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Enceladus: Hotter Chemical Plume Found

Initial results of Cassini’s March 12 flyby of Enceladus have been published.  You can watch a replay of today’s press briefing, read the blog, and read illustrated bulletins about the organic material, chemical signatures, hot spot locations, the stellar occultation (see also the Quicktime animation).  Another article shows the plume locations.  An astrobiologist (Chris McKay) […]

Peacocks Don’t Dress for Success

The male peacock’s fancy feather show: an icon of Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, right?  Then why did Japanese scientists tell Discovery News that the females pay them little attention?     The article claims that the male’s appearance fails to interest, much less excite, the females, who seem to pay more attention to his […]

Crater Dater Deflator: Impactors Can Be Recycled

They came from outer space – that was the old paradigm about impactors that made craters on planetary bodies.  Then, we learned how secondary craters can confuse a surface’s history (06/08/2006, 09/25/2007).  Now, two papers in Icarus show that moons can do a lateral pass.     Alvarellos et al,1 showed that Jupiter’s moon Io […]

March Moon Madness

Moons of our planetary system are supposed to behave themselves.  They were expected to just quietly orbit their host planets like nice, cold, frozen, inactive chunks of rock and ice.  It seems like whenever we get a close look at them, they are madly at work destroying theories – just like their planets have been […]

Tuatara Genes Are Running in Place

One would expect a living fossil to show extreme stasis at the genetic level.  Not so for the tuatara, a New Zealand reptile, reported EurekAlert: researchers found that “although tuatara have remained largely physically unchanged over very long periods of evolution, they are evolving – at a DNA level – faster than any other animal […]

Psychology Without Darwin

Can psychology kick the Darwin habit?  For years it has been conventional to express all human actions in Darwinian terms.  We struggle with city life, for instance, because we evolved to hunt prey in the savannah – not the Georgia kind, but the African plains where we first climbed down from the trees to walk […]

Adulterers: Evolution Made Us That Way

Two articles that appeared the same day on Live Science are a study in contrasts.  One was titled, “Surviving Infidelity: What Wives Do When Men Cheat.”  The other was titled, “Are Humans Meant to Be Monogamous?”  The thread that tied them together was evolution.     The first article admitted the distress, shame, and sense […]

Simple Molecules: The Building Blocks of Lie

At a physical level, everything in the universe is made of atoms and molecules.  Life, being a subset of everything in the universe, is composed of a subset of all molecules that exist.  It could be said that any atom or molecule present in a living thing is a building block of life, but how […]

Electronic Nose Can’t Outsniff Yours

Electronic nose makers are smelling your dust, said Science Daily.  “Despite 25 years of research, development of an ‘electronic nose’ even approaching the capabilities of the human sniffer remains a dream,” the article said.     Biological noses are great at discriminating between volatile compounds.  We can immediately sense things that are fruity, grassy, and […]

Planet Formation: Just Add Water?

The Spitzer Space Telescope found evidence of water in a dust disk around a star.  Does this mean we understand how the earth, with all its water, formed?     Using the Spitzer infrared instrumentation, John Carr (Naval Research Laboratory) and Joan Najita (National Optical Astronomy Observatory) found spectra of organic molecules and water in […]

Neanderthals: Random Drift, Not Natural Selection

The differences between Neanderthals and modern humans were not due to evolution for bigger brains or anything of the sort.  They were due to genetic drift, says an article on Live Science.     “A team of anthropologists has compared measurements of Neanderthal skulls to modern human skulls, and argues that most variations among them […]

The Gecko in the Flight Simulator

It’s a lizard!  It’s a plane!  It’s Supergecko!  Researchers at UC Berkeley (where else) put a gecko into a wind tunnel to watch it fly.  News about gecko’s magic feet that allow it to run vertically up glass is almost old hat now (08/27/2002, 01/04/2005).  Even a gecko can lose its footing, though, and thereon […]

How to Address an Alien

How would you like this job: your assignment is to be the speechwriter for planet earth.  You are to figure out what our first message is to the aliens – to give them a good first impression as we introduce the human species to the galactic community.  “No kidding? What does it pay?”     […]

Astrobiology Justifying Itself

Is astrobiology a legitimate science?  Seth Shostak, director of the SETI Institute, tried to answer that question in the weekly SETI Thursday column on Space.com.  He estimates there are “approximately a thousand scientists who would be proud to print ‘astrobiologist’ on their business cards.”  Astrobiology still gets a cool reception in some quarters.  Shostak likened […]

How to Avoid Dark Energy

Who needs dark energy?  Copernicus?  George Ellis (U. of Cape Town) said we could get rid of dark energy by throwing the Copernican Principle overboard.  Writing in Nature,1 he said that dark energy may simply be an artifact of the geometry of space-time.     Copernicus did not invent the Copernican Principle.  He was just […]
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