Thursday, July 31, 2008

"NASA confirms water on Mars"

It's official.

LOS ANGELES - The Phoenix spacecraft has tasted Martian water for the first time, scientists reported Thursday.

By melting icy soil in one of its lab instruments, the robot confirmed the presence of frozen water lurking below the Martian permafrost. Until now, evidence of ice in Mars' north pole region has been largely circumstantial.

Now, let's get up there!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Finding lakes on Titan

It's not much for water-skiiing, but it's still a lake on another world, and we have pictures of it.

A giant, glassy lake larger than North America's Lake Ontario graces the south pole of Saturn's largest moon Titan, new research confirms.

"This is the first observation that really pins down that Titan has a surface lake filled with liquid," said lead researcher Robert Brown of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson.

Called Ontario Lacus, the lake extends 150 miles (235 kilometers) and covers an area of about 7,800 square miles (20,000 square kilometers). The lake structure is filled mostly with methane and ethane, hydrocarbons that are gases on Earth but liquid on the bone-chilling surface of Titan.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ten random Wikipedia pages

For no particular reason, let's play the randomization game again using Wikipedia's "random article" feature.

1. Xenobatrachus fuscigula
Xenobatrachus fuscigula is a species of frog in the Microhylidae family.

2. Permian Basin Regional Planning Commission
The Permian Basin Regional Planning Commission (PBRPC) is a voluntary association of cities, counties and special districts in the Permian Basin region of West Texas.

3. Keter Betts
Keter Betts (July 25, 1928August 6, 2005) was an American jazz double bassist.

4. Otoya Kawano
Otoya Kawano (かわの をとや Kawano Otoya, born August 18, 1965) is a seiyū who was born in Taketa, Ōita.

5. Canal de Berdún
Canal de Berdún is a municipality located in the province of Huesca, Aragon, Spain.

6. Tinselfish
Grammicolepididae is a small family of deep-sea fishes, called tinselfishes due to their silvery color.

7. Tor-grass
Tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum) is a plant in the grass family, with a widespread distribution in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

8. Marine Wing Communications Squadron 28
Marine Wing Communications Squadron 28 (MWCS-28) is a United States Marine Corps communications squadron.

9. Blepharis mitrata
Blepharis mitrata is a species of plant in the family Acanthaceae.

10. 12310 Londontario
12310 Londontario (1992 DE4) is a Main-belt Asteroid discovered on February 29, 1992 by Spacewatch at Kitt Peak.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Strange headline of the day

"Apparent conjoined barn swallows found in Arkansas"

And in other news, a seemingly twin toolshed has consumed something in Missouri.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Getting a new perspective on our world

An absolutely cool MSNBC video of Earth rotating in space and getting eclipsed by the moon, as seen by Deep Impact.

I never quite realized how big our moon is compared to our planet. I had read that this ratio was unusual when compared with other moons and planets, but this video illustrates the size relationship from a new point of view.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ten random Wikipedia pages

For no particular reason, I logged onto Wikipedia and hit the "Random aritcle" function ten times in a row. Here's what came up, in click order, with the first line of each article reproduced.

1. Carlo Boscarato

Carlo Boscarato (May 9, 1926June 12, 1987) was an Italian cartoonist and comics artist.
2. Friedrich Kuhlau
Friedrich Daniel Rudolf Kuhlau (September 11, 1786March 12, 1832) was a German-Danish composer during the Classical and Romantic periods.

3. Interdepartmental Liaison Group on Risk Assessment

The UK Interdepartmental Liaison Group on Risk Assessment (ILGRA) is "an informal committee of officials responsible for policy development and practical applications of risk assessment in all major Departments."

4. Suomenlinna Church

The Suomenlinna Church was built originally as a Greek Orthodox garrison church for the Russian troops of Suomenlinna sea fortress in 1854 and originally had five onion domes.

5. March 5 (Eastern Orthodox liturgics)
Sunday of Forgiveness (see Paschal cycle)

6. Tank (arcade game)
Tank is a 2 player arcade game by Atari Inc. subsidiary Kee Games, originally released on November 5, 1974 and designed by Steve Bristow and Lyle Rains.

7. Adonibezek
In the Book of Judges (1:4 - 7), Adonibezek, (simply "lord of Bezek"), was a Canaanite king who, having subdued seventy of the chiefs that were around him, was attacked by the armies of Judah and Simeon.

8. Don't Wanna Live Inside Myself
Don't Wanna Live Inside Myself was the Bee Gees second single from their 1971 album Trafalgar.

9. The Keeping Place
The Keeping Place is a science fiction novel by Isobelle Carmody, set in a post apocalyptic world.

10. List of regions in India
This is a list of unofficial, or quasi-official regions of India.

The power of words ...

... as conceded by Utahraptor. To T-Rex's dismay.

the last two lines are BASICALLY why i don't get to write hulk comics

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Belgium government collapses, country next?"

Languages split a nation.

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Belgium's government collapsed Tuesday, unable to resolve an enduring divide over more self-rule for the country's Dutch and French-speakers. The gap was so wide the premier suggested the end of Belgium as a country was looming.

King Albert II immediately began political discussions with lawmakers to try to resolve the situation, talks expected to take several days. He did not formally accept the resignation of government offered by Premier Yves Leterme late Monday, so Leterme's government stays on in a caretaker capacity for now.

In an unusual declaration, the premier said Belgium's constitutional crisis stems from the fact that "consensus politics" across Belgium's widening linguistic divide no longer works.

Language matters. Belgium is home to the executive branch of the European Union, and now it's existence is threatened by differences in tongues. Let's hope other nations don't suffer the same fate.

More ice!

The lander has exposed more ice on the Red Planet.

From Andrea Thompson at

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander used its robotic arm to expose more of the hard icy layer just below the Martian surface so that it can more easily gather a sample of the material for analysis.

The trench, informally called "Snow White," was about 8 by 12 inches (20 by 30 centimeters) after digging by the arm Saturday. Mission controllers sent commands to the spacecraft Monday to further extend the length of the trench by about 6 inches (15 centimeters).

Scientists said tests in a lab on Earth suggested more area must be exposed in order to collect a proper sample.

"Right now, there is not enough real estate of dark icy soil in the trench to do a sample acquisition test and later a full-up acquisition" for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA), said Ray Arvidson, Phoenix's "dig czar," from Washington University in St. Louis. The TEGA instrument bakes samples of the Martian dirt in tiny ovens and analyzes the vapors given off to determine the composition of the regolith.

Keep trenching, Phoenix! You've got a dig czar on your side.

The power of words ...

... does not kick in until they are in writing. At least, as explained by dinosaurs. And God.

more accurately, t-rex would have easily won if he'd made the argument before the invention of written language. but then the punchline doesn't work! you can't just build the hms sinkytowne out of words!!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Taking our words

Race-baiters want to take our usage of certain words, and The Volokh Conspiracy calls it an "unintentioal self-parody". I call it more. I call it intimidation at its most mean-spirited.

The original story is at the Dallas Morning News. Here's the gist:

A special meeting about Dallas County traffic tickets turned tense and bizarre Tuesday afternoon.

County commissioners were discussing problems with the central collections office that is used to process traffic ticket payments and handle other paperwork normally done by the JP Courts.

Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield, who is white, said it seemed that central collections "has become a black hole" because paperwork reportedly has become lost in the office.

Commissioner John Wiley Price, who is black, interrupted him with a loud "Excuse me!" He then corrected his colleague, saying the office has become a "white hole."

That prompted Judge Thomas Jones, who is black, to demand an apology from Mayfield for his racially insensitive analogy.

Mayfield shot back that it was a figure of speech and a science term.

As I assert in the comments section of the Volokh post, people this country seem to want to have a conversation about race. But how can we do that when white people don't know what words they can and can't say? It seems any word can offend (and you won't know it causes offense until it does, and then it's too late to do anything about it), so the white side of the aisle will eventually stop talking altogether and the "conversation" will be one-sided. And how does that help?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Window morning

Nothing but a picture of some windows to add texture to your downtown experience.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Explaining strange asteroid shapes

It may not occur to most people, but asteroids are shaped funny, and they can also change shape. Now astronomers think they know why, as reported by Lee Pullen at

But what changes the asteroids' shape? Gyula [Szabó from the University of Szeged in Hungary] and his team have shown that asteroids change shape from elongated to roughly spherical due to being impacted during their lifetimes. They are like pebbles on the beach that become worn smooth over many years -- only in space, erosion is caused by small impacts as rocks knock into each other and chip pieces off.

Impact specialist Jonti Horner from the UK's Open University agrees with Gyula. "The results make sense," he says. "Catastrophic impacts create a huge slew of fragment shapes, like the shards of a broken bottle. The debris then are weathered over time and smoothed towards sphericality by small impacts."

Space pebbles. Cool stuff.