Friday, February 27, 2009

Darwin's surprising dinner-plate discovery

On his famed trip to the Galapagos islands, on a stop over in Argentina, Darwin discovered a bird his party was feasting on was actually a new species. (NPR)

(Do check out that NPR link. It takes you to a very entertaining report by the legendary Robert Krulwich.)

When Darwin realized dinner was a new discovery, a bird called the "lesser rhea," he scrambled to collect the remains (mostly bones) and ship them back to Europe.

Pretty amazing.

For some context, this discovery came at a time when scientists were racing to discover new species in the New World. Researchers were sending thousands of specimens back for study. Imagine that. People back then must have felt so lucky living at a time of such discovery.

Oh wait. We do live in a time of such discovery. We're
discovering hundreds of planets outside our solar system right now (over 300 so far). Shoot, we're even getting snapshots of 'em. But is anyone really excited about that? Anyone feel lucky to live in such amazing times? No one seems to care. How can Pound360 tell? Well, you have to wonder how much people care about the technological advances and scientific discoveries we're making these days when a media company like CNN disbands its entire science and technology team.

(Image John Gould via Wikimedia commons)

Closest dwarf planet is a lot closer than you think

Think Pluto is the closest dwarf planet to Earth? Pound360 did. We were wrong. It's a planetoid called Ceres, and its part of the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Remember that name. "Ceres."

The fact that there's a dwarf planet on the outer rim of the inner Solar System is one of a half-dozen-or-so fascinating things pointed out by the always-spectacular astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson (pictured upper right) when
he visited NPR's Science Friday recently. Also…
  • If Pluto were orbiting closer to the sun, say around Earth's orbit, it would have a tail... just like a comet.
  • 2012 apocalypse anxieties? Worried about the fact that the Earth, the Sun and the center of the galaxy will be lined up on December 21st, 2012? Terrified that this alignment may disrupt our planet's rotation? Don’t. This alignment actually happens every year. On December 21st. And it hasn't wiped us out yet.
  • On space exploration: Nothing can inspire us to "dream about tomorrow" like sending men and women deep into space. We learned that in the 1960s. "And I want to live in a country where tomorrow is just as much on the plate as today," said Tyson.
Also, regarding Pluto's demotion from planet to dwarf plant (which Tyson played a central role in), the astronomer swears the one-time Ninth Planet has nothing to worry about.

Tyson explained in the early 1800s, when asteroids were first discovered, they were classified as planets. Quickly, the number of planets spiraled "into the teens" until "clearer heads prevailed." The same thing happened with dwarf planets in the late nineties. So Pluto should find some comfort in the fact that it's "the first object of a new swath of real estate that exists in the outer Solar System."

Hmm. If Pound360 were Pluto, we'd still be pretty bummed out. Who remembers what the first asteroid was called?
Well, after reading this post, you should know. It's the closest dwarf planet to Earth, Ceres;
discovered on Jauary 1st, 1801 by Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi. Here's an artists' conception of the (never-made-it-off-the-drawing-board) "Pluto Express" flying past the planetoid and its moon, Charon…


Oh, in case you're worried about whether or not we'll ever explore Pluto, Express was replaced by the New Horizons mission, launched in 2006, which is scheduled for a flyby on July 14, 2015. Let's hope we're still here to see that. Pound360 personally can't wait to see high-res images of Pluto.

Also, based on the comment below, Pound360 recommends you check out Laurel's Pluto blog... clearly the debate over Pluto's status rages on... and rightfully so... more in the comment string...

(image by
NASA)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

New model predicts 100 bil. 'Earths' in Milky Way

A new model, accounting for knowledge gained from recent exoplenet discoveries (we've found more than 300 so far), predicts there's an Earth-like planet for every sun-type star in the galaxy. (CNN) That means there could by 100 billion options for us if we burn out the Earth.

Kidding. Please, don't get your hopes up.

We don't have any way of getting to any of the Earth-like planets that (may) exist. Using the fastest spacecraft we have now, it would take 100,000 years to reach the nearest star to our own Sun.

Is there life on these planets? Almost certainly. But don't expect, you know, little green men. It's
more likely we'd find a planet teaming with bacteria, or some other simple form of life.

(Artist concept of rocky exoplanet OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb by the ESO.

New player emerges in race to beam power from space

A private company (Space Energy Inc) is at work on "a rock-solid commercial platform" (one that makes money) for beaming solar energy from space to the Earth's surface. (Universe Today) As Pound360 blogged last year, India and Japan are exploring this, but the US government already gave up (lame).

Who cares? There's a log of potential up there. Every second, the sun sheds 200 million gigawatts of solar energy, "more energy than our civilization has used since the dawn of the electrical age." As one
expert told CNN last year, "the country that takes the lead on space solar power will be the energy-exporting country for the entire planet for the next few hundred years."

According to Space Energy's plan, they have a safe way of converting solar energy into low-intensity microwaves that can be collected on Earth via "rectenna" and channeled into the electric grid.

(Image
SpaceEnergy.com)

Scientists find 'Achilles heal' of flu virus

Earlier this year, mapping of the cold virus' genome was hailed as a "step toward cure." Now, scientists are one step closer to a super vaccine for the flu, reports the NBC Nightly News.

One expert explained, "We have identified a new area on the influenza virus that acts as an Achilles heal, the virus does not have the ability to evade the immune system when the immune system is directed towards this area..."



Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Early whales may have given birth on land

A fossil find in Pakistan suggests early whales gave birth on land 47.5 million years ago. (Science Friday) The find shows a pregnant proto-whale (Maiacetus inuus), the fetus situated head-out. Modern whales give birth tail-first. The evidence, to Pound360, is a little shaky. First, this is the only find of its kind. Is this an exception to the rule? Second, researchers had suspected early whales gave birth on land, so we wonder if the evidence here isn't being amplified to fit expectations. Pound360 supposes we'll have to wait for the next fossil find.

Scientists believe ancient whales moved from the land into the ocean as competition for food on land heated up. (
Wired)

Best we can tell, in the Maiacetus inuus fossil below, the blue chunk towards the far left is the unborn fetus' skull...

Media may be too fair and balanced on climate change

When struggling to show balance on climate change issues (something journalists are trained to do), they must sometimes tap "a specialist often bankrolled by big oil or big business." (NPR's On the Media) In some cases, global warming opponents use economic models "they feed extremely negative economic assumptions," (for example, that we'll never build another wind turbine in this country… ever) and these are used to balance a report showing the consensus of an entire scientific community. Something ain't adding up there. Hear more from On the Media…




(image by
brentdanley via flickr)

Obama stokes America's dwindling flame of innovation

President Obama's vision for science and technology innovation couldn't come at a better time. A recent report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation ranks the US sixth (out of 40 countries) on innovation and competitiveness. (NY Times)

Who cares? What does that have to do with the bottom line? Come on. Producing higher quality goods faster and cheaper (improving productivity and profits) isn't going to happen with tax cuts, but science and technology breakthroughs. And how are you going to inspire the next generation of innovators? Not with slam dunk contests and American Idol, but by landing a man on Mars.

Thank the stars Obama gets it. He made some comments
during the inauguration last month ("We will restore science to its rightful place… We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories "), and he continued pounding the drum in his address to Congress this evening
  • "A twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world today. And in each case, government didn't supplant private enterprise, it catalyzed private enterprise."
  • "I do not accept a future where the jobs of industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders, and I know that you don't either. It is time for America to lead again."
  • Regarding the recent stimulus package: "We've made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history, an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, and science, and technology."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

87 million stricken with food poisoning in US each year

This is not okay. Our food needs to be safer. Food poisoning shouldn't be making headlines in this day-and-age. Food poisoning shouldn't be killing 5,700 people each year. (AP)

Back in 2006, after a string of fast food-related poisonings and people dying from tainted spinach, Pound360 wondered if food poisoning wasn't the "
story of the year." That was three years ago. Last year, we had the tomatoes tainted with salmonella that sickened 1,400. Following that incident, CNN's Lou Dobbs famously called for the impeachment of George Bush.

If you missed it, he said, “for [the Bush Administration] to leave the FDA in this state, its leadership in this sorry condition and to have no capacity apparently or will to protect the American consumer – that is alone to me sufficient reason to impeach a president.”

After that, there was the recent peanut butter madness, which hit at least 640 people and killed nine.

Ridiculous.

Is Pound360 the only one that thinks, every year, we live in a progressively more third-world country?

Well, according to the facts, we're doing okay. According to the World Health Organization, just 30 percent people in industrialized nations come down with food poisoning each year (compared to 25 percent in the States). "The U.S. food supply is still considered one of the safest in the world," notes the AP.

But it could be safer. So we're still mad.

Visiting NPR's Science Friday,
a former FDA associate commissioner explained, "we have taken apart the FDA… to the point that it can not protect us."

In the 1970's, we had 70,000 food processors, and an FDA staff capable of 35,000 inspections. Now, there are 150,000 food processors, but just enough staff to do 7,000 inspections per year.

Ridiculous.

(image by
B Tal via Flickr)

Ancient tropical rain forests absorbing a mysterious amount of CO2

Why are rain forests from Africa to South America soaking up so much carbon? These old, mature forests "should be caron-neutral in theory, releasing as much as they absorb." (New Scientist) But they're not. African tropical forests alone are soaking up 340 million tons of carbon per year. One possibility, the forests are still re-growing after ancient civilizations (pre-Columbian Amazonians and iron-making African societies) wore them down. Then again, rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere may be causing the growth spurt.

(Image by
wildimagephoto via flickr)

Monday, February 23, 2009

'Lagrangian points' may solve 'most perplexing' moon mystery

Why does the Earth have such a large moon? It's one of "the most perplexing mysteries of the solar system," says New Scientist. In fact, the size of the Moon says Earth should have been destroyed billions of years ago.

Huh? Well, astronomers believe our moon is actually the leftovers of a cataclysmic collision between the earth and a Mars-sized planetoid. But the force of such a collision should have completely destroyed both objects. That is, unless the Mars-sized object developed right next to Earth (our evil little brother), before Venus (the evil older brother) quietly nudged it into us.

Such a massive object could have formed in one of Earth's five "Lagrangian points." There are points around massive objects in space where gravity is canceled out. Jupiter has one where hundreds of asteroids are stuck. And recently, we detected asteroids in Neptune's Lagrangian points, too. Now, a pair of satellites (NASA's STEREO twin-probes) are headed toward's a couple of Earth's biggest Lagrangians to see what's there. They may discover evidence that puts the mystery of our moon's size to rest.

ESA's 'Skylon' looks cooler than anything NASA's got

Pound360 will say it. As American's we're pretty embarrassed by the fact that this is our next-gen space vehicle…

[Image: NASA]

Yawn. (The Orion is supposedly taking us
back to the Moon and on to Mars.)

Pound360 didn't like the Space Shuttle, either. But the Orion is clearly a step back. We merely tolerated the shuttle as a step towards this…

[Image: Paramount]

But now that we've gone backwards, again, we're pretty embarrassed.

Across the Atlantic, the European Space Agency just approved one million euors for development of "the Skylon spaceplane" (
BBC)…

[Image: Reaction Engines]


Now that's cool. That's something you can inspire kids to study math and science with.

According to the BBC, the Skylon will launch/land on a conventional runway and carry up to 12 tons of cargo. Where are the giant, awkward fuel tanks? No need. The Skylon's "Sabre propulsion system", which burns hydrogen and oxygen, can pull oxygen out of the air. It's "part jet engine, part rocket engine." The Skylon may take flight in as little as 10 years if things go smooth.

DNA may be used to draw a killer's face

Police have been using DNA evidence to connect suspects to crimes for years, but a new technique called "forensic molecular photo fitting" may give cops the ability to draw a suspect's face using a tiny DNA sample. (ABC News)

The process of facial imaging with DNA is a few years off, but experts can use DNA to determine a criminal suspect's hair color, eye color, race, body size, and even whether or not the person has a mole.

(image by
US Dept of Energy via Wikipedia commons)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

'Green plastic'? We're already there. But cost is an issue.

Sure, we can make plastic from plant starch and soy protein. Been doing it for years. So why don't we see green shopping bags, disposable razors and soda bottles? Probably 'cause it's too expensive compared to making those products out of petrol-based plastic. But recently, scientists are improving the technique to "actually grow plastics." (ScienceDaily).

Researchers can grow plants by tampering with their molecular chemistry. The latest breakthrough (by a company called Metabolix) managed to grow plastic via switchgrass plants. But the yield was too low. Too expensive.

Eventually, when costs come down, we'll be a little less dependent on foreign oil (the US needs 430 million gallons of oil to make the number of plastic bags we rifle through each year… but don't get too excited,
we go through double that every day) and we'll lighten the load in our landfills (according to Science Daily, these plant plastics "naturally degraded into water and carbon dioxide by bacteria in the soil").

(image by Material Boy via
Flickr)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Poisonous backward green comet the size of Jupiter approaches Earth

A comet with a halo the size of Jupiter, and glowing green as it puffs a tail of poisonous cyanogen and diatomic carbon is racing past earth. (NASA) And due to an optical illusion, it appears as though its tail is pushing out in front of it. (Newsvine, AP)

The comet, named Lulin, was discovered by a Chinese teenager a couple years ago. And what's particularly interesting is that this comet has never approached the sun before, so it has many of its original gases.

If you have a chance to catch Lulin, you'll be among the last to see it. "Lulin will gain enough speed to escape the solar system," a NASA astronomer told the AP. Farewell you lovely freak.

(Image courtesy NASA)

'Largest known cache of fossils from the last ice age' found in LA

No, we're not referring to a museum collection. The "largest known cache of fossils from the last ice age" was discovered by construction workers excavating an underground garage in the middle of Los Angeles (near the La Brea tar pits to be more specific). (LA Times)

It's too soon to tell how old the fossils are. But other area finds range from 10,000 to 40,000-years old. The latest find includes saber-tooth tigers, dire wolves, turtles, snails, clams, millipedes, fish… the works. They even found an nearly in-tact mammoth (most mammoth fossils from the area are barely complete). They even pulled ancient trees out of the ground.

Since some developer has a deadline to hit, the scientists are in a hurry to clear out the area. Instead of slowly picking fossils from the pit, they're extracting massive chunks of earth (one is 60 tons) they can pick through later.

(image by
rama via Wikipedia commons)

Guess how many genes are exclusive to humans?

Zero. None. We humans don't have any genes unique to our species. How could that be? Two words: "genetic switches."

According to a recent issue of National Geographic ("What Darwin Didn't Know"), "the notion of genetic switches explains the humiliating surprise that human beings appear to have no special human genes."

Check out this example: "A giraffe doesn't have special genes for a long neck. Its neck-growing genes are the same as a mouse's; they may just be switched on for a longer time, so the giraffe ends up with a longer neck.

(By the way,
here's a link to that article. But don't look for the first quote from above. For some reason, the paragraph Pound360 pulled that from in the magazine was deleted from the digital version.)

(Image by
Arno & Louise via Flickr)

More space junk will make our spaceships stronger

A recent NY Times editorial complains the recent collision of two near-earth satellites does not "bode well for the long-term safety of space operations." Pound360 disagrees. We say bring on the space junk. Tons of thousands of it. The more there is, the stronger the armor we'll have to build on our ships; and the more powerful the shields we'll need. This is good. The more powerfully equipped our space fleet's armor and shields, the better our chances of taking on Klingon War Birds, Tie Fighters and Cylon Raiders and other adversaries waiting for us beyond the moons of Jupiter.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

'Red rain cells' may be from outer space

This is crazy. But follow us here. At Newsvine, Pound360 stumbled across a story, "Scientists Say Red "Rain" Cells May Be Extraterrestrial Life Forms." (Originally published at paranormal news site Earthfiles.com)

We check it out. It's the story of a mysterious event in India, back in 2001, when raindrops stained people's clothes with pinkish-red splatters in the province of Kerala. Blood? Not exactly. But the rain droplets were full of red cells, seemingly of organic nature.

In the lab, a doctor Godfrey Louis (then a Professor of Pure and Applied Physics at Mahatma Ghandi Universiy) tested the red rain cells and found they could survive, even thrive under temperatures up to 572 degrees Fahrenheit and pressure up to 300 pouds-per-square-centimeter.

And here's where it gets really, really bizarre. Godfrey actually observed the cells "reproducing" by producing smaller cells internally; as many as fifteen daughter cells in a single parent. The catch? There's no evidence the cells have any DNA. That ain't right.

This is usually the point where Pound360 rolls the eyes and moves on. But we decided to dig a little. And it turns out that,
according to a CNN report in 2006, Dr. Louis published a paper in the "prestigious peer-reviewed" journal Astrophysics and Space Science on the red rain cells. In the paper, Louis suggests the microbes came from outer space.

From the CNN Report: "Dozens of [Louis'] experiments suggest that the particles may lack DNA yet still reproduce plentifully, even in water superheated to nearly 600 degrees Fahrenheit."

As far as we know, life can't survive in water more than 250 degrees.

Could the red particles have hitched a ride to Earth on a comet that broke up in the skies over India and mixed with rain clouds? If so, "the cells would be the first confirmed evidence of alien life and, as such, could yield tantalizing new clues to the origins of life on Earth."

According to a Wikipedia entry on the "red rain in Kerala," colored rain has been falling in the region since 1896. And the government has studied it. Their conclusion, "the rains had been colored by airborne spores from a locally prolific terrestrial alga."

(Image of "red rain" water from Kerala by
Vsasi via Wikipedia Commons)

Scientists hunt 'shadow biosphere here on Earth'

Forget scouring the cosmos for aliens, "our planet may harbor forms of 'weird life' unrelated to life as we know it," according to a recent BBC report. "This 'shadow life' may be hidden in toxic arsenic lakes or in boiling deep sea hydrothermal vents, he says."

(Actually, please don't forget scouring the cosmos for aliens. Pound360 was just kidding. Scouring the cosmos for life is one of the few things that gets us out of bed in the morning. Yes, we know that is sad.)

Speaking at an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago, Arizona State University professor Paul Davies is calling for a "mission to Earth" that may expand the tree of life, and possibly connect it to the cosmos. Davies asks, if we discover something new, "how do we know we are dealing with separate Earth genesis and not a Mars genesis?"

(Image courtesy NOAA)

China hopes to cut water consumption 60 percent

Under pressure from the worst drought in half a century, China is talking tough on water conservation. How desperate is China when it comes to water? They fire rockets with "cloud-seeding chemicals" into the sky. What next rain dances? Water witches?

Well, instead of such supply-side solutions, China's talking smart. They want to cut demand. The goal, according to water resources minister is to "cut the amount of water needed to produce each dollar of GDP by 60% by 2020." (
New Scientist)

Again, smart talk. But what are they actually going to do about it? And are they willing to stall growth to make it happen?

Prime factors in China's water crunch are inefficient irrigation systems, growing demand for meat (
which takes a lot of water to produce) and water pollution (some water is so polluted, conventional treatment can't purify it enough for consumption).

Oh, then there's the drought, which is
probably linked to global warming. And oh, China is responsible for more CO2 emissions (everyone's favorite greenhouse gas) than any other country.

(Image of "farming terraces on the road between Jinhong and Kunming in Yunnan, China by
vitafluida via Flickr)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More bad news for vitamin supplements

Vitamin supplements seem like a good idea on paper, but there's (still) not much science linking them to health benefits. According to a recent report at the NY Times, "in the past few years, several high-quality studies have failed to show that extra vitamins, at least in pill form, help prevent chronic disease or prolong life."

Last year, studies found vitamins E and C couldn't lower rates of heart disease. Another study found vitamin E and selenium were useless against prostate cancer. Most recently, an exhaustive study of multivitamin use among 161,000 women found the supplements didn't lower heart disease or cancer risk.

But Americans keep shelling out billions every year for dietary supplements. Twenty-three billion dollars, to be exact, reports the Times. Said one doctor, "I'm puzzled why the public in general ignores the results of well-done trials."

How about this: who doesn't want to believe we can live longer, healthier lives by merely taking a couple pills each day? It sure beats dragging yourself out of bed at 4AM to jog every day or saying no to doughnuts, ice cream and nacho cheese.

How about this: it's better to be safe than sorry, right?

Not so fast. Some tests show beta carotene supplements can increase lung cancer rates and folic acid can boost your risk of precancerous polyps.

For what it's worth, in test tubes, "cancer cells gobble up vitamin C."

What's the answer? The same thing
Pound360 has been babbling about for years, a healthy diet and exercise. According to the Times write up, "scientists suspect that the benefits of a healthful diet come from eating the whole fruit or vegetable, not just the individual vitamins found in it."

Now, before you toss out all your supplements, one expert noted, "vitamin D looks really promising." Speaking of vitamin D…
check out Pound360's indispensible collection of vitamin D posts.

(image by
erix! via Flickr)

UFO slams into wind turbine

Something slammed into a 200-ft wind turbine along the coast of England last month mangling its 60-ft propellers. (Daily Mail) Witnesses report seeing "orangeyyellow spheres," a hovering "round object with a slight red trim," and a "massive ball of light" with "tentacles." Around 4AM, there was an "earsplitting bang." And in the morning, there was the smashed turbine.
What happened?

Ministry of Defense "insiders" speculate the culprit was an unmanned stealth bomber that trains near the wind farm where the mysterious collision occurred. An insurance company exec, quoted by the Telegraph speculates "water could have got into hairline cracks in the blade, weakening the structure when it turned to ice." (
MSNBC) That's pretty funny.

Did this guy see
pics of the damage?

Another expert told one MSNBC sours that "ice flung off one turbine into another" could have done the damage. That's pretty funny, too.

According to a recent report, New Scientist believes "
ET wrongly accused of damaging wind turbine," since a report by the company that owns the turbine states, "bolts securing the blade to the hub of the turbine failed."

How does that explain the glowing spheres, hovering round objects and that massive ball of light with tentacles? Swamp gas? Light from the planet Venus reflecting off a weather balloon? Maybe the witnesses were all drunk.

(Image of Taranis unmanned stealth bomber by
Mike Young)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Got a cold? Careful about blowing your nose.

When you're sick, and your sinuses are stuffed up, you should use caution before blowing them open, according to a NY Times myth-busting column. The risks are two-fold. On the one hand, it generates a lot of pressure, "equivalent to a person's diastolic blood pressure," said one expert. Second, you could push viruses or bacteria deeper into your sinuses and cause more problems. "The proper method is to blow one nostril at a time and to take decongestants," according to another expert.

(image by
wiccked via flickr)

Eating fish ain't so good for the environment

Whether you're eating fish caught in the open ocean, or farm-raised, it still takes a heavy toll on the environment (New Scientist). Here's the problem. If you're eating wild fish, a boat had to chug out and catch it. Global fishing fleets are responsible for as much fuel consumption as the Netherlands, and 130 million tons of CO2.

If you eat fish off a fish farm, they were probably fed fishmeal, which "actually has a much greater carbon trail." Consider the processing, transportation and everything it takes to create fishmeal.

What about shrimp? First of all, it takes two pounds of fish or squid meal to make one pound of farmed shrimp. And shrimp farms are wiping out coastal mangroves around the globe (so far, they've destroyed 30 percent of them). This is bad. Not only are the mangroves carbon sinks (like any vegetation), but CO2 and methane is released when they're cleared.

(image of fish farm by
voux via flickr)

Monday, February 16, 2009

'Eerie' Fireball over Texas wasn't debris from satellite crash

This weekend, a fireball tore across the sky in Texas. At first, some speculated it may have been debris from last week's first-ever satellite collision, but astronomers believe it was a meteor "the size of a pickup truck"…


Scientists one step closer to deleting bad memories

Late last year, scientist were able to "delete" bad memories from the minds of mice (the memories weren't actually deleted, the mice's brain chemistry was altered at the time of trauma so the bad memory never formed). Now, a group of Dutch scientists have brought modern science one step closer to erasing bad memories from the minds of humans.

According to
an NPR report, when the Dutch team gave test subjects a common blood pressure drug (propranolol) when bad memories were recalled, the anxieties associated with the memory seemed to have disappeared. So, again, the bad memory isn't deleted. But the anxiety associated with it is. Still, this is a pretty extraordinary development.

Friday, February 13, 2009

NY Times: 'Darwin Must Die'

In an essay for the NY Times, author Carl Safina argues that, attaching such a wonderful, elegant and awesome idea like evolution to a single man, Charles Darwin, leaves the theory on shaky ground.

"We don’t call astronomy Copernicism, nor gravity Newtonism," said Savina. "'Darwinism' implies an ideology adhering to one man’s dictates, like Marxism. And “isms” (capitalism, Catholicism, racism) are not science."

Safina also points out that Darwin's idea would have been forgotten if not for a century-and-a-half of supporting science. "Equating evolution with Charles Darwin ignores 150 years of, including most of what scientists understand about evolution," wrote Safina.

(photo via
Wikipedia)

More reasons a vegetarian diet is easier on the planet

Pop quiz. What's worse for the environment? Your diet or your driving? According to a New Scientist report, "our diets account for up to twice as many greenhouse emissions (8.1 tons) as driving (4.4 tons).

One way to green your diet is to, um, eat more greens.

Vegetarian vs. the Typical American Diet: A vegetarian diet saves 1.5 tons of CO2.

Farms are bad for the environment too, right? Yes. Pound360 (we're reluctant vegetarians) has heard this from friends before. "You think you're so smart, well, your food comes from a farm that ravages the environment, too." Yeah, but "Producing animal meat is incredibly inefficient. Only 5 to 25 per cent of the nutrients are converted into meat." Pound360 isn't sure how much of the calories from an acre of, say, broccoli, makes it to dinner plates. But we bet it's at least double what you get from animals.

Yeah, but I only eat free-range, grass-fed beef. Good for you. Good. "Grass-fed cows produce less milk and meat than their grain-fed counterparts… higher-quality feed like corn builds a more productive cow that yields more meat and milk and produces less methane."

Oh, well, I only eat organic. Great. "Organic poultry requires 10 per cent more energy than battery-farmed poultry… organically farmed salmon were responsible for up to 30 per cent more greenhouse emissions than conventionally farmed fish."

If you absolutely must eat meat, go for chicken…

Chicken vs. Pork vs. Beef: The cow loses. About a four pounds of grain are needed to make one pound of chicken. Twelve pounds of grain go into a pound of pork. And for a pound of beef you need 25 pounds of grain and 60 pounds of forage. Cows belch methane (a nasty greenhouse gas) and their manure releases nitrous oxide (another greenhouse gas).

(image by
computix via Flickr)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The problem with Darwin's theory

Biologists agree Darwin's theory of evolution explains how a species advances, but the theory does not explain how one species branches off from another (NY Times). In other words, Darwin's paradigm shifting work, "On the Origin of Species," didn't actually explain how a species originates.

The question is a fascinating one. Why does one species suddenly pull away from another? Work in genetics labs is shedding light on the issue. Geneticists are close to defining a "speciation gene." According to the NY Times, "The newly discovered genes cause reproductive isolation between two groups by causing their offspring, or hybrids, to be infertile or die."

But why would one group of organisms split off and develop these species-protecting genes? Sexual selection may be the first step. In Physalaemus petersi, a small Amazonian frog, certain females are attracted to males with one type of call (a "whine") and certain other females are attracted to males with a different call (a "whine and squawk). Continued, exclusive breeding between these exclusive groups may eventually lead to the development of speciation genes that split them apart forever.

(photo via
Wikipedia)

A first-ever space craft collision

For the first time, there was a serious collision between two satellites in orbit, about 500 miles above Siberia, reports the NY Times. The collision occurred between an Iridium communications satellite (weighing in around 1,200 pounds) and a defunct Russian satellite (about 2 tons). The Iridium satellite is out of commission now, too.

Shouldn't the Russians pay for this? Don't they feel bad? Who knows. They wouldn't return the NY Times' calls.

The collision created all kinds of debris, and poses a "small" risk to the International Space Station.

Study shows eating less meat causes a lot less pollution

Going about eating meat the way we do, industrial mega-farm style, is stupid. The UN even said meat is worse for the environment than cars. Feel guilty? Of course not. No one ever does. It's the other guy's meat consumption or tail pipe that's really the problem.

But hey, you don't have to convert into one of those
nasty, crazy hippy-vegetarians to make a difference. A new study from the Netherlands finds cutting weekly beef consumption to 2.5 ounces (about one serving) and poultry to 10 ounces could shave $20 trillion off the price tag to fight climate change (New Scientist).

What's wrong with eating meat? It takes a lot of grains and grazing land (which takes fertilizer and machinery) to make meat. To make a pound of beef, you need 8 pounds of grain and 15 pounds of forage. Livestock also create methane, a nasty greenhouse gas. Experts estimate 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock.

(image by
vistavision via flickr)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

China resorts to cloud-seeding for drought relief

China is firing rockets packed with "cloud-seeding chemicals" into the sky to fight its worst drought in half a century, reports CNN. Sounds like voodoo to Pound360. Does this really work? Isn't this just robbing Peter to pay Paul?

Pound360 did a little browsing and found cloud seeding is pretty common in the People's Republic (
Wikipedia). It's even used a bit in the United States to increase precipitation and reduce the size of hailstones.

But the practice remains controversial. It seems that seeding can alter the size and structure of clouds, but it's disputed whether or not it actually increases rainfall.

As a general rule, Pound360 doesn't like putting chemicals into the sky. We already put enough garbage up there. And if you're going to do it, you better make sure it's something you know is going to work.

(image by
barto via flickr)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Did Nazi 'Angel of Death' tamper with Brazilian town?

There's a town in Brazil, Candido Godoi, that has a very high rate of twin births. A normal population in the region has around 1.8 percent twin births. But Candido Godi has 10. Pretty crazy. (All of this according to a report at New Scientist)

What's crazier is the many of the twins have blond hair and blue eyes. Remember, we're talking the Brazillian countryside here.

Oh, Nazi mad scientist / 'Angel of Death' Joseph Mengele made regular trips to the area. Could it all be a coincidence? Probably.

First, the town was founded by German immigrants, which explains the blond hair and blue eyes. And all the twins? Inbreeding. "Genealogical analysis showed a high recurrence of multiple births within families, as well as a high level of inbreeding within the community."

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Earth's moon may be connected to emergence of life

Earth's rotation has quietly been stabilized by our enormous moon, which may have made it easier for life to emerge since potential climactic swings were kept in check (New Scientist). Pound360 wonders if the moon may have attracted and cleared out some meteors, comets or other material that would have cause trouble for life on Earth.

Who cares? This "has important consequences for the search for life on other planets." In addition to scouring the
habitable zones of stars similar to our Sun, perhaps we need to be looking for planets with relatively large moons.

By the way, the New Scientist piece referenced here is part of their special "
Unknown Solar System" report. Specifically, the section, "Why are the sun and moon the same size in the sky?" Have you ever noticed that? Pound360 admits we had not. But it makes sense. Consider a solar eclipse.

(Image by
*L*u*z*a* via Flickr)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Dumping plant waste in the ocean may slow air pollution

At first glance, this idea sounds perfectly ridiculous. Come to think of it, at second glance, it still seems pretty ridiculous. The idea (from a University of Washington team): dump crop waste in the oceans so it doesn't decay on land and increase atmospheric CO2 levels (New Scientist).

To avoid increased erosion and decreased soil fertility, the plan recommends taking just 30 percent of leaves and stalks left after harvesting. But wouldn't this increase ocean acidity levels? Yes. Eventually. If the waste is dumped into deep, oxygen-poor waters it will take "thousands of years" to decay.

This plan would cut annual CO2 buildup by 14 percent and cost $95 per ton of CO2.

Pound360 still doesn't like this idea. We file this under "buying a bigger belt to fix my weight problem" solutions.

(Photo by
matsuyuki via Flickr)

Monday, February 02, 2009

CO2 air pollution leads to dangerous acidity levels in the seas

The world's oceans do us the favor of pulling some CO2 out of the atmosphere, which keeps global warming somewhat in check (they absorb about 25 percent of emissions). But the oceans are absorbing so much CO2 these days that ocean acidity levels are reaching dangerous levels (absorbed CO2 becomes carbonic acid), and the ocean food chain is in jeopardy. This according to the recently published "Monaco Statement" by a panel of 155 scientists around the world (NY Times).

How serious is the problem? Well, let's see here. "Severe damages are imminent," said the team. And "urgent action" is advised. And in the end, "impacts on organisms appear unavoidable." In what way? "ocean acidification may render most regions chemically inhospitable to coral reefs by 2050.”

(photo by
Sam and Ian via Flickr)

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.