Courtesy Mark RyanNational Fossil Day is finally here. The official website calls it "a celebration organized to promote public awareness and stewardship of fossils, as well as to foster a greater appreciation of their scientific and educational value."
I'm a big fossil fan year round but I'm particularly happy today because I won first place in the NFD's Art & Photo Contest! The theme this year was "Careers in Paleontology". My entry, pictured at right, is a nod to paleoart and features a new "dinosaur" species (Bryocrinoidosaurus decorahi) created using invertebrate fossils found in Minnesota. You can view all the winning entries here.
National Fossil Day is planned and promoted by the National Park Service through partnerships with professional organizations, government agencies, and other science-related groups such as the American Geosciences Institute, the National Earth Science Teachers Association and the Paleontological Research Institution.
The Science Museum of Minnesota celebrates National Fossil Day this coming Saturday, October 20, from 1pm to 4pm. Everyone is invited to join in on the celebration of fossils!
Courtesy Discovery NewsPyramids, mummies....and false toes?
Ancient Egyptians were ahead of their time in all these areas. And a pair of prosthetic toes found in ancient Egyptian tombs have passed gait testing and show they they could have actually aided a person missing a foot digit or two.
Courtesy r Joseph R SchmittHey, I got my flu shot last week. It's been about 10 years now I've been able to get a free flu shot covered by my health insurance plan. And I'm happy to say I've never had the flu in all that time.
That, of course, is all anecdotal evidence. But some researchers at the University of Minnesota have been studying the issue of flu shots and have some new ideas on the matter. Based on their findings, they're encouraging new research to find a "game-changer" new vaccine to make flu shots more effective.
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the U released its findings yesterday. And overall, they found that flu shots had, at best, a 59 percent effectiveness rate for adults ages 18 to 64. Effectiveness rates for flu shots for people younger and older than that age group were inconsistent. The nasal-spray vaccine was found to have an efficacy of 83 percent in children ages 6 months to 7 years.
Vaccine manufacturers haven't made any significant changes to flu vaccine formulas for many years, mostly based on the idea that the flu shots were highly effective. But the new report challenges that theory and encourages new research to find different approaches to flu vaccines, with those new approaches aiming to have a higher rate of prevention.
In the meantime, the researchers are still encouraging people to get a flu shot this season. Some protection is better than no protection, they point out. And they also said that their findings showed no reason to believe that flu shots cause any harm to people who receive them.
What do you think? Are you getting a flu shot this year? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.
Courtesy NASAHave you ever wanted to change the world? Of course you have. Who hasn’t? Even JGordon, world renowned for being more or less satisfied with his immediate surroundings, keeps a list of Things I Will Change When I Am King.
Some sample items from the list:
31: No more cake pops. What a joke.
54: Round up the jerks, make them live on Jerk Island.
55: Make sure Jerk Island isn’t actually an awesome place to live.
70: Transform Lake Michigan into biggest ball pit. Cover dead fish with plastic balls.
115: More eyepatches.
262: Regulate burps.
I think you get the idea. As Tears for Fears almost said, everybody wants to change the world.
And we do change it. We change it in a huge way. Cumulatively, the tremendous force of the human race has drastically altered the face of the planet, from oceans to atmosphere. But a lot of that change is sort of accidental; we don’t mean to affect the acidity of the oceans or warm the atmosphere, but we like driving around, making things, using electricity, and all that, and the byproducts of these activities have global effects that we can’t always control.
The notion that we could control these effects is called geoengineering. So we’re accidentally causing global warming … what if we could engineer a global solution to actively cool the planet. We’re causing ocean acidification … what if we could chemically alter the oceans on purpose to balance it out? The trick would be to balance out the positive effects of geoengineering with the potential side effects … if we could even figure out what those side effects are.
Geoengineering is necessarily a really large-scale thing, so for the most part it’s been limited to theoretical projects. But it’s been pointed out that some geoengineering projects would be within the capabilities of not just international bodies or individual countries, but corporations or even wealthy individuals. The Science Museum of Minnesota even has an exhibit on just this possibility: What would you do if you had the wealth to literally change the world?
But there are rules against that sort of thing, and it’s potentially really, really dangerous. So no one would actually do it in the real world ever, right?
Apparently someone did do it. Back in July.
A guy named Russ George, in partnership with a First Nations village, is thought to have dumped about 100,000 kilograms of iron sulfate into the ocean off the Western Coast of Canada. Why iron sulfate? Because iron sulfate is an effective fertilizer for plankton, the microscopic plant-like things in the ocean. The idea is that if you could cause massive growth in plankton, the plankton would suck up a bunch of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere before dying and falling the ocean floor, taking the CO2 with it.
The first part of the plan seems to have worked: satellites have detected an artificial plankton bloom about 6,200 square miles large off the west coast of Canada (which is how the operation was discovered).
George was hoping to make money selling carbon credits gained from the CO2 captured by the plankton, and he convinced the First Nations group involved to put about a million dollars into the project, telling them that it was meant to help bolster the area’s salmon population.
The thing is, it’s really hard to say what dumping almost half a million pounds of iron sulfate into the ocean will do, besides capture some CO2. And, what’s more, it looks like it was illegal: conducted as it was, the operation violates the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity and the London convention on dumping wastes at sea. Whoops.
So does this spell the end for individually funded geoengineering projects? Or has George’s scheme just opened the door for similar operations?
And, more importantly, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Are people like George taking big steps toward addressing human-caused global change? Or are they creating what I like to call “Pandora’s Frankenstein*”?
Weigh in in the comments, and let us know what you think!
(*My friend Pandora has a pet chinchilla named Frankenstein, and he is horrible. I can’t wait until that chinchilla dies.)
All this week is Earth Science Week, a time for celebrating the importance and relevance of the earth sciences. Above is a cool little video produced by the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) that does just that. The website EarthSky.org (where I found this video) lists Nine Big Ideas to ponder and share during the week. Additional ways to celebrate can be found at the official Earth Science Week website. And don't forget, Wednesday, October 17 is National Fossil Day. Groups, museums, and other facilities around the country will be observing it on various days surrounding the official date. Here at the Science Museum of Minnesota we'll be celebrating both fossils and earth science on Saturday, October 20 from 1pm-4pm. Join us for activities around the museum where you can learn about Twin Cities fossils, fossil prep, fossil research, trilobites and more.
Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian skydiver attempting to break several frreefall records, has lifted off from Roswell, New Mexico and is ascending into the stratosphere and beyond as I write. The helium balloon that's lifting him upward is, right now, nearing 100,000 feet at a rate of about 15 feet/second. He hopes to reach 120,000 and then leave the capsule for about a 10 minute jump back to Earth. Half of that time will be spent in freefall. That's all I know. You can watch a delayed webcast of it at the BBC website.
Courtesy US Geological SurveyThis cool graphic from the USGS Water Science School website gives you a really good idea of just how much water there is on Earth. Compared to the Earth itself, it doesn't look like much. The large blue globe represents the volume of all the water present on Earth, i.e. in the oceans, lakes, icecaps, atmosphere etc. The next size is the volume of the all fresh water - much of which is located underground. Don't overlook the very tiny blue globe positioned beneath the mid-sized water globe and just northwest of Florida in the graphic. That's how much fresh water is contained in all the lakes and rivers on Earth - the sources of life's drinking water. Feeling thirsty now?
Courtesy National ArchivesSomeone contact Mulder and Scully. Recently declassified documents show that the US Air Force was actually working on building flying saucers in the 1950s. Known as Project 1794, the four digitized documents available on the National Archives website, indicate the program involved development of a disk-shaped aircraft capable of achieving air speeds between Mach 3 and Mach 4 (2,300-3,000 mph) and a height of 100,000 feet! Propulsion was based on the Coandă effect, created by high-speed rotation of the saucer's outer rim. Jet turbines supplied the power. Avro Canada, a Canadian aircraft manufacturer, was also in on this very secret project. The truth might out there, but we might have to wait until the remainder of the two full boxes of documents is digitized and posted online.
Courtesy Mark RyanI don’t have a clue who or what entity officially proclaimed October as International Dinosaur Month (and there doesn’t seem to be any official site online), but whoever it was, it’s a great idea! This means not only do we get to celebrate Earth Science Week (October 14-20), and National Fossil Day (October 17*) this month but we also get to celebrate everyone’s favorite prehistoric beasts! A quick Internet search brought up a couple teacher sites here, here and here each offering some interesting ideas on how to celebrate the great Mesozoic monsters this month. There's also this International Dinosaur Month site on Pinterest , and another Pinterest site (mine) featuring dinosaur postcards. Or you could go view some dinosaurs at a local or nearby museum. Below, I’ve included a few museum links to dinosaur-related exhibits, and a site that lists dinosaur exhibitions around the world. If you or your classes are celebrating dinosaurs this month or have other suggestions on how to do so, please let us know.
*The Science Museum of Minnesota will celebrate National Fossil Day on Saturday, October 20 this year.
The SpaceX rocket lifted off today from a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, becoming the first commercial flight to the International Space Station and marking the beginning of a new era of space exploration. Read about it here.