ABC News takes a gander at the subway dogs of Moscow, who, for reasons of survival, seem to have figured out the system better than most tourists. “Moscow’s strays have also been observed obeying traffic lights, says Vereshchagin…Sometimes a pack will send out a smaller, cuter member apparently realizing it will be more successful at begging than its bigger, less attractive counterparts.”
In very related news, a new study finds that, since domestication many moons ago, dogs and humans have been evolving along parallel lines. “The study shows that dogs split from gray wolves about 32,000 years ago, and that since then, domestic dogs’ brains and digestive organs have evolved in ways very similar to the brains and organs of humans…They found both species underwent similar changes in genes responsible for digestion and metabolism, such as genes that code for cholesterol transport.” This must be the reason Berk loves him some gummi candy.
To kick off his new Slate column “Anything Once,” friend Seth Stevenson finds himself reveling in the sensation of sensory deprivation. “I emerged in a profound daze. I spoke slowly and quietly, like a smooth-jazz DJ, to the person at the spa desk who inquired how my session had gone. I felt more rested than if I’d slept for 16 hours on a pile of tranquilized chinchillas. Outside, colors were saturated; sounds were vivid. I had to try this again, as soon as possible.”
Carbon concentration in the atmosphere veers dangerously close to the dubious milestone of 400 part per million. (The revised reading came out at 399.89.) “For the previous 800,000 years, CO2 levels never exceeded 300 ppm, and there is no known geologic period in which rates of increase have been so sharp. The level was about 280 ppm at the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, when the burning of fossil fuels began to soar.”
An online Harvard experiment tries to guess your age by evaluating your mouse-clicking ability. Hard to say how good it is, really. It deemed me thirty — eight years too young — but then again, with blogging and gaming both ranking high among the extra-curriculars, I probably use a mouse more than most people too.
There are older things than Orcs in the deep places of the world: Symmetry Magazine checks in with the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search experiment happening a mile beneath Minnesota. As I’ve mentioned before, I came close to spending a summer in high school standing around a similar underground science project, searching for neutrinos. “The year 2013 should be an interesting one in the search for dark matter.”
Hey neighbor: Astronomers find an Earth-like planet just next door in Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our sun. “Indeed, Alpha Centauri Bb is the first planet with an earth-like mass ever found orbiting a sun-like star.” That being said, prospects for life — or colonization — seem, for the time being, remote. “Unfortunately for any hope of finding life on this world, it orbits only about four million miles away…This would make Alpha Centauri B more than twenty times larger in the planet’s sky than the sun is here on earth…and more than 500 times brighter and hotter.”
A troubling GIF captures twenty-five years of expanding waistlines in America. “Meanwhile, through 2012, no state has met the CDC’s nationwide goal to reduce obesity to 15 percent.” Update: The states behind the curve? Everyone could be lying.
Here’s a superhero origin story for you: Astronomers and meteorologists uncover the heretofore unknown phenomenon of “dark lightning”. “Unlike with regular lightning, though, people struck by dark lightning, most likely while flying in an airplane, would not get hurt. But according to Dwyer’s calculations, they might receive in an instant the maximum safe lifetime dose of ionizing radiation — the kind that wreaks the most havoc on the human body.” (Lightning image via here.)
In similar news, and as seen in the comments of Charlie Pierce’s post on this subject, a dig in the center of London uncovers the ancient Roman city beneath. “The area has been dubbed the ‘Pompeii of the north’ due to the perfect preservation of organic artefacts such as leather and wood. One expert said: ‘This is the site that we have been dreaming of for 20 years.’”
When you’re lying awake at night, it’s alright: BBC’s Stephanie Hegarty delves into pre-industrial sleep habits and discovers that eight hours of uninterrupted sleep may be a recent invention. “Much like the experience of Wehr’s subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep. ‘It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,’ Ekirch says.”
A NASA/JPL simulation of Titan’s atmosphere suggests a chaotic chemical brew conducive to life on Saturn’s most interesting moon. “Now we know that sunlight in the Titan lower atmosphere can kick-start more complex organic chemistry in liquids and solids rather than just in gases.” (Titan image via this 2011 post.)
This came out while I was in Seattle and I’ve been meaning to catch up: By measuring the cosmic background radiation still extant from the Big Bang, the ESA’s Planck satellite gives us our most detailed map of the universe yet.
“[T]he new satellite data underscored the existence of puzzling anomalies that may yet lead theorists back to the drawing board. The universe appears to be slightly lumpier, with bigger and more hot and cold spots in the northern half of the sky as seen from Earth than toward the south, for example. And there is a large, unexplained cool spot in the northern hemisphere.”
I find these maps particularly fascinating because, as I said when NASA’s WMAP returned its data in 2003 (and here in 2002), I spent the summer of 1992 poring over the original COBE DMR version of this map for my high school senior thesis, in order to determine whether the radiation exhibited a fractal distribution. (And, honestly, how early 90′s is that?)
“‘A.M.S. has confirmed with exquisite precision and to high energy one of the most exciting mysteries in astrophysics and particle physics,’ said Justin Vandenbroucke, of the University of Wisconsin and Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.” In related news, NASA’s recently-installed Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the ISS is helping physicists and cosmologists get to the bottom of the dark matter mystery.
The A.M.S. has “confirmed previous reports that local interstellar space is crackling with an unexplained abundance of high energy particles, especially positrons, the antimatter version of the familiar electrons that constitute electricity and chemistry…’Over the coming months, A.M.S. will be able to tell us conclusively whether these positrons are a signal for dark matter, or whether they have some other origin.’“
Physicists get ever closer to a Harry Potter-style invisibility cloak with a new, less-bulky metascreen that scatters nano-particles. “Moving forward, one of the key challenges for the researchers will be to use ‘mantle cloaking’ to hide an object from visible light.”
It’s been out in the fringe territories for a few years, but apparently now it’s official: Voyager I has left the Solar System. “We’re in a new region. And everything we’re measuring is different and exciting.”
Update: Belay that- NASA’s Voyager team says hold the champagne: “In December 2012, the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called ‘the magnetic highway’ where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed.”
Well, that’s that then. While Washington and our change president continue to fiddle, new data from 2012 suggests we are now flying past the two-degree rise threshold we set for ourselves to alert a global calamity due to climate change. “‘The prospects of keeping climate change below that (2-degree goal) are fading away,’ Tans says.”
|Some context: So far, we’ve raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. (A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is a shocking five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods.)
Given those impacts, in fact, many scientists have come to think that two degrees is far too lenient a target. “Any number much above one degree involves a gamble,” writes Kerry Emanuel of MIT, a leading authority on hurricanes, “and the odds become less and less favorable as the temperature goes up.” Thomas Lovejoy, once the World Bank’s chief biodiversity adviser, puts it like this: “If we’re seeing what we’re seeing today at 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much.” NASA scientist James Hansen, the planet’s most prominent climatologist, is even blunter: “The target that has been talked about in international negotiations for two degrees of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster.”
At the Copenhagen summit, a spokesman for small island nations warned that many would not survive a two-degree rise: “Some countries will flat-out disappear.” When delegates from developing nations were warned that two degrees would represent a “suicide pact” for drought-stricken Africa, many of them started chanting, “One degree, one Africa.”
Update: More fuel for the pyre: The Earth’s temperature graphed over 10,000 years. “‘What we found is that temperatures increased in the last hundred years as much as they had cooled in the last six or seven thousand,’ he said. ‘In other words, the rate of change is much greater than anything we’ve seen in the whole Holocene,” referring to the current geologic time period, which began around 11,500 years ago.’”
As CERN in Switzerland becomes the new frontier in particle discoveries, physicists worry the United States is falling behind. “How such efforts will fare in this age of sequestration and federal cutbacks is unknown, he admitted, but particle physics has produced important spinoffs into medicine, including imaging devices and beams to treat cancer, and in materials science.”
Well, at least one branch of our government is well-funded enough to take on these sorts of projects, I guess. Too bad the research is classified and likely highly iffy. Consider, similarly, the two “other” Hubbles found lying around in a Pentagon warehouse last year. “[S]top and think about this for a moment. The Department of Defense has the kind of funding needed — hundred of millions to billions of dollars, presumably — to build not one, but two, Hubble-like optical telescopes and then never use them.”
You know what the world really needs? A system of dormant underwater drones, which apparently DARPA is hard at work on. If you want to use this type of tech to explore the oceans of Europa or Titan, fine. For the Taiwan Strait? Sounds like a terrible idea. SKYNET aside, glitches happen.
Happiness where are you? I’ve searched so long for you. A statistical analysis of states’ relative happiness, as determined by tweets. (Red states above are happy, blue states are not.) David Simon is 2-for-2: Next to the mouth of the Mississippi, the Maryland-Delaware area is apparently the saddest in the nation. Perhaps due to proximity to Washington DC? Definitely maybe.
In probably related news, a different map of the United States shows the most popular places cited in Craigslist’s Missed Connections. “The most popular place to spot potential love in Texas, New Mexico, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida? Wal-Mart.”
Of course, this begs the question: Do people actually ever meet up on Missed Connections? Every time I’ve perused them, that section is overwhelmingly the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, just damaged, lovelorn people sending out messages in a bottle to lost exes who are actively ignoring them.
Consider this a wake-up call. This is one more reason why we need to invest in our space program — because, right now, we are playing chicken with the universe. That deadly asteroid might not hit tomorrow, or even in 2106. But the danger is real. As author Larry Niven put it, “the dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don’t have a space program, it’ll serve us right!”
Atoms or systems into ruin hurl’d, And now a bubble burst, and now a world. And if the asteroids don’t get us, there’s always the chance that an alternate universe might pop and destroy everything, a la Richard Grant in How to Get Ahead in Advertising. “The problem, says Lykken, is the potential for vacuum instability — a phenomenon that could spawn an all-consuming alternate universe within our own.”
Not as pressing as asteroids, however — this event, if current calculations hold up, is most likely to happen round the End of the Universe anyway, so be sure to get a table by the window.
President Obama makes the case for federal investment in the Brain Activity Map Project. (You heard it here first, tinfoil hat people. The tyranny of the Kenyan socialist will not stop at your precious bodily fluids — He’s going to read your brainwaves too!) Seriously, though, investing in basic scientific research like this is, er, a no-brainer. It creates jobs while advancing the frontiers of human knowledge in all kinds of unanticipated ways. We’d be stupid not to support this — which means, of course, the jury’s still out on whether we will.
Update: “BAM is an acronym you’ll probably be hearing a lot in the weeks and months to come — so let’s talk about what the BAM project is, what it isn’t, and why it’s raising both interest and eyebrows throughout the scientific community.” Io9 has more.
Data from Kepler’s Space Telescope suggests that an estimated 6% of red dwarf stars have planets in the habitable zone, meaning, statistically, we are basically surrounded by inhabitable worlds. “Our Sun is surrounded by a swarm of red dwarf stars. About 75 percent of the closest stars are red dwarfs.”
A novel path of brain research suggests our immune system may play a key role in determining intelligence. “The same T cells that protect the brain from inflammation also work to keep us sharp; and in what appears to be a feedback loop, the mere act of learning reinforces the effect.”
Also in decoding-the-brain news, Japanese scientists visually capture the creation of a zebrafish’s thought. “[W]e shouldn’t play this down: this is a fundamental leap forward in our understanding of how brains work.”
Popular Science previews the flight of NASA’s Sunjammer, set for launch in 2014. “The destination for Sunjammer is the Earth-Sun Lagrange Point 1, a gravitationally stable spot way out there between us and our nearest star…Sunjammer will be carrying the cremated remains of various individuals, including Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and his wife Majel Barrett Roddenberry.”
An auspicious site for New Rome: Seven hills on Mars are named after the fallen astronauts of Columbia. “Spirit would go on to spend several years exploring the Columbia Hills until, struggling in the Martian soil, it would finally cease to function in 2010. Which — striving and striving, until you can strive no more — seems an appropriate tribute to seven people who gave their lives so that the rest of us might forge ahead.”
It can only be attributable to human error: Also in the “This will end badly someday” department, programmers at Georgia Tech teach robots how to lie. No way this will cause problems. Wait, just a moment…just a moment…I’ve just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It’s going to go a hundred percent failure within seventy-two hours.
“‘We don’t know whether the media multitasking is causing symptoms of depression and social anxiety, or if it’s that people who are depressed and anxious are turning to media multitasking as a form of distraction from their problems,’ Becker said in a statement.”
And here I thought Netflix and Warcraft went so well together: A new Michigan State study finds a correlation between depression and multi-tasking media. I wonder if the obverse is true also. One of the many reasons I love seeing a movie in the theater is that (ideally) nothing else but the film is impinging on my attention.
Just re-reading The Forever War at the moment, so this seems very apropos. io9 looks into the recent possible breakthrough on a functioning warp drive. “Mathematically, the field equations predict that this is possible, but it remains to be seen if we could ever reduce this to practice.“
Of course, while mathematicians might have gotten around the “ridiculous amounts of energy required” problem, there’s now the new issue of ridiculous amounts of energy expended — in a lethal frontward cone. “When the Alcubierre-driven ship decelerates from superluminal speed, the particles its bubble has gathered are released in energetic outbursts. In the case of forward-facing particles the outburst can be very energetic — enough to destroy anyone at the destination directly in front of the ship. ‘Any people at the destination,’ the team’s paper concludes, ‘would be gamma ray and high energy particle blasted into oblivion due to the extreme blueshifts for [forward] region particles.’”
“‘The ticket price needs to be low enough that most people in advanced countries, in their mid-forties or something like that, could put together enough money to make the trip,’ he said, comparing the purchase to buying a house in California.”
If you’d prefer to stay within system instead, SpaceX founder Elon Musk sets the cost of a one-way ticket to Mars at $500,000. “‘Some money has to be spent on establishing a base on Mars. It’s about getting the basic fundamentals in place,’ Musk said. ‘That was true of the English colonies [in the Americas]; it took a significant expense to get things started. But once there are regular Mars flights, you can get the cost down to half a million dollars for someone to move to Mars. Then I think there are enough people who would buy that to have it be a reasonable business case.” Start saving up, y’all — Get there before the religious zealots, er, Pilgrims, move in. Update: More details on Musk’s proposal.
In Slate, old friend Seth Stevenson surveys the practice and methodology of supercuts. At the very least it’s both funny and instructive to see how many times, to take the example of ST:TNG, Worf gets denied and bad things happen to Geordi.
Astronomers discover rogue planet CFBDSIR2149 a mere 75 light years away — not to be confused with Melancholia, of course, which is hiding behind the sun and will soon ruin weddings and kill us all in slow motion.
“Under the agency’s procedures, the box should not have been opened without knowledge of a NASA scientist who is responsible for guarding Mars against contamination from Earth. But Planetary Protection Officer Catharine Conley wasn’t consulted. ‘They shouldn’t have done it without telling me,’ she said. ‘It is not responsible for us not to follow our own rules.’“
It seems NASA’s Curiosity may have inadvertently brought Terran microbes along with it, which could become hugely significant if the robot encounters water, in which case they become either the potential seeds of new life on Mars and/or the 21st-century equivalent of the smallpox blanket. Er…oops.
Meanwhile, while we’re bringing life to Mars, Jupiter may have once again protected us from a Deep Impact/Melancholia-like disaster. “This is the third time since 2009 amateur astronomers have witnessed an impact flash on Jupiter. The massive gas giant, which exerts considerable gravitational pull, is something of a cosmic whipping boy in our solar system, regularly shielding inner planets like Earth from potential collisions.” So, if you’re keeping score at home, that’s Jupiter 3, Bruce Willis 1.