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Environmental Scientist

Journal Archives

A Universe Made of Tiny, Random Chunks

Physics: A new idea holds that the space-time that makes up our universe is inherently uncertain.

ne of science’s most crucial yet underappreciated achievements is the description of the physical universe using mathematics—in particular, using continuous, smooth mathematical functions, like how a sine wave describes both light and sound. This is sometimes known as Newton’s zeroth law of motion in recognition of the fact that his famed three laws embody such functions.

In the early 20th century, Albert Einstein gave a profound jolt to the Newtonian universe, showing that space was both curved by mass and inherently linked to time. He called the new concept space-time. While this idea was shocking, its equations were smooth and continuous, like Newton’s.

But some recent findings from a small number of researchers suggest that randomness is actually inherent in space-time itself, and that Newton’s zeroth law also breaks down, on small scales.

Let’s explore what this means.



Toon: Secret Agent Smartphone

The giant oarfish Regalecus glesne has been caught on film

The giant oarfish, also known as the king of the herring, Pacific oarfish, ribbon-fish, and streamer fish, was originally described by the Norwegian biologist Peter Ascanius in 1772.

Regalecus glesne is the longest bony fish alive. It can reach a length of over 50 feet and weigh as much as 600 pounds.

The generic name Regalecus is derived from the latin word regalis, meaning ‘royal.’ The origin of the oarfish name is unknown, but may refer to the oar-shaped body or the long, oar-like pelvic fins.

Regalecus glesne is a pelagic species found living at great depths to 3,280 feet (1 km), but more typically to depths of 656 feet (0.2 km) throughout the deep seas of the eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.

In a paper published online June 5, 2013 in the Journal of Fish Biology, marine biologists from Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at the Louisiana State University have reported five new observations of the giant oarfish.

more with video


Saturday Toons: Brutal Spying Toons

Mr. Fish Strikes Again!

All the Infrastructure a Tyrant Would Need, Courtesy of Bush and Obama


Let's assume that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, their staffers, and every member of Congress for the last dozen years has always acted with pure motives in the realm of national security. Say they've used the power they've claimed, the technology they've developed, and the precedents they've established exclusively to fight al-Qaeda terrorists intent on killing us, that they've succeeded in disrupting what would've been successful attacks, and that Americans are lucky to have had men and women so moral, prudent, and incorruptible in charge.

Few Americans believe all of that to be so. Combining the people who didn't trust Bush and the ones who don't trust Obama adds up to a sizable part of the citizenry. But even if all the critics were proved wrong, even if the CIA, NSA, FBI, and every other branch of the federal government had been improbably filled, top to bottom, with incorruptible patriots constitutionally incapable of wrongdoing, this would still be so: The American people have no idea who the president will be in 2017. Nor do we know who'll sit on key Senate oversight committees, who will head the various national-security agencies, or whether the moral character of the people doing so, individually or in aggregate, will more closely resemble George Washington, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, John Yoo, or Vladimir Putin.

What we know is that the people in charge will possess the capacity to be tyrants -- to use power oppressively and unjustly -- to a degree that Americans in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, or 2000 could've scarcely imagined. To an increasing degree, we're counting on having angels in office and making ourselves vulnerable to devils. Bush and Obama have built infrastructure any devil would lust after. Behold the items on an aspiring tyrant's checklist that they've provided their successors:

A precedent that allows the president to kill citizens in secret without prior judicial or legislative review

The power to detain prisoners indefinitely without charges or trial

Ongoing warrantless surveillance on millions of Americans accused of no wrongdoing, converted into a permanent database so that data of innocents spied upon in 2007 can be accessed in 2027

Using ethnic profiling to choose the targets of secret spying, as the NYPD did with John Brennan's blessing

Normalizing situations in which the law itself is secret -- and whatever mischief is hiding in those secret interpretations

The permissibility of droning to death people whose identities are not even known to those doing the killing

The ability to collect DNA swabs of people who have been arrested even if they haven't been convicted of anything

A torture program that could be restarted with an executive order

Even if you think Bush and Obama exercised those extraordinary powers responsibly, what makes you think every president would? How can anyone fail to see the huge potential for abuses?



Science Says High Fructose Corn Syrup as Addictive as Cocaine

We’d like to think there’s a big difference between handing a kid a can of soda and offering him a line of cocaine, but new research on the link between high fructose corn syrup and addiction suggests otherwise. Canadian researchers from the University of Ontario studied lab rats’ reactions to increasing doses of high fructose corn syrup (you know, the sweetener that’s in everything from soda to bread) and determined that it produced reactions “similar to those produced by drugs of abuse such as cocaine.”

Once the rats were all hopped up on high fructose corn syrup, they were given access to a lever that controlled how much syrup they received. The more concentrated the syrup, the harder the rats worked to obtain it . . . which, coincidentally, is also true of serious cocaine addiction. The Canadian researchers hypothesized that an unacknowledged addiction to the high fructose corn syrup that sweetens most of our favorite foods could be responsible for the planet’s growing obesity epidemic. If it’s true, this could be a major blow for snack food and soda companies, many of which have gotten away with selling products containing much more high fructose corn syrup than the federal limit would allow.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we’re gearing up for a full fledged drug war on soda and candy bars (despite what Mayor Bloomberg might think). Still, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on the nutrition label of our favorite snack foods, and if we start seeing people go into shock from candy bar deprivation . . . well, then we’ll know we have a problem.


Mars rover Opportunity finds sign of 'water you could drink'

NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity has scraped away at some of the oldest rock it's examined and found the strongest signs for water it has ever discovered over its 9.5-year mission, scientists for the Mars Exploration Rover project said Friday. The scrappy little rover is now heading down Endeavour Crater’s rim to Solander Point, on what is in some ways a brand new mission, officials said.

"We consider it 'Sol 1' all over again for Opportunity," said John Callas, the mission’s project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A sol is a Martian day.

Just before leaving a spot called Cape York on its southbound journey, Opportunity examined a rock called Esperance using its X-ray spectrometer and microscopic imager, finding clear evidence that it held clay minerals that had been altered by water – a whole lot of it. It's a far cry from many of the previous findings on Martian moisture, said mission lead scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University.

"We run around talking about 'water on Mars, water on Mars' -- in fact, what Opportunity has mostly discovered evidence for in the past was sulfuric acid on Mars," Squyres said. "What we have here is a very different chemistry.… This was water you could drink."



Toon: What are you doing?

Luckovich Toon: Vanity Plate

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