Saturday, December 05, 2009

Random Linkage 05/12/09

Huge gallery of the best science images from 2009.

Astronomers witness biggest star explosion
'Astronomers have watched the violent death of what was probably the most massive star ever detected. The supernova explosion, which lasted for months, is thought to have generated more than 50 Suns' worth (10^32 kilograms) of different elements, which may one day go on to make new solar systems.'
UPDATED: Original now paywalled. Try here instead.

Why Humans Outlive Apes
'In spite of their genetic similarity to humans, chimpanzees and great apes have maximum lifespans that rarely exceed 50 years. The difference, explains USC Davis School of Gerontology Professor Caleb Finch, is that as humans evolved genes that enabled them to better adjust to levels of infection and inflammation and to the high cholesterol levels of their meat rich diets.'

Do mice with two mothers spell the end for men?
'If you believe some reports, the future of humanity is a super race of genetically-engineered women who can reproduce without men.'

Friday, December 04, 2009

Another World

The orange dot circled and labelled 'B' is a planet circling the Sun-like star GJ 758, seen by the light it emits. It's a big planet, between 10-40 times the mass of Jupiter, and is at a temperature of around 320 degrees Centigrade. Its orbit is very likely eccentric, like Pluto's, and it's about the same distance from its star as Neptune is from the sun, so it isn't being warmed by insolation. Either it's relatively young and at the low end of the estimated mass range, and is emitting heat as it contracts, or it's fairly large and much older - a smallish brown dwarf. The other dot, labelled 'C' may be another planet, or a background star, or an imaging glitch.

It was spotted during the first run of a new adaptive optics instrument that eliminates atmospheric interference of Earth-based telescopic images and is part of a survey programme searching for extra-solar planets. Wonder what else it will find?

Universe Today has more info; a preview of the paper describing the observations is here.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

ReBooting Britain

My short article on first, simple steps to make cities greener, and many others on ReBooting Britain, in Wired UK.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Robert Holdstock 1948-2009

A generous and convivial friend, a wonderful author whose novels are vivid and deeply felt evocations of the myths and quotidian reality of the ancient world, and all-round good bloke. Gone too soon and greatly missed.

UPDATE: for those interested, tributes and messages of condolence can be found at his website.

Science Fiction That Isn't Science Fiction (6)

Another Science Fiction: An Intersection of Art and Technology in the Early Space Race

On industrial trade magazine covers and ads from the days when science was the Way Forward, and the law of unintended consequences had yet to be invented.

(via Big Dumb Object)

Dunes In Winter

The HiRise camera package on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter continues to send back stunningly beautiful images of complex and unexpected textures on the Martian surface. The image above, looking like nothing so much as a finely sculptured high-end chocolate dessert, is of dunes inside a crater in the Southern hemisphere. It's currently winter, in the Southern hemisphere of Mars, and the sheen on the smooth east-facing slopes, sheltered from the sun, is either water or carbon dioxide frost. The intricate scrolls and furls of the west-facing slopes is due to modification by southerly and northerly winds of ridges sculpted by prevailing westerly winds.

You can find a high-resolution image, a close-up of the latticed dunes, and more information here; Boston Globe's the Big Picture has a great gallery here. In the past decade, HiRise's vast catalogue of images and images and data from Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Express, the MRO, the two rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and the Phoenix Lander, have rendered every novel and non-fiction book about Mars out-of-date to some degree or other. Time for a new wave, perhaps...
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