Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Intellectual Dishonesty Is Astounding


The simple fact that a seemingly intelligent and scientifically educated person can parse their intellect into compartments and completely insulate portions of their cognition from the same critical thought that science demands is quite befuddling. The ability to understand intricate cellular processes comes with a certain amount intellect; the ability to understand science and the methods contained therein yet hold to a 6000yr old universe is nothing short of mental gymnastics.

I am not sure where the woman in the second video obtained her degrees, so I cannot claim that they came from less than reputable institutions. Her grasp of cellular biology seems decent, yet the ‘faith’ portion of her cranium seems intent on changing the scope of science from one that follows where the data leads, to a process where one begins with a conclusion, then distorts, cherry picks and ignores data to arrive at that conclusion.

The first video is from Daniel Dennett, who eloquently describes the natural processes in evolution that would lead to preferences development in species, and why they might be necessary. It is a very intriguing and short talk that makes me want to learn more, the second video on the other hand….

more about “Dan Dennett: Cute, sexy, sweet, funny…“, posted with vodpod

Now, Michael Shermer at the Creation Museum with a ‘Creation Scientist’.

P.S. If any of you are able to completely stomach this video without ending the pain prematurely, please let me know if there are fireworks or other excitement near the end because I was only able to view half before the dry heaves began and I could smell parts of my brain tissue dying.

Original here

Have Humans Created a New Epoch in the Planet's History? -A Galaxy Insight

Transportation_space_rocket_2 No one can realistically argue that humans haven’t dramatically transformed the face of the planet. But now scientists propose that humankind has so altered the Earth that that we have brought about an end to one epoch and entered a new age. They suggest humans have so changed the Earth that it’s time the Holocene epoch was officially ended. The new epoch of Earth’s history is being called the Anthropocene, meaning “man-made”.

Geologists from the University of Leicester, Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams, and their colleagues on the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London say that humankind has entered a phase where we are so rapidly transforming the planet that a new era has started. Duke University soil scientist Daniel Richter agrees. He says the dirt under our feet is being so changed by humans that it is now appropriate to call this epoch the Anthropocene Age.

“With more than half of all soils on Earth now being cultivated for food crops, grazed, or periodically logged for wood, how to sustain Earth’s soils is becoming a major scientific and policy issue,” Richter said.

Zalasiewicz and Williams research, which appears in the journal GSA, states that, “sufficient evidence has emerged of stratigraphically significant change (both elapsed and imminent) for recognition of the Anthropocene—currently a vivid yet informal metaphor of global environmental change—as a new geological epoch to be considered for formalization by international discussion.”

Their study specifically identified human impact through phenomena which includes:

• Transformed patterns of sediment erosion and deposition worldwide
• Major disturbances to the carbon cycle and global temperature
• Wholesale changes to the world’s plants and animals
• Ocean acidification

The geologists analyzed the proposal made by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen. In 2002 Crutzen suggested the Earth had left the Holocene and started the Anthropocene era due to the global environmental effects of increased human population and economic development.

The researchers show how the dominance of humans has so physically changed Earth that there is increasingly less justification for linking pre- and post-industrialized Earth within the same epoch, known as the Holocene.

The scientists said their findings present the scholarly groundwork for consideration by the International Commission on Stratigraphy for formal adoption of the Anthropocene as the youngest epoch of, and most recent addition to, the Earth's geological timescale.

Of course the implication of entering the Anthropocene epoch goes far behind designating a formal name. Richter says that there are many serious questions facing us at this moment in time during Earth’s long and colorful history.

“Society’s most important scientific questions include the future of Earth’s soil,” Richter added. "Can soils double food production in the next few decades? Is soil exacerbating the global carbon cycle and climatic warming? How can land management improve soil’s processing of carbon, nutrients, wastes, toxics and water, all to minimize adverse effects on the environment?"

The ground we walk on is a precious, life-sustaining resource. Richter says leading scientists are quite concerned, for example, about how agriculture in Africa has depleted regional soil fertility to the point that economic development of whole nations will suffer unless entire regions adopt drastic improvements in soil management. Since food production, trade and economic growth are increasingly interconnected in today’s world, perhaps it is time for Earth’s inhabitants to cultivate a more global, cooperative perspective on how we manage Earth’s resources as a whole.

"This is an old story writ large of widespread cropping without nutrient recycling, with the result being soil infertility," Richter said. "And agriculture is only part of the reason why soils are so rapidly changing. Expanding cities, industries, mining and transportation systems all impact soil in ways that are far more permanent than cultivation."

"If humanity is to succeed in the coming decades, we must interact much more positively with the great diversity of Earth's soils."

Posted by Rebecca Sato.

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Military Laser Hits Battlefield Strength

By Noah Shachtman

Des1_rendering_hr Huge news for real-life ray guns: Electric lasers have hit battlefield strength for the first time -- paving the way for energy weapons to go to war.

In recent test-blasts, Pentagon-researchers at Northrop Grumman managed to get its 105 kilowatts of power out of their laser -- past the "100kW threshold [that] has been viewed traditionally as a proof of principle for 'weapons grade' power levels for high-energy lasers," Northrop's vice president of directed energy systems, Dan Wildt, said in a statement.

That much power won't get you a Star Wars-style blaster. But it should be more than enough to zap the mortars and rockets that insurgents have used to pound American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The battlefield-strength breakthrough is just one part in a larger military push to finally make laser weapons a reality, after decades of unfulfilled promises. The Army recently gave Boeing a $36 million contract to build a laser-equipped truck. Raytheon is set to start test-firing a mortar-zapper of its own. Darpa is funding a 150 kilowatt laser project that is meant to be fitted onto "tactical aircraft."

Does that mean energy weapons are a done deal? Hardly. There are still all sorts of technical issues -- thermal management and miniaturization, to name two -- that have to be handled first. Then, the ray gunners have to find the money. The National Academies figure it'll take another $100 million to get battlefield lasers right.

Still, clearing the 100 kilowatt hurdle is a big deal. For the longest time, the military research community concentrated on developing chemical-powered lasers. The ray guns produced massively powerful laser blasts. But the noxious stuff needed to produce all that power makes the weapons all-but-impractical in a war zone. (One ray gun took as many as eight shipping containers' worth of chemicals and electronics to power a single blaster.) So the Defense Department shifted gears, and poured money into electric lasers. They're much less hassle to operate. And, given a steady supply of power, they should be able to fire away, almost indefinitely.

At first, these electric lasers were weak. When the military started its Joint High Power Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) program in 2003, these easy-to-maintain lasters could barely produce more than 10 kilowatts of coherent light. Now, Northrop believes, going way past 100 kilowatts should be pretty simple.

In its lab, south of Los Angeles, Northrop combines 32 garnet crystal "modules" into a "laser amplifier chains." Shine light-emitting diodes into 'em, and they start the laser chain-reaction, shooting out as much as 15 kilowatts of focused light. Combine all those beams into one, and you've got yourself a battlefield-strength ray. Northrop's JHPSSL lasers used seven chains to get to 105 kilowatts. But there's room, at least, for an eighth. Which means an even stronger blaster.

The next step is to start trying out the ray gun, outside of the lab. The Army is planning to move the device to its High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range. Testing is supposed to begin by this time, next year.

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Mars Lander gets lucky break as 'water drops' discovered clinging to craft's leg

By Claire Bates

The Phoenix Mars Lander has spent months searching for liquid on the Red Planet. Now it appears that water has found the intrepid spacecraft.

Several photographs taken by Nasa's explorer show what look like water droplets clinging to one of its robotic landing struts.

Nilton Renno, a professor from Michigan University and co-investigator on the Phoenix mission analysed the images alongside several colleagues.

Droplets (highlighted in green) appear to merge in a series of shots taken from the Phoenix Mars Lander

The droplets appear to darken and merge in the series of images, which Professor Renno said could prove they are made of liquid water.

However, the Phoenix landed on the polar northern plains of the planet. Temperatures here never warmed above -15 degrees Fahrenheit during the six months the spacecraft was operational last year, so liquid should not have been present.

But the team said that salts may have lowered the freezing temperature of the Martian water droplets to minus 90 degrees, or more than 120 degrees colder than the usual freezing temperature of 32 degrees for pure water.

The Phoenix lander shown here during tests in Death Valley in 2003. The spacecraft landed on the polar northern plains of the planet

The researchers concluded pockets of liquid water could exist just under the Martian surface, despite the freezing conditions.

The findings have been presented in a paper to the Journal of Geophysical Research.

The Phoenix landed on Mars on May 25, 2008 and was active until November 2. It's mission was to serach for evidence of microbial life on Mars and research the history of water there.

'Phoenix provided an important step to spur the hope that we can show Mars was once habitable and possibly supported life,' said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at Nasa.

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'Toads Gone Wild,' Roxborough-style

Lisa Levinson,coordinator for Detour for Emerging Toads of Upper Roxborough,on Eva Street, near Port Royal, which will close for the migration.
Lisa Levinson,coordinator for Detour for Emerging Toads of Upper Roxborough,on Eva Street, near Port Royal, which will close for the migration.

Streets will close for annual mating migration

WHEN LOVE IS in the air, the last thing one might be thinking about is the Philadelphia Streets Department.

But the Streets Department is thinking of the amorous toads of Upper Roxborough. It has issued a permit to close Eva Street and part of Port Royal Avenue for that neighborhood's annual toad migration.

Whenever the toads get around to making it, that is.

The migration is a mating ritual during which the toads leave the woods around the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and head for the Roxborough Reservoir to find a toad of the opposite sex.

Rainy weather and a series of warm days are their siren song to burrow out from the loose soil where they have spent the winter in dormancy and kick up their heels.

Volunteer toad-spotters are prowling the roads at twilight to alert the toads' protectors to put up city-approved temporary detour signs.

The Streets Department permit was the outcome of a drive spearheaded by animal activist Lisa Levinson to keep the green-and-brown amphibians - identified by naturalist Doug Wechsler as American toads - from being squashed by cars using the side roads to avoid stoplights on Ridge Avenue.

"For the past three years [during the mating ritual], the toad population has steadily declined due to traffic fatalities," said Levinson, director and co-founder of Public Eye: Artists for Animals, a project of Mobilization For Animals Pennsylvania Inc.

"Witnesses report fifty percent fewer toads migrating each year," she said.

"On the main migration night in 2008, 100 dead toads were counted on the road, while only 25 were observed crossing the road over a two-hour period," Levinson said.

"I saw the migration myself on my way home from work" four years ago, she said. "A couple hundred toads trying to cross the road.

"The next year I started trying to help the toads cross," standing in the roadway asking drivers to slow down.

"The police were called - about me. So they came out to see if there was something wrong with me."

When she tried to get the authorities involved last year, she said, "they told me to call 9-1-1. So I did.

"They brought two [police] cars and they just closed down [a] portion of the road for a couple of hours. They were very, very understanding."

If toad-spotters sight the amphibians, then a phone tree, text messsages and e-mail will bring out about 50 volunteers to help with temporary road-detour signs, Levinson said.

"It's early right now for breeding - usually it's in April," said Wechsler, who works at the Academy of Natural Sciences and has written for kids about frogs.

Although some others have placed the toads' mating ritual later, Wechsler says that he's seen the amphibians make their trip to the reservoir as early as April 2.

"If the weather gets warm and stays warm for a little while, especially if there's a little rain," the toads could just hop off early to toad nirvana, he said.

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Discovered: The 'fat controller' in the body that is the key to staying slim

By Fiona Macrae

A 'fat controller' in the gut could be the key to preventing obesity, diabetes and heart disease, research suggests.

Scientists have pinpointed an enzyme that determines whether the fat we eat is burnt off as energy or stored in the body.

The breakthrough raises the prospect of a pill being developed which targets the enzyme in people, allowing them to eat without worrying about putting on weight.

A fat passenger

Want to stay slim? Call the fat controller

Research at the University of California focused on MGAT2, an enzyme found in the intestines of mice and humans.

Mice without the protein were able to eat a high-fat diet while remaining slim and healthy.

The fat they absorbed was burnt off as energy, rather than stored, the journal Nature Medicine reports.

The mice in the experiment also seemed better at processing sugar, cutting their risk of diabetes, and had lower levels of 'bad' cholesterol in their blood.

A pill that targets the enzyme in people could provide a new weapon in the battle of the bulge.

Two obese children

Obesity has become a staggering problem across much of the developed world over the past few years and this breakthrough could help sufferers

The researchers said: 'Our studies identify MGAT2 as a key determinant of energy metabolism in response to dietary fat and suggest that the inhibition of this enzyme may prove to be a useful strategy for treating obesity and other metabolic diseases associated with excessive fat intake.'

With almost a quarter of men and women obese and children faring little better, such a drug is likely to have mass appeal.

Even more appealing is the prospect of a pill that makes the body fit, as well as keeping it slim.

Last year, US scientists unveiled an experimental drug which fools the muscles into thinking they have worked long and hard, boosting fitness as well as burning off fat.

Mice treated with AICAR for four weeks burned more calories and had less fat than untreated mice and when tested on a treadmill, they could run almost 50 per cent longer.

Researcher Professor Ronald Evans, of the Salk Institute in California, said: 'We have exercise in a pill.

'It is tricking the muscle into "believing" it's been exercised daily.

'It proves you can have a pharmacological equivalent to exercise.'

But obesity experts say such pills are years from the market, and most people would benefit from eating less and exercising more.

Original here

Researchers Develop A New Way To Create Faster and Better Flexible Electronics

Organic Microwires

Many scientists predict that the future also implies flexible electronic devices, and current technologies do not allow us to manufacture fast and cheap flexible electronics. It’s just very difficult. However, a recent breakthrough is the first important step for manufacturing better flexible electronics. Researchers at the Stanford University teamed up with engineers from Samsung and they have developed a new way to align organic microwires as circuits. The so-called organic microwires hold the key in manufacturing flexible electronics, and now the researchers have managed to align them on a substrate and to design complex circuits.

The team of researchers led by Zhenan Bao, professor of chemical engineering at Stanford University, have put the organic microwires in a liquid solution, then they have filtered them through paper in order to position the transistors of the circuit. Now, the engineers can put as many microwires as they want in a complex circuit in an easy and low-cost process.

“That allows us to significantly increase the output current from these devices,” said Bao who explained that this technique is two and a half times faster than others.

This means that now engineers can build flexible displays that could refresh two times faster than current flexible displays based on conventional techniques. Also, these flexible displays would have an advantage over today’s electronics like cellphones and computers that use silicon-made chips because they don’t use plastic which melts at high temperatures. A transistor of a flexible display is made of organic microwires, and although they are not as fast as silicon, they are better when it comes to flexible electronic devices. Thanks to the breakthrough made by Stanford and Samsung engineers, the transistors are now cheap to manufacture, and they can coat vast areas meaning that we could develop immense flexible displays.

“Our goal is to make electronic devices that are lighter in weight and can be coated over a large area. This includes displays that are put onto a plastic substrate and can be folded, low-cost sensors that are disposable, and electronic tags put on merchandise,” said Bao.

Although before organic microwires could have been added to a solution then printed on a substrate , they tend to crowd and to stretch at very odd angles, and engineers couldn’t connect the electrodes required to form a transistor.

“Previously, many groups have shown that they can make transistors out of nanowires and microwires. All these wires are sitting on top of each other randomly. It’s difficult to pack a dense layer of wires into the same area,” said Bao.

Bao and her fellow researchers are now looking to test their technique on inorganic microwires which are very different from organic microwires. In the meantime, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, John Rogers, said that Stanford and Samsung’s technique could be introduced right away as it could help manufacturing large-scale microwire circuits because they are cheaper, and as good as the circuits built using conventional methods.

Now, it only remains to see if this technique can be introduced quickly as the world of flexible electronics could be revolutionized, and we will get our cheap and fast electronic devices that we deserve.

Original here

'Most Express Sympathy for the Censorship'

The firing of a magazine editor in Turkey over her intention to put a story about Darwin's evolution theory on the cover has generated a flood of criticism. SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with the editor about just how conservative Turkish society has become.

No issue divides Turks more than the country's alleged creeping Islamization. Early last week, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (Tubitak) sparked an international controversy after it prevented the publication of a cover story about Charles Darwin's evolution theory in Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology), one of the country's leading science journals. The publication's editor-in-chief, 41-year-old Cigdem Atakuman, claims she was fired as a result of the incident.

Charles Darwin: a theory too hot for Turkey?

Charles Darwin: a theory too hot for Turkey?

Secular Turks are outraged and the world is watching. Did Tubitak, which publishes Bilim ve Teknik, censor a feature about the theory of evolution under pressure from the conservative Islamic-oriented AKP-led government because it couldn't be reconciled with Muslim religious beliefs?

A senior Tubitak official has blamed the editor for removing the story, according to Turkish daily Hürriyet, saying changes were made at the last minute and rushed. But Atakuman has denied the allegation, saying the deputy head of the council, Ömer Cebeci, told her the cover story was too controversial and that he no longer trusted her to responsibly perform her duties. The paper claims the incident has been reduced to a case of "one person's word against the other's."

In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Atakuman defends her position and says she is worried about the future of bias-free science in her country.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Atakuman, is it true that you were fired?

Cigdem Atakuman: Yes, it's true. Up until now, there has been no official statement. But I was made to understand, verbally, that I have no future as the editor-in-chief of Bilim ve Teknik.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Who told you that?

Atakuman: Ömer Cebeci, the vice chairman of the council.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What reasoning did he provide?

Atakuman: The cover story about Darwin was a big mistake, an unforgivable error. In the current political climate in Turkey, something like that could be perceived as a provocation.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In what political climate?

Atakuman: I believe Professor Cebeci was referring to the upcoming municipal elections in our country. He may also have meant other political developments that block prejudice-free science. But I think it was about the elections.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And why? Is it because the governing party's rank and file doesn't like the idea of a major cover story about evolution?

Atakuman: I assume so. But I find it extremely difficult to comprehend. I've been working together with Professor Cebeci since December 2008. Before that I didn't know him -- I was neither familiar with his scientific background nor his views. I don't know what his understanding of science is.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Could it actually be the case that he is correct? Is the theory of evolution, in fact, a provocation in Turkey?

Atakuman: Take a look at the Web site of Nature, the world's most renowned science magazine. They are also reporting about censorship of the Darwin story and there are many reader commentaries from Turks. Most of them express their sympathies for the censorship of the Darwin story and for creationism.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Darwin isn't especially popular in Turkey. Only one in four believes in the theory of evolution. How do you explain that?

Atakuman: I see the causes in our system of education. Evolution isn't the only thing taught badly, if it is taught at all -- most things are badly taught.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think that scientific neutrality is in danger as a result of this incident?

Atakuman: That's not really what I want to believe, but in recent days, I have had concerns about whether we will still be able to work free of ideology in the future. Since Professor Cebeci took office, we have experienced several problems -- the naming of members of the editorial board, for example.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is the issue of Darwin now being hushed up?

Atakuman: No, I believe there will be other publications. This whole affair has created awareness of Darwin. Many people now want to get informed. There will also be many events in Turkey commemorating Darwin's 200th birthday.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you know Harun Yahya, the famous Turkish creationist?

Atakuman: Not personally, but I know from my European colleagues that they have all received a big, heavy book from him entitled "The Atlas of Creation." I also have a copy.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It must be frustrating that Harun Yahya has distributed millions of copies of his book, whereas your cover story will not be appearing in Turkey's most famous science magazine.

Atakuman: This creation atlas is an impressive work -- very colourful, full of pictures. But intellectually, it impresses me less -- as little as creationism does.

by Daniel Steinvorth.

Original here

The U.S. Ends Its War on Science, the One War We Were Winning

POSTED BY: TheInDecider

You get a discarded embryo! You get a discarded embryo! Everybody gets a discarded embryo!

Cruising the Goldilocks Zone -The Search for "Earth's Twins" -A Galaxy Classic

Planet_earth_twin_2_2 A little over a year and some three hundred exo-planet discoveries ago, astronomers at the European Southern Observatory in Chile announced that they had found what might be the first habitable planet outside the solar system. Known as Gliese 581c, the new planet is only five times as massive as the Earth and inhabits a rare sweet zone around a dim red star in the constellation Libra where it is neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water.

Gliese is but a cosmic hop, skip, and jump from Earth -only some 20 light years away (or 120 trillion miles!). Voyager 1, now leaving the solar system at a speed of about 39,000 miles per hour, would need more than 300,000 years to travel that far. Or, maybe someday we'll actually invent a Star Trek-type transporter that reassembles our atoms and transports us to the farthest reaches of the Cosmos.

For decades, scientists have been debating the conditions that are needed to replicate an Earth-like probablility of complex beyond the microbial level. There's not much doubt in the minds of most astrobiologist that based on extremophile life we've discovered recently on Earth (see prior posts below), that life on the microbial level will be discovered sometime in the next twent years on Mars or on one of Jupiter or Saturn's moons.

The three recent key findings for astrobiology are extremophiles, extrasolar planets, and a sense that water may be more ubiquitous even in our own solar neighborhood (in meteors like the Mars' Lafayette, Europa, and the ice frost on polar Mars). This picture has evolved quite suddenly with 100-plus extrasolar planets found in just the last decade (and none known before around 1995). We now know that the number of planets in our own galaxy could easily tally in the hundreds of billions. The discovery of Gliese is a visible clue that a great number of these could be carpeted in the dirty chemistry we call life. Life on Earth may be unique, but it might not be miraculous.

Even in the oldest globular cluster star systems in our Milky Way galaxy -- choked with stars that were born more than 10 billion years ago -- there's enough "metals" to make earth-like worlds. According to models of planet formation developed by Dr. Sasselov and his colleagues of the Geneva discovery team, such a planet should be about half again as large as the Earth and composed of rock and water, what the astronomers now call a “super Earth.”

The most exciting part of the find, Dr. Sasselov said, is that it “basically tells you these kinds of planets are very common.” Because they could stay geologically active for billions of years, he said he suspected that such planets could be even more congenial for life than Earth. Although the new planet is much closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun, the red dwarf Gliese 581 is only about a hundredth as luminous as the Sun. "So seven million miles is a comfortable huddling distance." But for evolved animal life to be present we need to find that sweet "Goldilocks" planet with an exceedingly complex host of conditions present that have given rise the "Rare Earth" hypothesis.

In their book of that title, Rare Earth authors Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, both of the University of Washington have outlined a short list of conditions needed: Right distance from a star; habitat for complex life; liquid water near surafce; far enough to avoid tidal lock; right mass of star with long enough lifetime and not too much ultraviolet; stable planetary orbits; right planet mass to maintain atmosphere and ocean with a solid molten core and enough heat for plate tectonics; a Jupiter-like neighbor to clear out comets and asteroids; plate tectonics to build up land mass, enhance bio-diversity, and enable a magnetic field; not too much, nor too little ocean; a large moon at the right distance to stabilize tilt; a small Mars-like neighbor as possible source to seed Earth-like planet; maintenance of adequate temperature, composition and pressure for plants and animals; a aglaxy with enough heavy elements, not too small, ellipitcal or irregular; right position the galaxy; few giant impacts like had 65 million years ago; enough carbon for life, but not enough for runaway greehouse effect; evolution of oxygen and photosythesis; and, of course, biological evolution.

Dr. Sasselov noted that aliens could have been pointing their antennas at Earth for 4.6 billion years, without picking up a signal. "Maybe the inhabitants of Gliese 581c are at the level of the classical Romans . . . or maybe trilobites." We need to check out hundreds of thousands of Earthlike worlds.

Original here

Students tie £56 camera to balloon and send it to edge of space to capture stunning images of Earth

By Mail Foreign Service

Teenagers with a £56 camera and latex balloon have managed to take stunning pictures from 20 miles above Earth.

Proving that you don't need Google's billions or the BBC weather centre's resources, the four Spanish students managed to send a camera-operated weather balloon into the stratosphere.

Taking atmospheric readings and photographs, the Meteotek team of IES La Bisbal school in Spanish Catalonia completed their incredible experiment at the end of February this year.

Astronomic achievement: An image of the stratosphere taken by the group of four Spanish students by tying a camera to a balloon and sending it to the edge of space

Astronomic achievement: An image of the stratosphere taken by the group of four Spanish students by tying a camera to a balloon and sending it to the edge of space

Don't look down: Part of the balloon can be seen in the lower right corner of this image taken by the £56 camera 20 miles above Earth

Don't look down: Part of the balloon can be seen in the lower right corner of this image taken by the £56 camera 20 miles above Earth

Building the electronic sensor components from scratch, Gerard Marull Paretas, Sergi Saballs Vil, Martm Gasull Morcillo and Jaume Puigmiquel Casamort were able to send their heavy duty £43 latex balloon to the edge of space and take readings of its ascent.

Under the guidance of teacher Jordi Fanals Oriol, the budding scientists, all aged 18 to 19, followed the progress of their balloon using hi-tech sensors communicating with Google Earth.

'Meteotek was our experiment to see if we could accurately measure the Earth's atmospheric conditions at 30,000 metres, take pictures to prove the experiment and then recover the instruments attached to the balloon after its deflation,' said team leader Paretas, 18.

'We were overwhelmed at our results, especially the photographs. To send our handmade craft to the edge of space is incredible.'

Nasa take note: The £56 Nikon digital camera attached to the weather balloon that snapped the incredible images

Nasa take note: The digital camera attached to the weather balloon that snapped the incredible images

To successfully conduct the experiment, the team had to account for a wide variety of variables and rely on a lot of luck.

'The balloon we chose was inflated with helium to just over two metres and weighed just 1,500g,' said Paretas.

'It was able to carry the sensor equipment and digital Nikon camera which weighed 1.5kg.

'However, when we launched at 9.10am on that morning, the critical point for the experiment was to see if the balloon would make it past 10,000m, or 30,000ft, which is the altitude that commercial airliners fly at.'

Due to the changing atmospheric pressures, the helium weather balloon carrying the meteorological equipment was expected to inflate to a maximum of nine and a half metres as it travelled upwards at 270 metres per minute.

Innovative: The students and their teacher Jordi Fanals Oriol

Innovative: The students and their teacher Jordi Fanals Oriol

'We took readings as the balloon rose and mapped its progress using Google Earth and the onboard radio receiver,' said Paretas.

'At over 100,000ft, the balloon lost its inflation and the equipment was returned to the earth.

'We travelled 10km to find the sensors and photographic card, which was still emitting its signal, even though it had been exposed to the most extreme conditions.'

The pupils' amazing school science project has already caught the attention of the University of Wyoming in the US, and the Meteotek team keep those interested updated with regular blogs and updates to their Twitter feed.

'It was a great experience and a successful flight after spending a lot of time, even after-school hours, on afternoons and during my summer holidays,' said Paretas.

'We put in a lot of effort, we did a lot of tests before flights.

'We also have learned that in practice, things are not so simple and in the field problems appear that a textbook can't help you with.'

Original here

Snapshot of galactic doom

Take one part Spitzer Space Telescope, one part Hubble Space Telescope, and two galaxies. Shake well, bake covered for a few million years, and get this:

Click to embiggen, or go here for access to much higher res images!


This is NGC 6240, what used to be two galaxies but are in the process of becoming one. We see colliding galaxies all over the sky, but what makes this one special is the timing and its location.

Collisions take hundreds of millions of years, starting from the first tentative approach to the complete merging of the two. But the different steps of the process take different amounts of time. The initial approach takes a long time, for example, so we see lots of those. The actual physical merging also takes many millions of years, so we commonly see that as well. But while the outer parts of the galaxy are interacting, so are the cores. The time between the outer parts settling down and the inner parts doing their thing can be fairly short. NGC 6240 is right now at the moment in its life where the two galaxies have started to merge, but the cores of the two are still distinct.

Also, the farther away we look, the more volume of the Universe we see, so the more galaxies we see. In the distant Universe we do see galaxies in this stage, but they are so far away that details are unclear. NGC 6240 is only 400 million light years away, which is a ridiculously long way in human terms, but close enough in cosmic scales that Hubble and Spitzer can see those details.

The outer parts of the galaxy are still messy, churned up by the violence of the collision. Huge gas and dust clouds have collided, which triggers an immense burst of star formation. Newborn stars create a lot of dust — giant organic molecules that are very efficient at absorbing the visible light Hubble detects. However, warm dust emits infrared light, and Spitzer can see that.

So in the Hubble image we see the stars and gas tossed all over the place, and the chaotic dust (in red) detected by Spitzer. Combined, the two images tell a tale of what a pair of galaxies is like just before their cores start to merge, a snapshot in an instant of a catastrophic event.

… and in a few million years, the fireworks will really begin. All big galaxies have a supermassive black hole in their hearts, and the two bruisers in this pair will start to work their magic as well. The cores will combine, and the gravitational wake of the two black holes interacting will make the previous merging process seem like a gentle breeze. The gas and dust in the center of the merging monsters will become incredibly turbulent, mixed violently and suddenly, creating a vast wave of star formation. A huge amount of energy will blast out of the core, and get absorbed by the dust there. It will convert that high energy radiation into infrared, pouring out the invisible light, and NGC 6240 may become a ULIRG, an ultra luminous infrared galaxy.

It will pose no threat to us at its vast distance, but we’ll have a great view of this step in a galactic merger as well. Too bad we have to wait several million years for it. So for now we’ll just have to be satisfied with catching this merger in the act. There’s still plenty to learn from it.

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Student Designs Biodegradable Packaging for McDonald’s

by Alexandra Kain

mcdonald's packaing, sustainable design, product packaging, biodegradable materials, green design, green mcdonald's, green golden arches, andrew millar, university of the arts student, compostable materials

Fast food packaging takes up a hefty chunk of our landfill space while effectively clear-cutting our forests. The golden arch proprietors dole out over 2 billion burgers a year, each individually wrapped in plastic coated paper and thrown into a paper bag with a few paper napkins–that’s about 75 per second, worldwide. Toss in a dozen other fast food conglomerates and we’re up to our ears in greasy garbage. What’s worse is that most of this paper makes its way into a trashcan after only about 5 minutes of use. Seeking to counter this consumptive cycle, University of the Arts grad student, Andrew Millar, designed biodegradable packaging for McDonald’s from grass paper, which has naturally grease-resistant properties.

mcdonald's packaing, sustainable design, product packaging, biodegradable materials, green design, green mcdonald's, green golden arches, andrew millar, university of the arts student, compostable materials

In preparation for this school assignment, Millar frequented McD’s restaurants taking note of customer interaction with the packaging. Noticing that people would often rip their bags into a tray, he designed his bag to open out into a comfortable eating station. Folds in the bag keep inside items separated without the need for interior packaging. The outer part of bag is made from recycled pulp paper, and grease-proof grass paper lines the inside. Both are highly biodegradable and most definitely more sustainable than clear-cutting.

According to their most recent environmental performance report, only around 30% of McDonald’s packaging comes from recycled sources (excluding China), and their CO2 emissions near 2 million tons annualy–as measured by electricity used in their restaurants. This, of course, does not including food or packaging production.

mcdonald's packaing, sustainable design, product packaging, biodegradable materials, green design, green mcdonald's, green golden arches, andrew millar, university of the arts student, compostable materials

As yet, Millar hasn’t approached the company about his design but we’re sure hoping he does. The McDonald’s website clearly states their desire to “continue exploring ways to reduce the environmental impacts of our consumer packaging and waste in our restaurant operations.” Even leviathans like McDonald’s and Burger King are not impervious to climate change and our growing garbage problem. The only problem with biodegradable packaging, though, is that it won’t actually biodegrade if it goes straight into a plastic trash bag and gets buried in chemical-ridden landfill. The best solution? Stop eating fast food.

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Recession Ends Pollution of World’s Largest Freshwater Lake