When I read that the Smithsonian's dinosaur hall will be shutting down for five years for remodeling, it struck me as taking an awfully long time. Then I read this story and it makes perfect sense. It takes a lot of time to clean dinosaurs.

Cosmic carbon-14 display
Cosmic carbon-14 displayCourtesy Travis S
If you've ever wondered how radiocarbon dating actually works, the science news website, EarthSky.org, provides a nice explanation of the cosmic origin of the carbon-14 isotope, and how scientists use the degradation of that isotope into carbon-12 to determine the age of organic remains. Be sure to check out some of EarthSky's provided links to learn even more.

SOURCE
EarthSky.org

The future me?: Becoming a fossil isn't as easy as it sounds.
The future me?: Becoming a fossil isn't as easy as it sounds.Courtesy Mark Ryan
My plan following my inevitable demise has long been to be cremated and have my ashes dumped into Amity Creek from the seventh stone bridge along Seven Bridges Road in Duluth, Minnesota so they eventually end up in Lake Superior some two miles downstream. But now, after watching this nifty and informative video detailing how to become a fossil, I may reconsider and just have my intact carcass dumped into the creek so it ends up at the bottom of the Great Lake and gets covered by sediment that eventually turns my bones to stone. Who knows? - some future reader of this post may be able to view my fossilized remains at some museum exhibit.

In his latest program, David Attenborough's Natural History Museum Alive, the famed broadcaster and naturalist spends an evening in the Natural History Museum in London after the crowds and gallery guards have all gone home. Through the use of some very cool CGI (and evidently broadcast in 3D), Sir David presents some of his usual great lessons in natural history by examining several extinct creatures found in the museum. The show premiered in Britain on New Year's Day but someone has made the first 11 minutes available for the rest of us. If you're like me, it will leave you wanting to see the rest, and hopefully, the full 90-minute program will be made available soon.

Jan
07
2014

Dude, what's the wind chill?: The first wind chill calculations were made in Antarctica, but not by penguins.
Dude, what's the wind chill?: The first wind chill calculations were made in Antarctica, but not by penguins.Courtesy Frank Hurley
As we're nearing the end of this polar vortex-driven, bone-chilling weather, it's a good time to review exactly what is wind chill and how the wind chill index is calculated.

Q: What is wind chill?
A:
It's the term used to describe the rate of heat loss on the human body resulting from the combined effect of low temperature and wind. As winds increase, heat is carried away from the body at a faster rate, driving down both the skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature. Wind does not change the temperature of the air. If a thermometer is placed outside, it will read the same temperature regardless of whether it's a windy day or a calm day. It simply "feels" colder because the heat that we give off is immediately blown away.

Q: Has this always been calculated the same way?
A:
No. And it's good to keep that in mind as we've gone through some record-breaking cold temps. Old records for wind chills might not be the records we once thought they were.

Q: Why is that?
A:
In 2001, the National Weather Service implemented a new wind chill Temperature Index. The new index will usually be warmer than what you would have expected with the old index. The new wind chill temperature Index uses updated science and technology and new forms of computer modeling to provide a more accurate indication of the impact of wind on how it feels outside.

Q: Can I figure conversions between the new and old wind chill formulas?
A:
Yes you can. Click here to get to an online wind chill calculator. You'll need to know the air temperature and wind speed of the place you want to figure the wind chill for. This web link also has
charts that show the differences between the old and new calculations.

Q: How can I protect myself when there are high wind chills?
A:
Here are some good tips courtesy of the Weather Chennal
• Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing. Trapped air between the layers will insulate you. Outer garments should be tightly woven, water repellent, and hooded.
• Wear a hat, because 40 percent of your body heat can be lost from your head.
• Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extreme cold.
• Mittens, snug at the wrist, are better than gloves.
• Try to stay dry and out of the wind.

Yes, it's really cold in Minnesota today. As I write this mid Monday afternoon, the outside temp is -14 degrees. Schools are closed, many people are working from home, there is great despair in general. Unless you are an ash tree. This cold snap might just wipe out a great share of the Emerald Ash Borer larvae. Of course, it's not good news if you're Emerald Ash Borer larvae.

Jan
03
2014

Aging in reverse gracefully: Scientists are successfully changing old lab mice into young ones.
Aging in reverse gracefully: Scientists are successfully changing old lab mice into young ones.Courtesy Andreas-photography
Bob Dylan first sang about it in the chorus of his 1964 song "My Back Pages" when he wrote ""Ah, but I was so much older then/I'm younger than that now"." He reinforced the notion ten years later when he released "Forever Young" in 1974.

It's all about staying young and not growing old - not ageism mind you - but anti-aging.

In a study appearing in a recent issue of the journal Cell, researchers have successfully reversed the aging process by turning a 2 year-old into one that resembles one that's a mere 6 months old. In human terms this would be equivalent to turning a 60 year-old back into a 20 year-old.

Dr. David Sinclair, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, and his team of researchers injected aging mice for a week with a compound known as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), a natural chemical made from young cells. As mammalian cells age, NAD+ production drops by half causing mitochondrial dysfunction, and the processing of oxygen to fall off. Cells then become vulnerable to the various ailments that aging attracts. But in the treated older mice the cells began to take on the vitality and appearance of young mice.

Sinclair will next try administering NAD+via the drinking water used by lab mice to see how things go . If it has the same effect on the mice's cells, someone call Ponce de Leon because we could be talking about an actual Fountain of Youth!

Since NAD+ is a naturally produced compound, the concern for harmful after-effects is slight. Human trials could begin as early as next year - but it's not going to be cheap - somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 a day!

If I win the lottery in the next few months, I'll be first in line to become 20 years-old again, but only if I can retain my experience and any wisdom I may have acquired along the way. But if not, I guess I'll just start humming Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door."

Time magazine story
Guardian story
BBC Health News

Jan
02
2014

Bright news: Due to a variety of new technological advances, electrical use in the U.S. has declined for the third straight year.
Bright news: Due to a variety of new technological advances, electrical use in the U.S. has declined for the third straight year.Courtesy Ramjar
So often, the headlines are filled with gloom and doom when reporting on energy usage, climate change and such matters. But here's some bright news.

U.S. electrical consumption has dropped down to the lowest levels since 2001. And that comes as we're using more electrical devices than ever. Here are the full details. It's the third-straight year U.S. electrical consumption has gone down.

Quickly summarizing, there are several factors for this significant drop in power use. Many major appliances have been re-engineered to be more efficient and use less electricity. Homes and buildings are better insulated and designed to keep air conditioning inside in the summer and cold out in the winter. More people are using compact fluorescent bulbs and LED lighting that consume much less electricity than incandescent bulbs.

And the trend looks to continue this year with another 1 percent drop in electrical juice consumption.

EarthSky.org presents 2013's best weather videos on their website. Highlights include the massive flooding in Colorado, the destruction caused by the Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and the seemingly endless highway pile-up near Germantown, Wisconsin. Especially terrifying is watching the May 20th Moore tornado grow from a small, ropey twister into a monster F5 killer storm in just a matter of minutes.

2014 is here!

by mdr on Jan. 01st, 2014

Happy New Year!: Famed paleo-artist Charles R. Knight created this cool holiday card for 1922.
Happy New Year!: Famed paleo-artist Charles R. Knight created this cool holiday card for 1922.Courtesy Mark Ryan