Space isn't going to be anywhere near as interesting as it's been for the last six months once Cmdr. Chris Hadfield returns from the International Space Station. He's picked up 750,000 followers on his Twitter account, and today he participated in "Music Monday," in which he led Canadian schoolchildren in a sing-along in support of music education in schools.
Hadfield has become a space superstar largely by not emphasizing what's "out there," but, instead, what's right here on Earth.
On Saturday, he sent this picture of the Twin Cities.
Here's the annotated version (click image for a larger version):
For the rest of this week, Hadfield is exploring one of the human senses each day. Today: hearing.
Hadfield returns to Terra Firma a week from today.
The black-white racial segregation of Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, via the Urban Institute. Blue = higher concentration of whites, red = higher concentration of blacks.
New research suggests that segregation -- by both race and skill set -- drags down economic growth of entire metropolitan areas. Notice I said entire areas.
Segregation doesn't just affect the poor core of a city, the study says, it hurts wealthy families in the suburbs as well.
Harrison Campbell, an associate professor of geography at UNC-Charlotte and one of the studies authors, told Emily Badger of theatlanticcities.com:
"The argument that we're trying to make here is that there is reason for everybody in metropolitan areas to be concerned about skills, about education, about housing, about segregation, about integration."
Nationwide, segregation has been on the decline since the 1970s. But the new research suggests that its impact on metropolitan areas has gotten worse.
There's myriad reasons why, including jobs being geographically distant from segregated communities. Badger writes:
Metropolitan economies rely on labor of all kinds, often side-by-side, with high-end architects alongside plumbers, office towers near cab stands, and biotech inventors with security guards. But when low-wage workers pay an out-sized chunk of their paycheck just getting to work, or when suburban office parks locate beyond the reach of public transit, those inefficient patterns start to affect whole regional economies.
And most interestingly, Badger writes that skill and racial segregation prevents innovations that might occur when people who are not alike interact with each other.
So what's to be done? The study calls for affirmative-action style transportation policies for low-resource communities. That wouldn't necessarily change the underlying segregation, Badger writes, but it could increase access to opportunity.(0 Comments)
Imidacloprid, the world's most widely used insecticide, is wiping out dragonflies, snails and other species not meant to be killed by the product, a new study says.
The insecticide is used not on crops, but rather to treat fleas and and other pests in cattle, dogs and cats and ends up in surface water, The Guardian reports.
Big deal, right? Well, yeah. It is a big deal.
More from The Guardian (emphasis mine):
The research ... found that 70% less invertebrate species were found in water polluted with the insecticide compared to clean water. There were also far fewer individuals of each species in the polluted water. "This is the first study to show this happens in the field," van der Sluijs said.
As well as killing mayflies, midges and molluscs, the pollution could have a knock-on effect on birds such as swallows that rely on flying insects for food, he added.
It's not the first time Imidacloprid has been indicted for something like this. Last year, a Harvard study cited it as a likely cause in the sharp decline in honeybee colonies.
Our attempts to change ecosystems have unforeseen consequences, it seems.
(h/t Reddit)(3 Comments)
A Florida teen, known among school staff for her stellar record at Bartow High School, was a little too curious on Monday morning.
WTSP reports Kiera Wilmot is accused of mixing household chemicals in a small water bottle, which caused a small explosion. She was expelled, arrested, and then charged with possession/discharge of a weapon on school property and discharging a destructive device.
Enter Andrew Thaler, a deep-sea biologist, came to Wilmot's defense by asking his Twitter followers to recount all the things they've blown up over the years:
Which brings us to the question, dear readers: What did YOU blow up in high school science class, and were there are consequences?(2 Comments)
It's hitting the 70s today and ice and snow is mostly a distant memory. But one Minnesota man can't get enough of the Antarctica-like conditions of spring. So he's in Antarctica.
Braedan McCluskey, a western Minnesota kid, is a graduate student in biology at the University of Oregon, studying the evolution of gene regulation.
Apparently, Antarctica is a good place to do that by studying bone loss in fish.
After a week-long boat trip, he's arrived at Palmer Station, on the northern tip of Antarctica, where it's currently 30 degrees, the wind is blowing at 30 mph, and the landscape looks a lot like Minnesota did until recently (here's a webcam).
He's documenting his endeavor on the blog, Brady In Antarctica: A Boat, A Pole, And Some Fish.
He may well be the only Minnesotan able to muster a smile this week while surrounded by snow, ice, and clouds.
(h/t: Steve Hemmingsen )(2 Comments)
When should nature be left to take its course?
That's a question that may surface with today's announcement that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is going to "control" cormorants on Lake Vermilion.
The cormorants aren't an endangered species. But they're messing up the fish population of walleye and yellow perch by... fishing for them.
Fewer perch are being caught in survey nets, the DNR says, so the cormorants must go.
How? It's in today's press release:
The proposed control will consist of culling 10 percent of the adult birds present and oiling the eggs of all nesting pairs. Oiling prevents the eggs from hatching. Together, this approach controls existing numbers of birds, eliminates new production and reduces fish consumption that would have occurred from feeding and raising young birds. This initial control strategy will be monitored for effectiveness by measuring perch abundance in annual netting surveys and counting the number of nesting pairs of cormorants each year.
A DNR official says the action is necessary to keep future walleye populations up.
A couple of years ago, two Minnesota congressmen proposed legislation to further control cormorants.
That brought a response from Linda Wires, a research fellow at the University of Minnesota's Dept. Of Fisheries, Wildlife & Conservation Biology, who says the cormorant has a "PR problem," and is the victim of "a long culture of hatred."
But maybe fishermen could figure out a way to get the birds on their side, like some in China have.
Cormorants are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Like bald eagles, cormorants were once in danger because of pesticide use. And, like bald eagles, their numbers are rising because the pesticides were banned.
But let this be a lesson to you, bald eagles: Lay off the walleye and yellow perch.(7 Comments)
The Canadian Space Agency has just released this video of the photography of International Space Station Cmdr. Chris Hadfield.
If they'd stuck him up there years ago, there still might be more public support for manned space flight. Singlehandedly, it seems, Hadfield has made space cool again.(0 Comments)
Maggie Koerth-Baker is going to be on MPR's Daily Circuit tomorrow to talk about last evening's tragic explosion of a fertilizer plant in Texas.
But -- spoiler alert -- in her Boing Boing column today, she gets to the nuts and bolts about ammonium nitrate fertilizer.
In fact, since the 1950s, ammonium nitrate-based explosives have basically supplanted the older dynamite explosives used in mining and other industries, precisely because they are so much safer and harder to detonate. Ammonium nitrate isn't even classed as an explosive, Oxley said.
"It's very difficult to get it to detonate at a reasonable scale," she said. "You can toss 50 pounds of it in the back of your car and it will do nothing. With something like dynamite even a gram or two is highly explosive."
But, obviously, ammonium nitrate does explode sometimes. So what makes those circumstances different?
The most important factor is how much ammonium nitrate you have. Fifty pounds ain't nothing. But a couple hundred tons of the stuff is a different story. If that huge amount of ammonium nitrate also catches on fire ... then you have a problem.
It's a great column, which you can find here.
Coincidentally, the worst industrial accident in U.S. history occurred in Texas City, Texas 66 years ago Wednesday. It involved ammonium nitrate.(1 Comments)
The social sites were buzzing with the reports of thundersnow in the region today.
With many schools closed, it provides an opportunity to catch up on science studies, courtesy of NASA.
What causes thundersnow?
For meteorologists, it's like seeing a double rainbow.(1 Comments)
Voyager is gone.
With little fanfare, only a press release from the American Geophysical Union, Voyager 1 has left the solar system.
The next stop in whatever is out there is a star called AC +793888, but you won't know when it pulls within two light years of it. Neither will your kids, grandchildren, great grandchildren or anyone else who might have known you existed because that will be tens of thousands of years from now.
Which is pretty remarkable when you think that even though the planet may not still be here (or at least the people on it ), this thing that we built might still be whizzing along out there. And even more remarkable that we built in the 1970s, a decade known for cheap junk that didn't work long.
If intelligent life ever finds it, they'll also find an audio disk on it carrying photos of earth, some scientific information, greetings from presidents and people who are now dead and a medley of music including whales, Mozart, Blind Willie Johnson, Louis Armstrong and Chuck Berry -- artists who might be a mystery to many of the people on the planet now.
Earthlings, pardon me for a moment while I address the species who will someday receive the Internet signals after passing through multiple galaxies, only to find this NewsCut post amid the clattering of cosmic noise.
Can your planetary system do this?
Now back to my friends on terra firma. This, of course, is the Pan-STARRS, which had its best night for viewing last night and Tuesday night, when it could be seen with the naked eye. It has appeared each night in the west a bit after sunset, but only for a bit.
Of course, most people in Minnesota couldn't see it because of the clouds.
Wired.com has some more vids here.(1 Comments)
Been looking through the seed catalogs to help get you through the last days of winter? Here's something you should think about planting this year: milkweed.
At least, if you think this is cool:
The Monarch butterfly population has plunged to its lowest level in its Mexico wintering grounds in years. Where they once covered 50 acres, they now cover about three. Their numbers have dropped in half since 2011.
Whose fault? Drought and heat are in for some of the blame. But the Midwest farmer seems to be the likely culprit.
The Midwest milkweed habitat is "virtually gone," according to Chip Taylor, director of the conservation group Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas. Most of that is because of the increase in the amount of acreage for crop production. Wildlife officials also blame increased use of pesticide and herbicide.
Monarch larvae appear to feed exclusively on milkweed.(7 Comments)
Did someone say "same-sex marriage study?"
We've got a new one.
Danish researchers report today that men in same-sex marriages are living longer. But it also says mortality rates among married lesbians have begun to rise after a long period of decline.
The Los Angeles Times has it:
"Our study expands on century-old knowledge that married people generally have lower mortality than unmarried and divorced persons," wrote the lead author, Dr. Morten Frisch, a professor of epidemiology at Aalborg University. "From a public health viewpoint it is important to try and identify those underlying factors and mechanisms."
Researchers found that marriage in and of itself did not ensure low mortality during the period studied. For instance, opposite-sex married couples who lived apart faced a two-fold increase in their mortality rate.
Also, heterosexual men and women saw a steep jump in their mortality rate during the study period if they were married two or more times. The rate increased 27% for women with each successive marriage, and it increased 16% for men.
Same-sex unions have been legal in Denmark since 1989. Since that time, however, mortality rates have changed greatly among homosexual men and women.
There's a fair amount of guesswork in the study. The authors say the decline in longevity for married lesbians, for example, may be due to some unseen greater risk of breast cancer.
They also note that homosexual couples were less than 1 percent of the study sample.(3 Comments)
Chris Hadfield, a flight engineer on the International Space Station at the moment, continues to prove he is -- as I described last month -- "the coolest astronaut in history."
He already owns Twitter and Facebook, he recorded a new song from space with the Barenaked Ladies, and done a live skit for a comedy show on TV. And now he's performed live in concert with the Chieftains, who have just released this video of their Houston performance.
He's set to take over as commander of the ISS tomorrow, although the Ottawa Citizen reports he seems more excited about another achievement; he just went over 500,000 followers on Twitter.
James Robert Deaner, of Grand Valley State University, was setting out to find if there was a link between a hockey player's facial shape and aggression and where he was drafted in the National Hockey League draft, when he discovered something else: There's an apparent link between the month in which they were born and their selection position in the draft.
According to Wired.com:
They found that, on average, NHL draftees born between July and December comprised 34 percent of those drafted, but played in 42 percent of the games and scored 44 percent of the points. On the other hand, those born in the first three months of the same year comprised 36 percent of drafted players but played in just 28 percent of games and scored 25 percent of the points.
The researchers focused on Canadian players because Canadian youth leagues assign players by age, with a December 31 cut-off date. That makes it easier to compare players who are the same age but were born at different times of the year.
If you're a parent, you probably know this scenario because it's hotly debated in education. Is the younger child able to keep up with the older children when they start school, or is it best to wait a year?
Freakonomics considered this question more than a year ago in its piece, "The Disadvantage of Summer Babies."
It reported on a study of European soccer players:
Forty-three percent of players were born in the first three months of the year, while only 9 percent were born in the final three months. Children who are a few months older than their peers at 5 or 6 have more developed cognitive and motor skills, which makes them more advanced athletes and students. This early advantage can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies later on: the child thinks she is an underachiever, and so will often play that role.
Or maybe it's all just random luck. It's a tough gamble for parents who aren't as interested in whether their kid becomes a professional hockey or soccer player, but just want to know whether to wait to start a younger kid in school.
For this, we defer to J.L. Cook and G. Cook, authors of Child Development Principles and Perspectives:
The research evidence does not argue strongly for older entry ages. Some studies indicate a small advantage for some skills for older children, but the difference fades within the first few years of schooling. For most skills studied, schooling has a significantly stronger effect than age, and younger children at a grade level benefit from schooling as much as older children (Oshima & Domaleski, 2006; Stipek, 2002). There also may be some risks for children who are older than their classmates because of delayed entry. These children show more behavior problems than younger children at the same grade level, with some studies finding that the difference increases over time while others show no long-term disadvantages (Byrd, Weitzman, & Auinger, 1997; Lincove & Painter, 2006; Mayer & Knutson, 1999).
In other words: On this question, a parent has to resort to gut instinct. Kind of like people drafting hockey players do.(3 Comments)
The story out of Florida today is a horrific one. A man was in his
bad bed around 11 p.m., when the earth opened up and swallowed him. Jeffrey Bush, 37, is presumed dead below his home near Tampa.
Sinkholes are common in Florida, where the limestone dissolves and can no longer hold the weight above.
But people don't usually die. Anthony Randazzo, who makes his living detecting and sealing sinkholes, told USA Today he can recall only two deaths in 40 years -- both were in Florida and both were people drilling water wells at the time.
The largest sinkhole witnessed by a person in the U.S. was this:
It happened in 1981 when Mae Rose Williams looked out the window of her home in Winter Park, Florida and saw her sycamore disappear. She had time to get her family out before her house went, too. Over the next few days, a dozen businesses -- including a car dealership -- and the city swimming pool succumbed to the 110-foot-deep hole.
Google Earth reveals it is now a lake. Lake Rose.
Some sections of Minnesota are susceptible to sinkholes. The Karst region -- southeast Minnesota -- lies on top of limestone in some places. Fountain, Minnesota, in fact, billed itself as the "Sinkhole Capital of the World."
But it's not just the southeastern end of the state that is susceptible. Some years ago -- nine, to be exact -- MPR reporter Stephanie Hemphill visited Askova, Minnesota in the northeastern part of the state, where sinkholes dot the landscape. At the time, residents were concerned one was too close to the town's sewage treatment plant for comfort.
But none of the sinkholes in this neck of the woods appears to be anywhere near as threatening as what happened in Florida.
A new report by the Guttmacher Institute shows teen pregnancy rates in 2008 were highest in New Mexico, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona. The lowest rates were in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Minnesota and North Dakota.
Laura Lindberg, a researcher at the institute, cited increased contraception use as the main reason for an overall decline in teen pregnancies.
"By contrast, there has been less change in teens' levels of sexual activity," she said in this news release.
So what's the story with North Dakota? "It's not by having such great sex ed, contraception access, and abortion providers," Lindberg told Slate blogger Amanda Hess.
No — North Dakota has one Planned Parenthood in a 700,000 square-mile state. Seventy-five percent of North Dakotans live in counties with no abortion provider. State law mandates abstinence-only education in its schools. And just this month, North Dakota State University president Dean Bresciani attempted to freeze federal funding for two of his own professors to stop them from starting a comprehensive sex ed program for at-risk Fargo teens.
So the key then? This, like so many changes in the state I call home, can be traced back to the incredible oil boom in the western part of the state.
The explosion of fracking has created thousands of North Dakota jobs and imported single young men by the truckload to fill them. That's helped the state perform better on two major indicators of teen pregnancy: Rates go down in places with low economic inequality and a high ratio of men to women. You might think there would be higher rates of teen pregnancy with more seed floating around, but research suggests that women are more likely to delay pregnancy when they perceive future opportunities to climb the social and economic ranks — to get an education, a job, and a committed partner who benefits from the same.
Hess cautions that while the influx of job-seeking males helps explain the low teen pregnancy rate, it's not the only factor. One other big one: There are just not a lot of people in North Dakota.
The population of teen moms is so low — the state recorded 666 births to teen mothers in 2008 — that "you could invite them all to the governor's mansion for lunch," [Lindberg] says. Spread those pregnancies over 70,000 miles, and it's "not enough to make it a part of the culture."
-- Nate Minor(4 Comments)
There are no molecules in space, being a vacuum and all, so sound can't travel. Now scientists have created a satellite out of a smartphone to see if that's really true.
The engineers at the University of Surrey's Space Centre and Surrey Satellite Technology made the satellite out of a Google Nexus phone. It was launched, along with six other satellites, in India today.
And, again, we see the new face of space pioneers in this live feed from the Strand-1 mission control center.
The satellite, err, phone, will take pictures and post them on this Facebook page.
It will also scream in space. Or, more accurately, play the scream of terrestrials, who uploaded them via the Internet.
Like this one from a sixth-grade class...
Or this from science teacher Richard Barrington of California.
Mr. Barrington, by the way, died not long after being one of the winning entries in the "scream in space" contest.
Anyway, during the mission, the screams will be played by the phone and monitor whether anything comes out of the onboard speaker.2 Comments)
Of all the differences between males and females, one's throwing ability is perhaps the most catch phrase-able:
"You throw like a GIRL."
But it's more than just men's physical strength that leads to this disparity, argues sociologist Lisa Wade.
We know that the difference emerges at puberty, suggesting that sheer size might have something to do with it. But the fact that boys and men, on average, get much more practice throwing than women might also play a role. How to test this?
Well, here's one way: compare men and women throwing with their non-dominant hand. Muscle memory doesn't transfer from one side of the body to the other. Accordingly, since most people have a lot of practice throwing only with one hand, comparing the throws of men and women using their non-dominant hand might tell us something interesting.
And cue the video:
--Nate Minor(3 Comments)
If last evening's meteor in Siberia has you yearning to take a look at what happens when a meteorite hits earth, you can save yourself some time and just head up north in Minnesota.
On the Gunflint Trail a few years ago, geologist Mark Jirsa of the Minnesota Geological Survey found debris from a meteorite that hit Sudbury, Ontario. The impact created a crater 150 miles wide, and scattered rock over a million square miles.
The "impact layer" is a mix of fragments that were broken from the iron and cemented together by the effect of the impact.
Mr. Jirsa said the Gunflint was probably a shallow sea when the meteorite hit, setting off a tsunami that ripped up the sea bottom, and mixed them with rocks that fell from the sky.
Only to eventually become part of the fireplace at Gunflint Lodge. Oh, and Minnesota itself.
When the meteorite hit, the temperature is estimated to have reached 10,000 degrees.
A timetable in his report says that 13 seconds after the meteorite hit Sudbury (500 miles away), the fireball erupted at Gunflint Lake. The airborne rain of rocks hit 5 to 10 minutes later, and 40 minutes after that, wind speeds hit 1,400 mph.
"I think the excitement for the people of Minnesota is that we are one place in the world where you can see evidence of an ancient meteorite impact," University of Minnesota geology professor emeritus Paul Weiblen said of the report, which he co-authored.(3 Comments)
This is what an exploding meteor looks like...
The first seismometer is located near Kurchatov, Kazakhstan; the second in Borovoye, Kazakhstan.
The meteor was traveling an estimated 33,000 miles per hour. That's a lot of energy converted to a shock wave.
Enough, so it appears, to register in South Dakota's Black Hills, too.
NASA said today before it entered our atmosphere, it was only 50 feet wide.
Meanwhile, here's some live coverage of the flyby of the asteroid that got away. This time.
The day Asteroid #2012DA14 hits Earth it will likely explode in our atmosphere, with 1000x the power of Hiroshima atomic bomb— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) February 15, 2013
Here's my theory: The bigger public spectacle you make of your wedding proposal, the shorter your marriage.
Here's the article in the Toronto Star with today's front-page proposal. Any minute now we'll find out whether she says "yes."
Update 12:49 p.m. - She said "yes," but now the best part of the story is she doesn't subscribe to the paper.
The soon-to-be commander of the International Space Station sent this picture today of the supply ship launched from Kazakhstan yesterday, heading for the ISS. In the foreground is the Soyuz capsule that will take the returning astronauts back to the planet at some point.
Usually, it takes two days for robot ships to reach the ISS, but this one did it in six hours.
From aboard the ISS, astronaut Oleg Novitsky guided the ship in.
Question to ponder: Who won the "space race"?
Earlier this month, a NASA official insisted space is still a "top priority" for the United States.
"If you total up every other space agency on the planet today -- Russia, China, Japan, all of Europe, Canada, South America -- they equal three-quarters of NASA's budget," Lori Garver, the agency's deputy administrator said. "So don't believe that America has turned its back on our civil space program."
The U.S. is turning much of its orbital business to private groups while it works on technology to land on an asteroid.(5 Comments)
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield may be close to the coolest person ever to go into space.
Hadfield, who is the next commander on the International Space Station, posts streams of pictures on his Facebook and Twitter page (ignoring requests for shots of Minnesota, but we're letting that slide for now), conducted a live chat with Captain Kirk this week, and now has joined the group Barenaked Ladies.
"Chris and I were able to write a song together while he was training in Russia for the mission that he's currently on and then we were able to record the song with him in space. It's really incredible when you think about it," Barenaked Ladies Ed Robertson told CBC News.(9 Comments)
Times might be tough for the Minnesota moose but it's fat city for the state's eagles. The state now has more bald eagles than any of the lower 48 states.
The DNR has found one that it's keeping an eye on, unveiling the Eagle Cam.
Curiously, this eagle has already laid three eggs. The DNR says it did so in January, about two months earlier than normal.
Eggs are incubated about 35 days, which puts the hatching any day now.(4 Comments)
Here's something you have less of a chance seeing now than a year ago: moose in Minnesota.
Today, the Department of Natural Resources canceled the Minnesota moose hunt after an aerial survey showed a dramatic drop in the moose population.
The survey showed a population decline of 35 percent in the past year, and 52 percent in the last two years.
"This is further and definitive evidence the population is not healthy. It reaffirms the conservation community's need to better understand why this iconic species of the north is disappearing from our state," DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said in a news release.
It's clear researchers and scientists don't understand it and didn't last spring when they said a limited moose hunt wouldn't make much difference.
"I don't think it'll matter at all," Rolf Peterson, a researcher and chair of the state's moose advisory committee told the Pioneer Press back then. The theory was that hunting isn't what's leading to the moose decline, but they don't know what is.
Some people think it's wolves. Others think it's parasites from deer. Still others think it may have something to do with climate change. Moose don't sweat and when the temperature reaches above 80, it's tough on a moose.
It's unclear, though, whether the lack of a hunting season will make any difference in restoring the moos population. Faced with a similar outlook a year ago, the DNR said it wouldn't because only bulls are killed.
It's not just Minnesota. Wyoming and Montana are seeing the same situation. They're guessing the Yellowstone fires in 1988 had something to do with it.
But more people are beginning to think most of the possibilities point back to a warming state. According to the National Wildlife Federation:
Average winter temperatures in northwestern Minnesota have climbed about 12 degrees F during the past 40 years, and average summer temperatures have increased 4 degrees F. Researchers believe the warmer temperatures have stressed the moose, making them more vulnerable to parasites spread by a deer herd that has been booming, primarily because of a decade of mild winters. Those parasites--liver flukes and brain worms to which deer are less vulnerable--weaken moose and apparently contribute to chronic malnutrition. As a major cause of moose mortality, the parasites may explain the lower reproduction rates. "A variety of factors may be contributing to the decline, but ultimately I think the real driving force is the climate," says Dennis Murray, a professor at Trent University in Ontario and main author of the moose study. "The climate change is tipping the balance."
The puzzling thing is: It's not happening in other places where the planet is warming. In Maine, for example, the moose aerial survey reported 76,000 moose in the state. That's a huge number, though up until that state started surveying using helicopters, it was mostly an educated guess..
In Maine, moose are big business, so the response to the news the population is healthy has led to a predictable movement in the state to allow more of them to be killed.(2 Comments)
Remember that video a year ago about two women who stumbled into a bird ballet -- technically, a murmuration -- while canoeing?
It happened again with a lucky video camera rolling. Apparently it happens every November and February.
The latest episode occurred in Marseille, France at the airport of Provence.
It was 27 years ago today that the Challenger exploded. In some ways, it marked the beginning of the end of America's human space exploration era in which it launched its own citizens into space.
President Reagan gave a memorable speech that night, invoking images of patriotism and openness...
But an investigation would reveal the contributing cause of the accident was "flaws in the decision-making process." For many people, that was a bureaucratic way of saying "incompetence" and/or "political pressure."
Physicist Richard Feynman dissented from the presidential commission's conclusions:
If a reasonable launch schedule is to be maintained, engineering often cannot be done fast enough to keep up with the expectations of originally conservative certification criteria designed to guarantee a very safe vehicle. In these situations, subtly, and often with apparently logical arguments, the criteria are altered so that flights may still be certified in time. They therefore fly in a relatively unsafe condition, with a chance of failure of the order of a percent (it is difficult to be more accurate).
Official management, on the other hand, claims to believe the probability of failure is a thousand times less. One reason for this may be an attempt to assure the government of NASA perfection and success in order to ensure the supply of funds. The other may be that they sincerely believed it to be true, demonstrating an almost incredible lack of communication between themselves and their working engineers.
In any event this has had very unfortunate consequences, the most serious of which is to encourage ordinary citizens to fly in such a dangerous machine, as if it had attained the safety of an ordinary airliner. The astronauts, like test pilots, should know their risks, and we honor them for their courage. Who can doubt that McAuliffe was equally a person of great courage, who was closer to an awareness of the true risk than NASA management would have us believe?
Let us make recommendations to ensure that NASA officials deal in a world of reality in understanding technological weaknesses and imperfections well enough to be actively trying to eliminate them. They must live in reality in comparing the costs and utility of the Shuttle to other methods of entering space. And they must be realistic in making contracts, in estimating costs, and the difficulty of the projects. Only realistic flight schedules should be proposed, schedules that have a reasonable chance of being met. If in this way the government would not support them, then so be it. NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources.
For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.(6 Comments)
For the few people who still need proof the planet is warming, NASA is complying today.
In a strongly worded release announcing 2012 was the ninth-warmest year on record on terra firma, NASA said one year doesn't mean much, but the the continuing warming of the planet is now a sure thing.
Scientists emphasize that weather patterns cause fluctuations in average temperatures from year to year, but the continued increase in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere assures that there will be a long-term rise in global temperatures. Each individual year will not necessarily be warmer than the previous year, but scientists expect each decade to be warmer than the previous decade.
"One more year of numbers isn't in itself significant," GISS climatologist Gavin Schmidt said. "What matters is this decade is warmer than the last decade, and that decade was warmer than the decade before. The planet is warming. The reason it's warming is because we are pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere."6 Comments)
Thirty-three more people have died from the flu in Minnesota, MPR reports today, which is a lot. But it's not unusual.
MPR's Lorna Benson says the fact Minnesota could record the highest number of deaths in five years may be more a testament to how mild the flu season has been in recent years, as opposed to how severe this flu season his.
What's fascinating, however, is what's going on when the germ hits your innards. Consider this video from NPR's Robert Krulwich. It's almost hard to hate the flu when you realize the amazing things it does.
How bad is the air in China? NASA released this image today, showing the pollution from space.
At the time that this Jan. 14 image was taken by satellite, ground-based sensors at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing reported PM2.5 measurements of 291 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Fine, airborne particulate matter (PM) that is smaller than 2.5 microns (about one thirtieth the width of a human hair) is considered dangerous because it is small enough to enter the passages of the human lungs. Most PM2.5 aerosol particles come from the burning of fossil fuels and biomass (wood fires and agricultural burning). The World Health Organization considers PM2.5 to be safe when it is below 25.
Also at the time of the image, the air quality index (AQI) in Beijing was 341. An AQI above 300 is considered hazardous to all humans, not just those with heart or lung ailments. AQI below 50 is considered good. On January 12, the peak of the current air crisis, AQI was 775 the U.S Embassy Beijing Air Quality Monitor--off the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scale--and PM2.5 was 886 micrograms per cubic meter.
The close-up is pretty impressive, too (Photo: Getty Images)
Can it affect the U.S.? Yes, in about five days according to one expert.
Kim Prather, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told CBS a year ago that the more pollution from China, the less precipitation in the U.S.(3 Comments)
NASA's just-released video is cool enough to almost make you remember when the moon was a mysterious place that could make you want to learn more about it.
The GRAIL mission consisted to of two satellites which flew in formation at very low altitudes over the moon for almost a year, until NASA ran both of 'em into the ground up there last month.
Unfortunately, that part wasn't included in this week's video release.(1 Comments)
Students at Dartmouth have answered a poorly done European video that purported to show that science and women are made for each other. The European video was clearly the brainchild of some guys. Not this one.
Men still outnumber men in science faculty at the nation's higher education institutions. And Nature Magazine's list of 10 people in science who mattered this year listed only three women.
But one was Jo Handelsman, a microbiologist whose research this year exposed the unconscious bias against women in science, the magazine reported.
Handelsman, a microbiologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, asked more than 100 scientists to evaluate applications from undergraduate students seeking a job as a laboratory manager -- often a stepping stone to graduate school. Unbeknown to the researchers, the students were fictitious. But the prejudice that Handelsman uncovered was not. On average, researchers who received 'John's' resume said that they would offer an annual salary of US$30,238; those who read an identical resume from 'Jennifer' offered just $26,508.
Chemists, physicists and biologists -- men and women alike -- also rated Jennifer as less competent than John and expressed less interest in mentoring her. "There was simply one treatment and one variable, and there's no escape from the conclusion," says Handelsman. This type of bias could be one factor holding back female scientists, she says.
(h/t: Boston Globe)(3 Comments)
I'm generally not a huge fan of Gangnam Style parody videos but this latest one seems to confirm that sometime, somehow, rocket scientists became the cool kids.
Oh, by the way, these folks are going to crash two spacecraft into the moon today, which is -- you know -- cool.
It was 40 years ago today that Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt became the last men to walk on the moon. Even then, space flight and moon walks were starting to get to be ho-hum affairs, but people still recognized the name Gene Cernan.
He was one of only 12 humans to walk on the moon. He's the only human who approached a moon landing twice (his first, Apollo 10, was a test of the lunar lander, but it did not land).
He's almost 79 now and pretty soon, there won't be any humans alive who've walked on the moon, and not quite as soon -- we hope -- there won't be any humans on terra firma who recall when one did. That's a fact which leads us to wonder whether a future generation will return to being awed when one does?
Whatever happened to Cernan? Funny you should ask.
Last summer over at Oshkosh, a kid from North Carolina got a free flight on a B-17 because he sold eggs to raise the money to travel to the big air show there.
Check out who greeted the kid when he got off the plane. Gene Cernan. "Dream big and go make it happen," he told the young man, almost as if he had something specific in mind.(2 Comments)
The best thing about the Northern Lights -- OK, maybe the second-best thing about the Northern Lights -- is they don't make music.
If you can get past the music in this new Space.com video, you can truly appreciate the "first-best" thing.
National Geographic photographer Mike Theiss went to the Arctic Circle to find his images.0 Comments)
This easily makes our list of Most Astonishing Video of 2012. There must be more boring ways of spending a day than sitting and waiting for glaciers to melt and collapse, but sometimes it pays off as it did for the videographers in this footage. You'll want to expand it to "full screen" size.
It's part of a movie -- Chasing Ice -- released last week from photographer James Balog, who is said to have once been a skeptic about climate change.
It took his team weeks to get the shot of the Ilulissat glacier in Greenland.
(h/t: Mashable)(2 Comments)
North Korea successfully fired a rocket today, raising the possibility of a long-range missile that destabilizes a barely-stable area of the world.
It also provides us with an opportunity to glimpse the fascinating and spontaneous outpouring of joy by North Koreans.
"What the North Koreans have done is taken the technology the Russians developed 50 years ago and upgraded it a little bit and they're trying to use that old technology to cause a splash in the international scene and to get paid attention to," Homer Hickam, a former NASA engineer, told CNN.
And, yeah, that Homer Hickam, which makes one wonder if there's a Homer Hickam somewhere in North Korea today?(1 Comments)
That giant sucking sound this morning was an asteroid "just missing" Earth. Or not.
The Washington Post says "XE54 came about as close to crashing into Earth as an asteroid can without actually doing so - close enough to be 'eclipsed by Earth's shadow, causing its shadow to 'wink out' for a short time.'"
That's not even the scary part.
Universe Today says there's only two other known instances of an asteroid being eclipsed by the Earth's shadow. "Asteroid 2008 TC3" which entered the atmosphere over Sudan in 2008, and a flyby in 2012.
That's not the scary part either.
The asteroid is only about 100 feet wide and the Post says although it might not have done much more than lit up the sky had it entered our atmosphere, "a direct hit by remaining rock chunks on a populated region could be disastrous." A 500-foot wide asteroid would be like an atomic bomb, it says.
That's not the scary part either.
This is: Nobody knew it was there until an hour before it missed "us."
But the Post assures us "there are no sure collisions on the horizon even over the next few hundred years, " while also informing us that much of the sky isn't really being monitored.
Question: If you only had an hour before a large asteroid might hit Earth, would you want to know?(8 Comments)
How could a bunch of moon rocks have been lost and pushed aside at some National Guard building for the last 40 years? Now we know.
The moon rocks turned up this week and today were handed over to the Minnesota Historical Society. President Nixon gifted the rocks to most states, Minnesota included, of course.
But when the story surfaced this week, it seemed odd that a moon rock or two would somehow go missing.
That question disappeared in a press release from the Minnesota Historical Society. They're not moon rocks at all, they're moon pebbles, and even that word might be exaggerating things a bit.
(Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)
There were nearly 200 similar displays around the country at one time; many of them have since been lost. It's understandable. The Apollo missions brought back about 842 pounds of rocks. The pieces that were gifted to states and others totaled less than half a pound.(1 Comments)
If you were among the many people wasting their time watching the Minnesota Vikings last night, you probably missed this from the World Series game between the Tigers and Giants.
How hard did the ball hit Doug Fister in the head?
Wired.com's Dot Physics blog did that thing they do with the...
... and the...
... and that other thing -- oh, what do they call it? -- you know, this thing...
Good grief, science, it's been almost four months since you found the Higgs Boson particle, a discovery that could lead to determining the origin of mass. Have you done anything lately?
Science vlogger 1veritasium traveled to the CERN Large Hadron Collider to find out and just posted this.
The "Edge of Space" jump: A corresponding fall to a schoolroom globe begins 1 millimeter above its surface. I'm just saying.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 14, 2012
Science knows how to push back.
In the irrational exuberance that followed Sunday's daredevil jump from 24 miles above New Mexico and Texas, Americans were a little too scientifically challenged in stating the significance of the event.
Like this Facebook favorite, for example.
For the most part, the world of science has been relatively quiet but enough is enough.
Writing on the Discover Magazine website, freelance space writer Amy Shira Teitel reveals why the jump wasn't everything you might think it is and less...
It was touted as being a jump from space, but 24 miles isn't space. There's no clear limit where the atmosphere ends and space begins, but the general consensus is that it's around the 62 mile mark. NASA, which was established to run the space game in 1958, has awarded astronaut wings to pilots who've flown higher than 50 miles. Calling the Stratos event a jump from space is just not true (widely known as "#spacejump" on Twitter); unfortunately, with eight million people watching, those eight million people now have a mistaken idea about space.
This was far from the only misinformation associated with the event. Red Bull did a terrible job at presenting Kittinger's 1960 jump. A real shame, especially since Kittinger was the person directly in touch with Baumgartner during his fall (his capsule communicator, or "capcom").
"I have to wonder how much we're gaining if the public is excited by space exploration but doesn't understand the technology behind it or why it matters," Teitel says.
Watching the retirement of the space shuttle program is a bitter pill for many in the science community who saw it as a symbol for mankind's thirst for knowledge and pushing the envelope of exploration.
So today's announcement that singer Sarah Brightman is buying her way to the International Space Station probably won't assuage the sense that it's a worthy indicator of the seriousness of space science.
Still, you've got to give Brightman credit for trying to have her appointment as an astronaut -- or cosmonaut, whatever -- make sense.
"My music has always been inspired by space," Brightman said. "It was because of seeing the first man on the moon back in the '60s that actually inspired me and gave me the courage to go into the career that I had. At moments when I'm feeling nervous onstage or I'm feeling unsure I actually look to the stars and the planets and space and it gives me courage and inspiration."
We're standing by and monitoring Twitter closely for Neil deGrasse Tyson's reaction.(11 Comments)
It's "science Friday" in the world of public radio, which is a good time to pass along one of the more fascinating videos of the week. It answers the question "why is the sky dark at night?"
That would be a great question to ask at a presidential debate, by the way.
And another question. Will "we" ever go out there to those other worlds? Over to you, Carl.
and that's all lovely, but looking back at this planet is still pretty cool, too...(4 Comments)
A funny thing happened on the way to the predicted drab fall colors.
The colors of the changing foliage turned out to be magnificent, despite the warnings that the summer-long drought would be a drag on things.
"Initially we felt we'd see fall color early because of the hot and dry weather, but reports from foresters around the states show the trees don't agree with that theory," Paul Tauke, Iowa Department of Natural Resources forestry bureau chief, told the Waterloo Courier.
It turns out that the hot, dry weather favors red colors. Here's a good explanation of the science of it all from the CBC.
Meanwhile, Scientific American claims today that climate change could delay fall foliage. They should look out the window.(8 Comments)
For a short time today -- too short to get a decent picture -- the sky over Minnesota was wearing a pinstripe suit, thanks to the weather conditions that made obvious what is true all the time -- there's a highway over us.
Jet contrails only form to this degree in certain weather conditions.
Let's turn it over to Dr. Steve Ackerman at the University of Wisconsin for a proper explanation:
If you are attentive to contrail formation and duration, you will notice that they can rapidly dissipate or spread horizontally into an extensive thin cirrus layer. How long a contrail remains intact, depends on the humidity structure and winds of the upper troposphere. If the atmosphere is near saturation, the contrail may exist for sometime. On the other hand, if the atmosphere is dry then as the contrail mixes with the environment it dissipates. Contrails are a concern in climate studies as increased jet aircraft traffic may result in an increase in cloud cover. It has been estimated that in certain heavy air-traffic corridors, cloud cover has increased by as much as 20%. An increase in cloud amount changes the region's radiation balance. For example, solar energy reaching the surface may be reduced, resulting in surface cooling. They also reduce the terrestrial energy losses of the planet, resulting in a warming. Jet exhaust also plays a role in modifying the chemistry of the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. NASA and the DOE are sponsoring a research program to study the impact contrails have on atmospheric chemistry, weather and climate.
Coincidentally, 11 years ago tomorrow provided some important data in the research of this question about whether contrails can influence the weather, the Christian Science Monitor reported...
Then Sept. 11, 2001 presented a unique opportunity to study what the sky looked like without airplanes and contrails. In the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the FAA prohibited commercial aviation over the United States for three days. That's when David Travis, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, thought to look at how temperatures might differ at temperature stations around the country.
He found that [PDF], for those three days, the average range between highs and lows at more than 4,000 weather stations across the US was 1 degree C wider than normal. In other words, contrails seemed to raise nighttime temperatures and lower daytimes ones.
But the real effect was in daytime highs, which were much higher. That would seem to indicate that, contrary to prevailing thinking, contrails might have a net cooling effect.
Certain areas seemed particularly sensitive to the absence of contrails. Because of unique climatic conditions in the atmosphere in these regions -- chiefly, moisture-laden air -- the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest are often covered by contrails. But when planes stopped flying right after 9-11, Travis also found that these areas saw the most dramatic increase in daytime highs.
It's unlikely much is being influenced, though, by today's contrails. They're evaporating fairly quickly, although several of them are faintly visible -- especially in southeast Minnesota -- in this satellite photo, taken around 10:15 this morning.
NASA today released this nifty "movie," stitching together the high-resolution images of the Curiosity landing on Mars and adding audio from controllers.
Incidentally, NPR's Monkey See blog pays appropriate homage today to the Twitter account for Curiosity...
Honestly, when any large organization starts a Twitter account, it's easy for it to seem like it's being run from a boardroom or the marketing department, but the Curiosity feed sounds, well, human. It has a voice, which is a very different thing from just having a brand. Curiosity seems to have pals - Neil deGrasse Tyson and Mythbusters - who are just the ones you'd expect, but she also follows will.i.am and just about everyone with any connection to Star Trek. She comes off as a sort of smarty-pants enthusiast herself, having tweeted about things other than the mission - the PBS Mr. Rogers remix, for instance, which is just what the science nerds Curiosity is cultivating were talking about at the time.
Curiosity is full of surprises. She posts a picture of the tracks of a turn and references the Electric Slide. And in my favorite Curiosity tweet ever, she says, "Yes, I've got a laser beam attached to my head. I'm not ill tempered; I zapped a rock for science." She appends a photo, then adds the hashtag #MSL for the Mars Science Lab, and then this: "#PewPew." Face it: that is the cutest rover making phonetic laser noises you are ever going to see.(2 Comments)
Where were you when the last of the Arctic ice melted?
Just a few years ago -- eight, actually -- the odds of you being alive to answer the question weren't very good. Now, it appears the odds of you not being alive to answer the question are pretty bad.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center has released this daily snapshot of the state of the Arctic sea ice, showing a massive melting in just the last few years.
Over three days this month, sea ice "extent" dropped by nearly 77,220 square miles.
It'll come back slightly over the coming winter, but scientists say that's not unexpected and there's only one possible reason for the rapid melt.
In 2000, a United Nations report on climate change predicted the Arctic would be ice-free by 2100. In 2007, the prediction was changed to between 2030 and 2040. The World's environmental editor, Peter Thomson, says it may now be the end of this decade.
Now we're getting to the good stuff. Today, the Curiosity rover delivered the first full-resolution images of its new home on Mars.
The foreground shows two distinct zones of excavation likely carved out by blasts from the rover's descent stage thrusters, NASA writes.
By the way, if you like a little humor with your science, you want to be following SarcasticRover on Twitter.
I think I've got a dust allergy!! WORST PLANET IN THE UNIVERSE TO BE! EXCEPT FOR EARTH... POLLEN amirght?! I miss the flowers.— SarcasticRover (@SarcasticRover) August 8, 2012
I just did my FIRST GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF MARS... MOST ROCKS ARE UNDECIDED, but still plan to vote. Go Democracy!— SarcasticRover (@SarcasticRover) August 8, 2012
What if you could call a phone number and find out if you have a -- so far -- incurable illness?
Mathematician Max Little is collecting thousands of voice recordings as part of research into the possibility that merely listening to a voice can determine the point that is the difference between health and disease.
He says subtle changes to the voice, including tremor, breathiness and weakness are detected by specialized algorithms.
His Parkinson's Voice Initiative records a large sample of voices. Anyone who is healthy or with Parkinson's can call in and leave a recording that will be used in the research.
He first described it a few weeks ago on NPR:
Last month, Little and his team asked people all over the world to call up their phone banks and record their voices. The caller follows a series of prompts -- asking them to say "ahh" for as long as they can and say a few sentences.
"We expected to it to run for six months and collect 10,000 voice recordings over that period," Little says. "In just under a month, we got 5,000 voice recordings."
The algorithm listens for three main clusters of symptoms in the voice: vocal fold tremors, breathiness and weakness, and the way the jaw, tongue and lips fluctuate during speech.
Little hopes the algorithm will improve enough so that eventually a person could get a diagnosis and track their illness through the phone.
The TED video was released today.
If you're in the U.S., the phone number is 1-857-284-8035.
Getting a giant rover to Mars? Easy.
Getting more women on the front line of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory? Hard.
With the exception of one or two women in the room yesterday, any of these photos could have been NASA 1970.(12 Comments)
Here's a live feed of coverage of the attempted landing on Mars.2 Comments)
You know when the Olympics are at their best? When the games teach a little science.
There's a bunch more here.
For a situation that most knowledgeable scientists say is an increasing crisis facing the planet, Congress has gone pretty light in learning about climate change.
Today, Congress broke a two-year drought in learning the latest on climate science, when the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee held Congress' first hearing on the subject in that time, Wired.com reports. It heard from a scientist for the first time in three years.
"The US experienced $14 billion disasters in 2011, a record that surpasses the previous maximum of 9," Christopher Field, an author of the U.N.'s climate change report said. "The 2011 disasters included a blizzard, tornadoes, floods, severe weather, a hurricane, a tropical storm, drought and heatwaves, and wildfires. In 2012, we have already experienced horrifying wildfires, a powerful windstorm that hit Washington DC, heat waves in much of the country, and a massive drought."
The hearing, coincidentally, came in a week in which one of the more famous climate change skeptics on the question of human contributions -- UC Berkeley physics Professor Richard Muller -- jumped ship. In a series of research papers, he concluded the Earth's warming is manmade, an assertion that started another round of an argument that predates the last time Congress held a hearing on the notion.
He was countered by David Evans, a former consultant for the Australian Greenhouse Office, who switched from being "a warmist" (as he describes them) to a skeptic. His article appeared in the Brisbane Times today.
The climate models predict that the outgoing radiation from the earth decreases in the weeks following a rise in the surface temperature, due to aggressive heat-trapping by extra humidity. But analysis of the outgoing radiation measured by NASA satellites for the last two decades shows the opposite occurs: the earth gives off more heat after the surface temperature rises. Again, this suggests that the amplification assumed in the models simply does not occur in reality.
And back and forth we go.
Nothing was really learned in the Senate hearing today, except that people pick the data that confirms what they already believe, and disregard much to the contrary.
But writing on the NPR blog, 13.7 Cosmos and Culture, Marcelo Gleiser says people would do well to keep in mind the Earth is a finite environment.
.. and any artificial forcing away from its equilibrium may lead, due to nonlinear effects, to undesirable circumstances. A finite system can cope with only so much forcing before changes occur. (For example, the water you boil in a pan.) Surely, it is possible that global warming is not man-made or that a new technology will control it. However, given the possible negative outcomes, why not take a few steps toward improving our relation with the planet, moving from a parasitic to a mutually advantageous one. Earth couldn't care less about us. But we can't exist without it.
Why is it always about you, New York?
This week an iceberg "twice the size of Manhattan" broke off from Greenland's Petermann Glacier.
What else is twice the size of Manhattan? Just about everywhere else. Manhattan is tiny at only 22 square miles. Manhattan isn't even the size of Woodbury.
You know what's bigger than the iceberg? Minneapolis. It's 53 square miles. But "an iceberg that would easily fit into the boundaries of Minneapolis" (and you, too, Saint Paul) doesn't quite cut it in the drama department.
Why use Manhattan as the measure of size? Because it suggests something is huge that is not, in fact, as huge as we're led to believe. We think of Manhattan as big because of the size of the buildings there and the number of people there. The iceberg actually would've fit nicely into the Bronx. But people don't think of the Bronx as huge.
This blog, Icy Seas, compares the entire area to the number of Manhattans. But it brings up an important point that a collapsing iceberg the size of Minneapolis obscures: Most of the melting of glaciers is occurring from below.(5 Comments)
The SpaceX people have just released this video of last May's launch of their privately-built spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station.
It's full of some gee whiz imagery, but Bad Astronomy is right: Nothing beats the images of a new generation of science-types on the ground, the brains behind the whole operation.
(h/t: Bad Astronomy)
Yet another reason why the word "may" shouldn't appear in headlines:
Slowed walking speed may be early predictor of Alzheimer's decline
It's difficult to say, for certain, as is the case with many research papers. According to CBS, which reported on three studies presented at a conference on Alzheimer's...
After testing for "normal walking" and two "dual task" tests which included walking while counting backwards or naming animals, the researchers found that how fast a person walked - or gait speed - slowed as cognitive problems progressed. Patients with Alzheimer's walked slower than those with MCI, who walked slower than healthy people. For all groups, walking speeds were slower during the dual testing phase than for the normal walking test.
"Mobility impairments are often associated with dementia, and some gait changes may even appear before cognitive decline can be detected by traditional testing methods," study author Dr. Stephanie A. Bridenbaugh, a researcher at the Basel Mobility Center in Switzerland, said in a press release. "When problems emerge, this may provide early detection of fall risk and the earliest stages of cognitive impairment in older adults"
Another study made a similar link. But, again, count the number of "may" references ...
The third study found that how a person walks in the home may predict cognitive decline. It looked at 19 dementia-free people who underwent MRI scans to measure the volume of certain portions of their brains. Participants were also tested for walking speed at the doctor's office before undergoing an MRI and then at home, using motion sensors that collected walking data over the course of a month.
The researchers found slower walking speeds in the home were associated with smaller brain size, and more associated with less volume in the hippocampus - an area essential for memory processing. Researchers could not find a similar affect for the single walking test taken before their MRI scans, which suggests how a person walks at home may be a better indicator of cognitive problems.
The danger in reporting the studies, however, is that the person's gait is measured as well as other factors and that's where the connection with Alzheimer's appears to be. If you feel like walking slowly today, go ahead. It may not be a big deal.(1 Comments)
Reading and math. Reading and math. Reading and math. When it comes to the yardstick by which we measure the progress of students, those are the subject areas that most bureaucrats and a few teachers care about.
This new video, posted by Cambridge University, leads to today's discussion point. What if we exposed more kids to science? Would they get more excited and, in the process, be more interested in learning more about math and reading?
The microphone is on below. Go.(8 Comments)
The announcement that scientists are close to confirming the existing of Higgs boson is not setting the world afire as you might at first think. It is, after all, a major discovery that helps us understand the universe, even though we can't really understand the thing that might help us understand the universe.
The Atlantic's Robert Wright suggests that the human brain simply isn't built to understand these things.
For the rest of us, I suspect, the Higgs belongs in the same category as various other parts of modern physics: It is yet more evidence that the human mind, to the extent that it was designed by natural selection to truly comprehend anything at all, was designed to comprehend the macroscopic world, not the microscopic world.
So, as for the question of what this Higgs boson thing ultimately "means": It means we should all try to have some intellectual humility, especially when opining on grand philosophical matters, because the thing we're using to try to understand the world--the human brain--is, in the grand scheme of things, a pretty crude instrument. Or, I should say: That's what I think the Higgs Boson means.
If you're having a hard time getting your head around the near discovery, it's OK.
But there's another aspect of the discovery that seems to be getting more attention today than the discovery itself; scientists chiding the United States for watching it happen.
This statement, from Dr. Michael Gamble, the novelist and former Los Alamos nuclear scientist, arrived in the inbox a few minutes ago:
The Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) was not too big to fail. Although it was a massive opportunity for the United States to maintain its primacy in high-energy physics and basic research, the SSC was not sufficiently big on the federal funding list back in the early 1990s even to get built.
I'll admit that headlines extolling an atom smasher in Waxahachie, Texas, may not be as provocative as those from Geneva, one of the world's most sophisticated cities. But as an American, the thrill of having our every iota of progress toward a commendable scientific goal, such as detecting and quantifying the Higgs boson, broadcast around the globe would have pleased me immeasurably. And, I believe, would have captivated and drawn a superior caliber of young talent to American scientific endeavors, just as the Apollo 11 Mission awed me as a boy and set me on a trajectoryof scientific study.
How the kingpins of CERN's accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), have lauded their detector collaborations, ATLAS and CMS. At the SSC there was the SDC collaboration and GEM (gammas, electrons, and muons), to whose design engineering and management I contributed proudly. CERN's official announcement that ATLAS has distinguished a specific decay mode of the Higgs boson to a statistical accuracy of 5 sigma (better than one in a million) has incited celebration throughout Europe and beyond. CERN currently boasts 20 member countries, all European, with Israel and others seeking membership. The United States is a lowly observer nation -- a paying observer, mind you -- along with another half dozen countries.
Why so many countries? What is in it for them? CERN is, and the SSC would have been, a high-energy physics "user facility." Other nations are welcome to design experiments and to make use of the energetic spew from the LHC's hadron collisions. For a price, a hefty price.The United States contributes every year to CERN's $1 billion budget. Perhaps Congress forgot this when voting down continued funding for the SSC, after investing approximately $2 billion and digging about 14 miles of underground tunnel. The SSC's hadrons would have been accelerated in that tunnel to 40 TeV, creating a center-of-mass frame impact energy almost triple that of CERN's LHC, positioning the SSC for meaningful follow-on research after nailing the Higgs.
Alas, the bank-breaking cost of the SSC and the absence of substantial international contributions were cited in its abandonment. Let this be clear: For about $8 billion, the United States let slip away the opportunity to own outright the world's most modern and potentially most sensational scientific platform. How many hundreds of billions of economic stimulus dollars were spent ineffectually? How many thousands of billions of dollars in recent history did the Federal Reserve wager on commitments to domestic and foreign banks without deigning to inform their overseers? The exact sums would be difficult to calculate, but the sting of the questions is the point.
The most grievous aspect of this situation is neither the surfeit of glowing international press, nor the inevitable Nobel Prize, nor even the strong draw of brilliance to the sciences from which Europe will benefit. It is the fact that high-energy physics -- similar to a dominant space program and nuclear science, which won my heart as an undergrad -- was Made in America. And we have lost not only our leadership positions in these sciences but perhaps our relevance.
Had the SSC detected and quantified the God particle, it could have offered a glimmer of salvation in this time of near-godforsaken scientific decline and social unrest in our country. One can only hope that Americans will regroup and astonish the world by being first to accomplish something of enormous scientific import, perhaps elaborating Einstein's grand unification theory. I believe we can do it. But it'll require technical genius, political will, and a lot of guts.
Congress canceled a supercollider project in the U.S. in 1993. Its remnants can still be found in Texas.(7 Comments)
Perhaps the neatest thing about today's announcement that scientists have discovered a particle "consistent" with the Higgs boson theory, is that the man who came up with the theory is alive to hear about it.
Professor Peter Higgs realized 48 years ago that there could be a particle that confers mass.
"I never expected this to happen in my lifetime and shall be asking my family to put some champagne in the fridge," Higgs said.
The second-neatest thing is we may soon say for certain why pigs are heavy...(1 Comments)
I felt a little guilty driving into work today with the air conditioning on in the car, with the thought that I'm living through the last days of a planet. But weather is not climate... except when it is, I found out this afternoon.
Today, the Bad Astronomy blog asks, "when does weather become climate?" And then answers, "now."
Is all this due to global warming? Hard to say, exactly. However, these conditions are precisely what you would expect as the Earth warms: weather patterns change, temperature records get broken, conditions go from normally wet to dry, normally dry to wet.
"Weather" is what you look at if you want to know if you need an umbrella or not today. "Climate" is what you expect on average for a given day in a given place. Weather changes on short time scales; climate over long ones. But how long?
Weather + time = climate. It's well past time to start thinking of that "time" as now.
NASA, too, jumps into the "it's climate!" declaration in explaining the latest land temperature analysis in the United States, which shows it's overwhelmingly hot.
This heat wave, like all extreme weather events, has its direct cause in a complex set of atmospheric conditions that produce short-term weather. However, weather occurs within the broader context of the climate, and there's a high level of agreement among scientists that global warming has made it more likely that heat waves of this magnitude will occur.
How do you like the suburbs now, city slickers? Our perfect lawns and could-be-anywhere gardens and landscaping are sucking a generous helping of carbon dioxide out of the air.
Today's mailbag brings this news release from the University of Minnesota which says plants in the suburbs are offsetting fossil fuel emissions in the suburban paradise. Let's see you do that, my city pals.
Emily Peters, a postdoctoral fellow with the university's Institute on the Environment and Joe McFadden, an associate professor in the Department of Geography at UC Santa Barbara, published their findings in the current issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research - Biogeosciences.
"Our study is the first to clearly show how much vegetation can change the seasonal pattern of suburban CO2 exchange," Peters said. "We know cities and suburbs are net emitters of CO2 due to fossil fuel emissions, and vegetation cannot offset this completely. However, our study shows that vegetation is an important player in suburban CO2 exchange, and can even cause the suburban landscape to be a CO2 sink in summer
Placing several sensors high above the ground in a St. Paul suburban neighborhood, Peters and McFadden set out to record tiny changes in CO2, temperature, water vapor and wind. The researchers found that for nine months of the year, the suburban landscape was a net source of CO2 to the atmosphere. During the summer, however, suburban greenery absorbed enough CO2 to balance out fossil fuel emissions within the neighborhood. Peak daily uptake was at the low end of that which would be typical of a hardwood forest in the region.
The CO2-trapping activity of the vegetation differed by type, the study found.
"Lawns' peak carbon uptake occurred in the spring and fall, because they are made up of cool-season grass species that are stressed by summer heat," said Peters, "while trees had higher CO2 uptake throughout the summer." Evergreen trees maintained their CO2 uptake longer than deciduous trees did because they keep their leaves year-round.
The study was funded by NASA and is a first step toward quantifying the role of vegetation in extensive developed areas such as suburbs, which are the parts of urban areas that are growing most rapidly in the country. Potential uses for this type of research include urban planning, where land use and vegetation choices are major decisions, and policy decisions based on reducing greenhouse gases.
In other news, I cut down a spruce tree last weekend. Whoops.
Timing is everything.(8 Comments)
With the flooding underway in the Northland, is it time to stop worrying about the low water levels on Lake Superior?
All of this -- and more -- is heading your way, Gichigami.
This is the St. Louis River, as captured by the Minnesota Department of Transportation this morning.
But that, is still a very small drop in this...
(Image by Nate Minor/MPR)
Five years ago, you couldn't skip a stone without hitting a news story about the cause of dropping water levels on Superior. It worried environmentalists, who feared the role of climate change on ecosystems, and the shipping industry, which had to dig much deeper channels at loading docks in Duluth.
It still is a concern. Coincidentally, the International Joint Commission announced a series of public hearings yesterday on a report it's prepared on the use of Superior water to manage water levels in lakes Huron and Michigan (report available here).
It found that although Lake Superior water levels have fluctuated in a very narrow range, "increasing evaporation over the past 60 years has not been compensated for by increased precipitation." It expects the lake water levels to continue to drop, although it said much more research has to be done on this.
But back to the here-and-now for a moment. How big a difference has this year's rainy season had on the lake compared to a year ago, when things were fairly dry? Not much.
I know there are people in the NewsCut audience who are pretty good at these sorts of calculations. How much more on average would one river have to provide to raise Lake Superior water levels by 1 inch? Report your calculations below.(10 Comments)
Scientists may be able to come up with a pill that makes you want to exercise, thus solving -- sort of -- the nation's obesity epidemic.
Swiss researchers have found that by elevating a hormone --erythropoietin (Epo) -- in mice, they were more motivated to exercise.
To make this discovery, Gassmann and colleagues used three types of mice: those that received no treatment, those that were injected with human Epo, and those that were genetically modified to produce human Epo in the brain. Compared to the mice that did not have any increase in Epo, both mouse groups harboring human Epo in the brain showed significantly higher running performance without increases in red blood cells.
"If you can't put exercise in a pill, then maybe you can put the motivation to exercise in a pill instead," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "As more and more people become overweight and obese, we must attack the problem from all angles. Maybe the day will come when gyms are as easily found as fast food restaurants."
The obesity epidemic could come down to whether the obese can be motivated to take their pill.(2 Comments)
A group of scientists is warning earth is nearing a tipping point where climate change is concerned. At that point, there's nothing that can be done to stem the effects of a changing climate.
"It really will be a new world, biologically, at that point," said Anthony Barnosky, professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, in a press release. He's the lead author of a review paper appearing in the June 7 issue of the journal Nature.
Just one question: When?
The answer is in the press release:
"...no one knows how close Earth is to a global tipping point, or if it is inevitable."
In other words: it's not really clear at all.
But wait! In a video accompanying the press release, Barnosky says "it's pretty clear we're heading for something big."
And the lead paragraph of the news release reads like this:
A prestigious group of scientists from around the world is warning that population growth, widespread destruction of natural ecosystems, and climate change may be driving Earth toward an irreversible change in the biosphere, a planet-wide tipping point that would have destructive consequences absent adequate preparation and mitigation.
This highlights an old journalistic axiom: "If you use 'may' in a headline or story, you might as well use 'may not' as well."
There's one other fact that appears at the end of the report. It's not new. It actually comes from a conference held at Berkeley two years ago.
They concluded that there is an urgent need for global cooperation to reduce world population growth and per-capita resource use, replace fossil fuels with sustainable sources, develop more efficient food production and distribution without taking over more land, and better manage the land and ocean areas not already dominated by humans as reservoirs of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
"I Fear This Will Be the Most Important News of 2012," the Atlantic's James Fallows says in a headline on his blog today. If so, shouldn't it have been the most important news of two years ago?(2 Comments)
"The harmony between poor mathematics and science has never been more perfect than our study of the transit of Venus."
Considering all of the scientific achievements in the history of us, that's a compelling invitation to an event tomorrow.
Venus will make a nearly seven-hour voyage across the face of the sun tomorrow.
Scientists will calibrate the instruments they use to hunt for planets with atmospheres. That's a step ahead of the last few times transits occurred, in which scientist used them to calculate the distance to the sun. One can only wonder, of course, what the next Venus transit -- in 2117 -- will be useful for.
Here's the schedule for the Saint Paul area:
Go here to find the schedule in your area.(2 Comments)
Today's successful splashdown of the Space X Dragon (its mission to resupply the International Space Station complete) is more than the beginning of the transfer of a space program from government to private business, it's the transfer from one generation to the next.
Check out this view of Space X "mission control," lifted from a YouTube video when the spacecraft undocked from the space station.
And this video of Space X employees when it lifted off last week...
Meanwhile, at NASA's mission control...
Let the word go forth to an old generation of office managers: You can do great things wearing a T-shirt and jeans.(3 Comments)
One thing about the NASA public relations department: it doesn't overplay events.
Here's today's news release:
On Thursday, May 31, at 3:00 p.m. EDT NASA will host an informal discussion for the general public with astronomers about new Hubble Space Telescope observations that allow them to predict with certainty the next major cosmic event to affect our entire galaxy, sun, and solar system.
By "next major cosmic event," they're talking about the end of the world. Many worlds, actually.
Using data from the Hubble space telescope, scientists apparently have determined the answer to the long standing question about whether the Andromeda galaxy will have a head-on collision with the Milky Way.
Bad news: The answer is "yes."
It will happen billions of years from now but when it does, it will look something like this:
It will be an amazingly beautiful result, even if all life as we know it will be over.
(Visualization By : Frank Summers, Space Telescope Science Institute)
Is it better to be deliriously giddy over a short period of time, are reservedly happy over a long period of time?
Perhaps the answer should determine whether marriage is for you.
A study out today says people are not happier when they get married than when they were single, but over time, married people are happier than if they had stayed single.
Michigan State researcherStevie C.Y. Yap set out to determine whether personality helps people adapt to major life events including marriage, a news release from the university says.
The answer, essentially, was no: Personality traits such as conscientiousness or neuroticism do not help people deal with losing a job or having a baby.
"Past research has suggested that personality is important in how people react to important life events," Yap said. "But we found that there were no consistent effects of personality in how people react and adapt to these major events."
In general, similar-aged participants who did not get married showed a gradual decline in happiness as the years passed.
Those who were married, however, largely bucked this trend. It's not that marriage caused their satisfaction level to spike, Yap noted, but instead kept it, at least, stable.(2 Comments)
By Paul Tosto
I don't hunt. But when I heard about plans by the DNR to hold Minnesota's first wolf hunt in decades, my first thought was: That's going to be one tough prey.
Wolves make their living being smart and fast. Killing them won't be easy.
"Hunting wolves in the northwest has certainly proven to be a challenge, and will no doubt be difficult in Minnesota as well," said Jonathan O'Neal, owner of www.huntwolves.com, an Idaho-based website with lots of detail on tracking and killing wolves.
In Idaho's first wolf season three years ago, the wolf quota was only 220 animals. "Even with that small quota, the season had to be extended several months because of the difficulty sportsmen had hunting wolves, and it ended without the harvest goals being met," he said.
Last season was better as the state allowed trapping and lengthened the season, "but many hunting zones still closed without the quota being filled."
Here are some of O'Neal's recommendations for a good hunt:
Scout heavily for tracks, wolf kills and den sites well in advance of the season to find wolves and try to pin down their home range and travel habits.
Use wolf howlers to locate and call wolves in.
Use prey distress calls (rabbit calls, calf elk cries and fawn bleats) to call wolves in.
Take advantage of every fresh snowfall to make tracking easier.
Minnesota's wolf population is much larger than Idaho's, and the DNR here will allow some baiting. But the wolves learn quickly, O'Neal said.
"Wolves will definitely become even more difficult to find the longer they are hunted. They learn quickly and adapt their travel & hunting patterns to minimize human encounters."
-- Paul Tosto(3 Comments)
SpaceX says it took humans into space after all. Their ashes, anyway.
With the Dragon capsule now safely in orbit, a SpaceX official confirmed that the ashes of a few hundred people went along on the Falcon 9 rocket. One whose remains were on board is Gordon Cooper, one of the original U.S. astronauts. Another is James Doohan, the beloved Scotty from "Star Trek."
Which is all the excuse I need for this:
-- Eric Ringham
There's something extremely cool about Elon Musk. I mean cool in the "Right Stuff" sense, cool the way the first astronaut, Alan Shepard, was cool: "I'm a hell of a lot cooler than you guys. Why don't you just fix your little problem and light this candle?"
Musk is the brainy entrepreneur behind SpaceX, the commercial firm that launched a resupply mission to the International Space Station in the wee hours this morning. The launch was the second attempt, coming after an effort last weekend that was aborted when sensors detected a temperature spike. Musk and his people took the setback in stride, and said, in effect: O.K., no big deal. We'll try again on Tuesday.
SpaceX is developing a reputation for quickly fixing problems that might have bogged down NASA for months. I'm not sure that's fair to NASA, which does, after all, improvise quickly and brilliantly from time to time. But it's fascinating to see a nimble private enterprise function in such a high-stakes environment, doing what only governments could once do - and not many of them, at that.
(Disclosure: An in-law of mine works for SpaceX. I have zero understanding of what he does, but I regard the work with enthusiasm, envy and a touch of awe. As he does, I'm sure, my work in public radio.)
The mission to ISS is intended as a demonstration. Each step of the way, the spacecraft will have to prove itself before it proceeds to the next level. If the Dragon vehicle actually docks with the space station, that will mean everything has gone superbly well - and SpaceX will be that much closer to flying a human crew into space, which it intends to do in the next few years.
Jon Stewart did an interview with Musk a few weeks ago.
-- Eric Ringham(1 Comments)
There's more sleepwalking going on than previously thought. So says a study from Stanford University released this week.
About 8.4 million Americans are prone to "wandering around in the night." Fortunately, not all at the same time.
This is said to be the first sleepwalking studying using a large sample size --19,136 adults in 15 states were surveyed.
The study also showed that people with depression were 3.5 times more likely to sleepwalk than those without, and people with alcohol abuse/dependence or obsessive-compulsive disorder were also significantly more likely to have sleepwalking episodes. In addition, individuals taking SSRI antidepressants were three times more likely to sleepwalk twice a month or more than those who didn't.
"There is no doubt an association between nocturnal wanderings and certain conditions, but we don't know the direction of the causality," said Ohayon. "Are the medical conditions provoking sleepwalking, or is it vice versa? Or perhaps it's the treatment that is responsible."
This video from a few months ago, however, raises another interesting question: When we sleepwalk, are we different people. This guy became an artist when he walked in his sleep. He didn't much care for at when he was awake.
According to KARE 11:
Dr. Mark Mahowald, former director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), a professor at the University of Minnesota and also a visiting professor at Stanford, was a co-author of the study entitled "Prevalence and comorbidity of nocturnal wandering in the U.S. adult general population."
"The overall message is that sleepwalking is part of the human condition. It is not related necessarily to psychiatric or psychological problems. And it also gives us a window on how the brain works because most people don't have the idea that our brains can be partly awake and partly asleep at the same time and actually that's where things get interesting ," said Dr. Mahowald.
Scores for science tests for 8th graders in the nation were released today. Minnesota's performance was relatively mediocre with no significant improvement over previous test scores. The state is near the top of the list of states where the tests were administered, but there's little room for pride in the results.
Frighteningly, 24 percent of Minnesota 8th graders are below basic understanding of science and 60 percent are not considered proficient.
How bad is that? Here are some of the sample questions (take the quiz here)
What atoms combine to make up a molecule of water?
A. 1 hydrogen, 1 oxygen
B. 1 hydrogen, 2 oxygen
C. 2 hydrogen, 1 oxygen
D. 2 hydrogen, 2 oxygen
Which characteristic is shared by all cells?
A. They need energy.
B. They reproduce sexually.
C. They make their own food.
D. They move from place to place.
The diagram below shows the collision of two tectonic plates in Asia.
Diagram showing the collision of two tectonic plates in Asia. A rectangular shape is divided in half by a drawing of mountains labeled "Himalayas. To the left of the mountains is an open area with no label; underneath this area are the words "Indian Plate" with an arrow pointing to the right. To the right of the mountains is an open area labeled "Tibetan Plateau." Under this plateau are the words "Eurasian Plate" with an arrow pointing to the left.
What is a result of this collision?
A. Volcanoes erupt periodically.
B. The Tibetan Plateau slowly sinks.
C. The Himalayas increase in height each year.
D. Glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau melt.
Water evaporates and falls back to Earth as rain or snow. What is the primary energy source that drives this cycle?
A. The wind
B. The Sun
C. Air pressure
D. Ocean currents
The National Research Council may not be the most impartial observer but a report it's issued on budget cuts to NASA, is stark in its alarm that observing what's out in space is secondary now to what's going on here.
The report finds that Earth sciences are in decline because nothing is replacing previous missions.
"The projected loss of observing capability will have profound consequences on science and society, from weather forecasting to responding to natural hazards," Dennis Hartmann, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, said in a statement, which was outlined on LiveScience.com today. "Our ability to measure and understand changes in Earth's climate and life support systems will also degrade."
It appears to signal a new tack in appealing for more funding for the space agency. Merely exploring other worlds for the benefit of future generations isn't enough to jazz up NASA's appeal in an era of budget cuts.
Instead, its boosters seem to be appealing to that which has always had the most appeal for us: ourselves.(1 Comments)
Kevin Burkart of Prior Lake, jumped out of an airplane 100 times in one day back in 2008, to call attention to the need for Parkinson's disease research, honoring his father, who was diagnosed with the disease in 1999. Two years later -- 2008 -- he jumped out 200 times for the cause.
This year, he wanted to jump 300 times, but that plan has been scuttled for another year.
In early March, Burkart was seriously hurt in a snowmobile accident in northern Minnesota. "He broke numerous bones including 4 vertebrae and suffered serious nerve damage in his left arm," his website says.
The 300 jumps plan has been delayed now until next June.
Meanwhile, on the research front, there is exciting news today. A researcher in Tel Aviv reports he's developed a "peptide," which mimics a gene's normal function, protecting dopamine- producing neurons. It could be a therapy to reduce the effects of Parkinson's.
"It can mean the difference between living life as a Parkinson's patient or aging normally," the researcher says.(1 Comments)
Is research into dog urine a waste of taxpayer money?
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a couple of Republicans, and some scientists apparently have had enough of the obvious answer that it is.
Cooper, the Washington Post reports, has just created the first Golden Goose Award, which honors scientific breakthroughs via research that appeared wasteful.
Federally-funded research of dog urine ultimately gave scientists and understanding of the effect of hormones on the human kidney, which in turn has been helpful for diabetes patients. A study called "Acoustic Trauma in the Guinea Pig" resulted in treatment of early hearing loss in infants. And that randy screwworm study? It helped researchers control the population of a deadly parasite that targets cattle--costing the government $250,000 but ultimately saving the cattle industry more than $20 billion, according to Cooper's office.
Cooper says that his original inspiration for the Golden Goose Award was the long-running "Golden Fleece Awards" that the late Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wisc.) bestowed upon the most wasteful government spending, beginning in 1975. More recently, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has taken up that mantle. In a report last year on the National Science Foundation, Coburn blasted frivolous-sounding research that received federal funding, including one study that put shrimp on miniature treadmills and another that asked smokers to mail in their toenail clippings.
"Sometimes the bad news is not really bad news," Cooper said this week, "just something that it is easy to take a cheap shot at."(2 Comments)
Captured last night.
And here's why you see what you see...
The latest Aurora forecast says there might be more Northern Lights visible low on the horizon tonight.(1 Comments)
The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication released a poll on attitudes about the weather today and most Americans -- based on the sample size of 1,000 of them -- apparently think that climate change has a role in most of the significant weather events of the last year.
At the same time, however, most say they haven't seen their local meteorologist talk about climate change, which doesn't come as a surprise, as I've written about before on NewsCut. Without conclusive science, most meteorologists seem to steer clear of a topic they're not particularly well trained to handle.
At the same time, however, 58-percent want to hear what the local forecaster has to say.
Overall, researchers say, people are basing a scientific conclusion on how they personally experience the weather. "That's what we think is starting to happen for people," Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale project told LiveScience.com. "One natural disaster they might see as random; two, that's a coincidence; but three, and you're starting to see a pattern."2 Comments)
Hands down, this is the coolest picture of the day:
Like an aging employee no longer of much use, the government gave the space shuttle Discovery a gold watch and party today, a fly around the nation's capital before wheeling it into a retirement home.
For those of us who grew up with the space race, it's bittersweet -- again -- to watch the country's manned space program pass into further obscurity.
It's not cool to be a space fan anymore. The program costs too much, it has limited immediate payback, and there are other countries with more money to spend on national pride.
Still, one fairly wonders whether the kids being born today will ever bother looking up at the sky with any kind of wonder about what it's like up there and out there? We're out of the human space vehicle business, kids don't learn to fly much anymore, and the sky doesn't offer any mystery.(9 Comments)
You've probably heard that North Korea's attempt at a rocket program failed today. Rocket science is hard.
In other aeronautics news, there are other worlds we're seeing up close.
There's nothing phony about any of those images; that's what space is like. Sander van den Berg of the Netherlands downloaded all of the images from NASA's websites for the Cassini and Voyager missions, stitched them together and added the music.
It's a comforting video that, for some reason, came in somewhat handy after I read this story.
It is climate change. It isn't climate change.
Welcome to another day of science trying to explain March and the recently expired winter.
"Clearly, this is outstanding and well outside any expectation under an unchanging climate. The magnitude and duration of the events in March certainly indicate that some unusual factors are afoot," Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the independent National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., tells LiveScience today about a March that broke heat records in 7,755 locations in the U.S.
Is that a lot? There are 175,000 observing stations in the country. Still, the webiste says only one other March -- 2007 -- broke more than 7,000 records.
Certain extremes related to heating are becoming more evident, according to Trenberth.
So it's climate change, then?
"Climate change was certainly a factor, but it was certainly a minor factor," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist Martin Hoerling says.
His analysis of March says a persistent warm wind sent warm air north from the Gulf of Mexico. It's freaky wind and little more, he suggests.
"''Why wouldn't we embrace it as a darn good outcome," Hoerling tells the Associated Press. "This was not the wicked wind of the east. This was the good wind of the south."
In his analysis -- available here -- Mr. Hoerling observes that if the March heat wave were pinned primarily to climate change, meteorologists would've predicted it:
In sum, the initialized forecasts possess many of the essential attributes of what crime scene investigators would look for in pinning a crime (the heatwave, in this case) to an individual (a physical cause, in this case). The forecast models give probable cause, namely that a particular atmospheric initial condition - emergent sometime in early February - led to a high probability outcome in the form of a large magnitude March heatwave. The sequence of forecasts allows one to largely reject other probable and immeditate causes for such a large magnitude event. For example, the GHG conditions that were known to be operative in prior months, had failed to predict or project an outcome of the magnitiude that was eventually observed. The forecasts further identify this particular culprit because those evolving internal atmospheric initial conditions yielded the precise location of the heatwave, at precisely the particular time of its occurrence, and with a high confidence of exceeding prior record heatwave magnitudes.
He also says the fact it was so warm in March, doesn't mean we'll bake in July. That's something comforting to think about while you mow your lawn in Minnesota in the first week of April.(14 Comments)
Dream all you want about winning a lottery and quitting work but be glad you'll be a loser. If you're a man, retiring early can kill you, new research says.
LiveScience.com reports that men had an increased risk of death before age 67 when they retired early.
"According to our estimates, one additional year of early retirement causes an increase in the risk of premature death of 2.4 percentage points (a relative increase of about 13.4 percent, or 1.8 months in terms of years of life lost)," the researchers said.(3 Comments)
Memo: If you want to keep your job in the world of science, don't release a report that appears to prove Einstein was wrong.
Another shoe dropped today in the ongoing saga that began last fall when scientists released research that neutrinos appear to travel faster than light. Two researchers who led the team have quit, a few weeks after acknowledging a technical problem -- loose connections -- caused the error, and caused us to dream of time travel, among other things.
One of them tells Nature.com that's not why he quit, while then revealing that it had a lot to do with it:
Autiero denied that he was stepping down because of mistakes in the measurement, saying that the discovery of an unknown systematic error is an inevitable hazard for any scientist doing a precision measurement. "In science you cannot pretend to be the owner of any absolute truth," he says. Instead, he says that he and Ereditato felt that tensions that had always existed within OPERA were becoming impossible to bridge. He acknowledges that these were exacerbated by the publication of the provocative result, with some complaining from the beginning that the findings were likely to be wrong. He also agrees that the spectacular degree of media attention has brought pressure to bear. Despite the fact that OPERA itself never claimed to overturn Einstein's theory, keeping its claims narrowly to the report of an anomalous measurement, many newspapers depicted it that way. 'They played with the sensationalism of the story," he says.
No absolutes in science? What about the science of blaming the media? It works every time.(3 Comments)
We don't see the sad pictures of birds covered with oil anymore in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The birds and beaches have been cleaned and TV ads extol the beauty of the Gulf Coast in a bid to get tourists to come back.
Today, Penn State researchers released these images, however, from a 2010 exploration. A dead or dying coral reef.
In an article in a scientific journal being published this week, the Penn State researchers said they didn't expect the reefs to die from a typical oil spill
"These biological communities in the deep Gulf of Mexico are separated from human activity at the surface by 4,000 feet of water," Helen White of Haverford College said. "We would not expect deep-water corals to be impacted by a typical oil spill, but the sheer magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its release at depth make it very different from a tanker running aground and spilling its contents. Because of the unprecedented nature of the spill, we have learned that its impacts are more far reaching than those arising from smaller spills that occur on the surface."
Read more here.
Credit: Lophelia II 2010, NOAA OER, and BOEMRE, copyright WHOI
It's getting harder and harder to know when it's OK to mix climate and weather together.
We are routinely admonished that citing weather as an example of climate is a "no no," but over time it is. How much time? That's tough to say, apparently.
How about 10 years? Two scientists says extreme weather events -- this year's warmth, tornadoes, and hurricane -- are likely linked to a warming planet, Dim Coumou and Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany write.
"It is very likely that several of the unprecedented extremes of the past decade would not have occurred without anthropocentric global warming," they write in a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, as reported via LiveScience.com.
It's a composite of satellite pictures taken in 1992, 2000 and 2010 that show a big, red blob over the Bakken. The SkyTruth blog posted the image, writing:
1992 is shown in blue, 2000 in green, and 2010 in red. Places that had lots of light in all three years show up bright white (equal amounts of blue, green and red) -- that basically shows established cities and towns that haven't changed much over that time period.But whoa, check out that big patch of red in the northwest corner of North Dakota. That indicates an area of bright lights in 2010 that was dark in 2000 and 1992.Back in November, Midwest Energy News did a great job identifying the bright lights of the Bakken from some Space Station video.
The 20-year time lapsed image, though, helps us understand how dramatically things have changed in western North Dakota. Expect the red blob to grow until the oil runs out.
-- Paul Tosto(1 Comments)
One of the things I love most about writing NewsCut is the occasional math and science post, which brings out the people who specialize in the talent I never had. I'm a word guy.
So to end my shortened week on Pi Day, we present another Vi Hart video asking whether Shakespeare's plays are encoded within Pi.
Do that fact-checking thing you do, readers.(3 Comments)
Anyone who's read James Michener's novel "Space" probably shares my fear of solar storms. Michener writes about a final Apollo mission that ends badly because a solar fare erupts while astronauts are exploring the surface of the moon. So the headline "Massive solar storm speeds toward Earth" makes me want to drape myself in lead foil.
And it makes me wonder about the safety of the crew aboard the International Space Station, notwithstanding a NASA spokesman's pronouncement that the space agency isn't taking any extra precautions.
A NASA website, though, is more reassuring. An article titled "Who's afraid of a solar flare?" explains that a flare ejects not just radiation but also hunks of magnetic field, which somehow deflect the radiation. So a solar storm actually reduces the radiation hitting the ISS. Even so, it's not a good time for a space walk:
"No astronaut wants to encounter a swarm of high-energy solar protons. Severe storms are literally sickening; exposure causes vomiting, fatigue and low blood counts. Without medical attention, an astronaut suffering from radiation sickness could die. Now for the good news: few solar protons are able to penetrate the hulls of NASA spaceships. As long as astronauts stay inside, they're safe."
This is comforting. But isn't "safe astronaut" a contradiction in terms?
-- Eric Ringham(4 Comments)
A presidential candidate stood in Alabama yesterday and promised that "America has a destiny in space."
It played well -- there are a lot of unemployed space industry workers in Alabama -- but the reality is human spaceflight isn't just for Americans anymore and there are other countries more passionate about science and space than the U.S. Maybe they know something we don't. Or maybe we know something they don't. We'll find out soon enough.
That said, it's undeniable that the U.S. space program as it was is what inspired that passion.
Raul Oaida of Romania is but one example. He created a LEGO tribute to the recently-retired space shuttle program to prove that "this machine can still fly, albeit in toy form."
He's just posted a video from his launch (from central Germany) of Lego Space Shuttle model 3367, which climbed over 21 miles.
He wrote on his blog this week that he flew his ship in Germany because getting permission from air traffic controllers in Romania was impossible.
Not everyone shares the passion from which great scientific leaps are born.
(h/t: Steve Nelson)(5 Comments)
Do you know these guys?
The attempt to identify them might be one of the biggest Hail Mary pass of crowdsourcing attempts ever.
Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries released reconstructions of the faces of two crew members of the Monitor, the submarine that sank in a New Year's Eve storm 150 years ago.
The skeletal remains of both sailors were discovered inside the Monitor's gun turret after it was raised from the ocean floor in 2002. While much has been learned about the physical characteristics of the men, their identities remain a mystery. By releasing images of the reconstructed faces, NOAA hopes the public will be able to assist in the ongoing effort to identify the sailors.
The Monitor site was discovered in 1973. The skeleton remains were used to reconstruct the men's faces.
We don't know all the answers about their lives but the reconstruction is a way to bring the past to life, to create something as similar as possible to the original," said Mary H. Manhein, director of the FACES lab. "To see the faces take shape, to go from bone to flesh is very exciting. Our hope is that someone seeing the sculptures may recognize the face as an ancestor."
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At the rate we're going, this is going to be something you can tell your grandchildren about: The day when it was possibly to play hockey outdoors, including on the ponds.
Time.com says researchers are finding the "outdoor-skating season" is continuing to narrow:
Researchers from McGill University and Concordia University in Canada studied historical weather data in the country going back to the 1950s. Using that information they calculated the beginning and end of what they called the outdoor-skating season (OSS) each year -- the months when the temperature was consistently cold enough to support outdoor ice hockey.
Of the 142 weather stations they surveyed, the vast majority reported temperature data that meant the OSS was getting steadily shorter, with warmer winters and less time for outdoor hockey. They found that the biggest decrease in the skating season was occurring in the prairies and southwestern Canada. Extrapolating into the future, they estimated that outdoor hockey soon go extinct in warmer parts of the country like British Columbia and southern Alberta.
Their study was published today in the Institute of Physics journal Environmental Research Letters. Here's the complete paper.(1 Comments)
We haven't had any cases of white death from an overblown storm yet, so let's refocus our attention to something that actually is going to occur: Leap Day. Tomorrow.
As usual, all good science includes a passing reference to our eventual extermination at the hands of the sun.(1 Comments)
As if the world needed more evidence that the climate debate is more about politics than science, one only needed to hear last night's report on All Things Considered about the climate scientist who leaked the memos from a think tank purporting to show the Heartland Institute to hired someone to write school curricula diminishing the science of climate change.
Ironically, Peter Gleick, who leaked the documents, succeeded only in providing yet another distraction to the evidence of climate change.
You'll note that not one sentence in the NPR report dealt with the science of climate change. Even more significant: The story wasn't about the legitimacy and meaning of the memos, but the manner in which they were obtained. Give credit to those on the political side of the issue: They're good at this.
Today, LiveScience.com's Stephanie Pappas considers whether it matters anymore:
Scandals may have a limited impact in part because of a psychological phenomenon called "motivated reasoning," which simply means that people focus on evidence that confirms what they already believe and ignore evidence that doesn't fit their worldview. The Yale group's surveys have found that seemingly irrelevant factors have much more to do with people's acceptance of climate change. [10 Surprising Results of Global Warming]
One of these factors is "the economy, the economy, the economy," Leiserowitz said. Climate change concern was at a peak in 2007 and 2008, but when the recession hit, that concern plummeted like a stone. People can only worry about so many things at a time, Leiserowitz said. Media coverage of climate issues is also down by at least two-thirds in newspapers and 80 percent on the nightly news since 2007, another factor that drives public interest, their surveys have shown.
Translation: People will work hard to find evidence of that which they already believe, and work even harder to ignore that which might undermine their beliefs.
In that phenomenon, science has no chance.(1 Comments)
Last September, the science community was overcome with a mixture of giddiness and skepticism over tests showing neutrinos traveled faster than the speed of light, proving Einstein wrong.
I admit: I was intrigued by the possibility of another dimension, even while acknowledging that I was probably a fool.
It turns out, the CBC reports, a bad cable is responsible for the "discovery."
ScienceInsider, a blog run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said "sources familiar with the experiment" are now blaming the original result on a fibre optic cable connecting a GPS receiver to an electronic card in a computer. The GPS is one of the devices used in the measurement of the neutrino's travel time. The cable connection appeared to have been loose, and tightening it shortened data travel times by 60 nanoseconds.
"Since this time is subtracted from the overall time of flight, it appears to explain the early arrival of the neutrinos," the article said. "New data, however, will be needed to confirm this hypothesis."
Moral? Never doubt Einstein.(7 Comments)
There are any number of reasons why I knew I had to drive out to Delano to meet Dave Grout last week, after he called to chat with me following a "newscast" I did on The Current a few weeks ago.
Grout, a Saint Paul native and son of a man who parlayed two peanut-vending machines at Lake Harriet into a nationwide coin-op game business -- pinball machines and jukeboxes -- is a long-time engineering "nerd."
"I started tinkering with radios when I was 8 years old, and started at the University of Minnesota when I was 15," he said. "I got my degree two weeks before I graduated from high school (in Hopkins). I was fascinated by mathematics and I was fascinated by electronics."
Grout says he worked on the space program when NASA was developing the Saturn V rocket ("they needed to be able to measure the stresses on the structure and I had done some work on a much smaller basis and I figured out a way to do it and provide telemetry to the control room"), helped calculate the landing site for the first Mars lander (Viking I), designed speakers and amplifiers for musicians, designed a power steering pump tester for Cadillac, restored jukeboxes, ran a pizza joint in Osseo, and took Joan Jett to his high school class' 50th reunion.
Which ones of those are true, I cannot confirm, but I can confirm the one factoid that made me want to visit him: He doesn't own a computer.
"They bore me to tears," he said.
What he's used his entire engineering life is a slide rule, the rotary telephone of engineers. We're guessing there aren't many people left who can do this, so I wanted to see it before the species becomes extinct.
Grout says this is a talent that needs to be taught in school again. "This thing is wonderful. You don't need a battery, all you need is a little light to see it. But you have to know some mathematics. In my world, if you can't do it with a piece of paper and a pencil, you ought not to be doing it with a machine because you won't know if the machine is lying to you."
Plus Joan Jett must think they're cool.(4 Comments)
Over the last several days, climate change-related blogs have provided information on a series of "leaked" memos from the Heartland Institute, purporting to show a concerted effort to create a K-12 curriculum that is intended to dismiss the science of climate change.
The organization, while acknowledging that documents were inadvertently mailed to an anonymous person, says the document on the curriculum is a fake. Megan McArdle at The Atlantic says there good reason to believe it is:
1. All of the documents are high-quality PDFs generated from original electronic files . . . except for the "Climate Strategy" memo. (Hereinafter, "the memo"). That appears to have been printed out and scanned, though it may also have been faxed.
Either way, why? After they wrote up their Top Secret Here's All the Bad Stuff We're Gonna Do This Year memo, did the author hand it to his secretary and say "Now scan this in for the Board"? Or did he fax it across the hall to his buddy?
This seems a strange and ponderous way to go about it--especially since the other documents illustrate that the Heartland Institute has fully mastered the Print to PDF command.
It is, however, exactly what I would do if I were trying to make sure that the document had no potentially incriminating metadata in the pdf.
2. The date on the memo file is different from the other documents. And indeed, when you look at the information on the PDFs that Heartland acknowledges, almost all of them were created by printing to PDF on January 16th, the day before Heartland's board meeting. There is a Board Directory that was created on the 25th of January, also by printing to PDF. And then there is the memo, which was created via an Epson scanner at 3:41 PM on February 13th.
That seems to be just about 24 hours before this broke on the climate blogs. The timing seems odd, and somewhat suspicious. The fact that this document, and it alone, was scanned rather than printed to PDF or emailed as a word document, is even more so.
2. Every single verifiable fact that's in the memo is found in another one of the documents, or available in a public source; in fact, many of the sentences are cut and paste jobs from the fundraising document, the binder insert, or the budget.
She has a half dozen or so other questions about the document, concluding by asking, "why is this memo super-secret, when there's nothing in it that isn't also in the materials distributed to the entire board?"
The textual analysis alone would make me suspicious--but the fact that the document was created much later, using a different method, with different formatting--makes me fairly sure that while the other documents are real, this was written after the fact, by an author outside of Heartland. If there were any way to get conclusive proof, I'd bet heavily against this document being real.
That said, I think it's impossible to prove -- at least with my forensic skill levels. People do write crazy memos sometimes--there are lunatics in every movement, and most organizations. While this just doesn't feel like the right kind of crazy to me, it's possible I'm wrong.(14 Comments)
Today's climate change debate is stoked by news of a "leaked" attempt by the so-called Heartland Institute to create a K-12 curriculum on climate change that appears to undermine the generally accepted science.
Discover's Bad Astronomy blog says the documents appear to be legit:
[Dr. Wojick's] effort will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain - two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.
That seems clear enough, doesn't it? From that, it sure sounds like they want to dissuade teachers from teaching science. I imagine there will be a lot of spin about how this quote is out of context, or a typo, or something alone those lines. Perhaps. But I remember all the hammering real scientists took when they used jargon in their emails to each other, jargon which was gleefully misinterpreted to make it seem as if these scientists were faking data. Interesting how this is pointing right back at them. Just as I said it does.
When it comes to all this, the comparison to "Climategate" springs to mind, but there's one enormous difference: Climategate was manufactured, a made-up controversy (what I call a manufactroversy) that had no real teeth -- as was its failed sequel. The emails released weren't damning at all, and didn't show scientists tinkering with or faking data. As much as the media made of it, as much as climate change denial blogs played them up, it has been shown again and again that Climategate was all sound and fury, signifying nothing.
These new documents, though, look different, especially given that quote above. The next few days should be very interesting as people start digging into them, especially if they prove to be authentic.
In a memo, the group says it's creating the curriculum because principals and teachers have adopted "the alarmist perspective," which -- if this memo is legit -- is a phrase used as a substitute for another one -- "science."
The site, Deep Climate, carries segments of the report that identify potential friendly media personalities to spread the word:
Efforts at places such as Forbes are especially important now that they have begun to allow highprofile climate scientists (such as Gleick) to post warmist science essays that counter our own. This influential audience has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out. Efforts might also include cultivating more neutral voices with big audiences (such as Revkin at DotEarth/NYTimes, who has a well-known antipathy for some of the more extreme AGW communicators such as Rornm, Trenberth, and Hansen) or Curry (who has become popular with our supporters). We have also pledged to help raise around $90,000 in 2012 for Anthony Watts to help him create a new website to track temperature station data.
Not yet clear in the still-developing controversy is how widespread it is that curricula created by outside organizations are adopted by schools, and what science is applied to vetting them (if any).(33 Comments)
John Allen Paulos, a professor of mathematics at Temple University, wrote in the New York Times yesterday that we should elect more scientists to public office.
He notes that China's President Hu Jintao has a background in hydraulic engineering, German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a doctorate in physical chemistry and Singapore President Tony Tan has a Ph.D. in applied mathematics.
Why does this matter? Paulos argues:
One needn't endorse the politics of these people or countries to feel that given the complexities of an ever more technologically sophisticated world, the United States could benefit from the participation and example of more scientists in government. This is obviously no panacea -- Herbert Hoover was an engineer, after all -- but more people with scientific backgrounds would be a welcome counterweight to the vast majority of legislators and other officials in this country who are lawyers.
Back in 2008, Curtis Gilbert and looked at this issue in an episode of our Electionwise podcast (listen here). We spoke with Chad Kraus who had done a study on how many physicians had served in Congress from 1960 to 2004. He found that only 25 physicians had served during that time period. Lawyers made up 45 percent of Congresspeople, about 15 percent were business people, 10 percent were career public servants, followed by people involved in education. There weren't enough scientists to even bother mentioning in our conversation.
Since the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development touts our state as "the perfect environment for bioscience" with statistics like "Minnesota ranks third in bioscience-related patents per one million residents and fourth in bioscience occupational employment" -- I wanted to see if we have more scientists serving in our Legislature.
Our 2011-2012 Legislators don't look that different than U.S. Congresspeople. Legislators with business/finance backgrounds are by far the largest group, followed by educators, attorneys and those who have backgrounds in public service.
Nine members of the 112th Congress are scientists and engineers, so proportionately, Minnesota has an edge on them. Out of 201 members, we have seven scientists and engineers.
The scientific seven:
Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) works as a network engineer
Rep. Thomas Huntley (DFL-Duluth) has a Ph.D. in biochemistry and is a retired professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Minnesota Duluth
Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Minneapolis) has Ph.D. in biophysics from Yale University
Rep. Kate Knuth (DFL-New Brighton) is a conservation biologist with a Masters of Science from Oxford University
Sen. Doug Magnus (R-Slayton) holds a bachelor's degree in animal science from South Dakota State University
John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) studied biology at Bemidji State University and worked as a water quality specialist.
Duane Quam (R-Byron) has a Masters in Physics from University of Texas Dallas and worked as an engineer
Do we need more scientists and engineers in the Minnesota legislature? Who would you nominate?
-Molly Bloom(16 Comments)
Coverage of President Obama's dead-on-arrival budget will, no doubt, focus on the issue of taxes on the wealthy, but it also defines other aspects of a vision for the nation.
Mars isn't in it.
According to CBS News:
The president proposed cutting $309 million for studying planets this year, with more cuts in future years. After an already mostly built Mars mission in 2013, future journeys to the red planet are eliminated, put on hold or restructured. While the study of planets would be sliced 21 percent, spending for the overall budget and long delayed James Webb Space Telescope would increase 21 percent. The telescope which may cost $8 billion is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and would peer further into the universe and back in time than ever.
Which brings up the obvious question: What's the point of looking into space -- time, if you will -- if we're no longer interested in exploring what's out there?
Obama wants to double the amount of money for private firms to develop "space taxis" to take people to the International Space Station, but at some point, doesn't a space program have to involve more than going around and around in a circle?
The budget tends to prove Minnesota native Paul Dye's comments to me the last time we talked about his role at NASA. Humans will mostly certainly go out into space to see what's there. They probably won't wear an American flag on their spacesuits, however.
This is not to say the United States of America is going to be the one to lead that charge. Just as British Empire tapered off and the Roman Empire tapered off, sooner or later almost all human institutions end, but that does not end what humankind does.
I'm a student of history and... a lot of folks have said recently, "why are we still messing around in lower earth orbit? We just keep going exactly where we've been for a long time." It took the early exploration cultures -- let's go with the Portuguese -- it took them quite awhile sailing around near coastal areas before they developed the technology to just leave land behind and head out into the deep blue. And to a certain extent that's what we've been doing in lower Earth orbit.
There is still money for developing the Orion crew capsule, which could be used is the U.S. decides to re-engage in space exploration when it is ready in the next decade.
It was originally scheduled to fly in 2014. That won't happen.(6 Comments)
Maybe there were smarter people who are finalists in Intel's Science Talent Search, but it's hard to believe there were more deserving candidates than Samantha Garvey, who at least could give the others a run in the "all around" competition.
Garvey was a homeless teen from New Jersey who captured the nation's attention when she became a finalist in the competition for a $100,000 college scholarship.
Her story has some reward, however. She received a $50,000 scholarship to the college of her choice after an appearance on the Ellen show.
Five Minnesota young people were on the semifinalist list along with Ms. Garvey. One made it to the finals. He's Evan Chen of Wayzata High School who, according to Intel, is "unraveling the mystery behind satellite cell differentiation."
That is: He's trying to help people with Muscular Dystrophy. A classmate with MD motivated him, he told Lake Minnetonka Patch last year.
"Knowing that there is someone in my vicinity that can benefit from some of the research that I'm doing is really inspirational," he said(5 Comments)
Nothing makes you less inclined to get out of your car and head to your company cubicle than a radio program that reminds you it's only a matter of time before the sun cooks us to a crisp.
Astronomer Bob Berman did the honors today during an utterly fascinating few minutes with Kerri Miller about the bombardment by solar storms, which, he notes, could cripple jetliners flying polar routes, destroy electric grids, and even physically damage oil pipelines. None of that has happened -- yet -- but it could.
So when you see this:
Some of us might be beginning to think of this:
Here's the full interview. You'll enjoy it... if you think short-term:
I don't often paste up news releases, but there are particulars in this one about a University of Minnesota Carlson School study that I'd hate to leave out.
The perception that women are scarce leads men to become impulsive, save less, and increase borrowing, according to new research from the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.
"What we see in other animals is that when females are scarce, males become more competitive. They compete more for access to mates," says Vladas Griskevicius, an assistant professor of marketing at the Carlson School and lead author of the study. "How do humans compete for access to mates? What you find across cultures is that men often do it through money, through status and through products."
To test their theory that the sex ratio affects economic decisions, the researchers had participants read news articles that described their local population as having more men or more women. They were then asked to indicate how much money they would save each month from a paycheck, as well as how much they would borrow with credit cards for immediate expenditures. When led to believe women were scarce, the savings rates for men decreased by 42 percent. Men were also willing to borrow 84 percent more money each month.
In another study, participants saw photo arrays of men and women that had more men, more women, or were neutral. After looking at the photographs, participants were asked to choose between receiving some money tomorrow or a larger amount in a month. When women were scarce in the photos, men were much more likely to take an immediate $20 rather than wait for $30 in a month.
According to Griskevicius, participants were unaware that sex ratios were having any effect on their behavior. Merely seeing more men than women automatically led men to simply be more impulsive and want to save less while borrowing more to spend on immediate purchases.
"Economics tells us that humans make decisions by carefully thinking through our choices; that we're not like animals," he says. "It turns out we have a lot in common with other animals. Some of our behaviors are much more reflexive and subconscious. We see that there are more men than women in our environment and it automatically changes our desires, our behaviors, and our entire psychology."
"The Financial Consequences of Too Many Men: Sex Ratio Effects on Savings, Borrowing, and Spending" will be published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Co-authors of the study include Joshua Tybur (VU University Amsterdam), Joshua M. Ackerman (M.I.T.), Andrew Delton and Theresa Robertson (University of California, Santa Barbara), and Andrew E. White (Arizona State University).
Sex Ratios Affect Expectations of Women
While sex ratios do not influence the financial choices women make, they do shape women's expectations of how men should spend their money when courting. After reading a news article informing women that there are more men than women, women expected men to spend more on dinner dates, Valentine's gifts, and engagement rings.
"When there's a scarcity of women, women felt men should go out of their way to court them," adds Griskevicius.
In a male-biased environment, men also expected they would need to spend more in their mating efforts.
Population Data Supports Research Findings
In addition to conducting laboratory experiments, the researchers reviewed archival data and calculated the sex ratios of more than 120 U.S. cities. Consistent with their hypothesis, communities with an abundance of single men showed greater ownership of credit cards and had higher debt levels.
One striking example was found in two communities located less than 100 miles apart. In Columbus, Ga., where there are 1.18 single men for every single woman, the average consumer debt was $3,479 higher than it was in Macon, Ga., where there were 0.78 single men for every woman.
Research Implications for Marketers and Society
Whereas previous research has found that merely seeing an attractive woman in advertising would make a man more aggressive or make a man more interested in conspicuously consuming, "The Financial Consequences of Too Many Men" study suggests it may not be that simple. According to the findings, whether a woman is alone or surrounded by many or few men can have a great impact on the reaction it elicits.
Griskevicius says the effects of sex ratios go beyond marketing and influence all sorts of behavior. He cites other studies showing the strong correlation between male-biased sex ratios and aggressive behavior.
"We're just scratching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to financial behavior," says Griskevicius. "One of the troubling implications of sex ratios for the world in general is that it's about more than just money. It's about violence and survival."(1 Comments)
The Mrs. and I watched the International Space Station fly over Saint Paul last night. Eleven minutes later, the Soyuz space capsule followed (though we couldn't see it) as it was chasing down the space station for today's docking of the two.
Pretty amazing stuff.
"I wonder if they get bored just flying around in a circle for months at a time?" I asked as we watched the overhead show last evening.
One question I didn't ask is the one NASA actually answered today: Why is a dash to the toilet the first thing on the agenda of arriving astronauts?
Pretty amazing stuff, indeed.
By the way, the next directly-overhead sighting of the pair of spaceships will be Monday afternoon at 5:18 pm (in Minneapolis).
I've been in house confinement for more than a week now, growing more frustrated each day that for all of its accomplishments, science still hasn't beaten the common cold virus.
But maybe it's about to.
The BBC reports today that Todd Rider, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is developing an antiviral drug that's proven it works against 15 viruses -- including the common cold -- to which it has been applied in mice.
But other scientists are skeptical because the research was published in a journal that doesn't have a peer-review system. They also note a breakthrough could be years away from being tested on humans.
In the meantime, the rest of us will continue to be smitten by viruses passed to us, no doubt, by the colleague who came to work sick to show what a team player he/she is.
What happens when you can capture one trillion frames per second? You make the speed of light look really, really slow. Since I don't have a PhD in physics, I'll let the researchers from MIT Media Lab's Camera Culture group explain how they did it:
This imaging system is a spinoff from another Camera Culture project -- developing a camera that can see around corners. Another MIT researcher is developing a radar technology that allows us to see through concrete walls.
Pretty soon, there will be little we can't see -- with the proper technology, of course.
But while being able to see an advancing light wave is really something, I'm still pretty impressed with a mere 1,000 frames per second:(1 Comments)
Did a coronal mass ejection "uncloak" a Klingon bird of prey ship?
You have to love the YouTube guy who noticed the object saying "it's definitely some sort of manufactured object."
It could very well be a glitch on the sensor, a ghost image from the planet Mercury itself. If you pay close attention, you can see that the two lines follow the same direction that the planet does. But if it's a ghost image, why does it end so abruptly? How is it so well delimited? Why does it look like a spaceship?
The answer, according to Nathan Rich, lead ground system engineer at the United States Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, is in the way the images are post-processed.
A series of images shot from another satellite seems to show the same thing.
Definitely Klingons.(8 Comments)
Some days it's hard not to play the "what if?" game in the news. What if one day soon, a cure for cancer is discovered?
It's a game being played in the "News Cut Cubicle" because today comes news that a new vaccine has shown some promise when given to women who had breast or ovarian cancer. The vaccine cause the breast cancer's progress to stall for almost three months. The ovarian cancer's spread was stopped for two months.
In one woman -- a young woman whose cancer had her liver, and to her lymph nodes in her chest -- is now cancer free and has been for four years.(4 Comments)
The best part about this video, is the typical YouTube flame war it started over the question of whether information added to your computer actually adds anything, or just rearranges what's already there.
(h/t: The Nerdery)
Science Daily reports today that an asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier is going to pass within a couple hundred thousand mile of earth next Monday.
"What is unique about this asteroid flyby is that we were aware of it well in advance," Jay Melosh, a Purdue expert in impact cratering, said. "Before about 1980 we wouldn't know about an asteroid of this size until it was already making a close pass, but now it is unlikely that such an asteroid will approach the Earth without our knowledge."
The following question is the type that could easily come from the mind of Mary Lucia: Is this knowledge a good thing or a bad thing?
If an asteroid were on its way to hit the earth, would you want to know about it? If it were to hit, what would you be doing today?
Melosh says this particular rock would create a blast equal to 4,000 megatons and if it were to strike the ocean, it would create 70-foot-high tsunami waves 60 miles from the splashdown site.
If it struck, say, Menominee, heat from the fireball would cause extensive first-degree skin burns to everyone in the Twin Cities.
While you're thinking about whether you'd want to know the earth was doomed in such a situation, you'll want to be playing with this neat asteroid impact calculator.(5 Comments)
Tired of hearing stories about uneducated, uninterested kids today with no goals and no interest in, say, science? Me, too. Which is why this mini-doc about young people who got jobs for the summer at Exploratorium (a science museum) in San Francisco might be the most inspiring thing you see today. It's also something to remember next year when there'll be more stories about how difficult it is for kids to find summer jobs anymore.
(h/t: Jeanne Souldern)(3 Comments)
Scientists at Berkeley may not only be able to read your mind, they may be able to see what's in it, too.
In a study published this week in Current Biology, the researchers showed video clips to volunteers, then measured their brain activity with an MRI .
Here's an example of what the people watched vs. what their brains revealed:
It could become a powerful tool to communicate with people who cannot verbalize, such as stroke victim and coma patients, Scientific American says. Unfortunately, it's several decades away from being perfected for that use.(2 Comments)
Peru, you're in the clear. Upper Midwest? Maybe. Africa, we have a problem.
The people tracking the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite now say it will likely land in the middle of Africa tonight (11:16 p.m. CT) , give or take 5 hours and lots of other places on the planet.
Yesterday, it was predicted to drop into the South Pacific off the coast of Peru.
Under this updated forecast, it still could provide a reentry show in the Upper Midwest if it stays aloft for an additional hour or so. That would put it over southern Canada, not that far from the Minnesota border.
All the information is here.
This being Science Friday, I'm not ready to let go of the possibility that scientists really did find that neutrinos travel faster than the speed of light, even though I'm probably among the fools (click image for readable laugh):
Physicist Brian Cox, by the way, has a very interesting interview on the BBC on the subject. Maybe, he says, Einstein's theory of special relativity isn't wrong. Maybe it's absolutely correct in three dimensions but this discovery tells us what's happening in another dimension.
So, maybe people are wrong and there really isn't "the most profound discovery of the last 100 years" vying for news attention with mere trivial matters. What's the harm from the initial enthusiasm when it resulted in the one thing science needed: non-scientists to be interested in it for a day? That's still a day when Kim Kardashian isn't considered that important.
Maybe that's what it's like in another dimension.(2 Comments)
If we were more of a science-loving people, maybe this would lead every newscast today:
Einstein proven wrong.
The science community is abuzz today with news from a group of European researchers that neutrinos -- sub-atomic particles -- travel faster than light. Einstein said nothing can travel faster than light.
If his special theory of relativity is proven incorrect, it means that most everything we think about how the world and universe works might be wrong.
Other scientists, however, are lining up to call "shenanigans" on the claim.
Chang Kee Jung, a neutrino physicist at Stony Brook University, says there's an error in the calculations somewhere. "I wouldn't bet my wife and kids because they'd get mad," he says. "But I'd bet my house."
"We have high confidence in our results. We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing," Antonio Ereditato, spokesman for the researchers, told Reuters. "We now want colleagues to check them independently."
"This is so huge that the Europeans are asking us to check it. They haven't done that since the rise of the Third Reich," Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post jokes.
If it's true, what does it mean? The researchers aren't saying. So we turn to the world of science fiction which has long contended that the secret of time travel depends on overcoming the notion that nothing can travel faster than light.
Also, it means we may not don't need roads, and there's a possibility you're dating your mother.
Officials are now issuing predictions of where/when the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite falls back to earth. The headline: There appears to be almost no chance it falls in Minnesota.
The Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris studies released the above map today, saying the predicted reentry time is 22:07 UTC (that's 5:07 p.m. Central Time) tomorrow, give or take 9 hours.
Lesser headline: If that's true, we won't see a thing. The satellite will be in the southern hemisphere at the time.
We admit to being opposed to the idea of getting hit by a falling satellite. On the other hand, we kind of want to see a show. If that describes you, hope that the satellite stays aloft for four more orbits, when its track could take it closer to the Upper Midwest.
Here's the key to the above map:
Yellow Icon - location of object at predicted reentry time
Orange Line - area of visibility at the predicted reentry time for a ground observer
Blue Line - ground track uncertainty prior to predicted reentry time (ticks at 5-minute intervals)
Yellow Line - ground track uncertainty after predicted reentry time (ticks at 5-minute intervals)
White Line - day/night divider at predicted reentry time (Sun location shown by White Icon)
Note: Possible reentry locations lie anywhere along the blue and yellow ground track.
The odds of being hit by a falling satellite -- in this case NASA's wobbly Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite -- would seem to be astronomical. But they're not.
Mark Matney, a scientist in the Orbital Debris Program Office (the people who track space junk) says the odds that someone will be hit are 1 in 3,200.
But the odds that you will be that one are somewhere better for all concerned -- one in several trillion, according to Life's Little Mysteries.
To make this calculation, Matney explained, analysts work out how much debris will actually make landfall. (Most falling junk just burns up in the atmosphere.) They then make a grid of how the human population is distributed around the globe. Oceans, deserts and the North and South poles are largely devoid of people, for example, whereas coastlines are brimming with them. In short, they must figure out which patches of Earth have people standing on them.
Throwing in a few more minor details, such as the latitudes over which satellites spend most of their time orbiting, the scientists calculate how likely it is that a piece of space debris will strike the ground where a person happens to be. This time around, the odds are 1-in-3,200, and there's a one-in-several-trillion chance that not only will a person get hit, but that person will be you.
"The annual risk of a single person to be severely injured by a re-entering piece of space debris is about 1 in 100,000,000,000," according to Heiner Klinkrad, head of the ESA's Orbital Debris Office. As near as I can tell 100 billion is a lot smaller than several trillion.
All of these calculations go out the window, of course, if the experts eventually pin the satellite's re-entry path in the vicinity of your cul de sac.
Some experts on the SeeSat Internet mailing list have calculated the satellite will return to earth "Friday at 2004 GMT (3:04 p.m. CDT) plus or minus five hours, and descending on 19.1 degrees north, 128.5 degrees east over the West Pacific near the northwest coast of Japan."
In other words: it'll probably fly over flyover country well before it returns to earth, but put on the show elsewhere.
But officials won't be predicting where that might be until two days, one day, 12 hours, six hours and two hours before the calculated point of return.
Should you be concerned? An average of 13 people die each year from falling vending machines. You don't change your plans because of them, right?
(h/t: Matt Black)(2 Comments)
Dr. Stephen Miles did a masterful job of clinically explaining the HPV vaccination and the virus that can lead to cervical cancer in women. He appeared today on MPR's Midday program.
But caller after caller took issue with what he had to say, rarely citing clinical evidence, and it was clear that whatever science-bassed education Miles was trying to provide, it wasn't working.
That seems to be the dilemma in a debate that, like climate change, is too polluted by politics to have an enlightening discussion.
Part of the problem? The Internet, according to some experts. Several decades after it came into our lives, there are still far too many people who think if it's on the Internet, it's got to be true.
The other part of the problem? Well, when's the last time you had a belief and you changed it? It's not something that happens often in public discourse of important issues.
"I recently had a mother who had cervical cancer who refused the HPV vaccine for her child," Dr. Mary Anne Jackson an infectious disease expert at Children's Mercy Hospital & Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri, told Reuters. "I asked her where she got her information and she said, 'the Internet, and innuendo."'
Indeed, one of the callers to today's Midday cited an Internet website that opposes the vaccine as the source of her information, citing claims of 98 deaths from the vaccine Gardisil.
"I've looked at the same website" Miles responded. "The website includes zero medical records. It does not include links to the medical records... its entire board does not include anyone, as far as I can see, with any medical training or experience. Testimonials are important in marketing products and getting products to be not marketed. But that is not a substitute for science."
Science, of late, has a hard time getting much respect.
"What is especially disturbing is you've got organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists -- every learned medical organization in the country and indeed around the world -- in favor of immunization," Jackson said.
She said 85 percent of her patients readily accept the vaccine, 12 percent are hesitant, and 3 percent "flat out refuse." She said she's not worried about the daughters in the 3 percent.
"It's not going to impact the flat-out refusers. I worry it is going to impact this group of vaccine-hesitant families," she said.
The big -- and getting bigger -- wildfire in the Boundary Waters is sure to ignite an old debate: When should the Forest Service just let it burn?
Let's hit rewind and check the excellent Duluth Pack Blog, and its August 31 entry, when the fire was still in its infancy:
The Forest Service strategy is to let this fire burn as long as it is not threatening BWCAW campsites, portages, or private properties to the north. Controlled burn strategies are common when fires are started naturally and don't pose risk to life or property. As this fire burns it is removing or reducing much of the fuel that is lying on the ground; by eliminating that now, future fires won't have fuel to burn.
Today, Eric Thompson of Green Bay -- an MPRNews.org reader -- sent us this e-mail:
I was hiking the Pow-Wow Trail from 09-02-2011 to 09-05-2011. I was four miles from the fire. This fire started on 08-18-2011 by lightning and the US Forestry Service made the decision to let it burn. They say it's good for the wilderness to clean out all the downed wood. Day 1 it was 18 acres, day 3 it was 240 acres. When I started hiking on 09-02 it was over 1000 acres. Now its over 60,000. The USFS needs to jump on top of these fires before letting them grow out of control. Then they whine about the damage they cause when they are to blame for letting it grow in the first place?
The Forest Service began changing its policy toward fire in 1995, when the environmental benefit of fire to a forest became more known, and the cost of suppressing it went up.
Fire clears out underbrush and creates forest openings, which in the long run prevents -- wait for it -- large fires.
The policy had its root in the fact that in the early part of this century, the more effort was made to extinguishing wildfires, the more wildfires there were.
"The mentality is changing," Greg Aplet, a Denver-based fire scientist with The Wilderness Society, told USA Today in 2007, a huge year for wildfires in the U.S. "The obvious answer is not to fight fires we don't need to fight."
But how do you know for sure which fires those are? Except in the most wild of areas, it becomes a gamble that the weather patterns won't promote a significant spread of the fire to the point where homes and businesses are threatened.
We've reached that point.
"The smoke from Pagami Creek has been particularly heavy this Tuesday morning in and around Grand Marais," Paula Marie Powell tells MPR News today. "As a manager at a hotel, I have been checking guests out days before their departure date because of smoke complaints. Cars and deck chairs are covered in ash. Some of the local homeowners have been checking and running their sprinkler systems. The drought conditions are making people anxious, as we all know that it barely takes an effort to start a wildfire right now."
Last week, an environmental group in Oregon filed suit against the Forest Service to require an environmental assessment before deciding whether to fight fires, including considering the cost of human life. "The thesis of our case is that fighting fires is what has gotten us into the trouble we're in," said Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. "It's time to end the war against fire and learn to live with fire and manage it, rather than fight it." One of those filing the suit was the father of man who died fighting the Thirty Mile Fire in Washington in 2001. "It's one thing to die in the service of your country for a justifiable proper cause," Ken Weaver told the Seattle Times. "The problem is we've got these kids out there dying for something that is scientifically bankrupt. We are subverting nature, causing more damage than good, and we are taking kids' lives. That is just so wrong."
(This information was incorrect. I regret the error)
(Photo: Julie Miedtke's 2007 photo of the area of the Cavity Lake Fire via Flickr)(16 Comments)
Is it possible for anyone to be more deadpan while talking about a cataclysmic supernova he and his colleagues discovered "in our backyard?"
Peter Nugent explains how you can spot the supernova using a pair of binoculars and looking somewhere near the Big Dipper.
If you should spot it, just remember that you're looking 21 million years back in time.(1 Comments)
What would it be like to never have been allowed to go outside? This German video, making the rounds today on the Intertubes, supposes to be a heartwarming tale of what happened when some chimps, who had been research animals, were sent to a safari camp and allowed to wander on their own.
Good for the chimps above but not so heartwarming once you realize the world from which they come. A week or so ago, the Humane Society in the U.S. released an investigation into the use of chimps in research.
In stories like this, it's hard to shake this amazing photo from National Geographic in 2009 when a dead chimp was wheeled away.
(h/t: Julia Schrenkler)
I'm not sure what's the coolest thing about this: The image and the audio? Or that we live in a day when we can watch our weather from space? Enjoy.(3 Comments)
Posted at 10:47 AM on August 24, 2011
by Eric Ringham
It sounds like the East Coast came through the quake with most of its people, property and dignity intact. Even so, it's scary to see normally stationary fixtures start to sway, so I don't blame people for freaking out.
My colleague Molly Bloom came up with the wording we settled on for Today's Question: Does the risk of natural disaster shape where you live or travel? I knew it was a good choice because it made me want to answer.
Long ago I took a geology course at the University of Minnesota from a professor who, I distinctly remember, warned us about the danger of traveling to San Francisco. The Big One was coming, he said. If it doesn't happen today, that only increases its chances of happening tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, then the day after. The professor said that he wouldn't visit the Bay Area until after the major, killer earthquake that he knew was coming.
Then and there, I resolved to follow his example.
Years later, after a moderate earthquake on the West Coast, I decided to give my old prof a call and invite him to write a commentary about his personal decision not to visit San Francisco until after the next big quake.
"I said what?" he said. "No. I'm sure I never said that. I love San Francisco. I go there all the time."
But ... but ... I've been avoiding San Francisco for 20 years because you told me to.
"I'm sorry," he said, "but I never said that."
There's a lesson in here somewhere.
It's International Sinkhole Day, apparently. A happy one to you and yours.
In Burnsville today, a water main break has triggered a large sinkhole on County Road 11. It's 30 feet deep and crews are trying to fill it and reopen the road. Of course, you never know with sinkholes. Is it the only one in the area? And where does all the dirt go that got washed away?
It's reminiscent of one that appeared on a Saint Paul street last year.
Meanwhile, in Guatemala City, a woman awoke recently to discover a sinkhole in her bedroom. She was just inches from a 40 foot drop. "Thanks to God and the holy Mary that nothing bad happened," she said, a comment that raises questions for another day.
Guatemala is particularly susceptible to these things because it sits on volcanic ash. Remember this baby from last year?
Usually, crews fill the Guatemala sinkholes with cement, although I've been unable so far to find and updated photograph of the location.
How hot and unpleasant does it have to get for you to consider swimming in this muck?
This is Qingdao China, where algae is continuing to spread along China's coast (h/t: Boing Boing)
When the algae dies, it will create a dead zone in which plants and fish will not exist.
Minnesota officials report algae blooms in lakes here are a problem, too, although not nearly as dramatic as the ocean in China. Not yet, anyway.
This is why I love the Internet.
Rick Ankiel, who used to be a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and is now an outfielder, threw out two baserunners earlier this season.
Rhett Alain, at dot.physics, has just calculated how fast a person would have to throw the ball to be able to do that.
First, he used Google Earth to calculate how far the ball went each time. Then he used a series of calculations like this...
... that apparently did something other than take me back to Miss Mercer's class in high school where I sat in the back of the class and fretted because I didn't get it....
Then he graphed it...
... and determined that the throw was launched at 123 mph.
He acknowledges, however, that he didn't include the lower gravitational field and air density of Denver. Piker.
What does this tell us? To pay attention in high school.1 Comments)
Scientists who have been looking for intelligent -- or any other type of -- life in the galaxy have assumed through various models that there might be as many as 10,000 tech savvy civilizations out there looking for us while we look for them.
But a new report, published on LiveScience.com today, suggests the number may be closer to zero.
Astrophysicist David Spiegel at Princeton University and physicist Edwin Turner at the University of Tokyo debunk the models, based on taking the fundamental laws that established life on earth and calculating that they apply elsewhere, too. The pair argues that the laws don't translate to the rest of the galaxy.
"Although life began on this planet fairly soon after the Earth became habitable, this fact is consistent with ... life being arbitrarily rare in the Universe," the authors state. In the paper, they prove this statement mathematically.
Their result doesn't mean we're alone -- only that there's no reason to think otherwise. "[A] Bayesian enthusiast of extraterrestrial life should be significantly encouraged by the rapid appearance of life on the early Earth but cannot be highly confident on that basis," the authors conclude. Our own existence implies very little about how many other times life has arisen.
In other words: The genesis of life in other worlds is not inevitable.(3 Comments)
Paul Dye, 52, a Roseville, Minnesota native, (profiled here five years ago) will not have to worry about anyone breaking his record as the longest-serving space shuttle flight director in this country's history. After the Atlantis completes its mission in a few weeks, there won't be any more space shuttle flight directors to break it because there won't be any more space shuttle flights.
I called him today to find out what happens when the major component of the U.S. space program ends.
Q: What's your role in this last shuttle mission and then what will you do?
Dye: I'm going to be one of the three orbit flight directors so I'll have the "Orbit Three" team, which is basically when the crew is asleep. When we first started preparing this mission about a year ago, I was following it through the office and I was temporary lead (flight director), but when it became real... we've got some guys in the office who need the experience and I've had nine or 10 lead flight director jobs over the years so we figured it was time to give someone else the job. I'm kind of mentoring them.
So I'm on when the crew is sleeping and we put the plan together for the next day, which if the mission goes as planned, it's pretty simple, and if we've got to change things around, we can be pretty busy overnight.
Then when we're done with this I go back to my other life which is flying the space station. It's amazing how often people ask, "So when are we going to get some Americans up there, again?" They're always thinking in terms of the shuttle, but we've had Americans in orbit since the space station was first staffed. That's over 10 years. We fly 24/7/365 and that takes a lot of flight controllers and a fair number of directors to keep that staffed.
Q: The last time we talked, you said you would work with a shuttle mission team for about a year before the actual launch, has that schedule changed?
Dye: Since I kind of started this mission and then turned it over to another fellow as the lead, I've been mentoring him as the lead, I've done more than the Orbit 3 would normally do for a flight. But, really, the Orbit 3 person can come in a couple months before flight, take a quick look at it, see what's different, learn those specific differences, and then do one or two simulations. We generally do one that we call an emergency run; it's just a day when we go over with the real crew, the real station crew, our station counterparts in the control center, and our team and we run through emergency scenarios. Then we go fly it.
This particular one, because it's the last shuttle flight, I've been a little more involved with some of the peripheral activities, some public affairs stuff, and helping people outside of the Agency understand what we're doing. This one's taken a little more time than some of the Orbit Threes.
When we were in production mode and flying shuttles a lot, at any one time, you were the lead on one mission coming up, you were flying Orbit Two on somebody else's flight, and Orbit Three on somebody else's flight.
Q: What's the mood? Out here in the real world, there's a sense of sadness that the shuttle program is ending.
Dye: There is, without a doubt, sadness. There is above all an incredible dedication to continuing to do the job right. The flight isn't over until all the parts stop moving. And you have to fly right to the end; you can't let up while you're coasting down the runway.
We've got people who are going to be laid off at "wheels stop." They're going to be gone. I've got people who are five or 10 years into their career starts -- these are people who were right out of college who are the brightest and best who came to work with us -- and I would be training with them and at the end of the day of training, they'd say, "Paul, it's been great working with you."
I'd say, "Yeah, we had a great day." And they'd say, "No, this is my last day of work." And right up until they were done, they did not give a hint that they were walking out the door. That's dedication.
Q: Where do they go? What do you do in your business when the job is over?
Dye: Well, that's tough. In the old Southern California aerospace industry model, Company A gets a contract to build a big, new bomber and they hire 10,000 people to do that and it takes them five years. And when they're done with that production room, everyone gets laid off. But that's OK because Company B got the contract for the next big contract for the new fighter, and they hired all those people. They walked across the street and they went to work for Company B. That's the way the aerospace industry worked for decades.
To a certain extent that works in the space business; there's still engineering jobs out there. There are people building commercial spacecraft, working on commercial space. But for my operations people, people who are dedicated flight controllers, flight trainers and the like, there's nobody else out there doing this right now.
So at the very best, they've got a couple of years before they can shovel that talent back in to , say, the commercial companies.
So what do they do right now? It's pretty tough. Folks are out there looking. There are lots of folks leaving the aerospace industry to go to other types of engineering. There are a lot of high-tech opportunities for people who are creative. If you have flight in your soul, it's hard to find something right now.
Q: In a presentation you gave in Minneapolis a few years ago, you said that as a species, we are designed to be explorers, even if we're exploring things in which the payoff isn't until another generation. Do you still think that?
Dye: As a species, I have no doubt that humanity is a race of explorers. There is a difference between humanity and a nation. I think that we will continue to explore as a species. We will continue to explore this planet, there is a great vast ocean bottom that hasn't been looked at. We will explore low earth orbit some more. We will explore near planets, and we will move out into the stars.
This is not to say the United States of America is going to be the one to lead that charge. Just as British Empire tapered off and the Roman Empire tapered off, sooner or later almost all human institutions end, but that does not end what humankind does.
I'm a student of history and... a lot of folks have said recently, "why are we still messing around in lower earth orbit? We just keep going exactly where we've been for a long time." It took the early exploration cultures -- let's go with the Portuguese -- it took them quite awhile sailing around near coastal areas before they developed the technology to just leave land behind and head out into the deep blue. And to a certain extent that's what we've been doing in lower Earth orbit.
We will, I'm quite confident unless we destroy ourselves as a species, move out into the solar system and beyond that. But it takes baby steps learning how to do it.
Q: Have you had a chance to sit back and reflect on the changes in technology over the course of your career in the space program?
Dye: Every once in awhile I'll open a file drawer and I will find an old cassette tape from an old offline computer that we would've used in the back room of the control center. Or I will find an old 8-inch floppy disk. I still have an 11-inch floppy disk somewhere. The technology that has... I'm sitting here talking on an iPhone, which does almost everything my laptop computer will do for me. All of this capability has happened fairly recently.
It all comes from society assuming that technology is always going to advance. We have a generation of people who have never known a time when mankind could not go to space. To them, you just need to launch another satellite, or just use the microelectronics to make this little widget.
From an aviation perspective, when I started flying the shuttle, all of the instruments were mechanical. About 15-20 years ago, we started replacing all of that with glass cockpit because, frankly, all of the people who knew how to fix all the old mechanical stuff were retired or dying. There was nobody left to redo that stuff.
I reflect quite a bit on the way technology has improved. There may be one or two times when I say, "Guys, get rid of the technology. Pick up a pencil and paper and just write me a note." But most of the time the technology has helped us out. It's amazing what we have developed in the 31 years that we've been flying space shuttles.
Q: Do you and your colleagues ever just sit back and say, "this is cool!"?
Dye: Oh yeah. We do it all the time. There are nights when we've got a (space station) pass over Houston, with the shuttle docked to the station and the like. We will frequently release everybody but two fire guards and everybody else goes outside in the parking lot and watches it fly over. And we stand up there just slack-jawed and say, "Holy smokes! We're going to go back inside and talk to those guys."
The weirdest thing in the world is for me to realize... I meet with a lot of people who are fascinated by the space program . And they would give anything to be even marginally involved with one spaceflight of any kind. And here I've been a flight director on 38 flight missions, I was a flight controller on many more before that. I fly the space station once or twice a month. It's very easy to sit back and realize... and forget about how privileged we've been to be part of this program, and just how incredible it really is.
As we learn from our mishaps like the Columbia, things can go bad very, very fast. And a lot of people live in a simulated world. They play a lot of video games, they see things in simulation, they see things on TV and they don't get out there and realize the real world is moving past you very fast and if something goes wrong, you can get hurt very bad.
I think to some extent, we've gotten into a culture that a lot of folks don't experience the real world directly. It's just been an amazing ride being able to fly the shuttle this long.
Q: Of all the people you've met at NASA over the years, is there one who stands out as being particularly inspiring to you?
Dye: I don't think I could pick one. I can pick several who've been my mentors over the years. Gene Kranz was one. Randy Stone was Gene's successor and he was a mentor to me. There are so many incredible people that I've been able to deal with in our flight control ranks, in the engineering world, in the flight crew ranks; it's been a privilege to work with all of them.
Q: Are you a Minnesotan or a Texan now?
Dye: I'm a temporarily misassigned Minnesotan. I've never truly adjusted to the climate here. It's hot. It's humid. There are good things; the flying weather is good most of the year, I don't have to drain the oil out of the engine in February at the end of the day after flying, then heat it up on the stove the next morning before pouring it back into the engine to go flying the next morning, which I used to do when I was a kid with a J-3 Cub.
But when we're done here, my wife and I have picked out a place out West, out in the mountains that we're going to enjoy.
Q: When will that be?
Dye: A couple more years. I never wanted the shuttle program to end. But if it was going to end, I'm glad it ended before I left so I didn't have to make the difficult decisions to leave it.
My goal is to make sure that everything I was taught by the Apollo veterans who trained me, who came before me, I want to make sure I've passed every bit of that wisdom, plus everything else we've learned, onto the next generation of people so that I can sit on the sidelines and cheer on the next generation of people who are going to take us into space.
Q: What happens when this mission is over? Sheetcake?
Dye: We're going to have a heck of a party. We used to have big splashdown parties after Apollo missions because they landed in the ocean. Then we had "wheels stop" parties in the early days of the shuttle program where we'd all go out in the woods out back. When things got routine, those wouldn't happen quite as much. But I think we're planning a good, old-fashioned "wheels stop" party here.
I personally want to be in the control center for that last "wheels stop" and I want to sit there for a few minutes with my headset on and then we'll go out and drink some beer.
Some questions were submitted via Twitter from NewsCut followers, and Paul Dye responded:
Q: Are any NASA employees moving to other countries' space programs?
"There may be a few folks going to our partner nations - that has always happened , and has helped build mutual relationships. I don't know if the current situations will increase that or not."
Q: In a perfect world, what would he want to see the shuttle replaced with?
"In a perfect world, we'd see the shuttle replaced with a more capable second-generation shuttle that was fully reusable and launch on short notice. We'd take what we learned from the shuttle and build on that. But the world isn't perfect, and we have to live with what the policymakers ask us to do. "
Q: What technology will be most crucial to propel space flight to the next level (interplanetary travel)?
"For interplanetary travel, we need to get away from chemical propulsion, and develop the technology to truly survive in space without resupply. We need to be able to live off the land and operate on our own."
(Image credit: Photo of Mr. Dye in the space shuttle simulator courtesy of Doug Reeves. Top image from Johnson Space Center/NASA)
NASA has a whole lot of "who knows" in its release today about sea ice around Antarctica.
It released a series of images today, showing winter and summer sea ice around the continent, none of which appears to show a trend one way or the other.
Since the start of the satellite record, total Antarctic sea ice has increased by about 1 percent per decade. Whether the small overall increase in sea ice extent is a sign of meaningful change in the Antarctic is uncertain because ice extents in the Southern Hemisphere vary considerably from year to year and from place to place around the continent. Considered individually, only the Ross Sea sector had a significant positive trend, while sea ice extent has actually decreased in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen Seas. In short, Antarctic sea ice shows a small positive trend, but large scale variations make the trend very noisy.
The year-to-year and place-to-place variability is evident in the past decade. The winter maximum in the Weddell Sea, for example, is above the median in some years and below it others. In any given year, sea ice concentration may be below the median in one sector, but above the median in another; in September 2000, for example, ice concentrations in the Ross Sea were above the median extent, while those in the Pacific were below it.
NASA's cautious assessment contrasts with assertions last week that the ice shelf near the Pine Island Glacier in West Antactica is melting at an increasing rate, and could raise sea levels by 25 centimeters -- almost 10 inches.
By the way, it's the dead of winter in Antarctica now. The temperature at the moment in Vostok is -89 °F. There'll be no melting there today.(1 Comments)
Reader Corrie Patrick has just sent this photo from a trip today to St. Paul's wonderful Como Conservatory, where the "corpse flower" is in bloom. And by, "in bloom," we mean it stinks to high heaven... like death, they say.
"It did not disappoint," Corrie says, as if you could be disappointed by the reeking smell of death from a plant whose Latin name means misshapen penis.
The bloom only lasts 1-2 days (it started opening yesterday afternoon) and the smell is much shorter. "By closing time tonight, there is the possibility that the smell will have disappeared and the spathe will have started to close up and again cover the base of the spadix," the Conservatory's website says.
It's staying open late tonight for the occasion ( 9 pm).
It is named "BOB, too," but not for the reason you might think. It was obtained from Gustavus Adolphus College's chemistry professor Dr. Brian O'Brien. It is 18 years old and has never bloomed before.
(h/t: Corrie Patrick)
A paper from a Twin Cities professor calls on us to rethink our negative views of "invasive species."
Some of our negative views about the species are informed by warnings like this one from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Minnesota's natural resources are threatened by invasive species such as the zebra mussel, Eurasian watermilfoil, purple loosestrife, gypsy moth, and garlic mustard. These species, along with new invasive species, could be easily spread within the state if citizens, businesses, and visitors don't take necessary steps to contain them.
Considering the harm these species can do to our environment and the challenge of raising public awareness to stop the spread of these species, it seems like urging tolerance and understanding of non-native species could be a bit misguided.
But Mark Davis, professor with Macalester College, argues that our simplistic nativism perspective that is based on a black and white reading of native species are good, non-natives are bad has had too much influence among conservationists.
"Scientists who malign introduced plants and animals for thriving under favorable conditions seem to be disregarding basic ecological and evolutionary principles," say Matthew Chew, an ecologist and historian of invasion biology, and Julie Stromberg, a plant ecologist, with Arizona State University. "Evaluating whether a species 'belongs' in a particular place is more complicated than just finding out how and when it arrived."(5 Comments)
Scientific studies show that while some introduced species have resulted in extinctions, not all natives are beneficial, as in the example of the Pine Bark beetle, which is decimating North American pine forests (Physorg).
If you didn't get your fill of science with last week's "A Day in the Life of a Booster Rocket," NASA has released another compilation of video from the launch last month of the space shuttle Endeavour. It may be some of the most compelling video since the beginning of the human space program. Cranking up the audio on your speakers will make you a favorite in the workplace today, too.(4 Comments)
NASA has released a 36-minute video of the camera on board the booster rockets attached to the space shuttle at liftoff. They separate after working for about two-and-a-half minutes.
so they can't be up that high, right? It takes them 34 minutes to fall back to earth, the video reveals. (Check out the spot at 2:38, a second or two after it separates form the shuttle, the bright spot shows the shuttle, already a long way away.)
Minnesota is among the states that could become part of the expanded territory of "one of the most feared spiders in North America," according to a release from the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas.
The Brown Recluse's venom is highly toxic and comparable to the bite of a rattlesnake. The venom kills tissue and can be deadly if not treated in a prompt manner. The spiders, which are most active at night, are known to hide in clothing and dark spaces making them difficult to spot.
Researcher Erin Saupe authored a study that attempts to predict how the distribution of the spider may be affected by climate changes.
To address the issue of brown recluse distribution, Saupe and other researchers used a predictive mapping technique called ecological niche modeling. They applied future climate change scenarios to the spider's known distribution in the Midwest and southern United States. The researchers concluded that the range may expand northward, potentially invading previously unaffected regions. Newly influenced areas may include parts of Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
The Discovery Channel produced a show on just how deadly the venom from this spider can be.
The research is published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLoS One.(1 Comments)
This picture -- NASA's Picture of the Day -- took us a bit by surprise today. Not because spacewalking is surprising, but because these things happen and nobody pays much attention to it, anymore.
Astronaut Andrew Feustel didn't just go for a stroll, he went for a marathon and then some, spacewalking for 8 hours and 7 minutes. It was the the 246th time a U.S. astronaut has walked in space. And that was the sixth-longest spacewalk ever.
Here's something people on terra firma -- or above it -- will only see one more time: A space shuttle launch, viewed from an airplane. Stefanie Gordon of Hoboken, N.J., got this shot of the shuttle Endeavour while flying to Florida today
Even after all of these years, this video is still one of the coolest moments ...
It was a cloudy day in Florida, which means all of the people who took the day off for the once-in-a-lifetime trip to see a shuttle launch, saw only a few seconds of it. But what a few seconds! (h/t: @treyratcliff)
Starting with the second orbit today, Roseville native Paul Dye took his spot in Houston as flight director. I profiled his work in this 2006 story.
All of the viewing times of the shuttle from the St. Paul area will be early morning. The next possibility is Sunday May 29th at 4:55 a.m., when the shuttle will pass from 10 degrees above the southwest horrizon to 33 degrees above the Eastern horizon. It will be visible for four minutes.
The best viewing will be in the Austin area. It'll pass nearly overhead.(2 Comments)
We were warned and our doctors were warned, but it only was a matter of time that reckless use of antibiotics would catch-up with us. Obviously there are many legitimate uses for antibiotics, but apparently it was one sore throat too many, or one unfinished prescription too many because the superbug is here.
The writing was on the wall, or at least your screen, with articles like this one from Reuters from 2009:
In a simple Internet search, investigators found 138 online vendors that sell antibiotics without a doctor's prescription. More than one third supplied the drugs with no questions asked, while 64 percent made their own prescriptions after having prospective customers fill out an online health survey.
Wikipedia has a pretty image that illustrates how resistance is built by these superbugs.
Schematic representation of how antibiotic resistance evolves via natural selection. The top section represents a population of bacteria before exposure to an antibiotic. The middle section shows the population directly after exposure, the phase in which selection took place. The last section shows the distribution of resistance in a new generation of bacteria. The legend indicates the resistance levels of individuals.
Maybe IBM can save us? It's a long-shot.(7 Comments)
Let's get this disclaimer out of the way first: Radiation levels in the U.S. from the unfolding nuclear disasters in Japan are way below any unhealthful level. That said, the spike in radiation -- even with "not unhealthful" levels -- in Massachusetts is intriguing.
Check out this EPA RadNet chart showing the levels post-Japan earthquake (click for larger image):
If you're like me, perhaps you heard the story and figured the radiation got up into the atmosphere and floated across the U.S. to Massachusetts, in which case Minnesota probably would've gotten a little too, right? It doesn't appear so. The EPA monitor near the metro is out of order, but here's Duluth's:
To the west of us, here's Bismarck:
The EPA says Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are the areas where radiation spiked, probably because of rain:
While short-term elevations such as these do not raise public health concerns - and the levels seen in rainwater are expected to be relatively short in duration - the U.S. EPA has taken steps to increase the level of nationwide monitoring of precipitation, drinking water, and other potential exposure routes to continue to verify that.
The cloud cover prevented most of Minnesota from seeing the "supermoon" last night (one exception appears to be Grand Marais) . The moon was closer to the earth than it's been for 18 years. We couldn't judge for ourselves whether it was the big deal the build-up suggested it would be. Here are some images via Flickr.(5 Comments)
Leave it to an organization full of engineers to take a perfectly cool and spectacular view of a space shuttle launch and give it the perfectly horrible name, "Ascent Imagery Highlights."
NASA has released this production of the space shuttle Discovery's launch late last month. The shuttle, as you probably know, landed yesterday for the last time.
The video almost restores the "cool factor" in its entirety to a part of the country's space initiative that seems to have lost it.
Update 4:58 p.m. - In the first hour of NPR's Science Friday tomorrow on MPR, there'll be a segment considering the future of spaceflight.(3 Comments)
It's official. Lots of children are left behind. The "nation's report card" -- the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- is out today, showing the U.S. trailing other nations when it comes to knowledge of science. Science often plays a different fiddle to math and reading in test scores.
While the U.S. ranking compared to other countries is getting the lion's share of attention, the tragedy of the achievement gap isn't getting anywhere near the same amount of notice.
Here, for example, are the test scores by ethnicity for the fourth grade:
In Minnesota, black student had an average score that was 36 points lower than white students. That's not much different than the national average, even though Minnesota's overall scores were slightly higher than the national average.
This was as close a look at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as anybody got today when she was transferred from the University of Tucson Medical Center to a waiting aircraft for a trip to a Houston rehab center. But that didn't stop people from gathering along the route.
Giffords' recovery from the tragic shooting that claimed six lives nearly two weeks ago is certainly heartwarming. It's a story that needs no embellishment, and yet it continues to get it.
"Why is so much of the expression around this so excessive?" Kerri Miller of MPR's Midmorning asked today. In particular, she focused on the assertion that Giffords' recovery is "a miracle."
"In part, it's because we are so disappointed, so taken aback by the horror of the events, that we want to have some kind of moral balance," ethicist Art Caplan said. "The flourishing the of the miracle language starts to be an antidote to the evil of the shooting. We want redemption. We want that event transformed into something positive, and one way to do it is to use religiously-tinged language about the recovery to get that redemption."
Caplan said the same word was used -- at least in the American press -- during the rescue of the miners in Chile. The European press, on the other hand, focused on the science of it. "I don't think it's an accident," Caplan said. "We tend to get religiously tinged language It's reaching out for that divine or religious theme as part of how we interpret and make sense of our world. It's just been the culture."
Deborah Tannen, the professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, says it's a glimpse into our culture..
"Anytime we confront a terrifying, unexpected death, in our daily life and public figures... what's overwhelming is the lack of control. Something happens suddenly that we have no control over, we couldn't foresee, and everything falls apart. We find ways to think about it that make sense," she said. "When people talk about how they met their spouse, they're horrified to think, 'Had I not gone to that party, my whole life would be different.' So they talk about it in terms of divine intervention."
Reader Jennifer Zick -- a scientist, she says -- responded to today's broadcast. "I agree with Art's comments about not wanting to take away people's hope in these situations, but I definitely think this language is overused. I, for one, do prefer to look at these situations as the result of determinism, because that is in fact the only explanation with any supporting evidence. It also avoids the trap of having to explain the counter situation -- if god is intervening in Giffords' care, why didn't he save the other victims?"
Listener Doug Bieniek of Duluth, however, says he could barely stand the show:
Forgive my impudence, but neither the host, nor the guests have the slightest understanding of the concepts involved with true believers operating in faith. For secular folks such as those on your show to try to discuss a miracle and discover meaning in such a concept is like asking a laborer in the fields to repair the damage Mrs. Giffords suffered. Frankly, it was abundantly clear you had no idea where to begin to talk about such a topic.
Folks are habituated to assigning religious terms to things they do not understand and often throw such terms around devoid the very high value our Creator and the faithful place upon them. They use them without the foundation necessary to grasp such concepts and more often than not misuse and abuse such terms, even going so far as to turn some of these sacred terms into cursing.
Let me explain, to breathe is a miracle. That I may grasp a pencil, or type this message and send it to you is no less a miracle. That Mrs. Giffords should recover from her wounds through the work of all those people around her is still, a miracle. The secular definition of a gift from a Creator God is ridiculous. If one can accept through faith where the power for such things comes from, it is an easy leap to the real truth of all things.
There are all kinds of rock stars in the bible. The difference, however, is those operating with a faithful understanding know where to point the adulation when it comes their way. One can look to science for the truth, but it only reflects the great power of the One God who created all things in the first place. To think differently, in my view, is arrogant and one dimensional. If you are not able to see past the science, which is a created thing, one can never hope to truly understand truth.
Here's the whole show.
Of course, everyone processes events differently. Some people invoke a divine intervention, others sell their toys:(2 Comments)
What caused the recent mass deaths of birds? The answer may be found in Worthington, Minnesota more than 100 years ago. It was there in March 1904, an estimated 750,000 Lapland Longspurs died on the mean streets, fields and lakes of Nobles County.
The aflockalypse is detailed in a 1907 article -- A Lapland Larkspur Tragedy -- in the Journal of Ornithology:
A Mr. Drobeck reported that on the morning following the storm he noticed lumps or balls of snow on the roof o f his barn and that when they thawed in the morning sun, they were found to contain live birds. The heads of the birds would first appear, and then, shaking off the snow, they would sit for a time in the sun drying and preening themselves and then fly off. He caught several and took them in the house and it was two of these birds that Dr. Dart saw in his window garden a week later. This curious statement was corroborated by a second observer. Evidently the birds had become wet and snow-laden and falling into the sticky snow had by their efforts rolled themselves in to snow-balls.
Dr. Manson and Dr. Humlston, two physicians of Worthington, gave their testimony along the same lines as above. The former added that he noticed that many of the birds had entered the snoxv head foremost as though they had pitched down head-long rather
than as though they had fluttered down as they probably would have done after striking some obstacle. When these birds were picked out of the snow it was found that the snow was stained with blood that had oozed from their mouths.
Worthington's electric streets lights were initially suspected, but birds were dropping in nearby Slayton, too. There were only gas lamplights in Slayton, where every family in the town had gathered at least three dozen still-live birds.
Dead birds were also found in Luverne, Lakefield, and Pipestone.
Why? The author says all of the birds had impact injuries, leading to the theory that while migrating from Iowa north, they got confused by some snow, and then were attracted by the lights of the town.Some hit objects, some were weighted by the snow, and some just dropped dead from exhaustion. (Read the entire article here)
Fast forward to 2011. What's going on? The DiscoBlog at Discover.com takes a crack at it:
Causes ranging from UFOs, monsters (our personal favorite), fireworks, secret military testing, poison, shifting magnetic fields, and odd weather formations have been blamed for the deaths, but researchers are saying these types of die-offs are normal. It's simply a coincidence that a few big ones happened right around the new year-and once the global media started paying attention to wildlife mortality, we saw examples everywhere.
In other words: It happens all the time.
But it might be an intergalactic death ray.(2 Comments)
Why isn't "bullying" being taken more seriously? There's an "empathy gap," according to a study out from Northwestern University today.
"The research suggests that people have difficulty appreciating the full severity of social suffering unless they themselves experience it," the study says. "The findings show that an understanding of this empathy gap, especially in the case of bullying, is crucial because it has implications for how outsiders react to socially distressing events and the degree of punitive measures that are taken in support of victims."
In his study (documented on LiveScience.com), professor Loran Nordgren had students play a ball-tossing game with scenarios in which some of the students were included and some who weren't. In assessing other scenarios, those who were "excluded" were more able to understand the pain of bullying than those who were "included."
He did it again with teachers, and found the same result.
It may be a scientific example of the bottom line of a study being: "some people just don't get it."
These last few weeks have not been a particularly good time to discuss climate change -- although I do note that it's December 30th and it's raining out there -- but the Web site Climate Wisconsin is providing some fabulous reminders about how much our culture is linked with the weather. Sure, there's the usual political debate to be had, but let's face it: few people are going to give an inch right now on what they believe.
So maybe we should just back up a little bit first and assess this culture of ours, and maybe get back to the question of whether the climate is changing, and so what if it is, and save the why for a bit later.
I'm not opening up comments on this one. Go spend some time exploring the site, then come back and we can talk about it later.
Want to know whether someone is a conservative or a liberal? There's no longer a need to figure out how to work the question into a conversation ("How about that Obama, eh?"). Just look into the other person's eyes, a study out of Nebraska says. (LiveScience.com)
People normally respond to "gaze cues," or the direction that another person is looking, by glancing to see what caught that person's attention. The new study, to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, finds that liberals respond much more strongly to such cues than conservatives. The finding is the latest in a series of clues that liberals and conservatives may be subtly different on a biological level, said study researcher Michael Dodd, a psychologist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
Researchers are suggesting how you react to things around you might indicate your political leanings. Or not.
"I do tend to think that it is more likely that basic cognitive biases influence how you process the world, making you more or less likely to seek out liberal or conservative ideals," the researcher said.(8 Comments)
Last evening I noticed that the snow mountain I'd built next to my driveway was beginning to fracture. A fissure had developed along the approximate line of the chain-link fence buried deep within the mountain.
I recognize this. I've seen it in videos from Alaska. It's called "calving."
But a better video to help put things in perspective is this one: the trailer for a PBS documentary about the fateful (but, miraculously, not fatal) Antarctic expedition of Ernest Shackleton and his ship Endurance in 1914. Have you had some anxious moments when your car was stuck in a snow bank? Imagine having your ship stuck in an ice floe - with no prospect of rescue.
If the kids need something to do on their snow day (doubtful), set them to reading the story of the Endurance. Or give them shovels and send them out to work on the driveway.
Yes, I know all you Twin Citians are sick of the weekend snowstorm and its aftermath. (I'm sitting in MPR's bureau in Moorhead, where our streets are quite clear, thank you very much.) But I'm going to take this opportunity to remind you of the pretty (and educational!) side of winter weather, courtesy KAXE, a great community radio station in Grand Rapids, Minn.
NASA didn't announce the discovery of extra terrestrial life today. Would it be exciting to you, though, if I told you it discovered a way that might allow wastewater treatment plants to operate without phosphorous? Or, to put it in terms of the NASA news release:
NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth.
NASA discovered an organism that's figured out how to do without phosphorous. Phosphorous is necessary for life -- at least the kind of life with which we're most familiar. The "green revolution," for example, was fueled by phosphorous, reserves of which are declining rapidly on earth because of fertilizer. It's also the chemical backbone of our DNA.
Now, an organism has been discovered that apparently doesn't need phosphorous, it uses arsenic to build itself.
We know that some microbes can breathe arsenic, but what we've found is a microbe doing something new -- building parts of itself out of arsenic," said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA Astrobiology Research Fellow in residence at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., and the research team's lead scientist. "If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven't seen yet?"
Pamela Conrad of NASA called the discovery "delightful" because it expands her thinking of what life beyond Earth might look like. "It opens up a whole new line of chemistry. The implication is we still don't know everything there is to know about what might make a habitable environment on another planet."
Will this answer questions about how we got here and are we alone? "Probably not in our lifetime," Wolfe-Simon said. But without the discovery, earthlings looking for life on another planet could go to all the trouble of getting somewhere, only to not recognize life that exists there as life at all.
For example, was there life in this picture, but we didn't know it?
Here on earth, another scientist said, the discovery could lead to a creation of bioenergy organisms without needing to deplete the phosphorous supply on Earth.
One excited scientist said today the discovery should inspire more U.S. students to study science.
That would be a new form of life, too.
By the way, ever wonder what gets a roomful of science reporters excited while they're covering a news conference at which new forms of life are revealed ? Seeing themselves on a monitor:
Isn't this just the greatest picture ever?
It's astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson looking out the window of the International Space Station. Click for a larger image, especially if you ever had a dream of going into space, and looking back at our home.
One of the attached comments is equally thought-provoking:
Why can't people just stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and just look at the beauty of our planet just for a few minutes; to see it in all it's wonder.
But so is another:
Very beautiful who would have thought it was full of crazies.
Some answers to the question of "whose missile was it that got shot into space off the Pacific Coast?" are presenting themselves.
The Navy says it wasn't its missile. The Pentagon says it doesn't know what it was or where it came from.
It wasn't anybody's missile. It wasn't a missile.
A Harvard astronomer says it was "probably" just an airplane.
"If it's coming over the horizon, straight at you, then it rises quickly above the horizon," he told New Scientist. "You can't tell because it's so far away that it's getting closer to you - you'd think it was just going vertically up," he says.
Preposterous? It would seem so. There are lots of jets in southern California, so why only one contrail?
But then you look at a photo off Key West in 2009, which actually was a jet contrail, and the notion becomes more believable (from Boston.com).
If that doesn't convince you, maybe this formula from Contrail Science will.
It appears to show (we're taking their word for it ) that any object traveling horizontally eventually goes below the horizon, and a contrail would give the appearance of something going vertical.
Or it's the Romulans.(5 Comments)
Scientists may have discovered actual evidence of dark matter.
Up to now, the notion that "dark matter" is the glue that holds the universe together has been only a theory, but Space.com is reporting today that two Illinois researchers -- one of them a mere grad student -- have discovered evidence of dark matter in several explosions.
What does it matter? We know that atoms are a big part of matter, but it's also believed that they only make
us up 20% of matter.
The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, which has scanned the heavens in high-energy gamma-ray light since it was launched in 2008, has observed a signal of gamma-rays at the very center of the galaxy that was brighter than expected. Hooper and Goodenough tested many models to explain what could be creating this light. They ultimately concluded it must be caused by dark matter particles that are packed in so densely that they are destroying each other and releasing energy in the form of light.
Physicists have theorized that dark matter particles might be their own antimatter partners, and thus when two dark matter particles meet under the right circumstances, they would destroy each other. Alternatively, dark matter particles might be meeting anti-dark matter particles at the galactic center.
The search for the very secret of the universe has a definite Minnesota connection. One of the biggest projects is based in the
Souhan Soudan Mine in northern Minnesota. Another is based in Rome. Both have previously reported some measure of particles that may be evidence of dark matter.
Frequent fliers may age faster than those who keep their feet on terra firma, some research suggests. But it's unlikely anyone would notice.
It's an Einstein principle at work, the Discover blog says. Time doesn't pass equally for everybody. A fast-moving clock will tick at a slower rate than a stationary one. It's called time dilation.
People on commercial flights are subject to both predictions of time dilation. They're going fast, at speeds of around 500 miles an hour, and because they're about six miles from the ground, they're also feeling a weaker gravitational pull. So do airline passengers age more slowly, since they're traveling at high speeds? Or do they age more quickly, since they're subject to less gravity?
Chou did the math, and it turns out that frequent fliers actually age the tiniest bit more quickly than those of us with both feet on the ground. Planes travel at high enough altitudes that the weak gravitational field speeds up the tick rate of a clock on board more than the high speeds slow it down.
But even if you traveled as much as the George Clooney character in Up in the Air, the blog says, you'd still only age 59 microseconds.
Another asteroid is whizzing by earth this week. It was only discovered on Saturday, according to Discover Magazine's website. It's the size of an SUV and will miss earth by 28,000 miles.
The comments section of the post, filled with wonderful nerdiness, calculates that the asteroid's chances of hitting Earth at some point are on the order of eight magnitudes less than this.(1 Comments)
Now that summer has mercifully left us, we have a clear view of the night sky on the morning dog walks. It's impossible to look at the stars without thinking of last week's report that a planet has been discovered that could support life.
So NBC Brian Williams had a little typical TV-anchor fun with it:
Is there a sense of humor there? That would be refreshing.
David McConville, said to be a space and science educator, called Williams' remark at the end "irresponsible," and sent a letter to NBC News.
What are the odds that there's life on this planet? Greater than the odds that people would actually adjust the way they live on this one because they've got a "fallback planet" 180,000 years away?
(h/t: Discover)(1 Comments)
On the heels of last week methodology-flawed and poorly reported study that distracted driving laws in Minnesota and other states don't work, we're talking risky driving today and looking for your feedback.
I'm looking for your stories of encounters with the distracted driver, or -- if you are looking for absolution -- your confessions. But beyond that, we're talking about the risks you take that you know have a high chance of misfortune, but you take them anyway.
The guests on today's show are:
* David Pizarro: is Assistant Professor of psychology at Cornell University.
* Craig Fox: is Professor of Policy and psychology at UCLA.
* Kathleen Vohs: is Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota.
Listen on the radio and talk with us in the comments section below.
Here are Kerri's questions:
Can we bring the kind of social pressure that eventually built against drunk driving.. to bear on distracted driving? Can we make texting while you drive the kind of social no-no that smoking has become? Do we need to combine tougher laws with ethical arguments?
9:09 a.m. - Prof. Fox says in matters of economics, we don't like risk so much. People would take a guaranteed $5,000 over the chance of winning much more. "We're all given to positive illusions; people think they're safer drivers than average. They think the odds don't apply to me.
9:11 a.m. - Mr. Pizarro says one of the reasons distracted driving doesn't get the same response that anti-drunk-driving efforts have is that people haven't processed the numbers. And it won't change, he says, until someone you know is killed or injured in a distracted driving accident.
Here's the Distracted Driving Summit Web page for additional resources.
9:15 a.m. - Interesting observation. Because we saw 9/11 unfold, the visions forced us to stop flying and start driving more, even though driving is more dangerous.
9:22 a.m. - Caller says he started writing a motorcycle five years ago and that changed all of his driving habits. He says because he's more vulnerable, he drives better. "I never text and drive, I'm just so much aware having been on a bike."
9:24 Mr. Pizarro says he gets annoyed when he sees someone texting, but he texts while driving.
9:26 a.m. - The producer says a caller on hold admits to being "addicted."
9:28 a.m. - Just read Brooke's comment (below) that over time changed behavior fades. Prof. Fox agrees and says employing a psychological device is the only thing that's going to change people for good.
Caller Chris says he doesn't have to think about driving any more because newer cars take over a lot of the work. He says he's excited about the technology "assisting" with texting "because I can't stop it myself."
Pizarro says there either needs to be a stiff penalty or your chances of getting caught get higher. He admits getting two tickets for talking on the phone while driving. "Now I have a GPS on my phone and I think how can they -- the police -- know the difference between whether I'm entering an address or texting. There's no radar for this sort of thing. So the possibility of getting caught goes way down."
9:33 a.m. - Professor Fox is done. We're taking a news break. After the break we'll be joined by Prof. Vohs over at the U of M.
9:35 a.m. - Joking with Kerri that I should be doing this while driving around the Twin Cities. As with so many things on News Cut, it would be a veiled psychological test to see if that repulses you or entertains you.
9:38 a.m. - We're back and Prof. Kathleen Vohs at the U of M is joining us. Maybe we'll devise an anti-texting marketing plan. "You want to make people have the visceral reaction of "I want to pick up the phone, ooooh that's a bad idea." She says she'd tried to use people's will-power and get them to see it as an act of self-control. So there you have it: You're texting? You're weak. Prove us wrong.
"What's the reward for exercising willpower," Kerri asks.
"It gets hard for people to imagine," Vohs says. "It's like saying, 'you don't want to be like your mother.' She says they try to give people alternatives. One way is to think of it as a goal, and next is give yourself a rewarding behavior as a result.
>> Inside glimpse. While Kerri is listening to the guests, she's also looking at the list of people on hold -- the list has the point they want to make -- and directing the producer to stack the calls in a certain order depending on whether the question advances the discussion. It's very impressive juggling. <<
9:43 a.m. - You don't have to send a text message back right now, just because someone sent you a text message, a guest says. But I've been with drivers who get a text message and if they don't, there's another one...and then -- ding -- another one... and another one.
9:45 a.m. - Caller Tyler says he's dating a woman who's "a notorious text and driver." He was inclined to text her about this conversation. "Communication is paramount. You just have to tell people about things."
9:47 a.m. - Prof. Vohs says texting and driving will be passe in two years and says people who do it will be seen as foolish. She brings up the old seat belt campaign, which reminds me of one of the original seat belt ads which said, "Nobody wearing seat belts has ever been killed within 25 miles of their home." That has nothing to do with the conversation, of course, but I was distracted by my memories.
9:50 a.m. - A paralegal calls to say she works on a lot of car crashes and the first thing attorneys do is ask for a driver's cellphone records.
9:52 a.m. - I'm intrigued by the idea that someday texting will be as societally-negative as drunk driving. But 1 in 7 Minnesotans have a DWI. Have the anti-DWI efforts really worked?
9:54 a.m. - A Duluth school bus driver says he's been nearly hit many times by people on their cellphones. Several have failed to see the stop arms on his bus. He doesn't see it changing because students in high school are joined at the hip with their cellphone.
9:57 a.m. - Prof. Vohs mentions this PSA -- graphic.
Listener Sasha writes:
I have two babies with me in the car all the time. And every time I see somebody texting I just wanna call the police. I believe we should have the right to call the police EVERY time we see somebody texting. I just recently visited Germany and drivers next to you will literally honk and wave and even call the police if they see you texting or talking.
This concludes our distract driving broadcast day.(15 Comments)
The National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado have figured out how the Red Sea could part, allowing Moses and the Israelites to leave Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus.
The two have released a study that says it could have been the wind.
The computer simulations show that a strong east wind, blowing overnight, could have pushed water back at a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with a coastal lagoon along the Mediterranean Sea. With the water pushed back into both waterways, a land bridge would have opened at the bend, enabling people to walk across exposed mud flats to safety. As soon as the wind died down, the waters would have rushed back in.
"People have always been fascinated by this Exodus story, wondering if it comes from historical facts," researcher Car Drews says. "What this study shows is that the description of the waters parting indeed has a basis in physical laws."
Previous researchers have claimed that a 74 mph wind from the northwest could've exposed a reef.
Researchers did not hazard a guess as to what -- or who -- caused the wind.
Want to see the definition of a heck of a story? Read the Twin Cities Daily Planet's report into why a University of Minnesota-funded documentary about the Mississippi River got pulled shortly before it was to premiere. It focuses on agriculture, pollution, and sustainable solutions.
The suggestion in the story -- impossible to prove because the people who could clear up the controversy either aren't talking, appear to fibbing a bit, or don't seem to know answers to legitimate questions -- is that the university didn't want to upset ties to big agriculture. The few people at the U who are talking say the Bell Museum wanted a scientific review of the project, but the show's producer says that's not true.
Now, according to reporter Molly Priesmeyer, there's another angle that's surfaced on the "isn't it a coincidence?" list: The U's vice president of university relations is married to the owner of a public relations agency whose client is the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council, which supports practices that are apparently criticized in the film.
The agency is the same one that was -- until recently -- partly owned by Tom Horner, a candidate for governor.
Priesmeyer doesn't have the smoking gun, but she's at the very least got circumstantial evidence that could only be explained away by the university fully explaining why it pulled the documentary at the last minute.(10 Comments)
We're running out of ways to describe the size of ice chunks breaking off in the Arctic and Antarctica, especially given our geographically-challenged nature.
When a huge chunk broke off in Antarctica, experts described its scale as the size of Connecticut.
Today, LiveScience.com reports, a "Bermuda-sized" chunk of ice broke off from the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf in Canada. Is that big? It's hard to say: There are 200 islands in Bermuda. But if you add them all together, they add up to only 21 square miles.
So it's either the size of a huge chunk of the ocean. Or it's equivalent to two-thirds the size of Woodbury, which doesn't really sound that big. For the record: You can fit 168 Woodburys into Connecticut.
Here's what it looked like 8 years ago:
Here's what it looked like a week ago:
If the Asian carp succeed in their journey to the Great Lakes, and then into the rivers, you can apparently forget about kayaking.
Exhibit A today comes from the Missouri 340, a canoe and kayak race that started this week. A Texas man, one of the favorites to win the race, was knocked out of the competition -- literally -- when a 30 pound Asian carp jumped out of the Missouri River and struck him in the head.
It's definitely a risk of being out on the river," said Tracy Hill, a project leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's local fisheries office. "It's extremely serious. Those things can kill you."
It is a serious threat, of course. It also is the most entertaining threat we face.(3 Comments)
A headline science paper on ScienceExpress today requires us to read the fine print. The study says oil-eating microbes have suddenly flourished as a result of the BP oil "spill" in the Gulf of Mexico.
Based on these results, the potential exists for intrinsic bioremediation of the oil plume in the deep-water column without substantial oxygen drawdown.
Translation supplied by the Associated Press:
Scientists also had been concerned that oil-eating activity by microbes would consume large amounts of oxygen in the water, creating a "dead zone" dangerous to other life. But the new study found that oxygen saturation outside the oil plume was 67-percent while within the plume it was 59-percent.
The fine print, however, is a caution to reserve judgment:
The research was supported by an existing grant with the Energy Biosciences Institute, a partnership led by the University of California Berkeley and the University of Illinois that is funded by a $500 million, 10-year grant from BP
Among the most startling news stories of the current news cycle, this one may be tops: Lou Gehrig may not have died from Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Gehrig held the record for the most consecutive games played in baseball until Cal Ripken broke it a few years ago. Over that time, he brushed off plenty of injuries. That may be what killed him, according to researchers from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Massachusetts, who will present their findings tomorrow.
Gehrig might have suffered instead from brain trauma. The researchers said markings in the spinal cords of two football players and a boxer showed that they didn't die of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, even though that was their diagnosis.
How could this be? "Most A.L.S. patients don't go to autopsy -- there's no need to look at your brain and spinal cord," Dr. Brian Crum, an assistant professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, told the New York Times. "But a disease can look like A.L.S., it can look like Alzheimer's, and it's not when you look at the actual tissue. This is something that needs to be paid attention to."
But, far too many people have ALS for real. Over the weekend, for example, Eric Obermann was buried. He was one of the youngest people ever diagnosed with ALS. He was struck by the disease when he was only 18. He died last week at 28. You may remember him from emotional testimony before a Congressional panel in 2005, or as a spokesperson for ALS research.
There will be no doubt what killed him.
"We just have so much respect and admiration for what he did ...," Stuart Obermann said of his son. "He gave everything he had left. His last selfless act was donating his brain and spinal cord to ALS research."
Update 2:53 p.m. U of M's Gary Schweitzer isn't buying the NYT story quite yet.(2 Comments)
The Upper Midwest remains in the grip of record-setting heat. Just to our south -- Iowa -- a flooding disaster is unfolding. In Russia, drought and heat has spawned massive wildfires. There's flooding in Pakistan. What's going on here? Is it just the natural cycle, or are we seeing the effects of a changing climate?
A line in a news release about mosquito spraying in Grand Forks tomorrow evening jumped off the page of the inbox this morning:
A world without mosquitoes? Nature posits that wiping out the Minnesota state bird might not have horrible consequences for our fragile ecosystem as most biologists would maintain.
...in many cases, scientists acknowledge that the ecological scar left by a missing mosquito would heal quickly as the niche was filled by other organisms. Life would continue as before -- or even better. When it comes to the major disease vectors, "it's difficult to see what the downside would be to removal, except for collateral damage", says insect ecologist Steven Juliano, of Illinois State University in Normal. A world without mosquitoes would be "more secure for us", says medical entomologist Carlos Brisola Marcondes from the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil.
News Cut talked with PZ Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris and proprietor of the science blog Pharyngula, about the Nature article.
Myers: It was a bizarre article because, for one thing, we simply cannot do this. We do not have the capability to eradicate entire species of insects, intentionally at least. And then, mosquitoes have tremendous impact all across the ecological spectrum. Wiping them out would have all kinds of unintended consequences.
@NewsCut: So in what ways are mosquitoes helpful?
Myers: Fishing for one, which I guess is kind of important in Minnesota, right? This is what fish live on, is aquatic insect larvae for the most part. We'd like to keep that going. They transfer materials from terrestrial species to aquatic forms, so they're essentially shuttling protein, chemical compounds, etc., across the ecosystem. In the most unpleasant way possible of course. But it's still a valuable function. In the arctic, caribou are being bled by clouds of mosquitoes sucking up 300 ml of blood from each animal every single day. Which is impressive. The caribou are are suffering but they're also taking their blood and transferring it to these insects and spreading it around to the ecosystem.
@NewsCut: If we were able to make mosquitoes go away, what happens?
Myers: We don't know what the consequences would be. One possibility is that other species would step in and fill the same role. And maybe these species would be better for us because they wouldn't be transferring diseases like malaria. On the other hand we don't know what species it would be, so it could be something genuinely awful. In Minnesota we have something called no-see-ems. What if they or biting black flies stepped in?
@NewsCut: So what can we do, short of wiping out mosquitoes?
Myers: There's been some interesting work in producing mosquitoes that don't carry the malaria parasite, and intentionally going out at replacing disease-spreading mosquitoes with this modified variant that doesn't carry malaria. That sounds a lot more productive to me.
@NewsCut: How much tampering can a species like this tolerate before we get unintended consequences?
Myers: What this may mean is you get mosquitoes that don't don't spread malaria but you get healthier mosquitoes that do more biting. There's nothing we can do that wouldn't have unintended consequences. Biology is a tangled snarl. Everything you do affects everything else.
@NewsCut: As a biologist, when you get attacked by a cloud of mosquitoes, do you think about them differently than the rest of us?
Myers: No. I hate them. They're a real pain in the butt.(2 Comments)
If it's true that Lake Superior is a "canary in a coal mine," as some scientists suggested last week, perhaps it's time to shop for a new pet.
The New York Times today reports on the warming of Lake Superior
Total ice cover on the lake has shrunk by about 20 percent over the past 37 years, he said. Though the change has made for longer, warmer summers, it's a problem because ice is crucial for keeping water from evaporating and it regulates the natural cycles of the Great Lakes.
But the warming shows no sign of abatement. This year, the waters in Lake Superior are on track to reach -- and potentially exceed -- the lake's record-high temperatures of 68 degrees Fahrenheit, which occurred in 1998.
The lake's temperature could reach a record high by this time next month.
In other canary news, June was the hottest month on record, the fourth month in a row of record warmth.
The head of an organization focusing on cleaning up a developing environmental catastrophe is urging its workers not to talk to the media. BP? Nope. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The whistle is being blown by a member of the so-called Working Group II, Edward R. Carr, on his blog, "Open the Echo Chamber."
Part of the problem for the IPCC is a perceived lack of openness - that something is going on behind closed doors that cannot be trusted. This, in the end, was at the heart of the "climategate" circus - a recent report has exonerated all of the scientists implicated, but some people still believe that there is something sinister going on.
There is an easy solution to this - complete openness. I've worked on global assessments before, and the science is sound. I've been quite critical of the way in which one of the reports was framed (download "Applying DPSIR to Sustainable Development" here), but the science is solid and the conclusions are more refined than ever. Showing people how this process works, and what we do exactly, would go a long way toward getting everyone on the same page with regard to global environmental change, and how we might best address it.
Carr has posted a letter he received yesterday from the head of the group:
"I would also like to emphasize that enhanced media interest in the work of the IPCC would probably subject you to queries about your work and the IPCC. My sincere advice would be that you keep a distance from the media and should any questions be asked about the Working Group with which you are associated, please direct such media questions to the Co-chairs of your Working Group and for any questions regarding the IPCC to the secretariat of the IPCC."
Perhaps the panel will recommend bunkers as a solution to climate change.
What would it sound like if you could stand in the corona of the sun? It would sound like this, according to scientists at the University of Sheffield in the UK:
"The harmonious sounds are caused by the movement of giant magnetic loops in the solar corona - the outermost, mysterious, and least understood layer of the Sun's atmosphere. Most importantly, the team studied how this sound is decaying, giving an unprecedented insight into the physics of the solar corona," according to a release from the university's Project Sunshine.
Et tu, soap?
The University of Minnesota is out with a study today showing chemicals from hand soap are polluting the Mississippi.
Researchers found four dioxins in sediment samples from Lake Pepin. They say they could only have come from triclosan, a chemical added to hand soap in 1987.
They don't know yet if the dioxins are toxic. According to a release from the university, the Food and Drug Administration is studying the chemical, "which has been linked to disruptions of hormonal function (in animals) and may also play a role in the evolution of bacterial resistance to antibiotics."
Is it toxic to humans? "It is not known to be hazardous to humans," the FDA says, which is a bit of short of saying it's not.
The European Union has moved to ban the substance in any product that comes into contact with food. It's also used in toothpaste and deodorant.
What does an earthquake look like if you're a small fish in a big pond?
It looks like this:
The U.S. Geological Survey has just released this video of the April 4th earthquake's effect on the Devils Hole Pupfish, which lives on a ledge of a pool in the Mojave Desert.
More details here.
NASA today released this new image from a star-birthing region of the universe.
This new Hubble photo is but a small portion of one of the largest seen star-birth regions in the galaxy, the Carina Nebula. Towers of cool hydrogen laced with dust rise from the wall of the nebula. Reminiscent of Hubble's classic image of the Eagle Nebula dubbed the 'Pillars of Creation' this image is even more striking in appearance. Captured here are the top of a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and the dust that is being eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby bright stars. The pillar is also being pushed apart from within, as infant stars buried inside it fire off jets of gas that can be seen streaming from towering peaks like arrows sailing through the air.
Suddenly, it doesn't seem that significant whom the Vikings choose in the NFL draft. (Click for a larger image)(5 Comments)
What causes earthquakes?
"Earth scientists believe that most earthquakes are caused by slow movements inside the Earth that push against the Earth's brittle, relatively thin outer layer, causing the rocks to break suddenly," according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes," Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi said today. He's a "senior cleric" in Iran.(6 Comments)
President Barack Obama outlined his plan for the U.S. space program today, arguing he doesn't want the country "to do the same old thing," and indicating that he wants the country to put a human on Mars.
His comments echoed those of a guest on MPR's Midmorning on Monday, who said the manned space program now consists primarily of "going around in circles."
There's more to a space program, though, than just pointing a spacecraft at an object and hitting "go," as Monday's program pointed out. There's also more to space than just visiting another planet. One guest on the program noted that the idea of "mining" an asteroid for many of the precious minerals we're trying to find on earth is not -- pardon the expression -- pie in the sky.
Indeed, Mr. Obama mentioned that landing on an asteroid could be accomplished by 2025; landing on Mars could happen by 2035.
Then, again, in the '60s, babyboomers were told they could go into space someday and, of course, our time has run out on that dream.
Even in 2000, a Time Magazine article claimed mankind would be on Mars by 2007.
So what's the problem? Simple. We don't know how, as Nancy Atkinson at Universe Today so cleverly explained a few years ago:
"The great thing about Earth," said Manning "is the atmosphere." Returning to Earth and entering the atmosphere at speeds between 7-10 kilometers per second, the space shuttle, Apollo and Soyuz capsules and the proposed Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) will all decelerate to less than Mach 1 at about twenty kilometers above the ground just by skimming through Earth's luxuriously thick atmosphere and using a heat shield. To reach slower speeds needed for landing, either a parachute is deployed, or in the case of the space shuttle, drag and lift allow the remainder of the speed to bleed away.
But Mars' atmosphere is only one per cent as dense as Earth's. For comparison, Mars atmosphere at its thickest is equivalent to Earth's atmosphere at about 35 kilometers above the surface The air is so thin that a heavy vehicle like a CEV will basically plummet to the surface; there's not enough air resistance to slow it down sufficiently. Parachutes can only be opened at speeds less than Mach 2, and a heavy spacecraft on Mars would never go that slow by using just a heat shield. "And there are no parachutes that you could use to slow this vehicle down," said Manning. "That's it. You can't land a CEV on Mars unless you don't mind it being a crater on the surface."
Perhaps one of the reasons President Obama mentioned 2025 and 2035 is because it creates the notion that something we try in this lifetime, will have a payback in this lifetime (See NPR's "Why have a space program at all?"). But increasingly, meaningful exploration in space is going to require the expenditure of money and effort in this lifetime, for a payback in someone else's lifetime.
That's not our strong suit.
What's the problem? Capt. Eric Moody of British Airways has the answer firsthand. He was at the controls of a Boeing 747 which inadvertently flew into a volcanic ash cloud. All four engines quit and the plane dropped from 37,000 feet to 12,000 feet.
How do you announce that to your passengers? He told the BBC:
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. This is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are all doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress."
Here's an interview with Moody about the incident:
PART THREE(1 Comments)
There may be a good reason why TV weather forecasters are reluctant to talk about climate change. The minute they do, they risk alienating a large segment of the audience which may know as little about the science of climate change as they often do.
This week, researchers at the University of Texas and George Mason University released a study showing only 54% of weathercasters believe climate change is occurring, while one in four agreed with the assertion that climate change as a result of human activity is a scam (See the full research here).
"From our perspective there's a lot of positive in it about the willingness of a lot of weathercasters who say they don't know as much as they want to about the science," Kris Wilson, senior lecturer in the College of Communication at the University of Texas told me this week. "They can still change their mind; they're open to learning about the science."
Wilson has created a two-hour module for weathercasters that tries to convince them that if they would simply report the science of climate change, the public might get better information.
"One of the big chunks was how do climate models differ from weather models, because many of the skeptics were couching their criticisms with 'you can't trust the models,'" according to Wilson. "If you can just stick to the science, the science is really pretty clear and definitive and the consensus that's been built among climate change science is really very extraordinary in the field."
Why does it matter what weathercasters say? Because for many people, it's the only source of science information once they graduate from school. And TV newsroom managers are asking their weatherperson to take on some of the tasks of science reporting, a role 79% of the meteorologists surveyed say they welcome. Yet, only a third of TV weathercasters believe there is a scientific consensus on climate change.
But the method by which a TV newscast is put together, doesn't help. "This winter is a perfect example because it was cold in, say, Washington DC." Wilson says. "And so what happens is a producer will stack the blizzard in Washington right before the weathercast, and then sometimes the anchors will turn to them and say 'Well, how can that be happening if global warming is going on?"
"Weathercasters refer to that as an 'ambush,'" he says. "You don't ever know what's going to happen in that moment and sometimes what gets communicated is very off the cuff and spontaneous."
And often, wrong.
It can be a scary moment in a profession where audience approval is required. WCCO meteorologist Mike Fairbourne found that out in 2008 when he signed a statement from 31,000 "scientists" who contended the role of humans in global warming is overblown. He was criticized by those who say the climate science couldn't be more clear.
"Climate change, for unfortunate reasons, has become so politicized that you can't even talk about science without setting yourself up from one side or the other. So weathercasters are trying to keep a low profile," according to Wilson. "They also recognize the risk involved because it puts them out there. The most common questions they get involves a hesitancy to trust a weathercaster about a long-term forecast when they can't get the short-term forecast right."
That would certainly appear to be the case in Minnesota, where out of more than a dozen meteorologists I contacted for their view for this post, only two were willing or able to give it.
"I feel tremendous pressure to take a side on global warming," Steph Anderson, a meteorologist at KTTC TV in Rochester told me in an e-mail. "I'm a scientist, so people expect me to have a scientific viewpoint on it, and reasoning behind it. Turns out, I don't like to talk about it."
"Honest and upfront, I don't talk about it, I don't believe in it. Mostly because I can't say it's happening, yet. It's hard enough to get a seven-day forecast right; I'm supposed to believe that the earth is going to warm excessively in so many years? Climate has changed over the earth's time. We've had ice ages and warmed back up. It's cyclical. Who's to say that won't happen this time around? Weather's hard enough to predict, but I don't predict climate, I don't work with models that do such things, but I know that in order for me to believe something, I need concrete data over a long period of time. Frankly, I haven't seen that yet with the global climate change debate.
"I also won't take a stance on global climate change when I'm presenting short-term data that's all over the place. This last summer we had one of the coldest July's on record. Now in March we haven't had any snow. My seven-day forecast changes several times over the course of a week. I'm fighting enough for credibility. If I'm crying global warming and it's not true...or if I'm not crying warming and it is true...I'd rather not risk my credibility at something that's so long-term and far out I can't predict it....and is hard to predict anyway."
Kris Wilson says the tendency of weathercasters to relate climate change to meteorology -- rather than climatology -- is the source of viewer/listener misinformation. "They have distinct differences and what we're finding is that they're projecting a lot of inconsistencies and flaws of weather forecasting models onto climate forecasting models. The weather is much more volatile. But climate models don't work that way."
Heidi Cullen, a meteorologist who once suggested meteorologists should not be certified by the American Meteorological Society "if they can't speak to the fundamental science of climate change," told the New York Times this week that the climatologists aren't stepping on the weather forecasters' turf. "They are not trying to predict the weather for 2050, just generally that it will be hotter," she said. "And just like I can predict August will be warmer than January, I can predict that."
Craig Edwards, an MPR meteorologist and long-time National Weather Service meteorologist, says the political nature of the debate clouds the need for stewardship. "In the book by Newt Gingrich and Terry Maple, A Contract with the Earth, they state there is no "we vs. they" when it comes to the stewardship of the planet. As a meteorologist, if I predict rain for Friday and it doesn't rain, you can track me down on Saturday and tell me I was wrong. As a climatologist, if I predict that 100 years from now that the ocean level will rise 20 inches and it only comes up five inches, I won't be around for you to tell me I was wrong. If we have 100 years to prepare for coastal sea level to rise two feet, yet we continue to build oceanside, shame on us."
"Do I feel as if we should be doing everything we can to reduce our energy consumption, drive more fuel-efficient cars, and be more earth-friendly?" Anderson adds. "Absolutely, but we should have made this effort long ago, not because of global warming fears, and at least before Al Gore's film came out. To me, his film has turned global warming into more of a political game than a science one. Also, I don't feel the average citizen is very informed of climate change and is rather brainwashed. So when they hear a piece of data, such as, "this year the earth warmed 1 degree", I feel their mindset goes like a magnet to a fridge to "global warming!". But what caused that 1 degree warm-up? Was it really humans? Was it something else?"
Steph Anderson says she prefers to "leave the long-term stuff up to the experts." The experts -- climatologists -- say the problem is they don't get the chance to spend five minutes a night before a trusting television audience.
Learn more about the research from Kris Wilson of the University of Texas.(Listen)
Earthquakes alter planetary speed in two ways. Shifting plates rearrange the distribution of the Earth's mass, causing it to bulge imperceptibly in spots it didn't bulge before and contract in others. That rearrangement should further shift the Earth's inclination, or figure axis (the axis around which the Earth's mass is balanced, which is slightly different from the north-south axis around which the Earth rotates) -- in the case of the Chile earthquake, by about 3 inches. The law of conservation of angular momentum, however, requires that even under these exigent circumstances, the Earth's angular momentum stays constant, which means the planet must step on the gas (or the brake) to accommodate shifting mass. The same thing happened in 2004 with the 9.1 Sumatran earthquake that triggered the tsunami. That earthquake should have shifted the Earth's figure axis by 2.76 inches and shortened its day by 6.8 millionths of a second, according to computer models.Somewhere in that gibberish is a big story, right? No. Even driving your car home from work today has an effect on the earth's rotation, according to NASA. Anything that shifts mass will. Scientists calculated the effect after a 2005 earthquake:
They also found the earthquake decreased the length of day by 2.68 microseconds. Physically this is like a spinning skater drawing arms closer to the body resulting in a faster spin. The quake also affected the Earth's shape. They found Earth's oblateness (flattening on the top and bulging at the equator) decreased by a small amount. It decreased about one part in 10 billion, continuing the trend of earthquakes making Earth less oblate.Or, as The Current's Mary Lucia said in our conversation today, "Duh!"
Are we done with space exploration?
Discover blog reports on rumors that the Obama administration is cutting funding for two rocket systems, eliminating any possibility of going to the moon again, as a step toward an eventual mission to Mars.
This is in addition to the end of the Shuttle program, which has forced American astronauts to hitch rides to the International Space Station from Russia.
Says the Discover blog:
And finally, space exploration is important. I find it difficult to believe Obama doesn't know that; he's proven himself to be both pro-science and understanding of the inspiration it provides. And the rumor is that this year's budget for NASA actually goes up a little bit, it just cuts Constellation and Ares. But if this really does gut NASA's future, cutting way back on what they can do, then it's a mistake.
Is it important? For clues, we might look to the United States' fastest gaining global competitors. India today announced its first manned space mission. It also plans a mission to Mars in 2030.
Maybe, that's not "our thing" anymore because of the sacrifice that exploring deeper space would take. "We estimated our odds (then) of not coming back at 1-in-70. Those are not very good odds," former astronaut John Grunsfeld of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore tells PhysOrg.com. "It only gets worse as you go further out."(4 Comments)
I pointed out on Monday that statistics expert Nate Silver has calculated that your odds of being on a flight that is the target of a terrorist in the last 10 years is 10,408,947 to 1. You could board 20 flights a year, and still have better odds of being struck by lightning.
Fine. You want an even better bet?
How about something like this hitting us?
It's the Apophis asteroid and it's heading our way. NASA calculates that there's a 1 in 45,000 chance the asteroid will hit Earth on April 13, 2036. Another calculation puts it at 1 in 233,000. Whatever. We're doomed in the long run.
That doesn't concern you? Tell it to Russia. Today, Russia announced it's beginning a project to -- in the understated words of Pravda -- "save Earth." The head of the Russian space federation said his organization is developing plans for a spacecraft to intercept the asteroid.
Depending on what happens when the next measurements are taken in 2013, scientists think it will pass within 49,000 miles of Earth.
If you've ever been to San Francisco, you probably realize why this image is so haunting. It's the "world famous Pier 39," where sea lions have been a tourist attraction since they arrived after the big earthquake in 1989.
Suddenly -- and no one seems to know why -- they're gone.
Here's a live Web cam if you'd like to watch for their return.
Environmental experts say the weather in San Francisco has been normal, and there seems to be no change in the bay itself.
(h/t: Andy Carvin, NPR)(2 Comments)
The Obama administration is considering the future of the U.S. space program, a difficult concept for many politicians to grasp because there's little chance of an immediate payoff.
Take the New Horizons Pluto probe, which was launched on January 19, 2006.
That was nine months before then Sen. Barack Obama announced his intentions to run for president. It will reach its destination -- Pluto -- on
January 19, 2006 July 14, 2015. If he's re-elected, it would be the beginning of his last two years in office.
Today -- December 29, 2009 -- the probe reached the point at which it's now closer to Pluto than Earth.
But it's not "halfway there" yet, Discover.com notes:
New Horizons is halfway in distance to Pluto, but the mission timeline halfway point isn't until October 16, 2010 (if I've done the math correctly). The probe was launched at high speed, slowed down due to the Earth's and Sun's gravity, picked up a kick from Jupiter in early 2007, and has been slowing ever since. Since it was moving faster before, it reached the distance halfway point before the schedule halfway point.
New Horizons is now 16.37 AU - 2.449 billion km, or 1.522 billion miles -- from home. But maybe now, home is no longer Earth. Once it crossed that line today, home became deep space. Even Pluto and its moons Charon, Nix, and Hydra are only milestones for it. It won't be stopping when it gets there; New Horizons will sail on by, continuing into deep space. It'll become one of several other spacecraft we've sent out of the solar system itself, set to wander interstellar space forever.
When the probe was launched, of course, Pluto was still considered a planet.
This being the season of little sunlight in Minnesota, I find myself thinking deep thoughts like, "What will it be like when the sun burns out?".
Apparently, it will be like this:
It's a sun about 550 light years from here and it's burning out. It's growing larger and pulsating -- it could swallow everything from here to Mars, according to Science Daily -- and it's flickering like a light bulb about to burn out.
So we'll apparently have plenty of warning that the end is near.
But not to worry! The odds of it happening anytime soon are almost as staggering as ABBA being enshrined in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.
The report was commissioned by Denmark:
Deloitte included in their calculations emissions caused by accommodation, local transport, electricity and heating of the conference center, paper, security, transport of goods and services as well as energy used by computers, kitchens, photocopiers and printers inside the conference center.
Accommodation accounted for 23 percent of the summit's greenhouse gas emissions in Copenhagen, while transport caused 7 percent. Seventy percent came from activities inside the conference center, she said.
Dozens of people from Minnesota have flocked to Copenhagen. Terrapass' carbon footprint calculator estimates that a non-stop roundtrip airline flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Copenhagen created 3,777 pounds of CO2.
How much would it take to offset that?
-- You'd have to install 35 lightbulbs in place of incandescent bulbs.
-- Someone with a 15 mpg car would have to drive a 30 mpg car for six months.
-- Someone would have to replace an old water heater with a newer, more energy efficient model. You could also reduce your water temperature by 10 degrees for the next four years.
-- You'd have to drop your home by 5 degrees for the next year.
-- If you normally drive 75, you'd have to drive 65 for the next two years.
-- Nine people who are not now car-pooling, would have to do so for the next year.
Meanwhile, a Brown University professor is trying to figure out where all the money goes that's given to poor countries by rich countries to help them adapt to climate change.
He's developing a database to track it all, the Boston Globe reports:
Perhaps you would think, with the billions of dollars in aid flowing back and forth between nations for generations, that there would be a highly evolved system to make sure the money gets where it's supposed to go. No. Roberts says there are many reasons, including the reality that funding can be expensive to track and that some governments do not want it to be tracked. Regardless of why, he said, the result is enormous sums of money are swallowed up by consultants, middlemen, and corruption long before the money gets even part of the distance it needs to go.
If you didn't know any better, you'd think marijuana is making a big comeback among teenagers.
Study shows pot more popular among teenagers, the headline on the Associated Press story (on the MPR Web site) says today. The story claims "smoking marijuana is becoming even more popular among U.S. teens." It cites a news conference held by the National Institutes of Health, based on research from the University of Michigan.
But is marijuana use really on the upswing? It depends on whom you listen to.
According to the NIH news release, "no."
Marijuana use across the three grades has shown a consistent downward trend since the mid- 1990s, however, the decline has stalled, with rates at the same level as five years ago. In the 2009 survey, reported past year marijuana use was about the same as the previous year: 32.8 percent of 12th graders, 26.7 percent of 10th graders, and 11.8 percent of eighth graders. However, marijuana use is still down significantly from its peak in the mid-late 1990s.
But the University of Michigan news release suggests otherwise:
Marijuana use among American adolescents has increased gradually over the past two years (three years among 12th-graders) following years of declining use, according to the latest Monitoring the Future study, which has tracked drug use among U.S. teens since 1975.
Two agencies, same data, two different headlines. Which is it?
It's all in how you characterize things. The "increase" cited by the Michigan researchers was only for two or three years, and it averaged a 2-3 percent increase over that time. That may be statistically insignificant, so the NIH compared the current results to five years ago and found a less troubling trend.
Both, however, acknowledge that marijuana use by teenagers is well off the highs -- so to speak -- of the '90s.
Keep in mind that these sorts of studies can be 'spun" to accomplish political goals. Take the AP story, for example:
"The increase of teens smoking pot is partly because the national debate over medical use of marijuana can make the drugs seem safer to teenagers, researchers said."
Researchers said that? What researchers? The University of Michigan news release mentions nothing about the effects of the debate over medical marijuana. And the data it provides indicates no such research took place.
Today, Dr. Lloyd Johnston, the principal researcher for the study, told me in an e-mail:
The issue you mention came up in answer to a question at today's press conference. We know that there has been a decline in the degree to which young people see marijuana use as involving a risk to the user, what we have called "perceived risk". I was asked why I thought the change in this belief has taken place. I said that one possible explanation is that the widespread debate about the desirability of medical marijuana use may well have led some teens to think that is is not as dangerous as their predecessors did, since it is now being portrayed as a medicine. It's a conjecture on my part.
That's something to keep in mind if debate over the issue resurfaces when the Minnesota Legislature resumes its work in February. Medical marijuana has been an issue in the last several sessions and last spring Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a measure that would have allowed it in Minnesota.
The other thing to keep in mind is we're not necessarily talking about the same kids here. Since the surveys don't appear to track the same kids from year to year (I couldn't find the actual methodology), we don't really know whether the individual opinions and attitudes toward pot have changed. We only know that the kids surveyed last year may have had different attitudes than the kids who were surveyed this year. That doesn't mean that individual attitudes have shifted.(2 Comments)
Is it possible that Minnesota is about to become famous for something other than a really big mall and pilots who forget to land their jet?
The science world is buzzing with rumors that deep below the crust in northern Minnesota, dark matter has been found. Dark matter is believed to make up 90 percent of the universe. The Cryogenic Dark Matter Search has been underway in the Soudan mine to try to figure out how the universe was (and is) created.
Science bloggers have seized upon a report that the discovery will be announced next week.
That gives you a few days to bone up on the subject.(1 Comments)
Whether it's a money-sucking waste of time or a necessary vehicle to lay the groundwork for space exploration is a debate that will continue until the U.S. gets out of the space shuttle business five flights from now.
But for pure technological artistry, nothing beats today's landing of the space shuttle on a perfect morning in Florida, as witnessed via NASA's TV feed.
It's all the more remarkable when you consider that this happened only a little more than 100 years ago.(1 Comments)
The The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter may have solved one mystery.
Does this flag still "wave"?
It's the flag planted by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972, the last manned mission to the moon.
The "LRO" has been exploring the site and has determined that the flag -- as well as the lunar rover tracks -- are still there. (Click following image for larger view)
The Apollo landing sites are the only entirely undisturbed historic sites of man's quest to explore, what with there being no air and all. Or are they?
Discover Magazine notes:
Back to the flag, there's a curious thing about it. The flag itself was nylon, and that tends to get brittle when exposed to ultraviolet light -- which is relentless and plentiful on the airless Moon (the thermal pounding it's taken between day and night can't help either). I've often wondered what we'll find when we go back to the Apollo landing sites; I half-expect to see red, white, and blue powder off to one side of the flagpole, and no actual flag left on the pole. This picture, as frakkin' amazing as it is, is still just barely too low resolution to be able to say for sure, I think. The shadow is only a pixel or so in size and so it's hard to say what's what.
There's an extensive online collection of the Apollo 17 landing site.
Do these latest pictures also prove that man really did walk on the moon?(4 Comments)
Forgetting for a moment that it's partly a marketing gimmick by Volkswagon, The Fun Theory Web site is offering an interesting perspective on behavior. If things are fun, people will do it.
That was the theory many years ago behind Select A Candidate on the MPR Web site. Give people a little fun -- at that time online quizzes were fairly unique -- and if they become informed voters, so much the better.
The Fun Theory is being used to get people to recycle:
Or take the stairs:
or throw stuff in the trash:
(h/t: Ken Paulman)
There are any number of behaviors to encourage -- voting, or washing hands, for example. It's the how-to-make-it-fun part that's missing.
Don't be saying you're not interested in what has caused the huge die-off of the bee population. A third of the total human diet depends on the critters.
Now, then: Discover Magazine reports we now know what has caused a third of all commercial honeybees to die: Commercial bee agriculture. Bee inbreeding, basically. They once were a hardy sort, with the queen adapting to the variety of male drones with which she would breed.
All that began to change in the early 20th century, when farms and orchards started enlisting honeybees to pollinate their crops. Bees that were adapted to harvesting pollen from a variety of plants suddenly spent a month or more at a time surrounded by nothing but almond or apple trees. Farmers eager to increase their crop yields turned to commercial beekeepers, who offered up massive wooden hives stocked with queen bees genetically selected to produce colonies of good pollinators. These breeding practices slashed the genetic variety that helps any species survive infections, chemicals, and other unforeseen threats.
Ironically, the cause turns out to be the very sort of person who raised the alarm in the first place.
Bee experts are trying to adopt practices that lead bees to lead a more natural life. "Bees have been doing this for 80 million years," one says. "All we have to do is get out of their way."
Nones may best be described as skeptics. Twenty-seven percent of Nones believe in a personal God. Hard and soft agnostics make up 35 percent of the None population and atheists account for only 7 percent of Nones. Contrary to what many believe, Nones are not particularly superstitious or partial to New Age beliefs. They are, however, more accepting of human evolution than the general U.S. population.This week, "Creation" opens in the UK.
"The film has many historical inaccuracies, but that's to be expected when filmmakers condense a life into a few hours. Creation's larger problem stems from the decision to focus on a narrow slice of Darwin's life, arguably one of the least interesting. ... Instead of dramatizing how Darwin traveled the world and arrived at the most explosive idea in history, Creation is ultimately about the world's biggest case of writer's block."There's little evidence to supportCameron's concerns that evolution might take root in America. A Gallup poll last February indicated only 39% of those surveyed believe in the theory.
NASA today released the first images taken by the Hubble space telescope since a repair mission repaired its lens a few months ago.
A nebula around a dying star, a clash among members of a galactic grouping, the crowded core of Omega Centauri, and the birth of a star in the Carina Nebula are the -- pardon the pun -- stars of the release. Click on the image for a better view.
The blog at Discover Magazine does a good job of dissecting what each of these photos is. And when's the last time you used quintillion in a sentence?
Of course, the space telescope actually looks back in time. The telescope's current mission is to look back in time to when the universe was less than 500 million years old. If it works, we'll be able, perhaps, to figure out what to do with a new photograph that shows 13 billion years ago.
It's difficult to think of such things and not get all philosophical on the possible. For example, if we can figure out how to look back in time 13 billion years, what can't we do?(1 Comments)
Here's a pretty interesting video from St. Paul's channel on YouTube. Moss as a substitute for chlorine:(2 Comments)
Some scientists are questioning whether the first people to get inoculated against the H1N1 flu should be the ones that are scheduled to.
The current formula calls for the people most likely to die to get the vaccine first. An article in Science Magazine, by way of Time.com, says it should, perhaps, be the people most likely to spread the illness.
"If you can stop transmission, you can protect the people who are vulnerable," says Jan Medlock, a mathematician at Clemson University and one of the authors of the Science paper.
That would be kids and the age group of their parents -- basically 20- and 30-somethings. Those are the people who, not coincidentally, have been the hardest-hit Minnesotans by the H1N1 outbreak so far.
The Minnesota plan for inoculation follows the federal guidelines: Health care workers, pregnant women, young children and people who care for infants under 6 months of age go first.(4 Comments)
Maybe it's not Big Brother we should be worrying about; maybe it's the little friend in your pocket.
A five year study out today finds "the gadgets we carry day-to-day can accurately record the nuances of our relationships. Using cellphones for social science research could replace interviews, which are laborious and sometimes unreliable, to find out about people's lives."
"There are very serious privacy issues," says Gueorgi Kossinets, who researched online social networks at Cornell University.
Or maybe there's a public benefit to the data your cellphone reveals about you and the people you know. Here, for example, is what happened the night the Red Sox won the first of their two (tainted) World Series championships in recent years:
"Suddenly all our subjects became unpredictable; they all flooded into downtown Boston to a rally in the centre of the city.
"City planners approached us because they wanted to know how people were using urban infrastructure, to know when the people left the rally, how many walked across the bridge and how many took the subway, how many biked or took the bus.
"We can give them some real insight with the idea of helping them build a better city that reflects people's actual behaviour."(6 Comments)
Remember when the computer was to usher in the "paperless society?" The Kindle is supposed to usher in a bookless -- hence, paperless -- world. Newspapers are going belly up.
Mo Rocca, the panelist on NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, reports the use of paper doubled after the prediction of the paperless society. It's part of the debut of an online show, The Tomorrow Show.
Last month, MPR's Midmorning tackled the question of why Americans are comparatively down on the American scientific community. Just 17% of the public thinks that U.S. scientific achievements rate as the best in the world, according to a Pew Research study.
"Fully 85% see the public's lack of scientific knowledge as a major problem for science, and nearly half (49%) fault the public for having unrealistic expectations about the speed of scientific achievements."
Clearly, we're not blowing up enough stuff.
More science here.
(h/t: Open Culture)(3 Comments)
First bees. Now butterflies.
A Minot State University professor says butterflies are declining.
"Everybody I've talked to says the numbers are down dramatically," Ron Royer told the Associated Press, an observation confirmed in the News Cut Perennial Garden.
About six butterfly species found in North Dakota have been considered candidates for the endangered species list.
It was too cold this year, Royer says. Nature's cycles are out of whack and the dirty little secret of nature is that everything has to go just right for species to survive. The cold weather delayed plants that butterflies depend on. Bugs on land and water showed up too late this year, so there's a shortage of toads, frogs and salamanders, too.(1 Comments)
This is one of those stories that makes you wonder what the world would be like if everything moved at the speed of science. More so than any other facet of our lives, hope doesn't seem pointless when the subject is science.
The heart can heal itself, researchers have written in a British medical journal.
Ten years ago, doctors transplanted a heart into Hannah Clark, but didn't remove her faulty one because "she also needed a lung transplant, and her doctors wanted to avoid doing two risky transplants at once," Discover Magazine reports.
After 10 years with two blood pumping organs, and cancer caused by rejection drugs she had to take, doctors discovered her old heart is new again.
Says the Associated Press:
Miguel Uva, chairman of the European Society of Cardiology's group on cardiovascular surgery, called Clark's case "a miracle," adding that it was rare for patients' hearts to simply get better on their own.
"We have no way of knowing which patients will recover and which ones won't," Uva said.
But you know some day they will.
If somebody ripped off your copy of Naturwissenschafte, let me help you out with the top story:
Hemispheric asymmetries and side biases have been studied in humans mostly in laboratory settings, and evidence obtained in naturalistic settings is scarce. We here report the results of three studies on human ear preference observed during social interactions in noisy environments, i.e., discotheques. In the first study, a spontaneous right-ear preference was observed during linguistic exchange between interacting individuals. This lateral bias was confirmed in a quasi-experimental study in which a confederate experimenter evoked an ear-orienting response in bystanders, under the pretext of approaching them with a whispered request. In the last study, subjects showed a greater proneness to meet an experimenter's request when it was directly addressed to the right rather than the left ear. Our findings are in agreement both with laboratory studies on hemispheric lateralization for language and approach/avoidance behavior in humans and with animal research. The present work is one of the few studies demonstrating the natural expression of hemispheric asymmetries, showing their effect in everyday human behavior.
Sorry. I spilled coffee on the News Cut AcademicSpeak-O-Meter this morning and it hasn't been working quite right. Let's try this again.
You're in a loud and sweaty Italian dance club when a woman approaches you. To be heard over the techno, she leans in close and yells into your ear, "Hai una sigaretta?"
If she spoke into your right ear, you would be twice as likely to give her a cigarette than if she asked by your left ear, according to a new study that employed this methodology in the clubs of Pescara, Italy. Of 88 clubbers who were approached on the right, 34 let the researcher bum a smoke, compared with 17 of 88 whom she approached on the left.
You have to love science. This is the latest study to show that the brain translates things uttered into your right ear differently than your left ear.(4 Comments)
Among the day's unanswerable questions -- why can't the Twins win on the road or when will the Minnesota Senate race end, for example -- we add one more this afternoon: Why do we have fingerprints?
Up until now, it's been theorized that fingerprints exist to create friction when we grab things.
Scientists today announced the theory is invalid, according to the BBC.(4 Comments)
Great discoveries in science (continued).
Scientists at Aberystwyth University in the UK "have found that male great tits in 20 UK towns and cities sang at a higher pitch to be heard above the man-made noise."
According to the BBC, researchers have also found that the city birds don't understand rural birds very well.
Fill in your own joke.(3 Comments)
MPR's Lorna Benson reports on a new University of Minnesota study that shows eating charred or burned meat may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer by 60 percent.
Nearly four years ago (recognize the byline?) the same team showed an association between people who ate burned meats and a higher rate of pancreatic cancer, which is among the hardest cancers to detect and diagnose early and, as a result, treat successfully.
Now before we haul the Weber off to the dumpster and bang down the doors of the Food and Drug Administration with demands to start regulating barbecues, there's a simple solution for all you carnivorous News Cut readers.
As U of M researcher Kristin Anderson told me in 2005, "Just use common sense; slow down."
Which, by the way, are the two cardinal rules of barbecuing to begin with.(4 Comments)
University of Minnesota researchers are on a bit of a roll. Last month, they got some international attention with research showing an inexpensive and common substance could halt the spread of the HIV virus in monkeys.
Today neuroscientists at the U have tackled a more common problem : the itch. They report both the itch and the relief from scratching comes from cells in the spinal cord, rather than an impulse in the brain.
And, again, monkeys are at the heart of the research, the New York Times reports:
In the study, led a postdoctoral student, Steve Davidson, researchers isolated in monkeys cellular connections that run from the surface of the foot to the spinal cord and then to the thalamus, a clearinghouse for sensations in the brain, down through the spinal cord to the surface of the foot. They induced the sensation by injecting histamines under the skin.
The scientists took single-cell recordings in an area at the base of the spinal cord, in the lower back, in so-called spinothalamic neurons. These cells are sprinkled throughout the spinal cord. Most are sensitive to pain, and some to both pain and itch. The cells apparently detected the injection and began firing immediately afterward. And when the researchers scratched the itchy skin on the monkeys' feet, it quieted the cells' activity.
Stories about the findings also reveal this nugget: Scientists don't call it "itching." It's known as pruritus.(1 Comments)
It's worth noting that the space shuttle, which launched Sunday night, is under the control of a Minnesota lad.
"It's always the thing that you think you have down, that's routine, that comes back and bites you," Paul Dye, lead shuttle flight director said, according to the blog The Future of Things. "It'll either be routine or it will be heart stopping, like always."
His family still lives in the area.
It found the same thing I picked up (and wrote about) during the News Cut on Campus tour: that more students are turning toward working for the social good.
Fourteen percent of this year's senior class at Harvard applied to Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that sends graduates to work in low-income urban and rural public schools. The proportion was 9 percent last year.
"There's always that push to make money and be comfortable, but the financial crisis made me think that there's a lot more in life than going to get that corporate job," said Matthew Clair, a Harvard government major who will spend the next two years teaching at an Atlanta primary school. "It gave me a good excuse to take some more time off to do what I'm really passionate about."
But the situation brings up another question: To what extent are graduating seniors heading off in this direction out of a sense of altruism, and to what extent are they heading in that direction because that's where the jobs are?
All of which brings me today to this week's News Cut pick of the week of all the offerings that came out of your radio. It's Thursday morning's Midmorning appearance by Dacher Keltner, the professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, and the author of "Born to be Good." Pay no attention to the misnamed headline on the page ("The science of emotional survival") because the heart of the show (zip ahead about halfway through the audio), was the discussion of altruism, and why we're good (mostly).
It even took on last week's appearance by Richard Dawkins.
Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion," is on Midmorning this morning. I'm thinking people are going to need an outlet to react to what he has to say, so News Cut will step into the line of fire. Dawkins says atheists should be just as forthright in their views as those who believe God is real.
I'm not in the studio so please don't use the blog to get questions to Dawkins. Use the comments section to discuss his assertions.
9:08 a.m. - Dawkins and Miller mix it up over her assertion that he's recruiting people to become atheists. "In the preface I was stating my wildest dreams, but I hadn't realized the extent to which atheists are in the closet waiting to be called out." By the way, here's his Web site.
9:11 a.m. - "Why is it so important?" Miller asks. "Truth matters," Dawkins says, which brings up a constant struggle for me in matters of religion. Both sides of this equation say it's "the truth." But how we do know?
9:12 - Why does Dawkins choose to describe God as people's "imaginary friend?" He says the claim of a universal power "who put things in motion" is an impingement on science.
Miller says the description of "imaginary friend" makes it sound "infantile." Dawkins says it should.
9:17 a.m. "It's not up to me to provide the evidence," Dawkins says.
He says the idea that Jesus died for our sins is "obvious nonsense." OK, where does this conversation go after that?
9:22 a.m. - Dawkins says believers mix doubt and belief inconsistently. "You have just suggested that somebody who begins by saying 'I don't know,' then says 'and I know Jesus was raised by the dead and born to a version.... It's the Christians who say 'beyond a doubt...'"
9:25 a.m. - "Why do you bother to call yourself a Christian instead of saying you believe in a higher power. He suggests it's more intellectually honest to say one believes in a higher power but can't be sure," he says to a caller.
9:27 a.m. - A caller rejects the notion that beautiful things are a sign of God. "Why can't they just be beautiful in and of themselves?" she says.
9:29 a.m. - There is growing evidence for a kind of universal morality which transcends different religious traditions.Things like The Golden Rule, are -- if not universal -- extremely widespread. There's increasing evidence they're part of our brain heritage.
9:30 a.m. - Caller: "We don't all believe that there was a virgin birth etc., but those things aren't required to believe in the message. You can't lump all believers of God into the Christian fundamentalist camp."
Dawkins, however, says mystery is something to be solved, not something to revel in.
9:33 a.m. - Says some mysteries will never be solved. Pressed on the question of what is "truth," he says he's criticizing the attitude that "I love mystery. You're spoiling it for us."
"Might it be an insolvable mystery?" Kerri asks.
9:35 a.m. -"I believe it's worth working on," he says. He says the answers may come from neuroscience and computers. "Computers are capable of feats of mimicry of mental process. We will have man-made computers that are conscious in the same way we are."
9:41 a.m. Caller: "I'm sick of this nonsense called religion." But says people who declare "God doesn't exist" are as arrogant as those who say "God exists."
"I am not certain there is no God," Dawkins replies. "No scientist should say categorically, 'there is no anything.' You have to doubt everything and be open to evidence. There could be a supernatural being -- I bet there is a superhuman being somewhere in the universe."
9:46 a.m. Relays the story of the night P.Z. Myers got expelled from the Minneapolis screening of Expelled, a film about Creationism.
Here's the NY Times version.
9:49 a.m. - Caller: What came before the Big Bang. Also relays a story about a near-death experience by a relative.
"I'm not a physicist so I can't answer the question," he said about the Big Bang. He says whatever came before is a big mystery and it's not going to be helped "by postulating divine intelligence."
9:51 a.m. - Kerri asks if Dawkins believes his convictions will be as strong on the day he dies?
I'm not convinced of anything. I can't say categorically that there is no life after death. It seems implausible. Brains don't survive death and they evolve over millions of years. He says it is implausible to say that when your brain dies, your spirit goes on.
Dawkins is speaking tonight at Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota.
Audio of today's interview will be available shortly.
What did the Big Bang look like?
Scientists at Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology, have recreated the "Cosmic Dawn" - the formation of the first big galaxies in the Universe.
"We are effectively looking back in time and by doing so we hope to learn how galaxies like our own were made and to understand more about dark matter. The presence of dark matter is the key to building galaxies - without dark matter we wouldn't be here today," Alvaro Orsi, a research postgraduate in Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology tells Science Daily
The green depicts "dark matter", which is believed to make up 80 percent of the universe.(1 Comments)
I'm not sure how I missed the existence of The Greenwash Brigade, seeing as how it's happening -- more or less -- within earshot of the News Cut World Headquarters. American Public Media's Marketplace has assembled a team of "environmental professionals" to grade the "eco-friendly claims of corporations."
Janne K. Flisrand, the program coordinator for Minnesota Green Communities, spotted a troubling corporate effort. Sharp Electronics employees are volunteering to teach 5th graders about climate change and renewable power, she writes, and has focused it on solar power.
That's not necessarily bad, depending on the larger context. A lesson focused on solar power is appropriate IF the class had already learned about conservation, AND there are classes dedicated to other renewable energy sources. As a stand-alone, it's simply self-interested marketing.
Sputnik was a little tin can that beeped. "The public feared that the Soviets' ability to launch satellites also translated into the capability to launch ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons from Europe to the U.S.," NASA's history archive says.
"Omid," launched today by Iran, can do a little more. It's a data processing and television transmission satellite, although concerns of dual-use technology and the potential for the combination rocket to be converted to carry a warhead will likely raise fears around the world," an Indian news site says today.(3 Comments)
The Brits are further ahead of us in the development of the next generation of light bulbs. They've banned the sale of incandescent light bulbs, and they're already -- reportedly -- moving past the newfangled CFL bulbs.
The next step is LEDs. I bought one of those LED worklights a year or so ago and it's heading for the trash. The light, while cheaper to produce and relatively bright, is too narrowly targeted as a work light and certainly as a replacement for home light bulbs.
So I was interested today when the BBC reported that a professor has developed an LED light bulb that will last for 60 years and be appropriate for home use. Alas, it was a most disappointing presentation.
It's easier to develop an eco-friendly light bulb than it is to develop an eco-friendly light-bulb that works well.(6 Comments)
Over the last few months, I've neglected the science beat a bit, but a story out today cannot be ignored.
Scientists have reversed the effects of Multiple Sclerosis... they think.
The research comes from Northwestern, according to the Chicago Sun-Times:
The successful use of stem cells to reboot MS patients' immune systems could be a big step forward in the treatment of the disease, in which the immune system attacks the protective covering of nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord -- the myelin sheath.
Still, Burt cautioned that his results -- being published online today by the British medical journal the Lancet Neurology -- need to be duplicated in a broader study. "It's encouraging, but, honestly, it's unproven until you have a randomized trial that proves it," he said.
One of the people in the study was Barry Goudy, 51, of Michigan who now says, "Life is very good. I have no restraints anymore because of MS."
It's only coincidental that the news came on the same day that a company in Toronto announced that its drug to treat MS doesn't work.
Meanwhile, Wendy Booker isn't waiting around. She plans to climb Mt. Everest this spring, becoming the first person with MS to climb the tallest peak on each continent.
"I wanted to show what life with MS is like," she says. "It's a struggle. You can't always get to the top."(1 Comments)
This morning's MPR Midmorning's discussion about forgetting and memory was fascinating in a this-is-the-day-I-figure-out-time-travel sort of way.
You have to give host Kerri Miller credit for pluckiness and persistence because it started out the way too many math classes started when I was in school: Too hard. Checking out.
Early on, one of the guests Dr. Gayatri Devi, director of New York Memory and Healthy Aging Services, tried to differentiate between forgetting and memory, when Kerri asked why we're able to consciously remember something, but we can't consciously forget something?
"Forgetting has to occur constantly and if we had to consciously remember what we forget, we would not be able to function. It would overwhelm our mental capacity."
Like, umm, now.
But James McGaugh, a neuroscientist and founding director of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California-Irvine, took another tack in explaining why the brain forgets things. Otherwise, it would be a curse, as in the case of Jill Price.
"She's a prisoner of her memories," McGaugh acknowledged. "She can remember her 13th birthday but when she remembers it, she'll also remember that someone there insulted her... She is able to call up all sorts of good information, in doing so she unearths a lot of unpleasant things."
Give the show a listen:
If you could remember everything, would you want to?
Regular News Cut reader Brian Hanf sends me news that, in his words, "My flying car is coming."
His link reveals that a Boston-area company is planning flight tests of a two-seater airplane that doubles as a car.
Either way, it boils down to this: You sit down behind the steering wheel, drive to the runway, unfold two wings and take off. You can fly 500 miles on a tank of gas -- regular unleaded -- and when you land, you simply fold up the wings and drive where you want to go. At the end of the day, you fly back, drive home and park inside your garage.
It's an idea that many have considered but nobody has yet perfected. Judging by an article last May, this project is already behind schedule.
Terrafugia wants to deliver the first Transition to a customer by the end of 2009 and go into large-scale production by 2012. If you were just building a new type of plane or a new type of car, that schedule would be ambitious enough. But the Transition is both--and if, as the company intends, pilots are to land the vehicle on an airport runway, fold up the wings, and tool right out onto public highways, then this hybrid-of-a-different-color will have to meet federal standards for both aviation safety and highway safety.
Of course, the only thing worse than the new-car market right now is the small-airplane market, but putting that aside, what other challenges does this idea face? The skies are one of the few areas where there's not gridlock, and the government seems to have no plan at all for flying cars.
>>The developer points to the new "light sport aircraft" rules as a way to get FAA approval for his machine. But planes licensed under those rules can't fly at night.
>> It's only a matter of time before some neighbor decides the cul de sac would be a great thing to use as a runway.
>> Shouldn't Minnesotans learn how to merge on the highway first?
A lot of the focus of these stories is on the airplane-side of the equation. But it's the car side that's notoriously undependable. On your way home from work tonight, count the number of cars broken down by the side of the road.
Michael Osterholm, the former Minnesota state epidemiologist and now director of the , the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy is on MPR's Midday (Listen here), discussion the nationwide salmonella outbreak.
I'm live-blogging the pertinent questions and answers. He's also talking about other issues facing health investigators. The other big health story today is the word that Tamiflu may not be effective on this year's strain.
Osterholm says there's actually three strains of flu that float around the world, one of which was an "escapee" from a Russian lab years ago.
Q: Why isn't Tamiflu working?
A: The strain changed in a way that makes it resistant to the flu. The good news is (a) the change may not stay. Next year's strain may lose the resistance, and (b) this year "we have a great match on the vaccine with the strain that's in Minnesota.
Q: Has the possibility of a pandemic or bird flu changed?
A: We're closer to a pandemic today than we were yesterday. When people say "if it were to happen it would've happened by now, H3N8 strain jumped from birds to horses in the 1960s and we have no idea why. The same strain then jumped to dogs and we're seeing problems with dogs. We know little about influenza.
Q: Why are we just hearing about the salmonella outbreak now?
A: The first cases occurred in early October. This has been gaining a head of steam with most cases occurring in the last six weeks. This is a common strain of salmonella. We have the ability to fingerprint the organisms. It took time for the "fingerprints" to be obtained. It has increased in the number of states which tells us a lot about the product involved. It's probably a store-shelf product.
The cases in Minnesota are more recent nature. It's likely that the Minnesota Department of Public Health will be the one to crack it.
Q: Has something changed in the food environment?
A: Even a loaf of Sara Lee bread, the ingredients are likely from 10 different countries. It's remarkably how safe food really is, given how much food we eat. The average person has two food-borne illnesses a year. But we have so many more processes than we had before.
Q: Is food illness more insidious?
A: Think of all the food that you don't cook. Even the things you do cook, there are things you don't cook adequately. Part of the problem is some contamination occurs in plants (such as deli meats) after the cooking process.
Q: When the CDC investigated the "tomato outbreak" (which turned out to be wrong), does the CDC get gunshy about publicizing an investigation?
A: You're right, but having been at the Minnesota Department of Public Health as long as I was, Minnesota doesn't get it wrong and they get it quickly often. When the first outbreak of Salmonella St. Paul was identified in Minnesota, they identified it quickly that it wasn't tomatoes, it was peppers. Had the other states been half as competent as Minnesota, it could've been picked up much earlier.
Osterholm says he's worried the Health Department will "take a hit" in the coming budget cuts.
Q: Is there a fear that publicizing these things too early will hurt industry?
A: Yes, but I don't think that's the case here. Once the number of cases grew here quickly, they (the MDH) jumped on it. I wouldn't be surprised to see this solved in just a couple of days.
Q: What advice would you give to Obama?
A: Osterholm says he's working with the Obama transition team on who to bring in. "I'm excited about the interest in solid science," he said. As a world, we are going to have to take major cuts in programs. What I worry about is public health, which is only 1% of the budget and much of that funding is in jeopardy right now. If you cut out some basic public health programs, you'll pay more down the road. If the pandemic flu hits tomorrow, it'll make everything else seem like child's play.
Q: Should people have faith in federal health agencies?
A: I was critical of the CDC in the tomato vs. peppers outbreak, but I also saw the CDC do a great job overall. Is some of it a problem? Absolutely. But it's unfortunate that people label everything dark or light or right or wrong.
Q: What do you think of Sanjay Gupta as surgeon general?
A: He's a friend and his knowledge is exceptional. He'd make a great surgeon general. Having known past surgeon generals, the office has been "dumbed down." The Obama administration wants to restore that to a very strong voice to the world. There's very few health communicators out there than Sanjay Gupta. He's an actively practicing physician. Every Monday morning he scrubs in and does some amazing brain surgery.
Q: What is the health impact of people coming across the border from the south?
A: At Hennpin County Medical Center, they needed to have 65 interpreters to provide health care. Of
65 6.2 billion on the face of the earth, 2 billion have TB. We want to make sure we deal with the populations from their health perspective. We don't want it to spread to others and that's where I get people's concern about people coming in from other countries... there's been very limited transmission of disease to other groups. We see it within their own family. We shouldn't use it as a wedge issue to say "they shouldn't be here."
Q: Why is Minnesota better than other states at finding the answers to food-borne illnesses?
A: In 1965, we had three people who worked in infectious diseases. Over the years we built the group up through outside resources -- research money, grant money -- and since the early '80s, the MDPH has had an ethic of excellence where some of the top people in the country have been trained and have stayed. We have people at the U who are on call all of the time. We can do some testing in three days that takes the state of Texas 6 weeks. Our laboratory is one of the best -- if not the best -- in the country. There's been a sense of excellence that has stayed and we're lucky to live in a state that values that.
Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control confirmed to the Associated Press that, indeed, a salmonella outbreak is racing across the country, puzzling health officials over its source. It sounds like something that just happened, doesn't it? But, no, it started in September, and most of the people got sick after December 1.
After the Associated Press story from the Centers for Disease Control hit the Internet, the Minnesota Department of Public Health confirmed that 30 people in Minnesota have gotten sick from salmonella and one 70-year-old woman with other underlying health conditions has died.
Health officials across the country are scrambling to talk to people who've been affected, hoping to be able to connect the victims to a common source .
But at least in Massachusetts, health officials have been slow on the uptake. One 7-year-old girl was affected just before Thanksgiving, spent 4 days in the hospital, and her mother is upset that health officials still have not contacted the family.
Presumably, the states have known about the outbreak, but until the Associated Press story, there was no public announcement of it. Anywhere. As of this morning, there is still nothing on the Minnesota Department of Public Health Web site about the outbreak, although there is valuable information there .
"It is often difficult to identify sources of foodborne outbreaks. People may not remember the foods they recently ate and may not be aware of all of the ingredients in food. That's what makes these types of investigations very difficult," according to CDC spokesman David Daigle.
Says the CDC's update:
"In outbreaks like this one, identification of the contaminated product requires conducting detailed standardized interviews with persons who were ill and with non-ill members of the public ("controls") to compare foods they recently ate and other exposures," the CDC's update says. "Using statistical methods, the contaminated item is identified as one to which significantly more ill persons than controls were exposed. ... The investigation is labor intensive and typically takes weeks. It is not always successful."
Scientific American says there may be good reason why news of an outbreak that started last fall is just now being made public.
The agency's disease trackers, who were criticized for taking three months to trace another large salmonella outbreak last spring to Mexican Serrano peppers, haven't determined the latest outbreak's origin. They mistakenly blamed tomatoes for last year's scourge, costing growers $100 million in sales.
Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy says an initial suggestion that chicken may be a cause is not correct:
An online newspaper report yesterday that said the CDC had activated its emergency network to investigate the outbreak was incorrect, CDC spokeswoman Lola Russell told CIDRAP News today. She also said a report that chicken was suspected as the source of the outbreak was wrong.
"We're not in emergency status with this," Russell said. As for the source, she added, "We don't know what it is yet. It would be very premature to indicate that it's chicken or anything else."
The Center's director, former state epidemiologist Mike Osterholm will be on MPR's Midday at 11 to discuss the outbreak.(3 Comments)
An Emory University professor, Larry Young, writes in the journal Nature that love involves a series of neurochemical events that happen in a specific part of the brain.
If true, one will no longer need oysters, chocolates, or even cheap wine and some Barry White to create "a loving mood," as the BBC calls it.
Under Young's theory, scientists, some of whom can't currently get a date, could create chemicals that would make people fall in love with the first person they see, or even refall in love with someone.
"It may actually enhance our ability to form relationships, and so it is a very real possibility that something like oxytocin could be used in conjunction with marital therapies to bring back that spark," he says.
In the future, you may have to take a pill to stay married.(3 Comments)
Reader Derek Schille writes, "For whatever reason this screamed news cut to me."
It's a six-month time-lapse image of a bridge, taken with a pinhole camera. The lines are the travels of the sun in relation to the planet.
In a slow news week, this should've gotten bigger play.
Fuel from the weed jatropha powered an Air New Zealand jet on a two-hour flight today--the world's second flight of a commercial jet on biofuel. One out of the four Rolls Royce engines on an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 burned a 50-50 blend of regular jet fuel and a bio-version made from jatropha.
The flight more than doubled the air time of the first biofuel flight--a 40 minute jaunt between London and Amsterdam in February. The plane climbed to an altitude of 35,000 feet and the engine performed normally, according to chief pilot Capt. David Morgan.
Details are in Scientific American.
Of course there remains a big problem:
Biofuels don't contain the oil necessary to help seals and rings in engines swell. So the lief of an aircraft engine would be reduced. That's a big deal. The GE engine on a 777 could go for as high as $10 million apiece.
This issue is playing out in all forms of aviation, including general aviation. I have this thing sitting in a hangar -- a new airplane engine.
It runs on fully leaded gasoline, which is being phased out. It may be a huge paperweight in a short period of time. These engines can run on auto fuel, but Minnesota's ethanol content will rot the seals and reduce its life.
Researchers are trying to solve problems like this but so far there doesn't appear to be a solution. Most of the small airplanes you see in the air are flying on borrowed time.(3 Comments)
The format has a way to go before it becomes valuable, however. Unlike most press conferences, with this one you have to read the answers first and then work your way back to find out the questions.
However, the "answers" so far, make the questions as obvious as the answers are predictable.
Here are some of the major points highlighted so far (with the actual answers):
A better way to follow things is by searching #AskIsrael, but then you have to read through miles of posts of people writing, "I'm typing up a question to ask the Israeli consulate."
Sometimes, the old media is a better forum. If there's one issue that can't be explained in a series of 140 character messages, this one is it.
It was a nice try, however.
Apparently, I don't have enough to worry about. The economy stinks. The Wild look like an expansion team. I don't remember how to drive on dry pavement.
Now this: The earth is slowing down. It's gotten so slow that the Department of Time is going to add a second to 2008, which has already been acting like the drunken relative who didn't know when to leave.
The second will be added on Wednesday at 5:59:59 p.m.
According to the experts, the earth is slowing because of the braking action of tides, snow or the lack of it at the polar ice caps, solar wind, space dust and magnetic storms, although I've always suspected the Foshay Tower was somewhat responsible.
At the present rate, it'll be billions of years before the earth stops rotating -- around the time the Minnesota U.S. Senate recount ends -- and inhabitants of Planet Earth engage in the interstellar version of Wheel of Fortune.(1 Comments)
Ten million of us baby boomers are going to develop Alzheimer's. Expect coverage of research to increase. Let's begin with this one that's out today.
At Northeastern University in Boston, researchers say the disease may get its start by an insufficient blood flow carrying sugar to the brain. They suggest that exercise -- now -- may be the answer.
Meanwhile, a researcher at McGill University is out with a study today that says patients who frequently kick or cry out in their sleep may be at an increased risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.
There's no simple test for Alzheimer's. The Alzheimer's Foundation of America is suggesting a five-minute test, which others say is hugely controversial. Why? Take it and see if you can figure it out:
Tell someone three random words: car, pencil, banana. Then have the person draw a clock with the correct time, as a distraction. A little later, can he or she recall the words?
As a Chicago Tribune article pointed out, "Failing such a test doesn't mean someone has dementia. But it signals there might be a problem with short-term memory that should be checked by a doctor. Maybe it's something fixable, such as depression or thyroid disease. Maybe it is an Alzheimer's warning sign. Or maybe the person just isn't a good test taker."
Everything about being the incoming administration is tough, and President-elect Barack Obama will have no shortage of tough decisions about science policy.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that NASA is already digging a moat, lifting up the drawbridge and preparing for a siege.
NASA administrator Mike Griffin is not cooperating with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team, is obstructing its efforts to get information and has told its leader that she is "not qualified" to judge his rocket program, the Orlando Sentinel has learned.
Griffin's resistance is part of a no-holds-barred effort to preserve the Constellation program, the delayed and over-budget moon rocket that is his signature project.
NASA's budget is small potatoes compared to some recent government programs — at around $17 billion is only about 40 times smaller than the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. But, it sets up an interesting question.
Are the programs worthy scientific endeavors, a critical pseudo-extension of our national security and national pride into the great beyond and a extension of the infrastructure the Obama administration says should be invested in?
Or are they an overindulging slate of geek hubris, a chronically over-budget and poor investment when money would be better spent on more terrestrial matters?
NASA has had its share of successes and failure, and a higher failure rate is probably more tolerable when working at the extreme limits of human exploration and knowledge. And while President Bush laid out his Vision for Space Exploration plan in 2004 with ambitious goals of returning humans to the moon by 2020 and putting people on Mars shortly (in NASA terms) after that, the burden will be on Obama to determine what is a worthy investment and what's a waste of money.
My guess is that greeting the transition team with a mix of confrontation and paranoia isn't going to help your chances in preserving your programs.
Soon after, [Obama space transition team head Lori] Garver and Griffin engaged in what witnesses said was an animated conversation. Some overheard parts of it.
"Mike, I don't understand what the problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood," Garver said.
"If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a liar," Griffin replied. "Because it means you don't trust what I say is under the hood."
Aside: If you've ever wondered about the breathtaking scope of the U.S. federal budget, spend your coffee break looking over this massive interactive graphic.(3 Comments)
We've got a conjunction up there. Venus, Jupiter and the Moon are all near each other as viewed from terra firma, creating a "frown," as National Geographic puts it. But in the above picture from Kenya, it looks more like a smile.
We haven't done this since the the eclipse months ago (Good grief, it was February! Was it really February? It seems like only recently.) and I probably should've asked earlier today but if you take a picture, send it to me and I'll post it.
Update 7:23 p.m. Just took this from the runway at South St. Paul airport. Lame camera, though. And ignore Flight 837 from wherever.
The conjunction is not only a frown, but appears to be crying, in this picture from Sharon Stiteler. It's actually quite Van Gogh-like.
The Current's Mary Lucia and I were chatting a bit ago about what we would do if we learned an asteroid was heading for earth. Today, a conference got underway in Vienna to try to set up a global plan for diverting an asteroid heading for earth's midsection.
Mary said "at least it will be quick." But maybe not. Theoretically, according to experts, it should be possible to determine 15 years ahead of time that an asteroid is heading our way. Fifteen years. In fact, there's one roaming around around out there right now, experts say, that could hit us in 2029 if it goes through a small "keyhole" of space enough to deflect its orbit right into us.
I'll be 75 then, and not terribly concerned, although it may make me rethink the whole "long term" strategy for dealing with the stock market.
Oh, one of Mary's many listeners sent this video in which has nothing to do with asteroids but must've been frightening on its own. It happened in Edmonton last week and was captured by a dashboard camera on a police car. (link fixed)
You have to give credit to a cop who doesn't even slow down while driving toward a fireball from space that sure seemed as if it was heading straight for him.(2 Comments)
There are some headlines you just can't ignore.
Like this one from the BBC today.
Nasa jubilant at urine solution
If you haven't been following this closely, NASA is testing a system of providing drinking water to astronauts that is filtered from their urine. And if you have been following this closely, well, don't tell me you haven't been thinking about this because I know you have.
"Not to spoil anything, but I think up here the appropriate words are 'Yippee!'," space station Commander Mike Fincke told mission control early on Tuesday morning.
He supervised work on the malfunctioning water regeneration system - which distils, filters, ionises and oxidises wastewater including urine, perspiration and bath water, into drinkable water.
Nobody's taking a swig of anything yet. The sampled brew will be tested by NASA when the astronauts return. But let's be indelicate here for just a moment in the interest of science. Suppose this thing works, and the thing spits out lovely drinking water in bottles that say "Pluto Springs." What if at some point in the future, it breaks again. How will they know?
This concept is not limited to space. More and more communities are considering tapping their sewage treatment plants as a source of drinking water.
In California, a plant is already working, as described by the New York Times in an August article:
When you flush in Santa Ana, the waste makes its way to the sewage-treatment plant nearby in Fountain Valley, then sluices not to the ocean but to a plant that superfilters the liquid until it is cleaner than rainwater. The "new" water is then pumped 13 miles north and discharged into a small lake, where it percolates into the earth. Local utilities pump water from this aquifer and deliver it to the sinks and showers of 2.3 million customers. It is now drinking water. If you like the idea, you call it indirect potable reuse. If the idea revolts you, you call it toilet to tap.
File this in the "news you'd hear if it weren't for politics" file.
At a conference on infectious diseases today, University of Virginia researchers released a study of the common places where people pick up colds.
The researchers started with 30 adults with early symptoms of colds and retraced the things they touched in the previous 18 hours, using DNA tests to hunt for rhinovirus, which causes about half of all colds.
"We found that commonly touched areas like refrigerator doors and handles were positive about 40 percent of the time" for cold germs, said Dr. Birgit Winther, an ear, nose and throat specialist who helped conduct the study.
The researchers also figured out that a person touching these items could catch the cold virus even if it had been 48 hours since the person transmitting the cold had touched them. This, apparently, is not true for the flu virus.
Why can't we cure the common cold? The Buffalo News has a sensational article analyzing that today. The short answer? There's too many viruses. Another answer: Viruses are smarter than we are. For example, the reason a cold isn't more severe than it is is because the virus needs you to walk around infecting other people(1 Comments)
On one of yesterday's visits with Mary Lucia on the Current, I mentioned the finding that under the right circumstances, you could use a roll of Scotch Tape to make an X-Ray.
Here's the story on Nature News.
As long ago as 1953, a team of scientists based in Russia suggested that peeling sticky tape produced X-rays. But "we were very sceptical about the old results," says Escobar (the researcher). His team decided to look into the phenomenon anyway, and found that X-rays were indeed given off, in high-energy pulses.
When the researchers placed a small plastic window in their vacuum chamber, they were even able to take an X-ray image of a finger, using a dental X-ray detector. Their results are published in Nature.
What can science do with this newfound knowledge? "The researchers suggest that the high charge density generated by peeling the tape could be great enough to trigger nuclear fusion," the article said.
India's planned spaceshot to the Moon is an easy one to ignore -- it's just another country not named the United States ramping up its space program while the only country to actually land and walk on the moon seems increasingly content to keep its feet on terra firma.
"When completed, this mission will put India in the very small group of six countries which have thus far sent space missions to the moon," said Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan, a member of the Indian parliament, reinforcing the narrative that this is about prestige and a place at the scientific table.
And maybe it is. But tucked into the New York Times story today is this nugget:
The Indian mission is scheduled to last two years, prepare a three-dimensional atlas of the moon and prospect the lunar surface for natural resources, including uranium, a coveted fuel for nuclear power plants, according to the Indian Space Research Organization.
The moon as strip mine? It's not that far fetched. A 2004 Popular Mechanics article from former astronaut Harrison Schmitt.
It is not a lack of engineering skill that prevents us from using helium-3 to meet our energy needs, but a lack of the isotope itself. Vast quantities of helium originate in the sun, a small part of which is helium-3, rather than the more common helium-4. Both types of helium are transformed as they travel toward Earth as part of the solar wind. The precious isotope never arrives because Earth's magnetic field pushes it away. Fortunately, the conditions that make helium-3 rare on Earth are absent on the moon, where it has accumulated on the surface and been mixed with the debris layer of dust and rock, or regolith, by constant meteor strikes. And there it waits for the taking.
It's always a bad idea to get too far ahead where medical research is concerned, but it's hard not to play "what if" with a science story being reported now.
Researchers have found monkeys, taught to play a computer game, can regain use of paralyzed muscles and even learned to use muscles that previously had nothing to do with wrist movement.
The significance? According to the Associated Press:
Remarkably, the monkeys regained use of paralyzed muscles by learning to control the activity of just a single brain cell.
The result is "an important step forward," said Dawn Taylor of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, who studies the concept of using brain signals to overcome paralysis. She wasn't involved in the new work.(1 Comments)
Here's a new video that's recently been uploaded explaining climate change and, more precisely, a recalculation of the "tippping point."
The script is posted here. The author says the answer is to consume less, which is never going to happen, at least in my lifetime.(3 Comments)