asterroc: (Astro - H-alpha)
Post copypasted from Tumblr b/c I'm just that excited.

OMFG I’m so excited! New Horizons flew by Pluto about 2.5 hours ago. It’s going to remain pointed at Pluto for another 5 hours or so to get as much data as possible, and then the craft is going to slew around and spit back all the images and other data to Earth, and then it’s going to take another 5 hours for the signal to get here.

Among the amazing discoveries so far, we already have that Pluto is larger than previously thought. We knew that Eris was the most massive Kuiper Belt Object - mass is easy to get when an object has moons, and Pluto has five (Charon, Nix, Hydra, Styx, Kerberos) and Eris one (Dysnomia).

Read more... )

How exciting is that!?

Originally posted on Dreamwidth. comment count unavailable comments there. Comment here or there.
Okay, here's the skinny on Kepler-62e and f, the latest potential "Earth-like" planets. I'm numbering my points in case you want to refer to them elsewhere.

Enough detail for a science fan, more detail than most news sources will have, not enough detail for an astronomer. )

So that's my summary. If you want to read other articles, here's the Nature layperson's article which does a good job of not overhyping things. And here's the peer-reviewed journal article in Science (really prestigious!, though my dept has a running gag that 50% of Science and Nature articles turn out to be wrong). I believe the Science article is behind a paywall if you're not at a university, so if you want to read it and can't access it, let me know and I can email it to you.

Originally posted on Dreamwidth. comment count unavailable comments there. Comment here or there.

Time

Aug. 15th, 2011 04:43 pm
To settle a debate, I'd appreciate it if people would answer the following questions WITHOUT looking up the answers.

[Poll #1769932]
Am I the only one who is severely bothered by the seasons in "A Game of Thrones"? A big premise of the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series is that seasons last multiple years. But, at least in the first book, there isn't any explanation of this given, not even a supernatural/fantasy one.

Cut for people who don't care about why this bothers me. )

In the end, I think I have to conclude that Martin doesn't know jack about astronomy, even what they teach you about the seasons in elementary school, and just move on and try my best to stop gritting my teeth every time he refers to multi-year seasons.

And I'll leave you with this.

Axial Tilt is the Reason for the Season
NASA's big press release today was that a new form of DNA was discovered in a type of bacteria living in Mono Lake, California. DNA usually requires phosphorus to hold together the different "rungs" of the "ladder". On the periodic table of the elements, phosphorus falls directly above arsenic, meaning they have the same number of electrons in their outer shells, and therefore act similarly in forming molecules. This is the very reason that arsenic is well-known as a poison: it is easily incorporated into human (or animal, or plant) chemistry, it replaces the phosphorus, but it does a crappier job than phosphorus and even though it can form similar molecules they easily fall apart.

Apparently this bacterium has not only overcome that - there are many bacteria that can live in an arsenic-rich environment - but it even uses that fact. This bacterium can apparently switch between using phosphorus, and using arsenic, depending upon which is available in its environment.

NASA press release

A very slightly more technical article, including a description of tests used to determine that the arsenic is actually incorporated into the DNA.

And a couple blog posts, one from a science writer Ed Yong, one from astronomer-turned-science-writer Phil Plait.
asterroc: (xkcd - Fuck the Cosine)
Less than 1% of oiled birds survive. Somebody want to explain to me why? What actually kills them? Is it predators? Ingestion of oil (and if so, is the oil toxic or does it disrupt normal digestion)? Temperature regulation? Insufficient buoyancy? What?

Edit: The correct answer is, (E) All of the above.
Okay, someone explain to me, why is the oil gushing out of the well? I picture the oil as being inside an underground lake, with the well being like a straw going down to it. But when you put a straw into a glass of juice, the juice doesn't suddenly start gushing up the straw, it sits inside the glass until you start sucking on the straw. In the case of a juice box, the juice does start gushing out of the juice box, but that's because you're squeezing on the package while holding it to jam in the straw - is there something "squeezing" on the oil in the ground? Or is it heat causing the pressure, and if so then why hasn't all the oil leaked out and stabilized that way?

*bump*

Feb. 20th, 2010 11:00 am
In case you haven't seen it, I've compiled a list of time wasters and flash games for anyone who wants to waste some time. Just added GalaxyZoo to the section of Science things.
asterroc: (doll)
Found via [livejournal.com profile] hrafn, the URL says it all.

http://contexts.org/socimages/2009/12/08/the-discovery-channel-not-for-womens-eyes/

Like I said in another recent post, there's reasons I don't usually reveal my gender in a science context, and now the Discovery Channel has joined those reasons.

(Edited to the correct name of the channel: Discovery Channel. Not to be confused with Discover Magazine.)
Anybody here had to get past an institutional ethics review board for an experiment? I'm writing a sci-fi/fantasy short story that involves human subject research and I'd like to see some documents people have to produce to get past ethics review boards. It doesn't have to be humans, experimenting on mice is fine too. I'm looking for things like forms that you fill out for the board, forms that you create for the subjects to give informed consent, and justification papers that you submit to accompany the paperwork. It doesn't have to have been successful.

If you're willing to show me such things but don't want it public, you can email me at zandperl-AT-gmail-DOT-com.

Thanks!
If you've got a few minutes to spare, please fill out this survey by the National Academies of Science.
asterroc: (xkcd - Fuck the Cosine)
I know there's a couple of you who read me. The Gov of Texas has just appointed a 6-person committee to revamp the state's K-12 science curriculum. One of these six individuals is a creationist. A second person on the committee is not just any ol' creationist, but the director of the US's biggest creationist organization: Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute. And the chair of the committee is Donald McLeroy, who has gone on record as saying that biology textbooks containing evolution are anti-Christian and anti-American.

If you give a shit about this, there's more info on astronomer Phil Plat's blog along w/ more links. Unfortunately the only one who can change this situation is the governor, and he's in power until 2010, but perhaps you guys can make his life a little more difficult.

LHC Rap

Sep. 9th, 2008 02:58 pm
Just for you [livejournal.com profile] meleah, it's the Large Hadron Rap. Show it to your kids - I'm probably going to show it to mine tomorrow.

The Large Hadron Collidor goes online today! This is as exciting as the day Hubble opened its shutters May 20 1990.

Even a lot of sciencey people I know have been asking about what the LHC is, and why the doomsayers are wrong, so here's a little summary of it. Particle accelerators (as is the LHC) are devices that smash things together to find out what's inside them. It's somewhat like if we wanted to learn how cars work, so we did head-on crash tests. While the analogy isn't perfect (no analogy ever is), there are some similarities. For example, while head-on crashes in real life are dangerous, crash tests are completely controlled and are entirely safe. Particle accelerators let us learn about what's going on inside small particles. Older lower energy ones smashed together "normal" particles like electrons and protons and helped us to learn that those are made of quarks. The LHC is a high energy one and we'll be smashing together another type of particle called a hadron, and it will help us learn how the entire universe works, for example gravity and dark matter.

The woo-hoos (aka tinfoil hat wearers) have been saying doom and gloom about the LHC, claiming that the high energy levels will either rip a hole in the entire universe, or else create a black hole that will swallow the Earth. Well, there's really no reason to worry at all. First off, we only call the LHC "high energy" by comparison - it's higher energy than anything people have been able to do before now. However, much higher energy collisions take place every second as cosmic rays hit the Earth's atmosphere. The main difference is that in the LHC these collisions are controlled. As I said to a biologist in another community, being afraid of that is kinda like if people were afraid of scientists culturing e.coli - it happens in the wild, after all, and that's not scary at all.
In case anyone's interested, I thought I'd post some answers to the quiz questions I posted the other day asking people for help in timing online quizzes.

Regarding the timing issue, everyone reported that it took them a very short time to type their answers - admittedly it's a self-selected group (I doubt slow typers would enjoy blogging all that much, and people who hate science probably wouldn't be answering these questions for me), but still it gives me a starting point. My plan with my class is to (a) ask students during the first week about their typing skills, (b) unless any of their answers worry me, I'll give the same amount of time for the first quiz as I would give in a face-to-face class, (c) I'll look at the statistics of how long it took them to complete the quiz and adjust subsequent quizzes accordingly.

So, for the answers )



Once again, thanks for the help!

X-posted
Oh man, this comic says it so well. :)



They're not science, and yet they are! And Zombie Feynman!

Spectrum

Mar. 4th, 2008 11:20 am
asterroc: (Astro - H-alpha)
When you google for "electromagnetic spectrum" images for a presentation you're doing for an astro class, among the top 20 hits is this.



I'd totally forgotten about it.
I'm sure [livejournal.com profile] sclerotic_rings will appreciate this DIY solution for remembering to water plants. You essentially combine a mosture sensor (i.e. a circuit that goes through the soil of the plant), a couple circuit boards, an internet device, and Twitter, and your plant tells you when it needs watering.
After a week of heated argument (and "boos") with other countries in Bali, US Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky finally agreed to an amended compromise statement. According to the NY Times,

The agreement notes the need for "urgency" in addressing climate change and recognizes that "deep cuts in global emissions will be required." Still, it does not bind the United States or any country to commitments on reducing greenhouse pollution.


CNN:

The EU wanted an agreement to require developed countries to cut their emissions by 25 to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2020. The United States opposes those targets, along with Japan and Canada. The latest draft of the agreement removes the specific figures and instead, in a footnote, references the scientific study that supports them.


BBC:

The US and the EU earlier agreed that industrialised countries would not set firm emissions targets at this stage. The "Bali roadmap" initiates a two-year process of negotiations designed to agree a new set of emissions targets to replace those in the Kyoto Protocol.
...
The document coming out of the meeting, the "Bali roadmap", contains text on emissions cuts, the transfer of clean technology to developing countries, halting deforestation and helping poorer nations protect their economies and societies against impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels and falling crop yields. The roadmap sets the parameters and aims for a further set of negotiations to be finalised by the 2009 UN climate conference, to be held in Denmark.


So as far as I can tell, this is again an agreement with no teeth. The US has agreed to no tangible results whatsoever. It's progress in that we've agreed that Something Needs To Be Done and therefore are acknowledging that global warming is taking place, but all we've agreed to so far is to continue talking. Well, better that than nothing.

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