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Current Topic: Science

Aztec Whistles Of Death
Topic: Science 2:39 pm EDT, Jun 30, 2008

MEXICO CITY — Scientists were fascinated by the ghostly find: a human skeleton buried in an Aztec temple with a clay, skull-shaped whistle in each bony hand.

But no one blew into the noisemakers for nearly 15 years.

When someone finally did, the shrill, windy screech made the spine tingle.

If death had a sound, this was it.


On another site, I found the MP3 file of the whistles being played, by archaeologists, I assume. [Not Safe For Life]

Aztec Whistles Of Death

Colliding with nature's best-kept secrets
Topic: Science 11:03 am EDT, May  9, 2008

Arkani-Hamed is only in his mid-30s, but he has already distinguished himself as one of the leading thinkers in the field of particle physics.

His revolutionary ideas about the way the universe works will finally be put to the test later this year at Switzerland's Large Hadron Collider, which, when completed, will be the world's most powerful particle accelerator.

A theory that has emerged in recent decades that claims to bring some relief to physics mysteries like these is called superstring theory, or string theory for short. While previously, scientists believed that the smallest, most indivisible building blocks of our world were particles, string theory says that the world is made of extremely small vibrating loops called strings.

In order for these strings to properly constitute our universe, they must vibrate in 11 dimensions, scientists say. Everyone observes three spatial dimensions and one for time, but theoretical models suggest at least seven others that we do not see.

Arkani-Hamed proposed, along with physicists Savas Dimopoulos and Gia Dvali, that some of these dimensions are larger than previously thought -- specifically, as large as a millimeter. Physicists call this the ADD model, after the first initials of the authors' last names. We haven't seen these extra dimensions yet because gravity is the only force that can wander around them, Arkani-Hamed said.

String theory has come under attack because some say it can never be tested -- the strings are supposed to be smaller than any particle ever detected, after all. But Arkani-Hamed says the Large Hadron Collider could potentially lead to the direct observation of strings, or at least indirect evidence of their existence.

Colliding with nature's best-kept secrets

Apparently, Fish Don't Like Vodka
Topic: Science 9:24 am EDT, Apr 17, 2008

Vodka will be stressful for a fish that is not anesthetized.

I'm going to work this sentence into a conversation, if it's the last thing I do.

Apparently, Fish Don't Like Vodka

Astronomers vie to make biggest telescope
Topic: Science 2:10 pm EST, Feb  5, 2008

Just the names of many of the proposed observatories suggest an arms race: the Giant Magellan Telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope, which was downsized from the OverWhelmingly Large Telescope. Add to those three big ground observatories a new super eye in the sky, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2013.


Current telescopes are able to look back only about 1 billion years in time. But the new telescopes will be so powerful that they should be able to gaze back to a couple of hundred million years after the Big Bang, which scientists believe happened 13.7 billion years ago. That's where all the action is.

Overwhelmingly cool!

The Giant Magellan Telescope. A partnership of six U.S. universities, an Australian college, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Carnegie Institution of Washington will place the telescope in Las Campanas, Chile, around 2016. The plan is for an 80-foot mirror. The cost is around $500 million.

The Thirty Meter Telescope. The California Institute of Technology, the University of California and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy are aiming for a telescope with about a 98-foot mirror by 2018. No site has been chosen. The cost is about $780 million.

The European Extremely Large Telescope. A partnership of European countries called the European Southern Observatory already has telescopes in Chile and is aiming for a new one with a mirror of 138 feet, scaled back from initial plans of 328 feet. The Europeans are aiming for a 2018 completion, but have not chosen a specific location yet. The cost would be $1.17 billion.

NASA's $4.5 billion James Webb Space Telescope, designed to travel 900,000 miles beyond Earth's orbit, is not faced with the atmospheric distortion of ground telescopes. Still, it will use its own version of adaptive optics. Because of temperature fluctuations in the cold of space, the telescope will have to adjust the shape of its mirrors automatically. Webb's mirror, which is 21/2 times bigger than Hubble's, has 18 segments.

While I love the concept of the Webb telescope, a $4,500,000,000.00 project seems a bit of a luxury for a nation with a debt of over $9,200,000,000,000.00, especially when the President just submitted a budget proposal of $3,100,000,000,000.00, including deficit spending in the amount of $400,000,000,000.00. I'm supportive of scientific research, but at some point during my lifetime, we'll have to use Conway chained arrow notation or Knuth's up-arrow notation to discuss the national debt.

At least we'll have some pretty pictures. :)

Astronomers vie to make biggest telescope

First Images of Approaching Asteroid
Topic: Science 1:14 pm EST, Jan 29, 2008

As the asteroid moved nearer to Earth, on Jan. 28, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico working with the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in W. Va. produced another image of the asteroid. Astronomers used the Arecibo telescope, which is operated by Cornell University on behalf of the National Science Foundation, to bounce radar signals off the asteroid. The Green Bank Telescope received the echo signal and transmitted the data back to Arecibo to be transformed into an image.

Other radar telescopes were expected to point toward the asteroid as it made its closest approach to Earth, 334,000 miles (537,500 kilometers), at 3:33 a.m. Eastern time Jan. 29. For comparison, the moon is an average of 239,228 miles (385,000 kilometers) away.

"We have good images of a couple dozen objects like this, and for about one in 10, we see something we've never seen before," said Mike Nolan, head of radar astronomy at the Arecibo Observatory. "We really haven't sampled the population enough to know what's out there."

Those Atari 2600 programmers were way ahead of their time.

First Images of Approaching Asteroid

Steven Weinberg: A Designer Universe?
Topic: Science 1:57 pm EST, Jan 25, 2008

This article is based on a talk given in April 1999 at the Conference on Cosmic Design of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.

I have to admit that, even when physicists will have gone as far as they can go, when we have a final theory, we will not have a completely satisfying picture of the world, because we will still be left with the question 'why?' Why this theory, rather than some other theory? For example, why is the world described by quantum mechanics? Quantum mechanics is the one part of our present physics that is likely to survive intact in any future theory, but there is nothing logically inevitable about quantum mechanics; I can imagine a universe governed by Newtonian mechanics instead. So there seems to be an irreducible mystery that science will not eliminate.

But religious theories of design have the same problem. Either you mean something definite by a God, a designer, or you don't. If you don't, then what are we talking about? If you do mean something definite by 'God' or 'design,' if for instance you believe in a God who is jealous, or loving, or intelligent, or whimsical, then you still must confront the question 'why?' A religion may assert that the universe is governed by that sort of God, rather than some other sort of God, and it may offer evidence for this belief, but it cannot explain why this should be so.

Steven Weinberg: A Designer Universe?

Biofuels may threaten environment, U.N. warns
Topic: Science 5:31 pm EST, Jan 24, 2008

Initially, biofuels were held up as a panacea for countries struggling to cope with the rising cost of oil or those looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union, for example, plans to replace 10 percent of transport fuel with biofuels made from energy crops such as sugar cane and rapeseed oil by 2020.

But in recent months, scientists, private agencies and even the British government have said biofuels could do more harm than good. Rather than protecting the environment, they say energy crops destroy natural forests that actually store carbon and thus are a key tool in the fight to reduce global warming.

I've never cared much for Ford's automobiles, but I say it's time to revisit the Ford Nucleon (with the tail fins)!

Biofuels may threaten environment, U.N. warns

Coctail Photomicrography
Topic: Science 3:13 pm EST, Jan 17, 2008

My absinthe research continues, and I happened across an alcohol-related page of an optical microscopy website, of all things. The picture at right is a Tequila Sunrise.

We have found these cocktails to be one of the most difficult subjects for photomicrography (photography with a microscope) that we have ever encountered. In our system, we must crystallize or orient the sample so that polarized light will be refracted as it passes through--giving us the beautiful patterns that we typically see with this type of microscopy. Unfortunately getting pure tequila (or its counterparts) to crystallize has proven to be extremely difficult. Without divulging all of our tricks, we have found methods (such as cooling with liquid nitrogen) that can be used to force crystallization on the most stubborn specimens. This gallery represents a significant part of our efforts in this arena.

Coctail Photomicrography

Did Insects Kill the Dinosaurs?
Topic: Science 10:43 am EST, Jan 11, 2008

Among other things in their lode, they've found ticks, nematodes, biting flies and all sorts of other nasties, including intestinal parasites, dating back to the Cretaceous period. From some of the insects, the Poinars have extracted microbes that cause leishmania and malaria — evidently new pathogens back then, against which dinosaurs wouldn't have had much resistance.

The authors aren't arguing that the dinos all died in a massive epidemic; rather, the constant wear and tear of illness weakened the dinosaurs so that other catastrophes, like comets and volcanoes, could have finished them off. Still, the Poinars couldn't resist a bit of made-for-Hollywood drama. One great quote from the book: "The largest of the land animals, the dinosaurs, would have been locked in a life-or-death struggle with [insects] for survival."

Did Insects Kill the Dinosaurs?

Colossal Black Hole Shatters the Scales
Topic: Science 10:03 am EST, Jan 11, 2008

The most massive black hole in the universe tips the cosmic scales at 18 billion times more massive than the sun, astronomers suggest today at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Even though researchers suggested black holes up to this mass might exist in quasars, this is the first direct confirmation of such a behemoth. The hefty gravity well is six times more massive than the previous record and is orbited by a smaller black hole, which allowed the measurement of the giant's mass.

Colossal Black Hole Shatters the Scales

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