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Dealing with Light at the Extremes

“Light is the most important variable in our environment,” wrote Edith Widder, a marine biologist.  The inhabitants of two different ecosystems have to deal with either too little or too much.  Let your light so shine:  A thousand meters below the sea surface, all sunlight is extinguished.  Yet for thousands of meters more, creatures live […]

Moon Dust Can Kill

Future astronauts preparing to operate on the moon, beware.  High-speed dust is deadly, reports PhysOrg.  With no atmosphere on the moon to slow its path, dust flying from rocket engines can blast anything in its path.  “Small grit can travel enormous distances at high speeds, scouring everything in its path,” the article says – at […]

Pangea Stuck at Square One

Students in their physical science classes learn all about Pangea, the supercontinent that broke up 200 million years ago and ended up with today’s familiar continents after millions of years of continental drift.  What they don’t often learn is how scientists come up with these ideas, and how they pull their hair out when observations […]

The Stars That Shouldn’t Exist

Theories in astronomy are fun to model on paper with equations, but once in awhile they need to stand up to observations.  Phil Berardelli wrote for Science Now: It seems as though every time astronomers point their telescopes at the night sky, some weird new finding forces them to revamp their theories.  And so it […]

Nature Inspires Useful Products

Some day soon you may be able to extract water out of thin air, decorate your walls with detachable wallpaper, read street signs clearly in fog, and employ reusable tape underwater.  These are some of the innovations coming from biomimetics – science inspired by nature’s designs. Venus flytrap:  Alex Crosby at University of Massachusetts was […]

Inner Ear More Complex than Thought

Another level of complexity has been added to the mystery of hearing.  Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that another membrane in the cochlea of the inner ear, once thought to be passive, is actively involved in transmitting sound waves to the hair cell receptors.  Their work was published in PNAS.1     […]

One Special Universe: Take It or Leave It

If you think this universe is odd, to what would you compare it?  Adrian Cho asked this and other basic questions in a whimsical review of cosmology since WMAP in Science.1  Closer analysis of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), as revealed in detail by WMAP (03/06/2003, 05/02/2003, 09/20/2004, 03/20/2006), has uncovered features so surprising (e.g., […]

New Atomizer Mimics Bombardier Beetle

There’s a new technology coming to market, thanks to a little bug.  The bombardier beetle has long been used by creationists as a creature with a weapon against evolutionary theory.  Its tightly-integrated combustion apparatus would be useless or dangerous to the beetle unless all the parts worked together from the start.  This, creationists argue, is […]

More Impacts on Crater Count Dating

Planetary scientists have relied on crater counts to estimate the surface age of a planet or moon.  The more craters, the older the surface.  This method has recently come under closer scrutiny (see 10/20/2005) because of the phenomenon of secondary cratering.     A simplistic look at a crater-scarred planet or moon might lead one […]

Upsets: Assumptions About Genes, Atmospheres Challenged

It’s not fun when a whole superstructure of scientific theories and models is found to rest on a shaky foundation.  That’s just what may be happening in two very different fields: genetics and planetary science: Lateral pass to the opposing team:  Building evolutionary trees by comparing genomes was supposed to be simple.  Sure, geneticists knew […]

Thermodynamics: The Real Theory of Everything

Need a theory of everything?  Try thermodynamics.  Mark Haw reviewed a new book by Peter Atkins on the subject in Nature,1 Four Laws that Drive the Universe (Oxford, 2007).  He had high praise for the achievements of the “19th century grandees” Joule, Maxwell and Kelvin: Thermodynamics ought to be the cornerstone of any scientist’s understanding […]

Dust to Dust, or Dust to Life?

National Geographic gave prominent press to last month’s theory of living dust (see 08/10/2007, bullet 1).  Criticisms were mild; scientists were quoted who thought this claim raises interesting questions about the definition of life.  Tsytovich’s ideas were described by Mihaly Horanyi (U of Colorado) as “amazing.”  He said, “This is a very original, very intelligent […]

Dark Matter Sheds Light on Invisible Stars: Come Again?

Can one unknown shed light on another unknown?  That’s what some UK astronomers seem to be saying.  Before describing their model, consider this conundrum with which they ended a story in the BBC News: “We don’t know what the dark matter is, we don’t know what the first stars are.  If we bring these two […]

Eyes Do Precision Digital Sampling

What is the shutter speed of the eye?  Have you ever considered this question?  After all, the eye functions like a camera in some respects.  Shutterbugs know that shutter speed and aperture are factors in proper exposure.  Most of us know that the iris of the eye controls the aperture, but what controls the shutter […]

Saturn’s Iapetus Takes Cassini’s Spotlight

Scientists are eagerly poised for Cassini’s long-awaited ultra-close flyby of Iapetus on September 10.  The previous visit in 2005 was over 77,000 miles away; this flyby will skim the surface from less than 1,000 miles.  Moreover, it will see a portion of the moon only vaguely imaged by Voyager and Cassini before.  Jet Propulsion Laboratory, […]
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