Saturday, 2 June 2012

10 stories or links that I found educative, interesting, or just plain weird

Tanks, WWI via Retronaut by Chris

See the rest of the pictures here.
Source: Drake Goodman

Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
Want to understand women better? Simone de Beauvoir is of no help at all. Instead, pick up a real feminist document: a romance novel... more

What’s inside an elephant? via Boing Boing by Maggie Koerth-Baker
Sometimes, I get so jealous of British television. Apparently, there’s a whole series over there called Inside Nature’s Giants. It’s basically a zoology dissection show, where scientists break down large, exotic animals in ways that help teach viewers about evolution, biology, and the science of animal locomotion.
John Hutchinson is an American zoologist who works as a professor of evolutionary biomechanics in the UK. He's one of the scientists who works behind the scenes on Inside Nature’s Giants. He also blogs at What's in John’s Freezer?. Its a great title and it gets right to the point: Hutchinson has a job that is centered around the frozen carcasses of all manner of strange (and usually rather large) creatures.
There’s more, lots more, in the original blog post.
NB: Those of a squeamish nature may not want to look at some of the pictures – and certainly not immediately after lunch.
Via Brian Switek

Brigitte Bardot Visits Picasso, 1956 via Retronaut by Chris

Brigitte Bardot visits Picasso at his studio at Vallauris, near Cannes, during the film festival in 1956.
Source: LIFE Archive
You can see the rest of the pictures here.

Philip K. Dick on Blade Runner via Boing Boing by Rob Beschizza
“I came to the conclusion that this is not science fiction; this is not fantasy, it is exactly what Harrison said: futurism” [ via Frankie Boyle]

Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
Cardinal Richelie’s mastery of 17th-century court politics is by no means archaic. He knew something about divided, indebted superpowers... more

Why we still don't totally understand how diseases spread via Boing Boing by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Image: Thomas Bartholini's illustration of beak doctor from 1661. Via Wikipedia.
When I was little, I read a Reader’s Digest book of great disasters, which included a segment on the Black Death. One of the things the book tried to do was explain, on a child’s level, why it wasn’t easy to figure out that rats and fleas were the source of the plague. You couldn’t just look for patterns, because there seemed to be no pattern. Half a household might drop dead while the other half only got a little sick, or remained entirely healthy.
Maggie goes on to talk about “super spreaders” – people who are, apparently, able to spread a wide variety of diseases very effectively. Read it here.
She also links you to a blog which posts on contagious disease.

A.L.F.A. 40/60 HP, 1914 via Retronaut by Chris

The A.L.F.A 40/60 HP was a race and road car made by A.L.F.A (later called Alfa Romeo). Its top speed was 125 km/h (78 mph). 40/60 HP production and development was interrupted by the First World War, but resumed briefly afterwards. Giuseppe Campari won the 1920 and 1921 races at Mugello with this car.
Source: Car Styling
More pictures here

Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
In our immediate-gratification culture, which confuses information with knowledge, fiction has a receding claim on our attention. Is the novel’s heyday past?... more

Active Moons in Outer Space via Britannica Blog by Bonnie Buratti
There are over 60 moons orbiting the planets of the solar system. Before scientists sent spacecraft to explore these unique worlds, they were expected to be very boring objects. Our own Moon has craters, valleys, and landslides, but the moons of the outer giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) were expected to be bland and very smooth. Why? Because they are made primarily of ice, and scientists thought that any surface features would just “slump” away.
Ganymede, which orbits Jupiter and is the largest moon in the solar system, was discovered by Galileo in 1610. Imagine scientists' surprise in 1973 when the Pioneer 10 spacecraft sent back images of Ganymede that showed bright features and possible craters. In 1977 the two Voyager spacecraft showed that Ganymede and Callisto, another moon of Jupiter, were covered with craters. But even more spectacularly, a third moon discovered by Galileo, Io, was spouting sulfur from volcanoes out into space. Moons weren't boring worlds at all!
I was always intrigued by Enceladus, one of the moons of beautiful, ringed Saturn. It is small, less than a third the width of our own Moon, but it is as white as freshly fallen snow. It also appears to be the source of the broad, tenuous E-ring of Saturn. When the Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004 for an in-depth study, it picked up data that showed Enceladus was pushing and “draping” Saturn’s magnetic field around itself. Scientists got permission from the project manager to swoop down very low to Enceladus in July 2005. During this encounter, the infrared instrument saw a massive hot spot at the south pole of Enceladus, and other instruments detected water vapor. Later images from the Cassini camera showed huge jets of water ice being ejected from giant faults – nicknamed “tiger stripes” – at the south pole. The instrument I was working with, the Visual Infrared Mapping Spectrometer, detected light organic molecules on the surface of Enceladus.

Individual jets are visible in the giant plume of Enceladus. Photo courtest of NASA/JPL
Scientists believe tidal forces provide the heat to melt a subsurface water ocean on Enceladus and propel the jets. There is enough energy from this heat to power a large city on Earth. Heat, organic molecules, and water provide a possible environment for primitive bacterial life (although we haven't found any yet!)
Cassini will continue to orbit Saturn for several more years, so we will have the chance to explore further this wondrous ice world.
Further Reading
To learn more about the natural satellites that orbit planets in our solar system, see the Britannica entry on moons. Learn about Saturn's moons specifically in Buratti’s Britannica articles on TethysTitanDioneMimas, Enceladus, and Iapetus.
About From the Field
A Britannica Blog series, From the Field features posts written by Britannica science contributors about their research, about various aspects of science that they find particularly fascinating, and even about why they chose their respective fields. Contributors in the series will return regularly with updates on their work, with new discussions about science, and with exciting photos and stories about their experiences in the field.

Comets Brought Life to Earth, Says New Evidence via Big Think by Orion Jones
Scientists have long known that certain amino acids which traverse the cosmos inside of comets are the building blocks for life. Now they believe those amino acids are capable of surviving a fiery planetary impact.
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