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“Marvelous Puzzle”: Enceladus’ South Pole Surface Less Than 1,000 Years Old

Enceladus, a moon of Saturn smaller than the British isles (comparison image), has a region at the south pole that is less than 1,000 years old, and maybe only 10 years old.  This conclusion, announced at Cassini science briefings in London August 30, is based on multi-instrument observations taken July 14 during the closest flyby […]

Your Brain Has Perfect Pitch

Scientists have a knack for asking questions about things most of us take for granted.  “The whole orchestra tunes up to an A note from the oboe – but how do our brains tell that all the different sounds are the same pitch?” asks Robert J. Zatorre in Nature.1  This is a puzzling question to […]

Can Atheism Breathe in an Anthropic Universe?

Astronomers Martin Rees and Mario Livio considered “Anthropic Reasoning” in a Science perspectives article.1  The question bears not only on SETI, and whether intelligent life exists elsewhere, but why it exists here.  They state the issue: We can imagine universes where the constants of physics and cosmology have different values.  Many such “counterfactual” universes would […]

Origin of Life: Can A Liability Be Turned Into an Asset?

Most of us know the Second Law of Thermodynamics (2TD) as the law of decay and disorder, and would tend to assume it would constitute a major obstacle to theories of the origin of life by chemical evolution (see online book); certainly creationists Duane Gish and Henry Morris frequently employed the 2TD skilfully in their […]

Does the Brain Produce the Mind – and Ethics?

Two contrasting views on the mind/body problem appeared in science journals recently.  In Nature this week,1 Paul Bloom (Yale) reviewed The Ethical Brain (Dana Press, 2005) by Michael S. Gazzaniga, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics.  Bloom felt the need to clarify the difference between theological and evolutionary views on the source of […]

The Cause of a Teapot: Can Physics Explain Design?

George F. R. Ellis (U. of Cape Town) wrote a Concepts piece in Nature1 this week that asks fundamental questions about ordinary things, particularly, can we get from fundamental physics to complex hierarchical structures through a chain of cause and effect? A simple statement of fact: there is no physics theory that explains the nature […]

Mars Radiation Dosage Makes Life Improbable, Even with Global Flooding

An upcoming (June) paper in Icarus1 states, “ The biologically damaging solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation (quantified by the DNA-weighted dose) reaches the martian surface in extremely high levels.”  Earth has an ozone layer and global magnetic field to shield out the damaging rays, but Mars has no known atmospheric filter.  “Therefore, the existence of life […]

Variable Constants Dept.

Is nothing sacred?  EurekAlert reported that the fine structure constant alpha may have changed from its once-thought invariable value, based on new observations from the Keck telescope.  “Sacred constant might be changing,” it says.     Another study, by contrast, shows no change in the fine structure constant, according to a press release from UC […]

Water Can Get Hotter than the Sun

When vacuum bubbles form in turbulent water, they can collapse violently in a process called cavitation.  Scientists reporting in Nature1,2 March 3 showed that the energy of cavitation can heat the plasma in the bubble to 15,000 degrees Kelvin – hotter than the surface of the brightest stars.  The resulting flash can sometimes be seen […]

Watch for Falling Ants

Did you know some ants are gliders?  When Stephen Yanoviak (U. of Texas) was studying insects in the rain forest canopy in Peru, he was struck by the fact that ants kept landing on his arm.  This launched his team’s investigation into gliding ants.  They took video cameras into the jungle and documented their unique […]

Octopus Arms Have Optimal Design

The tentacles of an octopus are soft and flexible, whereas bony creatures like us have joints that, while good for moving objects around, limit our freedom of movement.  Wouldn’t it be cool to have both?  An international team of neurobiologists, publishing in Nature,1 watched an octopus snare its food, using the flexibility of its tentacles, […]

How Are Radioactive Dates Determined?

To most of us, the practice of radioactive dating seems like a highly-technical, incomprehensible skill that nevertheless (we are told) yields absolute ages of things.  We don’t know exactly how they arrive at the results, but are led to trust them because very smart people get their answers using hard science with extremely accurate equipment.  […]

Solar Wind Erodes Mars’ Atmosphere

Physics Web has a summary of a report that appeared in Science Sept. 24.1  First results from an experiment on ESA’s Mars Express called Analyzer of Space Plasma and Energetic Atoms (ASPERA-3) are in.  They show that the solar wind penetrates deep into Mars’ atmosphere, as far as 270 km above the Martian surface.  Since […]

Editorial

Rodney Stark (Baylor University) has written an article very critical of Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley and the other early promoters of evolution, and their modern counterparts, in American Enterprise Online.  Stark claims that Darwin never proved his central thesis, the origin of species, and was well aware of the problems in his thesis even while […]

Your Brain Learned Physics and Calculus Before You Did

Tilt your head to the right while moving to the left.  The neurons in your brain just solved Newton’s equations of motion, and performed complex vector calculus equations almost instantaneously.  That’s what four neurologists Washington University of Medicine (St. Louis, MO) essentially claimed in Nature July 29,1 describing how your brain interprets the information coming […]
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