Gales of November: high waves overtake the lighthouse at the end of Canal Park's north pier in Duluth, Minnesota during a late autumn storm on Lake Superior.
Gales of November: high waves overtake the lighthouse at the end of Canal Park's north pier in Duluth, Minnesota during a late autumn storm on Lake Superior.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Thirty-nine years ago, the Great Lakes carrier, SS Edmund Fitzberald sank during a storm on Lake Superior. The ship was making a run from Superior, Wisconsin to a steel mill near Detroit with a full load of taconite ore when all contact with the ship ended suddenly. All 29 crew members were lost. The wreck was found a year later in 530 feet of water 17 miles from Whitefish Bay. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald
The SS Edmund FitzgeraldCourtesy Public domain via Wikipedia Commons
You can read more about the most famous of recent Great Lakes' shipping disasters here or listen to the story in songwriter Gordon Lightfoot's song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The tragedy is memorialized each year in an annual ceremony at the Mariners' Church in Detroit, Michigan, where a bell is tolled 29 times - once for each member of the lost crew.

Here's something you don't see everyday... or ever... until now. Three astronauts up in the International Space Station encased a GoPro video camera inside a sphere of water to produce an unusual video. Astronauts Steve Swanson, Reid Wiseman, and Alexander Gerst living in microgravity-induced weightless conditions captured their antics from various cameras including one inside the floating blob of water. If 2 dimensions aren't enough for you, it can also be viewed in 3 dimensions if you have a pair of those special blue-red 3D glasses laying around the house.

Sun lights up sea on distance moon

by Anonymous on Nov. 03rd, 2014

Sunlight reflects off Titan sea
Sunlight reflects off Titan seaCourtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. Arizona/Univ. Idaho
Cameras 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?"

Ebola virus: Here's the famous photo enlargement of a microscope's view of Ebola.
Ebola virus: Here's the famous photo enlargement of a microscope's view of Ebola.Courtesy CDC
Many 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?

Where have other outbreaks occurerd?

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.

Our solar system is a vortex

by Anonymous on Nov. 01st, 2014

Happy birthday to O. C. Marsh!

by Anonymous on Oct. 29th, 2014

Paleontologist O.C. Marsh
Paleontologist O.C. MarshCourtesy Mark Ryan
Paleontologist 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. O. C. Marsh (middle standing): with student members of 1870 Yale fossil expedition
O. C. Marsh (middle standing): with student members of 1870 Yale fossil expeditionCourtesy Public domain via Wikipedia Commons
During 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


Antler wrestling: Two young bull elk compete in Estes Park, Colorado.
Antler wrestling: Two young bull elk compete in Estes Park, Colorado.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Each 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.

Elk facts
More elk rut footage shot by Estes Park news team
Elk in Estes Park story in NYT
More elk info

October 23, 2014 solar eclipse

by Anonymous on Oct. 24th, 2014

Partial solar eclipse sequence: October 23, 2014
Partial solar eclipse sequence: October 23, 2014Courtesy Mark Ryan
Setting sun in partial eclipse
Setting sun in partial eclipseCourtesy Mark ryan
Some 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.


Partial eclipse over Lake Calhoun: Minneapolis, MN
Partial eclipse over Lake Calhoun: Minneapolis, MNCourtesy Mark Ryan
A 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.

Map for Oct. 23, 2014 partial eclipse
Map for Oct. 23, 2014 partial eclipseCourtesy F. Espenak, NASA
Solar 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.

Eclipse info at
How to safely watch a partial eclipse
Eclipse visibility map


For some poor devils suffering from tinnitus can feel like this
For some poor devils suffering from tinnitus can feel like thisCourtesy 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.

American Tinnitus Association
Celebrities and Musicians with Tinnitus/Hearing Damage
A sound of hope for tinnitus victims