Sunday, May 31, 2009

Asteroids or volcanoes: What's responsible for mass-extinctions?

Scientists believe a massive explosion (not an eruption) of a volcano in present-day China wiped out half the life on earth about 260 million years ago. (Discover) The finding is the latest in a string of evidence suggesting volcanoes, not asteroids are responsible for mass-extinctions in Earth's history.

The explosion of the China volcano would have created a "massive cloud formation… cooling the planet and producing acid rain."

Late last year, a group of scientists suggested "the Deccan Traps", an area in India that "convulsed with volcanic activity around 65 million years ago," was responsible for killing of the dinosaurs. (
Discover)

What's wrong with the asteroid-that-slammed-into-the-Yucatan theory of how the dinosaurs died? For one, the impact seems to have occurred 300,000 years before the dinosaurs started dying off. Also, "an asteroid impact wouldn’t kick up enough dust and sulfur dioxide to alter the climate around the planet."

Super-volcanoes, on the other hand, "may have spewed 10 billion to 150 billion tons of sulfur dioxide into the air with each pulse of eruptions."

Unexplained 'ice circles' appear on remote Russian lake

A couple of mysterious circles have appeared in the ice covering Russia's remarkable Lake Baikal. (Wired) Were the circles made by alien spacecraft studying the lake? Baikal would make an interesting study.

Lake Baikal is the world's largest lake by volume (it's not that big around, but it's a mile deep), holding 20 percent of the world's fresh water (more than all the Great Lakes combined). Of the 2,000 species of life in Lake Baikal, two-thirds can't be found anyplace else on Earth. (
World Wildlife Fund) And at 25 million years old, Baikal is one of the planet's oldest lakes.

According to the Wired article, the likely cause of the circles isn't extraterrestrial, but geothermal. Perhaps an "upwelling of warmer water in the lake." But what has scientists stumped is that the southern circle appears over the deepest, coldest part of the lake.

Here's a close up of one of the circles…



And a wider shot of both…

'Unprecedented' sunspot forecast predicts much stronger activity

The National Center for Atmospheric Research believes it has made a "science" of solar forecasting. (Watts Up With That) Up next? A sunspot cycle 30-50 percent more powerful than the last. Who cares? Solar activity "can slow satellite orbits, disrupt communications, and bring down power systems."

Earlier this year, physicist Michio Kaku warned that
a "tsunami of radiation" was on the way during a peak of solar activity that will be "much more serious than we previously thought" in 2012. According to Kaku, "we have to start thinking about reinforcing our satellites, building redundant systems… GPS, the power grid, weather satellites, communication satellites, satellite television, all of that could get disrupted, peaking around 2012."

Could this hype be another Y2K-style fiasco? "Let's just hope," said Kaku.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Global warming already kills 300,000 per year

The Global Humanitarian Forum reports global warming (which is supposed to be a hoax) kills about 300,000 people per year. (New Scientist)

"The majority of deaths are attributed to gradual environmental degradation such as crop failure leading to malnutrition, and water problems such as flooding and draughts."

Strap on your seat belts. The slaughter is expected to reach 500,000 per year by 2030 according to the Global Humanitarian Forum's report.

In addition to crop failure and water problems, global warming is also expanding the range of disease-carrying pests and intensifying deadly heat waves. (
Reuters)

55 whales beach themselves in South Africa

This is almost becoming routine. Another pack of whales commits mass-suicide. This time it's 55 pilot whales off the coast of South Africa. (New Scientist) Over the last year, hundreds of whales have beached themselves in Tasmania, 26 dolphins were found dead on a UK beach in 2008 and in 2007, 152 dolphins were washed up on an Iranian beach.

What's killing the whales? One British scientist
blames fishing nets for the UK whale deaths. The Iranians blame "the US military and its hi-tech hardware and spying equipment," of course.

'This sounds like something out of Star Trek, but Kaku is deadly serious'

Scientists are in search of a "unified theory" to explain how the universe works, or as Einstein said, "to read the mind of God." One controversial possibility is string theory, which suggests tha "an electron is not a dot, but a rubber band which, I vibrated enough times, can turn into every single sub-atomic particle in the universe." (Guardian)

Sounds crazy. Sounds impossible to comprehend, and string theory champion Michio Kaku has been laughed at since the seventies for supporting the idea. But not so much these days. "To theoretical physicists, [string theory] is just about the hottest topic around."

According to Kaku, string theory suggests "the universe is like a soap bubble that is expanding and dying." But it's not the only one. "Our soap bubble co-exists with other soap bubbles."

Not only that, but each universe spawns a new one every time a black hole is created. "The matter being sucked in [by a black hole] may be blown out the other side, creating a white hole in a twin universe, which will expand very rapidly, like our own Big Bang."

How can we get to another universe? "By opening a hole in space and tunneling through a wormhole," says Kaku. In fact, it's the only chance for future civilizations to survive after our universe stops expanding and dies out.

Creating a wormhole would take a lot of energy. What if all we can manage is a microscopic one? Kaku has an answer for that. "We may send a nanobot that can reproduce itself indefinitely and create cloning factories to recreate the dead civilisation through it."

"This sounds like something out of Star Trek, but Kaku is deadly serious."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Autopsies performed on all those killed in Iraq, Afghanistan

For the first time, every service member killed overseas is undergoing an autopsy, including a full CT scan. (NY Times) Thus far 3,000 corpses from the Iraq and Afghanistan battles have been studied. The result? "A minutely detailed and permanent three-dimensional record of combat injuries" yielding improvements in body shielding and medical equipment.

For example, scans showed field medical kits did not have needles, tubes long enough to relieve pressure on 50 percent of soldiers with collapsed lungs. "Soldiers are bigger and stronger now.” After the Army Surgeon General studied the results, he ordered the kits be improved with longer tubing.

Tips for reducing grilled-meat cancer risk

When you grill meat, "risky chemical reactions" create an alphabet soup of deadly carcinogens. (NY Times) Sorry. That's just the way it be. For example, fat drippings "create smoke filled with carcinogens" and the high-heat of grills cause (tumor-triggering) carcinogens to form in meat.

Aside from the obvious (don't grill meat), here are some tips for protecting yourself: Pre-cook meat in the microwave (reduces time on the grill), use marinades (to help "blunt the heat"), eat broccoli (which may neutralize grill-borne carcinogens) and, of course, avoid well-done meats.

Can't do any of that?
Try adding rosemary to your marinades.

Health experts worry as teens now average 2,272 monthly texts

American teens are sending an average 2,272 text messages per month, that's double the number a year ago. (NY Times) Health experts believe the trend is causing "anxiety, distraction in school, falling grades, repetitive stress injury and sleep deprivation."

Among other concerns, texting late at night may "cause sleep issues in an age group that’s already plagued with sleep issues." And "if something next to you is vibrating every couple of minutes," it may be tough "to find the peace and quiet to become the person you decide you want to be.”

Monday, May 25, 2009

SETI's 'best candidate yet for contact by intelligent aliens'

Puerto Rico's Arecibo radio telescope has been picking up unexplained radio signals from the same patch of space since 2003. (New Scientist) Many of the signals have disappeared, but one keeps getting stronger.

The signal, named SHGb02+14a, originates from an area (between the constellations Pisces and Aries) where there are no know stars (or planets) for at least 1000 light years. Could we be picking up the signal from another civilization's deep space probe? An ancient distress signal from an alien space ship? Possibly. But it's more likely a previously undiscovered natural phenomenon, a glitch in the telescope or somebody playing a prank.

An interesting angle here is the frequency the radio signal is transmitted at, 1420 megahertz. That's the frequency hydrogen (the most common element) absorbs and emits energy, so some astronomers argue aliens would use 1420 megahertz signals to communicate their presence to other civilizations. SETI regularly scans this part of the radio spectrum.

Suicidal plant, 14-inch insect among 2008's top-10 new species

The list of top-10 new species includes a tiny seahorse from the waters off Indonesia, a 14-inch stick-like insect (the world's longest insect, actually) from Malaysia and a plant that dies after producing a (relatively) huge flower in Madagascar. (CNN) But not all creatures were found in exotic regions. A "ghost slug", discovered in a "densely populated" region of the UK, also made the list. The world's shortest snake (about 4 inches), bacteria that lives in hair spray and a coffee plant that produces beans without caffeine were also in the top 10.

The list (put together by the Arizona State-based International Institute for Species Exploration) underscores "how incomplete our knowledge of Earth's species is."

Skinny jeans the latest fashion to mess up your body

Fashion-essential skinny jeans are responsible for the disorder "meralgia paresthetica," otherwise known as “tingling thigh syndrome.” (MSNBC) What's going on here? Super-tight jeans squeeze the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, which can lead to "a numb, tingling or burning sensation along the thigh." But they look so, so awesome. Another trend that's causing problems are flip-flops. Only the coolest people wear flip-flops to the office, the movies and everyplace else, all the time. But regular flip-flopping is causing "problems and pain from the foot up into the hips and lower back."

18,000 new species discovered in 2007

Despite the fact that we're living through a mass extinction, the "biggest mass extinction since dinosaurs," science is still finding a lot of new species. In 2007 alone, 18,000 new species (76 percent invertebrates, 11 percent plants, 7 percent vertebrates) were added to the list of 1.8 million discovered since the modern system of species classification was initiated in the 1700s. (CNN)

Expect a lot more discoveries. "A new generation of tools" will make it easier to detect the estimated 200,000 to 10 million undiscovered species on planet earth (though some estimates project there are as many as 100 million species on earth).

But we'd better hurry up. Due to "rapid environmental changes", millions of species "face an uncertain future." Who cares? For one, species wiped out before we ever discover them may hold the keys to understanding how life on earth evolved. Also, these creatures may help develop breakthrough drugs and medical treatments. Either way, we may never know, so species loss represents a dark, mysterious cost.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Still no 'definitive' explanation for 1977 'Wow signal' from space

In 1977, a radio telescope in Delaware picked up a 37-second signal (a commercial, perhaps?) from outer space. It probably wasn't a "natural source of radiation," and to this day, the scientist that originally monitored the signal is "still waiting for a definitive explanation that makes sense." Skeptics believe it's Earth-based radio interference, though no radios are allowed to transmit at the "Wow signal's" frequency by international treaty.

Could it have been a transmission from an alien civilization? If so, the chances of catching the signal again are slim. A radio telescope only covers about one-millionth of the sky at a time, and the alien transmitter probably only broadcasts to the same fraction of space.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Andes Mountains a lot older than we thought

We used to think the Andes Mountains began rising 10 million years ago, but new research suggests they started 25 million years ago. (ScienceDaily) So what? "The date that mountain building began is critical to those of us who want to understand the movement of ancient animals and plants across the landscape and to engineers looking for oil and gas," said one expert.

As long as we're on the subject, research published last year found "mountains may experience a 'growth spurt' that can double their heights in as little as two to four million years." (
ScienceDaily)

Mystery force pushing (or pulling) deep space probes

An unknown force is pushing (or pulling) on the Pioneer probes, enough to set one of them off track by 400,000 kilometers. (New Scientist) The force is weak (one ten-billionth the force of gravity on Earth), but it's "too fascinating to ignore."

Software errors, solar wind and fuel leaks have been ruled out. Some scientists suggest standard physics equations may be slightly off, others suggest dark matter is playing a role. Whatever the case, the resulting cause may be something as exciting as "new physics," or something as boring as "an unnoticed source of heat on board the craft."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lobbyist wants UFO released to fight global warming

This is pretty nuts. A new energy lobbyist wants the government to release captured spacecraft of extraterrestrial origin so we can reverse-engineer its power source. (NY Times) "It eliminates oil. It eliminates coal. If it's as good as we think it is, it transforms everything," says lobbyist Stephen Basset, who represents the Exopolitics Institute (which is "dedicated to studying the key actors, institutions and political processes associated with extraterrestrial life").

A clever new angle. But it ain't gonna' work.

"I hope he's right," said a senior Washington energy analyst, "hopefully, the magic energy machine will be coming our way shortly." Yes, hopefully.

'Oldest surface on Earth' ain't that old

The oldest surface on earth is a patch of 1.8 million-year-old natural "desert pavement" in Israel, according to a Hebrew University of Jerusalem study. (LiveScience) That's it? One-point-eight million years old? That means humanoids were already making tools when this surface was created. Right about the time the ancient desert pavement was created, homo erectus was leaving Africa. (Timeline here)

Pound360 thought parts of the Earth would be older. But we're wrong. The next-oldest patch of land, desert pavement in Nevada, is just one-fourth the age of the Israeli land.

Study shows how brain 'time-stamps' memories

Every day, the brain generates thousands of new brain cells. Newly created cells are active storing memories for a few weeks before younger ones take over. Furthermore, the mind "encodes memories that occur around the same time similarly." Through this process, "the mind knows whether a memory happened before, after or alongside something else," and thereby "time stamps" them. (CNN)

What's not clear in the CNN article is how memories are stored long term. It turns out short-term memories are stored in the hippocampus (deep inside the brain) and long-term ones are kept near the surface of the brain. Does this mean brain cells are shifted outward? Sounds pretty strange. Pound360 will research this a little more and get back to you.

Amazing 'tetraneutrons' a fluke? 'That's ridiculously improbable.'

Heard about "tetraneutrons?" They're particles comprised of four neutrons, somehow "bound together in a way that defies the laws of physics." They were detected four years ago at a French particle accelerator. But they "should not exist." (New Scientist)

If they do exist, the "strong nuclear force" (
one of the four fundamental forces) as we know it is wrong, and we shouldn’t be here. "If you tweak the laws of physics to allow four neutrons to bind together, all kinds of chaos ensues." For one, elements formed after the big bang would have gotten so huge, they would have been "far too heavy for the cosmos to cope." One expert suggests "the universe would have collapsed before it had any chance to expand."

So was the observation of tetraneutrons a fluke? Did four neutrons happen to end up in the same place at the same time by coincidence, right when the French team made their observation? "That's ridiculously improbable." Also, there may be an "as yet unexplained forces" at work here. Scientists have theorized neutron stars are home to multiple-neutron particles. Perhaps the tetraneutron detection was a preview of what we'll discover after studying neutron stars in more detail.

'Is an encounter with God merely a chemical reaction?'

NPR is exploring the science behind mystical experiences, spiritual encounters in a five-part series. The subject has traditionally been taboo, but new technologies (perhaps changing social norms) are putting "the mechanics of the spiritual mystery" under the microscope.

(Previously, Pound360 discussed
the rising field of "neurotheology")

In one study, Johns Hopkins researcher Roland Griffiths is attempting to create a "synthetic spiritual experience." When asked why he would pursue "such controversial research," Griffiths responded, "I was just curious."

According to the NPR story, "all the studies in the world" can't answer why humans (may) have been engineered for spiritual experiences. But Pound360 has explored how
evolution may play a part.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

'Kuiper cliff' may indicate Earth-sized 10th planet

There's a point where the Kuiper belt (all the icy, rocky debris beyond Pluto) suddenly comes to an end. "The density of space rocks drops off so steeply… the only answer seems to be a 10th planet… that has swept the area clean of debris." (New Scientist)

Scientist believe what's out there is more than a dwarf planet (like Pluto, Sedna or Quaoar), but "a massive object, as big as Earth or Mars."

Pound360 wonders if anyone would care. Discovering planets is such a routine thing these days. It might get a mention on the Nightly News, but if you quiz people six months later about the number of planets in the Solar System, nobody would have a clue.

Study: Religion needed non-believers to evolve

A computer simulation (called 'evogod') by James Dow of Oakland University (in Michigan) found "a system rooted in passing along false or unverifiable information" could not "survive most scenarios." But alas, religion is a big part of the modern wold. Dow theorizes, "non-believers have to help… religious people inspire trust, and so the community tends to help them."

Wipe out of Australia's forests contributes to emergency

Just 10 percent of Australia's vegetation is left since Europeans arrived in 1788. And according to a University of Queensland study, the loss of vegetation has increased annual droughts by one-to-tow weeks, the number of days without rain by 10 and the number of days with temperatures above 95 degrees from six to 18. (New Scientist)

May not seem like much. A day here, a few degrees there. But every bit counts in Australia where there in the grip of an 11-year drought.

So what? Natural vegetation, forests in particular, around the world
are under siege. Some losses we can more easily stop than others. Either way, we need to be aware of how wide-ranging the loss of natural habitat can be so we know how hard to fight to preserve them.

Here's the latest on traveling beyond light speed

Einstein's theory of relativity says it's impossible for an object to travel faster than the speed of light. But what if you could move space itself? (Discover Magazine / Space.com)

That's how the universe is expanding. Galaxies aren't just pushing away from each other through space, the space they're on is moving, too. Like crumbs on a piece of taffy that's being stretched out. So if you could harness this stretching, you could exceed the speed of light.

Before we get to the harnessing, let's quickly go over how space expands.

According to sting theory, "empty space" is full of spontaneously created and annihilated pairs of matter and anti-matter. When matter is winning, space expands. When anti-matter is winning, space contracts. (
Discover Magazine / EETimes)

This battle in empty space between matter and anti-matter is also described as "dark energy" or "the cosmological constant" (which can be positive or negative).

Now, to move the space you (or your ship) is in, you would need to adjust the cosmological constant in front of you to be negative, and that behind you to be positive. Then, you could blast through face like "surfing a wave." (
Discover Magazine / ABC News)

Here's the problem. To create this space-time wave, you would need an amount of energy "equivalent to the entire mass of Jupiter being converted into energy," and "we're still a very long ways off" from that. (
Discover Magazine / Photonics Online)

Search for dark matter: Greatest endeavor or biggest scam?

Here's the problem. When observing a galaxy spinning in space, the laws of gravity (brought to us by Sir Isaac Newton, of course) tell us they should be falling apart. There's simply not enough mass to hold them together. To compensate, some scientist suggest there's this stuff called "dark matter" that makes up for the missing mass.

To make our observations synch with the laws of gravity, it's suggested that 90 percent of the universe is made up of dark matter. Ninety percent. We don't know what makes up ninety percent of the universe.

Really? Well, if you believe that, it may be incredibly humbling now, but may be incredibly embarrassing later.

Consider
Occam's Razor. The simplest explanation is probably the right explanation. Well, what's simpler, that we don't know what makes up 90 percent of the universe (perhaps we don't have instruments sensitive enough to detect it) or that the laws of gravity are wrong?

"Maybe we can't work out what dark matter is because it doesn't actually exist," suggests New Scientist in the very interesting article, "
13 things that do not make sense." "If I could have my pick, I would like to learn that Newton's laws must be modified… that's more appealing than a universe filled with a new kind of sub-nuclear particle," one astronomer told New Scientist.

Monday, May 18, 2009

'Never again will Hubble be touched again by human hands'

Three hundred and fifty miles above the Pacific Ocean, astronauts wrapped a 5-day repair job (five space walks, 37 hours) on the Hubble telescope. (Nightly News) The operation, described as "eye surgery on something the size of a school bus", gives Hubble an additional 5-10 years of operation. Installed were new batteries, gyroscopes, a camera and a "light-splitting spectrograph." And that's it. "With the shuttle fleet retiring, never again will Hubble be touched again by human hands…"

Congress may debate tax on soft drinks

"Senate leaders are considering new federal taxes on soda and other sugary drinks to help pay for an overhaul of the nation's health-care system," reports the Wall Street Journal. Sound ridiculous? Over at LiveScience, they have a list of studies you should be aware of before getting too miffed.

Studies in 2006 and 2004 linked soda to obesity. In 2007, a study found a link between soft drinks and diabetes, another found soda intake increased risk factors for heart disease. Last year, a study found soda increased the risk of joint disease in men. For women, a study this linked soft drinks to kidney disease.

Diabetes, heart disease, obesity, kidney problems, joint problems. This stuff is expensive to treat. Why shouldn't soda drinkers (and soft drink companies) pay like cigarette smokers?

Pound360's problem with this is simple. For those of us that have a can of diet soda (or two) per week, and may never face health problems linked to soda intake, we'd still be paying the price. But in the end, we're okay contributing a little for the greater good. Go soda tax.

New primate fossil incredibly odd and out of place

Quick. An incredibly ancient (47 million years old) primate fossil was discovered that "may be a key link to explain evolution." (ABC News) Guess where they found it? Africa? Nope. Germany.

The specimen, named Darwinius masillae, is a juvenile female roughly the size of a raccoon, may have walked upright and had a curling tail, opposable thumbs and fingernails. Wow. Is Pound360 the only one floored that opposable thumbs and fingernails developed 47 million years ago? (After doing some research we learned it was discovered in 2007 that
opposable fingers have been around since the dinosaurs.)

The Darwinius masillae fossil happens to be "the most complete fossil primate ever discovered" and was so well preserved that "impressions of fur and the soft body outline are still clear." (
NY Times) Not only that, "the animal's last meal, of fruit and leaves, remained in the stomach cavity."

Humans may have 'devoured' Neanderthals

"Neanderthals met a violent end at our hands and in some cases we ate them," says French fossil expert Fernando Rozzi. (Guardian) His conclusion is based on a jaw bone, in particular, and recently re-classified Neanderthal bones that have cut marks "similar to those left behind when flesh is stripped from deer and other animals using stone tools."

Not only does Rozzi believe we ate Neanderthals, he also speculates humans used Neanderthal body parts as trophies, even jewelry. Pretty bizarre. But not unheard of in the primate world (the part about eating each other). Recently, Pound360 posted on how even the most laid back of monkeys will hunt, kill and devour other primates.

The mystery of how Neanderthals were wiped out is "one of the most intriguing in all of human evolution." At one point, it was suggested
that cannibalism among the species led to their decline. Could it be that, not only were they eating each other, but humans were eating them, too? And wolves? Not sure Pound360 would have wanted to be a Neanderthal.

Spite is 'one of our best weapons' in maintaining order

New Scientist has a fascinating article demonstrating how "spiteful behavior can be one of our best weapons in maintaining a fair and ordered society." Part of what's so interesting about this story is how complex an mysterious human spite is.

Regarding complexity: "Our sense of fairness and our willingness to inflict damage on one another combine to encourage contributions to the common good and deter people from cheating."

As far as mystery: "If the prospect of bankrupting a few fat cats gives us a twinge of pleasure, it is hard to say whether that is because we believe they have robbed society, or because we are envious of their wealth and success and happy to see them toppled."

'Volcanic shutdown' responsible for oxygen boost?

An increasing pile of evidence suggests volcanic activity on earth mysteriously stopped for about 250 million years (between 2.45 and 2.2 billion years ago). Scientists don't know why (it could, perhaps, be due to a pause in tectonic activity), but they believe the volcanic slowdown may responsible for the spike in atmospheric oxygen around 2.4 billion years ago.

What's the connection? "Oxygen produced by marine microorganisms was consumed in reactions with iron in the ocean. With no fresh volcanic material to replenish the iron, oxygen would have been free to build up in the atmosphere."

'We may have to rewrite physics and chemistry'

Rewrite physics and chemistry? Why? Because of an observation at the seething edge of a black hole? A mysterious flow of dark matter millions of light years across? Nope. It's because the effects of homeopathy can not be ruled out, says one homeopath super-skeptic scientist. (New Scientist)

Queens University Pharmacologist Madeleine Ennis, in an effort to debunk homeopathy (you know, using snake venom and tree bark to heal runny noses and pimples), found that "an effect cannot be ruled out" after numerous tests. But she doesn't have to like it (neither does Pound360, for the record). "We are unable to explain our findings… we may have to rewrite physics and chemistry."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Definitive list of global warming evidence released

The National Science Foundation published a list of known changes due to global warming, which includes species extinction, species adaptation and a lot more. (LiveScience) The NSF report shows plants are sprouting at different times, and growing at different rates, too. And don't forget the oceans where higher temperatures and acidity have altered the ocean food chain and wiped out coral. Oh, and Arctic sea ice is melting, too.

Global warming is real (
sorry George Will). Now that we have that established. We can focus on whether or not man is responsible. Let's just hope we establish that before it's too late.

Dinosaurs beat humans to opposable fingers

Not opposable thumbs. Dinosaurs just won the race to opposable fingers. And it was a bambiraptor (cute name) that first showed the adaption 75 million years ago. (New Scientist) Unlike most dinosaurs (which used their mouths), bambiraptor (which stood as high as your knees, and was likely feathered) could have used its flexible digits to grab prey.

Key to biodiversity is preserving islands

While islands don't have as many species as the mainland, they have more rare plants and animals, making them 8.1-times (for vertebrates) to 9.5-times (for plants) as valuable. (New Scientist) This according to a combined study by the Universities of Bonn, and Eberswalde (Germany) and UC San Diego here in the States. The study authors hope to see "increased investment in conservation on tropical island biodiversity hotspots."

The French seem to understand this. You may recall France pledged
$20 million to help preserve Madagascar's unique biodiversity last year. Ninety-two percent of the island's reptiles don't exist anyplace else on Earth.

Right-brainers (the creative set) to rule next century

Okay, this isn't really a science story. It's an Oprah story. But it's interesting. Recently, Daniel Pink, author of "A Whole New Mind," spoke with Oprah about the dawning of the "conceptual age" where "right-brained skills such as design and storytelling will become far more crucial than traditionally left-brained skills such as accounting and computer programming." (CNN)

Why? Left-brained skills (accounting, computer programming) can be outsourced, of course. But creativity can't. At least that's what Pink says.

Super-charged cosmic rays may hint 'ultimate theory' of universe

Recently, Pound360 blogged about research on whether or not objects in space travel more easily in one direction than another. Sounds wonky. Who cares? Well, if objects do travel more easily in certain directions, then Einstein's theory of relativity is wrong. If it's wrong, we may be closer to finding "the ultimate theory that underpins our universe."

After reading New Scientist's "
13 things that do not make sense," Pound360 has another dot to connect here. It's the mystery of "ultra-energetic cosmic rays." Follow us here.

Over in Tokyo, the Akeno Giant Air Shower Array (111 particle detectors arranged over 100 square kilometers) keeps detecting cosmic rays beyond the GZK (Greisen-Zatsepin-Kuzmin) limit. These are rays too powerful to exist according to the know laws of physics. How could that be?

The Akeno array could be messed up. But maybe the laws of physics are wrong. The cosmic rays could break the GZK limit "if particles found it easier to move in certain directions."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Suicides peak during season of midnight sun

You'd think gloomy winters would drive more suicides, but in Greenland, 80 percent of suicides occur during the summer months when the sun may only set for minutes at a time. (National Geographic) Of those suicides, 80 percent were males. And 95 percent died violent deaths: shootings, hangings, jumping.

What's driving the surge in violent deaths during periods of 24-hour sun? "Lack of sleep," say researchers.

Controversial 'snowball earth' theory gets a boost

There's a controversial theory that the Earth was periodically frozen over from pole-to-pole called "Snowball Earth." It's a fascinating thought, terrific fodder for Hollywood movies, but evidence for the theory has always been on thin ice.

However, a new study suggests a sudden, dramatic crash in volcanic activity may have caused the snowballing of planet earth. (
New Scientist)

Between 2.45 and 2.2 billion years ago, scientists have noticed a sudden drop in volcanic activity via the geologic record, "but it was widely assumed the gap would vanish as more samples were dated." Well, that ain't happening. So scientists are starting to consider what would have caused the fall in volcanic activity (a mysterious pause in tectonic activity, for example) and its consequences (perhaps a snowballed planet).

Animal myths busted: Dogs see color, milk is bad for cats, more

Expecting to change "potentially dangerous misconceptions," the PDSA (a UK animal charity) recently busted a bunch of animal myths. (Telegraph UK) Among the revelations: gold fish have memories longer than three seconds, carrots are "potentially harmful" for rabbits, milk is also "potentially harmful" for cats and dogs see color. Speaking of dogs, a wagging tail is not necessarily a sign that the animal is in a good mood, and "dog breath" is not always normal. "Foul smelling breath could be a sign of illness."

Nature-ravaged eco-warriors saved by an oil tanker

An eco-expedition on a 5,000-mile carbon emission-free maritime sojourn ran into some atrocious weather (their wind and solar-powered boat capsized three times) was saved by a passing oil tanker (the "Overseas Yellowstone"). Pound360 really shouldn't be laughing, but come on! This is pretty funny. These poor eco-warriors, "atrocious weather dogged their jouney… the wind generator and solar panels were ripped from the yacht." Does this mean God no like the carbon-free way? It's really hard to say right now.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Russia plans Arctic fleet of nuclear-charged oil platforms

This simply sounds like a nightmare waiting to happen. Russia's Gazprom oil company "is planning a fleet of floating and submersible nuclear power stations to exploit arctic oil and gas." (Guardian)

Great. This is from the country that brought us the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe (
and dozens of other through the years) and made headlines as recently as November for nuclear sub disasters.

Also of serious concern is Russia's track record on using the ocean as a nuclear waste dump. This is truly despicable. Russia has dumped at least "5,000 containers of solid and liquid nuclear waste" and 12 nuclear reactors (from subs) in the ocean.

Back to these nuclear power stations. Russia intends to set them loose unmanned. "The self-propelled vessels would store their own waste and fuel and would need to be serviced only once every 12 to 14 years." Brilliant.

With up to 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves, the Arctic may be "the next Saudi Arabia."

Researchers learn why fertilizer slashes biodiversity

For 35 years, we've know that fertilizer "leads to a major drop in biodiversity," but we've never know why. (New Scientist) Are fertilized plants out-competing others for sunlight? Soil nutrients? Both? A recent study by the University of Switzerland shows its competition for sunlight.

So what? Reducing biodiversity can harm productivity. A farmer might think that fertilizer is increasing yield, but is it? In experiments on grasslands, Iowa State University researchers found "polycultures outyielded monocultures on average by 73 percent." (
Crop Science)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Mysterious 'Violent force' ravaged New York region in 300BC

"A case of circumstantial evidence that is getting harder and harder to ignore" suggests New York city was hit with a massive tsunami 2,300 years ago, which left debris in the region ranging from fist-size rocks to sea shells. (BBC)

"Some sort of violent force swept the Northeast coastal region in 300BC." It may have been a strong storm. But one big enough to toss large rocks and shells miles inland? "If we're wrong [about the tsunami], it was one heck of a storm," said one expert.

So what caused the tsunami? An "undersea landslide" is the likely culprit, but an asteroid strike hasn't been ruled out.

Gates Foundation's 'unconventional' investments to help humanity

Antiviral tomatoes, using lasers in vaccinations and fungus to fight malaria are among the "unconventional" investments the Gates Foundation is supporting in its latest round of five-year, $100,000 research grants. Other projects endorsed by the group include using magnets to detect malaria, drought-tolerant corn and a complication of all possible HIV mutations.

The malaria-fighting fungus project is pretty interesting. The idea is to infect (malaria-carrying) mosquitoes with a fungus that mutes their sense of smell (so they cant find and infect people). Malaria kills 800,000 people every year.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Natural element in drinking water 'reduces the risk of suicide'

Lithium, an element (as in, an element on the periodic table) prescribed to treat mood disorders, seems to "reduce the risk of suicide" when traces of it show up in drinking water. (BBC)

In a Japanese study, researchers found "the suicide rate was significantly lower in those areas with the highest levels of the element." However, they didn't explain how lithium ended up in the drinking water in varying amounts. Is it just nature?
Or something more controversial?

What next? Should lithium be added to drinking water to control suicide (like fluoride to control cavities)? Part of us at Pound360 say, "sure, why not?" Another part says, "we'd rather have our medication prescribed by a doctor."

Dinosaur 'soft tissue' (including blood vessels) discovered

Researchers found soft tissue in the fossilized femur of a duck-billed dinosaur (hadrosaur). (National Geographic) The 80-million-year-old specimen includes "blood vessels and other connective tissue as well as perhaps blood cell proteins."

Amazing. Just amazing. What's more, this is
the second time we've found preserved dinosaur tissue. (The first find was in 2005)

In the latest finding, there's a strong possibility that the dinosaur's hemoglobin is in tact. So what? "Confirmed dinosaur-hemoglobin discovery would open the door to the recovery of many dinosaur proteins, including DNA proteins… "raising the specter of Jurassic Park-style 'resurrections.'"

As you can imagine, these findings are deeply controversial. Last year, a group of scientists claimed
the 2005 dinosaur soft-tissue find was just bacterial slime.

'Human evolution has largely come to a halt'

"Evidence shows that human evolution has largely come to a halt," says University College London geneticist Steve Jones. (Cosmos)

According to Jones, evolution requires three components: variation (via DNA mutations), natural selection (via each individuals differences) and isolation (so that "advantageous genes are not swamped and diluted by the movement of genes from outside the population").

"All three components have more or less disappeared," argues Jones. "So, if you're worried what utopia might be like, you don't need to anymore because you are living in it right now."

Pound360 read through Jones' article, and it's heavy on anecdotes, but light on hard data. And how critical are Jones' "three Components?" Michael White, a biochemist at the Washington University School of Medicine argues, "isolation is important for speciation -- the generation of two (or more) new species from one, but it is absolutely not necessary for evolution in general." (
Science Blogging)

And according to anthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin, "
our evolution has recently accelerated by around 100-fold" due to "the pressures of modern life" and an exploding population. "Today, beneficial mutation must be happening far more than ever before, since there are more than 6 billion of us."

Friday, May 01, 2009

Mercury, a small planet with big surprises

"Once seen as a cold, dead little world" recent exploration finds Planet Mercury full of amazing stuff like "massive volcanism, strange impact craters and magnetic tornadoes that funnel plasma directly from the sun to the planet’s surface." (Wired)

One of Mercury's most awesome craters (186 miles across) "is like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” and may force researchers “to go back and rethink” crater theories. A crater that size should have more volcanic material inside it, and its ridges should be more even.

Oh, space tornadoes. Pound360 just learned such things existed this week. And you don't have to go far to find them.
Earth is flanked by two space tornadoes, 44,000 miles wide, spinning at millions of miles per hour, and they're responsible for creating the Aurora Borealis. Well, Mercury has these bizarre tornadoes too, but they're 10-times as strong as Earth's and "allow solar wind plasma from the sun, very fast and very hot, to come right down [to] the surface,”

Pound360 has been watching the Mercury Mystery unfold (there have been a lot of surprises) for a little over a year now as NASA's Messenger Probe explores the planet.
More here.

Weather affects people's views on climate change

Not facts. Not reason. But something as random and chaotic as recent weather has a significant impact on people's perception of climate change. "For each three degrees that local temperature rises above normal, Americans become one percentage point more likely to agree that there is 'solid evidence' that the earth is getting warmer." (New Republic)

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.