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Mars Lacks Safety Shield for Humans

Forget all those optimistic, futuristic sci-fi tales of humans landing on Mars.  It isn’t safe, said Space.com.  NASA’s space radiation program doubts that a human body could survive prolonged exposure to space.  This is a problem for long stays on the moon, too.     “The magnetic field of Earth protects humanity from radiation in […]

Seeing Vision in a New Light

The eye is like a camera, right?  That picture is way too simplistic.  The eye-brain visual system does image processing and gleans information from photons in diverse and remarkable ways.  Here are some recent findings by scientists: Upward mobility:  A team of Harvard scientists found some retinal ganglion cells that sense upward motion.  Writing in […]

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) […]

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 […]

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 […]

Falling Rocks Leave Holes in Science

Hard data in astronomy is hard to come by, except when it comes by special delivery – as with meteorites.  If there is any class of phenomena that should be well understood, it should be space debris and the craters they form, because the processes involved can be watched in real time.  Meteorites adorn many […]

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 […]
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