One Small Step For Man...

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A Handy Guide to the Apocalypse


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SciFriday Link Roundup

Here's a roundup of some cool happenings in the science community this week: giganticring

The Awesome

Phys.org shares news of the discovery of a gigantic ring system that is much, much larger than Saturn's.

28 Months on Mars, from the New York Times.

Bill Nye: Screw Deflategate. You Should "Give a Fuck" About Climate Change Instead.

Fox News reports on the findings of a mysterious radio signal captured in real-time in outer space. This discovery was recently published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Marcus Woo explains Why We're Looking for Alien Life on Moons, Not Just Planets for Wired.

io9 reports that Kepler scientists discovered a Freakishly Old System of Planets, which formed more than 11 billion years ago.

Miriam Kramer, staff writer for Space.com, reports that private space taxis are on track to launch in 2017. Boeing and SpaceX will be ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station, thanks to their contracts with NASA.

Popular Science reports that scientists were able to slow down the speed of light.

Also from Popular Sciences is this article about NASA's intentions to put an aerial drone on Mars. Video on that below:

[embed]http://youtu.be/vpBsFzjyRO8[/embed]

And, finally, scientists have, at long last, figured out how to unboil an egg, a discovery that could potentially slash the costs of the world's biotech industry, and which "'could transform industrial and research production of proteins,' the researchers write in ChemBioChem".

The Atrocious and Maddening

Many Americans reject evolution, deny climate change and find GM food unsafe.

Published in the journal Science, the survey found that 31% of the US public believed that humans had existed in their present form since the beginning, with a further 24% stating that humans had evolved under the guiding hand of a supreme being.

Ugh. Just, ugh. Poor shame, America, poor shame.


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Reblog: After Nine Years in Space, NASA's Pluto Probe Is About to Wake Up | Motherboard

I love cool space news. After digging on the excitement surrounding the Philae comet landing last month (and perhaps even some good news regarding its batteries), I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out NASA's New Horizons spacecraft venture to Pluto.

After nine years in hibernation, New Horizons will be waking up for the last time this Saturday. In July, it will reach Pluto, and in the meantime will be taking lots of measurements and photographs of Pluto, its moons, and the Kuiper Belt.

If Horizons images of Jupiter (a composite of these shots is above) is anything to go by, then expect some of the best images of Pluto and its region of space in the coming months.

Kaleigh Rogers, for Motherboard, writes:

As it flies past Pluto this summer, New Horizons will also be able to collect detailed maps and data about the dwarf planet, from its geology to its atmosphere.

The spacecraft is loaded up with equipment: it will take infrared and ultraviolet images, analyze the composition and temperature of the atmosphere, take high resolution images of Pluto’s geology, and measure solar wind, plasma, and space dust.

...

When the mission was launched in 2006, Pluto was the only planet in the solar system that hadn’t been explored up close by a spacecraft. Though it’s no longer classified as a planet, arriving at Pluto still checks off a major space exploration bucket list item.

Check out the rest of Rogers' article.

After Nine Years in Space, NASA's Pluto Probe Is About to Wake Up | Motherboard.


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Happy Landing Day, Philae

The Philae lander has just touched down on comet 67P, the first ever for us wee humans, after having spent 10 years attached to Rosetta for a four billion mile trip. This is a really exciting engineering marvel, people! [embed]https://twitter.com/ESA_Rosetta/status/532565327721545728[/embed]

[embed]https://twitter.com/ESA_Rosetta/status/532547063607984128[/embed]

[embed]https://twitter.com/ESA_Rosetta/status/532537918557265921[/embed]

From CNN:

Scientists are hoping the probe will help us learn a lot more about the composition of comets and how they react when they get close to the Sun.

...

According to details on ESA's Rosetta website, sensors on the lander will measure the density and thermal properties of the surface, gas analyzers will help to detect and identify any complex organic chemicals that might be present, while other tests will measure the magnetic field and interaction between the comet and solar wind -- high-energy particles given off by the Sun.

...

And science fiction writer Alastair Reynolds added: "This is science fiction made real in terms of the achievement of the mission itself, but Rosetta is also taking us a step closer to answering science fiction's grandest question of all -- are we alone?"

And here's Bill Nye talking with CNN about the importance of the Philae landing: http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/tech/2014/11/12/newday-intv-bill-nye-comet-landing.cnn.html

Be sure to follow all the fun through the central Rosetta mission page. You'll also be able to find lots of activity surrounding the Philae landing on twitter at the following:

http://www.twitter.com/ESA_Rosetta http://www.twitter.com/esaoperations http://www.twitter.com/philae2014 http://www.twitter.com/esascience

scienceogram-rosetta-1.1


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Brain-to-Brain Interface

In Convergence (and it's forthcoming sequel, Emergence), I write about the sharing of memories via digital files and cybernetic implants. It's based on real research, and a lot of stuff that DARPA is working on made its way into the book. While my novel is definitely high on the "fiction" end of science-fiction, we seem to be getting closer every day to making some of these topics that I and other author's write about. One of the elements in Convergence is a communications system that allows for brain-to-brain transmissions, and is basically like having a cell phone or web-cam implanted in your head. Well, leave it up to researchers at the University of Washington to pull it off. Granted, these are minor steps forward, but it shows that there's certainly a potential for such things to occur in the future, and that the technology already exists, even if only small and limited ways, to make it happen.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/xRsx5egJoYk]

From UW Today:

University of Washington researchers have successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people as part of a scientific study following the team’s initial demonstration a year ago. In the newly published study, which involved six people, researchers were able to transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.

...

The research team combined two kinds of noninvasive instruments and fine-tuned software to connect two human brains in real time. The process is fairly straightforward. One participant is hooked to an electroencephalography machine that reads brain activity and sends electrical pulses via the Web to the second participant, who is wearing a swim cap with a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil placed near the part of the brain that controls hand movements.

A transcranial magnetic stimulation coil

Using this setup, one person can send a command to move the hand of the other by simply thinking about that hand movement.

...

Now, with a new $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, the UW research team is taking the work a step further in an attempt to decode and transmit more complex brain processes.

With the new funding, the research team will expand the types of information that can be transferred from brain to brain, including more complex visual and psychological phenomena such as concepts, thoughts and rules.

There's more to be had at the UW Today link above, so go give it a read.


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Reblog: Dear Senator Ted Cruz, I'm going to explain to you how Net Neutrality ACTUALLY works - The Oatmeal

Earlier today, Senator Ted Cruz tweeted the following idiocy:

[embed]https://twitter.com/SenTedCruz/status/531834493922189313[/embed]

Thankfully, The Oatmeal stepped up to the plate to explain to him what Net Neutrality actually is. Please go read it now.

Dear Senator Ted Cruz, I'm going to explain to you how Net Neutrality ACTUALLY works - The Oatmeal.


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Review: Undeniable - Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye

undeniable

About Undeniable - Evolution and the Science of Creation

"Evolution is one of the most powerful and important ideas ever developed in the history of science. Every question it raises leads to new answers, new discoveries, and new smarter questions. The science of evolution is as expansive as nature itself. It is also the most meaningful creation story that humans have ever found."—Bill Nye

Sparked by a controversial debate in February 2014, Bill Nye has set off on an energetic campaign to spread awareness of evolution and the powerful way it shapes our lives. In Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, he explains why race does not really exist; evaluates the true promise and peril of genetically modified food; reveals how new species are born, in a dog kennel and in a London subway; takes a stroll through 4.5 billion years of time; and explores the new search for alien life, including aliens right here on Earth.With infectious enthusiasm, Bill Nye shows that evolution is much more than a rebuttal to creationism; it is an essential way to understand how nature works—and to change the world. It might also help you get a date on a Saturday night.


About the Author

Bill Nye is a scientist, engineer, comedian, and inventor. He has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University where he studied under Carl Sagan, and worked on the 747 as an engineer at Boeing before creating and hosting his much-loved Emmy award-winning PBS/Discovery Channel show Bill Nye the Science Guy. He holds three Honorary Doctorate degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Goucher College, and Johns Hopkins, and teaches at Cornell regularly as a visiting professor.

Corey S. Powell is the former editor in chief of American Scientist and Discover, where he is currently editor at large and continues to write the "Out There" column and blog. He is also a visiting scholar at NYU's SHERP science journalism program, as well as a freelance writer for Popular Science, Smithsonian, Nautilus, and Aeon; his article "The Madness of the Planets" appears in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, two daughters, and a small collection of Permian-era fossils. Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation is his first collaboration with Bill Nye, but he hopes it will not be his last.


My Thoughts

(This review is based on an advanced reader's copy obtained from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Bill Nye's latest effort in bringing science to the masses probably could not have released at a more important time. Recently, Pope Francis made (non)news for affirming his belief in reality (with a few caveats, of course) by stating that evolution is real (something the modern world has known and recognized since Darwin's theory was published in 1859), even while at least a third of the United States rejects evolution and GOP ignoramuses work to force creationism into public school science classes. In February 2014, Nye squared off against Ken Ham in a debate that put fact vs. fiction on the front-lines. That this debate was even held in the first place, nearly halfway through our second decade in the 21st Century, and with the alarming segment of the American public that rejects scientific fact in favor of magical fantasy, proves that there is quite a long way to go in educating the populace and that proper scientific communication is perhaps more necessary now than ever before.

Nye wastes no time in tackling and discrediting the misinformation campaign of creationism, sometimes known as Intelligent Design, and laying out crystal clear details to illustrate the scientific reasoning in support of evolution while also punching many holes in the claims made by Ham and his disciples.

The writing is crisp and concise, with Nye's brand of humor on full display and his "voice" ringing through each word. He's able to present a layman's view of the scientific evidence without bogging reader's down in the minutiae. You won't find paragraph after paragraph of Latin names and dense atomic nomenclature. Instead, Nye spends his time using fully relateable concepts to ground the sometimes heady topic of evolution, while canvasing the importance of transitional fossils like tiktaalik and ambulocetus, and how dinosaurs turned into birds, and why birds, and bats for that matter, are not so terribly different from you and I (organizationally speaking, at least). He also touches upon a few other topics that are tied directly into evolution, such as GMOs and the search for extraterrestrial life.

Throughout the book, Nye showcases several perfect examples of evolution in action, in both historical and present-day models, such as the evolution of a new breed of mosquitoes in the London Underground that is quite distinct from its above-ground brethren, and how bacteria and viruses evolve over time. Whether or not they admit it, or are conscious of it, people who get a flu shot are obviously believers in evolution. I've often joked, particularly during those weeks of seasonal change, that people who believe in Intelligent Design have obviously never had sinus infections or allergies.

Nye does a terrific job showing the natural process of evolution, and the deficiencies inherit in creationist arguments. Really, all one needs to do is critically examine the human body and all its flaws, or even just compare features of our anatomy, say the eyeball, to that of other creature's, like an octopus or hawk, to see the imperfections and utter lack of planned, elegant design. There is no "creator," and with the process of evolution, there is no need for one, either. It works just fine on its own, through adaptation and selective gene flow. Evolution gives lie to the creationist claims, and Nye expertly explains that evolution is not so much a method of perfect design so much as it is a system of simply being good enough.

Undeniable, however, is much more than merely good enough - it is, in fact, truly excellent. This is a necessary book, one that should be on the bookshelves and e-readers of anyone looking to expand their horizons with thoughtful scientific insight and an explanation of the natural world around us. Highly recommended.

[Note: this review has been slightly edited to correct a mistake in my accounting of elapsed years following Darwin's work, where I incorrectly stated it has been more than 200 years since the Origin of Species. Many thanks to the readers who caught this!]

buy Undeniable - Evolution and the Science of Creation at amazon

[youtube=http://youtu.be/gHbYJfwFgOU]


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