Another Crash in Lunar Tunes
August 4, 2011
Our moon has two faces. One is the familiar man-in-the-moon side that always faces Earth. The other side is mountainous and heavily cratered, possessing a thicker crust with almost none of the large impact basins we see as dark maria on the Earth-facing side. The giant impact theory for the origin of the moon – that a Mars-size object hit the Earth and the debris coalesced into our planetary companion – has been controversial since it was first proposed. Will adding another impact help? It all depends on what one means by “scientific progress.”
July 29, 2011
Eruptions can come in two types: literal and figurative. Some planetary bodies are literally erupting. Others are causing figurative eruptions in theories. Here are some recent news stories about planets, moons, comets and other objects circling our sun and other stars. There hasn’t been much news from Mercury or Venus this month, so we’ll start on the home planet and work outward.
Dinosaur Protein Is Primordial
July 26, 2011
Scientists from 10 universities and institutions have verified that the collagen protein in dinosaur bone is primordial – i.e., from the dinosaur, not from later contamination. By first studying the molecular packing of collagen in living animals, and using X-ray diffraction modeling, they matched the surviving collagen molecules to those that would most likely survive degradation. They feel this establishes the authenticity of the protein fragments against claims of contamination and simultaneously offers a mechanism for its resistance to degradation.
Water, Water Everywhere in Space
July 23, 2011
The largest mass of water has been found surrounding a black hole in a quasar 12 billion light-years away. Space.com says the cloud harbors “140 trillion times more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined.” The discovery not only that “water has been prevalent in the universe for nearly its entire existence,” but that it “was present only some 1.6 billion years after the beginning of the universe.” Alberto Bolatto, of the University of Maryland, said, "This discovery pushes the detection of water one billion years closer to the Big Bang than any previous find.”
In other cosmology news:
Science Can Be Wrong for Decades, Centuries
July 18, 2011
The history of science shows some wrong theories being accepted by leading scholars for long periods of time. Ptolemaic astronomy, unquestioned for over 1200 years, is a prime example. Not all examples are old, though. In modern times as well, scientists are finding that theories unquestioned for decades, even centuries, were wrong. That being so, what confidence can we have that today’s scientific beliefs will stand the test of time for the next decade or century? A recent spate of science articles shows some long-held theories being questioned – others being tossed overboard.
The Rise and Fall of Submerged Landscapes
July 10, 2011
Under the sea lies a lost land of terrestrial life. On this submerged landscape in the North Atlantic Ocean, river channels and fossils of pollen and coal are now being covered up by the remains of sea creatures. Live Science compared it to the lost continent of Atlantis. How did this fossil terrestrial landscape rise above the water, only to sink again?
Complex Arthropod Eyes Found in Early Cambrian
June 29, 2011
Complex eyes with modern optics from an unknown arthropod, more complex than trilobite eyes, have been discovered in early Cambrian strata from southern Australia. The exquisitely-preserved imprints of the eyes in shale were reported by Lee et al. in Nature. The abstract started by quoting Darwin and affirming evolution, but then revealed evidence that complex eyes go further back in the fossil record than previously thought possible.
A Tale of Two Pollens
June 29, 2011
Ambiguity is a bad word in science. Scientists want to be objective. To scientific realists, scientific truth is “out there” in the world, waiting to be discovered. The 20th century tempered scientific realism somewhat from its extreme form (scientism, the belief that science is the only reliable guide to truth). Knowledgeable scientists are more or less aware of the role of paradigms, social pressure and webs of belief that can affect interpretations of scientific data. But there is still a widespread perception that science “finds” truth in the world. Whether that happens can be pondered while exploring two recent stories about fossil pollen that arrived at opposite conclusions: one (by evolutionists) that supports old-earth geology (and “climate change” politics), and one (by creationists) that undermines it, finding fundamental biases among evolutionists who refuse to accept the implications of the data.
Political Science 101: Doubt Scientific Claims
June 25, 2011
Science goes through a chain of messengers from data to consumer. In between are fallible scientists, who speak often in incomprehensible jargon and often only partially understand what they observe, but often wish to gain notoriety with a major discovery (or need to publish or perish). Next, the institutional press offices decide what is significant and try to digest the jargon to layman level. The predigested stories are then delivered to science reporters, who sometimes sensationalize the filtered stories to make a name for themselves. Finally, the media outlets, prone to peer biases, dress up the products to grab the eyes of readers of their newspapers, magazines, or web pages. How much of the real scientific data remains at the end of this game of Telephone? Sometimes the bias is clearly evident, but often the product is delivered with all the presumptive authority of science. Once in awhile, a reporter comes clean about the dirty work involved.
Follow the Leader: Nature
June 21, 2011
Ever since biomimetics (the imitation of nature) gradually emerged around 2002 and really took off in 2005, it has not slowed down. Over 90 previous entries in these pages have reported teams all over the world seeking out natural designs for ideas. The reports have accelerated in recent years to the point where there is only space for short summaries that give a taste of the wide variety of engineering work taking inspiration from plants, animals, and even cells. You yourself might inspire some inventor. Here are a few more highlights from recent adventures in biomimetics.
Cosmology Could Be Way Off
June 17, 2011
The “lumpiness problem” in cosmology refuses to go away. This old conundrum about why the universe is lumpy with stars and galaxies has been around for decades. The big bang predicts no such lumps. Since the late 1990s, tiny differences in temperature measured in the cosmic background radiation held hope of being the seeds of lump formation, provided theories added copious fudge factors like dark matter, dark energy and inflation. A new survey finds more clumps than expected, casting doubt on whether the fudge factors are wrong, the hot big bang is wrong, or relativity is wrong. Words can hardly express the gravity of the situation when gravity itself – an icon of scientific verity – is called into question.
Cosmic Insanity Is Back in Vogue
June 7, 2011
There is perhaps no theory in science more weird than the “Many-Worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics (see 07/27/2004 and 07/07/2007). One would think that Hugh Everett’s conjecture that each event splits the universe into two parallel universes with opposite outcomes would have had its 15 minutes of fame only to be laughed off the stage, […]
National Geographic Rates Noah’s Flood
June 3, 2011
Pictures of the record floods in the eastern United States this year have been shocking and alarming (examples on Fox News). They raise questions about the potential for flooding on this planet: how big can they get? National Geographic News decided to look at some of the biggest floods in history and included the granddaddy […]
Mars as Anomalous Runt
May 26, 2011
The Mars rover Spirit is now dead in its tracks, but the planet under it continues to rumble, in theoretical overhauls and anomalies. Mars has been much on the mind of news reporters this week after a new paper speculated that the red planet grew up fast and then stopped as a runt.
Earth Still Privileged Planet
May 24, 2011
Astronomers have found over a thousand extrasolar planets now. How does our solar system compare? Thanks to the Kepler spacecraft, we now have a catalog of 1,235 alien planet candidates after just four months of operation. Of the 408 that have been found in multiple-planet systems, 170 of these containing two to six planets have been pictured in a “Kepler Orrery” posted by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The press release says, “most of those look very different than our solar system”.