NASA Hunts For New Asteroids

NASA said on Thursday it identified upwards of 90 percent of giant near-Earth asteroids, including ones that are as big as the one which was said to have killed the last generation of dinosaurs eons ago. Amy Mainzer of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said:

“We know now where most of them are and where most of them are going. That really has reduced our risk…Fewer does not mean none…There are still tens of thousands out there that are left to find.”

The fresh census comes from data from NASA’s sky-mapping spacecraft called Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, that launched in 2009 to seek out near-Earth objects, stars, galaxies and other cosmic targets.

Unlike sky surveys that have come before, WISE has extremely sensitive instruments which can pick out both light and dark objects, allowing it to receive the most accurate count yet of near-Earth asteroids. The spacecraft only takes a small sample of asteroids of different sizes before estimating how great the population would end up being.

For the very largest asteroids – greater than 3,300 feet across – NASA says 911 of the 981 that are said to exist have been found.

Former estimates put the number of medium-sized asteroids at 35,000, however WISE data indicate there are some 19,500 between 330 and 3,300 feet wide. Only about 5,200 were found and scientists said that there still is tons of work left to identify the potentially hazardous ones.

Alas, WISE isn’t yet totally equipped to detect the more than a million smallest asteroids which could cause damage should they impact planet Earth.

By locating the majority of the giant asteroids, NASA has gone ahead and fulfilled a goal that was set by Congress in 1998. More recently however, the space agency was asked to find 90 percent of asteroids which are at least 460 feet in diameter – just a little smaller than the Superdome in New Orleans – come the year 2020.

Happy Fall Equinox

Summer is on its way out and the Autumn equinox will fall upon us soon.
Jot this down: the seasonal change will likely occur at 5:04am EDT on Friday, September 23, according to the NBC-2 weather blog.

When the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar established his calendar in 45 BC, he placed the Spring equinox on March 25. The reasons for the shift to March 21 are linked to the tradition followed by Pope Gregory XIII to found his modern Gregorian calendar. Actually, the Pope was not inspired by the desire to honor the Roman dictator, however to restore the edicts about the date of Easter of the Council of Nicaea of AD 325. Consequently, the date of Easter is fixed by an approximation of lunar cycles used for the Hebraic calendar, however, according to the historian Bede who actually wrote Beowulf, the name comes from a pagan celebration of the Germanic tribes of the vernal (spring) equinox..
While the equinox is widely held to signify when the Northern Hemisphere constitutes the equal parts of day and night, explains that actually it is not quite equal:

“This is because the day is slightly longer in places that are further away from the equator, and because the sun takes longer to rise and set in these locations. Furthermore, the sun takes longer to rise and set farther from the equator because it does not set straight down – it moves in a horizontal direction.”

The equinox happens twice a year. Both in the seasons of fall and spring, and it is known as the “vernal equinox” in March.

An article in The Washington Post explains that the practice of adopting the autumnal equinox to constitute the first day of fall may be traced back to the first days of the French Revolution. The Gregorian Calendar (which we still use in most of the world) was jettisoned in favor of the French Republican Calendar that was instituted on the date, September 22, 1792, on.

So, take your sweaters out of the closet. Longer nights, shorter days and chillier temperatures are on their way along with numerous Pagan celebrations marking Mabon, the Wiccan Sabbat, that honors the second harvest and the beginning of winter preparations. And… of course… Halloween!

Deadly Diseases go to Hollywood

An article in the LA Times indicates that microscopic viruses are the biggest bad guys in Hollywood, multiplying with abandon in films such as “Contagion” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes“, as well as factoring in AMC’s zombie-centric TV show “The Walking Dead“. These infectious agents are an excellent cinematic expression of evil — invisible to the naked eye, they spread with abandon and kill scores with no remorse.

Rick Jewell, a professor of film history at the USC School of Cinematic Arts told LA Times Reporters that:

“When people are really fearful about the future, these kinds of films tend to come to the fore… Whether they’re necessarily worried about germs and things like that is beside the point. What they’re more worried about is, ‘What does the future look like?’ And right now there’s good reason to be concerned about the future.”

Therefore we are embracing killer virus movies in order or as a means to “channel our worries about unemployment, upside-down mortgages, global warming and the war in Afghanistan.”
Jewell told the LA Times:

“There have been some viruses and other health situations that have been pretty scary, and that factors right into the fears we have about terrorism, the economy getting worse and more people losing their jobs…I see these films as apocalyptic visions of the future.”

Joe Pichirallo, chairman of the undergraduate film and television program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts told the newspaper:

“We have never felt quite as safe as we did before that event… and stories that play off seemingly normal things that could end up being monsters tend to fit in with the zeitgeist…What is going to scare people and feel fresh and new…I would imagine one reason viruses and zombies are coming back is because they haven’t been exhausted.”

Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture studies at Syracuse University in New York told the newspaper that:

“Everyone was vulnerable to [AIDS], and this bred a generation of people who realized something like that could happen…The creative community was decimated by it…Back in World War II, you knew who you were attacking, and someone was going to win or lose…People go to the movies to be entertained…They don’t go with the hope that they’re going to feel worse than they did when they walked into the theater. That’s not something people want to pay for.”

Jeannine Stein concluded in her LA Times article:

“Happy endings aren’t guaranteed in real life, though, and it’s always possible that another virus like the 1918 Spanish flu — which is believed to have killed at least 50 million people worldwide — could come along. If it does, movies about killer viruses may be the last thing we’d want to see.”

Meteor Shower Packed Earth With Gold

According to a new study published in the Nature Journal by researchers at the University of Bristol, roughly 3.9 billion years ago a gigantic meteor shower of glittering gold and platinum fell on earth. The ancient meteor shower serves as an explanation for why tens of thousands of times more gold exists today on earth’s crust and mantle than was initially thought to have existed.

Prior to this study, however, so many scientists pointed to the meteorite theory, however no substantial evidence was actually there to support the theory; that is, until now.

According to The National Geographic, contemporary scientists have put this hypothesis to the test by analyzing the oldest rocks in the world; those discovered in Greenland in 2008, and afterward comparing them to the makeup of other rocks found elsewhere around the globe.

Matthias Willbold of the University of Bristol study said:

“We hoped that by analyzing these rocks we could get an idea of how the Earth looked before that meteoritic bombardment, so we can estimate how much meteoritic material was added to the Earth…Our work shows that most of the precious metals on which our economies and many key industrial processes are based have been added to our planet by lucky coincidence when the Earth was hit by about 20 billion billion tonnes of asteroidal material…”

So the next time that you put on that charming gold piece of jewelry, just remember to thank your lucky stars. Based on the differing isotopes that were found from those two samples of rocks, researchers finally concluded that an ancient meteor shower had to have occurred.

The study in the journal, Nature:

Many precious, ‘iron-loving’ metals, such as gold, are surprisingly abundant in the accessible parts of the Earth, given the efficiency with which core formation should have removed them to the planet’s deep interior. One explanation of their over-abundance is a ‘late veneer’—a flux of meteorites added to the Earth after core formation as a ‘terminal’ bombardment that culminated in the cratering of the Moon. Some 3.8 billion-year-old rocks from Isua, Greenland, are derived from sources that retain an isotopic memory of events pre-dating this cataclysmic meteorite shower. These Isua samples thus provide a window on the composition of the Earth before such a late veneer and allow a direct test of its importance in modifying the composition of the planet. Using high-precision (less than 6 parts per million, 2 standard deviations) tungsten isotope analyses of these rocks, here we show that they have a isotopic tungsten ratio 182W/184W that is significantly higher (about 13 parts per million) than modern terrestrial samples. This finding is in good agreement with the expected influence of a late veneer. We also show that alternative interpretations, such as partial remixing of a deep-mantle reservoir formed in the Hadean eon (more than four billion years ago) or core–mantle interaction, do not explain the W isotope data well. The decrease in mantle 182W/184W occurs during the Archean eon (about four to three billion years ago), potentially on the same timescale as a notable decrease in 142Nd/144Nd (refs 3 and 6). We speculate that both observations can be explained if late meteorite bombardment triggered the onset of the current style of mantle convection.

Snake is Bite Victim in California Attack

A snake bite victim in a north Sacramento, California neighborhood left the victim in serious condition, however, the injured party might not be who you think it is. Police say that the python underwent emergency surgery after a man allegedly bit the creature twice.

Officers were called to the scene which happened at Del Paso Heights at sometime around 6:30 p.m. Thursday after a passer-by witnessed a man lying on the ground as if he were assaulted and reported it to the police. According to Sgt. Andrew Pettit, when police arrived, they found that 54-year-old David Senkstill was lying there by the snake, however, police say he was not the one who was attacked. Another man approached the police officers and accused Senk of taking two bites out of his 3-foot pet python. The alleged snake-biter was arrested on suspicion of unlawfully maiming or mutilating a reptile and booked on $10,000 bail.

In an interview from jail with KXTL-TV on Friday, Senk says he has no memory of the incident and is an alcoholic.

“I did what?” He said. “If you find the owner, tell him I’m real sorry. … I’m willing to help pay for medical expenses.”

The snake was turned over to San Diego’s Animal Care Services, where it was recovering on Friday after the loss of several ribs. The female python, which is about a couple years old, suffered extensive bite injuries, said the local acting animal care services manager.

“You could see the poor snake’s liver, all the way down the side…”

The owner of the snake has not yet come forward to claim the pet or file a report with animal care officials. The name of the snake remains unknown at this time.


The center of Tropical Storm Lee touched down on Sunday on the coast of Louisiana bringing with it up to a foot of rain, spinoff tornadoes and fears of inland flash flooding to the Deep South and far beyond it. The sopping soggy storm system spent hours this week floating in the northernmost Gulf of Mexico. Its slow crawl to the north gave it increasing time to pelt the coastline. At least 6 to 10 inches of rain had fallen by Sunday.

The rain was expected to head northward into the Tennessee Valley later in the week as forecasters warned that 10 to 15 inches of rain could fall along the central Gulf Coast.

The great New England state of Vermont is still cleaning up and digging out dozens of their communities damaged by heavy monsoons from last week’s anticlimactic Hurricane Irene, last week, which quickly filled up all of the mountain rivers.

At midday on Sunday, there were scattered tornado warnings of spinoff twisters from Lee.

Lynn Burse is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson, and he says that the chance twister hit Lamar County, Mississippi, on Sunday morning. No injuries or major damage was ever actually reported – good thing too. Burse said that drier air pivoting behind the system could possibly increase the risk for tornados.

Then, one possible tornado hit southern Mobile County in Alabama, snapping oak limbs, knocking out power and damaging at least one home. Thank the Heavens there were no injuries however, the blast awoke Frank Ledbetter and tore up the sign to his art gallery. He said:

“It just got louder and louder and louder. I woke my wife up and said, `It’s a tornado.’ We just dove into the closet in the bedroom…It was crazy.”

Joe Zirlott was working the overnight shift at a Citgo Speedy Mart in the Bayley’s Corner community when trash cans began to fly, a sign blew away, the front door popped open and then the lights went out. He said, “Everything got real hairy for about 10 minutes, then it eased up a little…”

Even before Lee hit the area there were scattered instances of water entering low-lying businesses and homes in Louisiana’s bayou country which is a region of eroding marshes long vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes. Areas were evacuated because of the storm in bayou towns like Jean Lafitte. Hundreds were left with no power. Then, on Saturday, lifelong Jean

Lafitte resident Brad Zinet was waiting out the storm in his mobile home now mounted on pilings. He said,”We got nowhere to go. We’re just getting everything put up out of the way and hope for the best…This is a way of life around here…You just do the best you can and ride it out.”

Spider and Penis Fossils

The spiderlike creatures generally called daddy longlegs looked just as creepy 305 million years ago as they look today, according to a brand new computer model which shows the bugs settled into their modern forms early.

Scientists were able to create 3-D models of two ancient harvestmen species, members of groups known as the Dyspnoi and Eupnoi, using fossils discovered in mineral deposits in France more than 20 years ago.

Russell Garwood of the Natural History Museum in London said:

These fossils were “preserved in nodules of iron carbonate, or siderite,” and the mineral, well, the mineral “precipitates out early in the history of the rock, sometimes around animal remains, and prevents [the remains] from being crushed. … The animal then rots away, leaving a void in its shape.”

The new re-creations support the idea that daddy longlegs have changed remarkably little over time, even though the ancient arachnids lived at a time when their spider and scorpion relatives were still evolving into their current shapes.

For instance, spiders living 300 million years ago still bore resemblance of segments on their back halves, a trait modern spiders don’t have.

Scorpions living back then were also still relatively primitive, said Garwood, who conducted his research while at the U.K.’s Imperial College London.

Unlike modern species, ancient scorpions “had compound lateral eyes, median eyes near the front rather than the middle of their carapace, and a different position of the opening into the lungs,” he said.

The model of the Eupnoi species reveals long legs curved at the ends, a feature some modern harvestmen species use for holding vegetation while moving around from leaf to leaf.

In contrast, the Dyspnoi fossil had spikes on its back that it might have used to discourage the attention of predators.
A modern species of harvestman with spikes like these lives in moist, woody debris on the forest floor, and the team thinks the ancient Dyspnoi had a lifestyle like this.

That there were two discrete lineages of harvestmen living 305 million years ago attests to the theory that the creatures were among the earliest arachnids to take an evolutionary turn.

In another major discovery, genitals were used as important clues to identify many spider species as they can vary widely in shape and form between species. This variation in shape is thought to ensure females can only mate with males of their own species.

Fossils of both female and male harvestmen bearing genitals were originally uncovered in 2001 embedded in rocks from the village of Rhynie, near Aberdeen in Scotland. 400 million years ago, Rhynie would have resembled what Yellowstone park looks like today.

Yet another fascinating feature of the fossils is that they have large branching trachea which is the harvestmen equivalent to lungs. This is the oldest known example of air-breathing apparatus of this type found in arachnids and suggests the animals were land-living. Arachnids, along with all animal groups, started their life in the ocean.

Irene and Climate Change

Is climate change the driving force behind Hurricane Irene?

Kim Knowlton is a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She told the HuffPo:

“No one is going to point to Irene and say this is climate change…But we can say that we are seeing the fingerprint of climate change this year.”

This is in reference to the growing list of extreme weather events which have run amuck in the U.S. this year.

Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms with “more destructive potential” have been linked to climate change as far back as the 1970s, according to Knowlton. Such higher wind speeds and larger quantities of rain are expected to accompany future storms, similar to the one currently pounding the East Coast.

Global warming apparently also redistributes storms, sending them on a northward trajectory. That means cities such as Boston and New York are in crucial danger.

This vulnerability to hurricanes is increased by other factors, some of which are linked to climate change than hurricanes themselves.

It seems as if some of the storm’s worst consequences, particularly the flooding, are being exacerbated by the long-term trend of rising sea levels. According to one expert:

“Sea levels around New York have gone up 13 inches over last hundred years…What that means is that the five foot wall protecting Manhattan is one foot less able to keep water out than it was a century ago. This is going to be a kind of wake-up call for New York City: It’s the first time they’re going to have to evacuate from Zone A, and it’s not going to be the last.”

A Gallup poll released last Friday reports that Americans considered climate change less of a problem in 2010 than in any year past: only 55 percent of those polled thought that it posed a threat to both they and their families. Perhaps that figure will change when 2011 is finished.

PETA porn?

Throughout their history PETA campaigns have included all things from models posing naked for its anti-fur campaign to scantily clad women having sex with vegetables in support of veganism.

Today, PETA has pulled out all the stops with a XXX porn site for its forthcoming marketing endeavor.

More and more of the experts suggest that eating less meat is better for your health, and of course better for animals. PETA’s website describes life for animals on factory farms:

Chickens have their sensitive beaks seared off with a hot blade, and male cattle and pigs are castrated without any painkillers. Farmed chickens, turkeys, and pigs spend their brief lives in dark and crowded warehouses, many of them so cramped that they can’t even turn around or spread a single wing. They are mired in their own waste, and the stench of ammonia fills the air.

So just what does pornographic mean to PETA? The ad will have enough adult content to qualify for the XXX domain site but also some other graphic images of animals which viewers may not expect to see.

Australia’s Herald Sun reported that “PETA’s sexy side displayed in galleries and videos will quickly give way to the sinister world of animal mistreatment uncovered by the group’s hidden camera investigations in a very different kind of graphic content.”

With all the details still to be finalized, PETA failed to confirm that regular people, not just celebrities, will also be a part of the project.

The first environmental porn movement was founded in 2005, according to The Independent. It was created by a Norwegian and
Swedish couple. The couple offered a subscription video service and the money went to environmental causes.

PETA’s jump into adult content comes on the heels of Brooke Hogan posing naked for a photo exhibit to benefit PETA.

PETA has also done ad campaigns with adult film stars Ron Jeremy and Sasha Grey and Jenna Jameson. In 2008, the organization’s

YouTube account was turned off after racy videos of celebrities having sex was posted.

While it is PETA’s objective to improve animal welfare, some claim that the move to protect animals comes at the cost of exploiting women. A Facebook group, Real Women Against PETA, was made after the organization posted a billboard of an obese woman which read, “Save the Whales, Lose the Blubber, Go Vegetarian.” A Sydney Morning Herald headline for once read, “Pro-vegetarian group treats women like meat.”

Shellfish Alert

Last Friday, Washington State health officials reported the first U.S. illnesses linked to a single strain of toxin triggered by an algal bloom. Three people came down with Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP) after dining on mussels from Sequim Bay, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

While the culprit biotoxin had not been detected previously at unsafe levels in U.S. shellfish, thousands of people in Europe, Asia and South America have also suffered its unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms recently.

Harmful algal blooms, known as red tides, may occur naturally in both marine or fresh waters, and have been recognized as public health threats since well before humans began altering the environment.

Many experts however suggest that some of the toxins released by various algae species are becoming increasingly prevalent and virulent across the U.S. from the Oregon coast to Chesapeake Bay.

Superfluous nutrients entering the waterway, such as fertilizers, pet waste and sewage, might also contribute to the proliferation of the microscopic marine plants.

While experts expect climate change to bring both warmer waters and episodes of heavier rains, they are wary to make a direct link between global and local phenomena. The role of pollution, and why these microorganisms produce the poisons in the first place, remains unclear as well.

What is clear however is that the Pacific Northwest is getting inundated with the toxins and their consequences: DSP joins the region’s potentially fatal PSP and amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) strains.

That Florida Red Tide manufactures a biotoxin which can cause near-fatal Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning (NSP) through ingestion as well as respiratory troubles through inhalation, in addition to killing fish, marine mammals and seabirds.

Researchers are just now beginning to understand why the algae excrete the physiologically taxing toxin?” One research lab discovered that the nutrients associated with man-made activities, like sewage and agricultural fertilizer, only cause certain species of algae to become more toxic.

That knowledge could increase researchers’ ability to monitor coastal areas, and quickly shut them before an algal bloom starts causing harm.

This could also allow lucrative fisheries to stay open longer. California, for instance, shuts down all coastal areas for recreational mussel harvesting between May and October as a precaution. In the Pacific Northwest, many Native Americans living off of Sequim Bay sell shellfish for subsistence.