Finally the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Does Something Useful!

Take that, Night Stalker! Of course moon hoaxers will just say it’s doctored, and to that I say, how do you know the moon even exists? Perhaps it’s a disc plastered on the crystal dome put around the earth by the government.

Click here for the full story.

During the second EVA of the Apollo 14 mission on the moon, astronauts Alan Sheperd and Edgar Mitchell had a goal of hiking to the rim of nearby Cone Crater in the Fra Maura highlands. But the steep terrain made the going difficult, elevating the astronauts’ heart rates. Additionally, without landmarks it was difficult to judge distances and the rolling terrain was filled with similar-looking ridges, so Shepard and Mitchell couldn’t really tell if they were close to the rim or not. Realizing time and available oxygen were getting short, Mission Control told the astronauts to head back to the Lunar Module, and although disappointed, the astronauts agreed. But how close did they actually come to the crater? No one knew for sure, until now.

Second Level Wizards presents BLAST!

As far as I know, one of the guys from the BLAST! documentary was on the Colbert Report tonight. Second Level Wizards is showing the doc on September 18th and you should come.

We’ll have some of the scientists in attendance as guests!

Join the Facebook event, won’t you? And buy tickets in advance – from me!

Must be Sun Spots


Today at work we’ve been having a bunch of technical issues – gmail wasn’t working for me, problems with various other equipment. I thought what I usually think when something weird happens – must be solar activity. Which is of course only partially ridiculous.

So then I decided to find out if there was a website which reports on ‘space weather’ and indeed there is!

Today, “A solar wind stream is buffeting Earth’s magnetic field, but it is not stirring up geomagnetic storms or auroras. Geomagnetic activity should remain low.”

It also has a cool chart with PHAs – Potentially Hazardous Asteroids –
“On June 29, 2009 there were 1065 potentially hazardous asteroids”
The closest one this month being 0.7 LD (lunar distance = 384,401 km) away, though it was only 21 meters across.

And that’s neat to me!

Elephants’ Wings

Elephants’ wings

by PZ Myers, Pharyngula

Once upon a time, four blind men were walking in the forest, and they bumped into an elephant.

Moe was in front, and found himself holding the trunk. “It has a tentacle,” he said. “I think we have found a giant squid!”

Larry bumped into the side of the elephant. “It’s a wall,” he said, “A big, bristly wall.”

Curly, at the back, touched the tail. “It’s nothing to worry about, nothing but a piece of rope dangling in the trail.”

Eagletosh saw the interruption as an opportunity to sit in the shade beneath a tree and relax. “It is my considered opinion,” he said, “that whatever it is has feathers. Beautiful iridescent feathers of many hues.”

The first three, being of a scientifical bent, quickly collaborated and changed places, and confirmed each other’s observations; they agreed that each had been correct in the results of their investigations, except that there wasn’t a hint of feathers anywhere about, but clearly their interpretations required correction and more data. So they explored further, reporting to each other what they were finding, in order to establish a more complete picture of the obstacle in the path.

“Tracing the tentacle back, I find that it is attached to a large head with eyes, fan-shaped ears, and a mouth bearing tusks. It is not a squid, alas, but seems to be a large mammal of some sort,” said Moe.

“Quite right, Moe — I have found four thick limbs. Definitely a large tetrapod,” said Larry.

Curly seems distressed. “It’s a bit complicated and delicate back here, guys, but I have probed an interesting orifice. Since this is a children’s story, I will defer on reporting the details.”

Eagletosh yawns and stretches in the shade of a tree. “It has wings, large wings, that it may ascend into the heavens and inspire humanity. There could be no purpose to such an animal without an ability to loft a metaphor and give us something to which we might aspire.”

The other three ignore the idling philosopher, because exciting things are happening with their elephant!

“I can feel its trunk grasping the vegetation, uprooting it, and stuffing it into its mouth! It’s prehensile! Amazing!”, said Moe.

Larry presses his ear against the animal’s flank. “I can hear rumbling noises as its digestive system processes the food! It’s very loud and large.”

There is a squishy plop from the back end. “Oh, no,” says Curly, “I can smell that, and I think I should go take a bath.”

“You are all completely missing the beauty of its unfurled wings,” sneers Eagletosh, “While you tinker with pedestrian trivialities and muck about in earthy debasement, I contemplate the transcendant qualities of this noble creature. ‘Tis an angel made manifest, a symbol of the deeper meaning of life.”

“No wings, knucklehead, and no feathers, either,” says Moe.

“Philistine,” says Eagletosh. “Perhaps they are invisible, or tucked inside clever hidden pockets on the flank of the elephant, or better yet, I suspect they are quantum. You can’t prove they aren’t quantum.”

The investigations continue, in meticulous detail by the three, and in ever broader strokes of metaphorical speculation by the one. Many years later, they have accomplished much.

Moe has studied the elephant and its behavior for years, figuring out how to communicate with it and other members of the herd, working out their diet, their diseases and health, and how to get them to work alongside people. He has profited, using elephants as heavy labor in construction work, and he has also used them, unfortunately, in war. He has not figured out how to use them as an air force, however…but he is a master of elephant biology and industry.

Larry studied the elephant, but has also used his knowledge of the animal to study the other beasts in the region: giraffes and hippos and lions and even people. He is an expert in comparative anatomy and physiology, and also has come up with an interesting theory to explain the similarities and differences between these animals. He is a famous scholar of the living world.

Curly’s experiences lead him to explore the environment of the elephant, from the dung beetles that scurry after them to the leafy branches they strip from the trees. He learns how the elephant is dependent on its surroundings, and how its actions change the forest and the plains. He becomes an ecologist and conservationist, and works to protect the herds and the other elements of the biome.

Eagletosh writes books. Very influential books. Soon, many of the people who have never encountered an elephant are convinced that they all have wings. Those who have seen photos are at least persuaded that elephants have quantum wings, which just happened to be vibrating invisibly when the picture was snapped. He convinces many people that the true virtue of the elephant lies in its splendid wings — to the point that anyone who disagrees and claims that they are only terrestrial animals is betraying the beauty of the elephant.

Exasperated, Larry takes a break from writing technical treatises about mammalian anatomy, and writes a book for the lay public, The Elephant Has No Wings. While quite popular, the Eagletoshians are outraged. How dare he denigrate the volant proboscidian? Does he think it a mere mechanical mammal, mired in mud, never soaring among the stars? Has he no appreciation for the scholarship of the experts in elephant wings? Doesn’t he realize that he can’t possibly disprove the existence of wings on elephants, especially when they can be tucked so neatly into the quantum? (The question of how the original prophets of wingedness came by their information never seems to come up, or is never considered very deeply.) It was offensive to cripple the poor elephants, rendering them earthbound.

When that book was quickly followed by Moe’s The Elephant Walks and Curly’s Land of the Elephant, the elephant wing scholars were in a panic — they were being attacked by experts in elephants, who seemed to know far more about elephants than they did! Fortunately, the scientists knew little about elephant’s wings — surprising, that — and the public was steeped in favorable certainty that elephants, far away, were flapping gallantly through the sky. They also had the benefit of vast sums of money. Wealth was rarely associated with competence in matters elephantine, and tycoons were pouring cash into efforts to reconcile the virtuous wingedness of elephants with the uncomfortable reality of anatomy. Even a few scientists who ought to know better were swayed over to the side of the winged; to their credit, it was rarely because of profit, but more because they were sentimentally attached to the idea of wings. They couldn’t deny the evidence, however, and were usually observed to squirm as they invoked the mystic power of the quantum, or of fleeting, invisible wings that only appeared when no one was looking.

And there the battle stands, an ongoing argument between the blind who struggle to explore the world as it is around them, and the blind who prefer to conjure phantoms in the spaces within their skulls. I have to disappoint you, because I have no ending and no resolution, only a question.

Where do you find meaning and joy and richness and beauty, O Reader? In elephants, or elephants’ wings?

You Can’t Mix Oxidants and Anti-Oxidants Cold!

The science behind the role of oxidative stress in aging and neurodegenerative disorders and the modulation of oxidative stress by nutritional antioxidants is complex and has not yielded many confident therapeutic recommendations. And yet, by contrast, antioxidants are sold to the public with dramatic health claims as if they were well established. It is common for marketing hype to out pace scientific reality, especially when the science is complex and preliminary so that there is as yet no firm scientific consensus.


Bill Nye *Not* “Bible Guy”

from [here]

Bill Nye… “The Science Guy,” managed to offend a select group of adults in Waco, Texas at a presentation, when he suggested that the moon does not emit light, but instead reflects the light of the sun.  As even most elementary-school graduates know, the moon reflects the light of the sun but produces no light of its own. But don’t tell that to the good people of Waco, who were “visibly angered by what some perceived as irreverence,” according to the Waco Tribune.

Nye…brought up Genesis 1:16, which reads: “God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.” The lesser light, he pointed out, is not a light at all, but only a reflector.  At this point, several people in the audience stormed out in fury….

This story originally appeared in the Waco Tribune, but the newspaper has…pulled its story from the online version….

“Journalists have a 1950s B-movie view of science”

Here’s an answer, courtesy Dr Ben Goldacre of, to my quiz from yesterday:

Egged on by a rather fanciful press release from the University media office, and a quote from a sociologist, the [news story which appeared in The Daily Mail, the Telegraph, and others] was unstoppable. I got hold of the research paper, with some hassle. In fact, before we even begin to read it, I don’t think it’s very good behaviour to pimp a study to the media before it’s published, before academics can read it and respond, since the media commentariat have proven themselves to be morons.

Anyway: in a sentence, the study finds that the brain bloodflow changes which are observed when a subject is experiencing compassion for social pain peak, and dissipate, at a slightly slower rate to those seen with compassion for physical pain. It does not mention Twitter. It does not mention Facebook. It does not mention social networking websites. It makes – and I’m being generous here – a single, momentary, passing reference to the rapid pace of information in “the digital age” in the discussion section, but that is all. These news stories were bullshit.

Now here’s the real test. How much of THAT do you believe, and why?