Tag Archives | Science

Mysterious Anti-electron Clouds Inside Thunderstorm

Daniel Mösch (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Daniel Mösch (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Via Fosters.com:

DURHAM — A terrifying few moments flying into the top of an active thunderstorm in a research aircraft has led to an unexpected discovery that could help explain the longstanding mystery of how lightning gets initiated inside a thunderstorm.

University of New Hampshire physicist Joseph Dwyer and lightning science colleagues from the University of California at Santa Cruz and Florida Tech describe the turbulent encounter and discovery in a paper to be published in the Journal of Plasma Physics.

In August 2009, Dwyer and colleagues were aboard a National Center for Atmospheric Research Gulfstream V when it inadvertently flew into the extremely violent thunderstorm—and, it turned out, through a large cloud of positrons, the antimatter opposite of electrons, that should not have been there.

To encounter a cloud of positrons without other associated physical phenomena such as energetic gamma-ray emissions was completely unexpected, thoroughly perplexing and contrary to currently understood physics.

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Liquid Mercury Found Under Pyramid at Teotihuacan — Because Everyone Loves Ancient Astronaut Theory

The headline reads: “Liquid Mercury Found Under Pyramid At Teotihuacan Could Indicate Royal Tomb”. That’s pretty weird, in and of itself, right? Mercury? Deadly, deadly mercury? What in the world are ancient Mesoamericans doing with mercury?

Teotihuacan

Just because they call it the History Channel…

The myth and mystery surrounding the pyramids at Teotihuacan is already filled to brimming with weirdness, controversy and rancor.

A veritable slugfest of Mainstream vs. Fringe science ensues at the mere mention of the name Teotihuacan and the rancor only grows when shit starts to get weird. Holy Quetzalcoatl Batman!

Well, it just got even weirder. Scrambling to come up with a theory that doesn’t involve space-faring alien overlords, Battlestar Galactica’s series finale or that dude with the crazy hair, the Big Brains @Science!™ have come up with all sorts of equally silly theories, as you shall see. Just because nobody’s found any skeletal remains of ancient Mesoamerican priests who’ve died from mercury poisoning shouldn’t make you throw down the Bullshit card, right?… Read the rest

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100-Million-Year-Old Predatory Cockroach Found in Amber

Manipulator modificaputis gen. et sp. n. (Manipulatoridae fam.n.) holotype SMNS Bu-116 (deposited in the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History) from the Cretaceous Myanmar amber. A – left view, B – dorsal view, C – detail on the forewing articulation, D – forewing surface hexagonal structure. Scales 0.5 mm. Photo credit: Geologica Carphatica

Manipulator modificaputis gen. et sp. n. (Manipulatoridae fam.n.) holotype SMNS Bu-116 (deposited in the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History) from the Cretaceous Myanmar amber.
A – left view
B – dorsal view
C – detail on the forewing articulation
D – forewing surface hexagonal structure. Scales 0.5 mm.
Photo credit: Geologica Carphatica

It’s the stuff of nightmares: a predatory cockroach (which hunted at night, of course) was recently found preserved in amber. The cockroach and its kin coexisted with dinosaurs and was found near a mine in Noije Bum, Myanmar.

This predator bears a striking resemblance to a praying-mantis. Scientists, Peter Vršanský from the Geological Institute in Bratislava, Slovakia, and Günter Bechly from the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany, say that its long legs and and long neck indicate that these critters were adept hunters.

“The specimen is one of dozens of preserved insects found in the area, making it the most important site of dinosaur-age amber in the world,” says Vršanský.… Read the rest

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The Automation Loop and its Negative Consequences

GlassCage250I’m currently reading Nicholas Carr’s book The Glass Cage: Where Automation is Taking Us. I think it is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the growth of AI and robotics, and the future of humanity. Carr is something of a techno-pessimist (though he may prefer ‘realist’) and the book continues the pessimistic theme set down in his previous book The Shallows (which was a critique of the internet and its impact on human cognition). That said, I think The Glass Cage is a superior work. I certainly found it more engaging and persuasive than his previous effort.

Anyway, because I think it raises some important issues, many of which intersect with my own research, I want to try to engage with its core arguments on this blog. I’ll do so over a series of posts. I start today with what I take to be Carr’s central critique of the rise of automation.… Read the rest

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Space travel may be bad for your brain – here’s why

I really hope this is the right flag. NASA/flickr, CC BY

I really hope this is the right flag. NASA/flickr, CC BY

Magdalena Ietswaart, University of Stirling and Paul Dudchenko, University of Stirling

There is bad news for those planning to go to Mars in the near future: a study in mice has suggested that radiation in space could cause cognitive decline in astronauts. However, we know from past research that mental, social and physical exercise can boost cognitive functions. With planned Mars missions moving ever closer, it might be be worth exploring activity as a way to counter radiation damage.

There are many hurdles to overcome to get to Mars. The obvious one, of course, is the amount of time it takes – about eight months. But for those brave enough to attempt such a journey, this may well be acceptable. What could be harder to accept, however, are the harmful galactic cosmic rays you’d be subjected to, produced by supernovae far away from Earth.… Read the rest

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Can We Trust Scientists’ Self-Control?

Positive-pressure biosafety suitNew biological techniques create the potential for catastrophe. The self-control of scientists is not enough to protect us, or to secure public trust. National governments must step in. Filippa Lentzos, Koos van der Bruggen and Kathryn Nixdorff argue that the US should lead the way, at the Guardian:

There is a growing convergence of concern about new technologies in the life sciences that are raising significant societal, ethical, environmental and security risks. Global public engagement must be a priority for deliberation about these technologies and for developing a set of common red lines.

The genome-editing technique CRISPR-Cas9 is the latest in a series of technologies to hit the headlines. This week Chinese scientists used the technology to genetically modify human embryos – the news coming less than a month after a prominent group of scientists had called for a moratorium on the technology. The use of ‘gene drives’ to alter the genetic composition of whole populations of insects and other life forms has also raised significant concern.

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Disdaining ‘the Search for Truth’

Paul R. Pillar writes at Consortiumnews:

It is unusual for a political leader to disavow truth-seeking as explicitly as Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin did when he tried to expunge from the longstanding mission statement of the University of Wisconsin a reference to “the search for truth” being a core purpose of the university.

Walker backed off, but only after public outrage and only with a retraction of his previous retraction that blamed the proposed change on a “drafting error.” The change in the mission statement was one part of a larger proposal by Walker that would slash much of the state’s subsidy of the university system.

The prevailing interpretation about Walker’s moves is that striking blows against the elite intellectuals one finds on the campus of a leading university — and suggesting, as Walker did, that the university could adjust to budget cuts by increasing professors’ work loads — pleases a sector of the Republican primary electorate to which Walker is appealing in seeking a presidential nomination in 2016.

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