Showing posts from February, 2007

Deep Sea Animals Use Headlights

Really. Ninety percent of deep sea marine life use some form of bioluminescence to either attract or repulse others, or to communicate.

Since it's so dark down there, it's not surprising that bioluminescence using several distinct chemical mechanisms has evolved many times in the sea among a large number of only distantly related beasties.

In 2005, warm "El Niño" water encouraged the growth of bioluminescent dinoflagellates (Lingulodinium polyedrum) along the Southern California coast shown here lighting breaking waves at midnight on our local Carlsbad CA beach. Under the right conditions, the dinoflagellates, more commonly known as plankton, become so numerous that the water takes on a muddy reddish color, hence the name "Red Tide."

Bioluminescence is not the same as "fluorescence," which is energy from a light source that is absorbed and re-emitted. Bioluminescence energy is supplied by a chemical reaction between at least two chemicals—one that p…

Your Eyelashes Are Inhabited

Really. Tiny mites live in the roots of your eyelashes. They live head-down, feeding on secretions and dead skin debris.

If you have oily skin, use heavy cosmetics, and don't wash thoroughly you'll be home to a herd of these little beasts. But all of us carry a few Demodicids, no matter how good your hygiene.

An individual female may lay up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, and as the not-so-cuddly mites grow, they become tightly packed. When mature, they leave home, mate, and find a new follicle in which to lay their eggs. The whole cycle takes between 14 to 18 days.


Still, Demodex are harmless and don't transmit diseases, although if you allow big colonies to grow they can cause itching and skin problems.

While what goes up must come down, as they say, but what goes in does not necessarily have to come out. You'll be glad to know these guy's digestive system works so good they don't poop...they don't even have an anal opening. In fact, they help keep our…

Vegas Loser As Gambling Capital

Really. In 2002 China lifted a 40 year monopoly on casinos in Macau, which is poised to exceed $6 billion this year, overtaking Las Vegas as the world's top gambling center. One hour away from Hong Kong by jetfoil ferry, a gambling and tourism explosion brought a record 22 million visitors to Macau last year compared to almost 40 million visitors to las Vegas.

Macau's average take per table is five times the average for Las Vegas thanks to higher stakes. In Vegas, you'll find $1 tables, but in Macau the betting starts at HK$100 (US$12.85). The real action, however, isn't in the HK$300 blackjack or dice games, but VIP baccarat in plush, private rooms. High rollers, known as whales, account for about 80% of Macau's gambling revenue.

Las Vegas high rollers Steve Wynn (Wynn Resorts) and Sheldon Adelson (Sands) are gambling billions on Macau too. Adelson opened a $240 million downtown Sands in May 2004, giving Macau its initial look at Las Vegas glitz. In 2007 he'll o…

You Never Forget A Face

Not Really. But researchers at Vanderbilt University have found that you do remember faces better than other kinds of images.

"Our results show that we can store more faces than other objects in our visual short-term memory," the study's author said. "We believe this happens because of the special way faces are stored in memory. "How much you can fit in a bag depends on how well you pack it. In the same way, our expertise in 'packaging' faces means that we can remember more of them."

Study participants studied up to five faces on a screen. A single face was later presented and participants decided if this was a face that was part of the original display. For a comparison, the process was repeated with other objects, like watches or cars. It turned out that participants were much better identifying correct faces than other objects.

The researchers believe that our experience with faces explains this advantage. This theory is support…

Your Veins Would Stretch 100,000 Miles

Really. An adult has 100,000 miles of blood vessels - enough to stretch around the equator four times.

Most of the blood vessels in the human body are microscopic capillaries. They're short but there are a lot of them - about 40 billion. So, even though they're small, they're so numerous they constitute the majority of the body's 100,000 miles of vessels.

To propel blood on this long journey the heart pumps about 4,000 beats an hour; 100,000 beats a day; 30 million times a year; and 2.5 billion times in a 70 year lifetime. In that period it would have pumped about 1 million barrels of blood - that's enough to fill more than 3 super tankers. Whew!

In view of all that hard work, "have a heart" and treat that life-giving pump well. It sure has done a heck of a job for you.


Cleopatra Was a Dog

Really. Well, lets be more kind and say she didn't exactly look like Elizabeth Taylor. And, to be fair, her Roman lover Mark Anthony was no Richard Burton.

A coin from 32 BC showing the couple's likenesses was recently found in a col­lec­tion of the So­ci­e­ty of An­ti­quar­ies in England. They're shown on ei­ther side of a sil­ver coin about the size of a penny.
To refresh your memory, Cle­o­pat­ra was the last rul­er of Egypt be­fore its con­quest by the Ro­mans in 30 BC. For 2,000 years she's been portrayed in art, plays and movies as a beautiful temptress and Mark An­tho­ny, her Roman paramour, has been depicted as a dashing figure.

“Actually, Ro­man writ­ers tell us that Cle­o­pat­ra was in­tel­li­gent and char­is­mat­ic, and that she had a se­duc­tive voice but, tell­ing­ly, they do not men­tion her beau­ty," said Allison Jones of the Antiquities Society.

Because the coin was from Cleopatra's time, it's probably an accurate likeness. Beside…

Daily Starbursts Release More Energy Than Entire Universe

Really. First detected by a military satellite looking for Russian nuclear tests in space, gamma ray bursts occur somewhere in the universe about once a day. In an instant they release more energy than all the rest of those billions and billions of stars in the universe combined. That's equivalent to our sun's output for 1.3 trillion years or about 88 times the current age of the universe.

The bursts occur in all directions of the sky and last from a few milliseconds to a few hundred seconds. So far scientists do not know what causes them, but suspect the birth of a black hole.

Some very massive stars (at least 30 times more massive than the Sun) can collapse into black holes several million years after they form. The energy released in the formation of the black hole emerges out of the collapsed star in the form of a gamma ray burst—the "collapsar" model.


Earth Target For Extraterrestrial Attack

Really. The Earth is the target of a 20 million ton asteroid named Apophis that's headed this way. and it'll be so close—closer than the moon— we'll be able to see it with the naked eye in both day and night-time. Recent, refined calculations indicate there's a 1-in-45,000 chance that it will hit Earth on April 13th, 2036. Another asteroid, currently with the highest known possibility of impact, has 1-in-600 chance of striking Earth in 2880.

If the asteroids land in the Pacific Ocean (likely, if for no other reason than the Pacific is so large) it could create a huge tsunami that would wreak havoc on Pacific islands and the West Coast of the US. Venezuela and Siberia are possible impact zones for Apophis too.

Previous near-earth asteroids have created a furor in the press, because such an impact could be devastating. But so far the scare has always been unfounded. Still, the day will come. NASA currently lists 127 asteroids that may hit Earth, and soon the number may be …

90% Of Fresh Water Is In Antarctic

Lasers beamed from space have detected lakes of water under 2,300 feet of compressed snow and ice below Antarctic ice.

About 90 percent of the world's fresh water is locked in the thick ice cap that covers Antarctica.

If it all melts it could cause a 20-foot increase in world sea levels. Even a 39-inch sea level rise could cause havoc in coastal and low-lying areas around the globe, according to a World Bank study released this week.

One lake that measured roughly 19 miles by 6 miles caused a 30 foot change in elevation of the snow at the surface when it drained over a period of about 30 months.


You Can Make Paper One Sided

Really. It's called a Mobius Strip.

A normal piece of paper has two sides. You can prove that by coloring it two different colors. Also, if you want to trace a line around it you have to go over an edge - another proof that it has two sides. But just twist it and rejoin it, you have an object with one side - not two. That's a Mobius strip. Like this:
Very weird. Not only can't you color it two different colors but you can trace a line all the way around it without lifting the pencil. (Just imagine the yellow car towing a pencil.) Try that with a regular sheet of paper. How is it possible? Like I said, it has only one side!

Engineers often take advantage of this property when designing drive belts or conveyor belts. If you put a twist in the belt you double the surface area and so it wears out half as fast. Or, thinking of it another way, you don't have the problem of wear on one side or the other because there is only one side! In fact B.F. Goodrich Co. patented the Mo…

The Greenhouse Effect is Good

Really. Without it we would be dead.

The greenhouse effect helps regulate the temperature of our planet. It is essential for life on Earth. Without it we'd all be Popsicles. The temperature of the Earth would be about 32 degrees below freezing -- zero degrees Fahrenheit!

What is the greenhouse effect? Heat from the sun is absorbed by water vapor, carbon dioxide and trace gases. These heated gases then radiate heat back to the planet's surface.

The term, "greenhouse effect" is misleading because a real greenhouse does not behave like the atmosphere. A greenhouse warms like a blanket, suppressing the exchange of air between the inside and outside. As noted, this isn't how the atmosphere keeps the Earth warm. The atmosphere doesn't suppress heat exchange, it helps it.

Our concern isn't that we have a greenhouse effect, but whether it's increasing so much that it is hurting the Earth, our only refuge in the cold universe.


Planet Vaporized In Minutes

Really. The term 'astronomical' evokes images of billions and billions of stars millions of light-years away. But even on the immense scale of the universe, worlds can change in minutes—including ours by the way. Take, if you will, an event observed in 1572 by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe.

Something flared up in the atomic mechanism of a star’s nucleus and it exploded.

Anyone unlucky enough to be visiting one of the star's planets would have seen their local sun swell, not a little but a lot.

Within a quarter of an hour observers would have been forced to seek useless shelter against global warming like we've never dreamed.

In half an hour all life died—except perhaps for some hardy bacteria that managed to survive a bit longer.

After an hour, the seas and ice boiled; after three, rocks melted and mountains crumbled into valleys and melted into lava.

After ten hours, the entire planet was reduced to vapor. All life, all matter was gone.

Traveling at the speed of light, 7500 …

Flying Saucers Headed For Earth

Really! Flying saucers may be headed for our skies, but they won't carry Martians. They'll carry Earthlings.

One of the largest engineering facilities in Europe is launching a major project to design post 2025 airliners. And one of the designs is saucer shaped.

They're trying to design a 125 seat airliner that's the most environmental friendly airplane ever conceived.

Besides a huge reduction in emissions (>50% in CO2, and >80% in NOx), they're also trying to create a craft that will be no louder on takeoff and landing than ambient noise near airports.

The designers know some major breakthrough will be required, that's the idea—to come up with innovative ideas that can stiumulate a breakthrough. Initial thinking is to move away from a traditional cylinder-shaped fuselage to bubble or double-bubble flying saucer shapes.


Space Garbage Explodes

Really. A recent Chinese anti-satellite weapon blew up one of their old weather satellites, and created more than 900 pieces of space garbage. That's a instantaneous 10% increase in the number of tracked objects that's been growing for the last 50 years.

The kinetic-kill impact shattered both objects into thousands of pieces with orbits ranging from 3500 km down to 200 km. The junk threatened all space craft below 2,000 km, including the International Space Station.

To be tracked with today's technology, an object has to be at least 10 cm in diameter. There are an estimated 110,000+ pieces of untracked space debris with diameters more than 1 cm in space, and over 40 million pieces with diameters of more than 1 mm. The debris weighs about 3000 tons and, until this event, was increasing by 2% to 5% every year.

At this rate, nothing will be able to enter earth orbit by 2300 unless the mob decides to get into space trash management too.


Japanese Girls Hate Valentines

Really. Thanks to a concentrated marketing effort, Valentine's Day has emerged in Japan as a day when women are obliged to give chocolate even to people they don't like.

Those who work in offices often feel compelled to give chocolates to all their male co-workers, sometimes at significant personal expense.

This chocolate is known as giri-choko, in Japan, from the words giri ("obligation") and choko, a common short version of chokorēto, meaning "chocolate".

By a further marketing effort, a reciprocal day called White Day has emerged. On March 14, men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine's Day.

Many men, however, give only to their girlfriends. Originally, the return gift was supposed to be white chocolate or marshmallows; hence "White Day". However, men have interpreted the name differently and lingerie has become a common gift.

According to an Internet survey, 70 percent of working women said they would …

Rockets Need to Push Against Something

No. Rockets don't need to push against anything to propel themselves.

Don't feel bad if you got this wrong. We heard one of the stars of "Mythbusters" flub this concept. He calls himself an expert, but this makes us wonder -- an expert at what? He was trying to propel a boat with jets of compressed air. It wasn't working too well so he said he was going to point the jet's blasts toward the water so they would have something to push against.
This seems to make sense. But for 500 years we have known it's wrong, thanks to Isaac Newton's discovery of a principle of nature called Third Law of Motion. This describes the fact of nature that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. You've experienced this if you have every fired a gun and felt a recoil. The bullet is the action andthe push against your shoulder, actually the gun trying to go the opposite direction, is the reaction.

But it doesnt' have anything to do with guns. Exert a …

Some Men Can Nurse Babies

Really. It's generally kept quiet, but the truth is men have all the necessary equipment to produce milk—and on occasion actually do.

In Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, a baby suckles an Englishman aboard a ship. Russian newspaper Pravda reported in 2002 on a 38-year-old man in Sri Lanka who nursed his two daughters through their infancy after his wife died during the birth of her second child.

Medical disruptions involving prolactin, the hormone necessary to produce milk, have resulted in spontaneous lactation in men. Thorazine can cause the overproduction of prolactin, and milk could follow. Lactation is listed as a possible side effect of the heart medication digoxin. A pituitary tumor can also induce milk production.

In a 1995 article for Discover titled "Father's Milk," Pulitzer Prize-winning author and one-time physiologist Jared Diamond notes that nipple stimulation can release prolactin and produce milk.

Males of many different mammalian species have the potential t…

Kold Killer Krater

Really.Planetary scientists have found evidence of a meteor impact in Antarctica much larger and earlier than the one that killed the dinosaurs -- this one wiped out 90 percent of then existing species.The 300-mile-wide crater lies hidden more than a mile beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. And the gravity measurements that reveal its existence suggest that it could date back about 250 million years -- the time of the Permian Triassic Extinction.This impact was much bigger than the impact that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. That crater near Mexico is 6 miles wide, while the Antarctic meteor could have been up to 30 miles wide -- four or five times wider.
This event, that scientists call "The Great Dying" was much worse than the extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. No class of life was spared from the devastation. Trees, plants, lizards, proto-mammals, insects, fish, mollusks, and microbes -- all were nearly wiped out. Roughly 9 in 10 marine…

One Million Second Camera Exposure

Really. Back in 2004 when the Hubble telescope took the immediately famous Ultra Deep Field image, it required over 800 21 minutes exposures taken over a 4 month period and 400 orbits. That's 1,000,000 second exposure.

Collecting photons for that long period, the telescope's Advanced Camera For Surveys (ACS) was able to see back to within 5% of the beginning of time, the Big Bang. The youngest galaxies visible in the image (circled) emerged about 800 million years after the Big Bang. Over 10,000 galaxies appear in the Hubble image.

In order to take images of distant, faint objects, Hubble must be extremely steady and point very accurately. The telescope is able to lock onto a target without deviating more than 7/1000th of an arcsecond, or about the width of a human hair seen at a distance of 1 mile. That's the same as keeping a laser pointer steady on a dime that's 200 miles away.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field is called a "pencil beam" survey because the observati…

Hospitals - A Leading Killer of Americans

Really. Infections contracted in hospitals kill more people annually than auto accidents and homicides combined.

Yes, it's dangerous to go to hospitals. About one in 20 patients experience a hospital-acquired infection each year. That translates into 2 million people – 90,000 of whom die each year.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the risk of getting infected in a hospital has jumped 36 percent in the last 20 years.
Experts say patients treated at major teaching centers are often more likely to pick up an infection because those centers treat a high population of patients who are sicker and weaker. For instance, a 2001 study at 60 hospitals nationwide showed that a resistant strain of an intestinal bacteria known as VRE was found at 12.6 percent of the teaching hospitals, compared with 5.6 percent of nonteaching hospitals. Here are some tips from the CDC to avoid infection if you are hospitalized.


Stem Cells Do It All

Really. Stem cells can change into any mature cell type offering therapies with the potential to radically change the treatment of human disease including leukemia, cancer, parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, and muscle damage, among others. Neural stem cells injected into mice, for example, can repair brain cells damaged by a disease similar to multiple sclerosis (MS).

But in spite of the stem cell's promise of cures for hundreds of thousands of suffers, there exists a great deal of resistance to the work based entirely on unfounded religious grounds.

The controversy over the research stems from the techniques used in the creation and usage of stem cells. Some claim that undifferentiated individual pre-embryonic cells are maybe, perhaps, potential human beings—ignoring the plight those thousands of actual human beings who, without stems cell therapy, may become ex-human beings. Others worry the research will lead to reproductive cloning and eventual creation of human b…

Eak, Drink And Be Mary

Really. What you eat and drink really won't affect your longevity that much, but being a woman helps.

Many variables are involved in the relationship between diet and health, but research is beginning to show that it may be more important to increase the number and amount of healthy foods you eat than it is to reduce less healthy foods.

What's more, heart disease and cancer are significantly increased by viral and bacterial infections, job stress and even sleep loss. Most diet changes produce only small, inconsistent effects. And what may be harmful to one person can be eaten without worry by another.

So quit smoking, exercise, eat and drink whatever you want in moderation. And count your lucky stars if you're female.


Mini Cooper Races On Mars

Well, not exactly. But in 2010 NASA is sending the Mars Science Laboratory to Mars, and its size and shape is about the same as a Mini Cooper.

But unlike the Mini, the Mars Science Laboratory will have six wheels and cameras mounted on a mast. And it will carry a laser to vaporize rock so it can analyze the composition of the material. (That might be handy in rush-hour traffic!)

It will also be able to collect and crush rock and soil samples and distribute them to on-board test chambers designed to identify organic compounds essential to life. It will also be able to identify gases that may be associated with biological activity.

With recent sign of running water on Mars, it's becoming more and more likely we'll find signs of life there if we look properly. This baby may be the one that finds clear signs of Martians.

Wouldn't a fossil be cool?


Forgetful? Add A Memory Chip To Your Noggin

Really. Researchers are working on a computer chip that, implanted in your brain, could repair broken memory cicuits.

At the turn of the century (2000 that is) scientists at Duke University wired a monkey so its thoughts could control a robotic arm. More recently researchers at the University of Tübingen used brain waves to help paralyzed patients move a computer cursor. Now the folks at USC have developed a so-called "neural prosthesis" to mimic biological neurons.

The chip replaced a surgically removed section of a rat's brain and with 90% accuracy it converted incoming nerve signals into the correct output signals.

Maybe someday they'll have a chip that helps you selectively forget?


Earth's neighbors Are Leaving

Really. Thanks to the expansion of the universe and a push from dark energy space is emptying out leaving our galaxy and its neighbors more and more isolated.

Ever since the days of Edwin Hubble (late '20s) we've known that most galaxies are moving away from us; and the farther away they are, the faster they're going. We also know now, contrary to previous ideas, the expansion is accelerating—there's no Big Crunch in our future.

But interestingly, as dark energy continues to push everything apart there are distant galaxies that are receding so fast that we'll lose sight of them forever. (No they aren't exceeding the speed of light, they're riding the expanding Universe. And no the Universe isn't expanding "into" anything in the same way there is nothing north of the North Pole.).

As the Universe expands galaxy clusters, galaxies, and eventually stars themselves will have a gravitational influence on pretty much nothing but themselves.


Angels Make The Stars Move

That's foolishness. But when my 7 year-old grandson showed a little neighbor girl a satellite passing overhead her reaction was to say. "You must be an angel because you can make the stars move." While I'd like to think she was being poetic, I'm more inclined to view it as a sad commentary on our times.

A Fox News poll revealed that 79% of Americans believe in angels. A more recent AP-AOL poll says it's more like 81%. They didn't inquire about fairies or invisible friends.
My grandson certainly has a lot of the characteristics ascribed to angels, especially the parts related to flying. But he's smart enough to go on-line, find the (unfortunately named) Heavens-Above website, find a schedule for the evening satellite traffic, and knows where the azimuth and elevation data tells him to look.

If I know his Dad, he's going to grow up among the ~20% with a firmer grip on reality.


Bacteria Can Take A Lickin' And Keep On Tickin'

Really. A German team put a thin layer of microbes between two sheets of rock and then blew them up with explosives that generated a shock wave that exposed the bugs to pressures equivalent to 500,000 Earth atmospheres. A bacterial spore and a type of lichen survived the over 7,000,000 psi blast.

So? Well, there's a theory going 'round that life on Earth actually originated on Mars, and it (they?) came to Earth on meteorites—rocks blasted off the surface of Mars. But opponents of the idea have always argued that the pressures involved in an impact big enough to blast stuff of the surface and into space would have killed any life they carried.

Dieter Stoffler at the Fraunhofer Institute for High Speed Dynamics in Friedburg, Germany put the idea to a test. And he found out that those little rascals, so successful here on Earth could have survived the ride.