NASA issued a coy little update on Monday about an astrobiology study that would “impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life” and that the journal Science would have the full story. Speculation was rampant that maybe they had discovered life on another planet,* but although that doesn’t appear to be the case, NASAWatch and Gizmodo are reporting that it’s something damn near as cool.
Bacteria discovered in California’s Mono Lake have DNA which incorporates arsenic rather than phosphorous, making it completely different from virtually every other life form we’ve ever found. This has enormous implications for our search for extraterrestrial life, since it vastly expands the types of environments we may expect to find living organisms. Earthlike chemistry may be entirely optional.
*I would like to think that, had they done so, the press conference would have been a little less like, “We found something neat! Go read about it in Science,” and a little more like, “Holy shit you guys! We’ve discovered life on another planet!!!!!” but perhaps that’s just me.
Posted in News, Science December 3rd, 2010 by Chip Comments Off on It’s Life, Jim, But Not as We Know It
Rapper Baba Brinkman debuted the “Rap Guide to Evolution” last year, and he’s now trying to get high-quality videos of his songs made for use in classrooms. If you’d like to help with this novel way to get kids interested in science, you can donate here.
Want to work out a little aggression? Purdue’s Impact: Earth! simulator will let you give the whole planet the celestial zot.
The program is actually a research tool, expanding on a basic tool that scientists already use to explore the results of a meteor strike. The simulator lets you define the diameter and density of your space object, the angle and velocity of impact, and where on the planet it will strike. You can also choose the distance from which you will be observing the impact.
This might also be a good way to build public awareness about the need to keep a lookout for anything large enough to cause real damage.
This is kind of hurting my head a little. The Science Tarot is a set of standard tarot cards illustrated with various scientific concepts, the point being to combine “science, art and mythology into a tarot deck to engage and awaken people’s curiosity about science and the natural world.”
Although I’m all over the idea of awakening curiosity about science, I’m not sure that the best medium (har!) to do that is tarot cards. Divination does not exactly lend itself to scientific rigor, and I dislike anything which promotes the notion that science and mysticism can be good bedfellows.
On the other hand, I have to give mad props to the clever artwork. The suit of Cups is represented by beakers, Swords are scalpels, Pentacles are magnifying glasses, and Wands are bunsen burners. The major arcana are all famous scientists, and the deck attempts to match their work with the various cards’ “meanings” (the nurturing Empress, for instance, is represented by Mendel and his peas). The minor arcana illuminate various scientific ideas, and again an effort has been made to match them appropriately: The ambitious Seven of Swords is represented by the expansion of a red giant star, and the partner-oriented Three of Cups is illustrated by an orchid and its symbiotic fungus.*
In particular, the fact that the Wheel of Fortune is represented by Schrödinger’s Cat is utter genius.
This might be an interesting gift for a collector of unusual decks, or for a scientist with a sense of humor.
Analysis by Jennifer Ouellette, Discovery: Space News
Because I’ve been traveling so much for the last couple of months, I missed the opening of the physics-themed art exhibit, “Measure for Measure,” at Gallery 825 in Los Angeles.
It was doubly disappointing because said exhibit was curated by noted Harvard physicist Lisa Randall, author of Warped Passages, whose other forays into melding science and culture include penning the libretto for a modern opera — not to mention a glamorous photo shoot for Vogue (thereby proving that it’s possible to be a brilliant female physicist and still rock the designer duds). READ MORE
Here’s a useful crowdsourcing project: Old Weather asks participants to parse the contents of old Royal Navy nautical logbooks to help track climate change. Finding the date, the ship’s location, and the weather observations will add useful data points for testing and refining current climate models.
They may have their differences, but it seems that dwarf planets Eris and Pluto have a lot more in common than just their planetary status.
The larger Eris orbits the sun at a distance three-times that of Pluto, so it may not seem possible that we’ll ever get a glimpse of what its surface is made of. But scientists from Northern Arizona University (NAU) have shown that even this lonely object can be probed from afar.
At the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences conference held in Pasadena this week, NAU professor Stephen Tegler presented the results of a two-year study that combined laboratory ice work and observations from two U.S. telescopes. FULL STORY
Posted in News, Science, Space October 11th, 2010 by ceejaydp Comments Off on ERIS AND PLUTO FIND COMMON GROUND