Monday, September 22, 2014

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Where No One Has Gone Before

This is undeniably cool.

Comet Approach 08-07-14

Europe’s Rosetta probe has arrived at a comet after a 10-year chase.

In a first for space history, the spacecraft was manoeuvred alongside a speeding body to begin mapping its surface in detail.

The spacecraft fired its thrusters for six and a half minutes to finally catch up with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

“We’re at the comet!” said Sylvain Lodiot of the European Space Agency (Esa) operations centre in Germany.

“After 10 years, five months and four days travelling towards our destination, looping around the Sun five times and clocking up 6.4 billion km, we are delighted to announce finally ‘we are here’,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of Esa.

Launched on board an Ariane rocket in March 2004, Rosetta has taken a long route around our Solar System to catch up with comet 67P.

In a series of fly-pasts, the probe used the gravity of the Earth and Mars to increase its speed during the 6 billion km chase.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Little Night Music

From NPR:

On May 20, 1964, two astronomers working at a New Jersey laboratory turned a, giant microwave antenna toward what they thought would be a quiet part of the Milky Way. They weren’t searching for anything: They were trying to make adjustments to their instrument before looking at more interesting things in the sky.

What they discovered changed science forever.

[...]

Calculations years before had shown that if the Big Bang really happened, its afterglow would still be visible. And it would show up today as microwaves coming from all directions.

The static they were getting in New Jersey came from all directions. It was everywhere. Had they just found the remains of the Big Bang?

Yep.

Monday, May 5, 2014

New Blood for Old

This sounds like something out of a 1930′s monster movie — or an episode of Star Trek — but if it works, it could be wonderful news for medicine… if not for mice and rats.

Two teams of scientists published studies on Sunday showing that blood from young mice reverses aging in old mice, rejuvenating their muscles and brains. As ghoulish as the research may sound, experts said that it could lead to treatments for disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.

“I am extremely excited,” said Rudolph Tanzi, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the research. “These findings could be a game changer.”

The research builds on centuries of speculation that the blood of young people contains substances that might rejuvenate older adults.

[...]

“We can turn back the clock instead of slowing the clock down,” said Dr. Toren Finkel, director of the Center for Molecular Medicine at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “That’s a nice thought if it pans out.”

This reversal could occur throughout the body, the new research suggests. “Instead of taking a drug for your heart and a drug for your muscles and a drug for your brain, maybe you could come up with something that affected them all,” Dr. Wagers said.

But scientists would need to take care in rejuvenating old body parts. Waking up stem cells might lead to their multiplying uncontrollably.

I don’t know the first thing about neurology or medicine other than what I learned in first aid class, so I don’t know if it’s a real possibility or just something in the lab.  What I do know is that somewhere there’s some fundamentalist whack-job who’s going to raise some kind of holy stink about it being against God’s will and demand that no tax dollars go towards this kind of research.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lunar Eclipse

I went out into the front yard to see the lunar eclipse this morning.

Lunar Eclipse 04-15-14This was taken by my friend and former classmate Archie H. Waugh over near Sarasota; my cell phone shot was nothing like this.

Totality was at 3:45 a.m.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

In the Beginning

Via TPM, astronomers have looked back into time to the start of it all.

The universe was born almost 14 billion years ago, exploding into existence in an event called the Big Bang. Now researchers say they’ve spotted evidence that a split-second later, the expansion of the cosmos began with a powerful jump-start.

Experts called the discovery a major advance if confirmed by others. Although many scientists already believed that initial, extremely rapid growth spurt happened, finding this evidence has been a key goal in the study of the universe. Researchers reported Monday that they did it by peering into the faint light that remains from the Big Bang.

If verified, the discovery “gives us a window on the universe at the very beginning,” when it was far less than one-trillionth of a second old, said theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University, who was not involved in the work.

“It’s just amazing,” he said. “You can see back to the beginning of time.”

Another outside expert, physicist Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the finding already suggests that some ideas about the rapid expansion of the universe can be ruled out.

Right after the Big Bang, the universe was a hot soup of particles. It took about 380,000 years to cool enough that the particles could form atoms, then stars and galaxies. Billions of years later, planets formed from gas and dust that were orbiting stars. The universe has continued to spread out.

Every now and then we need a reminder that the things that consume our lives and vie for permanence in our history are nothing more than specks, and we — all of us and everything we’ve ever known — are nothing more than echoes and dust.

To some people that might be a depressing thought, but actually its a comfort to know that we’ve always been here in some form or another.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sick People

Measles is making a comeback in New York thanks to scare tactics by uninformed people.

This is sheer lunacy.  Just over a dozen years ago this illness was considered eliminated in our country, and this year people are being hospitalized for it. All due to the hysteria about a safe, effective vaccine. All based on nothing.There is no legitimate scientific controversy about whether or not vaccines are safe.  The original study that started us down this insane path by linking the MMR vaccine to autism has been retracted outright. The evidence against administering the MMR vaccine to healthy individuals is utterly without merit.

But people continue to make the utterly baffling choice to refuse it anyway.  Dispiriting new information seems to indicate that they are immune to persuasion when confronted with facts inconvenient to their worldview. Indeed, writers at prominent online media outlets chide us for “demeaning” vaccine-deniers, saying to do so “defies explanation.”

Measles is not just some childhood disease.  People die from it.  And now more could because of some prominent stupid people and junk science.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sunrise, Sunset

And some people think we spend too much money on education…

Americans are enthusiastic about the promise of science but lack basic knowledge of it, with one in four unaware that the Earth revolves around the Sun, said a poll out Friday.

The survey included more than 2,200 people in the United States and was conducted by the National Science Foundation.

Nine questions about physical and biological science were on the quiz, and the average score — 6.5 correct — was barely a passing grade.

Just 74 percent of respondents knew that the Earth revolved around the Sun, according to the results released at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.

Fewer than half (48 percent) knew that human beings evolved from earlier species of animals.

HT to Steve Bates and Nicolaus Copernicus.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Monday, January 6, 2014

Fun With Science

This should be entertaining.

Bill Nye “The Science Guy” is scheduled to debate evolution and biblical creation next month with the founder of the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

Nye will square off against creationist Ken Ham on Feb. 4 at the Petersburg, Ky. museum’s Legacy Hall. The debate is titled: “Is creation a viable model of origins?”

In a statement on Thursday, Ham described the choice of Nye for a debate partner as a kind of natural selection.

“Having the opportunity to hold a cordial but spirited debate with such a well-known personality who is admired by so many young people will help bring the creation/evolution issue to the attention of many more people, including youngsters,” Ham said in a statement on Thursday.

Get it?  “Natural selection?”  Ha ha hoo boy.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Short Takes

ENDA gets past filibuster in the Senate.

New Jersey mall locked down after gunman opens fire.

Supreme Court turns down Oklahoma abortion case.

Sen. Rand Paul faces more plagiarism charges.

It’s Election Day in a lot of places, including Virginia, New York, and New Jersey.

Alert Starfleet — There are billions of Earth-like planets in the galaxy.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Galaxy Far, Far Away

From the BBC via Shakesville:

An international team of astronomers has detected the most distant galaxy yet.

The galaxy is about 30 billion light-years away and is helping scientists shed light on the period that immediately followed the Big Bang.

It was found using the Hubble Space Telescope and its distance was then confirmed with the ground-based Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

The study is published in the journal Nature.

Because it takes light so long to travel from the outer edge of the Universe to us, the galaxy appears as it was 13.1 billion years ago (its distance from Earth of 30 billion light-years is because the Universe is expanding).

Lead researcher Steven Finkelstein, from the University of Texas at Austin, US, said: “This is the most distant galaxy we’ve confirmed. We are seeing this galaxy as it was 700 million years after the Big Bang.”

The far-off galaxy goes by the catchy name of z8_GND_5296.

When you think in terms that 700 million years is “immediately” after the Big Bang, it puts everything in perspective, doesn’t it?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

We Are Not Alone

Via Kevin Drum, a graphic from New Scientist speculates at the number of habitable planets in our galaxy.

They started with the 3,588 planets discovered by the Kepler space telescope and then pared this back to only smallish planets in the “habitable zone”—not too near their star to boil over and not too far away to be iceballs. That got them down to 51 planets. But that only counts the planets we could see because our view from Earth was directly on their ecliptic. Extrapolating to all the rest produces 22,500 Earthlike planets. And since Kepler only covered 0.28 percent of the sky and only looked out 3,000 light years, extrapolating yet again produces a final estimate of 15-30 billion possibly Earthlike planets.

Hello out there.

earthlike planets 09-26-13

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Friday, May 31, 2013

Mammoth News

After reading this story

MOSCOW (AP) — A perfectly preserved woolly mammoth carcass with liquid blood has been found on a remote Arctic island, fueling hopes of cloning the Ice Age animal, Russian scientists said Thursday.

I wondered how my friend and former LC colleague John McKay, a big fan of woolly mammoths, would respond.

The story is bad science reporting, pure and simple. It’s science by press release. It allows sensationalism to bury the real science. Cloning and “will it tell us why they went extinct” stories are lazy and ignorant writing. It’s crap and I do not like it. Please stop.

Don’t call David Attenborough just yet.  On the other hand, his brother might be interested in doing another scary cloned extinct animal movie.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Short Takes

President Obama sacked Steven Miller, the acting head of the IRS.

Deadly tornadoes hit Texas.

The White House released hundreds of e-mails related to the Benghazi! talking points.

Iraq — Bomb attacks in Baghdad killed more than 35 people.

Syria — The U.N. condemned the government for attacking civilians.

Yet another military officer in charge of controlling sexual harassment is busted for it.

Clone to home — Stem cells recovered from cloned embryos.

The Tigers lost to the Astros 7-5.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Brainy Idea

This is cool.

President Obama on Tuesday will announce a broad new research initiative, starting with $100 million in 2014, to invent and refine new technologies to understand the human brain, senior administration officials said Monday.

A senior administration scientist compared the new initiative to the Human Genome Project, in that it is directed at a problem that has seemed insoluble up to now: the recording and mapping of brain circuits in action in an effort to “show how millions of brain cells interact.”

It is different, however, in that it has, as yet, no clearly defined goals or endpoint. Coming up with those goals will be up to the scientists involved and may take more than year.

The effort will require the development of new tools not yet available to neuroscientists and, eventually, perhaps lead to progress in treating diseases like Alzheimer’s and epilepsy and traumatic brain injury. It will involve both government agencies and private institutions.

The initiative, which scientists involved in promoting the idea have been calling the Brain Activity Map project, will officially be known as Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or Brain for short; it has been designated a grand challenge of the 21st century by the Obama administration.

There are several reasons why I like this.  Everybody knows someone who has either suffered some kind of injury or has a brain disorder.  It is also the kind of thing that government funding does best.  Private medical research could do it, but unless there’s a way to make money at it, they’re probably going to spend more time on boner pills and hair restoration than curing Alzheimer’s.

It is often the government that gets America to do big bold things without a profit motive.  If you think of some of the things that we’ve done in the last sixty years, such as the interstate highway system or putting Neil Armstrong on the moon, it was done because we as a nation decided to do it through the government.  And along the way, the government didn’t exclude the capitalists; they hired them and paid for the research and promoted their products along the way.  Everybody wins something, and that’s called progress.

PS: I see that Steve Benen and I are having another of our psychic mind-melds.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fun With Science

Sometimes Monday mornings are hard to get started on blogging since it’s after a weekend and there’s not a lot of stuff to poke fun at.  But here’s a fascinating bit of photography and Mr. Wizard science that is sure to mesmerize you for a little bit via Summer Ash at The Maddow Blog:

The amazing phenomenon captured above is not actually visible to your naked eye, only to the camera. Running at 24 frames per second, as opposed to the ~12 frames per second rate of our eyes, the camera can register the vibrational signature of the sound coming out of the speaker as it affects the nozzle of the hose. You can see this in slow motion at around 1:07. To try this experiment yourself, check out the instructions by the filmmaker on YouTube. And for a cool discussion on what your eye can and can’t detect, read this.

Just too cool.