Sunday, December 27, 2009

Biggest landslide in “thousands of years” hits Eastern Washington

A massive landslide cut off a highway and diverted a river near the city of Yakima in Eastern Washington. Geologists believe it’s the largest landslide to hit the area “in thousands of years.” (Yakima Herald) Just eight homes were destroyed in the event, and no injuries were reported. While the exact cause remains a mystery, experts believe “the movement of earth that slid down the hillside started at least 200 feet below ground.”

Sun, moon linked to earthquakes

Scientists may be a step closer to predicting earthquakes. In a new study, University of California scientists found a correlation between tremor activity and “extremely small, tidal stresses” from the sun and moon. (Reuters) Could particularly active sun and moon cycles trigger a major earthquake? More research is needed.

Fastest train opens for service in China

China is now home to the world’s fastest train route, which connects the modern cities of Wuhan and Guangzhou. (China Post) The train reaches a top speed of 217 miles per hour, making the 600 mile journey in just three hours (it used to take 10). For comparison, Japanese high speed trains average 150mph, in France, 170. How much is a ticket on the China train? You can ride first class for just $110. Not bad.

Your lifestyle, not your genes, play dominant role in skin aging

A study of twins found “skin aging is related more to environment and lifestyle than genetic factors.” (Reuters) What does that mean? Stuff like over-exposure to the sun, smoking and obesity play a greater role in skin aging than genes. What does that mean? That you have more control over how old you look than you probably thought.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Plants capable of stuff ‘we normally think of as only being in animals’

The New York Times has an interesting piece on how plants defend themselves from parasites, communicate with each other and “forage” for food (light). For example, when attacked by caterpillars (munching on their leaves) or butterflies (laying eggs on their leaves), plants “call” predators like dragon flies (for the caterpillars) and wasps (for the butterflies) using chemical distress signals.

Fog discovered on Saturn moon

Liquid evaporating from lakes on the Saturn moon, Titan, seems to be causing fog on the planet’s surface. (National Geographic) That gives us at Pound360 the chills. We imagine the edge of a Titan lake with rocky hills in the background, Saturn rising high in the sky with it’s brilliant rings, and the whole thing shrouded in eerie blue fog.

The discovery of fog suggests there’s methane in Titan’s lakes. So what? Methane can evaporate, meaning there’s probably an active “methane cycle” on Titan, much like Earth’s water cycle.

Data from NASA’s remarkable Cassini Mission (a Pound360 favorite) contributed to the finding.

Velociraptors likely had venomous fangs

As if volociraptors weren’t already terrifying enough with those massive claws, a top speed of 40 mph and up to 80 menacing teeth, it seems some of those teeth injected prey with venom. (Wired)

How do we know? Researchers have found tooth and skull structures “analogous to the venomous morphology of lizards” in the sinomithosaurus group of dinosaurs (which includes velociraptors). And like modern lizards, the venom “probably wasn’t lethal, but instead shocked prey into immobility.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

60 minutes covers super-controversial dino soft-tissue discovery

You may have missed this story last weekend (who watches 60 minutes anyway?). And if you went to 60minutes.com, you probably would have missed it there, too. The video is buried. And Pound360 is not sure why. This is amazing. Scientists are convinced they've found the soft tissue of dinosaurs from otherwise fossilized remains…


Watch CBS News Videos Online

Sunspot warming theory "deeply flawed"

As 15,000 representatives from around the world gathered in Copenhagen last week to discuss what to do about global warming, an alternative "skeptics' conference" was convened across town to discuss theories of how the globe could be warming without human influence. (Guardian UK) Among their ideas, geothermal activity is melting the ice caps, volcanic activity is primarily responsible for spiraling CO2 levels and changes in solar activity are at fault for fast-rising temperatures.

Pound360 isn't sure about the geothermal and volcanic theories, but we've heard this solar activity theory, the work of Henrik Svensmark before. Some climate skeptics have rallied behind his work. (
New Zeeland Herald) But his theory that there's a connection between sunspot activity and global warming is "deeply flawed."

When Pound360 first read about Svensmark's theory (we read about it in Discover magazine, which doesn't seem to like publishing their magazine material online, otherwise we'd throw you a link), we were fascinated.
Then we read this and weren't so fascinated anymore.

Shroud of Turin a gimmick to 'scam money out of medieval pilgrims'?

When Pound360 read that, we had to laugh out loud. Well, maybe not out loud. But we did laugh. According to the New York Daily News, the recent finding of an authentic Bible-era shroud casts further doubt on the authenticity of the legendary Shroud of Turin (which is supposed to be the sheet that Jesus was buried in). The newly discovered sheet has a "much simpler weave" than The Shroud. Furthermore, radiocarbon dating shows The Shroud originated in the middle ages. "Skeptics said the cloth could have been forged to scam money out of medieval pilgrims."

Krypton study gives clues to the origin of Earth's atmosphere

Scientists studying krypton gas from deep under the surface of New Mexico believe they may have good evidence the Earth's atmosphere was born of meteorites. (New Scientist) Some experts believe the Earth's atmosphere was created when "gasses bubbled up out of the mantle via volcanoes." But the krypton study found mantle gasses are high in "heavy" isotopes. Our atmosphere, conversely, is composed of lighter isotopes, which more closely resembles gases found in meteorites.

28 percent of Americans don’t believe in global warming

Global warming is a hoax! That's what 28 percent of respondents told Ipsos research in a recent poll. Just 43 percent believe human activity is driving up global temperatures. Twenty-four percent think nature is to blame for global warming.

What do climatologists think? A survey of 3,146 experts found
97 percent believe humans are at fault for global warming.

Exoplanet may be 'made almost entirely of liquid water'

So far, most of the exoplanets we hear about are gas giants (like Jupiter) or massive, rocky "super-Earths." Neither of which are ideal for life. But a recent study suggests a planet circling the red dwarf "GJ 1214b" may be "made almost entirely of water." (New Scientist) The planet is 19-times the size of earth, but just 6.6 times the mass. "Such an object could be composed primarily of water." The discovery could be "the first clear example of a whole new population of exoplanets."

'Dinosaurs never went extinct'

Every time you see a bird, you're seeing a direct descendent of dinosaurs says paleontologist Jack Horner. (60 minutes) University of Wisconsin molecular biologist Sean Carroll agrees. "Dinosaurs never went extinct… there was an asteroid event that took out a lot of life on Earth, including T. Rex and all the most famous dinosaurs. But this other group, what we call birds, made it through."

Pound360 has been following this trail for a while. And as we remarked in 2008, (as we continue to follow this story)
dinosaurs keep getting less like lizards… and more like birds.

Pair of 'super-Earths' discovered in Virgo

Another couple of planets found outside our solar system? So what? Exoplanet discoveries are becoming routine. But what's interesting about a recent find is that these exoplanets are circling a star you can actually see in the night sky, "61 Virginis" (which is in the Virgo constellation). (BBC) 61 Virginis is only 28 light years away.

How much water has CA lost since 2003? There's a sat for that.

Measuring changes in California's gravity, data from NASA's Grace satellites estimate the state has lost 30 cubic km of water since 2003. So? California's Central Valley grows about a tenth of the nation's crops, about 250 different varieties. Yet, "the numbers we're getting out of this analysis point to groundwater use at unsustainable rates."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New sponge species "like something out of Dr. Seuss"

The Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory has discovered "absolutely bizarre" new species of sponge about a mile deep, off the northwest coast of Hawaii, using the submersible "Pisces IV." (AP) One researcher described the sponges as "something out of Dr. Seuss." Who cares? As our understanding of the diversity of life grows, so do our capabilities to cure diseases. For example, earlier this year, scientists were able to halt cancer cells using the extract from a newly discovered Atlantic sponge.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Authorities 'mystified' by recent Colorado cattle mutilations

A new rash of cattle mutilations has "mystified" Sherriff's deputies and "baffled" ranchers. (LA Times) Cow carcasses are turning up with missing eyes, ears, tongues and genitals. And what's really strange is that, when a dead cow shows up, "there's no evidence of blood." Is it the work of mountain lions, bears or coyotes? If so, then God help us all. The cows are being dismembered with "fine cuts" (not the ripping, tearing you would get from a predator's jaw), and it appears the organ removal occurs before death. But without cauterization.

Why is January colder than December?

The shortest day of the year falls on December. So why isn't December the coldest month of the year? In short, because there's so much water on Earth. (Slate) Huh?

First, consider this. Water is really, really good at storing heat. In fact, it holds five-times more heat (per gram) than rock.

And since the 75 percent of the Earth's surface is water, the heat built up before December keeps the planet warm until January, when the stored up heat is spent and it gets really cold.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cassini solves Cassini's mystery

Saturn's moon, Iapetus, is dusted on one side, as if you took a baseball, sprinkled it with cocoa powder, and turned it on its side. Why? That's what Giovanni Cassini asked in 1671. And we finally know why, thanks to the Cassini probe that's currently exploring the Saturn system. As it turns out, the moon's incredibly slow rotation (it takes 80 days to rotate once on its axis) is to blame. (NY Times) Two factors. First, the leading edge of the planet collects dust as it flies through space. Second, as the moon's surface slowly warms, ice melts around the equator (exposing more dust) and freezes in other areas (covering other dust).

Fossil sheds light on the murky, early period of dino evolution

Dinosaurs first appeared on Earth about 230 million years ago. Those were the Pangea days, when all land on the planet was condensed in one supercontinent. After showing up on the scene, dinosaurs split into three lineages: theropods, sauropods and ornithischians. But when did they split? Did they split in the days of the supercontinent, or after? A new fossil (of a creature named Tawa hallae), suggests the split occurred soe time around 215 million years ago, soon after dinosaurs appeared, and when Pangea still existed. (NY Times)

Another report suggests mass extinction fears are exaggerated

Pound360 hopes they're wrong. They (the University of Toronto in one study, the University of Leeds in another, and the World Wildlife Fund in yet another) that say we're living through a mass-extinction, the "biggest mass extinction since dinosaurs" (said the WWF).

A while back, the Florida Museum of Natural History said previous studies
exaggerated the risk of species loss in coming decades. And a new study, by Oxford University, agrees. (ScienceDaily) According to the report, species are handling habitat change really well. In one example, 97 percent of species survived in a West African region where 87 percent of the forest cover had been wiped out.

Great. Let's wipe out the remaining 13 percent.

For some species, homosexuality 'an important driving force in evolution'

Here's the quote from New Scientist: "In a species where [same-sex sexual behavior] is common, it is an important driving force in evolution." You might think the opposite, that homosexuality would slow reproduction, and thus evolution. But that doesn't seem to be the case since it's so widespread in the natural world. How can homosexuality help drive evolution? For one, it could help strengthen social bonds, giving a species an advantage in the wild. Second, homosexual behavior may act as "practice for later sexual encounters with females."

Unraveling the mystery of Hawaii's creation

According to the myth, Hawaii was created when the demigod Maui "fished the islands from the sea." (Wikipedia) According to the science, Hawaii was created by volcanoes resulting from a "mantle plume." Neither myth nor science is widely agreed upon. The volcano / mantle plume theory "has had its share of naysayers over the years." (NY Times) Part of the reason the theory has been challenged is a lack of good seismic data, but a new study (with high-resolution seismic imaging) may put the controversy to rest.

Experts 'stunned': Poor kids 4-times as likely to be prescribed antipsychotics

A new study showing poor kids (on Medicaid) are prescribed antipsychotics four-times as often as middle class kids (on private insurance) has "stunned" some experts. (NY Times) Who cares? "Antipsychotic drugs can have severe physical side effects, causing drastic weight gain and metabolic changes resulting in lifelong physical problems."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

'I'd be shocked if no life existed on Europa'

Prompted by recent research suggesting Jupiter's moon Europa has oceans with enough oxygen to support life, ecologist Timothy Shank said, "I'd be shocked if no life existed on Europa." (National Geographic)

Scientists believe the Jovian moon has oceans, up to 100 miles deep, beneath its icy crust. Water? Yes. Enough oxygen to support "tons of fishlike creatures"? Yes. Fascinating? Totally.

'Something big is out there beyond the visible edge of our universe'

One thousand galaxy clusters (these are seriously huge) are surging along at 1,000 kilometers per second, caught in some mysterious "dark flow". (New Scientist) It may be "a sign that other universes nestle next door."

The "exotic explanation"? There's a hole in the universe. Rather, "the tiny patch of vacuum that inflated to become our universe [may be] quantum entangled with other pieces of vacuum."

Are we in danger of being sucked into this vortex? Not right away. The phenomena is about three billion light years from Earth.

Starvation implicated in extinction of Giant Irish deer

Why did the giant Irish deer (its horns were 3.6 meters across) go extinct (10,600 years ago)? Did humans hunt them to extinction? Did their horns get too big? Climate change (they died out right before the last major ice age)?

A new analysis of the deer's teeth suggests climate change did the massive creatures in. "As conditions became colder and drier in Ireland at the time, fewer plants grew, gradually starving the deer." (
BBC)

Ancient, lost Persian army believed found in Western Egypt

Persian King Cambyses II (son of Cyrus the Great) sent 50,000 troops from Thebes to destroy the oracle at the Temple of Amun 2,500 years ago. But somewhere along the way, the army vanished. What happened? Greek historian Herodotus wrote, "a wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear." And now, there's some archeological evidence to back him up.

An Italian team has discovered some weapons, jewelry and pottery, as well as "hundreds of bleached bones and skulls" along a route they think Cambyses' doomed army took through the Western Egyptian desert. (
Discover) There aren't enough remains to constitute an army 50,000-strong, but the archeologists believe there's more buried under about five meters of sand.

Space missions destroyed by meteor showers

"Meteor showers: good for skygazers, bad for satellites," reports New Scientist. They have a cool gallery "rounding up the casualties." Among the lost, a USGS satellite (the Landsat 5), the ESA's Olympus 1, and this, French recon satellite (the Cerise)…

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.