Observations Upset Models of Stellar Evolution
December 22, 2011
Stellar evolution models go back decades. Ever since the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram came out in 1910 (graphing temperature against luminosity), showing most stars fell on a line called the “main sequence”, astrophysicists have sought to understand the life cycle of stars from birth to death. In general, the story goes, collapsing clouds of gas and dust produce main-sequence stars that burn nuclear fuel till they run out. Depending on their masses, they end up as supernovae, red giants or slowly-cooling cinders. While red dwarfs cool down slowly into the darkness, supernovae and red giants eject mass outward into space . Two new planets found close to a red giant are among new headaches for theorists.
December 10, 2011
Wonders under the sea highlight this roundup of recent geology news. Speaking of seas, the Dead Sea also made headlines, as well as data on the question of whether earthquakes are increasing.
Methuselah Seed Now a Tree
December 4, 2011
The world’s oldest viable seed is now a tree 8 feet tall. The Methuselah palm, discovered in the 1960s as a seed at the Judean fortress of Masada, sprouted in 2005 under controlled conditions. It is the oldest seed verified by radiocarbon dating to be 2,000 years old – from the time the Romans were besieging the mountain fortress built by Herod the Great.
Discovery Upsets Geological Dating
November 17, 2011
For a long time, geologists have used microscopic crystals called zircons as “time capsules” for dating rock strata. The tiny crystals are so durable it was believed they were virtually impermeable. Now, however, inclusions inside the zircons appear to be vastly different in age. This could have drastic effects on how certain formations are dated.
Whale Fossils: Challenge or Support for Evolution?
November 14, 2011
When most fossils consist of small shelly creatures, finding a whale is indeed big news. Two whale fossil discoveries on opposite sides of the world are spectacular and puzzling. Do they support the theory that whales evolved from land mammals?
Space Physics and Fables
November 9, 2011
Physics is supposed to be the king of “hard science” because of its precise mathematics, predictability and falsifiability. When transferred off our planet, however, it seems speculation is the order of the day.
October 28, 2011
Members of our solar system that were little more than points of light for decades or centuries have now become familiar family members, seen up close and personal by spacecraft. Here are introductions to three worlds that are no longer mere names in a catalog. Even the names of members in this trio may be unfamiliar to some. They’re worth getting to know.
The Blind Men and the Ape Man
October 25, 2011
“We have all seen the canonical parade of apes, each one becoming more human. We know that, as a depiction of evolution, this line-up is tosh. Yet we cling to it. Ideas of what human evolution ought to have been like still colour our debates.” So said Henry Gee, editor of Nature. Are other icons coloring scientists’ views of human origins? How close are they to describing scientifically where we come from?
NCSE Takes on Creation Geologists
October 23, 2011
The science of geology operates in parallel universes. There are the mainstream, secular geologists in the Geological Society of America who have complete hegemony in the secular universities, the mainline journals and the secular press. Then there are the creation geologists, who publish in their own journals; these hardly enter the awareness of the other geologists. Once in a while, though, like disturbances in the Force, emanations from the creation universe into the secular universe are felt. The National Center for Science Education has become so alarmed at these emanations that they have warned secular geologists to (1) pay them no attention, and (2) pay attention.
October 22, 2011
Want the ultimate in powder snow? Ski Enceladus, a little moon of Saturn. The snow is deep and vast. Drawbacks: except for occasional craters and steep canyons, the land is flat; there are no ski lifts; there is no air; you would weigh one or two pounds, and transportation will cost you billions of dollars. Other than that, science news outlets are advertising it as a great place for snow lovers!
Mercury Messenger: Surprise!
September 30, 2011
As boring as the moon? Just a burned-out cinder? Not Mercury. True to tradition for planetary exploration, the MESSENGER spacecraft has served up a plate of surprises about the innermost planet. In orbit since March, the ship is sending theorists back to the drawing board to figure out a number of puzzling phenomena, some unique to Mercury. Commentators fall into two categories: those that are flabbergasted, and those who say all is well.
Where Do Gems and Precious Metals Come From?
September 7, 2011
Gold, diamonds, and other precious metals and gems... they are found close to the surface of the earth where humans can mine them and make jewelry. But they shouldn’t be there. Heavy elements should have sunk deep into the core of the Earth soon after it was formed. Wait till you hear some of the latest ideas about how precious metals and gems arrived near the surface. Maybe they shot up from the mantle. Maybe they came from outer space.
Early Man Was Like Us
September 5, 2011
Human evolution theory has been dealt more body blows this month, raising questions whether it can sustain any more injuries after a decade of repeated punches and concussions.
Archaic Humans Are One With Us
August 12, 2011
According to the biological species concept, two varieties of anything are considered one species if they can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Applied to humans, new evidence suggests that Neanderthals and the recently-discovered Denisovans were members of the human species. According to New Scientist, “On the western fringes of Siberia, the Stone Age Denisova cave has surrendered precious treasure: a toe bone that could shed light on early humans’ promiscuous relations with their hominin cousins.” Since one can only be promiscuous within the same species, this puts enormous pressure on evolutionary timelines that assume the Denisovans split from the Neanderthals 300,000 years ago.
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.”