I decided to wait until now to get back in the swing of things for the blog. I will try to keep it on a schedule from now on.
Science News in Brief
Scientists have found 100 new plants, 28 new fish, 18 new reptiles, 14 new amphibians, 2 new mammals and 1 new bird species in the Mekong River region of Southeast Asia. In this potpourri of newly discovered species is a fanged frog that eats birds. This region has produced 1000 new species since 1997.
Still Exploring: This discovery is not to be confused with the giant rats, bats, and fanged frogs discovered in a volcanic crater of Papua New Guinea.
The main company in Iceland’s fin whaling industry will export a purported 1,500 tonnes of whalemeat to Japan.
Legal Mumbo Jumbo: Iceland andare the only two countries in the world that now authorise commercial whaling. Japan officially allows whaling for scientific purposes, but the meat is then sold to restaurants and supermarkets.
Photic sneeze reflex is a genetic autosomal dominant trait, which causes sneezing when exposed suddenly to bright light, like the sun. The condition affects 18-35% of the human population.
Simple Statistics: Okay, this may not be a news story, but I have the this trait, so I figured it would be cool to post about it. Just as a little experiment, when you comment, write if you think that you have this trait. We will then see if this percentage is correct…or maybe I’m just a mutant.
The Mekong giant catfish, or Pangasianodon gigas, is a species native to the Mekong basin in Southeast Asia. Endemic to the lower half of the Mekong river, this catfish is in danger of extinction due to overfishing, river damming, and water pollution. The fish is the largest freshwater fish in the world, reaching 3 meters in length and 200 kilos!
Feature Story: Messier Objects
The Messier objects are a set of astronomical objects first listed by French astronomer Charles Messier in 1771). In the mid-1700’s discovering comets was the only way one could make it big as an astronomer. Messier was a comet hunter frustrated by objects which resembled comets in the telescope, but were not, in fact, comets. He compiled his list for these “annoying” objects. The first edition covered the first 45 objects (abbreviated M1 to M45). It has now climbed to 110 objects, 103 of which were discovered by Messier.
What makes the Messier Objects such a famous list is that they are all visible with binoculars or small telescopes on dark, clear nights. This makes them popular viewing objects for amateur astronomers. The study of these objects by astronomers has led, and continues to lead, to important, incredible discoveries such as the life cycles of stars, the reality of galaxies as separate ‘island universes,’ and the possible age of the universe. Some of the more famous objects are the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), Orion Nebula (M42), Crab Nebula (M1), and Pleiades (M45).
Humans have always looked toward the heavens, towards the stars. Why do we crane our necks to view the ephemeral twinkling of the billions upon billions of balls of gas floating on the froth of the cosmic sea? What draws us to them?
A few days ago, I had the pleasure of viewing many of the above objects at the Kopernik Center. The observatory boasts three telescopes, a 6″ Astrophysics Refractor, 14″ Celestron Schmidt–Cassegrain, and a 20″ Ritchey-Chretientelescope. The 20″ is the largest public telescope in the Northeast. I saw the cloudy Dumbell Nebula, the swirling of the Andromeda Galaxy, the dull band of the Milky Way, the shadow of Io as it revolved around banded planet of Jupiter, the brilliantly coloured Pleiades stars, the M2 globular cluster, and the amazing Orion Nebula (not to mention the International Space Station). I was amazed at the amount of objects one could see.
It was always human nature to look up toward the heights we may some day reach. But as of late, we have been repressed into looking down at our feet. We never see lights beyond street lights, which hide the cosmos. Perhaps we are hiding from the truth that we are rather insignificant. If I may be so bold, I strongly urge everyone to go outside on a clear night and look up. Your ego may be hurt, but your mind and soul will rejoice.