Sunday, December 27, 2009

Biggest landslide in “thousands of years” hits Eastern Washington

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

Sun, moon linked to earthquakes

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

Fastest train opens for service in China

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

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

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

Fog discovered on Saturn moon

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

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

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

Velociraptors likely had venomous fangs

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

60 minutes covers super-controversial dino soft-tissue discovery

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


Watch CBS News Videos Online

Sunspot warming theory "deeply flawed"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28 percent of Americans don’t believe in global warming

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

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

Exoplanet may be 'made almost entirely of liquid water'

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

'Dinosaurs never went extinct'

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

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

Pair of 'super-Earths' discovered in Virgo

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Authorities 'mystified' by recent Colorado cattle mutilations

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

Why is January colder than December?

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

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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cassini solves Cassini's mystery

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

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

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

Another report suggests mass extinction fears are exaggerated

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

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

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

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

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

Unraveling the mystery of Hawaii's creation

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

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

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

Saturday, December 12, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starvation implicated in extinction of Giant Irish deer

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

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

Ancient, lost Persian army believed found in Western Egypt

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

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

Space missions destroyed by meteor showers

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Russia’s Amur Tiger population crashing (again)

After rebounding around the turn of the century (and hailed as a “conservation success story”), the population of Amur Tigers in Russia has crashed about 41 percent over the last seven years. (NY Times) “For Russia this is particularly grievous,” said Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who considers these massive, beautiful creatures the country’s “calling card.” Amurs are the biggest tiger subspecies, growing up to 10 feet long, 650 pounds. What’s killing them off? The usual suspects. Logging, development and poachers.

It’s looking pretty grim for tigers around the world. Experts estimate there are just a few thousand left.

Possible alien food source detected on Titan

Saturn’s moon, Titan, which we already know is a wet place (it’s spotted with lakes of liquid ethane, methane), may also have an alien food source, reports New Scientist. “Organisms could eat acetylene that falls to the surface after forming in the atmosphere, combining it with hydrogen to gain energy.”

How much of this stuff is there? Alot. The most recent estimates (based on findings from
the amazing Cassini-Huygens mission to explore the Saturn system) suggest acetylene could be one percent of the matter in Titan’s lakes. The idea is “intriguing,” but the possibility of acetylene-eating organisms is “highly speculative,” said one expert.

‘The diversity of life in the deep sea is much, much greater than we've believed’

A recent study of the deep ocean, where the sun don’t shine (about three miles down), catalogued 17,650 creatures. (Reuters) Out of 650 copepod (a kind of tiny crustacean) specimens, only seven could be identified. The findings prompted one researcher to say, “The diversity of life in the deep sea is much, much greater than we've believed.”

Among the more bizarre creatures studied is a type of tube worm that feeds on oil seeping from the seafloor.

Interesting fact, light only penetrates to a depth of about 650 feet, which is about as tall as the Washington Monument is.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Essential (and quick) read: '10 weirdest physics facts'

If you haven't already read this (Pound360 has been blogging bits of this article all week), check out the Telegraphs "10 weirdest physics facts." It's awesome. From crowd pleasers like "if the sun were made of bananas, it would be just as hot" and "all the matter that makes up the human race could fit in a sugar cube" to mind benders (which they do a great job of explaining in simple terms) like "events in the future can affect what happened in the past" and "there are an infinite number of me writing this and an infinite number of you reading it," the article covers a lot of ground.

Mediterranean bluefin tuna set to collapse in two years

Regular readers of Pound360 already know this, but for those that are new, Mediterranean bluefin tuna "will be commercially extinct within two years." (New Scientist) Why? Overfishing. A group of advisors for the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) recommended that tuna fishing be suspended this year, but the advice was ignored.

Even if you don't eat tuna (Pound360 doesn't,
we're vegetarians here), you should care that these incredible creatures are going extinct. They can grow up to 1,000 pounds, swim 50 mph and dive as deep as 6,000 feet. And did you know that, if tuna stop moving they'll drown? No, not like sharks. Despite the conventional wisdom, sharks can stop moving. More interesting tuna facts here.

Reduced training time improves runner's performance

More is less when it comes to training for a race. Runners that reduced their training time 25 percent shaved one minute from their ten-kilometer times and an average 7 percent from their 30-second sprint times. (ScienceDaily)

Why? They don't say. But muscle efficiency was improved. "The amount of muscle Na+/K+ was elevated and the rate of accumulation of potassium during exercise was lowered."

Global warming, pollution drive jellyfish north, threaten fish stocks

Here's the latest unintended, surprise consequence of global warming and pollution. The range of 2,000 jellyfish species is expanding. (AP) Jellyfish like the warmer waters and they devour microscopic plankton thriving in increasingly polluted waters.

So what?

If you like eating fish, or if you're a fisherman, you should be concerned. A single jellyfish can ruin a whole day's catch by stinging fish stuck in nets, and they can wreak havoc of fisheries. In 2007, a Northern Ireland salmon farm lost 100,000 fish after an attack by the mauve stinger (which normally stays in the Mediterranean).

If you like going to the beach, you should be a little worried. Already 500,000 people are stung each year in the Chesapeake Bay alone. In the Philippines 20 to 40 people die each year from jellyfish stings. These are not creatures we want expanding their range.

If you're a fan of seaside power and desalination plants, you should be a bit annoyed. Power and desalination plants have been shut down in Japan, the Middle East and Africa after jellyfish hordes moved in.

"These increases in jellyfish should be a warning sign that our oceans are stressed and unhealthy," said University of British Columbia researcher Lucas Brotz.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why didn't Earth's oceans freeze 2.5 billion years ago?

Experts believe the sun was too faint 2.5 billion years ago to keep the Earth's oceans from freezing. But best we can tell, they didn't. Why? It remains a mystery, but NASA scientists say if there were more nitrogen in the early atmosphere than there is today, then "the [resulting] pressure rise would have led to more collisions between [greenhouse gas] molecules… causing them to absorb more infrared wavelengths." (New Scientist)

Two 'peculiar' white dwarfs may help unlock supernova formula

Does every star go nova? No. So which stars do and which don't? Depends on the mass. And a couple of "peculiar" white dwarfs, that "look very different from any white dwarfs we've ever seen before," may help us determine more precisely what mass is required for a star to go nova. (New Scientist)

The dwarfs being studied have more oxygen than carbon, which is unusual. Oxygen is tough to make. Oxygen production "requires a nuclear furnace fiercer than that needed for a carbon-rich mixture," so the stars that created these white dwarfs must have been very close to the line where dying stars either go nova, or turn into a white dwarf.

Conventional wisdom suggests stars between seven and ten-times the mass of our sun go nova. By studying these new white dwarfs, we may be able to "pin down the threshold more precisely."

When light doesn't travel at the speed of light

Did you know that, when traveling through water, light only moves at about three-quarters "the speed of light" (186,000 miles per second, in a vacuum)? (Telegraph) And when traveling through rubidium cooled nearly to absolute zero, it's moving at 38 mph, and forms "a strange state of matter called Bose-Einstein condensate"? By the way, 38 mph is the slowest we've observed light moving. (For the record, light has been "brought to a complete stop", but that's not "moving", is it?)

And get this. There are conditions where particles can travel faster than the light around it. For example, in nuclear reactors. The result is a beautiful blue glow called "Cherenkov radiation." Pound360 wonders if that explains why Dr. Manhattan is blue?

Good news: US water use down

Thanks to "more efficient irrigation systems and alternative technologies at power plants," America is using just 410 billion gallons of water per day. (ScienceDaily) Sounds like a lot, but that's less than we used in 2000. And less than we did in 1975, "despite a 30 percent population increase."

The largest uses for fresh water are irrigation and power generation. California, Texas, Idaho and Ilinois use the most.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How a bacon sandwich cures a hangover

A bacon sandwich does two things to "cure" a hangover. One, the bacon is full of amino acids, "which clear the head." And two, the bread helps crank up your metabolism which "helps you deal with the after-effects of over indulgence." (Telegraph) The latter reason is probably why eating after drinking heavily seems to ease the headache in the morning a bit.

Researchers discover how sea sponges devour so much carbon, but never grow

Sea sponges consume half their weight in "dissolved organic carbon" every day, but they never grow. (Watts up with that) Adding to the mystery, sea sponges "have one of the fastest cell division rates ever measured." So what's going on? As it turns out, the sponges simply shed newly divided, healthy cells. This provides nourishment for other creatures in the coral reefs where sea sponges thrive.

It's pretty remarkable. Sea sponges take something other creatures can't consume (dissolved organic carbon) and turn it into something they can eat. This may be one reason coral reefs somehow support "some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet" despite existing in "marine deserts."

So does this mean coral reefs act as a carbon sink? Just as forests on land? If so, that would put added value, in a warming world, on these incredible habitats that are "
on the brink of collapse."

Deforestation drives 50 pct of US warming

Think greenhouse gas is the only thing heating the planet? Think again. A study from Georgia Tech finds a shocking 50 percent of warming in the United States since 1950 is caused by deforestation and urbanization. (Watts up with that)

As we clear forests and other natural habitats to make room for more development and farm land, "most large US cities are warming at more than twice the rate of the planet as a whole." What's the answer? Plant a tree. One of the study's authors suggests planging "millions of trees in urbanized areas" and "regeneration of global forests outside of urbanized regions."

Another reason this finding is so significant, "emissions reduction programs may not sufficiently slow climate change in large cities where most people live."

The strange, inexplicable connection between particle twins

If you change the "spin" of a subatomic particle, its twin will instantly start spinning in the opposite direction, wherever it is, even if it's on the opposite side of the universe. (Telegraph)

Why? No one knows.

Check this out. This is strange. When simultaneously creating a couple of subatomic particles (like photons or quarks), they have opposite "spins." Pound360 keeps putting that in quotations because "they're not really spinning -- it’s not clear that would even mean anything at that level -- but they behave as if they do," says the Telegraph. Now here's the strange part. Until you observe one of the particles, they're both doing both: spinning anticlockwise and clockwise. Right. So when observed, they commit to one or the other.

Sounds crazy, but this same phenomena applies to light. As you've probably heard, light behaves as both a wave and a particle. Which is strange. But it's really strange when you consider that "observing it makes it one or there other."

What does that mean? Get to know "
the double slit experiment" and then read the Telegraph article.

Forget healthy eating, exercise. 'Mutant genes' key to long life

Genes. The key to long life could be that simple. It's not time to throw out your vitamins, running shoes and whole wheat pasta, though.

A study by the Albert Einstein College of medicine finds Ashkenazi Jews that live to be at least 100 have a gene mutation that creates "a hyperactive version of an enzyme that prevents cells from aging." (
BBC) The enzyme keeps telomeres in shape. What are telomeres? They're the caps at the end of DNA strands that keep them in shape. Another way to think of it, telomeres "have been compared to the plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces that prevent the laces from unraveling."

The problem is, each time a cell divides, telomeres tend to get smaller. That is, unless, you have the benefit of a mutant gene that programs your body to create an enzyme that keeps them long and healthy.

So what? If you're not lucky enough to born a mutant, what do you care? Well, "they say it may be possible to produce drugs that stimulate the enzyme."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fact: 'All the matter that makes up the human race could fit in a sugar cube'

Pound360 always thought it was, all the matter that makes up a person could fit in a sugar cube. But according to the Telegraph, all the matter in all the people on Earth could fit in a sugar cube. That's pretty crazy. How is this even possible? It has to do with how hollow your building blocks, atoms, are. They are 99.9 percent empty space. "Make a fist, and if your fist is as big as the nucleus of an atom, then the atom is as big as St Paul's."

Study: To attract men, women should bare 40 pct of skin

Hey ladies, ever wondered where that line between looking attractive and looking trashy (or maybe unapproachable) is? According to a University of Leads study, you "should bare 40 per cent of your bodies to attract men." (Telegraph)

How did they figure this out? This is strange. Researchers used "tape recorders hidden in their handbags" to observe women at a night club, accounting for how much of the body was covered (a bare arm was -10 pct, leg -15 pct and a bare torso, -50 pct).

Neanderthal extinction mystery deepens

Why did Neanderthals go extinct while us humans lived on? It's not as simple as you think. Leading theories, which you may be thinking, include these: Neanderthals weren’t as smart as humans (so they couldn't adapt to climate change, their technology was inferior, etc.), their primary food source (big mammals) died out or perhaps they interbred with humans (to the point they disappeared as an independent species).

But according to evolutionary Clive Finlayson, none of these hold up. (
New Scientist) According to Finlayson, "there is no clear indication" that humans were smarter than Neanderthals. In fact, Neanderthals "share with humans key changes in Foxp2, a gene involved in speech and language." What's more, there is no clear-cut distinction between human and Neanderthal technology, evidence suggests Neanderthals "hunted smaller game and seafood, and sequencing of the Neanderthal genome "offers no sign that they contributed to our gene pool."

Previously on Pound360: Evidence discovered that
early man ate Neanderthals. And it looks like Neanderthals ate each other, too. Cannibalism is suspected to have played a part in their demise.

'Bombshell': Nature doing a good job of absorbing atmospheric CO2

Since 1850, CO2 emissions have soared from 2 billion tons per year to 35 billion tons per year. You'd think that would increase the ratio between CO2 in the atmosphere and that which nature (oceans, forests) absorb, but it hasn’t. (Watts up with that)

Not sure that we would agree, but the blog where Pound360 found this calls the finding (by the University of Bristol) a "bombshell." The blog, "
Watts up with that," says the study shows we don't really understand the changes happening to our climate, and points out we may be making some mistakes because of that. "Here we are, on the brink of economy crippling legislation to tackle a problem we don’t fully understand."

We may not fully understand what's happening. But we do understand a lot about it. For one, while the oceans may be absorbing a lot of the extra CO2 (
which, by the way turns into carbonic acid), it's having a brutal impact on marine ecosystems. According to one study (conducted by a group of science academies from 70 nations), ocean acidity levels could cause an "underwater catastrophe" that's simply "irreversible for tens of thousands of years."

Sea turtles on verge of extinction, thank you global warming

Twenty years ago, the population of leatherback sea turtles was 90,000. Now, there are an estimated two to three thousand. (NY Times) The culprit? You, me and everyone else that contributes to global warming.

Rising sea levels have shrunk the available beach for the turtles to lay their eggs (one reason that's bad news is that it's easier for predators to find them). Rising temperatures are throwing the gender balance off, too. How? A turtles gender is determined by the temperature during egg development. At 30 degrees Celsius, you're more likely to have females. At 32 degrees, all eggs yield females. Above 34 degrees? "You get boiled eggs," said one expert.

'Very cold, dry and distant, yet real.' A collection of Mars photos.

The Boston Globe published a series of striking photos from the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera aboard the MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Oriber), which has been keeping watch over the Red Planet since 2006.

Here's a sample, "scalloped sand dunes" from the southern hemisphere, dusted with frost…

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sarah Palin counters the Catholic Church's position on evolution

In her new book, "Going Rogue," Sarah Palin takes a moment to bash the theory of evolution. She says she does not "believe in the theory that human beings -- thinking, loving beings -- originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea," nor does she accept that we could have come from “monkeys who eventually swung down from the trees.” (NY Times)

Funny, the Catholic Church does. Earlier this year, "the Vatican admitted Charles Darwin's theory of evolution should not have been dismissed and claimed it is compatible with the Christian view of Creation." (
Telegraph)

Fact: 'If the Sun were made of bananas, it would be just as hot'

Sounds ridiculous, but it's true. Consider this. "Enormous pressure leads to enormous temperature." So "it would make very little difference to the heat whether you made the sun out of hydrogen, or bananas, or patio furniture." (Telegraph) But there is this. Since the sun is made of hydrogen, we have a sustained fusion reaction that keeps it going. If we had a banana sun, it would probably cool off pretty fast.

Nerve gas used to make drinking bottles

Relax. Pound360 isn't planning on changing our behavior because of this. But we thought it was interesting. According to HuffingtonPost blogger Elizabeth Grossman, "phosgene, used as a nerve gas during World War I, has long been used to make bisphenol A, the chemical building block of polycarbonate plastics."

So what? What are polycarbonate plastics used for? That's what Pound360 wanted to know. And
according to our friend Wikipedia, polycarbonate plastics end up as "drinking bottles," "drinking glasses" and other stuff like CDs, DVDs, Apple MacBooks and ocarinas. Yeah, ocarinas, those little weird flute-things.

By the way, we've know for sometime that bisphenol A is "an endoctrine-disrupting chemical." But before you get too worried,
read more here.

Oct third coldest on record, but its been a hot decade

According to NOAA, October 2009 was the third coldest on record in the United States (average temp was 50.8F). (Watts up with that) Before you declare global warming over, or a hoax. or whatever. Consider this recent release from the National Center for Atmospheric Research. In a nutshell, "Daily record high temperatures occurred twice as often as record lows over the last decade across the continental United States." (Climate Progress)

So what? Sound normal to you? Check out the link. You'll see that we had more record highs this decade than any decade since the 50s (as far back as the chart goes). Oh, and we had fewer record lows than any other decade, too.

Vatican holds first-ever conference on alien life

The Catholic church has come a long way since executing Giordano Bruno (a monk) in 1600 for claiming the existence of other worlds. Not only is the church okay with other worlds (and the fact that the Earth is not the center of the universe, and that Darwin was right about evolution), but they're holding a conference this week on astrobiology (the study of life beyond Earth). (Telegraph)

Catholic leaders maintain the discovery of extraterrestrial life won't be a problem for their faith. "There could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God," says Vatican Observatory astronomer Father Jose Funes, "this does not conflict with our faith, because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God."

However, there could be some complications. As the Telegraph point out, "Jesus Christ's role as savior would be confused: would other worlds have their own, tentacled Christ-figures, or would Earth’s Christ be universal?"

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Earth passing through tail of comet, expect meteor shower

As our planet passes through the tail of comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, "well-placed skywatchers could see hundereds of meteors an hour on Tuesday (November 17th). (New Scientist)

Earth enters the comet debris path around 9AM and exits by 10PM.

The annual event is called the "Leonid shower" because the meteors are most heavily concentrated around the constellation Leo.

El Nino gains, US West should expect a very wet winter

"El Nino is experiencing a late-fall resurgence." (Watts up with that) Who cares? A powerful El Nino means the drought-stricken American West is likely to get "much-needed rain and an above-normal winter snowpack."

This is great news for California. But for those in the NorthWest, they're probably hoping El Nino doesn't mix with an arctic blast this winter. Pound360 doesn't think anyone's ready for a repeat of
last year's record snowfall, complete with pass closures, maddening airport delays, traffic accidents and all the other fun stuff.

'Most Japanese seem remarkably unfazed by the cosmic adventures of their new first lady'

The wife of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Miyuki, "eats the sun to gain energy," "met Tom Cruise in a past life," and "her spirit has flown by UFO to Venus," reports the NBC Nightly News…

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A comet hunter's "haunting" last look at the Earth

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta probe took this awesome parting shot (what Wired called "haunting") of the Earth on its way to intercept comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko…


Not the image of Earth your used to, is it? Rosetta's mission is pretty unusual, too. The probe will deploy a lander to explore the surface of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. If successful, it would be the first time we've landed a craft on the surface of a comet.

Rosetta circled the Earth three times to build up enough energy to punch out of the inner solar system. It should reach its target by 2014.

Swine flu on the decline in some areas

We're not out of the woods yet, but a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) finds swine flu is on the decline in parts of the south and southeast United States. (NY Times) Again, this ain't over yet. While they don't say where, "big sections of the United States" are still being hit with "widespread and intense" swine flu infections says WHO.

As of November 12, there were 22 million reported cases of swine flu (7 percent of the population), 98,000 hospitalizations and 3,900 deaths in the US. (
WSJ) Though "there's a lot of uncertainty around the figures." Since many cases don't get reported, and doctors don't always test for H1N1, the CDC estimates the actual number of cases may be as high as 34 million.

How does that compare to a normal flu season? According to the CDC, between 5 and 20 percent of the population gets the flu each year, and there are about 36,000 deaths. But before you laugh at swine fly hysteria, consider this: The numbers available so far cover the "flu's off-season." So there still may be a lot of drama to come.

NASA finds (more) water on moon, 'and we didn’t find just a little bit'

Must be a Friday. Or do people really care about this story? On Friday's edition of the NBC Nightly News they LEAD THE BROADCAST with a report on NASA discovering a lot of water on the moon (see video below).

(By the way, for the record, we've
known for a while that there are traces of water all over the moon.)

Perhaps what's exciting about this story is where it began, with the "disappointing" LCROSS mission where a NASA probe crashed parts of itself into the moon. (
Guardian) An "enormous plume" was predicted. But we hardly saw anything.

But as it turns out, while there wasn't much of a plume, NASA found evidence in the crater that led to this week's announcement. "Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn’t find just a little bit, we found a significant amount," said a NASA spokesman. (
Discover Magazine)

So what? Well, this improves prospects for colonizing the moon, since water can give us oxygen to breath and fuel for our rockets (as described in the Nightly News video below).



Friday, November 13, 2009

Are agents from the future sabotaging the LHC?

Two scientists suggest Large Hadron Collider (which some believe could spawn a black hole or other cosmic nasty that will wipe out the Earth) is being sabotaged by agents from the future. The LHC research (it's trying to detect the Higgs-Boson particle, which may explain how gravity works, by creating conditions similar to those at the Big Bang) could be "so unacceptable to the universe that they are doomed to fail… sabotage from the future", according to papers by physicists Niels Bohr (Copenhagen) and Masao Ninomiya (Japan). (Time)

Crazy? Totally. The
NY Times wrote about these "otherwise distinguished" physicists earlier.

Pound360 hates to say it,
we were pretty stoked for the LHC to go online, but the whole thing is really turning into a joke at this point. Before it was launched, LHC scientists received death threats from people terrified that the project could destroy the Earth. Two men in Hawaii sought a restraining order to stop the LHC from going online. A kid in India even committed suicide after being traumatized by LHC media reports.

Then, after all that, and less than a month after firing up, they pulled the plug on the collider after a "mechanical failure triggered a helium leak." (
CNET) Most recently, the LHC was shut down after "a bird dropped some bread on a section of outdoor machinery." (Discover Magazine)

Meet the fascinating, classification-bending 'lichen'

Pound360 is pretty sure if you went to the street and asked 10 people what a "lichen" is (pronounced lie-ken), they'd probably say it's a werewolf. That's a lycan. A lichen is a form of life that scientists have struggled to classify as either a plant or an animal. That's because it's pretty much both, rather, a "composite of mutually beneficial fungi and algae." This from an article in the Nov 2009 issue of Discover Magazine (no, Pound360 couldn’t find it at the website).

Fungi take the lead in the relationship, "harvesting" the algae. One expert described lichens as "fungi that have discovered agriculture."

Who cares? Scientists studying changes in the environment, for one. Lichens cover forests, and can be early indicators of environmental decline, or "signal an environment on the mend."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

China govt office 'sole purpose is to meddle with the weather'

China's "Beijing Weather Modification Office" has the "sole purpose" of "meddling with the weather." (Popular Science) How? Mostly by seeding clouds. And it works, "sometimes." When it does, it increases precipitation by an estimated 20 percent. But the results aren’t always positive. Occasionally, the efforts spawn snowstorms that cause traffic snarls, flight delays, cancelled classes and other headaches.

Sound crazy? "Twenty-four countries practice some kind of cloud seeding." In Moscow, the mayor has the Russian Air Force seed clouds to "make sure it never rains on his parades (literally)."

NASA discovery makes the origins of life a little less mysterious

Where did the building blocks of life come from? At least one could have been created when ice containing pyrimidine was showered with ultraviolet radiation in outer space. (Astrobiology Magazine via Slashdot) When NASA scientists zap a chunk of ice with pyrimidine in a chamber creating space-like conditions, they end up with "uracil," "a key component" in RNA, which is "central to protein synthesis" in living things.

Googling shown to 'stave off dementia and memory loss'

Love searching for stuff online? Good, you will probably live longer without dementia and memory loss. "Using search engines may help stave off dementia and memory loss, a new brain-scan study suggests." (National Geographic) Huh? How? Web searches (or seeking new information in general) increases blood flow in the brain (specifically the frontal gyri and inferior frontal gyri).

Don't believe us? Google it. It couldn't hurt.

What’s the scientific word for 'yawn'?

"Pandiculation." That's the word for "yawn," psychology professor Frans de Wall told NPR's Science Friday during a recent episode, "Seeing the Softer Side of Nature."

It's an interesting interview. de Wall argues that we've mistakenly interpreted evolution to justify greed and competition. You know, the stuff that our society (capitalism) is based on.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Early man ate Neanderthals

This is a little disturbing. According to paleontologist Fernando Ramirez Rossi, “it is clear that early humans were eating Neanderthals.” Rossi was interviewed in an article from the Nov 2009 issue of Discover Magazine (no, Pound360 couldn’t find it at the website).


Why is this disturbing? It verges on cannibalism. “If you met a Neanderthal in a crowd of people, you might think they were a little funny looking, but that’s it,” said University of Arizona archaeologist Steve Kuhn.

Humans really got into butchering Neanderthals. On one Neanderthal jawbone, researchers fond “repeated indentations in the bone where the tongues were cut out.”


So what? How significant a role did humans hunting Neanderthals play in their extinction? “It is impossible to know exactly how major a role human aggression played,” reports Discover.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Coral reef ‘on the brink of collapse,’ could cost us billions

Another report says the Earth’s coral reefs are “on the brink of collapse.” (New Scientist) This time it’s a European commission called “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.” (The National Science Foundation reported a similar conclusion previously.)

So what? You don’t scuba dive, you don’t care about coral reefs. Well, global coral reefs save us $172 billion, every year, in economic output. Every year. How? “By attracting tourists, protecting commercial fish species and protecting coasts from storm surges.” One hundred and seventy-two billion dollars. Every year.

Discovery of 32 planets announced

Astronomers working a Chilean telescope announced 32 new exoplanets (planets outside our solar system). (CNN) The telescope is outfitted with an instrument called HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher), which detects the slight “wobble” in stars that can betray the presence of an orbiting planet. How good is HARPS? It’s detected 75 of the 400 confirmed exoplanet and 24 of the 28 super-Earths (large rocky planets… most exoplanets are believed to be gas giants like Jupiter, Saturn).

Appalachians may have triggered mass extinction

Are the Appalachian mountains responsible for the second-largest mass extinction in history? That’s the case says a team of Indiana University researchers. (New Scientist) After the mountain range stopped growing, the resulting increase in weathering would have caused a plunge in atmospheric CO2, leading to a rapid cooling of the planet. “For most species the temperature change was too sudden for them to adapt.”

Mystery disease wiping out African Crocs

The crocodile population has crashed from 1,000 to 400 in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, and experts don’t know why. (Scientific American) One thing the dead crocs have in common is hardened fat deposits in their tails, lots of it, so much they’re unable to hunt. Researchers are finding similar hardening in the park’s fish, too.

Is the culprit something natural? Microorganisms (dinoflagellates or cyanobacteria) may be, for some reason, “releasing toxins similar to those that cause red tides in marine environments.”

Or is it something unnatural? Upstream from the park, there are “hundreds of coal mining operations… where crocodiles have disappeared almost completely.” There’s a dam, too, which may be slowing the flow of water in the crocs habitat enough for toxins to build up.

Jupiter moon may have ocean with enough oxygen to support life

Astronomers have suspected Europa (a moon of Jupiter) had an ocean sloshing beneath its icy surface, and early studies suggested that ocean wouldn’t have much oxygen. But a new University of Tucson study projects Europa’s oceans “about 100 times more oxygen than previous models indicated.” (Wired) So what? That’s enough oxygen to support 3 million tons of fish.

More drastic measures needed to save endangered species

Recently, we learned current CO2 targets are inadequate to save our coastlines (the way we know and love them), now it seems conservation targets are too low to save endangered species. (New Scientist) According to a University of Adelaide study, “minimum viable population size (MVP) -- where a species has a 90 per cent chance of surviving the next 100 years -- comes in at thousands rather than hundreds of individuals.”

Alien snakes threaten endangered US wildlife, people

People that lost (or let go) their exotic pet snakes (like Burmese and African pythons) have created a serious problem in Florida. The invasive, alien species (which grow up to 20 feet long and 200 pounds) have been caught devouring endangered species and people (a two-year-old kid was killed earlier this year by a python). (Wired)

There are nine species of giant, exotic snake on the loose. Five of them have been classified as a high risk to US ecosystems, according to a USGS study. Don’t care? You don’t live in Florida? Okay, well, “a few species could potentially spread throughout many of the southern states.” Still don’t care? You live in the city? Fine, well, “the hardy animals tolerate urban and suburban environments quite well.”

Monday, October 12, 2009

Asteroid with water ice on the surface may be first

Asteroids are rocks. Comets are ice cubes. Right? Maybe not entirely. “Two independent teams have found what may be the first direct evidence of water ice on the surface of an asteroid.” (New Scientist) The discovery may help explain how Earth ended up with so much water, and ultimately life. Some suggest an awesome hail of comets, billions of years ago. Others experts say geologic processes may have played a key role. Now asteroids? Pound360 is betting on a combination of all three.

Madagascar’s remarkable biodiversity threatened by gangs

On the island nation of Madagascar, 80 percent of the plants and animals can’t be found anywhere else on Earth. Remarkable. Precious. But political unrest has led to the slaughter of endangered species, the logging of rare trees by “logging gangs and bushmeat hunters… pushing some to the brink of extinction.” (New Scientist)

‘Otherwise distinguished’ physicist say Large Hadron Collider on a suicide mission

This is pretty nuts. You know the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), right? Please do. It’s a pretty big deal. Mainly the LHC is designed to detect the theorized Higgs boson particle, which among other things could explain why gravity works. But get this, “a pair of otherwise distinguished physicists” suggests the Higgs “might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.” That’s pretty nuts. Read more at the New York Times.

Asteroids discovered with comet-like tails

Scientists have detected asteroids with comet-like tails, but they can’t explain why. (New Scientist) The asteroids were too far away for spectral analysis when discovered (back in 2006), but astronomers believe what they’re seeing are water-bearing asteroids. So what? Well, there are no confirmed asteroids with water ice, so that would be a first. Pretty cool.

Recent research
supports the idea of icy asteroids.

Vegetarian spider the first of its kind

So there are 40,000 spider species known to science. A new discovery suggest one of those is a vegetarian. Kind of. Scientists observing the Bagheera kiplingi spider in southeastern Mexico and northwest Costa Rica found the creature lives primarily on the nutrient-rich buds of acacia plants, and the occasional ant larvae (so it’s not really a vegetarian). (National Geographic)

Controversial theory says third of dinosaurs never existed

A pair of scientists think we’ve over-counted the number of dinosaur species since we didn’t know enough about how they developed through life. (National Geographic) For example, scientists may have been counting infants, juveniles and adults of the same species as separate species since they seemed so different.

“Like birds and some other living animals, the juveniles went through dramatic physical changes during adulthood,” say paleontologists Mark Goodwin (University of California) and Jack Horner (Montana State University).

CO2 targets inadequate to save coastlines

Generally speaking, governments are aiming for atmospheric CO2 levels of 450ppm, but that isn't low enough to preserve the environment we know and love, according to a new, more precise study of CO2 levels over the past 20 million years. (BBC) Looking at the historical record, the last time CO2 levels lingered around 450ppm, sea levels were 80-130 feet higher and temperatures were 5-11 degrees warmer.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Here's how much carbon 'green roofs' can scrub

Not only do green roofs look cool (that's where you put grass, moss or whatever on your roof), but every square yard of green roof scrubs about half-a-pound of carbon out of the atmosphere each year. (New Scientist) Doesn't sound like much. But if the entire city of Detroit converted to green roofs, the resulting carbon offset would be equal to pulling 10,000 SUVs and trucks off the road each year.

Loss of big predators causing ‘major economic and ecological disruptions’

Oh, humans. You think you’re so brilliant, powerful when you wipe out big, nasty predators like sharks, wolves and lions. But check this out, genius. By wiping out big predators, research shows a surge in smaller “mesopredators” that are causing “major economic and ecological disruptions.” (ScienceDaily)

Like what? Killing off wolves is good for ranchers and frightened campers, but it’s really good for coyote populations, once kept in check by them big, scary wolves. Controling the coyotes has been “hugely expensive”, with a price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Bummer.

In the ocean, wiping out sharks has led to a surge in the ray population, “which in turn caused the collapse of a bay scallop fishery and both ecological and economic losses.”

Oldest hominid fossil shows link between life in trees, walking upright

Originally discovered in 1992, researchers have confirmed the fossil known as “Ardipithecus ramidus” is our oldest ancestor (compared to Australopithecus afarensis, or Lucy, which is 3.2 million years old). (NY Times) “Ardi” was actually discovered just 140 miles from where Lucy turned up.

Is Ardi the missing link between monkeys and people? No. Genetic studies suggest that creature lived six million years ago. What Ardi shows (through her pelvis, teeth, etc) is the transition of hominids from life in the trees to walking upright (Lucy is fully adapted to walking upright).

Monday, September 28, 2009

V remake scheduled to (partially?) air Nov on ABC

So they're remaking the greatest miniseries from 80s, V. Cool idea. But I have every confidence network TV in the 00s will screw this up.

When is it set to run? November, kind of. Four episodes will run, they’ll take a break, then wrap-up sometime after the Winter Olympics.
More here.

Take a break? Right. Because today’s audience attention spans are so long a forgiving. Hm. Oh, here’s the preview, which shows some good potential:


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.