Sunday, January 30, 2011

What If Planets Orbited Earth With Our Moon?

Obviously this could never happen, but it's an exercise in creating perspective! This incredible video created by Brad Goodspeed illustrates how large each planet would appear in the sky if it shared an orbit with the moon (380,000 kms from Earth). He doesn't include the smaller planets and also omits Saturn. He went with representatives of the size classes of planets to keep the maximum dramatic effect. Watch in HD and get ready to feel small! You can follow Brad Goodspeed on Twitter @BradGoodspeed

Monday, January 24, 2011

One Fingered Dinosaur

A team of scientists have dug up the first dinosaur ever known to have only one finger. They found the skeletal remains embedded in an 80 million year old rock formation in Inner Mongolia, China. The dinosaur, named Linhenykus monodactylus, was roughly one meter tall and belongs to the alvarezsauroids family of dinosaurs, a group whose members were previously thought to be flightless birds.

It is well known that carnivorous dinosaurs kept losing fingers as they evolved over their ~160 million year existence. The earliest meat eaters had five fingers, while later species had four or three. Even the infamous and highly popularized Tyrannosaurus Rex only had two fingers. The researchers believe that Linhenykus monodactylus likely adapted to have just one claw-like digit for digging purposes, perhaps to specialize in retrieving certain insects. The findings have been published in the most recent release from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Friday, January 14, 2011

2012: The World Isn't Ending

The rumors have been flooding the internet for years and as we approach that infamous date, the media hype-machine is at its peak. You might hear words like Apocalypse, Armageddon, and Doomsday being loosely thrown around. Books have been published on the topic, programs about it have been aired on TV networks including The History Channel and The Discovery Channel, and a few years ago the major motion picture 2012, starring John Cusack, became one of the year's highest grossing films. So what's really going on here? Should we give up our jobs and focus on outfitting underground bunkers to make those last moments with our loved ones as pleasant as possible while we await our impending doom? Simply put: NO! There are a number of theories out there attempting to support this idea of mankind's demise, but they're all wrong:

The Mayan Calender

The Mayan Civilization lived by a Long Count linear calender lasting approximately 144,000 days, which was a period of time known as a b'ak'tun. According to Mayan stories of creation, the Gods failed in their first three attempted worlds. They succeeded on the fourth attempt and placed mankind into this world. The previous world was said to have ended after 13 b'ak'tuns (5125 years). The date marking the end of the third world and the start of the fourth world was set at August 11th or 13th, 3114 BC. This means that the current world will reach the end of its thirteenth b'ak'tun on December 21st or 23rd, 2012 AD.

Although the calender's cycle comes to an end, records show that the Mayans believed a new cycle would begin, just as it had in the past. Associating the end of the cycle with the end of the world has been called "a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in." In fact, the present day Mayan groups living in Guatemala have adopted an entirely new calendar system, and no longer consider the 13th b'ak'tun significant. Furthermore, Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun has acknowledged that "apocalypse" is a concept introduced by the Western world and has no connection with Mayan beliefs.

Polar Shift or Geomagnetic Reversal

This theory stems from observations that our planet's magnetic field is weakening, and implies that there will be a shift of the north and south poles. To add some more spice to the story, approaching solar storms are supposed to speed up the process. Some of this is partially true, in that the Earth does naturally go through geomagnetic reversals (the last one occurring 780,000 years ago) and we are affected by periodic solar storms.

The doomsday supporters try to paint the picture of this geomagnetic reversal as an overnight ordeal that will flip Earth and create chaos. In reality, the process is thought to take 5000 years to complete and has no particular start-date. In regard to the solar storms, astronomers do not expect the approaching storms to be anything out of the ordinary, and have found no evidence that links them to kick starting a polar shift.

Planet X Nibiru & Alien Invasion

These are two of the most imaginative theories. The first suggests that a massive unknown planet is on a collision course with Earth. This is simply impossible, since we would already be aware of the presence of such an object if it were supposed to hit us within the next two years. The second suggests hostile extraterrestrial lifeforms taking over. Sure, aliens could invade, but we have yet to prove that aliens exist, let alone are capable of invading.

Nostradamus & Einstein

Once all of the other theories have been exhausted, some people turn to the predictions of the great astrologer Michel de Nostradamus. His prophecies are gathered from four-line poems which were written in the 1500s. Analyzing the content of these poems is highly subjective and must be taken with a grain of salt, especially considering that they are written using vague, ambiguous language in an effort to avoid his own persecution by the Christian church.

A more modern figure, Albert Einstein, supposedly said something on the lines of: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man." Not to play down the importance of bees on our planet, but we must keep in mind that Einstein was a physicist, not a beekeeper.

In this day and age, fear and paranoia run ramped through our society. Companies in different industries try to capitalize on this by feeding the public with sensationalism. It is important to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism when taking in this sort of information, especially when science-fiction writers are co-authoring documentaries on The History Channel. All in all, the world is not coming to an end on 2012, but if you still don't feel comfortable, listen to this statement released by Donald Yeomans, the head of NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

LED Contact Lenses

Fifty years ago families huddled around a screen in their living room. Today most people walk around with their own personal screen that is small enough to fit in their pocket. The next stage is to cut out the middle step entirely and bring the screen directly into contact with the eye. That is exactly what scientists at University of Washington are currently working on.

Although the research is still in its preliminary stages, the end product could be revolutionary. They intend on fitting minuscule semi-transparent LEDs into contact lenses. When needed, the person wearing the lenses will be able to view images and videos in perfect quality. When the mechanism is turned off, the display will become transparent due to the LEDs grid-pattern arrangement. The user will attach a small pack to their belt, which will wirelessly transmit the electricity and data to the lenses.

Much work still needs to be done before the lenses will display crystal clear images. So far they have successfully inserted red and blue pixels into the lenses, but they are still working on integrating the green pixels. Although its application is new, similar contact lens technology has been used by Swiss company Sensimed to monitor glucose levels in diabetic patients.