Courtesy anth2589The new Major League Baseball season is underway with lots of hoopla about the expanded use by umpires of using instant replay to reconsider close or controversial calls during the course of a game. It’s all overshadowed some amazing archaeological findings in Central America, where stele art and cave paintings have confirmed that the Maya ball game was governed by its own set of replay rulings.
Independent teams of archaeologists from the University of Michigan and Stanford have found evidence that disputes in games were resolved by an elaborate replay system. First working independently, they’ve now combined their research into this extensive report, co-published in Science and Sports Illustrated this month.
Of course, video technology was many centuries away in the future. But Maya ingenuity figured out a way to get around that hurdle in a creative fashion. Former Maya ball game players would position themselves around the field observing the actions of their contemporaries. If a controversial play occurred and a coach threw out his challenge marker, the former players would rely on their keen observation and game skills to reenact the play at a slower motion for officials to take a second or third look. According to limited data collected in the findings, officials’ calls were overturned about 36 percent of the time.
Courtesy Loryn LeonardHeiroglyphs explaining the process were careful to note how critical it was to get the calls correct in games, especially those at the highest level where the losing teams would be sacrificed. After three consecutive years of bad calls in championship games leading to the deaths of what should have been victorious players, the replay system was implemented.
Further causing the move to replay rulings was the large amount of wagers gamblers placed on the games each year at Chichen Itza, the Las Vegas of Maya cities. After that run of poor officiating, gambling leaders who had taken huge financial losses on the altered outcomes threatened ball game leaders with execution if they didn’t come up with a more just system of deciding calls.
Courtesy WikipediaAnd looking at the infamous Maya calendar, the new replay system was put into effect on the Gregorian Calendar equivalent of April 1, 1414 BCE, exactly 1600 years ago today, April Fool’s Day 2014.!
Fifty years ago, on March 27, 1964 at 5:36pm local time, a huge, magnitude 9.2 earthquake rattled the state of Alaska. The quake's epicenter was located about 75 miles east of Anchorage, at a depth of 15 miles. Violent shaking lasted about 4 minutes and triggered several avalanches and landslides, and caused damage to many of Alaska's major cities including Anchorage. Quake-generated tsunamis caused additional damage. A 30-ft wave destroyed Kodiak, Alaska's ocean-front industries and much of the city's fishing fleet.
Despite it being the 2nd largest earthquake ever recorded (a 1960 Chinese quake measured magnitude 9.5), Alaska's Good Friday quake and resulting tsunami caused only 131 deaths (115 in Alaska; 16 in Oregon and California!).
As noted in the video at the top of the page, the Alaska earthquake took place just as plate tectonics was gaining acceptance in the scientific community. The idea of moving and colliding crustal plates had been around since the early 1920s but didn't gain any serious foothold until the 1960s. The developing theory helped explain the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake, which was the result of subduction of the Pacific plate beneath the North American plate.
The video below show some of the quake's effects in Anchorage and elsewhere.
Courtesy Public domain via WikipediaThe deadly mudslide that occurred last Saturday in Washington state should not have surprised people living in the area, at least according to a 1999 report. Fifteen years ago, in a study commissioned by the US Army Corps of Engineers, geomorphologist Daniel Miller warned that a "large catastrophic failure" was likely in the area, 55 miles northeast of Seattle. Recent heavy rains have saturated the bluff above the floodplain of the Stillaguamish river, near the towns of Oso and Darrington, and a square mile of the slope suddenly collapsed Saturday morning wiping out several houses and covering a mile of State Route 530 with mud and debris, some to depths of 15 feet.
Local officials claim it was entirely unforeseen (a minor earthquake has been suggested) but history shows the area suffered a flood in 1933 and two previous mudslides, one in 1967, and another as recently as 2006. Despite that, development continued in the river's floodplain.
The death toll from this tragedy continues to rise, and, as of today, some 175 people are still missing.
Ever wonder how different light bulbs work? Watch this.
Here is footage from a helmet cam of a base jumper who leaped off 1 World Trade Center in lower Manhattan last fall. This is an illegal activity and three of the four people involved in this jump were arrested yesterday. But the footage is so cool.
NanoDays is a nationwide festival of educational programs about nanoscale science and engineering and its potential impact on the future.
Most events will be taking place between March 29 - April 6, 2014.
Courtesy NISE Network
NanoDays events are organized by participants in the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Network) and take place at more than 250 science and children's museums, research centers and universities across the country from Puerto Rico to Hawaii. NanoDays engages people of all ages in learning about this emerging field of science, which holds the promise of developing revolutionary materials and technologies.
To read more about NanoDays visit:
To see a full list of organizations hosting 2014 events visit:
2014 Events in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, MN: http://www.smm.org/nanodays
To learn more about nanotechnology, science, and engineering, visit:
To see other nano stories on Science Buzz tagged #nano visit:
Courtesy BICEP2 Collaboration, NSF, Steffen Richter (Harvard) Einstein predicted their existence nearly a hundred years ago as part of his theory of general relativity, then in the 1980s theorists honed them into inflation theory, and now astronomers working at a radio telescope near the South Pole have proof of their existence.
John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and his collaborators (including co-leader Clem Pryke, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota) have reported detecting gravity waves from the very beginnings of the known universe. These space-time ripples are remnants from the very earliest moments of the Big Bang - when it was just a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old!
The elusive waves were detected by a telescope located at the South Pole at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station using 250 dime-sized detectors to scan the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the weak radiation remnant of the Big Bang found throughout the known universe. For two years, from January 2010 to December, the experiment known as BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization2), searched for distortions in the CMB.
Einstein general theory of relativity predicted that gravitational waves accelerated by the Big Bang would have produced ruffles across the fabric of space-time. Inflation theory predicted that the very first of these waves, composed of hypothetical quantum particles that carry gravity (gravitons), would have been stretched in the very earliest moments of the Big Bang from imperceptible sized wavelengths into ones large enough to be detectable in the CMB. The cosmic microwave background radiation becomes polarized by scattering off electrons in space, and subtle changes in that polarization pattern, twists the fabric of the CMB into swirls called B-mode polarization.
If these primitive distortions in the CMB fabric stand up to future scrutiny (and preliminary reports indicate they will) then not only will they constitute the first direct evidence of Einstein's predicted gravity waves but they'll also strongly confirm the inflationary theory first developed by physicist Alan Guth in the early 1980s.
"Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today," Dr. Kovac said in a statement. He also said the chance it was a fluke was only one in 3.5 million, ranking it as a "5-sigma level of certainty", which, in the vernacular of discovery, is statistically about as good as you can get.
"It is absolutely mind-boggling that we've actually found it," said Clement Pryke.
Dr. Kovac personally delivered news of the discovery to a number of colleagues, including Dr. Alan Guth, now a professor at M.I.T, who said he was bowled over by the news and hadn't expected confirmation of his theory during his lifetime.
Chao-Lin Juo, a member of Dr. Kovac's BICEP2 team, and one of the experiment's developers, recorded his visit to the house of Dr. Andrei Linde as he surprised him with the discovery. Back in 1983, Linde described a variety of inflation theory called chaotic theory.
The discovery is considered "huge" in astrophysics and cosmology circles, and could lead to solving other cosmological riddles such as dark matter and dark energy. It could very well be a contender for the Nobel Prize.
Theoretical physicist, Lawrence Krause, wrote this for the New Yorker:
"If the discovery announced this morning holds up, it will allow us to peer back to the very beginning of time—a million billion billion billion billion billion times closer to the Big Bang than any previous direct observation—and will allow us to explore the fundamental forces of nature on a scale ten thousand billion times smaller than can be probed at the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator. Moreover, it will allow us to test some of the most ambitious theoretical speculations about the origin of our observed universe that have ever been made by humans—speculations that may first appear to verge on metaphysics. It might seem like an esoteric finding, so far removed from everyday life as to be of almost no interest. But, if confirmed, it will have increased our empirical window on the origins of the universe by a margin comparable to the amount it has grown in all of the rest of human history. Where this may lead, no one knows, but it should be cause for great excitement.“
Marc Kamionkowski, professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, agrees.
""It’s not every day that you wake up and find out something completely new about the early universe," he said. "To me this is as Nobel Prize–worthy as it gets.”
Courtesy Kyle McDonaldWorld Science U is a new platform for teaching science to the masses. Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, has launched a new online website open to anyone. All you have to do is register and start learning. Participants can get questions answered, enroll in short or long (8-10 weeks) courses covering everything from basic physics to quantum entanglement to black holes and parallel universes.
Professor Greene has written several books on physics and cosmology such as The Fabric of the Cosmos and The Elegant Universe and will be involved in teaching the initial topics.
The World Science U website allows users to post questions, or (if they think they know more than professor Greene) post their own topics and hypotheses.
I watched one of the short courses that were available right now (The Special Theory of Relativity) and found it fascinating and relatively (pun!) easy to understand. Each module is comprised of a lecture followed by an "office hours" session for questions with Professor Greene (this part confused me) and a discussion period with other students. Versions of the courses with more emphasis on mathematics are also available. The site is in the process of being launched so none of the longer university-level courses were available yet - but should be soon. When they do go live, students will be able to earn World Science U certification upon their successful course completion. Greene will also participate in occasional live discussions on the site.
If you have an interest in physics, I'd say it's well worth your time to enroll in World Science U.
World Science U
Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMUCheck out this NASA photograph of Earth taken January 31st from the surface of Mars by the Curiosity rover. I hope everyone had their eyes open. If you're having trouble making out our dazzling planet in the Martian evening sky, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory page points it (and our moon!) out for you here.
Today is March 14 (3-14) which means it's once again Pi Day, a time to celebrate that irrational number, 3.14, whose post decimal digits go on forever and ever ad infinitum and is represented by the Greek letter pi. Civilizations have known about it and used it for centuries. This short video gives a good overview of its importance.