Nov 16 at 5:05pm by Aileen
I hope that readers are as eagerly looking forward to the big Leonid meteor shower show as I am. Planning to schlep a lawn chair to the railroad tracks where there is an unemcumbered view of the east/southeast sky and no light pollution to speak of, settle in with a blanket and toast to the solar system’s fireworks display.
It should be quite the spectacle if predictions are correct. It’s a new moon, so that source of light pollution won’t be an issue. They say we’ll only get 20 to 30 an hour, while Asia gets the really big boomers at 200-300 an hour, but I’m hoping they’ve miscalculated a bit. There should still be a few to see tonight. The Leonids put on their show every year as the planet travels through the remains of the Tempel-Tuttle comet. Our pass-through has the incoming debris originating from the direction of the constellation Leo, hence the name. This year, however, Mars is sitting right between us and the constellation, so it should look like our friendly neighborhood Martians are staging the show!
What I will not be doing is wearing a tin foil helmet to prevent those Martians from manipulating my brain waves. According to MIT research conducted in 2005, the metallic fashion statements actually amplify invasive radio frequencies reserved for use by the government in satellite communications rather than protect wearers from what they are most afraid of.
The abstract of On the Effectiveness of Aluminum Foil Helmets reads:
“Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government’s invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.”
Oh, well. Before some reader out there comes back with the obvious, yes I do know this is mostly tongue-in-cheek from a few undergrad CompSci geeks with way too much time on their hands. But it’s still pretty funny, so enjoy!
Oct 22 at 5:05pm by Aileen
In the news this month we’ve learned about a neotropical jumping spider discovered by Christopher Meehan of Villanova University in Mexico and Eric Olson of Brandeis in Costa Rica that is the only species of spider observed to subsist on a primarily vegetarian diet. Previously, spiders had not been known to consume any type of solid food, apart from occasional pollen fed to young in a single species of orb-weaver. The new species has been named Bagheera kiplingi.
And on the subject of vegetation, plant biologists at the University of Delaware and McMaster University in Canada conducted a study of more than 3,000 mustard seedlings and discovered that young plants are capable of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen explain why fresh eggs are more difficult to peel than older eggs. Bottom line: let your eggs sit for a few days before trying to make deviled eggs!
Aug 24 at 6:06pm by Aileen
Why do people believe lies after being told the truth?
Sociologists from four major research institutions have published a study in the journal Sociological Inquiry examining how we support our false beliefs. They examined the false belief of many voters during the 2004 general election, which held that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was responsible for the primarily Saudi-conducted attacks on September 11, 2001.
The researchers concluded that the false beliefs were not caused by lies told repeatedly by the Bush Administration and some cable news channels, but by the individuals’ own personal need to justify a war that was already being waged. They named their study “There Must Be a Reason: Osama, Saddam and Inferred Justification,” and claim that their findings offer serious challenge to democracy – in that the people cannot be trusted to discern truth from falsehood.
Now, while it is a trivial observation that people tend to believe what they want to believe, and that they will seek out information sources that support and/or confirm their already-held beliefs, this blogger is not convinced that these sociologists should have so pointedly ignored the fact that it was the Bush-Cheney administration that invented the lies, started the war, and was backed up in that false propaganda effort by the mainstream broadcast and cable news media establishments. Seems like giving political liars and media propagandists a free pass on misleading the public does serious damage to the conclusions of the supposedly scientific study itself.
Jun 15 at 9:09pm by Aileen
The Washington Post reported on a recent talk by Energy Secretary Steven Chu that white rooftops may help slow global warming by reflecting sunlight instead of absorbing it. Perhaps even better, white roofs cut energy consumption for cooling by an almost equal percentage.
Climate scientists say the reflective properties of white are so much greater than gray, black, green or any other color, that simply by putting white roofs on enough buildings and houses we could buy the time we need to make other necessary changes to combat global warming. In fact, the energy savings alone on air conditioning caused the state of California to begin requiring that most new flat-roofed buildings have reflective roofs, and retail giant Walmart has installed them on 75% of its stores in the United States. Even Washington, D.C. has gone so far as to require than new flat roofs be covered either in vegetation or have reflective roofs for the energy savings alone.
The Environmental Protection Agency offers good information and cost analysis for reflective roofing products on its Energy Star website with multiple links to manufacturers, resources and data.
Secretary Chu emphasized in his speech that the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory conducted research demonstrating that if just 63% of the roofs in 100 large cities and tropical/temperate areas worldwide were white, the effect would provide the same climate benefits as taking all the cars in the world off the road for a full decade. That’s considerable, and definitely worth the effort.
Mar 20 at 4:04pm by Aileen
Music as Universal Brain-Language
With the return of the sun and spring popping out all over, the season’s long list of open-air music festivals is prepared to launch in cities, towns, parks and fields somewhere near you. Obviously, human beings share a collective appreciation for music and aren’t shy of demonstrating that on a regular basis.
So it is probably not too surprising that biologists from the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany published research this week in the Journal Current Biology that scientifically establishes the well-known fact that music really is the “Universal Language.”
Researchers wanted to find out if the expression of emotions in Western music would be appreciated by people who had no exposure to it. They chose as their test subjects the Mafa, an isolated ethnic group in the African nation of Cameroon. Predictably, the Mafa listeners did recognize emotional expressions made through the music, including happiness, sadness and fear. The scientists determined that the clues relied upon by the listeners to types of music they’d never heard were primarily tempo and mode, devices that musicians use to elicit certain emotions even in people who don’t know the language of a song.
Meanwhile, a different group of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development used electroencephalograms [EEG] to record the brain activity of eight different pairs of guitarists playing a sort of jazz-fusion melody together. Reported lead researcher Ulman Lindenberger,
“Our findings show that interpersonally coordinated actions are preceded and accompanied by between-brain oscillatory couplings.”
That’s Sci-Speak for what most of the rest of humanity recognizes readily as “getting in the groove.”
So here’s hoping the weather is great for your neighborhood’s spring music fest, and that the groove goes on and on!
Mar 2 at 8:08pm by Aileen
Almost everyone who is interested enough to follow scientific developments is familiar with the good old “Black Hole” in space. This is what happens when massive stars collapse in on themselves and there’s nothing to stop it. Eventually all the mass gets crushed to infinite (or near infinite) density, creating a “Singularity.” This tiny point in spacetime exerts all the gravity of all the mass that became part of it, so their effects can be observed on other stars and matter near them.*
[* High energy physicists have suggested that singularities can come in much smaller 'mini' and 'micro' size, and are hoping to produce one at CERN if they ever get the Large Hadron Collider going.]
These black holes are said to be hidden behind an event horizon, where matter and energy being sucked in toward the singularity exceeds the speed of light. Beyond that boundary of spacetime, nothing within can ever get out again. Roger Penrose came up with the Cosmic Censorship hypothesis back in the ’70s when he and Stephen Hawking were formalizing the solutions to Einstein’s equations that predicted the existence of black holes. It seemed ‘indecent’ to Penrose that a singularity might ever exist that was not shielded from outside view by an event horizon, and that view predominated research for decades despite whispers here and there that naked singularities could indeed exist.
Feb 16 at 6:06pm by Aileen
At the annual meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science [AAAS] in Chicago on Friday the 13th, research was presented by a psychology professor at the University of Albany on the subject of kissing.
CNN reports in its coverage that the science of kissing is called “philematology.” Rutgers professor Helen Fisher says kissing is “a major escalation or de-escalation point in a powerful process of mate choice.” Kissing, says the study’s leader Gordon Gallup, Jr., transmits sensory information – smells, tastes, sound and tactile signals – that affect the couple’s perceptions of each other and whether they want to continue the relationship. In a survey of more than a thousand college students, Gallup and his colleagues found that 59% of men and 66% of women reported that after the first kiss their attraction ended.
The subconscious processing of the sensory information received in a kiss reveals some very interesting details about mate choices, too. The researchers found that women tend to be attracted to partners with a different immune system makeup than their own – information that is transmitted by the sense of smell. They also looked at increases and decreases in hormone levels before and after kissing, particularly oxytocin (the “love hormone”) and cortisol.
Kissing can quickly determine the success or failure of a potential mate choice, and that first kiss seems to be the most important in that respect. So all us fans of the Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore romantic comedy 50 First Dates get some scientific explanation for why we feel it’s so sweet that Barrymore’s brain-damaged character who forgets Sandler every night falls in love with him all over again every day at the first kiss.
Feb 5 at 4:04pm by Aileen
Researchers at Cardiff University have managed to confirm a prediction made before the British-German gravity wave detector GEO600 was up and running, and it just might open up a whole new era in fundamental physics.
The press release Cardiff researchers could herald a new era explains that the GEO600 detector has been receiving some mysterious ‘noise’ that might confirm that the true nature of the universe is holographic, as predicted by physicist Craig Hogan at Fermilab. The GEO600 team is now gearing toward further experiments that may lend further evidence in favor of this theory. New Scientist has a more in-depth article, Our world may be a giant hologram that fleshes out the concepts.
Physicists have long hypothesized that the universe is ‘grainy’ at the Planck level, which is the smallest conceptual unit of space and time. Scientists cannot hope ever to measure phenomena at that level, but if the universe is a hologram projected from those tiny “grains of sand” they may well be able to detect levels of the projection as far into the high energy/small size range as they can ever go. That projection, Hogan maintains, is the source of the noise in the detector.
Jan 27 at 8:08pm by Aileen
On the fifth of this month I posted Supernovae, Comets and Holey Mammoth Tusks, about a recently-developed theory with apparently lots and lots of confirming evidence, that purported to demonstrate the mass extinction of North American megafauna – wooly mammoths, giant bison, saber-tooth cats, etc. – was the result of effects from a supernova explosion 250 light years from earth, and a 10-kilometer wide comet produced that hit or exploded just above Chicago nearly 13,000 years ago.
Well, this week researchers from the University of Bristol say they have disproven that theory, by examining charcoal and pollen records for the great fires the comet must have caused. Their results, they say, provide no evidence of continental-scale fires. Though they do say their examination of this material dated between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago, somehow establishes that an increase in large-scale wildfires all over the world during the past 10 years is attributable to global warming.
Ah, well. So much for grand theories about great and sudden climate change in past ages, as well as ongoing disagreements about climate change in the current age. Perhaps what is best to be learned from this back and forth of disagreements about evidence and what it means is to take the pronouncements of various groups of scientists with a grain of salt, for their conclusions are often so short-lived as to not even make it past the publication schedule of two successive issues of the same journal!
Eventually, maybe, they’ll work it all out.
And while we’re here looking at research from different sources that can end up with entirely different conclusions, check out a new project site from Creative Commons – ScienceCommons. Making the Web work for science, to develop technologies to make research, accumulated data and materials easier to find and use. I’ll be reporting on this again in the near future, so stay tuned!
Jan 12 at 6:06pm by Aileen
Hi-res infrared composite of galactic core
Atronomers and astrophysicists determined some years ago – after that strange beastie known as a “black hole” was accepted to probably be a real physical phenomenon, that there are gigantic black holes at the center of galaxies. Moreover, they found they could determine the mass of these galactic black holes via a fairly simple ratio between the mass of the central bulge of stars and the hole they surround (about 1:10,000). It has been presumed that the hole at the galactic center got there by the joining of stellar mass black holes, which then continued to grow by accretion of mass from the stars drawn into the gravity well.
More recently, however, scientists examining galaxies much farther away in space and time found a different pattern. The farther back into the history of the universe they looked, the ratio between galactic black holes and the mass of the stars surrounding them did not follow the 1:10,000 ‘rule’ – the holes account for much more of the mass, meaning they were huge even way back in the early days of the universe.
As quoted in Wired’s article Yo Galaxy’s Mama Is a Black Hole, astronomer Chris Carilli of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory said during a briefing at the American Astronomical Society’s annual meeting that “The simplest conclusion is that the black holes come first and they somehow grow the galaxy around them.”