Category Archives: Science

It came from beyond the stars

Meet 1I/2017 U1 (‘Oumuamua), but make it fast, because it’s already leaving.

Source: First-known interstellar visitor is a bizarre, cigar-shaped asteroid

This is one of the most exciting news stories of the year. We've now actually seen an object that had to have come from another solar system, pass through ours. Data collection by the Hubble telescope continues into December, after which point it's too faint for anything to see again.

Migration by Sea

For decades, students were taught that the first people in the Americas were a group called the Clovis who walked over the Bering land bridge about 13,500 years ago. They arrived (so the narrative goes) via an ice-free corridor between glaciers in North America. But evidence has been piling up since the 1980s of human campsites in North and South America that date back much earlier than 13,500 years. At sites ranging from Oregon in the US to Monte Verde in Chile, evidence of human habitation goes back as far as 18,000 years.

Source: Most scientists now reject the idea that the first Americans came by land | Ars Technica

Pretty huge change in what we were taught growing up, and a great story about how extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And when that evidence is compelling, scientific consensus moves. This also provides more overlap for the mega fauna die off and human habitation, which makes sense.

Book Review: The Ends of the World

I'm going to open with, this book is flat out amazing. In school, or even through popular science journalism, we learn a bit about some key points of geologic time. But these are snap shots, Dinosaurs, Ice Ages, even Snow Ball Earth. Really interesting things on their own, but they all seem a little disjoint.

This book brings an incredible visual narrative through life on Earth, by looking at the 5 mass extinction events the planet has experienced. An extinction is only emotionally meaningful if you understand what is lost, so the author paints an incredible picture of the aliens worlds that were Earth in these previous eras. Worlds without life on land, worlds of giant insects, worlds of bus size armored carnivorous fish as apex predators. He does this by road tripping to the scientists and fossil sites where this story is being assembled, talking with experts along the way. A story as old and hidden in the fossil record needs lots of lines of evidence to point to answers, and the author does a great job of doing that, and pointing out what we seem to know, and what we've only got guesses on.

The story of life on earth is the story of carbon and climate. As volcanoes stirred up carbon from the deep, and life reclaimed it, died, and sunk it back into the Earth. When this cycle gets really out of whack, the climate goes nuts, and life is paused on planet Earth, and taken tens of thousands of years to get back on track. There are many points of reflection about how our current mining and burning of ancient sequestered carbon is impacting our world today.

There are also just incredible moments that make you sit and think. The death of the land based mega fauna, 12,000 years ago, in North America, that still leaves ecological holes.

But the menagerie lives on in evolutionary ghosts. In North America, the fleet-footed pronghorns of the American West run laughably faster than any of their existing predators. But then, their speed isn’t meant for existing predators. It might be a vestige of their need to escape constant, harrowing pursuits by American cheetahs—until a geological moment ago. The absence was palpable to me as I rode a train past New Mexico’s Kiowa National Grassland, an American Serengeti, windswept and empty except for a lone wandering pronghorn still running from ghosts.

Other evolutionary shadows of the Pleistocene live on in the produce aisle. Seeds in fruit are designed to be eaten and dispersed by animals, but for the avocado this makes little sense. Their billiard ball–sized cores, if swallowed whole, would at the very least make for an agonizing few days of digestive transit. But the fruit makes a little more sense in a land populated by tree-foraging giants, like the sometimes dinosaur-proportioned ground sloths, who swallowed the seeds and hardly noticed them. The ground sloths disappeared a geological moment ago, but their curious fruit, the avocado, remains.

It will make me never quite look at an avocado the same way again.

There are so many things I learned which made me reconsider my whole view of dinosaurs. Like Dimetrodon, the creature with a large sale on it's back for temperature regulation, is more closely related to mammals than dinosaurs. And without the 3rd mass extinction, we'd never have seen Dinosaurs, and mammals might have ruled the Earth much earlier. And that T-rex showed up really late on the scene, filling the niche that that much more successful Allosaurs held as apex predators for most of the Jurasic era (the Allosaurs all disappeare in a more minor great extinction).

It's not often that you find a non fiction book that both reads fast, and dumps such an incredible amount of information on you. The jumping back and forth from road trip, chatting with scientists, facts, and painting pictures of the world that was, works really well. There is never a dull moment in it, and you come out the far end for a much greater appreciation for life on Earth in all its forms.

Lumosity boosts brain function by 0%

In the new controlled, randomized trial involving 128 healthy young adults, researchers found that playing Lumosity brain-training games for 30-minute sessions, five times a week for 10 weeks resulted in participants getting better at playing the games. But researchers saw no changes in participants’ neural activity and no improvements in their cognitive performance beyond those seen in controls. The same went for participants who played video games not designed with cognitive benefits in mind.

Source: Lumosity boosts brain function by 0%, the same as normal video games—study | Ars Technica UK

To the best of any studies out there, brain training games are all snake oil. There is no such thing as general intelligence booster, there is just getting better at specific skills because you do them more.

Traffic Shed for Solar Eclipse

This infographic summarizes how many people are expected to travel to the path of totality and where they will congregate. The patterns of converging lines to the path of totality represent the quickest drive paths from throughout the nation to the path. These lines are color-coded by destination state. The blue circles in the path are destinations for eclipse travelers, proportionally sized to the expected traffic impact. The black dots are metropolitan areas throughout the country scaled to population.

Source: Statistics — Total solar eclipse of Aug 21, 2017

This traffic shed diagram is interesting on so many levels. You can imagine what the congestion points might be on day of with an extra 2 million people trying to get around South Carolina.

It will also be interesting as the media starts ramping up as we get closer if more folks will decide to take this plunge, or figure that they'll be around in 7 years to catch the next one.

The 2017 Eclipse Impact on the Grid

On Monday, August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will pass over the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming etc.). The California balancing authority area will be affected by a partial eclipse between 9:02 AM and 11:54 AM PPT. As a partial eclipse, the sun will be obscured from 76% in Northern California to 62% in Southern California border area. The reduction in solar radiation will directly affect the output of the photovoltaics (PV) generating facilities and rooftop solar.

From the California ISO 2017 Solar Eclipse Report.

In looking up 2017 Eclipse stuff, I wondered if anyone had modeled the Solar Power generation drops during it. Of course they had, and I quickly found this California ISO report on it. California will probably be hit harder than this than most given their solar install base, so accurate modeling is really important.

I have yet to find anyone modeling wind for the event. As that definitely does pick up with the temperature shifts pretty heavily right around the event. But maybe it's too little of an impact to notice?

 

Why Do Americans Refrigerate Their Eggs?

Americans love refrigeration, and eggs are high on the list of items we rush to get into the refrigerator after a trip to grocery store. Meanwhile, our culinary compatriots in Europe, Asia and other parts of world happily leave beautiful bowls of eggs on their kitchen counters.

So what gives?

Mostly, it’s about washing. In the U.S., egg producers with 3,000 or more laying hens must wash their eggs. Methods include using soap, enzymes or chlorine.

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But — and here is the big piece of the puzzle — washing the eggs also cleans off a thin, protective cuticle devised by nature to protect bacteria from getting inside the egg in the first place. (The cuticle also helps keep moisture in the egg.)

With the cuticle gone, it is essential — and, in the United States, the law — that eggs stay chilled from the moment they are washed until you are ready to cook them. Japan also standardized a system of egg washing and refrigeration after a serious salmonella outbreak in the 1990s.

In Europe and Britain, the opposite is true. European Union regulations prohibit the washing of eggs. The idea is that preserving the protective cuticle is more important than washing the gunk off.

Source: ‘Why Do Americans Refrigerate Their Eggs?’ - The New York Time

It’s about 50 degrees warmer than normal near the North Pole, yet again - The Washington Post

Extreme temperature spikes such as this one have occurred multiple times in the past two winters, whereas they only previously occurred once or twice per decade in historical records according to research published in the journal Nature.

As Mashable science writer Andrew Freedman put it: “Something is very, very wrong with the Arctic climate.”

Source: It’s about 50 degrees warmer than normal near the North Pole, yet again - The Washington Post

As someone that follows the science, I definitely understand the difference between weather and climate. However, it takes climate change to create aberrations this extreme, this often.

This is all very real. It is unfortunate that many of our elected representatives don't agree with the science.

One of the largest icebergs recorded

The crack in Larsen C now reaches over 100 miles in length, and some parts of it are as wide as two miles. The tip of the rift is currently only about 20 miles from reaching the other end of the ice shelf.

Once the crack reaches all the way across the ice shelf, the break will create one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, according to Project Midas, a research team that has been monitoring the rift since 2014. Because of the amount of stress the crack is placing on the remaining 20 miles of the shelf, the team expects the break soon.

Source: A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months - The New York Times

Climate Change is real, and keeps on chugging. The visuals in the NY Times article are quite impressive and give you a more visceral sense of what is going on.

Collective False Memory

In the early Nineties, roughly around 1994, a now 52-year-old man named Don ordered two copies of a brand new video for the rental store his uncle owned and he helped to run.

“I had to handle the two copies we owned dozens of times over the years,” says Don (who wishes to give his first name only). “And I had to watch it multiple times to look for reported damages to the tape, rewind it and check it in, rent it out, and put the boxes out on display for rental.”

In these ways, the film Don is speaking of is exactly like the hundreds of others in his uncle’s shop. In one crucial way, however, it is not. The movie that Don is referring to doesn’t actually exist.

Source: The movie that doesn’t exist and the Redditors who think it does

This is a really interesting dive through a collective false memory of a bunch of folks on Reddit about a thing that does not and never did exist. It's fascinating to see the depths people will go to, and the level of completely over the top theories people believe (like a glitch in the matrix), to protect the idea that their memory is not in error. Memories feel like reality, but they are anything but.