Archive for the ‘Pure Science’ Category

A Spectacular Meteor Shower Predicted for this Weekend

December 9th, 2009
Geminid Meteor Shower, Source: NASA

Geminid Meteor Shower, Source: NASA

The Geminid Meteor Shower doesn’t usually get the full-court press offered to the two other notables, namely the Leonids and the Perseids.  However, recent studies point to an expected increase in meteor shower activity from the Geminids that will continue for the next few decades.  Why? Jupiter’s gravitational influence is going to steadily push more of the stream of ejected material from the extinct comet Phaeton our way over this course of time. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about Phaeton slamming into us, which is now technically just an asteroid.

At worse, about 100 streaks an hour can be expected starting around midnight local time in North America.  Start by finding Orion, look at his arrow-wielding arm, follow it “up” until you reach the constellation Gemini.  That’ll be where it appears the shower is coming from.

What of the prediction of increased shower activity? At they high end, you’re looking at possibly 200 streaks an hour.  Wow!

Source: NASA


That’s a Nice Looking Spaceship – I Want One

December 7th, 2009
Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo (SS2).  I'll wait for version NCC-1701.

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo (SS2). I'll wait for version NCC-1701.

Perhaps sometime later in my lifetime I will have mustered the gumption, not to mention the cash required to jump onto Virgin Galactic’s tour of outer space.  But for those of you who not only have enough of both but have been one of the first to reserve your seat into one of the first of such rides for the paying public, aside from those willing to fork over $1M for a jouney on the ISS, here’s what your ride will look like.

The rest of us will just have to sit back and drool.

Space, Travel

Science Headlines for Week 1 of December 2009

December 6th, 2009

Ok, what’s with the new science-blog format?

Honestly, the day job has been very busy, something had to give, and lately that has meant fewer science posts.  But, in an effort to stay current, we’re going to try something new: Very condensed posts about more things we find very interesting provided a little less often.  Hopefully, at least weekly.  We’ll see if this works.  And in the mean time let us know what you think.  The best way is to send a tweet to: @daveoei or post a comment on the site.  Enjoy!




  • New mathematical model points to at least two stable weights per individual, does not offer suggestion on hitting the lower of the two. Harvard
  • Very early intervention certainly isn’t a cure for autism, but the apparent marked effectiveness of therapies starting at 18 months certainly makes the effort worthwhile.  University of Washington


Cool Piece of Astronomical Software of the Day: Stellarium

September 4th, 2009

Stellarium (courtesy of

Stellarium (courtesy of

Ever wonder what is that third star from the right?  Could that planet be Jupiter or possibly Venus?  Or, are you just planning a stargazing trip to someplace distant sometime in the far off  future and are wondering what you can expect to see?

Then, Stellarium is just for you.

While the free downloadable software (Windows, Mac, Linux) has been around for a while, it still hasn’t hit version 1.0.  As of this article, it’s on version 0.10.2.  Still, despite my best efforts, I could not get the program to crash, and I run an old P4 1.73Ghz PC.  I can only imagine how it will work on a newer computer.

As you can see from the screen shot, Stellarium will give you a view of the night sky, as if you walked outside your home on a clear, dark night.  But, that’s just the beginning.

Read more…

Reviews, Space

Here Comes the Sun…Spot

June 19th, 2009
The Sun, as of 19 June 2009.  Courtesy of the National Solar Observatory/AURA/NSF.

The Sun, as of 19 June 2009. Courtesy of the National Solar Observatory/AURA/NSF.

If you’re a geek like me, you’ve kept your telescopic solar filter on the shelf for more years than you care to remember because of the lack of anything of interest on the sun. Well, time to dust it off. At least, if the scientists at the National Solar Observatory have the right idea.

Scientists have observed that solar activity waxes and wanes on an 11 year cycle. Why? Nobody yet knows. But when solar activity increases, all sorts of havoc gets wrecked onto our satellites and telecommunication systems, and at the same time we see a marked increase in aurora activity. For amateur astronomers, as even professional ones I suppose, increased activity means that sunspots are back. And peering at the sun with a telescope fitted with a high-grade solar filter suddenly becomes interesting again.

Read more…


6 Great Pictures from Shuttle Mission STS-119

April 3rd, 2009

If you know where to look, you can find a treasure trove of great pictures from each and every NASA mission, including, of course, those of the Space Shuttle.  It’s not easy though, that despite the improved look-and-feel of NASA’s website.  But if you’re interested in shuttle-specific images, here’s a good jumping off page.

Getting back, here are some of the best images of the just-completed mission STS-119.  You won’t find any of astronauts with frizzy hair, or astronauts in gravity-defying poses (that’s so 1990).  You will find juxtapositions of Earth, with the ISS, astronauts on EVA, and of course, the shuttle.

Here are the pictures, enjoy, and a word of warning – they’re quite large!


How Udderly Odd – Cows with Built-in Magnets Confirmed?

March 17th, 2009
Cows on Microsoft Live

How Udderly Odd - Cows with Built-in Magnets Confirmed?

Last year, after looking at over 8000 images of domestic cattle on Google Earth, a group of scientists led by Hynek Burda and Sabine Begall found that something interesting: Cows tended to align their bodies north-south.

While the reason for why cows did this was elusive, the methodology they used was such that anybody with a computer and internet access could have reached the same results.

Google Earth, a monster of a program, is a free one by Google that provides detailed satellite images, topographic maps, etc… of our planet.  These researchers simply looked at a lot of cows spread across Earth and made this simple discovery.  But was this cause of this mystery-behavior the work of magnetism or the sun?  The researchers suggested it was magnetism because cows were seen pointing north-south even in cloudy conditions.

But there was one way to find out definitively.

Enter Google Earth again.  Except this time, they focused on cows…under high-powered electrical lines.

Contrary to popular belief, the Earth’s magnetic field is very weak, measuring in at no more than 60 microteslas.  Just for reference, a typical refrigerator magnet pulls in at about 5,000 microteslas.  Which means that electrical lines, despite being some distance off the ground from these cows could still provide enough of a disruption to Earth’s magnetic field to confuse cows.

And confuse cows they did.  The researchers found that cows under electrical lines were oriented randomly, not in neat north-south orientations.

Of course, none of this explains the picture I provided above.  It’s not from Google Earth, but from Microsoft Live.  It’s a picture of cows from the Netherlands, which if correctly depicted, shows them oriented more east-west (see the link below if you don’t believe me).  None, in fact, are oriented north-south.

Perhaps it’s just another example of things being done a little differently over in Holland.  Or maybe there are underground wires that are interfering with these cow’s internal compass. Regardless, for now go ahead and put me on the skeptical but highly amused side.

Image source:


Tigers, Whole Foods, Global Warming & Orangutans. What’s the Link?

March 1st, 2009
Whole Foods, Tigers, Global Warming & Orangutans. What’s the Link?  Photo by Dave Watts of Birdlife International.

Tigers, Whole Foods, Global Warming & Orangutans. What's the Link? Photo by Dave Watts.

Palm oil.

Palm what?

If you pay as little attention to your food as I do then you’re probably just as surprised as I am that: 1) Some palm trees make edible fruit; and 2) Some of this fruit is linked to endangered species destruction and deforestation.

It so happens that for the last 50 years or so, palm oil has been making head-ways into the foods we eat.  It’s also in bio-fuels we burn and cosmetics some of you may use.  Recently, there’s been a huge push for the introduction of palm oil in U.S. foods because of new trans-fat reporting requirements.  Because palm oil doesn’t have any, it’s been used as a choice to replace non-trans-fat-free shortening.

And while we are collectively healthier for eating less trans-fat, there are measurable global consequences that have resulted from this relatively tiny shift in our dietary habits.  Namely, deforestation on a vast scale and threatened species nearing extinction.

Read more…

Biology, Business and Politics, Featured Articles, Global Science

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