A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘science

[BLOG] Some Sunday links

  • Bad Astronomy reports on the astounding scientific illiteracy of Trump advisor Anthony Scaramucci.
  • blogTO compiles a list of the best tobagganing hills in Toronto.
  • Citizen Science Salon looks at what we can do in the redwood forests.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes a gap in the disk of TW Hydrae.
  • Imageo notes that 2016 is the warmest year in the records.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that a pride parade protected by police went off in Montenegro.
  • Language Hat shares the story of Lazer Lederhendler, a son of Holocaust survivors in Montréal who became one of the leading translators into English of Québec literature.
  • Language Log looks at the distant origins of Japanese terms for “dog.”
  • Marginal Revolution notes the rising popularity of Vladimir Putin on the American right.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer looks at the links between Russia and the “Calexit” movement.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy celebrates Saturnalia.
  • Window on Eurasia looks at Russia’s use of genetics to disentangle the Tatar peoples and argues that the definition of Russians and Ukrainians as fraternal is dangerous to the latter.

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • Centauri Dreams looks at the advanced microelectronics that might last a space probe the two decades it would take to get to Proxima Centauri.
  • Dangerous Minds links to a 1980 filmed concert performance by Queen.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze reports on the discovery of potassium in the atmosphere of WASP-17b.
  • Language Hat looks at the Carmina of Optatianus, an interesting piece of Latin literature.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money reports on the shameless anti-democratic maneuvering of the Republicans in North Carolina.
  • The LRB Blog reflects on the shamelessness of the perpetrators of the Aleppo massacres.
  • Marginal Revolution looks at what Charles Darwin’s reading habits have to say about the man’s process of research.
  • North!’s Justin Petrone looks at the elves of Estonia.
  • The NYRB Daily praises the new movie Manchester by the Sea.
  • The Planetary Society Blog shares a recent photo of Phobos.
  • Peter Rukavina argues that the Island’s low PISA scores do not necessarily reflect on what Islanders have learned.
  • Savage Minds shares an essay by someone who combines academic work with library work.
  • Torontoist notes the city’s subsidies to some major water polluters.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the anniversary of some important riots in Kazakhstan.
  • Arnold Zwicky reflects on the penguin-related caption of a photo on Wikipedia that has made the world laugh.

[LINK] “Monkey speak: Macaques have the anatomy, not the brain, for human speech”

EurekAlert! shared this intriguing press release from Princeton University highlighting new research claiming that the reason some monkeys do not speak has everything to do with their innate intelligence, not their anatomy.

Monkeys known as macaques possess the vocal anatomy to produce “clearly intelligible” human speech but lack the brain circuitry to do so, according to new research.

The findings — which could apply to other African and Asian primates known as Old World monkeys — suggest that human speech stems mainly from the unique evolution and construction of our brains, and is not linked to vocalization-related anatomical differences between humans and primates, the researchers reported Dec. 9 in the journal Science Advances.

Co-corresponding author Asif Ghazanfar, a Princeton University professor of psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, said that scientists across many disciplines have long debated if — and to what extent — differences between the human and primate vocal anatomy allow people to speak but not monkeys and apes.

“Now nobody can say that it’s something about the vocal anatomy that keeps monkeys from being able to speak — it has to be something in the brain. Even if this finding only applies to macaque monkeys, it would still debunk the idea that it’s the anatomy that limits speech in nonhumans,” Ghazanfar said. “Now, the interesting question is, what is it in the human brain that makes it special?”

Written by Randy McDonald

December 12, 2016 at 6:00 pm

[LINK] “Alien life could thrive in the clouds of failed stars”

Science Magazine‘s Joshua Sokol shares the wonderfully plausibly bizarre idea of alien life floating in the upper atmospheres of brown dwarfs.

There’s an abundant new swath of cosmic real estate that life could call home—and the views would be spectacular. Floating out by themselves in the Milky Way galaxy are perhaps a billion cold brown dwarfs, objects many times as massive as Jupiter but not big enough to ignite as a star. According to a new study, layers of their upper atmospheres sit at temperatures and pressures resembling those on Earth, and could host microbes that surf on thermal updrafts.

The idea expands the concept of a habitable zone to include a vast population of worlds that had previously gone unconsidered. “You don’t necessarily need to have a terrestrial planet with a surface,” says Jack Yates, a planetary scientist at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, who led the study.

Atmospheric life isn’t just for the birds. For decades, biologists have known about microbes that drift in the winds high above Earth’s surface. And in 1976, Carl Sagan envisioned the kind of ecosystem that could evolve in the upper layers of Jupiter, fueled by sunlight. You could have sky plankton: small organisms he called “sinkers.” Other organisms could be balloonlike “floaters,” which would rise and fall in the atmosphere by manipulating their body pressure. In the years since, astronomers have also considered the prospects of microbes in the carbon dioxide atmosphere above Venus’s inhospitable surface.

Yates and his colleagues applied the same thinking to a kind of world Sagan didn’t know about. Discovered in 2011, some cold brown dwarfs have surfaces roughly at room temperature or below; lower layers would be downright comfortable. In March 2013, astronomers discovered WISE 0855-0714, a brown dwarf only 7 light-years away that seems to have water clouds in its atmosphere. Yates and his colleagues set out to update Sagan’s calculations and to identify the sizes, densities, and life strategies of microbes that could manage to stay aloft in the habitable region of an enormous atmosphere of predominantly hydrogen gas. Sink too low and you are cooked or crushed. Rise too high and you might freeze.

On such a world, small sinkers like the microbes in Earth’s atmosphere or even smaller would have a better chance than Sagan’s floaters, the researchers will report in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal. But a lot depends on the weather: If upwelling winds are powerful on free-floating brown dwarfs, as seems to be true in the bands of gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn, heavier creatures can carve out a niche. In the absence of sunlight, they could feed on chemical nutrients. Observations of cold brown dwarf atmospheres reveal most of the ingredients Earth life depends on: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, though perhaps not phosphorous.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 10, 2016 at 8:30 pm

[LINK] “Elephant Refugees Flee to Last Stronghold in Africa”

National Geographic‘s Christine Dell’Amore’s feature is quite right to identify the elephants fleeing poachers into Botswana as refugees, I think. What a terrible situation.

The elephants swim across the river in a straight line, trunks jutting out of the water like snorkels. With low, guttural bellows, they push their bodies together, forming a living raft to bolster a calf too tiny to stay afloat on its own.

This pachyderm flotilla has a dangerous destination in mind: The grassy shores of Namibia, where elephants are literally free game for legal hunters. The animals will risk their lives to feed here before fording the Chobe River again, back to the safety of Botswana’s Chobe National Park.

To avoid ivory poachers in neighboring Namibia, Zambia, and Angola, elephants like this family are fleeing in astounding numbers to Chobe, where illegal hunting is mostly kept in check. (See National Geographic’s elephant pictures.)

“Our elephants are essentially refugees,” says Michael Chase, founder of the Botswana-based conservation group Elephants Without Borders, which works to create transboundary corridors for elephants to travel safely between countries.

Elephants aren’t the only animals battling for survival in the dry, harsh world of northern Botswana. Tune in to the three-part miniseries Savage Kingdom on November 25 at 9 p.m. ET on Nat Geo WILD.
But while Chobe offers some protection, it’s not the most welcoming stronghold. The increasingly dry ecosystem is buckling under the pressure of supporting so many of the six-ton animals, which each eat 600 pounds of food daily.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 10, 2016 at 8:30 pm

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Apostrophen’s ‘Nathan Smith notes that his husky loves the winter that has descended on Ottawa.
  • blogTO notes Toronto’s continuing housing price spikes.
  • D-Brief notes that chimpanzees apparently are built to recognize butts.
  • Dead Things reports on discoveries of the first land vertebrates.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes the weird patterns of KIC 8462852.
  • Marginal Revolution considers Westworld’s analogies to the Haitian Revolution.
  • Steve Munro looks at the latest on the TTC budget.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the controversial nature of the new official doctrine of Russia’s nationhood.

[LINK] “Killer whales eating their way farther into Manitoba”

CBC News reports on changing mammal populations in Hudson’s Bay, with killer whales potentially displacing not just polar bears but belugas, too.

The food chain in Hudson Bay is drastically changing as killer whales take advantage of less sea ice and eat their way into Manitoba, a researcher in Arctic mammal populations says.

Steven Ferguson, a researcher with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the University of Manitoba, will be presenting his findings in Winnipeg this week at ArcticNet 2016, the largest single gathering of scientists focused on the rapidly changing Arctic.

“We are seeing a lot more killer whale activity in Hudson Bay and they are a top predator. They are really a magnificent, interesting predator — highly efficient,” Ferguson said.

Killer whales are not a fan of sea ice because it bothers their dorsal fins. However, sea ice is melting earlier and forming later each year.

Ferguson said that means killer whales are spending more time farther into Hudson Bay and “they are there to eat.”

Written by Randy McDonald

December 5, 2016 at 9:00 pm