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"Life expands or shrinks in proportion to one's courage." ~Anain Nin
Galaxy May Have Billions of Planets
NASA scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered what they believe are 16 new planets deep in the Milky Way, leading them to conclude there are probably billions of planets spread throughout the galaxy.
Over the past 15 years, astronomers have identified more than 200 planets outside our solar system, but the new ones identified by the Hubble are at least 10 times as far from Earth.
That planets can be found at the center of the galaxy, as well as near our solar system, has given NASA researchers confidence that they are likely to be everywhere. If that is the case, then the likelihood of other Earth-like planets becomes greater.
"We all are dreamers, and part of that dream is to find life somewhere," said Mario Livio, head of the science program at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which oversees Hubble operations. "We're finding that the galaxy is full of planets, and the chances are, somewhere out there, we will find one with the conditions necessary to be habitable."
The new planets were introduced yesterday as mostly "candidates," since only two could be definitively described as planets. But Livio and team leader Kailash Sahu said the chances are good that some, or even all, of the 16 will ultimately meet all the criteria to be called planets.
First Teleportation Between Light and Matter
At long last researchers have teleported the information stored in a beam of light into a cloud of atoms, which is about as close to getting beamed up by Scotty as we're likely to come in the foreseeable future. More practically, the demonstration is key to eventually harnessing quantum effects for hyperpowerful computing or ultrasecure encryption systems.
Quantum computers or cryptography networks would take advantage of entanglement, in which two distant particles share a complementary quantum state. In some conceptions of these devices, quantum states that act as units of information would have to be transferred from one group of atoms to another in the form of light. Because measuring any quantum state destroys it, that information cannot simply be measured and copied. Researchers have long known that this obstacle can be finessed by a process called teleportation, but they had only demonstrated this method between light beams or between atoms.
Enzymes use quantum tunneling to speed up reactions
The bizarre, unpredictable world of quantum mechanics would appear unlikely to govern everyday biological processes. However, enzymes—protein catalysts that allow chemical reactions to take place millions of times faster than their normal rate—use a phenomenon called quantum tunneling to transfer protons or electrons to or from a reactant. Until now, nobody knew just how they did it.
An interdisciplinary group of UK researchers from the University of Manchester and the University of Bristol examined a single step of a reaction where an enzyme, aromatic amine dehydrogenase, extracts a proton from a substrate called tryptamine, a natural compound related to the neurotransmitter serotonin. The researchers created a computer model of the enzyme and simulated the process. They found that, contrary to what was previously believed, it is not long-range motions of the enzyme, but rather motions close to the substrate, that promote tunneling.
"Our present understanding of the physical basis of enzyme catalysis is still unable to explain the many orders of magnitude by which a reaction is 'speeded up' by enzymes, nor why attempts to create artificial enzymes have so far been disappointing," said study co-author David Leys of the University of Manchester via e-mail. "Our work reveals that not only active site structure, but also motions are an essential part of the enzyme's repertoire."
Bacteria Roll Out Carpet Of Goo That Converts Deadly Heavy Metal Into Less Threatening Nano-spheres
Since the discovery a little more than a decade ago of bacteria that chemically modify and neutralize toxic metals without apparent harm to themselves, scientists have wondered how on earth these microbes do it.
For Shewanella oneidensis, a microbe that modifies uranium chemistry, the pieces are coming together, and they resemble pearls that measure precisely 5 nanometers across enmeshed in a carpet of slime secreted by the bacteria.
The pearl is uranium dioxide, or uraninite, which moves much less freely in soil than its soluble counterpart, a groundwater-contamination threat at nuclear waste sites.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that uranium contaminates more than 2,500 billion liters of groundwater nationwide; over the past decade, the agency has support research into the ability of naturally-occurring microbes that can halt the uranium’s underground migration to prevent it from reaching streams used by plants, animals and people.
Assembling a battery of evidence, scientists have for the first time placed the bacterial enzymes responsible for converting uranium to uraninite at the scene of the slime, or “extracellular polymeric substance” (EPS), according to a study led by the DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in today’s advance online edition of PLoS Biology.
“Shewanella really puts a lot of stuff outside the cell,” said PNNL chief scientist Jim Fredrickson, the study’s senior author. “It’s very tactile compared with pathogens, which go into hiding to evade detection by the immune system.”
U.S. Lags World in Grasp of Genetics and Acceptance of Evolution
A comparison of peoples' views in 34 countries finds that the United States ranks near the bottom when it comes to public acceptance of evolution. Only Turkey ranked lower.
Among the factors contributing to America's low score are poor understanding of biology, especially genetics, the politicization of science and the literal interpretation of the Bible by a small but vocal group of American Christians, the researchers say.
“American Protestantism is more fundamentalist than anybody except perhaps the Islamic fundamentalist, which is why Turkey and we are so close,” said study co-author Jon Miller of Michigan State University.
The researchers combined data from public surveys on evolution collected from 32 European countries, the United States and Japan between 1985 and 2005. Adults in each country were asked whether they thought the statement “Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals,” was true, false, or if they were unsure.
Researchers solve a 200-year-old Moon mystery
In 1994, Maria Zuber, then a geophysicist at Johns Hopkins, was working on a research paper when her 4-year-old son walked into her office and asked what she was up to.
"I'm writing a paper on the shape of the Moon,'" Zuber told him.
"Mom," he said, "it's round."
Scientists have known for centuries that the Moon isn't round. Rather, the Moon is a flattened sphere—like a football—and is elongated on the side that faces the Earth.
Despite this knowledge, scientists have been mystified that the Moon's distorted dimensions don't match their predictions, given its current orbit and distance from Earth. The Moon, mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace noted in 1799, is too deformed and too flat.
Scientists tried to develop models of the Moon's early orbit that could explain how the distortions formed, but they always failed—no matter how close they moved the Moon's orbit to the Earth, or how fast they made it spin. No solution matched the Moon's exact dimensions.
Now, in the Aug. 4th issue of Science, Zuber, now at MIT, teams up with two colleagues to provide the first defensible answer to the 200-year-old puzzle of how the Moon got its figure.
Transforming the Alchemists
There was no place in the annals of empirical science, beginning mainly in the 18th century, for the occult practices of obsessed dreamers who sought most famously and impossibly to transform base metals into pure gold. So alchemy fell into disrepute.
But in the revival of scholarship on the field, historians are finding reasons to give at least some alchemists their due. Even though they were secretive and self-deluded and their practices closer to magic than modern scientific methods, historians say, alchemists contributed to the emergence of modern chemistry as a science and an agent of commerce.
“Experimentalism was one of alchemy’s hallmarks,” said Lawrence M. Principe, a historian of science at Johns Hopkins University and a trained chemist. “You have to get your hands dirty, and in this way alchemists forged some early ideas about matter.”
Bent over boiling crucibles in their shadowy laboratories, squeezing bellows before transformative flames and poring over obscure formulas, some alchemists stumbled on techniques and reactions of great value to later chemists. It was experimentation by trial and error, historians say, but it led to new chemicals and healing elixirs and laid the foundations of procedures like separating and refining, distilling and fermenting.
“What do chemists do? They like to make stuff,” Dr. Principe said. “Most chemists are interested not so much in theory as in making substances with particular properties. The emphasis on products was the same with some alchemists in the 17th century.”
Finding the Higgs-Boson: Take one small black hole
They must be eternal optimists. How else would you explain the plan by physicists to look for a hypothetical particle, the Higgs boson, by sifting through the remnants of an evaporating mini black hole, which itself may or may not exist?
The Higgs boson, which is thought to give all other particles their mass, was first proposed in the 1960s, but has so far escaped detection. One of the primary goals of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the particle accelerator being built at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland, will be to search for the Higgs in the shower of particles generated when two high-energy proton beams collide. It wont be easy. Physicists predict that the Higgs will be created just once in every 10 trillion collisions. With an estimated 800 million collisions a second when the LHC is running, thats still just a handful of Higgs a day, so seeing one is a really remote possibility.
This prompted Gouranda Nayak and Jack Smith of Stony Brook University in New York to look for alternatives. Could the Higgs be found, they wondered, in debris left behind by mini black holes, which physicists think could be created in the LHC if the universe has extra dimensions? Although the chances of making mini black holes are slim, preparations for detecting them are already under way (New Scientist, 23 April 2005, p 38). Black hole production has long odds, but high stakes, says Ben Allanach, a physicist at the University of Cambridge.
Theory predicts that, once created, a mini black hole would immediately evaporate in a blaze of Hawking radiation, releasing all manner of particles in the process, including the Higgs. It sounds crazy, but if mini black holes can be created then the Higgs must be produced, says Smith.
The Sky: Yes, it's Blue: But why?
Why is the sky blue? It is a question children ask. Yet it also intrigued Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton, among many other legendary thinkers. As late as 1862, the great astronomer John Herschel called the colour and polarization of skylight "great standing enigmas." Even today, our perception of sky blue is little understood by laymen.
Plato speculated that the sky's colour emerged from the interaction of the air with the celestial darkness beyond. Ancient Muslim thinkers speculated that the colour came from particles or "vapors" in the air, perhaps thinking of the dust-filled desert sky. Ibn al-Haytham noted that its hue is not uniform but deeper at the zenith, and whiter near the horizon, even on very clear days. Al-Biruni climbed the highest mountain in Persia and noticed the deep blue, almost black, skies at high altitudes.
These writings reached the West, where the 12th century monk Ristoro d'Arezzo connected sky blue with the way skilled painters can make the appearance of pale blue by delicately washing pure black pigment over white. Leonardo da Vinci followed Ristoro's speculations and their artistic implications. He noted the distinct blue of smoke and also the progressively deeper blue of distant mountains, the "aerial perspective" often used in the backgrounds of his paintings. He climbed Monte Rosa and speculated that its blue skies were due to "minute, imperceptible particles" suspended in the air like a fine smoke.
Drawing on his love of tennis, Rene Descartes compared blue skylight to balls without spin, and analogized red sunsets to balls spinning because of their passage through a longer reach of the atmosphere. (He never seems to have questioned whether his explanation was really true or merely ingenious.)
In contrast, Newton drew on the beautiful blue he noted in thin films of oil or in soap bubbles, concluding that water droplets suspended in air could explain sky blue. Yet Newton does not seem to have asked himself the obvious question: How could water droplets remain suspended sufficiently long to explain the blue sky, especially on dry days when the sky seems particularly blue?
REVERSING AND ACCELERATING THE SPEED OF LIGHT
Physicist Costas Soukoulis and his research group at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory on the Iowa State University campus are having the time of their lives making light travel backwards at negative speeds that appear faster than the speed of light. That, folks, is a mind-boggling 186,000 miles per second – the speed at which electromagnetic waves can move in a vacuum. And making light seem to move faster than that and in reverse is what Soukoulis, who is also an ISU Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said is “like rewriting electromagnetism.” He predicted, “Snell’s law on the refraction of light is going to be different; a number of other laws will be different.”
However, neither Soukoulis nor any other scientist involved in efforts to manipulate the direction and speed of light can do so with naturally occurring materials. The endeavor requires exotic, artificially created materials. Known as metamaterials, these substances can be manipulated to respond to electromagnetic waves in ways that natural materials cannot. Natural materials refract light, or electromagnetic radiation, to the right of the incident beam at different angles and speeds. However, metamaterials, also called left-handed materials, make it possible to refract light at a negative angle, so it emerges on the left side of the incident beam. This backward-bending characteristic of metamaterials allows enhanced resolution in optical lenses, which could potentially lead to the development of a flat superlens with the power to see inside a human cell and diagnose disease in a baby still in the womb.
The challenge that Soukoulis and other scientists face who work with metamaterials is to fabricate them so that they refract light negatively at ever smaller wavelengths, with the ultimate goal of making a metamaterial that refracts light at visible wavelengths and achieving the much-sought-after superlens. Admittedly, that goal is a
Redesigning Life to Make Ethanol
On January 31, Ari Patrinos was sitting in his living room in Rockville, MD, listening to the State of the Union speech and slowly nodding off. Suddenly, he was jolted awake.
"We'll also fund additional research for cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol," President Bush was saying on the television, "not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks or switchgrass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years."
Unlike most of the legislators who gamely applauded the president's words, Patrinos understood exactly what they meant. In fact, he had dashed them off himself days earlier at the harried request of his boss, unaware that they were destined for the State of the Union speech. Patrinos, then associate director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research, had been touting cellulosic ethanol as an alternative energy source for years, only to be met with indifference or ridicule. Now, it seemed, even the most petro-friendly of politicians was convinced.
Producing ethanol fuel from biomass is attractive for a number of reasons. At a time of soaring gas prices and worries over the long-term availability of foreign oil, the domestic supply of raw materials for making biofuels appears nearly unlimited. Meanwhile, the amount of carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere annually by burning fossil fuels is projected to rise worldwide from about 24 billion metric tons in 2002 to 33 billion metric tons in 2015. Burning a gallon of ethanol, on the other hand, adds little to the total carbon in the atmosphere, since the carbon dioxide given off in the process is roughly equal to the amount absorbed by the plants used to produce the next gallon.
Scientists Question Nature's Fundamental Laws
Public confidence in the "constants" of nature may be at an all time low. Recent research has found evidence that the value of certain fundamental parameters, such as the speed of light or the invisible glue that holds nuclei together, may have been different in the past.
"There is absolutely no reason these constants should be constant," says astronomer Michael Murphy of the University of Cambridge. "These are famous numbers in physics, but we have no real reason for why they are what they are."
The observed differences are small—roughly a few parts in a million—but the implications are huge: The laws of physics would have to be rewritten, not to mention we might need to make room for six more spatial dimensions than the three that we are used to. The evidence for varying constants focuses primarily on quasar studies.
Quasars are extremely luminous objects, powered by giant black holes. Some of them are so far away that their light was emitted 12 billion years ago. Astronomers study the spectra of this ancient light to determine if the early universe was different than now. Specifically, they look at absorption lines, which are due to gas clouds between us and the quasars. Astronomers study the spectra of this ancient light to determine if the early universe was different than now. Specifically, they look at absorption lines, which are due to gas clouds between us and the quasars.
The lines reveal exactly what is in the clouds, since each type of atom has a "fingerprint"—a set of specific frequencies at which it absorbs.
In 1999, Murphy and his colleagues found the first convincing evidence that these fingerprints change with time. Using data from the Keck observatory in Hawaii, they detected a frequency difference between billion-year-old quasar lines and the corresponding lines measured on Earth.
Some of these Earth-bound lines were not well characterized, so Murphy and others recently performed careful lab experiments to confirm that there is indeed a shift in the quasar spectra. A spectra is basically light split into its component frequencies, much like when white light goes through a prism to produce a rainbow.
Finches on Galapagos Islands Evolving (imagine that!)
Finches on the Galapagos Islands that inspired Charles Darwin to develop the concept of evolution are now helping confirm it - by evolving.
A medium sized species of Darwin's finch has evolved a smaller beak to take advantage of different seeds just two decades after the arrival of a larger rival for its original food source.
The altered beak size shows that species competing for food can undergo evolutionary change, said Peter Grant of Princeton University, lead author of the report appearing in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
Grant has been studying Darwin's finches for decades and previously recorded changes responding to a drought that altered what foods were available.
It's rare for scientists to be able to document changes in the appearance of an animal in response to competition. More often it is seen when something moves into a new habitat or the climate changes and it has to find new food or resources...
The discovery that a wide variety of bacteria can be persuaded to produce wire-like appendages that conduct electricity could prove vital to the development of more efficient biological fuel cells.
Bacteria that use sugars and sewage as fuel are being investigated as a pollution-free source of electricity. They feed by plucking electrons from atoms in their fuel and dumping them onto the oxygen or metal atoms in the mixture. The transfer of the electrons creates a current, and connecting the bacteria to an electrode in a microbial fuel cell will generate electricity, although not necessarily very efficiently.
A species of bacterium called Geobacter sulfurreducens, which dumps electrons onto metal, has previously been persuaded to grow nanowires to make contact with distant atoms. A deficit of metal atoms in the close vicinity of the bacteria can cause a bottleneck, so the proliferation of nanowires allows the bacteria to consume more fuel, potentially boosting the current produced by a microbial fuel cell.
Now a study by Yuri Gorby of Pacific Northwest National Laboratories in Washington State, US, and colleagues reveals that several other kinds of bacteria produce similar nanowires.
It's 2025. Where Do Most People Live?
The innovative map shows a world with large areas of population loss in parts of Eastern Europe and Asia, but significant gains elsewhere.
The work, Mapping the Future, is the result of collaboration between CCSR, Hunter College and Population Action International (PAI) and was released this spring in conjunction with an update of PAI’s Web feature, People in the Balance, investigating the relationship between human population and critical natural resources.
The map indicates that the greatest increases in population density through 2025 are likely to occur in areas of developing countries that are already quite densely populated. In addition, the number of people living within 60 miles of a coastline is expected to increase by 35 percent over 1995 population levels, exposing 2.75 billion people worldwide to the effects of sea level rise and other coastal threats posed by global warming.
The map also projects that much of southern and Eastern Europe and Japan will experience significant and wide-spread population decline. Surprisingly, the map further suggests small areas of projected population decline for many regions in which they might be least expected: sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America, the Philippines, Nepal, Turkey, Cambodia, Burma and Indonesia — areas that have to date been experiencing rapid-to-modest national population growth.
Ornithopter! Aviation history is made by 'flapper'
For an aeronautical engineer it was the perfect day and a perfect end to a quest that has consumed his life for more than 30 years.
Yesterday Dr. James DeLaurier, an aeronautical engineer and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto's Institute for Aerospace Studies, fulfilled a lifelong dream, seeing his manned mechanical flapping-wing airplane, or ornithopter, fly — a dream first imagined by Leonardo da Vinci.
And with the successful flight DeLaurier has been lucky enough to touch what many describe as the Holy Grail of aeronautical design, achieving a place for himself, his team of volunteers and students in aviation history.
The flapper, as it's affectionately known, sustained flight over about a third of a kilometre for 14 seconds at about 10:20 a.m. before being hit by a crosswind and almost flipping over, damaging the nose and front wheel on the runway at Downsview Park.
But the flight was long enough to prove DeLaurier's mechanical flapping-wing design for a manned, jet-boosted aircraft works. The successful test flight was longer than the first powered flight by aviation pioneers the Wright brothers in December 1903 that lasted 12 seconds over a windswept beach in North Carolina. Beating that record was enough for DeLaurier.
"It is a perfect day," he said after the flight. "If I have the big one now, I'll die happy."
After four attempts at getting the ornithopter in the air, the fifth brought glory. The ornithopter, which looks like a cross between an old-fashioned plane and a Canada goose, took off and flew about two metres in the air. DeLaurier whooped and hollered from a truck by the side of the runway, watching it with complete wonder and joy.
Understanding of Human Body Clock Reworked
The bodies of humans and other mammals know what time it is by constantly measuring the concentration of a protein called PER in the body. Drug companies are currently working on ways to manipulate the level of PER in the body to treat disorders caused by disruptions to the body's clock, or "circadian rhythm."
The degradation of PER is regulated by another protein, called CK1e, whose production is controlled by the gene casein kinase 1, or CK1. A mutation called "tau" in CK1 was previously thought to lead to the production of defective CK1e proteins that break down PER slower than is normal, causing the protein to accumulate in the body.
The buildup of PER, it was thought, sped up a mammal's internal clock, causing it to have shorter days.
However, the new study finds that actually the opposite occurs: The tau mutation doesn't slow down PER degradation—it speeds it up. Thus, it is not excess PER that leads to shorter days in affected animals, but not enough PE
Dawkins on Evolutionary Engineering
Richard Dawkins discusses how ideas borrowed from biological evolution may be used to arrive at optimal adaptive solutions in engineering.
THE FUTURE OF FUSION
It's hard to take fusion energy seriously when its proponents employ descriptors like "power of the Sun" and "energy from a star" to explain it. This kind of hyperbole—and the fact that scientists have never created a sustained fusion reaction capable of generating more electricity than it soaks up—make fusion sound like a fantastical scheme devised by Lex Luthor. But in the wake of the current energy crisis, new money and political support may finally channel enough resources into fusion to make the elusive process a reality.
On May 24, the US, EU, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan and India signed on to help build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Cadarache, in the south of France. ITER is the largest fusion research project to date and one of the biggest international scientific collaborations ever. Its budget is 10 billion euros over 20 years, more than three times that of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. The reactor is scheduled to be functional by 2016.
"[ITER] is not only a scientific and technological experiment aimed at demonstrating the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy, but it is also an experiment in international relations," said Ned Sauthoff, the U.S. project manager for ITER. "Never before have the governments representing more than half the population of the world gotten together and tried to solve a global problem."
Theoretically, fusion is an ideal energy source. It releases no carbon into the atmosphere and is fueled by hydrogen atoms, which can easily be derived from water.
On the trail of quantum pulp
We've all seen it: Humphrey Bogart in black and white, chasing crooks through shadows and down dreary alleys. The moody, hard-boiled noir that Bogie personified defined an age of wartime anomie in Europe and the US, and made for gritty, stimulating film and novels. Today, the chiaroscuro tone of pulp is not only found in repertory theaters and airport bookshops: Detective narratives are turning up in efforts to solve the deepest mysteries of quantum mechanics.
Creative fiction is a powerful device for elucidating complex quantum phenomena, both for informing the public and among physicists themselves. Whodunits are natural fits for the portrayal, for example, of the duplicity of light: In the infamous double-slit experiments, photons seemingly change properties to avoid detection of their true nature by playing both sides of the wave-particle duality.
Some (atomic) fundamentals may change as time goes by
"The fundamental things apply, as time goes by," sings Sam, the pianist in Casablanca. But maybe Sam didn't mean that to apply over 12 billion years.
A new study in the journal Physical Review Letters suggests that over the lifetime of the cosmos, some fundamental things may not be so fundamental.
The study, led by physicists Wim Ubachs and Elmar Reinhold of the Free University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, suggests that "mu," the mass ratio of two atomic particles — the proton and the electron — "could have decreased in the past 12 billion years."
At that's an interesting notion to physicists, who rely on this fundamental constant to understand the structure of the atoms inside stars, planets and people. In more technical terms, mu sets the scale of the "strong" nuclear force, one of the four fundamental forces in the universe (gravity, electromagnetism and the weak force that governs radioactivity are the others.) The strong force binds the sub-atomic particles called quarks to one another inside protons. As fundamental stuff goes, that's pretty fundamental.
Measured today, the ratio indicates that a proton weighs (just roughly speaking here) 1836.15267261 times more than an electron.
The study team compared the value of mu measured today to the value measured in the light from a pair of quasars, thought to be super-massive black holes sucking in huge amounts of gas and star dust. The quasars' light was measured by study team members at a European Southern Observatory telescope in Chile. Since the quasars are about 12 billion light years away, it has taken 12 billion years for their light to reach Earth, making them indicators of conditions when the universe was only about 1.7 billion years old.
By combining today's mu measurement with the mu measurement from the chemical spectrum of light from the quasars, the European team suggests that mu has dropped by 0.002% over the last 12 billion years.
Not much of a drop, but it may have big implications, says astrophysicist Michael Murphy of the United Kingdom's Cambridge University. "If we find that the fundamental constants are in fact changing, then they must not be numbers set into the fabric of fundamental physics — rather they are dynamical quantities which change according to some deeper laws of physics that we are yet to understand," he says. "Those deeper laws are likely more fundamental than our present ones and may even point the way to a Grand Unified Theory which brings together the four known forces of nature."
Bring me a God helmet, and bring it now
One of the biggest disappointments of my so-called adult life is the sad realisation that I can neither fly nor move objects with the power of my mind. This sucks. But for all their broken promises, as the prison ships become more and more crowded, when I am prime minister of the One World Government, the psychics will be left well alone.
They're just too much fun. Up in Scotland, the Evening Mail has been teasing "Angela's Live Psychic Line": the adverts say their psychics are the "real thing" and "truly gifted" at only 75p a minute. Apparently Angela was recruiting, so one cheeky scamp at the Evening Mail thought she'd apply for a job: this is the great British sport of "moron baiting", and it's a game we can all play.
After a gruelling 10-minute phone interview the reporter had a new job. Psychic Angela asked her for a test reading; the reporter told her she was "at a crossroads but on the brink of success", and was hired immediately, despite being neither "truly gifted" nor, more importantly, "the real thing". "Her crystal ball must have been on the blink when she signed up our reporter to dupe gullible punters," said the Evening Mail.
But of course, there is a natural human drive to seek out the transcendent. A "neurotheology" researcher called Dr Michael Persinger has developed something called the "God Helmet" lined with magnets to help you in your quest: it sounds like typical bad science fodder, but it's much more interesting than that.
Persinger is a proper scientist. The temporal lobes have long been implicated in religious experiences: epileptic seizures in that part of the brain, for example, can produce mystical experiences and visions. Persinger's helmet stimulates these temporal lobes with weak electromagnetic fields through the skull, and in various published papers this stimulation has been shown to induce a "sensed presence", under blinded conditions.
There is controversy around these findings: some people have tried to replicate them, although not using exactly the same methods, and got different results. But however improbable or theologically offensive you might find his evidence, because it is published and written up in full, you can try to replicate it for yourself and find out whether it works. In fact, you really can try this at home: the kit needed to make a God Helmet is fabulously rudimentary.
Crows Have Human-Like Intelligence
Crows make tools, play tricks on each other, and caw among kin in a dialect all their own.
These are just some of the signs presented in a recent book that point to an unexpected similarity between the wise birds and humans.
"It's the same kind of consonance we find between bats that can fly and birds that can fly and insects that can fly," said Candace Savage, a nature writer based in Saskatoon, Canada.
"Species don't have to be related for there to have been some purpose, some reason, some evolutionary advantage for acquiring shared characteristics," she added.
Savage's book, Crows: Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World (October 2005), explores the burgeoning field of crow research, which suggests that the birds share with humans several hallmarks of higher intelligence, including tool use and sophisticated social behavior.
The shared traits exist despite the fact that crows and humans sit on distinct branches of the genetic tree.
Humans are mammals. Crows are birds, which Savage calls feathered lizards, referring to the theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs.
"I'm not positing there's anything mythological about this or imagining crows are in any way human," she said.
"But whatever it is that has encouraged humans to develop higher intelligence also seems to have been at work on crows."
Physicists create great balls of fire
Ball lightning – the mysterious slow-moving spheres of light occasionally seen during thunderstorms – has been created in the lab.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics and the Humboldt University, both in Berlin, have used underwater electrical discharges to generate luminous plasma clouds resembling ball lightning that last for nearly half a second and are up to 20 centimetres across.
They hope that these artificial entities will help them understand the bizarre phenomenon and perhaps even provide insights into the hot plasmas needed for fusion power plants.
You can watch a super-slow-motion video of the ball lightning here (3.7MB AVI).
Ball lightning has puzzled scientists for centuries. Though little reliable data exist, there have been many anecdotal sightings, with people as diverse and famous as Charlemagne, Henry II and the physicist Niels Bohr all claiming to have seen it.
In 1753, Russian scientist Georg Richmann may even have been killed by it while trying to trap lightning, becoming the first recorded person to die while conducting electrical experiments.
Most accounts describe a hovering, glowing, ball-like object up to 40 centimetres across, ranging in colour from red to yellow to blue and lasting for several seconds or in rare cases even minutes. Many scientists believe ball lightning is a ball of plasma formed when lightning strikes the ground, but the exact mechanism is unclear despite the many theories proposed.
Celebrating the commonplace
Consider starlight. What could be more commonplace than starlight?
Arcturus is high in the southeast these evenings. Arcturus is 36 light-years away. That's 216 trillion miles. And I saw it.
It's not like a special ray of light came from Arcturus to my eyes. That's what we often imagine. We've seen so many pictures of Stars of Bethlehem and Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars with beams of light shooting straight down to Earth that it's easy to believe that the light from the star is somehow directed towards us, personally. But, of course, when we think about it, we realize that this is not so.
The light from a star radiates in every direction, like a constantly expanding balloon of energy, getting weaker all the time. Only the tiniest fraction of a star's light falls upon the Earth.
How much? Let's do the calculation. Don't be put off by the numbers; just wait for the bottom line.
At a distance of 216 trillion miles, the light of Arcturus is spread out over a sphere with an area of 586,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 square miles. The Earth has a cross-sectional area of about 50 million square miles. So the fraction of Arcturus' light that falls upon the Earth is about 1 part out of 10 sextillions. That's 1 followed by 22 zeros.
Of the starlight that falls on Earth, an even tinier fraction enters the pupil of my eye to form an image of the star. Another calculation: How does the area of my pupil compare to the cross-sectional area of the Earth? I'll spare you the details. Click, click, click on the calculator. Another factor of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000, more or less.
So the fraction of Arcturus' light that enters my eye is one part out of 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
Brain imaging sheds new light on decision making
Researchers are investigating connections between pictures created by functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, and their depictions of “unfairness” in the brain to further illuminate the neurological basis of moral decision-making.
Colin Camerer is a business economics professor at the California Institute of Technology and an expert on “behavioral game theory,” a specialty within the field of behavioral economics. He is using experimental evidence to show how people react to examples of fairness and how that influences their behavior in situations described by a mathematical model of analysis called “game theory.”
Pictures of “your brain on unfairness,” culled by Camerer as part of his research, represent “one of the most striking neuroscientific findings about game theory,” he said.
In the experiment that produced the brain images, people played an ultimatum game. In this version of the game, a “proposer” offers a portion of $10 to a “responder” — for example, $5 for each player. If the responder accepts it, the players each get their proposed share of the $10. If the responder refuses, neither player wins anything.
The test subject whose results were pictured in the fMRI scans added an unusual twist to the game. In some trials, the responder had the photograph and the name of a hidden proposer with whom he played the game. In other cases, the responder was shown a picture of a computer and told that the computer would be the hidden proposer.
Confessions of a Darwinist
I take being called anti-Darwinian very personally. It has always hurt, for I have always thought of myself as more or less a knee-jerk neo-Darwinian, someone who thinks the basic mechanism underlying evolutionary change, including the origin, modification, and maintenance of adaptations, resides squarely in the domain of natural selection. And I have always felt that, with one or two major exceptions, my version of how the evolutionary process works lines up very well with Darwin’s. Take natural selection, for example: I see natural selection just as Darwin originally did—as the statistical effect that relative success in the economic sphere (obtaining energy resources, warding off predators and disease, etc.) has on an organism’s success in reproducing. This conservative view contrasts strongly with the modern tendency to see natural selection as a matter of competition among genes to leave copies of themselves to the next generation—a position I take to be hopelessly teleological, obfuscating the real interactive dynamics of economic and reproductive organismic behavior driving the evolutionary process.
Cyclic universe could explain cosmic balancing act
A bouncing universe that expands and then shrinks every trillion years or so could explain one of the most puzzling problems in cosmology: how we can exist at all.
If this explanation, proposed in Science by Paul Steinhardt at Princeton University, New Jersey, and Neil Turok at the University of Cambridge, UK, seems slightly preposterous, that can't really be held against it. Astronomical observations over the past decade have shown that "we live in a preposterous universe", says cosmologist Sean Carroll of the University of Chicago. "It's our job to make sense of it," he says.
In Steinhardt and Turok's cyclic model of the Universe, it expands and contracts repeatedly over timescales that make the 13.7 billion years that have passed since the Big Bang seem a mere blink. This makes the Universe vastly old. And that in turn means that the mysterious 'cosmological constant', which describes how empty space appears to repel itself, has had time to shrink into the strangely small number that we observe today. [via corpus mmothra]
We made it! The Great Trasition
When we look back after 370 million years of evolution, the invasion of land by fish appears special. However, if we could transport ourselves by time machine to this early period, it isn't clear whether we would notice anything extraordinary. We would see a lot of fish, some of them big and some of them small, all of them struggling to survive and reproduce. Only now, 370 million years later, do we see that one of those fish sat at the base of a huge branch of the tree of life—a branch that includes everything from salamanders to humans. It would have taken an uncanny sixth sense for us to have predicted this outcome when our time machine deposited us in the middle of the Devonian.
Plankton blooms linked to quakes
Concentrations of the natural pigment chlorophyll in coastal waters have been shown to rise prior to earthquakes.
These chlorophyll increases are due to blooms of plankton, which use the pigment to convert solar energy to chemical energy via photosynthesis.
A joint US-Indian team of researchers analysed satellite data on ocean coastal areas lying near the epicentres of four recent quakes... They say that monitoring peaks in chlorophyll could provide early information on an impending earthquake.
The authors say the chlorophyll blooms are linked to a release of thermal energy prior to an earthquake.
This causes the sea surface temperature to rise and increases the surface latent heat flux - the amount of energy moving from the surface to the air due to evaporation.
That dang bang: The First Few Microseconds
For the past five years, hundreds of scientists have been using a powerful new atom smasher at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island to mimic conditions that existed at the birth of the universe. Called the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC, pronounced "rick"), it clashes two opposing beams of gold nuclei traveling at nearly the speed of light. The resulting collisions between pairs of these atomic nuclei generate exceedingly hot, dense bursts of matter and energy to simulate what happened during the first few microseconds of the big bang. These brief "mini bangs" give physicists a ringside seat on some of the earliest moments of creation.
During those early moments, matter was an ultrahot, superdense brew of particles called quarks and gluons rushing hither and thither and crashing willy-nilly into one another. A sprinkling of electrons, photons and other light elementary particles seasoned the soup. This mixture had a temperature in the trillions of degrees, more than 100,000 times hotter than the sun's core.
But the temperature plummeted as the cosmos expanded, just like an ordinary gas cools today when it expands rapidly. The quarks and gluons slowed down so much that some of them could begin sticking together briefly. After nearly 10 microseconds had elapsed, the quarks and gluons became shackled together by strong forces between them, locked up permanently within protons, neutrons and other strongly interacting particles that physicists collectively call "hadrons." Such an abrupt change in the properties of a material is called a phase transition (like liquid water freezing into ice). The cosmic phase transition from the original mix of quarks and gluons into mundane protons and neutrons is of intense interest to scientists, both those who seek clues about how the universe evolved toward its current highly structured state and those who wish to understand better the fundamental forces involved.
The protons and neutrons that form the nuclei of every atom today are relic droplets of that primordial sea, tiny subatomic prison cells in which quarks thrash back and forth, chained forever. Even in violent collisions, when the quarks seem on the verge of breaking out, new "walls" form to keep them confined. Although many physicists have tried, no one has ever witnessed a solitary quark drifting all alone through a particle detector.
Dark Star: Evidence mounts for sun's companion
The recent discovery of Sedna, a small planet like object first detected by Cal Tech astronomer Dr. Michael Brown, provides what could be indirect physical evidence of a solar companion. Matching the recent findings by Dr. Brown, showing that Sedna moves in a highly unusual elliptical orbit, Cruttenden has determined that Sedna moves in resonance with previously published orbital data for a hypothetical companion star.
In the May 2006 issue of Discover, Dr. Brown stated: "Sedna shouldn't be there. There's no way to put Sedna where it is. It never comes close enough to be affected by the sun, but it never goes far enough away from the sun to be affected by other stars... Sedna is stuck, frozen in place; there's no way to move it, basically there's no way to put it there – unless it formed there. But it's in a very elliptical orbit like that. It simply can't be there. There's no possible way - except it is. So how, then?"
"I'm thinking it was placed there in the earliest history of the solar system. I'm thinking it could have gotten there if there used to be stars a lot closer than they are now and those stars affected Sedna on the outer part of its orbit and then later on moved away. So I call Sedna a fossil record of the earliest solar system. Eventually, when other fossil records are found, Sedna will help tell us how the sun formed and the number of stars that were close to the sun when it formed."
Walter Cruttenden agrees that Sedna's highly elliptical orbit is very unusual, but noted that the orbit period of 12,000 years is in neat resonance with the expected orbit periodicity of a companion star as outlined in several prior papers.
A Quantum Blender: Life, the Universe, and Everything
Q: You've jumped from working on quantum computers to saying, oh, by the way, the universe is a gigantic quantum computer.
Q:What is the universe computing when we are not hijacking it for our own purposes?
Q:Um, how many times have you seen The Matrix?
Q:When did you first start having these visions?
Q:How do you explain Programming to your kids?
Q: Do they believe you?
Q:I've just put on your magic glasses, and looking around I see that, oh my gosh, everything is computing. Is this just fashionable?
Move it: Getting Evolution Up to Speed
New evidence suggests humans are evolving more rapidly -- and more recently -- than most people thought possible. But for some radical evolutionists, Homo sapiens isn't morphing quickly enough.
"People like to think of modern human biology, and especially mental biology, as being the result of selections that took place 100,000 years ago," said University of Chicago geneticist Bruce Lahn. "But our research shows that humans are still under selection, not just for things like disease resistance but for cognitive abilities."
Lahn recently published the results of a study demonstrating that two key genes connected to brain size are currently under rapid selection in populations throughout the globe.
"The jury is still out on what this means because we aren't entirely sure what these genes do," said Lahn. "It's possible they just control size and shape of the brain, rather than cognition. But the data is pretty compelling that the brain is evolving."
Some radical thinkers suggest human evolution needs to move even faster, with a little help from science.
"Biological evolution is too slow for the human species," said Ray Kurzweil, futurist and author of The Singularity Is Near. "Over the next few decades, it's going to be left in the dust."
Mystery tremors detected deep within Earth
Tremors deep inside the Earth are usually produced by magma flowing beneath volcanoes, but a new study suggests they can also be produced by the shifting and sliding of tectonic plates.
Scientists have recorded vibrations from underground tremors at a geologic observatory along the San Andreas Fault, an 800-mile (1,280-kilometer) scar in the earth that runs through California. The fault marks the boundary between the Pacific Tectonic Plate and the North American Plate.
Gases in one dimension -- not your typical desk toy
Physicists at Penn State University have performed the first laboratory experiment with a system of many colliding particles whose motion never becomes chaotic. The achievement provides a deeper understanding of conditions that govern the boundary between order and chaos in physical systems. The research also has the potential to improve the accuracy of modern communication and navigation systems, which rely on high-precision gyroscopes or force sensors.
"A fascinating thing about this system is the remarkable stability of its momentum profile, which does not change even after each atom in the system has collided thousands of times," says Professor of Physics David Weiss, leader of the research team.
Unlike every-day experiences with colliding atoms--for example, a small heater that eventually warms the air in an entire room--Weiss's system does not reach the state physicists call thermal equilibrium, even after a long time. "We are not really making time stand still in our system--but it does look that way," Weiss says.
Study, in a First, Explains Evolution's Molecular Advance
By reconstructing ancient genes from long-extinct animals, scientists have for the first time demonstrated the step-by-step progression of how evolution created a new piece of molecular machinery by reusing and modifying existing parts.
The researchers say the findings, published today in the journal Science, offer a counterargument to doubters of evolution who question how a progression of small changes could produce the intricate mechanisms found in living cells.
"The evolution of complexity is a longstanding issue in evolutionary biology," said Joseph W. Thornton, professor of biology at the University of Oregon and lead author of the paper. "We wanted to understand how this system evolved at the molecular level. There's no scientific controversy over whether this system evolved. The question for scientists is how it evolved, and that's what our study showed."
Charles Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species, "If it would be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."
Discoveries like that announced this week of a fish with limblike fins have filled in the transitions between species. New molecular biology techniques let scientists begin to reconstruct how the processes inside a cell evolved over millions of years.
Astronomers from the University of Nottingham, UK, and the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (Spain), have found the first observational evidence that galaxies are not randomly oriented.
Instead, they are aligned following a characteristic pattern dictated by the large-scale structure of the invisible dark matter that surrounds them.
This discovery confirms one of the fundamental aspects of galaxy formation theory and implies a direct link between the global properties of the Universe and the individual properties of galaxies.
Galaxy formation theories predicted such an effect, but its empirical verification has remained elusive until now. The results of this work were published the 1 April issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Nowadays, matter is not distributed uniformly throughout space but is instead arranged in an intricate “cosmic web” of filaments and walls surrounding bubble-like voids. Regions with high galaxy concentrations are known as galaxy clusters whereas low density regions are termed voids.
This inhomogeneous distribution of matter is called the “Large-scale distribution of the Universe.” When the Universe is considered as whole, this distribution has a similar appearance to a spider’s web or the neural network of the brain.
Scientists have made one of the most important fossil finds in history: a missing link between fish and land animals, showing how creatures first walked out of the water and on to dry land more than 375m years ago.
Palaeontologists have said that the find, a crocodile-like animal called the Tiktaalik roseae and described today in the journal Nature, could become an icon of evolution in action - like Archaeopteryx, the famous fossil that bridged the gap between reptiles and birds.
As such, it will be a blow to proponents of intelligent design, who claim that the many gaps in the fossil record show evidence of some higher power.
Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, said: "Our emergence on to the land is one of the more significant rites of passage in our evolutionary history, and Tiktaalik is an important link in the story."
Tiktaalik - the name means "a large, shallow-water fish" in the Inuit language Inuktikuk - shows that the evolution of animals from living in water to living on land happened gradually, with fish first living in shallow water.
Saturn's moon 'best bet for life'
Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus may be the best place to look for life elsewhere in the Solar System.
That is the view of a senior scientist working on the Cassini spacecraft, which has been studying Saturn and its moons for nearly two years.
Dr Bob Brown told a major conference in Vienna, Austria, Enceladus contains simple organic molecules, water and heat, the ingredients for life.
He raised the possibility of future missions to probe inside the moon.
Chaos=Order: Physicists make baffling discovery
According to a computational study conducted by a group of physicists at Washington University in St. Louis, one may create order by introducing disorder.
While working on their model — a network of interconnected pendulums, or "oscillators" — the researchers noticed that when driven by ordered forces the various pendulums behaved chaotically and swung out of sync like a group of intoxicated synchronized swimmers. This was unexpected — shouldn't synchronized forces yield synchronized pendulums?
But then came the real surprise: When they introduced disorder — forces were applied at random to each oscillator — the system became ordered and synchronized.
"The thing that is counterintuitive is that when you introduce disorder into the system — when the [forces on the pendulums] act at random — the chaos that was present before disappears and there is order..."
Professor Predicts Human Time Travel This Century
With a brilliant idea and equations based on Einstein’s relativity theories, Ronald Mallett from the University of Connecticut has devised an experiment to observe a time traveling neutron in a circulating light beam. While his team still needs funding for the project, Mallett calculates that the possibility of time travel using this method could be verified within a decade...
To determine if time loops exist, Mallett is designing a desktop-sized device that will test his time-warping theory. By arranging mirrors, Mallett can make a circulating light beam which should warp surrounding space. Because some subatomic particles have extremely short lifetimes, Mallett hopes that he will observe these particles to exist for a longer time than expected when placed in the vicinity of the circulating light beam. A longer lifetime means that the particles must have flowed through a time loop into the future.
“Say you have a cup of coffee and a spoon,” Mallett explained to PhysOrg.com. “The coffee is empty space, and the spoon is the circulating light beam. When you stir the coffee with the spoon, the coffee – or the empty space – gets twisted. Suppose you drop a sugar cube in the coffee. If empty space were twisting, you’d be able to detect it by observing a subatomic particle moving around in the space.”
And according to Einstein, whenever you do something to space, you also affect time. Twisting space causes time to be twisted, meaning you could theoretically walk through time as you walk through space.
"But what is light really? Is it a wave or a shower of photons? There seems no likelihood for forming a consistent description of the phenomena of light by a choice of only one of the two languages. It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do."
Black holes: The ultimate quantum computers?
Nearly all of the information that falls into a black hole escapes back out, a controversial new study argues. The work suggests that black holes could one day be used as incredibly accurate quantum computers – if enormous theoretical and practical hurdles can first be overcome.
Black holes are thought to destroy anything that crosses a point of no return around them called an "event horizon". But in the 1970s, Stephen Hawking used quantum mechanics to show black holes do emit radiation, which eventually evaporates them away completely.
Originally, he argued that this "Hawking radiation" is so random that it could carry no information out about what had fallen into the black hole. But this conflicted with quantum mechanics, which states that quantum information can never be lost. Eventually, Hawking changed his mind and in 2004 famously conceded a bet, admitting that black holes do not destroy information.
But the issue is far from settled, says Daniel Gottesman of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada. "Hawking has changed his mind, but a lot of other people haven't," he told New Scientist. "There are still a lot of questions about what's really going on."
SPECULATIONS ON THE FUTURE OF SCIENCE
Recursion is the essence of science. For example, science papers cite other science papers, and that process of research pointing at itself invokes a whole higher level, the emergent shape of citation space. Recursion always does that. It is the engine of scientific progress and thus of the progress of society.
A particularly fruitful way to look at the history of science is to study how science itself has changed over time, with an eye to what that trajectory might suggest about the future. Kelly chronicled a sequence of new recursive devices in science...
2000 BC — First text indexes
Projecting forward, Kelly had five things to say about the next 100 years in science...
1) There will be more change in the next 50 years of science than in the last 400 years.
2) This will be a century of biology. It is the domain with the most scientists, the most new results, the most economic value, the most ethical importance, and the most to learn.
3) Computers will keep leading to new ways of science. Information is growing by 66% per year while physical production grows by only 7% per year. The data volume is growing to such levels of "zillionics" that we can expect science to compile vast combinatorial libraries, to run combinatorial sweeps through possibility space (as Stephen Wolfram has done with cellular automata), and to run multiple competing hypotheses in a matrix. Deep realtime simulations and hypothesis search will drive data collection in the real world.
4) New ways of knowing will emerge. "Wikiscience" is leading to perpetually refined papers with a thousand authors. Distributed instrumentation and experiment, thanks to miniscule transaction cost, will yield smart-mob, hive-mind science operating "fast, cheap, & out of control." Negative results will have positive value (there is already a "Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine"). Triple-blind experiments will emerge through massive non-invasive statistical data collection--- no one, not the subjects or the experimenters, will realize an experiment was going on until later. (In the Q&A, one questioner predicted the coming of the zero-author paper, generated wholly by computers.)
5) Science will create new levels of meaning. The Internet already is made of one quintillion transistors, a trillion links, a million emails per second, 20 exabytes of memory. It is approaching the level of the human brain and is doubling every year, while the brain is not. It is all becoming effectively one machine. And we are the machine.
"Science is the way we surprise God," said Kelly. "That's what we're here for." Our moral obligation is to generate possibilities, to discover the infinite ways, however complex and high-dimension, to play the infinite game. It will take all possible species of intelligence in order for the universe to understand itself. Science, in this way, is holy. It is a divine trip.
[via reality carnival]
New brown dwarf star discovered in the galactic neighborhood
A team of astronomers has found a cold object that is neither star nor planet circling a star relatively close to Earth.
The object, a cool brown dwarf orbiting its red parent star, sits about 12.7 light-years from the Sun, making it the third closest such object known to date, researchers said.
Cold and dim, brown dwarfs are objects that are typically more massive than planets but fall short of igniting into full-fledged stars. Astronomers using the Very Large Telescope at European Southern Observatory in Paranal, Chile found the latest brown dwarf orbiting the red star SCR 1845-6357.
“Besides being extremely close to Earth, this object is a T dwarf—a very cool brown dwarf—and the only such object found as a companion to a low-mass star,” said Beth Biller, lead author of the study reporting brown dwarf find and a graduate student at the University of Arizona, in a statement. “It is also likely the brightest known object of its temperature because it is so close.”
The newly found brown dwarf carries a temperature of about 1,382 degrees Fahrenheit (750 degrees Centigrade) and a mass between nine and 65 times that of Jupiter, researchers said. It also orbits its red parent at a distance 4.5 times that of the average separation between Earth and the Sun, or about 418 million miles (672 million kilometers), they added.
The research will be detailed in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal.
In 1972, the physicist Freeman Dyson wrote an article called "Missed Opportunities." In it, he describes how relativity could have been discovered many years before Einstein announced his findings if mathematicians in places like Göttingen had spoken to physicists who were poring over Maxwell's equations describing electromagnetism. The ingredients were there in 1865 to make the breakthrough—only announced by Einstein some 40 years later.
It is striking that Dyson should have written about scientific ships passing in the night. Shortly after he published the piece, he was responsible for an abrupt collision between physics and mathematics that produced one of the most remarkable scientific ideas of the last half century: that quantum physics and prime numbers are inextricably linked.
This unexpected connection with physics has given us a glimpse of the mathematics that might, ultimately, reveal the secret of these enigmatic numbers. At first the link seemed rather tenuous. But the important role played by the number 42 has recently persuaded even the deepest skeptics that the subatomic world might hold the key to one of the greatest unsolved problems in mathematics.
Researchers get neurons and silicon talking
European researchers have created an interface between mammalian neurons and silicon chips. The development is a crucial first step in the development of advanced technologies that combine silicon circuits with a mammal’s nervous system.
The ultimate applications are potentially limitless. In the long term it will possibly enable the creation of very sophisticated neural prostheses to combat neurological disorders. What's more, it could allow the creation of organic computers that use living neurons as their CPU.
Those applications are potentially decades away, but in the much nearer term the new technology could enable very advanced and sophisticated drug screening systems for the pharmaceutical industry.
"Pharmaceutical companies could use the chip to test the effect of drugs on neurons, to quickly discover promising avenues of research," says Professor Stefano Vassanelli, a molecular biologist with the University of Padua in Italy, and one of the partners in the NACHIP project, funded under the European Commission’s Future and Emerging Technologies initiative of the IST programme.
NACHIP's core achievement was to develop a working interface between the living tissue of individual neurons and the inorganic compounds of silicon chips. It was a difficult task.
"We had a lot of problems to overcome," says Vassanelli. "And we attacked the problems using two major strategies, through the semiconductor technology and the biology."
You thoughts can now be read: The Silent Speaker
In space, no one can hear you scream. Use a cell phone on a crowded commuter train and everyone can.
Read it- the implications are spooky.
Astronomers report an unprecedented elongated double helix nebula near the center of our Milky Way galaxy, using observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The part of the nebula the astronomers observed stretches 80 light years in length. The research is published March 16 in the journal Nature.
"We see two intertwining strands wrapped around each other as in a DNA molecule," said Mark Morris, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy, and lead author. "Nobody has ever seen anything like that before in the cosmic realm. Most nebulae are either spiral galaxies full of stars or formless amorphous conglomerations of dust and gas -- space weather. What we see indicates a high degree of order."
The double helix nebula is approximately 300 light years from the enormous black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
Dust from comet's tail throws up solar system mystery
Dust particles collected from the tail of a comet and returned to Earth by the spacecraft Stardust are challenging scientists' theories of how the solar system formed.
The first examination of the particles, which were collected by the Nasa probe on a 2.8bn-mile (4.6bn-kilometre) round trip to comet Wild 2, has revealed minerals that could only have formed at blistering temperatures close to the sun. The finding has surprised mission scientists as comets are known to form in the frigid outer reaches of the solar system, at least 40 times further away from the sun than the Earth is. Scientists working on the Stardust project say the probe collected thousands of particles in 2004 when it flew to within 150 miles of the comet's nucleus, using a tennis racket-shaped collector coated in aerogel, the hi-tech equivalent of fly paper.
"The interesting thing is we are finding these high-temperature minerals in materials from the coldest place in the solar system," said Donald Brownlee, the project's Washington University-based lead scientist. "It's certain these materials never formed inside this icy, cold body."
Three cosmic enigmas, one audacious answer
Dark energy and dark matter, two of the greatest mysteries confronting physicists, may be two sides of the same coin. A new and as yet undiscovered kind of star could explain both phenomena and, in turn, remove black holes from the lexicon of cosmology.
The audacious idea comes from George Chapline, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin of Stanford University and their colleagues. Last week at the 22nd Pacific Coast Gravity Meeting in Santa Barbara, California, Chapline suggested that the objects that till now have been thought of as black holes could in fact be dead stars that form as a result of an obscure quantum phenomenon. These stars could explain both dark energy and dark matter.
This radical suggestion would get round some fundamental problems posed by the existence of black holes. One such problem arises from the idea that once matter crosses a black hole's event horizon - the point beyond which not even light can escape - it will be destroyed by the space-time "singularity" at the centre of the black hole. Because information about the matter is lost forever, this conflicts with the laws of quantum mechanics, which state that information can never disappear from the universe.
Another problem is that light from an object falling into a black hole is stretched so dramatically by the immense gravity there that observers outside will see time freeze: the object will appear to sit at the event horizon for ever. This freezing of time also violates quantum mechanics. "People have been vaguely uncomfortable about these problems for a while, but they figured they'd get solved someday," says Chapline. "But that hasn't happened and I'm sure when historians look back, they'll wonder why people didn't question these contradictions."
Fermi paradox: Is There Anybody Out There?
Our galaxy is about 100,000 light years from rim to rim and contains perhaps 400 billion stars, each of which could easily have, on average, a half-dozen planets. The galaxy is perhaps 10 billion years old. If there were a single fledgling interstellar civilization in all that space and time, and it expanded away from its planet or point of origin on average at the measly rate of one light year every ten-thousand years, slower than our own Voyager Spacecraft are traveling, and grew in all directions, it would take 'only' one-billion years to get from one end of the galaxy to another and completely fill it up along the way. A little faster, at a mere one percent of the speed of light, it would take only ten-million years to spread from one end of the galaxy to another, and less than a billion to engulf entire clusters of galaxies.
Humans could begin constructing spacecraft that move at these speeds right now, if we put our minds to it. So if we could start spreading all over the galaxy using our current technology, why hasn't someone or something already spread all over us? Once cultures started spreading like this it seems likely a ruthless sort of selection would kick in and favor the culture, or the faction within a culture, which does so the most aggressively, quickly, and successfully. It's hard to see what would stop it. So where are they? Is there anybody out there?
Good Eats: Is our universe about to be mangled?
Our universe may one day be obliterated or assimilated by a larger universe, according to a controversial new analysis. The work suggests the parallel universes proposed by some quantum theorists may not actually be parallel but could interact – and with disastrous consequences.
Random quantum fluctuations mean the behaviour of particles and photons of light cannot be predicted exactly. The quantum equations that describe them contain a variety of different - and opposing - outcomes in their solution, such as a particular particle causing a bell to both ring and not ring in an experimental setup. Physicists then have to use an equation called the Born rule to calculate the probability of the bell ringing, and countless experiments have shown the rule works.
But researchers have long struggled to understand why a bell will ring – or not ring – in any given run of an experiment, since in theory it has the option of doing both. This conundrum, known as the quantum measurement problem, has led a small subset of physicists to argue that in fact the bell does do both - but that each possible outcome takes place in a different, parallel universe that pops into existence during the experiment.
"This is what the math suggests if you take it literally," says Robin Hanson of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, US. But the idea that "every microsecond, the universe splits into a bunch more universes boggles the mind."
[via corpus mmothra]
Positive Music: The Plant Experiments
Her first experiment was to simply play a constant tone. In the first of the three chambers, she played a steady tone continuously for eight hours. In the second, she played the tone for three hours intermittently, and in the third chamber, she played no tone at all. The plants in the first chamber, with the constant tone, died within fourteen days. The plants in the second chamber grew abundantly and were extremely healthy, even more so than the plants in the third chamber. This was a very interesting outcome, very similar to the results that were obtained from experiments performed by the Muzak Corporation in the early 1940s to determine the effect of "background music" on factory workers. When music was played continuously, the workers were more fatigued and less productive, when played for several hours only, several times a day, the workers were more productive, and more alert and attentive than when no music was played.
Those plants were obviously under the influence of bad fertilizer. More of my plants here actually sing Led Zeppelin songs... a buncha lillte Robert plants, they are. Heh.
Beautiful and Fecund: Swamp Things
One of the most exquisite showcases in all of nature's biological beauty exists in my own backyard. It's not quite land, not quite water. But in the soggy confusion between the two is complex of ecosystems literally bursting with flora and fauna more diverse than a tropical rain forest. Here, the normal roles of plants and animals are often turned upside down: Great cats pad silently along muddy trails between shallow inland lakes patrolled by playful dolphins and toothy sharks. Flowering vines feast on branches dripping with moss and plants devour animals. Cacti can be found underwater and oysters in trees. Prairies of serrated sedge grass are bordered with magnificent old growth forest, all leaping out of dark, endless plains of water. It is the only place on earth where salt-water crocodiles live side by side with fresh-water alligators. It's a nightmarish place teaming with rodents, slithering snakes, cockroaches, leeches, spiders, and clouds of mosquitos, as well as a dreamy paradise of brilliant blossoms, exotic waterbirds, and stately Cypress trees stretching to the horizon. Or so it was, once upon a time.
It is the Florida Everglades. And although there are plenty of familiar bogs and swamps in it, the ecology arises from natural forces unique in all the world: For the Everglades itself isn't a swamp, it's a river.
The wetlands of South Florida have also served as the waterlogged stage for dramatic human conflict over hundreds of years. Tribe Vs. Tribe, Spanish Conquistadors and native Americans, Cowboys and Indians, slaves and owners, tycoons and conservationists, man against nature, and corporation Vs. environmentalist.
Black and white twins
When Kylie Hodgson gave birth to twin daughters by caesarean section, she was just relieved that they had arrived safely. It was only when the midwife handed them over for her to hold that she noticed the difference between them. Remee, who weighed 5lb 15oz, was blonde and fair skinned. Her sister Kian, born a minute later weighing 6lb, was black...
Very occasionally, the egg or sperm might contain genes coding for one skin colour. If both the egg and sperm contain all white genes, the baby will be white. And if both contain just the versions necessary for black skin, the baby will be black. For a mixed-race couple, the odds of either of these scenarios is around 100 to one. But both scenarios can occur at the same time if the woman conceives non-identical twins, another 100 to one chance. This involves two eggs being fertilised by two sperm at the same time, which also has odds of around 100 to one. If a sperm containing all-white genes fuses with a similar egg and a sperm coding for purely black skin fuses with a similar egg, two babies of dramatically different colours will be born.
The odds of this happening are 100 x 100 x 100 - a million to one.
Claim of reversed human evolution provokes skepticism, interest
Scientists’ reactions have ranged from deep skepticism to interest in a report of a mutation that makes people walk on all fours, cited in a Turkish study as a possible instance of “backward evolution...”
This might help resolve a debate over how our forebears walked, they added. The mutation is documented only in five members of a Turkish family, whom researchers also describe as mentally and verbally underdeveloped... The British team argued in a report dated Oct. 3, part of a discussion paper series the Centre publishes, that it’s possible—but debatable—that “we are indeed seeing the ‘rediscovery’ of something very like the quadrupedal [four-limbed] gait used by our ancestors.”
Carriers of the mutation, they wrote, all children of one couple, “as adults have continued to walk—highly effectively—on hands and feet.” This gait, they added, seems to be a development of a type of crawl that some children take up as a transitional stage before upright walking.
Affected people walk palms down, unlike great apes, which walk on their knuckles, wrote the British group... “The local villagers laugh at and tease” the victims, they added. “Because of this, the females tend to stay close to the house, but the male sometimes wanders for several kilometres. He helps raise money for his family by collecting cans and bottles, which he carries home in a pouch made from his shirt, held by his teeth. He is remarkably agile.”
Top stars picked in alien search
A US astronomer has drawn up a shortlist of the stars most likely to harbour intelligent life. Scientists have been listening out for radio signals from other solar systems in the hope of detecting civilisations other than our own.
Margaret Turnbull at the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC looked at criteria such as the star's age and the amount of iron in its atmosphere. Her top candidate was beta CVn, a Sun-like star 26 light-years away.
Quantum computer works best switched off!
With the right set-up, the theory suggested, the computer would sometimes get an answer out of the computer even though the program did not run. And now researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have improved on the original design and built a non-running quantum computer that really works.
Quantum computers have the potential for solving certain types of problems much faster than classical computers. Speed and efficiency are gained because quantum bits can be placed in superpositions of one and zero, as opposed to classical bits, which are either one or zero. Moreover, the logic behind the coherent nature of quantum information processing often deviates from intuitive reasoning, leading to some surprising effects.
The Virus: Unintelligent Design
...With the recent discovery of a truly monstrous virus, scientists are again casting about for how best to characterize these spectral life-forms. The new virus, officially known as Mimivirus (because it mimics a bacterium), is a creature "so bizarre," as The London Telegraph described it, "and unlike anything else seen by scientists . . . that . . . it could qualify for a new domain in the tree of life." Indeed, Mimivirus is so much more genetically complex than all previously known viruses, not to mention a number of bacteria, that it seems to call for a dramatic redrawing of the tree of life.
That represents a radical change in thinking about life's origins: Viruses, long thought to be biology's hitchhikers, turn out to have been biology's formative force.
This is striking news, especially at a moment when the basic facts of origins and evolution seem to have fallen under a shroud. In the discussions of intelligent design, one hears a yearning for an old-fashioned creation story, in which some singular, inchoate entity stepped in to give rise to complex life-forms—humans in particular. Now the viruses appear to present a creation story of their own: a stirring, topsy-turvy, and decidedly unintelligent design wherein life arose more by reckless accident than original intent, through an accumulation of genetic accounting errors committed by hordes of mindless, microscopic replication machines. Our descent from apes is the least of it. With the discovery of Mimi, scientists are close to ascribing to viruses the last role that anyone would have conceived for them: that of life's prime mover.
Spitzer telescope finds 'crushed glass' galaxies
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has observed a rare population of colliding galaxies whose entangled hearts are wrapped in tiny crystals resembling crushed glass.
The crystals are essentially sand, or silicate, grains that were formed like glass, probably in the stellar equivalent of furnaces. This is the first time silicate crystals have been detected in a galaxy outside of our own.
"We were surprised to find such delicate, little crystals in the centers of some of the most violent places in the universe," said Dr. Henrik Spoon of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. He is first author of a paper on the research appearing in the Feb. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. "Crystals like these are easily destroyed, but in this case, they are probably being churned out by massive, dying stars faster than they are disappearing."
The discovery will ultimately help astronomers better understand the evolution of galaxies, including our Milky Way, which will merge with the nearby Andromeda galaxy billions of years from now.
"It's as though there's a huge dust storm taking place at the center of merging galaxies," said Dr. Lee Armus, a co-author of the paper from NASA's Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "The silicates get kicked up and wrap the galaxies' nuclei in giant, dusty glass blankets."
A Trillion Worlds for the Taking
For thousands of years of recorded history a fragile race of bipedal apes have cast their primate eyes skyward in hope of Divine Salvation or in fear of Heavenly Apocalypse. Strangely, unbeknownst to them, those superstitious musings weren't far from the truth. Tumbling silently through the farthest reaches of our solar system are the twin potentials of untold wealth and apocalyptic peril. Great iron mountains unchained by land, hydrocarbon ice bergs floating in an endless spatial ocean, and self gravitating heaps of gravel. There are trillions of them by best estimate. All these riches are ours for the taking: Each a potential Destroyer of Worlds.
Sixty-five million years ago, a smallish one made a fateful rendezvous with our lush steamy, planet and changed the course of life on earth. And while it may have been the harbinger of doom for the dinosaurs, it was midwife to the birth of modern day furry mammals, and its many celestial cousins left behind may yet provide our deliverance or our demise.
Great balls of lightning
If you have ever seen a mysterious ball of lightning chasing a cow or flying through your window during a thunderstorm, take comfort from the fact that you have witnessed a very rare phenomenon. Indeed, ball lightning -- a slow-moving ball of light that is occasionally seen at ground level during storms -- has puzzled scientists for centuries. Now, however, researchers in Israel have built a system that can create lightning balls in the lab. The work may not only help us to understand ball lightning but could even lead to practical applications that make use of these artificial balls...
Ball lightning is thought to be a ball of plasma that is formed when a bolt of lightning hits the ground and creates a molten "hot spot". The ball can typically measure 30 centimetres across and can last for a few seconds. Although they are generally created during thunderstorms, Eli Jerby and Vladimir Dikhtyar from Tel Aviv University in Israel have now been able to make lightning balls in the lab using a "microwave drill".
The device consists of the magnetron from a 600-watt domestic microwave oven and concentrates its power into a volume of just one cubic centimetre. The researchers inject the microwaves though a pointed rod into a solid substrate made from glass, silicon, germanium, alumina or other ceramics. The energy from the microwaves then produces a molten hot spot in the substrate
Scientists evolve a complex genetic trait in the laboratory
Scientists have evolved a complex trait in the laboratory — using the pressure of selection to induce tobacco hornworms to evolve the dual trait of turning black or green depending on the temperature during their development. The biologists have also demonstrated the basic hormonal mechanism underlying the evolution of such dual traits.
Their experiments, they said, offer important insight into how complex traits involving many genes can abruptly “blossom” in an organism’s evolution.
Dark matter comes out of the cold
Astronomers have for the first time put some real numbers on the physical characteristics of dark matter. This strange material that dominates the Universe but which is invisible to current telescope technology is one of the great enigmas of modern science.
That it exists is one of the few things on which researchers have been certain. But now an Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, team has at last been able to place limits on how it is packed in space and measure its "temperature". "It's the first clue of what this stuff might be," said Professor Gerry Gilmore. "For the first time ever, we're actually dealing with its physics..."
A carbon-rich substance found filling tiny cracks within a Martian meteorite could boost the idea that life once existed on the Red Planet. The material resembles that found in fractures, or "veins", apparently etched by microbes in volcanic glass from the Earth's ocean floor.
The evidence comes from a meteorite held in London's Natural History Museum that was cracked open by curators. All the processes of life on Earth are based on the element carbon. Proving carbon in Martian meteorites is indigenous - and not contamination from Earth - is crucial to the question of whether life once arose on the Red Planet. Initial measurements support the idea that the "carbonaceous material" is not contamination, the scientists say.
At the Beep: Physicist hypothesizes creator left messages
A University physicist has proposed that temperature fluctuations in microwave radiation may contain messages from the universe’s creator.
“It’s one of the most speculative possible hypotheses,” said associate professor Stephen Hsu, a member of the University’s Institute of Theoretical Science.
However, it may be 20 or 30 years before experimental physicists develop instruments refined enough to collect the data necessary to test this hypothesis, Hsu said.
Hsu said he thought of the idea many years ago, when theoretical physicists at Stanford and MIT addressed whether a universe could be created in a laboratory. They hypothesized that this could be done by creating a bubble of super-dense matter that would expand into extra dimensions.
“If you did create such a universe, how would you tell the occupants of that universe that their universe was made in a lab at MIT?” Hsu said. “One place to put the message would be in a microwave background.”
Paul Davies: Physics and the Mind of God
The mystery is all the greater when one takes into account the cryptic character of the laws of nature. When Newton saw the apple fall, he saw a falling apple. He did not see a set of differential equations that link the motion of the apple to the motion of the moon. The mathematical laws that underlie physical phenomena are not apparent to us through direct observation; they have to be painstakingly extracted from nature using arcane procedures of laboratory experiment and mathematical theory. The laws of nature are hidden from us, and are revealed only after much labor. The late Heinz Pagels-another atheistic physicist- described this by saying that the laws of nature are written in a sort of cosmic code, and that the job of the scientist is to crack the code and reveal the message-nature's message, God's message, take your choice, but not our message. The extraordinary thing is that human beings have evolved such a fantastic code-breaking talent. This is the wonder and the magnificence of science: we can use it to decode nature and discover the secret laws the universe follows.
Many people want to find God in the creation of the universe, in the big bang that started it all off. They imagine a Superbeing who deliberates for all eternity, then presses a metaphysical button and produces a huge explosion. I believe this image is entirely misconceived. Einstein showed us that space and time are part of the physical universe, not a pre-existing arena in which the universe happens. Cosmologists are convinced that the big bang was the coming-into-being, not just of matter and energy, but of space and time as well. Time itself began with the big bang. If this sounds baffling, it is by no means new. Already in the fifth century St. Augustine proclaimed that "the world was made with time, not in time." According to James Hartle and Stephen Hawking, this coming-into-being of the universe need not be a supernatural process, but could occur entirely naturally, in accordance with the laws of quantum physics, which permit the occurrence of genuinely spontaneous events.
Take a leap into hyperspace
The US military has begun to cast its eyes over the hyperdrive concept, and a space propulsion researcher at the US Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories has said he would be interested in putting the idea to the test. And despite the bafflement of most physicists at the theory that supposedly underpins it, Pavlos Mikellides, an aerospace engineer at the Arizona State University in Tempe who reviewed the winning paper, stands by the committee's choice. "Even though such features have been explored before, this particular approach is quite unique," he says.
Genes that control the timing of organ formation during development also control timing of aging and death, and provide evidence of a biological timing mechanism for aging, Yale researchers report in the journal Science.
“Although there is a large variation in lifespan from species to species, there are genetic aspects to the processes of development and aging,” said Frank Slack, associate professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and senior author of the paper. “We used the simple, but genetically well-studied, C. elegans worm and found genes that are directly involved in determination of lifespan. Humans have genes that are nearly identical.”
A microRNA and the developmental-timing gene it controls, lin-4 and lin-14, affect patterns of cellular development at very specific stages. Slack’s group found that mutations in these genes alter both the timing of the worm development stages— and the worm lifespan. C. elegans has been the premier model organism for studying the genetics of aging, and an excellent predictor of genes that also control mammalian aging.
To test their functions, they made mutants in both of these genes. Animals with a loss-of-function mutation in lin-4 had a lifespan that was significantly shorter than normal, suggesting that lin-4 prevents premature death. Conversely, over-expressing lin-4 led to a longer lifespan. They also found that a loss–of-function mutation in lin-14, the target of lin-4, caused the opposite effect — a 31 percent longer lifespan.
Science of the Solstice
The Sun will always rise and set furthest to the south during the day of Winter Solstice, and furthest to the north during Summer Solstice. Today is Winter Solstice, the day of least sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere and of most sunlight in the Southern Hemisphere. In many countries, the Winter Solstice brings a change in season, as it is the first day of winter in the North. The solar heating and stored energy in the Earth's surface and atmosphere is near its lowest during winter, making it usually the coldest months of the year.
Science of the Solstice
The Sun will always rise and set furthest to the south during the day of Winter Solstice, and furthest to the north during Summer Solstice. Today is Winter Solstice, the day of least sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere and of most sunlight in the Southern Hemisphere. In many countries, the Winter Solstice brings a change in season, as it is the first day of winter in the North. The solar heating and stored energy in the Earth's surface and atmosphere is near its lowest during winter, making it usually the coldest months of the year.
Toys, toys! First Mass Producible Quantum Computer Chip
Researchers at the University of Michigan have produced what is believed to be the first scalable quantum computer chip, which could mean big gains in the worldwide race to develop a quantum computer.
Using the same semiconductor fabrication technology that is used in everyday computer chips, researchers were able to trap a single atom within an integrated semiconductor chip and control it using electrical signals, said Christopher Monroe, U-M physics professor and the principal investigator and co-author of the paper, "Ion Trap in a Semiconductor Chip." The paper appeared in the Dec. 11 issue of Nature Physics.
Quantum computers are promising because they can solve certain problems much faster than any possible conventional computer, owing to the bizarre features of quantum mechanics. For instance, quantum computers can process multiple inputs at the same time in the same device, and quantum circuitry can be wired via the quantum feature of entanglement, dubbed by Einstein as "spooky action-at-a-distance."
Deep Wonder: A Cosmic Season's Greetings
I remember it like it was yesterday: Speeding through the empty Texas prairie, Dec 26th, 1968 at 2 AM. I'm laying above and behind the back seats, my six-year old body easily stretched out on the old style rear console, staring up through the slanted glass of a Ford sedan at a crystal clear nightscape. The Milky Way spilled across the sky like powdered sugar. In a moment of pure Synchronicity the radio played a static filled, crackling Season's Greeting carried a quarter million miles on the gossamer wings of invisible light, conducted by bone to my inner ear via the speaker beneath my head, as I stared into the starry infinitude...
An incredible top-notch science post at Kos, wonderfully written by newcomer DarkSyde. Read it!
Itchy: How Safe Are Nanoparticles?
[R]elatively little is known about the potential health and environmental effects of the tiny particles -- just atoms wide and small enough to easily penetrate cells in lungs, brains and other organs.
While governments and businesses have begun pumping millions of dollars into researching such effects, scientists and others say nowhere near enough is being spent to determine whether nanomaterials pose a danger to human health.
Michael Crichton's bestselling book Prey paints a doomsday scenario in which a swarm of tiny nanomachines escapes the lab and threatens to overwhelm humanity. Scientists believe the potential threat from nanomaterials is more everyday than a sci-fi thriller, but no less serious.
Studies have shown that some of the most promising carbon nanoparticles -- including long, hollow nanotubes and sphere-shaped buckyballs -- can be toxic to animal cells. There are fears that exposure can cause breathing problems, as occurs with some other ultrafine particles, that nanoparticles could be inhaled through the nose, wreaking unknown havoc on brain cells, or that nanotubes placed on the skin could damage DNA.
Fuel's paradise? Power source that turns physics on its head
It seems too good to be true: a new source of near-limitless power that costs virtually nothing, uses tiny amounts of water as its fuel and produces next to no waste. If that does not sound radical enough, how about this: the principle behind the source turns modern physics on its head.
Randell Mills, a Harvard University medic who also studied electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims to have built a prototype power source that generates up to 1,000 times more heat than conventional fuel. Independent scientists claim to have verified the experiments and Dr Mills says that his company, Blacklight Power, has tens of millions of dollars in investment lined up to bring the idea to market. And he claims to be just months away from unveiling his creation.
The problem is that according to the rules of quantum mechanics, the physics that governs the behaviour of atoms, the idea is theoretically impossible. "Physicists are quite conservative. It's not easy to convince them to change a theory that is accepted for 50 to 60 years. I don't think [Mills's] theory should be supported," said Jan Naudts, a theoretical physicist at the University of Antwerp.
What has much of the physics world up in arms is Dr Mills's claim that he has produced a new form of hydrogen, the simplest of all the atoms, with just a single proton circled by one electron. In his "hydrino", the electron sits a little closer to the proton than normal, and the formation of the new atoms from traditional hydrogen releases huge amounts of energy.
This is scientific heresy. According to quantum mechanics, electrons can only exist in an atom in strictly defined orbits, and the shortest distance allowed between the proton and electron in hydrogen is fixed. The two particles are simply not allowed to get any closer.
According to Dr Mills, there can be only one explanation: quantum mechanics must be wrong. "We've done a lot of testing. We've got 50 independent validation reports, we've got 65 peer-reviewed journal articles," he said. "We ran into this theoretical resistance and there are some vested interests here. People are very strong and fervent protectors of this [quantum] theory that they use."
Before the Big Bang, There Was . . . What?
What was God doing before he created the world? The philosopher and writer (and later saint) Augustine posed the question in his "Confessions" in the fourth century, and then came up with a strikingly modern answer: before God created the world there was no time and thus no "before." To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there was no "then" then.
Until recently no one could attend a lecture on astronomy and ask the modern version of Augustine's question - what happened before the Big Bang? - without receiving the same frustrating answer, courtesy of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which describes how matter and energy bend space and time.
If we imagine the universe shrinking backward, like a film in reverse, the density of matter and energy rises toward infinity as we approach the moment of origin. Smoke pours from the computer, and space and time themselves dissolve into a quantum "foam." "Our rulers and our clocks break," explained Dr. Andrei Linde, a cosmologist at Stanford University. "To ask what is before this moment is a self-contradiction."
But lately, emboldened by progress in new theories that seek to unite Einstein's lordly realm with the unruly quantum rules that govern subatomic physics - so-called quantum gravity - Dr. Linde and his colleagues have begun to edge their speculations closer and closer to the ultimate moment and, in some cases, beyond it.
Some theorists suggest that the Big Bang was not so much a birth as a transition, a "quantum leap" from some formless era of imaginary time, or from nothing at all. Still others are exploring models in which cosmic history begins with a collision with a universe from another dimension.
All this theorizing has received a further boost of sorts from recent reports of ripples in a diffuse radio glow in the sky, thought to be the remains of the Big Bang fireball itself. These ripples are consistent with a popular theory, known as inflation, that the universe briefly speeded its expansion under the influence of a violent antigravitational force, when it was only a fraction of a fraction of a nanosecond old. Those ripples thus provide a useful check on theorists' imaginations. Any theory of cosmic origins that does not explain this phenomenon, cosmologists agree, stands little chance of being right.
Fortunately or unfortunately, that still leaves room for a lot of possibilities.
Cosmic Crapshoot: Does God play dice?
If there is any preconceived notion concerning the laws of nature - one that we can rely on without any further questioning - it is the assumption that they are controlled by strict logic. Under all conceivable circumstances, the laws of nature should dictate how the universe evolves. Curiously, however, quantum mechanics has given a new twist to this adage. It does not allow a precise sequence of events to be predicted, only statistical averages. All statistical averages can be predicted - in principle with infinite accuracy - but nothing more than that.
Einstein was one of the first people to protest against this impoverishment of the concept of logic. It has turned out, however, to be a fact of life. Quantum mechanics is the only known realistic description of the microscopic parts of our universe like atoms and molecules, and it works just fine. Logically impoverished or not, quantum mechanics appears to be completely self-consistent.
But how does quantum mechanics tie in with particles that are much smaller than atoms? The Standard Model is the beautiful solution to two fundamental problems: one, how to combine quantum mechanics with Einstein’s theory of special relativity; and two, how to explain numerous experimental observations concerning the behaviour of sub-atomic particles in terms of a concise theory. This model tells us how far we can go with quantum mechanics. Provided that we adhere strictly to the principles of quantum field theory, nature obeys both quantum mechanics and special relativity up to arbitrarily small distance and time scales.
Just like all other successful theories of nature, the Standard Model obeys the notions of locality and causality, which makes this theory completely comprehensible. In other words, the physical laws of this theory describe in a meaningful way what happens under all conceivable circumstances. The standard theory of general relativity, which describes the gravitational forces in the macroscopic world, approaches a similar degree of perfection. Einstein’s field equations are local, and here, cause also precedes effect in a local fashion. These laws, too, are completely unambiguous.
But how can we combine the Standard Model with general relativity? Many theorists appear to think that this is just a technical problem. But if I say something like "quantum general relativity is not renormalizable", this is much more than just a technicality. Renormalizability has made the Standard Model possible, because it lets us answer the question of what happens at extremely tiny distance scales. Or, more precisely, how can we see that cause precedes effect there? If cause did not precede effect, we would have no causality or locality - and no theory at all.
Frankenfuel: World's next fuel source could be designer organisms
The scientist who cracked the human genome now hopes to exploit the properties of DNA to solve the world's pending energy crisis. J. Craig Venter, who gained worldwide fame in 2000 when he mapped the human genetic code, is behind a new start-up called Synthetic Genomics, which plans to create new types of organisms that, ideally, would produce hydrogen, secrete nonpolluting heating oil or be able to break down greenhouse gases.
The initial focus will be on creating "biofactories" for hydrogen and ethanol, two fuels seen as playing an increasing role in powering cars in the future. Hydrogen also holds promise for heating homes and putting juice into electronic devices. The raw genetic material for these synthetic micro-organisms will come from a diverse set of genes from a variety of species, according to the company. While many of the genes will come from some of the aquatic micro-organisms that Venter and his colleagues discovered during extensive ocean voyages in the last two years, the company will also experiment with genes from large mammals such as dogs.
"Rapid advances in high throughput DNA sequencing and synthesis, as well as high performance computing and bioinformatics, now enable us to synthesize novel photosynthetic and metabolic pathways," Venter said in a statement earlier this year. "We are in an era of rapid advances in science and are beginning the transition from being able to not only read genetic code, but are now moving to the early stages of being able to write code."
The Eighth Circuit Revealed: New Research Reveals That Thoughts Affect Genes
Until recently, it was thought that genes were self-actualizing…that genes could ‘turn themselves on and off.’ Such behavior is required in order for genes to control biology. Though the power of genes is still emphasized in current biology courses and textbooks, a radically new understanding has emerged at the leading edge of cell science. It is now recognized that the environment, and more specifically, our perception (interpretation)of the environment, directly controls the activity of our genes. Environment controls gene activity through a process known as epigenetic control.
During the first six years of life a child unconsciously acquires the behavioral repertoire needed to become a functional member of society. In addition, a child’s subconscious mind also downloads beliefs relating to self. When a parent tells a young child it is stupid, undeserving or any other negative trait, this too is downloaded as a ‘fact’ into the youngster’s subconscious mind. These acquired beliefs constitute the ‘central voice’ that controls the fate of the body’s cellular community. While the conscious mind may hold one’s self in high regard, the more powerful unconscious mind may simultaneously engage in self-destructive behavior.
"The rewards system is involved in regulating behavior based on previous experiences of rewards and punishments," d'Avossa says. "It also may help us build up predictions of what the world should be like and how certain events go together. When it works well, the world makes sense to you."
Sapir noted that the reward systems' predictive abilities may be damaged or missing in some patients with mental illness, causing these patients to perceive the world as alien and unpredictable.
I like it: Nerve Growth Factor
Your heartbeat accelerates, you have butterflies in the stomach, you feel euphoric and a bit silly. It's all part of falling passionately in love -- and scientists now tell us the feeling won't last more than a year. The powerful emotions that bowl over new lovers are triggered by a molecule known as nerve growth factor (NGF), according to Pavia University researchers. The Italian scientists found far higher levels of NGF in the blood of 58 people who had recently fallen madly in love than in that of a group of singles and people in long-term relationships.
Heavy Surf: Science to ride gravitational waves
This is precision engineering at the extreme. To have any hope of detecting gravitational waves, it has to be. Unlike electromagnetic waves - the light seen by traditional telescopes - gravitational waves are extremely weak. If one were to pass through your body it would alternately stretch your space in one dimension while squashing it in another - but the changes are fantastically small. Any moving mass will send gravitational waves radiating outwards at the speed of light; but only truly massive bodies, such as exploding stars and coalescing neutron stars, can disturb space-time sufficiently for our technology to pick up the signal.
Click of life: Living camera uses bacteria to capture image
A dense bed of light-sensitive bacteria has been developed as a unique kind of photographic film. Although it takes 4 hours to take a picture and only works in red light, it also delivers extremely high resolution.
The “living camera” uses light to switch on genes in a genetically modified bacterium that then cause an image-recording chemical to darken. The bacteria are tiny, allowing the sensor to deliver a resolution of 100 megapixels per square inch.
To make their novel biosensor, Chris Voigt’s team at the University of California in San Francisco, US, chose E. Coli, the food-poisoning gut bacterium. One of the reasons for that choice is that E. Coli does not normally use light - photosynthesising bacteria could have used light to prompt other, unwanted, biological processes.
The researchers used genetic engineering techniques to shuttle genes from photosynthesising blue-green algae into the cell membrane of the E. coli. One gene codes for a protein that reacts to red light. Once activated, that protein acts to shut down the action of a second gene. This switch-off turns an added indicator solution black.
As a result, a monochrome image could be permanently “printed” on a dense bed of the modified E. Coli.
If you could make a universe, would you leave a message for its inhabitants to find? Putting the fight between evolution and creationism aside for a moment, a pair of theoretical physicists says it might be worth looking for such a transmission in our universe.
"It's a crazy assumption that there's a supreme being that wants to send us a message," said Steve Hsu, an associate professor at the University of Oregon, admitting that believing in a message involves a leap of faith. "But, if you could create a universe in your laboratory, wouldn't you want to leave a message inside?"
A recent paper that Hsu coauthored suggested that fluctuations in cosmic microwave background radiation found throughout the universe could house a communiqué from our universe's creator. The microwave background is a relic of the Big Bang forged during "decoupling," the early point in the universe's history when matter and energy became distinct.
Are We All Aliens? The New Case for Panspermia
Nestled safely inside the belly of a comet orbiting some unknown star, a microscopic alien sits dormant. Somewhere in this vast universe -- perhaps a place like Earth -- a greater destiny awaits the microbe. A place to flourish, become a nematode or a rose or a teenager.
Life, after all, is tenacious and thrives on change.
Over time, gravity performs a few plausible, but not routine tricks, and the comet is ejected from its stellar orbit like a rock from a slingshot. For more than a 100 million years it slips silently across the inky vastness of interstellar space.
Then gravity goes to work again. Another star tugs at the comet, pulls it in.
A few giant gaseous planets whiz by, their bulks tugging at the comet, altering its course slightly. Ahead now, growing larger, looms a gorgeous blue and brown marble. Water and land. Maybe some air.
Then with the force only the cosmos can summon, the comet slams into the third rock from a mid-sized, moderately powerful star. The alien microbe survives, emerges from its protective shell and spreads like the dickens.
Thus began life on Earth, 3.8 billion years ago.
In quantum physics, nothing is as it seems. As physicists continue to study the universe they continually run into new questions that shake how humans understand the universe's intricate mechanics.
UC Berkeley physics professor, Raphael Bousso, is trying to break down the mysteries of the universe with a concept called the holographic principle. Physicists stumbled on the idea while studying black holes. It is a concept, which ultimately questions whether the third dimension exists.
"There's a real conflict between the way that we're thinking about the world right now, which is a very local way where everything happens independently in different regions of space and the way that we're going to have to think about it," said Bousso in an interview.
The holographic principle uses the optical concept of holograms to try to visually explain the complex idea. Holograms are most often used on credit cards and are images that look three dimensional, but they exist on a two dimensional surface.
"You have to keep in mind that we're just using that name as a sort of metaphor for something that we're specifying quite precisely when we're talking about how much information there is relative to certain areas... One way of quantifying the complexity of matter is to ask how many different states can it be in? How many things can you wiggle in? How many different ways?" Bousso said.
Send in the Clowns: The Darwin exhibition frightening off corporate sponsors
The Turtle says... "meh."
An exhibition celebrating the life of Charles Darwin has failed to find a corporate sponsor because American companies are anxious not to take sides in the heated debate between scientists and fundamentalist Christians over the theory of evolution.
Alchemy and Transmutation: Changing and Creating Things and People
For centuries, scientists and pseudo-scientists alike dreamed of transforming base substances into valuable ones -- alchemy. Alchemists tried to turn lead into gold, for example. It never worked. But now science seems to have developed the tools that will enable the realization of the alchemists' dream. We will be able to accomplish transmutation. We will actually turn elements and materials into something entirely different.
By changing a material's atomic structure, which nanotech makes possible, that material can be transformed into something else, with new properties, some of which have never before been seen in nature. Some physicists have even created a new form of life -- globs of gaseous plasma that, like any other life form, can grow, replicate and communicate. Others have applied electrical signals to quantum dots to create programmable matter such as wellstone iron, which can be morphed into substances such as zinc, rubidium or impervium. By rearranging the placement of atoms, scientists can create entirely new fabrics and ceramics. "Bio-fortification" can create new and more nutritious crops.
But it is not only inanimate elements and other substances that can be transformed by science. Human beings can, too. Many scientists are eagerly exploring how people can be transmutated into some superior form of humanity through the convergence of nano-bio-info-cogno technologies. The hope is not only to improve humanity but to more firmly control human evolution in order to create bodies and brains that are more durable, easier to repair and more resistant to disease, stress and aging. By merging biology and electronics, bioartificial replacement parts for the lungs, pancreas, kidneys and limbs can be created. Artificial muscles can be made out of electroactive polymers. Biogerontology will result in the reversal of aging -- "engineered negligible senescence." We seem to be moving with surprising speed toward what Ray Kurzweil calls "Human Body Version 2.0" -- the new re-engineered human that will eliminate or overcome "the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to."
More and more scientists are working toward, not only more and better understanding of the human brain, but transformation of it. Consciousness is becoming an academically respectable field of study, and it includes altered states, religion and spirituality. There is a continuing explosion of research on the brain and how it works, how to access its thoughts and patterns, and how it governs behavior and beliefs.
The temperature of Heaven can be rather accurately computed. Our authority is Isaiah 30:26, "Moreover, the light of the Moon shall be as the light of the Sun and the light of the Sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days." Thus Heaven receives from the Moon as much radiation as we do from the Sun, and in addition 7 x 7 (49) times as much as the Earth does from the Sun, or 50 times in all.
The light we receive from the Moon is one 1/10,000 of the light we receive from the Sun, so we can ignore that.
The radiation falling on Heaven will heat it to the point where the heat lost by radiation is just equal to the heat received
by radiation, i.e., Heaven loses 50 times as much heat as the Earth by radiation. Using the Stefan-Boltzmann law for radiation, (H/E)^4 = 50, where E is the absolute temperature of the earth (-300ºK), gives H as 798ºK (525ºC).
The exact temperature of Hell cannot be computed. However, Revelation 21:8 says "But the fearful, and unbelieving ... shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone." A lake of molten brimstone [sulphur] means that its temperature must be at or below its boiling point, 444.6ºC.
We have, then, that Heaven, at 525ºC is hotter than Hell at 445ºC.
"It's more than a general dumbing down of America—the lack of self-motivated thinking: clear, creative thinking. It's like you're happy for other people to think for you. If you should be worried about, say, global warming, well, somebody in Washington will tell me whether or not I should be worried about global warming. So it's like this abdication of intellectual responsibility—that America now is getting to the point that more and more people would just love to let somebody else think for them."
The country was founded by people who were fundamentally curious; Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, to name only the most obvious examples, were inveterate tinkerers. (Before dispatching Lewis and Clark into the Louisiana Territory, Jefferson insisted that the pair categorize as many new plant and animal species as they found. Considering they were also mapping everything from Missouri to Oregon, this must have been a considerable pain in the canoe.) Further, they assumed that their posterity would feel much the same as they did; in 1815, appealing to Congress to fund the building of a national university, James Madison called for the development of "a nursery of enlightened preceptors."
It is a long way from that to the moment on February 18, 2004, when sixty-two scientists, including a clutch of Nobel laureates, released a report accusing the incumbent administration of manipulating science for political ends. It is a long way from Jefferson's observatory and Franklin's kite to George W. Bush, in an interview in 2005, suggesting that intelligent design be taught alongside the theory of evolution in the nation's science classes. "Both sides ought to be properly taught," said the president, "so people can understand what the debate is about."
The "debate," of course, is nothing of the sort, because two sides are required for a debate. Nevertheless, the very notion of it is a measure of how scientific discourse, and the way the country educates itself, has slipped through lassitude and inattention across the border into Idiot America—where fact is merely that which enough people believe, and truth is measured only by how fervently they believe it.
It was a great surprise to discover that the vigorous brain activation of REM sleep occurred at regular 90-minute intervals and occupied up to 20% of sleep. This fact alone invalidated the belief that sleep was caused by and associated with a cessation of brain activity. Other facts supported the idea that the brain was continuously active during sleep. The early cerebral blood flow studies of Kety and later Sokolov showed only a 20% reduction in cerebral blood flow during sleep. Because blood flow is correlated with neuronal activity it should not have been a surprise to find that almost as many neurons increased their firing rate at sleep onset as their activity decreased6. Even during NREM sleep, when consciousness may be totally obliterated, the brain remains significantly active.
The speed of light waves in vacuum, 300,000 kilometers per second (186,000 miles per second), and denoted as c, remains the absolute speed limit for transferring matter, energy, and usable signals (information). However, a wave property known as group velocity can surpass c while still complying fully with the theory of special relativity, since it is not involved in transferring information, matter, or energy.
Bonus points to everyone whose heads do not automatically a'splode!
Absinthe: The Mystery of the Green Menace
Absinthe was first distilled in 1792 in Switzerland, where it was marketed as a medicinal elixir, a cure for stomach ailments. High concentrations of chlorophyll gave it a rich olive color. In the 19th century, people began turning to the minty drink less for pains of the stomach than for pains of the soul. Absinthe came to be associated with artists and Moulin Rouge bohemians. Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Van Gogh, and Picasso were devotees. Toulouse-Lautrec carried some in a hollowed-out cane. Oscar Wilde wrote, "What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?" Soon absinthe was the social lubricant of choice for a broad swath of Europeans - artists and otherwise. In 1874, the French sipped 700,000 liters of the stuff; by the turn of the century, consumption had shot up to 36 million liters, driven in part by a phylloxera infestation that had devastated the wine-grape harvest.
By the early 20th century, absinthe was becoming popular in America. It found a natural reception in New Orleans, where the bon temps were already rolling. Breaux's own great-grandparents were known to enjoy an occasional glass. But the drink was drawing fire for its thujone content. "It is truly madness in a bottle, and no habitual drinker can claim that he will not become a criminal," declared one politician. The anti-absinthe fervor climaxed in 1905, when Swiss farmer Jean Lanfray shot his pregnant wife and two daughters after downing two glasses. (Overlooked was what else Lanfray consumed that day: crème de menthe, cognac, seven glasses of wine, coffee with brandy, and another liter of wine.) By the end of World War I, the "green menace" was made illegal everywhere in western Europe except Spain. No reputable distillery still made it.
Krauss indicated that man’s speculations about other dimensions has a long history, going back to at least Plato’s allegory of people trapped in a cave who must watch the changing shadows on the wall in order to interpret the real events taking place in the world beyond their direct view. This speculation has carried on through science fiction, art and literature in the 20th century, and has culminated in the recent scientific fascination with the idea that the universe may contain as many as 10 or 11 dimensions of space, arising from string theory.
“One thing that has connected man through the ages is his imagination...it is the world beyond our experience where we are digging deep into our own psyches,” Krauss writes.
Parallel Universes: More Reality Than Science Fiction
As Woody Allen once put it, "There is no question that there is an unseen world. The problem is how far is it from midtown and how late is it open." Since the discoveries of the new physics, the question of the existence of parallel universes–worlds which exist side-by-side along with our own–has taken on renewed interest well beyond mere speculation.
Today, probably more than in any other day, we are facing a revolution in our thinking about the physical universe–the stuff that you and I are made of. This revolution, brought to a head by the discoveries of the new physics, including relativity and quantum mechanics, appears to reach well beyond our preconceived vision, based as it was on the concept of concrete solid reality. The new physics points in a new and more abstract direction- -a direction indicating the need to unify our picture of the world.
My evil twin: Sun has binary partner, may affect the Earth
Researching archaeological and astronomical data at the unique think tank, the Binary Research Institute, Cruttenden concludes that the movement of the solar system plays a more important role in life than people realize, and he challenges some preconceived notions:
The phenomenon known as the precession of the equinox, fabled as a marker of time by ancient peoples, is not due to a local wobbling of the Earth as modern theory portends, but to the solar system's gentle curve through space.
This movement of the solar system occurs because the Sun has a companion star; both stars orbit a common center of gravity, as is typical of most double star systems. The grand cycle–the time it takes to complete one orbit––is called a "Great Year," a term coined by Plato.
Cruttenden explains the effect on earth with an analogy: "Just as the spinning motion of the earth causes the cycle of day and night, and just as the orbital motion of the earth around the sun causes the cycle of the seasons, so too does the binary motion cause a cycle of rising and falling ages over long periods of time, due to increasing and decreasing electromagnet effects generated by our sun and other nearby stars."
Einstein: On Science and Religion
Now, even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up. But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration towards truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
We wield remote controls to turn things on and off, make them advance, make them halt. Ground-bound pilots use remotes to fly drone airplanes, soldiers to maneuver battlefield robots.
But manipulating humans?
...Just imagine being rendered the rough equivalent of a radio-controlled toy car.
The gleaming device I am staring at in the corner of a machine shop in San Rafael, California, is the most audacious machine ever built. It is a clock, but it is designed to do something no clock has ever been conceived to do—run with perfect accuracy for 10,000 years.
Everything about this clock is deeply unusual. For example, while nearly every mechanical clock made in the last millennium consists of a series of propelled gears, this one uses a stack of mechanical binary computers capable of singling out one moment in 3.65 million days. Like other clocks, this one can track seconds, hours, days, and years. Unlike any other clock, this one is being constructed to keep track of leap centuries, the orbits of the six innermost planets in our solar system, even the ultraslow wobbles of Earth's axis.
Made of stone and steel, it is more sculpture than machine. And, like all fine timepieces, it is outrageously expensive. No one will reveal even an approximate price tag, but a multibillionaire financed its construction, and it seems likely that shallower pockets would not have sufficed. Still, any description of the clock must begin and end with that ridiculous projected working life, that insane, heroic, incomprehensible span of time during which it is expected to serenely tick.
Better Living through Endosymbiosis: Mysterious microbe retrofits itself with plant
A one-celled creature found on a sandy beach may be in the process of kidnapping and incorporating an even tinier plant to use as a living energy source... They said the newly discovered organism seems to be in the process of endosymbiosis — in which one creature incorporates another, creating a new form of life.
Scientists believe this is how many modern plants and animals evolved. They believe the chloroplasts, the green solar-power factories inside plants, were originally separate organisms. Similarly, they believe components of the cells that make up all animals were originally captured microbes. [via corpus mmothra]
Legend has it that during the siege of Syracuse in 212 BC, Archimedes made a burning glass to burn up the enemy Roman warships. To see if it was possible, the MIT crew built a 10+ foot long model ship out of wood and positioned 129 1-foot square mirrors nearby. The results: Flash ignition!
Physicists who work with a concept called string theory envision our universe as an eerie place with at least nine spatial dimensions, six of them hidden from us, perhaps curled up in some way so they are undetectable. The big question is why we experience the universe in only three spatial dimensions instead of four, or six, or nine.
Two theoretical researchers from the University of Washington and Harvard University think they might have found the answer. They believe the way our universe started and then diluted as it expanded what they call the relaxation principle favored formation of three- and seven-dimensional realities. The one we happen to experience has three dimensions.
"That's what comes out when you do the math," said Andreas Karch, a University of Washington assistant professor of physics and lead author of a new paper that details the theory.
Karch and his collaborator, Lisa Randall, a physics professor at Harvard, set out to model how the universe was arranged right after it began in the big bang, and then watch how the cosmos evolved as it expanded and diluted. The only assumptions were that it started with a generally smooth configuration, with numerous structures called membranes, or "branes" that existed in various spatial dimensions from one to nine, all of them large and none curled up.
The researchers allowed the cosmos to evolve naturally, without making any additional assumptions. They found that as the branes diluted, the ones that survived displayed three dimensions or seven dimensions. In our universe, everything we see and experience is stuck to one of those branes, and for it to result in a three-dimensional universe the brane must be three-dimensional.
In recent years, many physicists have become excited about a phenomenon called "quantum teleportation," which works only with infinitesimally tiny particles. It might lead to new ways of transmitting cryptographically secure messages, some speculate, but not human beings for a long time to come, if ever.
Light in a vacuum travels at approximately 186,000 miles per second, but a popular misconception is that, according to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, nothing in the universe can travel faster than this speed. This seeming paradox can be resolved because a pulse of light is actually made up of many separate frequency components, each of which moves at their own velocities. This is known as the pulse’s phase velocity. If all the frequency components have the same phase velocity, then the overall pulse will also appear to move at that velocity.
However, if the components have different phase velocities, then the pulse’s overall velocity will depend on the relationships between the velocities of the separate components. If the velocities differ, the pulse is said to be moving at the group velocity. By tweaking the relationship between phase velocities, it’s possible to adjust the group velocity and create the illusion that parts of the pulse are traveling faster than the speed of light.
Our Universe seems to have known that we were coming. The conditions for life are extremely stringent. Life and consciousness can only exist in a very narrow band of physical parameters. For example, if the proton is not stable, then the Universe will collapse into a useless heap of electrons and neutrinos. If the proton were a little bit different in mass, it would decay, and all our DNA molecules would decay along with it.
In fact, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of coincidences, happy coincidences, that make life possible. Life, and especially consciousness, is quite fragile. It depends on stable matter, like protons, that exists for billions of years in a stable environment, sufficient to create autocatalytic molecules that can reproduce themselves, and thereby create Life. In physics, it is extremely hard to create this kind of Universe. You have to play with the parameters, you have to juggle the numbers, cook the books, in order to create a Universe which is consistent with Life.
However, the Multiverse idea explains this problem, because it simply means we coexist with dead Universes. In other Universes, the proton is not stable. In other Universes, the Big Bang took place, and then it collapsed rapidly into a Big Crunch, or these Universes had a Big Bang, and immediately went into a Big Freeze, where temperatures were so low, that Life could never get started.
So, in the Multiverse of Universes, many of these Universes are in fact dead, and our Universe in this sense is special, in that Life is possible in this Universe. Now, in religion, we have the Judeo-Christian idea of an instant of time, a genesis, when God said, "Let there be light." But in Buddhism, we have a contradictory philosophy, which says that the Universe is timeless. It had no beginning, and it had no end, it just is. It's eternal, and it has no beginning or end.
The Multiverse idea allows us to combine these two pictures into a coherent, pleasing picture. It says that in the beginning, there was nothing, nothing but hyperspace, perhaps ten- or eleven-dimensional hyperspace. But hyperspace was unstable, because of the quantum principle. And because of the quantum principle, there were fluctuations, fluctuations in nothing. This means that bubbles began to form in nothing, and these bubbles began to expand rapidly, giving us the Universe. So, in other words, the Judeo-Christian genesis takes place within the Buddhist nirvana, all the time, and our Multiverse percolates universes.
[via reallity carnival]
Silence holds a paradoxical place in science and in human consciousness. In science, the quietest conditions that modern technology allow are invariably used to research sound. And our own search for "peace and quiet" never extends as far as wanting no noise at all. Real silence is strange and disturbing, not relaxing. Most people cannot sleep without at least some background sound.
The closest humankind can get to complete silence is the inside of a heavily soundproofed anechoic chamber, a handful of which exist in universities and labs across Britain. These are used for a range of interesting research - but they also have a profound effect on the people who go into them.
My search for one leads me to University College London, whose anechoic ("without echo") room is in an anonymous, windowless building. In one of the busiest parts of campus, and next to the low hum of an electricity substation, it is hard to believe the unassuming walls can block out all sounds. Dave Cushing, a technician in the phonetics and linguistics department, which owns the facility, shows me the stacks of equipment used in the chamber, and the extensive precautions taken to keep sound pollution inside to a minimum.
Stepping into the chamber is a strange experience, "like being in a field in the middle of the night" according to John Fithyan who runs Southampton University's facility. The silence is profound and the room looks unusual too, with jagged sound-cancelling spikes covering the walls and ceiling that take on a menacing look in the dim light. A 70s-style padded armchair sits incongruously in this other-worldly environment. As I sit on the chair, I try to speak. My voice sounds quiet and dead, and yet I am conscious of the sound of my breathing. As I hold my breath and try to experience the silence without the sound of my breath, I begin to hear a whistling noise in my ears. The experience is disconcerting.
After examining the satellite data, collected since 1979 by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather satellites... [scinetists] found that the satellites had drifted in orbit, throwing off the timing of temperature measures. Essentially, the satellites were increasingly reporting nighttime temperatures as daytime ones, leading to a false cooling trend. The team also found a math error in the calculations...
[The petroleum industry... has used the data disparities to dispute the views of global-warming activists. In recent years, however, the institute has softened its public statements, acknowledging that the planet is indeed getting warmer but still maintaining that the change is happening so slowly that the impact is minimal.
It is almost certain that we will never be able to send a probe out of our Milky Way to take a snapshot, in the same way as the first satellites could do to give us striking images of planet Earth. But astronomers do not need this to imagine what our bigger home resembles. And they have a pretty good idea of it.
[An Oxford physicist] adapted a system for modelling atoms in radioactive decay to investigate how we look for partners. He found that "super daters", people who have many short relationships, have a good effect on others' lives. This is because they break up weak couples, forcing their victims to find better relationships.
At the root of the system... is the similarity between the probability of the nucleus of an atom decaying and that of a couple breaking up. The decay of a nucleus is described in terms of "transit states": the series of change it has been through to get to its current situation. The probability of someone having been in two relationships, for example, is the same as that of a nucleus decaying twice.
It appears that I will require, I don't know, a giant metaphorical fusion reactor. Commence the science, please.
"We start with a mutual acknowledgment of the profound complexity of living systems...my expectation is that we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention..." The theory of evolution has been both fascinating and religiously charged since its very beginnings, because it speaks directly to the place of people in the natural order. In another era, the idea that humans are the close cousins of apes -- a scientific fact now supported by overwhelming evidence -- was seen as both offensive and preposterous. Today's research of origins focuses on questions that seem as strange as the study of "ape men" once did: How can life arise from nonlife? How easy is it for this to happen? And does the universe teem with life, or is Earth a solitary island? ...[T]he origins of life initiative is part of a dramatic rethinking of how to conduct scientific research...
breaching the brain's boundary
...People were shown two different images at the same time - a red stripy pattern in front of the right eye and a blue stripy pattern in front of the left. The volunteers wore special goggles which meant each eye saw only what was put in front of it.
In that situation, the brain then switches awareness between both images, sometimes seeing one image and sometimes the other. While people's attention switched between the two images, the researchers used fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) brain scanning to monitor activity in the visual cortex.
It was found that focusing on the red or the blue patterns led to specific, and noticeably different, patterns of brain activity. The fMRI scans could reliably be used to predict which of the images the volunteer was looking at, the researchers found.
sun and water
If you ever wonder about how the world will produce enough
The elements could then be used to supply clean-running fuel
But plants developed this process over billions of years, and
welcome home discovery
It is not always politcally popular to be a strong devotee of space travel and exploration. It is an expensive program riddled with white-knuckled risks. Yet it is so utterly important that the program continues, with care to assure safety. We must not shy away from the knowledge of the stars, for there are the keys to the sciences that can repair our grievously wounded ecology. And as a civilization that has lost its evolutionary trail, it is clear that our ladder to the ascension is through space technology, travel, and to echo Leary's ardent call, migration.
This flight represents a commitment to that lofty goal- no matter the nation or flawed government behind it. This is about humans, and the soul. Cheers, Discovery, you've brought us back some stardust.
less than zero
What could negative knowledge possibly mean? "If I tell it to you, you will know less," explained Dr Andreas Winter.
Such strange situations can occur because what it means to know something is very different in the quantum world. "In the quantum world, we can know too much," added Dr Oppenheim, "and it is in these situations where one finds negative knowledge." Negative knowledge (or more precisely – ‘negative information’) turns out to be precisely the right amount to cancel the fact that we know too much.
In the quantum world, there are things we just cannot know, no matter how clever we are. For example, we cannot know both the position and momentum of a small particle exactly. One can also have situations where someone knows more than everything. This is known as quantum ‘entanglement’, and when two people share entanglement, there can be negative information.
painting inside the brain
Although we rarely confuse a painting for the scene it presents, we are often taken in by the vividness of the lighting and the three-dimensional (3D) layout it captures. This is not surprising for a photorealistic painting, but even very abstract paintings can convey a striking sense of space and light, despite remarkable deviations from realism.
The rules of physics that apply in a real scene are optional in a painting; they can be obeyed or ignored at the discretion of the artist to further the painting's intended effect. Some deviations, such as Picasso's skewed faces or the wildly coloured shadows in the works of Matisse and other Impressionists of the Fauvist school, are meant to be noticed as part of the style and message of the painting. There is, however, an 'alternative physics' operating in many paintings that few of us ever notice but which is just as improbable. These transgressions of standard physics — impossible shadows, colours, reflections or contours — often pass unnoticed by the viewer and do not interfere with the viewer's understanding of the scene. This is what makes them discoveries of neuroscience. Because we do not notice them, they reveal that our visual brain uses a simpler, reduced physics to understand the world. Artists use this alternative physics because these particular deviations from true physics do not matter to the viewer: the artist can take shortcuts, presenting cues more economically, and arranging surfaces and lights to suit the message of the piece rather than the requirements of the physical world.
a man named kaluza and five dimensions
...The Kaluza-Klein theory had again become popular enough for other authors to come forward by the 1990s and offer their own views of the genesis of the hyper-dimensional theories. In his book Hyperspace, Michio Kaku renders the Kaluza theory into its own niche in the history of science,.while the book Modern Kaluza-Klein Theories, a collection of reprinted essays and articles which have had a direct influence on the development of superstring theories, includes copies of both Kaluza's and Klein's original papers from the1920s. The editors of this book have also included a historical essay on the development of the five-dimensional hypothesis and its relation to the superstring theories. However, these authors let the end of the story, the development of superstring theories, guide their histories of the five-dimensional hypothesis. So their histories are gravely incomplete and thus inadequate for truly historical purposes. Their histories are Whiggish since they have ignored the many other advances in hyper-dimensional work that do not seem to pertain directly to the theoretical structure of superstrings at first glance. They only tell of the work that fits their pre-conceived notion of what higher-dimensioned manifolds could be. Superstring theorists have adopted the Kaluza-Klein theory without regard for, and probably without any knowledge of, the criticisms that the theory originally faced. At least there is no evidence that other possible five-dimensional theories have been considered by the superstring theorists. Such a practice may be deemed adequate for scientific purposes and references by some scholars, but it is woefully incomplete for historians and philosophers. However, scientists could learn a great deal from a more thorough and comprehensive study of the development of hyper-dimensional theories as a whole.
Astronomers have found a new world orbiting the Sun. The giant lump of rock and ice is larger than the planet Pluto and is now the farthest known object in the solar system.
The discovery was announced by US scientists yesterday and the object has unofficially been named Xena, after the TV series starring Lucy Lawless. 'We have always wanted to name something Xena,' said ...a member of the team that made the discovery using telescopes at the Palomar Observatory... Preliminary observations suggest Xena - officially known as 2003 UB313 - is an extremely strange world. It is currently 9 billion miles away from the Sun, roughly 100 times more distant than the Earth, and is now about three times more remote than Pluto. At its present distance, the Sun will appear so small in the sky it will almost be indistinguishable from other stars.
Xena will also be incredibly cold. Its surface temperature is likely to be only a few degrees above absolute zero, while a year there - the time Xena takes to make one passage round the Sun on its highly elliptical orbit - will be the equivalent of 560 Earth years. Despite its distance, the little world is also proving to be highly controversial. Astronomers cannot agree whether it is a planet or just a jumped-up asteroid. Its discoverers are claiming Xena is the 10th planet. Other astronomers say it is just another of the Sun's minor planets. There are thousands of minor planets in the solar system, but only nine fully fledged major planets.
A symbolic sentence is called logically valid if and only if it becomes true under every interpretation of the language, the concept of an interpretation and truth under an interpretation being precisely defined within the realm of set theory. Whether based on naive or formal set theory, the proof is not constructive; it does not provide a method for deciding whether or not a sentence is valid. In other words, although, if a sentence is valid a proof for it can eventually be found by systematically running through all possible derivations in the calculus, there is no obvious method for finding counterexamples to sentences that are non-theorems. In fact, honing down Gödel's incompleteness proof to a finitely axiomatizable fragment of arithmetic eventually led to the conclusion that there cannot possibly be such an algorithm, at least not for any but the most anemic first order language. Thus, every reasonably expressive predicate calculus is what we call undecidable.
cheers to science!
Japanese researchers say they have identified the physical differences between people who get drunk easily and those who can hold their liquor -- a discovery that can help refine the use of medicine... They confirmed for the first time the different blood-flow levels after a few drinks between people with different tolerances to alcohol.
The study, conducted on people willing to have a free drink for the cause of science, showed that the blood flow to the part of brain that controls visual functions increased after people with low alcohol tolerance drank. But little change was observed in the same brain area among those with higher tolerance...
music of the ringed sphere
Saturn's radio emissions could be mistaken for a Halloween sound track. That's how two researchers describe their recent findings, published in the July 23 issue of the Geophysical Research Letters. Their paper is based on data from the Cassini spacecraft radio and plasma wave science instrument. The study investigates sounds that are not just eerie, but also descriptive of a phenomenon similar to Earth's northern lights.
"All of the structures we observe in Saturn's radio spectrum are giving us clues about what might be going on in the source of the radio emissions above Saturn's auroras..." We believe that the changing frequencies are related to tiny radio sources moving up and down along Saturn's magnetic field lines."
pagentry and speciation
Why one species branches into two is a question that has haunted evolutionary biologists since Darwin. Given our planet's rich biodiversity, "speciation" clearly happens regularly, but scientists cannot quite pinpoint the driving forces behind it.
Now, researchers studying a family of butterflies think they have witnessed a subtle process, which could be forcing a wedge between newly formed species. The team... discovered that closely related species living in the same geographical space displayed unusually distinct wing markings. These wing colours apparently evolved as a sort of "team strip", allowing butterflies to easily identify the species of a potential mate.
Not far from bustling Los Angeles International Airport and the glistening office towers of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and other aerospace giants sits a cluster of squat buildings that may hold a key to the future of manned spaceflight.
Inside the main facility, whimsical trash cans sport nose cones and rocket fins. A Segway electric scooter shares an expansive shop floor with segments of rocket bodies. In one corner, inside a "clean room," engineers piece together a rocket motor. Welcome to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Think dotcom trailblazing with Buck Rogers technology. This upstart and others like it represent the potential of privatized spaceflight. "By the middle of this century, if it's not overwhelmingly private, we've really failed..."
Yowsa: In the physical universe, the concept of time is always positive. However there are simultaneous parallel time dimensions within the physical universes. Every physical universe is associated with one time dimension and innumerable parallel time dimensions. The concept of time is always starts at zero – the time of the big bang in the physical universe.
But according to researchers in contemporary physics, the parallel universes have the concept of no time dimension and time can become negative in that environment. The time dimension that allows time as negative value makes strange things happen. One can literally fabricate the future in that environment from the past and them come to the present. A spatial with no time concept built in is not a point of singularity.
it could only happen here
"Unprecedented" is the best word to describe what has happened during the last month on Capitol Hill regarding climate change research. While debate about whether or not the Earth is warming and the role that greenhouse gases may play in such warming has been a constant on Capitol Hill, this issue has taken on an entirely new profile.
On June 23, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) sent unprecedented letters to several parties involved in climate change research.
"I am writing to express my strenuous objections to what I see as the misguided and illegitimate investigation you have launched concerning Dr. Michael Mann, his co-authors and sponsors." After commenting on committee jurisdiction, Boehlert states, "My primary concern about your investigation is that its purpose seems to be to intimidate scientists rather than to learn from them, and to substitute Congressional political review for scientific peer review. This would be pernicious.
"It is certainly appropriate for Congress to try to understand scientific disputes that impinge on public policy. There are many ways for us to do that, including hearings with a balanced set of witnesses, briefings with scientists, and requests for reviews by the National Academy of Sciences or other experts.
"But you have taken a decidedly different approach - one that breaks with precedent and raises the specter of politicians opening investigations against any scientist who reaches a conclusion that makes the political elite uncomfortable..."
may it be so
...They think the microbes would breathe hydrogen rather than oxygen, and eat organic molecules drifting down from the upper atmosphere. They considered three available substances: acetylene, ethane and more complex organic gunk known as tholins. Ethane and tholins turn out to provide little more than the minimum energy requirements of methanogenic bacteria on Earth. The more tempting high-calorie option is acetylene, yielding six times as much energy per mole as either ethane or tholins.
Humans have a moral imperative to open up space as a new frontier...
"We are young as a species..." In terms of what our future in space would look like: "We cannot conceive it... It is like asking the Europeans in the 1400s to think of life today. We will make decisions to change the very fabric of society... We may even reinvent society and the human form... We are on the verge of the greatest exploration the human race has ever known..."
During the last two weeks of January 1975 Buckminster Fuller gave an extraordinary series of lectures concerning his entire life’s work. These thinking out loud lectures span 42 hours and examine in depth all of Fuller's major inventions and discoveries from the 1927 Dymaxion house, car and bathroom, through the Wichita House, geodesic domes, and tensegrity structures, as well as the contents of Synergetics. Autobiographical in parts, Fuller recounts his own personal history in the context of the history of science and industrialization. The stories behind his Dymaxion car, geodesic domes, World Game and integration of science and humanism are lucidly communicated with continuous reference to his synergetic geometry. Permeating the entire series is his unique comprehensive design approach to solving the problems of the world. Some of the topics Fuller covered in this wide ranging discourse include: architecture, design, philosophy, education, mathematics, geometry, cartography, economics, history, structure, industry, housing and engineering.
a lorenz ovenmit?
Mathematicians crochet chaos
Mathematicians have made a crochet model of chaos - and are challenging anyone else to repeat the effort. Dr Hinke Osinga and Professor Bernd Krauskopf... used 25,511 crochet stitches to represent the Lorenz equations.
The equations describe the nature of chaotic systems - such as the weather or a turbulent river. The academics are offering a bottle of champagne to anyone who cares to follow the pattern...
plankton is key
Scientists suspect that rising ocean temperatures and dwindling plankton populations are behind a growing number of seabird deaths, reports of fewer salmon and other anomalies along the West Coast. Coastal ocean temperatures are 2 to 5 degrees above normal, apparently caused by a lack of upwelling - a process that brings cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface and jump-starts the marine food chain. Upwelling fuels algae and shrimplike krill populations that feed small fish, which provide an important food source for a variety of sea life, from salmon to sea birds and marine mammals.
"Something big is going on out there," said Julia Parrish, an associate professor in the School of Aquatic Fisheries and Sciences at the University of Washington. "I'm left with no obvious smoking gun, but birds are a good signal because they feed high up on the food chain."
This spring, scientists reported a record number of dead seabirds washed up on beaches along the Pacific Coast, from central California to British Columbia. In Washington state, the highest numbers of dead seabirds - particularly Brandt's cormorants and common murres - were found along the... coast...
Bird surveyors in May typically find an average of one dead Brandt's cormorant every 34 miles of beach. But this year, cormorant deaths averaged one every eight-tenths of a mile, according to data gathered by volunteers with the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, which Parrish has directed since 2000. "This is somewhere between five and 10 times the highest number of bird deaths we've seen before," she said.
Over the last few years... researchers have successfully teleported beams of light across a laboratory bench. Also, the quantum state of a trapped calcium ion to another calcium ion has been teleported in a controlled way. These and other experiments all make for heady and heavy reading in scientific journals. The reports would have surely found a spot on Einstein's night table. For the most part, it's an exotic amalgam of things like quantum this and quantum that, wave function, qubits and polarization, as well as uncertainty principle, excited states and entanglement. Seemingly, milking all this highbrow physics to flesh out point-to-point human teleportation is a long, long way off. Well, maybe...maybe not.
knew it all along
Scientist Professor Richard Dawkins has opened a global conference of big thinkers warning that our Universe may be just "too queer" to understand. Professor Dawkins, the renowned Selfish Gene author from Oxford University, said we were living in a "middle world" reality that we have created... Professor Dawkins' opening talk, in a session called Meme Power, explored the ways in which humans invent their own realities to make sense of the infinitely complex worlds they are in; worlds made more complex by ideas such as quantum physics which is beyond most human understanding.
"Are there things about the Universe that will be forever beyond our grasp, in principle, ungraspable in any mind, however superior?"
parroting the void
A researcher has shown that an African grey parrot with a walnut-sized brain understands a numerical concept akin to zero -- an abstract notion that humans don't typically understand until age three or four, and that can significantly challenge learning-disabled children
Strikingly, Alex, the 28-year-old parrot who lives in a... lab run by [a] comparative psychologist and cognitive scientist... spontaneously and correctly used the label "none" during a testing session of his counting skills to describe an absence of a numerical quantity on a tray. This discovery prompted a series of trials in which Alex consistently demonstrated the ability to identify zero quantity by saying the label "none."
[The] research findings... add to a growing body of scientific evidence that the avian brain, though physically and organizationally somewhat different from the mammalian cortex, is capable of higher cognitive processing than previously thought. Chimpanzees and possibly squirrel monkeys show some understanding of the concept of zero, but Alex is the first bird to demonstrate an understanding of the absence of a numerical set...
Scientists have been warned that their latest experiments may accidently produce monkeys with brains more human than animal. In cutting-edge experiments, scientists have injected human brain cells into monkey fetuses to study the effects. Critics argue that if these fetuses are allowed to develop into self-aware subjects, science will be thrown into an ethical nightmare. An eminent committee of American scientists will call for restrictions into the research, saying the outcome of such studies cannot be predicted and may in fact produce subjects with a 'super-animal' intelligence. The high-powered committee of animal behaviourists, lawyers, philosophers, bio-ethicists and neuro-scientists was established four years ago to examine the growing numbers of human/monkey experiments.
blood from a stone?
Making oil and gas from hydrocarbon-based waste is a trick that Earth mastered long ago. Most crude oil comes from one-celled plants and animals that die, settle to ocean floors, decompose, and are mashed by sliding tectonic plates, a process geologists call subduction. Under pressure and heat, the dead creatures' long chains of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon-bearing molecules, known as polymers, decompose into short-chain petroleum hydrocarbons. However, Earth takes its own sweet time doing this—generally thousands or millions of years—because subterranean heat and pressure changes are chaotic. Thermal depolymerization machines turbocharge the process by precisely raising heat and pressure to levels that break the feedstock's long molecular bonds.
What Is the Universe Made Of?
Nature may abhor an old-fashioned vacuum, but we dare to predict that physics and astrophysics of the 21st century are going to love the quantum vacuum. It is a state of both paradox and possibilities.
Actually nature has nothing to abhor. The vacuum as a condition of complete emptiness, as an absolute void, does not even exist. Rather the laws of quantum mechanics predict the real vacuum to be a seething sea of particle pairs, energy fluctuations and force perturbations popping in and out of existence and thereby capable of both quantum mischief and, we predict, veritable technological magic. The quantum vacuum is in reality a plenum, but in keeping with tradition we will continue to use the term vacuum instead of plenum, and in particular we will explore the fascinating role of a part of the quantum vacuum known as the electromagnetic zero-point field.
think up when down
"This study shows for the first time that natural marijuana-like chemicals in the brain have a link to pain suppression. Aside from identifying an important function of these compounds, it provides a template for a new class of pain medications that can possibly replace others shown to have acute side effects. If we design chemicals that can tweak the levels of these cannabinoid compounds in the brain, we might be able to boost their normal effects..."
A small, fossilized mammal had what appears to be poisonous fangs that allowed it to bite like a snake – the first such find in an extinct mammal...
Vertebrate paleontologist Richard Fox of the University of Alberta in Edmonton found the specimen in 1991. Now Fox and his research team say the extinct, mouse-sized creature was built to deliver venom. The world is home to few living mammals with venom delivery systems: the duck-billed platypus, the Caribbean solenodon, and a few rat-like shrews. Scientists concluded that mammals long ago lost the ability to release venom to defend themselves or find food, given how few mammalian species still use the strategy.
Say the word “terraforming” amidst a gathering of space enthusiasts and it’s a bit like upending your beer mug in an Australian pub. It means you’re ready to duke it out with anybody in the joint. And the fight usually breaks out along these lines: One team sees the quest to replicate the biosphere of Earth on other planets as a moral imperative, an inevitable destiny, or both. Others -- equally passionate -- recoil at such pretension, proclaiming with surety that humans have no right to interfere with Nature as writ large upon the face of other worlds. Both viewpoints are, of course, so fraught with self-defeating conflicts as to be, well, flat out wrong.
Weird, isn’t it, that an enterprise that no one now alive can remotely hope to see fulfilled should arouse such fire and fury?
you too can be a time bandit
Some solutions to the equations of Einstein's general theory of relativity lead to situations in which space-time curves back on itself, theoretically allowing travellers to loop back in time and meet younger versions of themselves. Because such time travel sets up paradoxes, many researchers suspect that some physical constraints must make time travel impossible. Now, physicists Daniel Greenberger of the City University of New York and Karl Svozil of the Vienna University of Technology in Austria have shown that the most basic features of quantum theory may ensure that time travellers could never alter the past, even if they are able to go back in time.
The constraint arises from a quantum object's ability to behave like a wave. Quantum objects split their existence into multiple component waves, each following a distinct path through space-time. Ultimately, an object is usually most likely to end up in places where its component waves recombine, or "interfere", constructively, with the peaks and troughs of the waves lined up, say. The object is unlikely to be in places where the components interfere destructively, and cancel each other out.
Summer Moon Illusion
This week's full moon hangs lower in the sky than any full moon since June 1987, so the Moon Illusion is going to be extra strong. What makes the moon so low? It's summer. Remember, the sun and the full Moon are on opposite sides of the sky. During summer the sun is high, which means the full moon must be low. This week’s full moon occurs on June 22nd, barely a day after the summer solstice on June 21st--perfect timing for the Moon Illusion.
When you look at the moon, rays of moonlight converge and form an image about 0.15 mm wide in the back of your eye. High moons and low moons make the same sized spot. So why does your brain think one is bigger than the other? After all these years, scientists still aren't sure why.
SETI scientists are taking notice of the latest discovery of a "Super-Earth" beyond the solar system as they fine-tune their list of stars to target in their search for extraterrestrial intelligence. With the recent announcement of a planet seven to eight times the Earth’s mass circling an M dwarf star, the chances for habitable worlds seem greater than ever. "It may well be that there are far more habitable planets orbiting M dwarfs than orbiting all other types of stars combined..."
there's time enough
Lynds' paper, "Time and Classical and Quantum Mechanics: Indeterminacy vs. Continuity," is the latest chapter in a story that begins with Zeno and runs through Newton and Einstein to today. The question they struggled to answer: How does matter move through time and space?
Newton described motion as a change in position over time. (In the process of figuring that out, he invented calculus.) That allowed for infinite series of infinitesimal steps, which polishes off Zeno. But for his model to make sense, Newton needed what he described as "absolute, true and mathematical time, which of itself flows equably without relation to anything external." It's a God clock, ticking out discrete instants, or, if you prefer, a universal CPU, doling out reality one cycle at a time, a series of static instants giving only the appearance of motion like the successive frames of a movie.
But Einstein didn't buy it. The heart of relativity is that everything depends on your point of view - if you're traveling at close to the speed of light (a constant), then time moves differently for you than for your slowpoke friends back home. Einstein died before he had worked out the implications of his own brilliant ideas. Among the problems left unsolved: Time could go faster or slower (or even backward), but was it divisible? And were there irreducible "atoms" of time, quantum flecks now called chronons?
...Intelligent design is not what people often assume it is. For one thing, I.D. is not Biblical literalism. Unlike earlier generations of creationists—the so-called Young Earthers and scientific creationists—proponents of intelligent design do not believe that the universe was created in six days, that Earth is ten thousand years old, or that the fossil record was deposited during Noah’s flood. (Indeed, they shun the label “creationism” altogether.) Nor does I.D. flatly reject evolution: adherents freely admit that some evolutionary change occurred during the history of life on Earth. Although the movement is loosely allied with, and heavily funded by, various conservative Christian groups—and although I.D. plainly maintains that life was created—it is generally silent about the identity of the creator.
The movement’s main positive claim is that there are things in the world, most notably life, that cannot be accounted for by known natural causes and show features that, in any other context, we would attribute to intelligence. Living organisms are too complex to be explained by any natural—or, more precisely, by any mindless—process. Instead, the design inherent in organisms can be accounted for only by invoking a designer, and one who is very, very smart.
All of which puts I.D. squarely at odds with Darwin. Darwin’s theory of evolution was meant to show how the fantastically complex features of organisms—eyes, beaks, brains—could arise without the intervention of a designing mind.
Panpsychism Meets Modern Physics
Can conscious experience-feelings, qualia, our "inner life"-be accommodated within present-day science? Those who believe it can (e.g. physicalists, reductionists, materialists, functionalists, computationalists) see conscious experience as an emergent property of complex neural network computation. Others see conscious experience either outside science (dualists), or believe science must expand to include experience (idealists, panpsychists, pan-experientialists, "funda-mentalists"). These philosophical battle lines were originally drawn in ancient Greece between Socrates, who believed the cerebrum created consciousness, and Aristotle, Democritus, Thales and others who argued that mental qualities belonged to fundamental reality. Perhaps both sides were correct...
Perhaps panpsychists are in some way correct and components of mental processes are fundamental, like mass, spin or charge. Following the ancient Greek panpsychists, Spinoza (1677) saw some form of consciousness in all matter. Leibniz (1766) portrayed the universe as an infinite number of fundamental units ("monads") each having a primitive psychological being. Whitehead (e.g. 1929) was a process philosopher who viewed reality as a collection of events occurring in a basic field of protoconscious experience ("occasions of experience").
Little Brains That Could
To look at details of the bee's working memory, Zhang and his colleagues used variations of a layout with a wooden tunnel leading into an upright pipe. The two exit holes from the pipe were marked with different patterns. The researchers put a partition in the tunnel with a hole for bees to fly through. The partition carried a pattern, such as stripes slanting left. Bees had to remember the pattern and pick the matching pattern on one of the exit signs to reach the treat. During a bee's training, the researchers regularly switched the patterns.
Once a bee was choosing correctly about three times out of four, the researchers repeatedly lengthened the tunnel beyond the partition. Thus, the flying bees had a longer and longer delay between seeing the pattern and matching it to the exit sign.
The bees' memory of that pattern remains strong for about 5 seconds, the researchers report in an upcoming Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In field tests, bees tend to choose flowers that resemble the one they visited some 5 seconds earlier. Birds' short-term memory lasts a similar time.
another extraordinary machine
Hurtubise said the device—created with major contributions from a German physicist, and the help of an electronics engineer and an electrician—has produced such “staggeringly positive” results, he will open his lab to any scientist or researcher in the world who wants to come to North Bay to investigate the God Light.
“You can use my lab for as long as you want to conduct any experiment that you want, all I ask for is a copy of your report when it’s done, whether it’s negative or positive,” Hurtubise said, after giving BayToday.ca an exclusive demonstration of the God Light.
“My lab is open to anybody of credibility in the scientific world, who works on, say, Parkinson’s, AIDS, MS, or Alzheimer’s. The proof is in the pudding, and I will turn the machine on and you will see results that will amaze you.”
A computer scientist with a background in particle physics, was in North Bay... Hurtubise gave him a demonstration of the God Light. “I think this is going to revolutionize physics and change the understanding of the concepts of science. What Troy’s doing can’t be done, according to the current theories and models that we have. I know a lot of physicists in Japan who would love to get their hands on this machine.”
When the first matter came into being right after the Big Bang, what was it like? It may not have been quite as scientists have been describing it. That is one of the possibilities raised by four international teams of researchers that are about to publish important results three years into an experiment to recreate the primordial matter of the universe. Weizmann Institute scientists are among those who participated in the creation of matter that may be the "quark-gluon plasma" thought to be the first matter in the universe.
eyewitness to billion-year old news
Astronomers photographed a cosmic event this morning which they believe is the birth of a black hole... A faint visible-light flash moments after a high-energy gamma-ray burst likely heralds the merger of two dense neutron stars to create a relatively low-mass black hole... It is the first time an optical counterpart to a very short-duration gamma-ray burst has ever been detected. Gamma rays are the most energetic form of radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum, which also includes X-rays, light and radio waves.
The merger occurred 2.2 billion light-years away, so it actually took place 2.2 billion years ago and the light just reached Earth this morning.
with this ring, i prove thee theories of light
This is Einstein's Year. One-hundred years ago a little known Swiss patent clerk in the very early years of a scientific career was confronted with a series of paradoxes related to time and space, energy and matter. Gifted with a profound intuition and a powerful imagination, Albert A. Einstein rose out of obscurity to present an entirely new way of looking at natural phenomenon. Einstein showed us all that time had very little to do with clocks, energy has less to do with quantity and more to do with quality, space was not just “a big square box to put stuff in", matter and energy were two sides of the same cosmic coin, and gravity had a profound effect on everything - light, matter, time, and space.
Today we use all these principles – enunciated a century ago - to probe the most distant things in the Universe. Because of Einstein's investigation of the photoelectric effect, we now understand why light is not continuous but curiously riddled with dark and bright lines telling us when that light was emitted, what emitted it. and the kinds of things touching it in its travels. Because of Einstein's insight into the conversion of mass and energy, we now understand how distant suns illuminate the cosmos, and how powerful magnetic fields whip particles up to stupendous speeds later to come crashing down on the Earth's atmosphere. And because gravity is now understood to influence everything, we have learned how distant objects can capture and focus light from even more distant objects.
Although we have yet to find an absolutely perfect instance of gravitational lensing in the Universe, today we are much closer to that ideal.
an interesting take
Digital Philosophy (DP) is a new way of thinking about the fundamental workings of processes in nature. DP is an atomic theory carried to a logical extreme where all quantities in nature are finite and discrete. This means that, theoretically, any quantity can be represented exactly by an integer. Further, DP implies that nature harbors no infinities, infinitesimals, continuities, or locally determined random variables.
mouthy lil' buggers
Bacteria are able to communicate with one another through a process known as quorum sensing. Here's how it works: Individual bacteria secrete signaling molecules called autoinducers into their environments, and as the number of bacteria in a colony increases, so does the concentration of the signaling molecule.
Quorum sensing allows bacteria to coordinate their behaviors on a global scale and to act like enormous multicellular organisms... The types of behaviors initiated by quorum sensing are typically those that are beneficial only when performed as a group, such as the release of toxins or the formation of aggregates called biofilms.
...Bacteria in the wild are not typically found in homogenous groups, but rather coexist in diverse communities with other bacterial species. "We don’t think anymore that it does bacteria any good to only count its own species; they have to be able to take a census of the rest of the population."
my god, it's full of stars
kaku on kaku
I find myself spending most of my time staring out the window. I see blocks of equations dancing in my head, and I spend hours trying to fit them together. These blocks are as familiar to me as the back of my hand, and I spend much of my waking time turning them inside out in my head. As these equations begin to fit together, I get a scratchpad and jot down some formulae. When I am confident I am on the right track, I take out another pad and pour out scores of dense equations, sometimes burning up several hundred pages to prove my hunch correct or incorrect. Then I go back and stare out of the window again.
Apparently this is not unusual: all the theoreticians I know seem to work this way. Edward Witten, whom many consider to be the engine behind the most creative ideas in string theory, wrote that when he was at Harvard, he spent most of his time staring out the window at the Cambridge landscape. Now he is at the Institute for Advanced Study, he spends most of his time staring out of the window at Princeton...
I use fields every day of my life. I daydream of fields. Just as a carpenter uses wood to create beautiful furniture, I use Faraday's fields to describe the forces of the universe. When string theory first emerged, it was a jumble of loose formulae and chaotic rules of thumb that filled sheaves of paper. I remembered the work of Faraday and decided to rewrite all those equations in the language of field theory: to write an equation 2 centimetres long that summarised string theory.
A new study of distant galaxies is adding a fresh perspective to the debate over whether a fundamental physical constant has actually changed over time. The work suggests the number has not varied in the last 7 billion years, but more observations are still needed to settle the issue. The controversy centres on the fine-structure constant, also called alpha, which governs how electrons and light interact. Alpha is an amalgam of other constants, including the speed of light. So any change in alpha implies a change in the speed of light - and indeed in the entire standard model of physics - with string theories touting extra spatial dimensions stepping in to fill the breach.
tonight: big bang shooters
The four detector groups conducting research at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) -- a giant atom "smasher" located at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory -- say they’ve created a new state of hot, dense matter out of the quarks and gluons that are the basic particles of atomic nuclei, but it is a state quite different and even more remarkable than had been predicted. In peer-reviewed papers summarizing the first three years of RHIC findings, the scientists say that instead of behaving like a gas of free quarks and gluons, as was expected, the matter created in RHIC’s heavy ion collisions appears to be more like a liquid.
“The truly stunning finding at RHIC that the new state of matter created in the collisions of gold ions is more like a liquid than a gas gives us a profound insight into the earliest moments of the universe..."
further proof for quantum interconnectedness
Scientists have discovered how the performance of a quantum computer can be affected by its surrounding environment. The study... will help engineers to better understand how to integrate quantum components into a standard office computer - moving us one step closer to a future of quantum computing. The collaborative team... have shown how its environment can radically alter the behaviour of a quantum computer, an effect which is not present for conventional computers of the type that exist now on our desktops.
These two images portray the movement of the nano-sized probes. On the left, a false-color overlay of fluorescence from a cell taken at four minute intervals reveals the dots moving from the green to the red positions. On the right, a large aggregate of immobile dots is indicated with the red arrow, while the circled stars and arrows indicate dots that move.
the bohm diggity
When I was a boy a certain prayer we said every day in Hebrew contained the words to love God with all your heart all your soul, and all your mind. My understanding of these words, that is, this notion of wholeness--not necessarily directed toward God but as a way of living--had a tremendous impact on me. I also felt a sense of nature being whole very early. I felt internally related to trees, mountains, and stars in a way I wasn't to all the chaos of the cities.
When I first studied quantum mechanics I felt again that sense of internal relationship--that it was describing something that I was experiencing directly rather than just thinking about.
The notion of spin particularly fascinated me: the idea that when something is spinning in a certain direction, it could also spin in the other direction but that somehow the two directions together would be a spin in a third direction. I felt that somehow that described experience with the processes of the mind. In thinking about spin I felt I was in a direct relationship to nature. In quantum mechanics I came closer to my intuitive sense of nature.
the big signal
The search for extraterrestrial intelligence... could be taking the wrong approach. Instead of listening for alien radio broadcasts, a better strategy may be to look for giant structures placed in orbit around nearby stars by alien civilisations.
"Artificial structures may be the best way for an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation to signal its presence to an emerging technology like ours" says Luc Arnold of the Observatory of Haute-Provence in France. And he believes that the generation of space-based telescopes now being designed will be able to spot them.
Arnold has studied the capabilities of space-based telescopes such as the European Space Agency's forthcoming Corot telescope and NASA's Kepler. These instruments will look for the telltale dimming of a star's light when a planet passes in front of it. They could also identify an artificial object the size of a planet, such as a lightweight solar sail, says Arnold. His work will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.
Arnold has determined the characteristic transit signal that differently shaped objects would produce, including a Jupiter-sized equilateral triangle and a louvre - parallel slats with gaps between them. Corot and Kepler will be capable of distinguishing these objects from most planets, though they could still be confused with a ringed planet like Saturn, he says.
To ensure the signal is unambiguous, an alien civilisation would have to launch a number of objects into orbit around a star. As an example, Arnold imagines 11 objects orbiting a star in groups of one, two, three and five - the first prime numbers. The time interval between each group could also encode prime numbers if the objects were powered rather than orbiting freely. He thinks any civilisation that can engineer giant structures in space would probably not find this a problem.
a real false reality?
[Commentary interspersed herein]
Imagine movies and computer games in which you get to smell, taste and perhaps even feel things. [That's what IMAGINATION is for, bonehead] That's the tantalising [Oooh, yay!] prospect raised by a patent on a device for transmitting sensory data directly into the human brain - granted to none other than the entertainment giant Sony.
The technique suggested in the patent is entirely non-invasive. It describes a device that fires pulses of ultrasound at the head to modify firing patterns in targeted parts of the brain, [That sounds safe!] creating "sensory experiences" ranging from moving images to tastes and sounds. [Wow, you can do that shit in REAL LIFE too!] This could give blind or deaf people the chance to see or hear, the patent claims. [Bonus points for altruism!]
While brain implants are becoming increasingly sophisticated, the only non-invasive ways of manipulating the brain remain crude. A technique known as transcranial magnetic stimulation can activate nerves by using rapidly changing magnetic fields to induce currents in brain tissue. However, magnetic fields cannot be finely focused on small groups of brain cells, whereas ultrasound could be. [And yet we harly have a clue as to everything the brain does at those levels. Hate to be a luddite here, but sounds like machine smashing goodness for those who want to live an authentic life!]
Scientist said this week they had drilled into the lower section of Earth's crust for the first time and were poised to break through to the mantle in coming years. The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) seeks the elusive "Moho," a boundary formally known as the Mohorovicic discontinuity. It marks the division between Earth's brittle outer crust and the hotter, softer mantle. The depth of the Moho varies. This latest effort, which drilled 4,644 feet (1,416 meters) below the ocean seafloor, appears to have been 1,000 feet off to the side of where it needed to be to pierce the Moho, according to one reading of seismic data used to map the crust's varying thickness.
The new hole, which took nearly eight weeks to drill, is the third deepest ever made. The rock collection brought back to the surface is providing new information about the planet's composition.
partial eclipse of the heart
Sky-watchers from the South Pacific to the Americas will witness the first solar eclipse of 2005 on Friday when the moon blots out part of the sun. It will be a partial eclipse rather than a total one, in which the Earth is cast into darkness. But it will be the last partial solar eclipse visible from the continental United States until May 20, 2012.
thar she blows
The system is young, so the planet is rather warm, like a bun fresh out of the oven. That warmth made it comparatively easier to see in the glare of its host star compared with more mature planets. Also, the planet is very far from the star -- about 100 times the distance between Earth and the Sun, another factor in helping to separate the light between the two objects.
We seemed to have reached a spiritual brick wall in our secular ways of thinking and feeling. The ads don’t deliver, the politics don’t heal, and the science doesn’t connect. We know all too well the damage that organized religion can do, but we’re also beginning to understanding the destructiveness of our financial - corporate networks and the military-industrial complex that protect their interests. It’s not that there are no options - it’s that the marginalization of these options fuels a profound despair, along with a growing sense that we have passed beyond the point of no return. Ironically, this despair is likely to feed the addictions, violence, clinical depression, endless distraction, and retail therapy that is already ingrained in North American culture, encouraging further its monstrous consumption of resources and human potential.
If there is some vast consciousness that dreamed this whole shebang into existence, one thing we embody from Him/Her/Whatever is a spark from the fire of creation: the power to choose, to imagine, and to dream new worlds into being.
Scientists... have made a breakthrough in manipulating the smallest single molecules and atoms by devising a new technique of molecular dissection which induces the "birth" of a daughter atom from the parent molecule. This breakthrough... is significant for two reasons - not only have University physicists developed a novel method of dissociation using two electrons, but they have also successfully achieved this experiment at room temperature. The new method... uses the tip of a Scanning Tunnelling Microscope (STM) to inject two electrons into the parent chlorobenzine molecule to induce a dissociation event - the first electron sets the molecule into vibration and the second electron breaks the bond between the parent molecule and daughter chlorine atom...
"Through this experiment we are operating at the ultimate level of control over chemistry. We've instigated a rapid ejection of the chlorine daughter atom, as it shoots away from the parent molecule across the surface. It's fantastic to witness such a fundamental process under the microscope."
forbidden regionsInterpretations of quantum mechanics and the nature of reality [via orlin grabbe]
Because the quantum theory is often presented in the spirit of the Copenhagen interpretation which emphasizes indeterminacy and probability, people sometimes overlook very simple facts regarding the wave properties of the electron. Note first that the interference pattern which is built up spot by spot is very determinate - so there is "statistical causality" at the quantum level, not just indeterminacy of the behaviour of theindividual system. The key question to ask is is why we get an interference pattern rather than some other pattern or no definite pattern at all (which one might expect if electrons were truly indeterminate in their behaviour). Classically we would expect just "two piles" of electrons behind the screen, rather than the observed interference fringes or "many piles" with regions of no electrons between them. It is just a basic experimental fact that we get an interference pattern which can be predicted with the mathematics of wave motion. The reasonable way to think about this is to say that there is a wave aspect associated with each electron and that this wave aspect is causally powerful in that it makes sure that the particle aspect of each individual electron obeys the interference pattern, never going to the "forbidden regions".
New research suggests evidence of dark energy in our cosmic backyard, but theorists are still divided on explanations for the ever-increasing speed with which the universe is expanding. Until now, evidence for dark energy, a mysterious antigravity force apparently pushing galaxies outward at an accelerating pace, has only been found in the farthest reaches of the universe. But an international team of researchers has used computer models supported by observations from the Hubble Space Telescope to find hints of dark energy closer by.
would martian life rock our world?
New data from Europe's Mars Express spacecraft suggests liquid water, active volcanism and large glaciers scoured the Red Planet in recent times. Images from the probe's stereo camera show there was geological activity in the last few million years - just yesterday in geological terms. Signs of a huge frozen sea on Mars hint the planet could still hold the right conditions for microbial life.
13 things that do not make sense
Not-so-constant constants: In 1997 astronomer John Webb and his team at the University of New South Wales in Sydney analysed the light reaching Earth from distant quasars. On its 12-billion-year journey, the light had passed through interstellar clouds of metals such as iron, nickel and chromium, and the researchers found these atoms had absorbed some of the photons of quasar light - but not the ones they were expecting.
If the observations are correct, the only vaguely reasonable explanation is that a constant of physics called the fine structure constant, or alpha, had a different value at the time the light passed through the clouds.
But that's heresy. Alpha is an extremely important constant that determines how light interacts with matter - and it shouldn't be able to change. Its value depends on, among other things, the charge on the electron, the speed of light and Planck's constant. Could one of these really have changed?
black hole made of gold
A fireball created in a US particle accelerator has the characteristics of a black hole, a physicist has said. It was generated at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider... in New York... which smashes beams of gold nuclei together at near light speeds. Horatiu Nastase says his calculations show that the core of the fireball has a striking similarity to a black hole.
Ecologists know that when it comes to habitats, size matters, and now a new study finds that contrary to earlier beliefs, that maxim holds true right down to the tiny plants at the bottom of many oceanic and freshwater food chains. The study... is important because it shows that tiny microbes follow the same diversity patterns as larger organisms... Though there are few rigorous mathematical laws in ecology, that relationship between the size of a habitat and the range of species in it has been observed for nearly all organisms.
Collapsing bubbles have hot plasma core
They call it a star in a jar: when sound waves crush bubbles of gas in a liquid, energy is released in a dramatic burst of heat and light. Now the first detailed measurements of the phenomenon have shown that the molecules in the gas really do create a pinpoint of plasma, the energetic soup of ions and electrons found in every star. The research raises hopes that the effect, called sonoluminescence, might one day be used as an almost limitless source of energy.
Newly seen force may help gravity in star formation
"We are seeing star formation at its embryonic stage... Previous observations have captured the shape of such gas clouds but have never been able to peer inside. The detection of X-rays this early indicates that gravity alone is not the only force shaping young stars."
Golden ratio linked to beauty and order in nature
It occurs in nature as the golden angle, 137.5 degrees, calculated from 360 - 360/. When leaves grow on a stem, they need to be offset from one another at just the right angle so each leaf maximizes its exposure to sunlight and minimizes the shadow it casts on leaves below it. No matter which plant you examine, each successive leaf will be offset from the previous one by 137.5 degrees. Examples of spirals in nature whose diameters vary by a ratio of phi can be found in flowers, pine cones, pineapples and even mollusk shells, prompting scholars' claims of the number's ubiquity.
Science's Lost Souls
The Context of Wonder
The atoms in my brain and body today are not the same ones I had when I was born. Nevertheless, the patterns of information coded in my DNA and in my neural memories are still those of Michael Shermer. The human essence, the soul, is more than a pile of parts—it is a pattern of information.
As far as we know, there is no way for that pattern to last longer than several decades, a century or so at most. So until a technology can copy a human pattern into a more durable medium (silicon chips perhaps?), it appears that when we die our pattern is lost. Scientific skepticism suggests that there is no afterlife, and religion requires a leap of faith greater than many of us wish to make.
Whether there is an afterlife or not, we must live as if this is all there is. Our lives, our families, our friends, our communities (and how we treat others) are more meaningful when every day, every moment, every relationship and every person counts. Rather than meaningless forms before an eternal tomorrow, these entities have value in the here-and-now because of the purpose we create.
friendship and the speed of light
Einstein freely indulged his appetite for heavy German cooking; Gödel subsisted on a valetudinarian’s diet of butter, baby food, and laxatives. Although Einstein’s private life was not without its complications, outwardly he was jolly and at home in the world. Gödel, by contrast, had a tendency toward paranoia. He believed in ghosts; he had a morbid dread of being poisoned by refrigerator gases; he refused to go out when certain distinguished mathematicians were in town, apparently out of concern that they might try to kill him. “Every chaos is a wrong appearance,” he insisted—the paranoiac’s first axiom.
Although other members of the institute found the gloomy logician baffling and unapproachable, Einstein told people that he went to his office “just to have the privilege of walking home with Kurt Gödel.” Part of the reason, it seems, was that Gödel was undaunted by Einstein’s reputation and did not hesitate to challenge his ideas. As another member of the institute, the physicist Freeman Dyson, observed, “Gödel was . . . the only one of our colleagues who walked and talked on equal terms with Einstein.” But if Einstein and Gödel seemed to exist on a higher plane than the rest of humanity, it was also true that they had become, in Einstein’s words, “museum pieces.” Einstein never accepted the quantum theory of Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. Gödel believed that mathematical abstractions were every bit as real as tables and chairs, a view that philosophers had come to regard as laughably naïve. Both Gödel and Einstein insisted that the world is independent of our minds, yet rationally organized and open to human understanding. United by a shared sense of intellectual isolation, they found solace in their companionship. “They didn’t want to speak to anybody else,” another member of the institute said. “They only wanted to speak to each other.”
rethinking organic life
The hydrothermal vents at the ocean bottom were miles from any location scientists could have imagined. One massive seafloor vent was 18 stories tall. All were creamy white and gray, suggesting a very different composition than the hydrothermal vent systems that have been studied since the 1970s. Scientists who named the spot Lost City knew they were looking at something never seen before when the field was serendipitously discovered in Dec. 2000, during a National Science Foundation (NSF) expedition to the mid-Atlantic....
Microorganisms at Lost City live in highly alkaline fluids that are nearly as caustic as drain opener... whereas organisms inhabiting black-smoker vents are well adjusted to acidic fluids.
spew and froth
Mt. St. Helens Volcano cam
It will look like any ordinary mouse, but for America's scientists a tiny animal threatens to ignite a profound ethical dilemma. In one of the most controversial scientific projects ever conceived, a group of university researchers in California's Silicon Valley is preparing to create a mouse whose brain will be composed entirely of human cells.
Researchers at Stanford University have already succeeded in breeding mice with brains that are one per cent human cells. In the next stage they plan to use stem cells from aborted foetuses to create an animal whose brain cells are 100 per cent human... Last week, however, the university's ethics committee approved the research, under certain conditions. Prof Henry Greely, the head of the committee, said: "If the mouse shows human-like behaviours, like improved memory or problem-solving, it's time to stop."
In 1999, legendary theoretical physicist Hans Bethe delivered three lectures on quantum theory to his neighbors at the Kendal of Ithaca retirement community (near Cornell University). Given by Professor Bethe at age 93, the lectures are presented here as QuickTime videos synchronized with slides of his talking points and archival material.
Intended for an audience of Professor Bethe's neighbors at Kendal, the lectures hold appeal for experts and non-experts alike. The presentation makes use of limited mathematics while focusing on the personal and historical perspectives of one of the principal architects of quantum theory whose career in physics spans 75 years.
cosmic snow job
Eons ago, giant clouds in space may have led to global extinctions, according to two recent technical papers supported by NASA's Astrobiology Institute. One paper outlines a rare scenario in which Earth iced over during snowball glaciations, after the solar system passed through dense space clouds. In a more likely scenario, less dense giant molecular clouds may have enabled charged particles to enter Earth's atmosphere, leading to destruction of much of the planet's protective ozone layer. This resulted in global extinctions, according to the second paper.
manipulating the big g
Ever since electricity was tamed in the 19th century, the idea of manipulating gravity by altering an electromagnetic field has been the subject of intriguing experiments and occasional bursts of irrational exuberance. Physicists insist that because gravity is a basic force of nature, constructing an antigravity machine is theoretically impossible. But recently, and not without some reluctance, they have begun to consider another possibility. Several highly respected physicists say it might be possible to construct a force-field machine that acts on all matter in a way that is similar to gravity. Strictly speaking, it wouldn't be an antigravity machine. But by exerting an attractive or repulsive force on all matter, it would be the functional equivalent of the impossible machine.
While an operational device is at least five years in the future, developers of what can be loosely termed a force-field machine say it has cleared major theoretical hurdles...
superconducting quantum bits!
First evidence for entanglement of three macroscopic objects has been seen in a superconducting circuit built at the University of Maryland. By examining an electrical circuit operating at temperatures near absolute zero, the researchers have found new evidence that the laws of quantum mechanics apply not just to microscopic particles such as atoms and electrons, but also to large electronic devices called superconducting quantum bits (qubits)
mysterious things, small packages
'Hobbit' Brain Supports Species Theory
Scientists working with powerful imaging computers say the spectacular "Hobbit" fossil recently discovered in Indonesia had distinctive brain features that could justify its classification as a separate — and tiny — human ancestor. The new report, published Thursday in the online journal Science Express, seems to support the idea of a sophisticated human dwarf species marooned for eons while modern man proliferated.
More info and analysis on The Loom.
on the down low
The idea of a cloak of invisibility that hides objects from view has long been confined to the more improbable reaches of science fiction. But electronic engineers have now come up with a way to make one... Types of invisibility shielding have been developed before, but these mostly use the chameleon principle: a screen is coloured to match its background, so that the screened object is camouflaged... But the invisibility shield proposed... is more ambitious than this. It is a self-contained structure that would reduce visibility from all viewing angles.
get 'em while they're cold
A new type of organism discovered in an Arctic tunnel came to life in the lab after being frozen for 32,000 years. The deep-freeze bacteria could point to new methods of cryogenics, and they are the sort of biology scientists say might exist on Mars and other planets and moons.
get 'em while they're hot
The past four weeks have been heady ones in the planet-finding world: Three teams of astronomers announced the discovery of 12 previously unknown worlds, bringing the total count of planets outside our solar system to 145.
Just a decade ago, scientists knew of only the nine planets - those in our local solar system. In 1995, improved detection techniques produced the first solid evidence of a planet circling another star. A proliferation of discoveries followed, and now dozens of ongoing search efforts around the globe add steadily to the roster of worlds. Most of these planets differ markedly from the planets in our own solar system. They are more similar to Jupiter or Saturn than to Earth, and are considered unlikely to support life as we know it. [Ha! Our knowledge is still so cosmically scant!]
dark side of the matter
Plans to trace the Moon's orbit with extraordinary new accuracy could reveal kinks in Einstein's theory of gravity and help explain the mysterious accelerating expansion of the universe, says a US researcher. The acceleration cannot be explained by known forces in the Universe. To account for the behaviour, cosmologists have introduced the concept of a new, as yet unseen, force - dark energy. But Gia Dvali... believes there could be another explanation. He thinks the accelerating expansion might be caused by unexpected properties of gravity, which are only seen over very large distances. Taking inspiration from string theory, which proposes the existence of several extra dimensions, Dvali... suggests that gravity may leak into an extra dimension on this large scale. "The accelerated universe can be a window of opportunity for understanding the most fundamental aspects of gravitation, and may signal the modification of standard laws of gravity at very large distances,"
the paradox cluster
Astronomers say they have discovered an object that appears to be an invisible galaxy made almost entirely of dark matter. The team... claimed it is the first to be detected. A dark galaxy is an area in the Universe containing a large amount of mass that rotates like a galaxy, but contains no stars.
The unknown material that is thought to hold these dark galaxies together is known as 'dark matter', but scientists still know very little about what that is.
Baffled by the expansion of the universe?
The expansion of the universe may be the most important fact we have ever discovered about our origins. You would not be reading this article if the universe had not expanded. Human beings would not exist. Cold molecular things such as life-forms and terrestrial planets could not have come into existence unless the universe, starting from a hot big bang, had expanded and cooled. The formation of all the structures in the universe, from galaxies and stars to planets... has depended on the expansion.
Forty years ago this July, scientists announced the discovery of definitive evidence for the expansion of the universe from a hotter, denser, primordial state. They had found the cool afterglow of the big bang: the cosmic microwave background radiation. Since this discovery, the expansion and cooling of the universe has been the unifying theme of cosmology, much as Darwinian evolution is the unifying theme of biology. Like Darwinian evolution, cosmic expansion provides the context within which simple structures form and develop over time into complex structures. Without evolution and expansion, modern biology and cosmology make little sense...
"The full extent and richness of this picture [the hot big bang model] is not as well understood as I think it ought to be ... even among those making some of the most stimulating contributions to the flow of ideas."
skating away on the thin ice of a martian day
A huge, frozen sea lies just below the surface of Mars, a team of European scientists has announced. Their assessment is based on pictures of the planet's near-equatorial Elysium region that show plated and rutted features across an area 800 by 900km. The team think a catastrophic event flooded the landscape five million years ago and then froze out.
i'll take appendix for a thousand
The presence of an organ in one organism that resembles one found in another has lead biologists to conclude that these two might have shared a common ancestor. Vestigial organs have demonstrated remarkably how species are related to one another, and has given solid ground for the idea of common descent to stand on. From common descent, it is predicted that organisms should retain these vestigial organs as structural remnants of lost functions. It is only because of macro-evolutionary theory, or evolution that takes place over very long periods of time, that these vestiges appear.
simplistic but interesting
The notion of a genetic inclination toward religion is not new. Edward Wilson, the founder of the field of sociobiology, argued in the 1970s that a predisposition to religion may have had evolutionary advantages. n recent years evidence has mounted that there may be something to this, and the evidence is explored in "The God Gene," a fascinating book published recently by Dean Hamer, a prominent American geneticist. Hamer even identifies a particular gene, VMAT2, that he says may be involved. People with one variant of that gene tend to be more spiritual, he found, and those with another variant to be less so.
universe as canvas
An art expert says Hubble telescope images are a modern proxy for romantic 19th Century landscape paintings - carefully balancing art and reality. Hubble's raw images are carefully processed to produce the stunning colour representations that appear on the front pages of newspapers.
"The Hubble images are part of the romantic landscape tradition. They fit that popular, familiar model of what the natural world should look like."
gonzo gamma rays
Monster star burst detected
Stunned astronomers have described the greatest cosmic explosion ever monitored - a star burst from the other side of the galaxy that was briefly brighter than the full Moon and swamped satellites and telescopes. The high-radiation flash, detected last December 27, caused no harm to earth but would have literally fried the planet had it occurred within a few light years of home... [The star] spewed out about 10,000 trillion trillion watts, or about 100 times brighter than any of the several "giant flares" that have been previously recorded.
A pair of NASA scientists told a group of space officials at a private meeting here that they have found strong evidence that life may exist today on Mars, hidden away in caves and sustained by pockets of water.
What [the pair] found, according to several attendees of the private meeting, which took place Sunday, is not direct proof of life on Mars, but methane signatures and other signs of possible biological activity remarkably similar to those recently discovered in caves here on Earth... Researchers have long theorized that the Martian subsurface could harbor biological organisms that have developed unusual strategies for existing in extreme environments.
scrollbar your way to a cosmic sense of perpective
1 pixel = ~1,000 km; images are to scale with each other (This page does not display properly in Safari and Opera; they do not support super-wide tables or images, apparently.)
very deep life
Tiny single-celled creatures, many of them previously unknown to science, have been found at the deepest point in the world's oceans, almost 11km down. The soft-walled foraminifera, a form of plankton, were recovered by the Japanese remote submersible Kaiko... The organisms have become adapted to the crushing pressures that exist in a location of the Marianas Trench known as Challenger Deep.
random number prognostication?
Deep in the basement of a dusty university library in Edinburgh lies a small black box, roughly the size of two cigarette packets side by side, that churns out random numbers in an endless stream. At first glance it is an unremarkable piece of equipment. Encased in metal, it contains at its heart a microchip no more complex than the ones found in modern pocket calculators.
But, according to a growing band of top scientists, this box has quite extraordinary powers. It is, they claim, the 'eye' of a machine that appears capable of peering into the future and predicting major world events. The machine apparently sensed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre four hours before they happened - but in the fevered mood of conspiracy theories of the time, the claims were swiftly knocked back by sceptics. But last December, it also appeared to forewarn of the Asian tsunami just before the deep sea earthquake that precipitated the epic tragedy.
living cells from scratch
Using a simple experiment, they now demonstrate that one of the key stepsâ€”creating a simple growing cell by tucking self-reproducing molecules into a membraneâ€”may be startlingly simple.
The new research rebuts the widespread belief that cells have to evolve elaborate molecular machinery to enable them to grow, one of the basic characteristics of living things. Szostak and his colleagues started with chemicals thought to have been common on early Earth: nucleic acids (the building blocks of DNA) and fatty acids. One interesting property of fatty acids is that they spontaneously form bubbles, or vesicles, that allow water molecules to pass back and forth but trap larger molecules. In the Harvard experiment, vesicles that contained relatively high concentrations of nucleic acids expanded like balloons, while nucleic acid-poor vesicles shrank. The growing vesicles cannibalized fatty acids from the shrinking ones, so they were able to keep growing without popping.
We are the final frontier
Humans have always thought of themselves as special, and with good reason. As far as we know, we are alone in the universe in churning out great works of art and literature, in formulating the laws of physics, and in creating the spectacle that is morris dancing.
But our view of ourselves as the pinnacle of life has suffered huge blows at the hands of science. Every now and again comes an idea so revolutionary that it rocks the foundations on which our hubris is built.
It is a terrible thing that science has grown so distant from the rest of our intellectual life, for it did not start out that way. The writings of Aristotle, for example, despite their notorious inaccuracies, are beautifully clear, purposeful, and accessible. So is Darwin's Origin of Species. The opacity of modern science is an unfortunate side effect of professionalism, and something for which we scientists are often pilloried -- and deservedly so. Everyone gets wicked pleasure from snapping on the radio on the drive home from work to hear Doctor Science give ludicrous answers to phone-in questions such as why cows stand in the same direction while grazing (they must face Wisconsin several times a day) and then finish up with, "And remember: I know more than you. I have a master's degree in science." On another occasion my father-in-law remarked that economics had been terrific until they made it into a science. He had a point.
The conversation about physical law started me thinking about what science had to say about the obviously very unscientific chicken-and-egg problem of laws, organizations of laws, and laws from organization. I began to appreciate that many people had strong views on this subject, but could not articulate why they held them. The matter had come to a head recently when I realized I was having the same conversation over and over again with colleagues about Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe (W.W. Norton, 1999), a popular book about string theory -- a set of speculative ideas about the quantum mechanics of space. The conversation focused on the question of whether physics was a logical creation of the mind or a synthesis built on observation.
An interview with the man who reformulated science
My ambition was not to create a new field, but I would have welcomed a permanent group of people having interests close to mine and therefore breaking the disastrous tendency towards increasingly well-defined fields. Unfortunately, I failed on this essential point, very badly. Order doesn't come by itself. In my youth I was a student at Caltech while molecular biology was being created by Max DelbrÃ¼ck, so I saw what it means to create a new field. But my work did not give rise to anything like that. One reason is my personality â€” I don't seek power and do not run around. A second is circumstances â€” I was in an industrial laboratory because academia found me unsuitable. Besides, creating close organized links between activities which otherwise are very separate might have been beyond any single person's ability.
the american devolution
For the conservative forces engaged in the struggle for America's soul, the true battleground is public education, the laboratory of the next generation, and an opportunity for the religious right to effect lasting change on popular culture. Officially, the teaching of creationism has been outlawed since 1987 when the supreme court ruled that the inclusion of religious material in science classes in public teaching was unconstitutional. In recent years, however, opponents of evolution have regrouped, challenging science education with the doctrine of "intelligent design" which has been carefully stripped of all references to God and religion. Unlike traditional creationism, which posits that God created the earth in six days, proponents of intelligent design assert that the workings of this planet are too complex to be ascribed to evolution. There must have been a designer working to a plan - that is, a creator.
Has this country become so small that there is no longer room for independent thought? Must we stunt the analytical minds of children for the zealotry of the parents?
The plastic material uses nanotechnology and contains the first solar cells able to harness the sun's invisible, infrared rays. The breakthrough has led theorists to predict that plastic solar cells could one day become five times more efficient than current solar cell technology.
Like paint, the composite can be sprayed onto other materials and used as portable electricity. A sweater coated in the material could power a cell phone or other wireless devices. A hydrogen-powered car painted with the film could potentially convert enough energy into electricity to continually recharge the car's battery.
Small clouds of dark matter pass through Earth on a regular basis, suggest new calculations. The clouds may be remnants of the first structures to form after the big bang and could be detected by future space missions. Dark matter interacts gravitationally with normal matter and appears to be seven times more abundant in the universe. But physicists do not know what the mysterious matter is made of or exactly how it is distributed through space.
Nonetheless, they have devised a number of hypothetical dark matter particles that were created in the big bang. These particles formed the universe's first structures, where mysterious "quantum seeds" caused matter to clump more densely in certain spots. Dark matter slid into these spots which grew into structures that merged to become giant clouds - or haloes - with millions or trillions times more mass than the Sun.
Troy dreamed the Angel Light would be able to see through walls with window-like efficiency, and then built it with no blueprints, drawings or schematics. “I turned it on—that was well over a year ago—and it worked and it was really awesome.” Hurtubise said he could see into the garage behind his lab wall, and read the licence plate on his wife's car and even see the salt on it. "I almost broke my knuckles three or four times, because it was almost like you could step through the wall," Hurtubise said. "You could be fooled into believing that you could actually walk through the wall and go touch the car."
A celestial "spring" of mysterious particles that slam into Earth from all directions may have been discovered by a US physicist. The underlying source of the ultra-high-energy cosmic rays (UHECRs) remains one of the greatest puzzles in physics, but this new work suggests it arises in known phenomena rather than in exotic, hypothetical forms of matter. Just 100 of these charged particles have been observed in the last decade. They appear to be mostly protons and atomic nuclei. Magnetic fields - with an unknown source - accelerate the particles to almost the speed of light. This makes UHECRs so energetic that some astronomers doubt that even the most extreme cosmic events, such as the explosive birth of a black hole, could account for their power.
And in other goodness from the New Scientist, the Pentagoon at one time considered making a "gay love bomb."
Most bizarre among the plans was one for the development of an "aphrodisiac" chemical weapon that would make enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other. Provoking widespread homosexual behaviour among troops would cause a "distasteful but completely non-lethal" blow to morale, the proposal says.
Hit me with some of that stuff!
I see you shiver with antici....... Huygens begins its Titan descent .......pation!
The Huygens spacecraft has sent back its first signal on its historic descent to Saturn's moon Titan. Early on Friday Huygens began its dive through Titan's atmosphere, taking images and readings as it parachuted towards the surface. Its scientific investigation of this mysterious world could yield clues to how life first arose on Earth.
Our Cosmic Self-Esteem
But, I think there'll be some compensations, which I discuss in my book. In particular, I think it would raise our cosmic self-esteem. We could then regard our Earth, tiny though it is, as perhaps being the most important place in the galaxy. It might be the only place where life has evolved into a complex biosphere, containing creatures with structures like our brains, able to contemplate their origin.
Naughty Quantum Robot!
My toaster has a little computer. The thermostat on my wall computes. I don't believe either of them to be conscious. But OK, an A.I. type might say, well when you get to a critical level of computational complexity, consciousness emerges. There are emergent phenomena - new, novel properties emerging from simple interactions in a hierarchical system, like a candle flame from gas and molecular interactions, wetness from water molecule interactions, hurricanes and tornadoes from air and dust molecule interactions. So maybe consciousness emerges from simple interactions among neurons. But none of those examples are conscious (at least I don't believe them to be). And there is no predicted threshold or transition for consciousness.
Astronomers have directly observed an extrasolar planet for the first time, but are at a loss to explain what they see. More than 130 planets have been detected orbiting stars other than our own, the Sun. But because the stars far outshine the planets, all of the planets were detected indirectly - by how much they made their host stars wobble or dim, for example. Now, astronomers say they are almost certain they have snapped an actual image of an extrasolar planet.
Divine microphotography: Eye Of Science
By some estimates, it was equal to detonating a million atomic bombs... it probably jolted the planet's rotation. "It causes the planet to wobble a little bit, but it's not going to turn Earth upside down..."
Please notice the link above to the Earthquake/Tsunami relief blog, and donate to the wide variety of available charities.
A comet discovered earlier this year has now moved close enough to be visible without binoculars or telescopes by experienced observers under dark skies. It is expected to put on a modest show this month and into January. Comet Machholz will be at its closest to Earth Jan. 5-6, 2005, when it will be 32 million miles (51 million kilometers) away. People with dark rural skies and a good map should be able to find it on Moon-free nights now into January.
...and, it's got a green coma. That's rather unusual.
Discovery: Natural selection acts on the quantum world
If, as quantum mechanics says, observing the world tends to change it, how is it that we can agree on anything at all? Why doesn't each person leave a slightly different version of the world for the next person to find?
Because, say the researchers, certain special states of a system are promoted above others by a quantum form of natural selection, which they call quantum darwinism. Information about these states proliferates and gets imprinted on the environment. So observers coming along and looking at the environment in order to get a picture of the world tend to see the same 'preferred' states.
Chronobiology: A Science in tune with the Rhythms of Life
Inside the body are other rhythms. Brain waves oscillate with periods of milliseconds; the heart pulses rhythm-ically some 70 times each minute. Body temperature and blood pressure both rise and fall with a 24-hour rhythm. Hormone levels fluctuate monthly and seasonally. In the skin, cell division peaks by night and drops markedly by day... Chrono-biologists look for patterns or rhythms that repeat themselves cyclically.
A comet discovered earlier this year has now moved close enough to be visible without binoculars or telescopes by experienced observers under dark skies. It is expected to put on a modest show this month and into January.
Comet Machholz will be at its closest to Earth Jan. 5-6, 2005, when it will be 32 million miles (51 million kilometers) away. People with dark rural skies and a good map should be able to find it on Moon-free nights now into January.
To date, researchers have only observed the effects of quantum entanglement over a distance of several miles ... since we don't have the technology to observe the effect first-hand at distances spanning much more than that of the Earth and Moon.
However, a cosmological experiment was done using quasar 0957+561A,B... that showed how a photon can simultaneously travel two paths across great distances. A galaxy splits the space between Earth and the quasar, acting as a gravitational lens, thus creating two light rays separated by 50,000 light years. When we observe the arrival of a photon we can, by using half-silvered mirrors, determine which ray the photon travelled or whether it travelled both rays. What makes this experiment interesting is that when we put in the silvered mirror (or not), the photon has already passed the galaxy! In effect, we wind up changing history.
Four great articles from the BBC today:
A rare and spectacular event will occur in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Dec. 7 when the brilliant planet Jupiter and three of its largest satellites pass behind Earth's Moon.
Nice. The is first significant interstellar hullaballoo to occur on some random blogger's (ahem... subtle, yes?) birthday. Nicer yet as Jupiter is the ruling planet for we Sagittarians. Not that that means anything per se, but we'll take whatever we get.
Spectacular images of Venus from the Soviet probe Venera 1; digitally remastered and colorized via an intricate algorithm. It's amazing to think that only one lonely probe has made it to the surface.
Meanwhile, I'm all atwitter about the Huygens probe's January descent to the surface of Titan.
Hey, do you swing? Planet Swapping
Computer simulations show a close encounter with a passing star about 4 billion years ago may have given our solar system its abrupt edge and put small, alien worlds into distant orbits around our sun. [The researchers] simulated what would have happened if our sun and another star in our Milky Way galaxy had passed a relatively close 14 billion to 19 billion miles from each other a few hundred million years after our solar system formed. At that time, our solar system was a swirling "planetary disk" of gas, dust and rocks, with planets newly formed from the smaller materials.
In a splendid portrait created by light and gravity, Saturn's lonely moon Mimas is seen against the cool, blue-streaked backdrop of Saturn's northern hemisphere. Delicate shadows cast by the rings arc gracefully across the planet, fading into darkness on Saturn's night side. (link goes to article with full-size hi-res)
Asking questions about the quantum universe is a fool's game: one cannot get a single answer, only a probability. A committee of particle physicists bounced this concept around a table to pose the top nine questions, and a probable path to answering them.
Nano-, nano-, boo boo! Tiny carbon cylinders set record
A British research team has made it into the record books by creating the smallest "test tubes" known to science. Materials scientists from Oxford and Nottingham universities performed chemical reactions inside tiny tubes of carbon atoms known as nanotubes.
The chances of an impact being captured on film are millions to one. "If this is true, it's one of the most remarkable pictures ever taken..." Meteorite 'photographed' hitting Earth
The Cosmic Serpent, DNA and the Origins of Knowledge: Q&A with Jeremy Narby
Q: Your hypothesis of a hidden intelligence contained within the DNA of all living things is interesting. What is this intelligence?
A: Intelligence comes from the Latin inter-legere, to choose between. There seems to be a capacity to make choices operating inside each cell in our body, down to the level of individual proteins and enzymes. DNA itself is a kind of "text" that functions through a coding system called "genetic code," which is strikingly similar to codes used by human beings. Some enzymes edit the RNA transcript of the DNA text and add new letters to it; any error made during this editing can be fatal to the entire organism; so these enzymes are consistently making the right choices; if they don't, something often goes wrong leading to cancer and other diseases. Cells send one another signals, in the form of proteins and molecules. These signals mean: divide, or don't divide, move, or don't move, kill yourself, or stay alive. Any one cell is listening to hundreds of signals at the same time, and has to integrate them and decide what to do. How this intelligence operates is the question.
In Minnesota, pigs are being born with human blood in their veins. In Nevada, there are sheep whose livers and hearts are largely human. In California, mice peer from their cages with human brain cells firing inside their skulls. They are real creations of real scientists, stretching the boundaries of stem cell research.
Yeah, this puzzles the ethicist in me. While not as grotesque as vivisection nor as outwardly brazen as cloning or species-blending, producing intentional chimeras with human attributes seems to be a bold teeter-totter tightrope walk on the playing board of the God game. Yet, we must ask ourselves: which side offers the greatest benefit?
This one's for you, Joshua: Good news for causality
Physicists in Switzerland have confirmed that information cannot be transmitted faster than the speed of light. Nicolas Gisin and colleagues at the University of Geneva have shown that the "group velocity" of a laser pulse in an optical fibre can travel faster than the speed of light but that the "signal velocity" - the speed at which information travels - cannot.
...in recent years we have begun to gain a firmer understanding of where and how music is processed in the brain, which should lay a foundation for answering evolutionary questions. Collectively, studies of patients with brain injuries and imaging of healthy individuals have unexpectedly uncovered no specialized brain "center" for music. Rather music engages many areas distributed throughout the brain, including those that are normally involved in other kinds of cognition. The active areas vary with the person's individual experiences and musical training. The ear has the fewest sensory cells of any sensory organ--3,500 inner hair cells occupy the ear versus 100 million photoreceptors in the eye. Yet our mental response to music is remarkably adaptable; even a little study can "retune" the way the brain handles musical inputs.
In considering the recent discovery that cosmological expansion is accelerating toward the extreme physics of absolute zero, science is understandably at a loss for conceptual representation of the distant future. Cosmology is in an unprecedented adjustment period since the absolute zero future we are being forced to consider was previously ruled impossible.
Our Special Sun, via Sentient Developments.
Every second, our sun converts about 5 million tons of mass into energy; Earth intercepts only a billionth of this energy...
...our sun is situated in the galactic habitable zone, which boasts two major characteristics: i) a region fairly devoid of interstellar matter, and ii) a region rich in metallicity (the outer stars lack critical heavier elements which assist in the creation of life)
Michael Oppenheimer, a climate change researcher at Princeton University in New Jersey, is mulling over the morale of fellow scientists following the re-election of George W Bush. "Let me put it like this," he says. "No one I know is happy." It's an observation echoed by many American scientists, not least those who threw their weight behind the rare campaign of protest in the run-up to the vote. Whether they were critical of the administration's restrictive policy on stem cell research; its lack of action on global warming; the prospect of drilling for oil in the pristine Arctic wildlife refuge, or the twisting of scientific data to suit a political agenda, scientists were largely united in their opposition to President Bush winning four more years in the White House.
Feynman, Davies and Wheeler: three physicists dancing on the head of an electron.
...when a proton and an antiproton collide and annihilate, what has really happened is that one particle has reversed its direction in Time.
Robert Anton Wilson: Reality Ain't What It Used To Be, Thirty-five years after Bell's Theorem
Bell's Theorem, a mathematical demonstration by physicist John Stewart Bell published in 1964, has become more popular than Tarot cards with New Agers, who think they understand it but generally don't. Meanwhile it remains controversial with physicists, some of whom think they understand it, while others frankly admit they find it as perplexing as a chimpanzee in a Beethoven string quartet.
A nuclear physicist takes a unique look at our universe according to God and Einstein: Seeing God in the Physics Lab
Consider: In one mix of protons, neutrons and electrons I get a grain of sand. I take the same protons, neutrons and electrons, put them together in a different mix and get a brain that can record facts, produce emotions, and from which emerges a mind that integrates those facts and emotions -- and experiences that integration as joy. It's the same protons, neutrons and electrons. They did not get a face-lift, yet one combination seems passive while the other is dynamically alive.From where does this consciousness arise? Just which proton is feeling the joy or anguishing over the pain as I stub my toe on some unseen object?
Instruments aboard the Cassini spacecraft have sent back the most detailed images ever captured of the surface of Saturn's giant moon, Titan. They've also presented scientists with a major mystery. There's a huge cloud formation over the moon's south pole, spanning 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) at its widest. That's no surprise; scientists expected it to be there. But they also expected it to be made of methane. And it isn't.
Scientists examining pictures from the Cassini spacecraft think they may be closer to showing there is liquid hydrocarbon on Saturn's moon Titan. Radar images taken of a strip of the moon revealed dark patches, which could indicate liquid methane or ethane.
Tonight there will be a Total Lunar Eclipse visible from most of North America and Europe, peaking here in the east around 11pm. Get out there tonight, take your mind off of the gutwrenching tightrope act which is confounding our national zeitgeist, and be reminded of the wonders of the Universe and the miracles that continually occur whether we notice or not.
Design has emerged as one of the world's most powerful forces. It has placed us at the beginning of a new, unprecedented period of human possibility, where all economies and ecologies are becoming global, relational, and interconnected. In order to understand these emerging forces, there is an urgent need to articulate precisely what we are doing to ourselves and to our world. This is the ambition of Massive Change.
Scientists in the UK are applying for a licence to create human embryos with three genetic parents. The aim is ultimately to prevent children from inheriting genetic diseases caused by mutations in DNA housed by their mitochondria - components of cells which produce energy.
Earth's spin warps space around the planet, according to a new study that confirms a key prediction of Einstein's general theory of relativity.
X-Prize for world's 'Holy Grails'
A pill-sized brain chip has allowed a quadriplegic man to check e-mail and play computer games using his thoughts. The device can tap into a hundred neurons at a time, and is the most sophisticated such implant tested in humans so far.
A protein deep in the ear is a key factor for normal hearing and could be used to help develop treatments for deafness, US researchers believe. For decades scientists have been trying to figure out what translates sound into the nerve impulses which are interpreted by the brain.
The theory that claims to solve cosmology’s major mysteries by proposing that empty space is filled with a fluid of ghostly particles may, literally, be going down the cosmic drain. According to the latest calculations, the universe’s black holes would be slurping up any such fluid.
Engineering God in a Petri
On a steep, narrow street above Chinatown works Jonathon Keats, a tweed-suited, bow-tied 32-year-old who, with assistance from a phalanx of scientists, is genetically engineering God in his apartment.
Advisers to Keats' organization, the International Association for Divine Taxonomy, include biochemists, biophysicists, ecologists, geneticists and zoologists from the University of California at Berkeley, the Smithsonian and other institutions of scientific repute. The mission: to determine where on the phylogenetic map -- the scientific tree of life -- to put God.
Why does Phi appear in
Why does Phi appear in nature?
The Many Worlds FAQ, based
The Many Worlds FAQ, based on the Everett interpretation of parallel universus and an infinite number of worlds created by chance and variation.
Amazing graphic: Massive merger of
Amazing graphic: Massive merger of galaxies is the most powerful on record
The event details what the scientists are calling the perfect cosmic storm: galaxy clusters that collided like two high-pressure weather fronts and created hurricane-like conditions, tossing galaxies far from their paths and churning shock waves of 100-million-degree gas through intergalactic space.
Ultra deep field redux: Hubble's
Ultra deep field redux: Hubble's deepest shot is a puzzle
Scientists studying the deepest picture of the Universe, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, have been left with a big poser: where are all the stars?
Sugar in space provides clue
Astronomers using the National Science Foundation's giant Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) have discovered a frigid reservoir of simple sugar molecules in a cloud of gas and dust some 26,000 light-years away, near the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. The discovery suggests how the molecular building blocks necessary for the creation of life could first form in interstellar space.
Farewell to Gravity This must
This must be what it feels like when your soul leaves your body. That's all I could think when the first parabola hit, and I floated in zero gravity for the first time.
If you've ever dreamed you could fly, you already know exactly how it feels. That's the most amazing thing about weightlessness -- the fact that something so unnatural and unfamiliar feels so natural, so familiar.
Molecular Expressions: The Religion Collection
Molecular Expressions: The Religion Collection
Our religion collection contains photomicrographs of various items that commemorate the great religions around the world. From the Native Americans, who base their religion on a great respect for nature, we have a photomicrograph of tobacco that was used as a gift made to elder tribal members or by visitors. We have a wide spectrum of photos representing Christianity, including the spices Myrrh and Frankincense, and baptismal water.
Researchers invent antenna for light
Researchers said... they have invented an antenna that captures visible light in much the same way that radio antennas capture radio waves. They say the device, using tiny carbon nanotubes, might serve as the basis for an optical television or for converting solar energy into electricity once properly developed.
Above the Eye of
This is the beast presently whipping Western North Carolina and bringing us back into floodland. In comparison, we will fare much better than those further south. It's pouring very heavy rain right now and the wind is gusting to at least 50.
Snuggle in and sandbag kind of weather.
'Speak in my right ear
The right and left human ears process sound differently, according to scientists who studied the hearing of babies and found the right ear better at picking up speech-like sounds and the left more attuned to music.
It has long been known that the right and left halves of the brain process sound differently, but those differences were thought to stem from cellular properties unique to each brain hemisphere. The new research suggests that the differences start at the ear.
I was at a training
I was at a training all day, so no site updates until now...
Something strange is tugging at America's oldest spacecraft. As the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes head towards distant stars, scientists have discovered that the craft - launched more than 30 years ago - appear to be in the grip of a mysterious force that is holding them back as they sweep out of the solar system.
Some researchers say unseen 'dark matter' may permeate the universe and that this is affecting the Pioneers' passage. Others say flaws in our understanding of the laws of gravity best explain the crafts' wayward behaviour
Photo may be first of
A group of European-led astronomers has made a photograph of what appears to be a planet orbiting another star. If so, it would be the first confirmed picture of a world beyond our solar system. "Although it is surely much bigger than a terrestrial-size object [like Earth], it is a strange feeling that it may indeed be the first planetary system beyond our own ever imaged..."
Moon Proposed as Genetic
"If there were a catastrophic collision on Earth or a nuclear war you could place some samples of Earth's biosphere, including humans..."
How beauty fascinates from birth
Babies are born with an eye for beauty. Infants only hours old will choose to stare at an attractive face rather than an unattractive one - and they also prefer to listen to Vivaldi straight.
(I've never listened to Vivaldi straight. Heh.)
A Leonardo da Vinci for
A Leonardo da Vinci for the twenty-first century
How Life First Bubbled Up
...the first battle for survival-of-the-fittest might have played out as a simple physical duel between fatty bubbles stuffed with genetic material. The scientists suggest that genetic material that replicated quickly may have been all the bubbles needed to edge out their competitors and begin evolving into more sophisticated cells. This possibility, revealed by laboratory experiments with artificial fatty acid sacs, is in sharp contrast to a current theory of the earliest evolution of cells, which suggests that cellular evolution was driven by primordial genetic machinery that actively synthesized cell membranes or otherwise influenced cell stability or division.
Scientists Discover First of a
Astronomers announced today the first discovery of a new class of planets beyond our solar system about 10 to 20 times the size of Earth - far smaller than any previously detected. The planets make up a new class of Neptune-sized extrasolar planets. In addition, one of the new planets joins three others around the nearby star 55 Cancri to form the first known four-planet system.
It's rare that I reprint
It's rare that I reprint an article in its entirety, but I'm only finding one source for this story and connection with the surely overheated server (Newscientist.com in the UK) is shaky.
Skeptical, but enlightening: Miracle on
Skeptical, but enlightening: Miracle on Probability Street: The Law of Large Numbers guarantees that one-in-a-million miracles happen 295 times a day in America...
Biggest bets in the universe
Betting on the greatest unsolved problems in the universe is no longer the preserve of academic superstars such as Stephen Hawking. From Thursday anyone will be able to place bets on whether the biggest physics experiments in the world will come good before 2010.
For two weeks, British-based bookmaker Ladbrokes is opening a book on five separate discoveries: life on Titan, gravitational waves, the Higgs boson, cosmic ray origins and nuclear fusion.
What is the Higgs boson,
The Higgs boson is an undiscovered elementary particle, thought to be a vital piece of the closely fitting jigsaw of particle physics. Like all particles, it has wave properties akin to those ripples on the surface of a pond which has been disturbed; indeed, only when the ripples travel as a well defined group is it sensible to speak of a particle at all. In quantum language the analogue of the water surface which carries the waves is called a field. Each type of particle has its own corresponding field.
The unity of nature shouldn't
The unity of nature shouldn't be exaggerated, since this is certainly not to claim that everything is the same, but there are certain threads that reappear. Resonance is an idea that we can use to understand vibrations of bridges and to think about atomic structure and sound waves, and the same mathematics applies over and over again in different versions.
...There were persistent reports when the first Western travelers went to southeast Asia, back to the time of Sir Francis Drake in the 1500s, of spectacular scenes along riverbanks, where thousands upon thousands of fireflies in the trees would all light up and go off simultaneously. These kinds of reports kept coming back to the West, and were published in scientific journals, and people who hadn't seen it couldn't believe it. Scientists said that this is a case of human misperception, that we're seeing patterns that don't exist, or that it's an optical illusion. How could the fireflies, which are not very intelligent creatures, manage to coordinate their flashings in such a spectacular and vast way?
Smallest 'Earth-like' planet seen European
European scientists have discovered what they describe as the smallest Earth-like planet orbiting a star outside our Solar System. The planet is 14 times the size of Earth - not so large that it qualifies as a gas giant - and is close enough to the star that it is unlikely to be icy.
Teleportation goes long distance Physicists
Physicists have carried out successful teleportation with particles of light over a distance of 600m across the River Danube in Austria. Long distance teleportation is crucial if dreams of superfast quantum computing are to be realised.
The fun, linky story of
The fun, linky story of Oliver Sacks and his iridium ingot
...a must-read Live Journal entry about the famous neurologist/author Oliver Sacks and his iridium fetish. Sacks had several buttons of super-dense iridium that he wanted to melt into a single ingot. Iridium has a very high melting temperature (2,446 C), so Lazenby and Sacks went to a company that has an electron beam furnace.
Rules for a Complex Quantum
Rules for a Complex Quantum World: an exciting new fundamental discipline of research combines information science and quantum mechanics.
Over the past few decades, scientists have learned that simple rules can give rise to very rich behavior. A good example is chess. Imagine you're an experienced chess player introduced to someone claiming to know the game. You play a few times and realize that although this person knows the rules of chess, he has no idea how to play well. He makes absurd moves, sacrificing his queen for a pawn and losing a rook for no reason at all. He does not truly understand chess: he is ignorant of the high-level principles and heuristics familiar to any knowledgeable player. These principles are collective or emergent properties of chess, features not immediately evident from the rules but arising from interactions among the pieces on the chessboard.
The 2004 Perseid Meteor Shower
The 2004 Perseid Meteor Shower is upon us! Thanks to an empty upstairs apartment, I plan on some serious gazing ahead. Also, thansk to a spiffy new camera, I might try to take some pics as well. Which means that yes, I will turn off the computer and do some serious galactic reconnection.
Koko goes to the dentist
Koko goes to the dentist
Questions That Plague Physics What
What is the nature of dark energy? How can we reconcile black hole evaporation with quantum mechanics? And, finally, do extra dimensions exist? They are all connected. And they are all going to require some new insights into quantum gravity. But someone is going to have to come up with a totally new and remarkable idea. And it's hard to predict when that is going to happen. In 1904 you couldn't have predicted that Albert Einstein would come up with a remarkable idea in 1905. I think the resolution to these problems is likely to be theoretical and not experimental. This is because direct experimental signatures that might point us in the right theoretical directions in these areas probably lie beyond the realm of current experiments. I'd also bet that the solution to these problems is not going to resemble anything being done now, including string theory.
Rubber Band Invoked to Explain
In the early universe, neutrinos would have been packed relatively tightly. Nowadays they are farther apart and so each has greater mass, the new theory suggests. As they move apart, a tension develops between them, like that in a stretched rubber band, said Ann Nelson, a physics professor at the University of Washington. The increasing tension is the infamous dark energy...
Rare Glimpse of Sun-like
The discovery of a new bright spot in the sky earlier this year by an amateur astronomer spurred follow-up observations by professionals. The result... is a unique view of a dust-encircled newborn star that could aid in finding nascent planet systems around other stars.
Shahriar S. Afshar: Quantum Rebel
It has been widely accepted that the rival interpretations of quantum mechanics, e.g., the Copenhagen Interpretation, the Many-Worlds Interpretation, and my father John Cramer's Transactional Interpretation, cannot be distinguished or falsified by experiment, because the experimental predictions come from the formalism that all such interpretations describe. However, the Afshar Experiment demonstrates in an interaction-free way that there is a loophole in this logic: if the interpretation is inconsistent with the formalism, then it can be falsified. In particular, the Afshar Experiment falsifies the Copenhagen Interpretation, which requires the absence of interference in a particle-type measurement. It also falsifies the Many-Worlds Interpretation which tells us to expect no interference between "worlds" that are physically distinguishable...
'Frozen Ark' to save animal
A tissue bank that will store genetic material from thousands of endangered animals has been set up in the UK. The Frozen Ark, as it is called, will preserve animal "life codes" even after their species have become extinct.
Biological Diversity in a Crowded
How much do we know about the diversity of organisms on our planet? First, estimates of the number of distinct species of plants, animals and fungi (eukaryotes) that have been named and recorded — a simple, factual question, like how many books in the library catalogue — range from 1.4 million to 1.8 million. Second, estimates of the total number of species present on Earth today range over more than an order-of-magnitude, from a low of around 3 million, to a high of 30 million or possibly much more. And third, we have even less idea of the rates at which species may currently be going extinct as a result of habitat destruction, introduced aliens, overexploitation and other consequences of human population growth.
Some Blend In, Others Dazzle:
Some Blend In, Others Dazzle: The Mysteries of Animal Colors
The impulse to colorize is normal. It is not partisan. It is not even particularly hominoid. From the neon sass of a... clownfish to the peridot flash of a golden poison-dart frog, the whole world is a pigsty of pigment. The feathers of an Eastern bluebird are saturated in such a fat, matte lapis blue, you wonder how the creature gets airborne, while the cardinal is that perfect, can-can shade of lipstick you can't even find in Paris...
Ammonia on Mars could mean
Researchers say its spectral signature has been tentatively detected by sensors on board the European Space Agency's orbiting Mars Express craft. Ammonia survives for only a short time in the Martian atmosphere so it must be getting constantly replenished. There are two possible sources: either active volcanoes, none of which have been found yet on Mars, or microbes.
This is too neat: Plankton
This is too neat: Plankton Cool Off With Own Clouds
A recent study funded by NASA's Earth Science Department shows that the tiny sea plants release high quantities of cloud-forming compounds on days when the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays are especially strong. The compounds evaporate into the air through a series of chemical processes that result in especially reflective clouds. This, in turn, blocks the radiation from bothering the phytoplankton.
Hawking cracks black hole paradox
After nearly 30 years of arguing that a black hole destroys everything that falls into it, Stephen Hawking is saying he was wrong. It seems that black holes may after all allow information within them to escape. Hawking will present his latest finding at a conference in Ireland next week.
The about-turn might cost Hawking, a physicist at the University of Cambridge, an encyclopaedia because of a bet he made in 1997. More importantly, it might solve one of the long-standing puzzles in modern physics, known as the black hole information paradox.
You will get $40 trillion
You will get $40 trillion just by reading this essay and understanding what it says: The Law of Accelerating Returns
An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense "intuitive linear" view. So we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century -- it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate).
Neutrinos 'topple matter theory' Neutrinos
Neutrinos do not interact very much with matter, but they can be detected as flashes of light in the 50,000-tonne Super-Kamiokande detector in Japan. Many of them come from the Sun while others are formed in the Earth's atmosphere by cosmic ray impacts. The new data confirms that they change as they travel through space which is contrary to current theories of matter.
Strange Brew Brings Chemicals to
Strange Brew Brings Chemicals to Life, and more on inorganic life-like activities over at Reality Carnival...
Science > Will Compasses
The collapse of the Earth's magnetic field, which both guards the planet and guides many of its creatures, appears to have started in earnest about 150 years ago. The field's strength has waned 10 to 15 percent, and the deterioration has accelerated of late, increasing debate over whether it portends a reversal of the lines of magnetic force that normally envelop the Earth.
During a reversal, the main field weakens, almost vanishes, then reappears with opposite polarity. Afterward, compass needles that normally point north would point south, and during the thousands of years of transition, much in the heavens and Earth would go askew.
A reversal could knock out power grids, hurt astronauts and satellites, widen atmospheric ozone holes, send polar auroras flashing to the equator and confuse birds, fish and migratory animals that rely on the steadiness of the magnetic field as a navigation aid. But experts said the repercussions would fall short of catastrophic, despite a few proclamations of doom and sketchy evidence of past links between field reversals and species extinctions.
New theory on how we
New theory on how we smell? [via MeFi
An amazing theory about how we smell is set to put noses out of joint everywhere...read on to find out why the vibrations up your nose might be more important to the sweet smell of success than picking molecular locks. Many molecules smell. That's a fact. What they smell of is not usually obvious from looking at their molecular structure though. For instance, some molecules that have very different shapes smell very similar, for instance hydrogen cyanide, trans-hex-2-enal and benzaldehyde all smell of bitter almonds, while others such as acetophenones, which look almost identical, can smell very different.
I didn't see that coming:
I didn't see that coming: Most of universe invisible
Everything you can see – from a distant nebula to the family dog – makes up only about 5 per cent of the universe. The rest is mystery stuff – dark matter and dark energy. We should be wary of equating existence with visibility because most of the universe is not something we can see...
They've outgrown thumbsucking: Glimpse at
They've outgrown thumbsucking: Glimpse at Early Universe Reveals Surprisingly Mature Galaxies
"Up until now, we assumed that galaxies were just beginning to form between 8 and 11 billion years ago, but what we found suggests that that is not the case... It seems that an unexpectedly large fraction of stars in big galaxies were already in place early in the universe's formation, and that challenges what we've believed. We thought massive galaxies came much later."
Sunspots reaching 1,000-year high A
A new analysis shows that the Sun is more active now than it has been at anytime in the previous 1,000 years. Scientists based at the Institute for Astronomy in Zurich used ice cores from Greenland to construct a picture of our star's activity in the past.
Cassini probes Titan's mysteries The
The latest images from Cassini are completely reversing scientists' ideas about Saturn's giant moon Titan.
The space probe flew within 340,000 kilometres of Titan on Friday. It has revealed methane clouds and a strangely smeary surface that may include tectonic features and huge impact craters.
Hubble discovers 100 new planets
The Hubble Space Telescope may have discovered as many as 100 new planets orbiting stars in our galaxy. Hubble's harvest comes from a sweep of thousands of stars in the dome-like bulge of the Milky Way. If confirmed it would almost double the number of planets known to be circling other stars to about 230.
"It was beyond description,
Two first hand accounds of
Two first hand accounds of the SpaceShipOne launch: Alan's Mojave Airport Weblog has great pics and really good commentary, and thread commenter at Metafilter (off all blessed places) tells the story of the 'scene' at Mojave very well.
WOO-HOO! First Civilian Astronaut Pilots
Tucked underneath its carrier aircraft, the privately-built SpaceShipOne departed from an airstrip here at about 9:47 a.m. ET – prepared to trail blaze its way into history by attempting the first non-governmental flight to leave the Earth's atmosphere.
There's a lot of hubbub
There's a lot of hubbub and chatter on the net about a 'house-sized' meteorite impact in Australia, but so far, this is the only newsy report I can find, and of course, there's a very interesting MeFi thread.
By the way, if you can't tell already, I've taken today through Monday off.
It's getting stranger all the
It's getting stranger all the time: Teleportation breakthrough made
Scientists have performed successful teleportation on atoms for the first time, the journal Nature reports. The feat was achieved by two teams of researchers working independently on the problem in the US and Austria. The ability to transfer key properties of one particle to another without using any physical link has until now only been achieved with laser light.
Inventor plans 'invisible walls'
The inventor of an "invisibility" cloak has said that his next project will be to develop the technology to allow people to see through walls. Susumu Tachi, who showed off the cloak at an exhibition in San Francisco earlier this month, said he was hopeful of providing a way to provide a view of the outside in windowless rooms. "This technology can be used in all kinds of ways, but I wanted to create a vision of invisibility..."
Space rock smashes into
A grapefruit-sized meteorite has crashed through the roof of a house in Auckland, New Zealand.
Planet Venus completes transit
The planet Venus has completed a very rare passage across the face of the Sun - an event not witnessed since 1882.