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."

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.