Friday, December 14, 2012

Human Genetic Variations Changing Rapidly

In the most massive study of genetic variation yet, researchers have determined that the age of more than one million variants ~ or changes to our DNA code ~ found across human populations is quite young. 
The chronologies tell a story of evolutionary dynamics in recent human history ~ the last 10,000 years ~ a period characterized by both narrow reproductive bottlenecks and enormous population growth.
According to
The evolutionary dynamics of these features resulted in a flood of new genetic variation, accumulating so fast that natural selection hasn’t caught up yet. As a species, we are freshly bursting with the raw material of evolution. 
“Most of the mutations that we found arose in the last 200 generations or so. There hasn’t been much time for random change or deterministic change through natural selection,” said geneticist Joshua Akey of the University of Washington. “We have a repository of all this new variation for humanity to use as a substrate. In a way, we’re more evolvable now than at any time in our history.” 
But these findings can also been seen from another angle. They teach us about human evolution, in particular the course it’s taken since modern Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa. 
“We’ve gone from several hundred million people to seven billion in a blink of evolutionary time,” said Akey. “That’s had a profound effect on structuring the variation present in our species.”
For practical reasons, rare genetic variants have only been studied for the last several years because it’s been too expensive. Genomics focused mostly on what are known as common variants.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Earth at Night

Using data from the Suomi NPP satellite, here's an animated composite of the earth at night, made possible by light-detection instruments that are hundreds of times more sensitive than previous models. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Debunking the End of the World

Scientist Don Yeomans of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Near-Earth Object Program here runs through several scenarios that are frightening to people who believe the world is ending on December 21. Here he briefly discusses the Mayan calendar, planet collisions, comets, solar storms, planetary alignments, pole shifts and other potential Earth destroyers. Earlier today the federal government released an announcement that the world is not going to end in 2012. Talk about a relief!  ;-)

Monday, August 27, 2012

"No Evidence for It"

Here "The Science Guy" Bill Nye explains the dangers of denying the validity of evolution. Denying evolution clouds all scientific thinking at a time when scientific thinking has never been more needed in the world. "We need scientifically literate taxpayers and voters," he says, in reference to the younger generation. Listening to some of the recent scientifically ignorant statements coming out of Congress, I think "The Science Guy" is onto something.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nazca Lines Still Provoke Mystery

Since their startling discovery in Peru’s coastal area during the 1920s, mystery still surrounds the so-called Nazca lines, depicting several massive images decipherable only from high altitudes.
The vast majority of the lines date from 200 BC to 500 AD, to a time when a people referred to as the Nazca inhabited the region. The earliest lines, created with piled up stones, date as far back as 500 BC.
According to
The purpose of the lines continues to elude researchers and remains a matter of conjecture. Ancient Nazca culture was prehistoric, which means they left no written records.  
One idea is that they are linked to the heavens with some of the lines representing constellations in the night sky. Another idea is that the lines play a role in pilgrimage, with one walking across them to reach a sacred place such as Cahuachi and its adobe pyramids. 
Yet another idea is that the lines are connected with water, something vital to life yet hard to get in the desert, and may have played a part in water-based rituals.
In the absence of a firm archaeological conclusion a number of fringe theories have popped up, especially several aligned with “ancient astronaut” theories. A less radical suggestion is that the Nazca people used balloons to observe the lines from high altitudes, something for which there still is no archaeological evidence.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Crop Circles Becoming More Frequent

Human pranksters are responsible for most crop circles in the world, but as with UFO phenomena, a certain number defy any logical explanation. One thing for certain, they're becoming more frequent, with at least one made every day somewhere in the world.

According to
Crop-circle enthusiasts have come up with many theories about what creates the patterns, ranging from the plausible to the patently absurd. One explanation in vogue in the early 1980s was that the circles were accidentally produced by the especially vigorous sexual activity of mating hedgehogs. As the patterns became more complex that idea was abandoned, but some of the theories that replaced it were equally outlandish. Some people have suggested that the circles are somehow created by incredibly localized and precise wind patterns, or by scientifically undetectable Earth energy fields and meridians called ley lines. 
 . . . While there are countless theories, the only known, proven causes of crop circles are humans. Many people believe that crop circles have been reported for centuries (for example mistakenly suggesting that a 1678 woodcut of a folkloric legend about Satan harvesting wheat is evidence of a crop circle); but in fact the first ones appeared only in the 1970s. Their origin remained a mystery until September 1991, when two men confessed that they had created the patterns for decades as a prank to make people think UFOs had landed. They never claimed to have made all the circles — many were copycat pranks done by others — but their hoax launched the crop-circle phenomenon. Most crop-circle researchers admit that hoaxers craft the vast majority of crop circles. But, they claim, there's a remaining tiny percentage that they can't explain.
The article explores the attributes common to most crop circles and what are some of the suspected causes.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dark Matter and a Parallel Universe

Here theoretical physicist Michio Kaku talks about the concept of dark matter being regular matter, just located in a parallel universe very near us. Plus, he briefly lays out several other current concepts regarding the origin of dark matter.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lying Can Make Your Health Suffer

Biblical lying about Joseph's cloak.

Researchers recently determined that avoiding lying can make you healthier. (As a side note, previous research has shown that the average American lies 11 times a week.)
"It's certainly a worthy goal to have people be more honest and more genuine and interact with others in a more honest way," says psychologist Robert Feldman of the University of Massachusetts. "That would be ultimately beneficial.”
Each week for 10 weeks, 110 individuals, ages 18-71, took a lie detector test and completed health and relationship measures assessing the number of major and minor lies they told that week.
Researchers instructed half the participants to "refrain from telling any lies for any reason to anyone. You may omit truths, refuse to answer questions, and keep secrets, but you cannot say anything that you know to be false." The other half received no such instructions.
Over the study period, the link between less lying and improved health was significantly stronger for participants in the no-lie group, the study found. When participants in the no-lie group told three fewer minor lies than they did in other weeks, for example, they experienced, on average, four fewer mental-health complaints and three fewer physical complaints. Mental health complaints included feeling tense or melancholy; physical complaints included sore throats and headaches.
Painting depicts Biblical story of Joseph's brothers lying about his blood-smeared tunic, by Diego Velazquez, 1630.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Lucid Dreaming Providing More Insights

Flying is a frequent occurrence in lucid dreams.

People who can deliberately control their dreams during sleep ~ known as “lucid dreamers” ~ might offer insight into the self-reflection capabilities of the mind.

According to
It is difficult to get a full picture of what goes on in the brain when we make the transition from sleep to wakefulness. In fact, the specific areas of the brain underlying our restored self-perception and consciousness when we wake up have eluded scientists, according to a statement by the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry. 
But a team of researchers was able to get a picture of that isolated activity in lucid dreamers.  
"In a normal dream, we have a very basal consciousness, we experience perceptions and emotions but we are not aware that we are only dreaming,” study researcher Martin Dresler, of Max Planck, said in a statement. "It's only in a lucid dream that the dreamer gets a meta-insight into his or her state."
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans, the team compared the activity of the brain during one of these lucid-dreaming periods with the activity just beforehand in a normal dream. The results showed that a specific cortical network is activated when lucid consciousness is attained.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Key Myths Have Links to Real-World Society

Beowulf slaying his foe.
Ancient myths including Beowulf, Homer’s Illiad and the traditional Irish poem Táin Bó Cuailnge likely are based on real communities and people, according to researchers who compared the complex web of the characters’ relationships with the type of social networks occurring in real life.

Scientists at Coventry University calculated characters’ popularity based on how many relationships they had with other characters and whether they were friends or enemies. Then they examined the overall dynamic between the cast as a whole.

According to the The Telegraph:
Their results, published in the journal Europhysics Letters, showed that the societies depicted in the stories strongly mirrored real social networks of company directors, film actors and scientists which had been mapped out by other academics.

In contrast they found that four works known to be entirely fictional ~ Shakespeare's Richard III, Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment of Rowling's Harry Potter series and Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo ~ contained telltale signs of being fictional.
"In the myths but also in real social networks, you tend to have sub-communities who do not know anybody else," says Pádraig Mac Carron, co-author of the report. "In fiction, everyone tends to be completely connected with each other."
"In reality you also have popular people with hundreds of friends, then a few people with maybe 70, and a lot of people with a lot less friends," he adds. "But [in fiction] you get a lot of characters who have the same number of friends. Almost everyone that Harry Potter knows and interacts with also meets and interacts with Ron and Hermione, for example."
Click here for the article.
Small photo shows Page 1 of Beowulf.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Strange Object May Be Nazi Anti-Sub Device

Sonar image of the underseas device.

A ‘UFO-shaped' object in the Baltic sea might be a Nazi anti-submarine device lost beneath the waves since the end of the Second World War. Sonar scans have shown that the device ~ measuring 200-by-25 feet ~ could be a weapon built of wire mesh to baffle submarine radar.

The huge steel-and-concrete structure could be one of the most important historical finds in years, experts say.

According to the Daily Mail:
Such a device could cause submarines to crash, much in the same way as turning out a lighthouse could be used as a weapon against shipping. Former Swedish naval officer and WWII expert Anders Autellus believes the structure may have blocked British and Russian submarine movements in the area.  
“The area was vital to the German war machine because most of the ball bearings for its tanks and trucks came from here. Without them the German army would have ground to a halt,” explained one expert. “This device dwarfs anything ever found before and is an important weapons discovery.”
While the Ocean Explorer team is understandably excited about their potentially earth-shattering find, others are slightly more skeptical and are questioning the accuracy of the sonar technology.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Possible Ending to a Long Scientific Search

A section of CERN's Large Hadron Collider.

Leading physicists are saying it’s still too soon to know whether CERN’s newly discovered subatomic particle fits the description given by the Standard Model ~ the theory that has ruled physics for the last half-century ~ or whether it is an impostor, a single particle, or even the first of many particles yet to be discovered.

According to today's New York Times, CERN Director Rolf-Dieter Heuer’s exclamation earlier today of, “I think we have it,” signaled what is probably the beginning of the end for one of the longest, most expensive searches in the history of science. If scientists are lucky, the Times contends, the discovery could lead to a new understanding of how the universe began.
Confirmation of the Higgs boson or something very much like it would constitute a rendezvous with destiny for a generation of physicists who have believed in the boson for half a century without ever seeing it. And it affirms a grand view of a universe ruled by simple and elegant and symmetrical laws, but in which everything interesting in it, like ourselves, is a result of flaws or breaks in that symmetry.  
According to the Standard Model, which has ruled physics for 40 years, the Higgs boson is the only visible and particular manifestation of an invisible force field, a cosmic molasses that permeates space and imbues elementary particles that would otherwise be massless with mass. Particles wading through it would gain heft.  
Without this Higgs field, as it is known, or something like it, physicists say all the elementary forms of matter would zoom around at the speed of light, flowing through our hands like moonlight. There would be neither atoms nor life. Physicists said that they would probably be studying the new Higgs particle for years. 
Any deviations from the simplest version of the boson — and there are hints of some already — could open a gateway to new phenomena and deeper theories that answer questions left hanging by the Standard Model: What, for example, is the dark matter that provides the gravitational scaffolding of galaxies? And why is the universe made of matter instead of antimatter?
 For now, some physicists are calling it a “Higgslike” particle. “It’s great to discover a new particle, but you have find out what its properties are,” said John Ellis, a theorist at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Math Theory Seeks to Explain Weirdness

Graph of Bose-Enstein condensates.

Physicists have developed a mathematical theory describing how the collective quantum mechanical weirdness of peculiar materials such as magnets, superfluids and neutron star matter.

“It’s like shooting many, many birds with one stone,” says particle physicist Hitoshi Murayama of UC Berkeley, co-author of a paper on the work. He showed that the behavior of these materials hinges on a phenomenon known as spontaneous symmetry breaking.

According to Wired magazine:
Symmetry breaking happens when a group of particles that once had no preferred alignment or direction suddenly does, creating a collective behavior. 
One of the best-known occurrences of symmetry breaking happens when certain metals ~ such as iron ~ cool down and form a magnet. Each atom in the metal contains an electron that forms a microscopic magnetic field. When the metal is hot, the atoms have their individual magnets pointing willy-nilly in random directions. 
But as they cool down, the atoms start to point their magnets in the same direction as their neighbors. If enough of the atomic magnetic fields align, their collective action will be strong enough to attract and repel other magnetic materials.
 “It is a neat tie-up of things that we know about individually,” said condensed-matter physicist Anthony Leggett of the University of Illinois, who was not involved in the work. “With this theory, it may be possible to predict or classify new materials.”

Click here for the complete article.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Solid or Liquid? New Research

New studies on the flow of granular materials will have benefits in helping better understand why liquids freeze and how avalanches fall, among many other phenomena.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

What Would Finding 'God Particle' Mean?

Here renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku discusses the Higgs-Boson ~ also referred to as the "God particle" ~ and what its discovery would mean for physics.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Earthquake Data Pinpoints Crucifixion Date

"Crucifixion of Christ" by Tintoretto, 1568.

Earthquake data ~ along with New Testament descriptions ~ points to Friday, April 3, in the year 33 AD as the day Jesus of Nazareth was crucified.
The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 27, mentions that an earthquake coincided with the crucifixion:
“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.”
The latest investigation, reported in the journal International Geology Review, focused on earthquake activity at the Dead Sea, located 13 miles from Jerusalem. Geologist Jefferson Williams of Supersonic Geophysical and colleagues Markus Schwab and Achim Brauer of the German Research Center for Geosciences studied three cores from the beach of the Ein Gedi Spa, adjacent to the Dead Sea.
According to Discovery News:
Varves, which are annual layers of deposition in the sediments, reveal that at least two major earthquakes affected the core: a widespread earthquake in 31 B.C. and an early first century seismic event that happened sometime between 26 A.D. and 36 A.D. 
The latter period occurred during “the years when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea and when the earthquake of the Gospel of Matthew is historically constrained,” Williams said. 
"The day and date of the crucifixion (Good Friday) are known with a fair degree of precision," he said. But the year has been in question.
All four gospels and Tacitus in Annals (XV,44) agree that the crucifixion occurred when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea from 26-36 AD. All four gospels agree that the crucifixion occurred on a Friday.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bone Flutes Reveal Earlier Human Music

Recently discovered flute made of bird's bone.

Discovery of bone flutes dating back some 40,000 years is leading researchers to conclude that human creativity evolved earlier than originally thought.
Researchers were studying a modern human settlement called Geißenklösterle in southern Germany when they came across the flutes, one made from ivory of a mammoth, the other from the bones of a bird.
According to
"These results are consistent with a hypothesis we made several years ago that the Danube River was a key corridor for the movement of humans and technological innovations into central Europe between 40,000 and 45,000 years ago," study researcher Nick Conard, of Tübingen University, said in a statement. 
The researchers radiocarbon-dated bones found in the same layer of the archaeological dig as the flutes. This carbon dating uses the level of radioactive carbon, which is naturally occurring in the world and decays predictably into nonradioactive carbon, to estimate the age of organic materials. 
They found the objects were between 42,000 and 43,000 years old, belonging to the Aurignacian culture dating from the upper Paleolithic period. So far, these dates are the earliest for the Aurignacian and predate equivalent sites from Italy, France, England and other regions.
Results indicate that humans entered the Upper Danube region before an extremely cold climatic phase around 39,000 to 40,000 years ago, researchers said.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

New Findings Extend Mayan Calendar

Mayan numbers on the wall stretch 7,000 years into the future.
The recent discovery of an underground Mayan workshop in the dense Guatemalan jungle is important for two reasons: one, the murals and other wall painting are all surprisingly well preserved; and two, calendar fragments show that the Mayan calendar does not end this year.
According to NPR:
Writing in the journal Science, the scientists say the murals confirm what Mayan archaeologists have been saying for years: The Mayan calendar does not predict the end of time in 2012, as some New Age prophets have argued. In fact, the murals register future time stretching far beyond 2012. 
Archaeologist William Saturno from Boston University compares Mayan calendars to a car's odometer. "If we're driving a car," Satruno says, "we don't anticipate that at 100,000 miles the car will vanish from beneath us. We know that it will reset to zero, and the next 10th of a mile we go we'll have another number to look at." 
What these Mayan timekeepers were doing was simply marking the passage of time from past to future, but in discrete intervals.
The buried room apparently was a workshop used by scribes or astronomers working for a Mayan king. The paintings depict the king and members of his court. The numbers mark important periods in the Mayan calendar.