Saturday, December 27, 2008

Asteroid Impact Footage

This incredible footage shows the devastating effects of an asteroid hitting the Earth, provided by the Discovery Channel, it gives a chilling and real view of how fragile our planet really is.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

40th Anniversary of "Earthrise" Photo

Exactly 40 years ago today, Astronaut William Anders took this historic photo during the Apollo 8 mission to the Moon. The picture was taken during lunar orbit with a Hasselblad camera, and was titled "Earthrise" showing us how beautiful the Earth really is from afar.

Conspiracy theorists have claimed this photo is proof that the lunar program was a hoax because no stars are visible in the shot. Unfortunately for those nay-sayers, this is due to the overexposure of the camera, not a lunar conspiracy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rainforest May Hold the Future of Bio Fuels

A type of fungus found on trees in the Patagonian rain forest may provide a source of fuel for diesel cars, as it was found to have almost the exact same properties of regular diesel fuel. The fungi, called Gliocladium roseum, is incredibly similar to diesel fuel in its natural state, and therefore would require little modification to utilize as a source of fuel. In addition to having the same chemical characteristics, the fungi can also consume the waste caused from modern biofuel production. Although the research is just beginning, the assistance this could provide in the future efficiency of biofuel production, and in the creation of new biofuels is astounding.

Lead researcher Gary Stobel, a plant scientist from Montana State University said of the discovery "This is the only organism that has ever been shown to produce such an important combination of fuel substances, we were totally surprised to learn that it was making a plethora of hydrocarbons."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Another Feat!

When doctors performed a standard MRI scan on three-day old Sam Esquibel, they were definitely not ready for what they would find. What looked like a microscopic brain tumor forming, was actually a nearly perfectly formed foot and partial formation of another foot, a hand, and a thigh. A case like this has been given the name "foetus in foetu", which is a twin beginning to form within its sibling, and is rarely seen.

Mr Dominic Thompson, a consultant paediatric neurosurgeon at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital, said there were probably less than 100 recorded cases of foetus in foetu in the medical literature. Sam was operated on without any problems, and all that is remaining of this little foot, is a little scar.

Feat For Fish

It started in Turkey thousands of years ago, moved to eastern Asia after that, and is currently sweeping through North American spas as the new hot format for pedicures. People dip their feet into tanks of warm water containing many baby-carp. Due to the lack of vegetation in water of such a high temperature, the fish do not have many options when it comes to their feeding habits. At the sight of two fresh human feat, they begin their feast. Since they have no teeth, they target all the dead skin they can find, and provide spa clients with a very natural method for exfoliation.

Discovery of Carbonate Minerals on Mars

Images taken by the high resolution CRISM spectrometer on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in a recent study by Brown University have broken new ground in the age-old question of whether or not Mars could have at one point sustained life. The discovery of magnesium carbonate rocks in several research sites is important because these carbonate minerals form in the presence of water, and for the first time the research has suggested that they formed in neutral-pH water that would have provided an ideal environment for living organisms.

Lead Astronomer Bethany Ehlmann says "Such water represent a different sort of aqueous environment -- potentially a habitat for micro-organisms -- on ancient Mars."

In some regions where research has been conducted on the surface of Mars, it is clear that acidic waters were at one point present, and it was assumed that this was the case for most of the planet. Astronomers are eager to study the wide range of possible environments this discovery has proven there could be on the planet, and arduously continue to prove the existence of life on Mars.

John Mustard, another member of the Brown University team added "This is opening up a range of environments on Mars. This is highlighting an environment that to the best of our knowledge doesn't experience the same kind of unforgiving conditions that have been identified in other areas. We know there's been water all over the place, but how frequently have the conditions been hospitable for life? We can say pretty confidently that when water was present in the places we looked at, it would have been a happy, pleasant environment for life."

An Artist's Conception of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Welcome Millkit!

Scientists in Argentina have found ways to make cows produce more milk, through injections of bovine growth hormone produced by genetically modified dairy cows. Also known as rbST, synthetic bovine somatotropin is not a newly developed product used for injection, however this team of scientists claim that their method is cheaper and produces a natural bovine hormone.

The head of research and development at biotechnology firm Bio Sidus, Andres Bercivich, explained that if under normal circumstances a cow produces 20 liters of milk/day, it could produce 25 liters when injected with this hormone. When looking at one cow, it might not seem like much, but convert that statistic to the output levels at huge milk firms, an increase of 25% will equal a huge jump in profits.

The company plans to export the dairy hormone technology to the United States, Mexico, Peru, and Brazil, as this product has not yet been approved for sale in Argentina.

Now I will take this opportunity to introduce a new member to Markit Science team: the one and only Millkit

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Meteorite Spotted + Found!

The fireball seen in the video above was captured by a peace officer's dashboard cam in Devon, Alberta, providing an excellent account of this event. The meteorite fall occurred on 2008 November 20 at 5:26.42 MST. It was seen by thousands of people across the Canadian prairies, sparking a wide range of reactions from sheer awe to fear and panic.

Thousands of meteorites are expected to have rained down over a 20 square km area, but they were difficult to find in the varied terrain of Buzzard Coulee. After quick examination of the suspected region of impact, the first meteorites were located by Ellen Milley, a PhD candidate at the University of Calgary, in a frozen fish pond near the agricultural community of Lone Rock, Saskatchewan.

The largest meteorite fragment to be recovered in the first days was a 13 kg whopper which creating a form fitting indentation 5-10 cm deep before bouncing out and resting on the frozen ground a few cm away. Take a look at the detailed topographical map to see the exact impact location of the large meteorite.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

World's Oldest Person Dies

Edna Staples, the oldest person in the world, has recently passed away. She was 115 years and 220 days old. Parker was born April 20, 1893, in central Indiana's Morgan County.

Parker taught in a two-room school in Shelby County for several years after graduating from Franklin College in 1911. She wed her childhood sweetheart and neighbour in 1913. Two years ago she was named as the oldest living person by Guinness Book of World Records. She never drank alcohol or tried tobacco, and led a very active lifestyle, but when asked about tips to longevity, her only advice was "more education".

Now the oldest person is Maria de Jesus of Portugal, born September 10, 1893, who is currently 115 years, 78 days old.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An Eye Opening Genetic Malformation

During the development of an embryo there are many critical processes simultaneously at work , including body axis specification and formation of functional organs. Another important element is the development of the head, arguably the most anatomically sophisticated region of the body. On rare occasions craniofacial malformations will occur, resulting in disorders that have many potential origins, including abnormalities of brain patterning, of the migration and fusion of tissues in the face, and of bone differentiation in the skull.

Holoprosencephaly (HPE) refers to a range of problems involving the malformation of the brain and upper face along the midline. In the most moderate of circumstances, the signs of HPE are as subtle as one single central incisor, shown above on the left. The most extreme end of the spectrum can be associated with midline cleft lip, cyclopia, and an overlying proboscis, shown above on the right. The proboscis, which is the build-up of tissue seen above the eyes, forms because of the obstruction by the central eye. It is made up of frontonasal neural-crest cells that would have normally migrated between the eyes to form the nose and upper lip.

This is extremely rare in live births (~1 in 15,000), but is more commonly detected in early pregnancies (1 in 250); however almost all affected fetuses are miscarried. The cause of these deformities is thought to be due to mutations in the SHH gene. Source of pictures and information: Wilkie et. al (2001) Genetics of Cranofacial Development and Malformation, Nature Reviews Genetics, Volume 2; 458-468.

Friday, November 21, 2008

RIP Debby

Sadly, Debby died a few days ago in her home at the Winnipeg Zoo where she lived to the beyond-ripe age just shy of 42. This was not surprising news, as her health had been deteriorating quickly over the past few months. See the post made on August 1st.

She was recognized in the 2008 Guiness Book of World Records as the oldest polar bear.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pocket Primate

The pygmy tarsier (tarsius pumilus) last spotted in 1920, was thought to be extinct, until recently when a team of researchers captured three (two males + one female) in an Indonesian cloud forest on Mount Rore Katimo in Lore-Lindu National Park. They attached radio collars to their necks in order to track their movements and released them.

These little nocturnal creatures weigh less than 60 grams and have dense fur that keeps them warm in their cold habitat at high altitudes. Its eyes cannot move, so when hunting for small insects or vertebrates it turns its head 180 degrees. Unlike other primates it has claws, rather than nails.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cloning The Frozen

A team of Japanese geneticists used cells from a dead mouse frozen for 16 years and successfully created healthy clones. They took dead brain and blood cells from the frozen mice, and injected the nuclei from them directly into unfertilized mouse eggs. By extracted inner cell mass from each embryo, they generated embryonic stem cells. Eventually they were able to produce 13 mouse pups. The nuclei from these cells were then transferred into mouse eggs, resulting in the production of healthy pups.

"But in dead cells the cell membrane is broken and the fusion method cannot be used for cloning. In our method, it does not matter whether the donor cells are alive or dead," Wakayama explained.

The technique could eventually lead to the resurrection of extinct animals such as the woolly mammoth, scientists stated in November 2008.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Oldest Rocks Discovered

Along the Northern Quebec coast of Hudson's Bay, Canadian and U.S. researchers claim to have found the oldest rocks in the world. The rocks are estimated to be 4.28 billion years old, according to a team of researchers from McGill University, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. Jonathan O'Neil, a Ph.D. candidate at McGill's department of Earth and planetary sciences and the lead author of a study to be published in Friday's issue of the journal Science, said the discovery would offer new insight into the early Earth.

"Our discovery not only opens the door to further unlock the secrets of the Earth's beginnings," said O'Neil in a statement. "Geologists now have a new playground to explore how and when life began, what the atmosphere may have looked like, and when the first continent formed."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Yikes, Hurricane Ike!

Hurricane Ike has already raged through the Caribbean islands. It is currently a Category-2 and nearing on the coast of Texas, USA. The storms prognosis is not looking good for American residents, especially for those in Houston and Galveston. The whole area could be covered with 15-20 feet of water. This quote is taken directly from the National Weather Service:


10's of thousands of people are already on the roads getting out of there. I will update the situation as news comes in.

Friday, August 29, 2008

On Your Mark, Get Set, TOAD!

The Cane Toad (Bufo Marinus) is a massive terrestrial toad native to Central and Southern America. In 1935 they were introduced to Australia in an attempt to control the native Cane Beetle population which was growing out of control. Initially there were 3000 young toads introduced, but since then they have grown to an astonishing 200 million. Due to their migratory nature they have started to evolve larger legs, larger bodies, and increased their speed of movement.

It is estimated that these toads migrate at an average of 40 km per year. This is making people nervous since they are starting to destroy flora, as well as other species, such as the Northern Quoll and certain snakes. To get an idea of how they are spreading, see the map below:

Recently some researchers have made progress predictions regarding the migration of this explosively breeding species. In the spirit of the recent Olympics, scientists have staged a 2 meter sprint event in a laboratory setting. The Ecography journal reports that Toads could hop as fast as 2km per hour at 30C, but were only able to hop at 0.3 km per hour at 15C.

Previous studies have predicted that southern regions of Australia, including Melbourne, will eventually face the toad invasion. Head researcher Dr. Kearney feels otherwise: "The cane toads cannot survive in much of southern Australia because they would be too cold to move about and forage or spawn." Perhaps these cold temperatures will halt the progress of the toad army after all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Developed by Heap Media Australia, is this easy alternative to Google... what's the difference? Instead of a white background, it's black. Other than that, there are plenty of Google extras that have been omitted.

So what's the big deal? Blackle argues that computer monitors use different amounts of energy dependent on what colors they are showing. In a 2002 study, they determined that an all black screen used less energy than an all white screen. Although this might be insignificant during your own 30 second search, think of the billions of hits that Google receives. Blackle creators estimate that a black Google would save 750 megawatt hours per year. To put that in perspective, 1 megawatt hour is the equivalent of 10,000 hundred-watt light bulbs turned on for 1 hour. On the Blackle Homepage they have a counter showing the number of watt hours saved. As of August 28, 2008 they claim to have saved 793,544.792 watt hours.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Exploding Whale

This post might not be about something recent, but it's still quite remarkable. In 1970, a huge sperm whale beached at Florence, Oregon. In an attempt to deal with the massive rotting carcass, the Oregon Highway Division decided to blow it up using dynamite. Since this was a rare occurrence, they did not have any previous trials to investigate in order to determine the proper amount of dynamite to use.

This entire ordeal became famous after columnist Dave Berry wrote about it. The footage of the clean up gone wrong has circulated all over the internet, check it out here:

Friday, August 15, 2008

Abracadabra Chupacabra

This picture is a still taken from the recent video capturing the legendary animal rumored to wander parts of the Americas. The name Chupacabra comes from the Spanish word chupar (to suck) and cabra (goat), because the animal apparently has a habit of attacking and drinking the blood of livestock, especially goats. Although there have been numerous sightings over the past 20 years, everywhere from Puerto Rico to Maine, and even as far south as Chile, most biologists and wildlife specialists still view the Chupacabra as nothing more than an urban legend.

On August 8, 2008, deputy Brandon Riedel used his dashboard camera to film an unidentifiable animal along some back country roads near Cuero, Texas. The animal was similar to a coyote in size, but was hairless and had a very long snout. There was brief coverage regarding the video on FOX, check it out:

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hot Ground

The ground in a certain region of Southern California, in Ventura County, has reached a scorching temperature of over 800 degrees. This was noticed after the land got so hot that it started a brush fire and burned three acres last month. By the time firefighters hit the scene, nothing but smoldering dirt remained.

"We are a little perplexed at this point, to tell you the truth," the Ventura County Star quoted geologist David Panaro as saying. "This is not your usual geological detective story."

One theory is that natural hydrocarbons, such as oil, are burning deep in the earth and seeping out through cracks in the region, forcing the surface to quickly heat and generate smoke.

Allen King, a former geologist with the U.S. Forest Service recently stuck a thermometer into the ground and got a reading of 550 degrees — so hot that it melted the glue holding the sole of his boots together.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Russians Go Deep

A team of Russian scientists successfully reached the bottom of Siberia's Lake Baikal, the world's deepest. Lake Baikal was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It contains more that 20% of the world’s freshwater. It is not only the deepest, but is also the oldest. It was formed after a massive earthquake around 25 million years old.

The safe return of 2 submersibles (Mir-1 and Mir-2) set a new record by descending 1680 meters. Before this, it was thought that Lake Baikal was only 1637 meters deep. They were taking samples from the bottom to further their studies of plants and animals.

Some skeptics might argue that they were really examining potential entrance paths for oil. Igor Chestin, the head of WWF Russia, commented on possible oil exploration by saying, "I think scientists as well as the politicians are enough educated to understand that even if all oil of the planet will be down the lake Baikal, it still will not be worth exploring, because the fresh water is going to be the major resource in the coming decade."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Montauk Monster All Talk

This is the 'Montauk Monster', which allegedly washed up onto the shore in Long Island's East Hamptons. The finding was initially published on July 23 in The Independent. This color photo popped up online last week through Immediately questions arose as to what this creature actually was. Since then, the story has hit the media full force, including a mention on CNN and Fox News.

Jeff Corwin, wildlife expert from 'Animal Planet', has a simple theory. He claims that it's a raccoon with its muzzle partly rotted away, explaining the beak-like snout. With enough erosion, the canine teeth could easily resemble a beak like structure.

William Wise, director of Stony Brook University's Living Marine Resources Institute, disagreed after consulting with fellow biologists. He isn't sure what it is, but he has ruled out some options:
  • raccoon - the legs are too long in proportion to the body
  • sea turtle - they don't have teeth
  • rodent - rodents have two large, curved incisor teeth in front of their mouths
He mentioned that the general body shape looks like that of a dog, but that the "prominent eye ridge and feet" don't match. This lead him to his best guess, crediting the monster to "A talented someone who got very creative with latex".

All of this is based on photograph analysis, because the actual body has yet to land in the laps of scientists. The photographer, 26 year old Jenna Hewitt, explained its current whereabouts stating that, "A guy took it and put it in the woods in his backyard; he has a big backyard." She wouldn't say who, and wouldn't say where. Sounds fishy?

Here's the other picture that was taken. I'm on the raccoon train...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Oldest Polar Bear Dying

Meet Debby, the world's oldest living polar bear, currently a resident of Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo. She is 41 years and 8 months old, which more than doubles the expected life span for most polar bears that live in the wild.

"We like to boast that we're the polar bear capital of the world, with all of the polar bears up at Churchill and along the coast," zoo curator Bob Wrigley said.

She spent years living in her enclosure with her former mate Skipper, who died six years ago. Zoo keepers claim that they would huddle together outside through the night, even in -40 C. temperatures. In the morning, they would wake up completely covered in snow drifts, Wrigley said. Their long relationship was unusual for the usually solitary animals. Although options aren't too extensive when living in a zoo.

Unfortunately for Debby, her old age is catching up, and reports have been made that she is dying from age-related medical complications. She has suffered several strokes and is losing weight. Her "prognosis of recovery from age-related medical problems is not good," the zoo said in a release. Get better Debby!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Heads Up, Eclipse!

There will be a total solar eclipse during tomorrow morning's sunrise (August 1). As seen from a narrow track crossing parts of Canada's northern islands, the eclipse is total. The path of totality then sweeps eastward across northern Greenland, across Siberia, and ends at sunset in China.

For those located in Eastern Canada, the last partial solar eclipse visible was 9 years ago, 1999 August 11, and it also occurred at sunrise. There was a more recent solar eclipse on Christmas Day 2000, but clouds and snow hid it. After tomorrow, the next partial solar eclipse visible from this area will happen on November 3, 2013.

To see tomorrow's unusual sunrise, be ready for an early wake up, as the period of total eclipse, or totality, will occur from 7:08am to 7:10am EDT. You will need a proper solar filter to avoid damaging your eyes, or use a pinhole mirror projector. But if you sleep through the alarm, fear not, NASA has you covered. They will be providing a live feed of the event. The coverage, originating in China and reliant on good weather, runs from 6:00am to 8:15am EDT. Follow this link to see it happen!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Montreal Anomaly

Two large tornado-like waterspouts were spotted over Montreal on June 23rd as a result of an approaching severe thunderstorm. Environment Canada confirmed that the first waterspout formed in Montreal's east end at 1:15 pm ET in the St. Lawrence River. Simultaneously, a second waterspout formed about 70 km northeast of the city.

This "waterspout" is a spinning funnel column of water and vapour that forms between a cloud and the earth. Generally they are weaker than a tornado, and usually occur in tropical regions. They are frequently reported in areas like Florida, off the coast of Key West.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lemur Emergence

A new population of lemurs has been discovered in the Torotorofotsy wetland region of east-central Madagascar. The extremely rare greater bamboo lemur, or Prolemur simus, is listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union. This newfound group joins another isolated population of ~100 animals in Madagascar's northern bamboo forests, some 400 km away.

Scientists estimate that 30 to 40 of the lemurs live in the swampy region, where bamboo is plentiful. These wrinkly faced creatures are known for cracking open giant bamboo with their industrial-strength jaws. Perhaps a pocket population strayed south to escape habitat destruction from illegal logging, which is common in the north.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Fastest Of The Slow

Every year 300 snails compete in the annual World Snail Racing Championship, held in Congham, Norfolk. The snails race from the middle of a circle (radius = 13 inches) to the outside. The snails are put in the center and pointed in the right direction, as their Trainer starts the race by yelling "Ready, steady, SLOW!"

The picture above shows an overjoyed snail named Heikki, the 2008 World Champion, who won in a time of 3 minutes, 2 seconds. The trainer? 13 year old Georgie Brown. The World record still remains at a speedy 2 minutes flat, set in 1995 by the legendary snail Archie.

Peruvian Mummy

A team of archaeologists and anthropologists uncovered an ancient mummy wrapped in many layers of detailed textiles. This specimen, found in a remote northern region of Peru, was preserved very well. There were many unique elements to this find. His eyes were covered with metal plates and many unfamiliar artifacts were found between the layers of cocooning textiles. Watch the video for a deeper look:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fastest Muscle

No, that's a mussel! However, the fastest muscles known have been found in the throats of songbirds. Head researcher Coen Elemans and colleagues uncovered that zebra finches and European starlings have the ability to change their tunes at frequencies up to 250 hertz via direct muscle control. That's about 100 times faster than the blink of an eye.

By exposing the vocal muscle fibers to electrical stimulation, scientists clocked how fast the muscles expanded and contracted. Both female and male starlings moved at about 3.2 milliseconds per expansion or contraction. In zebra finches, females moved at 7.1 milliseconds, while males twitched at 3.7.

There are some competitors elsewhere in the natural world. Rattlesnakes come in a close second with the twitching muscles on both sides of their rattler. The muscles in swim bladders of certain fish also move strikingly fast.

"We had no idea muscles could work at these superfast rates," said Daniel Margoliash, a biologist at the University of Chicago. "That they can and do is just amazing."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wet Moon

A study recently published in Nature magazine is making scientists rethink the theory of how the Moon formed. To recap, the theory states that the Moon was created during a violent collision between Earth and another planet-sized object. The heat from this impact would have vaporised all water. This new study claims that water was delivered to the lunar surface from the interior in volcanic eruptions approximately 3 billion years ago, implying that the water has been part of the Moon since its existence.

The US Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s successfully collected lunar volcanic glasses, pebble-like beads. Since then scientists have been determining the nature of the chemical elements in the glasses.

Using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) technology, the team from Brown University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and Case Western Reserve University, were able to detect extremely tiny amounts of water in glasses and minerals.

"We were really surprised to find a whole lot more in these tiny glass beads, up to 46 parts per million," said Erik Hauri, from the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC.

They think that the water was contained in magma which erupted via "fire fountains" on the lunar surface more than 3 billion years ago. The eruptions themselves would have evaporated 95% of the water, but also leave some behind. Since the Moon's gravity is too weak to have an atmosphere, speculations indicate that some of the water vapour was likely forced into space. But some might have drifted towards the cold poles of the Moon, where ice may exists in constantly shadowed craters.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Baby In The Mail

Thirty four year old Thomas Beatie, the world's first pregnant man, has given birth to a baby girl in Oregon. How could a man be pregnant you ask? Well "Mr." Beatie was born a woman, but underwent gender realignment surgery, so now he is legally considered to be male. He was able to conceive because he kept his female organs during the sex change operation.

“Sterilization is not a requirement for sex reassignment, so I decided to have chest reconstruction and testosterone therapy but kept my reproductive rights,” he writes. “Wanting to have a biological child is neither a male nor female desire but a human desire.”

As expected, this whole ordeal has garnered much attention. Mr. Beatie announced his pregnancy in April on the Oprah Winfrey show. He also plans to write a book about the entire experience. A hospital source said that the baby is healthy and the mother/father has been permitted to leave the hospital.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

That's Better

Don't worry it's not another too good to be true hydro car. This is Volkswagen's 282 mile per gallon (MPG) super fuel efficient car. It was around as a prototype model in 2002 and is known by metric system users as the '1 Liter car' since thats how much gasoline is needed per 100 km. Volkswagen has decided to make a limited number (in the thousands) of these vehicles, and will put them up for sale in 2010.

So just how good is this fuel efficiency? Lets compare it with the top selling cars in the US during January of this year: Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. The Toyota Camry will squeeze out 35 MPG on the highway, while the Accord maxes out at 29 MPG.

So how do they do it? The 1 Liter car weighs only 660 pounds, and is made from a body of carbon composites. Due to its slippery shape, it has a coefficient drag of only 0.16 (the average car is about 0.30). The prototype was powered by a 1-cylinder diesel engine, but the soon to be released model should be equipped with a 2-cylinder, and perhaps a stop-start anti-idling feature.

Until we can produce a completely new method, we might as well improve on the one that's around now. It might not be available to the masses yet, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ant Killer

This is an ant infected by a parasitic fungus of the Cordycep genus. This fungus is interesting because it actually manipulates the behavior of its host in order to increase its own chances of reproducing. Once infected, the ant is forced to climb high up into a tree or nearby plant, where it attaches itself. This strange behavior assures a maximized distribution of spores from the fruiting body that emerges out of the dead insect's body weeks later.

In more detail... The fungus spores first attach themselves to the surface of the ant, where they germinate. They then invade the ant's body through the tracheae, allowing for fine fungal filaments called mycelia to start growing. When the fungus is ready to sporulate, the mycelia grow into the ant's brain, and produce chemicals which act on the brain to alter their perception of pheromones. This makes the ant climb a plant and, after reaching the peak, to clamp its mandibles around a leaf or leaf stem. This becomes the ant's final resting place.

The fungus eats through the brain, killing the host. The fungal fruiting bodies sprout from the ant's head, through gaps in the joints of the exoskeleton. When mature, the fruiting bodies burst and release capsules into the air. These explode on their way down, effectively spreading airborne spores over the area below. These spores infect other ants, completing the fungal life cycle. Depending on the type of fungus and the number of infecting spores, death of an infected insect takes 4 to 10 days.

This video is a clip taken from the BBC Planet Earth documentary:

Monday, June 30, 2008

Total Bullwhip

Here's quick tidbit of ear-opening information. The cracking sound that a bullwhip makes when it's properly snapped is actually a mini sonic boom. The end of the whip, called the cracker, moves faster than the speed of sound. This makes the whip the first human invention to break the sound barrier.

The cracker has much less mass than the handle section of the bullwhip. When it is sharply snapped, the energy is transferred down the length of the whip. The velocity of the whip increases with the decrease in mass, which is how the whip reaches the speed of sound and causes a sonic boom.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Building Revolution

Dubai seems to be the hot spot for architectural experiments. This new project, designed by architect David Fisher, will be a remarkable feat known as the Dynamic Tower. The building will swivel in the wind, as its 80 floors rotate independently. The stories will pivot around a central spine, and between each apartment a spinning wind-turbine will have the ability of turning your home into a self-sufficient power generator.

Condo reservations are already being taken, but they won't be ready until 2010, and will cost from $3.7 million to $36 million ($3000/square foot). Penthouses will be able to control the rotation of their own units, but the designers control the lower floor. Another one is being planned for completion in Moscow before 2011, and possibly a third in New York City.

The construction scheme is just as impressive as the building itself. Each story will be made from prefabricated parts. The rooms will be assembled in a workshop, shipped to the site, and attached to the building's spine. Check the video below:

Re: Hydro High Hopes

"Too good to be true" is what everybody was thinking, well they might have been right. It all seemed so simple... The Reuters-released video showed water being poured into an energy system, and the car was shown driving. Why has there been no media attention? Then conspiracy theories arise: "The oil-guzzling governments are suppressing this technology, they don't care about the environment". Not so fast. After further research, leaves were overturned, and the truth was revealed.

It is actually quite simple to make a car appear as if it runs on water. How? Through the use of metal hydrides, which react with water to produce hydrogen, in turn powering the vehicle. But with time these hydrides start to deplete and eventually need to be replaced. So in a way the hydrides are the fuel, not the water. More energy goes into producing such hydrides than they can produce themselves.

Apologies for falling into the trap of presenting misleading information. Perhaps a more suitable title for the vehicle would have been 'Hydride Car'.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Uncontacted Tribe

Global Warming. Technology. Wars. These are common issues that people in the world today are concerned with and keep up with the developments. Is it possible that there are humans living on Earth who are so virgin to whats going on that they are unaware of these themes? Apparently so...

The photograph above shows members of a tribe on the border of Peru and Brazil firing arrows at a passing airplane. Although the name of the tribe is unknown, apparently they have been being monitored by the Brazilian government for decades. That being said, nobody has ever had face-to-face contact with the tribe, so who knows how much they know about the outside world. However, judging by the fact that they think their arrows will do damage to a passing airplane, chances are they don't know too much about what is happening outside of their jungle region.

A few things are known about this enigmatic tribe. They have shaved foreheads and long hair. They plant cotton, or pick it growing in the jungle, and spin it into cloth for skirts. The women make cotton belts and headbands. Also, they make hammocks that are hung below huts covered by thick palm roofs.

"They have big fields, and they grow cassava, maize, almonds, pumpkin, and various types of potato, papaw, yams, and banana," according to José Carlos Meirelles, an official with Brazil's Indian-protection agency (FUNAI). Check the video below for more insight:

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Frozen Wave Myth

These massive ice-blue wave formations can be found scattered over Antarctica. Popular belief states that these are created by waves of water instantly freezing as they come in contact with the frigid air of the region. This is untrue. In reality they are typically formed by compacted ice which uplifts due to glaciation. The shape is then altered by the elements. For example, the downward spikes that make the wave appear as if it's crashing down are due to melting - essentially they are icicles.

The photograph above, and the other below, were taken in 2002 by Tony Travouillon at the Antarctic Base of Dumont D'Urville. To dispel another myth, these do not occur on Lake Huron. In March of 2008 these same images were found all over the internet accompanied by text claiming that the waves were found on Michigan's Lake.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Remember This

Think back to high school history or science tests. Remember your classmates who only studied for an hour, but still managed to regurgitate all the information because of their "photographic memory"? Chances are they didn't actually have this type of memory, but our subject for today, Stephen Wiltshire, most certainly does.

He is an autistic savant who has earned the nickname "the living camera". At the age of 11 he drew a perfect aerial representation of London, England after a single helicopter ride. His accuracy was uncanny. This exemplifies the full, yet rarely seen, potential of the human brain. The video below shows Stephen Wiltshire doing what he does best:

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hydro High Hopes

Japanese company Genepax Co Ltd have unveiled their H2O-powered vehicle. This new concept car is equipped with their newly developed Water Energy System (WES) which can keep it moving for up to an hour at 80 kmph on just 1L of water from any source, including rainwater and even tea!

The WES extracts hydrogen from the water as it is running, and an on-board generator releases electrons to power the car. Genepax hopes to start mass production with a major car manufacturer. This soon-to-be patented WES should be making quite the splash worldwide, but the lack of media attention is shocking.

According to their low quality English website they are "preparing an English presentation and demonstration for foreign press which will be held in Tokyo soon". Until then, check out the video below to see the car in action.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sound The Horn

This year-old roe deer, nicknamed Unicorn, was born in captivity with a genetic mutation that gave it a single horn on the center of its head. Since then it has been drawing hundreds of onlookers to its home at a nature preserve in Tuscany.

"We have received so many calls from people, and many are coming to see it," said Gilberto Tozzi, director of the Center of Natural Sciences in Prato, northwest of Florence. "Sometimes he comes close to the fence, even if he is very shy."

Single horned deer are very rare, but not unheard of, however its central positioning is unusual. Tozzi suggests that similar mutations in the past might have inspired the unicorn myth.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Conservation works!

Good news for whale lovers. In 1966 the North Pacific ocean was estimated at having about 1400 humpback whales, according to the Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance, and Status of Humpbacks (SPLASH) report.

That same year the international whaling institute banned the hunting of humpbacks, and over the past half-century global conservation efforts have increased dramatically. A new collaborative effort, involving over 400 whale experts in the Pacific region, reveals that the population has rebounded to over 20,000 animals.

"While I agree that conservation concerns are not eliminated, this is fundamentally a good-news story," said Jay Barlow, a co-author from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California.

"If the world had more examples like this, I think that the people of the world would be more inclined to believe that conservation can make a difference."