Showing posts from 2008

• How High Is Up?


• Ants In Your Pants

Seems like ants are everywhere, right? They are! Ants and termites, along with thier close relatives bees and wasps, make up fully 3/4s of the total insect biomass. In fact, ants and termites make up about ⅓ of the Amazon’s dry land biomass.

Ever wonder what an ant’s nest looks like? Here’s one after it was filled with plaster, and then scientists picked away all the surrounding dirt.

Reasearchers investigated another much larger, but by no means special, nest and found that the structure was over 26 feet deep and horizontally covered over five hundred square feet. To build it, the colony moved 40 tons of dirt—billions of ant loads, each one weighing about four times as much as the worker ant that carried it. In human terms, the dirt was carried over 1/2 mile to the surface.

Other reasons why ants are such a successful species:

Ants are resistant to hard radiation. While plants died around them, ants exposed to intense cesium irradiation suffered no apparent harm nor change in behavior.


• Why Science Matters

Briane Green writes:

A couple of years ago I received a letter from an American soldier in Iraq. The letter began by saying that, as we've all become painfully aware, serving on the front lines is physically exhausting and emotionally debilitating. But the reason for his writing was to tell me that in that hostile and lonely environment, a book I'd written had become a kind of lifeline. As the book is about science — one that traces physicists' search for nature's deepest laws — the soldier's letter might strike you as, well, odd.

But it's not. Rather, it speaks to the powerful role science can play in giving life context and meaning. At the same time, the soldier's letter emphasized something I've increasingly come to believe: our educational system fails to teach science in a way that allows students to integrate it into their lives.

Allow me a moment to explain.

When we consider the ubiquity of cellphones, iPods, personal computers and the Internet, it&#…

• Flying Carpets Burn Oil

Original post 2/11/07 (see update below)

Luxurious flying palaces based on Boeing airliners are enjoyed by private and business customers in the Middle East and around the world.

Over 100 of the 737-based Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) aircraft have been sold since 1999, with prices starting around $45 million—and that's before you spend another $15 million for minor add-ons such as seats.

But, oh, those seats. Lots of knee room is available when money is no object as shown is the proposed 787 cabin arrangement. Part of the cabin, that is.

747VIPs are available for $272-282 million (plus interior), but they're all sold out until 2012. The next 787VIP isn't available until 2016, if you want one. Order now! Operators are standing by!

Either way, you'll never have to endure a red-eye flight sandwiched in the middle, with a toddler screaming behind you and kicking the back of your seat. You can snooze your way across the Atlantic in peace, or join the Six Mile High club in style.

So …

• Time to Take Stock. Oops, too late.

• The US share of the world’s leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing capacity dropped from 36% to 11% in the past 7 years.

• Chemical companies closed 70 facilities in the United States in 2004 and were in the process of closing 40 more the following year. Of the 120 new plants costing over $1 billion each that were under construction at that time, 50 were in China and one was in the United States.

• The US Big Three automakers announced the closing of 26 plants in the United States over the next several years, while Japan-based companies are opening four new plants in the United States between 2006 and 2008.

• There are now 12 energy companies in the world whose reserves exceed those of the largest US energy firm, ExxonMobil.

• IBM recently sold its once-promising PC business to a Chinese company.

• In Business Week’s ranking of the world’s information-technology companies, only one of the top 10 is based in the United States.

• In spite of America’s growing demand for energy, no new pet…

• Taking It Slow

Did you ever wonder if rocks could think and talk? If you watch them very, very closely for a long time they don't seem to move. But maybe you just didn't watch long enough?

• Evolution isn't the only thing Creationists are wrong about

The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) has been recording data for 5 years on heat in the form of microwaves created by the Big Bang. What it's found, to an amazing degree of precision, is that the Universe is 13.73 billion years, plus or minus 120 million years. Not 6000 as some Creationists claim based on exactly no data.

The temperatures WMAP is measuring ranges from 2.7248 to 2.7252 degrees Kelvin. That tiny difference shown by the colors above is only 0.0002 degrees Celsius.

WMAP was also able to determine the kinds of energy and matter that make up the Universe that 72.1% dark energy, 23.3% dark matter, and 4.62% regular stuff.

Everything you see around you, all the massive stars, are the galaxies are less than 5% of what is. And every atom in your body was created in a star.

There's Tar In Them Thar Hills

Is the 21st century's equivalent of the '49s Gold Rush in our future, say in 2049? Think Tom Corbet and Gabby Hays, tanker rockets and space-suited roughnecks.

The Cassini spacecraft and scientists from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md., reported in the Jan. 29 issue of the Geophysical Research Letters that Saturn's orange moon Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth. The hydrocarbons rain from the sky, collecting in vast deposits that form lakes and dunes.

At a not so balmy minus 179 degrees Celsius (minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit), Titan is a far cry from Earth. Instead of water, liquid hydrocarbons in the form of methane and ethane fill lakes and seas on Saturn's moon.

Several hundred bodies of water methane have been observed, and dark dunes that run along the equator contain a volume of organics several hundred times greater than Earth's coal reserves.

And don…

Blah, blah, blah . . . WACKO!

So you start reading what looks like a typical scientific journal article—lotsa names, unusual terms, not very clear what it's all about and then BAM, right between the eyes. Try it.

Evolution of Mid–IR Excess Around Sun–like Stars:
Constraints on Models of Terrestrial Planet Formation
M.R. Meyer, J.M. Carpenter, E.E. Mamajek, L.A. Hillenbrand, D. Hollenbach, A.
Moro–Martin, J.S. Kim, M.D. Silverstone, J. Najita, D.C. Hines, I. Pascucci, J.R.
Stauffer, J. Bouwman, & D.E. Backman
We report observations from the Spitzer Space Telescope (SST) regarding the frequency of 24 μm excess emission toward sun-like stars. Our unbiased sample is comprised of 309 stars with masses 0.7-2.2 M⊙ and ages from <3>3 Gyr that lack excess emission at wavelengths 8 μm. We identify 30 stars that exhibit clear evidence of excess emission from the observed 24/8μm flux ratio. The implied 24 μm excesses of these candidate debris disk systems range from 13 % (the minimum detectable) to more than…

Water on Mars

Mars is a cold desert planet with no liquid water on its surface, but discoveries announced in 2000 by Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS) using cameras aboard Mars Global Surveyor and discoveries by Mars Odyssey Orbiter researchers in 2002 showed the presence of water ice just below ground level. In 2005, while re-imaging certain areas MSSS discovered this recent flow:

This 2005 reconstructed image from the European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft shows vertical cliffs nearly 2 kilometers high bordering a volcanic caldera near the north pole of Mars. Also visible are reddish areas of rock and sand, white areas of ice, and dark areas that are probably volcanic ash. No, the greenish tinge isn't shrubbery.

The MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding) radar on the Mars Express spacecraft studied the structure of the layered deposits of this region to a depth of 3.7 km. In March of this year JPL reported in Science magazine that the data ind…

New Year's Irresolution

New Year's Day is the one when, briefly, millions of people delude themselves into thinking that firm resolutions will bring happiness.

The secular priests of self-improvement chant that you should set up some distant destination — weight loss or career progression — and trudge doggedly towards it.

But every lifestyle guru makes one basic mistake. They confuse integrity, which matters, with inflexibility, which doesn’t.

So why not abandon the narrow path to disappointment and opt instead for some new year’s irresolution?

Make 2008 the year you choose to change your mind. Evaluate you closely held beliefs and prejudices and see if they really are based on reality. asked the the intellectual elite, the brains the rest of us rely on to make sense of the universe and answer the big questions of our day if they changed their mind, and why

Tackling subjects as diverse as human evolution, the laws of physics and sexual politics, scientists and philosophers, including Steven Pinker, Da…