Thirty years ago today, the Voyager 1 spaceprobe had completed its ncounters with the outer planets and was careening out of our solar system. The time came to shut off the probes' cameras to preserve power and memory for the other onboard scientific instruments. But before engineers flipped the switch, one last photo opportunity was not to be missed. From my liner notes to the Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set:
Astronomer and educator Carl Sagan, a member of the Voyager Imaging Team, had persuaded NASA engineers to turn Voyager 1’s cameras back toward the sun and take the first-ever portrait of our solar system from beyond its outer boundary. Sixty frames, taken on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1990, were combined into a single mosaic, known today as the “Solar System Portrait,” albeit with Mars and Mercury lost in the sun’s glare. Centered in a ray of scattered light in the camera’s optics is a tiny speck, just .12 pixels in size: Earth from 6 billion kilometers away—a “pale blue dot,” as Sagan called it. It’s an iconic image that holds the power to shift our perspective in an instant.
“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world,” Sagan wrote in Pale Blue Dot (1994). “To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Please join us in celebrating Carl Sagan's valentine to humanity:
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While scientists have studied Moon rocks for 50 years, researchers have for the first time conducted deep analysis on a single grain of lunar dust, atom by atom. Using a common materials science technique called atom probe tomography that's not widely used by geologists, the Chicago Field Museum's Jennika Greer and colleagues probed the grain of soil -- about the width of a human hair -- and were able to learn about the Moon's surface its elemental composition. From the Field Museum:
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In that tiny grain, she identified products of space weathering, pure iron, water and helium, that formed through the interactions of the lunar soil with the space environment. Extracting these precious resources from lunar soil could help future astronauts sustain their activities on the Moon...
Once the sample was inside the atom probe at Northwestern University, Greer zapped it with a laser to knock atoms off one by one. As the atoms flew off the sample, they struck a detector plate. Heavier elements, like iron, take longer to reach the detector than lighter elements, like hydrogen. By measuring the time between the laser firing and the atom striking the detector, the instrument is able to determine the type of atom at that position and its charge. Finally, Greer reconstructed the data in three dimensions, using a color-coded point for each atom and molecule to make a nanoscale 3D map of the Moon dust...
Studying soil from the moon's surface gives scientists insight into an important force within our Solar System: space weathering.
This is so amazing. Watch what happens when a blacksmithing anvil is lowered into a large vat of pure liquid mercury.
Update: One of our readers posted the link to the original video in the comments. I have replaced the animated GIF. Thanks, Crispy75.
[H/t Alberto Gaitán via Bryce Lynch]
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Would you guess the sound of ricocheting bullets on a Saturday morning cartoon? When isotopic geochemist, John Andrew Higgins, posted this to Twitter, people thought it was fake, a joke. He had to assure them it was not.
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Researchers from Texas A&M say they have found a quick, cheap, and accurate way for law enforcement agents to differentiate pot and hemp – using lasers. Read the rest
A fun video from 2011 Maker Faire. Read the rest
Researchers identified a phytocannabinoid in Cannabis sativa that they say could be 30 times more powerful than THC, at least in their lab results. The scientists from Italy's University of Modena and Reggio Emilia and their colleagues found that in their in vitro tests, tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCP) showed an attraction to the nervous system's cannabinoid (CB1) receptor that's more than thirty times higher than good ol' THC. From CNN:
CBD has mostly been the focus of studies on the health benefits of cannabis, but because THCP appears to show stronger binding abilities and potency, the authors think there is potential for health benefits.
The findings could enable the production of cannabis extracts for targeted physical effects; more testing with the study's methods could further the discovery and identification of new compounds, the authors said.
"There are other minor cannabinoids and traces in the plant that can be hard to study, but by isolation we can continue to assess the effects they might offer," (said Jane Ishmael, associate professor in Oregon State University's College of Pharmacy, who was not involved in the research.
"Historically, many of our medicines have been derived by or inspired by natural products. By having new compounds that bind with very high affinity, that will give scientists a new probe into biological sciences."
Read the scientific paper: "A novel phytocannabinoid isolated from Cannabis sativa L. with an in vivo cannabimimetic activity higher than Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol: Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabiphorol" (Nature Scientific Reports)
image: Thayne Tuason (CC BY-SA 4.0 Read the rest
I am excited for the launch of Season 4 of NASA Explorers, put together by the ISS Research Communications team which includes Boing Boing pal Rachel Barry.
The ISS Research Communications team is proud to announce the premiere of the latest season of the NASA Explorers video series. Season four, called “Microgravity,” will take you behind the scenes with a team of scientists as they prepare their research for launch to the International Space Station, and follows them through the epic journey of conducting science in space.
Rachel (a former editor at Craft: magazine and a Make: contributor) is Science Communication Strategist at ISS Research and is the narrator of Season 4. The episodes last around 5-7 minutes (bite-sized space science for modern attention spans) and will be posted to YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Previous seasons have covered the Cryosphere, Apollo, and Fires.
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For five months, University of Sydney PhD student Alexandra Green spent time in the field, literally, with 18 Holstein-Friesian heifers, recording and studying their sounds. While it's been known that cow moms and calves use unique vocalizations with one another, Green confirmed that cattle "also maintain individual voices in a variety of emotional situations," from chow time to periods when they are isolated from the others in the herd. From the University of Sydney:
Cows ‘talk’ to one another and retain individual identity through their lowing...
The conclusion of the research is that farmers should integrate knowledge of individual cow voices into their daily farming practices.
“We found that cattle vocal individuality is relatively stable across different emotionally loaded farming contexts,” Ms Green said...
“We hope that through gaining knowledge of these vocalisations, farmers will be able to tune into the emotional state of their cattle, improving animal welfare,” Ms Green said.
"Vocal individuality of Holstein-Friesian cattle is maintained across putatively positive and negative farming contexts" (Scientific Reports via Atlas Obscura)
image: Lynne Gardner/University of Sydney
(Thanks to University of Sydney for inspiring the headline!)
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Behold the turbulent seas of our sun, plasma waves rising and falling under the watchful gaze of the Inouye solar telescope in Hawaii. Science News:
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We have now seen the smallest details on the largest object in the solar system,” said Inouye telescope director Thomas Rimmele during a January 24 news teleconference.
Covering an area 36,500 kilometers across — roughly three times the diameter of Earth — the images show familiar bubbles of plasma percolating up from the depths. In the dark lanes between the bubbles, newly resolved clusters of bright points appear at the roots of magnetic fields that stretch out into space.
Darcin is a pheromone found in the urine of male mice. It's used to mark territory and signal mating availability, and was named after the character Mr. Darcy who appears in Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice. In the new issue of Nature, researchers at Columbia University report on how darcin "takes hold in the brains of female mice, giving cells in the brain's emotion center the power to assess the mouse's sexual readiness and help her select a mate."
From the press release:
Pheromones, such as darcin, are processed somewhat differently. They interact with a second, parallel olfactory system, which exists in animals like mice but not in people.
"Unlike people, mice have essentially two functional noses," said Dr. Demir. "The first nose works like ours: processing scents such as the stinky odor particles found in urine. But a second system, called the vomernasal nose, evolved specifically to perceive pheromones like darcin."
For today's study, the research team, which also included Dr. Hurst, Dr. Beynon and co-senior author Adam Kepecs, PhD, of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, first exposed female mice to darcin-scented urine and monitored their behavior. Nearly all of the female mice showed an immediate attraction to darcin. Then, after about 50 minutes, some females began leaving their own urinary scent markings. They also started to sing, at ultrasonic frequencies too high for the human ear to hear. Both of these behaviors are an indicator of increased sexual drive.
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With their massive wingspans and high speed, albatrosses fly across the seas in search of food. That's why marine ornithologist Henri Weimerskirch of the French National Center for Scientific Research calls the birds the “sentinels of the sea" and is using them to survey the ocean for illegal fishing boats. Apparently, the operators of these vessels frequently turn off their automatic identification system (AIS) that broadcasts who they are and their location. From Katherine J. Wu's article in Smithsonian:
(Weimerskirch) and his colleagues have outfitted nearly 200 albatrosses with tiny GPS trackers that detect radar emissions from suspicious ships, allowing the birds to transmit the locations of fishers in the midst of illicit acts...
The range of these signals isn’t big enough to be reliably picked up by stations on shore, keeping the ships’ movements mostly discreet. Radar can be detected within a few miles of the vessel itself, however—as long as something, or someone, can get close enough...
Over the course of six months, the team’s army of albatrosses surveyed over 20 million square miles of sea. Whenever the birds came within three or so miles of a boat, their trackers logged its coordinates, then beamed them via satellite to an online database that officials could access and cross-check with AIS data. Of the 353 fishing vessels detected, a whopping 28 percent had their AIS switched off—a finding that caught Weimerskirch totally off guard.
"Ocean sentinel albatrosses locate illegal vessels and provide the first estimate of the extent of nondeclared fishing" (PNAS)
image: "Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) in flight, East of the Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania, Australia." Read the rest
French physicist Jean-Pierre Luminet hand-plotted this image of a black hole in 1978, said to be the the first based on data rather than artistic speculation.
1979 - He created the first "image" of a black hole with an accretion disk using nothing but an early computer, lots of math and India ink, predicting that it could apply to the supermassive massive black hole in the core of the elliptical galaxy M87. In April 2019 the Event Horizon Telescope Consortium provided a spectacular confirmation of Luminet’s predictions by providing the first telescopic image of the shadow of the M87* black hole and of its accretion disk.
He used punchcards on an IBM 7040 mainframe to plot elements often ignored in other depictions until recently: the slender photon ring, gravitaional light shifting, and lensing effects.
Luminet's own history of black hole visualization is your next stop.
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The final black and white “photographic” image was obtained from these patterns. However, lacking at the time of an appropriate drawing software, I had to create it by hand. Using numerical data from the computer, I drew directly on negative Canson paper with black India ink, placing dots more densely where the simulation showed more light – a rather painstaking process! Next, I took the negative of my negative to get the positive, the black points becoming white and the white background becoming black. The result, The result converged into a pleasantly organic, asymmetrical form, as visually engaging as it was scientifically revealing.
In Switzerland, the state-owned Swissmint says today that a 2.96-millimeter (0.12-inches) gold coin created with Albert Einstein's face on it is the smallest in the world. Read the rest
Researchers in Berlin claim to have succeeded in re-creating the sound of the voice of an Egyptian person who died 3,000 years ago, and was entombed as a mummy. Read the rest
The massive scale and force of the ongoing bushfires in Australia is hard to comprehend. Read the rest
“To the world leaders and those in power, I would like to say that you have not seen anything yet. You have not seen the last of us, we can assure you that. And that is the message that we will bring to the World Economic Forum in Davos next week.”
In the Swiss city of Lausanne on Friday, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and was joined by an estimated 10,000 others for a protest march, before many of them travel to Davos for next week's annual gathering of political and business elites. Their goal: Draw attention to the urgent need for world leaders to fight our worsening climate crisis. Read the rest