September 2010

Science Art: Giant Animals: Modern and Extinct (detail), by Mary McLain

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These are prehistoric animals compared to their modern relatives and, for scale, a human. A human who’s interested in what they’re like… except when…

Look out! HELL PIG!

There are plenty more of the majestic giants (and some terrifying ones) at NPR’s Skunk Bear tumblog.

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Science Art: Jupiter's Rings by LORRI, 2007.

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The New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) snapped this photo of Jupiter’s ring system on February 24, 2007, from a distance of 7.1 million kilometers (4.4 million miles).

This processed image shows a narrow ring, about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) wide, with a fainter sheet of material inside it. The faint glow extending in from the ring is likely caused by fine dust that diffuses in toward Jupiter. This is the outer tip of the “halo,” a cloud of dust …

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SONG: Thirty-Five Minutes (from Earth)

SONG: “Thirty-Five Minutes (from Earth)”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE:Based on “NASA Windbots Could Explore Gas Giant Jupiter”, Sky News, 24 July 2015, as used in the post as used in the post “Windbots to explore Jupiter – the bumpier the ride, the better..”

ABSTRACT: The planet Jupiter is 35 light-minutes from Earth (give or take a couple of minutes depending on where in its orbit the planet is).

So a robot floating in the turbulent winds of Jupiter would take that long to send a mes…

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Science Art: Doree, Zeus, Faber by Edward Donovan


Three names for one little fish. And those are just the beginning.

I found this one on the Scientific Illustration tumblog, which quoted Wikipedia on the doree (etc.):

John Dory, St Pierre or Peter’s Fish, refers to fish of the genus Zeus, especially Zeus faber, of widespread distribution. It is an edible benthic coastal marine fish with a laterally compressed olive-yellow body which has a large dark spot, and long spines on the dorsal fin. The dark spot is used to flash an ‘evil ey…

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Science Art: Her Majesty's Cochins; Imported in 1843, published 1904.

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These are ostensibly Cochin chickens, or forerunners of what we’d call Cochins today. They’re a breed with a *lot* of character, and are uniquely suited, temperamentally, for being “pet” chickens moreso than egg factories or walking meat supplies. Despite the name (after a part of India), they’re originally from China.

This picture is from The Asiatics; Brahmas, Cochins and Langshans, all varieties, their origin; peculiarities of shape and color; egg production; their ma…

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Science Art: Soaking Up the Rays of a Sun-Like Star, by NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle, 2015.

452b_artistconcept_beautyshotClick to embiggen

This is an artist’s impression of a planet just discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission that’s gotten the folks at SETI all excited.

It’s the most Earth-like planet yet discovered. Kepler 452b sits in the “Goldilocks” zone around its star, not too hot and not too cold, and is about the same size (or is a little larger) and made of something like the same stuff as the planet we’re sitting around on right now. It takes 365 days to orbit around its sun, too. NASA’s calling it ou…

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Science Jobs: Collect Monkey Dung!

28 September 2010 // 0 Comments

The New York Times has perspective on what a “really crappy job” looks like: Collecting poop is our way of doing invasive research without being invasive. We cannot just collect any sample we see. We need to place the piece of poop into context. For both genetics and hormones we need to know the individual who “gave” us the sample. For the hormonal research we need to know what time of day the sample was collected, what the male or female’s social status was, what the male or female’s reproductive state was, and on what day of the month the sample was collected. So as much fun as it is to say “pooper-scooper,” there is a lot more science to what we do.

Science Art: 5 of Wands – Fusion, by Janelle Schneider (from Science Tarot).

26 September 2010 // 0 Comments

I’m a tarot enthusiast. I take the same approach to the cards as do the folks behind this deck – as a good way to create meaningful stories about your life (which is a good way to discover the secrets you keep from yourself). So of course I think the Science Tarot is a fine idea. Three creators. Five artists for five stories (four suits and the major arcana). Symbolic neurotransmitters for the face cards. They even throw in a little Joseph Campbell Hero’s Journey stuff to make the suits fit together nicely. I love the wands as Bunsen burners…. Each of the people involved in the creation of these seems to be involved in other fascinating stuff, too – paramecium-shaped gardens, molecular jewelry and naturally, science music. [via Liminal Nation, which caught wind of it through Ben “Bad Science” Goldacre]

SONG: The Imperial Worm

25 September 2010 // 1 Comment

SONG: “The Imperial Worm” [Download] . (To download: double right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. SOURCE: Based on “Warrior Worms Swallow Enemies Whole”, Discovery News, 14 September 10, as used in the post Worms, organize!. ABSTRACT: You remember Empire of the Ants? Not the one written by H.G. Wells, but the one starring Joan Collins shot out in a sugar packing plant in Belle Glade. Yeah. Ants are creepy because individually, they don’t seem much like people, but once you look at a colony you think, “Oh. OK. That’s kind of smart.” And if the colony in question isn’t ants but worms – transparent ones with the eyes of their enemies peering out from inside them – then that’s a whole other kind of creepy. So this is a song about the worms taking over because they’re better organized than we are. Music-wise, I got hung up on an indie band’s Katy Perry cover… it […]

Song delay.

23 September 2010 // 0 Comments

This hasn’t been a week for lyrics. September’s song will be completely shortly, followed by another penitential cover.

Compassionate kids, caveman kids.

23 September 2010 // 0 Comments

You want a child who’s smart, calm and caring? Science Daily recommends doing it like the Neanderthals: Three new studies led by Notre Dame Psychology Professor Darcia Narvaez show a relationship between child rearing practices common in foraging hunter-gatherer societies (how we humans have spent about 99 percent of our history) and better mental health, greater empathy and conscience development, and higher intelligence in children. “Our research shows that the roots of moral functioning form early in life, in infancy, and depend on the affective quality of family and community support,” says Narvaez, who specializes in the moral and character development of children. … “The way we raise our children today in this country is increasingly depriving them of the practices that lead to well being and a moral sense,” she says. Narvaez identifies six characteristics of child rearing that were common to our distant ancestors: * Lots of positive touch — as in no […]

Do not fear the super-spud.

21 September 2010 // 0 Comments

New Scientist is considerably cheerier about another transgenic thing coming out of the sub-continent – a new generation of high-protein potatoes: Subra Chakraborty and colleagues at India’s Central Potato Research Institute in Shimla created the high-protein “protato” in 2003 by giving potatoes a gene from the grain amaranth, a South American plant widely eaten across the tropics, including India. The gene codes for a “storage” protein in amaranth seeds, but in the protato it was linked to a DNA code that turns on production of the storage protein in tubers. … The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 925 million people will suffer chronic hunger this year. “Despite promises that GM crops could make a significant contribution to achieving global food security,” Chakraborty and colleagues write, such crops have so far mostly been used for industry or fodder, not for boosting human nutrition. The researchers hope their potatoes will change that.

Fear the superbug. Fear it.

20 September 2010 // 0 Comments

Wired is feeling… apprehensive… about the latest progress made by the “Indian superbug” gene: This week, I’m at ICAAC (the annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy), an enormous 12,000-person meeting focused on infectious diseases and the drugs to treat them, and talk of NDM-1 is everywhere. The news is not good. This new resistance factor has been found so far in the United States, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Germany, Oman, Kenya, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan. Most of the isolates, the bacterial samples in which it has been identified, are susceptible to only one or two remaining antibiotics. One was susceptible to none. “These resistant bugs,” Dr. Patrice Nordmann, a professor of clinical microbiology at the South-Paris Medical School, said in a briefing here, “have already spread all over the world.” Just in case you’d started to relax about that one.

Worms, organize!

17 September 2010 // 1 Comment

It’s not just ants and naked mole rats that organize into eerily intelligent colonies, Discovery News says. Worms are getting in on the action, too: The study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to determine that any worm lives in a colony with organized division of labor. In this case, trematode flatworm parasites exist in cooperative colonies consisting of big reproducers, which release hundreds to thousands of clonal offspring daily, and specialized soldiers that defend the colony. “The soldiers use their relatively large mouth parts to bite enemies,” lead author Ryan Hechinger told Discovery News. “They sometimes swallow enemies whole.” “Soldiers sometimes rip open the body wall of the enemy and then suck out the insides,” added Hechinger, an assistant research biologist at the Marine Science Institute at University of California, Santa Barbara. “You can sometimes see the eyes of the enemies’ progeny inside the soldiers’ guts.” There […]

Prescription pop.

16 September 2010 // 0 Comments

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University are using music (and audio engineering) to treat pain and depression – by mapping out emotional terrain in pop songs: Each volunteer listens to pieces of previously unheard contemporary popular music* and assigns each one a position on a graph. One axis measures the type of feeling (positivity or negativity) that the piece communicates; the other measures the intensity or activity level of the music. The research team then assess the audio characteristics that the pieces falling into each part of the graph have in common. “We look at parameters such as rhythm patterns, melodic range, musical intervals, length of phrases, musical pitch and so on,” says Dr [Don] Knox. “For example, music falling into a positive category might have a regular rhythm, bright timbre and a fairly steady pitch contour over time. If tempo and loudness increase, for instance, this would place the piece in a more ‘exuberant’ or […]

Duck penis competition.

15 September 2010 // 0 Comments

This is so going to trigger spam filters, but I don’t care. Science News has reported breaking news… that male ducks grow bigger penises when they’re around other males: A drake’s penis substantially wastes away at the end of one breeding season and then regrows as the next season begins. Among lesser scaup and ruddy ducks, the regrowth varies in length or timing depending on whether males have to compete with a bunch of other guys, said Patricia Brennan of Yale University. Her new measurements offer the first evidence in vertebrates that social circumstances influence penis growth, she reported July 29 at the annual meeting of the Animal Behavior Society. … In the competitive groups, a few big males grew prodigious organs as if dominating the group. Other males grew more moderate penises, which started wasting away weeks earlier than those of dominant males or males with no competition. Thus, Brennan said, male ducks are […]

The Michigan extinction event.

13 September 2010 // 0 Comments

It’s happening now, the CS Monitor writes. The entire Lake Michigan ecosystem is collapsing: The quagga [mussel] is found in all of the Great Lakes; the invasive species was introduced by ocean-going vessels dumping ballast water. Their favorite food is phytoplankton. Hank Vanderploeg, a colleague of Kerfoot’s, calculated that they consume phytoplankton at a rate that’s five to seven times greater than the plants are being produced. All the energy in the phytoplankton, which once fed fish, is now being sucked down to the bottom of the lake by quaggas. Their waste can stimulate the growth of Cladophora algae, which die, decompose and remove all the oxygen from the surrounding water. Under such conditions, populations of zooplankton will decline, as will the alewives, chubs, Atlantic salmon, muskies, smelt, walleyes, perch and the rest of the hundred or so species of fish that inhabit Lake Michigan. Probably ironic that this extinction event is being caused by […]

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