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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Depressing…

May 24, 2011 Leave a comment

The 7-day forecast for Calgary. Kill me now.

Categories: Me, Nature Tags: , , , , ,

Road Trip!

April 20, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s been awhile since I’ve taken a real vacation. I mean, I love going home for Christmas but those trips always end up being more tiring than work; what with trying to see as many people as you can in the few short days you are home, etc, etc, etc.

But I’m doing something different this time around. Me and the GF are headed on a road trip! From Calgary to Vancouver, with a few stops along they way, checking out the awesome Canadian wilderness.

So if you know of any hotspots to check out in Victoria/Vancouver/Kelowna, let me know!

I’ll also be tweeting the entire time, so be sure to start following me on Twitter to hear how things are going!

Also, my ability to write science-related posts will be quite limited for the next 10-11 days. But fear not!

I’ve prepared a special treat for you all. A pre-written post will go active every day at Noon MDT for the next 10 days.

You guessed it…another Top 10 list! What is the topic this time? You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out.

Happy Trails!

Elephant and Crocodile Photographed in a ‘Tug of War’

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment

In a series of photos, a battle between and elephant and a crocodile showed up on the BBC website today. The photos were taken in Zambia’s Luangwa National Park.

Don’t worry, the story has a happy ending. Both the elephant and the baby were seen near the river later in the day.

Isn’t nature cool?

Best Wildlife Photos of the Year

October 22, 2010 2 comments
The winners of the 46th annual Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010 competition, run by the Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine, were announced a couple of days ago. You should go check out the site for all the photos, but I’ve included the winner (the first photo) and a few of my other favourites here for you.
Enjoy!

A Marvel of Ants

The Hungary ‘Sludge’ Spill From Space

October 12, 2010 Leave a comment

About 8 days ago, a waste-retaining pond at an alumina oxide (aluminium ‘rust’) plant in Hungary broke and released about 700 000 cubic meters of toxic sludge into the nearby towns of Kolontar and Devecser.

On October 9, the Advanced Land Imager on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite captured this natural-color image of the area.

Image Credit: NASA - Click for Full Resolution Image

Pretty remarkable. The sludge itself is obviously visible as the dark brown colour. You can also easily make out the two nearby towns being contaminated.

It must have incredibly terrifying when it happened. This is what a resident of Kolontar said:

The sludge took our car, lifted it up and took it along… We found it the next day about a mile and a half away.

The worst hit areas had a pH of 13.5, roughly the same as bleach. The pH level has fallen to around 8 in the past few days, but the area remains extremely toxic.

Sorry Creationists, Radiometric Dating Still Works

September 21, 2010 2 comments

About a month ago, there was a story about scientists from Purdue University claiming that they have measured changes in decay rates of certain isotopes. The changes, they claimed, corresponded to the orbit of the Earth around the sun, and the rotation of the core of the sun.

They hypothesized that it could be neutrinos emitted from the sun’s core interacting with the radioactive substances, causing a change in their decay rate.

I’ve written a post previously on radiometric dating. The technique is used to estimate the age of archaeological samples and rocks. It is used to determine the age of skeletons, fossils, and rocks. The geologic history of the Earth is based on these techniques, and it is how we know how old the Earth is.

So any inconsistency with the decay rate of an isotope we use for these dating techniques would be interesting indeed. But, perhaps not surprisingly, I am skeptical.

One of the scientists was quoted as saying,

What we’re suggesting is that something that can’t interact with anything is changing something that can’t be changed.

Very aptly put. Neutrinos are particles emitted by the sun and very nearly massless. Billions of them pass through you every second and do not interact with the atoms and molecules in your body.

So the idea that they may, somehow, be able to change the decay rates of radioactive isotopes is quite an extraordinary claim, and it therefore requires extraordinary evidence.

This article states that

The Purdue team has ruled out the possibility of experimental error or an environmental influence on the detection systems.

That claim, any scientist will tell you, is at best bold, and at worst laughable. Being able to conclusively eliminate all environmental factors is very difficult indeed. Particularly in the work of these scientists, who used data and labs in several different locations.

That the orbit of the Earth could have any measurable effect on these isotopes is very unlikely. Consider this. Some have claimed that because the Earth’s orbit is elliptical,  the Earth is sometimes closer to the sun than at another part of the year. This could increase the flux of neutrinos and possibly account for changing decay rates of isotopes.

The Difference in Earth-Sun distance between aphelion and perihelion is about 4 million km (diagram is not to scale). Picture Credit: NASA

This seems unlikely, since the flux of neutrinos changes by only about 5% though the course of the year (I did that math myself, feel free to check it if you wish).

In addition, their study looked at decay rates of several different isotopes, and used data from a variety of labs. This is not a controlled experiment, but we can’t discount the findings simply because of that. However, they also found that the change of decay rate they measured was not the same for all of the isotopes they studied. So this could mean that the neutrinos are interacting differently with each isotope, or it could mean they are simply getting anomalous readings.

Other scientists are starting to respond as well. A study was recently published which measured the decay rate of Gold-198 over several weeks. The researchers set up the experiment so that one sample got many times more neutrinos bombarding it than the control sample. No detectable change in radioactive decay was measured.

So the question is still largely unsettled. Oh but wait. Even though Creationists and Young Earth Theorists love to take studies like this and spin them to say that the Earth may not be as old as we thought, consider this…

The changes the Purdue researchers measured were fractions of a percent. They would not have any significant effect on the dating of any geological or archaeological sample. So even if their numbers are right (which I don’t think they are) they wouldn’t affect our measurement of the age of the Earth.

But this is what science is all about. Making a discovery and then trying to prove it to the rest of the world. Whether the neutrino theory turns out to be true or not, it is a classic example of why science works.

Priorities…

September 17, 2010 Leave a comment

I haven’t laughed out loud at a political cartoon in awhile. But when I saw this one posted on The Intersection, I emitted a kind of laugh mixed with a “GUFFAW!”

Credit: Mike Luckovich (H/T Miles Grant)

Consequently, I had to explain my sudden ejaculation to my co-workers.

e·jac·u·la·tion [ih-jak-yuh-ley-shuhn] – noun

  1. an abrupt, exclamatory utterance.
  2. the act or process of ejaculating, esp. the discharge of semen by the male reproductive organs.