The Life's Little Mysteries blog is in the midst of a string of posts that are, basically, like Marvel Comics "What If?" series as applied to the scientific history of Earth.
For example: What if humans had evolved to include more than two sexes, or to need three or more sex cells in order to procreate? What if Pangea (everybody's favorite supercontinent) had never split into chunks? What if Earth had never been in a massive collision with another, huge space object—meaning, what if the Moon didn't exist?
Now, if you've read very many of the comics you know that the answer to "What If?" is almost always "everybody dies". This series of posts is a bit less fatalistic. But, still, the point is made—these changes would radically alter life as we know it, and not necessarily in ways that sound like a lot of fun.
Take that question about the Moon. The implications of a Moon-less Earth are farther-reaching than you might guess:
Huge tides generated by the moon – which orbited much closer to Earth when it formed – washed the chemical building blocks for life from land into the oceans and helped "stir up the primordial soup," said Neil Comins, a professor of physics at the University of Maine.
The moon's gravity has helped slow Earth's rotation from an initial six-hour day to our current 24-hour day, while also stabilizing the tilt of our planet's axis, and thereby moderating the seasons. Life forms on a moonless Earth would therefore have different patterns of activity per the short days and nights, Comins told Life's Little Mysteries. These creatures might need to migrate more frequently to cope with extreme climate swings as well.
I'm currently attending the Marine Biological Laboratory's 10-day science journalism fellowship. As part of that, I get to do some hands-on science experiments and get a better perspective on how the work of science is done and how data is collected. Along with five other fellows, I spent last weekend collecting A LOT of data in Massachusetts' Harvard Forest—3,500 acres of extremely well-documented wilderness.
All this week, I'll be posting some of the highlights from my trip—videos and photos that will introduce you to the Harvard Forest, how science is done in the field, and to some of the key ideas that I'm learning during my time here.
This will be the central access point for all those posts. Check back every day to see what's new.
Full list of posts updated Monday, February 6. This is the final update.
Last week, I asked BoingBoing readers to send me images and stories about your favorite museum exhibits—beloved displays and collections squirreled away in museums that might not have a big profile outside your state or region. The challenge was triggered by an awesome photo of a mummified Ice Age bison on display in Fairbanks, Alaska.
But this series also has roots in my own love of the museum exhibits that defined my childhood. Over the coming week, I'll be posting more "My Favorite Museum Exhibit" entries. I'll update the list here, and this post will be the one-stop place to check if you want to read them all. But I also wanted to use this space to share one of my favorite museum exhibits—the Panorama of North American Plants and Animals at the University of Kansas' Dyche Museum of Natural History.
Taxidermy is not normally my thing. I love dinosaur bones, but dioramas always make me feel like I'd rather just be at a zoo, or watching a nature special on TV. This is especially true of the "local flora and fauna" sort of museum dioramas. I have seen squirrels, thanks. But the Panorama is something else, a work that transcends its genre to become true art and a temple to Maker creativity.