Stories tagged gas

Check out this wonderful visual breakdown of fuel consumption by state made by Martha Kang McGrill. It's interesting to see that Illinois and New York are among the 5 states below the national per-capita average, indicating their dense populations centers provide ample public trans.

High gas prices may be killing our pocketbooks, but they're having a positive effect on highway accident death rates. Full details are here, but boiling it down to the basic fact, the National Safety Council is reporting a 9 percent drop in motor vehicle deaths through the first five months of 2008 compared to the same time period last year.


Er... Santa?: Well, he's looked better
Er... Santa?: Well, he's looked betterCourtesy AAAS/Science (ESA XMM-Newton and NASA Spitzer data)
That’s right, the real Santa, floating around the Orion nebula. Well, the real Santa as long as you believe that Santa lives in space, is thousands of miles tall, and is made of scorching hot gas.

I guess what we’re dealing with here may be something more along the lines of a giant gas cloud in space, the x-ray image of which resembles Santa Claus. Sort of. According to some scientist.

I don’t buy it. Sure, the astronomers might point out that its shape really isn’t the important thing here, and that the presence of the gas cloud may prove a hypothesized but previously unobserved origin for clouds of gas in space, but I say that it’s irresponsible science. This thing is supposed to look like Santa? Bad news for Santa if it’s true. It means that his head has been separated from his body, and that both pieces were then ground into ultra-fine particles before being blasted into space. And, were that the case, I wouldn’t expect the end result to be blue. I’d guess red. Sure, x-ray images don’t have color, and blue was probably picked out just to highlight the cloud’s shape, but these people are supposed to be scientists. They should know what a vaporized Santa would look like.

These astronomers just have their heads in the wrong places. Learn more, and judge them for yourself here.


Some Science Buzz writers specifically go looking for science stories to write about. Then there are lazy folks like me, who just surf the web as per usual, and when something sciencey crosses our path, we bookmark it.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been running across a lot of stories on energy. None of them seemed big enough to merit its own story, but they are too good to completely ignore. So, here’s a potpourri:

Recycling nuclear waste

America’s energy needs keep growing. Producing energy by burning coal or oil pollutes the environment. Nuclear energy is much cleaner, but it produces radioactive waste. Now a government-funded project in Tennessee is trying to recycle the waste from nuclear power plants to produce a new type of fuel—one that could produce up to 100 times as much energy, and produce 40% less waste.


One old technology that may be making a comeback is gasification—turning organic material, such as coal, into a gas which can be burned for energy. It’s cleaner than burning coal directly for energy—a lot of the pollutants are captured and re-used. And, you can gasify any organic material, including plants and farm waste.

The problem with ethanol

In other threads on this blog, we’ve discussed some of the downsides of ethanol-- increased demand for corn causes farm prices to shoot up. A report from Brazil outlines some of the other potential problems, from pollution created in its manufacture, to destroying large ecosystems to raise the crops that will be turned into ethanol.

Oil shale

When drillers go looking for oil, they look for large pockets of liquid trapped in the earth, surrounded by non-porous rock. This is sometimes called “easy oil”—ready to refine as soon as it comes out of the ground. But there are vast amounts of oil in porous rock, like sand or shale. Miners have to dig up vast amounts of oil-soaked rock, and then separate the usable oil from the sand. It’s a very expensive process. But, as the price of crude oil keeps climbing, we are getting to the point where shale oil makes sense. And what’s even better, some of the largest deposits in the world are found here in North America.

The article linked above describes a shale oil operation in Canada. There are also operations underway in the
United States. And there’s another project underway in Israel.


Will new technologies render oil obsolete?: Photo by tbone55 via
Will new technologies render oil obsolete?: Photo by tbone55 via

There’s been lots of energy news lately. Here’s a round-up of some articles I found interesting:

An inventor in Colorado is making biofuel from pond scum. Algae grow rapidly; they produce waste products that can be turned into biodiesel and ethanol; and they can absorb carbon dioxide from traditional coal- and oil-burning factories.

A company in Arizona has announced on their corporate blog that they have invented a new process of creating hydrogen on-demand from magnesium and water. This would allow a clean-burning fuel cell to produce its own hydrogen.

And speaking of fuel cells, Ford Motor Company has unveiled a prototype hydrogen / plug-in car. It runs on batteries powered by hydrogen. But, very few stations in the US carry hydrogen for refueling. So, you can also recharge the batteries by simply plugging it into a household electrical outlet. Ford hopes to have a commercial model available within 10 years.


The Congressional Budget Office has released its biannual report on budget options – 374 riveting pages of proposed changes to tax law and spending priorities. Fortunately, we have bloggers interested in this kind of stuff. Greg Mankiw notes that revenue option #48 calls for a $1 per gallon increase in gasoline tax, and, at the same time, a 2% decrease in income tax and other taxes. The net effect would be about even – what you spend in higher gas taxes you'd get back in lower income taxes.

Other bloggers think this is a cool idea. Governments have long used taxes to discourage people from spending money on things that have a negative impact on society. Making gasoline more expensive may boost energy conservation. People who drive less, or buy more efficient cars, could see some real savings.

What do you think? Should the government use taxes to encourage conservation? Leave a message.


Skipjack herring: Illustration courtesy Duane Raver and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Skipjack herring: Illustration courtesy Duane Raver and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

I work at the Science Museum and I often learn unusual things during the course of my day. Some things are funny, some I store away to pull out in a Cliff Claven moment, and others make me want to run screaming to my desk to put them into this blog.

This is one of the latter.

Yesterday I learned that herrings may communicate with one another through their anuses by farting. I almost exploded when the person leading the meeting casually mentioned this fact. I ran back to my computer, and sure enough. Researchers at not one, but TWO institutions are studying the phenomena. Both the Institute of Coastal Research at the National Board of Fisheries in Sweden and the University of British Columbia, Vancouver have researchers looking into the matter.

Before this remarkable discovery, it was known that herrings communicated with one another through sounds produced by their swim bladder. Researchers thought that all the sounds they heard coming from the herring were coming from the swim bladder. But, and I am laughing as I type, they noticed that a stream of bubbles would leave the herring’s anus in time with the sounds they were hearing. Sure enough, they are connected, and that sound was soon dubbed by the quick-thinking researchers as a Fast Repetitive Tick (or FRT, if you will).

Researchers note that the unlike the gas we pass, these sounds are not produced by the digestive process, but rather a connection between the swim bladder and the anus. The exact purpose or reason behind the FRTs is not exactly known. One theory is that is a way for the herring to communicate with each other at night. Another is that is an anti-predator tactic. Seriously. Or, it could just be an incidental release of air from the swim bladder as the fish adjusts its buoyancy.

You can hear the herring communicating in this manner here.