Last month, a piece of geoscience made it (albeit briefly) into the newspapers: namely, the idea that gold forms within earthquakes. This was widely reported, for example ABC Science picked it up and reported it.
A small sample of ancient gold from Western Australia. New research indicates this gold probably formed in an earthquake 2.5 billion years ago.
Although this news seems quirky more than anything, it is of importance for finding more resources. Although gold is commonly associated with jewellery, it has an equally important role in electronics: modern computers, to name one thing, owe their abilities to gold. Mobile phones have about 50c to $1 worth of gold contained inside them, too; and hey, there’s a heap of mobile phones around these days!
The perception that the ‘scientist’ sits in an ivory tower with no ability to communicate, let alone work, with others is one of the stereotypes the OnCirculation folks are trying to dismiss. The questions that earth scientists are trying to answer often need multiple teams from multiple countries, all coordinating and pooling resources to push our understanding further. As an example, did you know that we don’t know much about the topography and sea floor structure beneath the Southern Ocean? A recent press release by the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany (that I discovered through the Earth Science Picture of the Day, see inset) describes how scientists from 30 research institutes across 15 countries collaborated to reduce 4.2 billion individual values into coherent digital maps of the Southern Ocean seafloor, or officially the International Bathymetric Chart of the Southern Ocean (IBCSO). Continue reading
The first thing people think about when hearing the words climate change is global warming and that the Earth’s surface temperature will continue its rapid warming over the next few years, expecting to continuously experience warmer temperatures throughout the year.
But how can we believe that the Earth is warming if we look at the extreme low temperatures in North Europe and North America at the moment? Continue reading
The new Planck space telescope has much better resolution, allowing us to improve our best estimate at the age of the universe.
Two of the most common questions in science have had there answers changed this week as more data has come to light. If you were to ask me last week how the dinosaurs died out: I would have told you it was caused by an asteroid hitting the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico one bad day some 65 million years ago. How old is the universe? I would have had to look this one up, but the answer was 13.72 billion years old.
But wait! These answers are no longer quite right. And in a very good illustration about the gradual step by step process of science, the old answers aren’t wrong, we just know a little more than we did before. Continue reading
Habemus Papam et Deus Particular – We have a Pope and the God particle.
The news bears an eerie likeness to Dan Brown’s plot in Angels and Demons.
Last week two important events took place. In the Vatican, the College of Cardinals were guided by the Holy Spirit (or so the legend goes) to choose Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. As the world learned more about Pope Francis (who as it turns out is a chemistry graduate), not far from Rome, in La Thuile in Italy, physicists upped the ante. Guided by results from the Large Hadron Collider, the physicists announced they were now sure that they had found the God particle
So what? Well, in one meeting men dressed in red gowns chose a new direction for their institution. In the other meeting, men and women, some in suits, others in jeans, proclaimed it was time to move on to the next stage of understanding the universe we live in. As this is a science blog, let’s look at the latter news in more detail. Continue reading
This image from NASA’s Curiosity rover shows the first sample of powdered rock extracted by the rover’s drill. The image was taken after the sample was transferred from the drill to the rover’s scoop. In planned subsequent steps, the sample will be sieved, and portions of it delivered to the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument and the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument.
New analyses carried out by the Curiosity Rover on Mars provides more evidence that conditions on Mars were suitable for life.
The Curiosity Rover has been working in an area known as “Yellow Knife Bay”, which has been identified as an ancient stream bed.
Analyses of the composition of rock powder from the stream bed indicate “the rock is made up of a fine-grained mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals. This ancient wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty.”
The sample contained “sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon — some of the key chemical ingredients for life.” Scientists have concluded that this environment could have supported microbial life. Continue reading
Lake Vostok, located 4km below the Antarctic ice sheet
Russian scientists have claimed to have found a new form of bacterial life in a sub-glacial lake under the Antarctic ice sheet.
Last year, a team of Russian scientists successfully drilled through 4km of ice to collect samples from Lake Vostok, located below the Antarctic ice sheet.
Analysis of these samples has revealed an “unclassified and unidentified life form.” Continue reading
Camels enjoying the high Arctic.
Once upon a time (3.5 million years ago), the barren wasteland of Ellesmere Island in northernmost Canada was covered in vast forests, and animals like beavers, deer and giant camels. The National Post is reporting on a study just published in Nature Communications on the discovery of a mid-Pliocene camel.
Camels are commonly associated with the deserts of Africa (and now Australia), but they actually evolved in North America. They only made it over to Asia and Africa during the ice age, when glaciations caused sea level to drop and a “land bridge” emerged in Beringia, between Alaska and Siberia. The authors suggest that the modern camel evolved from these high Arctic camels, and the hump and wide hooves that are associated with the them were actually well suited for the long, cold winters that they would have experienced on Ellesmere Island. Continue reading
I absolutely love images of erupting volcanoes, especially when they occur in ice covered mountains. Any lucky for me, today’s blog post includes both of these things!
The Plosky Tolbachik volcano in east Russia has been erupting since November last year after being dormant for 35 years.
New images have emerged of lava flows from this volcano, moving through ice covered slopes. The images are quite spectacular and are making news headlines around the world. Continue reading
Private exploration of space is becoming all the rage now a days, after cutbacks to agencies like NASA have stifled government based programs. On Thursday, Dennis Tito (a former astronaut himself when he paid is way to space back in 2001) announced an ambitious plan to send a couple to rocket to Mars and back to Earth during an optimal orbital alignment in 2018. The plan does not include landing on Mars (which I find unfortunate), but it perhaps is the only way to bring the people back with the gravity assist of slingshotting past the planet. Most plans to land people on Mars do not involve a return trip, due to the inability to carry enough fuel to get back. As it stands, Tito’s plan is to send a married couple, with the assumption that they will have a better chance of getting along during the five year trip. For more information, here is a link to the mission’s website.
Tito compared the trip to the Lewis and Clark Expedition (which lasted over two years). I think a more apt comparison might be the Franklin expedition. That mission was truly in an isolated environment through the Canadian Arctic, and was expected to take several years (they had five years worth of food supplies). The last known note from the Franklin Expedition was dated nearly 3 years after it started, after the crew became stranded after their boats became stuck in ice. A slingshot mission to Mars will be a test of the resilience of the human spirit in isolated conditions, with the very real possibility of disaster (over half of the missions to Mars have ended in failure). It would take a very sound mind to tackle this long journey, and I have to say it would be very difficult for just two people to do this. I will be excited to see this happen, though. If successful, I think it will lead to future missions, and possibly a landing on the planet. I think you would need an armada of unmanned ships to build a base with adequate supplies for years if the were to do this.