Archive for the ‘Science’ Category


Because… why not?


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Best left alone?

Best left alone?

I mean, it’s just asking for trouble:

And speaking of Pluto’s features, NASA scientists are now giving unofficial names to some of the things they’ve spotted — names they can submit to the International Astronomical Union for official approval. They’re sticking with the trend of underworld creatures and gods — Pluto, after all, was the Roman god of the underworld — and have tentatively named a previously observed dark, whale-shaped splotch (just to the left of the broken heart) after “Cthulhu,” the dark deity invented by author H.P. Lovecraft. Described as part man, part dragon, and part octopus, Cthulhu has gained something of a cult following in the Internet age.

Okay, so Cthulhu is supposed to be trapped under the Pacific, where he lies dreaming, but what if R’lyeh was really located on a dark plane on a dark planet at the far edge of the Solar System, and Lovecraft was trying to spare us the sanity-blasting truth? And what if this awakens him… er…. it?

Yeah. We’re doomed.

PS: Let us enjoy this moment while forgiving the article’s author his apparently weak knowledge of all things Cthulhuoid. First, he’s never been described as “part dragon,” though he does have wings as I recall, and an octopoidal head. But he is definitely not a god. Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, and Hastur are gods. The Big C is “merely” a Great Old One, himself a servant of the gods.

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I knew it!

"Health hazard"

“Health hazard”

Vegetarianism is bad for you

Population-based studies have consistently shown that our diet has an influence on health – a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is recommended.

But some people go overboard and just eat meat. Or just eat vegetables. Evidence for health benefits of exclusive diets is scant. Vegetarians are considered healthier, they are wealthier, they are more liberal, they drink less alcohol and they smoke less – but those are a lot of variables in health that don’t necessarily result from being a vegetarian.

A cross-sectional study taken from the Austrian Health Interview Survey AT-HIS 2006/07 found that vegetarians are actually less healthy than normal eaters. Subjects were matched according to their age, sex, and socioeconomic status leaving 1320 people – 330 vegetarians, 330 that ate meat but still a lot of fruits and vegetables, 300 normal eaters but that ate less meat, and 330 on a more carnivorous diet.

After controlling for variables, they found that vegetarians did have lower BMI and alcohol consumption but had poorer overall health. Vegetarians had higher incidences of cancer, allergies, and mental health disorders, a higher need for health care, and poorer quality of life.

As a result, vegetarians take more medications than non-vegetarians.

Now, as the article points out, this is just one study and, if anything is certain in life and science, there will be other studies showing just the opposite.

Still, this is one of those moments that gives me way too much satisfaction. There is an annoying subset of vegetarians (1) who take their dietary choice as a sign of their moral superiority. Not all, of course; some are vegetarian for religious or health reasons. But, there is that smug faction, and shoving a grapefruit in their face is a temptation I cannot resist.

Yes, I am weak.

And I take my steak on the rare side of medium-rare. Don’t want to get cancer and go insane, after all.

(1) And bicyclists. No, you do not in fact own the road and the sidewalk.

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Yachting, Titan-style

Yachting, Titan-style

Okay, so trying to catch some rays from a distant, faint sun on the shore of a hydrocarbon sea on a freezing moon doesn’t sound like all that much fun (at least, not to an Earthman…), but the announcement that scientists may have discovered waves on the seas and lakes of Saturn’s moon Titan does spur the imagination:

Now, after years of searching, Nature reports that NASA’s Cassini scientists think they may finally have spotted waves cresting on the seas of Titan. If confirmed, this would be the first discovery of ocean waves beyond Earth.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spied several unusual glints of sunlight off the surface of Punga Mare in the 2012 and 2013 flybys. Those reflections may come from tiny ripples, no more than 2 centimeters high, that are disturbing the otherwise flat ocean, says Jason Barnes, a planetary scientist at the University of Idaho in Moscow.


Researchers expect more waves to appear in the next few years, because winds are anticipated to pick up as Titan’s northern hemisphere — where most of its seas are located — emerges from winter and approaches spring.

There’s been a proposal for a seaborne “lander” to go to Titan for an initial exploration of its “waters,” but the project was beaten out by the Mars Lander. Seems kind of silly we couldn’t do both. Besides, imagine the reaction to the last images from the “Mare Explorer,” as a Titanian whale swallows it whole.


Let’s do this, NASA.

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The danged thing is even bigger than we thought:

The supervolcano that lies beneath Yellowstone National Park in the US is far larger than was previously thought, scientists report.

A study shows that the magma chamber is about 2.5 times bigger than earlier estimates suggested.

A team found the cavern stretches for more than 90km (55 miles) and contains 200-600 cubic km of molten rock.

The findings are being presented at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco.

Prof Bob Smith, from the University of Utah, said: “We’ve been working there for a long time, and we’ve always thought it would be bigger… but this finding is astounding.”

If the Yellowstone supervolcano were to blow today, the consequences would be catastrophic.

The last major eruption, which occurred 640,000 years ago, sent ash across the whole of North America, affecting the planet’s climate.

I remember once visiting my late father, about ten years ago, and watching a couple of science programs on the Discovery channel after he had gone to bed. One was on asteroids smacking the Earth, the other was on supervolcanoes — including that monster under Yellowstone. Not surprisingly, I had a little trouble sleeping that night.

With this news, I may have trouble tonight, too.

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"Your sommelier"

“Your sommelier”

A neat archaeological find in Israel: a wine cellar from 1700 B.C. with enough remains to tell us something about ancient winemaking:

Talk about aged wine.

Archaeologists say they have discovered a 3,700-year-old wine cellar in Israel, a finding that offers insights into the early roots of winemaking.

The large wine cellar was unearthed in the ruined palace of a Canaanite city in northern Israel, called Tel Kabri, not far from the country’s modern wineries. The excavations revealed 40 one-meter-tall jars kept in what appeared to be a storage room.

No liquid contents could have survived the millennia. But an analysis of organic residue trapped in the pores of the jars suggested that they had contained wine made from grapes. The ancient tipple was likely sweet, strong and medicinal—certainly not your average Beaujolais.

If the researchers’ theories are correct, winemaking may have originated in Canaan and been exported to Egypt, where the oldest known wine cellar, dated to 3,000 B.C., during the Old Kingdom, was found. From the description the wines once housed in Tel Kabri sound like they tasted like an herbal liqueur. Bleh.

If they recreate the flavor, however, I expect Trader Joe’s will soon offer it as “Pharaoh Joe’s.”

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"Don't worry. It's for research purposes."

“Don’t worry. It’s for research purposes.”


Women have long been told that a good bra can help support the chest, relieve back pain and prevent sagging.  However, a new 15-year French study reveals the opposite: bras do little to reduce back pain and, over time, they can actually make breasts sag even more.

Researcher Prof. Jean-Denis Rouillon, a sports science expert from the University of Besançon in eastern France claims that “bras are a false necessity,” according to The Local.

“Medically, physiologically, anatomically – breasts gain no benefit from being denied gravity,” said Rouillon. “On the contrary, they get saggier with a bra.”

Rouillon and his team spent years measuring the changes in the breasts of 330 women using a simple slide rule and caliper at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire (University Hospital) in Besançon, where he carried out his research.

He found that no evidence that bras helped ease back pain. Instead, he found that the chest supports could even add to the problem.

The guy worked on this for 15 years!  Such dedication. (And where do I get a job like that?)

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You know, it’s only a short step from a face-sized tarantula to a face-hugger from Alien:



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"Where'd those kids go??"

“Where’d those kids go??”


Two new species of microorganisms that bear an uncanny resemblance to The Big C:

UBC researchers have discovered two new symbionts living in the gut of termites, and taken the unusual step of naming them after fictional monsters created by American horror author HP Lovecraft.

The single-cell protists, Cthulhu macrofasciculumque and Cthylla microfasciculumque, help termites digest wood. The researchers decided to name them after monstrous cosmic entities featured in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos as an ode to the sometimes strange and fascinating world of the microbe.

“When we first saw them under the microscope they had this unique motion, it looked almost like an octopus swimming,” says UBC researcher Erick James, lead author of the paper describing the new protists, published in the online journal PLoS ONE.

Sadly, the UBC researchers didn’t realize  these were “children” that went missing from a Deep One city far beneath the waves off the coast of British Columbia. Nor will anyone ever truly understand what happened that night when the UBC labs were destroyed and the samples went missing…

Definitely a Delta Green plot.

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Titan nitrogen smog

This lifelong space-program geek is ashamed to say he missed that. You may be shocked, too, which can only mean this was a government conspiracy to conceal our reconnaissance of the secret alien base on Titan! When will the government come clean about the methane-breather threat!?!?!?

Sorry. Got a bit carried away. I’m better, now.

Still, enjoy this neat infographic page about Titan from Space.com, a sample of which tops this page. (“Nitrogen smog.” Probably would remind me of Los Angeles, circa 1978.)

And be sure to bookmark Space.com!

Find out the facts about Titan's heavy atmosphere, lakes of hydrocarbons and the possibility of life in this SPACE.com infographic.
Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration

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Pulp adventure. Mysterious artifacts from the stars. Tibet. Nazis.

It’s all here, baby. And it’s real:

No, it isn’t the plot for the next Indiana Jones movie: According to a research paper published on the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, scientists have discovered that an Iron Man sculpture found by a Nazi expedition in Tibet is of extraterrestrial origin.

The Nazi archeologists found the Iron Man in a remote region of Tibet and brought it to Germany in 1939, just before the start of World War II. It portrays a man in armor, with a clockwise swastika on his chest.

According to the paper—titled Buddha from space-An ancient object of art made of a Chinga iron meteorite fragment—the 23.3-pound (10.6-kilogram) “Iron Man” sculpture may represent “the Buddhist god Vaiśravana and might originate in the Bon culture of the eleventh century.” However, this is just one conjecture.


The only thing they are sure about is where it came from: space. In fact, as stated by the paper’s lead researcher Elmar Buchnher of the University of Stuttgart, “the Iron Man statue is the only known illustration of a human figure to be carved into a meteorite.”

Be sure to read the rest. And here’s the mystery object in question:

Proof of alien Nazi space gods!

This is just too cool for words. Now where’s my whip and fedora? 😀

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Sounds like the title of a science fiction story, doesn’t it? Except, in this case, it’s real:

As a doomed star spirals closer and closer to a black hole that’s about to gobble it up, it lets out periodic bursts of light that scientists liken to dying screams, scientists say.

The star is falling into a gigantic black hole in the center of a distant galaxy that lies 3.9 billion light-years away in the direction of the constellation Draco. As the remains of the star get pulled in, it releases blips of light about every 200 seconds, with occasional lags.

“You can think of it as hearing the star scream as it gets devoured, if you like,” Jon Miller, a University of Michigan astronomer, said in a statement. Miller was part of a team that detected the light blips using two orbiting X-ray telescopes: NASA and Japan’s Suzaku, and Europe’s XMM-Newton.


Though the dying star’s signal comes to us in the form of light, the researchers liken it to sound because it comes at a characteristic frequency that, if converted to sound, would make an ultra-low D-sharp.

Apparently the black hole is shredding the star (or “has shredded” given the time it take light to travel from there to here) and capturing its remains in a disk around itself, from which it “feeds.” A video at the site illustrates what they think is happening. You also see it in the artist’s conception, above, which shows one of the light bursts that’s been likened to a scream. “Awesome,” in it’s most neutral sense, comes to mind.

I hope there were no inhabited planets around that star before it encountered the black hole, or, if there were, the inhabitants were advanced enough to get the Hell our of there in time.  Talk about an apocalyptic ending.  What was it Hamlet said?

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.


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A different kind of Human?

As Humans developed from ape-like predecessors, several sub-species evolved, as if Nature was trying several options, to see what worked best. Our species, Homo Sapiens, won that race and became not just dominant, but the sole surviving Human species (1). Neanderthal Man, the most well-known Human branch other than ours, was perhaps the most successful “other” Human species, and they’re gone. (2)

Now scientists think they may have discovered another, this time in China, a species that survived until surprisingly recent times:

The bones, which represent at least five individuals, have been dated to between 11,500 and 14,500 years ago.

But scientists are calling them simply the Red Deer Cave people, after one of the sites where they were unearthed.

The team has told the PLoS One journal that far more detailed analysis of the fossils is required before they can be ascribed to a new human lineage.


The remains of some of the individuals come from Maludong (or Red Deer Cave), near the city of Mengzi in Yunnan Province. A further skeleton was discovered at Longlin, in neighbouring Guangxi Province.

The skulls and teeth from the two locations are very similar to each other, suggesting they are from the same population.

But their features are quite distinct from what you might call a fully modern human, says the team. Instead, the Red Deer Cave people have a mix of archaic and modern characteristics.

In general, the individuals had rounded brain cases with prominent brow ridges. Their skull bones were quite thick. Their faces were quite short and flat and tucked under the brain, and they had broad noses.

Their jaws jutted forward but they lacked a modern-human-like chin. Computed Tomography (X-ray) scans of their brain cavities indicate they had modern-looking frontal lobes but quite archaic-looking anterior, or parietal, lobes. They also had large molar teeth.

Of course, nothing is settled yet, but it’s hoped that DNA investigations will reveal if these were non-Homo Sapiens people, Homo Sapiens who had adapted to local conditions, or a hybrid of Homo Sapiens and some other branch of Humanity.  Regardless, it’s a neat discovery.

Lovecraft fan that I am, though, I can’t help but note that these bones were found disturbingly near the reputed location of the Plateau of Leng. Or distant relatives of the Tcho-Tcho People? For the sake of their sanity, let’s hope these investigators don’t decide to “do a Jurassic Park.”

(1) Other than NFL defensive linemen.
(2) Of course, there was this one kid in high school who looked like a throwback…

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A black hole 10 billion times the size of the sun:

Scientists have found the biggest black holes known to exist — each one 10 billion times the size of our sun.

A team led by astronomers at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered the two gigantic black holes in clusters of elliptical galaxies more than 300 million light years away. That’s relatively close on the galactic scale.

“They are monstrous,” Berkeley astrophysicist Chung-Pei Ma told reporters. “We did not expect to find such massive black holes because they are more massive than indicated by their galaxy properties. They’re kind of extraordinary.”

The previous black hole record-holder is as large as 6 billion suns.

Hah! I bet it feels puny. Probably wheezes and whines “I’ve been sick!”

And why don’t  we have starships right now? There’s a universe that needs exploring.

Come to think of it, the national debt does kind of function as a black hole…

Courtesy of neo-neocon.

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Whew! That was close!

Billion-Ton Comet May Have Missed Earth by a Few Hundred Kilometers in 1883

A reanalysis of historical observations suggest Earth narrowly avoided an extinction event just over a hundred years ago.

That’s a billion-ton comet that had broken into thousands of pieces. Had they hit the Earth, the investigating team estimates there could have been over 3,200Tunguska events” over 48 hours.

That’d put a crimp in anyone’s day.

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After all, we have the antimatter for the engines…

A thin band of antimatter particles called antiprotons enveloping the Earth has been spotted for the first time.

The find, described in Astrophysical Journal Letters, confirms theoretical work that predicted the Earth’s magnetic field could trap antimatter.

The team says a small number of antiprotons lie between the Van Allen belts of trapped “normal” matter.

The researchers say there may be enough to implement a scheme using antimatter to fuel future spacecraft.

But it won’t be complete until they find Green Orion Women.

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This is how it starts in cheesy horror movies: some scientist goes where he shouldn’t and, next thing you know, we have a zombie apocalypse on our hands:

Today a group of medical researchers reported the discovery of something very intriguing in a type of pancreatic cancer called PanNET. Turns out PanNET is associated with mutations in two genes that help control a part of your DNA that determines whether you die.

Specifically, these genes can artificially lengthen the telomeres, caps on the ends of chromosomes that gradually erode as you grow older. Above, you can see PanNET cells – the glowing pink bits are the areas where the cancer is causing telomere extension. Usually, short telomeres are associated with disease and death. As a result, some scientists believe that keeping telomeres long could be one way to lengthen life (a few tests in mice seem to back this up). PanNET may have just given us two genetic tools to prolong life. The question is, what would a cancer-extended life be like?

This can only end in tears. And brains eaten, but tears, too.

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Otherwise, Japanese science has much to answer for.

Presenting the end to world hunger: a meat substitute made from… “sewage mud.”

Yes, it’s what you think it is.


Note to Sydney of Crepes of Wrath: I double-dog dare you to make a recipe from this!


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Okay, I knew the Nazis were into all sorts of pseudoscience in pursuit of their crazy theories (and just to keep Schiklgruber happy) , but setting up a research institute to teach them to speak (real words, not “arf!”), read, and even read minds?


The dog school was called the Tier-Sprechschule ASRA and was based near Hanover. Led by headmistress Margarethe Schmitt, it was set up in the 1930s and continued throughout the war years.

Rolf, an Airedale terrier, reportedly ‘spoke’ by tapping his paw against a board, each letter of the alphabet being represented by a certain number of taps. He was said to have speculated about religion, learnt foreign languages, written poetry and asked a visiting noblewoman: ‘Could you wag your tail?’

The patriotic dog even expressed a wish to join the army – because he disliked the French.

A Dachshund named Kurwenal was said to speak using a different number of barks for each letter, and told his biographer he would be voting for Hindenburg.

And a German pointer named Don imitated a human voice to bark: ‘Hungry! Give me cakes.’

Dr Bondeson, whose book Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet Of Canine Curiosities is out now, said: ‘It is absolutely extraordinary stuff.

‘There were some very strange experiments going on in wartime Germany, with regard to dog-human communication.’

That last, I think, qualifies as an understatement.

Of course, it would explain that air of dictatorial authority our dogs exhibited whenever they wanted a cookie. Hmmm…

And while this is yet another example of a what a bunch of fruitcakes the Nazis were*, it’s also marvelous material for a “weird alternate history” roleplaying game. Not that I’ve ever considered such a thing

Click through for more Nazi weirdness.

*Albeit, armed, sociopathic, and extremely dangerous fruitcakes.

h/t Moe Lane

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Here’s an absolutely fascinating video of female elephants coming to the rescue of a baby elephant trapped in a muddy pond and in danger of drowning:

(Click the image to go to the site for the video)

There are several fascinating items to note, here:

  1. The elephants cooperated in the rescue, first working together to try to pull and push the baby out of the water.
  2. I’d swear there were attempts to keep the toddler-elephant calm by touching it in reassurance.
  3. When the first attempts to rescue it didn’t work, the adults worked out a plan to guide it to a place where the shore didn’t seem so steep, and then one looks like it digs out a path to make the infant’s climb even easier. If they had hands with opposable thumbs, I’m certain they would have been using tools.

I may be guilty of anthropomorphizing, but that looked like a very high level of intelligence in action, there.

Oh and, once it was free, you know that baby elephant was catching an earful from mom: “What did I tell you about going too close to the edge, young man? No Animal Planet for you tonight!” 😉


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