Ring Around the Sun
From New Zealand’s Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park a glorious halo circled the sun over the snowcapped and cloud-shrouded mountains of the rugged Southern Alps.
Such beautiful celestial displays occur when tiny ice crystals form in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and refract and reflect sunlight in a ring 44 degrees across. - Dennis Mammana
Oxygen: The Molecule That Made The World | Personal Notations
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in well, all things science. Chemistry, physics, astrophysics, astrobiology, geology, paleontology, zoology, biodiversity, marine biology, glaciology, oceanography, entomology, micro/biology, archaeology, paleobiology, genetics, neuroscience/biology - it’s all here.
"The working assumption has always been that we must make the best of limited resources, invested over a probable lifespan in the wild. Neither of these conditions - limited resources or probable mortality in the wild from predation, starvation, infection and accident - is the same now as it was for our first human ancestors."
Author Nick Lane, a biochemist whose focus was on oxygen free-radicals and metabolic function in organ transplants, is responsible for developing interactive approaches to medical education.
I don’t want to develop too long of a post about this but I’ve been meaning to share this with all of you because it’s extremely relevant regarding: principles of science/scientific literacy, the search for life elsewhere in the cosmos/Earth itself, ageing, auto-immunse diseases, cancer, biodiversity throughout Earth’s history, antioxidants/free radicals and the present theme throughout the book - oxidative stress.
Nick Lane takes you back to the beginning, 4 billion years back, to delve into the various climactic, biological, atmospheric and cosmic events responsible for the oxygenic turbulence our planet has endured, why it matters that we study atmospheres other than our own in the solar system/universe, how the lack of or abundance of oxygen has radically shaped life on Earth, and why we should care about the period of time we’re presently living in pertaining to the amount of oxygen we breathe and how important it is that we do not tip that scale.
In the sense that animals and plants have fixed lifespans, longevity is obviously written in the genes. This does not mean there is a formal genetic programme, any more than a car is programmed to become obsolete over 20 years. In the case of a car, the parts are designed rom the beginning to last for only so long, and the fact that they wear out simultaneously is no evidence of the workings of a hidden programme. An apocryphal story tells of Henry Ford looking at a junkyard filled with Model Ts. "Is there anything that never goes wrong with any of these cars?" he asked. Yes, he was told, the steering column never fails. "Then go and redesign it," he said to his chief engineer. "If it never breaks we must be spending too much on it."
Natural selection works in the same way. If an organ works well enough for its deficiencies not to constitute an adverse selective pressure, then natural selection has no way to improve on it. Conversely, if an organ works better than required (in new circumstances), the random accumulation of negative mutations over generations will gradually degrade its performance to that required, at which point selection pressure will maintain the standard. For this reason, animals that have adapted recently (in evolutionary terms) to permanent darkness in a cave or at the bottom of the ocean often have vestigial eyes that are no longer functional. Degradation to a common denominator is alone sufficient to explain the apparently synchronous wearing out of organ systems as we age. As John Maynard Smith put it, “synchronous collapse does not imply a single mechanism of senescence (ageing).”
With a copyright date of 2002, we’ve learned much since the writing of this book, certainly, but Oxygen: The Molecule That Made The World is as current as any. To appreciate the present ongoings of genetic and molecular research, it’s important to understand the arduous history that this influential molecule has had on our fragile spaceship Earth.
Oxygen = (Greek) “acid former” in the mistaken belief that oxygen was necessary for the formation of all acids: sulfuric/nitric, not hydrochloric; prolonged exposure results in death
+ Oxygen toxicity discovered by SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) divers in the later 19th century
+ Pure oxygen below 8m/26ft causes seizures similar to an epileptic grand-mal
+ (1942) The term “Oxygen Pete” originated by the British Royal Navy as oxygen poisoning became referred to by divers as “getting a Pete”
“Unique events are best described by singular circumstances.”
ATP (adenosine triphosphate) = “energy currency” of all cells
Rubisco = binds carbon dioxide into carbohydrate in photosynthesis
+ Most abundant/important enzyme in the world (works for and against)
Catalase = getting rid of hydrogen peroxide
Carnitine = shuttles fats into mitochondria for use as fuel along with removing leftover organic acids, which Vitamin C synthesizes
SOD (superoxide dismutase) = enzyme that eliminates free radicals
+ (1969): Most important discovery in all of biology by James McCord and Irwin Fridovich
Photorespiration = stunts plant growth if atmospheric oxygen levels are high
Senescence aka “ageing” = the loss of function over the years
Antagonizing Pleiotropy = our genes are out of step with our lifestyle
Paul Bert (French physiologist, 1878)
+ discovered barometric pressure, invented the hyperbolic chamber, tested pressure on animals
James Lorrian Smith (Pathologist, 1899)
+ Discovered lower levels of oxygen pressure = death
+ 75%+ pressure = inflammation
+ Royal Navy
+ Subjected himself to experiments of varied oxygen concentrations
+ Responsible for discovering nitrox mixtures to lower oxygen toxicity and nitrogen narcosis, otherwise known as “the bends”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
+ astronauts were breathing in 33% pure oxygen via the adjustment to the atmospheric pressure in space
+ on ground, the capsule was pressurized higher and ventilated with pure oxygen = 130% pure oxygen
+ the spark in the capsule ignited a fire which accelerated temperatures up to 2,500 degrees (C)
Black Sea aka “the Euxine” (foul-smelling)
+ Largest body of poorly oxygenated water in the world, developed 7,500 years ago
+ Isolated in its own basin by a land bridge across the Bosphorous, which collapsed due to natural geologic processes
+ “Noah’s flood” was the result of this collapse, pouring into the Mediterranean at 10 cubic miles (42 million cubic meters) per day = 130 times greater than Niagra Falls
+ Black Sea and Mediterranean water mixed, resulting in extreme salinity whereby salt sank to the bottom, restricting oxygen and providing an environment for anaerobic (oxygen-hating) bacteria to flourish
+ Anaerobic bacteria generate hydrogen sulphide as waste = hydrogen sulfide reacting with any trickling down of oxygen, resulting in sustainability
Principle of mass balance = what is buried below the ground cannot be found above ground
+ Carbon decay rates (-12, -13, -14) determine geologic age and oxygen levels/presence
Glaciation/plate tectonics provided oxygen via non-biological factors for PreCambrian life = Cambrian explosion
+ biological activity betrayed by enrichment of carbon -12 buried in organic matter (coal) and enrichment of cabron -13 in carbonate rocks (limestone)
+ 90% of coal reserves date to a period of time less than 2% of Earth’s history; rate of coal burial = 600X faster than average of all time
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
LUCA = “Last Universal Common Ancestor”
+ resilient to oxygen toxicity before oxygen/photosynthesis was present
+ Discovered splitting of water by radiation
Henry John Horstman Fenton = (1890) developed “Fenton Reaction”
+ Hydrogen peroxide and iron catalyst used to oxidize contaminants/destroy organic compounds, prohibiting or restraining oxygen surplus
+ Discovered radioactivity via uranium, first developing polonium and radium
"There are said to be more molecules in a single glass of water than there are glasses of water in all the oceans. We should not be too surprised to discover, then, that 100 billion molecules of hydrogen peroxide weigh about 56 thousand billionths of a gram. To put these numbers into some sort of perspective, Kasting calculates that dissolved hydrogen peroxide, which is much more soluble than oxygen, accounts for between 1 and 6 percent of the total oxidant concentration in rainwater today. There is no reason why the amount of hydrogen peroxide in rainwater should have been any less 3 billion years ago, and it may well have been higher, as the intensity of ultraviolet radiation was more than 30 times greater."
Viewing evolution through the prism of oxygen gives us some surprising perspectives on our own lives and deaths. If water is the foundation of life, then oxygen is its engine. Without oxygen, life on Earth would never have got beyond a slime in the oceans, and the Earth would probably have ended its days in the sterility of Mars or Venus. With oxygen, life has flourished in all its wonderful variety: animals, plants, sex, sexes, consciousness itself. With it, too, came the evolution of ageing and death.
We cannot hope to understand the complex degenerative diseases of old age unless we have an evolutionary grasp of their cause. Evolutionary theory can take us so far, but will fail unless backed by empirical evidence. In the same way, the sixteenth-century scientist Francis Bacon famously argued that philosophy could never answer the great questions of life and death without the guiding light of experiments. We should not forget that science was born from philosophy, in other words from a system of ideas about the world. Experiments allow us to weigh the value of competing ideas that cannot be discriminated on a logical basis; but for science to be meaningful, experiments must be conducted within the framework of an idea - a hypothesis - about how the world works. Science does not work by induction - by trawling piles of miscellaneous data in the hope of finding patterns or facts - but by hypothesis and refutation.
2 Pluto Moons Get New Names (Sorry ‘Star Trek’ Fans) by Miriam Kramer
It’s official! Two tiny moons orbiting the dwarf planet Pluto finally have new names: Styx and Kerberos.
The International Astronomical Union — the organization responsible for naming celestial objects — has approved “Kerberos” and “Styx” as the new monikers for two of Pluto’s moons that were previously called P4 and P5 respectively, but fans of TV’s “Star Trek” might not be too happy about the new names.
The IAU selected the names based on the results of the Pluto Rocks Internet poll sponsored by SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), but the top vote-getter, Vulcan, ultimately wasn’t chosen as a name for one of the tiny moons.
Actor William Shatner — who portrayed the Starship Enterprise captain James T. Kirk in the original “Star Trek” TV series — suggested Vulcan (the home planet of the show’s pointy-eared Vulcan people) as a possible candidate, and voters overwhelmingly cast their ballots in favor of it.
In total, nearly 500,000 votes were cast, with about 170,000 of those going to Vulcan alone. In second place was Cerberus with Styx coming in third in the online poll. But for Vulcan, it was not meant to be.
"The IAU gave serious consideration to this name, which happens to be shared by the Roman god of volcanoes," SETI officials wrote in a statement. “However, because that name has already been used in astronomy, and because the Roman god is not closely associated with Pluto, this proposal was rejected."
IAU rules states that Pluto’s moons should be named for mythological characters of the underworld in Greek and Roman mythology. Pluto is known as the ruler of the underworld in ancient mythos.
Cerberus, the three-headed dog in Roman mythology, came in a clear second in the Pluto Rocks ballot with nearly 100,000 votes, but IAU officials decided to tweak the name slightly, instead opting to name the moon Kerberos — Cerberus’ equivalent in Greek myth.
The name Styx, the river that separates the living from the dead in ancient myth, garnered about 88,000 votes for a third place finish.
The Gaia Space Observatory
You guys probably know by now that I love writing about telescopes. I wrote not too long ago about my favorite up and coming ground based telescope The Giant Magellan Telescope, so if you haven’t read that then scoot on over and read it here, you will quickly become just as excited as I was.
So heres another exciting observatory under development. Only this time it goes in space - The Gaia Space Observatory - Let me tell you about it
This is an amazing mission that will conduct the largest, most precise three-dimensional map of our Galaxy a census of a thousand million stars in our Galaxy. It will monitor each of its target stars about 70 times during a five-year period, precisely charting their positions, distances, movements, and changes in brightness. Gaia is expected to discover hundreds of thousands of new celestial objects, such as extra-solar planets and brown dwarfs and quasars. Within our own Solar System, Gaia should also observe hundreds of thousands of asteroids. The spacecraft will also develop new tests for Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
Gaia contains two optical telescopes that can precisely determine the location of stars and split their light into a spectrum for analysis. The spacecraft itself can be divided into two sections: the payload module and the service module. The payload consists of the telescopes and three instruments. The service module contains the propulsion system, the communications units and other essential components that allow the spacecraft to function and return data to Earth. Beneath the service module and the payload module is the sunshield and solar array assembly.
Gaia will achieve its goals by repeatedly measuring the positions of all objects down to magnitude 20 (about 400 000 times fainter than can be seen with the naked eye). Onboard object detection will ensure that variable stars, supernovae, other transient celestial events and minor planets will all be detected and catalogued to this faint limit. For all objects brighter than magnitude 15 (4000 times fainter than the naked eye limit), Gaia will measure their positions to an accuracy of 24 microarcseconds - that is comparable to measuring the diameter of a human hair at a distance of 1000 km. It will allow the nearest stars to have their distances measured to the extraordinary accuracy of 0.001%. Even stars near the Galactic centre, some 30 000 light-years away, will have their distances measured to within an accuracy of 20%.
Gaia will launch on a Soyuz-STB/Fregat-MT launch vehicle from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The spacecraft will observe in an orbit around the Sun in a spot called the L2 Lagrangian point, offering a clearer and more steady view of the cosmos.
“Gaia’s expected scientific harvest is of almost inconceivable extent and implication. Its main goal is to clarify the origin and evolution of our Galaxy. In addition, it will test theories of star formation and evolution. This is possible because low-mass stars are extremely long-lived and retain a fossil record of their origin in the composition of their atmospheres.”
“Gaia will identify which stars are relics from smaller galaxies long ago ‘swallowed’ by the Milky Way. By watching for the large-scale motion of stars in our Galaxy, it will probe the distribution of dark matter, the hypothetical substance thought to hold our Galaxy together. In addition, Gaia will establish the range of brightnesses that forming stars can possess; detect and categorise rapid evolutionary phases in stars; place unprecedented constraints on the age, internal structure and evolution of all stars, and classify star formation and kinematical and dynamical behaviour within the Local Group of galaxies.”
This is an amazing spacecraft. One that will provide the most precise view of our Milky Way ever made. Along with observing hundreds upon thousands of celestial objects. It is my strong belief that this piece of technology will open up our eyes to more cosmic discoveries and mysteries than ever before.
Excellent writeup on the Gaia Space Observatory by electricspacekoolaid. Is everyone excited for this? I mean allllll of this? Forget what you hear on the news. We are putting more eyes in space all the time and working on even more immense projects at this very moment. It’s a great time to be alive to witness the culmination of such great minds collaborating on projects to open up the space frontier for us all. The more we know, the further we can go, everyone. Stay curious!
The radar is malfunctioning. Repeat, the radar is malfunctioning.
Stop. Don’t reblog that helical solar system on the Tumblr Radar or if you find it on a friend’s blog. Don’t like it. Don’t put it on Twitter or tell your friends on Facebook. Don’t go on and on about how you never knew that the solar system traveled this way through space. Don’t make sounds with your mouth like an explosion and say “Mind Blown!” because you never considered that the planets are rotating as they fly through space like a vortex. How did no one ever notice this revolutionary theory before?!?
Because it’s B.S., that’s why. I eviscerated the science (along with Phil Plait) back in March, when it made the rounds the first time. It’s a nifty animation, but it’s just not at all realistic.
As of now it has 130K+ notes on Tumblr, which makes Carl Sagan’s stardust cry. Chances are we can’t get everyone to delete it, but maybe we can spread the word that it isn’t true? And maybe we can at least get it off the radar? Truth soldiers of science, roll out!
Using your imagination to imagine new possibilities is a cornerstone of scientific discovery, but using fancy graphics to fool people into believing bad science is just mean. Here’s why the helical model of the solar system is a toilet-like vortex of bad science.
On Board Mars Express, In Orbit Around the Red Planet
Grabens, dendritic valleys, lava flows and the highest known mountain in the Solar System – in the images from the German stereo camera on board the Mars Express spacecraft, the topography of the Red Planet appears so three-dimensional that you could walk through it.
“For the first time, we can see Mars spatially – in three dimensions,” says Ralf Jaumann, project manager for the mission at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR).
The spacecraft with the camera on board was launched on 2 June 2003. Since its arrival at Mars six-and-a-half months later, it has orbited the planet almost 12,000 times and provided scientists with unprecedented images. It has been used to gradually create a 3D image of Mars, enabling the planetary researchers to acquire new and surprising information about the climate and development of the Red Planet…
(read more and SEE VIDEO: German Aerospace Center)
The Universe in a Jelly Bean Jar Interactive Flash Site. [Click images to enlarge.]
“Most of the Universe is dark. The protons, neutrons and electrons that make up the stars, planets and us represent only a small fraction of the mass and energy of the Universe.”
Check it out here to learn more about the observable cosmos, black holes, galaxy clusters, supernovas, missing baryons, and more!
If Earth Had Rings
First off, they would be really pretty to look at. They would also dominate the sky in both night and day at exactly the same place as they would never rise nor set. And at night you would see the Earth’s shadow swing across the rings, like in the 4th photo here.
However, life would be very different on Earth if this were the case. Nocturnal animals would have a hard time being nocturnal, as the light reflecting from the rings would illuminate the night.
Because we are closer to the Sun than Saturn is, the rings would be more rocky than ice, making them less bright but still pretty bright. In fact, you would see far less stars at night (living anywhere other than the equator or the arctic circle) because of the light pollution and not to mention ruin most meteor showers because of that.
During the day the rings would block sunlight in certain regions of the planet creating wild weather cycles and effecting plant life as well. So basically, they would be definitely pretty to look at but they would also make a whole lot of things screwy.
Illustrations by Ron Miller // io9
— Click the photos for captions
Ok so this got featured in #Science so now I’m kind of mad.
The original artist for this is eruptedrainbow, go check out that blog for some more cool space gifs and art.
But this image I guess someone took the original artwork, removed the credit and inverted the colors and now it’s spreading like wildfire.
This already happened once before :/
>:( CREDIT ARTISTS YOU CHODES
Science is about adding onto a foundation, standing on the shoulders of those before you. But you know, and you credit those giants. They are your foundation.
Science is not about individual accomplishments. It is about furthering the knowledge of humanity as a whole. It is about acknowledging those before you, and moving forward.
Art, especially science art, should be no different. Take from those before you. But never forget them.