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Thu, 22 Apr 2021
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Study says nuclear fallout showing up in U.S. honey decades after bomb tests

Nuclear Fallout in Honey
Flowering plants can transfer radiocesium from soils to honey bees, who can then concentrate the contaminant in honey.

Fallout from nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s and '60s is showing up in U.S. honey, according to a new study. Although the levels of radioactivity aren't dangerous, they may have been much higher in the 1970s and '80s, researchers say.

"It's really quite incredible," says Daniel Richter, a soil scientist at Duke University not involved with the work. The study, he says, shows that the fallout "is still out there and disguising itself as a major nutrient."

In the wake of World War II, the United States, the former Soviet Union, and other countries detonated hundreds of nuclear warheads in aboveground tests. The bombs ejected radiocesium — a radioactive form of the element cesium — into the upper atmosphere, and winds dispersed it around the world before it fell out of the skies in microscopic particles. The spread wasn't uniform, however. For example, far more fallout dusted the U.S. east coast, thanks to regional wind and rainfall patterns.

Radiocesium is soluble in water, and plants can mistake it for potassium, a vital nutrient that shares similar chemical properties. To see whether plants continue to take up this nuclear contaminant, James Kaste, a geologist at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, gave his undergraduate students an assignment: Bring back local foods from their spring break destinations to test for radiocesium.

One student returned with honey from Raleigh, North Carolina. To Kaste's surprise, it contained cesium levels 100 times higher than the rest of the collected foods. He wondered whether eastern U.S. bees gathering nectar from plants and turning it into honey were concentrating radiocesium from the bomb tests.


Mystery solved: Scientists crack 'the Brazil-nut' puzzle, how do the largest nuts rise to the top?

Brazil nuts bowl
© Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain
Scientists have for the first time captured the complex dynamics of particle movement in granular materials, helping to explain why mixed nuts often see the larger Brazil nuts gather at the top. The findings could have vital impact on industries struggling with the phenomenon, such as pharmaceuticals and mining.

Many people will have the experience of dipping their hands into a bag of mixed nuts only to find the Brazil nuts at the top. This effect can also be readily observed with cereal boxes, with the larger items rising to the top. Colloquially, this phenomenon of particles segregating by their size is known as the 'Brazil-nut effect' and also has huge implications for industries where uneven mixing can critically degrade product quality.

Now, for the first time, scientists at The University of Manchester have used time-resolved 3D imaging to show how the Brazil nuts rise upwards through a pile of nuts. The work shows the importance of particle shape in the de-mixing process.


Fearsome tyrannosaurs may have hunted in packs study suggest

TRex Skull
© Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management
"Hollywood" specimen, same species as Teratophoneus, discovered approximately two miles north of the "Rainbows and Unicorns Quarry" on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The fearsome tyrannosaur dinosaurs that ruled the northern hemisphere during the Late Cretaceous period (66-100 million years ago) may not have been solitary predators as popularly envisioned, but social carnivores similar to wolves, according to a new study.

The finding, based on research at a unique fossil bone site inside Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument containing the remains of several dinosaurs of the same species, was made by a team of scientists including Celina Suarez, U of A associate professor of geosciences.

"This supports our hypothesis that these tyrannosaurs died in this site and were all fossilized together; they all died together, and this information is key to our interpretation that the animals were likely gregarious in their behavior," Suarez said.

The research team also included scientists from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Colby College of Maine and James Cook University in Australia. The study examines a unique fossil bone site inside Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument called the "Rainbows and Unicorns Quarry" that they say exceeded the expectations raised even from the site's lofty nickname.

"Localities [like Rainbows and Unicorns Quarry] that produce insights into the possible behavior of extinct animals are especially rare and difficult to interpret," said tyrannosaur expert Philip Currie in a press release from the Bureau of Land Management. "Traditional excavation techniques, supplemented by the analysis of rare earth elements, stable isotopes and charcoal concentrations convincingly show a synchronous death event at the Rainbows site of four or five tyrannosaurids. Undoubtedly, this group died together, which adds to a growing body of evidence that tyrannosaurids were capable of interacting as gregarious packs."

Fireball 5

How to survive a killer asteroid

asteroid image
© Elena Lacey/Wired
The impact that wiped out the dinosaurs would probably have killed you too — unless you were in the exact right place and had made the exact right plans.

LET'S SAY FOR a moment you want to camp alongside the dinosaurs. But not just any dinosaurs. You want to camp alongside the most famous. The most fearsome. So let's say you spin the dials on a time machine to 66.5 million years ago and you travel back to the late Cretaceous period.

There's the tyrannosaurus hunting the triceratops. There's the alamosaurus, one of the largest creatures to ever walk the earth. There's the tank-like ankylosaurus crushing opponents with its wrecking-ball tail. And just as you settle down on one particular evening, there's a brand-new star in the northern hemisphere sky.

The star won't flash, flare up, or blaze across the horizon. It will appear as stationary and as twinkly as all the others. But look again a few hours later and you might think this new star seems a little brighter. Look again the next night and it will be the brightest star in the sky. Then it will outshine the planets. Then the moon. Then the sun. Then it will streak through the atmosphere, strike the earth, and unleash 100 million times more energy than the largest thermonuclear device ever detonated. You'll want to pack up your tent before then. And maybe move to the other side of the planet.


Laser to zap space debris, funding for SKA observatory in Australia

Space Junk
© NASA illustration, courtesy Orbital Debris Program Office.
This graphic of orbital debris, or “space junk" (any human-made object in orbit around the Earth that no longer serves a useful purpose) comes from 2009. The same year, a US communications satellite owned by a private company, Iridium, collided with a non-functioning Russian satellite. The collision destroyed both satellites and created a field of debris that endangered other orbiting satellites.
Australian National University researchers working with defence technology company EOS have developed lasers to blast space debris out of orbit.

Space debris (or "junk") is becoming a serious problem as orbits get more congested with decommissioned space craft and other objects, and new satellites. Debris can smash into assets such as the International Space Station, and even a small object can cause great damage in space.

The ANU's "guide star laser" will use adaptive optics to better spot, track, and move space debris.

Adaptive optics correct for haziness caused by atmospheric turbulence - the effect that makes stars twinkle. It "untwinkles" them.

Lead researcher, ANU professor Celine D'Orgeville, said "removing the twinkle from the stars" cuts through the atmospheric distortion so objects can be seen more clearly.

"This includes small, human-made objects - like weather and communications satellites, or space junk," she said.

EOS group chief executive officer Ben Greene said EOS maintains a database of space objects and will now be able to actively manipulate them.

"Space debris is a major society threat, globally but especially in Australia due to our heavy economic dependence on space assets," he said.


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"

See also: And check out SOTT radio's:

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.