Friday, January 30, 2009

Mars, Mercury may be 'byproducts' of Earth, Venus formation

A new model of the inner Solar System's early history suggests Mars and Mercury are the leftovers of a giant ring of debris that created Earth and Venus (National Geographic via Slashdot).

At the moment, conventional wisdom holds that a disc of material circling the Sun coalesced into the four inner planets. The problem with that is, each planet should be the same size and following a similar orbit. But they're not. Mercury and Mars are much smaller, and follow more elliptical orbits than Earth and Venus.

To solve this problem, University of California astronomer Brad Hansen suggests the early Solar System was composed of rings of material, not a disc. One of the largest rings eventually created Earth and Venus, which kicked out the left over matter. That matter joined up with smaller rings, the theory goes, to create Mercury and Mars.

(image courtesy

Consequences of global warming 'irreversible'?

The BBC is running a pretty depressing headline, "Global warming is 'irreversible." This according to US Department of Energy report concluding that, even if we stop polluting the atmosphere, "temperatures could remain high for 1,000 years." Of course, that's not forever. That's not "irreversible." But the point, said one researcher is, "People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide the climate would go back to normal in 100 years, 200 year - that's not true."

Who cares? For one, we'd have to get used to less rainfall in parts of the world that are already suffering from serious drought.

Still don't care? "Global warming could suffocate the sea,"
reported New Scientist recently. That's because warmer water can't hold as much oxygen. And according to computer modeling done by a University of Copenhagen team, global warming could cause oxygen levels in the world's oceans to crash 40 percent, causing a 20-fold increase in "dead zones" where fish can't survive.

The best part? This is irreversible. At least from a practical standpoint. Even after 100,000 years, oxygen levels only recover 90 percent.

(Photo by
senor codo via flickr)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What your name says about your likelihood to commit crime

What's in a name? How about your chances of being a criminal? Boys with unpopular names (like Ernest, Ivan or Kareem) are more likely to commit crimes, according to a Shippensburg University (PA) study. (LiveScience)

Sounds crazy, yes.

The study authors believe the names are "connected" to risky factors like a "disadvantaged home environment," low income neighborhoods and single-parent households. Kids with unpopular names are also "treated differently by their peers," said the researchers.

(Photo by
gloomy50 via Flickr)

New record for teleporting matter set

Science has pushed the limit for teleporting matter up to three feet (LiveScience, via FOXNews, Slashdot). In a University of Maryland experiment, researchers passed information between two atoms, about a yard apart.

We've know that atomic and subatomic particles can become "entangled," a state where "measuring either one of the objects instantly determines the characteristics of the other, no matter how far apart they are." How this works is largely a mystery, but somehow the two particles are able to "teleport" info without using a physical medium. Now scientists are starting to mimic the process.

In 2004, researchers teleported matter "
a fraction of a millimeter." By 2006, we were up to 18 inches. At this rate, we'll be beaming from an orbiter to the surface of the moon in no time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Newly discovered catfish species climbs rocks

Researchers in Venezuela stumbled upon a catfish that "decouples" its pelvis, and uses its suction mouth, to climb like an inch-worm up rocks (MSNBC). Pretty bizarre. And Pound360 is still trying to figure out why a fish would want to climb rocks. Why did this behavior evolve? It's not much, but here's the vague explanation from the MSNBC report: "Climbing could be an advantage to these fishes because of the irregular and sometimes high-flow of streams in these elevations."

97 pct of climatologists say humans at fault for global warming

A survey of 3,146 scientists returned a unanimous result: You, me and everyone you know is responsible for global warming. This according to a University of Illinois study (reported by CNN).

Ninety-seven percent of respondents agreed. Curiously, meteorologists were among "the biggest doubters." However, one of the study authors pointed out, "Most members of the public think meteorologists know climate, but most of them actually study very short-term phenomenon."

Also, for more on global warming, check out one of Pound360's reader's blog... Global Warming by I'm Hernadi-Key... a terrific collection of articles on the subject.

(Photo courtesy

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Prize awarded for 'moon brick' plan

A Virginia Tech team won an award recently from the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PICES) for their sustainable plan to build super-durable bricks out of moon dust (MSNBC). The process is pretty simple: mix moon dust with ground up aluminum (possibly from landing craft that would otherwise be junk) and charge it with electricity.

This is similar to a process used to make armor for tanks, so the resulting bricks could withstand a meteor strike.

If the bricks are shaped like an igloo's, "no nails, no cement would be necessary to hold it together… he shape of the bricks will do that."

(Image courtesy

Air pollution fight has added 5 months to US life expectancy

Just in case you'd given up fighting the green fight, there's encouraging news about the air you breathe. Public policy efforts to clean up air pollution since the seventies have added five months to US life expectancy…

Monday, January 26, 2009

UFO caught on tape at Obama Inauguration

"There was nothing in the airspace that day… choppers weren’t allowed… airspace was closed… Officials are saying it doesn't look like a bird because of its flat, cylindrical-like look…"

Mortality rate doubles in the west… among trees

Trees in the western United States are dying off at twice the rate they did thirty years ago according to a US Geological Survey study (New Scientist). No, this has nothing to do with logging. The study tracked "plots without any direct human management."

The culprit, of course, is global warming, which increases evaporation (bad for trees) and helps bad fungi and bugs thrive. One of those nasties, pine beetles,
we've been tracking here at Pound360. And they're pretty much out of control. This underscores how raising global temperatures are pretty much the easy part of global warming.

(photo by
quiet.fyre via Flickr)

Patent promises biofuel from seaweed

A group of scientists have filed for a patent on a process that converts seaweed into biofuel, reports New Scientist. This is good news since A) Pound360 is bored with fossil fuels, B) Pound360 knows fuel-from-corn (or anything else people can eat) is a dumb idea, C) we're huge fans of any fossil fuel alternative (like algae) that doesn't require using farmland to fuel cars instead of feeding hungry people (which has sparked food riots).

Among other advantages over land-based crops, seaweed grows so fast it can be harvested six times per year.

The patent was filed by a team of South Korean scientists. That's the second
surprising breakthrough from a team of South Koreans this year.

via Flickr by Xosé Castro)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

2010 Honda hybrid's cool innovations, lame look

Honda's 2010 Insight has some pretty slick innovations, but did they have to make it look so much like a Toyota Prius? Booo.

When driving the new Insight, the colors on the car's display adjust to tell you how efficiently you're driving (
MSNBC). "The greener the display, the greener the driving. Floor it, and the speedometer quickly shifts to blue." Also, the Insight's onboard computer tracks your driving details "like an obsessive baseball statistician" and scores the driver "in the form of a series of five plants."

The MSNBC piece doesn't mention MPG or sticker price. But auto blogs speculate the car will
cost $18K and earn around 40MPG (officially) but you may get up to 60.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Machine being tested that reads the human mind. No joke.

Sounds like science fiction. Sounds ridiculous. But Carnegie Melon scientists have come up with a machine that can read a person's mind. 60 minutes did a feature on the team, which paired fMRI hardware with some pretty sophisticated software. You have to see this to believe it…

Milky Way is much bigger, faster than experts thought

We used to think our galaxy, the Milky Way, was smaller than our neighbor the Andromeda galaxy, but it turns out we're about the same size, according to a BBC report.

As it turns out, the latest estimate (by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) ads 50 percent to the galaxy's mass, 15 percent to its width and has us spinning at 568,000 miles per hour (the previous estimate was 492 thousand).

What all this means is that some civilization, billions of years into the future is in for a bigger galactic firework show. At its new size and speed, Mark Reid of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told science Friday we can expect the Milky Way to collide with Andromeda sooner than expected, and more violently.

(Photo courtesy NASA... no, that's not the Milky Way… it's Andromeda)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Study suggests US Presidents age at warp speed

Pound360 noticed Obama's hair is getting a little grey around the temples last week and wondered how much his race to the White House had to do with it. As it turns out, there's evidence that public office, specifically the Presidency of the United States, reall wears people down.

In fact, a study of US Presidential medical records (going back to Teddy Roosevelt) lead one expert to remark, "Presidents age twice as fast as the rest of us…"

Satellite image of Obama inauguration crowd released

The commercial GeoEye satellite caught an awesome shot of Obama's record-breaking inauguration day crowd. Pound360 originally came across these pics at Scientific American.

Officials estimate the crowd was between 1.5 and 2 million people, breaking the record set at Lyndon Johnson's inauguration of 1.5 million in 1965. Obama's crowd smashed the crowd Bush had at his 2005 ceremony. Just 500,000 people showed up back then.

The crowd streteched back about 2 miles to the Lincoln Memorial where they watched the ceremony on jumbotrons...

(Image courtesy GeoEye)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fascinating, sad impact of hunting on wildlife evolution

Trophy hunting is forcing some species of animals to shrink and reproduce at a younger age, reports National Geographic. It makes sense, hunters take the biggest, fittest creatures, so all that are left to reproduce are smaller animals that reproduce at younger ages.

And it's happening fast. "Rates of evolution in harvested organisms occurred 300 percent faster than in natural systems." In just three decades, the body size of bighorn sheep has declined 20 percent.

So? Animals have been hunted by predators forever, right? Yes. But natural predators typically only 10 percent of, say, some fish species. But humans take 70 percent. That can't go on forever.

(Photo by
Joe Mabel)

Researchers unveil system for removing lead from blood

A team of South Korean scientists have come up with a way to remove lead from blood magnets, reports Reuters. Sounds like something out of Iron Man, yeah? Either way, it's pretty fascinating. The scientists are pretty serious about it. But Pound360 is afraid it's too impractical to do much good.

Here's how it works. The scientists devised a way to separate heavy metals (like lead) from blood with "specially designed magnetic receptors." In theory, detoxification of a living human's blood could work like hemodialysis: blood is diverted out of the body, run through the magnetic receptors, and then run back into the body.

Pound360 can see this working in extreme cases of lead poisoning. But we can't imagine this is a mass-solution for developing countries where lead exposure is a severe risk.

However, we can see this being a stepping stone for something bigger in the coming years.

(Photo courtesy Carsten Niehaus)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Shark attacks on the rise, but you have almost nothing to worry about

A recent rash of shark attacks in Australia has raised questions about beach safety for swimmers, surfers and divers. It's true that shark attacks have been on the rise, but as the global population has grown, more people have been going in the water for longer periods of time. But sharks should be the least of your worries. One expert told Reuters, "You have more chance of being killed driving to the beach."

Each year, about five people are killed in shark attacks around the world. In case you're keeping score, humans (the commercial fishing industry) kill about 100 million sharks each year (that's according to the Reuters report).

Of the
440 species of sharks we know of, just 12 are considered lethal.

(Photo by
richard ling via Flickr)

In an era of global warming, why is arctic cooling?

Short answer: it's the hole in the ozone that's causing the arctic to cool while the rest of the globe is warming, according to a report at CNN (which by the way, sadly, dismantled its internal science and technology desk last month).

The cooling, "due to circulation changes which are partly caused by ozone depletion," should be ending soon as global efforts lead to an expected recovery in ozone levels. Then what? "Antarctic warming trends will emerge more clearly," one expert told CNN.

(Photo by divedivajade via Flickr)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bush continues his last-minute attack on the environment

Determined not to leave office without wreaking as much havoc as possible on (what remains of) the United States' pristine wilderness, George Bush has launched a salvo of anti-environment legislation in his last days as President, reports National Geographic.

Victim one: Water
Bush made it easier for mines and farms to dump waste into waterways.

Victim two: Land
Bush also made it easier for industry to mine (minerals, oil and gas) from public lands, including a move to free up 2 million acres of land for oil shale development.

Victim three: Air
Bush nails the hat trick here with a maneuver that makes it easier for factories and power plants to expand their operation without asking for pollution permits.

Truly disturbing
The most insidious move by far is a sudden "reclassification" of hazardous waste as nonhazardous. Why? "The materials are supposedly recycled and should not be considered waste."

Critics described these moves as everything from "hugely environmentally destructive" to "absolutely outrageous and inexcusable."

Even more disturbing
In what critics describe as "a transparent attempt to burnish Bush's environmental legacy," the President launched the "largest marine conservation effort in history," designating three massive areas of the Pacific as marine national monuments.

That's like beating your kid until he's nearly unconscious, and then taking him out for ice cream. Could Congress please reject the marine designations, and could Obama then come in and re-submit them so somebody, anybody else gets credit here?

More on Bush's last minute insanity.

(Photo courtesy
AgĂȘncia Brasil)

2008 ranks among top-ten warmest years on record

It's cold out there now, but before you consider global warming junk science, know that 2008 tied for the eighth-warmest year on record, reports Science Daily. NOAA keeps the records. They've been tracking since 1880.

Think it's been cooling off? Well, kind of. 1997 was the
hottest year on record. So, it may seem like our hottest days are behind us. But here's the trend. Global temps have inched forward .09 degrees per decade since 1880. But that trend has accelerated three-fold to .29 degrees per decade since the 1970s.

Hard to believe when it's
colder in Alabama than Alaska right now, and the bitter cold front that's hammering the Northeast has claimed seven lives.

(Photo courtesy

Tequila production wreaks havoc on environment

If you're drinking something called "tequila," it has to be distilled from agave cacti grown in the Jalisco region of Mexico. That's because Mexico has a "geographical indication" (GI) attached to the word "tequila," which means they'll sue your pants off if you put it on anything else. Even if you grow the agave a hundred miles from Jalisco, you'll still get sued.

Sounds fair enough. But a surge in tequila demand around the world over the past 20 years has lead to surge in agave cultivation in one place, Jalisco. This has, of course, resulted in "environmental degredation,"
one researcher told New Scientist. Other regions with geographical indications -- Bordeaux, Champagne, for example -- beware. If you want to protect your cultural food and drink treasures, "sustainable production practices" need to be a part of the GI framework.

(Photo courtesy stock.xchng)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Latest evidence shows compelling case for life on Mars

Right when Pound360 was starting to lose hope (and interest) in whether or not there's life on Mars, researchers have detected methane gas on mars using earth-based telescopes. This is particularly fascinating because here on earth, 90 percent of methane is the result of biochemical activity, according to Scientific American's write-up on this story. The remainder is created by "geochemical processes." So, as Scientific American puts it, "Mars is alive! (geologically, biologically or both)."

NASA astrobiologist David McKay
told the Houston Chronicle, "I think this is extremely strong evidence for current life on Mars." Not "pretty good" or "strong" evidence, but "extremely strong."

(Photo courtesy NASA)

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Third hand smoke? A lot of hype, not many facts.

All the sudden there are dozens of articles flying around about "third hand" (cigarette) smoke. What's third hand smoke? It's the residue that settles on your hair, clothes, furniture, whatever, after smoking a cigarette (or being around cigarette smokers).

Why are we hearing about this now? Apparently, there's a new study that finds most people are unaware of the dangers of this stuff. The
New York Times, BBC, MSNBC, everyone is reporting this. But nobody is saying what the dangers are. Does third hand smoke double my risk for lung cancer? Will it lower a baby's adult IQ by 50 points? Is it connected to autism?

The closest Pound360 came to facts on third hand smoke's effects is
at Scientific American. An expert told the magazine "there is no risk-free level of tobacco exposure" since "there are 250 poisonous oxins found in cigarette smoke," including lead and cyanide.

Brown Pelicans are latest victims of mysterious disappearance

First it was backyard birds, and then it was bees and then bats. Now California's Brown Pelicans are mysteriously dying off. Is it some new pollutant in the environment? Weather related? Whatever it is, "hundreds of the already endangered pelicans have already been found dead…"

Why can't something Pound360 doesn't like, perhaps pine beetles, start mysteriously disappearing?

How pterosaurs flew still a mystery

Scientists still aren't sure how giant reptiles (known as pterosaurs) 65 million years ago managed to fly, reports MSNBC's Cosmic Log blog. First problem, they were huge. Second problem, their hind legs were too small to launch them into flight like modern birds.

Some experts suggest pterosaurs jumped off of cliffs and took flight like a hang glider. But some fossils have been found a very long ways from any cliffs or steep mountainsides.

The latest theory? Pterosaurs sprung from the ground using all four limbs, a "quadrupedal launch."

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.