Thursday, astronomers discovered a new planet so "puffy" that it would float in water. This new planet named HAT-P-1, is the largest and least dense planet found outside our solar system. 450 light-years from Earth, HAT-P-1 orbits a star in the constellation Lacerta. This planet is a gas giant, composed of hydrogen and helium. Robert Noyes, a research astrophysicist from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, claims HAT-P-1 would "float if placed in a cosmic glass of water." HAT-P-1 orbits its parent star at one-twentieth the distance that seperates Earth and the sun, taking only 4.5 days to orbit, versus our 365 days! HAT-P-1 was discovered by a network of telescopes in Hawaii and Arizona. It is too distant to be seen with the naked eye, but visible with binoculars.
Yesterday, the world's biggest human baby was born in Connecticut. The newborn baby boy weighed a whopping, 14 pounds, 13 ounces and was almost 23 inches long.
Things grow slower in a drought, right?
Not always. Today’s Star-Tribune carried a story about Minnesota wild rice, and how the harvest numbers are way up due to the drought conditions over much of northern Minnesota, the prime growing area for wild rice.
Wild rice grows in lakes, and the best conditions for it to grow in are low water levels. I personally can vouch for the strong growth of wild rice. Earlier this summer a buddy and I kayaked through a dense paddy of wild rice on Lake Itasca near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. It was a lot of fun, but tough paddling.
Exactly how much more rice has grown on those lakes won’t be known for a couple of factors.
First, wild rice has to be harvested by paddling through the paddies. The lower the water levels, the harder it is to get to the wild rice for harvesting. While the boats are shallow, they do need a minimum level of water to get around, and the more rice you harvest, the lower your boat rides.
Second, fewer and fewer people are actually taking the time and effort to harvest wild rice. Only about 1,000 harvesting licenses have been sold this year by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the agency that regulates rice harvesting. That compares to about 16,000 licenses that were given out back in the late 1960s.
A DNR official conservatively estimates that the state’s lakes will produce about 20 million pounds of rice this year while about 500,000 pounds will actually be harvested. So what happens to the other 19.5 million pounds?
Ducks and other waterfowl are going to have some mighty good and easy eats this fall. And that’s not just good for the birds. Several wildlife and sportsmen’s groups have been nurturing the development of more wild rice in Minnesota lakes to help improve waterfowl habitat. If the ducks get more to eat this fall, their numbers should grow and there will be better hunting conditions for the future.
FYI: More wild rice is actually produced on paddy farms these days than in natural conditions. Minnesota wild rice farms grow 10 to 12 million pounds a year. And while Minnesotans are proud of our native grain, California farms actually produce double our amount.
A new colorful bird species (Bugun Liocichla) has been found in India. The bird exhibits a black cap, a bright yellow patch around its eyes and yellow, crimson, black and white patches on its wings.
Marjorie Taylor, the head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Oregon brings us the Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art. Check out this virtual museum for some amazing yarn sculptures of our nervous system.
A new study found a link between human use of fossil fuels and an increase in the severity of hurricanes. The burning of fossil fuels has increased the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has led to the warming of oceans in regions where hurricanes develop. The warmer the ocean water, the more severe the hurricane.
Researchers reported they have created the first genetic map of colon and breast cancer depicting nearly 200 mutated genes.
Greenhouse gases that have been trapped in frozen permafrost are being released from the melting soil much faster than was previously thought. The most notable one of these gases is methane, which is being released into the atmosphere at a rate 5 times greater than was previously thought.
Methane is an effective heat trapping agent, it is 23 times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. It is practically harmless when it is frozen in permafrost.
Permafrost is ground that has consistently been at a temperature of zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) for two or more years. Permafrost occurs in regions of Arctic climates, such as the tundra of Alaska, northern Canada, and Siberia. Unfortunately, when these frozen climates get too warm, the trapped atmospheric gases are released. Unfortunately, this is now happening too frequently due to global warming.
The release of methane from melting permafrost speeds up the global warming process. The current warming of the earth causes the permafrost to melt, which causes methane and carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere, which causes more warming. It’s a horrible cycle and scientists are worried that it will eventually go out of control, setting off a “climate time bomb.”
Scientists are unsure whether or not methane or carbon dioxide is the worst greenhouse gas. While methane traps more heat, it only lingers in the atmosphere for around 10 years. Carbon dioxide traps less heat, but it typically remains in the atmosphere for a century. Neither of these gases is good.
Sounds like quite the problem. What do you think we can do about it?
Have you ever been sunburned? Did you wear sunscreen? A recent study published in New Scientist might change your mind on how frequently an individual should reapply sunscreen.
Kerry Hanson and colleagues exposed human skin samples grown in a lab to UV radiation. The samples were covered with three common UV filters found in many sunscreens (benzophenone-3, octocrylene and octylmethoxycinnamate). Findings suggested the protective compounds sunk into the skin resulting in its protective capability being greatly reduced.
Researchers also found the skin samples tested contained more reactive oxygen species (ROS) when compared to skin exposed to UV without sunscreen application. ROS are free radicals that damage skin cells and increase the odds of skin cancer. At low levels, ROS are able to assist in cell signaling processes. However, at higher levels ROS damage cellular macromolecules and could lead to apoptosis (programmed cell death).
For now the researchers advise to use sunscreens and reapply them often. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends reapplying sunscreen every two hours. Active individuals are advised to reapply even more frequently due to sweat washing away sunscreen.