Tuesday, December 23, 2008

FDA picks a fight with Coke Plus

Coke is selling a soft drink, "Coke Plus," fortified with "essential nutrients" (according to their site) vitamin B, zinc and magnesium. The idea seems a little crazy to Pound360. Do we really want people skipping veggies in place of fortified soft drinks? What next, fortified candy bars?

Well, the FDA is taking a stand. They claim Coke Plus is "misbranded" because it doesn't pack the nutritional punch needed to earn the "Plus" label, reports WebMD. Even if Coke plus adds more vitamins, the FDA "does not consider it appropriate to fortify snack foods such as carbonated beverages."

Pound360 agrees. Eat more vegetables if you're worried about not getting enough nourishment in your diet.

New theory emerges for 2003 disappearance of mars probe

During June of 2003, the European Space Agency launched the Mars Express spacecraft to search for signs of life on Mars. The idea was to dispatch a probe, the Beagle 2, to land on the Martian surface and sniff around. But shortly after releasing the probe, on Christmas Day, 2003, the probe went dark. Did it burn up in the atmosphere? Experience a fatal crash on the surface? Maybe the Beagle 2 made it, but found something mission controllers decided the public wasn't ready to see.

In 2005, scientist thought they spotted the Beagle 2's wreckage with a NASA satellite, but it
turned out to be nothing. Now, a new theory suggests mission scientists miscalculated the Martian atmosphere, which caused the probe to burn up during its descent, reports the BBC.

Queensland University researchers suggest that, when the probe was released, it was spinning too fast (some spin is required to stabilize its descent).

Friday, December 19, 2008

'Conclusive proof' of supermassive black hole at galaxy's center

In September, Pound 360 blogged on how scientists were closing on the identity of a mysterious "colossal object" at the center of the Milky Way. And this week, CNN reports German astronomers now have "conclusive proof" of a black hole 40-times the mass of our own sun anchoring the galaxy.

While the black hole (known as Sagittarius A) is pretty amazing itself, the sleeper story here is the fact that we're actually able to study the galaxy's center. There's a lot of light, dust and other distortion between here and there, and things are really busy around the Sagittarius A.

It's only recently that technology has allowed us to unlock the galaxy's core. Now, we have a "unique laboratory" for studying "strong gravity, stellar dynamics and star formation," reports CNN. Expect some pretty exciting new discoveries in the years to come.

By the way, one of the stars rotating around Sagittarius A completes an orbit once every 16 years. In contrast, the Earth (which is 27,000 light years away from the center of the galaxy) completes a galactic orbit once every 225 million years.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

'Ice volcanoes' discovered in Saturn system

NASA's Cassini probe has found "tantalizing evidence of ice volcanoes" on the Saturn moon, Titan reports the BBC. These "cryovolcanoes" probably "ooze a slurry made of water ice, ammonia and methane," with flows up to 200 meters thick.

Conclusive evidence of ice volcanoes on Titan is tough to come by, as the moon is shrouded in dense mist. So NASA researchers must rely on Cassini's Infrared Mapping Spectrometer to reach their conclusions. One critic suggests the "flow-like features" detected by Cassini are "icy debris… lubricated by methane rain and transported down-slope into sinuous piles like mudflows."

Whatever's happening on Titan, it seems as though there's a dynamic, wet environment beneath a churning cloud cover. And what fascinates Pound360 is that this isn't happening in a different solar system or galaxy, but three planets away from us. Imagine what's beyond our neighborhood.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Saturn moon shows strong signs of plate tectonics

Enceladus, Saturn's ivory moon, appears to have an icy surface that slowly splits and cracks, just like the Earth's, reports the BBC. The only difference is that, instead of being driven by molten rock, Enceladus' shifting surface is probably powered by water.

This simply amazes Pound360, that we've found another rock in the universe that has plate tectonics. Every time we find something in the universe that's similar to things we thought unique to Earth, Pound360 feels we're moving another step closer to the ultimate find: extraterrestrial life.

Could Enceladus be the first place we find life beyond our planet? According to the BBC write up, "Enceladus is already known to have some of the
fundamental chemistry required to make and sustain life. Liquid water currently is the major missing ingredient."

NASA researchers believe Enceladus' tectonics are further evidence
there's an ocean churning under the moon's surface.

Enceladus, and the rest of the Saturn system, is currently being explored by the NASA-ESA Cassini probe.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Scientists find two new species per week along Mekong

Between 1997 and 2007, researchers catalogued 1068 new species along the Greater Mekong, reports Science Daily. The finds include plants (519), fish (279), frogs (88), spiders (88), lizards (46), snakes (22), birds (4), turtles (4), salamanders (2) a toad and mammals (15). The mammals are of particular note as "new mammal discoveries are a rarity in modern science."

In the region, scientists never know where the next species will pop up. The pit viper was discovered "slithering through the rafters of a restaurant", and the Laotian rock rat turned up in a market.

The findings underscore how important it is to preserve our (remaining) wilderness areas. If we're still discovering species, it's hard to fully calculate the loss when we wipeout another forest or pave another plain.

Air Force satellite vindicates Chicken Little: The sky IS falling

When analyzing data from an Air Force satellite, Scientists were surprised to find the earth's upper atmosphere was about 150 miles lower than expected, according to a write up at ScienceDaily.

Researchers expected the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and space to range from 400 miles (at night) to 600 miles (during the day). However, the actual range is 260 to 500 miles. What's going on? Experts suspect it’s the sun's recent inactivity.

The sun is currently at the 11-year trough of it's activity cycle, so a lack of ultraviolet energy may be causing the Earth's atmosphere to shrink.

Monday, December 15, 2008

CO2, water and methane detected on exoplanet

Sixty-three light years away, on a gas giant (the size of Jupiter and named HD 189733b), scientists have detected carbon dioxide, water and methane, reports the NY Times.

The presence of CO2 is notable since carbon would "prefer" to naturally form carbon monoxide (CO) or methane (CH4).

Could there be life? Probably not. The planet's temperature is 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit.

The gasses were detected by comparing the spectrums of HD 189733b and its parent star. It's a pretty routine procedure, but Pond360 remains amazed that A) we are able to detect planets outside of our solar system and B) we can tell what's in their atmospheres. Let's put it this way, the universe was a much smaller, less complicated place when we were going through school.

Indonesia may be on verge of earthquake 'supercycle'

The 2004 earthquake/tsunami that killed 130,000 in Indonesia may be the first scene in a long, brutal disaster movie that could play out over the next decade, according to reports aggregated by Discover's 80beats blog.

Studying coral in the region, scientists found major quakes have attack Indonesia in swarms (referred to by one expert as "supercycles") over the past several centuries. Given the timing of recent quakes, experts warn "several other major earthquakes are likely to occur in the region over the next decades."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

President Bush goes down swinging… at the environment

During his last few weeks in office, President Bush is doing his best to make sure we remember how much of an enemy of the environment he is. This week, he enacted policy changes that "would let federal agencies make decisions on planned projects without a full scientific assessment as to their likely impact on the environment."

Republican supporters of the move are deeply concerned that expert assessments are slowing down development projects and driving up costs.

Costs? If a project wipes out a species, how much does it cost to fix that?

Sugar may be as addictive as cocaine, heroin

Princeton researchers found sugar can "prompt the same chemical changes in the brain seen in people who abuse drugs such as cocaine and heroin," reports MCN Health.

In tests on lab rats, scientists found sugar binges prompted "a surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine." And when denied sugar for a few weeks, "rats showed signs of withdrawal."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Environmental group: 'Video game systems are huge energy wasters'

Video game consoles suck up as much energy each year as the city of San Diego, reports Scientific American. The report is based on a study by Ecos Consulting, funded by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

According to the Scientific American write up, "video game systems are huge energy wasters, mostly because people (read: kids) tend to leave them on even when they're not using them."

The problem, of course, is that most of our electricity comes from burning coal, which sends a lot of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

Sony's PlayStation 3 is the worst offender (sucking up 140 Watts of energy, or twice the energy of a refrigerator), Microsoft's Xbox is the second-worst offender (at 119 Watts) and Nintendo's Wii is the green choice (at a slim, trim 20 Watts per hour).

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Rich kids beat poor kids in brain development

In a Berkley study that you probably won't see on the Nightly News, and one that's probably not going to be too widely reported in general, researchers found rich kids' brains are more highly developed than poor kids, reports NBCBayAreaNews.com.

Using a "cap fitted with electrodes" to test rich and poor kids, scientists found "detectable differences in the response of their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is critical for problem solving and creativity."

Researchers believe stress and lack of mental stimulation is to blame. For example, "previous studies have shown that children from poor families hear 30 million fewer words by the time they are four than do kids from middle-class families."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Research mounts to support subterranean ocean on Enceladus

New research from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory supports the amazing possibility that there's an ocean of liquid water sloshing under the surface of Enceladus, one of Saturn's 60 moons. This according to a Reuters report.

JPL scientists studying data from the Cassini space probe (
currently exploring the Saturn system) already knew Enceladus was spewing water vapor and ice from cracks near its South Pole at 1,300 MPH. But the latest data crunching "supports a mathematical model in which the cracks that extend below the surface act as nozzles that channel water vapor from an underground liquid water reservoir."

So what?

Liquid water is an important ingredient in the recipe of life. Regarding the other stuff (things like heat and nutrients), "it looks like the pieces are there," said one JPL expert. However, "whether or not there's actually life, of course, we can't say."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Is the world ready for a cloned Neanderthal?

There's a cloning wish list at the NY Times this week by columnist Nicholas Wade. At the top? Neanderthals. Second on the list is another human ancestor, the controversial "homo floresiensis", otherwise known as the "hobbit."

Check out the NY Times piece (there's some other cool stuff on there like Pterodactyls and giant sea scorpions), but don't expect any particularly good reasons for taking on the bizarre, daring challenge of cloning a recent human ancestor (
Slate called it "repugnant," actually… and Pound360 kind of agrees).

The best reason given for cloning a Neanderthal? "No one knows if Neanderthals could speak." That's the best reason Wade seemed to be able to come up with. But think about this for a moment. What would you do with a Neanderthal? If you created one, would it stay in a paddock at the zoo or a hotel room? Would researchers bring it along to Thanksgiving dinner? What if it killed some people? Would it be accused of murder and face trial?

The cloning wish list was inspired by recent news that Pennsylvania State University researcher Stephan Schuster could
clone a mammoth for just $10 million, and the buzz surrounding a German team that's close to decoding the Neanderthal genome.

(Pound360 originally came across
this story at Slashdot)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Largest meteor in 10 years lights up Canada sky

A ten-ton meteor lit up the night sky in Canada recently, likely breaking up into hundreds of meteorites before reaching the ground, reports Canada.com. This was likely the largest meteor to descend on Canada in 10 years. The fireball was pretty awesome…



The slow-moving meteor (it was moving at 14 kilometers per second compared to an average 20 KPS for other meteors), was likely crumbling as it descended, so scientists aren't expecting a crater. However, they are looking for any remains they can, so they can calculate the meteor's "pre-fall orbit" (something scientists have only managed to do with nine meteors in the past).

There are just 175 known meteor craters around the world (the majority of which are more than 10,000 years old), 30 are in Canada.

Recent list of unexplained phenomena may provide evidence for Dark Matter

"A concatenation of puzzling results from an alphabet soup of satellites and experiments has led a growing number of astronomers and physicists to suspect that they are getting signals from a shadow universe of dark matter," reports the NY Times.

Then again, some of the unexplained observations could be the work of a yet-to-be-discovered pulsar or a recent supernova explosion.

Dark matter represents the "missing mass" that holds galaxies together. In other words, when scientists calculate the mass of all matter in a galaxy, there isn't enough to hold them together.

The more Pound360 reads into this subject, the more we feel dark matter is something we'll never prove exists. We think it's a collection of particles that exists in other dimensions of space-time. Sure, we'll be able to detect the influence of these particles, but to prove they exist, we'd have to be creatures capable of perceiving four, five or six dimensions. Unfortunately, the current model of homo sapien only detects three.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Scientists find strange primate, once thought extinct

The pygmy tarsier is a mouse-sized primate with massive eyes and long ears that look like Gremlins. Scientists thought the creatures died out 80 years ago. But they've captured some living specimens in Indonesia recently, according to New Scientist. Click that link! You've got to see this thing. It's pretty strange.

Unlike most primates, the pygmy tarsier has claws instead of fingernails (thought their hands look eerily human) and like an owl, they can spin their heads 180 degrees. Awesome.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Beetles continue to decimate Western forests, still no way to stop them

Forests in the west are under siege by "bark" or "pine" beetles. The "huge infestation" is charged by "exponential growth" and wiping out millions of acres of trees, reports the NY Times.

In Wyoming and Colorado alone, a million acres were wiped out in 2006. In 2007, it was 1.5 million. This year, more than two million. British Columbia has lost 33 million acres so far.

And we still haven't figured out a way to stop this.

The beetles are taking advantage of drought that's weakening forests (thank you global warming), weaker winters that aren't killing off the beetles (thanks again, global warming) and forest mismanagement which leaves tons of old, weak trees for beetls to prey on (thank you governments).

Check out
this Nightly News video that demonstrates the extent of the problem.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Commercial fish stocks may crash by 2048

According to a UN study, "the maximum wild-capture fisheries potential from the world’s oceans has probably been reached," reports the NY Times. That's especially bad news for seafood lovers as "consumption of fish, both wild and farm raised, has doubled since 1973." Expect prices to rise.

In the US, per capita fish consumption has stayed the same for 20 years, but there are more people eating fish, putting pressure on fish populations and seafood prices.

According to a 2006 study, "the world's major commercial stocks will collapse by 2048."

Friday, November 21, 2008

'Breathtaking' study links life to Earth's 'mineral wealth'

A new study by the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory links the emergence of life on Earth to the planets rich diversity of minerals, reports New Scientist. Surprisingly, "rocks and life evolved in parallel."

As plant life spread, earth's atmosphere was enriched with oxygen. Subsequently, "the chemical processes of oxidation and weathering generated a swathe of new species of metal-rich minerals." Decaying organic matter created new species of minerals as well, like those that make up coal.

How much of a role has life played in the mineral family tree?
  • When the solar system was created, there were 12 minerals
  • After the sun started burning, there were 60
  • As the Earth took shape, geochemical processes pushed the number to 500
  • Plate tectonics boosted the number to 1500
  • Life kicked the total number of minerals to 4,300
The study is flipping the field of geology on its head. "It's so obvious - you wonder why we geologists didn't think of it before," said one of the study's author's. Another geologist referred to the findings as "breathtaking."

Now that we've connected life to mineral abundance, we have a new tactic in the search for extraterrestrial life. "If we find certain minerals," said one expert, "they will point uniquely to certain organisms."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

River's water becomes 'as corrosive as battery acid'

Years of "drought and mismanagement" have left parts of Australia's Murray-Darling river system "as corrosive as battery acid," reports New Scientist. That's because, as water levels plummet, the concentration of pollutants skyrockets.

There's a risk that the toxic river could contaminate lakes (wiping out aquatic life) and water supplies.

How many more rivers need to end up like this before protecting waterways becomes a red-flag priority for the US government?

(Image of the Darling-Murray confluence courtesy
Antonov14)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bees are still disappearing, we still don't know why

Pound360 realizes most Americans could care less about bees (and insects in general). But they do care about things like burgers, ketchup, apples and almonds, all of which are made possible by bees. So the mysterious disappearance of these wonderful creatures is something we should all be paying attention to…



By the way,
it's not just the United States that's struggling with this issue.

Coal: Quietly powering our lives, polluting our skies

Few Americans (including Pound360 until we watched Frontline's gripping 2-hour episode, "Heat") understand how huge of a role coal plays in our lives.

According to Frontline, we rely on burning coal for 42 percent of our electricity.

Half of all rail traffic in this country is transporting coal. We burn a billion tons of it a year. It takes a pound of coal to power your TV for four hours, half-a-pound to power a light each day. When a pound of coal is burned, 1.5 - 2.8 pounds of CO2 (and who know how much sulfur and mercury) is released (
depending on the type of coal that's burned). Your household burns 9.5 tons per year.

US electricity use will jump 40 percent by 2020 (according to a coal executive interviewed on the show). So unless an alternative is discovered, we can expect that much more CO2, sulfur and mercury to pollute the atmosphere each year.

But the United States isn't the only guilty party here. China builds two new coal plants every week. Not surprisingly, they're currently
facing a serious coal crisis (which will hopefully spark some clean energy innovations).

(Image of coal courtesy United States Geological Survey)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Are we alone in the universe? Probably not. But don't expect flying saucers.

Pound360 likes to believe the universe is flush with intelligent, technically advanced life capable of racing between star systems at warp speed. We like to believe there are enough stars and planets out there that this is likely.

But realistically, it's probably not. And
the London Times has a terrific piece (an op-ed by Lord Rees of Ludlow, Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society) summing this up in a blunt, albeit optimistic package.

According to Lord Rees (of Ludlow), "even if primitive life were common, the emergence of advanced life may not be." On earth, it took life billions of years to evolve into multicellular organisms. Even then, life was constantly ravaged by mass-extinctions. It's a miracle we're still here.

But let's say life does evolve into intelligent creatures, and eventually advanced civilization. Would they have the knowledge or resources to race between the stars? Not likely.

But that doesn't mean we'll never come in contact with an alien civilization. "Even if we have not been visited, we should not conclude that aliens do not exist," said Rees. "It would be far easier to send a radio or laser signal than to traverse the mind-boggling distances of interstellar space."

(Image of Lord Rees from
Wikipedia)

How bad is the global warming crisis? Here's a simple explanation.

Every year, we humans pump 10 billions of CO2 into the atmosphere. The problem is nature (plants and oceans in particular) can only sequester 5 billion tons of CO2 per year. That's why CO2 levels have climbed from a post-industrial age level of 280 parts per million (PPM) to 387 PPM, and it's growing 2PPM each year.

"It's just like water in a bathtub -- unless more water is draining out than flowing in from the tap, eventually the bathtub will overflow," explains MIT researcher John Sterman in a recent TIME feature, "
What the Public Doesn't Get About Climate Change."

When Sterman asked 200 MIT students how much governments had to (force businesses to) cut CO2 emissions, 84 percent of them answered wrong (the answer is 50 percent if you do the math on the numbers at the start of this post). Average Americans don't grasp the severity of our situation either. According to a UN study, 54 percent favor a "wait-and-see" approach to global warming. Even Bill Gates doesn't get it. Referring to global warming in Beijing last year he said, "You know, we have time to work on it." But according to TIMES correspondent Bryan Walsh, "we don’t."

The bathtub is already overflowing.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Could Apple's Steve Jobs save the US auto industry?

The mighty GM is bleeding to death, it's burning through cash so fast the automaker could be out of cash soon. Good. Their cars suck.

Pound360 understands
"the shockwave" that would ensue if GM went under. But we're sick of giving Detroit chances to innovate and compete in the auto market of the future. They have no vision. They're an embarrassment to a country that prides itself on innovation.

We say no to the auto industry bailout package that
congress is debating. It's too late. They already had their chance.

In the nineties, the Clinton Administration contributed $1.4 billion to the auto industry in an effort to spark fuel efficiency innovations. But the US auto industry squandered it and "Japanese automakers, who were excluded from the program, have been able to put working hybrids on sale first,"
reported the NY Times in 2000.

Why? Washington has been "protecting Detroit to death" with subsidies, tax breaks, bailouts and every other trick in the book for decades,
says the NY Times op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman.

Detroit is too comfortable. Let it burn, and let the remains stand as a monument to other industries that would focus their resources on Washington "lobbying and maneuvering" rather than "innovating around fuel efficiency, productivity and design," as Friedman puts it.

With our disastrous auto industry out of the way, Pound360 is anxious to see what industry would emerge to take its place. Renewable energy? Space vehicles?

Friedman does offer some hope for the US auto industry. And Pound360 reluctantly agrees there is still hope. First, the existing GM leadership needs to be fired in exchange for Federal Aid. Second, put Apple's Steve Jobs, someone "who doesn't need to be bribed to do innovation," in charge.

Seventh severed foot mysteriously washes ashore in Vancouver BC

Since Pound360 first posted on this bizarre story, two more human feet have washed ashore around Vancouver BC. This story continues to fascinate and deeply creep us out.

The latest foot appears to be a woman's, still tied inside a New Balance shoe,
reports the Canadian Press. A couple walking their dog had the misfortune of stumbling across the latest find.

BC authorities "are exploring the possibility" that the feet belong to missing fishermen or others that may have fallen into the water. How about the possibility that a crazed serial killer is abducting people and chopping off their feet?

A Canadian medical examiner acknowledged that feet can eventually "separate naturally" from a submerged body, but "finding the feet in the same area is difficult to explain."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Latest image of exo-planet seems to be the real deal

A couple months back, Pound360 posted on a peculiar image scientists believe was the first image of a planet circling an alien star…




(Image courtesy Gemini Observatory)

But that story kind of faded. Maybe it turned out that object in the upper right was not a planet?

Flash forward to this week, we heard news outlets from the radio to the internet and everywhere in between reporting on this…


(Image courtesy NASA)

The New York Times calls this "the first" image of an exoplanet. Pound360 likes the image from a couple of months ago better. We're not sure what this latest image shows us. It looks kind of like the eye of Sauron from Lord of the Rings, no?

Expert: Ethanol will go down as the biggest energy scam of all time

Pound360 has been screaming and ranting against corn-based ethanol for years. And according to a remarkable episode of Frontline, the story of how corn-based ethanol was ever considered a green alternative to gasoline is emblematic of the cancer at the root of climate change: greed.

Greed, or more specifically, an unhealthy relationship between special interests and the government that allows greed to set national policy. Here are some quotes from Frontline…

Why corn-based ethanol is a bad substitute for gasoline
Prof. Daniel Kammen, UC Berkeley Institute of the Environment: "Corn ethanol is simply a bad biofuel. And it's a bad biofuel several times over. We in this country have optimized corn, ironically, to be as greenhouse-gas-intensive as possible. We reward farmers for using more fertilizer, more irrigation, because those things have been cheap historically. So we have lots of greenhouse gasses and carbon embedded in what it takes to grow an ear of corn.

Why corn-based ethanol was sold as a good substitute for gasoline
During Frontline, infamous oil industry legend T. Boone Pickens, who also screamed and ranted against ethanol, described a run-in with corn-state senator Bob Dole. "Senator Dole said, 'you're against ethanol, let me explain to you how it works. There are 21 farm states and 42 senators. Those people want ethanol and they're gonna' have ethanol. And you're wasting your time trying to explain it's a bad idea… that simple… I think it was that simple."

Simple. Seven billion dollars in government subsidies simple.

How history will judge our ethanol policy
Rice University's Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy policy expert: "The corn-based ethanol program is going to be considered one of the biggest follies ever implemented in energy policy anywhere in the world in the history of energy policy. Ethanol is not a solution to greenhouse gas."

(Ethanol molecule graphic by
Marsve)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Europe takes bold stand against airline pollution

The European Union is expanding an environmental protection program that industry has already "complained bitterly about" to include airlines, reports the NY Times.

The system caps a business' emissions at a certain level. If they want to exceed that level, they need to buy credits from businesses that do not exceed it. Airlines warn the program will cost them an additional $3.5 billion to comply.

Pound360 is sorry to hear that. This means airline tickets will get more expensive. Less people can afford to fly. And some airlines will go out of business.

But what happens to that additional $3.5 billion? The European Union ought to funnel t into industries or businesses that are creating sustainable, renewable energy technologies or more efficient, cleaner propulsion technologies (for airplanes, trains, cars etc.). That way, as an industry that makes climate change worse is shrinking, an industry that reverses climate change grows, and isn't that a good thing?

Check out NASA's next-gen moon rover

Who knows when we'll make it to the moon again, but NASA is tested out a new moon rover and space suit in Arizona recently.

The rover can be operated in two different configurations. It can either roll with a pressurized cabin where explorers sit inside sans spacesuit, or the explorers can stand on the outside to jump-on-and-off with ease…


Pound360 thinks the old moon rovers looked cooler…


Then again, NASA isn't shooting for looks. They're probably trying to build something that works as cheaply as they can before their budget is cut again. Oh, and here's a peak at the new spacesuits…


(All images courtesy NASA)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Second coming of the nuclear age?

It's been 35 years since we built a nuclear power plant in this country, but 21 companies suddenly have 34 plans before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, reports the NY Times.

We stopped building nuclear power plants mid-stride (there were 100 in production) in the early seventies when the Arab oil embargo drove up gas prices, slowed the economy and muted demand for electricity. Then there was the Three Mile Island accident. And Cernobyl. And the question, "what do we do with the nuclear waste?"

But now, "concerns over global warming and natural gas supplies" (natural gas is used to drive some power plants) have sparked interest among some in Congress and some of the states.

Is this another wild ethanol chase? Pound360 wonders whether politicians are more interested in bringing money and jobs to their states than real climate solutions.

"The critics argue that the same money spent elsewhere -- on wind power, or on retrofitting buildings -- could create bigger cuts in carbon dioxide output."

Sobering documentary exposes root of climate crisis: Greed

The globe is warming. Man is responsible. We know what needs to be done to stop it. In the near run, cutting back on waste (recycling, reusing); longer term, paying a lot more for energy.

So why isn't anything being done? A brilliant episode of PBS' Frontline digs in deep and shows us it's good ol' fashioned greed. (
Watch the full episode at their site.)

First of all, to demonstrate how critical this crisis is, Frontline takes you to the Himalayan Mountains, where all glaciers will be wiped out by 2035. So what? Half the world's population depends on water that originate from those glaciers.

Given the United States' role on the global stage, not to mention how much of the CO2 swirling in the atmosphere we're responsible for, we should be leading the way on reversing global warming. But we're not, because we're focused on short term profits, the narrow self interests of the groups we belong to, and big business is too skilled at getting what it wants from the government.


Beating climate change means someone needs to stand up and take charge, probably step on a lot of toes. Eric Pooley, former manageing editor for Fortune Magazine told frontline, "We have to overcome our natural way of doing business. If [a climate change solution] is all just a compromise between various special interests, we're not going to get it done."

No more compromises, people. Some people are simply going to lose when it comes to saving the planet. Compromise and special interest is partially what got us into this mess.

"Everything that's happened wrong in energy in the United States has happened because there was a group of voters that put their own parochial needs ahead of our nation," said Rice University's Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy policy expert. "West Virginia coal miners. Michigan auto workers. Farmers from Iowa. None of these groups have thought about our nation. They're thinking about their small, local community. We have to think as a nation. We need a leader who is going to stand up and say, we need to do this together."

(Global warming map by
Robert A. Rohde)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Grilling foods ups cancer risk, here's a way to fight it

We've been over this before at Pound360, when you eat barbecued foods, you're boosting your cancer risk. That's because high-temperature cooking creates bad-for-you chemicals in meat.

But if you add rosemary to your meat marinades before grilling, you can cut cancer-causing compounds by 77 percent, according to Dr. John La Puma, author of "Big Book of Culinary Medicine: A Food Lover's Road Map to Losing Weight." Dr. Puma was interviewed on NPR recently (that's where Pound360 heard this rosemary tip),
check out the interview here.

Is salt really hard on your heart? Not necessarily.

It seems given that a high-salt diet is bad for you. But a high-anything diet is bad for you. Is salt really worse than anything else? Why should it be? What's the science?

The
LA Times ran a piece recently showing the strongest link yet between salt and cardiovascular disease. But it's a tenuous link. The 15-year study started by having a group of people cut 25-35 percent of the sodium out of their diets for four years. Ten years later, researchers found the group lowered its risk for heart disease 25 percent. But they couldn't say whether or not the group maintained their low-salt diet.

"There are so many questions left to answer," say skeptics.

For one, your kidneys can filter up to 500-times the daily recommended amount of sodium from your body. So unless you have bum kidneys, you should be okay.

Also, and this is a kicker, "at least some studies show that people who eat the least amount of salt have the highest risk of cardiovascular disease." Low salt intake can stiffen arteries and boost production of chemicals (like an enzyme called rennin) that boost your risk for heart disease.

Alas, the majority of experts agree we should all cut back on our salt intake. "From a public health standpoint, salt is like tobacco and saturated fat… it's worth advising everyone to avoid them," the Times found.

Monday, November 10, 2008

3.5 billion clothes hangers end up in landfills each year

Each year 3.5 billion plastic and metal clothes hangers end up in landfills. Pretty shameful, people. But a new company has a recyclable alternative that's 50 percent stronger than its plastic/metal counterparts…

NASA had a grim plan, Nixon had a sad speech in case of moon disaster

What if Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the surface of the moon had failed, and the astronauts (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin) were stranded up there? According to NASA papers released in 1999 (and reported back then by the BBC), mission control would have switched off the radios and left the astronauts "to die or commit suicide."

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Nixon would have addressed a nation in shock. In fact, he already had a speech prepared. "Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace," it began. "They will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown." (
Full text of the speech available at the BBC.)

A rescue mission was simply out of the question. At the time, the fact we made it there in the first place was incredible enough. And expensive. We doubt they had other rockets and moon landing vehicles lined up. Even if they did, could they have made it to the moon before the landing team's oxygen and food ran out? Probably not.

(Image of Apollo 11 LEM returning from the moon's surface courtesy NASA)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Flatscreen TV demand drives spike in supercharged greenhouse gas

Manufacturers are using a tenacious greenhouse gas, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), to build flatscreen TVs, and it's output is four-times worse than expected, reports New Scientist.

Initial estimates predicted 1,200 tons of NF3 (which is 17,000 times more effective at warming the atmosphere than an equal mass of carbon dioxide) were floating around in the atmosphere. But a recent Scripps Institute study finds 5,400 tons of NF3 is out there.

Manufacturers started using NF3 when the Kyoto treaty began regulating perfluorocarbons (PFCs). Instead of finding a more responsible way of making flatscreens, manufacturers went out and found something Kyoto didn't cover. If this is going to be the way climate policy works, a cat-and-mouse game between business and government, Pound360 is worried it will be too late for meaningful action by the time government identifies ALL harmful gasses.

Perhaps all chemicals should be illegal for use in manufacturing until they're cleared by an international committee.

Rare shot of the Enterprise and another Enterprise’s legendary crew

Yes this is exactly what it looks like. No I don’t know where the captain is. Yes, Pound360’s favorite outfit is Bones’. No we’re not sure what Checkov is so pissed off about.

(Image
courtesy NASA)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Nixon to blame for crash of America's space vision

Towards the end of the incredibly successful, inspiring Apollo moon-exploration program, NASA was planning for permanent human presence in space. By the mid-seventies, they expected to have a 12-person space station orbiting the earth. By the early eighties, a 50-person station. A few years later, a 100-person outpost.

The key to making all of this work was a reusable (economical) space vehicle that could shuttle people and cargo between the Earth's surface and the space station.

Then the Richard Nixon administration killed the Apollo program mid-stride. According to NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, "That administration cancelled the last three Apollo missions -- for which the hardware had already been bought and paid for -- and did not fund any significant successor program… Nixon took us out of lunar exploration." Jerk.

Griffin was interviewed during
NOVA's "Space Shuttle Disaster" episode. "The mistake of the post-Apollo years -- a mistake, frankly, which belongs squarely in the Nixon administration… was the decision that the United States would no longer go beyond low Earth orbit."

Even then, Nixon "scaled back" space station plans, but strangely enough, supported the space shuttle. Why? What's the point of a space SHUTTLE if there's nothing to shuttle things back-and-forth to?

Thanks to Nixon's lame half-vision, we had the lame space shuttle program.

"So astronauts, for 20 years, just flew into space and did some experiments and then flew back. Well, that was never what the shuttle was designed to do," space policy expert Howard McCurdy told NOVA. "It was designed to be a transportation system, to go someplace else, but it eventually became, because of the lack of money, its own destination."

(Image courtesy NASA)

‘Memory deletion’ succeeds in mice

Do you remember that movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?” And how there was this clinic where you could have bad memories erased? Well, a team of US and Chinese scientists have managed to delete bad memories from the minds of mice in lab tests, reports Yahoo! News (via Slashdot).

The researchers pulled off the feat by disabling specific enzymes known as “memory molecules” that “facilitate brain cell communication.” With the enzymes shut down, the cells carrying the bad memories were basically locked in a deep, dark vault.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Humans limited from grasping how truly incredible the universe is

There's a video that Pound360 reviewed years ago that continues to stick with us. Every couple of months or so, when writing a blog post or discussing science issues with friends, something from this incredible video echoes through our minds. It's a clip of biologist Richard Dawkins speaking at a 2005 TED conference. In it, he introduces the concept of "middle world" and how that limits us from grasping how truly incredible the universe is.

Basically, middle world is the stuff that we can see, smell, hear, feel with our skin and taste. That's all we know, because that's all we need to know to survive. We evolved this way.

According to Dawkins, "middle world [is] the range of sizes and speeds which we have evolved to feel intuitively comfortable with is a bit like the narrow range of the electromagnetic spectrum that we see as light or various colors. We're blind to all frequencies outside that…" (14:30)

Furthermore, "middle world is the narrow range of reality which we judge to be normal as opposed to the queerness of the very small, the very large and the very fast."

Because of this concept, "there are more things in heaven and earth than can be dreamed of," as geneticist and evolutionary biologist
J.B.S. Haldane once remarked.

Here's the video…




Here are some highlights…

"Science does violence to common sense"
"The number of molecules per glassful is hugely larger than the number of glassfuls in the world." (2:30)

Even the most solid objects we know are mostly empty space. All objects are made of atoms. Now consider, "the nucleus of an atom is a fly in the middle of a sports stadium." And the next atom is another sports stadium with a fly in the middle of it.
(4:40)

You are not really you
Dawkins quoting English computer scientist
Steve Grand: "Think of an experience from your childhood. Something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all, you really were there at the time, weren’t you? How else would you remember it? But here is the bombshell. You weren’t there. Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place. Matter flows form place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Whatever you are, you are not the stuff of which you are made." (10:30)

Kid dies during eating contest

A 23-year-old Taiwanese student died during an eating contest after a bout of “relentless” vomiting, reports Scientific American. It’s probably not the amount of food (two rice and cheese-filled steamed buns and “some of his teammates’ food”), but how fast he ate, said a school official.

The student, identified only as “Chen”, was the fifth person known to have died in an eating competition. Typically, competitors die from choking, not stomach ruptures as you might expect.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Spock's home star actually has planets (in real life)

The nearby Epsilon Eridani star system, Spock's home in Star Trek lore, actually turns out to have at least one Jupiter-like planet, a couple of asteroid belts, and a broad ring of icy material like our solar system's Kuiper Belt, according to a NASA press release (Pound360 originally read about this story at Discover's 80beats blog).

There's almost certainly more to come as science continues to explore Epsilon Eridani. "Asteroid belts are rocky and metallic debris left over from the early stages of planet formation. Their presence around other stars signals that rocky planets like Earth could be orbiting in the system's inner regions, with massive gas planets circling near the belts' rims."

As it turns out, a gas giant is circling just outside of Epsilon Eridani's inner ring, just as we have in our system.

One thing explorer's probably won't find is intelligent life (so, no Spock). It took life billions of years to evolve from bacteria to Albert Einstein, but the Epsilon Eridani system is just 850 million-years-old (our system is close to 4.5 billion-years-old). Also, when radio astronomers started searching for signals from alien civilization back in the 1960s, they started with Epsilon Eridani, but as far as Pound360 knows, we ain't got nothing yet.


(Artist rendering of Epsilon Eridani courtesy NASA)

In your blood, an elegant clue to life's origins

Rushing through your body as you read this is about five quarts of blood. The stuff is vital to life. You don't think about it. You take it for granted. Pound360 does, too. But an article at the NY Times has renewed our fascination with the stuff.

First, the piece explains that blood is a tissue. Makes sense, it's made of cells. The primary function of this fluid tissue, of course, is to carry oxygen and other nutrients to your cells (so they can operate), and haul away the trash (CO2, ammonia, and other nasties).

"Blood is the foundation of our very existence as multicellular animals." It serves as the "communications network", your body's internet, for directing organs towards a common cause (keeping you alive).

Did you know blood has a salinity "remarkably similar to sea water"? Experts call this an artifact of life's earliest existence on earth, when it was "taking up nutrients from sea water and then eliminating waste products back into sea water.”

Amazing. A clue to one of the greatest mysteries ever, where life came from, had been pulsing through our veins all along.

(Image of blood cells
courtesy US Government)

Experiment shows peeling Scotch Tape can create X-rays

Scientists peeling scotch tape in a vacuum detected X-rays being released, “enough to take an X-ray of a finger,” reports the NY Times.

In 1939, an experiment showed peeling tape “emits visible light” (jump in a closet and check it out). But X-rays are a lot more powerful, about 10,000-times so.

What does this have to do with anything? Pound360 isn’t sure. It’s pretty cool, for one. But according to the Times, somehow, “the tape phenomenon could also lead to simple medical devices using bursts of electrons to destroy tumors.”

(The image in this post is an X-ray shot taken by
Wilhelm Rontgen, the “father of diagnostic radiology” more than 100 years ago.)

Monday, November 03, 2008

Genetically modified purple tomato protects mice from cancer

The snapdragon-tomato hybrid shows potential in mice, but researchers told Reuters "trials in humans are a long way off"…



According to the Reuters piece, mice eating the purple tomatoes lived 182 days, while mice on a standard diet lived just 142.

Endangered killer whale population struck by 'disaster'

The Puget Sound's killer whale community, listed as endangered in 2005 (no small feat during the Bush era), was struck by tragedy this year. According to a report at CNN, seven of the groups 90 whales are missing, including the 98-year-old matriarch. "This is a disaster," said one scientist.

Seven whales may not seem like much. But that's almost 10 percent of the population. Imagine if you woke up and 30 mil. Americans were dead. You'd call that a disaster (we hope).

What's to blame? You of course. And us at Pound360. And the rest of society. "Pollution and a decline in prey are believed to be the whales' biggest threats, although stress from whale-watching tour boats and underwater sonar tests by the Navy also have been concerns," reports CNN.


(Image courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Study shows thinking makes you over eat

A Canadian study found "intellectual work" (like problem solving, memory tests, summarizing text, etc) caused test subjects to over eat, reports Scientific American.

So the next time somebody accuses you of not thinking, or urges you to use your head to solve a problem, you can tell them to back off because you're on a diet. We'll pause for you to stop laughing and collect yourself.

Okay, back to the post…

The study found test subjects involved in intellectual activity sessions burned an additional three calories compared to those in relaxation sessions. However, those who performed the intellectual sessions consumed an extra 203 calories of food when taken to a buffet following the test.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Find may prove existence of biblical character

Archaeologists digging at Khirbat en-Nahas (in Jordan) believe they have uncovered King Solomon's copper mines, reports the LA Times (Via Discover Magazine).

Recent research places the mines "firmly in the traditional timeline of King Solomon." But was there really a King Solomon as described in the bible? Skeptics scoff, "taking the biblical description of King Solomon literally means ignoring two centuries of biblical research."


(Painting of Queen Sheba visiting King Solomon by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld)

Report underplays severity of China's greenhouse emissions

A recent Chinese Academy of Sciences study suggest China's greenhouse emissions could double over the next twenty years, reports New Scientist. That's funny, according to a McClatchy report in September, officials in the Chinese government feared emissions would quadruple in just 15 years.

The New Scientist would have you believe that China still trails the US in CO2 output. They cite 2005 numbers when China was cranking out around 5.1 billion tons of CO2 and the US was at 7.2. But as Pound360 readers
learned earlier this year, a Netherlands study confirmed China has been beating the US (congratulations, by the way) in CO2 emissions since 2007.

You might think the thick grey clouds over Eastern China in the image below were saturated storm clouds dumping rain across the countryside. But they ain't. You're looking at a massive plume of wood and coal smoke. Each year, 656,000 Chinese (the equivalent of the
entire city of Baltimore, MD) die from air pollution by the way…


(Image, captured by a US satellite during a 2004 flyby, courtesy NASA)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bird tracked flying 7,000 miles non-stop, a world record

The bar-tailed godwit can fly 7,000 miles without sleep, food or drink, "a journey previously thought only to be possible by aircraft…"



According to
a Washington Post report, the godwit's migration was tracked by satellite and it smashes the previous record for "nonstop, muscle-powered fligh" held by eastern curlews (a can go 4,000 miles).

When making the epic journey, godwit's expend energy at 10-times the rate they do when resting (the basal metabolic rate). Human beings engaged in strenuous athletic competition only reach a six-times increase over basal metabolism.

Young star nursery home to two of 'the most massive stars known'

About 26,000 light years from Earth is a massive cloud of hydrogen known as Gum 29 (it's the 29th entry in Australian astronomer Colin Stanely Gum's 1955 catalogue). The cloud has been ionized (stripped of its electrons) by two super-massive, super-young stars orbiting each other in the Westerlund 2 cluster (see pink cloud in the middle of the image below) that lies at Gum 29's heart. This according to a European Organization for Astronomical Research (ESO) press release (originally found by Pound 360 at the io9 blog via Digg)

The sibling stars are 82 and 83-times the mass of our own sun, they spin around each other once every 3.7 (Earth) days and they're just 1-2 million years old.

That's not very long ago. 1.8 million years ago, homo erectus was taking its first steps in Africa (
according to Wikipedia). 1.5 million years ago, homo georgicus was learning to control fire.

(
Image courtesy ESO)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wind hot enough to melt lead rushes around exoplanet at supersonic speed

First of all, Pound360 is utterly amazed that, not only are we aware of planets circling other stars, but we are able to make predictions about weather patterns on them.

In the latest news along this front, researchers are convinced one exoplanet has winds blowing up to 7,000 miles per hour (fast enough to circle the Earth in the time it would take you to watch an extended version of Return of the King) pushing air that exceeds 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (lead melts around 325 degrees). This according to
a report at National Geographic.

The planet, a gas giant (like Jupiter) which circles star HD189733b in the constellation Vulpecula, has a very tight orbit (20-times closer to it's star than the earth is to the sun) and does not rotate on its axis. Despite that fact, its dark side is 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Using computer models, researchers have shown weather patterns are pushing hot winds from the star-side to the dark-side and heating it up.

'Disturbing find': Half of US doctors prescribe placebos

Half of doctors in the US are prescribing placebos to patients that they can not otherwise help, according to a US National Institute of Health study (reported by MSNBC).

One health ethicist called the findings "disturbing."

Not only are doctors prescribing sugar pills when patients in agonizing pain ask for help, though no pill can help them. They're also prescribing antibiotics for ailments like viral bronchitis, according to MSNBC. The problem is, antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses.

Prescribing placebos at this level can undermine patient trust in doctors and, when it comes to recklessly prescribing antibiotics, "promote the development of drug-resistant strains of bacteria." Check out NBC Nightly News coverage of this story…



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

UK documents show US fighter scrambled to attack UFO

Recently declassified UK government documents show a US fighter was scrambled in 1957 to take down a UFO the size of an aircraft carrier, reports Reuters. The object hovered at times, but moved as fast as 7,600 mph, reports the pilot who was assigned to attack it, Milton Torres (now 77).

Torres locked onto the UFO and prepared to launch 24 rockets at it when it suddenly disappeared from the radar aboard his F-86 D Sabre.

The UK papers blame some UFOs on weather balloons, clouds or conventional aircraft, but whatever Torres was ordered to destroy remains unexplained.

Somebody up the chain of command was spooked. "On that night I was ordered to open fire even before I had taken off. That had never happened before," said Torres.

(Photo of F-86 D Sabre courtesy US Government)

Reuters report on Russian space spending confuses

The headline at Reuters reads, "Russia set to invest heavily in space industry." Okay. And then they specify that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced $7.68 billion in spending on space over the next three years.

First of all, how is $2.2 billion a year "heavy" investment in space? NASA's annual budget is eight times-that. And
Wikipedia shows this level of spending was already approved in 2006.

Also, why is Putin announcing this? Remember Russia, um, elected (?) a new president (Dmitri Medvedev). Shouldn't that guy be in charge and making announcements like this? Critics may be correct when they call Medvedev a "puppet president."

The cost (in dollars) of doing nothing about climate change

According to a Natural Resources Defense Council study, if we fail to take action to slow climate change, it will cost the world about $1.9 trillion, reports Discover. That figure is part of a half-dozen other numbers the website has aggregated under the title, "Global Warming Math: The Hard Numbers."

Another surprising stat, the Earth's oceans have absorbed about 40,000 billion tons of "human-generated carbon dioxide." And that can't go on forever. "Studies show the oceans are reaching their sequestering limits."

Monday, October 27, 2008

They're baaaack: UFOs return to Stephenville

Earlier this year, the town of Stephenville, TX was the center of national attention when a UFO was widely reported. Well, whatever it was is back…

Palin's fruit fly research attack 'the most ignorant comment so far'

The McCain/Palin attack on earmarks continues to defy reason. We at Pound360 agree pork barrel spending needs to be reined in, but some earmarks are good. For example, the $3 million earmark Obama earned for a planetarium (that McCain attacked).

The latest attack? Palin jumped on money to research nerve cell functions, which may ultimately help fight autism. Richard Wolf, senior White House Correspondent for Newsweek, said on MSNBC's Countdown, "this is the most mindless, ignorant, uninformed comment that we've seen from governor Palin so far…"


Increase of tiger attacks blamed on climate change

As the globe warms and sea levels rise, tigers along India's north east coast are running out of their natural prey (crabs, crocodiles, fish), so they're turning to humans, reports New Scientist. Seven fishermen have been killed in the swampy Sundarbans region over the past six months.

Since the 1960s, 28 percent of the Sundarbans have been claimed by rising sea levels (at least two entire islands have disappeared) and tiber populations have been slashed from 500 to somewhere between 75 (according to the India Statistical Institute) and 250 (according to more conservative estimates).

In case you're curious, here's what it's like to be attacked by a tiger when you're minding your own business, riding an elephant…



(Image of Bengal Tiger by
Sujit kumar)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

McCain wrong to bash Obama's $3 mil. 'overhead projector'

In his desperate last-minute attempts to smear Obama in the presidential campaign, McCain is bashing his democratic opponent over pork barrel spending, including a $3 mil. "overhead projector." McCain pulled out this jab during the last Presidential Debate last week, and it's a shame Obama didn't smack him and put him in his place. So Pound360 would like to do that now.

First of all, the object in question is not an overhead projector like you'd see in a class room. It's a "planetarium projection system" for Chicago's
Adler Planetarium, a spokesman told NPR's Science Friday. This is a serious piece of high-tech science hardware, people. It serves as the heart of a planetarium, a place Science Friday guests referred to as the "everyman's bridge to the universe."

Yes, this is everyman's planetarium, not just Chicago's. Almost 60 percent of Adler visitors come from outside the state of Illinois.

This is exactly what federal earmarks should be used for! To inspire the nation.

Still don't care? Well, please remember that there's a
science and math education crisis in this country right now. A killer planetarium is exactly the kind of thing that inspires kids to fall in love with math and science. And while McCain is attacking the Adler's renovation, the Science Friday clip reminded us that China just built an impressive planetarium in Beijing to "introduce children to the night sky."

So if it's not enough to think of that $3 million as a bridge to the universe, think of it as an investment in national competitiveness.

It's truly sad that a presidential candidate is incapable of thinking this way. Pound360 expects more.


(Image by Fritz Geller-Grimm)

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About Me

My photo
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.