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)

Good news: Latest Soyuz re-entry ends without crisis

Earlier this year, a fair amount of drama plagued Soyuz capsules, including a mishap that almost ended in tragedy. But on Friday, a Soyuz capsule returned three astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS) without incident, reports TIME. It's important that the Soyuz work properly since, after the Space Shuttle is retired in two years, there won't be any other way home from the ISS.

Here's a clip of the recovery...

(Image of soyuz capsule courtesy NASA)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Pine beetle infestation is getting pretty scary, folks

We at Pound360 have been watching the pine beetle infestation that's wreaking havoc on North American forests pretty closely. And what's most terrifying is that nobody seems to be talking solutions.

According to a report by the NBC Nightly News, once pine beetles start ravaging a forest it has about five years until it's wiped out. That's a serious drag. We at Pound360 love forests.

Who's to blame? You and me, of course. People-driven climate change has led to milder winters. Milder winters mean less beetles are killed off each year. And sadly, the unchecked march of pine beetles is
contributing to more global warming. Not only that (sigh), but according to the NBC report, drought (thank you people-driven global warming) has left trees more susceptible to pine beetle attacks…

(Image of pine beetle courtesy US Dept of Agriculture)

How dead is dead enough for organ donation?

There's a debate catching wind down under (in Australia) about the definition of "dead" as it relates to organ donation, reports ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

According to the law, a person is dead "when they have either irreversible cessation of all functions of their brain or irreversible cessation of blood circulation." But critics claim doctors are interpreting death more casually. In practice, say the critics, a person is dead enough for organ donation if their blood stops circulating for two minutes or they're brain dead. Critics maintain neither of those conditions is actually "dead" but "close to death." And in either case, there's enough room for interpretation for mistakes to be made.

A recent article by pediatric intensive care specialist Dr. James Tibballs in the Journal of Law and Medicine sparked the recent outbreak of controversy. The Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society "strongly emphasise that this (Associate Professor Tibballs') view is an extreme minority point of view."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sun's 'Heliosphere' (which protects life on Earth) is shrinking

In addition to light and heat, the sun projects a one-million-mile-per-hour wind of electrically charged particles (and magnetic field) that envelops our solar system. This protective bubble, called the heliosphere, keeps out intergalactic radiation that can destroy the DNA which makes life possible on earth.

But there's a little bit of a problem. The heliosphere is weakening, and scientists don't know why,
reports the Telegraph (UK).

Over the past decade, the heliospere has weekend 25 percent, and reached its lowest level since we started measuring it 50 years ago. If this continues, growing cosmic radiation "could result in growing levels of disruption to electrical equipment, damage satellites and potentially even harm life on Earth."

NASA recently launched the Interstellar Boundary Explorer scientists to keep tabs on particle interactions along the heliosphere's edge. The mission should lend clues as to how much of an impact the sun's weakening heliosphere will have on us.

(Image courtesy NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

Expert: 'Death rates go down during economic slowdowns'

Here's the bright side of the economic crisis tearing across the globe: "A recession could save your life," reports the NY Times.

During troubled economic times, we drive less (so car accidents decline), there's less business activity (and thus, fewer on-the-job accidents and pollutants), people have more free time and they "smoke less, exercise more and eat more healthily."

How about a statistic? For every percentage point the US unemployment rate falls (what we think of as a great thing), there are an additional 3,900 heart attack deaths (what we think of as a bad thing).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Africa is running out of chimps

The chimpanzee population along Africa's Ivory Coast, a region thought to be "one of the last strongholds for the species," has been decimated with an "alarming decline" since 1990, reports the BBC.

Researchers estimate the number of chimps has crashed from 12,000 to 1,200 (a 90 percent decline) as the human population in the area climbed from 12 to 18 million.

Swelling human populations lead to increased deforestation and poaching, a couple of bad things if you're a chimp.

(Image by
Cody Pope)

Scientists return to giant river cave lost to war, political turmoil

National Geographic has some pretty cool pictures of the Xe Bang Fai river cave (in central Laos) that has been lost to science for almost 100 years. The cave was first explored in 1905 by explorers on bamboo rafts, but almost a century of war and civil unrest have kept the outside world, um, out.

You've got to see those pictures… there's some stuff in there that looks like it's right out of Lord of the Rings.

The Xe Bang Fai river cave has been referred to by experts as "an underground K2," "likely one of the largest river caves on Earth."

River volume ranges from 12.8 cubic yards per second during the slow season to 1,300 during the monsoons.

Spiders in the cavern grow up to 10 inches across.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Do obese people enjoy milkshakes more than lean people?

It turns out that obese people want energy dense foods like chocolate milkshakes more than they enjoy them, reports NPR. When linked to an MRI scanner, the screen lit up in obese women before they were served a chocolate milkshake, but as they ate, "they had a 'blunted' dopamine response in the brain's reward center compared with lean people."

Therein could be the key to obesity in some people. The foods they love never live up to their expectations, so they keep eating and eating. One expert interviewed by NPR suggests that, the only way to fight an addiction to junk food is to cut them out of your diet "before pleasure responses get blunted by overeating." Cut out junk food all together? Easier said than done.

'Cosmic Ghost' found by amateur astronomer, NASA responds

A Netherlands schoolteacher analyzing deep space photos at the Galaxy Zoo project stumbled across "a bright, gaseous mass with a gaping hole in its middle," a giant cosmic doughnut that some are referring to as a "cosmic ghost," reports CNN.

Our best guess is that there was once a quasar at the center of the massive gas cloud (it's thousands of light years across), which eventually burned out, but its light still echoes through the cloud.

This may be a new class of astronomical object, according to the CNN report, and that has NASA's attention. Next year, they'll turn Hubble's gaze on the object.

The find is remarkable for another reason, which may signal the beginning of a new era in space exploration and discovery. According to one expert, "this discovery really shows how citizen science has come of age in the Internet world." Instead of peering through small telescopes in their back yard, "armchair astronomers" are just as likely to be "analyzing reams of sophisticated data" online.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Arctic Ocean probably ice free 7000 years ago

No this doesn't mean that humans are off the hook as far as global warming, but a recent Geologic Survey of Norway study finds ice cover in the arctic ocean was "greatly reduced," reports ScienceDaily. It may have been so reduced that, "the Arctic Ocean may have been periodically ice free."

Pound360 had thought the arctic always had ice. So we're not as concerned that ice-free poles will lead to rising sea levels that drown all of civilization. Actually, we were never worried about that. But it's nice to know that we're not heading into all together uncharted territory.

Does this mean we can stop recycling and buying hybrids? Only if you're cool with
out-of-control killer wildfires, the unchecked spread of the world's most deadly diseases and other nasties related to climate change.

Capitalism 'killing the earth.' Seriously.

An extensive multi-part report at New Scientist looks at the deadly link between capitalism and the environment. The message is simple, to save the planet we need to change this global economic system of ours that relies completely, entirely, solely on growth.

The founder of the National Resources Defense Council
told New Scientist that, against "today's capitalism, with its overwhelming commitment to growth at all costs, its devolution of tremendous power into the corporate sector" and "our own pathetic capitulation to consumerism," the environment doesn't stand a chance.

Look at it this way. Every $1000 worth of goods and services produced
releases half-a-ton of carbon into the atmosphere (not to mention all kinds of other pollutants released into the environment as well as the goods, in come cases, that will sit in land fills for ages).

Given this context, here's what's terrifying, "It has taken all of human history for the economy to reach its current size. On current form it will take just two decades to double."

If you think improving technologies can save us (as Pound360 naively, numbly, desperately wants to believe),
you're wrong.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Constellations aren't always made up entirely of stars

A constellation can be a combination of many different types of stars, each with a different story, and sometimes a spot in a constellation isn't even a star.

Take Orion for example ("lovely camera image" below
courtesy NASA). That red spot in the lower left, Orion's upper-right shoulder, is a red giant (near the end of it's lifespan), that may have consumed or spun-off planets that once harbored civilizations.

In the upper right (Orion's lower left foot) is supergiant Rigel, at the prime of life, possibly shining light on a thriving civilization at its peak.

Now check out the red spot in Orion's belt. It's not a star, but "the stellar nursery known as the Great Nebula of Orion."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tests uncover 38 pollutants in 10 bottled water brands, Wal-Mart worst

The University of Iowa's Hygienic Lab, testing water sent to it by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), found 38 pollutants (including disinfectants, industrial chemicals, arsenic and bacteria) in 10 brands of bottled water, reports the LA Times.

Wal-Mart's Sam's Choice was especially nasty. It contained trihalomethanes "which have been linked to cancer and miscarriages." And not just a little bit. According to
an MSNBC article, Sam's Choice water has three-times the California limit of trihalomethanes. Based on the findings, the EWG is suing Wal-Mart.

Bonobos shown writing, using a lighter and playing video games

Earlier, Pound360 blogged on how savage bonobos can be. And they are (but people can be pretty savage, too). To be fair, we'd like to share with you a video from (if you're not familiar with that site, you should be… tons of incredible video there).

The video below, a presentation by primatologist Susan Savage-Rumbaugh, is pretty cool. It's impressive to see how gracefully the bonobo walks on its two legs. But what's most remarkable about this video is how the bonobo in the middle of the video uses a lighter (6:00) drives a golf cart (7:20).

These creatures also fashion cutting tools out of rocks and writes symbols to communicate desires. Yeah. It's pretty wild… sent chills up Pound360's spine…

Oh, did we mention they play Pac-Man, too (16:20)?

(Video available here, too)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hedonistic bonobos find pleasure in blood rage, too

A new discovery shows the seemingly laid back (as well as sex crazed) bonobo is as blood thirsty as its cousin, the common chimpanzee, reports the NY Times.

Bonobos are generally a more docile race of chimpanzee, one dominated by females. But it turns out they hunt, kill and devour fellow primates just as common chimps, according to a five year study conducted by the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology.

As Pound360 blogged earlier,
monkey hunts are pretty disturbing events.

Species more likely to be wiped out by 'sick Earth' than asteroid strike

Most major mass-extinctions on Earth have occurred when "the Earth got sick", not when an asteroid slammed into it, reports ScienceDaily. An asteroid strike is easier to understand, and the most recent major extinction (the one that claimed the dinosaurs) was likely triggered by an asteroid, but typically, a mass-extinction is more complex.

What causes the Earth to get sick? Researchers are still trying to figure that out. One common link between two mass-extinctions is "bouquet-like atructures of aragonite crystals" which appear on the ocean floor. During another mass extinction, coral reefs were suddenly wiped out.

(Photo of asteroid by
Jacopo Werther)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

PoundRant: Forget green energy, let's focus on math and science education

Kids in the United States suck at math and science. The staff at Pound360 sucked at math and science when we were in school. Our excuse was the Cold War. How could you focus on math, science or anything else in school in the middle of a war like that? All of our free time was spent studying Red Dawn for survival tactics so we would be prepared the day Russian paratroopers came falling through the clouds to wipe us out.

Of course, today's kids have the War on Terror to blame. But it's time to stop passing blame and start coming up with solutions.

First, here's how bad it is. According to the latest Program for International Student Assessment study (
reported by the Washington Post), US kids ranked 31st in science performance and fifth-from-last in math. Ridiculous. How are we supposed to compete in the space age? How are we supposed to come up with green energy solutions?

You don't care about space or green energy? Fine. Our math performance is so horrible, it's little surprise Wall Street (and your 401K) is
the catastrophic mess it is today.

What do we do? Step one, forget a Manhattan-style project to come up with an alternative to oil. Let the Chinese, Europeans or somebody else come up with that. We've lost this round, countrymen. Let's focus on the next one. If we're going to be the first country to put a man on Mars, patent a light saber or teleport a dog across the Atlantic, we need people that are math and science geniuses.

The article that set off this rant was a NY Times piece, "
Math Skills Suffer in U.S., Study Finds."

The quote that sticks in our head is from a young math whiz on why other kids are so behind, "there’s just a stigma in this country about math being really hard and feared." Pound360 agrees. Step one of the Manhattan-style math and science advancement project should be working with educators to find creative ways to build confidence in these subjects among our kids.

What's driving SoCal wildfires? Climate change or unchecked urban sprawl?

According to a post at the Wall Street Journal's environmental blog, both climate change (which leads to warmer temps and drier conditions) and irresponsible housing development ("the majority of new development in southern California also takes place in fire-prone areas") have helped create the broken record that is Southern California's devastating wildfire season.

Flawed environmental policies, "like snuffing out small wildfires that traditionally eliminated underbush which now serves as kindling," are also to blame.

The wildfires raging in Southern Cal at the moment have already killed two people, destroyed 64 structures and blackened 27,000 acres,
reports the NY Times. And this is just the start.

Here's what the wildfires look like from space…

Image courtesy NASA)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

'Mutant' man-eating fish suspected in attacks

Something has been attacking swimmers in India's Great Kali river, possibly a "giant mutant" catfish, according to UK's Daily Mail. What makes it a mutant? Locals believe "this monster has grown extra large on a diet of partially burnt corpses."

In India, they sometimes place their dead into rivers following funeral services (which often includes a pyre). From there, wildlife finishes off the corpse. But what if the wildlife develops a taste for human flesh and start hunting the living? The goonch, a large catfish that roams the Great Kali, may have done just that.

Over the past year, two men have been dragged to their deaths in the Great Kali by something described as an "elongated pig." Check out the pics at the link above. This goonch thing looks pretty menacing. It has some gnarly teeth, by the way.

Livestock mega-farms 'associated with an increase in infant mortality'

A Wellsley College study shows massive livestock operations are linked to higher infant mortality rates, reports ScienceDaily. For every 100 percent increase in livestock production, there's a 7.4 increase in infant mortality.

"Most of this effect occurs in the first twenty-eight days of life," suggesting factory farms are having an impact on human fetuses.

Factory farms may contaminate ground water, release toxic gasses and contribute airborne particulate matter, all of which seem to not be good for developing human fetuses. Pound360 doubts this is very good for other animals or plants.

Does Pound360 think we should all stop eating meat? Let's just say -- well,
we've said it before -- it's not eating meat that's the problem, it's the way we go about it. Eating meat should be the luxury of a much smaller, more responsible society. More reasons why here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Probe flies just 16 miles above surface of Saturn moon

NASA's Cassini space probe, which has been exploring the Saturn system since 2004, recently completed its most daring maneuver to date. On October 9th, the spacecraft passed just 16 miles above the surface of Saturn's moon, Enceladus.

Compare that altitude to those of some familiar stuff in Earth's orbit. The International Space Station hovers about 150 miles above the surface of the Earth. The Hubble telescope is in orbit 300 miles out.

The Cassini maneuver,
what NASA refers to as a "deep plume run", has already returned some pretty amazing images (see pic below), but the primary goal of this sweep was to analyze material spewing from icy plumes around the moon's South Pole. A thorough analysis may show there's water under the surface.

If there is water, it would be the latest building block of life on Enceladus. Other clues include geologic activity, water ice, warmth and organic matter (like carbon dioxide and methane).

Previously, a plume run at 30 miles above the surface of Enceladus was
"undermined" by an instrument malfunction. But according to the Cassini mission blog, "everything went great" this time around.

Image courtesy NASA)

Perplexing planet-ish thing has experts scratching their heads

The European Space Agency's exoplanet-hunting satellite COROT has discovered a bizarre object that could be a brown dwarf (failed star) or it could be a planet, but it's not close enough to either to fit into any of the categories we use to classify stuff in our universe, according to an ESA press release.

[Pound360 originally came across
this story at Slashdot, which led to a post at Nature's "The Great Beyond" blog, that eventually led to the ESA press release that our post is based on.]

The object, called "COROT-exo-3b", is the size of Jupiter, but it's 20-times the mass. That makes it twice as dense as lead and the densest planet-like object yet. It's circling close to it's parent star and moving pretty fast, too. An orbit takes just four days and six hours.

Pound360 thinks this is pretty amazing. It seems that, the deeper we look into space, the more diverse the universe becomes. Imagine how boring it would be if everything we found were Jupiter-like, asteroid-like or star-like. Finding stuff in between means there's a lot of incredible discoveries to make.

(Image courtesy ESA)

Friday, October 10, 2008

15,000 species facing extinction

Thirty eight percent of all species (there are about 45,000 of them) and 25 percent of mammals (there are 5,500 of those) face extinction, reports Cosmos Magazine. This according to an annual "Red List" study, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which tracks species' extinction risk.

Seven percent of species are in the "critically endangered" category.

And this isn't normal. Since 1500, just 79 mammal species have been destroyed.

On a positive note, the report finds 5 percent of endangered species (like the African elephant and black footed ferret) are making a comeback.

(Photo of the critically endangered black rhino by
Matthew Field)

Wall Street crisis small compared to deforestation

Deforestation is costing the global economy $2 to $5 trillion dollars each year, according to an EU-commissioned study helmed by a Deutsche Bank economist, reports the BBC.

In comparison, the Wall Street meltdown that's dragging the globe into a recession amounts to just $1 to $1.5 trillion dollars.

Here's how deforestation costs us. "As forests decline, nature stops providing services which it used to provide essentially for free." To compensate, humans need to close the gap "through building reservoirs, building facilities to sequester carbon dioxide, or farming foods that were once naturally available."

So basically, as we're chopping down a forest with our right hands, we're building a reservoir with our left hand. Pretty irresponsible, wouldn't you agree?

(Photo by
Ancheta Wis)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

NASA probe returns to Mercury, relays awesome pics

The MESSENGER probe has returned to Mercury for its second flyby and sent back some pretty spectacular images.
Mercury is an incredibly mysterious planet that's puzzled planetary scientists for decades. Among other surprises, Mercury shouldn't have a magnetic field or an atmosphere, but it does. And it appears there's ice on the planet despite surface temperatures that can reach 800 degrees.

It's time to give up on converting food into fuel

Readers of Pound360 know we think converting food into fuel is a dumb idea. And there's a lot of evidence out there backing us up. According to a recent report at the NY Times, "a host of studies in the past year concluded that the rush to biofuels had some disastrous, if unintended, consequences for food security and the environment." Not only that, the biofuel craze has "contributed significantly to rising food prices" and "hunger in poor countries."

What about the environment and national security? Doesn't the CO2 that growing crops for biofuels suck out of the air offset tailpipe emissions? Doesn't growing our fuel lead to energy independence. Not really. According to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, reported by the Times, biofuels have "a limited impact on reducing greenhouse gases and improving energy security."

Governments need to stop subsidizing the conversion of food into fuel.

If they want to invest in biofuels, try investing in technologies that
convert algae into energy (Pound360's favorite). Algae pulls C02 out of the atmosphere, it doesn't require farmland and we wouldn't otherwise feed it to hungry people. Yes, it's expensive to convert algae into fuel, but the way fuel prices have been going, that's starting to change.

More on the insanity of using palm, corn and other foods for fuel…
Rush to biofuels may cause 'environmental disaster'
Another day, another argument against biofuels
Biofuel demand sparks food riots
Palm oil: 'Worse than crude'
UK report challenges biofuel mania

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Missing link may explain how turtle got its shell

How turtles got their shells is "one of evolution's biggest mysteries." But a 210-million year old fossil uncovered in New Mexico may fill in some of the blanks, reports New Scientist.

The thin-shelled fossil resembles an armadillo, but falls in line with the turtle's lineage.

Scientists believe armor plating on the backs of early turtles "gradually fused together and to the reptile's vertebrae." Eventually, over millions of years, we end up with the wonderful creatures we have today.

According to the New Scientist column, the turtle's "body plan" hasn't changed much over 200 million years, making it on of the longest-running creatures on earth.

'Deadly Dozen' set to proliferate as globe warms

The Wildlife Conservation Society warns climate change is supercharging the spread of a "deadly dozen" diseases, reports Reuters. The deadly dozen include ebola, bird flu and everybody's favorite, the plague.

As you can see, climate change has more of an impact than melting glaciers and receding shore lines.

This is why climate change sucks, people. Wouldn't you rather hear about the spread of really cool things like elephants, rain forests, giraffes, gorillas and waterfalls instead of ebola and Black Death?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Elections cursed by spike in traffic deaths

A Canadian study finds 24 more people die, and 800 more people suffer disabling injuries "during voting hours on presidential election days," reports CNN.

People are in a hurry, they drive unfamiliar routes and they're probably thinking about the vote they're about to cast, explained the researchers. Those things probably wouldn't pull down the number of fatalities.

During a typical day, 134 people die in traffic accidents. On Election Day, that number pushes up to 158. Last year, 41,000 people died in traffic accidents.

Should you use this as another excuse not to vote? Go ahead. But if you want to be more practical about it, the Canadian team suggests you where you're seat belt, drive the speed limit and don't drink.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Is the sun sick? 205 days without a sunspot this year.

So far this year, the sun has had 205 days without a sunspot, reports the NY Times. This is the first time since 1954 the number has reached that level. In August there was just one sunspot (a tiny speck, which Pound360 isn't sure was officially counted).

Solar wind activity is also sagging. According to the Times report, solar wind activity is at a 50 year low. And it appears to be in "long-term decline" since "the current minimum is about a quarter weaker than during the last solar minimum."

Could the sun's inactivity have an affect on Earth's climate? Yes. In the past, periods of solar sluggishness have led to cooling on earth, including the "Little Ice Age" of the late 1600s.

(Image of a sun without spots from July courtesy NASA)

Friday, October 03, 2008

Snow swirls in Mars atmosphere

The first astronauts to visit Mars may pass through snow flurries as they descend on the Red Planet's surface. According to a report at New Scientist, NASA's Phoenix Lander detected snow 2.5 miles above the Marian surface using its lidar detector. Lidar? Yeah. It's like radar, but it uses laser light instead of radio waves to detect things.

Don't plan on astronauts building martian snowmen. Reason one, the snow vaporizes before it can make it to the ground. Reason two, Republicans in congress would use an episode like that to show how wasteful the space program is. It could be the last time America sends a man or woman into space.

(Artist concept of Phoenix Lander courtesy NASA)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

After slowing for years, rainforest destruction surges

For three years, destruction of the Amazon's precious rainforest has been in decline, but satellite imagery shows a three-fold spike in deforestation during the month of August, reports CNN. Why? Politics. It's an election year and "mayors in the Amazon region are turning a blind eye to illegal logging in hoes of gaining votes."

(Photo by
Cesar Paes Barreto)

‘Cosmic bubble’ theory could explain away dark energy

There’s broad consensus in the scientific community that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, and that a mysterious force (called dark energy) is powering this expansion. But what if the universe isn’t really expanding? What if our observations are distorted by a unique position in the universe?

According to
an article at LiveScience, some researchers believe we may be in a region of the universe that is unusually low on matter. If we esixted in such an “unusually sparse area of the universe,” things millions of light years away would seem further away than they actually are. And ultimately, “there would be no need to rely on dark energy as an explanation for certain astronomical observations.”

The reason this theory hasn’t gained much traction is because it relies on something scientists since Copernicus (who, 450 years ago, showed us that the Earth revolved around the sun) have frowned upon: the notion that our place in the universe is special.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

New evidence supports fascinating dinosaur evolution twist

Last year, Pound360 wrote about a theory (by University of Washington paleontologist Peter Ward) explaining how rising/falling oxygen levels have been quietly guiding the evolution of life on earth. When it came to dinosaurs, a respiratory innovation 150 million years ago allowed them to improve breathing efficiency 30 percent at a time when other species were being wiped out by plummeting oxygen levels.

That innovation: air sacks attached to conventional lungs. By the way, modern birds (not lizards) happen to have air sacks, too.

This week, paleontologists have unearthed the remains of a 33-foot-long predator showing strong evidence that it had air sacks,
reports Reuters. The creature likely was feathered (not scaled, like a lizard).

Conventional wisdom suggests birds evolved from scrappy little dinosaurs, but the size of the recently discovered monster (named Aerosteon riocoloradensis, or "air bones from the Rio Colorado," where it was discovered) suggests birds are linked to more than the little guys.

In the Reuters piece, experts suggests the air sacks developed to help cool dinosaurs, which many suspect now were warm blooded (unlike lizards) and had feathers. Warm blood and feathers means they would have warmed up pretty quick during summer months and needed a way to cool off.

So, let's take stock here. Dinosaurs seem to have had feathers, air sacks and warm blood. Pound360 has
said it before, dinosaurs seem to be getting less like lizards every year.

Space Freighter 'Jules Verne' crashes to earth in a ball of fire

Giant space tug boat "Jules Verne" was used by the European Space Agency to deliver supplies (like oxygen and water) to the International Space Station (ISS), but it descended back to Earth and disintegrated into a fireball at the close of its very successful mission, reports the BBC.

(Image courtesy ESA)

Among other notable accomplishments, the Jules Verne was the first robot ship to rendezvous and dock with the ISS on its own. According to the BBC report, at 13.5 tons, the ship was "the largest and most powerful space tug" to service the ISS.

The Jules Verne mission was so successful the ESA is considering using similar freighters to take astronauts to the station. Also, such a spacecraft will be used to push the ISS out of orbit for it's final descent, probably in ten years.
The Jules Verne in better times…

(Image courtesy ESA)

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.