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Io, Io, It’s Off to Work We Go

The innermost large moon of Jupiter, Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system.  About the size of our moon but no more than a speck of light in small telescopes, it caused a sensation when Galileo first glimpsed it and the other three major satellites of Jupiter in 1610.  Back then, […]

How Climate Influenced the Dead Sea and History

The Dead Sea, the lowest lake on earth (1368 ft below sea level), figures prominently in the Bible.  Near this body of water, Lot settled and the cities of the plain were destroyed.  David wandered here, battles were fought nearby, and Herod built a fortress at Masada overlooking the lake.  Later, Moslems and Crusaders left […]

Tufa Mounds Formed “Instantaneously,” Geologically Speaking

Tufa towers have been found forming in Big Soda Lake, Nevada, at the rate of 30mm/year.  Now more than 3 meters tall, that means they could have reached their current height in only 100 years.  Rosen et al., who reported this in the May issue of Geology,1 warn that “care should be taken when trying […]

Lutherans Helped Copernicus

Every once in awhile, we are confronted to reconsider things we “know” are true, only to find out the truth is closer to the opposite.  The usual spin on Nicolaus Copernicus is that he was a brave scientist who threatened the church with his discovery that the earth orbits the sun, not the sun the […]

Neanderthals Matured Faster

The news media are all echoing a story out of Nature April 291 that Neanderthals matured by age 15, as indicated by their teeth.  A News and Views article in the same issue by Jay Kelley2 begins, It is nearly 150 years since the existence of Neanderthals was first recognized, but debate about their relationship […]

Italy Waffles on School Darwinism

It’s not just an American thing; the politicians and scientists in Italy, also, are polarizing around Darwin.  The education ministry just dropped a requirement to teach evolution in elementary and middle schools as part of a major overhaul of education guidelines.  A news brief in the April 28 issue of Science1 claims that pressure “may” […]

Darwin Not Given Enough Credit for Animal Engineering

Daniel E. Lieberman (Harvard) was impressed with Steven Vogel’s new book, Comparative Biomechanics: Life’s Physical World (Princeton, 2003), which he reviewed in Nature.1  He considers it a much-needed general textbook on biomechanics, the study of ways living things solve physical problems.  For instance, animals and plants need to generate forces to either move or stay […]

Moose Muzzle: A Nose for News

Curious about the enigmatic nose structure of the moose, two researchers picked up moose roadkill and decided to study those large, comical Bullwinkle faces, reports Nature.1  Lincoln Tim writes, The moose, Alces alces, is a member of the deer family, but its nasal apparatus is unlike that of any of its relatives.  The apparatus overhangs […]

Noah’s Ark Search Planned

MSNBC and Fox News report that a search is being planned July 15 to inspect an object that, seen from a satellite, bears some resemblance to remains of Noah’s ark high up the slopes of Mt. Ararat.  The expedition, led by Daniel McGivern, wants to get a closer look and take photographs.  National Geographic took […]

SETI Researcher Analyzes Language Mathematically

Space.com had a story April 22 about Dr. Laurance Doyle, who studies non-human communication with information theory.  The article is mostly about his study of whale and dolphin signaling, but mentions how information theory is related to the intelligence of the communicating entities: Doyle’s team uses statistical tools from a field known as “information theory” […]

Another Human Distinctive: Lying

Here’s another evolutionary conundrum: animals usually don’t tell lies.  Why is lying such a well-documented human trait, but rare in the animal kingdom?  Animals signal their own and their enemies in many complex ways.  It would seem that lying would have evolved as a useful strategy many times in the animal kingdom, yet apparently it […]

Minimal Cell Modeled in Computer

“The basic design rules relating the regulation of cellular function to genomic structure is of broad interest,” begin three Cornell microbiologists writing in PNAS,1 and so they have turned their attention to the smallest theoretical living cell: A �minimal cell� is a hypothetical cell possessing the minimum functions required for sustained growth and reproduction in […]

Eugenics Documentary Opens at Holocaust Museum

Michael Ollove at the Baltimore Sun reports on a new exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Museum entitled Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race.  The exhibit shows a 1937 Nazi propaganda film that invokes the law of natural selection as support for weeding out the unfit.  Ollove writes, The narrator declares that “we humans have sinned […]

Dinosaur Extinction Theory #481b

Let’s try another one.  Temperature imbalances after the asteroid impact 65 million years ago caused cooler global temperatures.  This caused more eggs to hatch male, since in reptiles, egg temperatures can influence the sex of the hatchlings.  So a shortage of females gradually led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.     Why, then, didn’t […]

Can Evolution Create Homologous Structures by Different Paths?

G�nter Thebien (Friedrich Schuller U, Jena, Germany) is baffled about how two plants arrived at similar structures by different evolutionary pathways.  In the April 22 issue of Nature,1 he asks, Structures that occur in closely related organisms and that look the same are usually considered to be homologous – their similarity is taken to arise […]
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