Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. Arizona/Univ. IdahoCameras on NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured and sent back some stunning images of sunlight reflecting off the hydrocarbon sea on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Depending on its orbital position, the ringed planet and its moons can be anywhere from 839 to 934 million miles from the Sun. Beautiful, amazing stuff!
As Jerry Seinfeld might say: "What's the deal with Ebola?"
Courtesy CDCMany on the cable news networks seem to want to make it sound like the next version of the Black Plague. Politicians have turned it into a campaign issue as we head into the final days of the mid-term elections. The late-night comics are cracking jokes about it. But a lot of people in the U.S. are scratching their heads about how big a threat Ebola is to their personal health.
Here's a round-up of information on informational resources to help sort through the yapping to get to the heart of the matter on the Ebola threat.
The Centers for Disease Control have produced a nice info graphic about the ways Ebola virus is transmitted. It's not passed along by airborne systems like some other viruses. Droplets from an impacted individual need to make it into the body of an uninfected person for transmission to occur. Germs like chicken pox and TB are spread through the air. Germs like the plague and meningitis are spread through droplets.
What can you do to safeguard yourself from Ebola?
• Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
ª Routinely clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces like bathroom surfaces, since some germs can stay infectious on surfaces for hours or days and lead to transmission.
Who faces the highest risks? Here's the CDC's link to those facing the highest risk factors. In the U.S., healthcare workers treating those with Ebola have by far the highest risk levels. People living west African nations, where the core of the outbreak is located, have the highest risk factor as Ebola can be contracted there through the handling of wild meats, being bitten by bats or coming in contact with objects that have been infected by the virus.
What are Ebola's symptoms?
How can Ebola be treated?
So what do you think? Has news coverage of the Ebola outbreak been informative to you? What more would you like to know? How concerned are you about Ebola impacting your life? Share your views here with other Science Buzz readers.
Courtesy Mark RyanPaleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh was born this day, October 29th, 183 years ago. Marsh (who preferred to be addressed as O.C.) rose to scientific fame with the help of his wealthy uncle, George Peabody, who set his nephew up as the first professor of paleontology at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
Courtesy Public domain via Wikipedia CommonsDuring the late 19th century, Marsh led several expeditions and employed several field collectors across the American West helping him build a huge collection of fossils for the Peabody Museum of Natural History on the Yale campus. His part in the famous "Bone Wars" waged both in the press and in the field against his former friend - and later bitter rival - Edward Drinker Cope of Philadelphia amassed a tremendous amount of scientific knowledge and fossils regarding dinosaurs, reptiles, and early mammals. During his lifetime, Marsh wrote more than 300 papers and books, and described more than 500 new species of prehistoric animals. He also served as the vertebrate paleontologist for the U.S. Geological Survey from 1882-1892. The great paleontologist died in 1899.
Bio of Marsh on Yale website
Courtesy Mark RyanEach autumn, Rocky Mountain elk or wapiti (Cervus canadensis) migrate into Estes Park valley in Colorado for their annual mating season (also known as "the rut" or "rutting period"). During our three day visit last month, my wife and I saw them everywhere - in the meadows near the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP); in Lake Estes; cooling off under the pines; and all over the city golf course (which was closed due to their presence). One night, while coming out of the downtown grocery store parking lot, we nearly hit three of them standing in the middle of the street!
We were staying about two blocks up from Lake Estes, and the morning of our last day I walked down the hill to take video of any elk I could find. I wasn't disappointed. As I made my way toward the lake, a couple of large bulls were prodding a harem of about 25 females through a residential area and onto the town golf course. As the video shows, the sight of so many of these massive beasts is both fascinating and intimidating.
Except for moose, elk are the largest members of the deer family (in Europe elk are called moose). Elk harems usually consist of several females (cows) - and sometimes calves - which, during mating season, are controlled and watched over by one or two bulls. Other opportunistic males will gather around the harem's periphery waiting to challenge the dominant bull or for a chance to hook up with a stray female.
The poor dominant male - in this case, a bull with a 14-point antler rack - spent most of his time trying to find a receptive female or fending off his rivals. It's a tireless job. Males shed and regrow their antlers each year. The rack turns to solid bone by the end of the summer and can weigh up to 40 pounds.
What surprised me most was the elk's bugling call. It's a high pitch wail often followed by a series of quick chirps. Sometimes, it reminded me of squawking seagulls for some reason. Of all ungulates, elk are definitely the noisiest.
Bull elk use bugling to attract females and to warn rivals. The bulls will display their dominance in several ways, one of which is by raising their head high to show off their antlers. This posturing is usually sufficient, but sometimes two males will engage in antler wrestling to determine who's dominant of the two. Bulls will also dig up the ground with their antlers and front hooves and roll around in their urine to add a cow-attracting scent to themselves. You can observe some of their behaviors in video.
I think what I saw and recorded took place near the end of the pre-rut. There was no mating that I witnessed (except for a calf going through the motions with its mother!). The bulls seemed eager enough but the cows weren't quite in estrus (heat), and wanted nothing to do with their suitors. The estrus cycle of a female elk is short-lived and lasts only one or two days. When it does happen, the bulls are ready to mate several times during the cycle.
Elk get agitated and dangerous during the rut. There are warnings posted around Estes Park and RMNP about getting too close or having your pets with you when observing them. I unintentionally got between two bulls which could have turned into a nasty situation. But, fortunately, it didn't.
Courtesy Mark Ryan
Courtesy Mark ryanSome images from Thursday's eclipse taken from the east shore of Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, MN. The sequence runs from first contact to maximum eclipse. An added attraction was the large sunspots visible on the sun's surface. Click on images to view larger size.
Courtesy Mark RyanA partial eclipse of the sun will be visible over much of North America tomorrow (October 23rd, 2014), including here in the Twin Cities. Note that this won't be a total eclipse, so it won't be safe to view the eclipsed sun without protective solar filters for your eyes. I have a piece of #14 arc-welder's glass (available at welding supply stores) that I've used to view solar eclipses safely in the past. You can also purchase special eclipse glasses online or from some local retail outlets. About 51 percent of the sun will be blocked by the moon but even directly viewing a 99 percent eclipsed sun can damage your eyes. So it's important that you make sure you use eye protection. Probably the safest way to view the eclipse is by poking a pinhole in a sheet of paper or piece of cardboard and projecting the sun's image though it onto another flat surface.
Courtesy F. Espenak, NASASolar eclipses can take place two to five times each year but since the Earth's surface is covered mostly by water, they're often viewable only from obscure and hard-to-get-to locations. Solar eclipses occur three ways: partial, total, and annular. During a partial eclipse only a fraction of the Sun's surface is covered by the Moon; during a total eclipse the Moon covers the full face of the Sun; during an annular eclipse the Moon is farther from Earth and relatively too small to completely block out the solar disk thus creating a ring of sunlight around the Moon's limbs. It's rare, but sometimes all three types can occur during a single event called a hybrid eclipse.
In the Twin Cities, the eclipse will start at 4:23pm and hit maximum eclipse at 5:35pm. About 51 percent of the sun will be blocked by the moon. The weather forecast calls for possibility of rain in the morning, with slow clearing and a high of around 64°F. If we're lucky, the clouds will scatter by eclipse time and provide some excellent viewing opportunities of the eclipsed sun low in the western sky. One of the interesting phenomenons to look for during a partial eclipse is the pinhole effect leaves and other objects make with their shadows - fringing the edges with miniature crescents. I'll try to get some good photos if weather permits.
Coming up in the summer of 2017, the first total eclipse of the sun visible in the lower 48 states in nearly 40 years will will sweep across the US along a line from Oregon to South Carolina. Don't miss it if you can - it's one of the greatest natural events you'll ever witness in your life. But in the meantime, get outside and enjoy a partial warm-up tomorrow.
Courtesy merrick brown via Flickr About fourteen years ago, I began noticing pops and crackles in my left ear. When I went to the doctor, I was given an audiology exam and was told those odd noises were typical of what is heard as auditory nerves die. Later, I began hearing them in my right ear. Those initial noises eventually did go away, but it was obvious that my hearing wasn't as sharp as it used to be. I learned to accept the loss as just one of the inevitable effects of getting older. My dad, too, suffered from age-related hearing loss, so it wasn't totally unexpected. But what I wasn't expecting was tinnitus. It's bad enough when your hearing begins to fade, but for some unfortunate people - like myself - tinnitus means it's not going to go away quietly.
Tinnitus is sometimes referred to as "ringing in the ear". But ringing isn't it's only manifestation. You can have popping, crackling, zinging, or any of the 50 different sounds that have been noted. or as in my case, hissing. And you'd think it originates in the ears because that's where the annoying sound is, but you'd be wrong.
"Tinnitus is a sound that is actually being generated in the brain,’ said Ross McKeown, president of the Tinnitus Association of Victoria in Australia. ‘We thought for a long time it was being generated in the ear, we now know that's not the case."
The brain, it seems, is over-compensating, trying hard to detect sound with fewer auditory nerves, which means with less amplification. So it's the old gray matter cranking the level up to 11 in hopes of compensating for that loss that causes all the extraneous noise.
This is the price I now pay for not taking care of myself in my younger years. I can pinpoint three events in my life that probably affected my hearing: working at a steel mill for a year, listening to a friend's band play in a tight, closed space at an ear-piercing volume, and shooting photos of a Harrier jet getting ready to take-off at a local air show. In each case I wasn't wearing ear protections. I was too cool for that.
Back then, like many people, I thought myself invincible. I was strong and alert and felt like my body could do no wrong. I put little thought into the future nor could I imagine my body or senses ever changing. But unfortunately, as we age, our bodies - like any other machine - starts to wear out and just doesn't respond or operate the same way it used to. As if almost on schedule, I noticed some distinct changes right around my 40th birthday, when suddenly my eyesight seemed poorer, my hearing duller, and for a two week stretch the skin on my face felt tingly and strangely wet but wasn't.
Eventually, you learn to accept these unwanted alterations - mostly because your generational peers are experiencing the same things you are - and you adapt to them as best you can. You begin buying drugstore eyeglasses so you can read the newspaper, you use sunscreen to keep skin cancer at bay, you consider buying hearing aids (or downloading smartphone apps) so you can understand what your friends are babbling about when you're all dining together in a crowded restaurant. It sucks.
The trick to living with tinnitus is to ignore it. Easy for me to say since my tinnitus is fairly moderate and unnerving compared to the level from which others suffer. The hissing at this point in my life is intermittent. Sometimes I wake up with it, sometimes it fades in during the day (or night), and sometimes I don't have it at all. Any of these can last days at a time. I haven't been able to figure out exactly what (if anything) triggers it. I know I'm more susceptible to it from lack of sleep, or if I'm feeling down. Sometimes I think too much coffee or taking pain relievers (ibuprofen in my case) may exacerbate it, but whatever the catalyst, it's just not fair. But I shouldn't complain - for some poor devils, the annoying noise can be constant and excruciating, and even induce suicidal thoughts.
Tinnitus affects about 6 percent of the general public. Not surprisingly, with professional musicians it's more like 50 percent. In that faction, I share the affliction with Beethoven, Bob Dylan, Barbara Streisand, Phil Collins and Chris Martin of Coldplay. Other notable sufferers include Charles Darwin, Vincent Van Gogh, presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, Steve Martin, Howard Hughes, and the pointy-eared Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy).
Although I've never personally tried any, there are plenty of "treatments" for tinnitus on the market but not much scientific evidence backing up their claims. None are cure-alls for the ailment, and it's hard to tell if any of them really do anything other than create a 'placebo' effect for sufferers. According to my doctor it's just something you have to learn to live with (same with the floaters in my eyes, and my lousy skin). In my case I've learned to simply ignore it and not obsess over it. If I get lost in thought about something else, it just disappears into the background. I also try to get enough sleep, keep my spirits up, and avoid subjecting my ears to loud noises.
McKeown suggests four key steps to help deal with the nuisance of tinnitus: First thing, don't worry about it. Secondly, change your perception of the noise from something dangerous to simply background noise. Third, don't think about it. And fourth, live your normal life. Sitting home fretting about may only make it worse.
Courtesy Photograph: Jonathunder Medal: Erik Lindberg (1873-1966) This past week a Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to three scientists for finding ways to use fluorescent molecules that glow on demand to allow scientists to peer into living cells. Using beams of laser light, an area is scanned multiple times making the molecules glow; images are then super-imposed to yield an image at the nanoscale.
The ground-breaking work by these three scientists brought optical microscopy into the nano dimension. Previously, the limit of optical microscopes was presumed to be roughly half the wavelength of light (0.2 micrometers).
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences when announcing the award, stated,
"In what has become known as nanoscopy, scientists visualize the pathways of individual molecules inside living cells. They can see how molecules create synapses between nerve cells in the brain; they can track proteins involved in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases as they aggregate; they follow individual proteins in fertilized eggs as these divide into embryos.
Two separate principles are rewarded. One enables the method stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy, developed by Stefan Hell in 2000. Two laser beams are utilized; one stimulates fluorescent molecules to glow, another cancels out all fluorescence except for that in a nanometre-sized volume. Scanning over the sample, nanometre for nanometre, yields an image with a resolution better than Abbe’s stipulated limit.
Eric Betzig and William Moerner, working separately, laid the foundation for the second method, single-molecule microscopy. The method relies upon the possibility to turn the fluorescence of individual molecules on and off. Scientists image the same area multiple times, letting just a few interspersed molecules glow each time. Superimposing these images yields a dense super-image resolved at the nanolevel. In 2006 Eric Betzig utilized this method for the first time.
Today, nanoscopy is used world-wide and new knowledge of greatest benefit to mankind is produced on a daily basis."
The three winners are:
1) Eric Betzig, U.S. citizen. Born 1960 in Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
Ph.D. 1988 from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Group Leader at Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, VA, USA.
2) Stefan W. Hell, German citizen. Born 1962 in Arad, Romania.
Ph.D. 1990 from the University of Heidelberg, Germany.
Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, and Division head at the German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany.
3) William E. Moerner, U.S. citizen. Born 1953 in Pleasanton, CA, USA.
Ph.D. 1982 from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Harry S. Mosher Professor in Chemistry and Professor, by courtesy, of Applied Physics at Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA.
To learn more about this research visit:
2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry - Periodic Table of Videos
The Nobel Prize announcement:
Background about the limit of optical microscopes known as Abbes' Diffraction Limit (0.2 μm)
To learn more about nanotechnology, science, and engineering, visit:
To see other nano stories on Science Buzz tagged #nano visit:
Want to give your brain a really good workout? Learn to play a musical instrument. Educator Anita Collins explains why in this short but instructive TedEd video.