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Sun, 18 Apr 2021
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Unlikely Twitter war: Steak-umm vs. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson
Neil deGrasse Tyson may be the world's most popular science communicator. But on Twitter, he's the gift that keeps on giving, offering a blend of pedantic and self-important content that comes in for regular trolling. Recently, he encountered resistance from an unlikely quarter: the official Twitter account of Steak-umm, which is "an American brand of thin-sliced frozen steaks."

It all started on April 11 when Tyson tweeted out, "The good thing about Science is that it's true, whether or not you believe in it." A typical Tyson tweet, complete with the capitalization of "Science." But whoever runs Steak-umm's Twitter was unimpressed, re-tweeting with the suggestion "log off bro," then backing up the suggestion with remarkably spot-on follow-up comments. In one follow-up, they point out that Tyson's tweet was ironic, since "by framing science itself as 'true' he's influencing people to be more skeptical of it in a time of unprecedented misinformation," an implied reference to the ongoing chaos of COVID cross-messaging. Then they offer a better definition of science: "an ever refining process to find truth, not a dogma."

Comment: Neil deGrasse Tyson has managed to craft a slightly more credible scientist persona than say, Bill Nye. Yet, look at the use he is making of it: Plus, his faith in "peer review" should have been badly shaken long before now:

Microscope 1

Human cells grown in monkey embryos reignite ethics debate

monkey embryo
© Weizhi Ji/Kunming University of Science and Technology/PA
A photo issued by the Salk Institute shows human cells grown in an early stage monkey embryo.
Monkey embryos containing human cells have been produced in a laboratory, a study has confirmed, spurring fresh debate into the ethics of such experiments.

The embryos are known as chimeras, organisms whose cells come from two or more "individuals", and in this case, different species: a long-tailed macaque and a human.

In recent years researchers have produced pig embryos and sheep embryos that contain human cells - research they say is important as it could one day allow them to grow human organs inside other animals, increasing the number of organs available for transplant.

Now scientists have confirmed they have produced macaque embryos that contain human cells, revealing the cells could survive and even multiply.

In addition, the researchers, led by Prof Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte from the Salk Institute in the US, said the results offer new insight into communications pathways between cells of different species: work that could help them with their efforts to make chimeras with species that are less closely related to our own.

Comment: See also:


Solar cycle 25 arriving ahead of schedule

Above: Observed and predicted sunspot numbers: more

You probably think Solar Cycle 25 is a dud. Think again. Despite long stretches of spotless quiet, the new solar cycle is actually running ahead of schedule. In this plot, the red curve shows NOAA's predicted sunspot counts for Solar Cycle 25; the orange curve shows the new best fit:

"The sun is performing as we expected--maybe even a little better," says Lisa Upton of Space Systems Research Corporation. She's a co-chair of the NOAA/NASA Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel. "In 2019, the panel predicted that Solar Cycle 25 would peak in July 2025 (± 8 months) with a maximum sunspot count of 115 ± 10. The current behavior of the sun is consistent with an early onset near the beginning of our predicted range."

Comment: It would appear that we're entering a period unlike modern science has ever known: Professor Valentina Zharkova: "We entered the 'modern' Grand Solar Minimum on June 8, 2020"

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Blue Planet

Mother Nature's on top of climate change: Polar bears are mating with grizzlies to produce 'Pizzly Bears'

Pizzly Bear polar grizzly
© Arterra/Universal Images Group v
Unlike its arctic relative, the Pizzly Bear is equipped to survive in a wider range of temperatures.
The Prius isn't the only environmentally conscious hybrid out there.

With climate change pushing polar bears toward the brink, nature has devised a new animal to help preserve the species — the Pizzly Bear.

First seen in the wild in 2006, this polar bear-grizzly hybrid "is more resilient to climate change and better suited for warmer temperatures," according to paleontologist Larisa DeSantis of Tennessee's Vanderbilt University. The carnivore tooth expert co-authored a study in how the diet of polar bears differed in a warming world.

Comment: OH, PUL-EEEZE! Can we just put the whole "polar bears on the brink" nonsense to bed?? The WWF has been making bank on that canard for far too long. Whatever is driving the hybridization of the two species, no doubt there's a good reason, if only opportunity. But it is arrogance in the extreme for humans to definitively pronounce on it. Mother Nature does know best.


New Nova in Scorpius

With the recent discovery of Nova Scorpii 2021, three bright stellar explosions are now visible in small telescopes from dusk till dawn.

V1710 Scorpii
© Rob Kaufman
The new bright nova, V1710 Scorpii, glows conspicuously red in this photo taken on April 14, 2021. It's the third nova discovered in recent weeks that has reached 9th magnitude or brighter.
Wait a minute. Am I going to have to set the alarm and get up at 4 a.m.? Absolutely. And I'll do it without complaint. Not only are the recent novae in Cassiopeia and Sagittarius still bright at magnitudes at 8.1 and 9.9, respectively, but a brand new nova in Scorpius has just joined the scene. Add in Comet ATLAS (C/2020 R4), now at magnitude 9.5, and you know in your heart a dawn observing session is in your future.

Amateur astronomer Paul Camilleri of Northern Territory, Australia and the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN) independently discovered the new object early on April 12th at visual magnitude 9.5. Formally named V1710 Scorpii, it brightened quickly to 8.5 before fading slightly, now simmering around 9.5 as of early April 15th. Oscillations like these are common, so the nova might continue to fade or re-brighten just as suddenly.

In an email, Camilleri shared a happy coincidence: "Interestingly, this discovery is my 10th nova, and it was found 30 years to the day of my first discovery in April 1991 and a few days short of my last discovery (April 14, 1993) some 28 years ago."
Nova Scorpii 2021
© Paul Camillari
This is Paul Camilleri's discovery image taken on April 12.7625 UT with a Nikon D3200 DSLR and 85mm f/2 lens. The exposure was five seconds at ISO 6400. Since it was made on a tripod without a tracking mount, the stars are slightly trailed.
He noted that the nova had an orange color on his photos, likely caused by emission from ionized hydrogen in the thin, expanding shell of gases ejected during the explosion. Spectra indicate that the object is a classical nova, meaning this is its first recorded eruption, and it belongs to the Fe II class, where prominent emission lines of ionized iron stand out in its spectrum.


A small asteroid just gave Earth and some satellites a very close pass

A small space rock about the size of a car or truck made a slightly intrusive but not very intimidating flyby on Monday.

Asteroid 2021 GW4 came within 12,324 miles (19,833 kilometers) of the surface of Earth at its closest point of approach Monday morning Pacific time, according to Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell.

That puts the asteroid well inside the ring where many large artificial satellites orbit Earth at an altitude of 22,236 miles (35,786 kilometers).

"Fortunately space is still rather empty at these altitudes," McDowell wrote on Twitter.

He estimated that the nearest functioning satellite to the asteroid's path was a military GPS satellite about 1,243 miles (2,000 kilometers) away.

NASA estimates the asteroid's diameter at between 11 and 25 feet (3.5 and 7.7 meters). That's small enough that the entire thing would likely burn up if it collided with our atmosphere.

Comment: Record number of asteroids observed flying past Earth in 2020 - Despite lockdowns interrupting surveys

Comet 2

Ancient impactor that created the Moon may still be inside Earth

© Jurik Peter/Shutterstock
Researchers are fairly certain that we gained our favorite satellite, the Moon, after a planet, Theia, collided with the proto-Earth 4.5 billion years ago. What's not certain are the details surrounding Theia's fate. Was it a hit-and-run, or did the mantles of the two planets merge?

Qian Yuan, Earth scientist at Arizona State University, and his colleagues recently suggested a new line of evidence to support the latter hypothesis, suggesting that Theia not only merged with Earth, but we might know right where the remnants of its mantle reside in Earth.

Giant impact hypothesis

"Compared to the Moon, there is much less [known] about Theia," says Yuan. "The Moon is there. You have samples. People have been there ... few people care too much about the impactor."

A lot of the work around the giant impact hypothesis involves comparing isotopes found on the Moon with those found on Earth. Their similarities in composition suggest that the Moon is made of a hunk of ancient Earth, meaning something like a giant impact knocked it off our Pale Blue Dot.

Original models estimated that the impactor, Theia, was about the size of Mars (half the size of Earth today). Though, some recent studies suggest it might've been more like four times the size of Mars, or roughly the size of the proto-Earth. Either way, most researchers agree that the core — the densest part — of Theia merged with the core of Earth incredibly quickly after the impact, in a matter of hours.


Researchers want to talk to spiders

Spider Web
© UWE ZUCCHI/DPA/AFP via Getty Images (Getty Images)
Spiders read their environment by sensing vibrations with their hairy legs.
If you think working from home is hard, consider the spider, who lives at work in a house it built. Arachnids use their intricate webs to trap meals, navigating across the structure using the vibrations it senses through the hairs on its legs.

Today, a team of researchers at MIT report that they've translated those vibrations into musical tones. What's more, they raise the prospect of someday communicating with spiders, using their vibrational world as a medium for language.

The team presented their research today during the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society. To figure out the sounds of a spider web, they hosted a spider in their lab and laser-scanned the web it constructed in two-dimensional cross-sections.

"Spiders live in this vibrational universe... they live in this world of vibrations and frequencies, which we can now access," said paper co-author Markus Buehler, a materials scientist at MIT, in a phone call. "One of the things we can do with this instrument with this approach is we can, for the first time, begin to feel a little bit like a spider or experience the world like the spider does."


NASA releases stunningly enhanced image of Mars

Mars surface dunes
© NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU
Image shows Mars' northern polar cap
A sea of dark dunes, sculpted by the wind into long lines, surrounds Mars' northern polar cap and covers an area as big as Texas. In this false-color image, areas with cooler temperatures are recorded in bluer tints, while warmer features are depicted in yellows and oranges. Thus, the dark, sun-warmed dunes glow with a golden color. This image covers an area 19 miles (30 kilometers) wide.

This scene combines images taken during the period from December 2002 to November 2004 by the Thermal Emission Imaging System instrument on the Mars Odyssey orbiter. It is part of a special set of images marking the 20th anniversary of Odyssey, the longest-working Mars spacecraft in history. The pictured location on Mars is 80.3 degrees north latitude, 172.1 degrees east longitude.


Billions of Cicadas to invade District of Columbia after 17 years underground

© STOCK IMAGE/Joseph Squillante/Getty Images
A cicada climbs on a tree trunk in an undated stock image.
Entomologist Eric Day says the insects could create a "substantial noise issue" in some communities.

In April 2004, "Mean Girls" was playing in theaters and "Yeah!" by Usher was topping the Billboard music charts.

At the same time, around the mid-Atlantic region, small holes in the ground were opening up from which billions of bulky, red-eyed, winged insects would emerge, readying for a bacchanal of singing and mating -- and reminding humans of a horror movie.

Comment: See also: