Monday, December 25, 2006

The Real End Times

"White Dwarf Hints At Our Solar System's End
Andrea Thompson
Staff Writer Sat Dec 23, 7:30 AM ET

A debris disk spied recently around a distant dead star is likely the remains of an asteroid that was vaporized when the star died, scientists say.

The discovery, detailed in the Dec. 22 issue of the journal Science, could be a sign of what will happen in our own solar system in a few billion years. Because the crushed asteroid was probably gravitationally lassoed in by one or more planets, the finding also provides evidence that planetary systems can form around massive stars. . ."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

52 New Species

'WWF: 52 new species discovered on Borneo
GENEVA — Scientists have discovered at least 52 new species of animals and plants on the southeast Asian island of Borneo since 2005, including a catfish with protruding teeth and suction cups on its belly to help it stick to rocks, WWF International said Tuesday.

"The more we look the more we find," said Stuart Chapman, WWF International coordinator for the study of the "Heart of Borneo," a 85,000-square-mile rain forest in the center of the island where several of the new species were found. "These discoveries reaffirm Borneo's position as one of the most important centers of biodiversity in the world . . ."'

Sunday, December 10, 2006

On Evolving

Study Detects Recent Instance of Human Evolution - New York Times: "Study Detects Recent Instance of Human Evolution

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Published: December 10, 2006

A surprisingly recent instance of human evolution has been detected among the peoples of East Africa. It is the ability to digest milk in adulthood, conferred by genetic changes that occurred as recently as 3,000 years ago, a team of geneticists has found.

The finding is a striking example of a cultural practice — the raising of dairy cattle — feeding back into the human genome. It also seems to be one of the first instances of convergent human evolution to be documented at the genetic level. Convergent evolution refers to two or more populations acquiring the same trait independently.

Throughout most of human history, the ability to digest lactose, the principal sugar of milk, has been switched off after weaning because there is no further need for the lactase enzyme that breaks the sugar apart. But when cattle were first domesticated 9,000 years ago and people later started to consume their milk as well as their meat, natural selection would have favored anyone with a mutation that kept the lactase gene switched on. . ."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Brazil Scores One For Environment

ABC News: Brazil Protects Great Swath of Amazon: "RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil Dec 4, 2006 (AP)— A swath of Amazon rain forest the size of Alabama was placed under government protection Monday in a region infamous for violent conflicts among loggers, ranchers and environmentalists.

Known as the Guayana Shield, the 57,915-square-mile area contains more than 25 percent of the world's remaining humid tropical forests and the largest remaining unpolluted fresh water reserves in the American tropics."

Monday, December 04, 2006

On. . . Everything

The Blog | Deepak Chopra: The God Delusion? Part 7 | The Huffington Post: ". . .It's hard for materialists not to thump their chests, as Dawkins so brazenly does. Unfortunately, the Theory of Everything has hit a brick wall. Quantum physics lacks the power to cross the border into the invisible world that lies beyond subatomic particles, the so-called virtual domain. Not only is this the realm of 'dark matter' and 'dark energy'--mysterious shadows of the matter and energy we see around us--but all possible universes also lie across the same boundary, as well as the 'zero point' where space and time are born.

Genetics seems to be riding higher, but behind the display of public triumph, biology has not solved the existence of mind, and therefore the same obstacle faces both fields. An invisible world lies sealed off from investigation, leaving us to trace its footprints and echoes. MRIs and CAT scans are impressive but limited. As someone once commented, brain research is like putting a stethoscope to the outside of the Astrodome and trying to figure out the rules of football. Dawkins finds consciousness (as well as quantum physics) totally irrelevant, a comment on his own intellectual limitations rather than reality. If God is going to become viable again, he will have to be a God who solves some key mysteries in the virtual domain:

--What separates life from inert matter?
--What part does the observer play in creating reality?
--How does the infinite quantum field organize and govern every event in the universe?
--How does chaos relate to order? Are they enemies or secret allies?
--How did evolution overcome entropy, the ceaseless march of the physical universe toward chaos and the deep freezer of "heat death"?
--Why is the universe so amazingly hospitable to human life?

This last question is the most pressing one, for both believers and non-believers. . ."

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Good Dogs

Science Blog | Think. It's not illegal yet.: "Infants Wheeze Less in Homes With Multiple Dogs
Submitted by BJS on Thu, 2006-11-30 09:55. animal kingdom

Living in a home with multiple dogs may help reduce an infant’s risk for developing wheezing in the first year of life, according to new research from the University of Cincinnati (UC). Cincinnati researchers, led by David Bernstein, MD, have found that infants living in homes with high levels of endotoxins (bacterial contaminants) and multiple dogs were more than two times less likely to wheeze than other infants."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dino Gone

Single massive asteroid wiped out dinosaurs: study - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A single, gigantic asteroid slammed into Earth 65 million years ago, dooming the dinosaurs and many other species, scientists said on Thursday in a new study rebutting theories that multiple impacts did the deed.

An examination of rock sediments drilled from five sites at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean strongly supports the notion that one massive hunk of space rock caused the mass extinction, a research team led by University of Missouri-Columbia geology professor Ken MacLeod found.

'It's a completely straightforward, single-impact scenario,' MacLeod, whose findings appear in the Geological Society of America Bulletin, said in an interview. 'It was a haymaker that nobody saw coming. One shot, and that's all you need to explain it.'

Scientists believe that an asteroid about 6 miles wide hurtled to Earth 65.5 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous Period, plunging into what is now Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula to carve out the Chicxulub (pronounced CHIK-shu-loob) crater measuring about 110 miles across.

To put it mildly, it was a bad day to live on Earth."