Saturn’s Moons Are Bustin’ Out All Over

Add Tethys and Dione to the party blowers around Saturn.  Cassini found that these two moons are active, like Enceladus and Titan, though on a lesser scale.  Cassini scientists discovered the effects of outbound particles from these moons by studying the plasma fields with the Cassini plasma spectrometer (CAPS) instrument.  The results suggest surface activity, […]

OOL Study Substitutes Computer for Chemistry

Upon reading a recent origin-of-life paper in PNAS,1 you might think the authors ran experiments with real chemicals and real deep-sea rocks.  A more careful look, however, reveals that their model only worked in cyberspace.  This raises interesting questions about the ability of simulations to substitute for empirical evidence.     Their claims were dramatic […]

Details of Photosynthesis Coming to Light

New tools of science are unveiling the secrets of what was long a “black box” in biology: photosynthesis.  A paper in Nature last week1 described the structure of the plant PhotoSystem I complex (PSI) in near-atomic resolution.  Next day, a paper in Science2 described some of the protein interactions that occur when plants turn light […]

Instant Diamonds?

Talk about catastrophism: imagine a geological process creating a dyke 150 miles deep in a few minutes.  This is a new model for how diatremes formed, as described in Nature last week.1  The surprise end of the abstract by Lionel Wilson and James W. Head III states, “No precursor to the eruption is felt at […]

Seeking Explanations for Plant Fibonacci Spirals

The spiral patterns on an artichoke are enough to make a physicist choke.  How do plants like cacti, sunflowers, strawberries and artichokes produce geometric patterns of left- and right- handed spirals?  Why do these spirals follow a mathematical rule called the Fibonacci sequence?  A new theory suggests that it is the optimal energy arrangement for […]

Tweaking Mercury to Keep it Old

Mercury has a magnetic field.  That’s odd.  It shouldn’t.  If it were 4.6 billion years old, the little planet should be solid stiff by now.  Planetary scientists have published a new model of its interior with the required molten outer core that allows a dynamo to generate the observed magnetic field.  What’s interesting are the […]

Swifts Don’t Just Dream of Flying…

…they fly while dreaming.  Did you know that swifts, the aerial acrobats of the air, sleep on the wing?  That’s not all, they adapt their wing shape to turn on a dime.  Science Daily summarized the cover story of Nature this week (April 26) that examined “wing morphing” in swifts – their ability to change […]

Cosmology: Crisis or Confidence?

What is it with cosmology these days?  On the one hand, astronomers seem more confident than ever.  They speak of this as the era of “precision cosmology,” when the only task remaining seems to be refining the decimal points; e.g., the first refinements of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) won John Mather and George Smoot […]

Saturn Still Serving Surprises

The Cassini Spacecraft, three-fourths of the way into its 4-year prime mission, is not running out of new things to see.  Some of the latest discoveries are both awesome and strange. A Hex on the Pole:  As if the south pole of Saturn, with its earth-sized hurricane (picture) were not dramatic enough, the north pole […]

Why Our Voices Are Unique

We can usually recognize friends and acquaintances by their voices.  If we all have the same hardware, though, how is this possible?  The answer is in the vortex.  Sounds sci-fi, but researchers at the University of Cincinnati used knowledge of jet engines to explore the possibility that vortices may help solve the mysteries of the […]

The Amazing Pigeon Techno-Beak

How do homing pigeons find home?  Scientists at University of Frankfurt may have found the answer: magnetic minerals in their beaks.  A press release from Springer Publications describes the amazing pigeon techno-beak: In histological and physicochemical examinations in collaboration with HASYLAB, the synchrotron laboratories based in Hamburg, Germany, iron-containing subcellular particles of maghemite and magnetite […]

The Enceladus Problem Heats Up

How can a small icy moon produce hot-water geysers?  That is the Enceladus problem: for a small moon assumed to be 4.5 billion years old to be forcefully gushing out water from its south pole was a great surprise when the Cassini spacecraft first detected the geysers in 2005 (11/28/2005).  Ever since, scientists have been […]

Sun as a Star: How Does It Compare?

Not too many years ago, our sun was described as a common, ordinary star.  More recently, the Type G2 Dwarf Main-Sequence class, of which Ol Sol is a member, is believed to comprise only 5% of all stars.  An important paper in Astrophysical Journal is now revealing that the sun is special within its class: […]

Theories of the Moon: Looney Tunes?

The TV science channels tell it like a matter of fact: our Moon originated from the coalescing debris of a glancing impact with Earth from a Mars-sized object, sometime long ago.  They even have computer animations to show how it all happened.  How reliable is this theory, though?  This month’s Planetary Report from The Planetary […]

Tangled String: Cosmology on the Brink

The February cover of Astronomy Magazine poses an intriguing question: “What if string theory is wrong?”  Maybe you are unfamiliar with string theory.  Writer Sten Odenwald is not talking about violins or balls of string, but about the current leading theory of fundamental physics.  “Superstring theory,” Odenwald explains, “is based on three ideas that remain […]
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