Saturday, November 20, 2010

Desert Adaptation: Kangaroo Rat

No matter how uninhabitable an environment might seem, chances are there is something living there. Even a place like Death Valley, which is known as the driest and hottest part of North America, plays host to a few creatures, including the Kangaroo Rat shown above. Death Valley averages less than 2 inches of precipitation per year, yet moisture evaporates at rates of up to 150 inches per year. The Kangaroo Rat can go without drinking for months to survive this dryness. So just how do they manage? They have developed behavioral and anatomical adaptations to prevent water loss during gas exchange.

Since they spend plenty of time underground to escape the daytime heat, their burrows become quite humid. When gathering seeds, rather than eating them immediately, they store them in the burrows, which allows the seeds to reabsorb the moisture in the air. The Kangaroo Rat then regains this water when they consume the seeds.

Probably the most important adaptation is the animal's efficient kidneys. Due to the rodent's lengthened loop of Henle they can produce urine which is 5 times more concentrated than maximally concentrated human urine. Because of this ability, these Kangaroo Rats never actually have to drink. The water produced within its cells during oxidation of food is sufficient for their body. Furthermore, its nasal passages can reabsorb water vapor from its own breath. To top it off, Kangaroo Rats have no sweat glands, so they can't lose water by perspiring. With all of that figured out, these little guys can focus their attention on avoiding snakes.

GM Mosquito To Stop Dengue

The human death toll caused by disease-carrying mosquitoes has risen. Currently over 2 million of the 700 million people infected by mosquitoes die annually. Scientists have attempted to control these mosquito populations using a range of methods including chemicals, lasers and radiation. Now the results have been released from a new experiment that some have called "birth control for insects", which involves the first ever release of genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild.

Due to the fact that the female mosquitoes are responsible for biting and transmitting diseases like the untreatable dengue fever, scientists considered introducing males sterilized by a genetic mutation as a tool to dramatically decrease the population.

From May to October of this year Oxitec, the Oxford-based research firm, released sterilized male mosquitoes 3 times per week in a 40-acre region of The Cayman Islands. Upon mating with a sterile male, the female would produce no offspring, in turn shrinking the next generation's population. This Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) has been used in the past, but the insects have always been rendered sterile using radiation, rather than by a genetic modification. Using this new method, by August there was an 80% drop in the mosquito population within that region.

Releasing transgenic animals into the wild is cause for concern to many environmentalists who fear that killing off an entire mosquito population could harm dependent species higher on the food chain. Oxitic insists the method is safe and will not have any permanent ecological impact since the sterilizing gene can't be passed on to future generations. The introduction of competitive species has gone awry in the past, like the disaster after Cane Toads were brought to Australia.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Solazyme's Algae Fuel

The United States is on the hunt for a way to lower their dependency on foreign oil. Now they appear to be closer than ever by using genetically modified algae as a new source for domestically produced fuels. The company, Solazyme, has managed to condense the naturally occurring algae-to-oil process down to just three days. They place their bioengineered algae into massive tanks and feed them with sugar cane, switch grass, and other plants. The algae's energy is transformed into a versatile oil that can be refined and used as jet fuel, diesel, cooking oil, and more.

Just how much attention is Solazyme getting for this? Well in September the US Navy ordered more than 150,000 gallons of jet fuel for testing purposes. Furthermore, they received a $21.8 million grant from the US Department of Energy to build a new refinery. The US military hopes to run 50 percent of its fleet on a mixture of renewable fuels and nuclear power by 2020. The US Navy has already tested the fuel on part of its fleet and have released promising results. They plan to test their entire non-nuclear fleet by the end of 2012. Below you can view some of the companies recent news coverage on MSNBC:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bright Idea

If you enjoyed reading the recent post on low-energy Futuristic Lightbulbs that can last up to 17 years, then this new idea should lighten your day. Given that almost 2 billion people live without electricity, entrepreneur Stephen Katsaros has invented a solar powered light bulb in hopes of bringing light to the developing world.

The 6-ounce Nokero bulb absorbs the sun's energy into a replaceable battery by way of four photovoltaic panels, which gives power to five white LEDs inside the weatherproof, plastic casing. The bulb will glow for four hours when fully charged, and a full day outside will provide enough energy for about two hours of light. Currently they are $15 each, but the price will drop for bulk orders.

Although the bulbs will likely appeal to the outdoorsy type or patio lovers, Katsaros' major focus is making them available to those in the developing world. "We are trying to reduce the cost so that the 2.8 billion people in the world who make less than two dollars a day can afford this." Nokero bulbs could provide a clean and safe alternative to the commonly used kerosene lanterns, which emit toxic fumes and start fires responsible for over 1 million deaths worldwide.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Young Zebrafish

French researcher Emmanuel Beaurepaire and colleagues have employed new microscope technology to capture the first 10 cell divisions of a zebrafish in early stages of development (Source). The technique relies on non-linear optical properties of a cell's membrane and microtubules to capture thousands of still images, which are then organized in sequence to resemble a movie.

The video above shows the process of zebrafish development from one cell to the 512-cell stage. The scale bar represents 100 micrometres. The embryo in the video is not labeled with any dyes, however soon enough fluorescent molecular markers will be combined with this approach and allow for more detailed visualization of early development.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lonesome George

Meet Lonesome George, the world's last remaining Pinta Island Tortoise, a species now listed as being 'Extinct in the Wild' on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The species was driven to extinction because whalers and other Galapagos settlers collected them for consumption. On top of that, feral goats were introduced and destroyed the island's vegetation. Lonesome George was found in 1971 and moved to the Charles Darwin Research Station in hopes of finding a female that could be introduced for a captive breeding program. On two occasions George successfully mated with two females of different subspecies, but none of the eggs were viable.

Recent research analyzing DNA sequences revealed that other Pinta Island Tortoises might exist on the neighboring Galapagos island of Isabela (PubMed). One male tortoise that was screened had half of its genes in common with George's subspecies, suggesting that it is likely a first generation intergrade between the subspecies. This means that a pure Pinta Island Tortoise might be living among the 2000 tortoises on Isabela. The Darwin Research Station is offering $10,000 to anyone who discovers a Pinta female.

Vertical Farming

Current demographic trends reveal that our population will jump another 3 billion people by 2050, at which point almost 80% of us will be living in urban areas. Assuming that we continue our traditional farming techniques, an area of land larger than the size of Brazil will be required to grow enough food to feed us all. The problem is that currently over 80% of the world's land suitable for growing crops is being used (Sources: NASA & FAO).

Columbia University microbiologist, Dickson Despommier believes that the solution to humanities newest predicament is the large scale introduction of vertical farming. Since mastering the art of growing food horizontally, we have sacrificed countless thriving ecosystems and replaced them with fields of crops. We protect ourselves from the elements by moving into cities and living in tall buildings, yet let our growing food fend for itself against flooding, droughts, and hurricanes. With our booming population it's high time to learn how to grow our food locally, in buildings within urban centers. Vertical farms offer the possibility of year-round crop production and the simultaneous repair of ecosystems as we gradually lose our reliance on horizontal farming. Also, let's not forget how this could decrease fossil fuel burning, which is needed to power tractors, plows, and various shipping methods.

Along with the benefit of no weather or insect related crop failures, vertical farms would eliminate agricultural runoff by recycling black water. They would also add energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-edible parts of plants and animals. Depending on the crop, 1 indoor acre is the equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more. Just consider that one 30 story building taking up an entire NYC block would feed 50,000 people per year. This means that 165 sky farms spread across the 5 boroughs would be enough to continuously feed all of New York. For more information visit The Vertical Farm Project.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Known Universe

At the end of 2009 The American Museum of Natural History released this video entitled 'The Known Universe' as part of their Visions of the Cosmos exhibition. There are many similar "zoom out from the earth" videos, including the Morgan Freeman narrated IMAX film 'Cosmic Voyage', but this is by far the most impressive and accurate. It starts with the Himalayas and zooms out through our atmosphere and into the depths of the dark space beyond. Every star, planet, and quasar seen is carefully plotted based on the 4D Digital Universe Atlas maintained by astrophysicists at the AMNH. To enjoy the full experience, watch it in full screen HD quality.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thailand's Artificial Reefs

Fishermen in Thailand have recently encountered the problem of diminishing local fish populations due to overfishing. Hoping to remedy the situation, they petitioned to their Thai Queen for support. She responded by authorizing the dumping of 25 decommissioned army tanks, 273 old train cars, and 198 garbage trucks in the ocean to create artificial reefs.

A test was initially done and it was observed that fish began forming communities within the old scrap metal containers within one year. It has been projected that the abandoned vehicles will create a total of 72 artificial reefs, which should increase local fish stocks. In this Al Jazeera video, reporters interview local fishermen and scientists about the idea:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mine Therapy

Historical records indicate an improvement in breathing of miners from Roman and medieval times. In 1843, Dr. Feliks Boczkowski, a Polish physician stationed at a salt mine, noticed that miners there did not suffer from lung diseases. During WWII, Dr. Karl Hermann Spannagel noticed an improvement in his patients after they hid in salt caves to escape heavy bombing. Most recently, in the 1950s it was documented that Polish mine workers rarely suffered from tuberculosis.

Research suggests that salt-permeated air helps dissolve phlegm in the bronchial tubes and kills micro-organisms that cause infections. This greatly helps patients undertaking asthma treatment and so mine therapy is currently being practiced in Slovakia, Poland, and Ukraine.

The photos above (Credit:Kirill Kuletski) shows tunnels, which are 300 meters underground, in the clinic at the Ukranian Solotvyno salt mine. Between three and five thousand people are treated here yearly, and many more have been wait-listed. On average patients spend 24 days at the facility and use a lift to travel down for afternoon or overnight sessions. But salt isn't the only option...

Here we can see four adults enjoying some radon therapy at a mine in Boulder, Montana. The use of radon is also quite an old therapeutic process. In Europe, bathing in hot springs with high radon content goes back over 6000 years. The Japanese have been benefiting from radioactive hot springs for over 800 years in Misasa and Tamagawa. In today's society, more than 75,000 patients looking for a natural arthritis cure pay a visit to radon therapy clinics and underground caverns for radon inhalation and/or bathing. The Free Enterprise Radon Health Mine in Montana offers full therapy for $225, including a 10-day stay at Mine Motel, or just a 60 minute session for $7. They don't discriminate against other species either, according to a testimonial from Irving the Cat, who overcame his thyroid problem after a visit in 2000.

Monday, August 9, 2010

How Do Ya Like Them Apples?

It might look like an ordinary apple from the outside, but it's far from it if you ask Swiss fruit grower Markus Kobert. The Redlove Apple is the product of 20 long years of cross-pollinating different apple varieties, including one that was pink fleshed and tasteless. The trees were grown in tunnels to avoid unwanted bee pollination. This natural breeding process involved no genetic modifications.

Needless to say, the cross-breeding experiment has already become quite a lucrative venture. Seed and sapling company Suttons purchased exclusive rights to sell the fruit trees in Britain, and saplings are being scattered all over European orchards to start mass production.

Tom Sharples, spokesman for Suttons, said 'This is the very first red-fleshed, fine-tasting apple in the world. It has a delicious sweet and tangy taste with a hint of berries to it if eaten raw and is also ideal for cooking.'

The apple of your eye doesn't just look pretty either; its antioxidant-rich flesh make it healthier to eat than the average apple. The trees, which let out a mesmerizing deep pink blossom in the spring, can be yours for £24.95 per sapling from Suttons.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

SlingShot Water Purifier

Today more than 1 billion people face the daily crisis trying of trying to find clean drinking water. Environmentalists predict that water as a commodity will become very valuable and increasingly expensive in years to come. In fact, some believe that in 30 years a gallon of clean water will cost more than a gallon of oil. Considering that only 3% of the world's water is fresh water, this idea might not be so far fetched.

Shown above, famous inventor Dean Kaman's goal was to create a small portable machine that could be placed anywhere and at point-of-use create clean, reliable drinking water from any source. His device, named SlingShot, can make distilled drinking water from anything wet, whether it be ocean water, sludge, or sewage. Liquid goes into the SlingShot where it is boiled until it becomes steam. Once the steam is re-condensed the result is pure distilled water. If the liquid coming in contains metals or other inorganic toxins, they will not vaporize.

Until now nobody has been able to create this effect in a portable machine, because of the energy intensive distillation process. The secret of the SlingShot is that it uses a closed loop of energy. Once the first batch of water is vaporized and re-condensed, all the energy is preserved in a sealed heat exchange system. In other words, the SlingShot runs on less energy than a toaster oven and has been designed to make 1000L of water per day, which is enough for a village of 100 people.

During the summer of 2006, a pair of SlingShot devices worked successfully in a village in Honduras. Although initial devices cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Kamen hopes that increased economies of scale will allow production machines to be made available for $2000 each.

Power Walking

With skyrocketing urban populations, inventors of PowerLeap see it as an opportunity to harness human kinetic energy to generate electricity. PowerLeap is a flooring system designed to generate electricity from human foot traffic. They envision future city sidewalks covered with smart panels that capture piezoelectricity (power generated from applied mechanical pressure). By stepping on the panel, energy is channeled into a battery where it can be stored and later used to power nearby electrical gadgets.

By placing these panels in high-traffic areas, energy can be generated and used locally to power things nearby. Imagine a busy intersection where panels on the corners of the street could power the traffic lights above. It could be especially useful and efficient if placed at transportation centers like airports, railways stations, or bus terminals. According to their website, PowerLeap is not yet available to be purchased. They are in the process of finalizing the product and are currently raising capital to fund their growth initiative.

Ice Island Breaks

According to researchers from the University of Delaware, a 260 square kilometer ice island has broken away from an ice shelf in Greenland. As a frame of reference, this is roughly 4 times the size of Manhattan island. It's the most massive piece of ice to break off the Arctic icecap since 1962. This satellite image from August 5, 2010 shows the large ice island calved from Greenland's Petermann Glacier.

"The freshwater stored in this ice island could keep the Delaware or Hudson rivers flowing for more than two years. It could also keep all U.S. public tap water flowing for 120 days," lead researcher Andreas Muenchow estimates.

"The newly born ice island may become land-fast, block the channel, or it may break into smaller pieces as it is propelled south by the prevailing ocean currents. From there, it will likely follow along the coasts of Baffin Island and Labrador, to reach the Atlantic within the next two years."

According to environmentalists this rapid ice melting is being caused by global warming, as Arctic temperatures in the 1990s reached their warmest level of any decade in the last 2000 years. Some predict that within decades the Arctic Ocean will become ice free in summer months. (Image: Andreas Muenchow)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Russian Wildfires

Just yesterday Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev officially declared a state of emergency for seven regions in the middle of raging wildfires. The emergency zones are in the republics of Mariy El, Mordovia, Vladimir,Voronzeh, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and Ryazan. There will be a full scale involvement of Army and Interior Ministry troops to battle the fires. So far the death toll in the wildfires has risen to 40, the Interfax reported.

The incredible footage above was shot by a group of volunteers trying to evacuate the Tamboles village. For a moment they appear trapped in the midst of hell on earth. Warning: for those who understand Russian there is explicit language that might not be suitable for some readers.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Healthy Cars

With growing global awareness of the negative effects from our reliance on automobiles, Nissan has decided to focus on the health of its drivers. New models of certain vehicles will feature air conditioners that pump breathable vitamin C. The air conditioners in the cars will moisturize the skin as well as come equipped with air purifiers developed by Sharp. They also plan on installing "easy chairs" that use Nasa technology to enable better blood circulation and reduce the chances of back pain during lengthy drives. "We want drivers to feel that they are healthier staying in the car instead of on the outside," a Nissan engineer said at a test drive event outside Tokyo.

Just because they're concerned with the well being of their drivers on the car's interior, doesn't mean they've forgotten about the importance of the safety from the outside. New anti-collision technology, similar to radar systems used by ships and planes, will monitor the distance between itself and the vehicle in front. The system will warn the driver to decelerate with a beeping sound, and will actually slow the vehicle down by automatically raising the accelerator pedal and softly braking. In test scenarios they could prevent collisions at forward speeds of up to 60km/h.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Curious Chimpanzee

As a part of The Goulougo Ape Project in the Republic of Congo, researchers have set up many cameras in the field in order to learn more about human's closest relative: the chimpanzee. The region known as the Goulougo Triangle is a dense jungle terrain of great biodiversity, and is home to many other endangered animals including Forest Elephants and Western Lowland Gorillas. It has been dubbed "The Last Place on Earth" by National Geographic and "The Last Eden" by Time. In this short video clip we bare witness to the chimpanzee's innate sense of curiosity upon noticing the presence of the camera. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dirty Phonecall

According to a recent study by Which?, your personal mobile phone might be the filthiest thing you can think of. After hygiene expert Jim Francis swabbed and analyzed 30 phones, 7 of them were considered dirty enough to have warning or high levels of environmental bacteria (TVC). These are not directly harmful, but could form a base and act as a breeding ground for further bacterial invasion. Put bluntly, mobile phones could harbor on average 18 times more living bacteria than a toilet flusher.

One particular phone had such astronomically high levels of harmful bacteria that it could easily give its user an upset stomach. Researchers actually found traces of faecal Coliforms on one device, as well as Enterobacteriaceae, which include bugs like Salmonella. In an effort to jump-start the movement of clean phones, the group suggests washing your hands regularly and occasionally cleaning your phone with a dry alcohol wipe.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fruits From The Trunk

The Jabuticaba, otherwise known as the Brazilian Grape Tree, is a plant native to South America, including Paraguay, Argentina but mostly Brazil. The grape-like juicy fruit it bares can be plucked and eaten from the tree's trunk. It is often used as an ingredient in jellies or cold drinks. After three days off the tree the fruit begins fermenting, so it's also turned into wine or strong liquor.

The flowers appear twice every year and emerge directly from the trunk and branches. Instead of growing shoots these trees flower directly from the trunk. The fruit that is eventually produced is four to five centimeters in diameter and stores up to four seeds. There have been medical reports suggesting some potential benefits from the fruit. The skin can be dried out and used to treat asthma and diarrhea. It has also been show to alleviate inflammation from swelled regions. Furthermore some potent antioxidant anti-cancer compounds have been isolated from the fruit (PubMed).

The tree likely evolved to fruit from the trunk so that animals that could not climb very high could still reach the fruit, spread the seeds and propagate the species. This theory fits with the tree's name, which is derived from the Tupi word Jabuti (tortoise) and Caba (place), suggesting they were the place where you one could find tortoises feeding. (Images: Filipe Setlik)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Jellyfish Lake

Jellyfish Lake, one of many marine lakes found on Eil Malk island in Palau, certainly lives up to its name. Eil Malk is part of a group of mostly uninhabited, small, rocky islands known as the Rock Islands. Although there are more than 70 marine lakes scattered across the Rock Islands, this one has become famous as a snorkeling paradise. As long as you aren't bothered by millions of golden jellyfish that migrate horizontally across the lake daily, then this is the place for you!

The lake is around 12,000 years old and is estimated to be 30 meters deep. Jellyfish Lake is linked with the ocean through tunnels in the limestone of ancient Miocene reef. Although there is a connection, the lake is still very isolated and the conditions are unique enough that the diversity of species within the lake have been greatly reduced from the nearby lagoon.

Two species of jellyfish occupy the lake: Golden Jellyfish, shown above, and Moon Jellyfish. Both species are known for their rigid daily migratory patterns. For around 14 hours during the night the Golden Jellyfish make repeated vertical excursions between the surface and the western basin, perhaps in search for nutrients near the chemocline. From early morning until 09:30 they move from the western basin to the eastern basin. From early afternoon until about 15:30 they move from the eastern basin to the western end of the lake. As the sun sets they head to the western basin, where they will remain for the night. The Moon Jellyfish do not exhibit specific horizontal migratory paths, and simply migrate up towards the surface to feed at night.

In late 1998 the Golden Jellyfish population suddenly began plummeting, and by December the medusa population had declined to zero. This was attributed to warming water temperatures due to an El Nino weather event, which killed off all the algae (the jellyfish's primary source of food). Today the Golden Jellyfish population has bounced back and is at pre-decline levels.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Vaccine Patch

A vaccine patch has recently been developed by researchers at Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology. They hope that this patch will replace the more conventional needle approach. Each patch contains 100 microneedles that are only 0.65mm in length. Depending on the situation, these needles would be packed with a specific vaccine. After penetrating the initial layer of skin, the needles dissolve on contact.

To test the efficacy of the patch, researchers took three groups of mice. One group was given an influenza vaccine via needle, another group via patch, and a control group was given the vaccine-less patch. After three months results suggest that the patch produced a more effective immune response in mice. The groups finding were published in Nature Medicine.

If further efficacy trials are successful, this could have major implications on modern medicine. It would represent the end of an age in which medical training is a requirement to deliver vaccines. Administering vaccinations would become a simple do-it-yourself procedure.

Sea Slug: Half Plant Half Animal

According to biologists who have been studying the Elysia Chlorotica for more than two decades, the bright green ocean dweller is both an animal and a plant. It appears as if this slug has consumed so much algae overtime that it has evolved the ability to convert sunlight into energy, like plants do by photosynthesis.

Sidney Pierce, a biologist from University of South Florida explained that these sea slugs, which can be found in salt marshes of New England and Canada, carry out photosynthesis by using chlorophyll-producing genes and cell parts called chloroplasts from the algae they consume. This genetic material has been passed down to the next generation in line, to the point that the sea slugs no longer need to consume algae for energy.

Pierce's research team collected the species and kept them in aquariums for months. As long as they were exposed to sun for 12 hours per day, the sea slugs could survive without food. However, the baby slugs could not carry out photosynthesis until they stole their own stash of chloroplasts from their first and only meal of algae.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fish Tank + Plant

Sheng-Zhe Feng and Ling-Yuan Chou are responsible for this innovative design concept: The Circulating Fish Tank and Plant Pot. You place your normal houseplant in the pot on top and a small fish on the bottom. The water fed to the plant passes through a filtration layer before entering into the fish bowl, ensuring that it is clean. At the same time, the fish excrement gives off healthy nutrients for the plant. Furthermore, this keeps fish waste from contaminating the water, and persistent humidity results in minimal need for watering.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blue Whales Singing Deeper

The largest animals on the earth manage to be covered by a great shroud of mystery. In the 1960s scientists studied the whale's behavior by analyzing recordings of their underwater songs. Over the years it has been noticed that the blue whales are not singing the same way they used to. According to the data, it appears as if these massive creatures are singing in deeper voices each year. This puzzling abnormality was initially realized when marine biologists off the coast of California needed to continuously recalibrate their automated song detectors used to track the whales. These detectors are triggered by songs matching a specific waveform. As of late, these detectors have to be reset every year.

The results have been published in Endangered Species Research, and show song data gathered from thousands of blue whale populations since the 1960s from the North Atlantic, to the South Pacific, to the East Indian Ocean. In all regions, results indicate that the songs' tonal frequency is falling by a few fractions of a hertz every year. There are some theories floating around which attempt to explain this mystery, including shifting population dynamics, new mating strategies, or increased ocean noise pollution. Another theory involved the recovery of blue whale populations, which were almost extinct in the first half of the last century. Since only male blue whales sing, the answer might involve sexual selection.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Spotless Ladybug

It's the time of year when ladybugs start to emerge. If you look closely, you might notice something odd once in a while when you come across one that is spotless. Have no fear, this isn't some strangely packaged omen. They are commonly known as polished ladybugs or Cycloneda munda. Either that or it's just a normal ladybug that happens to have no spots.

Different ladybugs have different numbers of spots. Some lack them entirely while others have been reported to have as many as 24. A ladybug concludes its lifecycle after just one year, and their spots are with them the whole time. They neither gain, nor lose spots as they mature. The sex of the ladybug can not be determined based on their spots. They primarily feed on tiny insects, but especially love aphids. One ladybug is capable of eating as many as 5000 aphids in its lifetime. Hence, they are commonly used in agricultural settings to control infestation of crops by other pest species.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Solar Music

For the first time ever, musical sounds resonating from the longitudinal vibrations of the Sun's atmosphere have been captured by scientists. Combining complicated mathematics and information acquired by satellite, a team of solar physicists from the University of Sheffield have revealed these harmonious sounds caused by the movement of giant magnetic loops in the solar corona, the outermost layer of the Sun's atmosphere. Play the video below to listen!

Professor Robertus von Fáy-Siebenbürgen from the University of Sheffield's Department of Applied Mathematics said: "The results of our latest coronal research, presented in the Parliament at Westminster, allow us to gain a fundamentally new insight into the fascinating but at the same time very mysterious solar atmosphere. I'm most proud to have such talented young scientists within my research group and department."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Google Naptime

We've all heard about the perks for working at Google's head-office. One of their recent addition allows employees to catch some rest with technologically advanced MetroNap Energy Pods. Thousands of hours went into designing these easy-to-install nap stations. Pressure is taken off the cardiac system by elevating the feet, relaxing the back muscles, and slightly bending the knees. The sphere creates a semi-private atmosphere without completely enclosing the individual into a cave of claustrophobia. A music player with built in headphones mutes distractions from the outside world, and setting the timer wakes users with a series of lights and vibrations to avoid oversleeping.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bike On Ink Cartridges

Recycle, Reuse, Ride! Australia's West MacDonnell National Park just built a staggering 17 km bike path completely out of recycled ink cartridges to connect Alice Springs and Simpsons Gap. This new biking route along with a second viewing platform at Ormiston Gorge are part of the Henderson Governments $8 million tourism stimulus package. The projects were both completed by local contractors at a low cost of $330,000.

Australian newspaper Centralian Advocate added:

Parks and Wildlife Minister Karl Hampton stated, "Every year more than 120,000 people visit the magnificent West MacDonnell National Park, and by investing in our parks we are able to ensure visitors have a unique experience while we protect our environment... In keeping with our government's commitment to sustainable development, the bridge is made from recycled plastic decking or Replas, saving landfill, trees and ensuring a longer life with less maintenance. Alice Springs has a great bike culture and with the upgrades complete, residents can enjoy a short ride after school or work or longer weekend explorations, while tourists can get to know and enjoy the natural environment around the town."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Guatemala Sinkhole


Earlier this week a massive sinkhole opened up in Guatemala, which managed to suck up a three story building during the process. The hole, located in the dense downtown core of Guatemala City, is 30 meters across and 60 meters deep. This is the second major sinkhole in Guatemala to open up in the last three years.

A sinkhole is a naturally occurring cavity in the ground, frequently found in limestone bedrock, which is caused by water erosion as the liquid travels from the surface to the depths beneath. They often vary in size from less than a meter to several hundred meters both in diameter and depth. This hole in particular comes in the wake of Tropical Storm Agatha. The image above was released by the nation's own government to show the tremendous effects of the deadly storm. The video below (RussiaTV) shows footage of the sinkhole as well as some additional images:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Iceland Watches Katla Closely

The world has been severely impacted by the March 2010 eruption of glacial volcano Eyjafjallakokull. Flights coming in and out of Europe were halted for one week due to drifting volcanic ash and dust that made for potentially dangerous flying conditions. Recently most flights have been resumed, but the threat of an eruption still exists, and attention has been diverted to Katla, a neighboring volcano with a repeated history of even more violent eruptions.

Katla peaks at 1512 meters and is located east of the smaller glacier Eyjafjallajokull. It is also partially covered by the Myrdalsjokull glacier with an area of 595 km². The major concern for geophysicists is that the recent eruption will trigger an even more powerful eruption of Katla, which has been the historical trend. Eyjafjallojokull has blown 3 times in the past thousand years, in 920AD, in 1616, and between 1821 and 1823. Each time it set off Katla.

The volcano normally erupts every 40-80 years and its last eruption was in 1918, shown in the photograph above, which was sold at an auction to Bjornsog Toggle. Following the 2010 eruption Icelandic President Olafur Grimsson released a statement "the time for Katla to erupt is coming close... we [Iceland] have prepared... it is high time for European governments and airline authorities all over the world to start planning for the eventual Katla eruption".

Eruptions like this put our small world into perspective. One volcano erupts and it can have an enormous impact on the rest of the world. For example, consider Iceland's worst modern time eruption in 1783 when the Laki volcano blew. The lava shot 1.4 km into the air and more than 120 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide was released into the atmosphere, which would transform the world. The results included Britain's notorious "sand summer", creating havoc with harvests in France, and changing the climate so dramatically that New Jersey recorded its largest snowfall and Egypt experienced one of its most enduring droughts. For now we can only wait and hope for the best...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

SDO Satellite Views Sun

NASA has just released the first images from a new satellite which serves the purpose of predicting disruptive solar storms. The satellite was launched on February 11th and according to chief scientist Dean Pesnell, it has already disproved at least one theory, although he didn't give any more information.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) satellite has three instrument packages to measure atmospheric and space physics. During its 5 year mission it will examine the sun's magnetic field and also provide better explanations for the sun's role in Earth's climate and atmospheric chemistry.

A multiwavelength extreme UV image of the sun taken at the end of March is shown above. False colors trace the temperatures of different gases, red being relatively cool (107,500 F) and blue/green being hotter (1.8 million F). Below you can see a video taken by the SDO which shows the solar prominence eruption on March 30, 2010 (Credit: NASA/Goddard). The video loops through one viewpoint, then zooms out and gives you a wider perspective.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

First Oxygen-Free Animal Discovered

It has been common knowledge that only viruses and single-celled microbes can live without oxygen long-term. However, research teams recently discovered 3 new species of multicellular animals that lived normally in the oxygen-free depths of the Mediterranean Sea.

Team leader Roberto Danovaro said in a statement, "Our results indicate that the animals we recovered were alive. Some, in fact, also contained eggs." The animals shown in the image above resemble tiny jellyfish - each measuring less than a millimeter across - and somehow the manage to thrive in the extremely salty seafloor environment. The findings of their research was published in the April 6th issue of BMC Biology.

Humans and most other organisms use structures called mitochondria which uses oxygen to convert nutrients into energy molecules (ATP). These new creatures have modified mitochondria called hydrogenosomes that can produce ATP without using oxygen.

The study also "has strong implications for the search for life in the universe," said Abel Mendez, an astrobiologist at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo. Perhaps Europa, one of Jupiter's icy moons might have a subsurface ocean of cold, salty, oxygen-free environments, similar to that where these animals were discovered.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cassini Captures First Space Lightning Video

The Cassini spacecraft has managed to capture a series of images showing lightning flashes on the night side of Saturn. Astronomers put these images together and were able to construct the first ever video of lightning strikes on another planet. But that's not at all. NASA researchers also extracted the radio waves that the lightning bolts gave off, and were able to add a soundtrack to the movie.

"This is the first time we have the visible lightning flash together with the radio data," said Georg Fischer, a radio and plasma wave scientist at the Space Research Institute in Graz, Austria.

The difficulty with seeing lightning on Saturn is the visual obstruction caused by the planet's rings which reflect sunlight and obscure the flashed from storms on the surface. The first images capturing lightning on Saturn were taken in August 2009 during a storm that lasted from January to October of that year. The images used for the video were much brighter and were taken during a later storm in November 2009. The areas lit by the lightning flashes are approximately 300 km in diameter. The 11 second clip below (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/University of Iowa) is the first time humanity has ever captured video footage of lightning storms on another planet:

Futuristic Lightbulbs

What you're looking at might be a glimpse into the future of the lightbulb industry. General Electric has released this new and improved lightbulb system with intricate fins and flares, rather than the boring old 'bulb' shape. These new $40 - $50 bulbs don't just look cool; consider them to be an investment. These bulbs last an impressive 17 years when used four hours per day, and they emit light in all directions (hence the flares), rather than just being focused on one spot. However, most important of all, they are very efficient, only using 9 watts to give off the same amount of light as a 40 watt incandescent bulb. Moreover, there is no mercury or other toxins found in these bulbs. The GE Energy Smart LED bulbs are not available on the market yet, but expect to see them on the shelves of your hardware stores sometime within the next year.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, this massive accumulation of marine litter (mostly plastic) is located in the central North Pacific Ocean, approximately between 135 to 155W and 35 to 42N. The exact size of this floating island of garbage is unknown, although estimates range from the size of the state of Texas to one larger than the continental United States. Although the existence of this garbage buildup was predicted in a 1988 NOAA publication, its actual confirmed discovery did not come until 1997 when Charles Moore came across it after the Transpac sailing race. Oceanographers were alerted and gave the region the title "Eastern Garbage Patch" (EGP).

Marine debris has been amalgamating all over the world's oceans, and it is assumed that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch formed by the similar mechanisms: oceanic currents. The garbage patch is located in a seemingly stationary region of the North Pacific Ocean located in the middle of many strong currents. It draws in waste materials from across the entire ocean, including coastal waters off Japan and North America. As debris becomes trapped in the currents, the floating plastic is gradually moved towards the center by wind-driven surface currents. Moore's description of the patch as a massive accumulation of plastic is slightly misleading. The process of disintegration means that the plastic particles in most of the patch are actually too small to be seen. In a 2001 study, researchers found concentrations of plastics to be 334,721 pieces per km squared, with a mean mass of 11.27 lbs per km squared.

As the plastic is disintegrating into smaller and smaller particles, many of them are sinking deep into the ocean and affecting many levels of the food web. These small pieces of toxic-filled plastic have been known to be consumed by jellyfish, which are then eaten by larger fish. Some of the long-lasting larger pieces of plastics are consumed by marine birds and animals, including sea turtles and the albatross.

The initial cleanup steps are now underway as groups are taking samples and attempting to raise awareness of the issue. Make no mistake though, irreversible damage has already been done. Cleaning up the plastic will be a costly and difficult endeavor, one which might be thwarted by a buildup of more plastics likely to be occurring at a faster rate.