Showing posts from January, 2007

Mudslide Seen On Mars

Really! A streak on the wall of a Martian crater has been found in Mars Global Surveyor satellite images that wasn't there four years earlier.

Water ice and water vapor are known to have existed below the surface of Mars in the relatively recent past, and water ice has been seen at the poles, but this is a pretty clear sign that water still flows on the surface of Mars. If water is present, that would raise the possibility of life.

The before-and-after pictures show what appear to be deposits of materials left by bursts of water flowing down the sides of the gullies.


Slow day? Go upstairs!

Really. Clocks on upper floors of a building tick faster than those at the ground by 2.5x10-15 seconds for every 6 floors you go up thanks to the effects of General Relativity. Indeed, GPS satellite's clocks at orbital altitudes will tick faster by about 45,900 nanoseconds per day because they are in a weaker gravitational field than atomic clocks on Earth's surface.

So General Relativity predicts that clocks in a stronger gravitational field will tick at a slower rate. But Special Relativity predicts that stationary clocks will appear to tick faster than moving ones. Remarkably, these two effects cancel each other for clocks located at sea level anywhere on Earth.

If a hypothetical clock at Earth’s north or south pole is used as a reference, a clock at Earth’s equator would tick slower because of its relative speed due to Earth’s spin, but faster because of its greater distance from Earth’s center of mass due to the slightly bloated equator.

Clocks at any altitude above sea leve…

You Have To Be Brain Damaged To Stop Smoking

Well, no, that's nonsense. If you have any sense you'll stop without a whack up side the head. But it's apparently actually easier if you're brain damaged.

A patient who'd smoked about 40 butts a day before his insula (part of the brain's cerebral cortex) was damaged by a stroke was able to quit smoking immediately after the injury. He told researchers his body simply "forgot the urge to smoke".

The research, reported in the journal Science, studied 69 patients with brain damage who had been smokers before the damage occurred. Overall, patients who quit easily were much more likely to have damage to the insula, which is associated with visceral functions and
integrates autonomic information.

The findings suggest the possibility of insula-targeting drugs that could help smokers quit, and it may be possible to assess the effectiveness of existing smoking cures by measuring insula activity using fMRI.


Cloned Humans Will Have A Soul

No, that's nonsense. If a clone had a soul, in the narrowest sense, we could have a bunch of people running around with identical souls. Which raises the question, what exactly is a soul anyway?

The word "soul" didn't even exist in the times of Jesus, Socrates or Aristotle. The Biblical Hebrew word for soul is 'nephesh' meaning life, or vital breath. So soul was just a synonym for aliveness, breathing.

Not that the concept of some spirt-like soul isn't widely held.

Muslims, from the hadith, believe Allah assigns an angel to "breath" soul into an embryo after 40 days of pregnancy. Hindus believe the soul, jiva, is the immortal essence of a human which reincarnates again and again until it becomes perfect. In Ayyavazhi, the soul is believed to be in a flame shape and its symbol is smeared in powder between the eyebrows as a ritual called Thirunamam. The ancient Chinese believed every person's soul was composed of seven p'o (visible personalit…

Earth's Crust Thin As Apple's Skin

Really. The Earth's crust in most textbook diagrams is exaggerated, otherwise it would be too small to see; it's as thin as the skin on an apple.

The distance from the surface of Earth to the center is about 6,400 kilometers. The crust of our home planet is as thin as 6 kilometers in oceanic areas and is rarely over 50 kilometers—in a few mountainous areas. On average it's about 25 kilometers thick.

Inside, Earth is a squishy ball of molten rock; tectonic plates and continents float around on top, moving at about the speed your fingernails grow. Where there's a thin spot we have volcanoes. When the plates stick and then suddenly move we have an earthquake. Where they bump into each other the crust wrinkles and we have mountains.

A typical McIntosh apple is about 2.75 inches (70mm) in diameter, and the skin is about .3mm thick. The skin to diameter ratio for an apple, then is .3:70 or .4%. For Earth the crust thickness to diameter ratio is 25:6400, or about .4%.


Steam Powered Aircraft Flies

Really. Believe it or not, a successful aircraft flew using a steam engine for power. Built by Travel Air Manufacturing Co. and modified by Besler Steam Laundry to promote their business, the aircraft first flew on April 12th, 1933 over Oakland, California.

The original Travel Air 2000 was known as the 'Wichita Fokker' because of it's role in numerous Hollywood movies about WWI. It was designed by Lloyd Stearman, and built by his partners Walter Beech and Clyde Cessna. In fact, over half the aircraft built between 1924 and 1930 were produced by their company.

Nathan C. Price, a former Doble Steam Motors engineer contributed to the modified design, and following its unexpectedly favorable reception Price went to work for Boeing, but the company dropped the idea of a steam airplane in 1936. Price later worked for Lockheed where his experience developing compact burners for steam boilers helped him design Lockheed's first jet engine.

Perhaps the strangest feature of the stea…

Another Virgin Birth?

Naw that's foolishness. While a key doctrine of Christian and Muslim faith is that Jesus was conceived without help from Mary's husband, parthenogenesis has never been observed in mammals, and biblical accounts are widely disputed by religious scholars.

Nevertheless, there are at least eight other reported virgin births, and in June 2006, it was revealed by the BBC that a British insurer,, had provided a £1 million insurance policy to three Scottish sisters that would pay in the event one of them had a virgin birth. The payout was to cover the costs of bringing up another Christ.

On the other hand, the BBC announced yesterday that a Komodo dragon at the Chester, England zoo had laid fertilized eggs despite the absence of any male lizards. Parthenogenesis, you see, does occurs in some plants, invertebrates, vertebrates including reptiles, fish and, very rarely, birds.

It's worth noting that in 2004 Japanese scientists managed to create a mouse with two mo…

Ooops! You've got oil in your eye

Really. Recently scientists at Ohio State University dicovered the exact composition of tears, and its not just water - it includes oil.

What we think of as tears, scientists call tear film, which is made up of three distinct, microscopic layers. The middle, watery layer – what we normally think of as tears when we cry – is sandwiched between a layer of mucus and an outer layer of fatty, oily substances collectively called meibum.

It's in this outer layer that researchers describe, for the first time, a new class of lipids, or oils, that make up part of the film. They also identified one of these lipids, oleamide, which had not previously been known to be a part of tears.

With each blink, meibum spreads over the surface of the eye. It keeps the watery middle layer in place, ensuring that our eyes stay moist.

As a side benefit, the oil keeps your eyelids from creaking as they open and close ... just kidding about that.


Cheap Drug Kills Cancer. Tough.

Really. A cheap, safe drug that kills almost all cancers is available. Better yet, the drug—a simple, small molecule called dichloroacetate (DCA)—offers a radical new approach to treating all forms of disease. But you may never be able to get it because,'s a simple, small molecule. No drug company is willing to fund costly trials because it's an old drug that's not patentable, so they can't make money from it.

Normal cells rely on specialized organelles called mitocondria to supply their energy. Cancer cells switch to a process called glycolosis which takes places in the body of the cell. It's an inefficient process used by baceteria, and even marathon runners, when oxygen is in short supply.

Way back in 1930, biochemist Otto Warburg discovered this process—now known as the Warburg Effect—but until recently it was considered an effect of cancer not a cause. But a University of Alberta researcher, Evangelos Michaelakis, found that DCA caused cancer cells to …

Sun Will Swallow Earth

Really. As the Sun grows older it will eventually become a red giant. When it does, it will expand to the point that it will engulf most of the planets.

Today it's easy to see a sun so large that it would swallow everything in our star's solar system out past Jupiter. Look for the distinctive line of three stars in the constellation Orion. That bright red star above it and to the left is a red giant named Betelgeuse. Antares, a little harder to find, is twice as big!

Here are a series of images to give you an idea of the scale involved (click to enlarge):

If you'd like to see an animated version, that in it's own way is more graphic go --> here.

Porn Beat Off Loser On Tape

Really. In the video tape wars VHS won against Sony's Beta format. Why? Because porn movie viewers wanted to see something longer.

Videotape first emerged as a cheap and efficient alternative to film for TV production. Sony hit the street first with Betamax for home use, but home tape recorders matured with VHS format thanks to porn.

Predicting that the greatest use of home VCRs would be time-shifting, that is, recording TV shows off the air for later viewing, Sony designed Betamax tape with a one hour playing time. When the market for videotape proved not to be time shifting, but prerecorded movies, longer-playing tape was required, and VHS arose to meet the need. Though Beta eventually spurted to a four hour format, it was too late. Within years, two-, four-, and six-hour VHS tape became the industry standard.

What were people watching on these early videotapes? The early home video rental stores, the outlets that drove Betamax from the market, were almost exclusively pornographic.…

Unhappy? Move to Denmark

Really. Well, at least that's were the world's happiest population lives according to a British psychologist who has produced the first ever 'world map of happiness.'

Participants were asked questions related to happiness and satisfaction with life. The meta-analysis is based on the findings of over 100 different studies around the world, which questioned 80,000 people worldwide.

The 10 happiest nations in the World are:
1. Denmark
2. Switzerland
3. Austria
4. Iceland
5. The Bahamas
6. Finland
7. Sweden
8. Bhutan
9. Brunei
10. Canada

The US came in 23rd. Not bad considering 178 countries were evaluated. Other notable results include: 35. Germany (beer helps), 41 UK (ditto), 62. France (Soap might help), 82. China (built-in carryout), 90. Japa, 125. India, 167. Russia.

The researchers said that "... a nation's level of happiness was most…

Rocky Mountain High Means Hot California Wind

Really. Glen Campbell sang, at least metaphorically, about Rocky Mountain Highs; but real high pressure weather systems in Colorado can produce hot conditions in Southern California known as Santa Ann winds.

While the prevailing winds in California come from the west off the cool Pacific ocean, the Santa Ana blows from the east and comes from the high, dry desert plateaus of the mountain ranges east of Los Angeles and San Diego. More than just a dry mountain breeze; a Santa Ana is a hot, powerful wind that can quickly turn small brush fires into unstoppable infernos.

The Santa Ana is a special type of wind, known as a katabatic wind, well known in other parts of the world. In parts of the American West, this wind is called the Chinook; in southern France it is called the Mistral; in Japan it's the Oroshi; and in Austria and Germany it is called the Foehn.

Here's how the wind is created (it's not from Glen Campbell's singing).

First, air tends to pool at high elevations, wh…

World War Three Is Coming

Nonsense. If you watch TV or read the papers you'd think world conflict is just around the corner and everyone is fighting everyone. Not true.

Last year a carefully researched Human Security Report concluded that the numbers of armed conflicts in the world had fallen 40% in little over a decade, and that the number of fatalities per conflict had also fallen.

The entire news agenda for a decade, received as endless tales of wars, massacres and bombings, actually missed the key point. Things are getting better.

Percentage of males estimated to have died in violence in hunter-gatherer societies was about 30%. Percentage of males who died in violence in the 20th century (including two world wars and a couple of nuclear bombs was approximately 1%.

The trends for violent deaths so far in the 21st century ae falling sharply too. Let's hope it stays that way.


Saturn's Rings Flattest Structure Known

Really. Saturn's rings are arguably the flattest structures known to science.

Barely 30 feet think, according to recent research, Saturn's rings have a diameter of over 250,000 miles—they'd reach from the Earth to the Moon.

Or think of them this way: if the rings were as thin as a sheet of paper they still would be two miles across!

Here's another view taken by the Cassini spacecraft, a rather artistic one, of Saturn, the rings, and Saturn's moon Titan. If the rings were directly edge on they wouldn't be visible at all.


New F-22 Raptor Is Kicking Butt

Yeah baby. A new USAF fighter known as the F-22 Raptor scored 144 "kills" against front line Air Force, Navy, and Marine fighters while sustaining zero losses during the recent Northern Edge exercise in Alaska.

Loitering above 65,000—at least 15,000 feet higher than F-15s and F/A-18s—the jet's new radar can see more than twice as far as it's adversaries. Even more impressive, the high resolution radar allowed positive identification of "enemy" aircraft well beyond visual range. Even after expending all its weapons, the F-22 would stick around, use it's supersonic cruise capability to range across hundreds of miles, and provide targets and IDs to conventional "friendly" fighters.

The Raptor is designed to work in a "network centric" environment to share data with other assets in the area. An F-22 pilot, for example, can simply click on the icon of an armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and drag it over an enemy air defense emitter. The …

Some Mice Glow In The Dark

Really. Scientists have created rodents that glow like fireflies.

Their experiment involved first freeze-drying mouse sperm, then inserting DNA from another species into it and finally injecting the altered sperm into mouse eggs. The gene inserted in this case was from a jellyfish and makes the sea creature glow fluorescent green. It was used because it was easy to see if the gene had been successfully incorporated in the mice - the mice glow too.

This isn't a parlor trick. Scientists believe this ability will allow them to pinpoint the effect of new drugs better, especially in the treatment of cancer. Picture glowing cancer cells dim and then disappear as an anti-cancer drug takes effect.

By the way, the glow can be inherited. So, if you see a green object scurry across the room, you'll know there's been an escape from the local lab.

(Mickey, "Minnie, you must be happy, you're positively glowing!" )

Animal Found With 5 Eyes and a Trunk

Really. One of the weirdest animals ever to live had five fully functioning eyes and a long flexible hose-like proboscis or snout with grabbers on the end.

Opabinia is a highly unusual extinct animal found in early Cambrian fossil deposits of Burgess Shale in British Columbia and the Maotianshan shales in Yunnan, China.

This weird beastie probably lived on top of the soft sediment on the seabed, and swam after prey using its unusual side flaps. Its proboscis could have plunged into burrows after worms and could also have been used to stir up sea floor sediment in search of food.


Red Wine Might Help You Live Longer

Really. An ingredient in red wine can slow the aging of human cells.The key ingredient is resveratrol. It occurs in grape vines, roots, seeds and stalks, but its highest concentration is in grape skins. The skins are used in producing red wine, that's where the red color comes from, but not in white wine which is made without skins.Resveratrol, is in a family of molecules produced by plants in response to mild stress, such as drought. It stimulates production of a protein which has been shown to allow yeast cells to extend their life by 70 percent. The same kind of metabolic trick in humans would extend our average life span to about 136 years. But does it work on human cells? Yes! When researchers at Harvard "fed" resveratrol to human cells, they were pleased to discover that resveratrol extended the cells' lifetime."The discovery brings closer a time when a drug that extends life and prevents many diseases of aging becomes a reality," says David Sinclai…

There's a Rock That Will Melt in Your Hand.

Really! And that rock is ... ice!

Dana's System of Mineralogy, the world authority on minerals classifies ice as a mineral, just like granite.

Ice meets all the requirements. It's solid, inorganic, has a definite chemical composition and an ordered atomic arrangement. Meanwhile, because water isn't solid, it isn't a mineral.

In a way it isn't all that surprising because ice looks like some rocks. The picture above isn't of ice, it's a rock -- quartz.

Gives new meaning to a drink "on the rocks."


New Madrid MO Is A Real Hotspot

Really. In 1812 the largest earthquake ever recorded in the continental U.S., an 8.0 magnitude temblor, took place in New Madrid, Missouri. It was caused by an ancient hotspot in the earth's crust. Another big quake occurred in 1886 at Charleston SC for the same reason.

As the North American tectonic plate shifted through the eons, both cities passed over the Bermuda Hotspot—a thin spot in the earth's crust that allowed magma to squirt to the surface. The process even diverted the Mississippi River.

The Hawaiian Islands were created as the tectonic Pacific Plate passed over a hot spot. New islands are being created today by the same process.

Meanwhile, in Canada the St. Larence Rift and in New England the off-shore sea mounds (famous as early 1900s fishing grounds), were formed by a hot spot created by the Great Meteor—the same one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Passage of a tectonic plate over a hot spot can reactivate ancient faults, causing slippage to occur even …

Greatest Event Since The Civil War

Really. Journalist Richard Harding Davis called the 1893 World Columbian Exhibition "the greatest event in the history of the country since the Civil War." Almost 28 million people visited the fair at a time when the US population was only about 65 million.

Everything about the show was exotic and emmense. It occupied over a square mile and filled more than 200 buildings. One exhibit hall had enough interior volume to swallow the US Capitol, the Great Pyramind, Winchester Cathedral, Madison Square Garden, and Saint Paul's Cathedral all at once. One woman walked 1300 miles from her home so she could see it all. Other people arrived on the more than 2000 trains that passed through Chicago daily.

Never before had so many of history's famous people gathered in one place: Buffalo Bill, Susan B. Anthony, Clarence Darrow, Houdini, Scott Joplin, George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison, Henry Adams, Nikolas Tesla, Woodrow Wilson, Diamond Jim Brady, Teddy Rooseveld, Phillip Armour, L…

Giraffe's Neck Has Same Bones As You

Really, both humans and giraffe have 7 bones in their next. And no, the giraffe's didn't get that way by stretching.

A common misconception about the evolutionary process is that somehow frequent use of a particular muscle or appendage causes it to be passed on to the next generation. But that's foolishness.

Accidental genetic mutations caused ancestors of current giraffe to have slightly longer neck. That gave them a small survival advantage, given the environmental situation, and when they reproduced they passed that advantage (genetic mutation) on to their off-spring. But if the advantage didn't persist, the long neck would have disappeared. Don't believe that? Check out the Peppered Moth. Its colors changed from white to black because the local trees became covered with coal dust.


If There's Ice There's Fire

Really. Someone needs to double check the chemistry here, but it looks like if you built a fire on Titan (Saturn's moon) instead of smoke you'd get frozen selzer water!

Until a recent Cassini flyby, haze on Titan prevented confirmation of predicted oceans and lakes. But in last week's Nature magazine scientists report definite evidence of lakes filled with liquid methane.

But now consider this: when you burn methane (combine it with oxygen—also available in small quantities near the surface of Titan) you get CO2 and water. The surface temperature is about -180°C and CO2 sublimates at -78C so it would would be solid, and of course so would the water. Ta-rah, selzer water ice cubes.

Any chemists out there that can confirm this?


Buy A Space Flight on

Really. The founder of announced that he has been developing a spacecraft that could offer the public trips into space by 2010.
Billionaire Jeff Bezos unveiled his prototype of a private reusable spacecraft by posting photos and videos on the company's Web site. They depict a secret test launch on Nov. 13, 2006, east of El Paso, Texas.Bezos has been working on the project, called Blue Origin, since 2000, during which time he has kept silent about his operation in the remote section of West Texas. "We're working, patiently and step by step, to lower the cost of space flight so that many people can afford to go and so that we humans can better continue exploring the solar system," Bezos said on the Web page of his space venture, "Accomplishing this mission will take a long time, and we're working on it methodically." The project's goal is to design a new type of spacecraft called the New Shepard intended to blast three passengers and one cre…

Lakefront Property Available On Saturn's Moon

Really. Lakes have been spotted on Saturn's largest moon, Titan by the Cassini Spacecraft.

But before you call your real estate agent be aware that the lakes are not water but methane, the stuff you cook with. And these lakes would be even chillier than Minnesota's, almost 300 degree below zero.

Titan has long intrigued space scientists, as it is the only moon in the Solar System to have a dense atmosphere - and its atmosphere, like Earth's, mainly comprises nitrogen. They believe the lakes prove that Titan has a "methane cycle" - a system that is like the water cycle on Earth, in which the liquid evaporates, cools and condenses and then falls as rain, replenishing the surface liquid.

What a vacation spot!-- poisonous, frozen lakes and rain to boot.

You Owe Your Life To A Long Distance Swimmer

Really. Although tens of millions of your father's sperm entered your mother's uterus, only a few thousand managed to make it to the openings of her two oviducts. That feat, for the successful swimmers, was the equivlaent a small fish swimming the entire length of the Great Barrier Reef. (Fifteen hundred miles long, the reef is the only living thing on earth large enough to be seen from outer space!)

Since we're on the convoluted topic of sex and the Great Barrier Reef, sea turtles are one the of significant life forms that inhabit the reef. Oddly, baby turtles—in their eggs—don't have a sex when they're laid. The heat of the sand that they're laid in influences their sex. Sand with a temperature of more than 80º F produces more females, cooler sand produces more males.


A Bee Could Pick You Out of a Lineup

Really. Honeybees can recognize human faces.

Adrian Dyer of Cambridge University trained bees by having them associate a mug shot with a sweet reward of sugar water and then another photo with a bitter punishment of quinine water. After that the bees were tested and they did not bumble the job. When released they would typically hover a few inches from the photos before correctly landing on the reward face 80 to 90 percent of the time.The findings put a new buzz into a long-studied question that some scientists considered largely settled -- how humans themselves recognize faces. It was thought that facial recognition required a large brain, and possibly a specialized area dedicated to processing face information. The bee finding casts doubt on that, said Adrian G. Dyer, the lead researcher in the study.

The bees probably don’t understand what a human face is, Dyer said. “To the bees the faces were spatial patterns or strange looking flowers,” he added.

Race cars suck

Really. Formula One Grand Prix cars and other racers use aerodynamic down force to suck the car down to increase tire traction and to keep the car from literally flying.

The suction created under the race cars is so strong that manhole covers have to be welded down when the cars take to street circuits such as Monaco and Long Beach.

F1 cars produce more down force than they weight at speeds over 80 mph, so the car could actually stick to an inverted road!


"Scum of the Earth" Made Life Possible

Really. New studies point to mats of microbes, or scum like you see on a stagnant lake, as the source of oxygen that made other forms of life possible.

Our scummy ancestors had the planet to themselves up to about 2.2 billion years ago because these single-celled organisms were the only things that could survive in a world without oxygen.

But then things changed. Some process suddenly pumped Earth's atmosphere full of oxygen. Life was kick-started and about 2.1 billion years ago the first multi-celled organisms appeared. These eventually led to all forms of life that now live, or ever lived, on Earth.

Researchers have puzzled for decades over what caused the breath of fresh air. "Bacteria in the early oceans were able to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen," said David Catling, a NASA Ames Research Center scientist who led one of the studies. The primitive microbes also produced methane gas, in which hydrogen atoms became trapped. Being light, the methane, with its trap…

Today Is Not New Year's Day

Really, American's think today is New Year's Day, but most of the people in the world don't. There are 5 times more people in China than the U.S., and their new year starts February 18th on our calendar. There are 4 times more people in India than here, and their year starts on March 22nd by our calendar.

Calendars are normally based on astronomical events, and the two most obvious astronomical objects are the sun and the moon.

The Islamic calendar is based on the motion of the moon, and their year has no connection with the motion of the earth around the sun. The Jewish and Hindu calendars combines both—years are linked to the motion of the earth around the sun, and months are linked to the motion of the moon. The Christian (Gregorian) calendar—the de facto international standard for civil purposes—is based on the motion of the earth around the sun, with no connection with the motion of the moon.

It's easy to think the world revolves around you, that everyone believes wh…