Archive for October, 2010

Birds Are Shrinking

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Photo via flickr by Phonton

Birds are getting smaller as a result of global warming, says Ary Hoffman, Faculty Member and evolutionary biologist at the University of Melbourne.

Global temperatures have risen an average of 0.6 degrees Celsius in the last century. What effect that may have on the planet’s species is hard to predict, but a recent paper by Hoffman evaluating data from more than 100 different bird species over the past 5 decades found that many of them have shrunk in size.

“The surprise is that you’re seeing these consistent patterns across a large number of species,” explains Hoffman. “Organisms are getting smaller. So it does look like there are these general patterns in size that seem to be related to conditions getting warmer in particular. I think what’s really nice about this study is the number of species that were actually showing the same patterns. Previously people had taken one or two species and shown these kinds of patterns. If you’re trying to establish patterns related to climate change, I think this study does emphasize the fact that you need to look at a large number of species.”

Read more: Shrinking Birds at The Scientist Magazine of Life Sciences.

Understanding Consciousness

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

What is the nature of our subjectivity?  Marilyn Schlitz, president and CEO for the Institute of Noetic Sciences explains to SPTNK how the ‘I’ is a part of ‘We’.

Listen here: Understanding Consciousness

Two Scientists Win Nobel Prize in Physics for Ultra-Thin Material

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Andre K. Geim and Konstantin S. Novoselov, winners of Nobel Prize in Physics. Photos by University of Manchester, via Associated Press

The 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics was won by two scientists for their work on a revolutionary ultra-thin material called graphene, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced.

The breakthrough has implications for areas from quantum physics to consumer electronics.

Andre K. Geim and Konstantin S. Novoselov, both scientists at the University of Manchester in England, shared the award for their development of a form of carbon that is only one atom thick.

In their announcement of the prize, the Academy said that “carbon in such a flat form has exceptional properties that originate from the remarkable world of quantum physics.”

Read more at Nobelprize.org and New York Times.

Goldilocks Planet Gliese 581g May Be The New Earth

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Impression of Gliese 581g and its parent star by Lynette Cook via UCSC

A team of astronomers from the University of California and the Carnegie Institute of Washington have found a planet they say could support life.

Called Gliese 581g, it is three times the size of Earth, has similar gravity, and could have liquid water on the surface.

According to Steven Vogt, a UC professor of astronomy and astrophysics, “The chances for life on this planet are 100 percent, I have almost no doubt about it.”

However, earthlings won’t be traveling to Gliese 581g any time soon. Scientists say a spaceship traveling close to the speed of light would take 20 years to make this journey.

But if we did, we’d find some other things familiar. The atmosphere and gravity are similar to Earth, and if you’re from the polar regions, you’d definitely feel right at home. Scientists say the highest average temperature is about -12 degrees Celcius (10 Fahrenheit), but they point out that the planet doesn’t have a night and day—one side continually faces the star and the other side faces the darkness of space. This means one side is blazing hot and the other freezing cold.

Gliese orbits a red dwarf star called Gliese 581. Dr. Elizabeth Cunningham, planetarium astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, UK says “it’s a Goldilocks planet. It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold, it’s just right” for water to form.

Now, astronomers are hoping to spot more exoplanets where life could be possible.

“We’re at exactly that threshold now with finding habitable planets,” said Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution, a co-author of the study that was funded by National Science Foundation and NASA.

Dr Vogt agreed: “The number of systems with potentially habitable planets is probably on the order of 10 or 20%, and when you multiply that by the hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way, that’s a large number,” he said.

“There could be tens of billions of these systems in our galaxy.”

Gliese 581g is in the constellation of Libra. While Earth takes 365 days to orbit our star, the sun, Gliese 581g orbits its star in 37 days.

via BBC