Category Archives: Science

Animal’s Hump Day Nukes

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

No, that’s not a typo in the title.  Ever wonder what would happen if a nuke went off over Manhattan?  This should give you some idea.  Excerpt:

Within tens of minutes, everything within approximately five to seven miles of Midtown Manhattan would be engulfed by a gigantic firestorm. The fire zone would cover a total area of 90 to 152 square miles (230 to 389 square kilometers). The firestorm would rage for three to six hours. Air temperatures in the fire zone would likely average 400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (200 to 260 Celsius). 

After the fire burned out, the street pavement would be so hot that even tracked vehicles could not pass over it for days. Buried, unburned material from collapsed buildings throughout the fire zone could burst into flames when exposed to air—months after the firestorm had ended.  

Those who tried to escape through the streets would have been incinerated by the hurricane-force winds filled with firebrands and flames. Even those able to find shelter in the lower-level sub-basements of massive buildings would likely suffocate from fire-generated gases or be cooked alive as their shelters heated to oven-like conditions.

Sad-BearThe fire would extinguish all life and destroy almost everything else.  Tens of miles downwind of the area of immediate destruction, radioactive fallout would begin to arrive within a few hours of the detonation.

Holy shit.

Why bring this scenario to the fore now?  It’s startlingly relevant; the Obama Administration is brokering a kick-the-can deal that will make it easier for Iran to build their much-anticipated nuclear weapon.  Once Iran has their nukes, how long will it be before one goes off over a Western city?  And, for the bunch of apocalyptic shitbags running Iran, what more tempting target than New York?

Granted they don’t have (yet) delivery systems that are even up to Cold War Soviet standards, which the scenario above describes.

But we know someone that does.

Fireball-Slide-new-2
Image from the linked article.

Talk about your Axis of Evil.

The last nuke torched off in anger was over Nagasaki in August of 1945, but it was only the last so far.  There will, inevitably, be another.  And it almost certainly won’t be an American nuke.  The question is this:  What will our response be when that drastic event happens?

If the current President is still in the Imperial Mansion, it will almost certainly be anemic and ineffective.  That, True Believers, will be a response that invites more aggression, not less.  If we can learn anything from history, we can learn that.

Animal’s Daily News

Probably not actually one of our ancestors.
Probably not actually one of our ancestors.

Here’s some food for thought; over the last four million years or so, there have been quite a few human and near-human species wandering around, but today there is only one – us, H. sapiens.  (Some days I question that specific name, but there you are – thank Carolus Linneaus.)

But what if some other species, or several others, were still kicking around today?  Excerpt;

Imagine how things might have turned out had the Neanderthals or Denisovans survived alongside Homo sapiens. What kind of cultures, societies and political structures would have emerged in a world where several different human species coexisted? How, for example, would religious faiths have unfolded? Would the book of Genesis have declared that Neanderthals descend from Adam and Eve, would Jesus have died for the sins of the Denisovans, and would the Qur’an have reserved seats in heaven for all righteous humans, whatever their species? Would Neanderthals have been able to serve in the Roman legions, or in the sprawling bureaucracy of imperial China? Would the American Declaration of Independence hold as a self-evident truth that all members of the genus Homo are created equal? Would Karl Marx have urged workers of all species to unite?

Over the past 10,000 years, Homo sapiens has grown so accustomed to being the only human species that it’s hard for us to conceive of any other possibility. Our lack of brothers and sisters makes it easier to imagine that we are the epitome of creation, and that a chasm separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. When Charles Darwin indicated that Homo sapiens was just another kind of animal, people were outraged. Even today many refuse to believe it. Had the Neanderthals survived, would we still imagine ourselves to be a creature apart? Perhaps this is exactly why our ancestors wiped out the Neanderthals. They were too familiar to ignore, but too different to tolerate.

Bear-stuffsIt’s an interesting thought.

Some years back the esteemed paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey stated that if you took a Neandertal, shaved him, put him in a suit and put him on a New York City subway (think for a moment of the typical denizens of the NY city subway system) he probably wouldn’t attract too much notice.  This is often quoted to imply that the Neandertal were “just like us,” which they weren’t – for one thing, you’d need to give Old Cuz a hat to cover his flattened and elongated cranium, otherwise suit or no, he’d look pretty odd.  But Leakey clarified his comment at a later point, adding that if you pulled the same trick with a Homo erectus, everyone would stare at him; if you did it with a Homo habilis, everyone would move to the far end of the car.

But forget for a moment what it would be like to have a family of Neandertals living next door; forget the implications to everything from government to religion to medicine.  I can think of one professional field in which our ancestors would have excelled; put a six and a  half-foot, robust, massively muscled H. heidelbergensis in the ring with any of today’s “professional” wrestlers, and the resulting match would, I suspect, be very, very short.

That’s a pay-per-view that I might actually kick in a few shekels to watch.

Animal’s Daily News

_81043906_mars_cloudThanks once again to The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

What the hell is this?  (Image to the left from story.)  Excerpt:

A mysterious haze high above Mars has left scientists scratching their heads.

The vast plume was initially spotted by amateur astronomers in 2012, and appeared twice before vanishing.

Scientists have now analysed the images and say that say the formation, stretching for more than 1,000km, is larger than any seen before.

Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers believe the plume could be a large cloud or an exceptionally bright aurora.

However, they are unsure how these could have formed in the thin upper reaches of the Martian atmosphere.

AliensInsert the inevitable “I, for one, welcome our alien overlords” meme here.

The Nature story can be found here , behind a paywall for the full story.

History Channel nutbars notwithstanding, this will certainly turn out to be a natural phenomenon.  But this is one of those moments in science that’s exciting – when you look up and the first thing that comes to mind is “what the hell is that?”

The challenge then becomes finding out what the hell it is.

Animal’s Daily News

Guess who's coming to dinner.
Guess who’s coming to dinner.

This is interesting for a history buff; it seems if you had sat down for dinner with a late-Republican era Roman family, most of the food may have been surprisingly familiar.  Excerpt:

Let’s pretend it is 56 B.C. and you have been fortunate enough to be invited to a party at the home of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, a great social coup. Piso, after all, was Julius Caesar’s father-in-law and a consul of Rome.

What’s for dinner?

You need to prepare for pig. Archaeologists studying the eating habits of ancient Etruscans and Romans have found that pork was the staple of Italian cuisine before and during the Roman Empire. Both the poor and the rich ate pig as the meat of choice, although the rich, like Piso, got better cuts, ate meat more often and likely in larger quantities.

They had pork chops and a form of bacon. They even served sausages and prosciutto; in other words, a meal not unlike what you’d find in Rome today — or in South Philadelphia.

Fishing Trip BearIt would probably have been a more familiar dinner than one eaten in any of the royal courts of Europe 1500 years later.  The Romans had indoor plumbing, the washed their clothing, the wealthier Romans at least were scrupulous about bathing and sometimes made it a social event.

Most of those things fell out of fashion when the Roman Empire fell.  They didn’t call them the Dark Ages for nothing.

Then again, that dinner may have been an interesting place to talk some politics – assuming you speak the archaic Roman strain of Latin.  56 B.C. was towards the end of the Roman Republic, and your hosts’ nephew would be instrumental in the fall of the Republic and the beginning of the totalitarian Roman Empire – although it was Julius Caesar’s nephew Octavian that completed the transformation.  The Republic at the time was suffering from a shrinking currency, a lack of jobs for the common Roman citizens, and an increasing number of citizens on the dole.

Sound familiar?

But at least the food would have been decent.  Better than our earlier ancestors had to put up with.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

What would you do if you could live forever?  Excerpt:

The key to eternal life could be a procedure to lengthen chromosomes.

The procedure would allow scientists to lengthen telomeres, the protective caps that are on the end of chromosomes and shorten with age.

The telomeres protect chromosomes from getting damage as cells divide and grow. But as they do, they slowly become shorter and eventually are unable to protect the chromosomes. When that happens, they are liable to deteriorate — thought to be a key part of the ageing process.

The new process allows scientists to lengthen the telomeres, effectively turning back the biological clock and making the chromosomes — and the people that are made out of them — younger.

Personally, I’d settle for a thousand years – a thousand years in the body I had at 25.  Or even 35.  I’d settle for the one I have now, but the wrong side of 50 isn’t as much fun (physically) as being a 20-something was.  Think of the outdoor adventure stories one could amass with a thousand years to hunt, fish, and bum around in the woods.

Silver BearBut the implications of near-immortality go way beyond how many elk one might take.  Think of a respectable cohort of near-immortals with the sense to spend fifty years socking away a good savings account – and then spending another hundred letting compound interest do its thing.  Some of those people (I’d like to think I’d be savvy enough myself) would amass fortunes that would make Bill Gates look like Tommy Joad.

Think of what that would do to real estate prices – the stock market – the RV sales business – almost anything.

What price immortality?  I can only imagine; this is an economic scenario I’d love to see a Thomas Sowell weigh in on.

Animal’s Daily News

There's stress, and then there's stress.
There’s stress, and then there’s stress.

Was 10,000 BC less stressful than today’s world?  Excerpt:

There have been reality TV shows on islands, in the jungle, and even in houses outside London. Whole families have travelled back in time for experimental documentaries like Channel 4’s 1900 House, and schools from decades past have been recreated for the That’ll Teach ‘Em series.

The next step? A reality show which transports 20 people, including couples and families, back to the Stone Age – the results of which can be seen in 10,000 BC, a ten-part series which begins on Channel 5 tonight.

The participants spend two months in a 45-hectare forested wilderness in Bulgaria, hunting and foraging for food, and creating their own fire from Stone Age tools.

This being reality TV, some elements were staged. Their fur and leather outfits were provided by a costume department while a pre-slaughtered deer was arranged for their arrival.

There’s a phrase for this kind of a “reality” show:

An enormous, steaming pile of horseshit.

Here’s a doozy of a quote from the nincompoop interviewed for the article:

But once you’ve adapted to those conditions, it’s less stressful than normal life. I had no worries other than making sure I had enough wood for the fire and food for the evening – and I knew they were things I could get.

“In the 21st century there’s so much more to worry about, and it’s not always something you can control. I would prefer to live in the Stone Age.”

Fishing BearThose, True Believers, are the words of either an ignoramus or a moron.   Or both.

Picture life 12,000 years ago, a short time after the end of the last Ice Age.  Nobody is going to provide a pre-killed deer for you; you will have to use whatever tools and materials the environment provides to kill your own deer, probably after a prolonged close-up struggle with a terrified, wailing animal that is doing it’s damnedest to kill you instead.

If that animal’s hooves or antlers puncture your skin – anywhere – your chances of dying of a horribly painful infection are pretty good.  If you step on a thorn, likewise.  Come winter, your chances of starving to death are also pretty good.

And never mind the range of diseases that nobody has vaccinated you against; never mind the neighboring tribe who may be planning to kill you and take your wife and daughters.  Never mind roaming carnivores, never mind contaminated water, never mind watching Splashing-Bearsover half your children die before their first birthday, never mind an absolutely appalling rate of death in childbirth for your wives and daughters.

12,000 years ago there were no noble savages – only savages.  The vacuous, idiotic twit interviewed for this story has no fucking idea what he’s talking about.

Animal’s Daily News

Probably not an accurate reproduction.
Probably not an accurate reproduction.

The picture of human origins may have gotten more complicated.  Excerpt:

Analysis of trace elements in Penghu 1 suggests the hominin probably lived between 10,000 and 190,000 years ago. The jaw and its teeth look unexpectedly primitive for this age, the researchers said. During the Pleistocene Epoch, which lasted from about 2.6 million years ago to 11,700 years ago, humans generally evolved smaller jaws and teeth, but the new fossil from Taiwan appears larger and more robust than older Homo erectus fossils from Java and northern China.

The researchers said Penghu 1 does resemble a 400,000-year-old fossil from Hexian, in southern China, located about 590 miles (950 km) north of the Penghu Channel. The scientists suggest these fossils together represent a distinct group of archaic humans, although they caution that they do not yet have enough evidence to say whether it is a new species or not.

“We need other skeletal parts to evaluate the degree of its uniqueness,”study co-author Yousuke Kaifu, a paleoanthropologist at Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, told Live Science. “The question of species can be effectively discussed after those steps.”

Uncle.
Uncle.

Or, maybe not.  But that’s how science works; or, at least, how it’s supposed to work.  “Not enough evidence” means “not enough evidence.”  Paleontology is frequently like assembling a massive puzzle from pieces found many miles apart over a period spanning decades; but every find does make the picture just a tiny bit more interesting, if not necessarily clearer.  But it’s also important to note that, just because this fossil is inconclusive, many others are not; the Neandertal, for example, are represented by hundreds of separate sets of remains.

And, it seems, Congressmen may have been around even longer.

Animal’s Daily News

Science!Remember the fuss when they decided Pluto wasn’t a planet after all?  Well, now there may be two more planets out past Pluto.  Excerpt:

The Solar System has at least two more planets waiting to be discovered beyond the orbit of Pluto, Spanish and British astronomers say.

 

The official list of planets in our star system runs to eight, with gas giant Neptune the outermost.

Beyond Neptune, Pluto was relegated to the status of “dwarf planet” by the International Astronomical Union in 2006, although it is still championed by some as the most distant planet from the Sun.

In a study published in the latest issue of the British journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, researchers propose that “at least two” planets lie beyond Pluto.

Their calculations are based on the unusual orbital behaviour of very distant space rocks called extreme trans-Neptunian objects, or ETNOs.

The evidence – sketchy though it is at this point – is nevertheless the same evidence that led to the discovery of Neptune, namely, perturbations in the orbit of known objects.

Smiling BearIf these planets are confirmed, I’d propose that one of them be named Prosperine, after the Greek goddess carried away to the underworld by Pluto.  I’d settle for the Roman Persephone, but Prosperine was the tenth planet mentioned in James Blish’s great 1950s sci-fi classic Cities in Flight.

New discoveries should be willing to give a nod to such classics.

Animal’s Daily News

Image from article.
Image from article.

Take a look at Scotland’s first sea reptile.  No, it’s not Nessie.  Excerpt:

The new creature, which we named Dearcmhara shawcrossi, is an ichthyosaur, a group of extinct reptiles that were top dogs in the oceans when dinosaurs ruled the land. They weren’t quite dinosaurs, but close relatives.

The difference between Dearcmhara shawcrossi and other ichthyosaurs comes down to several very distinctive features of the upper arm bone of the flipper. One is a big triangular muscle attachment scar, the other a deep ligament pit. We’re not totally sure what function these had, other than they supported a different system of muscles and ligaments from other ichthyosaurs.

Science!
Science!

No, we have not found the ancestor of the Loch Ness Monster, as many headlines have trumpeted in the most predictable fashion. How else would you expect tabloid journalists to describe a giant water-living reptile from Scotland? What we have found is much more interesting: a four-metre-long, fish-eating, top-of-the-food-chain predator that lived more than 100 million years before Tyrannosaurus rex.

Compare the lines of an ichthyosaur to a modern porpoise.  Other than the tail (ichthyosaur tails are vertical, cetacean tails are horizontal) they are remarkably similar – a splendid example of both convergent evolution and form following function.

On the other hand, nothing has appeared on the post-Cretaceous scene even remotely like a T-rex – a seven-ton walking nightmare with jaws that could bite a small car in half, teeth like ten-inch bananas, the nose of a bloodhound, the eyes of an eagle and the brain the size of a gorilla’s.  And that may be for the best.

But boy, what a hunt that would be.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

A few January Hump Day tidbits today:

Astronomers to Earth:  You’ve Got Some Newly-Found Near Twins.  Money quote:

Astronomers announced Tuesday that depending on definitions, they have confirmed three or four more planets that are about the same size as Earth and are in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold “Goldilocks Zone” for liquid water to form.

These planets are likely to be rocky like Earth, and not gas giants or ice worlds. They get about the same heat from their star as we get from the sun, according to the latest results from NASA’s planet hunting Kepler telescope.

Here’s the catch:  They are 500 and 1,100 light years away.  So, we won’t be visiting them anytime soon, even with probes.  And if there is anyone on either planet, they’re looking down at us and seeing the Renaissance or the Dark Ages, respectively – no radio or TV signals, no long-distance indication of technology.

Yes-YOU-bearFiled under “Odd Juxtapositions,” here are two seeming contradictions:

Under Obama: Federal Debt Up $84,266 Per Full-Time Private-Sector Worker.

Americans’ New Mood About Economy: It’s Actually Pretty Good.

It might be interesting (and more than a little sad) to see how good folks feel when all that debt comes due.

And finally:  How big is the Internet, really?  Apparently, it’s really big.  Really, really big.