Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New species found 'clinging like microscopic starfish' to Yosemite Icons

Typically, when we hear of new species being discovered on planet Earth, we think of exotic rain forests in far away places. But scientists have recently uncovered a new species of lichen "clinging like microscopic starfish to Yosemite icons such as El Capitan, Half Dome and Vernal Falls, and countless slabs of less famous rock," reports MSNBC.
Science is lucky to have found the lichen, dubbed Altectoria sarmentosa. Lichen, which are an algae-fungus hybrid, are highly susceptible to pollutants in the atmosphere, so they're being wiped out pretty quickly these days.

As it turns out, lichen like the newly discovered species, are responsible for the vibrant rust, cream and black-colored vertical color bands that give many Yosemite icons their character.

(Photo of Half Dome by
Heiko von Rau├čendorff)

"White orb" caught drifting through gym on surveillance cam

A security camera captured a mysterious "white orb" drifting through a Kansas gym, reports CNN. Check out the tape below, it's pretty weird. Could it be a bug? The security company operating the camera doesn't believe a bug could have set off the motion sensor that turns it on…

Last year, a blue something was caught wandering around a gas station, this is pretty bizarre, too…

Monday, September 29, 2008

Space-time warp may cause newly discovered 'dark flow'

Astronomers observing some of the most awesome structures in the universe, galaxy clusters (collections of thousands of galaxies), have stumbled upon an inexplicable "dark flow," reports Space.com.

Basically, the "dark flow" is a rushing intergalactic river of matter that can not be explained by "any of the known gravitational forces in the observable universe." This leaves experts to consider there's something outside of the observable universe -- for example, a space-time warp -- that's pushing this stuff around.

Dark flow may be strong evidence for
cosmic inflation, the theory that our universe is expanding as space itself is being stretched. Think of it as though space is a giant piece of taffy. So instead of the Big Bang representing an exploding grenade, it's more like an inflating balloon, and space is the expanding plastic.

It should be noted that it took Pound360 about an hour to write this post. This is the kind of thing where we type a couple of words, then stare into the middle-distance here for about 10 minutes trying to visualize what this all means. It's pretty amazing stuff.

Latest from besieged arctic: Polar bears are eating each other

As arctic ice melts, "polar bears are starving, drowning, even resorting to cannibalism," one expert told CNN this week. Thirty years ago, the North Pole was covered in 2.5 million square miles of ice (an area about the size of the United States), but that area has shrunken to about 1.5 million square miles (what's left is the United States minus all the land east of the Mississippi).

We've been losing ice in the arctic at a rate of 10 percent per year, and within 5 years, it could disappear completely during the summer.

So what?

First of all, that ice helps "regulate and temper the climate in many parts of the world," reports CNN. It also reflects sunlight, keeping temperatures in check. Here in the United States, the net effect could be less rainfall in the West.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Why is McCain hiding his stance on science policy?

The McCain campaign isn't responding to inquiries on science policy from New Scientist or the science journal Nature, according to a New Scientist blog. They did respond to a group called ScienceDebate 2008 on questions regarding stem cells, but didn't answer whether or not McCain would lift a ban on using them for research, "so we're none the wiser."

"We're also in the dark when it comes to the teaching of evolution," according to the blog. Would McCain push to have "all sides" taught in classrooms or not?

We simply don't know. Why? New Scientists suspects answering such questions will do more harm than good. "The McCain campaign knows that scientists tend to be liberals, so there is little to be gained from courting them."

Furthermore, McCain was in favor of lifting restrictions on stem cell research as a Senator. But to admit that now would risk alienating White evangelicals, which make up a quarter of the electorate.

Neanderthals ate seafood, find closes gap (a bit) with modern humans

Researchers studying Neanderthal dwellings in Gibraltar caves (perhaps one of the last places Neanderthals lived before going extinct), have uncovered evidence that they ate seafood, reports the BBC. And not just shellfish, but marine mammals like seals and dolphins.

By the way, they ate horses, too. They're Neanderthals, okay? They had to eat anything they could to keep up with homo sapiens, which were well on their way towards world domination. But the fact that Neanderthals ate seafood means they're more like humans than we thought they were, thus complicating "the story of how modern humans (Homo sapiens) out-competed and out-lived their evolutionary cousins."

But it was already complicated. As Pound360 found earlier this year, "the story of Neanderthal extinction is one of the most intriguing in all of human evolution." As the differences between Neanderthal and modern humans narrow, scrutiny of the remainders will intensify. One of those differences, cannibalism,
was discussed here.

(Photo of Neanderthal skeleton by
Claire Houck)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

High-rise hotels easier on the environment than quaint villas

If you thought your vacation in a small villa was easier on the environment than one in a great big high-rise tower hotel, you were wrong. Pound360 wasn't thinking that. We don't actually take vacations. But we divest…

According to
a report at New Scientist, those hotel towers utilize less water and create less waste per tourist than small houses. A hotel guest can go through 46-95 gallons per day in a hotel (the typical apartment dweller goes through as little as 19 gallons per day), while a small house can cost up to 528 gallons per day. It makes sense. There's a lawn to water, pool to consider and more area to clean.

EPA to regulate rocket fuel in drinking water? No way.

First of all, Pound360 just has to ask, why isn't the EPA an independent agency? So long as they're part of the executive branch (it's not a Cabinet-level agency, but the President appoints the organization's top administrator), damn near everything they do is going to be controversial.

The latest controversy surrounds perchlorate (a jet fuel additive) in drinking water. According to
a report at CNN, enough perchlorate was detected at 395 sites in 35 states to "interfere with thyroid function and pose developmental health risks, particularly for babies and fetuses." Despite that, the EPA claims a mandated cleanup would not present a "meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction."

Notice they don't say a cleanup would not reduce health risk. Instead, they say a cleanup would not produce a "meaningful" decrease in health risk. In other words, the cost of a cleanup would be more expensive than the cost of treating people with problems linked to perchlorate, or the cost in human lives (
remember from earlier this year, the EPA values human lives at $6.9 million dollars each).

Could there be more than a simple cost-benefit analysis at play here? Some believe political pressure is being applied since the Pentagon could be held liable for the cleanup. From CNN: "The Defense Department used perchlorate for decades in testing missiles and rockets, and most perchlorate contamination is the result of defense and aerospace activities."

Again, Pound360 says let's pull the EPA out of the Executive Branch so there's some distance between politics and our environment.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Unusual dwarf planet gets a name amidst controversy

The latest member of our solar system to get a name is the dwarf planet Haumea, which wanders the Kuiper along side the other dwarfs: Ceres, Pluto, Eris and Makemake, reports Time.

Haumea was actually discovered around 2004, and officially reported in 2005 by a Spanish team. However, a Cal Tech team claims to have found the dwarf planet earlier, but was delayed in reporting the finding due to "familial issues" affecting the lead astronomer, according to an
entry at Wikipedia.

Since the discovery, Haumea has turned out to be a peculiar subject. First of all, it rotates faster than any object larger than 100 kilometers across in our solar system. Humea spins on its axis once every four hours. It's also shaped like an egg. And astronomers think the two unusual features are linked to a large collision in Haumea's past. That collision, astronomers believe, also created the two moons that circle Haumea.

Here's Haumea and its moons…

(Photo courtesy NASA)

Global warming, pollution cuts have kicked up rainfall

The combination of warmer global temperatures in a decrease in air pollution has increased rainfall 3.4 millimeters per year, reports New Scientists. Less pollution means more sunlight is getting through to the Earth's surface (an average .21 watts per square meter to be exact). That combined with warmer temps mean more water is evaporating, thus the increased rainfall. And that's good.

The bad news: rainfall is not evenly distributed. "Local factors" like wind patterns have caused some places (like the southwest US and southern Asia) to get drier.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

NASA rolls two shuttles to the launch pad

Since the shuttle Columbia exploded over Texas in 2003, NASA has been extra-careful in its manned spaceflight operations. That explains why two shuttles, Atlantis and Endeavour, are being prepared for a mission to fix the ailing Hubble telescope, reports the AP. Atlantis is headed up to fix Hubble. But if something goes wrong -- say, a piece of space junk punctures a hole in Atlantis' head shield -- Endeavour will be launched to rescue Atlantis' crew.

This mission is particularly dangerous for a couple of reasons. First, Hubble is nowhere near the International Space Station, so if something goes wrong, Atlantis' crew can't take refuge there while a rescue plan is devised. Second, Hubble has a particularly high, "debris-littered" orbit.

If something goes wrong, the Atlantis crew can survive aboard the damaged spacecraft for 25 days before their oxygen is depleted. Endeavour can launch six days after the first sign of trouble. If a rescue is attempted, Endeavour would take off with a crew of four, grab the damaged craft with a robotic arm and Atlantis astronauts would need to float through space to climb aboard.

There's a 1-in-185 chance that space junk or a small meteoroid could damage Atlantis. Launch is scheduled for October 10th.

(Photo courtesy NASA)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Palin, McCain wrong about Alaska’s energy output

United States Presidential candidate John McCain and his Vice Presidential running mate Sarah Palin have been telling American voters that Alaska produces 20 percent of the nation’s energy. Because of this, of course, she’s uniquely positioned to help pull the United States out of its current energy crisis.

The problem is, Alaska doesn’t produce 20 percent of the nation’s energy. It only produces 3.5 percent according to FactCheck.org and
a report at New Scientist.

In an interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson, Palin said, "Let me speak specifically about a credential that I do bring to this table, Charlie, and that's with the energy independence that I've been working on for these years as the governor of this state that produces nearly 20 percent of the US domestic supply of energy."

But what’s one (Alaska’s contribution to US energy) have to do with the other (getting us out of our energy dependency trap)? As New Scientist’s Catherine Brahic so cleverly pointed out, “Before he took office, George W Bush was governor of Texas, the largest energy producing state. Yet after eight years of presidency, the country faces a severe energy crisis.”

(Image of Alaska oil pipeline by
Ryan McFarland)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Study finds Republicans scare more easily

In a Rice University study, people with conservative political views reacted more strongly to “scary images” (like maggot-infested wounds, bloodied faces and a spider on someone’s face). This according to a report at New Scientist. The research looked at how strong participants blinked and how the electric conductivity of their skin changed.

Previous research has shown people who experience traumatic events lean toward the Republican side of the political spectrum as well.

Crows beat chimps at intelligence test

A series of tests performed by University of Auckland researchers shows crows are the only non-human creatures on Earth to demonstrate causal reasoning to solve problems, reports New Scientist. To show their smarts, crows passed a “trap-tube” test to retrieve food. The birds even passed a more complex trap-table test. Chimpanzees in comparison can pass the tube test, but not the table test.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Astronomers may have first picture of an extra-solar planet

A group of Canadian astronomers may have the first picture of a planet circling a star other than our Sun, reports National Geographic. Further observation is needed to confirm the object (probably a gas giant 8-times the size of Jupiter) is actually circling the star it’s photographed next to.

If this turns out to be the real deal, this is a big step in exo-planetary exploration. Until now, discovery of planets circling other stars has been a bit abstract. Basically, a “discovery” is made when scientists detect tiny wobbles in a star’s rotation. In theory, the wobble is caused by a circling planet’s own gravity. And then using spectral analysis, scientists can learn more details about the planet (for example, the composition of its atmosphere).

(Photo courtesy Gemini Observatory)

Living fossil discovered crawling through Amazon rainforest

Scientists believe a new species of ant dates back 120 million years, making it one of the oldest species on earth, reports Reuters. Typically, a species lasts one to ten million years before going extinct.

According to a report at New Scientist, the ant was dubbed Martialis heureka, or “ant from Mars,” since Harvard biologist (an ant expert) E.O. Wilson joked the insect was so bizarre it must have come from Mars.

The creature is blind, pale, spends its life underground and preys on insect larvae and worms. “This combination of characteristics has never been recorded before, so the ant has been put in its own new subfamily.” It’s the first new subfamily of ants since 1923. One expert told Reuters, "It's by far the most spectacular find of my 26-year career."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hubble spots deep-space ‘mystery object’

Scientists probing deep space for supernova encountered a mysterious object that brightened for 100 days, started to fade and then 100 days later, was gone. This according to the news blog at Sky and Telescope.

“Don't get the idea that we've found every kind of astronomical object there is in the universe,” read the posting.

Astronomers don’t believe the object (or is it a phenomena?) is a supernova. First of all, it didn’t appear to be in a detectable galaxy. Second, it’s spectrum was “inconsistent with all known supernova types.” Further more, the spectrum didn’t match up with any known objects in the
Sloan Digital Sky Survey database.

What Pound360 finds most fascinating is the fact that this phenomena appears to have occurred in intergalactic space. What could have been floating out there? A lost star? Alien base? Said one commenter at Sky and Telescope, “perhaps it was a Glint in the Eye of the Creator.”

Hidden health cost of 9/11: 70,000 hit with stress disorder

The World Trade Center Health Registry (run by the New York City Health Department) found 400,000 people were "heavily exposed" to the 9/11 disaster either emotionally or physically, reports MSNBC.

According to the Registry, 280,000 people "witnessed a traumatic sight" like falling bodies or a plane hitting one of the towers, and 52,000 "sustained an injury that day." Seventy thousand suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and 12,600 developed asthma.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why no 50mpg cars? Look in the mirror says Newsweek.

In Europe, cars average 43mpg. In Japan, they're up to 50. Here in the US, we're at 25. Why? It's your fault, Mr. or Ms. Consumer.

According to Newsweek: "To get to 50mpg in the near future, consumers would have to trade off at least one of three very important things—cost, drive quality or safety. That's because the quickest way to make a car more fuel-efficient is to make it smaller, lighter and equip it with some high-tech (a.k.a. costly) propulsion system like a plug-in gas-electric system."

When Ford ran a computer model to create a 50mpg Focus, they cut 1,000 pounds (30 percent of the car's weight) by substituting much lighter aluminum for the steel currently used. The resulting price tag? $50,000.

Smaller cars are dangerous, too. Pound360 will give that to SUV drivers. The smallest cars on the road 2.5-times the death rate of the largest.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day

A few weeks ago, a friend of Pound360 said he had heard Michael Phelps eats 6-8 thousand calories a day. We scoffed. How could that be! The guy is absolutely cut, and while Pound360 does a little exercising, we find it's harder to get through a workout when we eat a lot.

So we did our homework. And it turns out our friend was wrong. Totally wrong. Phelps eats TWELVE thousand calories a day,
reports the NY Post. We are shocked. Here's breakfast:

"Three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise… He follows that up with two cups of coffee, a five-egg omelet, a bowl of grits, three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar and three chocolate-chip pancakes."

Dinner includes a pound of pasta and an ENTIRE pizza.

Could all of that eating be damaging his body? When the human body converts food to energy,
there are harmful byproducts (like free radicals). Then again, all the physical activity Phelps is doing could keep toxins in check.
(Photo by Karen Blaha)

A list of possible LHC breakthroughs

We at Pound360 are sure most of the world is rolling its eyes when it comes to this week's launch of the most powerful particle accelerator (the Large Hadron Collider), and one of science's crowing achievements. And we're sure that the rest of the world will forget the letters LHC before Halloween. But thanks to MSNBC, Pound360 has a list of stuff you may here associated with the letters LHC in the future.

  • Advanced era of global cloud computing: Research at the LHC "could usher in an era of global distributed computing and more efficient mass data storage."
  • No more hackers, no more electronic eavesdropping: Breakthroughs in quantum computing, thanks to the LHC, could drive "super-secure communication."
  • Cancer cures: "Particle accelerators are already playing a fast-rising role in cancer treatment."
  • Breakthroughs in disease prevention: Particle accelerators are helping out with medical imaging technology, too.
  • Controlled fusion power: LHC research could lead to new energy sources such as "controlled fusion" and the harnessing of microscopic black holes.

Pound360 is looking forward to the day when everyone's flying cars are powered by microscopic black holes. Actually, our bet is on a softball-size black hole that's contained in a satellite circling the earth which wirelessly beams power to every device, machine and vehicle on earth. Are there odds in Vegas on that yet?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Time Magazine: Vegetarian diet "the greenest lifestyle change you can make"

Following the UN's announcement this week that people ought to "give up meat for one day per week" to help fight climate change (the meat industry accounts for 18 percent o greenhouse gas emissions while transportation accounts for 13 percent), Time magazine pulled together some supporting facts and made some pretty bold statements.

The article blames rising demand for meat (pork consumption was up 900 percent in China this year) for everything from rising grain prices (which you may not care about, but
people around the world are dying because of) to the rise of heart disease in developing nations. To environmental degradation ("industrial feedlots… bleed antibiotics and other noxious chemicals") and, of course, climate change.

All of that combined led time to suggest switching to a vegetarian diet "is one of the greenest lifestyle changes you can make as an individual."

The biggest problem with rising meat consumption (global demand is currently at 280 million tons, but will double by 2050) is people wiping out forests, precious forests, to make way for grazing animals. It's madness. You're replacing forests (which pull CO2, a greenhouse gas, out of the atmosphere) with animals that release powerful greenhouse gasses. Animal waste releases nitrous oxide (which has 296-times the global warming impact as CO2) and animals themselves (through burps and flatulence) release methane (which has 23-times the impact of CO2).

In Latin America alone, 70 percent of forests have been torched (which also
releases a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere) to make way for animal grazing.

Just as
a very provocative piece from the NY Times explained earlier this year, eating meat isn't evil. It's the way we go about doing it. "Unless you intend to hunt wild buffalo and boar, there's really no green way to get meat," said the Time piece.

Learn more about the connection between meat and lots of bad stuff.

Discovery of fossilized forest amazes scientists, worries climate watchers

Scientists are studying the fossilized remains of six forests in an Illinois coal mine, at 300 million-years-old these are some of the first forests on earth, reports the BBC.

The find is huge. It stretches across an area the size of Bristol (a UK city, remember, this is a BBC report). And since coal miners have removed all the coal (what used to be the soil on the forest floor), researchers are able to examine fossilized tree stumps, trunks, roots and leaves. Many specimens are in terrific shape. "We found 30m-long trunks that had fallen with their crowns perfectly preserved," said one scientist.

What's particularly relevant for this day and age is when these forests were wiped out. 300 million years ago, the Earth was in the midst of rapid climate change. Ice caps were melting and "a greenhouse climate" was emerging. The result? "Long-lived forests dominated by giant club moss trees almost overnight (in a geological sense) are replaced by rather weedy fern vegetation."

American mammoths returned, dominated Asia

The first wooly mammoths lumbered over the Bering Straight land bridge into North America about 200,000 years ago. But they didn't stay put. The herds would wander back and forth between Asia and America, and eventually, the American stock would outlive the original Asian populations, reports New Scientist.

The report is based on mitochondrial DNA research performed by the University of London.

It's not likely that the American mammoths fought the Asians to the death. But the Americans may have out maneuvered the Asians for food, and more likely, the creatures were probably better suited for climactic changes that ultimately contributed to the extinction of all mammoths.

At the end of the last ice age, grasslands (which mammoths prefer) were replaced by forests. That combined with the rise of humans probably spelled the end for the giant pachyderms.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Largest particle collider goes online, who cares?

Ten thousand scientists have been working for 14 years to create a massive facility at a cost of $6 billion called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). It's been created simply to perform science experiments. It will not make anything you can sell in a store or perform any services that people can pay for. Why?

The answer: to discover the most elementary particles in the universe and unlock some of the biggest secrets in cosmology,
reports Time.

At present, we don't know how gravity works. We don't know why the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. Shouldn't it be slowing down? And we don't know why galaxies don't spin apart. From what we can measure, galaxies aren't heavy enough to hold themselves together.

The theoretical key to how gravity works is the Higgs-Boson. The key to the universe's accelerating expansion is dark energy. For the galaxy-sticking-together problem it's dark matter. But again, it's all theory until scientists can observer particle interactions that the LHC can facilitate.

More from MSNBC:

European 'Rosetta' space probe explores distant asteroid

The European Space Agency's Rosetta space probe just completed a flyby of a mysterious asteroid, reports Reuters. Scientists hope to learn why the asteroid (which is about 2.9 miles across and about 224 million miles from earth) shines so brightly in the night sky.

Images relayed to European space command (see photo, courtesy ESA) from Rosetta show one haggard rock. The asteroid is pock marked with craters, including a massive 1.2-mile wound.

By studying asteroids, scientists hope to better protect the Earth from strikes in the future and better understand the origins of our solar system.

Rosetta's primary mission is to study Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. To do so, the probe will release a small craft that will attempt the first controlled landing on a comet. The rendezvous is scheduled for 2014.

Early life may have been as 'purple as it is green today'

Early microbial life on Earth may have been purple, reports LiveScience. Somehow, they make the leap to a purple planet from there. The headline reads, "Early Earth Was Purple, Study Suggests." But they don't explain in the article how purple microbes would turn the whole planet purple. We have primarily green ones today, but our oceans aren't green. They're pretty much blue, right?

Anyway, the purple microbe theory comes from Shil DasSarma of the University of Maryland. And it's a way to explain why plants use the red and violet bands of the sun's light instead of the more energy-rich green band.

To understand this, let's start by comparing how two molecules, retinal and chlorophyll, convert the sun's light into energy. Retinal absorbs green light, which is the highest-energy band of the spectrum, but reflects red and violet light. Chlorophyll, of course absorbs blue and red light, and reflects green.

Retinal is the simpler of the two molecules, and "would have been easier to produce in the low-oxygen environment of early Earth." Also, retinal is present in halobacteria, a microbe that (despite its name) isn't really a bacteria, but an "archaea" that's been around since before the Earth had an oxygen-rich atmosphere.

DasSarma imagines a layer of purple microbes dominating in the Earth's early oceans, and a smaller population of green ones developing beneath it to pick up the scraps of the light spectrum.

Even though Chlorophyll relies on a lower-energy band of the spectrum, organisms using it probably dominated since it's more efficient at converting the sun's light into energy a plant can use.

A look at 9/11 from the International Space Station

Drifting over Manhattan on the morning of 9/11, the International Space Station snapped the below image. It's pretty chilling, even from 185 miles up…

(Image courtesy NASA)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Death threats, lawsuits and now suicide linked to atom-smasher

Previously on Pound360 we discussed how scientists connected to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) had received death threats and how lawsuits were filed to stop the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) from turning the machine on (which they did today). But hysteria over the atom-smasher, which should unlock some of the universe's greatest secrets, reached a new high today when a teenage Indian girl killed herself today "after being traumatized by media reports" about the LHC, reports MSNBC.

United Nations: Meat worse for environment than cars

According to the United Nations (UN), the meat industry creates 18 percent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions, while transportation accounts for just 13 percent, reports the BBC.

The UN 's climate chief told the BBC, "among options for mitigating climate change, changing diets is something one should consider."

Meat industry emissions include those related to, "clearing forested land, making and transporting fertiliser, burning fossil fuels in farm vehicles, and the front and rear end emissions of cattle and sheep." The emissions include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

The UK National Farmer's Union is quick to point out they're taking steps to curb methane emissions. And they've done a pretty good job. Since 1990, methane emissions from UK farms are down 13 percent. But unfortunately, "the biggest source globally of carbon dioxide from meat production is land clearance, particularly of tropical forest."

Early earth should have been a frozen wasteland

From the geologic record, we believe liquid water has been around for 3.7 billion years. Yet from observations of other stars in the universe, we believe that, 3.7 billion years ago, our sun would have been too dim to keep temperatures at the Earth's surface above freezing. This is known among scientists as the "faint young sun problem."

According to
a report at Space.com, most theories explaining the "problem" have revolved around greenhouse gases. Basically, theories suggest the early earth was so high in CO2, for example, that a greenhouse effect kept temperatures high enough for liquid water. The problem with that, according to some research teams, is that geologic evidence shows CO2 levels were "far too low to keep the surface from freezing."

But one of the same teams that disputed the CO2 theory is shifting its position. In a new calculation that factors in important periods and milestones in Earth's history (for example, a phase of regular asteroid impacts called the Late Heavy Bombardment, the appearance of bacteria and the first known oxidation) a German team led by Philip von Paris of the Institute for Planetary Research (in Germany) believes those "low" levels of CO2 were enough to keep the planet's surface above freezing.

The Space.com doesn't get into specifics on how the Late Heavy Bombardment, bacteria and oxidation affect the climate model.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Atom-smasher paranoia leads to death threats

Yesterday, Pound360 described how some people are terrified by the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s (CERN) soon-to-be activated Large Hadron Collider (LHC). So terrified they’ve taken the group to court (but to no avail).

But the terror has reached a new level of madness,
reports the Telegraph (UK). According to the article, one LHC Scientist (Nobel prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek) has received death threats because of his involvement with the LHC. Also, CERN’s head of PR has received “tearful phone calls” pleading for a halt to the program. And the group is bombarded by emails “that beg for reassurance that the world will not end,” or simply attack the project. "You are evil and dangerous and you are going to destroy the world,” one very distraught person wrote to CERN.

Scientists on the project see it differently. “What we are doing is enriching humanity, not putting it at risk."

Pound360 would like to remind everyone that there are Nobel prize-winning scientists working on projects at the LHC. This isn’t being driven by Halliburton, okay? Furthermore, "nature has already conducted the equivalent of about a hundred thousand LHC experimental programs on Earth - and the planet still exists," read an LHC Safety Assessment Group report.

The incredible, endangered bluefin tuna

Last week, NPR's Science Friday had a fascinating segment on bluefin tuna. On the show was Richard Ellis, author of "Tuna: A Love Story."

First of all, Tuna can weigh up to up to 1,000. "Chicken of the sea" is a bit misleading. It's more like the cow of the sea. Then again, tuna are predators. So we're not sure what to compare them to. Anyway, when tuna first hatch, they're the size of a grain of rice, so they will increase in size a billion times over their lifetime.

Despite their massive size, tuna can move incredibly fast: 50 mph. Part of the reason it can move so fast is how hydrodynamic its body is. And for an extra burst of speed, tuna can basically turn themselves into a torpedo by tucking their fins flush with their body.

The Tuna's circulatory system is also a topic of awe for researchers. According to Ellis, tuna are capable of warming their bodies up to 80 degrees (at will) to survive in cold waters. They do so by utilizing a "complex series of countercurrent exchangers in its circulatory system that warm up its muscles."

A couple more interesting facts. One, tuna can dive as deep as 6,000 feet. Two, tuna need to be in constant motion or they'll drown. Sharks, despite common knowledge, can stop. Tuna can't.

As many creatures on earth, the bluefin is "bordering on extinction," says Ellis. Driven mostly by Japan's tremendous appetite for the fish (bluefin have been auctioned off for as much as $175,00 in Japanese fish markets), fisherman around the world are stripping bluefin tuna stocks to dangerously low levels. What about fish farms? Unfortunately, it's incredibly difficult to breed tuna in captivity.

Another notable item from the Science Friday podcast, sushi is a recent "fad" in the Japanese culture dating back to the mid-1900s. Pound360 figured sushi was a Japanese tradition stretching back hundreds of years, but… it's not.

Evidence of giant North American primate found in TN

Nashville TV station WSMV is reporting amateur archaeologist (Harold Jackson) unearthed a fossilized human-like footprint that's 15-inches long.

Mr. Jackson now believes in Bigfoot. "I don't know what kind of Bigfoot it is, but there's a Bigfoot out there somewhere," he told WSMV.

Pound360 checked out the fossilized print at the link above and raised a disappointed eyebrow. The print, attached to a medium-sized rock, looks like a garden accessory from Home Depot. We're not saying this is a hoax. But it probably is.

WSMV reports "about half-a-dozen" scientists ("About"? Is that 5, 7, 5.5, 7.9?) are interested in checking out the yard decoration important artifact. The only scientist noted by name is "famous Bigfoot professor" Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum of Idaho State University.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Underwater find may alter timeline of human settlement in Americas

Archaeologists diving in caves off the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico) believe they have found a 13,600-year-old skeleton, reports National Geographic News (via Slashdot).

National Geographic News is skeptical of the finding. The headline is a question, "Oldest Skeleton in Americas Found in Underwater Cave?" And in the piece they note, "archaeologists may have discovered the oldest human skeleton ever found in the Americas." May have? It could be that the initial test was not performed with an accurate tool/method. Maybe it has something to do with the condition of the skeleton. Whatever it is, National Geographic News didn't say.

If the skeleton is indeed 13,600 years old, it would be the oldest human remains found in the Americas, and may push back the timeline of human migration into the Americas. Not only that, but the skeleton has features in common with South Asian peoples. Conventional wisdom holds that North Asians settled the Americas via the Bearing Sea land bridge.

In case you're going on Jeopardy soon, the skeleton has been dubbed "Eva de Naharon."

Large Hadron Collider to destroy Earth?

For months now, probably longer, some have been concerned that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), being built in Europe by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), could spawn a black hole or other cosmic nasty that will wipe out the Earth. Two men in Hawaii were so frightened, they sought a "temporary restraining order prohibiting CERN from proceeding with the accelerator," reported the NY Times in March.

Ever since, "internet-fuelled concerns" (of course) have "shadowed" development of the LHC,
reports Cosmos Magazine. And another group tried to stop CERN in a European court (but the bit was tossed in August).

Scientists at CERN are pretty confused by all the fuss. According to them, they're not creating any particle reactions that don't occur naturally in our upper atmosphere. In fact, one key difference, the upper atmospheric reactions occur at "much higher" energy levels than those in the LHC.

What's the LHC? It's a 17-mile underground circular tunnel where scientists will accelerate particles to near light-speed and smash them together.

What for? According to Cosmos, observing the collisions "could help resolve some of the biggest questions in physics, such as the nature of mass, the weakness of gravity and whether, as some theoreticians suggest, there exist dimensions beyond our own."

In case you're still worried about the LHC destroying the Earth, you'd better get out your
bucket lists now and get busy, the LHC goes online Wednesday (September 10th).

(Photo, courtesy
Juhanson, show a tunnel within the LHC)

Friday, September 05, 2008

Asteroids or insects? Dino extinction theory takes a twist

If you ask anybody (including the geniuses at Poun360 a few hours ago) what killed the dinosaurs, chances are, they'd say it was an asteroid. And there's plenty of science to back them up. It starts with a collision in the Asteroid Belt sending one monster rock towards the Earth, the asteroid slams into the Yucatan peninsula setting of a global firesorm and that's pretty much it.

But according to the fossil record, dinosaurs actually died out over the course of a period of great environmental change (known as the
K-T Boundary), which lasted hundreds of thousands of years.

While a massive asteroid impact may have kicked off the dinosaur's demise by weakening their populations, other factors, such as the rise of insects may have ultimately finished them off. This according to an Oregon State University paper reported by ScienceDaily (
via Slashdot).

As dinosaurs were dying out, biting insects (like ticks and biting flies) were getting pretty nasty. And according to specimens preserved in amber, the insects were carrying deadly diseases (like malaria and leishmania). "During the late Cretaceous Period, the associations between insects, microbes and disease transmission were just emerging," one of the Oregon State paper's authors told ScienceDaily.

The rise of insects would have also spurred the spread of flowering plants. Such plants would have decimated gymnosperms (like ferns and cycads), dinosaur's "traditional food items."

Additionally, insects may have spread plant diseases affecting dinosaur's remaining food supply, and insects would have also been "major competitors" for plant food.

Asia pollutants: A 10 bil. pound problem for US

Cheap clothes and toys aren't the only things Asia is sending to the United States. Our consumption helps fuel 10 billion pounds of airborne pollution which settles across our country, reports McClatchy (by way of SlashDot). To make matters worse -- about 400 percent worse -- some Chinese officials expect pollution from their country to quadruple over the next 15 years.

This is especially bad news if you live in the NorthWest. Much of the Asian soot, heavy metals, pesticides, PCBs, mercury, greenhouse gases and other nasties drift through a corridor stretching from Northern California to British Columbia.

Some scientists suggest, "Asian pollution could destabilize weather patterns across the North Pacific, mask the effects of global warming, reduce rainfall in the American West and compromise efforts to meet air-pollution standards."

No word on how much pollution the US sends around the world in this report. But Pound360 has a pretty good idea that whatever the Pacific Northwest is getting is nowhere near what it's delivering.

New science suggests why memories can be so powerful

When the brain remembers something, it's stored in the same region that's active at the time of the experience, according to a University of Pennsylvania study (reported by the NY Times). This means memories are not transported to a storage section (like a computer's hard drive) elsewhere in the brain.

Researchers recently discovered this when, for the first time, they "recorded individual brain cells in the act of summoning a spontaneous memory."

This shows why memories can be such powerful things. Since memories are stored in the same place that's active at the time of an experience, "remembering is a lot like doing."

Pound360 is going to remember the last time we went to the beach now and see if we get a tan.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Scientists closing on mysterious, "colossal object" at center of galaxy

There's something big, really big, lurking at the center of our galaxy, but scientists aren't sure what it is. The quiet beast, known as Sagittarius A, is 4 million times the mass of the sun, about 30 million miles across (one third the distance from the earth to the sun) and suspected to be a black hole, reports MSNBC.

Research funded by the National Science Foundation drove a cutting-edge, deep-space observation technique called "very long baseline interferometry," which combined readings from observatories in Hawaii, Arizona and California to reveal the latest details on Sagittarius A. Researchers have know of the so-called "A-star", but the latest data suggest it's heavier than originally projected.

The only "reasonable explanation" for an object the size of Sagittarius A is that it's a black hole. So why call it a star? Because it's (kind of) shining. How could a black hole shine? Two possibilities. One, theories suggest black holes fire a beam of particles (accelerated by its powerful magnetic fields) that emit "bright radiation." Two, the accretion disc around the black hole may be shedding radiation as well.

Americans announce invisibility cloak, Chinese devise anti-cloak

A cloaking race has broken out between the Chinese and Americans, reports the Telegraph (UK). Less than a week after an American team of researchers announced they had material that could bend light as to make the wearer invisible, a Chinese team announced they had a "theoretical" anti-cloak which could partially de-cloak the cloaked.

All this talk of cloak, diet cloak and new cloak is making Pound360 thirsty.

This is actually good news for people that want to be cloaked for whatever reason (we hope it's a noble one, although a few bad ones spring to mind). If you're wearing an invisibility cloak, as developed by the American team, you can't actually see through it. But if you apply the anti-cloaking material on the inside, you can see the world around you.

Also, if you want to de-cloak the cloaked, you'd have to throw an anti-cloak over the person with the cloak-cloak on. But if you knew where that person was, you could just pull of their cloak and say, "gotcha!"

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Sunspot Activity Reaches 95-Year Low

In June, Pound360 blogged about how the sun was strangely "dead" due to a slowdown in typical activity: spots, flares or eruptions. Well, things got really dead in August. According to a report at Daily Tech (via SlashDot), data from the Mount Wilson Observatory (UCLA) shows zero sunspot activity in August (actually, there was a "tiny speck" detected Aug 21). The last time this happened was 1913 (they've been collecting data on sunset activity since 1749, by the way).

Over the past 1000 years, "three previous such events… have all led to rapid cooling." Does this support those who don't believe humans are causing climate change? Not really. For the most part, "the effect of sunspots on TSI (total solar irradiance) is negligible." However, if anything, it would cool the earth as "reduction in the solar magnetosphere affects cloud formation here on Earth."

New chart shows your odds of dying from…

A new chart put together by researchers at Dartmouth helps put your odds of dying from particular diseases in perspective, reports the NY times. The problem with most odds of dying from specific diseases is that they give time frames that are too short (say, one year) which makes the odds seem small, or they give odds over a lifetime (which makes the odds seem pretty high). Also, odds typically apply to the total population.

The Dartmouth charts show risks by sex during 10-year intervals, and according to whether or not you smoke (or used to smoke). So if you're a 45-year-old male who used to smoke, you'll see you have about a 1-in-1000 chance of dying from heart disease.

Interestingly enough, these charts show that, as smokers get older, their risks of dying from heart disease and cancer come pretty close to that of non-smokers and former smoker. For example, a 55-year-old smoker is as likely to die in the next 10 years as a 65-year-old who's never had a smoke in his life.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Salmon or Deer? Wolves prefer the fish.

After four years of study, a University of Victoria and Raincoast Conservation Foundation study found wolves prefer salmon over deer for dinner, reports New Scientist.

Yes, wolves can catch salmon.

Scientists reached their conclusion when they found wolves hunting salmon during the autumn months (when the rivers are teaming with them), even though "deer is readily available."

From a nutrition standpoint, the wolves' taste makes sense. According to the New Scientist write up, "salmon is rich in fat compared to deer, containing four times the amount of caloric energy per bite."

Fly Swatting Tip Courtesy of MIT

Researchers at MIT are using "high-speed digital imaging equipment and a fancy fly swatter" to figure out how they're able to evade many of our best efforts to kill them, reports Reuters. The main reason is how fast flies respond to a threat: within 200 milliseconds.

In an
NPR report on the MIT research, Pound360 learned that the flies actually jump in the opposite direction of a threat before buzzing its wings and flying away.

So what advice do MIT researchers give for swatting flies? Simple. "It is best not to swat at the fly's starting position," MIT's Michael Dickinson told Reuters. Instead, "aim for the escape route."

That or just open a window.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Harrowing Look at Death in the Animal World

Last week, the world was shocked and saddened by the death of a 3-month old gorilla, Gana, who died in the Munster Zoo, Germany. After dying of a heart defect, reports the NY Times, Gana's mother, Claudio, carried the baby's "ever-gnarlier carcass" around, refusing to give it up to zookeepers.

According to primatologists, Claudio's behavior is standard. And it shows how both humans and primates share an awareness of death and an "impulse to act as though it didn’t exist," reports the Times. In chimps, mothers will try to nurse dead children back to life. And in one case, scientists observed a young chimp that would not leave its dead mothers side. He remained with his dead mother for a month before dying himself.

But the primate's relationship to death is not all sadness and sympathy. When dealing death to other primates, it's pretty brutal. One scientist told the Times how he has observed chimpanzees eating other primates alive as they "scream and thrash." The researcher described it as "very unpleasant for humans who are watching."

In other parts of the animal world, behaviors related to death vary. Lions eat their dead comrades. Naked mole rats drag their fallen to the "communal latrine", which is eventually sealed when full.

Insects are particularly diligent when it comes to "corpse management." "Dedicated undertakers" transport the dead to safe distances from a hive within minutes after expiring. And if a creature should crawl into a bee's hive and die, the bees will "embalm it in resin." "You can find mummified mice inside beehives that are completely preserved right down to their whiskers,” said one expert.

Pound360 Archive

About Me

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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.