Posts Tagged ‘Water’

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 and Norway are 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.

Cool Creature

Mekong Giant Catfish

Mekong Giant Catfish

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

Orion Nebula

Orion Nebula

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).


Cosmic Perspective

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 SchmidtCassegrain, 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.

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Science News in Brief

Scientists have photographed “upwards lightning”, a rare meteorological phenomenon where electricity flows from the ground to the the upper atmosphere.  The photograph was taken during Tropical Storm Cristobal.  The “gigantic jets” reached 60 km into the atmosphere and are just as powerful as their opposite-direction travelling cousins. 

Weird Weather: A red rain storm hit England in 1968.  Dust from the Sahara desert travelled with the rain clouds and fell along with the rain, leaving red sand everywhere. 

According to Canadian scientists, if zombies actually existed, an attack would lead to the collapse of civilization unless dealt with quickly and aggressively.  Mathematically, only forceful, frequent uninfected human strikes with great would kill off the zombies.

Huh?!: A zombie attack resembles a lethal, rapidly spreading infection. The researchers say the exercise could help scientists model the spread of unfamiliar diseases through human populations.

A team of Israeli scientists has developed a patch made from heart muscle that can be used to fix scarring after heart attacks. 

Lub Dub: A quick anatomy lesson:

Bloodflow and anatomy of a heart

Blood flow and anatomy of a heart

 Feature Story: Plant Locomotion

While a Venus Flytrap is waiting for an insect, its leaves are curved like an inside-out half of a tennis ball. The swelling of cells with extra water triggers the leaf to flip back to its original curved position, closing the fly trap leaves.

This rapid plant movement is called “snap buckling.”  It gives the Venus flytrap a quick way to close its leaves and trap an insect for nutrients.

Aldrovanda, a smaller carnivorous plant,  is so small that its cells become turgid so quickly that it does not even have to use the snapping movements based on leaf curvature. 

Although viewed as an interesting phenomenon for many years, a serious investigation into the movements of sensitive plants was not started started until the 19thcentury.  Soon after research began, it was discovered that a loss in pressure in specifically located cells cause the leaves of the sensitive plant to fold and droop when touched. 

Scientists still do not know how the specialized cells in the leaves lose their turgor pressure so rapidly. Researchers have found that as the leaves are stimulated to fold together, changes in cellular membrane permeabilityallow for the rapid movement of calcium ions.  This shift in calcium ion concentration causes increased cell wall pliability.  This lack of rigidity and lack of turgor pressure probably causes the plant’s “locomotion.” 

Scientists also do not know how the sensitive plant transmits the signal from one part of the plant to another.  Some scientists believe it is done through changes in electrical potential.  Others believe it is a chemical hormone-like substance. 

We can only guess as to why the sensitive plant evolved to exhibit nyctinastic (in response to light changes) and seismonastic (in response to changes in pressure, touch) movements.  Perhaps the droopy leaves do not appear to be big and succulent and are therefore less delectable to herbivorous animals.   Or the decreased surface area may help conserve water.

The Cosmic Perspective

New things are always being discovered.  Every day it seems that new advances are being made in different scientific fields (I wouldn’t have a blog if they weren’t.  Just this week: a new way to reduce heart damage, upward lightning, and zombie disease models!  Who would have thought (certainly not me).  And, as this research establishes new knowledge, we learn more about the world, and the cosmos, in which we reside.

That being said, there is still much to learn.  As we found out, scientists still do not know much about the mechanisms of sensitive plants: something that almost every middle schooler finds fascinating during their trips to the botanical gardens.

Even if a fact is known to the scientific community, it can still be new and exciting to somebody else.  For example, I learned about Bladderwort, a carnivorous plant we can find in ponds throughout the world, from a blog I follow (http://winterwoman.net/2009/08/21/bladderwort/).  Science is all about making connections between facts and observations.  People can only make those when they understand a wide variety of concepts, like the ones we are learning and exploring on a daily basis.

PS: Sorry about the belated post.  I was moving back into the ol’ university.

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The tripod fish, or Bathypterois grallator, is a bathypelagic (deep sea) fish.   The tripod fish is brownish coloured to help it blend in with the ocean floor.  It can grow up to 30 centimeters long and its famous fins grow ot be about 15 centimeters long.The tripod fish is an almost sedentary fish.  It stands in one place for long periods of time on its three long fins. 
The tripod fish The tripod fish

The fins seem to be very hard, allowing the fish to “stand” in one place for very long durations of time.  However, they are also very flexible, as they still act as fins for swimming if the need for a quick getaway arrives.  To feed, the tripod fish reaches out with their similarly long pectoral fins and wait for small sea creatures like zooplankton to come close enough to be shovelled into its mouth.    

The Cosmic Perspective

More is known about the surface of the moon than the surface of the ocean floor.  Humanity has explored more of a moon 384,403 kilometers away than they have an area on this planet!  This eerie, bathypelagic zone still holds many surprises for all of us.  How many wondrous species of creatures are still kept secret from us by miles and miles of ocean waters?

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Water Mirror

Water Mirror

Swirling eddies in

tumultuous skies above,

reflect the river.

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We move south into Zambia to visit Victoria Falls, another famous feature of Africa that was first discovered (by a European) by David Livingstone.  The famous, 108 meter high waterfall is named Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders) in Swahili.  I personally prefer that name, so much more magnanimous. 

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

We enter Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park.  As we walk in, we witness a small group of sable grazing on the dry grass.  Under a eucalyptus tree, there is a baboon nibbling on something.  This small park is surprisingly bio-diverse and boasts populations of hippos, crocodiles, elephants, antelope, buffalo, zebra, and warthog. 

I lead us through a riverine forest toward the Falls.  The trail is rugged, but not dangerous.  On the way, we see a small warthog, probably a piglet that was separated from his mother.  Hopefully he finds her again.  We reach the river.  Here thousands of cubic meters of water thunder down to the depths below.  An amazing, powerful sight: a nearly 2000 meter long sheet of water.  Mist is thrown hundreds of feet into the air.  A few klipspringers (“rock jumpers” in Afrikaans) hop from rock to rock at water’s edge.  This is a fabulous place to see during the wet season.  During the dry season, the falls nearly dry up, and only a small cascade goes over the edge. 

Those of us who are brave enough (or certifiably insane) take a dip in the Devil Pool: a shallow pool of water right at the edge of the falls from which there is virtually no risk of going over.  Talk about exposure.  (For all of you keeping score at home: this is only available during the dry season.  Nice thing about virtual trips is that you can bend the laws of space and time.)

A slight toll must be paid to enter the Knife-Edge bridge and look directly over the cliffs.  The view is spectacular, and even for those who climbed Kilimanjaro, a bit unnerving: knife edge is right!  We take a footpath toward the Boiling Pot: a point where the strong water carved out a deep pit.   Here, turbulent undercurrents produce a bubbling, boiling like appearance to the water. 

Thoroughly soaked through and after many photographs, we head back up above the gorge for some R and R.

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