Monday, April 27, 2015

Storybots: "I'm a Star"

Artwork from is an awesome education website which provides fun videos and songs to help educate children. I just came across one of their songs, "I'm a Star", and thought I had to share. Now I'll be hearing this tune nonstop until I fall asleep tonight.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Venus is a Hot Planet. Oh, and the Temperature at the Surface is also Pretty High

False-color image of Venus' clouds taken by the Venus Express spacecraft

 Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,
   Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars
  Makest to teem the many-voyaged main
      And fruitful lands—for all of living things
        Through thee alone are evermore conceived
-Lucretius, On the Nature of Things (1st century BCE); 
translation by William Ellery Leonard

Venus. I've long argued that, of all the planets and all the worlds in our solar system outside of Earth, Venus is the most likely to have once had life. Stress the "once" there, for sure. Where Venus may have once had a biosphere, it's now a world obscured by clouds, overriding a dense atmosphere, and the surface is hotter than a pizza oven. Seriously, the surface of Venus is over 863o Fahrenheit! That's a scorcher for sure.

I'm not going to just drop a lot of facts about Venus on you (you can find such stuff on the NASA and Wikipedia pages for Venus), though I definitely recommend watching this short SciShow video on what it's like on Venus:

Venus definitely hasn't been getting the press it deserves of late. So much of our solar system exploration in the public mindset has been focused on Mars and Europa. Although I adore Mars and icy worlds like Europa are important for my graduate research, Venus is too close and too interesting for us to not get excited about that planet's history. That said, something has just popped up recently: the HAVOC (the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept) mission concept design has recent;y made its way around the interwebs. HAVOC, a concept that was developed by NASA's Space Mission Analysis Branch, is an idea of the possible future human exploration of Venus by using high-altitude balloons (thinking long-term, something like the Cloud City of Bespin but here in our own solar system). If you're into the future of human space exploration, Venus, or even the freaggin' awesome idea of exploring other worlds in balloons, then check out this video from NASA:

Pretty cool, huh?! I'd gladly volunteer to be an early explorer in a cloud city on Venus.  

But why would we want to build a cloud city on Venus? What would be the return? I recently gave a guest lecture for a friend's class at Front Range Community College. We ended the class in a large discussion about the costs and benefits of sending humans to Mars. One student highly questioned the pay-off for human exploration, especially since any reward for exploration (outside of the satisfaction of our human curiosity and urge to explore) must be long-term (i.e. technology and resource development) or seems untenable (e.g. expanding our Earth's biosphere to avoid potential full-scale extinction). I've heard these arguments before and, although I will always argue the opposite in favor of human exploration and colonization of space, we must consider the costs and benefits at all steps in our endeavors. 

Sending humans to Venus (especially building cloud cities) would obviously be expensive, but Venus is too intriguing to be left alone. Outside of the long term payoffs of exploration, like building new technologies and preparing for a future as residents of the entire solar system, I think we have a lot to learn from Venus. For instance:


  • Planets with runaway greenhouses and hostile surfaces like our Venus may be quite common in the universe, so Venus may be a good testbed for our future studies of such exoplanets.
  • Venus has a storied history in human culture and understanding. Once known as the Morning and/or Evening Star, Venus is the brightest object in our night's sky after the Sun and the Moon (barring supernovae and meteors).
  • Venus may have once been home to an alien biosphere. This is something I've been suggesting for a long time. Due to the similarities between Earth and Venus, I find it likely that Venus had the best shot in the early solar system of also forming life (far more than Mars). But, who mourns for life on Venus? This concept is not often discussed, since many people believe that any signs of such ancient Venusian are no longer remnant. Still, as the cosmobiologist, I'm intrigued by Venus and I want to see humans go there to explore. 

Venus is definitely a hot planet. But don't take my word for it: check out this music video on the "Hot Planet" from Distant Vantage Media Labs

Need some more information about our exploration of Venus? Check out this list of all of the spacecraft that we have sent to Venus.

Also, check out this related blog post from my friend, Julia DeMarines, at Pale Blue Blog on Astrobiology Magazine.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Intelligence is Sexy: The Smackdown of Vani Hari by SciBabe

Intelligence can be ridiculously sexy. Perhaps you've heard lately about the online smackdown that Vani Hari (who calls herself the Food Babe) received by Yvette Guinevere, a.k.a. SciBabe. The smackdown started when SciBabe posted a blog in Gawker titled The "Food Babe" Blogger is Full of Shit

Vani Hari has made a living by speaking out against the supposed "toxins" in our food, but she does so in a vein of ignorance and lacking scientific literacy that has become common amongst the yuppy crowd (her followers are much the same misinformed followers as the proponents of the antivaxxer movement). In that Gawker article, SciBabe pointed out some of the fallacious bullshit that's become common fair amongst the non-GMO, organic-only, better-than-thou crowd, but, more importantly, SciBabe woke up some of the media to the fact that Vani Hari's celebrity has nothing to do with her actual credibility

Although I don't trust food corporations to make healthy decisions over profit-driven decisions, I also know that making rational decisions with what we eat and learning about what's in our food is far better than disavowing or fearing anything we don't understand. SciBabe's smackdown of Vani Hari is a solid reminder that intelligence is sexy because intelligence is awesome. Screw living in fear due to ignorance when you can live in strength through understanding.

With our age of the internet, we constantly have information at our fingertips. It seems like most of the information we come across is pretty much worthless and we need an educated and rational society of people to sift through the garbage to find the gold. The recent smackdown of Vani Hari gives me hope for the future of humanity, not because of Yvette Guinevere's sound logic and reason (again intelligence is pretty damned sexy) but rather because of the huge uptick of folks who have learned about Hari's bullshit fear-mongering.

I look forward to reading more of SciBabe's bunk-busting of pseudoscience bullshit with reason and logic. Intelligence really is sexy.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Silly online math puzzles: Here are three more for April 2015

I've been having a pretty fun time with sharing some of these puzzles that come across my Facebook feed, so here's another installment of some of the silly puzzles that have been posted by my friends and my solutions to the problems.

The puzzle above should be an easy one if you follow the order of operations. The answer should be C: 50. If you wanted to rewrite the equation to make it a little easier to understand, you could add some parentheses to make it:

7 + (7/7) + (7*7) - 7

Which can then be simplified by taking care of the division and multiplication to yield:

+ (1) + (49) - 7

or, removing parentheses:

+ 1 + 49 - 7

Which one can then easily see is equal to 50:

+ 1 + 49 - 7 = 50

Trova la Soluzione!

As I mentioned in a recent post, those bits of text people keep adding to these puzzles suggesting that they're "only for geniuses" or that only some percentage of people get them right are absolutely bogus. Anyone can get the right answer if they understand what the puzzle is looking for and are willing to spend enough time working for it. Also, it's highly unlikely for most of these problems that there has been a significant portion of the population who've been tested with these problems to be able to make statistical statements about the likelihood of finding the answer. Still, I love puzzles and math problems, so I can't help myself. Take this one, for instance:

Trova la soluzione is Italian for "find the solution". I don't speak Italian, but in these glorious days of online information accessibility, we pretty much have Star Trek's universal translator at our fingertips whenever we're online.

Were you able to figure out the answer for the problem above? It's another that's pretty easy once you figure out the operation that the problem wants you to apply to each line. In this case, the final answer should be 126. If you start by adding the numbers on the left side of each equation, you should quickly see that there's a connection between that sum and the number on the right. In the first line, 2 plus 3 gives you 5 which can be multiplied by 2 to get 10. In the second line, 8 plus 4 gives you 12 which can then be multiplied by 8 to get 96. So, it pops out pretty quickly that you have to add the two numbers on the left and then multiply that sum by the first number on the left. Pretty simple, right?

Okay, well here's a slightly different type of silly online puzzle. This one isn't built from numbers, but rather asks you to think about what you're seeing. Take a gander at this one, trova la soluzione, and then tell me what you think in the comments:

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The soundtrack for Uncharted 3 is incredible!

While recovering from a recent sinus infection, I decided to play the game Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, the third installment in the Uncharted series. This series of video games follows the adventures of treasure-hunter Nathan Drake as he journeys across the world in search of fantastical treasures, fighting mercenaries and pirates and working his way through booby traps in old tombs and lost cities. Something about that "Indiana Jones" kind of archeological adventure has always been exciting for me, so it's not surprising that I enjoy the Uncharted games. 

One thing about this game that I found definitely worth sharing is the soundtrack. The score for this game is amazing and, as I've discovered, is really good for studying. Composed by Greg Edmonson (who also composed the Firefly soundtrack!), the songs are an eclectic mix of worldly tunes that range from slow and somber to fast-paced and riveting. If you're into instrumental music, then you should definitely check out this soundtrack:

Friday, April 3, 2015

Best Bud in Boulder and some Theme Remixes by Eclectic Method

I've been away from blogging here for a little while. The past couple of weeks have been pretty crazy. I had to crunch hard to get a lot of research and classwork done before my best friend, Nick, came to visit from Pennsylvania. He and I've been buds since we were 12. This was the first time he's traveled to the western parts of the country. Needless to say we hiked hard and had a fantastic time.

Here are a couple pictures of Nick on his trip to Colorado:
My best friend, Nick, on top of Bear Peak in Boulder, Colorado - March 2015

Nick pointing out the black diamond (most difficult) snowshoe trail marker as we embark on the most technical route at Brainard Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

Theme Remixes

Since I don't have a lot of time to write right now, I thought I'd share some interesting electronic video mashups I found recently. Although it's not exactly the kind of electronic that I would normally listen to, I like how Eclectic Method took the lines and theme songs from some of our favorite films and television shows and remixed them in fun ways.

Check out the remixes for Cosmos, Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey here on A Cosmobiologist's Dream:

Cosmos Jam

Interstellar Rap