Thursday, February 28, 2013

Asperatus Clouds (Picture of the Day: 2/28/13)

Asperatus clouds over New Zealand. Source. Credit: Witta Priester

Clouds can be some of the weirdest things in existence. This picture hasn't been altered, it is actually a rare form of Undulatus asperatus cloud that really does exist. This picture was taken in New Zealand where this stunning structure occurred. The origin of clouds such as these is not well understood, but then again, very little in meteorology is satisfactorily understood. When looking at structures like these, I have great sympathy for weathermen and women.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Printing Ears (Picture of the Day: 2/27/13)

Lawrence Bonassar holding the scaffolding for an ear. Source. Credit: Lindsay France

3-D printing is becoming a huge new scientific fad, and I dearly hope to see it continue. Scientists at Cornell have now figured out a way to print the scaffolding for an ear using a 3-D printer. The printer creates a special mold which is then filled with collagen from rats' tails before cow ear cartilage is added. Within three months cartilage will have grown fully throughout the mold and a fully formed ear will be left in its place. This is a truly remarkable feat, one that has been a long time coming. Hopefully we will see more "printable" organs that will allow us to meet all organ transplant needs.
To read more, check out this article.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Secret of the Stars (Video of the Day: 2/26/13)

This is the latest video from Symphony of Science. I like these musical adaptations of our most prominent scientists, it really goes a long way in making science exciting. This particular song focuses on Einstein's famous equation E=MC2 for the conversion of matter to energy and vice-versa. Our universe is determined by many laws that both bind us and allow us to do many things. Einstein's theory of relativity exposed some of these laws that help us understand the true nature of energy, matter, and light.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Curiosity Panorama (Picture of the Day: 2/24/13)

Another one of Curiosity's self portraits. Source

I seem to love things about Curiosity, so here is another one of Curiosity's self portraits. Curiosity extends its camera arm and takes a bunch of pictures which software puts together, editing out the camera arm itself. This picture was taken at Yellowknife Bay in Mars' Gale Crater. At Curiosity's foot you can see the holes that it has recently dug.
I just thought this was really picture. I think I'll make it my new desktop background. 

Friday, February 22, 2013


I have a friend who's favorite animals used to be frogs, and I have developed a particular fondness for them from him. Frogs are rather amazing creatures, adapted to all kinds of habitats all over the world with unique abilities that have an unrivaled ability to astound.

Green tree frog. Source

The title "frog" applies to a wide range of creatures from the order Anura ("without tail"). The defining characteristic of these amphibians is that they don't have a tail, as the name of their order would suggest, setting them apart from animals like salamanders or caecilians. Frogs have adapted to live in all sorts of environments. Most people are familiar with them living in or around water, but there are species that also live on land, in trees, and even underground. Literally any environment that an animal is known to live in, there is a frog that lives there too. However, the greatest number of frog species live in tropical forests, frogs like infamous poison dart frog from Central America or the shrub frog (Rhacophoridae) of Asia and Africa.

Triadobatrachus, the first "frog" identified in the fossil record. Source

Before I go any further and define the physical characteristics of frogs, I must first point out the "difference" between toads and frogs. The distinction between the two is that there really isn't a distinction. Toads are frogs, the name "toad" has no taxonomic justification. However frogs of the family Bufonidae are considered "true" toads. Frogs have smooth, permeable skin that allows them to absorb oxygen from the water, but leaves them susceptible to dehydration, whereas "toads" have rougher, thicker skin with "warts" that protects them from water loss. Other than this difference, toads and frogs are almost indistinguishable. That being said, frogs vary drastically from environment to environment. Frogs that spend most of their time in the water have poorly developed lungs (in fact, all frogs have poorly developed lungs) and are able to absorb oxygen through their semi-permeable skin. This allows them to spend a long time underwater, and some species can even survive without their lungs. Given their aquatic life style, frogs have three eyelids, one clear membrane to protect their eyes underwater while giving them vision, and two others for various purposes.
Frogs tend to be carnivorous, but there are omnivorous species and even herbivorous species. Some frogs are toothless, but most have teeth on their upper jaw. These teeth are not meant to cut or chew, instead they are meant to hold in their food (oftentimes living) while they swallow it. Other species that don't have teeth are known to use their hands to shove food into their mouths. Once frogs have gotten a bite of something, they swallow it whole, sometimes retracting their eyes to force food down their throats.

A frog retracting its eyes to swallow. Source

All frogs start their lives as tadpoles, the larval stage between birth and metamorphosis into their adult form. Frogs lay their eggs surrounded individually by a gelatinous bubble that keeps them moist. Sometimes these eggs are laid in water, other times they are kept wet manually by their parents, but always they must be kept wet. Once the eggs hatch, they become fully aquatic tadpoles with internal gills and a tail. These tadpoles spend all their time in water, eating whatever they can with their omnivorous, grating teeth. Once a tadpole reaches the age of maturation, it will go through metamorphosis, where it grows legs and loses its tail and gills. This process can take as little as 24 hours. 

Frog eggs. Source

Tadpole. Source

Some frogs have very interesting adaptations. The most commonly known adaptation is the long, sticky tongue. Many frog species have very long, cleft tongues that can be shot out of their mouths at incredible speeds to capture prey. Another famous adaptation are the toxic chemicals secreted out of a frog's glandular skin. Frogs with this adaptation are like the poison dart frog that displays its bright colors to let other animals know that they are deadly. Other poisonous frogs aren't quite as deadly as the poison dart frog, but can make themselves unpalatable to predators. Even other frogs have skin coloration and texture that makes them almost impossible to see.

Goliath frog, the world's biggest frog. Source

Paedophryne amauensis, both the world's smallest frog, and smallest vertebrate. Source

Frogs amaze me with their unique and marvelous adaptions. They are one of the most diverse groups in the animal kingdom, and they look pretty cool too.

Giant Goldfish (Picture of the Day: 2/22/13)

Many giant goldfish like this one have been found in Lake Tahoe. Source

New research into invasive species that plague Lake Tahoe has revealed a school of giant goldfish that appear to have been dumped by their owners. One of the goldfish scooped up was 1.5 feet long and weighed 4.2 pounds, a far cry from a child's pet. It is a common misconception that goldfish are small animals. Oftentimes these fish are kept in small tanks and fed very little, but if a goldfish is kept in a large, warm, filtered tank and fed frequently, it can grow to an enormous size. This becomes a problem when goldfish are abandoned in the wild. These fish are hardy and will push out native fish if they are left alone. LiveScience has a very good article on this.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Curiosity's Got Dust (Picture of the Day: 2/21/13)

Picture of Curiosity's dust scoop. Source

After drilling 2.5 inches into the Martian surface, Curiosity has collected a sample of Martian rock. This picture here is visual proof that Curiosity has succeeded in collecting the dust from the hole it drilled, letting scientists know that everything was successful. The next step is for the rover to sift this dust over a special sieve to get only finely powdered dust for analysis. I will continue to stay up to date with this story, and bring you all the news.
NASA's release on this story can be found here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Moon-Sized Exoplanet

Artists representation of a newly discovered exoplanet. Source

For a long, long time all we humans could do in the quest to find exoplanets, planets out side of our solar system, was to look for large planets that had a noticeable impact on their host stars. This left us with only the ability to find gas giants and super massive Earth-like planets, but now we've found a planet no bigger than our own moon. This little hunk of rock orbits close to its star and has a surface temperature of over 700 degrees Fahrenheit, but it is a step closer to finding an Earth-like planet beyond our own planet. I find this very exciting. For more information, check out this article.

2012 DA14 Video (Video of the Day: 2/20/13)


posted about this earlier, and now we finally have video of it. The asteroid that flew by the Earth on Friday, not to be confused with the comet that hit Russia, has now been videotaped. With all the crazy happenings in Russia on Friday, poor 2012 DA14 didn't get much attention, even though it was a terrifyingly close flyby. If 2012 DA14 had hit us instead of the Russian comet, things would have been much worse. DA14 wasn't large enough to cause an extinction or anything like that, but it would certainly have put another crater on our planet.
If you want to read more about this, check out this article.

A collage of radio images taken of 2012 DA14. Credit: NASA

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Novel Coronavirus (Picture of the Day: 2/19/13)

A coronavirus. Source

Coronaviruses like these are the cause of many cold like illnesses and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), but a new type of coronavirus seems to be infecting humans and has caused six deaths so far. This virus is being called novel coronavirus. It appears as if this strain, which is closely related to a bat-infecting version, originated in the Middle East. Currently only twelve people have been infected, but six of those people have died. Until more is known about this virus, I would recommend being careful while traveling to places like Saudi Arabia or Jordan.
To read more, check out this article.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Cat Falling Reflex (Picture of the Day: 2/18/13)

Cat righting technique. Source

I found this article on Wikipedia and just had to post it. Everyone is always referencing a cat's ability to land on its feet after a fall, and this Wikipedia article explains just how it works. If you don't want to go through the trouble of reading the article for yourself, the simple version is that cats have very flexible backbones and no functional clavicle to get in the way of midair rotations. Cats are able to spin rapidly during a fall so that they land on their feet reliably from a fall of at least 30 centimeters. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Meteor Explosion Over Russia (Picture of the Day: 2/15/13)

Picture of a meteor exploding near Chelyabinsk in Russia. Credit: Nasha Gazeta. Source

Just today a meteor entered the atmosphere over Russia and exploded, raining bits and pieces down to the ground. Reportedly, over 500 people were injured, and buildings were damaged in 6 different cities. The debris from this 11-ton meteor spread across a thinly populated area in the Chelyabinsk region. There is still some debate as to whether this was one meteor or several, but I think we'll find out soon. There are even unconfirmed reports that this meteor was intercepted by Russian air defense, but official statements say that the Russians do not have this ability.
For more information, read this article or this article.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Special (Picture of the Day: 2/14/13)

Face massage. Source

In honor of Valentine's day, I thought I'd bring you this news story. Apparently, scientists have discovered the neurons in mice that respond to gentle, stroking touch. These scientists believe that these neurons may explain why animals like mice, cats, and humans enjoy grooming each other. Alan Basbaum from the University of California San Francisco even went so far as to say that this new discovery could even lead, one day, to a sort of "massage pill" that makes these neurons fire as if the person were getting a massage. Ultimately, this research has only been done with mice, but it seems likely that humans have similar neurons. Just remember, giving a gentle massage to that "special someone" can be a very good bonding experience this Valentine's day.
To read the full article, click here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Curiosity Drills (Picture of the Day: 2/12/13)

The hole Curiosity dug. Source

A while back I mentioned that Curiosity was getting ready to drill a hole into the Martian surface. Well, it now appears as if Curiosity has finally done it. About four days ago Curiosity started drilling into some veiny rock on the Mars. The 0.63 inch diameter, 2.5 inch deep hole is the first ever hole to be drilled into the red planet. In the coming days Curiosity will analyze the dust it collected for evidence of past water, life, and many other things.
Click here to read NASA's press release.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

2012 D14 Feb. 15 Fly-by (Picture of the Day: 2/10/13)

Asteroid tracking. Source

On February 15, this Friday, the asteroid 2012 DA14 will fly very close to Earth. There has been a lot of talk about this asteroid because it is going to pass within the orbit of our highest satellites, but it will not hit us. The probability of impact is something on the order of 0.0000064, the actual statistics can be seen here. I was hoping to be able to see the flying rock at 2:24 p.m. ET, but sadly it is too small for the unaided eye to see. If you have a telescope and live in the region between Eastern Europe and Australia, you have a chance of catching a glimpse as it flies off toward the sun.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Almost Alive Crystals (Video of the Day: 2/6/13)

This video shows something rather remarkable. Scientists have recently figured out how to create hematite crystals that have both metabolism and mobility, two of the three requirements to be considered life. These crystals respond to light and begin to move around and cluster together in groups. If some way for these, or similar, crystals could be figured out to give them the ability to replicate, then we technically would have created a new form of life. I expect something like this to happen soon, but for now, I recommend reading this article.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Google Glasses (Picture of the Day: 2/5/13)

Google glasses. Source

Some new speculation would have us believe that Google is going to implement bone sound conducting technology in their upcoming Google Glasses, the augmented reality glasses that will allow users to access the internet and much more all through a pair of glasses. This bone conducting technology will allow users to listen to music without the annoyance of earbuds by sending vibrations through the skull and into the ears. I, for one, think this is a good idea, but we'll see what eventually happens.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

LL Orionis (Picture of the Day: 2/3/13)

LL Orionis in the Orion nebula. Source

This lovely picture displays the variable star known as LL Orionis as it plows its way through the Orion nebula. The star is visible on the left side of the screen, closer to the bottom. As well as its sheer beauty, you can also notice the impressive wave preceding the star. This wave is energized interstellar gas from the surrounding nebula that is being super heated and pushed away from LL Orionis by its intense solar winds. Stars are amazing.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

TDRS-K (Picture of the Day: 2/2/13)

TDRS-K launch. Source

This lovely picture is of the January 30 launch of a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) from the Kennedy Space Center. This TDRS-K satellite is the first in a new generation of communications satellites that will further add to NASA's impressive communication fleet. These TDRS satellites have the important task of relaying information to and from space craft. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Whale Vomit: Ambergris (Picture of the Day: 2/1/13)

Ken Wilman with his dog and his find. Source

The news these days seems to be filled with unhappy things, so I thought I'd post something lighthearted. This picture here is of a British man by the name of Ken Wilman. He recently found a chunk of hard, yellow substance that could give him a healthy sum of cash. He was walking down the beach one day when his dog started sniffing a strange, yellow rock. As it turns out, this rock was actually ambergris, otherwise known as sperm whale vomit. Why is finding vomit such a good thing? Well, as it turns out, ambergris is used in perfumes and is a very valuable substance. Already Ken has been offered $68,000 for his find, so I imagine he is a very happy man.
To find out more, check out this article.