really does to an Earth creature. Or to a creature from another planet who might once have been thrown into space by an asteroid impact, perchance to land later on Earth.
Only one of the microbe species in the canister is a multicellular animal: tardigrades, water bears, Sw. björndjur. They have been provided by Ingemar Jönsson of Kristianstad University College, Sweden. So the first multicellular travellers from Earth in interplanetary space will be little Swedes!
I've read science fiction novels and stories about Mars. Colonists and travelers from the United States, England, China, Russia. But in all of my reading, I'd never come across travelers from *Sweden*!
And check out this piece on Deviant Art:
Is the collapse of civilization depicted in the zombie movie Dawn of the Dead (or for that matter, 28 Days/Weeks Later, etc) accurate? Would that really happen? Is it mathematically likely?
Oddly enough, a group of mathematicians in Canada took up the mathematical question
My next book is a non fiction one from a "Villain" in the "Is Pluto a planet" debate.
Neil Degrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. (he serves as director). He's a columnist for Natural History magazine, and already has a book of essays, Death by Black Hole, to his credit.
To lovers of the planet Pluto, however, he is a villain.
Although it took a NY Times columnist a year to bring the change to light, the new Rose Center for Earth and Space, under Tyson, kept Pluto out of the display of the main sequence of planets, putting it with the Kuiper belt objects instead. In effect, Pluto had been "demoted".
Once that article came out, however, the howls rose, and the IAU took up the question in full...
In The Pluto Files, Tyson tells the full story of Pluto, and his part in its rise and fall.
Tyson is not a self-aggrandizer, but he does have a central role in the drama and he fully documents his part in Pluto's story in the book. Along the way, he tells the story of Pluto's discovery, its debate among the IAU, and the ultimate designation given by the IAU. Plenty of digressions tie in the field of astronomy and astronomers, popular culture (including a certain Mouse's dog) and more.
I've previously read Tyson's work in Death by Black Hole, and he keeps that easy, accessible style for his work here. He may not have the skill of the late Stephen Jay Gould or Carl Sagan just yet, but those who only have a little science education should not be intimidated or put off by the subject.
I, myself, learned a lot of what happened "behind the scenes" in the debate on Pluto, and found the book educational as well as a pleasure to read. The book is relatively short for the price, which is about the only major thing I can say against the book.
"Experience the Planets(ETP) is an ongoing project...Developed by Greg Martin along with a collaborative group of like-minded artists, ETP breaks away from fanciful notions of space and embraces the more challenging task of creating scenes informed by science factor hypothesis."
But, really, words can't convey the beauty of the artwork. Go see them for yourself.
An article on discovery.com about a sonic black hole, and other faux singularities. Using a Bose-Einstein condensate, for instance, a group of Israeli physicists managed to create a space where sound cannot escape.
If we don't have the technology to make real singularities, creating and studying these faux ones could be very interesting. And who, knows, perhaps, in time, there might be practical applications...
No doubt by now readers of this space are aware of the recent impact by a comet or asteroid on the Planet Jupiter. It does evoke memories of the spectacular collision of the Shoemaker-Levy comet a couple of years ago.
NASA, perhaps as much for the PR value as the scientific knowledge, turned the venerable Hubble to take a look at Jupiter and get a look at the spot with its WFC3 camera.
Many more pictures, in larger formats, are available on the Hubble site.
Kim Stanley Robinson has an op-ed in the Washington Times on Why we should go into space
One of the best reasons:
Another good reason for a vigorous space program is the immense potential of space-based solar power. This would entail infrastructure-building with a vengeance, but investing in a system of orbiting solar power collectors -- and ground stations to receive that power -- could stimulate the economy, much like building interstate freeways did in the 1950s. And gathering the sun's energy in space and beaming it down maximizes the harvest while minimizing the effects on the Earth.
My friend Scott and I have discussed this idea in depth. It's an ambitious goal and project--and one worthy of the U.S. to tackle.
Let's do it.
Apollo 11 took off, arrived at the Moon and returned to Earth more than two years before I was born.
In fact, I was born 14 months before Apollo 17, the final Apollo Manned Mission to the Moon. I was born within the window of manned missions to the Moon, but only by that margin. My younger brother Michael was born after we had stopped going to the Moon entirely.
A damned shame. I am aware of the costs, dangers, and the technical problems with "sending monkeys into space". Yes, many of the things in space can be done more cheaply and easily with robots than humans.
Still the emotional content matters. And a human can do things no robot can. A human can show judgment and do things off of the mission plan. Notice things. Discover things.
"Man's destiny lies in the Stars" --Arthur Clarke.
And, to quote Jodie Foster in Contact, if we never went back, it would be an awful waste of Space.
National Geographic's august issue is going to feature Yellowstone National Park.
They already have an online version of their article "When Yellowstone Explodes".
You all know, having visited Yellowstone twice (and plans to do so in future), I will be picking up this issue.
You've heard the tragedy of Doctor Who, where many of the pre-Pertwee episodes have been flatly lost because the BBC overwrote or plain threw out the only existing tapes. Episodes such as Marco Polo are lost, forever.
Here's a tragedy of similar content but even worse. It seems that the high quality tapes NASA used to record the first moon landing were overwritten with plain satellite Data.
"...the lost tapes mean that the world will probably never again see the original images beamed back to Earth by the lunar camera that is now resting on the moon's dusty Sea of Tranquility, right where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left it."
There are remastered versions of the broadcast material, but that was of far, far inferior quality to the original signal.
It would be as if I lost the .raw and large size versions of my favorite pictures, and only had the smallest of thumbnails left.
It's a damned shame.
A single mega-colony of ants has colonised much of the world, scientists have discovered.
Argentine ants living in vast numbers across Europe, the US and Japan belong to the same inter-related colony, and will refuse to fight one another.
The colony may be the largest of its type ever known for any insect species, and could rival humans in the scale of its world domination.
While ants are usually highly territorial, those living within each super-colony are tolerant of one another, even if they live tens or hundreds of kilometres apart. Each super-colony, however, was thought to be quite distinct.
And according to the article, its probably the fault of humans, for carrying sub colonies of the original population throughout the world.
Genghis Khan, Augustus Ceasar and other potentates in history can only envy the extent that this ant colony has managed to spread across the world.
The later sunsets and long evening twilight provide valuable extra time for outdoor evening activities this time of year. They also occur a week after the summer solstice due to a quirk in earth's orbit. Because earth's orbit is an ellipse instead of a circle, small differences in sunrise and sunset times occur near the solstice. That reuslts in the latest sunsets of the year coming just after the summer solstice. A similar quirk effects sunrise and sunset times near the winter solstice.
So let's do some comparisons.
Here in the Twin Cities, tonight, the sun will set at 9:04 pm. (Oh, by comparison, on December 13th, the sun will set here at 4:30 pm!)
New York, my home, has a sunset time tonight of 8:31 pm.
Anaheim, CA, where I used to live, has a sunset time of 8:06 pm.
London, UK has a sunset time of 9:21 pm.
Wherever you live, enjoy your extra sunlight!
If money and time were no object, I would love to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina.
Climate changes have spared the glacier, at least for the time being. And it would be nice
to be able to stand on a *second* glacier, now that I've stood on one.
And the pictures make this glacier absolutely photogenic and beautiful to look at.
One of the people in this Youtube Video is baffled.
And the person in this video who thinks the Nobel Prize winning Energy Secretary is baffled is really the person who really doesn't understand what is going on:
Maybe the standards in the district that Representative Barton went to school are low. It's possible. I just know that my High School science teachers in Susan Wagner H.S. would have had my head for not knowing about Plate tectonics.
Although this is a short snippet of the conversation, I suspect I can piece together from context what Rep. Burton is lamely trying to get at. He's trying to suggest that climate change is okay, because it was warm in Alaska in the past.
What Rep. Burton probably doesn't know is that at the same time, sea levels were so high that there was an interior seaway across a swath of North America. Maybe he never heard of the book "Oceans of Kansas" either. (A book that I must get and read one of these days, I've heard very good things about it)
Take a look at today's Astronomy Picture of the Day.
It's a superimposed, black and white image of the nebulae and stellar formations which are normally too faint to see in the night sky, all together in their relative positions.
So while Earth's night sky is impressive when you get to a dark and isolated place (as I confirmed on my trip to the Badlands last year), its even more impressive than that, if you could but see.
Via Phil Plait (aka the Bad Astronomy Blogger)
More on the Red River Flood Plain:
This audio story talks about Glacial Lake Agassiz and the consequences for that in the current geology of the valley--and why it floods as it does.
Hypatia of Alexandria
Hypatia of Alexandria; born between AD 350 and 370 - 415) was a Greek scholar from Alexandria in Egypt,considered the first notable woman in mathematics, who also taught philosophy and astronomy.She lived in Roman Egypt, and was brutally killed by a Christian mob who blamed her for religious turmoil. She has been hailed as a "valiant defender of science against religion", and some suggest that her murder marked the end of the Hellenistic Age.
A Neoplatonist philosopher, she followed the school characterized by the 3rd century thinker Plotinus, and discouraged mysticism while encouraging logical and mathematical studies.
Hypatia was the daughter of Theon, who was her teacher and the last known mathematician associated with the museum of Alexandria. She traveled to both Athens and Italy to study,before becoming head of the Platonist school at Alexandria in approximately AD 400.According to the Byzantine "Suda", she worked as teacher of philosophy, teaching the works of Plato and Aristotle. It is believed that there were both Christians and foreigners among her students.
Hypatia maintained correspondence with her former pupil Bishop of Ptolomais Synesius of Cyrene. Together with the references by Damascius, these are the only writings with descriptions or information from her pupils that survive.
The contemporary Christian historiographer Socrates Scholasticus described her in his Ecclesiastical History:
There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not unfrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.
Many of the works commonly attributed to Hypatia are believed to have been collaborative works with her father, Theon Alexandricus; this kind of auctorial uncertainty being typical for the situation of feminine philosophy in Antiquity.
A partial list of specific accomplishments:
A commentary on the 13-volume Arithmetica by Diophantus.
A commentary on the Conics of Apollonius.
Edited the existing version of Ptolemy's Almagest.
Edited her father's commentary on Euclid's Elements
She wrote a text "The Astronomical Canon."
Her contributions to science are reputed to include the charting of celestial bodies and the invention of the hydrometer, used to determine the relative density and gravity of liquids.
Her pupil Synesius, bishop of Cyrene, wrote a letter defending her as the inventor of the astrolabe, although earlier astrolabes predate Hypatia's model by at least a century - and her father had gained fame for his treatise on the subject.
Carl Sagan has a good piece on her in an episode of Cosmos, which is where I first learned about her.
In case you hadn't heard, the entire run of Cosmos is available to watch (with commercials) for free, on demand on hulu.com
If you haven't seen this series before, what are you waiting for? This is THE series that got me interested in things science. The pacing may be different than modern TV, and science has marched on in many of the fields that Sagan touches on, and he touches on a lot in this series. (Think its just astronomy? Think again!).
Go forth and enjoy.
Today is March 14th, which in certain geeky circles that I at least can see from my window if not fully a part of, is Pi day.
When I was younger, for the fun of it, I memorized about the first twenty digits of Pi.
I think I first encountered Pi in one of the essays in Isaac Asimov's Asimov on Numbers, the book other than The Math Book which helped crystallize my interest in Mathematics.
You'll remember that I read a little book on the history of Pi, The Joy of Pi, back in 2007.
Happy Pi Day!
Via Bob Collins at MPR The images, produced by scientists at Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology, show the "Cosmic Dawn" - the formation of the first big galaxies in the Universe.
The Cosmic Dawn began as galaxies began to form out of the debris of massive stars which died explosively shortly after the beginning of the Universe. The Durham calculation predicts where these galaxies appear and how they evolve to the present day, over 13 billion years later.
If ever a creature had a descriptive name, Titanoboa ("Titan snake") has it. This creature, which lived 60 million years ago, was at one point the largest land animal on earth. (this creature is post-KT event).
One side note to this story of finding this fossil is the climate change aspect:
In this week's issue of the journal Nature, Head points out that a cold-blooded animal that big would have had to live in a very hot place to survive. According to his calculations, the average temperature would have been about 90 degrees. That's several degrees warmer than the present-day tropical average and is warmer than scientists believed the tropics ever got, even during ancient periods of greenhouse warming.
It makes sense, if this creature is cold blooded, that given its size that it would need that sort of heat in which to thrive.
Readers of this space know that I listen to MPR complusively, and that they encourage online questions to their guests.
Today, Dr. Tyson of the AMNH's Planetarium "The demoter of Pluto" was on at 9am. I threw a couple of questions at him, and they picked one to ask him.
My question came up at around the 48 minute mark of hour one, but its a fascinating conversation that is complusively listenable.
(FWIW, I asked about a theoretical idea--if Mars were put in the Kuiper Belt, by the "clear the orbit" test, it might not be a planet. Would it lose its planet status? Dr. Tyson gave an illuminating and thought provoking answer.
Thanks to its trinity of horns, Triceratops has become of the most recognisable of dinosaurs. The sight of two bulls charging at each other and jousting with their horns must have been an incredible one - geeky palaeontologists might get a small thrill just thinking about it. But did it ever really happen? Did Triceratops ever use its unmistakeable horns in combat, or were they simply for show?
Both theories have been put forward, but Andrew Farke from the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Palaeontology thinks that both were probably right. By looking at the pattern of injuries on the skulls Triceratops specimens, his team has found evidence that the dinosaur really did use its horns for duelling, and its giant neck frill for protection. Triceratops was effectively a reptilian knight that carried two lances and a shield on top of its enormous head.
Triceratops is one of the cooler of the dinosaurs, and one of my favorites. It doesn't surprise me that the horns on a "trike" were functional as well as decorative.
I think I have mentioned elsewhere that there are only four complete triceratops skeletons on display in all of the United States.
I've seen three of them (St. Paul,New York and Washington, D.C). Improbably, the fourth one is in Milwaukee.
in the closet of a family in France, passed down from one generation to the next. Its mildewed parchment pages were stiff and contorted, tarnished by burn marks and waxy smudges. Behind the text of the prayers, faint Greek letters marched in lines up the page, with an occasional diagram disappearing into the spine.
The owners wondered if the strange book might have some value, so they took it to Christie's Auction House of London. And in 1998, Christie's auctioned it off--for two million dollars.
For this was not just a prayer book. The faint Greek inscriptions and accompanying diagrams were, in fact, the only surviving copies of several works by the great Greek mathematician Archimedes.
This palimpest (one of my favorite words) reminds me, perversely of the movie Prince of Darkness, where a palimpest with advanced mathematics mixed in with Gnostic type theology is a major plot point in the movie.
It could be some funky geological process... but it also could be biological.
In either way, Mars is *not* as dead of a planet as it seemed to have been. It might not have really active vulcanism, but something very interesting is going on beneath its surface.
Via The Map Room a map of the Milky Way, done in the iconic style of Harry Beck's London Underground Map.
I need to discover what tools (fonts, icons, etc) people use to put these sorts of maps together.
Roughly 12,900 years ago, massive global cooling kicked in abruptly, along with the end of the line for some 35 different mammal species, including the mammoth, as well as the so-called Clovis culture of prehistoric North Americans.
The classic causes for this are usually taken to be overhunting, combined with climatic change. (The strange, abrupt and anomalous cooling period known as the Younger Dryas started at this point). It's also often suggested that this cooling period helped institute the invention of agriculture in the Levant.
Now, though, the discovery of nanodiamonds found in sediments from this time period in North America point to a new possibility--a comet exploding in the atmosphere, larger than the Tunguska Event of 1908. The pieces might have hit the ice sheet, or offshore, which is why impact craters haven't been found.
A lot more work is going to be needed in order to develop this theory. I'd start, myself, by looking at those Greenland ice cores that were taken some time ago. A cometary impact or explosion in the atmosphere should definitely show a telltale at this point in the timeline.
The moderately scientific literate amongst my readership (which is probably most of you) have heard of the "Cambrian Explosion", the massive diversity and proliferation of life 540 million years ago. I first came across the idea 25 years ago, thanks to the late Carl Sagan.
Did you know that, 489 million years ago, after a die off of a lot of that diversity, there was a second proliferation, an Ordovician flowering?
"By the end of the Ordovician, biodiversity had reached a level that would not be surpassed for another 200 million years. Look along the shoreline today and chances are you will find creatures that first appeared in the Ordovician, including starfish, sea urchins, oysters and scallops."
On NPR this morning, Kevin Devlin talks about the connection between the Beatles "Hard Day's Night" and Fourier Analysis. That jangling chord that starts the song? The analysis can tell you just how the Beatles did it in the days before synthesizers.
This sort of analysis might lead to being able to determine the authorship of songs that are in dispute, like "In My Life". The theory goes that musicians have certain patterns and cadences that Fourier Analysis can tease out.
The bizarre chemical make-up of a comet suggests the blob of ice is an interloper, possibly flung into our solar system from beyond, astronomers now say, adding that the wacky comet is forcing them to create a new category for such objects.
The comet, called Machholz 1, was discovered in 1986 by Donald Machholz of Loma Prieta, Calif. Since then, the icy denizen has made a few appearances, including one in 2007.
Schleicher measured the amounts of certain carbon and other compounds in the coma or head of Machholz 1 in 2007. He compared the composition with information from 150 other comets, finding that Machholz 1 had an odd make-up. Particularly, the comet contains much less of a carbon-nitrogen molecule called cyanogen, by a factor of about 72, compared with the average found in other comets. The comet also contained much less of two molecules called C2 and C3 (which have two and three atoms of carbon in their structures, respectively) than the average comet.
Even if its not from another solar system (although that would explain its weird makeup, there are other possibilities outlined in the article), this comet is definitely an oddball amongst comets.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has detected what NASA scientists believe are huge glaciers of water ice lying beneath a layer of rocky debris.
The finding is significant because it helps scientists better understand a feature of the Martian surface that has puzzled them for decades. In the 1970s, the Viking orbiters sent back images that showed what have been dubbed "aprons," or large, gently sloping deposits of debris situated at the base of tall geographic formations like cliffs. Several theories for what created these aprons have been posed over the years. This research indicates that what's just beneath that debris is of much greater interest.
Deep ice sheets would cover much of the Northern Hemisphere thousands of years from now--if it weren't for us pesky humans, a new study says.
Emissions of greenhouse gases--such as the carbon dioxide, or CO2, that comes from power plants and cars--are heating the atmosphere to such an extent that the next ice age, predicted to be the deepest in millions of years, may be postponed indefinitely (quick guide to the greenhouse effect).
"Climate skeptics could look at this and say, CO2 is good for us," said study leader Thomas Crowley of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Basically, Crowley and company are suggesting that the Fallen Angels premise is correct--without the additional carbon dioxide from human activities, the Earth would be heading toward another Ice Age.
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has taken the first visible-light snapshot of a planet circling another star.
Estimated to be no more than three times Jupiter's mass, the planet, called Fomalhaut b, orbits the bright southern star Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Australis, or the "Southern Fish."
Fomalhaut has been a candidate for planet hunting ever since an excess of dust was discovered around the star in the early 1980s by NASA's Infrared Astronomy Satellite, IRAS.
In 2004, the coronagraph in the High Resolution Camera on Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys produced the first-ever resolved visible-light image of the region around Fomalhaut. It clearly showed a ring of protoplanetary debris approximately 21.5 billion miles across and having a sharp inner edge.
This large debris disk is similar to the Kuiper Belt, which encircles the solar system and contains a range of icy bodies from dust grains to objects the size of dwarf planets, such as Pluto.
Hubble astronomer Paul Kalas, of the University of California at Berkeley, and team members proposed in 2005 that the ring was being gravitationally modified by a planet lying between the star and the ring's inner edge.
Circumstantial evidence came from Hubble's confirmation that the ring is offset from the center of the star. The sharp inner edge of the ring is also consistent with the presence of a planet that gravitationally "shepherds" ring particles. Independent researchers have subsequently reached similar conclusions.
Now, Hubble has actually photographed a point source of light lying 1.8 billion miles inside the ring's inner edge. The results are being reported in the November 14 issue of Science magazine.
Look at this gorgeous picture of Arp 147 as proof.
The Minnesota Zoo has temporarily canceled its popular dolphin show because one of the dolphins is pregnant and another has been having behavior problems.
The zoo brought in two female dolphins in January, hoping to breed them with the zoo's only male dolphin, Semo.
One of the females, named Allie, is now pregnant and due next spring. The other female, April, is not pregnant but is seemingly acting as though she is.
The dolphin show, I have to admit, is one of the best things about the Minnesota Zoo. For those who have never been here, a lot of the zoo (including the aquarium area) is indoors (or accessible by the monorail) to make it more of a four season zoo in chilly winter.
This is a great podcast of a conversation between string theorist Brian Greene and Robert Krulwich of WNYC's Radio Lab, talking about the structure of the universe.
What delighted me about this was that Greene talks about a favorite idea of mine--that if the universe is sufficiently large, in the distant reaches (10 to the 10 to the 29 miles away, at least) there is a planet almost exactly like Earth. My conceit that somewhere, my life is depicted on a TV show could be actually true.
There are plenty of other interesting speculations that Greene puts up, and Krulwich does a good job keeping it at a level which non-scientists can understand.
Definitely worth a listen.
A Dutch primary school teacher has accidentally discovered what some are calling a cosmic space "ghost" — a strange, greenish, gaseous object with a hole in the middle that may represent a new type of astronomical phenomena.
The teacher, Hanny van Arkel, stumbled upon the cosmic object in 2007 while doing volunteer work for Galaxy Zoo, a Web site that enlists the public's help in identifying galaxies.
Scientists are pretty sure now what triggers the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, and now have something that they might be able to use as a first step toward a predictive model.
The short answer (do read the entire article though) magnetic storms on the sun but not in the way previously predicted by the old paradigm.
Witness this picture of an uncontacted tribe deep in the Amazon River Basin forest.
I understand there are still probably some tribes in the valleys of New Guinea which "we" know about only by secondhand reputation.
It's got high and byzantine requirements, and yes its a Microserf product. Still, the images in the new beta Worldwide Telescope blew me away.
Protein retrieved from a 68 millon-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex bone closely resembles the main protein in chicken and ostrich bones and is only distantly related to lizards', strengthening the popular idea that birds, and not reptiles, are the closest living relatives of dinosaurs.
The new work builds on a 2007 analysis showing remarkably close similarities between T. rex collagen and collagen from modern-day chickens, but that work did not include comparisons to other living species. Collagen is the primary protein in bones.
A fish species, which is all female, has survived for 70,000 years without reproducing sexually, experts believe.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh think the Amazon Molly may be employing special genetic survival "tricks" to avoid becoming extinct.
The species, found in Texas and Mexico, interacts with males of other species to trigger its reproduction process.
Astrophysicist Professor Bryan Gaensler at the University of Sydney has determined that the thickness of the Milky Way is actually 12,000 light years, rather than the 6,000 previously thought.
I remember a recent article that posited that there was a dwarf galaxy "embedded" in the Milky Way--a galaxy that ours evidently ate aeons ago. And another article positing that instead of an ordinary spiral galaxy, the Milky Way is really a barred spiral.
It would seem, all of this taken together, that our ordinary and humdrum spiral galaxy really, in the end, is unique and individual.
Scientists in north-east China have discovered a flying reptile with a wingspan of just 25 cm (10in). It is one of the smallest pterosaurs ever found and probably lived in the forest canopy in the early Cretaceous period 120m years ago. The team, led by Prof Xiaolin Wang at the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing, discovered the nearly complete fossilised skeleton near Jianchang in Liaoning province. They have christened the new species Nemicolopterus crypticus, meaning "hidden flying forest dweller".
In the top ten breakthroughs listed by Wired magazine is this:
7. Engineers Create Transparent Material as Strong as Steel
Engineering researchers at the University of Michigan have created a material similar to "transparent aluminum," the fantastic substance described by Scotty in Star Trek IV. In the Oct. 5 issue of Science, Nicholas Kotov showed that clay is good for far more than making bricks and expensive skincare products. The earthen material is made up of phenomenally strong nanometer-sized particles. When arranged neatly between thin layers of a sticky but weak plastic, the tiny bits of dirt act as the ultimate reinforcements -- giving the ordinary material extraordinary strength. The sturdy composite could be used in lightweight armor or aircraft.
I first mentioned efforts in this direction a couple of years ago. and in fact based on that, changed one of the taglines of this blog to "Living in the Science Fiction Present."
I maintain and stand by that statement. We *are* living in a Science Fiction Present.
NPR : 'Mesozoic Cow' Rises from the Sahara Desert
Now this is cool!
The sands of the Sahara Desert have delivered a new and very strange dinosaur: an elephant-size beast whose skull and jaw are unlike anything scientists have ever seen. They are calling it the "Mesozoic Cow."
Remember the "hobbit" found in Indonesia, the dwarf-sized hominid that some cheered as an example of a hominid that survived nearly into historical time, and some dismissed as merely an ordinary human with a genetic disease?
An expert on wrist bones (yes, there are experts on such small subjects) has taken a look at the wrist bones of the "hobbit" and has come to his own conclusions on the subject.
Of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, linguists
say, nearly half are in danger of extinction and are likely to
disappear in this century. In fact, they are now falling out of use at
a rate of about one every two weeks.
Some endangered languages vanish in an instant, at the death of the sole surviving speaker.
Others are lost gradually in bilingual cultures, as indigenous tongues
are overwhelmed by the dominant language at school, in the marketplace
and on television.
New research, reported today, has identified the five regions of the
world where languages are disappearing most rapidly. The "hot spots"
of imminent language extinctions are: Northern Australia, Central
South America, North America's upper Pacific coastal zone, Eastern
Siberia and Oklahoma and Southwest United States. All of the areas are
occupied by aboriginal people speaking diverse languages, but in
The study was based on field research and data analysis supported by
the National Geographic Society and the Living Tongues Institute for
Endangered Languages, an organization for the documentation,
revitalization and maintenance of languages at risk. The findings are
described in the October issue of National Geographic magazine and at
As for me, I am saddened at the death of languages. I am not a good or even an average linguist, sometimes much to my chagrin. I *wish* I had an ear and mind for languages, but mastery of languages eludes me. Maybe I need to learn in some other fashion.
Language is a tool for expressing ourselves, and truths about the world, and so when a language is lost, one of those methods of doing so is lost. Languages, and the control of language is a powerful thing. And so the loss of language is like a loss of biodiversity. It makes the social ecosystem of humanity just a little more diminished, to our loss and sorrow.
Jack Vance's novel The Languages of Pao illustrates this perfectly.
Found via Making Light, research at the University of Rochester has shown that the bacterial parasite Wolbachia has managed to transfer its entire genome into members of Drosophila .
Lots of research has to be done, but I consider it amazing that the entire genome of a bacterial parasite has been found in an entirely different species that is in an entirely different kingdom of life, even.
Here's the money quote that just makes me think of SF ideas:
"Such transfers have happened before in the distant past" notes Werren. "In our very own cells and those of nearly all plants and animals are mitochondria, special structures responsible for generating most of our cells' supply of chemical energy. These were once bacteria that lived inside cells, much like wolbachia does today. Mitochondria still retain their own, albeit tiny, DNA, and most of the genes moved into the nucleus in the very distant past. Like wolbachia, they have passively exchanged DNA with their host cells. It's possible wolbachia may follow in the path of mitochondria, eventually becoming a necessary and useful part of a cell.
"In a way, wolbachia could be the next mitochondria," says Werren. "A hundred million years from now, everyone may have a wolbachia organelle."
Huge Hole Found in the Universe
The universe has a huge hole in it that dwarfs anything else of its kind. The discovery caught astronomers by surprise.
The hole is nearly a billion light-years across. It is not a black hole, which is a small sphere of densely packed matter. Rather, this one is mostly devoid of stars, gas and other normal matter, and it's also strangely empty of the mysterious "dark matter" that permeates the cosmos. Other space voids have been found before, but nothing on this scale.
It contradicts the idea that the universe is roughly similar in all directions, given the scale of this anomaly.
A friend pointed me to this story, about the star Mira. Oddly, due to its strange, fast motion relative to the rest of the galaxy, the red giant star has developed a tail like a comet as it hurtles through the galaxy. The tail is 13 light years long and its the first time anything like this has ever been seen.
While the physics of how a tail would develop seem clear--its like the wake behind a boat, just what would cause a star to move at such a fast rate, out of sync with the rest of the galaxy, is a very good question.
A friend at work pointed me to this article. Research has shown that, contrary to previous research, Homo Habilis and Homo Erectus, the latter thought to evolve from the former, may actually have been contemporary species instead.
This makes the bush like nature of the Hominid family tree even more so, if this holds up. The old conception of a linear development from primitive to advanced forms has yet another nail in the coffin.
Global supercomputer leader Cray Inc. (NASDAQ: CRAY) today announced that
researchers running simulations on the Cray supercomputer at Sandia National
Laboratories have re-created what could have happened 29 million years ago
when an asteroid explosion turned Saharan sand into glass. The greenish
natural glass, which can still be found scattered across remote stretches of
the desert, was used by an artisan in ancient Egypt to carve a scarab that
decorates one of the bejeweled breastplates buried in King Tutankhamen's
"Supercomputers now allow us to approach these problems as if we were
conducting actual experiments," said Mark Boslough, the physicist at Sandia
whose theory about the origins of Libyan Desert Glass sparked the research.
"With this class of computer, we can run multiple simulations at such high
resolution and fidelity that we can see phenomena that we wouldn't be able
to predict from first principles. That means we can explore alternate
possibilities as we go. It's more like doing iterative experimental science
than theoretical science."
The Cray supercomputer at Sandia, nicknamed Red Storm, was developed jointly
by Cray and Sandia, a part of the Department of Energy's National Nuclear
Security Administration. Sandia upgraded Red Storm late last year to three
times its original performance level, boosting its performance to more than
100 teraflops, or 100 trillion floating point operations per second. Red
Storm is one of only three supercomputers in the world to exceed the 100
teraflops mark, according to the TOP500 results released last month.
"The Libyan Desert Glass study at Sandia is truly exciting research that
crosses a number of scientific disciplines -- ranging from impact physics
and geology to Egyptology," said Jan Silverman, senior vice president,
corporate strategy and business development at Cray. "We are delighted to
hear about how our highly scalable Cray XT(TM) supercomputer architecture
allows iterative modeling techniques to find the most probable explanation.
Using the computational power of our supercomputers we also see similar
iterative techniques being used to optimize designs from automobiles to
Clues To a Mystery
Until recently Earth scientists believed that natural glass can form by only
two high-temperature processes. Volcanic glass, such as obsidian, can be
produced when lava cools rapidly. Or, in rare cases, a glass known as
tektite can form from the high pressures generated when an asteroid or comet
directly impacts the earth. But compositional studies indicate that Libyan
Desert Glass does not fit either of these two categories. Adding to the
puzzle, scientists generally agree the Libyan glass was somehow formed by a
collision with an object from space, but no one has ever been able to
confirm an impact crater in the region.
Boslough found one clue to the glass mystery in the 1994 collision between
the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Jupiter. That comet broke up into several
pieces before it made contact with Jupiter's atmosphere, where the
collisions caused fireballs that shot hundreds of miles above the planet.
Boslough conjectured that if such an air burst were to occur above Earth, it
might generate enough heat to fuse surface materials into glass.
Another clue was the Tunguska explosion that flattened a thousand square
miles of forest across Siberia in 1908. Because there is no crater of
sufficient size to have caused this event, it is generally believed that the
Tunguska blast was the result of a meteoroid or comet fragment that exploded
at an altitude of five to 10 kilometers (three to six miles) above the
Boslough argues that a similar atmospheric explosion could have created
fireballs large enough and hot enough to produce the Libyan Desert Glass.
Such glass would have been forged in seconds, much like the glass that
formed from super-heated sand at the Trinity site in New Mexico during the
first atom bomb test in 1945. If the asteroid blast occurred above the
Earth, there would be no evidence of a collision in the composition of the
glass and no significant crater in the ground.
Re-creating the Blast
"What I focused on in the simulations was the explosion of the asteroid,"
said Boslough. "As the object entered the atmosphere it had tremendous
kinetic energy. Much of that energy was converted to heat, creating a blast
as hot as the surface of the sun over a large area. The fireball remained in
contact with the Earth's surface for more than 20 seconds. At the same time,
winds behind the blast reached a speed of several hundred meters per second.
The glass formed from the rapid melting and quenching of the sandstone and
alluvium on the ground."
Boslough and his colleagues at Sandia performed high-resolution hydrocode
simulations on Red Storm using the CTH shock-physics code. They postulated a
120-meter diameter stony asteroid hitting the atmosphere at 20 kilometers
per second and breaking up, touching off a blast equivalent to a 110 megaton
bomb and producing intense heat and high-velocity winds.
According to the simulations, this explosion would have been more than
sufficient to melt rocky material on the surface and then cool it quickly,
the conditions necessary to form natural glass. The high winds would have
accelerated the melting process by blowing away the boundary or "melt" layer
that would otherwise insulate the stone from the heat.
Boslough and his group conducted a number of simulations to come up with
"Multiple iterations are really important for gaining new insights," he
said. "You can't plan out your whole experimental matrix and lock yourself
in. When we vary the parameters, we can see new things. For example, we
observed a large ring vortex during the explosion that acts as a 'lubricant'
for the downward flow of mass and energy. No one had suggested that was
For more information about the Libyan Desert Glass study, go to
On July 20, 1969, Men from the Planet Earth first set foot on the Moon.
Happy Armstrong Day!
A single tooth and some DNA clues appear to have solved the mystery of the lost mummy of Hatshepsut, one of the great queens of ancient Egypt, who reigned in the 15th century B.C.
Archaeologists who conducted the research, to be announced formally today in Cairo, said this was the first mummy of an Egyptian ruler to be found and “positively identified” since King Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened in 1922.
Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, said Monday in a telephone interview that the mummy was found in 1903 in an obscure, undecorated tomb in the Valley of the Kings, across the Nile from modern Luxor, and had been largely overlooked for more than a century.
Dr. Hawass said the identification of the well-preserved mummy as Hatshepsut (pronounced hat-SHEP-soot) was made a few weeks ago when a CT scan of a wooden box associated with the queen revealed a tooth. The tooth, he said, “fits exactly” into the jaw socket and broken root of the mummy of an obese woman originally found in Tomb 60 at the Valley of the Kings, the necropolis for royalty in the New Kingdom before and after Hatshepsut’s reign.
“We therefore have scientific proof that this is the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut,” Dr. Hawass concluded, citing primarily the tooth but also current DNA analysis suggesting a family relationship between the obese woman and Ahmose Nefertari, the matriarch of 18th dynasty royalty.
Other Egyptologists not involved in the project said that the finding was fascinating, but that they would reserve judgment until they had studied the results of the DNA analysis and had some of the evidence confirmed by other researchers.
“You have to be so careful in reaching conclusions from such data,” said Kathryn Bard, an Egyptologist at Boston University.
Dr. Bard said, however, that it was not surprising that Hatshepsut’s mummy would turn up in a humble tomb, not the more elaborate one presumably intended for her. She noted that the queen’s stepson Thutmose III, after he succeeded to the throne on her death, “tried to destroy every trace of her and her reign,” so it was likely that her preserved body was hidden in another burial chamber for safekeeping.
The search for Hatshepsut’s mummy by Egyptian archaeologists and medical scientists will be described in a television program, “Secrets of Egypt’s Lost Queen,” scheduled for July 15 on the Discovery Channel.
As Dr. Hawass tells the story, he was approached by the Discovery Channel to apply new scientific technology to the search for the lost mummy. He thought the odds of success were slim, but looked upon the project as an opportunity to investigate a collection of unidentified female mummies in tombs and in the Cairo Museum.
To the frustration of archaeologists, royal Egyptian mummies were often moved from their original tombs and hidden in less conspicuous ones to stymie would-be plunderers. Identifying marks were frequently lost in the transfer.
Dr. Hawass and his team began the search at Tomb 60. Howard Carter, the British archaeologist who discovered the King Tut tomb, had excavated these smaller chambers in 1903. He found two mummies there: one in a coffin inscribed for a royal nurse, the other stretched out on the floor.
On a recent visit to Tomb 60, Dr. Hawass examined the mummy that had been on the floor, the obese one. Her left arm was bent at the elbow, with the hand over her chest. Her right arm lay against her side. The fingernails of the left hand were painted red and outlined in black. She was bald in front, with long hair in back.
Seeing the arrangement of her arms, Dr. Hawass said, “I believed at once that she was royal, but had no real opinion as to who she might be.”
Other Egyptologists also saw the left arm on the chest as a royal characteristic. But Dr. Bard of Boston University said that royal mummies were usually laid out with both hands crossed at the chest.
In the search, Dr. Hawass had radiologists make CT scans of six unidentified female mummies as well as some objects associated with them. The last of these examined objects was a wooden box bearing the name Hatshepsut. The box had been recovered from yet another tomb.
The container held some of the viscera removed from the body during embalming. Everything associated with a royal body or its mummification was carefully and ritually preserved. Late one night recently, the box was subjected to the CT scan.
“It turned out that this box held the key to the riddle,” Dr. Hawass said.
The images revealed a well-preserved liver and the tooth. A dentist, Dr. Galal el-Beheri of Cairo University, was called in. He studied the images of the mummy collection, and the tooth seemed to belong to the obese mummy.
Further CT scans led physicians to conclude that the woman was about 50 when she died. She was overweight and had bad teeth. She probably had diabetes and died of bone cancer, which had spread through her body.
Dr. Hawass said the DNA research into the possible Hatshepsut mummy was continuing, and he was vague about when the results would be reported. But early tests of mitochondrial DNA, he said, showed a relationship between the mummy and the matriarch Ahmose Nefertari.
Well, here's a reason for me to visit the SMM again soon...a special exhibit on Pompeii!
There's an Omnimax movie on Ancient Greece, too. A two-fer!
One of the subtitles of this blog is "Living in the Science Fiction Present", since the march of technology, progress and advancement has brought what was once science fictional tropes into our daily lives.
Author Gwyneth Jones, in an article in the Guardian, explores this idea.
You probably heard the news already:
Astronomers have discovered the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date, an exoplanet with a radius only 50% larger than the Earth and capable of having liquid water. Using the ESO 3.6-m telescope, a team of Swiss, French and Portuguese scientists discovered a super-Earth about 5 times the mass of the Earth that orbits a red dwarf, already known to harbour a Neptune-mass planet. The astronomers have also strong evidence for the presence of a third planet with a mass about 8 Earth masses.
This exoplanet - as astronomers call planets around a star other than the Sun - is the smallest ever found up to now  and it completes a full orbit in 13 days. It is 14 times closer to its star than the Earth is from the Sun. However, given that its host star, the red dwarf Gliese 581 , is smaller and colder than the Sun - and thus less luminous - the planet nevertheless lies in the habitable zone, the region around a star where water could be liquid! The planet's name is Gliese 581 c.
All science really is interconnected. Go look at the diagram if you don't believe me.
There is and was no one quite like Carl Sagan, but Neil deGrasse Tyson, head of the Planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History, seems to be making a very good try at being his heir.
Take a listen to his speech to the Commonwealth Club of California and
listen for yourself.
There is and was no one quite like Carl Sagan, but Neil deGrasse Tyson, head of the Planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History, seems to be making a very good try at being his heir.
Take a listen to his speech to the Commonwealth Club of California and
listen for yourself.
Via my brother Greg:
48th legislature - STATE OF NEW MEXICO - first
Joni Marie Gutierrez
A JOINT MEMORIAL
DECLARING PLUTO A PLANET AND DECLARING MARCH 13, 2007,
"PLUTO PLANET DAY" AT THE LEGISLATURE.
WHEREAS, the state of New Mexico is a global center
for astronomy, astrophysics and planetary science; and
WHEREAS, New Mexico is home to world class
astronomical observing facilities, such as the Apache
Point observatory, the very large array, the Magdalena
Ridge observatory and the national solar observatory;
WHEREAS, Apache Point observatory, operated by New
Mexico state university, houses the astrophysical
research consortium's three-and-one-half meter
telescope, as well as the unique two-and-one-half
meter diameter Sloan digital sky survey telescope; and
WHEREAS, New Mexico state university has the state's
only independent, doctorate-granting astronomy
WHEREAS, New Mexico state university and Dona Ana
county were the longtime home of Clyde Tombaugh,
discoverer of Pluto; and
WHEREAS, Pluto has been recognized as a planet for
seventy-five years; and
WHEREAS, Pluto's average orbit is three billion six
hundred ninety-five million nine hundred fifty
thousand miles from the sun, and its diameter is
approximately one thousand four hundred twenty-one
WHEREAS, Pluto has three moons known as Charon, Nix
and Hydra; and
WHEREAS, a spacecraft called new horizons was launched
in January 2006 to explore Pluto in the year 2015;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF
THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO that, as Pluto passes overhead
through New Mexico's excellent night skies, it be
declared a planet and that March 13, 2007 be declared
"Pluto Planet Day" at the legislature.
Materials found on a hill above Walker, Minn., were not clearly stone tools dating back 13,000 to 14,000 years, the state archaeologist has concluded.
Several experienced archaeologists have concluded that "the great majority of the collection was produced by natural processes," State Archaeologist Scott Anfinson said. "There were a few 'maybe' flakes [of stone], and there were clearly no stone tools of obvious human manufacture or use."
Something light on this snowy day.
A rare upside down rainbow.
Read more about how it happens.
Science & Technology at Scientific American.com: Ancient Stone Weapons Not Ancient Enough to Be Used by First Americans -- New radiocarbon dates of established archaeological sites suggest that the Americas must have been populated before the advent of so-called Clovis weapons
Ancient Stone Weapons Not Ancient Enough to Be Used by First Americans
New radiocarbon dates of established archaeological sites suggest that the Americas must have been populated before the advent of so-called Clovis weapons
By David Biello
This article on Scientific American is another nail in the coffin of the theory of those who are convinced that the Clovis culture represents the first and earliest human habitation in the Americas.
Me, I'm mostly already persuaded that human habitation in the Americas predates the Clovis culture. In point of fact, there is a little evidence that in the waves of migrants into North America, some may have even come from Europe west to America.
In Pharyngula, PZ Myers provides a link to a little java applet that expertly shows off the concept of genetic algorithms.
It's called IC Evolver and uses Genetic Algorithms to look for solutions to a simple board game. It strongly reminds me of some of the stuff that Godel Escher Bach touches on, or the old computer program "Life".
Confused? A fairly good primer on GA and how it works is here..
WALKER, Minn. — (AP) - From the rough stone tools, archaeologists are speculating that "we're looking at certainly the relatively earliest occupants of the North American continent," biologist and archaeologist Matt Mattson said in a Star Tribune of Minneapolis report Thursday night. He worked on the project for the Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program, which is based near Cass Lake.
Bad Astronomy has a list (and links) of what he considers the best
10 Astronomy images of 2006.
Me, I love the Tarantula Nebula stuff, and the #1 image, of Saturn
For the first time, a Giant Squid, still living, has been captured and filmed.
Its a beauty. I haven't seen PZ on Pharyngula blog about this yet, but no doubt the Cephalpodophile soon will.
NPR had a story yesterday about the growing practice of PGD, preimplantaion genetic diagnosis. That is, screening potential embryos before implantation, for disease. The story covers the controversy fairly well, especially the ethical thicket of thorns this practice raises.
Have you ever seen the movie Gattaca? In that movie, techniques like PGD have become so prevalent that those born without its benefit are a new underclass--not on race or gender, but on genetics.
Carl Sagan died 10 years ago, today.
Back in 1980, a little show Sagan hosted called Cosmos captured my imagination and began a love affair of mine with science, from astronomy to zoology.
I've loved his books, and the unflinching light he held up to the darkness, and he is very sorely missed.
Science & Technology at Scientific American.com: Unique Marvel of Ancient Greek Technology Gives Up New Secrets -- The most complex piece of machinery until medieval times ticked off the months until eclipses and might once have shown the positions of the planets.
Both in Scientific American (linked above) and in an NPR story is mentions of the recent discoveries involving a Antikythera mechanism that is 2000 years old, found at the bottom of the Mediterranean several decades ago.
It literally is a primitive calendar computer, the likes of which wasn't reproduced after the fall of the Roman Empire for a millennium afterwards.
Eschewing a 10,000 year time frame as not long enough, the EPA is expected to release regulations concerning the construction of the Yucca Mountain site for the disposal of nuclear waste that are intended to be in place for a million years.
I'm all for protecting the environment and the health of our citizenry, but I find this sort of thing silly. Even 10,000 years is ambitious, as that is 50 times the current existence of the United States. A Million Years...well, that's the province of SF writers.
Don't forget about the Transit of Mercury today. My friends on the East Coast won't see all of the 5 hour event before the sun sets, though, since it starts at about 1:15 EST.
My friends in Europe, alas, won't see it at all.
Here, in the Great White North, a solid layer of clouds ruins any chance of me seeing it.
Via NPR, the discovery of the skull of a horse-sized carnivorous bird that was the top predator in South America prior to its connection to North America via the Isthmus of Panama.
A major report from the National Academies says bees and other important pollinators are losing out to development and disease. The report's authors warn the losses could have a big impact on some farmers, such as the almond growers of Central California.
A DNA computer which, given a starting position of the human player playing first and playing the center square, can play a tic tac toe game flawlessly to a draw (or a win if the human is careless) every time.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for Mankind."
Perhaps not. For years Armstrong has insisted he said "for a man". An Australian programmer believes that, in analysis of the tape, that he has found that Armstrong DID say "for a man".
I am sure that Armstrong's English teachers might breathe a sigh of relief if this is true.
On the other hand, Roddenberry has definitively and permanently made splitting infinitives acceptable English. "To boldly go..."
The latest example of us living in the Science Fiction Present:
The forthcoming second generation Ipod Shuffle.
* iPod Shuffle holds 240 songs on 1 GB of storage
* Download songs from the iTunes Store, import songs from your CDs, and sync them to your Shuffle
* Thumb-friendly, circular control pad makes navigation a breeze
* Battery indicator light features three levels--green (full), amber (low), and red (empty)
* Measures 1.62 x 1.07 x 0.41 inches (WxHxD) and weighs 0.55 ounces
Those measurements make the Shuffle, as seen in the picture, smaller than a matchbox.
Or, the NPR story:
A stone slab bearing 3,000-year-old writing previously unknown to scholars has been found in the Mexican state of Veracruz, and archaeologists say it is an example of the oldest script ever discovered in the Western Hemisphere.
Sixty-two distinct signs are inscribed on the stone slab, which was discovered in the state of Veracruz in Mexico.
The Mexican discoverers and their colleagues from the United States reported yesterday that the order and pattern of carved symbols appeared to be that of a true writing system and that it had characteristics strikingly similar to imagery of the Olmec civilization, considered the earliest in the Americas.
Of course, given the small sample of this 3000 year old writing, we don't know what it says or means...yet, anyway.
Gibraltar may have been the last refuge of the Neanderthals, according to the results of a six-year archaeological dig. The youngest Neanderthal artifacts to date, a couple of thousand years younger than any others, have been found there.
Carl Zimmer links to a NY Times article on predation in female arachnids and insects on their male counterparts. Controversially, it might be that one species of chinese mantid's females actually use sexual pheromones to lure males not for mating, but expressly for dinner (as opposed to mating and then cannibalism)
The Hubble has taken pictures of a never-before-seen astronomical alignment of a moon traversing the face of Uranus, and its accompanying shadow.
Though such "transits" by moons across the disks of their parents are commonplace for some other gas giant planets, such as Jupiter, the satellites of Uranus orbit the planet in such a way that they rarely cast shadows on the planet's surface.
The official word from the IAS is that Pluto is no longer to be considered a planet. The new definition of a planet mandates that
"a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."
Pluto is now just a dwarf planet and not even the largest of those. "Xena" is larger than Pluto.
Poor Charon is now a moon of a dwarf planet, when it looked for a while that it might jump up to full planethood itself.
I still think Pluto should have been grandfathered in. It's Brontosaurus versus Apatosaurus all over again.
No doubt you have seen the news above, that there is now experimental evidence for the existence of dark matter. We still don't know what its made out of, but the astronomical evidence is now pretty conclusive.
Most of the universe is made up of stuff that we can't see. I'm reminded of Baxter's Xeelee universe and the photino birds, myself.
Kevin Drum wraps up the current debate at the IAU, where the status of Pluto as a planet is being debated.
I've mentioned this debate before in a few entries here at Blog, Jvstin Style over the years
I stand by what I said about a year ago in an blog entry about the NY Times position on the matter:
Me, I think we can keep Pluto in on the Grandfather Clause, and declare a Planet to be a body large enough that it has a spherical shape due to gravity, that orbits the Sun in the general plane of the solar system. While Pluto itself (nor any asteroids, nor any Kuiper belt objects) would not qualify under this definition, let Pluto remain, rather than demote it.
Happy Moon Landing Day (aka Armstrong Day)!
Never underestimate the power of insects, especially in Minnesota, where a mayfly hatching shows up on Doppler Radar. NOAA has more on it, and a larger animation of the radar.
Just like every May 28th and July 12th, the setting rays of the sun will align perfectly with the grid of streets in Manhattan in New York City today, clear weather permitting.
If the streets in NYC were perfectly aligned east-west, this phenomenon would occur on the equinoxes.And any city that has a grid on the Manhattan pattern is going to have two days of the year where the street grid turns into a modern day Stonehenge.
Pluto's two newly discovered Moonlets now have names. And, in keeping with mythological tradition, the names for the new moons are Nix (the Greek Goddess of the Night) and Hydra (the monster with many heads that Heracles defeated).
I'm sort of disappointed. Nix is fine and dandy, but honestly, as someone interested in Greek Mythology, while I know of the Hydra-underworld connection, when I think of the Hydra, I think of Heracles, not of Hades.
Cerberus (Cerberos), the three headed dog that guarded the entrance to the Underworld, would have been a far better choice, I think.
And, don't forget about Persephone! Only one of the planets are named after a woman, an 8-1 imbalance. I think she should get in on the action, too, but for a full planet.
Many of you have heard of Andromeda, the larger twin to the Milky Way Galaxy, 2.2 million light years away, or so. Or at least you've seen pictures. Being the closest large galaxy, there are lots of photos of Andromeda. And, heck, its even in a Star Trek (TOS) Episode.
But have you heard about the Milky Way's spunky kid sister? M 33, the spiral Triangulum Galaxy, lies a little further away than Andromeda, 2.4 million light years away. It probably has about 10-40 billion stars, which sounds like a lot, but is really only about 5-10% of the Milky Way's 200-400 billion, and a lot less than the estimated 1 trillion stars of Andromeda.
A thumbnail of M33 which has a link to a larger picture to it is in the extended entry. Go take a look at the Miky Way's spunky kid sister!
In 1006, an extremely powerful and bright supernova lit up the nighttime skies of Earth. It was powerful enough that the remnants of that Supernova are well known to astronomy lovers today as the Crab Nebula.
The Supernova has long since been documented by records from Europe to China, but now, a petroglyph found in Arizona might be evidence that the Hohokam, a Native American people, might be a depiction of it, based on the depiction of the petroglyph. If that's true, this could aid in dating this and other petroglyphs, which are too recent to use something like Carbon-14 dating.
In experiments with mutant mice, Minoo Rassoulzadegan of Inserm in France proved that in the case of a trait regulating the coloring of fur on toes and tail of mice, the coloration did not conform to mendelian laws of heredity. It seems that the mutant mice' RNA, which the mice bear unusual levels of, played a role in bringing out the recessive white patch fur trait in mice which had two copies of the dominant brown fur trait.
Exactly how the RNA is doing this remains a mystery, but it does put a challenge to the current prevailing theory that DNA is the sole final arbiter of heredity from a molecular point of view.
Dionsaur hunter Rodolfo Coria, professor at the Carmen Funes Museum in Plaza Huincul, Argentina has found fossils of a species dubbed Mapusaurus roseae, a carnivorous dinosaur that is estimated to be more than 40 feet long and with a longer skull than T-Rex.
Tiktaalik roseae is a wonderful new transitional fossil found recently in the Canadian Arctic. It fits in perfectly, as far as we can tell, in the understood evolutionary history between fish and the early land tetrapods.
Take *that*, "Where are the transitional fossils?" Creationists!
More info is available on the University of Chicago's site on Titktaalik (whose name amuses me, it sounds like the name of one of the Emperor's in Steven Brust's Dragaera novels)
Unlike most constellations, the stars of the Big Dipper, as seen in the link above to its entry in Astronomy Picture of the Day, are actually physically related. According to APOD, they are all members of the Ursa Major Moving Group, and lie about 75 light years away. Although the Sun and ourselves are physically close to this group, we are *not* a part of it ourselves.
With all the Archaeology around lately, I might need a seperate category for it! This time we go to the Island of Tambora, which was rocked by one of the greatest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, the 1815 volcanic eruption of Tambora. This eruption was so large, it affected global climate, causing a nuclear winter culminating in the "year without a summer".
University of Rhode Island volcanologist Haraldur Sigurdsson has found evidence and lots of artifacts from the culture wiped out by this titanic blast, buried under volcanic ash.
An Indonesian Pompeii!
On the Hubble site are a bunch of new, high resolution images of Messier 101, a spiral galaxy which presents a face on view. A small version of the image is in the extended entry. I strongly recommend, though, you go to the site and see it in all its glory, including an interesting close up on one section of the galaxy.
HUBBLE CONFIRMS NEW MOONS OF PLUTO
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have confirmed
the presence of two new moons around the distant planet Pluto.
The moons were first discovered by Hubble in May 2005, but the
Pluto Companion Search team probed even deeper into the Pluto
system with Hubble on Feb. 15 to look for additional satellites
and to characterize the orbits of the moons. In the image, Pluto
is in the center and Charon is just below it. The moons,
provisionally designated S/2005 P 1 and S/2005 P 2, are located to
the right of Pluto and Charon. The initial discovery is being reported
today in this week's edition of the British science journal Nature.
These moons are pretty tiny, but a moon is a moon is a moon.
Tue Feb 7, 10:28 PM ET
TIVOLI, Italy - Archaeologists who have been digging for more than a year at the villa of Roman Emperor Hadrian in Tivoli have unearthed a monumental staircase, a statue of an athlete and what appears to be a headless sphinx.
The findings were presented Tuesday by government officials who described the discoveries as extremely important for understanding the layout of the ruins. The staircase is believed to be the original entrance to the villa, which was built for Hadrian in the 2nd century A.D.
So far, 15 steps, each 27 feet wide, have been identified and archaeologists did not rule out uncovering more.
Officials said that the newly uncovered area of the site, northeast of Rome, would be open to the public within a year.
Via Pharyngula, a very misguided column by Richard Cohen, where he addresses a struggling L.A. 12th grade student, telling her that Alegbra is superfluous and its all right that she's not good at it, since she will never need it.
Hogwash. Innumeracy is part of the reason why Bush has been able to get through these corrosive tax cuts: people don't understand the hard iron logic of the math behind them. Innumeracy is as big a handicap in the modern world as illiteracy, and Cohen's column does not help the problem.
Math is tough. But it doesn't mean that its better to give up studying it and go shopping. Besides, if I wanted to go to Borders, and had a 25% off coupon, and 6 dollars in my pocket and a sales tax of 6.5%, how would I figure out how expensive of a book I could buy?
You guessed it. Alegbra. And the answer is $7.51.
My "sister in Michigan", Liz, pointed me to this CNN Article about the discovery of a new intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt.
An American team has found what appears to be an intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings, the first found in the valley since that of Tutankhamun in 1922, one of the archaeologists said on Thursday.
The tomb contains five or six mummies in intact sarcophagi from the late 18th dynasty, about the same period as Tutankhamun, but the archaeologists have not yet had the time or the access to identify them, the archaeologist added.
It wouldn't necessarily have to be royal, of course, and there are aren't heaps of treasure, a la Tutankhamen's tomb. The archaeology, with modern techniques, of an intact, preserved tomb, though, ought to be quite exciting.
By using the full capabilities of the Hubble Space Telescope, Astronomers have verified that Polaris, the North Pole Star, is not just a single star, but actually a trinary star system! Its been known for a while that Polaris had a relatively distant companion, but the Hubble verified that Polaris A actually has a close companion--a mere 2 billion miles away. The companion is a mediocre main sequence star, one reason why its been lost in the glare and power of the Polaris A supergiant.
Here is another case of "Living in the Science Fiction Present". A "brain" of 25000 neurons grown from a rat embryo being taught to handle a computer simulation:
It sounds like science fiction: a brain nurtured in a Petri dish learns to pilot a fighter plane as scientists develop a new breed of �living� computer. But in groundbreaking experiments in a Florida laboratory that is exactly what is happening.
The �brain�, grown from 25,000 neural cells extracted from a single rat embryo, has been taught to fly an F-22 jet simulator by scientists at the University of Florida.
They hope their research into neural computation will help them develop sophisticated hybrid computers, with a thinking biological component.
Paul Mirecki, a Kansas University professor who had plans to teach a class next semester titled "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design and Creationism," was reportedly beaten by two men who followed him as he drove to breakfast early this morning.
Despite the stupidity of allowing a remark of his to be discovered that suggested that he would consider the course a slap in the face of fundamentalists, physical violence is NOT a acceptable response, in my book.
It just shows that you are a thug.
Pharyngula tells us about a 330 million year old sea scorpion. An interesting creature, especially so given its size at over five feet long. The other major interesting thing about it is the trackways that show that the thing crawled about on land for some unknown purpose.
Unless there were time travellers around, it wasn't to escape really large pots of boiling water and melted butter, though.
Richard Smalley, who won a Nobel Prize for the discovery and study of the peculiar carbon atom molecule arrangements called "buckyballs", has died of cancer.
The use of buckyballs and carbon nanotubes is only beginning, so the legacy and impact Smalley has on science and engineering has not yet come to full fruition.
I've seen a variation on the "Mars will be spectacular soon." meme float around emails for some time. This has been inaccurate, a leftover from 2003 when it really was bright and spectacular.
This weekend, Saturday to be precise, Mars will be a relative maximum in brightness and relatively close--although, again, not as close as in 2003.
I hope the skies are clear Saturday Night. The closest approach will be at 11:25 PM EDT. (So, 10:30 for us here in the Midwest).
UPDATE: This morning, at 5 am, as I walked out to my car to go to work, what should I see, not far away from Orion, but the bright red dot of Mars. I wished I had my binoculars handy, for it really did blaze in its portion of the sky, to the exclusion of everything else. The reddish glow was definitely evident.
The Air Force is testing a ceramic compound, Alumimum oxynitride, as a replacement for multilayered glass in armored vehicles.
ALON� is virtually scratch resistant, offers substantial impact resistance, and provides better durability and protection against armor piercing threats, at roughly half the weight and half the thickness of traditional glass transparent armor.
Many readers of this blog, though, like myself, will immediately think of Star Trek IV, and Scotty giving away the formula for "transparent aluminum" in exchange for enough plexiglass to house the whales and their water on board their bird of prey.
We do truly live in a Science Fiction Present.
Via National Geographic, more fossil evidence that Homo floresiensis, the "Hobbits" found in Indonesia, were actually a true species, rather than just some microencephalic versions of an already existing species in Genus Homo.
An increase in the atmospheric levels of oxygen 50 million years ago might be responsible for the development of mammalian megafauna--including our own ancestors, according to this SI online article.
Oxygen levels in this time period reached 23%, 2 percent higher than today.
You probably saw this in your local paper, but I thought I would link to an NPR page with photos from the North Pacific expedition of live Giant Squid, the first photos ever taken of them live, in the wild.
The Mother of All Calamari!
As you no doubt have seen elsewhere, today begins a court case in the Dover Area School District of Pennsylvania over Intelligent Design. Eight families are suing the district, under the premise that including intelligent design in the classroom is a violation of the seperation of church and state.
Dover is believed to be the first school system in the nation to require students be exposed to the intelligent design concept, under a policy adopted by a 6-3 vote in October 2004.
It requires teachers to read a statement that says intelligent design differs from Darwin's view and refers students to an intelligent-design textbook, "Of Pandas and People,'' for more information.
Some might think this is harmless, but I think its creepy. Even if religious grounds were not good enough, its a waste of classroom time and resources.
Intelligent Design is a fancy way of saying "Goddiit" and that is not science and does not belong in the science part of a curriculum.
I'm willing to argue and concede that, in Western Studies, and most certainly, Theology, a text or information on ID would be quite appropriate.
A High School Biology course is not appropriate.
A prescient 2001 Scientific American Article on how New Orleans could be flooded by a hurricane has been re-released online.
Over on SFSignal, John tackles an issue that the curator of the SF museum mentioned on an interview on NPR.
Jacob McMurray said:
"A lot of books in the '50s and '40s don't hold up at all now because, either the scientific advances that they're talking about just never happened, or these sort of cultural things that were happening at the time are so different than what's happening now that it seems absurd," he tells Liane Hansen. "I think a lot of the stuff from the '60s and '70s, when authors were trying to focus on social aspects of humanity, I think those books hold up really well. You know, a lot of the science fiction that's happening in the '80s and '90s today is less fantastic, sort of focused on scientific technologies that are happening today."
I agree with John's assertion that it depends on what you mean by "Holds up". In terms of the science in the stories, no, that doesn't hold up. We didn't wind up in the Jetsons world. On the other hand, the computer I write this on, right now, is far more advanced than anything in Golden Age SF.
On the other hand, I, myself, do not read something like, say, The Witches of Karres for its predictive science. Too, Asimov, Heinlein, Vance (whose fiction really invokes the Golden Age no matter when he wrote it) and many, many others. It's the writing, stupid. Milieus, characters, plots, and ideas.
You don't read Golden Age SF for the Science or just the Science. There are other virtues to be found.
Astronomers have managed to date and time a famous photo by Ansel Adams, which shows a waxing moon over the High Sierra.
Patrick provides a link to a space.com story with an interesting assertion. Recent evidence suggests that the Milky Way is not a classic spiral galaxy a la M 31, Andromeda. Instead, its something even cooler, a barred spiral galaxy.
Bars in spiral galaxies are fairly common, but until this, it was thought the Milky Way was just an ordinary one, like Andromeda is.
Jim Knodle in comments suggests this might be evidence for a supermassive black hole in the Galactic Center. It certainly sounds plausible to me.
Via Pharyngula, a nice overview of Cephalopod Evolution, from soup to nuts. A nice picture of a huge Ammonite shell. (Which, of course, many of you know are among my personal favorites among fossils).
And, Simpsons fans, Kodos and Kang are the guides to this production.
The NY Times seems to be taking the position of Neil Degrasse Tyson, head of the Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.
When the new planetarium was first unveiled, Pluto was not given a place in the large scale model of the solar system with the other planets. Instead it was lumped with the comet like bodies of the Kuiper belt. That is to say, it was demoted.
Now, with the announcement of a new body beyond Pluto which is larger than our ninth and smallest planet, the Times doesn't want children to count to 10 planets.
"Our own preference is to take a cleaner way out by dropping Pluto from the planetary ranks. Scientists may well discover many more ice balls bigger than Pluto, and it's a safe bet that few in our culture want to memorize the names of 20 or more planets. Far better to downgrade Pluto to the status of an icy sphere that was once mistakenly deemed a planet because we had not yet discovered its compatriots on the dark fringes of the solar system."
Me, I think we can keep Pluto in on the Grandfather Clause, and declare a Planet to be a body large enough that it has a spherical shape due to gravity, that orbits the Sun in the general plane of the solar system. While Pluto itself (nor any asteroids, nor any Kuiper belt objects) would qualify, let Pluto remain, rather than demote it.
Doubtless you have seen this by now, the announcement of the discovery of a trans-Plutonian body which is somewhere between the size of Pluto, and 2000 miles in diameter (since Spitzer can't see it, that's its limit of resolution).
Since its larger than Pluto, it really should be classified as a planet, unless you admit that Pluto really is only a planet because its been grandfathered in.
Me, if it is really a 10th planet, if you follow the Greco-Roman conventions of the planetary names, I'd think that Persephone would be a wonderful name for a 10th planet.
Discovery successfully launched from the Cape this morning after a two year hiatus following the tragedy of Colombia.
Sure, we need a far better vehicle than the Space Shuttle to get to Space, but at least we're back up there.
An interesting blog entry about going back generations in human ancestry in ever increasing powers of ten. Its sort of a reverse Episode 2 of Cosmos, where Sagan went from abiotic organisms to Man. Here, we go back from Man all the way to "star stuff"
With pictures, yet!
In an issue of Omni years and years ago, they published a new, regularized calendar consisting solely of 13 28 day months, and a single intercalary day, on July 20.
In honor of that Tranquility Calendar as well as the most obvious fact that today marks the 36th anniversary of the first Moon landing, I declare today Armstrong Day.
Happy Armstrong Day!!
Via Digby, and other places too, a survey of conservative thinkers by the New Republic about their belief in Evolution.
As Carl Sagan said 25 years ago, "Evolution is a fact. It really happened." Disbelieving in gravity doesn't mean that falling from a ten story building is going to be anything other than fatal.
Some of these thinkers I applaud for common sense. Charles Krauthammer, however benighted his columns might be, gets its right.
The entire structure of modern biology, and every branch of it [is] built around evolution and to teach anything but evolution would be a tremendous disservice to scientific education.
By comparison, some of the other responses quoted are mealy-mouthed prevarications or outright worship of the Fundamentalists. (Paging Pat Buchanan to the white courtesy phone...)
Grover's admonition that he'd rather spend his time crushing government run schools, though, is just chilling.
There are none so blind as those who will not see.
Heard this story on NPR, about the study of underground water flow in the Pacific Northwestand the importance of water management.
The website for the story has more information than just the audio story, including the amazing picture of torrents of water just coming up out of the ground.
Via Pharyngula, an immensely fascinating post about the genetics of the reproduction of Wasmannia auropunctata.
Throw this at entry level bio students, and they'll tear their hair out in frustration in deciphering it.
Once again, with the boundless diversity and creativity shown by evolution, who in their right mind would want to reduce their curiosity to "Goddidit" and ID?
And wouldn't these genetic patterns of reproduction make a wonderful basis for aliens in an SF story?
As you have probably heard, The impactor portion of the Deep Impact comet probe successfully rendevoused and crashed into the comet Tempel early this morning.
The point of this was the same reason why particle physicists of the 20th century impacted atoms together in accelerators--to see what the pieces are made out of. (The analogy breaks down when you start talking about modern particle physics).
The impact is being extensively photographed by the flyby portion of the craft. These pictures will give crucial clues as to the composition of comets, and thus the early solar system make up in the bargain.
I love it when a plan comes together.
Via Kathryn Cramer, we learn of a webpage which, in discussing perception, talks about an African Tribe whose sense of depth and size perception is skewed by growing up in dense jungle.
This perceptive problem really works, I am told, on, say, drives on the Great Plains, where the flatness of the ground makes it difficult to judge sizes and distances to objects, since there are few frames of reference.
Nasa's wonderful Astronomy Picture of the Day turns ten years old today.
Happy Birthday, APOD!
The picture on the tenth anniversary date, by the way, is a photoshopped version of Vermeer's "The Geographer", replacing the singular titular character with the founders of APOD, Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell.
Heard this story on NPR, about this company which uses breakdowns of songs and their attributes in order to recommend other songs to you. They currently offer this just to corporate clients, but seem to be gearing up for a public venture in the near future.
Their system seemed to work from the samples they played in the story, the group and song they recommended based on the Counting Crows Last December was as appealing to me as that song is; and the group they recommended based on a CSN song sounded very much in that tradition.
Scientists report that a Gamma Ray Burst observed might be the birth cry of a Black Hole, the first creation of such ever observed.
Actually, since the putative Black Hole is 2.2 billion light years away, this event occurred 2.2 billion years ago, of course.
I enjoy the parallax that reading other countries' views of some of the insanities of American Culture can provide. To wit, the view of the British Independent newspaper on the Kansas Science Standards debate.
It's a outsider's glimpse into what certain strains of Fundamentalist Christianity want for all of America, whether we like it or no.
Via Pharyngula, apparently Hamburg, Germany is suffering from a rash of mysteriously exploding...toads.
Forteans must be having a field day with this, and I suspect someone like Kenneth Hite could make an RPG twist out of this sort of thing without breaking a sweat.
Science News.org has an interesting article on "celestial currents", a conceptualization of the varying and changing gravitational relationships between bodies in the solar system as a sort of interplanetary highway system.
It is far more complex than the system of American Interstates, as these routes are anything but static. However, like hoffman transfers, these paths, which are beginning to be mapped out in the Earth-Moon system. They are cheap in terms of energy costs but are expensive in that they are winding, circuituous routes.
Still, I love the concept.
In addition to being Tax Day in the US, April 15th also marks the birthday of Leonardo Da Vinci (b. 1452)
Happy Birthday! It's ironic that many people these days associate him with a Dan Brown novel rather than the merits of his work.
Some years back when I lived in NY, I saw an exhibit of Da Vinci paraphenalia (including pages from the original copies of his codex, in special chambers) at the Museum of Natural History (a special additional-fee exhibit). He was a brilliant mind, with many talents and abilities. As De Camp points out in Ancient Engineers, he is the last of the ancient thinkers and the first of the Renaissance ones at the same time.
MsNBC reports on an article in the latest issue of Science which gives a hypothesis that an oxygen crash at the time of the Permian extinction would have exacerbated already bad conditions, and moreover, would have acted to accentuate natural mountain barriers. With oxygen levels in the atmosphere so low, it would be even lower on even modest mountain ranges, thus helping to isolate populations. This probably both led to the great-die off as well as provide greater opportunity for speciation once the crisis was over.
Spurred on by a comment in my entry about Deorbiting Hubble, I did a little research on NASA's site to see what is, if anything, planned to succeed the Hubble.
The James Webb Space Telescope is planned for a launch in 2011 and will reside at the L2 point.
I still think the gap in coverage is a large one, and that it is worthwhile, monetarily, to keep the Hubble up longer. Like any bureaucratic undertaking, I don't expect the Webb to actually get off on time or budget, and so losing that part of the spectrum to research for an extended time is a tremendous waste.
It's also the PR value. The Hubble is in a sense "America's Telescope". The more esoteric of the four Great Observatories (Compton, Chandra and Spitzer) are less accessible to the general public, in terms of understanding what they do and the value they bring. Hubble, though, Hubble brings in the pretty pictures.
Pretty pictures bring public interest and a willingness for Congress to give Nasa money. Call it a cash cow if you like, accuse me of just wanting more pretty pictures, but I think that value alone makes Hubble worth keeping up.
There isn't a lot of it visible even to those of my readers in the very south of the US, but today there is a partial eclipse of the Sun.
I'm far too north to see anything at all. Those friends and readers of mine from New Jersey southward will be able to see a bit of this eclipse but the fraction of the sun covered by the moon is relatively modest unless you live in the Florida Keys.
To borrow a phrase from Retief, the suits at Nasa have their olfactory sense organ buried in their ventral orifice.
NASA officials seem to have come to the conclusion that the best option for handling one of the most popular ventures in NASA history is to attach a fuel rocket to it, and deorbit it into the Indian Ocean to die.
Sure, I know technology has moved apace. But I have to think that these...bureaucrats have never looked at the wonder of what Hubble brings to us.
The blog Pharyngula (which I've discovered in recent months) finally has steam come out of its ears at the mendacity of many of the anti-evolution crowd.
The money quote, and its a lovely metaphor:
The big picture is done. The ships have sailed, they've discovered the coastline of the New World, they've established a few thriving colonies�and there's a huge, exciting continent to explore. Meanwhile, we have a few lunatics in the Old World who have clamped their eyelids shut and are screaming that they can't see it.
Via In the Agora, I've learned that Bill Nye, the Science Guy, is coming back to TV with a new show. From the sounds of it, it seems geared to adults and adult scientific issues, rather than child pedagogy.
Of course, when I was a tot, all we had was 3-2-1 Contact. And Cosmos.
Mustnt forget Cosmos. In this age of intelligent design, science clashing with government pronouncements and bioethics, we sorely could use another Carl Sagan.
Today is appropriate to investigate unusual things in science, and newscientist.com lists some puzzles that plague all fields of science, from the placebo effect to dark matter.
A few of these mysteries were ones that I was not aware of (like the anomalous signal incident).
Both Brad de Long and Billmon pointed out the stunning picture of the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, almost completely bereft of its famous snowpack (cf Hemingway's story).
Climate Change, it seems, does not stay its hand even for the mightest mountain in Africa.
In Swahili Kilima Njaro means shining mountain, but the glaciers and snow cap that kept the summit white, probably for 11,000 years - despite the location, in Tanzania, 200 miles south of the equator - have, as you can see, almost disappeared.
Via Amber, we learn that King Tut may not, as long suspected, been a victim of murder in the poisonous politics of the post-Aten era in dynastic Egypt, but he might have died from the complications of a broken leg instead.
Carl Zimmer has a nice blog entry up on the latest studies of the hobbit sized human's skull found in Indonesia recently.
Preliminary study of the the scan done seem to indicate that it is not a mere microcephalic, or a dwarf/pygmy, but rather has peculiarities all of its own.
The possibilities of where Homo floresiensis might actually fit on the family tree, and the strengthening of the argument that this is truly another Hominid species, are exciting.
In a way, these pygmies remind me of one of the hominid species in Manifold: Origin (by Stephen Baxter).
It seems that significant amounts of oxygen ions have been detected in the Saturnian atmosphere, suggesting that the widely held belief that oxygen's presence must indicate biology is wrong.
Following from what my brother said in my recent entry on Methane and Mars, it does seem that these molecules can have plausible abiotic origins and thus aren't as reliable detectors of life as once we thought.
Astronomers have found a dark object which appears to be a galaxy without any visible stars. I recall the Malzberg story (really more of a meta-story), but this galaxy, I think, is more dark matter and not something like a galaxy of black holes.
Still, there are wild and wooly things out there. A Black Galaxy without stars is probably not the weirdest thing out there.
Thanks to the detection of Methane, as well as the Mars probes study of water-influenced geology, a pair of NASA scientists have submitted a paper to Nature that infers that there is underground microbial like life on Mars.
As the article indicates, the easiest way to settle this would be to drill, drill, drill. Even microbial life on Mars would be an amazing find. I admit that the fluctuating methane signatures are hard to explain without invoking biological agents. In geologic terms, methane isn't that stable. Thus, a marker of it suggests there is a sustained activity creating it. According to the science that we know, life is a likely agent.
We'll see what happens with the peer review to their submission.
Ginger talks about Lawrence Summers' controversial (at best) comments about sex differences in the ability and aptitude for the hard sciences.
An article today in the New York Times by biologist Olivia Judson (who has written books on sex differences in nature) is far more intelligently thought out.
To quote her:
And though we may not be jackdaws either - men and women tend to look different, though even here there's overlap - it's obvious that where there are intellectual differences, they are so slight they cannot be prejudged.
As Ginger has said, what Summers said is irrelevant to the question at hand. Sociological problems (the Old Boys Club of science) have a far greater influence on women's success in the sciences than any biological differences.
SFSignal points us to an excerpt/adaptation from Michio Kaku's Parallel Worlds, talking about how an advanced civilization might flee into another universe.
Jp also asks for mentions of SF novels which deal with a similar theme. As a fan of parallel worlds and such in SF, I have a laundry list...
Stephen Baxter has his Manifold series, which deals with a number of alternate dimensions and timeframes in each novel, and even a planet-sized mechanism to travel between each in the third installment.
Baxter's Xeelee series book Ring uses a massive artifact as a gateway to higher realms. His Xeelee world story "Reality Dust" (in Futures: Four Novellas) uses the concept on a much smaller scale.
Greg Egan is also good for this type of thing, Diaspora involves finding a route to higher dimensions as an escape route. Permutation City uses the concept, too, looking at it from another angle. And Schild's Ladder involves a liveable baby universe intruding onto our own...
One of the commenters on the entry at SFsignal mentions Benford's Cosm. I haven't read that one myself, I've stopped reading Benford after his "Cut and paste" approach to writing his Foundation novel.
Greg Bear's Way Books (Eon, Eternity) involve that interdimensional structure which has connections to many other dimensions and alternate worlds. Of course, that can be a two edged sword...since sufficiently advanced civilizations can come into the Way and discover it for themselves. There is also a Way story in Silverberg's Far Horizons anthology.
I heard this story on the drive into work this morning. Apparently, windfarms in the Appalachians are being blamed for the death of a fair number of migrating bats.
I never knew before this story that bats actually do migrate, I've previously figured that they were strictly territorial creatures. It does go to show you that nothing is perfect, and even "clean" power, if not designed properly, can have unintended effects on the environment.
The blog Apostropher points us to a website where you can "hear" the first 10,000 integers of Pi, with each digit from 0-9 set to a different note (with different scales available).
This is the sort of thing that the people at American Mavericks can appreciate. Music, and Mathematics, happily together.
I would have little tolerance for this claptrap, if I was in a school system mandating this idiocy. And, worse, if I was teaching a subject other than Biology, I could make a lot of enemies quickly by supporting the Biology teachers.
(Paul teaching an High School Graduate Class)
"Hello class, today we are going to learn about the Theory of Gravity. I want to emphasize that Newton's Theory of Gravity is a Theory, not a Fact..."
I think I probably would annoy vice principals, principals and such quite quickly with such tactics.
No, not the Freedom Towers on the site of the fallen World Trade Center. As impressive an engineering feat that will be, it won't be the tallest structure built by man.
No, apparently a tower set to be built in Dubai will be just short of a half mile tall. Thanks to the the problems this will cause with local wind flow, it will have a unique three sided design to help minimize wind vortices.
The RealClimate Blog takes on the nagging question--given the fact that we see C02 rises in the atmosphere in the last 2 centuries, how do we KNOW its man-made? They lay it down in no uncertain terms just how we are sure its human activity to blame.
Of course, there is still the bugbear of proving that the C02 rise and global warming have a causative link. I can see quibbles from certain quarters over that point.
Now this photo from Cassini, linked above, is awesome. I've never seen such a close up in the Saturnian system that was so damned beautiful.
Go forth and grab it for thine own monitors, verily!
The point of the article linked above is that there is no word, since the Inuit have no recent experience with temperatures this warm in the arctic north. Global Warming is very uneven, but its been strong in the far north.
No polar ice during the summer in the year 2100? That's the current projection, and its scary. Its scary that right now species are pushing north, and causing increasing stress on the biota of the arctic.
The December issue of Scientific American tackles this thorny topic, along with a wonderful Terminator/Matrixesque "robot" depiction of a virus on the cover.
The most intriguing nugget from the article (not available completely online, alas, go and get the issue) is the theory that cell nuclei are viral in origin.
Its commonly accepted that several key cell structures of eukaryotic (higher animals and plants) organisms are derived from bacterial forebears which symbiotically worked together. In particular, mitochondria and chloroplasts, both of which have their own DNA. (Mitochondrial DNA, in particular is useful in studying evolution)
The article suggests cell nuclei got their start from a viral origin. After all, prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria have their DNA all "hanging out".
Intriguing, don't you think? If that is true, then viruses must be older than the origin of Eukaryotic life. I always thought viruses were younger than that.
The New Scientist has an interesting article on analysis of the armor of ankylosaurs. It seems that the structure resembles that of kevlar-like materials.
To my Amber diceless friends, this means your character's pet ankylosaur has to buy 2 point armor versus guns. ;)
Apparently in a small rural borough south of Harrisburg, Intelligent Design, aka Creationism By Another Name, will be taught in the public schools there.
Sure, you can say that this isn't really Creationism, but if you are teaching the idea that Life is too complex to have evolved, then what are you left with if not creation by fiat by some higher power?
I strongly suspect, too, that this community would not appreciate it if the teachers performed a little judo and used a non-Jehovah deity as this putative creator "Just as an example."
So, up here in the liberal upper midwest, right next door to Minnesota, we have a city school board taking the word "theory" in "Theory of Evolution" all wrong.
So, for the benefit of our friends in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, I give the definition of a scientific theory.
Definition: [n] a theory that explains scientific observations;
"scientific theories must be falsifiable".
Evolution explains scientific observations about the world, ie. the diversity and origin of species.
If you are going to teach alternative theories as the School board wants, then they have to be theories: that is to say, an alternative theory that explains the same observations AND is falsifiable.
Creationism, or Intelligent Design, or whatever guise you want to call it, is NOT a scientific theory on the second count. You can't disprove it by observations, its something taken on faith.
And faith is religion, and not science, and does not belong in the classroom.
Via many places, but Corrente will do. Apparently, on an island in Indonesia is evidence for the first documented evolutionary evidence for dwarfism in Humans.
Dwarfism, of course, in the sense of a species evolving toward smaller sizes in response to a cramped living spaces--ie. islands.
Although dwarf elephants, and even mammoths have been discovered, this is the first time we've found this in Genus Homo.
Methinks the human family tree was once far more diverse than people think, with several species of "humans" running around at one time or another. It's NOT been a linear process at all.
Its also NOT surprising, given the nature of our species, that Homo Sapiens is the only survivor of this diversity.
Good analysis, too, on Carl Zimmer's blog.
For my North American and British readers, tonight is the last full eclipse of the moon visible from N.A. until 2007.
The moon will pass into the umbra (ie, the darkest part of Earth's shadow) at about 8:15 CST, and will emerge from the umbra at around 10:30 or so CST.
Hopefully it won't be cloudy where you are!
I concur, one of the greatest purely mathematical equations (I am excluding the physics equations of Newton, Maxwell and Einstein) is definitely Euler's equation.
It's got it all, baby. negative numbers, transcendental numbers (e and pi), zero, one and exponents.
Congradulations to SpaceShipOne for winning the 10 million dollar X-prize for achieving the first reproduced non-governmental manned spaceflight.
Although it was a small belch, it is the most significant activity from the volcano since the 80's.
What I did not mention in my previous post, the scientists have been awaiting this one. (as they were with that earthquake in Central California, BTW)
Brad De Long mentions the flyby of the Asteroid Toutatis (via Obsidian Wings) and makes comment about the long but inevitable odds that a sizeable planetoid will hit the Earth, eventually.
Ironically, this dovetails with my watching Babylon 5, Season 1 last night (thanks to Netflix). I was watching Infection, the episode where Commander Sinclair succinctly puts the "eggs in one basket" danger of NOT expanding off of Earth, and into the Universe.
Because it would be a shame as far as the Universe is concerned to lose Lao-Tsu, and Jesus, and Newton, and Einstein, and Rodin, Euclid, and the rest of the greatness of humanity because we decided to stick our head in the sand.
We're an explorative, inquisitive species. If we weren't, we'd all still be in Africa. I think of the proto Native Americans, crossing the Bering Strait and exploring a completely unknown land. I think of the Polynesians, exploring the largest Ocean on Earth with small boats, intuition and hard-earned skill.
"It's not safe out here! It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid."
Yes, Q, from Star Trek The Next Generation.
No, this is not about Kerry versus Bush in Battleground states.
Remember Mt. St. Helens? It seems the shattered remnants of the volcano which took everyone by surprise by erupting in 1980 is stirring once more.
Volcanoes are dangerous beasts. While I prefer to see and learn about Glaciers, I *respect* the omnipresent danger of these beasts.
Besides, Mount Rainier, a place I want to visit very much one day, is both a Volcano AND a source of glaciers.
Heard this first on NPR.
Thanks to new technology, we're pretty close to the theoretical maximum, now, of resolution of electron microscopes. Considering how an EM works, it would take some new kind of microscope (not that I know what that could be) to see much smaller than this.
Individual atoms, seen with fair clarity. Very cool.
I didn't have time to blog it on Wednesday, but the co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA, Francis Crick, passed away a couple of days ago.
One half of the most brilliant scientific duo in modern history (outside the Curies, perhaps).
Rest in peace.
New pictures from the Hubble of star forming regions in the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud are now up at the hubble site.
Stop reading my blog and
go take a look.
You will not regret it.
On last Friday's Talk of the Nation Science Friday, they broadcasted from that new Science Fiction Museum.
One of their call-in callers tried to make the argument that we spend too much on manned missions to Space and we should spend that money on making Earth perfect and good and not waste it up there.
Greg Bear took down the whiny little bitch:
"What if we waited to clean up our house and clean the bathrooms and make our beds before we ever stepped outside the door? How often would we step outside the door? Think how boring life would be."
If you want to hear the broadcast...
The whiny little bitch comes on at 33:00 into the program.
The first privately funded and owned manned craft has reached the internationally recognized boundary of outer space, 100 kilometers above the Earth.
The NY Times has a profile of the new SF Museum in Seattle, along with
its director, Donna L. Shirley
I so want to go to this place!
An archaeological survey in Tuscany has found the remnants of a fairly impressive Etruscan Road dating back to 500 BC.
I wonder, considering Rome was long under the Etruscan Sphere of Influence, if Roman road building was influenced by Etruscan precursors.
The Hubble site has a fascinating article on a newly discovered "L class" dwarf star. It's about as small as a star can get and still have nuclear fusion, about 8 percent of the mass of our Sun.
Even more interesting is the fact that it has a "brown dwarf" companion in a tight orbit around it.
I almost wish that we had such a body in the outer solar system as a companion to the sun. Then again, such a body might perturb the Oort cloud and send many comets on paths into the inner solar system.
This morning is the transit of Venus, the first such since the late 19th century.
Unfortunately from my point of view, not only is the transit in progress when the sun rises here, its cloudy!
Europe, though, is even as I write this having quite a show.
Ah well, the next one is in eight years (and then the one after that is not until the 22nd century.)
Astronomers have made an estimate on the size of the universe.
This is based on examining cosmic background microwave radiation.
156 Billion Light Years in diameter, assuming its spherical.
By comparison, and getting into Carl Sagan mode for a second:
If the distance to the nearest large spiral galaxy, Andromeda (2 MLY away) was the distance across the diagonal of your 19 inch monitor screen, the distance across the known universe would be 24 miles from end to end.
My previous entry about the extinction announcement actually involves a reputed crater off the coast of Australia...
It was an extinction event that makes the death of the dinosaurs seem like a hiccup. And this could be one of the major causal elements of same.
Apparently an intriguing NASA press conference set for tomorrow:
NASA Press Release - "Great Dying"
NASA ANNOUNCES SITE OF "GREAT DYING" METEOR CRATER
Researchers funded by NASA and the National Science
Foundation have located the site of an impact crater. The
crater is believed to be associated with the largest
extinction event in Earth's history about 250 million years
The researchers will report their findings and reveal the site
of the crater at 2 p.m. EDT, Thursday, May 13, 2004, during a
-- Luann Becker, geologist, University of California, Santa
-- Robert Poreda, geochemist, University of Rochester, N.Y.
-- Kevin Pope, geologist, Geo Eco Arc Research, Aquasco, Md.
-- Douglas H. Erwin, Senior Paleobiologist, National Museum of
Natural History, Washington
-- Michael New, astrobiology discipline scientist, NASA
Headquarters, Washington; panel moderator
Reporters may call in to the press conference to hear the
presentation and participate in the question-and-answer
session, while following the presentations on a Web site.
Visible to the naked eye and just about at its zenith of brightness, Comet NEAT is in your Western nighttime skies now.. It's currently around a Magnitude of 1, which is pretty bright, there aren't many stars brighter than it.
Me, I'm hoping for this cloudiness to clear so I can actually see her.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden is absolutely right.
Water trumps everything. Everything.
Even here in Minnesota, we're suffering from a gradually steepening drought. A long term drought situation would be disastrous for the Southwest.
Until recently, current archaeological data puts the first controlled use of fire by Man (one of the progenitor species) at around c. 500,000 years ago.
A finding in Israel, dated more than 250,000 years prior to that, seems to contradict that timeline...
You probably already saw the news--there has been independent confirmation of the current existence of methane gas in the thin Martian atmosphere.
Is it a lot? No. The pdf abstract on the paper, available through the BBC site here. mentions that it is a pretty thin component (which is why no one has spotted this before in spectral analysis).
The thing is, though, methane is unstable, especially in an environment without an ozone layer. In a few hundred years, any reservoir of methane not replenished would all be lost.
As scientists see it, there are two known possibilities, both exciting.
1. Vulcanism. Despite no evidence of same, rather than being a completely dead world, Mars must still have some active vulcanism. Mars would no longer be a dead world, geologically.
2. Methanogens. There are bacteria on earth which produce methane gas. What's more, they are anaerobic, they die in oxygenated environments. Not very advanced, considerably primitive...but if they are there on Mars, even in isolated oases, it would be life. Life on another world...
Of course, there could be another, unknown possibility, something unknown and unforseen. And that, too, would be just as exciting.
See why we need to visit Mars? We can only do so much with just robots...
It's difficult to creatively and constructively add to her points, but I am going to make one of my own, and in as clear language as possible.
Language is a tool, not a straitjacket. If everyone in America decided to pronounce "ask" as "ax", that would be the pronunciation. There is no "right" way to pronounce words, in the end, only what is used most commonly and universally understood.
I had an English teacher who bemoaned the idea of people mispronouncing the word ask. But its a fallacious concept. If a pronunciation of a word is universally understood, be it a regional dialect or otherwise, then it is valid.
If I pronounce the word "Car" as "can", that's a mispronunciation. If I am in New York (or, yes Ginger, New Jersey) and pronounce it "cah", then that is a regional variant and it is valid.
I haven't read it yet, but I'd love to pick up the McWhorter book on language which addresses things like dialects and regionalisms and the like.
I like languages far beyond my limited facility with them.
Well, the FDA has released new guidelines on eating fish.
I am horrified.
The basic guidelines for children and pregnant women are:
Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
Eat up to 12 ounces � two average meals � per week of fish that are lower in mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.
Check local advisories to determine the safety of fish caught by family and friends. If no such advice is available, limit such fish to one six-ounce portion a week and don�t consume any other fish that week.
Why aren't we outraged that we've polluted the oceans enough that we have to have our kids and pregnant women limit their fish intake because of an excess of a pollutant?
Even canned tuna is not completely safe. Ironically, in a cruel joke, fast food fish is probably safer than other kinds of fish because pollock doesn't tend to concentrate mercury as much as other seafood.
Would you believe that someone has come up with translucent concrete?
Apparently comparable with regular concrete's physical strength, at thicknesses under about 6 feet it allows enough light to come through to show silhouettes of the other side.
I'm sure the architecturally inclined in my circle of friends can come up with a raft of creative ideas on how to use this stuff.
The Wizard is the Wednesday Weird Nuadha challenges us with this time around.
I've played lots of sorcerers and wizards in my time. So how to do it with a twist?
Imagine a SF setting a la Firefly or Babylon 5...a group of adventurers on a space ship, visiting worlds, some high tech, some lower tech, fun in sight.
They land on one particular backwater world. Tales from the small spaceport report that there is a kindly wizard who lives in the mountains.
This should be enough to peak the curiosity of our heroes. They search and finally find the rather primitive abode of this man who dresses so funny. The thing is, when they meet him, he seems capable of unusual feats. Is he really a wizard? Just how does he do it?
The kicker is, though, that the wizard is dying, and during their meeting picks one of the adventurers to be his "apprentice". He gives her his outfit and staff, and quietly expires despite the best efforts to heal him on the part of the players.
Apparently embedded in the staff is a piece of alien technology that manipulates Probability (a la the Nancy Kress novels). This is what he has been using to do his magic. But where did he get it? And is there more, or the actual aliens, to be found? Thus equipped, the players can, after meeting this wizard, start off on a story path to untold wonders.
What more could a wizard ask in the wake of his passing?
Not quite a tenth planet, but scientists have discovered a body about 3/4 the size of Pluto, orbiting the sun at a much greater distance.
It's been named Sedna, after an Inuit Goddess. It's also the largest object discovered within the Solar System since the discovery of Pluto.
It also has a highly elliptical orbit. It probably is nothing more than a very large object of the (theoretical) Oort cloud around the Sun.
It turns out ants have something else in common with humans.
Not to be confused with bubble wrap, or bubble tea...
Apparently researchers at Purdue University managed to create Nuclear fusion reactions using sound waves.
I am somewhat pessimistic, after the debacle of Cold Fusion, that this will in the end pan out to be useful. OTOH the results and experiment have been replicated at Rensselaer. The process is nowhere near the break-even point, and its unknown if this will "scale up" to a level where it can produce useful amounts of energy. It might in the end be more useful not for energy generation but for generation of neutrons.
Sounds like a 1950's movie, doesn't it? Nope, these things are real, and are colonizing their way down the Norway Coast.
Slartibartfast is going to be pissed.
Those of you who have seen Finding Nemo (and if you haven't, go and see it!) will remember the wild Eastern Australian Current. There is an interesting article on msnbc.com about the idea of these "highways of the sea" in real life, the movement patterns of marine life.
The mid 6th Century AD was, by the sparse accounts, not a good time to be alive. Crop failures, summer frosts, and the plague that hit the Byzantine Empire.
A theory by Cardiff University researchers is rather intriguing...a cometary strike around 536 AD, exploding in the atmosphere. Tree rings show a severe climatic shock for several years thereafter, which could suggest an explosion in the upper atmosphere, and the resulting plume reducing light levels, driving down temperatures and the other hallmarks of the once-feared "Nuclear Winter".
I can unfortunately believe it.
After all, George Bush can't get any photo ops with a telescope in orbit. Nor does it help his friends in industry much.
Maybe we could keep the Hubble alive if we renamed it the Halliburton?
A very cool website, detailing some of the inventions of antiquity.
For example, do you know offhand when blown glass was invented? And where?
Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.
Of course, that's not the actual definition of the Winter Solstice. The actual solstice revolves around the oblique angle of the Sun to the ecliptic.
An article in the Washington Post explains it all.
Here in Minnesota, the daylight today is less than 8 and a half hours long.
But then, I enjoyed the long summer solstice here (nearly 16 hours of daylight), so this is retribution.
And to those pagan friends of mine...I wish you well on this holiday.
100 years ago today, Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first controlled powered aircraft, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
This inscription is at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum right by the actual plane:
THE ORIGINAL WRIGHT BROTHERS AEROPLANE
THE WORLD'S FIRST POWER-DRIVEN,
HEAVIER-THAN-AIR MACHINE IN WHICH MAN
MADE FREE, CONTROLLED, AND SUSTAINED FLIGHT
INVENTED AND BUILT BY WILBUR AND ORVILLE WRIGHT
FLOWN BY THEM AT KITTY HAWK, NORTH CAROLINA
DECEMBER 17, 1903
BY ORIGINAL SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH THE WRIGHT BROTHERS
DISCOVERED THE PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN FLIGHT
AS INVENTORS, BUILDERS, AND FLYERS THEY
FURTHER DEVELOPED THE AEROPLANE,
TAUGHT MAN TO FLY, AND OPENED
THE ERA OF AVIATION
It seems that an old text of Archimedes has been found in a palimpest, that is to say, in a deeper layer of a document with newer writing on it.
It turns out that the treatise, the Stomachion, deals with a branch of mathematics not thought to be studied in antiquity--Combinatorics. Combinatorics deals with how many ways you can solve a problem. Its not trivial at all, its a branch of mathematics that has only really taken off with the advent of computers. But it seems the genuis who shouted "Eureka!" might have worked on the field.
The coincidences that led to the funal unearthing and decipherment of the document are pretty spooky, as Making Light, where I got the link, points out.
And you can apparently even buy one of these Archimedes puzzles online.
I've blogged before about the three-part Nova program based on Brian Greene's excellent book.
I've discovered that its now for sale on DVD, for those of us who don't have a VCR to tape it (or indeed decent TV reception to watch it).
No, not the Great Red one, but a black one has shown up on Jupiter's equator. Astronomers are not sure what in the world it is.
But I've recently (a couple of weeks ago, at the Olsons) watched 2010...and I vividly remember the scene when the Black Monolith transported itself to Jupiter and began multiplying...
As Crooked Timber reports, today is the last flight of the Concorde.
I find it amazingly ironic that, when I was born, we were both sending Men to the Moon and flying paying passengers between Europe and America at supersonic speeds. As of tomorrow, we can and will do neither.
I had a conversation with Scott a couple of weeks ago about RAMjets and SCRAMjets, SSTOs used for antipodal flights, and other such possible supersonic transports.
Do we need such beasts, with teleconferencing, the Internet, and other means of communication? Does someone really need to fly at supersonic speeds for anything more than just a whim? (And of course, do we need a manned presence on the Moon)?
In any event, speaking of the irony and the mixed bag of progress in transportation, I daresay that, during rush hour, it likely takes much longer today than 20 years ago to go from Los Angeles to San Diego, or Minneapolis to Duluth, or New York to Philadelphia, thanks to the rise in traffic.
Wil McCarthy talks about the Chinese manned flight into Space, and makes an exhortation that Space is indeed the place.
I completely agree with him. It's a good column, read it. It's not just moonshine, so to speak.
China joins the former USSR and the United States in being only the third nation to launch a man into orbit around the Earth.
I've always thought that if we pull back from exploring and developing Space, someone, sometime, will do it instead. Perhaps, if we don't do it, in a century, our grandchildren will have to get our passport stamped by the Chinese (or Japanese, ESA, or whoever seriously goes into Space and makes it worthwhile) to visit a space station. Hopefully you won't have to learn Mandarin, too. Brrrr.
The world of Firestar and its sequels seems more and more unlikely. But someone has to develop Space, right? Right? I refuse to believe the human race (barring an extinction event for H. Sapiens) will turn its back on Space forever.
Apparently the latest issue of Nature has an article which proposes an unusual theory on the topology of space.:
It sounds something Plato might have cooked up, and I'll want to get the actual article rather than the little bit summarized in the web link above to judge myself. I just think its ironic considering that I especially like dodecahedrons.
I got into a conversation with Scott today over the sizes of the five boroughs. The Daily quiz in the Strib had a map of the five boroughs with a list of their names, and you had to associate each borough with the name. Child's play for me.
It was the size of the map though which irritated me. I've always thought of Staten Island as the third largest (in area) borough behind Brooklyn and Queens, but this map, apparently to scale, seemed to suggest Brooklyn was smaller than Staten Island.
I decided to look online for the answer, and came across the page above...which has multiple entries and sizes listed for the boroughs. Further looking online doesn't seem to give a single set of numbers, even if all of them are fairly within the same ballpark
Bruce Sterling, SF writer, offers a list of ten technologies that he thinks humanity would be better off if they were discarded...
Some of these are no brainers. I mean I can see the military usefulness of Nuclear Weapons and Land Mines, but they are repugnant in the extreme to me.
But Manned Spaceflight?! Sure, its dangerous...but is it, qualitatively, more dangerous than the brave souls during the European Age of Exploration? Or to be multicultural, what about the pioneers who braved the Bering Strait land bridge. They had no clue what they were going to find down in the Americas.
His dislike of DVDs brings up an argument I had not heard made before--increase of digital piracy. The commercials, though, I can definitely live without. Still, I think DVDs are better than videotape, and probably a stepping stone to completely downloaded content, or more compact forms. The former is not ready for prime time yet, and the latter aren't either. I wouldn't want to stick with videotapes until then. As Deb as mentioned, the clarity of DVDs and cable/satellite television is hard to give up, once you get used to them.
Sure, its not Scientific American level, but its a pretty good article.
This is to say, the "sound of the Big Bang." This strikes me much like the stuff about the "color of the universe" that came out last year, but go ahead and take a listen anyway.
I suppose its only a matter of time before someone like YES or Rush takes this sound and works it into one of their pieces.
The Equinox is today, the official end to Summer (although it feels like it long since up here, with early morning temperatures in the 40's). Fall, the season of changing leaves, Halloween, NFL Football, and new network TV shows, is here.
And on a not so cheery note, it seems that the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf up in the Arctic has broken apart.
Said ice shelf has been a feature for the last 3000 years.
That's right, my friends. This ice shelf is (was) as old as the Iliad and the Odyssey. And now it is in pieces, and the freshwater lake that it was damming has drained into the ocean.
Certainly, its not necessarily due to Global Warming, man-made or natural. But when features thousands of years old break apart...its worrisome to me.
The Slate's Explainer has an explanation of why Hurricanes don't hit the West Coast, as opposed to the beleagured East Coast.
It does leave out a crucial detail, though. It mentions that the Northern Pacific is "usually under 75 degrees" as opposed to the warmer (and hurricane-friendly) North Atlantic. It doesn't explain, however, WHY. After all, to those who have never been to, or lived in Southern California, you'd think that the ocean water would be warm, right?
It's not, and I can personally attest to this. But the reason for this coolness is that the current that runs along the west coast is the Alaska current, and it is a mirror image of the more well-known Gulf Stream. The Alaska current runs in a southerly direction along the west coast of North America, bringing cool waters all the way down to Mexico.
The upshot of this is that a theoretical LA-targeted Hurricane would have to climb north, being bled away by a cool current. (Hurricanes feed off of warm water after all). This is why a true tropical Hurricane has not hit the West Coast in recorded history. This current, too, also explains some pecularities of Southern California weather. In early summer, the water is much cooler than the air off of the land, and thus a "marine layer" of moisture forms off of the cool water and obscures the sun in the morning. Locals call this "The June Gloom", since it is most prevalent in June (although last year it went well into July).
As you get away from the coast, though, this moderating effect dissipates, and the climate slides toward desertification.
I'm guessing that most of my readers have seen this already, but I thought that I would provide a link in any event.
Life really is stranger than fiction...this looks like something that would fit right in the post-human world of AFTER MAN.
The robot probe Galileo, which has been tootling around the Jupiter mini-system for eight years, is being crashed into Jupiter this weekend.
Why? Well, the little guy is at the end of its life. NASA scientists do not want it to crash on one of Jupiter's moons, especially Europa, since there is a possibility that there is life in the ocean beneath its ice cap. Galileo might have some terrestrial bacteria on it, and thus if it crashes into Europa, such organisms might confuse the issue of the existence of Europan life forms.
Besides, burning up in Jupiter's atmosphere is a sort of a funeral pyre end for the little probe that could. I think its fitting, myself.
Nicholas Kristof, writing in the NY Times, is changing his mind about the need to get a handle on climate change.
I suppose visiting the Inuit would change a person (I dislike his use of Eskimo in the article--there is a little bit of controversy over its etymology and its use).
One of the money quotes:
"The Okpilak River valley was historically too cold and dry for willows, and in the Inupiat language "Okpilak" means "river with no willows." Yet a warmer, wetter climate means that now it's crowded with willows."
There are two tangled ideas at work here. Climate Change is a fact, the Earth as a whole is warming up. The question is not that it is warming up, but how much of it is due to our own meddling with the climate. That's the really difficult question. Correlation doesn't necessarily imply causation, but there is a correlation between industrialization and the rapid spike in global temperatures in this century.
It's even possible that we are staving off an Ice Age by our industrialization. The "Little Ice Age" seems to have been arrested just as the Industrial Revolution was getting underway in the 18th century.
The slope of the curve, the first derivative of the change in temperatures is what worries me. Bangladesh, New Orleans and Florida under water is not my idea of a good time.
Brian Greene, author of the excellent book on String Theory called The Elegant Universe, has apparently made a PBS Nova 3-part series based on ideas from the book.
The series is going to air the end of October through early November. The show has a PBS website up already for it.
This does remind me that with all of the books in New York that I had to discard because I had too many, I need to get a new copy of Elegant Universe.
And, really, its not as difficult and obtuse I feel, for the layman as, say, A Brief History of Time (Hawking's famous book). So I heartily recommend it to all.
Over at Crooked Timber, one of the contributors, Brian, is apparently going to be teaching a course at Brown this coming semester on...Time Travel. He warms up any prospective students by taking on the Back to the Future Trilogy...
Modifications to my obvious misremembering of the article's argument and conversations in BTTF itself are italicized in the text. Thanks to Blacksheep for pointing some of them out. Of course his theory about merging Martys stands on its own irregardless of my goofs. Thanks!
Being a fan of time travel books and movies, I like the first two of the three BTTF movies. Number three, in my opinion, was really just "let's put Marty, Doc and Biff in the Wild West". But the first two movies are eminently watchable, and as Brian points out, as you watch them, the paradoxes don't really enter into your mind. It's only later that you begin to wonder about the logical gaps.
I recall, years ago, there were a couple of articles in a magazine , of which I can't even remember the title, that dissected the two movies in terms of the time travel anomalies.
My recollection of the article is hazy, but the author did, by necessity, take a few liberties to explain away the inconsistencies that Brian outlines in his own thesis. I'll just stick to the first movie, the second one is even more convoluted.
The basic thrust is a many-timeline universe with some modifications. Concentrating on the first movie, Marty starts in 1985, and goes back to 1955. He changes history (by getting hit by the car himself) so that, if things go on, he will not exist.
And thus, Marty begins to "fade" as we see in the course of the movie. Once his existence is assured, he returns to normality. And since he, in 1955, moved past the branching point, when he goes back to the future...he goes to his new future, in 1985.
So where IS the Marty that should be here? That long ago article suggests he went back to the past and by turns wound up on the other timeline.
The author did some handwaving to suggest that he went back to the future *before* Marty interferes with the timeline that creates the better future. He cites that Marty II probably drives better than Marty I given the fact that he owns a car of his own, and thus does not crash the car, and likely manages to turn around and get back to the present. However, when Marty II moves forward in time, he slides up into Marty I's future...because his future does not exist "yet", in 1955.
Talk about Dystopia! Doc is dead, and unless he handles the plutonium himself to reload the car, he's stuck there with his less-successful parents and life.
All of this talk about Time Travel and the conservation of stuff reminds me of the role playing game Continuum, which I would like to run someday. It does neatly handle a lot of time travel paradoxes without invoking Multiple Worlds. (In point of fact, the antagonists of the game seem to be trying to create such an environment by their attempts to change history). The unpublished companion game, Narcissist, seems to have been designed to show the side of the bad guys.
It's slow and overloaded, but get thee to the Hubble Space Telescope image site...where the Hubble took a beautiful picture of Mars 11 hours before its closest approach to Earth (which occurred at about 5 am this morning).
The big image of Mars there is now my desktop wallpaper at work.
Calpundit talks about the findings of the study of the space shuttle tragedy.
Scott and I had a discussion on the way to the Park and Ride this morning on the very subject. His thesis was that modern society has become extremely "risk-averse", much unlike previous generations, and previous eras of exploration. Consider how many people died in rounding Africa, or exploring the Americas. To explore dangerous frontiers unfortunately seems to require Blood and Treasure.
The question is...is it worth it? Is it worth the danger, the risk, the potential and possibly inevitable loss of life to explore space?
My opinion is expressed by the fictional character Q, from Star Trek, The Next Generation. After the first meeting with the Borg, Picard is aghast at the loss 18 members of the crew in the conflict. Q replies to this:
If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here. It's wondrous - with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid.
I've seen going around a "satellite picture" of the blackout which, frankly, looks wrong to me. It has a monolithic black spot over the eastern area of the US. It just feels wrong.
The link above looks a lot more accurate. After all, even in a blackout, there are going to be portable generators, backup supplies and so forth. There will always be some light.
I have no logical or epistomological problems, personally, with the concept. After all, one of my pet trains of thought for years, that I've mainly shared with mundanes, goes like this:
"If the universe is infinite (either infinite in numbers or overall size), then every world possible by the laws of physics exists, somewhere, in the far depths of space and time. Therefore, there is a world very much like my own--where my life is nothing more than a television show. Some actor plays me, and I'm up against, say, Charmed, on Tuesday Nights on some network channel."
There is no causative factors between any such world and here, though. Just because the show is in "sweeps week" does not mean my own life here winds up with the events of the last few days. That might explain some insanities, however...
Although, on that parallel world, I could just see the promos now.
"And on Just-In...the return of...(cue dramatic sound). Bonnie!"
(voice of secondary character talking to Paul)
"I thought you were rid of her. She's worse than the Terminator!"
It seems that old Caligula might have been just as bad as the slanderous stories portray him to be.
Certainly, if Bush decided to take the facade of the Washington Cathedral and attach it to the White House, we would think he lost it...
"That's one small step for Man...one giant leap, for Mankind"
--Neil Armstrong, July 20, 1969.
Yes, I know I used my "Mysteries of Amber" setup to highlight the above, but it IS a mystery to me.
On July 20, 1969, the culmination of a dream of ages, given birth in the mind of Jack Fitzgerald Kennedy was accomplished when Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.
And on December 14,1972, Apollo 17 lifted off from the Moon, and our neighbor has been unvisited since that date. Why?
Conventional Wisdom these days says it was all a Cold War race for prestige. The Soviet Union and America basically extended into Space as a stunt, as a race to show the superiority of their ideology and their way of life. Once that was accomplished, there was no reason to go back. Certainly, if we wanted to go back to the Moon, it would take years to build a vehicle capable of the feat.
"But its just a dry, empty rock. We have problems here on Earth without worrying about Space". Real space exploration seems to be insignificant these days compared to the world we live in. Even in Farscape was the spectre of September 11th invoked as a reason to turn our backs on Space, and concentrate on the here and now.
And yet...have you seen Finding Nemo? Set aside Nemo and his father for a moment, and look at the fish in the Dentist's office fish tank. It's a nice tank, he takes meticulous care of the fish (even if he sometimes gifts them on his destructive niece), its a nice place, even if limited. Free food, watch and debate the dentist as he does his work.
And yet the fish long to see the greater world. Even though they have never seen it with their own eyes and the ocean is unbelieveably vast...they yearn and scheme for a way to escape their tank, and to the ocean. They yearn for the greater world beyond their tank.
Our greater world is beyond our atmosphere, our cradle of life, Earth. Risky and Dangerous? Yes, Challenger and Columbia prove that Space surely is that.
So I will leave you with a quote from Q, from the latter Star Trek series:
"It's not safe out there. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it is NOT for the timid."
Happy Moon Landing Day.
A rather gloomy article on the problems with the domesticated banana, and the fact that its lack of genetic diversity combined with an inability to reproduce except by vegetative propgagation is literally killing it as a crop thanks to a new fungal infection ravaging plantations in Central and South America.
This is not to say that there will be no more bananas at all within ten years--just that sweet, delicious variety we all know and love might not want to start reading War and Peace, or the Robert Jordan series.
A lack of genetic diversity is a Bad Thing, its been a hallmark of Biology curricula for a long time. And this is living proof.
If you want a animal equivalent to the banana's plight, look no further than the fastest predator on earth--the Cheetah. Like the banana, its spectacularly uniform, genetically, and that makes it vulnerable to being ravaged by a disease that the population will not be able to fight off as a whole.
And to extend the argument, this an argument against monoculture as well. Consider a forest which is solely made of walnut trees and no other varieties. (Perhaps it was planted that way for aesthetic reasons). A disease that affects only Walnut trees will do far more damage to that forest than a more genetically diverse stand of vegetation, since not only will there be plants immune to the disease, but it will spread more slowly as well due to the imposition of unfavorable hosts between each walnut tree.
Via USAToday, a relatively painless piece on Mars and its upcoming conjunction with Earth.
If I can dodge the mosquitoes, I'll be looking for it, myself, the next few weeks.
More Astronomy stuff, including the confirmation of the "oldest" discovered planet outside of our solar system.
Personally, it just makes Fermi's Paradox even more pertinent.
An interesting short article on the most distant member of the planetary family. Pluto is still quite mysterious, as is many of the Kuiper-class objects in our solar system.
No, not the political kind, but the kind that pulsars undergo. It seems that there is evidence that gravitational radiation, the rippling of space-time, keeps the stars from spinning so fast that they disintegrate.
It's a double coup if this is proven out, since gravitational radiation has never been directly observed. This would help establish its properties and existence...
Outside of Toledo Ohio is a park where you can go and dig for fossils, for free...
Not in a place such as this though, but I have gone looking for fossils (in a paleontology course). I didn't find that much (a few brachiopods and the like) but a classmate of mine on that trip DID find a trilobite.
Me, I think most people know (and if you don't, now you do) that my favorites are ammonites, anyway. Heck, people like Bridgette and the Olsons have given fossils of them to me as gifts.
And, "just because", in my Rebma in Strange Bedfellows, the real critters are still alive and thriving. In real life, ammonites (the closest living relative is the Nautilus, with which you might be more familiar) died out 65 million years ago. Other cephalopods related to the ammonites are squid and the octopus (which have basically lost the shell, although the squid has an internal one)
See? Not just the Dinosaurs were wiped out by that extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period. Ammonites were another (albeit less famous) victim.
The Natural History Museum in England has a virtual exhibit on these amazing creatures.
Apparently a hybrid of two other species, this plant has been prodigious in sucking up water in a region of the US which can't really afford such a water-greedy plant...
Well, first the mummy refutation, and now this. It turns out that ossuary that had the inscription "James, son of Joesph, brother of Jesus" is really 2000 years old.
The only problem is, the inscription, well, is not...
It reminds me of the plot of Killing Time, where the revolutionaries were manufacturing evidence such as this. One example given was the archaeological "revelation" that Alexander the Great was really a woman.
Of course, this story would have been better if it had been announced around Mother's Day rather than Father's Day, but what can you do?
I will likely watch the Discovery Channel special in August when it comes out...
UPDATE: The claim has been refuted:
The Astronomy Picture of the Day, which I have touted here before, turns eight years old today. Today's image, most appropriately, is a collage of some of their images from the past eight years.
A new subspecies of Homo Sapiens, c. 160,000 BC...
Evidently, there are some real astronomy buffs in Maine. This is the sort of thing that Carl Sagan would describe in words to give the relative size of our solar system, but this town has put it into practice...
This article talks about new research into the genetic differences (and similarities) between chimps and humans, and the idea that we are, in the words of author Jared Diamond, "The Third Chimpanzee"
It's an attractive and alluring argument. The human part of the shrub of life is awfully barren, and its more a case of parochialism than a genuine representation of the facts.
Taxonomy for the masses:
Species is the basic unit of organism populations. What a species is, is something not as easy to define as a basic biology course might like. Nature is messy that way, but its basically a group of organisms which can breed successfully with each other and only with each other. Dogs, even the diverse ones, all can theoretically interbreed, so they make up one species. So do humans, no matter how stupid racists are.
The next step up is the genus. It's a group of related species, and the name of a genus and species makes up the scientific name of an organism. Homo Sapiens. Homo is our genus, Sapiens our species. There is only one species in the genus Homo, us. There used to be more--things like the Neandertals and such were in our Genus. Some of the more radical of the "third chimpanzee" advocates think that the common chimp (Pan troglodytes) and the bonobo (Pan paniscus) should be in Genus Homo.
It'll never happen, because of conservatism among scientists, not to mention the segment of the public which literally believes in works like the Bible or the Koran. It would acknowledge too close a kinship with "mere animals".
I do think, however, that a strong argument can be made to put at least the common chimps into the next higher bracket, the Family. Humans are in the family Homindae, the only member of the Family. (Yes, this is unusual to have a Family with exactly one genus and species in it. But it is a way to keep us "seperated" from the rest of the animal kingdom). Chimps and Apes right now are in the family Pongidae. Probably even the Great Apes and the Orangutans could be put into the same family as Humans, a genetic argument could be made for it. You could, if you wanted to be a purist, keep the genus Homo solely for modern humans.
It would acknowledge some link between us and our closest relatives on the planet.
This is the website devoted to a special new National Geographic on newsstands now. I picked it up the other day, and it is quite beautiful and well done, IMO.
Those in the "Grand Affair" might guess part of my motivation WAS predicated on "research"
An article on Comet NEAT, which is barreling down into the inner solar system. Next May, it should reach perhelion with respect to the Earth. Will it look great? Or a dud? Scientists can't predict that, but we shall see.
I viewed the Lunar Eclipse last night primarily alone. Scott and Felicia saw some of the opening stages, but soon retired to bed, leaving the darkening of the moon solely to me.
Conditions were just about perfect here. Few clouds in the sky helped, and less city lights than I am used to dealing with helped the viewing enormously. The relatively low angle of the Moon was a blessing, the optical illusion that allows the moon to seem larger when it is lower in the sky helped in seeing the details.
If only I had my binocs here.
The above link brings you to the US navy lunar eclipse computer, which will calculate times for moon rise, entering and leaving the eclipse, based on where you are.
For here in Blaine, the moon will rise 8:22 PM local time and will enter the umbra of the Earth about 40 minutes later and will not exit it until 1:14 in the morning. Mid-point of the Eclipse will be at 10:40 PM.
The next Lunar Eclipse after this will be in early November.
That staple of science fiction (and Amber games!) is the parallel universe. While in Cub Foods today shopping, I saw this issue of SciAm (Scientific American) and this was the "cover article". Highly recommended. There are more versions of "parallel universes" than you think...and there might be evidence in this world to support their existence...
The NY Times has an article today on the myth and legend of Dragons, and where the ideas for dragons (in various parts of the world) may have come from originally.
Courtesy of the Hubble. Stop what you are doing and take a look at this picture, now.
You won't regret it. It is absolutely enchanting.
This looks to predate the Cahokia Mound Builders, I think. Perhaps they are a precursor culture, or a neighbor. I personally think its funny the farmer was trying to sell the soil off when the stuff was found...
Weird, but true. As a consequence of the solar maximum (the solar magnetic field runs on a 11 year cycle, which also influences the number of sunspots, and likely our weather here on earth).
Go ahead and read all about it...
There is a report in the NY times today, linked above, that a Russian Mathematician has solved the Poincare conjecture, one of the more famous problems in the Math world. Its a rather hard-to-visualize problem in topology (the mathematical study of shapes) that seems to hold up,but has never been proven true or false.
It will take months to determine if this proof is genuine, just like the discovery of the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem.
There doesn't HAVE to be an answer to the Poincare Conjecture. Godel proved that every system of logic, mathematical or otherwise, will have "undecidable propositions"--in other words, statements which are true or false by all tests, but can't be logically PROVEN. It's a consequence of a finite set of rules of logic and an infinity of possible assumptions.
So, we shall see if this Russian has cracked the case.
Paul Davies, author of a recent popularization book on time machines, talks about a staple of science fiction, and, well, Amber...the Multiverse.
Over on Ones and Zeros, Michael links to an entry on another blog, and also talks about the Monty Haul problem, and how a non intuitive answer can be the best strategy.
The "Birthday Paradox" is in a similar vein, too. How many people do you have to know, on average, before two of them wil have the same birthday? With 365 days in a year, you'd think it would have to be a lot...but thanks to the laws of permutations, you're at better-than-even odds at only 23 people.
It doesn't make much sense (23 people in 365 days of the year)? but look at it this way...given the first person, the odds of the second person not having the same birthday is (365-1)/365 (since it could be any other day of the year but the original person).
If you continue in this vein, person #3's chance of NOT sharing a birthday with either of them, and them with each other is 364/365 * 363/365. The multiplication of the factors represents the fact that you are not just comparing the next person to the first, but to everyone else as well.
This sort of thing adds up hellaciously. At 23 people, you are at even odds none of them share a birthday. By 40 people, because of all of the possible combinations, there is just a 12% chance of no one sharing a birthday.
So, if you are in a bar with 50 people, make a bet with a friend that two of the people share a birthday. If the people in the bar are honest about their birthdates...you will clean up.
Oh, and as a postscript, I do know two people with the same birthday within my circle (and I am not even counting my father, who shares mine). So it really does work.
I actually learned this long ago as the more politically incorrect "Fuzzy Wuzzy problem" in regarding British troops versus the Zulus, but I recommend this article on the relationship between sizes of military units, and their effectiveness
"Who's Counting, by John Allen Paulos"
You say cyberpunk, I say RIBOPUNK.
Pioneer 10, that venerable voyager through and beyond our solar system, has sent its last signal.
Portrait of the Universe as an Infant.
A very cool "map" of the early universe, thanks to the new Microwave Anisotropy Probe.
The Universe according to this findings has been pegged to being 13.7 +/- 0.2 Billion years old.
The first stars apparently ignited only 200 million years after the Universe began, earlier than cosmologists expected.
The composition of the universe is:
4% regular matter, from the cores of stars to our bones
23% "dark matter", still in debate just what this really is.
73% "dark energy", which makes dark matter positively well known.
So, we still have a lot to learn, but we've gotten a nice chunk of information today.
Fossil find in China:
More of a glider than a flyer, probably, and likely an evolutionary dead-end...but this definitely shows us we are still in the dark about the evolution of class Aves from the Dinosaurs.