You think: I don't have 25 minutes for this. But then it turns out you do. Time moves differently in outer space. Plus, Sunita Williams is so relaxed about the whole orbiting-the-earth thing, and such a deft tour guide, that you'll find it hard to stop watching. At least, I couldn't.
Welcome, new great reason to watch television. Please go ahead and waste the next 21 minutes' worth of your employer's money. The below episode aired last Wednesday, but the post I wrote didn't make any sense. I went ahead and rewrote it because the next one is on tonight. Also, I don't really know anything about this Nick Kroll character, so if he's some sort of misogynistic racist homophobe or something, don't get all mad with me. (I don't like those guys either.) Enjoy!
by Dan Savage
on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 9:41 AM
You gotta love this lede:
WARNING: This column contains science. It might be considered inappropriate or offensive by certain members of our congressional delegation and others who call themselves conservative. Ideological discretion is advised.
Funny lede. But everything that comes after that lede is pretty depressing—particularly to anyone who wants to see New Orleans survive this century.
What is a ghost? It is a memory without a body, a memory made of nothing. In our universe, living matter forms a memory. Dead matter doesn't do anything. A rock, for example, only moves when the wind moves it, rolls when water pressures it.
There is no such thing as living matter and dead matter. There is only matter.
There are living systems; there is no living 'matter.' No substance, no single molecule, extracted and isolated from a living being possess, of its own, the aforementioned paradoxical properties. They are present in living systems only; that is to say, nowhere below the level of the cell.
Because the expression "living matter" borders on vitalism, on mysticism, it can lead only to bad thinking. If the history of science has taught us anything, it is this: Nothing is too wonderful to be true.
Researchers with the Keck Institute for Space Studies in California have confirmed that NASA is mulling over their plan to build a robotic spacecraft to grab a small asteroid and place it in high lunar orbit. The mission would cost about $2.6 billion – slightly more than NASA's Curiosity Mars rover – and could be completed by the 2020s.
How it could be done:
The Keck team envisions launching a slow-moving spacecraft, propelled by solar-heated ions, on an Atlas V rocket. The craft would then propel itself out to a target asteroid, probably a small space rock about 7 metres wide. After studying it briefly, the robot would catch the asteroid in a bag measuring about 10 metres by 15 metres and head back towards the moon. Altogether it would take about six to 10 years to deliver the asteroid to lunar orbit.
All of this would be somehow useful for some future plan involving mining and the colonization of the moon.
1. The Verge reports that science just exploded your face by finding an even absoluter zero:
Scientists have rewritten the known laws of physics after hitting a temperature lower than absolute zero. Physicists at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany created a quantum gas using potassium atoms, fixing them in a standard lattice group using magnetic fields and lasers. When the magnetic fields were rapidly adjusted, the atoms shifted from a low energy state to their highest possible energy state. That rapid transition — along with the laser trapping field that kept the atoms in place — allowed the temperature of the gas to dip "a few billionths of a Kelvin below absolute zero."
This discovery could result in the creation of new types of matter, and it might provide insights into the creation of the universe.
2. Slate says that an environmentalist named Mark Lynas who helped lead the fight against genetically modified food has changed his mind and apologized for his actions:
I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.
As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.
This will presumably change the discussion about genetically modified food in the year to come, although it certainly won't settle the fears of nervous protestors.
This brave, mobile, tough little insect has been on the planet almost as long as the cockroach. It's a survivor. But in its time on Earth, it has moved from sunny, glorious forests to emptier, colder places. Now, it's the only big insect that makes its living in perpetual snow. Most insects stop moving when it gets too cold. But not this guy. He lives on ice.
And even so, the grylloblattid (or ice crawler, as it's called) is running out of options because all over the world, the ice it lives on is melting. Another earthling with nowhere to go. And when the ice goes, it's not clear what happens next.
Not clear? How clear is this: More than 99 percent of all species that have lived on Earth are now extinct.
What makes humans worse than the other species that have destroyed their environments and worlds is that we are aware of our self-destructive ways and yet still do nothing about it, still talking about economic growth as if it is the most important thing in the universe. If evil (a word I detest) is anything, it is this kind of inaction (knowingly doing nothing about a bad situation that has clear solutions).
This post owes everything to Nathaniel Elliot Tanner Rogers.
Our Milky Way galaxy is home to at least 100 billion alien planets, and possibly many more, a new study suggests.
"It's a staggering number, if you think about it," lead author Jonathan Swift, of Caltech in Pasadena, said in a statement. "Basically there's one of these planets per star."
With all of this in mind, let's turn to a passage in Thomas Gold's influential The Deep, Hot Biosphere:
The surface life on the Earth, based on photosynthesis for its overall energy supply, may be just one strange branch of life, an adaptation specific to a planet that happened to have such favorable circumstances on its surface as would occur only very rarely: a favorable atmosphere, a suitable distance from an illuminating star, a mix of water and rock surface, etc. The deep, chemically supplied life, however, may be very common in the universe. Astronomical considerations make it seem probable that planetary-sized, cold bodies have formed in many locations from the materials of molecular clouds, even in the absence of a central star, and such objects may be widespread and common in our and in other galaxies. It is therefore a possibility that they mostly support this or similar forms of life....
It is interesting to think of life as a kind of behavior that's possible for rocky planets in certain conditions, certain zones, certain times. What is needed is water, lots of matter, and a source of energy (internally or externally), and a planet can add to its other behaviors, the behavior of life. Sometimes (but not often) this life reaches the surface of the planet.
Astronomers have discovered a potential "rogue" alien planet wandering alone just 100 light-years from Earth, suggesting that such starless worlds may be extremely common across the galaxy.
The free-floating object, called CFBDSIR2149, is likely a gas giant planet four to seven times more massive than Jupiter, scientists say in a new study unveiled today (Nov. 14). The planet cruises unbound through space relatively close to Earth (in astronomical terms; the Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light-years wide), perhaps after being booted from its own solar system.
In the movie Melancolia, earth is destroyed by a rogue planet.
Currently, the United States maintains no national database of gun owners, and no national record-keeping of firearm and ammunition purchases. Marc Parrish, who has held senior marketing positions at Egghead, Palm and Barnes & Noble, argues over at the Atlantic* that big data—you know, huge datasets of information that are, for example, employed by Facebook and your browser and basically everything on the internet in the interest of Selling You More Stuff—could be structured by such a database to potentially flag worrisome trends and/or purchases before they end in a bunch of people getting shot to death. Links his, emphasis mine:
Just look at the gun-acquiring backgrounds of some of our more recent mass killers to see what I mean. James Holmes, the Aurora shooting suspect, went to three different locations spread out over 30 miles to legally buy his four weapons. All three were reputable outdoors retail chain stores. He then went online, and bought thousands of rounds of ammunition along with assault gear. UPS delivered around 90 packages to Holmes at his medical campus in that short period. It doesn't take a PhD in statistics to see that a quick, massive buildup of arms like this by a private individual — especially one, like Holmes, who was known in his community for having growing mental health issues — should raise a red flag.
In Newtown, Adam Lanza carried hundreds of rounds — enough to kill every student in the Sandy Hook Elementary school if he had not been stopped. But he also attempted to destroy his hard drives to cover his pre-rampage digital tracks. Clearly he feared the data he left behind.
The list of examples can go on. Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech student who committed the worst mass shooting in American history, bought two semi-automatic handguns, along with hollow point bullets, from dealers in just over a month. A few weeks later, he purchased 10-round magazines from a seller in Idaho through eBay. All this was after he failed to disclose information about his mental health on the gun-purchasing background questionnaire (specifically, that he had been court-ordered to outpatient treatment at a mental health facility).
In a column in the New York Times, Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the UK's United Hebrew Congregations, makes an argument for religiosity, by claiming that humans are "moral animals" who are hardwired for empathy and altruism:
If this is so, we are in a position to understand why religion helped us survive in the past — and why we will need it in the future. It strengthens and speeds up the slow track. It reconfigures our neural pathways, turning altruism into instinct, through the rituals we perform, the texts we read and the prayers we pray. It remains the most powerful community builder the world has known. Religion binds individuals into groups through habits of altruism, creating relationships of trust strong enough to defeat destructive emotions. Far from refuting religion, the Neo-Darwinists have helped us understand why it matters.
I agree with Sacks' general premise, if not necessarily his conclusion. Altruism—the willingness to sacrifice one's individual interests for the good of the group—is almost certainly a trait that confers a broad evolutionary advantage in a context where survival of the individual is so heavily dependent on survival of the group. This is especially true when one considers that the driving force of evolution is not survival of the individual, but of the genetic code, code that is shared closely with the rest of one's tribe. If there is an altruism gene, then sacrificing oneself on behalf of one's cousins might assure that this gene lives on.
Likewise, the sheer prevalence of religion in human societies strongly suggests that this behavior is at least rooted in a trait that provided early humans an adaptive advantage. Maybe it's closely connected to altruism. Social cohesion is necessary for one group to compete against another, and religion is certainly an effective tool toward that.
That said, I don't think that Sack's conclusion—that society cannot do without religion—is as obvious as he thinks. Both altruism and religiosity can and do exist without the other. Many people act morally without religion, and many an immoral act has been committed in the name of one god or another. But mostly, I find Sacks' whole evolutionary biology argument a rather odd one for a religious leader to make, as it appears to devalue the significance of faith.
For to say that we are moral animals (and I'd agree that we are) is to admit that we are just animals nonetheless: Animals that crave sweets and sex and spirituality and whatever else has proved advantageous over millions of years of natural selection. And while that's a process that doesn't necessarily preclude a god, it certainly doesn't require one any more than an act of altruism requires a religious faith.
by Jen Graves
on Thu, Dec 20, 2012 at 9:50 AM
Photo by Jeff Bowman
This is a real thing.
Do you know about frost flowers? They are amazing, and researchers at UW, including Jeff Bowman, who took this picture, are looking into the blooms that form spontaneously, forming whole fields of flowers, suddenly, on the ocean.
Tropical montane cloud forest trees use more than their roots to take up water. They also drink water from clouds directly through their leaves, University of California, Berkeley, scientists have discovered.
Roots drawing water from mud is not as elegant as leaves absorbing water from surrounding clouds. The former is like fucking; the latter is like kissing.
The mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago also did in lots of lizards — including a newly identified creature that's been named Obamadon gracilis in honor of President Barack Obama.= Obama already has a type of fish (Ethiostoma obama) and lichen (Caloplaca obamae) named after him...
Scientists unveiled today an unprecedented new look at our planet at night. A global composite image, constructed using cloud-free night images from a new NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite, shows the glow of natural and human-built phenomena across the planet in greater detail than ever before.
A new Northwestern University study provides compelling evidence that human males are biologically wired to care for their offspring, conclusively showing for the first time that fatherhood lowers a man’s testosterone levels. The effect is consistent with what is observed in many other species in which males help take care of dependent offspring. Testosterone boosts behaviors and other traits that help a male compete for a mate. After they succeed and become fathers, “mating-related” activities may conflict with the responsibilities of fatherhood, making it advantageous for the body to reduce production of the hormone. “Humans are unusual among mammals in that our offspring are dependent upon older individuals for feeding and protection for more than a decade,” said Christopher W. Kuzawa, co-author of the study and associate professor of anthropology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He also is a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern. “Raising human offspring is such an effort that it is cooperative by necessity, and our study shows that human fathers are biologically wired to help with the job.”
“It’s not the case that men with lower testosterone are simply more likely to become fathers,” said Lee Gettler, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at Northwestern and co-author of the study. “On the contrary, the men who started with high testosterone were more likely to become fathers, but once they did, their testosterone went down substantially. Our findings suggest that this is especially true for fathers who become the most involved with child care.”
The new study’s findings also suggest that fathers may experience an especially large, but temporary, decline in testosterone when they first bring home a newborn baby. “Fatherhood and the demands of having a newborn baby require many emotional, psychological and physical adjustments,” Gettler said. “Our study indicates that a man’s biology can change substantially to help meet those demands.”
Northwestern's press release doesn't mention exactly when a new father's temporarily lowered testosterone levels bounce back to pre-new-baby, normal-ass-chasing levels, but... I suspect it's well before the kid turns 18.
Under ordinary circumstances, we would be all for the elevation of the Higgs to “Person of the Year” status, if only to further honor the heroic efforts of thousands of scientists and engineers who made the discovery possible (more on that below). But Time’s nomination threatens to do more harm than good. Every single sentence in Time’s nomination contains at least one serious error. The magazine scores a perfect five for five.
Moyer then fisks the nomination, which even got Peter Higgs's nationality wrong. Go read the blog post for a great illustration on how ineptly the media tends to handle scientific matters.
There's a live press conference you can watch on the Huffington Post right now in which NASA scientists are discussing their findings. It seems that the polar regions of Mercury seem to have a lot of water, and possibly organic matter.
Temperatures on Mercury can reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit (427 degrees Celsius), but around the north pole, in areas permanently shielded from the sun's heat, NASA's Messenger spacecraft found a mix of frozen water and possible organic materials.
The first question was about what this means for the possibility of some sort of life on Mercury. The scientist answering the question says "the more we learn about the solar system, we find it's a soggy place." "Let me be clear that no one is saying that there is life on Mercury," a killjoy explains, but he says "Mercury is becoming" a site for "astro-biological interest" and "in terms of the book of life, there are some early chapters" and "Mercury is helping us answer those questions" in those early chapters.
It's called MACS0647-JD. Its light took 8 billion years to reach us. The age of the universe is 13.7 billion years. The earth is 4 billion. Life is 3.6 billion. Humans, 200,000 years. And we are a life form that happens to be in the universe at the right time, because in the deep future the universe won't be filled with brilliant galaxies but a great emptiness that surrounds our one and only galaxy. This is the action of dark energy. It's pulling the distant galaxies apart at a faster and faster rate. And at one point in the future, light wont be able to cross the ever-expanding emptiness between the galaxies.
Indeed, if you were to fly into this future time, communicate with an intelligent life form in our now-isolated galaxy, and tell them that there are truly other galaxies in the universe, you'd be considered mad. No amount of science could prove the truth of your statement, could prove that other galaxies exist and that the universe was once filled with the galaxies we see all around us today. You would be right, the science would be wrong, but there would be no way of knowing or showing this fact.
Tightly bound by gravity, globular clusters are composed of old stars, which, at around 10 billion years old, are much older than the sun. These clusters are fairly common, with more than 150 currently known in our galaxy, the Milky Way, and more which have been spotted in other galaxies.
NGC 6362 is in the constellation of Ara and about 25 000 light-years from us.
Astronomers using data from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have made the most accurate measurement of starlight in the universe and used it to establish the total amount of light from all of the stars that have ever shone, accomplishing a primary mission goal.
"The optical and ultraviolet light from stars continues to travel throughout the universe even after the stars cease to shine, and this creates a fossil radiation field we can explore using gamma rays from distant sources," said lead scientist Marco Ajello, a postdoctoral researcher at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics...
Remington Rand (now Unisys) approached CBS News in the summer of 1952 with the idea of using Univac to project the election returns. News chief Sig Mickelson and anchor Walter Cronkite were skeptical, but thought it might speed up the analysis somewhat and at least be entertaining to use an "electronic brain."
Eckert and John Mauchly enlisted their former Penn colleague, mathematician Max Woodbury, to assist. Mauchly and Woodbury gathered data and wrote a program that would compare the 1952 returns to previous elections and figure which way the wind was blowing. The duo worked at Mauchly's home because he'd been blacklisted as pro-Communist and wasn't allowed to work at the company anymore. .... Pre-election polls had predicted anything from a Democratic landslide to a tight race with the Demo candidate, Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson, slightly ahead of the Republican, five-star Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe in World War II.
So it was a surprise at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time when Univac predicted Eisenhower would pile up 438 electoral votes to Stevenson's 93. The odds of Eisenhower garnering at least 266 electoral votes — the minimum needed to win — were 100-1.
In New York, news boss Mickelson scoffed at putting the improbable prediction on air. In Philadelphia, Woodbury added new data to the mix. At 9 p.m. correspondent Charles Collingwood announced to the audience that Univac was predicting 8-7 odds for an Eisenhower win. ...
As the evening wore on, an Eisenhower landslide gathered momentum. The final vote was 442 to 89. Univac was less than 1 percent off.
Data, modeling (rigorous, high-quality mathematical modeling) works, particularly when one is trying to cut through loud voices spouting bullshit.
The situation is exactly analogous to how Americans think (often incorrectly) about climate change. There aren't two equally valid ways of looking at the situation: there is a data-based and rigorous way, and then there is superstition. Stick with the guy peddling data, and explaining how he's coming to his conclusions.
In the event that a giant asteroid is headed toward Earth, you'd better hope that it's blindingly white. A brightly colored asteroid would reflect sunlight — and over time, this bouncing of photons off its surface could create enough of a force to push the asteroid off its course