Those Vikings Sure Got Around
¡Viva la Science!
The remains of an 11th-century Norse settlement found at L’Anse aux Meadows (on the northern tip of Newfoundland) are evidence of the first European presence in North America. That’s really cool, but it’s not news—the remains were found over a half century ago.
What’s news is that an American researcher from Brown University may have figured out a way to reconstruct a possible voyage undertaken by some of the people who lived there.
Keep in mind that the outpost at L’Anse aux Meadows, consisting of some timber-framed turf buildings, was only occupied for a maximum of 25 years. (And it might’ve been used for a mere two years—scientists just aren’t sure.) So hard evidence is pretty difficult to come by.
What Kevin Smith (the deputy director and chief curator of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, not the Clerks guy) found was that jasper fire starters found near one of the halls at L’Anse aux Meadows most likely came from Notre Dame Bay, 143 miles south of the settlement.
That suggests that Norse explorers left the outpost, went south, and arrived in an area of Newfoundland that’s known to have been heavily populated by the ancestors of the Beothuk people. If they did undertake such a voyage, it’s extremely likely that contact occurred between the indigenous people and the Vikings.
Of course, with so little evidence to go on, the story is largely speculation. It’s not known whether it happened at all, or, if it did, whether it was the very first contact between Europeans and North Americans, or simply a very early example of it. But it’s a lead that gives researchers another clue into the world as it was a millennium ago.
Ancient Egyptian Space Bead
¡Viva la Science!
Did ancient Egyptians make jewelry out of metal from space? According to a new article in Nature, they did indeed.
Archaeologists believe that iron smelting in ancient Egypt started around the sixth century BCE. But an iron bead found in a cemetery in 1911 at Gerzeh, about 43 miles south of Cairo, dates from approximately 3,300 BCE. Scanning electron microscopy, optical imaging and CT scanning revealed the presence of nickel-rich areas on the tube-shaped bead, indicating celestial provenance. The metal, it seems, came from a meteorite.
According to Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley, who co-authored the study that revealed the bead's true nature, the finding offers a clue about the beginnings of the Egyptian religion. “The sky was very important to the ancient Egyptians,” she points out. “Something that falls from the sky is going to be considered as a gift from the gods.”
¡Viva la Science!
When tiny arms became crooked legs
Big Bird is a terrible example to us all, at least when it comes to bird anatomy. Check out those gams and you’ll see why. Like humans, real birds are bipedal, but their legs aren’t straight up and down. Instead, bird legs zigzag in such a way that birds are essentially in a permanent crouch, using their muscles to resist gravity. We humans don’t have to do that―our weight is borne passively on our straighter frames.
But of course, we can’t fly. The crouching posture peculiar to birds, says a recent study published in Nature, has everything to do with their evolution from dinosaur ancestors into animals capable of flight.
Previously, it was believed that the bird stance came about as a way for bird bodies to balance as massive T-Rex-style tails disappeared. Using 3-D digital reconstruction, however, the authors of the study determined that the key change was actually in the size of those adorable dinosaur arms. According to co-author John R. Hutchinson:
The tail is the most obvious change if you look at dinosaur bodies. But as we analyzed, and reanalyzed, and punishingly scrutinized our data, we gradually realized that everyone had forgotten to check what influence the forelimbs had on balance and posture, and that this influence was greater than that of the tail or other parts of the body.
Read more about the evolutionary adaptation that made bird flight possible here.
Debunking the “culture of arrogance” at Los Alamos National Labs
Or apologizing for it? Read and decide.
Anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, who self-identifies as “the Margaret Mead of the weapons labs” has written a thorough debunking of the myth that the disk-misplacing “cowboys and buttheads” (i.e., scientists) at Los Alamos National Labs live in a rarified “culture of arrogance.” (Either that, or he’s their sock puppet, as some have suggested.) What’s interesting is that he mostly blames the ham-fisted interference of the Bush administration. If you remember the series of embarrassing security-breach headlines that started with Wen Ho Lee and ended with a takeover of the lab’s management by a for-profit consortium, Gusterson’s brief three-act revisionist history is totally worth reading. (A tip of the hat to Slashdot for blogging this story in the first place.)
Very Much Larger Array
No matter what you do or don't know about the Very Large Array, you knows it's large. Very large.
I picture ’70s-era scientists with wire-frame glasses and high-waisted bellbottoms throwing their hands in the air and proclaiming, “Screw it, I can't think of a name either. Let's just call it the Very Large Array.”
Now these scientists have another shot, with inspiration from a public contest. A decade-long restoration of the astronomical radio observatory facility is nearing completion, and it’s decided to throw out the old moniker for a newer, sleeker version worthy of 21st century technology.
Although the VLA will appear the same, the expanded capabilities will allow scientists to observe previously undetectable cosmic objects. A new radio telescope will be more sensitive and increase resolution and imaging abilities, according to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
Scientists and astronomers from around the world use the VLA to peer into the cosmos and see things such as a star exploding. While the expansion wont be completed until 2012, astronomers have already used new equipment to watch a black hole devouring a star last spring. Yes, they used the word “devouring.”
The total cost of the expansion was $97.99 million and came from the U.S., Canadian and Mexican governments as well as the National Science Foundation. Eight radio-telescope dish antennas will join the 27 existing dishes outside of Socorro.
Name suggestions will be accepted until Dec. 1 and winners will be announced on Jan. 10, 2012.
I'm hoping they go with Something Even Bigger.
My geranium either has a fungal infection or it snuck out one night and attended a tacky bachelorette party. These small, yellow mushroom phalluses are another reminder of the universe’s many strange surprises, weird wonders, infinite jokes ... and scary microorganisms lurking everywhere.
Does anyone know what it is? (Um, how do you get rid of it?)
Life as we know it
It’s alive! These famous lines of Dr. Frankenstein remind me of zombie movies and sci-fi horrors. But apparently the idea of creating life from death may be jumping from the pages of sci-fi novels into actual science.
According to the New York Times four years ago at the University of Massachusetts Medical School scientists created a molecule that could replicate and evolve by its self. It was nicknamed “The Immortal Molecule.”
This molecule may be only the beginning. Biologist and chemist in a lab in San Diego are trying to create life. They are attempting to bridge the gap between inanimate and animate using modern genetics. Perhaps Mary Shelly was on the right track, but only about two centuries too early. Read more about this here.
Do you know what cosmology is?
If you're as into pondering the nature of reality and pretending to understand quantum physics as I am, check out scientist Scott M. Tyson's cosmology talk at Page One bookstore on July 20 at 7 p.m.
Cosmology is the study of the universe including its beginning, growth, shape, size and future. It's not for the narrow minded.
Tyson will present a multi-media presentation explaining the mysteries of the universe in terms the rest of us can understand, as well as signing copies of his book The Unobservable Universe.
A former Sandia National Laboratory physicist, Tyson brings three decades of research to the subject of the origin of the universe. His book includes his take on questions concerning the Big Bang, the composition of dark matter and the speed of light.
Also covered are complex scientific principles regarding the inconsistencies and paradoxes of modern science without causing flashbacks to college Physics.
To figure out what this means for you attend the lecture, learn some big words to bring up at cocktail parties and try not to sink into the hole of despair that suggests nothing you believe exists.
Rockets en lieu of fireworks
This 2011 drought-ridden Fourth let's all go with model rockets instead.
Moon related stuff for you to do this weekend.
It’s the Supermoon, so you should try and go either look at the moon or not look at the moon, which will likely amount to the same thing. The moon will be blasting through your eyelids and scouring every square inch of earth with its moonlighty glow. Enjoy the show, sinners.