Wink once if you think astronomy is better because of parallax

by Sarah Scoles

Extend your arm and hold up one finger. Now close one eye and open the other one. Now open that eye and close the other one. You have either just completed the world's most awkward wink or demonstrated the concept of parallax.

Why is parallax important and/or cool?

It can make you famous, and also help you help us make sense of our place in the universe. Parallax just earned Dr. Mark Reid of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics the Jansky Prize, given once a year to a person who has made significant contributions to the advancement ofEven the President winks. radio astronomy. Using parallax, Reid has changed our perception of the galaxy, placing us in a Milky Way 50% larger and rotating 161,000 km/hr faster than we thought. And he has done so, as well as produced many other results highlighted below, by measuring parallax.

Let's go back to your finger.

Your finger's position relative to whatever (don't want to know) was behind it in your living room changed depending on which eye was open. That's because your eyes are on different sides of your head, so they have slightly different views. That makes a big difference for your finger's apparent position, but less of a difference for objects behind your finger (farther away). If you were doing this in view a bookshelf in front of a window, the trees outside would have shifted even less than the books on your shelves, which would have shifted less than your finger. But from all of those shifts, you can calculate how far away the trees (and the books and your finger) are, as long as you know how far apart your eyes are.

This concept doesn't just have to apply to you and your living room. It can apply to distant astronomical objects. And it should be applied! Determining distances in space is hard. After all, we can't fly a spaceship there at a given acceleration and use Physics 101 equations to calculate out how far we traveled in the elapsed time. That would take way too long and people would die. 

For nearby objects, you can get parallax by taking measurements at different places on the Earth. For more distant objects, you have to wait for a the Earth to go around the Sun so that it itself has a different viewpoint (source. AstroBob).

For a rundown on the ways that astronomers find distances, see this post about the cosmic distanceThis guy would have preferred to just measure X (source: ladder. The problem with this ladder is that a lot of the rungs rest on assumptions and/or require extrapolation. They are not direct measurements. They are calculations. Which is okay; we like calculations. But each step or assumption introduces more error and makes the distance less certain.

So what great things did Dr. Reid and his collaborators do with parallax?

Reid likes to use the Very Long Baseline Array to measure parallaxes. This is a set of 10 telescopes spread across 5351 miles of the Earth. When used together, they simulate a telescope with a diameter of 5351 miles (aka "big"). The bigger the telescope, the better its resolution. A telescope this big can see tiny structures...or, in the case of parallax, tiny changes in an object's apparent position over the course of the year. 

By the way, doesn't the VLBA sound awesome? Doesn't it sound like there's no other telescope that could do this work? Why, then, would the National Science Foundation want to stop funding this telescope? Consider writing your representatives to tell them that parallaxes are a priority (Source: NRAO).

Using the VLBA, Reid and collaborators have

- Determined distances to masers (like lasers but for longer wavelengths of light that you can't see) in other galaxies (more than 100 million light-years away). With these distances, and information about how fast the galaxies are moving away from us, Reid and collaborators made the first direct measurement of how fast the universe is expanding.


M. J. Reid, J. A. Braatz, J. J. Condon, K. Y. Lo, C. Y. Kuo, C. M. V. Impellizzeri, & C. Henkel (2012). The Megamaser Cosmology Project: IV. A Direct Measurement of the Hubble Constant from UGC 3789 ApJ arXiv: 1207.7292v1

- Shown that Cygnus X-1 really is a black hole like everybody thought, by showing that it is far enough away that it has to be massive enough to be a black hole. I wrote about this a while ago here, and all three associated papers are linked from that post!

- Observed the motions of and distances to Milky Way masers, which are located where stars are being formed, which is also where spiral arms are. These measurements led to the realization that the Milky Way is faster and more massive than we'd thought, and showed where the Solar System (precisely) is in all that mess.


Reid, M., Menten, K., Zheng, X., Brunthaler, A., Moscadelli, L., Xu, Y., Zhang, B., Sato, M., Honma, M., Hirota, T., Hachisuka, K., Choi, Y., Moellenbrock, G., & Bartkiewicz, A. (2009). TRIGONOMETRIC PARALLAXES OF MASSIVE STAR-FORMING REGIONS. VI. GALACTIC STRUCTURE, FUNDAMENTAL PARAMETERS, AND NONCIRCULAR MOTIONS The Astrophysical Journal, 700 (1), 137-148 DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/700/1/137


Distances not only put us in our place, but also tell us what that place is. And we are small. But bigger than we thought. But stuff is far away. And lots of it is getting farther away all the time. And it's time we knew all about that. Exactly. Or close as we can get. Wink


Election Special: How do I vote for science?

by Brooke Napier

What makes a successful nation?

Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief of Science, thinks its institutions, organizations such as universities, corporations, or governments. He states in his recent editorial, “…it is primarily through their roles in institutions that talented and well-motivated individuals can make enormous contributions to a nation”.

In order to feed these institutions with as many talented and capable people as possible, you need a firm ground of education. So its crazy that institutions have been taking a large hit from decreasing resources in the last few decades, amirite?

As Alberts so eloquently continues, “…institutions thrive when they are rooted in scientific principles – in rational thought, scientific knowledge, and the innovations derived from scientific understanding to benefit humanity”.

Scary much?Though the state of our split nation does not necessarily agree on all aspects of science, I think both sides (or all sides) can agree that scientists and politicians need to work together to make efficient and effective changes in order to place more emphasis on scientific research.

Maintaining U.S. scientific excellent is one thing that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both can agree on.

Ok, now that we’re all on the same playing field. Let’s get to the question at hand:

How do I vote for science in this upcoming election?

It’s not looking good for science, our $1.4-trillion-a-year budget deficit will continue to loom over scientific research.

President Obama has followed in the footsteps with reguard to the former President George W. Bush’s pledge to continue to boost the nation’s investment in physical sciences and engineering. Within the last 4 years Obama has offered a 10-year program to double the budgets of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Additionally, it is Obama’s goal to increase the nation’s spending on research 3%. Unfortunately, Congress has not been on the same page with Obama, however he did manage to pass a one-time $20 billion boost for basic research in 2009.

Romney has not had an opportunity to show his personal preference on federal funding for science. He has openly been pro-university-based research, but has declined to provide more detail. He comments mostly on energy policy, specifically against the Obama administration’s policies. So he’s still ambiguous on the research front, which makes scientists pretty nervous.

So that was just the sides for the issue of "funding" - let's do a quick breakdown of the other issues, are you ready?

Defense research:

The Department of Defense (DOD) is the largest government funder in many fields including engineering, mathematics, and computer science. Though basic research only accounts for 0.5% of the Pentagon's actual budget, this money is required for many labs to continue research.

Obama: cuts must be made, but slashing of the research programs as collateral damage will try to be avoided.

Romney: wants to increase overall defense spending, without comment on the research.

Energy research:

Let's be honest, physics and fusion studies require a HUGE budget to run their fancy equipment - everyone has been minding their p's and q's in this category and hasn't remarked on how the budget cutting will affect this area of research. Hopefully the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider wont be a victim, because it has a cool name.

Obama & Romney:  Let's face it, only physicists really know if they should cut the budget for the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider.

Climate & Environment:

Here we go! Now this is a topic we can argue about.

Obama: He believes humans are causing climate change and would like to implement some federal action to "curb the emission of greenhouse gases that are contributing to global warming". Currently, Obama has set in motion many "rules aimed at reducing pollution and protecting habitat from development". On oil and gas, he's tightening regulations for drilling, mining, and logging.

Romney: It's not clear that humans have effected climate change or that the government should be involved in this issue. He wants to slash the pro-environmental policies set up by Obama, in fear of harming the economy. DRILL BABY DRILL!


No ifs, ands, or buts about it, teachers are not paid enough. We can all agree on that (I'm assuming, if you're reading this).

Obama: Has set in motion programs to increase the number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teachers and LOVES educational programs.

Romney: Wants teachers to be responsible for how much their students learn, and enjoys the power in the state's hands.

Space Science:

I should leave this to Sarah, but long story short, the next president needs to baby the space science and space exploration programs for them to stay alive and strong.

Obama: No more joyrides to Mars, no more Constellation program (returning U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2020). Wants to increase commercialized spaceflight & wants humans to walk on an asteroid by 2025 (although Congress doesn't necessarily agree).

Romney: Loves the commercial space industry and wants to strengthen the relationship between international partners and NASA. Opinions on the current state of space science and budgets have been hush-hushed.


This area of research hasn't been really well publicized since the W. Bush administration, but these pathogens need love too.

Obama & Romney: Crickets.

Biomedical Research:

Both have close connections with the devastation of cancer, however there’s a subtle divide with how to take care of it.

Obama: Requested to increase $$ for cancer research, Congress says: NOPE. Also, has increased autism & Alzheimer research. Released limits on federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cells (YEAH BUDDY!).

Romney: Rely’s on the NIH’s peer-reviewed system to award money to the strongest proposals. No mention pertaining to research on certain pathogens or diseases. He says, “Where I will spend money… will be determined not by the people who are the politicians but by the scientists and by people who measure where they think the impact will be the greatest”. No comment on stem cells…

How will the presidential stance on these topics influence science research in our busted economy?

In Jeffrey Mervis’ editorial for Science he comments:

The immediate threat to U.S. science is $110 billion in across-the-board cuts to this year’s budget, divided evenly between defense and domestic discretionary spending. Under those automatic cuts, which are scheduled to take effect on 2 January, most science agencies would see their 2013 budgets shrink by 8.2% from current levels. For the $31 billion National Institutes of Health, for example, that translates into a $2.5 billion reduction. The $7 billion National Science Foundation would lose $580 million, and the Department of Energy’s $4.9 billion Office of Science programs would drop by $423 million.


Mervis continues, “The election results will certainly influence any decision. A status-quo outcome, a Democratic president and a divided Congress – could nudge all sides towards a compromise, while a Republican sweep is likely to mean no movement until after the winners take office in January”.

Either way, the state of scientific research and innovation in the U.S. is ugly –spending, Ph.D. production, publications, patents, sales of high-tech manufactured goods, etc is escalating in other nations while we’re at a standstill.

I didn’t mean to scare anyone, but I wanted it to be known that the state of scientific research is bleak, and however you spin it – whether Obama or Romney wins, they need to get to it!

For information on specific fields of research and the current opinion of blue vs. red, go here: “Congratulations! Now Get to Work!”

The Alberts' editorial is here: Thrive on Common Ground

Looks like things will be getting more serious in the near future.


Why it matters that the closest-to-Earth-mass planet is around the closest star

by Sarah Scoles


Astronomers have found the first Earth-sized planet (and the smallest planet found so far) around a Sun-like star. And not just any Sun-like star--the closest Sun-like star, Alpha Centarui B. Which also happens to be the closest star. Period.

There it is. See it? (Credit: 1-Meter Schmidt Telescope, ESO).

Though this planet is very close to the star, and so is too hot to harbor life, where there's one planet, there tend to be more that we just haven't found yet. And, presumably, one of those could be in the star's habitable zone.

Today, ESO scientists Dumusque, et al., released a Nature paper announcing the exoplanetary discovery. It took four years of research and 450 separate observations, but they found a rocky (not gaseous, like Jupiter and Saturn) planet that is only 4.4 lightyears away. In astronomical terms, as Dr. Geoffrey Marcy of UCBerkeley said, "close enough you can almost spit there."

Which, of course, makes us want to spit there. Or, more precisely, spit a probe there.

Are We Talking about Space Travel?

Although those 4.4 lightyears represent a distance that make current space vehicles shake their heads vigorously and run away, astronomers (at least those quoted in the New York Times article) are considering action.

Sara Seager, an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in an e-mail, "I feel like we should drop everything and send a probe there to study the new planet and others that are likely in the system."


It could take hundreds of years, but such a mission, Dr. Marcy said, could jolt NASA out of its doldrums.

Rarely, in my opinion, do we see astronomers making such go-getter statements, especially ones that sound rather sci-fi. Astronomy (excepting solar system science) is based on collecting photons and/or thinking about what would happen if photons were collected. It is the most hands-off (in terms of actual hands) science that exists, since almost all of theI have the greatest idea. Let's go there in Cylon ships. subjects and "experiments" are hundreds if not thousands if not millions if not billions of light-years away. That doesn't make it less real or less important. But it can make it harder for people to connect to.

It appears to make a difference, to excitement level, if we can reach out (with an ion drive or a solar sail or, more likely, technology we haven't thought of yet) and touch things: be in things, on things, around things, at things.

And I think maybe we're seeing that with scientists, too, and with the science journalists. After all, almost all articles about this discovery end with the question "So could we GO THERE?"

While it's awesome and important to learn about black hole spin and giant molecular cloud collapse, that's not what really gets into people's blood, makes them dream, and makes them okay with spending lots of money on projects with only long-term payoff.

What fires people up is still exploration. Going and doing. There may not be any more continents to "discover," but there are other stars. And apparently, around those other stars, there are planets. Like ours.

When People Like Astronomy the Most

People also tend to be most interested in astronomical discoveries that can be categorized in terms of how they compare to our experience.

  1. Wow, that's foreign to my everyday experience (see: black holes, dark matter, dark energy: the perpetual favorite astronomical topics).
  2. Wow, that reminds me of my everyday experience (see: greenhouse effect on Venus)
  3. Wow, that is a lot like where we live (see: this discovery).
  4. Wow, that's a lot different from where we live (see: diamond planet).
  5. Wow, that's extremely far away from us (see: most distant galaxy).
  6. Wow, that's extremely close to us (see: this discovery).

So to find a planet that is our planet's size (even if it's too hot and there's no promise that there's a planet in the habitable zone), around a star our star's size, in the closest spot it could possibly be--that makes our little, us-centered brains fire with possibilities. And it makes the parts of our brains that led us to cross the Bering Strait and the Wild, Wild West and the stratopause say, "Let's GO TO THERE. I will help with my tax dollars."Yep, it really says "Robot Alert"(Credit: Ace Double Press, illustration by Jack Gaughan.)

The Big Questions

What makes people excited about astronomy are big questions that relate to us and our experience: How did the universe start? How will it end? What laws govern the universe? How do those laws lead from unstructured plasma to atoms to galaxies to the intelligent life here? Has life arisen elsewhere? Etc. Many basic astronomical research questions ( like "How/why do stars form?") are under the us-centered questions.

We should take advantage of the scientific and personal excitement surrounding this discovery. Since Kennedy's lunar call-to-action, there hasn't been a space-based initiative that captured imaginations, inspired both adults and kids, pushed technology forward, transcended fiscal years and election years to the same degree. Think of what we did in those 8 years. Think of what we could do if someone said, "Hey, listen. Let's start work on this project where we decide to send something to Alpha Centauri. Let's throw a bunch of money and smart people at it and say, 'Hey, people of the world, we are going to send something TO ANOTHER STAR where there are PLANETS.' It's going to take a while to figure it out, but we can do it."

It would be a shame not to harness the people-power that a discovery like this can have. It would be a shame to leave everyone's oh-so-human exploratory yearnings yearning. Or, as Dr. Marcy phrased positively, "What a great scientific educational mission to have a probe out there, making its way decade after decade.”

It is rare that a new scientific discovery has the same transcendent effect on me now as my early childhood discoveries about the universe (which were only new to me) did. While imagining myself as an astronaut, dreaming about the aliens that I knew were trying to talk to me specifically, and jumping up and down while my mom was talking to my aunt on the phone and making me wait to tell her, "Did you know the sun is a STAR?"--while none of those actions results in successful NSF grant proposals or ApJ papers, true childlike excitement and awe do have their place in science. The planet-next-door discovery, and the widespread question "Time for spaceships?", took me back to the time when excitement and awe overshadowed all other reactions, but with the slightly more mature understanding of the work behind the discovery, and the work needed to go foward from there.


Summary/Analysis Articles

For an insightful overview of the scientific process behind the discovery, check out Phil Plait's post "Alpha Centauri Has a Planet!" in which he uses the phrase "Holy crap" and references Lost in Space.

Adam Mann at Wired covers the story with the twist of describing what the system would look like if we went there and what a Centaurian day would look like to a Centaurian, or to a human visiting a Centaurian planet.

EarthSky gives detail about the instrument that scientists used to discover this planet . It's called HARPS--the High-Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher.


Space Travel Articles

While it would take 40,000 years to get to Alpha Centauri with current technology, that's because we haven't put a lot of effort (or cash money dollars) into the specific problem of getting really far away from where we live.

There are some programs that are investigating or have investigated the problem of interstellar space flight.

The 100-Year Starship initiative is funded by NASA and DARPA, everybody's favorite scary/supersecret governmental department, and uses crowd-sourcing to get the best ideas for the planning of a long-term space exploration program. As their site says

Space exploration will most likely stagnate if it reflects an exclusionary posture that only some small set of people can fathom, let alone hope to participate. The public has never lost their fascination with space, they have, however, been left out.

NASA's Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project and the expensive textbook it produced, Frontiers in Propulsion Science, are good starting points for reading about the current(ish) state of rocket propulsion and where it is headed.

The feature article in July 2012's issue of Astronomy discusses exactly the topic of getting to Alpha Centauri. Dumusque, X., Pepe, F., Lovis, C., Ségransan, D., Sahlmann, J., Benz, W., Bouchy, F., Mayor, M., Queloz, D., Santos, N., & Udry, S. (2012). An Earth-mass planet orbiting α Centauri B Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature11572


"Live from space! World, you are beautiful": The Physics of Felix

by Sarah Scoles


Sunday morning, an Austrian man named Felix Baumgartner jumped out of a balloon--a balloon that had ascended into the stratosphere. He went faster than the speed of sound and didn't freeze his face, boil his blood, or smash his bones on the hard, hard ground.

I casually kept up with Felix I-drink-a-lot-of-Red-Bull-and-then-Break-Things-like-Mach-1 Baumgartner's antics, but once his feet were back in Roswell (his ascent and landing location), I wanted to know more about the details of his just-under-space flight.

Video of the jump

Red Bull Stratos Team site

Best quote: "Live from space! World, you are beautiful."


And first place in the Halloween costume goes to Baumgartner (Credit: Redbull Stratos).


Here's what I found out:

The Suit

  • Both before and during the launch, Felix breathed pure oxygen through the helmet's regulator. The oxygen sources were liquefied on the ground and during the balloon ride and were SCUBA-style high-pressure tanks during the descent.

  • The suit cost $200,000, or the same as the cost of a future flight on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. Which makes me think, "Well, to protect myself from a sure fall out of SpaceShipTwo, I would need to spend twice the cost of my ticket."

  • The outer layer insulates the body against extreme temperatures (he encountered temperatures as low as -76F), and the inner layer is filled with pressurized oxygen.

  • A drogue parachute was set to automatically deploy if it detected a force 3.5 times the force of gravity for more than 6 seconds, which would have meant that he was spinning around so fast for so long that he would probably be unconscious and unable to pull his own chute. Turns out, he did go into a flat spin, but not for long or hard enough to trigger this emergency mechanism.


The Capsule

  • To be carried into the stratosphere, Felix wore the suit into a capsule that was attached to a gigantic balloon and was carried, you know, way up.

  • The capsule was 11 feet tall and 8 feet across, also known as "let's add claustrophobia to the list of things Felix needs to fear."

  • It was fiberglass with an internal metal frame and based on Apollo rockets.

  • Scientists who worked on it also worked on military stealth bombers. We are all glad they have turned to peaceful, high-profile pursuits.

The Balloon

  • The balloon, under which the capsule (in which Felix sat) sat, was 55 stories tall and, when fully inflated, had a volume of 30 million cubic feet--the equivalent of 340 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

    Red you balloons? (Credit: Red Bull).
  • Despite how the balloon is only 0.0008 inches thick (the same as ~3 human hairs), it is so big that it manages to weigh 3,708 pounds.

  • And despite how it was going to take a man miles and miles above the Earth, it could only take off if the wind was blowing at 2 or fewer mph.

  • It took the balloon 3 hours to get to the required height.

  • The balloon cost multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the helium to launch it cost $60,000-$70,000. I hope Felix is sending a thank-you card to Red Bull.


The Height

The MFA in me really loves the word "stratopause" (Credit: Windows2Universe).

The balloon ultimately took Felix 128,000 feet up, or about 24 miles.

That elevation put him firmly in the stratosphere, where the temperature is about 30F. If that seems pretty hot for the atmosphere, you're right--in this atmospheric layer, when you go higher, the temperature also gets higher. It's called "temperature inversion," and it starts happening at the tropopause (7 miles up), as you can see in the image below, and continues until about 31 miles up. Temperature inversion occurs because ozone molecules in this layer absorb the Sun's UV energy and radiate heat back into the atmosphere.

 You can calculate the distance that a person can see from a given height (or how far away the horizon is) using the formula sqrt(height^2+2*height*earth's radius). This formula is based on drawing lines from you to the horizon, from you to the center of the Earth--that makes a right triangle. It is all because of Pythagorus that we can calculate that Felix could see sqrt((24 miles)^2+2(24 miles)(3950 miles)) OR 436 miles in one direction.


The Drop

  • Felix's top speed was 833.9 mph, or 61% as fast as a Concorde jet, and 1.24 times the speed of sound.
  • For 4 minutes and 20 seconds of the jump (or about half of it), he was in free-fall, which means that his weight (mass combined with gravity) was the only force acting on him. That's not precisely true because air resistance was pushing him up while gravity was pulling him down. However, up in the stratosphere, there's not a whole lot of air molecules (thus the spacesuit, etc.). That, plus a streamlined body position that minimized the amount of bodily surface area hitting the "air," was what allowed him to reach such ungodly speeds. The air resistance, which increases the faster you travel, normally comes to equal the force of gravity and thus stops acceleration--not so when there's virtually no air.
  • The low density of molecules at this height also allowed him to break the sound barrier without being hurt by his own shock waves, which, since they didn't involve many molecules, were puny.

The Body

  • At about 63,000 feet in elevation, one encounters Armstrong's Line. Here, if your bodily fluids come into contact with the atmosphere, the water vapor in your fluids will begin to bubble out of them. At this height, water boils at just 98.6F, which, if you recall anything from biology, is your body temperature. However, your pesky skin and organs don't just let those bubbles out, which means that the internal body pressure rises as more water turns to water vapor. This is called "ebullism," and Felix could have fallen prey to it had his fancy suit not worked. It could have made his eyes pop out, literally, as pressure behind them increased.

    This dog was actually the first one to ride a balloon to the stratosphere, but no one cared because he wasn't sponsored by Red Bull and also because he fell prey to ebullism (Credit: Shutterstock).
  • Felix breathed pure oxygen for two hours prior to launch so that the nitrogen would get out of his blood, so he wouldn't get "the bends," or decompression sickness, which is a term familiar to SCUBA divers. In addition to water in your bodily fluids, there are also other gases (mostly nitrogen). According to Henry's Law, when a gas is dissolved a liquid, and the pressure of the gas is decreased--as it is when you ride in a balloon capsule to the top of the world--, the amount of that gas that is dissolved will also decrease. And when the gas stops being dissolved, it doesn't just disappear. It stays in your body. And kills you. Or makes your joints sore. Depending.


The Implications for The Future

Red Bull claims that this was a scientific investigation, in addition to a giant publicity stunt and a way for Felix to become the Justin Bieber of skydiving. The scientific goals for the mission were

  • To investigate the medical treatment necessary when a person is exposed to such low pressures, low temperatures, and high speeds. The "Stratos Team" developed an emergency protocol, which as far as I know is not public but perhaps will be soon."
  • To know what is necessary to be safe if you suddenly find yourself sans aircraft 24 miles in the air. With the advent of commercial space flight UPON US (hopefully), it's important to know whether or not those who paid $200,000 to go way up, only to encounter disaster, could bail out and go way down way quickly, if need be. What would passengers need to wear over their very expensive space polos? Is it dangerous to go faster than sound? Could a parachute save the day? NASA apparently plans to use Felix's and his team's "research" to design spacesuits that are meant for escaping spacecraft in the stratosphere. Rest easy. 

Look into my eyes and tell me you don't want to jump with me (Credit: Red Bull).But of all the records broken (highest manned balloon ride, fastest free fall, highest free fall, first to break the speed of sound with his own body, most serious camera gaze) The most important record broken during this stunt: YouTube's record for simultaneous live streams. Felix had 8 million people watching during its peak. And, as always on YouTube, I'm sure they left very intelligent comments.



Science Blitzkrieg

By Brooke Napier

Jurassic Park will probably not happen Mr. Billionaire

Turns out all of our childhood nightmares about dinosaurs will stay nightmares (for now), because researchers just determined the half-life of DNA is 521 years.

By examining 158 DNA-containing leg bones from an extinct species of giant birds called moa (between 600-8,000 years old), researchers at Murdoch University and University of Copenhagen calculated that after 521 years half of the bonds between nucleotides in DNA are broken.  

Matt Kaplan at Nature New reports, “The team predicts that even in a bone at an ideal preservation temperature of -5 degrees Celcius, effectively every bond would be destroyed after a maximum of 6.8 million years… although 6.8 million years is no where near the age of a dinosaur bone – which would be at least 65 million years old – ‘We might be able to break the record for the oldest authentic DNA sequence, which currently stands at about half a million years’”.

Sorry Mr. Clive Palmer.


Nature News article

Original manuscript


Potty Mouths

The Journal of Experimental Biology just published that Chinese soft-shelled turtles urinate through their mouth when on dry land. Helen Fields from ScienceShots reports, “The reptiles don’t have gills, but they have structures in their mouths that work a little like gills. That means they have an option of breathing underwater. But normally they just reach up and breathe air. So researchers thought it was a little odd that, when the turtles were on dry land, they would stick their heads in puddles and swish water around in their mouths.”

It all makes sense now.

Kiss me.

ScienceShots article

Original manuscript


Biggest shocker in science since Jurassic Park dream shot-down

PNAS published an article this week entitled; Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Whereby they sent a male and female in for a laboratory manager position in an academic lab with the same qualifications and had the faculty rate them. Surprise, faculty rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hirable than the (identical) female applicant. Additionally, the faculty wanted to pay the male applicant a higher salary and more mentorship.

Studies like these are great because in order to fix a problem we have to admit we have one.

Original manuscript

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