Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Microbial PacMan

Micromaze under electron microscope (via Micromazes Facebook Page)

Stop what you're doing and watch this video of microorganisms flitting about in a PacMan maze right now!

Ah, wasn't that just a little extra awesome! Learn more about Micromazes at their Facebook Page.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A brief bit about my field site using only the thousand most common English words

To say a lot with a little is harder than you may think. 

Words are important, but what if you only had
a small number of known words with which to speak?

Chris Trivedi (right) and Graham Lau (left) at Borup Fiord Pass in 2014.

The Up-Goer Five Text Editor, created by Theo Sanderson, is a web-app that challenges you to type using only the one thousand most common words in the English language. It's intriguingly far trickier than you may think. I gave it a go, in an attempt to explain the reason that my colleagues and I went to Borup Fiord Pass to conduct our field research in 2014. What d'ya think?

On the top of the round world where we live, lies a land with ice and cold. In this land there is a piece of ice, long and thick, and covered in a color that does not seem right in such a place. This color let us know that something important was on or in or around that colored ice. We went to that place to find the colored ice and learn more about what made the color, to learn about why this place is just so cool. In the ice I found something important about fire's friend in the book of one god. This friend of fire as spoke upon before, was to be found in new forms within the ice, and of this I wrote with my friends. Now we know more about the stuff that causes the colors of the ice in that land with ice and cold that lies so far to the top of the round world where we live.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Get Deep With the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field

The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field Image
(NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch, University of California, Santa Cruz; R. Bouwens, Leiden University; & HUDF09 Team

The Hubble Space Telescope has had a remarkable impact on space science and humanity. From observations of the outer planets of our solar system to exploring other stars and nebulae in our galaxy, Hubble has been an impressive mission and has produced some of the most incredible images of the cosmos to date. One series of incredible images are the Hubble Deep Field (HDF), the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field (HUDF), and the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (HXDF).

The picture above shows the HXDF in all of its glory. Released in 2012, this picture shows a smattering of galaxies, something in the range of 5,500 of them, and some of them are as far away as 13.2 billion lightyears (meaning that some of those blobs of colored light in this image sent their shine our way some 13.2 billion years ago!).

Just looking at this image should make one wonder about the immense vastness of our universe and the potential things that may be happening in any of those thousands of galaxies far, far away. Now that have evidence to show that many stars in our galaxy have planets, it makes me wonder about how many worlds are out there in just this one region of space from the HXDF alone. Could there be other inhabited worlds? Are there species of beings out there who are turning their own instruments our way and seeing our light from long ago flashing at them? I'd like to think so. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Earth and our Moon from Voyager 1

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, 
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. 
Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. 
On such a full sea are we now afloat. 
And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures." 

-William Shakespeare

This picture of the Earth and Moon were taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft from a distance of 7.25 million miles (~11.66 million km). Taken on 18 September 1977 (when I was -6 years old!), this picture as the very first ever taken that showed the Earth and the Moon in one single frame.

Voyager 1 is the most distant piece of human engineering and human exploration. It's fanciful to sit and think sometimes about how far away it really is now. As of the exact time of this writing, Voyager 1 is 20,661,735,297 km from the Earth and still going. The Voyagers and their mission were a hallmark of early space exploration. Now is truly the time for us to work together to take this current of humanity's evolution as a spacefaring species, and find our ventures among the other realms in the cosmic ocean.

(Note: in the picture above, the Moon appears very close to the Earth. However, the Moon is really about as far away from us as 30 times the diameter of the Earth! The picture certainly wasn't taken from equal distances to both Earth and Moon)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Stairway to Heaven played skillfully on koto and shakuhachi - a stellar performance

"No stairway. Denied."

...Well not in this awesome video from performers Keiko Hisamoto, Masako Watanabe, Miromu Motonaga, and Kizan Kawamura, where they play two koto (stringed instruments and the national instrument of Japan) and two shakuhachi (Japanese end-blown flutes). 

I can always jam out to some Stairway to Heaven, and this version is definitely incredible and well-performed:

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sit back and let yourself be stunned by this awesome video of Mars imagery

Mars, dune-filled, desert planet. Mars has long held intrigue for many of us. From that red sprinkle of light in the night's sky, evoking gods of war, to the canal-irrigation hypotheses of Percival Lowell that led to some of the earliest alien science fiction, to the several dozen spacecraft that have been launched for Mars (with less than two dozen having been successful), Mars has a special place in the planetary hearts of many of us who are intrigued by the cosmos. 

One of the missions that has been uber successful, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), has the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (or HiRISE), which has taken well over 200,000 pictures of the Martian surface at high resolution. I just came across a sweet video compilation of false-colored images created by Kamil Bubeła that is definitely worth a watch. The video, called Vivid Mars, is stunning and enticing. I definitely felt the human imperative to get out there and explore a new place when I watched this video. Check it out below (or at Kamil's Youtube page):

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Extreme Humans: Big Meets Small

Sultan Kösen, the world's tallest living human, meets with Chandra Bahadur Dangi, who was the shortest known adult human. (Credit: AFP/Andrew Cowie)
Humanity is wonderful! We come in all shapes and sizes and have different skin colors and physical and mental attributes. Some people even push the extremes of what we know about the human condition. 

In the photograph above, two extreme people can be seen meeting one another back in 2014. Sultan Kösen is currently the tallest human alive. Measured at 2.51 m (8' 3") in height for the Guinness Book of World Records back in 2011, Kösen is a Kurdish farmer from Turkey. He has undergone gamma knife treatment on the tumor which affects his pituitary gland and which caused his unusual height, and this has effectively halted his growth. Kösen is, however, not the tallest human ever known. The tallest verified living person known was Robert Wadlow, who came in at 2.72 m (8' 11.1")! Man, that's really freaking tall!

In the photograph above along with Kösen is the shortest known adult male human of all time. Chandra Bahadur Dangi, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 75, was recorded at 54.6 cm (1' 9.5") in height. Dangi had never left his village in Nepal until 2012, at age 72, when he was officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. After that, he used his new-found fame to travel in his remaining years of life.

Humans really are amazing and incredible. Sure, we have our flaws and should always be cognizant of those flaws in order to improve them, yet our species has come to be a dominant part of the biosphere of our planet. If some major epidemic were to come by tomorrow and wipe out all of the human species, the impact of our actions on the planet would still remain in the rock record for an intelligent alien species to one day find! We come in so many varieties, yet I sometimes wonder if there are even more varieties possible. What lies down the road for our species? I'll come back to this idea in future posts.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Wally wins the internet with a story about some spice and GMOs

Was just cruising along Facebook while snuffling through the tapering end of this sinus infection and I saw this post on my wall from the page of SciBabe (Yvette d'Entremont):

Ya, it really is just an apple. We could hope that it had been genetically modified to improve crop yields or to make it more nutritious, though most current genetic modifications are so that more pesticides can be applied, sadly. Still, it is just an apple. We have absolutely no evidence yet to suggest that genetic modifications to our food cause any differences to how our bodies digest them. Even if the full benefit of genetically modified foods hasn't been realized (perhaps in part due to the anti-GMO hysteria), that still doesn't mean we should fear what so few of us understands; rather, we should work together to increase public understanding of the science involved.

On another note, I personally agree with food labelling, but not just for GM crops. I think our citizens are more likely to make informed decisions about food when they actually have information. Country-of-origin, pesticides used, estimated fossil fuel consumption for delivery to the super market, and other descriptors could go along with the ingredients and nutritional information (even if that nutritional info here in the US is biased by the wants of lobbyists). Or, maybe rather than labelling, a QR code or barcode could link to a website or in-store system that displays all of the information an informed shopped may wish to peruse. Still, the real issue with GM crops, as I see it, isn't in labelling our foods with pertinent information, but rather is in the lack of scientific literacy among the public, which leads to misunderstanding of what genetically modified foods even are.

Still, that's not why I wrote this post. No, my friends, I wrote this post to share with you the insight of Wally. If you're someone who freaks out over a little dirt in your food or doesn't have an understanding of the fact that we humans are still a part of a larger biosphere, then you may not want to read what Wally has to say about spices. But, I have a feeling you're not that person, and you're going to find this to be a good point:

So ya, if you're concerned about the genetic compliment within the DNA of the foods you're eating, then you might want to consider a little further the other things that are in our food. From bat shit and dirt to pesticides and preservatives, at various levels of processing, you're bound to be getting some stuff in your food that you probably don't really want. Most of it's probably not going to hurt you, but we can definitely cut back on the pesticides and preservatives by using GM crops instead (again, if done right). 

In your thinking about GM crops, consider the story of Wally. Maybe you agree with Wally. Maybe Wally wins the internet. Or, maybe like these commenters you feel like Wally just ruined spices for you: