Science Sunday: Mysterious hum explained, Eucalyptus leads to gold

Hey there! If it’s Sunday, it must be time for Science!

Space News

NASA’s Cassini probe finds lakes of hydrocarbon liquid on the surface of Titan. They’re thawing as Saturnian spring progresses.

The Opportunity rover on Mars — the rover that’s been there for nearly ten years — is now climbing its tallest hill ever, 130-ft (40m) high Solander Point. Originally designed to function for just three months and drive a few miles at the very most now has 22.22 miles on its odometer.

A story on asks “Should We Remake Mars in Earth’s Image?” Why yes, of course we should.


Should we terraform Mars? Heck yeah.

A canyon of fire rips across the sun:

Psychology News

A study examines why and how people are able to give up Facebook (and other social networking media). The key? A threshold realization that putting one’s entire life onto a website where a company can access and marketize every last bit results in a loss of privacy and self-identity, and risks ‘Internet addiction.’

Hey gals? Want to know if that new boyfriend is really into you? Go for a walk. Research shows that males will slow their pace by as much as 7% if they’re falling in love with you.

Washing hands via Shutterstock

Washing hands via Shutterstock

Washing our hands makes us more optimistic…but optimism also makes us less inclined to apply ourselves. Two groups were given an impossible task. One was told to wash their hands afterwards — and expressed more optimism about their results. When asked to do the test again, the optimistic ones didn’t try as hard as those who didn’t wash their hands.

In a story that repeats the somewhat obvious: Humans invented rituals and superstition in an effort to feel in greater control over their natural environment.

Medical News

A child born with HIV infection apparently cured by early, swift treatment with anti-retroviral medication. Still virus-free 18 months after stopping treatment.

Weekend cooking – buttermilk fried chicken

Saturated fats may actually be good for us after all. One of the many reasons my own philosophy in foods is “moderation in everything.”

Nicotine isn’t the only addictive ingredient in cigarettes. Which explains why the patch and gum aren’t as effective as advertised.

Climate News

Ice cores and tree rings can provide us data on yearly changes in climate and weather for a given location. Well, using an x-ray microscope, researchers have found a way to examine fossilized plankton shells and, at the nanometer scale, see daily fluctuations, based on magnesium layering.

‘Smart windows’ could lead to both temperature control and electricity generation, all without moving parts. Polycarbonate panels sandwiching vanadium oxide becomes more opaque to infrared (heat) energy the hotter the window becomes — and scattered light from the vanadium can be collected by an ordinary photovoltaic cell.

The Antarctic ozone hole is smaller this year, but scientists say it’s still to early to say whether it’s healing or not. At least it doesn’t seem to be getting worse, now that we’ve begun limiting the use of ozone-depleting chemicals.

2013 Antarctic Ozone Hole - graphic from NASA's Goddard Flight Center

2013 Antarctic Ozone Hole – graphic from NASA’s Goddard Flight Center

Tech News

Believe it or not, 3D printers now cost about what laser printers did just a couple years after they first came out.

“Glow in the Dark” roads? On company in the U.K. has developed a photo luminescent coating that is non-reflective, anti-slip, and gives off an “ethereal glow” at night.

Pro-Teq's 'Starpath' glow-in-the-dark road coating

Pro-Teq’s ‘Starpath’ glow-in-the-dark road coating

Self-driving vehicles might just be the answer to ending the vast majority of traffic deaths and accidents — while simultaneously reduce traffic jams and save vast amounts of energy.

Weird News

How to ‘farm’ salmon: Throw them into flooded rice fields. Actually the experiment was to see if rice fields could serve as nurseries for juvenile salmon, which could then be collected later for release into California’s rivers. Result? Huge success. The fields are so rich in foods and nutrients, the baby salmon grow big and fat in a matter of mere weeks.

The ‘Hum’ explained. There are many places around the world where a small percentage of residents complain of an unceasing low-frequency background ‘hum’ noise, especially at night. An explanation may have been found in one locale: Hythe, near Southampton Docks, England.  The source? The male Midshipman fish, using its inflatable air bladder to make sound to attract mates. The males build and defend a territory, then set to humming as loudly as they can. Here’s a link to a video where you can hear the sound for yourself.

Eucalyptus trees in Australia can show where there are traces of gold in the soil in which they’re growing.

An ancient magician’s “curse tablet” was found by archeologists in Jerusalem. Apparently a woman named Kyrilla hired a professional curse-monger to invoke the names of six different gods — four Greek, one Babylonian, and one Gnostic — inflict a bad fortune on a man named Iennys over a legal case. Kyrilla was clearly quite teed-off, as part of it reads: “I strike and strike down and nail down the tongue, the eyes, the wrath, the ire, the anger, the procrastination, the opposition of Iennys.”

How to Make Zombies

How to Make Zombies

And finally, how to make a zombie. A researcher in Haiti thinks he’s cracked the secret, powerful nerve toxins known as tetrodotoxin, harvested from the pufferfish. In sub-lethal doses, it creates the appearance of death — slow heart rate, imperceptible breathing, awareness but complete paralysis. After re-exhumation, the zombie master or bokor administers regular doses of jimson weed extracts (datura stramonium) to keep the ‘zombie’ victim in a constant state of delirium and disorientation. (It is illegal in Haiti to create zombies, by the way, and the act of attempting to do so is considered murder, even if the victim lives.)

As ever, consider this an open thread.

Published professional writer and poet, Becca had a three decade career in technical writing and consulting before selling off most of her possessions in 2006 to go live at an ashram in India for 3 years. She loves literature (especially science fiction), technology and science, progressive politics, cool electronic gadgets, and perfecting Hatch green chile recipes. Fortunately for this last, Becca and her wife currently live in New Mexico. @BeccaMorn

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  • wausr

    Learn how you can earn 50 dollars per day at home go here: surveymoneymaker dot net

  • Karma_hitman

    and what have you done in your life, created the planets most profitable company, took on Microsoft and won, yes I can see why you have questions, your intelligence level is like my gas tank, it is on E

  • Angst in Berwyn

    Whoever programmed the Opportunity rover on Mars should be given a crack at repairing the ACA website. As for remaking Mars in the image of Earth, hasn’t mankind made a big enough mess here without going interplanetary?

  • You know, if someone can’t handle the internet responsibly, let them go cruise the Valley of Porn or go cyber-gambling or, if all else fails, learn HTML and generate a Deep Web site all their own

  • Monoceros Forth

    I do agree that Jobs-worship needs to be countered. Why he’s regarded as some sort of genius inventor is a mystery to me.

  • Indigo

    What is this cyber-asceticism impulse about? It seems much of the commentary surrounding what let’s call on-line sociology has to do with giving up Facebook for an imaginary Lent that has nothing to do with anything other than targeting Facebook because it’s there.

    You know, if someone can’t handle the internet responsibly, let them go cruise the Valley of Porn or go cyber-gambling or, if all else fails, learn HTML and generate a Deep Web site all their own. Facebook is evil? No, I don’t think so, it’s handy, it does what what we set it up to do, Mark dabbles because he’s Mark. Oh! I get now, it’s fun to hate Mark because he is such-a-dweeb. Okay, I don’t disagree with that but Facebook’s still a handy social tool in my little world.

    The real challenge to cybernetics today, in my opinion, is the ghost of Steve Jobs, haunting the Mac-crowd. If cyber-space needs anything, it’s an exorcist who can help Jobs (and his mania) find his way on to the Fullness of Transcendent Realization or, failing that, Total Oblivion.

  • mirror

    How do you define ritual? I had a longer response, but then realize you aren’t being very clear what your point is or what you are responding to. Are you saying religion defines purpose? For whom? All religions? Or just yours? Can you tell us what it is?

  • Indigo

    I’m not sure we “need” them but we’re very productive when it comes to inventing them. Maybe generating belief systems (including social paradigms and paradigms that shift) is an art form. Pop art, most frequently, but sometimes we humans come up with impressive constructs. Neo-Platonic cosmology comes to mind. And Navajo sand paintings. And Himalayan mandalas. And . . . you know. :-)

  • Indigo

    The void left behind by abandoning theo-centric imagining is exactly the void where we project our mental fabrications, what we make of the void is who we are. It’s just another blank slate. No fear.

  • JeopardyGeorge


  • yummy

  • “Humans need a belief system” nonsense

  • docsterx

    A few words of caution about the link in “saturated fats may be good for us.” In the article from “Science World Report,” the author says that Malhotra is talking about a “study.” He’s not. The link to the British Medial Journal is a link to Malhotra’s article which is an opinion piece, not a study. Additionally, in the SWR article, the author states that we get saturated fats from animal proteins. We don’t, we get them from saturated fats in the animal products, not the proteins.

    In the British Medical Journal article by Malhotra, he makes several statements that are wide of the mark. He says that eating the Mediterranean Diet is almost three time as “powerful” in reducing mortality rates as a statin. I’m not sure what he means by “powerful.” Reduction in risk of a future heart attack?

    Statins produce their best results when coupled with a low fat diet and exercise. However, many people on statins refuse to lower their intakes of fats, particularly saturated fats. Additionally the classic Mediterranean Diet IS a low fat diet (most fat comong from olive oil and limited amounts of dairy). Yet earlier he makes a case that fats are relatively harmless, then touts a low fat (Mediterranean) diet that he apparently doesn’t realize is low in fat.

    He also says that in one study, statins caused 20% of those taking them to have side effects: myalgias (muscle pain), gastrointestinal upset and other side effects that led to discontinuation of the statins. Then he says, “This is massively at odds with the major statin trials that report
    significant side effects of myopathy or muscle pain in only one in
    10 000.” That’s true. The statin trials talk about MYOPATHY (a non-specific disease of muscle that produces weakness) which is quite different from MYALGIAS that he was talking about. A myopathy can be serious to even life-threatening. Muscle pains are not. He’s mixing apples and oranges, or in this case, saturated and unsaturated fats.

    “When you take the fat out, the food tastes worse.” Fat does add flavor, but you don’t need a diet made up of 50% fat to make food taste good. Decreasing the amount of fat by 20-30% of what someone normally uses, won’t turn the food into tasteless trash.

    “In the past 30 years in the United States the proportion of energy from
    consumed fat has fallen from 40% to 30% (although absolute fat
    consumption has remained the same), yet obesity has rocketed.” Earlier he mentions that many food manufacturers have lowered fats in their products and increased the carbohydrates, like high-fructose corn syrup.) If that’s the case, then the increase in obesity could well be due to increased carbohydrate intake. Or decreased exercise.

    Malhotra seems to have decided that saturated fat is good and is deliberately skewing his arguments in that direction. I’m not at all convinced that he even has a decent case here.

  • Ninong

    The NSA listening in on Angela Merkel’s cell phone?

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Growing up, there was always a pitcher of sweet tea on the table. Since I became diabetic when I was eleven, there was always plain tea for me. As an adult, I will place cut fruit in the tea. It gives it a nice, not overly sweet taste.

  • pappyvet

    don’t forget the hot cornbread with real butter

  • mwdavis

    Expecting purpose is immature.

  • Monoceros Forth

    If science is a “ritual” in your eyes then so is using a ruler or checking your watch.

  • Thanks. It’s actually one of the more enjoyable parts of blogging: I can mostly stick to positive news.

  • lynchie

    I have heard power lines hum and crackle especially the ones carrying high wattage. Was near one with my two sisters when I was a young pup and the hair on their heads went up like you get with a Tesla coil.

  • lynchie

    Two articles about high fructose corn syrup. That is the real culprit behind our obesity. No doubt over indulgence contributes but HFC is in everything, bread, processed food, meat, you name it.

  • mf_roe

    Mr. God
    The only thing more destructive than Mr. God is the void left when he (it) is discarded. Humans need a belief system, Mr. God is simply the lowest hurdle in creating such a system. If we were a rational species Mr. God would have gotten his walking papers long ago. Life is a journey to death, tough to fabricate a belief system around that that doesn’t descend into selfishness.

  • Monoceros Forth

    Singer and his ilk then turned on the manufacturers and proceeded to vilify them for abandoning chlorofluorocarbons.

    You have to wonder about the source of such fixed denialism. Obviously there’s something more going on than the professed belief that environmental regulation is killing innovation and hurting industry. Sometimes I think that the real sin, in the eyes of men such as Singer, is pointing out that there’s something wrong, anything wrong, with the status quo.

    And the deniers found allies in conservative religious groups, who cited Bible verses as proof chlorofluorocarbons couldn’t hurt the ecology because God wouldn’t let them.

    I’m far from familiar with the entire contents of the Bible (in any edition) but I’m pretty sure that if there were some verses about the ozone layer or about refrigerants then I’d have heard about them by now. I have heard the related notion that the Bible proves that global warming won’t happen because God promised that He would never flood the Earth again. (We can still do the job ourselves though, right?)

  • mf_roe

    cicadas, the only species noisier than baggers.

  • mf_roe

    I’ll take Grandmother’s yeast rolls over biscuits any day.

  • mf_roe

    Gave up sweet tea in my early twenties, loved it when I was a kid but found I could enjoy tea without sugar. I still love sugar but just don’t need it in as much of the menu as most Americans. The astringency of unsweetened tea is a wonderful palate cleanser. Of course, it’s a matter of taste.

  • Bingo! I would add molded orange jello with carrot streamers in it.

  • The Time has come to drown Mr. God in a bath tub and move forward.

  • Indigo

    and biscuits.

  • MyrddinWilt

    It is even worse than you imagine. When I worked for ICI as an intern in the late 1980s we had an entire $30million plant built to make the safe chorofluorocarbons alternatives that was sitting unused because the deniers had stepped in and derailed the regulations that would have created the demand for the product. Dupont and ICI had a pretty good record in the industry at the time. Union Carbide on the other hand had a terrible reputation even before Bohpal.

    The idea that the deniers are just sock puppets commercial interests is not always true. The oil companies are not all behind climate change denial either. It only takes a small number of rich cranks to build such a movement.

    That said, there are still some CFCs that are in use. Until quite recently there was still no substitute for Halothane anesthetic that works as well and Halothane is still in use in much of the world due to the alternatives being in-patent and more expensive.

  • mf_roe

    Science is simply a better ritual than religion, it isn’t the ultimate “good” that some make it out to be. Science is superior at explaining “how” and “why” but fails to define “purpose”.

  • There we go. Now you’re talking. *droooool….*

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    We shall call that sweet tea and calico beans are a must.

  • mf_roe

    Southern Fried Chicken requires Iced Tea and mashed potatoes, and who forgot the gravy?

  • Make that fried chicken, fresh corn on the cob, some steamed beans and an ice-cold cider and I’m there. :-)

  • I know — but of course the remaining question is what is the source of the hum in locations that aren’t near the ocean.

  • ArthurH

    I remember seeking a cookbook in a shop at the Nashville airport called “The Wonderful Foods That Killed Elvis.” It recorded all the high-fat high-calorie dishes that comprise Southern Comfort Food, but included a warning that these dishes were concocted to fuel farm hands and could be deadly for people whose jobs sit them before a computer all day.

  • ArthurH

    Scientists have every right to be cautious about any progress in stopping the Antarctic ozone hole. While most of the pre-1996 home refrigerators using a chlorofluorocarbon refrigerant and insulation are now out of service, not all have been deconstructed for recycling and are filling landfills. And a less destructive hydrochlorofluorocarbon compound used in air conditioners and commercial coolers were produced up to 2010 and more than 90% are still in use and could leak. The discovery that chlorofluorocarbon compounds thin the earth’s protective ozone layer, allowing destructive ultraviolet radiation to reach the earth’s surface to hurt crops and cause skin cancer may have inadvertently spurred the entire science denier industry we have today. Before the theory was proved scientific fact in 1988, deniers like Fred Singer claimed they spoke for big manufacturers like DuPont, the leading producer of chlorofluorocarbon compounds. But when the proof came out, DuPont accepted it and began to develop and market safer alternatives, Singer and his ilk then turned on the manufacturers and proceeded to vilify them for abandoning chlorofluorocarbons. And the deniers found allies in conservative religious groups, who cited Bible verses as proof chlorofluorocarbons couldn’t hurt the ecology because God wouldn’t let them. Who thought that a discovery that lead to an effort to correct and turn back a potential threat to life on earth would generate an anti-science cult.

  • UncleBucky

    All in all… properly prepared fried chicken increases one’s happiness. Together with some good cole slaw, decent potato salad, and some good beer.

  • Hue-Man

    No humming here! “There have been some puzzling changes in the behaviour of northern
    resident killer whales that live off the north-central coast of British Columbia and Alaska, says a marine mammal scientist from the Vancouver Aquarium.

    Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, head of the aquarium’s cetacean research team, said his team has noticed for the past two summers that the normally chatty mammals have been uncharacteristically quiet.”

    This PBS Newshour item could make you very ill: “The Pacific Northwest is known for its seafood, but when algae blooms in coastal waters, it can release toxins that poison shellfish and the people who eat them. Katie Campbell of KCTS in Seattle reports on the growing prevalence and toxicity of that algae, and how scientists are studying a possible link to climate change.”

  • emjayay

    Great that new improved windows are being developed. Meanwhile my Brooklyn landlord is too cheap to replace the remaining single pane windows. There’s vast numbers of buildings in the US that aren’t even insulated at all like this one. Some little incentives if they exist aren’t enough for guys like him. We need a proactive program to put in solar water heating and modern heating systems and insulation in all the older buildings in the country. It would be cost effective and at least as good as building more windmills or whatever. Big older apartment buildings in NYC even burn a crappier dirtier type of fuel oil, although there is some kind of move to do something about that. Yes I realise this is pointless to even discuss in a country where the government has to completely stop for weeks and Congress can’t pass anything beyond naming a post office.

    Another big problem: Coal. And China and coal.

  • emjayay

    Re: The saturated fat article….

    “Obesity rates in the United States skyrocketed, as well as diabetes and heart disease.”

    Yeah, but what are all those diabetics and fat people eating? Vast numbers of Americans eat with no consideration whatsoever of fat or sugars or calories or salt in their diet. Cheeseburgers, FRIES, potato chips, 2 litre bottles of non-diet soda, and no exercise beyond walking to the car. And they feed their kids who spend all day playing computer games the same stuff.

  • Bomer

    How to make a zombie…oddly enough I just made one of my nephews the following:


    Comes with its very own voodoo doll. (It’s a 60 page blank book I made for him)

  • Ninong

    The plainfin midshipman (Porichthys notatus), a humming toadfish, has been known for quite some time as the cause of that disturbing humming noise that keeps people awake at nights all summer long. It’s just that new communities of local residents keep “discovering” it for themselves every few years.

    The people of Sausalito didn’t know what it was until a marine biologist from San Francisco recognized it as the sex call of the plainfin midshipman that used to keep him awake at nights when he was trying to sleep on the beach in Baja, California. Back in the 1980’s some conspiracy nuts in the Bay Area used to blame it on the Army Corps of Engineers’ lab on SF Bay.

    This fish was the topic of a presentation at a meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco in December 2003. The male plainfin midshipman has such extraordinary muscular strength above its swim bladder that it can hold its loud droning by vibrating those muscles for more than an hour at a time. Moreover, the toadfish vibrates the muscles at an astonishing 6,000 times a minute, twice the speed of a hummingbird’s wing.

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