Could a Saharan jungle save us from climate change?

Posted in Planet Earth on September 16, 2009 by Gustav

Crazy awesome geoengineering scheme: plant vast forests in the Saharan desert and the Australian outback and sit back and watch as the trees gobble up all that CO2 we are emitting.

The idea is the brainchild of Leonard Ornstein, a cell biologist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, who partnered with climate modelers David Rind and Igor Aleinov of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, all in New York City.

They envision desalinating seawater from the neighboring oceans and bringing it inland using aqueducts and pumps.

Ornstein says that if most of the Sahara and Australian outback were planted with fast-growing trees like eucalyptus, the forests could draw down about 8 billion tons of carbon a year–nearly as much as people emit from burning fossil fuels and forests today.

As the forests matured, they could continue taking up this much carbon for decades. [ScienceNOW]

This scheme wouldn’t be cheap, of course, $2 trillion a year the researchers estimate it would cost. Like I said: crazy awesome.

Via 80beats.


Links: Dinosaurs for sale, wildlife photography, robotic surgery and devilish predators

Posted in Health & Disease, Humour, Images & Videos, Nature Attacks! on September 14, 2009 by Gustav

Samson the T. rex

You want a T. rex? What am I saying, of course you do. Wired reports that dinosaur fossils are up for auction. Take a look at Wired’s gallery of the skeletons for sale.

New Scientist have a gallery of the science-fictiony future of robotic surgery.

Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science have a gallery of photos of the furry woodland creatures of British wildlife.

Humour site Cracked lists, “Nature’s Most Diabolical Predators“. Two word: assassin bug.

A few more words:The assassin bug cloaks itself with debris from the surroundings to  infiltrate the nests of its prey. When it has killed its prey it suck out its innards so it can use the lifeless husk to lure more prey to it.

Tongue-eating parasite does not harm fish by eating its tongue

Posted in Nature Attacks! on September 12, 2009 by Gustav

A rare isopod parasite has been found off the coast of Jersey inside a weaver fish.

The isopod attaches itself to the tongue of a fish and eats it. After a while the fish’s tongue is completely gone and the isopod takes over the function of the tongue.

Whatever you do, do not imagine this happening to you!

Whatever you do, do not imagine this happening to you!

Marine researcher Paul Chambers, from the Société Jersiaise, who was among the team who found the parasite, told the BBC:

“When we emptied the fish bag out there at the bottom was this incredibly ugly looking isopod.

“Really quite large, really quite hideous – if you turn it over its got dozens of these really sharp, nasty claws underneath and I thought ‘that’s a bit of a nasty beast’.

Don’t worry about the fish having a nasty parasite where its tongue should be, is does just fine:

“Apparently there’s not too much ill effect to the fish itself except it’s lost its tongue.”

Via The Loom.

Mice defy gravity with science

Posted in Math & Physics, Technology Attacks! on September 10, 2009 by Gustav

Researchers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif, have made a mouse levitate – in the name of science, of course!

Scientists working on behalf of NASA built a device to simulate variable levels of gravity. It consists of a superconducting magnet that generates a field powerful enough to levitate the water inside living animals.


Repeated levitation tests showed the mice, even when not sedated, could quickly acclimate to levitation inside the cage. After three or four hours, the mice acted normally, including eating and drinking.

The strong magnetic fields did not seem to have any negative impacts on the mice in the short term, and past studies have shown that rats did not suffer from adverse effects after 10 weeks of strong, non-levitating magnetic fields. [LiveScience]

Anti-gravity! For Science!

Via io9.

A bunch of things: music, evolution, space-travel, astronomy and astronomy

Posted in Images & Videos, Outer Space, The Ancient World on September 10, 2009 by Gustav

Music: They Might Be Giants have released a new album, Here Comes Science. Here’s a taste:

Evolution: “Ancient skeletons discovered in Georgia Threaten to overturn the theory of human evolution“, according to the headline-writers of the Daily Mail. While the headline is atrocious, the article itself isn’t half bad, it’s about a recent archeological discovery that suggests our ancestors left Africa much earlier than previously thought.

Space-travel: Lawrence Krauss over at The X-change Files argues that any human sent to Mars should be on a one-way trip. It would be much easier to do it that way and apparently there’s a lot of astronauts who would go for it.

Astronomy: Martin Pugh’s image of the Horsehead Nebula won the grand prize of the 2009 Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. Here it is:

Horsehead Nebula

io9 has a gallery of all the winners.

More astronomy: Hubble is up-and-running again after some downtime for repairs and the images it’s returning are simply gorgeous:

Celestial Butterfly

The picture above is of Nebula NGC 6302, a dying star ejecting vast clouds of gas light.years across. 80beats have a gallery of some of the returned photos.

Scientists wants to build a ROBOT WITH A HUMAN BRAIN!

Posted in Brain & Behaviour, Robots & Cyborgs on September 10, 2009 by Gustav

Mad Scientists Kevin Warwick and Ben Whalley at the University of Reading, UK, wants to build a robot controlled by human brain cells. Awesome.

They’re not doing it (just) because they’re afflicted with Science Related Memetic Disorder, though:

The team say that observing how their neuron culture responds to stimulation could improve our understanding of neurological conditions such as epilepsy.

For instance, the way large numbers of neurons sometimes spike in unison – a phenomenon known as “bursting” – may be similar to what happens during an epileptic seizure. If that behaviour can be altered by changing the culture chemically, electrically or physically, it might hint at potential therapies. [New Scientist]

The team of genuine Mad Scientists have already shown that a robot can be controlled using rat neurons, but a culture of human neurons would be a better model for human disease, so they want that next.

They just have to finish they’re work with the rat neurons, then they can start building the ROBOT WITH A HUMAN BRAIN!

I can hear the mad laughter from here… No, wait, that’s me.

Great tits bite head off sleeping bats

Posted in Brain & Behaviour, Nature Attacks! on September 9, 2009 by Gustav

Headless BatIn a cave in Hungary the birds with the funny name, the great tits, have been caught sneaking up on hibernating bats and biting their head off.

This very surprising behaviour of a small bird that usually only eat caterpillars and such. The great tits are thought to only resort to anti-bat violence when food is otherwise scarce.

“The birds don’t kill the bats before they start eating them,” says [bat ecologist Björn] Siemers, “but the bats eventually die when the birds peck open their brain case.”

As the bats are still very cold, only a degree above ambient temperature, they are extremely slow and easy for the birds to subdue. Nevertheless, it is a considerable feat for the tits given that a pipistrelle weighs approximately 5 grams and a great tit only four times as much. [New Scientist]

There’s anecdotal evidence that the great tits in that cave have been doing this for more than a decade. If this is true it suggests that the birds Ozzy Ozbourne impersonations have been passed on culturally through the generations.

Blue tits in Britain famously exhibited such learned behaviour when one of them learned to open milk bottles and the trick spread through out the country.

Also, “great tits” is the best name for anything, anywhere. Just wanted to say.