Oct
14
2006

Today at the Science Museum, the Make-It team made rockets. Kids made short or long rockets. It's fun to watch the kids make rockets. NASA is making a new rocket. It is going to be done in 2014. The design will help protect the people who are going out into space if anything goes wrong with the rocket.

Oct
13
2006

White buffalo: A huge increase in the occurance of white bison has scientists scratching their heads about what's going on with the genetics of the breedCourtesy xxxtoff
White buffalo: A huge increase in the occurance of white bison has scientists scratching their heads about what's going on with the genetics of the breed
Courtesy xxxtoff

What's going on with bison genes these days? Scientists aren't sure but they're checking into the possibilities.

A white bison was extremely rare back in the days before the westward movement of white civilization. At its peak back then, there were 80 million bison roaming the ranges. The presence of a white bison was so unusual, native peoples thought its appearance was a message from the gods.

But in the past dozen years, two dozen white bison calves have been reared in captivity out of a population of around 500,000. The new white bison aren't albinos, but genetic ancestors of those famous rare bison of yore.

Geneticists who know about bison are amazed at the long odds to have so many white creatures coming back, for such a recessive gene to have so much prominence again. And they're zeroing in on some significant factors.

Several possible causes could be hyping the chances of the recessive gene to be present in bison calves: the impact of exposure to radiation, some type of chemical exposure or some natural accident in the process of cell-duplicating DNA.

Another factor may be the result of significant cross-breeding of bison with French Charolais cattle, which are white, to create the hybrid animal that is butchered into "beefalo."

The issue came into more focus this summer when a second white bison was born into the Dave Heider herd near Janesville, Wisc. For years, Native Americans came to his farm to see Miracle, a white bison that was born in 1994. It died two years ago, but then this August another white bison was born of the same herd. That Bison has been named Second Chance. While no DNA testing has been done on the herd, the situation is mystifying as the two white bison come from completely different blood lines.

White bison have been considered so rare and special that it carried high spiritual significance to the Lakota people. And members of the tribe are looking to a spiritual explanation for the significant rise in the numbers of white bison, saying that it signifies a need for people to unify and settle differences.

On the other hand, some native peoples are suspicious of the efforts to breed white bison as being a way to exploit their religious beliefs and practices. Those practices assert that white bison are the sacred spirit of the White Buffalo Calf Woman who first appeared 2,000 years ago during a plague of starvation for the Lakota people.

Caroline Smith and Gretchen Benedix from the Natural History Museum in London are trekking around the Nullabor Desert in western Australia looking meteorites. Follow along on their meteorite blog.

Want to visualize ten dimensions? Watch the flash animation promoting the book, Imagining the Tenth Dimension. You will need to mouse over the the left edge of the box (Navigation) and click the second item.

Joe, from the Energista website, reported on yesterdays Renewable Energy Workshop sponsored by the U of MN Electrical Engineering Department.

Oct
12
2006

Stop bleeding fast: photo by crystal via wikimedia
Stop bleeding fast: photo by crystal via wikimedia

Super quick fix for bleeding.

Last June 4th, I reported that MIT researchers used a self-assembling peptide nanofiber scaffold to repair severed brain structures in blind rodents and restore their sight. Those same researchers noticed the material's dramatic ability to stop bleeding in the brain and began testing it on a variety of other organs and tissues.

In a study published online October 10 in Nanomedicine the researchers report that the liquid controlled bleeding in rodents within 15 seconds in seven other wound types, including cuts to the spinal cord, liver [view video here] and femoral artery as well as skin punctures.

Platelets not needed

The liquid does not seem to form a conventional blood clot, the group notes. Electron microscopy turned up no sign of the platelets that would normally gather in a clot. The proteins might instead form tangles that act like hair blocking a drain, Ellis-Behnke suggests.
The gel eventually breaks down into amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, that can be used by surrounding cells for tissue repair.

This discovery has created lots of excitement, especially by surgeons. Still, they caution that extensive clinical trials are needed to make sure the materials work properly and are safe. The MIT researchers hope to see those crucial human trials within three to five years.

Read more at: New Scientist Tech and Scientific American

Oct
12
2006

Wobbly planet Earth: Photo courtesy NASA.
Wobbly planet Earth: Photo courtesy NASA.

The extinction of rodents and other mammals have been linked to variations in the Earth’s tilt and orbit, according to new research published in the journal Nature.

Dutch scientists studying 22 million year old rodent fossils in central Spain found that the rise and fall of the mammal species correlated with cooling periods due to changes in the Earth’s behavior. Rodents offer one of the best fossil mammal records and are excellent indicators of seasonal changes because of their short life spans.

"Extinctions in rodent species occur in pulses which are spaced by intervals controlled by astronomical variations and their effects on climate change," Dr Jan van Dam, of the Utrecht University in the Netherlands, said.

The researchers discovered two cycles associated with changes in climate, habitat and food availability are linked to the disappearance of rodent species. One cycle, which lasts 2.4 million years, is linked to variations in the Earth’s orbit. The other 1.2 million year cycle is related to changes in the tilt of the Earth’s axis. Both cycles would cool the Earth, allowing the expansion of ice sheets and causing species to adapt or die out.

Right now Earth is in a relatively circular orbit and about 700,000 years away from the next period of axis stability.

"The environment is responsible to what happens to species," said Van Dam. "Biological factors are secondary, according to our results."

However, Larry Ciupik, an astronomer at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium says volcanic activities, plate tectonics and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also contribute to species turnover.

MORE INFO
New Scientist
LiveScience.com

Oct
11
2006

Jupiter: Courtesy: Wikipedia
Jupiter: Courtesy: Wikipedia
Jupiter: Courtesy: NASA
Jupiter: Courtesy: NASA

Oval BA, or more commonly recognized as the Little Red Spot of Red Spot Jr., has captured some scientists’ attention. Still wondering what Oval BA is? It is a fierce storm on the planet Jupiter. Oval BA is the little “brother” to the well-known Great Red Spot on Jupiter.

Jupiter facts

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and is the largest planet in our solar system. To give you an idea of how massive Jupiter is, one thousand planets the size of Earth could fit inside one Jupiter!

The Great Red Spot is a huge storm circulating counterclockwise in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Oval BA is about half the size of the Great Red Spot. Oval BA first appeared in 2000 when three smaller spots collided.

What is going on with Oval BA?

Recently the Hubble Space Telescope relayed information detailing Oval BA has changed and is becoming more like the Great Red Spot. A year ago, Oval BA was white. Currently it is a reddish hue matching that of its bigger counterpart. Oval BA has been clocked having 400 mile per hour winds.

Scientists speculate the little red spot has gained speed as well as strength as it has shrunk. Amy Simon-Miller, NASA planetary scientist, explained Oval BA picked up steam in the same fashion spinning figure skaters accelerate when they move their arms closer to their core. The reddish hue can be attributed to red material in the atmosphere-mostly sulfur.

Jupiter will be heading behind the sun out of Earth’s view until January. Scientists are expecting more noticeable changes when Jupiter comes back into view.

Until then, what do you think will happen to these two distinct storms? Do you think there will be a day when Oval BA and the Great Red Spot collide and create one massive storm?

Oct
10
2006

Nuclear test detection: photo from wikimedia
Nuclear test detection: photo from wikimedia

Was N. Korean nuclear test a dud?

James Acton of Vertic, an independent non-governmental organisation (NGO) in London that specialises in verification research, noted enormous discrepancies in the estimated size of the blast.

“I’ve heard from three different sources that it (the North Korean blast) was less than one kilotonne,” “If it turns out to be less than a kilotonne, it could look very much like a fizzle,” a bomb that failed to detonate properly and achieve a full chain reaction," said Acton, a nuclear physicist by training. Kahleej Times.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, however, has been quoted as saying that the nuclear device tested by North Korea ranged between five and 15 kilotons. That is the normal size of a successful test.

What data, besides seismic, can be used?

  • In addition to seismic sensors run by national governments, the UN’s Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CBTO) in Vienna also has a network of 189 seismic and hydroacoustic monitoring stations designed to detect nuclear tests.
  • Radioactive particles and gases that can vent from an underground nuclear blast are also a telltale, providing clues as to the type of material (uranium or plutonium) that was used and to the size of the weapon.
  • A third monitoring technique is to use satellites with ground-scanning radars, which record the topography of a test site before and after an event. Movement or subsidence of the soil is the sign of a big blast.

How do we tell if it was a nuclear explosion?

Like earthquakes, large explosions send out shockwaves that can be detected on seismographs. Big nuclear bombs make big waves, with clear signatures that make them fairly easy to detect, analyze and confirm that they were caused by splitting atoms. But smaller blasts - as North Korea's appears to have been - are trickier to break down. York Daily Record

A nuclear explosion has a more instant shockwave than a chemical one. The differences between regular bombs and a nuclear explosion are very fine and subtle, and you need time to analyse the signatures.

"People have different way of cross cutting the data and interpreting them,"
The CTBTO's stations are more extensive than those used by most countries. They monitor seismic events but also underwater data, radioactive particles in the air and radiowaves.
"Within 72 hours we will have full data. Then all this will be available to member states," said Lassina Zerbo, director of the International Data Center at the CTBTO, which is based in Vienna, Austria.

While the North Korean explosion was small, potentially complicating monitoring efforts, sensors in South Korea were likely close enough to categorize it as nuclear, if that is what is was, said Friedrich Steinhaeusler, professor of physics at Salzburg University.

A nuclear blast also gives off a clear signature - a clear graph of peaks and curves - that differentiates it from other kinds of shocks, he added.

"We'll have the confirmation soon," he said.

Additional reading can be found on Rueters.
For updates I recommend this Wikipedia page

A bright yellow and red-crowned Yariguies brush-finch has been discovered in Columbia's Andean cloud forest.