Category Archives: Science

Animal’s Daily Pale Blue Dot News

The Future.

In 1946, we got our first look at the Earth from space, thanks to a war-surplus V2 rocket repurposed by the U.S. Army.  On Valentine’s Day in 1990, Voyager One took an iconic photo – of Earth as a tiny pale blue dot in the vastness of space.   Excerpt:

We first glimpsed Earth’s curvature in 1946, via a repurposed German V-2 rocket that flew 65 miles above the surface. Year-by-year, we climbed a little higher, engineering a means to comprehend the magnitude of our home.

In 1968, Apollo 8 lunar module pilot William Anders captured the iconic Earthrise photo. We contemplated the beauty of our home.

But on Valentine’s Day 27 years ago, Voyager 1, from 4 billion miles away, took one final picture before switching off its camera forever. In the image, Earth, Carl Sagan said, was merely “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” So we pondered the insignificance of our home. The image inspired Sagan to write his book “The Pale Blue Dot,” and it continues to cripple human grandiosity.

And, about the Voyagers:

There aren’t any space missions like the Voyagers on the docket for the future, but both spacecraft continue beaming back data going on 40 years and counting. Voyager 1 became the first human-made thing to enter interstellar space, back in 2012 when it passed into the heliosphere, the bubble surrounding our solar system. Voyager 2 is expected to pierce the heliosphere around 2020.

Think about that.  There is an object built by human hands, bearing human information, hurtling into the unfathomable deeps of interstellar space, even as you read these words.  In a few years its brother will follow into those empty reaches.

Some day, I’d like to think humans will follow – maybe in a colossal generation ship, maybe in a constant-acceleration starship with a crew in deep-sleep, maybe in some faster-than-light craft driven by some as-yet un-imagined technology.  I’m pretty sure I won’t live to see it, but I would love to be proven wrong.

As a part-time science-fiction writer, I’ve made some guesses as to the shape the future might take.  I’m fifty-five now; I can expect to live to see thirty or forty more years of that future.   I am and have been convinced that our destiny lay out there somewhere, far from this tiny little blue-white ball.

Oh, and here’s the photo.  That’s us in the pale sunbeam on the right; as Carl Sagan said:  “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.”  I can’t add anything to that; not a word.

Animal’s Daily Hagfish Slime News

This is a hagfish. Yes, really.

The U.S. Navy may be considering a new kind of body armor.  Made from hagfish slime.  No shit.  I can only add:  Eww.  Excerpt:

It looks and feels a lot like snot, but Navy researchers believe slime produced by the primitive hagfish could help save lives.

The bottom-dwelling hagfish is commonly referred to as a slime eel because it looks like an eel and produces a slimy substance that quickly expands in water to enable it to escape from predators by clogging up an attacker’s gills.

That unique capability is what has captured the Navy’s imagination .

Its researchers believe that, by reproducing the slime, they one day could replace synthetic products derived from petroleum, such as Kevlar that’s used in bulletproof vests. It’s not just science fiction, either.

The Navy says one of its research teams in Panama City, Fla., has already re-created the material. Now it’s beginning to work on how best to turn the synthetic slime into something useful.

“From a tactical standpoint, it would be interesting to have a material that can change the properties of the water at dilute concentrations in a matter of seconds,” Ryan Kincer, a materials engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City Division, said in a statement.

Here’s what’s interesting about biology; the 4-billion year drunkard’s walk that has been evolution on the Earth has produced some pretty bizarre critters, but also some pretty useful stuff.  One of the reasons medical research depends on animal models for a lot of work is that we can’t simulate a full organism with any kind of simulation; the best computer technology we have today is laughably crude when compared to a biological organism, even one as primitive as the jawless hagfish.

This is also a good illustration of the value of pure research.  Most folks never would have thought that hagfish slime would be good for anything.  But someone got curious, took a good hard look at the substance, figured out how to synthesize it – and now, maybe we’ll have a host of interesting and useful products from that research.

I call that a win.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks again to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

On to a longevity item:  The goal, of course, is to grow human tissues and organs inside swine; this is just one step in that direction.  Excerpt:

Scientists have published the first peer-reviewed account of creating pig–human hybrid fetuses, a step toward growing animals with organs that are suitable for transplantation into humans.

The team that made these chimaeras also reports the creation of mouse–rat and human–cow hybrids on 26 January in Cell1. Such modified animals could provide researchers with new models for testing drugs and understanding early human development.

To create chimaeras, scientists generally inject pluripotent stem cells — which can become any type of organ — from one species into the early embryo of a second species. In theory, the foreign cells should differentiate and spread throughout the body, but in practice, producing viable hybrid embryos has proven difficult.

Algernop Krieger was not available for comment.

There’s been a lot of speculation about human longevity in recent years, and this might be a step in that direction; one way to achieve longevity would be the ability to replace organs with spares as needed.  If the research community can figure out how to produce organs using the patient’s own stem cells, that would be even better; no rejection issues.  But growing them in a pig would be better than no spare parts at all.

And, one would hope, we won’t have any The Island-type scenarios.

Allow me, by the way, to add my enthusiastic support for the concept of longevity.  I’m pretty sure I could live a thousand years and never manage to fulfill my entire bucket list.

Animal’s Daily Interstellar News

The Future.

Uh oh.  It seems a rogue star is going to fly right through our solar system.

In 1.35 million years.  EVERYONE PANIC NOW.  Excerpt:

Researchers have known for a while that a star called Gliese 710 is headed straight for our solar system, but they’ve now worked out precisely when it should arrive.

The star is currently hurtling through space at about 32,000 mph, and is around 64 lightyears away. (One lightyear is around 5,878,000,000,000 miles.)

Gliese 710 is about half the size of our sun, and it is set to reach Earth in 1.35 million years, according to a paper published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics in November.

And when it arrives, the star could end up a mere 77 light-days away from Earth — one light-day being the equivalent of how far light travels in one day, which is about 26 billion kilometers, the researchers worked out.

As far as we know, Gliese 710 isn’t set to collide directly with Earth, but it wil be passing through the Oort Cloud, a shell of trillions of icy objects at the furthest reaches of our solar system.  

So although 77 light-days sounds like a relatively safe distance, the speeding star could burst through the cloud and shoot these icy objects and comets all around our solar system. Any one of these is pretty likely to collide with Earth.

Let’s be honest; the only reason I find this interesting is because of my own personal science-geekery.  It’s fun to read about.  But nobody should waste much brain-pan activity worrying about the eventuality.  If Gliese 710 does come barreling through our neighborhood in 1.35 million years, one of two things will be the case:

  1. There won’t be any humans left on Earth, or
  2. The humans left on Earth will be so advanced (look back at the last 100 years of technological progress, and imagine where we’ll be in 13,500 times that duration) that the incoming shower of comets and whatnot won’t pose any threat.

So, relax.  If you want to find a real threat to the future of the human race, you need look no farther than the Imperial City – or Tehran.  Those are threats we can do something about.

Animal’s Daily Genetic Diversity News

Here is an interesting bit from our blogger pal Doug Hagin over at The Daley Gator:  So, It Has Come To This Has It?  (Original post here at Moonbattery.)  I made a comment yesterday when it posted, but it got me to thinking, so I thought I’d expand on my comment here.  Excerpt:

Barack Obama himself says that if you can dupe others into thinking you are black, then you are black:

“Well, part of my understanding of race is that it’s more of a social construct than a biological reality. And in that sense, if you are perceived as African American, then you’re African American.”

OK, that does it! Up is down, rain is sunshine. But I have realized something while studying the whole you are what you identify as craze. I now realize that I choose to identify as a billionaire playboy with several sports cars, mansions, vacation homes, a yacht and a muscular body that every woman longs for.

Now, look at the President’s statement above.  Let’s break it down.

Well, my understanding of race is that it’s more of a social construct than a biological reality.”  In this President Obama is correct.  Biologically speaking, the entire concept of race is, well, horseshit.  Humans have less genetic diversity than our closest relatives, chimpanzees.  The concept of “race” is mostly a social and cultural construct; it’s almost impossible to rigorously define “race.”  Barack Obama claims to be the first “African-American” President, but he is the child of a white American woman and a half-black, half-Arabic Kenyan father.  He has none of the cultural markers than define “African-American” as it is generally used, to denote a member of some nebulous group defined more or less by having some ancestor that was a slave in the United States.

So, yes, horseshit.  Which brings us to the second statement in his comment:  “And in that sense, if you are perceived as African American, then you’re African American.

I could claim to be perceived (or even sillier, the modern concept of “self-identifying”) as a ham sandwich, but that wouldn’t make it true.

There are objective realities in the world.  The science of genetics pretty much obliterates, as a scientific model, the whole concept of “race” as applied to humans.  There is only one species of human alive on the planet today, H. sapiens sapiens, and we meet the definition of a species in every aspect.

As I said over at The Daley Gator, there is only one race.  It’s the human race, and every person alive on the planet is a member.

Animal’s Daily News

Thanks again to The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

Moving right along:  Now some folks are planning to send greetings to alien civilizations.  What could possibly go wrong?  Excerpt:

After decades of fruitless scanning the skies for alien messages, scientists say it’s time to try a basic rule of etiquette: Say “hello” first.

A new San Francisco-based organization called METI, or Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, plans to send signals to distant planets, rather than waiting for them to call Earth.

By the end of 2018, the project aims to send some conversation-starters via radio or laser signals to a rocky planet circling Proxima Centauri, the nearest star other than the sun, and then to more distant destinations, hundreds or thousands of light years away.

It would be the first effort to send powerful, repeated and intentional messages into space, targeting the same stars over months or years.

“If we want to start an exchange over the course of many generations, we want to learn and share information,” said Douglas Vakoch, president of METI and former director of Interstellar Message Composition at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute in Mountain View, Calif.,, known as SETI.

Founded last year, METI will host two workshops next year, one in Paris and the other in St. Louis. It also plans to start raising the $1 million needed annually to staff and build or borrow a powerful transmitter in a remote location.

Part of the mission will be to figure out how to craft the perfect message to say “Hello.”

Now, unlike Stephen Hawking, I’m not too worried about some alien civilization coming looking for us to start trouble.  A couple of reasons for that; first, any intelligent race advanced enough to possess interstellar travel will probably be so far advanced beyond any technology we have that we would be less than dust mites to them.   We wouldn’t be any threat; we wouldn’t possess any resources they might need (any resources available on our tiny little blue ball are far more easily obtained in the asteroid belt and from the various gas giants.)

It just isn’t logical that an incredibly advanced intelligence would want to wipe us out.

If anything, contact with such a civilization – assuming they deem us even worthy of notice – might just have the effect of advancing our civilization and our technology thousands of years into the future at a stroke.  It’s common, when anticipating such a contact, to look at humanity’s general shittiness to each other when a less advanced culture makes contact with a more advanced one, but there’s always good with the bad; primitive cultures with double-digit infant mortality, disease, starvation and so on, all profited by such contact in the end.

Still, this is the longest of long shots.  But at least it’s a long shot that’s privately funded.  That being the case, I say, knock yourselves out.

Animal’s Daily News

Agribusiness.

It seems the younger generation tends to be adverse towards the very advances in agricultural sciences that might provide cheap, healthy food for the entire world.  Excerpt:

Let’s get this out of the way: genetically modified foods are perfectly safe for human consumption. Study after study, and even a study of those aforementioned studies (how meta) have shown this to be true—the science is very clear on this.

But the modern environmental movement has successfully inflamed fears of unnatural “frankenfoods” in the minds of a wary public. 47 percent of adults aged 18-49 bought food labeled “GMO-free” in the past month, according to a recent Pew Research poll, and 41 percent of adults over the age of 50 followed suit. That’s a huge number of Americans that are being taken in by Luddite fear mongering, but as Pew Research reports, this attitude is especially common in young people:

Younger adults are also more likely to expect GM foods to lead to harm for the population as a whole. Those ages 18 to 29 are more inclined than those 65 and older to say it is very likely that GM foods will lead to health problems for the population (21% vs. 8%). Younger adults also are more likely than those 65 and older to say GM foods will create problems for the environment (25% vs. 9% of seniors).

For a generation that likes to think of itself as “woke,” that will justify the veracity of anthropogenic climate change with a simple “because science” explanation, this is a remarkable repudiation of expert opinion. This is a serious problem, because if we’re to have any hope of feeding the world’s teeming billions on a crowded and warmer planet, we are without doubt going to need genetically modified crops.

Here’s what’s really stupid about the whole thing; humans have been genetically modifying crops for tens of thousands of years.  Only the methods have changes.

Take corn, or, as it’s known anywhere other than North America, maize.  Maize was bred by ancient farmers in what is today Mexico, from a tall grass called teosinte.  Teosinte still grows in central Mexico today, and can still be hybridized with maize.  The ‘ears’ of teosinte, while tiny, show a remarkable resemblance to the big, rich ears of modern maize.  The ancient Central American farmers who pulled this off were genetically modifying a strain of teosinte through selective breeding.

That’s right, anti-GMO dummies; selective breeding is genetically modifying a population.  It’s a kind of directed evolution, which also involves genetic modifications in populations.

GMO crops include such things as blight-resistant wheat, drought-tolerant rice and maize, and fast-maturing fish; the potential is huge.  The nitwittery of anti-GMO nutbars deserves only to be ignored.

Animal’s Daily News

Once more our thanks go out to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

Some random links for today:

Chimps Recognize Butts The Same as Faces.  Unlike many Congressmen, who are unable to distinguish between butt and face.

The Biggest Junk Science for 2016.  In all fairness, both The Donald and Green candidate Jill Stein ascribe to some nitwittery or other.

On that note, here are the top science websites for 2016.  Virtually nitwittery-free.

Oh, and last but not least, the worst science web sites.  Just chuck-full of nitwittery.

Speaking of junk science; Why Sexual Desire is Objectifying and Wrong.  Oh, horseshit.  Sexual desire is one of the best things about life; the only way sexual desire and the satisfying of such is morally wrong is if both parties are not legal, competent adults.

If so, it’s nobody else’s business.  Author Raja Halwani – not to put too fine a point on it – needs to fuck off.

Monkey see, Monkey do, Monkey… talk?

On that simian note, we return you to your Friday, already in progress.

Rule Five Time Travel Friday

2016_12_02_rule-five-friday-1Want to travel back in time?  You might be able to – but not in your own timeline.  Excerpt:

If there really are multiple, interacting universes, then it would be possible for time travellers to visit Earth, and every imaginable scenario would be played out in a parallel universe at some point.

The team’s ‘Many Interacting Worlds Theory’ provides a whole new perspective on the ideas underpinning quantum theory, a notoriously complex strand of physics.

2016_12_02_rule-five-friday-2Professor Wiseman said: “The idea of parallel universes in quantum mechanics has been around since 1957.

“In the well-known ‘Many-Worlds Interpretation’, each universe branches into a bunch of new universes every time a quantum measurement is made.

“All possibilities are therefore realised – in some universes the dinosaur-killing asteroid missed Earth. In others, Australia was colonised by the Portuguese.

“But critics question the reality of these other universes, since they do not influence our universe at all.

2016_12_02_rule-five-friday-3“On this score, our ‘Many Interacting Worlds’ approach is completely different, as its name implies.”

Translating theory into engineering, now that’s the fly in the ointment.  But what if you could make it work?  You could go back in time with no worries about the butterfly effect; the bug you step on in the Oligocene would only affect the future in some other parallel universe, not ours.

So the possibility for a great business opportunity exists – safaris.  Wealthy tyros would pay serious bucks to go back and hunt a bull T-rex, or a Smilodon, or an Imperial Mammoth.  You could go farther 2016_12_02_rule-five-friday-4afield and offer trips to the Permian to hunt a trophy Gorgonopsid, or a Dimetrodon.

And how about the fishing?  Imagine a great deep-sea adventure fishing for Megalodon.  (You’re gonna need a bigger boat.)

We certainly won’t see this in my lifetime; hell, certainly not in my grandkid’s lifetimes.  But it’s a fun little imagination exercise; see Clifford Slimak’s novel Mastodonia for an example.  Fun stuff.

2016_12_02_rule-five-friday-5

Animal’s Science Tuesday News

Sexy ScienceHere’s something interesting; The Real War on Science.  Excerpt:

My liberal friends sometimes ask me why I don’t devote more of my science journalism to the sins of the Right. It’s fine to expose pseudoscience on the left, they say, but why aren’t you an equal-opportunity debunker? Why not write about conservatives’ threat to science?

My friends don’t like my answer: because there isn’t much to write about. Conservatives just don’t have that much impact on science. I know that sounds strange to Democrats who decry Republican creationists and call themselves the “party of science.” But I’ve done my homework. I’ve read the Left’s indictments, including Chris Mooney’s bestseller, The Republican War on Science. I finished it with the same question about this war that I had at the outset: Where are the casualties?

Where are the scientists who lost their jobs or their funding? What vital research has been corrupted or suppressed? What scientific debate has been silenced? Yes, the book reveals that Republican creationists exist, but they don’t affect the biologists or anthropologists studying evolution. Yes, George W. Bush refused federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, but that hardly put a stop to it (and not much changed after Barack Obama reversed the policy). Mooney rails at scientists and politicians who oppose government policies favored by progressives like himself, but if you’re looking for serious damage to the enterprise of science, he offers only three examples.

Bear Kill ThingsOne of those examples is an issue on which I’ve written a fair amount myself:  Second, there’s the campaign by animal-rights activists against medical researchers, whose work has already been hampered and would be devastated if the activists succeeded in banning animal experimentation.  Medical research is absolutely dependent on animal modeling, as is pharmaceutical development, and the animal rights kooks that oppose that research (inasmuch as they have any political philosophy at all) are universally creatures of the Left.  The anti-vaxxers are commonly but not universally so; President-elect The Donald has expressed some sympathy to the anti-vaxxer view, which is to be blunt, idiotic.

But the animal rights kooks are the only ones who have engaged in terrorism to advance their goals.

There are really only two kinds of political viewpoints; one that seeks to control the actions of people, and one that does not.  The animal rights crowd and the anti-GMO crowd belong to the former group.