Sep
21
2006

Today the CDC announced its new recommendation that all Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 be routinely checked for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Why the change? About one million Americans are infected with HIV, but 25% of them have no idea that they're carrying the virus. Routine testing should help check the spread of the disease and preserve health as infections are caught earlier.

The CDC's recommendation isn't binding, but it does influence what doctors do and what health insurance covers. And the blanket recommendation might help reduce the stigma associated with HIV testing.

What do you think? Will you get screened for HIV at your next physical? Why or why not?

The US Forest Service has a neat page with up-to-date information about fall foliage hotspots and peak dates, plus information about why leaves change color in the fall. Check it out, and maybe plan an outing to take advantage of the colors before they're gone.

Sep
21
2006

Artist's concept of Eris.: Image courtsey NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Artist's concept of Eris.: Image courtsey NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The “Tenth Planet” that caused Pluto to lose its planetary status has been classified and named, and to the dismay of many, it was not named Xena. The International Astronomical Union has classified it as a dwarf planet and named it Eris, after the Greek goddess of Chaos, which is appropriate for the chaos it cause in the astronomical community over what should be defined a planet and what should not.

The debate centered around the argument that if Pluto was considered a planet, then 2003 UB313, as it was known at the time, should be a planet as well as it was larger than Pluto. The debate culminated at the International Astronomical Union meeting last month where Pluto was stripped of the title “planet” and relegated to “dwarf planet” along with Eris and the former asteroid Ceres.

Eris' moon was also given a formal name: Dysnomia. In Greek mythology Dysnomia was the daughter of Eris.

Sep
21
2006

Orion Launch: The Orion crew vehicle launches on board the Ares I launch vehicle.  Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin Corp.
Orion Launch: The Orion crew vehicle launches on board the Ares I launch vehicle. Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin Corp.

A new space capsule and launch system are being developed to bring the next generation of explorers to the International Space Station, back to the moon, and later to Mars. The new Orion space capsule and Ares launch system will be the long awaited replacement for the Space Shuttle and are scheduled to begin use by 2014.

A throw-back design

The Orion capsule borrows its design from the Apollo-era space capsules, and improves on the best features of Apollo and the Space Shuttle programs, but is significantly larger than the old Apollo spacecraft and utilizes the latest technology in computers, electronics, life support, safety, propulsion and heat protection systems.
Orion will be capable of transporting cargo and up to six crew members to and from the International Space Station. In addition, it will return humans to the moon to stay for long periods as NASA prepares for the longer journey to and an extended stay on Mars.

Orion in Lunar Orbit: Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin Corp.
Orion in Lunar Orbit: Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin Corp.

Safer manned space flight

The new capsule and launch system will be significantly safer than the Space Shuttle because the design allows for an “escape tower” at the top of the capsule that allows for the separation of the crew capsule from the rocket below in the event of an emergency during launch. Further, there is minimal chance of debris damage as the capsule sits on top of the rocket.

To watch a video about the Orion and Ares systems, go here.

Neurologists used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to study the brain function of a woman who'd been in a coma for five months. To their surprise, when they asked her to respond to commands or imagine things, her brain "lit up" in the same way that the brains of healthy subjects did. The scientists caution that this is likely not the situation for many vegetative patients.

Researchers at the University of California in partnership with Intel, have produced a computer chip that can communicate using lasers instead of wires. This chip is built with silicon and conventional manufacturing processes making it relatively cheap but 100s of times faster than current chips. Will this change how we compute?

Sep
16
2006

Loud this time of year: Fork-tailed bush katydid (Photo courtesy Jenn Formann Orth)
Loud this time of year: Fork-tailed bush katydid (Photo courtesy Jenn Formann Orth)

This article, by Tyler Rushmeyer, appeared in the local news section of today's Pioneer Press:

Racket bugging residents: Night music made by katydid colony
Many White Bear Lake residents were baffled when they started hearing a new sound reverberating through their neighborhoods.
As night falls, a loud "yack, yack" sound has filled the air. "It sounds like a tropical rainforest on my block," said White Bear Lake resident Mark Nevala, one of several people to call city officials asking about the noise.
The culprit: katydids, loud insects performing mating calls by rubbing their wings together. The mating season should last into early October.
Closely related to grasshoppers and crickets, katydids are spread throughout Minnesota. The bugs residents are hearing are the northern katydid species, said Dick Oehlenschlager, assistant curator and collections manager for biology at the Science Museum of Minnesota.
"They move in colonies and shift every year, and this year their colony seems to have taken residence in the Twin Cities area," he said.
The insects--about 2 inches long and bright green, with long, coiled antennae--are near-motionless during the day and reside on the leaves of trees. But soon after dusk, they become active. They are difficult to spot, Oehlenschlager said, which is why many people are confused about where the noise is coming from.
"Even I didn't know what I was hearing the first couple times I came in contact with them," Oehlenschlager said.

Look for our new fall phenology section, featuring other seasonal behaviors of insects and birds, coming to the Mississippi River Gallery and the Buzz website after next week.

Sep
16
2006

There's been a rash of cool weather sites written up in the Twin Cities newspapers and other media lately.

Here are just a few:

Skeetobiteweather is one of the most popular hurricane sites run by amateurs. Jonathon Grant, of Lakeland, Florida, runs it. He says the site gets 1.8 million page views a week, and you can plug in your zip code and get a prediction of wind forces for your block, hour-by-hour, before a hurricane hits. (Not even the National Weather Service does that.) And pretty soon, you'll be able to enter your exact address.

Mark Sudduth, of Wilmington, North Carolina, runs HurricaneTrack and HurricaneLiveNet. He deploys several battery-powered, waterproof cameras at the exact points where hurricanes are expected to hit. He also collects weather data to accompany the live, streaming video.

Jesse Bass, of Hampton Roads, Virginia, is a weather chaser who posts photos and commentary on his website, VAStormPhoto.

HurricaneCity, despite its name, is one of the more comprehensive severe weather sites. Jim Williams, of Delray Beach, Florida, focuses on the city being hit, and you can see all live, streaming radio stations or TV from the site. He also has a towercam on his roof, which captured images from Hurricane Wilma last year, and he hosts "The Hurricane Warning Show" from his living room.

Mike Watkins, of Coconut Creek, Florida, covers Atlantic hurricane action on TropicalUpdate. And if there's no news on the hurricane front, he hosts an Internet radio show where he interviews the "celebrities" of the weather world--guys like Max Mayfield, of the National Hurricane Center, or William Gray, the Colorado State University professor who's known for his hurricane season forecasts.

Sep
15
2006

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright: Courtesy madcovv
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright: Courtesy madcovv

I was amazed today when I cracked open my new copy of Harper's Magazine. In the Harper's Index feature I discovered this chilling fact about our dwindling world tiger population. There are about as many tigers living in the wild around the world as there are living as pets in the US?! That's simply absurd. These wild animals were not meant to be domesticated and keeping them as pets won't help grow their numbers in the wild.

However, searching around on this topic did lead me to a rather interesting blog focusing on the issues of conservation, specifically through the lens of finance. They recently highlighted China's unique efforts at tiger conservation, which involve breeding tigers in China and shipping them to a fenced-in preserve in South Africa. But most interestingly this blog focusses on some real world situations that can be solved within our current economic system. According to the blog's author:

Good intentions are not enough. We need business models that are financially, institutionally and technically viable, based on evidence, and provide incentives to encourage biodiversity conservation.

I couldn't agree more, so head on over to the Conservation Finance blog and specifically their posts on wildlife conservation to learn more.