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Is Cosmology Getting Wimp-y?

Physics and astronomy are usually thought of as the “hard” sciences, where empiricism is king.  Read the following excerpts from a story on the BBC News science page with that in mind (suggestion: replace “dark matter” with “mysterious unknown stuff”). The first stars to appear in the Universe may have been powered by dark matter, […]

Fast Protein Fine-Tunes the Ear

Remember prestin?  It’s a motor protein in the inner ear, discovered in 2001 (03/27/2001), that acts so fast – within millionths of a second – its discoverers named it after the word “presto!” (02/21/2002).  Scientists have been studying its role as a volume adjuster (07/31/2007) that allows it to amplify sound 10,000-fold (09/19/2002) .  New […]

Did Birds Evolve Aeronautical Engineering?

Two news stories on birds may not seem to flock together.  One is about their supreme aeronautical engineering.  The other ponders when they evolved.     A story on EurekAlert and Science Daily describes how engineers are eyeing birds, bats and insects for design ideas.  The appeal is clear from the following comparisons: A Blackbird […]

Are Long-Term Climate Models Trustworthy?

Everything from global warming policy to evolutionary history depends on long-term climate models.  Textbooks make it seem like earth keeps reliable recordings that allow scientists to simply read off the record of years, decades, centuries, millennia and millions of years objectively.  It’s not that simple, wrote Maureen E. Raymo and Peter Huybers in Nature last […]

SETI Signals Could Be Loaded with Information

Unusual properties of electromagnetic waves allow for a higher carrying capacity of information than thought.  SETI researcher Seth Shostak reported on Space.com that Swedish researchers have found a possible “subspace channel” in the orbital angular momentum of narrowband radio waves that might allow the encoding of information.  This information would be impervious to the jumbling […]

Million-Degree Plasma Found in Orion

The Orion nebula, an object of beauty to stargazers (picture, Hubble view) is pervaded by plasma heated to two million degrees Kelvin, reported astronomers in Science.1  Two funnel-shaped regions of x-ray emitting plasma in the extended nebula were observed by astronomers using the X-Ray Multi-Mirror (XMM)-Newton satellite.     “The energy requirement to heat the […]

Comet Woes Lamented

Space.com posted an article on “The enduring mysteries of comets.”  The mysteries include: Where did earth’s oceans come from?  For a long time, scientists expected comets delivered the water, until measurements showed a discrepancy in the hydrogen/deuterium ratios.  It’s also highly improbable there was enough wet stuff in those assumed delivery vehicles.  No secular scientist […]

Geology Sinks in the Mud

Question: what is the most abundant sedimentary rock in the world?  Follow-up question: what would happen to the science of geology if the consensus theory of how this most abundant sedimentary rock was deposited turns out to be wrong?  Prepare for a paradigm shift: experiments have shown mistakes in long-held assumptions about mudstone formation. Here’s […]

SETI: Physics Conspires to Keep the Aliens Isolated

Where are the aliens?  They’re too far away to get to know.  Don’t look for galactic federations to join any time soon, said SETI Institute Director Seth Shostak at Space.com.  The harsh realities of the speed of light make fellowship, both in person and via radio signals, too remote to be feasible.     Shostak […]

Is Making Planets Child’s Play?

Are star children good at child's play? Like making mudballs, it should be easy to roll up dust into planets.

Active Moons Challenge Old-Age Beliefs

Beyond the asteroid belt, where sunlight is weak, small bodies that should be old and cold seem young and active.  Here are some recent papers and reports about some of the moons around the gas giants showing more signs of vitality than expected for bodies assumed to be billions of years old. Jupiter’s Io: Astronomers […]

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 […]
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