Thursday, December 31, 2009

Russia to Attempt Deflection of Near-Earth Object Threat Apophis

In 2004, an asteroid called Apophis was discovered. After analyzing it's path across the solar system, astronomers established that it has a 1 in 37 chance of impacting Earth in 2029. With more detailed studies, the chances were dropped even if the asteroid will come to 29,450 kilometers near Earth. In 2036, it will again buzz by with an estimated to 1 in 250,000 chance of hitting. It seems that Apophis has a slim chance of hitting our planet. But in spite of the latest figures, the Russian Federal Space Agency is planning an unmanned mission to the asteroid to deflect it and lessen it's chances of hitting Earth even more.

According to the space agency's chief Anatoly Perminov, NASA, the European Space Agency, the Chinese Space Agency, and other like agencies around the world are likely to be invited to participate in the project. Don Yeomans, head of the NASA Near-Earth Object Program, says that "While Apophis is almost certainly not a problem, I am encouraged that the Russian science community is willing to study the various deflection options that would be available in the event of a future Earth threatening encounter by an asteroid."

Perminov said the mission will not require the use of a nuclear explosion, like what is depicted in movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact. He only said that calculations show that it's possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time left, which would help avoid the collision. While Perminov did not give specifics as to how Apophis will be deflected, he said it will have to be worked out.

Apophis is the name of an ancient Egyptian demon. Apophis, or Apep (left) in Egyptian, is the embodiment of darkness, dissolution, and non-being. He is the nemesis of the Sun god Ra. He is depicted as a snake that swallows beings into non-existence. He is supposed to have existed before creation and will continue to exist performing acts of malevolence.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

2000-2009: The Warmest Decade Since 1850 Records

What's to debate about when everywhere in the world, there are signs that the earth has warmed. Whether it's climate change or not, the whole planet is experiencing a warming that has melted glaciers, shrunk polar ice, and flooded low masses of lands in oceans. Now, the United Nations has announced that the years between 2000 and 2009 are the warmest since record-keeping began in 1850. Climate scientists are predicting at warmer years ahead. Should this be a cause for concern? It's likely.

Between 2007 and 2009, the Arctic ice cap was reduced to the smallest ever recorded due to summer melt. This opened up new sea routes in areas that used to be ice clad. The situation posed questions on how Arctic life would fare with very little ice since a lot of animals there depend much on solid ice in order to thrive.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the warmest years since 1850 are 2005, 1998, 2007 and 2006, although the difference in temperatures between them are so little to be statistically insignificant. The recent climate change talks in Copenhagen (2009) sought to encourage governments worldwide to help in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and get their commitment to the cause by implementing solid measures to deal with the problem.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Vatican Unites with Science to Search for Life Beyond Earth

The Vatican has admitted mistakes to science in the past. The most well-known is what it did to Galileo and other men of science who were marked as heretics in the past for going against the teachings of the Church and putting forward ideas that were against a Godly plan. In 1600, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for his scientific studies; 1633, the Church forced Galileo to recant his view that the Earth moved around the Sun. Well, we all know now that Galileo was right and that the Church which did not really use science, was wrong.

Well, the Church took several hundred years, but it's finally made an apology and set things right with science. Now, the Vatican has its own scientists and researchers to support the new findings in science, particularly in the space sciences, that could lead to proof that there is life somewhere else in space outside the Earth. It's a fact that planets outside the solar system are now routinely discovered and some of them could possibly harbor life.

The Vatican had hosted a five-day conference in 2009 attended by 30 scientists, some non-Catholics, to talk about astrobiology, the science of establishing the origins and possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. According to Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, an astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory., "the questions of life's origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very suitable and deserve serious consideration."

Astronomy professor Chris Impey of the University of Arizona says, "both science and religion posit life as a special outcome of a vast and mostly inhospitable universe," he told a news conference Tuesday." He also says "there is a rich middle ground for dialogue between the practitioners of astrobiology and those who seek to understand the meaning of our existence in a biological universe."

In 2008, Rev. Funes said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that "believing the universe may host aliens, even intelligent ones, does not contradict a faith in God." He added that "just as there is a multitude of creatures on Earth, there could be other beings, even intelligent ones, created by God. This does not contradict our faith, because we cannot put limits on God's creative freedom." He maintains that if indeed life elsewhere in the universe is eventually discovered, it would still be regarded as part of God's creation. Funes also believes that the Big Bang (left) is a reasonable explanation as to how God created the universe.

In 2005, the Vatican Observatory (top, left) also hosted a similar conference on the implications of extraterrestrial life.

The Simpsons Hungry are the Damned from the first Treehouse of Horror episode. This limited edition giclée on paper is a must-have for fans of The Simpsons and funny aliens. Click here or on the image to purchase.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

140-Million-Year-Old Spider Web Found

The oldest known spider web (to date) has been found. It's 140 million years old and it's been preserved in amber or fossilized tree sap. The amber had preserved it as it was all that time including the droplets that resemble those found in modern day webs of orb-web garden spiders (see microscopy images above). According to lead researcher Martin Brasier of the University of Oxford, the find shows the earliest webs that are incorporated in the fossil record.

The strands of fossilized spider webs were reconstructed using computer-aided technology called confocal microscopy. The findings suggest that the spiders that lived those millions of years ago also fed on insects that are the ancestors of modern day species. Other things preserved in the amber along with the webs are insect droppings, plant matter, and even microbes.

FLASH: Largest web-spinning spider discovered.

This orb-web golden spider (see video that follows) is the largest web-spinning spider ever discovered. It's as broad as an optical disc. Interestingly, the discovery is based on dead spider remains in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. The new species of orb-weaver spider, Nephila komaci is found to be larger than other Nephila species. For trivia's sake, you might be interested to know the largest spider in the world non-web spinning) is the Goliath Bird Eater (Theraphosa blondi).

This red-light-eyed giant tarantula spider looks real and even feels real with it's furry exoskeleton. But it's just a toy and it's remote controlled so you can scare the wits out of your friends and neighbors! Click here or on the image to place your order.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Economic Recession Counters Global Warming

In 2007, scientists revealed that human-made carbon dioxide emissions were increasing beyond what's been predicted. In the 1990s, it was only at 1.3% annually, but in the next decade moving into the 21st century, this figure went up to 3.3%. It was a dramatic increase that was blamed on growing industries. The results of the study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) journal.

The NAS identified the sources of the carbon dioxide emissions as part of the economic boom experienced in that time worldwide. According to study author Josep Canadell of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia, this boom resulted in the increase of greenhouse gas contributors such as coal-burning electricity plants. Canadell said this is reflected in carbon intensity, which measures the amount of carbon needed to produce $1 for the economy.

The level of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere has been known for a long time to be steadily increasing. As a greenhouse gas, this can trap the sun's heat in the atmosphere which can increase average temperatures worldwide and cause climate change, specifically global warming.

Now, scientists are saying that CO2 emissions have tapered off. A recent study (2009) conducted by the International Energy Agency (IEA) concludes that the dip in CO2 emissions over the last year will be greater than any dip in the last forty years. The reason for the drop, as identified by the IEA, is the current economic recession as well as the imposition of stricter environmental policies signed into law by governments like the United States.

Canadell said efficient technologies mean more wealth generated for the same level of emissions. While this is offset by growing economies which still use old fashioned energy sources, the belt-tightening of countries and a more environmentally-conscious populace means there's a trend to use less energy. It's now felt in the form of less CO2 emissions. The IEA research came one year after the start of the global economic meltdown.

What does this mean for global warming? For one, it simply shows that with concerted effort (and this does not mean working together to bring down the economy), it is possible to make a change that could very well keep the Earth from plunging into a very warm future that could devastate civilization as we know it with extreme environmental changes. The debates on global warming may continue, but any change that may take place as a result of the physical conditions around us will have to be either dealt with or claimed. In the meantime, this news will allow a little breathing room until the economy picks up again.

This post is for Blog Action Day, October 15, 2009.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Subsurface Ice Found Near Martian Equator

In a study in 2008 relating to recent impact craters on Mars, researchers have found that subsurface ice exists underneath the Martian surface soil. The ice was discovered when the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's (MRO) Context camera team was looking for blemishes on Mars which could be recent meteorite impacts. They are usually dark and are not in older images.

The team found a few and so had these sites imaged by high-resolution cameras. What they saw was a surprise because instead of seeing dark material from under the surface exposed by the impacts, they saw something that was bluish white. Team member Shane Byrne said they found it when they followed up on the first of three craters. He said it looked a lot like water ice. The MRO Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer took a peek at the spectrum of the material and it showed the signature of water ice.

As expected in the thin Martial atmosphere, the ice changed over time and disappeared. Ice on Mars do not last long exposed to air because it sublimates like dry ice does, turning directly into water vapor and never turning to flowing water. The image at the top shows what happens to the Martian landscape when ice vaporizes from underneath.

The discovery of subsurface ice will help a lot in the quest to learn more about the past of Mars, which is believed to have gone through a wet period. It's possible that microbial life once existed or still exists trapped in the ice. Current studies on Mars are a prerequisite to the first Mars astronauts on the red planet. Next to the Moon, Mars is likely the second body beyond Earth where people would set foot on.

One day, people will go to Mars and grow plants for food and oxygen. Will this Mimosa plant be one of the first few to go on a different planet? Click here or on the image to place your order.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rat Brain Cells for Robots

Three hundred thousand rat brain cells (held by gloved hand) cultured in a nutrient bath and firing electrical signals have been used as the brain of a robot to navigate in a tight space.

Researchers Kevin Warwick and Ben Whalley at the University of Reading in the UK were able to connect the rat neurons with the output of a robot's distance sensors, thereby becoming the "brain." The distance sensors feed the neurons information that cause reactions in the form of electrical signals that are used to power the motors for navigation.

The scientists say the next step would be to use cultured human neurons, which they say could prove to be useful in the study of neurological conditions like epilepsy. They say the way the rat neurons respond to stimulus, releasing an electrical burst all at the same time, could be similar to what happens in an epileptic's brain during a seizure.

If successful, the team would be the first to use human brain cells in a robot to control its movement. They will be comparing how rat brain cells perform against human ones. For your information, cultured human brain cells are readily available for purchase for lab work. Warwick and Whalley need not harvest them from any corpse or a living brain.

This Wall-E toy robot doesn't have rat brain cells in its head, but it will still give you tons of fascinating excitement with the remote control unit. Relive the movie at home! Click here or on the image to place your order.

More information on technology in the Information on Technology blog

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Crows Use Stone Tools Just Like in Aesop's Fable

Aesop once told a story about how a crow used stones to raise the level of water in a jug. It's an interesting tale where the moral overshadows this interesting bit of information. People would think that it's just a fairy tale. Who would have thought that crows really knew how to use stones to raise the level of water in a container? But the fact is that crows (rooks) really do use this technique, and it may have been something crows have been doing for a very long time.

Researchers have reported observing crow-relatives called rooks use the same rock technique to get to a worm floating on the water in a narrow container. Three of the birds were used in the experiment. In previous experiments, crows and rooks have been shown to have used other tools like sticks (left). According to the scientists, the rooks appeared to get the idea that larger stones will do the trick faster.

Christopher Bird of Cambridge University and fellow researchers used a six-inch tall plastic tube filled with water with a worm floating on top. Bird (the researcher, not the rook) noted that the rooks appeared to estimate how many stones were needed. It's something to think about and one reason why the term "bird-brained" shouldn't really mean "stupid" anymore.

In Aesop's time, rooks were also called crows. Ever wonder why they were eventually called rooks? Perhaps they like to use rocks?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Venus Gets a White Spot Just about the Same Time Jupiter Gets Its Dark Impact Blemish

While attention was on Jupiter due to the recent July 19 impact of a comet, something strange was happening on Venus at the same time. For some mysterious reason, a white spot has formed on the southern-hemisphere clouds of Venus. It was noticed by amateur astronomer Frank Melillo of Holtsville, New York on July 19 but was largely ignored because of the "bigger" and unprecedented event on Jupiter.

According to Sanjay Limaye, planetary scientist of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it's not the first time that this has happened on the clouds of Venus (left; European Space Agency), in effect saying it's a normal occurrence. Nevertheless, the cause of such whitenings remains unclear. Limaye says this event is unique in that it happened in a smaller area.

After receiving Melillo's report, other astronomers and the Venus Express spacecraft of the European Space Agency took a look at it. The result is a series of pictures that show how the white spot changed in time. The photographs showed that the white spot appeared four days earlier than the report by Melillo. Theories about it range from volcanic eruptions to effects of a coronal mass ejection from the Sun.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Oldest Non-Geological Structures on Earth Built by Primitive Lifeforms

Earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old and just a billion years after it took the form of a real planet, structures that resemble upside down egg cartons and broad ice cream cones began to form in the first bodies of water. Some of these formations are still intact today, and geologists have argued and toyed with theories on what formed them.

While it's a typical belief that these formations were the result of primordial geological processes, there's much evidence to suggest they they were the result of organic action, which means they were created by living things - microbes in particular. Such old structures, called stromatolites, have young counterparts with recent ones that are half a billion years old. The evidence for biologic origin takes the form of layers of organic material that is present in the stromatolites.

Theory has it that microbes, likely blue-green algae, create beds on the floors of bodies of water like shallow seas. These beds act to promote deposits of sediments, much like how flypaper collects dust. However, it's been theorized that the microbes grow filaments that catch particles from the water. So it's likely the formations were the result of a play between passive deposition and organic action.

This is an aquarium designed for dinosaur shrimp, otherwise known as triops. They have been in existence on Earth for 350 million years and their eggs, which come with the aquarium package, easily hatch just by adding water! Take a tour far, far back in time with is Star Wars planet Naboo theme aquarium. Click here or on the image to place your order!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

2,000-Yr-Old Man-Made Cave Discovered in the Jordan Valley

A huge man-made cave was discovered in the Jordan valley of Isreal that's 2,000 years old and supposedly the largest of all at an acre (.4 hectare) in area coverage. Inside, archaeologists like Adam Zertal, have found deep etchings on walls and pillars of what used to be an underground quarry. The researchers pointed to crosses (top) and symbols that Zertal had identified as a possible zodiac symbol (above left) used in the Roman era at around 1 A.D.

The cave was found in March, 2009 when the archaeologists came to a hole in the wall of the ancient quarry. Initial forays already revealed a huge pillared chamber, discernible even with little available light. The cave is believed to have been used as a hideout of persecuted Christians and as a refuge for Roman soldiers. It's also possible that it was used as a monastery, although only the etched crosses serve as a basis for this hypothesis.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Scientists Analyze Sunspots Up Close

Sunspots used to be very mysterious and vague. Sure, they look like dark spots against the brightness of the solar disk. But what do they really look like up close? In the set of video stills above, you can see how sunspots appear in close up. In the picture at the left, you can see how they appear in three dimensions. These views are now possible with recent imaging techniques and technologies used by astronomers. Click on the images to watch the associated videos.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How the Hemlock Water-Dropwort Plant Puts a Smile on the Faces of Dead People

Have you ever wondered what the Joker uses in his special toxic blend of compound that puts a smile on his victims' faces? Yes, it's purely fiction, but the writers of Batman may have hit on something that's very real.

In ancient times, assassins and murderers have used the hemlock water-dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) plant (above) to incapacitate their victims slowly through the poisonous Botox-like effect of the extract and then do their heinous deed. The result are corpses with a smile on their face - which was already a clue to what was used.

The Mediterranean hemlock water-dropwort, common in the island of Sardinia, is similar in appearance to the parsnip plant, which has carrot-like roots and is an edible vegetable. Anyone mistaking the hemlock water-dropwort for the parsnip can be lethally poisoned. Fortunately, the leaves of the hemlock water-dropwort taste terrible. The roots, however, although more pleasant, is no less toxic, and this makes them even more dangerous. The poison is an oenanthotoxin, which is related to the cicutoxin of the water hemlock.

Authorities became interested in the hemlock water-dropwort due to a string of smiling-corpse suicides that pointed to it's use. The ancient Phoenicians of Sardinia used the toxin in ritual killings of old people and those who broke the law. That's how Homer (of ancient Greece; not of the Simpsons) came up with the term "sardonic grin." Using the toxin is a gruesome way to go with a smile, which only takes three hours. Don't try this at home... or anywhere else for that matter.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Thor's Winged Helmet Seen In Space

Thor is the god of thunder and he's supposed to live in Asgard. But where is Asgard anyway? It's supposed to be up there somewhere in the sky and the fact is, this myth may have some truth in it because Thor's winged helmet is actually visible in deep space!

The nebula image above (from Wikipedia) is also viewable in a different and brighter photograph from Jean-Charles Cuillandre (CFHT), Giovanni Anselmi (Coelum Astronomia), and the Hawaiian Starlight site.

It's that of deep sky object, Thor's Helmet, an emission nebula also known as NGC 2359. By it's winged appearance, it's also called the Duck nebula. Now we know what happened to his helmet in the painting at the left - Thor misplaced it or it may have been stolen by his brother Loki and hidden among the stars in space! But seriously, it's likely most people might prefer to identify NGC 2359 with the Norse god of thunder, especially now that there's a Thor movie directed by Kenneth Branagh.

Fear not! You need not venture into Asgard nor outer space to find the winged-helmet of the god of thunder, Thor! It is here and all you have to do is click on the image to make it your own! Get it now before the god of mischief, Loki swipes it!

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Philippine Scientist Solves Termite Problem: Houses Made of Chicken Feathers

Termites are practically everywhere where there are houses and they cost homeowners thousands in house maintenance costs. Sometimes, the problem becomes too much and prompts the homeowner to relocate to somewhere less infested by termites. One scientist may have partly solved the problem of termites. The solution he gave? Chickens!

Chickens? Yes! But the chickens won't be eating the termites, if that's what you think. This scientist, professor Menandro Acda of the University of the Philippines, has come up with a construction board that's made of cement and chicken feathers. He says composite boards made from feathers are more fire-resistant than those made from wood chips and also termite-resistant because they are not eaten by them. The boards also help ease the problem of chicken feather disposal, which contributes a lot to landfill garbage.

Acda says the boards may be used for paneling, ceilings, and insulations but says much work needs to be done to make them feasible for other construction purposes. For now, they cannot be used for pillars and other support structures. But it's likely there will be houses soon that will be made of his chicken feather boards. Environmental scientists may be amenable to moving into such a home.

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Burden of Moving Eased for Scientists and Other Professionals

It’s a fact that professionals looking for a new home to rent or to purchase loathe having to look for financing, ask for quotes, and transfer services. Even writing change-of-address letters and emails can be a chore. More often than not, they would rather concentrate on their work instead of taking time out to ask for removal quotes and look for moving man and van services. They’re lucky to get things done without the help of services that can ease their burden.

A simple search will take you to It’s one UK-based site that will prove to be a favorite of professionals who relocate because it can potentially reduce their stress level. It’s a free service site that makes the task of moving easier by providing information and support necessary to complete the process. Such information is backed by practical resources which are all made available and easily accessed online through the company website.

By the looks of it, using services is like having a secretary who does most of the work, which may include, but are not limited to, selection of a removal company, connecting to gas and electricity utilities, insurance registration, legal consultations, and other grueling tasks. In fact, a real person can be ready to help clients through the phone. The website says this service is available on weekdays from 9am to 5pm. So that means clients will have to settle for the other online support services on weekends.

The phone support is really a service in the sense that the operators not only give you information—the website says they help out by doing most of the things you need to do like make arrangements with a moving company and preferred utility companies. says it will always recommend the cheapest or most convenient service for the client.

While there are removal companies that provide only a moving van or a man and van, can pick a professional removal company for you that provides both and even more if they’re available. You can monitor your moving schedule with the website’s Move Planner which is useful for fixing a timetable and for marking dates for urgent tasks.

Apart from the moving service, another aspect that can be attractive to professionals about is that it’s totally free, unlike others that charge fees upfront. That may be hard to believe but it’s true. The company earns money from referral payments from partner utility and moving companies. Thus, every time someone opts to avail of a utility or service from a partner provider, gets paid. It’s an arrangement in which they endorse utilities and other moving services and get referral fees in exchange and it all works to benefit the client. operates in the UK and is registered as The Moving Service. It’s located at 17 Beckenham Grove, Bromley, Kent, BR2 0JN. The website does not service non-UK residents. But if you’re planning to move to Britain for some professional work, it will prove to be very helpful.

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