scientists want to see Pluto back on the planetary
Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Pluto get Promoted to a Planet Again? - If a couple
of scientists have their way Pluto could become a planet
again, but not alone. Their new definition would add another
102 planets to our solar system. Kirby Runyon and Alan Stern
presented a paper at the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science
Conference suggesting that basically anything that is
round, but not a star or former star, should be called a
planet. Such a definition is simpler that the one adopted
by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 2006, but
under this rule moons, asteroids and other objects beyond
the traditional 9 would join the club. "We don't need to
give the IAU the authority to tell us what a planet is,"
Runyon stated. "To be fair, the IAU serves a great purpose
in astronomy and does great stuff, but they don't need to
tell planetary geologists what a planet is or isn't." He
hopes the public will adopt his definition of a planet,
even if the IAU doesn't.
Statue Excavated in Egypt - A team of archaeologists
have been busy removing a giant statue from an excavation
in Matariya, part of greater Cairo. Scientists were surprised
to find the artifact. "It was in an area that was almost
completely investigated," said Dietrich Raue from the University
of Leipzig. "We thought [the pit] would be empty without
any features... so that was a great surprise." Researchers
suspect it depicts Ramses II who ruled for 66 years from
1279 to 1213 BC and was part of Ancient Egypt's 19th dynasty.
The statue is thought to be 30 feet high, but it's unclear
whether archaeologists will be able to recover all the pieces
especially the hips and legs. "I'm rather sure that will
be there," Raue explained, "but the problem is we're in
the middle of the city, and the bottom part may be very
close to the houses. It would be dangerous to excavate closer
to the houses, so probably we will not get the bottom part."
Search and Rescue Cat? - A new article in the journal
Applied Animal Behavior Science suggests that cats
might be much better at sniffing out bombs and missing people
than dogs. Dogs have 9 V1R receptor gene variants (in mammals
the more you have the better to can discriminate smells)
while cats have 30 (Humans only have 2). "Given the importance
of olfaction in cat sensory perception, cats could be trained
to discriminate between a variety of odors, therefore serving
in working roles for detecting specific humans, medical
scent detection, bomb sniffing, or drug sniffing," noted
Kristyn Vitale Shreve, one of the paper's authors. While
most researchers have shied away from cats because of their
reputation of being difficult to train, the authors of the
paper believe that given the right socialization and rewards
cats could become partners in search and rescue missions
and other situations that require a keen sense of smell.
Planets, May Not Be All That Earth-Like - The discovery
of seven rocky planets orbiting in or near the "habitable
zone" of star, TRAPPIST-1, last month set off everyone's
imaginations. One scientist cautions, however, that the
press maybe overselling the possibility of life there. In
the case of TRAPPIST-1, notes Elizabeth Tasker, one of the
authors of a commentary in Nature, the orbital characteristics
of these planet suggest they formed further from the star
and migrated closer over time. "They may not be terrestrial
planets, but maybe the cores of gas giants because they
formed in a similar region to our own solar system," she
explained. Similarly, in 2014 the discovery of Gliese 832c
which was hailed as a "super-earth" was more likely a "super-Venus"
with a massive, crushing, atmosphere. The authors' complain
these are oversimplifications and that the term "habitual
zone" only means the temperature is right for liquid water
on the surface, not that water is there, or that conditions
would be suitable for the survival of earth-like creatures.
"Our knowledge is far from sufficient to comparatively rank
the ability of planets to support life," the authors write.
"Unless we want to risk destroying the chance to find out
if the Earth is unique, we need to stop pretending that
we already know."
Plants May Sequester CO2 - Biologists at the Max Planck
Institute in Germany have been playing with enzymes hoping
to supercharge plants so that they pull much more carbon
dioxide out of the air and cut down on global warming. Enzymes
the plants naturally have only use only 5 to 10 molecules
of CO2 per second, but the enzymes developed by the researchers
consumed as many as 80 molecules of CO2 per second. "It's
as important to bring them together and harmonize them so
they can work together as a team," said Tobias Erb, a biologist
at the Institute. "For instance, like a soccer team, it's
not enough to have good individual players. You need a team
to win the championship. So, if you want to fix CO2, you
want to have enzymes that work together efficiently." So
far the scientists have only tested the enzymes in test
tubes, the next step is seeing if they can get them into
Quote of the Month - "Science
may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to
imagination." - Bertrand Russell
New at the Museum:
Gustav: The World's Biggest Gun -
Under Hitler the Nazis developed a number of crazy weapons.
Some, like the V-1 and V-2 missiles, were harbingers of
the future. Others, like the enormous battleships Bismarck
and Tirpitz, were the zenith of soon obsolete weapons systems.
A few, like the Ratte, a tank
the size of a small office building, turned out to be just
impossible fantasies. One that was actually built, however,
almost defies belief. It's the Schwerer Gustav gun, the
biggest artillery piece ever used in combat. -
Picture of the Month - What
is this this?
Speeding Up? - Someone just said to me she thinks
the last 3 years have aged everyone more than in the past
because the actual minute itself (the unit of time) is speeding
up. Can this be possible? - Jennifer E.
I suspect your friend is referring to the insertion of "leap
seconds" into the calendar in the last few years. If this
is the case, it isn't so much that time itself is speeding
up, but that the earth's rotation is slowing down.
Of course, how you look at it depends on how you define
time. We casually define our days as one rotation of our
planet, hours as one 24th the length of that day, minutes
as one 60th of the length of that hour and seconds as one
60th the length of that minute. If the Earth rotation slows
(which it does due to the pull of the moon and sun's gravity
on our oceans which create friction between the water and
land) the days get longer by a few fractions of a second
this tiny difference is unimportant to most people, it is
of great concern to scientists who need to measure things
carefully down to the thousandths of a second for many scientific
experiments. If the length of a second is changing as the
earth slows down it can't be used to compare the results
of one experiment with a similar one done years earlier.
To solve this problem scientists invented the "physics second."
A physics second is length that the second was according
to the rotation of our planet in 1900. Scientists then use
atomic clocks (that measure time as a function of the change
of states in the element cesium) to track time without having
to refer to the earth rotation. When the atomic clocks slip
out of sync with the rotation of the earth by about a second
a "leap second" is inserted into the clocks tracking to
keep it aligned with the astronomical day.
you thought of the real value of time as the length of the
day, then indeed you might come to the conclusion that time
is going faster - after all we are inserting extra fractions
of a second into those days so time must have sped up, right?
Well, not really. It is probably more accurate to think
that time has stayed the same, but our days are getting
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Interplanetary Society - On April 4th, 1930, the American
Interplanetary Society (originally called the American Rocket
Society) was formed by G. Edward Pendray, David Lasser,
Laurence Manning. The group contributed greatly to early
rocket science and on September 9th, 1934, their ARS-4 rocket
was the first in America to break the sound barrier.
Lyrids Meteor Shower - Staring around April 16th through
the 25th, watch the skies for shooting stars from the Lyrids
meteor shower. The shower, the remains from the passing
of comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, will peak on the evening of
April 22nd through the morning of the 23rd. That night has
a crescent moon but it shouldn't interfere too much with
British Police Track UFO Calls - A British police department
admitted dispatching officers 8 times in the last couple
years to investigate UFO or alien abduction reports. According
to the newspaper The Sun, the Lancashire police checked
out reports of strange happenings many times in their jurisdiction,
but didn't come up with any definite evidence of extraterrestrial
involvement. These might, however, point to criminal activity.
"Sometimes these calls are not what they may seem so a potential
UFO call could be a suspicious light or suspicious movement,"
said a police spokeman. Lancashire area has long been known
for reports of alien activity. A 1995 incident generated
250 calls reporting a UFO flying through the sky at high
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