Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
What are America’s fattest states?
America is facing an obesity problem — some even call it an epidemic.
Overwhelmingly, the obesity problem pops up in the Southern states. Annually, a group called The Trust for America’s Health conducts a study into percentages of obese and overweight people, comparing geographical areas of the country and identifying the fattest states and regions.
The news is grim this year — not a single state grew LESS obese, though there were shifts in the dubious lineup of “fattest states”.
Adult obesity percentage actually rose in 23 states — this means that an unbelievable two thirds of adults in America are seriously overweight or obese.
What are the reasons for America’s weight troubles?
For one, the economy. When times are hard, people are more likely to go for the dollar menu at the local fast food joint than spend time shopping and preparing what seem to be more expensive foods. Also, the foods that are better for us, like organic meats and vegetables, are naturally more expensive. How much easier is it to buy a pack of prefabricated hamburger patties than to invest in organic ground beef?
While the nasty economy is doing its share to harm the nation’s health and health care statistics, many states have actually improved their nutritional standards in school lunches and raised their expectations in terms of exercise in school gyms, so it is unclear why these changes aren’t working.
There is a certain element of the American population that is sedentary — when was the last time you saw a crowd of kids playing baseball in the park? Our dependence on computers and other convenience electronics may be contributing. I work from home — which means I don’t even have to walk more than twenty feet to work. If we don’t get our country back on track in terms of exercise and diet, the number of obese people will surely continue to grow.
Which states are the fattest? The top three are no surprise — Mississippi, Georgia, and Arkansas. These states have been in the bottom three for years, with just their exact position changing. Eleven of the twenty five worst states in terms of obesity are in the South including the three mentioned — the others are Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.
Rounding out the bottom twenty-five are DC, Delware, New Jersey, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, West Virignia, Virginia, New York, and Michigan.
As for the “healthy” states — Utah, Montana, and Minnesota. Other states that come in with decent scores are Colorado (with an active population committed to exercise), Oregon, California, and Maryland.
In general, states in the western part of the country and in New England rank lowest in the rankings for fattest states, while states in the South and the so called “Rust Belt” tend to rank highest. Interesting correlations between “blue” and “red” states and obesity levels are already being made, as are plenty of other red herrings that the news media can toss to the masses.
What Is a “Body Mass Index”?
“BMI” stands for “body mass index” and is a measure of how overweight a person is. A person’s B.M.I. tells if that person is overweight and, if so, whether that person is obese. There are two ways to determine your BMI using height and weight in pounds.
One method of calculating BMI is to take your lbs and multiply them by 703. Then take your height in inches and square that number. Then divide the first number by the second number.
If you have a BMI of 25 to 30, you are considered overweight. If you have a BMI of 30 to 40, you are considered obese. If you have a BMI over 40, you are generally considered morbidly obese. Since the invention of the Body Mass Index since in the 1850s, doctors and scientists have developed their own BMI categories and tweaked the formula somewhat.
BMI Explained – Body Mass Index Example
Let’s use the above formula to come up with a BMI for a man who’s 6 ft tall. 6′ would be 72 inches and the square of 72 is 5184. If that man were 200 pounds, his weight x 703 would be 140,600. Next, you would take the 140600 and divide it by 5184, coming up with a BMI number of 27.1. This man would be considered overweight.
Next, let’s take a man who is 6 feet tall and 250 pounds. His weight x 703 would be 175,750. Divided by 5184, his BMI would be 33.9. The 6′, 250 lb man would be considered obese.
A 6′, 300 lb man would have a BMI of 40.68, making him technically “morbidly obese”. A 6′, 175 lb man, on the other hand, would have a BMI of 23.7, and would therefore be considered fit.
Alternate BMI Measurements
Another way to measure BMI would be to take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 4.88. Then take your height in feet and square it. Finally, take the first number (weight) and divide it by the second number (height), which would give you a similar BMI.
Finally, if you use the metric system (which is how BMI was first used), you would take your weight in kilograms and divide it by your height in meters squared. As you can see, the original formula was much less complicated.
Disputes Over BMI’s Usefulness
Though the BMI is simple to use and widespread, many doctors have disputed exactly how good the BMI is at measuring one’s health risks associated with weight. This is especially the case with U.S. doctors after 1998, when the U.S. chose to change its standards for the definition of “overweight” from 27.8 to 25, brining another 30 million Americans under the definition of overweight.
For instance, some studies have shown that a lower risk of heart disease in people who are slightly overweight than in those who are considered fit.
Also, experts have pointed out the rigid nature of the Body Mass Index can discount those who have naturally dense body types, or who have increased their body mass through athletic muscle weight gain and weight training. Many sports doctors prefer to measure percentage of body fat as opposed to the BMI, using test methods such as underwater weighing or skinfold measurements.
BMI is an important tool for medical insurance underwriting, because the higher one’s BMI, the more a person pays for medical insurance. At a certain BMI level, many insurers will deny coverage to a potential customer.
What Is BMI?
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I’d Give Anything to Lose Weight, But I Just Don’t Know What To Do or How to Get Started
What is Google Voice?
Google Voice is Google’s telecommunications service for U.S. residents (and U.S. residents only) which allows for PC-to-PC communications anywhere in the world, for PC-to-phone calls within North America (north of the US-Mexico border), and between Google Voice users and those with a Video Chat browser plug-in.
The Google Voice service allows for low-price international phone calls, while domestic phone calls to the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii, and Canada are free. Other features offered by Google Voice include voicemail, call screening, unwanted call blocks, call history, voicemail message-to-text “voice transcription”, and conference call support.
How Does Google Voice Work?
To receive incoming calls and activate your Google Voice phone number, you must have a U.S. telephone service. You then can make voice calls over your personal computer using the Google Voice interface, quite similar to what exists on Google’s famous Gmail service. There’s even an option for video service on the PC-only calls, getting the world one step closer to the communicators from science fiction programs like Star Trek.
How Many People Use Google Voice?
Due to an FCC report that was filed by mistake, we learned that Google Voice had 1,400,000 users as of October 2009. That number is likely to have increased significantly in the 15 months since, given that the service had only been on-line for about 6 months at the time. According to the same FCC report, roughly 570,000 of the Google Voice users used their service every day of the week.
How Long Has Google Voice Been Around?
Google Voice began as a service called GrandCentral in 2005. Google bought Grand Central in 2007, but seemed to stop supporting the service, leading to many complaints by old-time users about lack of customer support by Google.
In March 2009, Google relaunched Grand Central and renamed it “Google Voice”. A few months later, in mid-September 2009, Google announced Grand Central’s services were shut down, and asked everyone to move over permanently to Google Voice. Improvements were made and features added to the new service.
Google Voice and Egyptian Protests
The power of a computer-based telecommunications service has been put to the test in the recent Egyptian protests against the government of longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. As the Mubarak government blocked traditional journalistic sources of news, Google and Twitter led a collection of western Internet and social media companies in helping the Egyptian people get their word out to the world.
According to Professor Dina Ibrahim of San Francisco State University, Google Voice has been key: “”It’s very difficult to get a complete picture however, Google Voice and other services have been incredibly helpful in terms of providing alternatives for people to get their message out there,” said Professor Ibrahim.
How Google Voice Affected Egyptian Protests
Hosni Mubarak has been the president of Egypt since 1981, after Egyptian army officers assassinated Anwar al Sadat for signing the 1979 Egyptian-Isreali Peace Treaty. Over the years, Mubarak has adhered to provisions of the treaty and been a strong supporter of the United States in the Middle East, but he’s also been a repressive military figure who has squelched democracy movements in his own country. He also has failed to strengthen the Egyptian economy over his nearly 30 years in office.
With one of the best-educated populations in the Middle East, but with 9 out 10 people under the age of 30 out of work, the Egyptian people took to the streets in protest in early 2011. Western journalists flocked to Egypt to report the story, which embarrassed the Mubarak government. Eventually, the Egyptian government used an old tactic of paying mercenary thugs to attack people in the street, and these “Mubarak partisans” began attacking journalists and reporters with cameras. Within days, this eliminated traditional journalistic broadcasting.
That’s where Google, and especially Google Voice, came in.
Google and Twitter put out word to collect 1,000 Egyptian-English translators to help their service. With these translators and their new telecommunications infrastructure in place, Egyptians were able to take to their computers and get the word out about what’s going on in Cairo and other cities themselves. Western journalists used Google Voice to get the word out.
At present, Hosni Mubarak has announced he won’t run for office again. There’s a sizable chance he’ll have to step down from office in the coming days, weeks, and months, as the story goes on and international pressure mounts to see democratic institutions put in place in Egypt. Whatever happens, the power of Google Voice to get around central government power and military power has been evidenced.
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Why is NASA launching a shuttle to the Hubble telescope?
The Hubble telescope, which provides unprecendented views of deep space, is damaged, and is basically inoperable. NASA is sending up a crew to attempt repairs.
As we sit waiting for news of the coming launch of the Atlantis shuttle, another shuttle is poised for launch. That means that both of NASA’s shuttle launch pads are occupied — a rare occasion. Atlantis is on one, primed for a flight this coming week to the Hubble Space Telescope.
The space shuttle Endeavour sits on the other launch pad, a full mile away from Atlantis, prepared for launch in case it is needed for a mission that no one wants. Endeavour is on standby in case the seven astronauts who go up on Atlantis need to be rescued. This has never been done before at NASA — an unprecedented move that can’t make the Atlantis astronauts feel great about their chances.
Shuttle Atlantis and its crew are headed into outer space for one final repair job on the now 19 year old Hubble Space Telescope. It’s a trip that was canceled almost five years ago because the risk was considered greater than the potential reward. After yet another delay, the launch is finally scheduled for Monday May 11, 2009.
The risk of the mission lies in the fact that shuttle astronauts won’t have the respite of the international space station to depend on. If Atlantis suffers serious damage during launch or while in flight, the astronauts will not be in the relative comfort and safe of the ISS — where they could take refuge for weeks while awaiting a ride home from NASA. They would be stranded on their spacecraft near the Hubble, where NASA estimates they could stay alive for just about 25 days before running out of air or other supplies.
In an interview, the Atlantis astronauts say there’s a slim chance any rescue will be needed, and they say they would fly to Hubble even if there were no such backup plan. Such is the attitude of America’s astronauts.
In fact Scott Altman, Atlantis’ commander, said it may seem like overkill to some of his colleagues, but having a rescue ship ready on the launch pad is the right thing for NASA to do.
“It’s kind of a belt-and-suspenders approach. But if you need the belt after your suspenders fail, you would be glad you had it,” said Altman, a retired Navy captain and former fighter pilot.
Space shuttle Endeavour and four more astronauts would need to blast off quickly on a rescue mission should NASA determine that Atlantis is too damaged to fly home.
Because the area around Hubble is littered with debris and garbage, the Atlantic crew faces a pretty good chance of damage to the ship from such debris. On top of the normal dangers associated with launch and landing , the Atlantis crew has about a 1-in-229 chance of being struck by a piece of space junk or a micrometeoroid. Needless to say, such an event would cause catastrophic damage to their ship. When you’re 350 miles above the surface of the Earth, the tiniest piece of debris can really throw a wrench into your plans. To improve their odds of a clean launch and repair mission, Atlantis astronauts will immediately fly to a lower and much cleaner altitude as soon as the repair work on Hubble is completed.
NASA took similar precautions against a rescue in 1973 during its first space station program, Skylab. The difference now is that a rescue shuttle is prepped and ready for launch RIGHT NOW — in 1973, a crew and a shuttle were readied but not set up. Fortunately, a rescue wasn’t needed back in 73.
Once Atlantis is in flight, final preparations for the Endeavour rescue will begin, said launch director Mike Leinbach in an interview. Apparently, “if it even begins to smell” like a rescue might be needed, Endeavour will be ready to go. Endeavour will be seven days from liftoff ready at the time of Atlantis’ launch on Monday. Just to be safe, NASA will continue to prep Endeavour even if there is no immediate indication of launch damage. In fact, launch preparations for the rescue shuttle will continue until Endeavour reaches a mark that is three days from lifting off. NASA plans to keep the rescue shuttle at that three day point until Atlantis is back safely on Earth.
Because of prior trouble with the Hubble mission, NASA decided to assign a new and “fresher” four man crew to the rescue mission. The Hubble mission suffered a seven-month delay last fall due to a telescope breakdown.
Following the Columbia tragedy in 2003, in which all seven astronauts on board were killed, NASA has had a rescue plan in case of irreparable damage. Columbia was hit by fuel tank foam that broke off during liftoff, and its left wing melted from the inside out during re-entry. This caused the shuttle to break apart. But there has never been a need to have the rescue ship at the launch pad, all primed and ready to go, the way it is now. The reason? All the missions since the Columbia disaster have been to the space station, where astronauts could camp out for over two months. All shuttle trips after this mission will be headed to the ISS as well. This trip simply can’t plan a stop at the ISS, as there is more pressing work to be done on Hubble. In fact, in 2004, NASA’s boss decided the trip to Hubble was too dangerous precisely because of the shuttle’s inability to hop from Hubble to the ISS.
If Atlantis suffers damage too severe for in flight repairs, the rescue craft Endeavour will fly up and use a 50-foot robot arm to literally grab hold of the damaged Atlantis shuttle. The Atlantis astronauts would put on spacesuits and float, a few at a time, over to the relative safety of Endeavour. Endeavour would then return to base with all 11 astronauts in tow.
Who is Ray Kurzweil?
My first exposure to Raymond Kurzweil, better known as Ray, came while reading Rolling Stone magazine earlier this year. In the January 2009 issue, Kurzweil appeared in David Kushner’s article “When Man and Machine Merge”. Kurzweil’s words in that article stuck with me. Ray Kurzweil said in Rolling Stone that he wanted to clone his dead father via an exact genetic copy obtained from DNA in the father’s grave. That’s right — Kurzweil expressed an honest desire to build a copy of his dead dad by inventing special nanorobots that could enter his father’s grave and bring DNA samples back. The idea behind this clone? To assist Ray in calling up memories of his father.
Ray Kurzweil could be described as an author, an inventor, a “futurist”, and a kind of scientific maven, attempting to predict and analyze the behaviors of the technological future. If I make Kurzweil sound like a cartoon character or a mad scientist then I’m getting the job done.
Ray Kurzweil earned two degrees from MIT — one in Computer Science and another in Literature. Forbes magazine called Kurzweil “the ultimate thinking machine” — the Montreal Gazette called him “the modern Thomas Edison”. Kurzweil is a friend of Stevie Wonder, the author of the popular “10% Solution for a Healthy Life”, and a man that has earned honorary degrees in 14 of the last 30 years. In short, he’s an intellectual stud.
Kurzweil was born into a family that reads like a dream team for creating a brilliant child. Born in Queens to Jewish parents who barely escaped Austria before the onset of World War Two, Kurzweil started life in the Unitarian church, a denomination that puts great emphasis on exposing children to many different faiths and belief systems. Kurzweil’s mother was an artist, his father a musician and composer, and his uncle (a very close friend) worked as an engineer at Bell Labs, often teaching young Ray Kurzweil about computers years before most people would be exposed to computing. In fact, Kurzweil wrote his first computer program in 1963 at the age of fifteen. If you’re keeping score, that’s six years before humans landed on the moon.
One of Kurzweil’s first big breakthroughs in programming came at an equally young age. At just 17 year sold, Kurzweil won the International Science Fair, and was congratulated by President Lyndon Johnson at the White House. Kurzweil wrote a program that composed music, an early foray into the kind of work he would do as an adult.
Among Kurzweil’s major inventions are the Select College Consulting Program designed to match high school students with the right college, the Kurzweil Reading Machine (which allows blind people to have text read to them), and Kurzweil electronic keyboards — the first high quality user friendly synthesizer / keyboards.
But Ray Kurzweil didn’t stop with inventions. His writing career rivals his career as an inventor, at least in 2009. His six published books cover a variety of topics from the history of computers to diet and nutrition advice. Often, reading Kurzweil’s “Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever” seems like a dip into speculative fiction more than a lecture on health. It combines his ideas about the future (for instance, the notion that medical science is only 20 years or so from slowing down or stopping the aging process) with otherwise sound health advice such as limiting sugar intake. His book “The Singularity is Near” is similar, combining hard science fiction themes with sincere advice to his readers. In fact, “The Singularity is Near” lays out a timeline for the advancement of technology toward a time when the “singularity” exists — the moment at which artificial intelligence exceeds human intelligence. Yeah, this is heavy stuff, but it is fascinating reading, and some of Kurzweil’s past “predictions” have turned out stunningly accurate. For example, in his book The Age of Intelligent Machines, Kurzweil predicted the impact of cellular, digital, and other technologies on governments and revolutions. The recent conflict in Iran, digitally broadcast and endlessly Tweeted, is proof of his concept.
Ray Kurzweil holds honorary degrees from sixteen universities, among them Hofstra, DePaul, Michigan State, Queens College, and the Berklee College of Music. Currently, he’s attempting to bring what he calls “humanity’s great challenges”, working with NASA to gather brilliant minds to discuss the possibilities of the Singularity and other future events. He sits on the Army Science Advisory Board and is a vocal proponent of nanotechnology and microtechnologies. His newest book (Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever) is another tome on healthy living and hard science, and a followup to his classic Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever is available at bookstores now. He can also be seen working with Google CEOs attempting to promote the use of wind power to end our energy crisis.
Wherever he goes, whatever he says, Ray Kurzweil leaves an impression. For more information on Kurzweil’s ideas and his work, check out KurzweilAI.net, where the works of writers who follow Kurzweil’s theories (and other related themes) is gathered, from fiction to essays, or singularity.com for a site specifically related to the theory of the singularity.
What Is Bread Mold?
Bread mold is a type of fungus that likes to grow on bread because it is often warm and moist. Bread mold needs warmth and moisture, along with oxygen, to thrive. Bread provides an ideal substrate (or living surface) for various types of molds.
Bread Mold Facts
Believe it or not, bread mold is actually a type of plant. Molds grow much faster than traditional plants, due mostly to the fact that their reproductive parts float around in the air, constantly looking for a place to land and thrive. It just so happens that bread, with its warmth and moisture, is the perfect substrate for mold to grow on.
When bread mold spores find a warm and moist surface, they attach and start to reproduce and grow very rapidly. This spreading of spores further infects bread (if bread is the substrate) and sends even more spores into the air.
Each bread mold spore has two parts–one is long and black and the other is short and is capable of breaking into the bread to absorb food and moisture.
Mold doesn’t just grow on bread–it can also grow on anything moist and warm, like meat, shoes and clothes, even things that incidentally wet like books or a tile floor.
There are many different types of mold in all different shapes and sizes. They have names like Aspergillus, Monascus, Rhizopus, Penicillium, and Fusarium. Each of these species has its own unique color and apperance–Rhizopus is black and fuzzy, while Aspergillus is small and hard to see. The Penicillium species is more of a dark green color with a white border.
Harmful Effects of Bread Mold
When human beings come into close contact with mold of any type, they run the risk of absorbing mycotoxins through the skin, mucous membranes, and airways. These mycotoxins are produced naturally by any mold, but especially the mold that makes bread mold. Mycotoxings are very dangerous to human life, as once they attach to the inside of our bodies, they can easily spread and infect the entire body and immune system. Mycotoxins can create all sorts of health problems, from simple allergies and contact hypersensitivity, to more severe respiratory problems like asthma, and chronic coughing, and grave health conditions like permanent memory loss, depression, anxiety, reproductive system failure, sometimes even death.
Benefits of Bread Mold
Some molds that grow on bread are beneficial in the production of foods. Mold on cheeses, sausages, breads, and soy sauce (as well as alcohol like sherries and wines) actually add to the taste of many of these products.
When combined with special foods and a healthy lifestyle, cultured mold can be used to reduce cholesterol.
Bread molds are used in the production of some beneficial drugs.Most famously, the Penicillium chrysogenum mold is used to produce the life-saving antibiotic we call penicillin.
Other molds and bread molds are used to create other life-saving drugs, namely Aspergillus terreus which is used to create cholesterol-lowering drugs, and Tolypocladium Infatum which is used to combat the rejection of transplanted organs.
Bread Mold Growth
The growth of bread mold depends on many different factors, with temperature and moisture being the most important two. At lower temperatures, mold is able to grow, but it grows at a much slower rate. Most molds on planet Earth thrive in temperatures higher than 70°–this is why we refrigerate food. The average fridge temperature is between 39 and 41 degrees, seriously limiting the growth rate of molds.
Very cold temperatures, such as those found in an average freezer, will stop the mold of growth completely. Freezing temperatures kill molds and inhibit their growth.
Remember that bread mold is a living plant organism, one that needs both moisture and oxygen to grow. Moisture is absorbed by the mold plant itself, causing the plant to grow faster just like when you water a plant in your garden.
Bread Mold Science Fair Project
A popular bread mold based science fair project is to determine if mold grows faster at higher or lower temperatures. It’s a popular topic because it is easy to prove with a simple science experiment. Here’s how you perform this classic bread mold science fair project.
- 15 slices of sandwich bread. This bread is used because it is inexpensive and each slice will be the same size, weight, and thickness.
- 15 sealable sandwich bags.
- 1 piece of film or clear plastic with a 10x10cm grid drawn onto it.
- Clean Knife
- Chopping board
- Sticky notes
- Marker pen
- Mold Spores. You can sometimes acquire these from science catalogs or other educational resources. There are plenty of mold spores in the air that will eventually grow on your bread, but getting mold spores and applying them yourself will take less time.
Label your bags with sticky notes. Mark 5 bags as ‘A’, 5 as ‘B’ and 5 as ‘C’.
Cut your bread into 10 x 10 squares.
After you place mold spores on the bread, put one slice into each bag and seal them tightly.
Place all of the ‘A’ bags into the freezer, the ‘B’ bags into the refrigerator and the ‘C’ bags in a warm room. Because the bags in the freezer and fridge will not be getting much light it is best to cover the ‘C’ bags as well so that the light difference doesn’t affect the outcome.
At the same time each day, count the number of square centimeters of mold on each slice of bread. Never open the bags.
Repeat this process for 10 days or until there are measurable results.
Keep careful notes on your results for every slice of bread for the duration of the experiment. You can even take pictures or draw the bread pieces. Now average the results for each sample type, A, B, and C.
You can plot the mold coverage on a graph and determine your results. Plot the amount of mold on each piece of bread and compare it to the number of days. Do this with a sheet of graph paper and colored pens or on a computer graph program.
Did you ever wonder how your TV remote actually tells the television to change the channel or turn down the sound? Have you ever wondered how satellites can see through clouds and give an image of the ground underneath? And those night vision goggles, just how do they work?
These devices and hundreds of others rely on infrared light, light that we can’t actually see, to perform their functions.
The light you can’t see
Infrared is a form of electromagnetic energy just as are radio waves, microwaves, ultraviolet rays, X and Gamma rays and visible light. These forms of electromagnetic energy make up the electromagnetic spectrum which is measured by the wavelength that each form has.
For example “visible light” which consists of the 7 primary colors has a wavelength range of 390 nm – 470 nm. Actually the term visible light is a misnomer because all light is visible if it is perceived by an appropriate receptor. Our human eyes are limited to “visible light” but a bee for example can see ultraviolet light. Infrared has a wavelength range of 700 nm – 30,000 nm which is well outside human detection.
Detecting invisible light
Infrared receivers allow infrared light to be used in hundreds of ways. For example in the case of your TV remote, when you press the channel changer an infrared light is emitted and picked up by the receiver on the TV set. This light is sent in pulses and the pulses are the equivalent of binary code. The receiver gets the infra red pulses and passes them to the microprocessor that translates the binary code into a command (switch to channel 4) and performs the function.
The satellite photos and the night vision goggles both work on a form of thermal imaging. Heat is one of the easiest forms of electromagnetic energy to detect. A satellite equipped with a thermal imaging camera can “see through the clouds” by detecting the thermal energy of the objects below and assigning a range of colors based on the strength of the heat signature. The net result is a colorful image that you typically see on a weather map. Goggles work much the same way but detect the lower range of infrared rather than true thermal imaging.
Capturing invisible light as art
While there are hundreds of industrial and scientific uses for infrared, the whole “seeing the invisible light” phenomena started in the early 1900s when photographers first developed a working infrared process.
Infrared photography remained the domain of a small number of professional photographers for years due to the time consuming and complex process that was involved in creating a single image. Today, thanks to digital camera that can become exclusively an IR camera, infrared photography is growing in popularity.
Infrared photography involves excluding visible light from entering the lens by use of a filter or a true IR camera, and then processing the image in Photoshop to get the desired effect. IR photographs depend greatly on the skill and creativity of the photographer both with the camera and with Photoshop. The results however are breathtaking and well worth the extra effort.
Melissa Cameron is a full time bookkeper during the day and a full time mother of three when she gets home. In the little free time she does have she loves learning how to improve her infrared photography skills.
What Is Solar Power?
Solar power is energy that comes from the Earth’s Sun. When scientists and ecologists speak about harnessing solar energy, they talk about finding technologies that collect solar rays and store that energy, converting it for use in heating homes and energizing the batteries which power everything from cars to flashlights. You might be wondering what “solar rays” are.
What Are Solar Rays?
The Sun produces solar rays through the process of nuclear fusion. The same process which explodes hydrogen bombs also power the vast energies of the stars. Only a tiny fraction of the heat and light put off by the Sun ever hits Earth, but if we could build technologies to harness the solar rays that do reach Earth’s surface, the human race could solve all of our energy needs.
In fact, the Sun already is the source of virtually all of the energy stored on the planet (besides the tiny amount of energy from other stars). This energy is stored in the form of the coal, oil, and natural gas we burn, as well as the calories found in the plants and animals we eat.
The problem is that collecting the energy stored in fossil fuels like coal and petroleum requires whole industries, while the burning of these fossil fuels to release the energy stored creates massive amounts of air and environmental pollution. To be able to catch solar rays and convert it into clean, efficient energy is a much better proposition.
Why Isn’t Solar Power Used More?
So you might be asking why our civilization doesn’t ditch fossil fuels and switch entirely to solar powered technologies. We don’t have the technological advancement yet to harness solar energies as cheaply as we can mine for coal and drill for oil and natural gas. That’s only going to happen when methods of capturing ultraviolet rays and powering our cities and transportation systems get cheaper, or the scarcity of our fossil fuels drive up prices so high that solar power because a feasible alternative.
You might ask why governments and private interests invest so much in perfecting solar power technology, if it’s more expensive than oil. Good investments in technology pay off over time, even if they don’t at first. The materials used to build and implement solar technology is too expensive right now, but working every day scientists and engineers work with those materials is another day closer to finder cheaper ways to produce them. Consider the rapid advances in aviation from the 1920s to the 1940s, as new and better materials–and better designs–came into usage.
Rapid Advances in Technology
As another example, look at the advances the “space race” and the lunar landings yielded. You might say that the space program is or was a waste of time, money, and resources, but exploring that little bit of space we’ve explored created much more rapid advances in satellite technology, telecommunications, and computer science. Every time you log onto your computer, every time you dial up on your cell phone, and every time you watch a sporting event live from the other side of the world, you are benefitting from the advances in technology made from public and private investments in technology.
So eventually, some genius is going to figure out a way to make solar power the cheapest energy science on the planet, and that will revolutionize the world economy, along with how we look (and cope) with a host of other social and geopolitical issues. Harnessing solar power and finding a cheaper, cleaner alternative to fossil fuels might happen tomorrow or next year, or it might be 20 years down the line, but it is going to happen–possibly before our supply of cheap oil runs out.
Solar Power in the Future
Who can say where the future of solar power lies? Science fiction writers have proposed technologies that seem outlandish by our scientific standards, such as the “Dyson sphere”, a technological sphere built around an entire star, so that a sci-fi civilization traps every single bit of light and stellar energy escaping from the star. I imagine our technologists will find less dramatic, more practical solutions to our energy crisis, but you can bet that harnessing “solar power” is going to be at the forefront of our energy solutions in the 21st century.
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What Are the World’s Fastest Animals?
It is a little difficult to say which animal is the absolute fastest in the world — animals that live in water or have the ability to fly can hardly be tested alongside land based animals. Because speed is not always a benefit in the water or in the air, the absolute “fastest” moving animals in the world are mostly land based, though sailfish have been clocked at speeds as high as 68 mph, and marlin are known to travel at least as fast as 50 mph — both fast enough to crack our top five fastest land based animals.
If we were to include birds on this list, the top ten fastest animals in the world would be mostly winged creatures. The fastest moving animal (including fish and birds) is the peregrine falcon, some individuals have been seen travelling well over 200 mph.
The following maximum speed measurements (shown in miles per hour) are based on measurements recorded in laboratory situations over quarter-mile distances. There are some exceptions to this measuring standard — the world’s fastest lion was tracked during the act of a charge in the wild, and the measurement for the cheetah was taken over only about 100 yards. Some lists will show slightly different speeds — measuring speed is difficult, and trying to figure out an “average top speed” is even more difficult. Some animals are extremely fast in the short term, but by the quarter mile mark they have slowed considerably. But this top ten list of the world’s fastest animals is as close to authoritative as you can get.
10. Coyote — 43 mph
The coyote is a species of wild dog. That’s right, a regular canine just like your family pet. The big difference is that our canines have been domesticated over time, and while it is possible to domesticate a coyote, not many people want to spend enough time near one to get the job done. Coyotes are native to North America, and extend from Mexico all the way to Canada. It isn’t just their speed that’s impressive — coyotes are capable of jumping up to fourteen feet in a single leap. Nice doggy.
9. Elk — 45 mph
Don’t let their massive size fool you — elk are really just a gigantic species of deer. Travelling in packs of fifty or more, the sight of a herd of elk blazing by at forty-five mph must be incredible. These quarter-ton monsters use their quick speed as a defense mechanism, especially the females of the species which lack the horns of males.
8. Cape hunting dog — 45 mph
This dog breed has dozens of nicknames, from Painted Dog to Wildehond. The Cape hunting dog earns the distinction of world’s fastest dog. They are unique in other ways, too — the Cape has a strange looking coat, earning it the “Painted” nicknames, and its bite is considered the strongest of any canine. Their similarity to hyenas includes the ability to eat large quantities of bone (thanks to a massive mouth full of teeth) and a pack hunting mentality that makes these dogs eerily good matches for hunters. Their top speed of 45 mph makes them adept at catching nearly every type of game found in their native Africa.
7. American Quarter Horse — 47.5 mph
The Quarter Horse breed is known as the sprinter of horses. While their official top speed sits right at 47.5 mph, some individuals have been clocked going as high as 55 mph. But don’t think the Quarter Horse is just for show — their abilities on the farm make them an excellent ranch horse as well. The evolution of the Quarter Horse starts in the cowboy era, as ranchers needed a quick and responsive horse to steer their herds. Interest in the sport of “rodeo” (developed by the appearance of Quarter Horses on the ranch) further escalated the breeding of these beautiful (and blazingly fast) creatures.
6. Springbok — 50 mph
A distinctive black stripe on the coat sets this species of antelope apart from the dozens of others. This African antelope is known for two things — incredible speed and ponking. What’s “ponking”? I’m glad you asked. Apparently, Springboks like to jump really high in the air (as much as fifteen feet) and flail their bodies around in the air before landing back on their hooves and doing it all over again. Scientists have no idea why they do this. Springboks use their speed (like most African mammals) as their main defense mechanism, and most animals simply can’t keep up at distance.
5. Wildebeest — 50 mph
Also known as a “gnu”, the Wildebeest looks like a cross between an antelope and a cow, with all the speed of the antelope and all the brains of a cow.
4. Thomson’s gazelle — 50 mph
Many people get the Thomson’s gazelle and the Springbok confused. The confusion is understandable — they look remarkably similar and are in the same family. They travel at the same top speed, though some Thomson’s in the wild have been clocked at well over 60 mph.
3. Lion — 50 mph
One of the four main “big cats”, and weighing well over a quarter ton, the lion truly is “the king of the jungle” — he’s just not the fastest.
2. Pronghorn antelope — 61 mph
This list is heavily populated by antelopes, and it makes sense. The antelope uses its speed as its main weapon against predators. With creatures in Africa zipping around at speeds well over 40 mph, having the ability to kick it into high gear at 61 mph is about the best protection you can have.
1. Cheetah — 70 mph
Coming in at number one, the fastest animal in the world is the cheetah. In 2009, a female cheetah in captivity became the world’s fastest of all land mammals. Her name is Sarah, and she covered 100 meters distance in a record time of 6.13 seconds. What cheetahs have in speed, they lack in dexterity. Cheetahs can’t climb with the skill of the other cats, so their speed makes up for this inability.
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Where Do Penguins Live?
Contrary to popular belief, these cute little aquatic and flightless birds don’t just live on ice. Popular opinion holds that penguins live only in Arctic waters, but the truth is much stranger than that.
Why Do Penguins Live Near Water?
It is true that penguins need to live near large bodies of water because they spend most of their time there, swimming and hunting. Remember, penguins are flightless birds, so they depend on swimming for most of their long-haul activity. Excellent swimmers, penguins can swim for hundreds of miles without stopping for a rest. This is why penguins prefer to live on islands and in far off places that have few predators. This allows them to swim away from danger and stay close to their food source.
Where Did Penguins Come From?
Originally, all penguin species came from somewhere in the southern hemisphere, but they are not found only where it’s cold. In fact, very few penguins live way south in Antarctica.
At least ten species of penguin live in what is called the “temperate zone”, one species (the Galapagos penguin) lives as far north as the Galapagos Islands right on the equator.
Don’t get confused — these aren’t warm water penguins. Cold water flows up to the Galapagos from the Antarctic current, providing penguins the food and cold water they need to live.
There are also huge populations of penguins in Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and even South America. Unfortunately for those of you that live up north and want to see penguins, there are no penguins above the equator.
Here is a list of known penguin species and their habitat:
- King Penguin, Subartic islands, Tierra del fuego, South Georgia Island
- Emperor Penguin, Antartica
- Adelie Penguin, Ross Sea Region in Antartica
- Chinstrap Penguin, South Sandwich Islands, Antartica, South Orkneys, South Shetland, South Georgia Island, Bouvet, Belleny and Peter Islands
- Gentoo Penguin, Falkland, South Georgia, Kerguelen, South Shetland, Heard and Macquarie Islands and the Antartic Peninsula
- Little Blue Penguin, Southern Australia, New Zealand, Chatham Islands and Tasmania. Some reports in Chile
- Northern Little Penguin, Canterbury, New Zealand, nesting only on Banks Peninsula and Motunau Island
- Magellanic Penguin, Southern cone of South America. Coastal south Argentina and south Chile including the Falkland Islands.
- Humboldt Penguin, Coastal Peru and Chile in South America
- Galapagos Penguin, Galapagos Islands
- Jackass Penguin, South western coast of Africa.
- Yellow Eyed Penguin, New Zealand in the South-east coast of South Island, Foveaux Strait and Stewart Island and Auckland and Campbell Islands.
- Fiordland Penguin, Fiorland coast and Stewart Island/Rakiura
- Snares Penguin, New Zealand on the Snares Islands.
- Southern Rockhopper, The American Southern Rockhopper Pneguin lives in the Falkland Islands and islands off Argentina and southern Chile.
- Indopacific Rockhopper, Penguin lives in islands of the Indian and western Pacific oceans
- Northern Rockhopper, Northern Rockhoppers breed on Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island in the south Atlantic Ocean, with the remainder found on St Paul Island and Amsterdam Island in the Indian Ocean
- Royal Penguin, Inhabits waters surrounding Antartica and breed only on Macquarie Island
How Does Gravity Work?
We’ve all heard the schoolroom description of the discovery of gravity — that Sir Isaac Newton was hit on the head with an apple and instantly postulated the concept of gravity. If only this were true!
We know a few things about gravity — we know that it causes two objects to be drawn to one another, such as when you flip a coin and it hits the floor.
We also know that gravity had some hand in forming the planets, stars, and other bodies that make up the universe. We learn that gravity keeps the moon in orbit around the Earth. Wee see gravity being used in industrial applications as well — gravity powers some engines and other technical features. But what we don’t know about gravity is far more interesting (and expansive) than what we do know.
Science Behind Gravity
Sir Isaac Newton was the first to define gravity as a force that attracts all things to all other things. Sounds vague, doesn’t it?
We know on the other hand that Albert Einstein said gravity is “a result of the curvature of space-time” — whatever that means.
These two theories are considered the most correct — and they have a lot to do with one another. Without Isaac Newton and his apple we wouldn’t have Einstein and his theory of relativity.
The basic science behind gravity suggests that (if there are no other forces at work like wind or density) an object will always travel in the straightest line possible. That’s basic mathematics and physics.
By that same token, any two objects moving along a similar paths will always remain in that similar path, meaning they will never meet. Unfortunately for science, we don’t live in a world without external forces, and it is common for particles that start off on similar paths to end up on a collision course.
Isaac Newton’s theory says this happens because of gravity, which he described as a force that attracts objects to one another.
Albert Einstein also says this phenomenon is due to gravity — but in his theory, gravity is not a force but a curve in space-time.
Let’s take a closer look at both theories.
Two Theories of Gravity
Sir Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation spells out the theory that all particles in the universe posess some kind of gravitational force. According to Newton, gravitational force was everywhere, from that infamous apple falling from a tree to the moon holding its place in orbit though a kind of mutual attraction with the Earth.
Newton publicized this theory in the 17th century. His theory holds that gravity is a predictable force that acts on all matter in the whole universe. According to Newton, this force is a function of both mass and distance. The Newtonian theory of gravity says that every bit of matter attracts every other bit of matter with a force that is proportional to the product of their masses, also affected by the distance between them. You can do a basic Newtonian gravity test at home. Stretch a bedsheet and place two coins anywhere on the stretched surface. You’ll see “gravity” pulling the coins toward or away from one another based on their position and their weight.
Einstein begged to differe, holding that those two objects are still constantly travelling along the straightest possible line (as the laws of physics says they must), but because of a distortion in space and time, the straightest possible line changes into a spherical one. This means that two objects that were moving along a flat plane alongside one another are now moving along a spherical plane. This is what causes their collision.
We see gravity at work all the time. Drop a pen and it will hit the floor. The idea of gravity doesn’t need much reinforcement, but the idea of how it works is much more complex. Two of humanity’s greatest thinkers — Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton — struggled with the idea of gravity. It may be up to some future scientist to completely pin down this mysterious force.
This is part of a series of blog posts we’re publishing about How Stuff Works. The other posts in this series include:
- How Does E-Mail Work?
- How Does Soap Work?
- How Does Twitter Work?
- How Does Unemployment Work?
- How Does Wi-Fi Work?
- How Does the Eye Work?
- How Does Rent-to-Own Work?
- How Does a GPS Work?
- How Does Electricity Work?
How Does Electricity Work?
Electricity works using three forces:
These three forces work as a unit inside of a given electrical circuit to allow the free flow of electricity from one place to another.
Electricity and the process of transferring electricity begins when an atom’s electrons are excited into action and start to move in what we call a “current” or flow. Different items are better or worse at conducting an electrical force due to this atomic action. If an atom holds tight to its electrons (meaning the electrons are really close to the nucleus) then it won’t be as conducive to the flow of electricity as an atom that keeps its electrons further away from the nucleus.
This is why certain materials (metals like silver, gold, and aluminum) are good conductors of electricity. They are made up of these types of atoms that don’t hold tight to their electrons. When we think of materials that aren’t conducive to electricity, we think of glass, plastic, and even the air. These items are called “insulators” and the makeup of their atoms obstructs electrical current flow.
Voltage and Circuits
Now that we understand electricity at a molecular level, let’s take a look at the physical process of electricity. Electrons, even though they are tiny, need some sort of force to keep them moving in a current, just like a stone needs to be pushed to roll down a hill. The force that moves electrons in a current is called electromotive force, or “EMF”. The term you may have heard to describe EMF is “voltage”.
This voltage is carried along a circuit. An electrical exchange is made up of an electrical source, something called a load, and at least two wires that carry the current between the electricity’s source and the electrical load. Imagine our electrical source is a battery and the electrical “load” is a light bulb screwed into a desk lamp.
All electrical sources have a positive and a negative terminal. The negative terminal is the part of the circuit that is used to push electrons along the electrical circuit. The wire running from the negative terminal is attached to the load (in our example the load is a light bulb), and then that same wire runs from the load back to the positive terminal attached to the source. The amount of force applied by the electrical source is what determines how much voltage moves through the electrical circuit. The word “amps” refers to the amount of electrons moving through this electrical circuit. The word is “amperage” and is a measure of electrical current.
The final aspect of electricity you need to understand is called “resistance”. Think of water running through a pipe. The larger the pipe the easier it is for water to move through that pipe. Pushing a million gallons through a garden hose would take longer than letting the same amount of water run through a canal.
When the electrical current enters the “load” part of an electrical circuit (like our light bulb) some aspect of the load takes on the same amount of current. In a light bulb, the little filament wire inside the bulb becomes as electrically charged as the wire that’s moving the electricity.
When the electrical current flows through the light bulb’s filament, the electrons of the atoms of the current become really thick because they’re moving through a smaller space — like water building up behind a dam. Just like the small space of a dam reservoir holds back water, the small space inside the filament greatly increases the energy of the electrons. This buildup of energy is what lights up the light bulb.
Voila! That’s how electricity works.
Want to learn more about how electricity works? Take a look at Electricity Demystified, available at Amazon. (We make a tiny commission if you buy a copy via our link.)
This is part of a series of blog posts we’re publishing about How Stuff Works. The other posts in this series include:
- How Does E-Mail Work?
- How Does Soap Work?
- How Does Twitter Work?
- How Does Gravity Work?
- How Does Unemployment Work?
- How Does Wi-Fi Work?
- How Does the Eye Work?
- How Does Rent-to-Own Work?
- How Does a GPS Work?
Will the swine flu vaccine be ready in time?
Amid reports that suggest that millions of Americans could be “hospitalized” in the coming flu season due to the convergence of swine flu and more traditional influenzas — some bad news.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swine flu vaccine won’t be available to anyone in America until the middle (or end) of October, probably too late for the earliest onset of swine flu and more traditional flu cases.
In fact, news today suggests that President Barack Obama’s science advisers are begging the President and his cabinet to act now to ensure that H1N1 vaccines are available weeks before projections suggest. The new head of the CDC in America has responded to the President’s advisers saying that regardless what actions the President takes, swine flu vaccines will be unavailable until the already announced time — mid October. All this is playing out against reports that the swine flu will coincide with other influenza strains, setting off forecasts for the worst flu season in decades.
Though the scientists responsible for creating the H1N1 vaccine are not going to be able to deliver in a manner that doctors and other researchers want, they are still rushing through their work, raising fears among many doctors that the kind of imperfect testing necessary to rush a vaccine through will have a negative impact on the eventual drug. These imperfect tests mean that the creators of the vaccine won’t know enough about the drug to properly dose and vaccinate us. Already, the rush to create a vaccine has slowed attempts to take stock of H1n1 — precise numbers on how many people will probably be infected are impossible to come up with thanks to concentration on the vaccine rather than the virus itself.
So swine flu is the “number one” priority for the CDC — just not the right kind of priority.
Doctors willing to speak out against the CDC’s practices suggest that the vaccine should be available by the middle of September. These same medical experts say that the government should be taking advantage of the pandemic H1N1 to improve the overall surveillance of influenza, using the swine flu outbreak to improve our practices and to prevent future pandemics.
The five companies who are currently making swine flu vaccine for the U.S. market (AstraZeneca’s MedImmune unit, CSL Ltd, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Novartis AG and Sanofi-Aventis SA) are running tests to determine if people will need one or multiple doses of that vaccine in order to be fully protected.
Why is the swine flu vaccine creating controversy?
Flu season is approaching, and fear is riding along. Many people are aware that the H1N1 virus could re-emerge with a vengeance once the time for seasonal flu is upon us. Thankfully, a vaccine is currently being tested for potential release before “traditional” flu and the H1N1 virus or “swine flu” have a chance to hit us with a double whammy.
However, there are still other people who are afraid of the vaccine itself. In fact, fears surrounding the swine flu vaccine are growing by the day. First we heard from groups concerned that there may not be enough of the vaccine to go around (some estimates put the total number of ready vaccines at the start of flue season somewhere around 60 million doses, a far cry from what is needed) — now, people are pointing to the 1976 swine flu epidemic, also treated with a vaccine. The problem then? After receving vaccinations, hundreds of people came down with Guillain-Barre syndrome allegedly related to that vaccine.
I say allegedly because nothing has ever been proven. Sure, the illnesses lent bad publicity to the creators of that vaccine, and the program was halted only after an estimated 40 million Americans received the vaccine, but no scientific proof exists to link the 70s era swine flu vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Regardless of any medical “proof”, many people are remembering what happened over 30 years ago and voicing their concerns about what might happen with the current round of planned vaccinations. Also, there’s a new buzz word in the game of vaccine fear — “adjuvant”. What is “adjuvant”, and why are people angry about its addition to the proposed swine flu vaccine?
An adjuvant is “something that allows the immune system to respond with higher levels of effectiveness,” according to the pharmaceutical company Aventis Pasteur. Basically, an adjuvant is an additive that could eventually lower the amount of vaccine needed per person, opening up the door for more individual doses to be available.
Consumers are most likely concerned about adjuvants because they haven’t heard of them before. However, adjuvants (which are mostly made of different forms of aluminum) are already in use in the United States, and if you’ve had a vaccine in the past twenty years, you’ve already been in contact with them. Adjuvants are currently used in vaccinations for everything from hepatitis A and B, to diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccines.
According to researchers working on the new swine flu vaccine, the adjuvant in the current incarnation of H1N1 vaccine would be a water-oil mixture.
The first run of drug trials on the new swine flu vaccine will use a form without adjuvants — the reason why is unclear — but later trials of the vaccine will use an adjuvanted form, but only if deemed necessary. This is also a point of contention for many people, who worry that testing a vaccine that isn’t identical to the vaccine that will be released is dangerous and pointless. The reason why unadjuvanted forms are being tested is simple. To the medical community, it is unneccessary to test a vaccine ingredient that has already been in use in this country for decades.
Consumers, having never really heard of adjuvants, are assuming this is a new addition to vaccines.
The hope for adjuvant use is simple — in the future, vaccines with adjuvants will require much smaller doses while giving patients an even better immune response. Less of a drug to get a better result means higher profits for vaccine manufacturers and better results for patients, not to mention more individual vaccine doses available for clinical use. The ability of the medical community to stretch this year’s supply of swine flu vaccine is a major issue. Fears about a shortage of swine flu vaccine could be put to rest if the doses could be split in two — that would bring the reported number of available doses at flu season’s outset to 120 million. The short answer on adjuvants — they will give a patient a better immune response while increasing the likelihood that all patients who need the vaccine will get it.
An example of how an adjuvant works — a bird flu vaccine is being tested in Asia. This vaccine is made up of 90 micrograms of an antigen (the ingredient that gives a patient an immune response) that could be reduced to as little as 3 micrograms in the presence of an adjuvant. This is allowing the manufacturer to split what was once a single dose into 24 usable doses of vaccine.
The flu vaccine that most of us get every year requires about 15 micrograms of antigen. Imagine a vaccine containing an adjuvant that could bring that number down to about 1 or 3 micrograms. With a smaller dose, there is less chance for complications and more vaccine to go around.
Still, it is difficult to look past the fact that vaccines have a history of safety concerns in this country, some legit concerns mixed up with the standard American paranoid response. For instance, when news broke that no flu vaccine ever used in the United States has contained an adjuvant up to this point, people immediately questioned the need for adjuvants this time around.
The simple answer is this — adjuvants weren’t used in flu vaccines because adjuvants weren’t necessary. Flu vaccines in America work well — doctors see a great immune response from the products already on the market. The addition of an adjuvant to a vaccine that didn’t need it would have been a wasteful and costly decision, and that cost would have passed down to you and me, the consumers.
If adjuvants are going to be used in this year’s swine flu vaccine, they will probably be used mostly for adults and the elderly — groups where the additives have been tested. In other words, children’s vaccines would not come with adjuvant, mostly because adjuvants haven’t been tested in children.
What are the predictions for this year’s hurricane season?
Researchers have been scaling back their estimates on the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season since it started earlier this summer. Past seasons have seen violent storms form seemingly from the very beginning of the potential window for hurricanes — but this year has been terribly quiet.
Too quiet, in fact, for some. Even as I’m writing this, there is an area of interest in the Atlantic ocean — an area of showers and thunderstorms off the Cape Verde islands that shows some potential for turning into a tropical storm within the next few days.
The Colorado State University storm research team, probably the most trusted set of analysts for tropicl activity, has officially reduced its own 2009 Atlantic hurricane season forecast, predicting that only 10 tropical storms will appear in the Atlantic, and that only four of those storms are likely to strengthen into hurricanes.
Interestingly enough, after a string of years featuring nasty storms (Katrina, Rita, Ike, etc) this year is the slowest start to any Atlantic hurricane season since 1992.
The Colorado State forecasting team, founded by famous storm researcher William Gray, made a prediction earlier this summer that the season would see 11 tropical storms, including five hurricanes. While today’s reduction to 10 storms and 4 hurricanes may seem like a small difference, imagine if that one storm lost had been a killer like Katrina.
Tuesday’s forecast revision by Colorado State researchers suggests that only two of the hurricanes would reach the all important “major” status of Category 3 or higher. At Category 3, hurricanes contain sustained winds of over 110 miles per hour. This is the level at which hurricanes begin to do major damage.
Tuesday’s change in the forceast is the third time already this season that Colorado State’s hurricane forecast has been reduced due to sea surface temperatures dipping lower than expected. It is not all that common for the mostly tropical Atlantic Ocean to cool down this much during hurricane season. Some suggest that the development of El Nino conditions in the eastern Pacific may have something to do with the forecast change as well. El Nino is a weather system that cuases the occasional warming of Pacific sea waters that acts to dampen Atlantic hurricane activity by increasing a force known as “wind shear” — wind shear is a severe difference in conflicting wind speeds at differing altitudes. These wind shear forces appear to destroy cyclones at an atmospheric level.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. government agency in charge of reports on the climate, said in early July that the eastern Pacific had demonstrated El Nino conditions. This meant trouble for the Colorado State researchers who predicted last December that this hurricane season would produce 14 storms, seven of which would reach full hurricane strength. The forecast dropped to 13 storms, including six hurricanes, in April, then again to 12 and 5 this summer.
Strangely enough, the first two months of the current Atlantic season (June and July) have not produced any tropical storms or hurricanes. The season runs through November 30th, but most of the activity in the Atlantic happens long before then. Historically, according to Colorado State researchers, the busiest part of the season is from late August to mid-October.
What does this slow start mean for those who live in the path of potential hurricanes? Going back to the fact this season has been incredibly slow — the last hurricane season that started this slowly was in 1992, the year of Hurricane Andrew.
I don’t say that to scare people, but to remind people that a slow start doesn’t mean a slow ending. “El Nino” is certainly putting a chokehold on the Atlantic storm season, but weather forecasters are now pointing to dry desert air from the Sahara as a potential storm slowing factor.
Those of you in the path of tropical storms and hurricanes, consider yourselves lucky — you’ve been given an extra two months to get ready for this hurricane season. Make sure you are stocked with supplies in case of emergency, and that you have an evacuation plan set with your family and friends.
Are mercury dental fillings safe?
Mercury is well known as one of the most dangerous metals on earth. One of only four metals that are in liquid form at room temperature, mercury (also known as quicksilver) is a poison that can cause sickness and even death. So how does it make sense that we get mercury-based fillings in our teeth?
Though people have been petitioning the government for answers for years, a definitive answer has only recently been offered by the FDA.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced this week that the silver colored dental fillings containing mercury are safe for patients. This is good news for most of us, as we are all likely to have a mercury based filling or two in our mouth. This decision by the FDA is a reversal from an earlier caution they relased to doctors and dentists against the use of mercury for medical purposes in specific types of patients, most notably pregnant women and children under the age of 16.
In the statement released Tuesday, the FDA had this to say — “While elemental mercury has been associated with adverse health effects at high exposures, the levels released by dental amalgam fillings are not high enough to cause harm in patients.” The report cites an agency wide review of about 200 scientific studies published in the last couple of years.
Millions of us have mercury fillings used to patch cavities in our teeth. The FDA said it certainly does not recommend any patients have their fillings removed.
The fillings, which are silver in color, are also known as ‘amalgams” in dental parlance. The filling itself is not 100 percent mercury, but is actually a combination of many metals including mercury. Mercury has been linked to brain and kidney damage when it is absorbed into the body at high levels. The FDA has basically reported this week that fillings don’t have enough mercury to do real harm.
In 2006, a group calling itself Moms Against Mercury sued the FDA (along with three other groups) to have mercury amalgams removed from the U.S. market. Early in 2007, an FDA panel reported that most people would not be harmed by the small amount of mercury, but that more information was needed. In fact, that same panel recommended that mercury based fillings not be used on children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people particularly sensitive to mercury.
The dangeorus little metal, whether found in medicine, vaccines, fillings, or food, has generated a ton of controversy in recent years. Many consumer groups say that the fillings can “trigger” a variety of serious health problems including Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Some parents are refusing to vaccinate their children out of fear of mercury, and even more people are avoiding consuming fish because of rumors of high mercury levels.
But in the FDA’s final regulations on mercury issued this week as part of an earlier legal settlement, the government group stated that the fillings arre now considered “only a moderate risk”. The FDA will clear the air more in the coming weeks by issuing specific details about the risks and benefits of mercury products. These products will also now carry warnings on their labels — warnings doctors will use to inform patients who have mercury allergies or other specific health concerns.
The problem with mercury and other heavy metals is our lack of knowledge. Sure, we know a ton about what exposure to these metals can do, but serious questions still exist about what chronic low-level exposure over the course of a lifetime does to our bodies. According to the FDA’s new release, there is no “causal link” between mercury amalgam fillings and chronic health problems. While some are relieved by this statement, there are still questions from consumer advocacy group, and Moms Against Mercury is still not convinced.
Moms Against Mercury President Amy Carson is on the record saying she is “disappointed in the FDA’s reversal”. Her group filed yet another petition with the FDA as soon as the announcement was made, calling for a ban on mercury fillings yet again. While I’m not sure what Moms Against Mercury knows that the FDA doesn’t, it is impressive that they’re sticking to their guns.
Over the past 20 years, the FDA reports that they’ve only heard about 140 reports of problems with the fillings, or patients who may have suffered problems from the fillings.
The FDA’s decision could have a serious impact on the businesses that manufacture metal fillings. These groups, such as Dentsply International Inc and Kerr, saw their stock prices soar on the news. For now, the dental manufacturing industry is applauding the decision. Shares of Dentsply closed up than 21 cents to rest at $30.80 per share on the Nasdaq.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), 30 percent of fillings given to patients are contain mercury, though a growing number of patients ar echoosing tooth-colored natural options such as resin composites. Even more alternative products exist outside of resin — these include porcelain, glass cement, or even gold. The problem with these fillings? They are much more expensive and far less durable.
Are tanning beds a cancer risk?
International cancer experts have determined, once and for all, that the use of tanning beds and any other device that transmits any kind of ultraviolet or UV radiation do cause cancer. How have they done this? By moving up tanning beds, sun lamps, and similar devices to “the highest risk category”, the same as very dangerous poisons, such as mustard gas.
The new classification for these devices is more than just a symbolic gesture. It means that there is now medical support for the belief that tanning beds and UV rays definitely cause cancer in humans, just as tobacco smoke, and the hepatitis B virus do — two other things listed in the “highest risk category”. It also means that worldwide bans on these devices are being considered.
This information was handed down by the International Agency for Cancer Research (known as IARC). This group is the World Health Organization’s cancer study wing and is based in Lyon, France. The announcement on the updated cancer risk level for tanning beds appeared in a piece of research published this week in the online branch of the medical journal Lancet Oncology. Before this announcement, the IARC determined that tanning beds and other UV delivery devices were “probably carcinogenic to humans”. This has been changed to “definitively carcinogenic to humans”.
Doctors who support the move believe this announcement will increase already tight pressure on the tanning bed industry to regulate the use of UV delivery devices. This isn’t more of the so called “Nanny State” — there is hard evidence that the link between tanning beds and skin cancer is incredibly high. This announcement is just the latest in a long string of similar charges made in medical journals.
As expected, representatives from the tanning bed industry have been quick to state that there is no proof that there is a link between the “responsible use of tanning beds and skin cancer”. Sure, if you ignore the last ten years of medical science.
The IARC is made up of cancer experts charged with making recommendations related to cancer to the World Health Organization. This is not some group of people set to profit from the collapse of tanning.
The IARC made this decision after a lengthy review of scientific research which determined that the risk of melanoma — which is the deadliest form of skin cancer in humans — was increased by an average of 75% in people who use tanning beds regularly before the age of 30. The link to age is also interesting, and presents a worse picture for tanning salons everywhere — the tanning industry will now be painted as “giving our kids cancer”. Not usually a good sign for any business.
An additional risk of a very scary cancer was found through the us of tanning beds. The recent IARC declaration is not the only group to notice that there is much greater risk for a teenager to develop melanoma of the eye if that person uses a tanning device. Take your pick — melanoma of the eye or slightly paler skin?
Cancer Research UK, a huge charity group dedicated to cancer awareness, already made a warning earlier this year that even average use of tanning beds or sun lamps is mostly responsible for the rising number of people worldwide being diagnosed with melanoma. In fact, that number jumped to over 10,000 a year in Great Britain alone for the first time this year. Over the last three decades, melanoma rates in the UK have quadrupled and then some. In 1977, for instance, there were 3.4 cases of melanoma per 100,000 people. In 2006, that number was nearly 15 per 100,000.
The British government will be one of the first to act to protect its citizens. There is already a proposal in Great Britain to ban the use of tanning devices in people under the age of 18. A ban on tanning beds has already taken place in Scotland. The representatives we quoted earlier have weighed in on this topic, and they agree that a ban on people under the age of 16 is negotiable, but they make the argument, again, that “there is no scientific evidence for a ban on people aged 17 or 18″.
The fact is this — now that we know that exposure to UV rays of all kinds (A, B, or C) creates a huge risk of getting cancer, the responsible thing to do is to avoid tanning beds for cosmetic purposes. In fact, there is no health benefit to tanning, and armed with the knowledge that cancer is a distinct possibility, it is the opinion of many in the medical community that these devices should be banned worldwide.
Where will this month’s solar eclipse be visible?
This Wednesday, June 22, 2009, a large portion of the population of Earth is in for quite a show.
The longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century is about to take place — specifically, this Wednesday, with time around 2:35:21 UTC. This will be the longest totality event until June 13 2132, when none of us will be alive to view its beauty — hell, it is unlikely that any of our children will be around then.
There will be no other eclipse to rival its duration for over a hundred years. This huge eclipse will last a full 6 minutes and 39 seconds, and it will reach its maximum phase around 80 miles south of the Bonin Islands in the southeast of the nation of Japan.
The eclipse, which scientists have assigned a magnitude of 1.0799, will be visible from northern India, eastern Nepal, northern Bangladesh, Bhutan, the northern tip of Union of Myanmar, central China and the Pacific Ocean, including the Ryukyu Islands, Marshall Islands and Kiribati. The totality itself will be seen by citizens of Surat, Varanasi, Patna, Thimphu, Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan, Hangzhou and Shanghai. A wider swath of Asia will experience a partial eclipse event — this darkening of the sky will be noticeable in the much wider path of the moon’s shadow, covering most of southeast Asia and northeast Oceania.
The lengthiest and most accessible solar eclipse of the 21st century, for the majority of the population, will stretch over half of the globe. NASA is predicting that the path of the eclipse will cover all of India and Indonesia and most of China, as well as parts of the entirety of Eastern Asia and the islands of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. While no one in the Western hemisphere will be able to see the eclipse live, NASA has come up with a few cool ways for those of us not living in the East to experience this amazing phenomenon.
First, there’s an interactive map available online that uses Google Maps to track the path of the total eclipse, though the boundaries of various partial eclipse phenomena are much, much wider. The path for what is called “totality” (the area of the world that will experience a total solar eclipse) is notable mostly because it passes through or near huge population centers in Asia — metropolises like Shanghai and Mumbai. There are also plans to broadcast video of the eclipse both in video replay and in real time over the Internet. A team of scientists and tech enthusiasts from the University of Madrid (who would normally not be able to view the largest exclipse of any of our life times, as they are not in the path of the eclipse) have set up cameras and a web presence to display the events of the eclipse for the world to see.
As of this writing, the eclipse broadcast is accessible at this website (http://om.fi.upm.es/CiclopeAstro/?locale=en).
This eclipse is generating a lot of attention, and not only because it will be the largest and most visible of any of our lifetimes. The position and magnitude of this eclipse has some scientists (but mostly end of the world paranoids) predicting massive earthquakes and tsunamis off the coast of Japan — the theory is that the tidal pull created by such a solar event will rattle the tectonic plates in the area, which are notoriously picky about being shaken about.
Tourism is also a huge even for some cities in the path of the totality — there are reports that the very small and poor Indian village of Taregana is enjoying the massive increase in tourism and influx of cash that comes with the honor of being labelled the “ideal vantage point” for viewing a total eclipse. Naturally, Chinese scientists disagree that Taregana is the best spot for viewing the totality, claiming instead that parts of China are the best place to be. In actuality, the best spot to view the totality event is probably the island of Iwo Jima, since the maximum duration of eclipse won’t be anywhere near the mainland of Asia.
There won’t be an eclipse like this for another 12 decades — unless you’re planning on being unfrozen in a hundred years it is unlikely there will be a more engaging eclipse event in your lifetime. If that fact alone doesn’t send you into a state of reverie and awe, you’re unlikely to be excited by any solar or space event.
What is the TYM test?
British medical researchers have created a new cognitive test that detects Alzheimer’s disease quickly and accurately. The self administered test, known as TYM or “test your memory”, was developed at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
Although the mental illness known widely as “dementia” is quite common, with a prevalence of around 13 for every 1000 people aged 65-69 and 122 in 1000 in those over 80, only about half of people affected by this debilitating disease are ever diagnosed. This new test, that evaluates a patient’s cognitive ability, appears to be faster and more accurate than current tests in detecting early dementia, according to the British researchers that developed it. The best news about TYM may be that you can give the test to yourself. No need for a doctor’s visit or a copay.
The TYM test “shows great promise as a screening test for Alzheimer’s or in monitoring response to treatment,” according to lead researcher Dr. Jeremy Brown, who is a consultant neurologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. However, he said, “so far it has only been tested in one clinical scenario, and it needs assessment in others.”
People can take the test, which exists as a kind of questionnaire, on their own. However, the results of the test still need to be interpreted by medical professionals and if a medical solution can be found for possible dementia, that too will require a doctor’s care.
Though many in the media are saying so, the researchers do no believe that TYM is a diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease. The closest that the Addenbrooke’s Hospital researchers will come to saying this — “It could be useful in identifying people who need further evaluation.” A good TYM score means that it is very unlikely for a specific patient to develop Alzheimer’s. On the flip side, a poor TYM score could have several causes and even more outcomes, such as anxiety or dyslexia. However, a low TYM score does increase the chances that a patient could develop Alzheimer’s disease.
The report is published in the June 9 edition of the British Medical Journal.
How did the TYM test come about? Brown and his fellow researchers gave the TYM exam to nearly 600 people, aged 18 to 95 years old. These subject had no history of neurological disease or brain injury. Brown et al also gave the exam to 139 people who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairment or memory troubles. They then compared the results of the TYM exam with two more commonly used cognitive tests: the “mini mental state examination” and the ‘Addenbrooke’s cognitive examination”, which the participants also were given.
For the TYM, people are usually asked to complete a set of 10 tasks that test their ability to do various mundane things, like give a word’s meaning, copy a sentence, and to do simple math calculations. The test also included some simple “recall” abilities as well testing the patient’s verbal skills. Each task can earn the subject a maximum of 50 points.
An example TYM question might be “Name four animals beginning with the letter “S”.
People who had no history of mental problems took an average of five minutes to complete the test. Their average score on these various tests was a healthy 47 — remember that 50 is the maximum average. However, people with Alzheimer’s or other mental impairment took much longer to finish the test (an average of 11 minutes) and earned an average score of just 33. People with mild memory problems or past head injuries had an average score of 45, the researchers found.
The TYM far outperformed older tests given by the researches, successfully identifying 93 percent of patients with Alzheimer’s. In contrast, the “mini mental state examination” identified a much smaller 52 percent of Alzheimer’s patients, suggesting that the TYM test is more sensitive in detecting mild cases of Alzheimer’s disease. Not to mention that the TYM takes far less time to complete than the mini mental state examination, once thought to be the best tool for identifying the presence of Alzheimer’s disease.
Speaking on behalf of the TYM exam, William Thies, who is vice president of medical and scientific affairs at the Alzheimer’s Association, said “I think the TYM exam needs to be tried in many more places with many more people before it can be widely used.”
Thies is worried about the test’s credibility, and about the buzz the researchers have garnered in a very short time. And Thies has a good point — any medical diagnostic test needs to be tested across broad portions of various population. To be widely accepted, the TYM test needs to take into account the cultural and language differences of different populations. Thies was also skeptical about the small sample size origianlly tested with TYM — just around 660 test subjects. This is hardly a large enough pool to determine if a diagnostic is a success.
If the TYM test meets all of these criterion, it could be a useful tool in identifying people who do not need further evaluation for Alzheimer’s, and allow doctors working with dementia patients to focus on those with legitimate need. In other words, TYM looks like a remarkable tool for triage.
Without a proper diagnosis, patients and care providers cannot access the medical services they need, meaning earlier diagnosis is key to living with dementia. However, early diagnosis is not easy, and as of now, no definitive test exists.
The TYM test was designed to lessen the test operator’s time spent working, and to be suitable for non Dementia specialists to use effectively. The TYM can be completed quickly and accurately under normal circumstances. It is being celebrated as a powerful and valid screening test for the detection of Alzheimer’s disease.
If TYM — test your memory — is to be adopted more widely, though, it has a few hurdles to overcome. Should TYM be altered to take into account a wide range of populations, we could begin to see TYM used in hospitals and doctor’s offices across the world.
For more information about the TYM test, visit:
What is Food Inc.?
“Food Inc.” is an upcoming documentary by filmmaker Robert Kenner, probably best known for his film The American Experience, which won an Emmy in 2006.
One of the best reviewed films this year (a quick Google search of the film’s reviews revealed only one negative review, posted by an anonymous blogger), “Food Inc.” promises to be an eye opening experience for Americans, who probably don’t give a second though to exactly what it is they’re eating. Kenner’s goal with “Food Inc.” is to change, or at least slightly alter, that behavior.
You may remember a documentary called “King Corn” a few years back, in which a couple of recent college graduates head to Iowa to raise an acre of corn in an attempt to track where exactly that corn goes. As the two amateur farmers eventually found out, their corn was going, well, everywhere. The two corn producers found corn in just about every item in the grocery store, and learned that the majority of their corn would be used as artificial sweeteners in soft drinks. In fact, the corn they grew wasn’t even edible, it was a product designed to be used in other products, as sweetener, filler, or animal feed. This fact led documentary participant Michael Pollan (also a participant in “Food Inc.”) to state a very scary fact — “The modern farmer can’t even feed himself.”
“Food Inc.” is hoping for a larger appeal, and is enjoying a more massive release, than the under the radar activity of “King Corn”. The new film by Robert Kenner will enjoy a Hollywood-style premiere in New York City, LA, and San Francisco on June 12th before being released in thousands of theatres across the country later in June. While “King Corn” was an arthouse indie film, “Food Inc.” will be available to more Americans, and hopefully, make a larger impact.
According to Kenner, the problem with American eaters (and eaters in other parts of the world) is that we crave the unhealthiest elements in fast food — fatty and practically devoid of real nutrition, this convenient food source quenches our desire for three basic needs: sugar, fat and protein. According to one documentary participant, Polyface Farm owner Joel Salatin, ” . . . we want it faster, fatter, bigger and cheaper.” Salatin is upheld as a successful model of proper and nutritious farming in the film. Salatin raises his livestock without the use of pesticides, growth hormones, or fertilizers. His biggest product is known as “salad bar beef” — cattle that graze on grasses and native forage rather than the corn that most cattle producers use. The problem with corn? Its not meant to be part of cow’s diet, resulting in diseases (like E. coli) which require large amounts of antibiotics. You can see where this is going.
Why don’t more cattle producers use Salatin’s method? This is the big question of “Food Inc.” Our national farming system is set up so that farmers of industrial corn and soy earn subsidies, allowing them to produce cheaper goods for the mass market. This means that cattle producers like Salatin have to charge higher prices. Most Americans will go for the cheaper product every time. This is a fact of life, especially when economic times are hard.
Throughout the film, viewers will learn scary statistics about the state of our national health, which are directly related to our massive consumption of cheaper foods.
Besides statistics and interviews, there are disturbing images throughout “Food, Inc.” The idea, says Kenner, is to “lead viewers to a conclusion that’s hard to swallow”. That conclusion? In plain English, our food and our food choices are making us sick. Our country’s healthcare system is plagued by diabetes and obesity, and this method of farming is harming both the environment and our basic human rights.
There is good news. Unlike many of the scare tactic documnetaries produced in the past (including “King Corn”), “Food, Inc.” offers viewers simple solutions to the problem. Not only is there information in the film to help Americans make better choices, by the distributor of the film, Participant Media, has put out a book to accompany the information found in the film. This book, also titled “Food, Inc.,” will serves as a kind of “field guide” for how to take part in the necessary transition to a sustainable food system.
Have scientists found The Missing Link?
For years, science has been in search of “The Missing Link” between early primates and early humans — a being that bridged the gap between the two very different species. On Tuesday, the announcement came that scientists have been waiting for.
Scientists are revealing a fossil this week that they say was found almost 30 years ago — and may help untangle the mystery of our connection with other mammals and our earliest human ancestors.
An international team of scientists announced in New York on Tuesday the discovery of a 47 million year old human ancestor. For the past two years, the team, led by world renowned Norwegian fossil scientist Dr Jørn Hurum of the University of Oslo Natural History Museum, have secretly run a series of detailed forensic tests of the extraordinary fossil. The team has been studying the data in an attempt to decode humanity’s ancient beginnings. As of the announcement on Tuesday, the research is 95% complete. The fossil, named Ida, and the information we’re learning from it is set to have a major impact on our understanding of human evolution.
Ida was originally discovered in Messel Pit, Germany — a crater near Frankfurt. The fossil is at least twenty times older than most other fossils involved in the chain of human evolution. Ida represents a member of a “transitional species”, which means Ida shows characteristics from the extremely primitive non human evolutionary line such as lemurs and other simians, but Ida is in fact more closely related to our human evolutionary line — animals such as monkeys, apes and humans. This transitional status places Ida at the very beginning of human evolution — a time when primates were first developing the traits that would evolve into our familiar human features. The international team’s findings have been published by PLoS ONE, the peer reviewed open access journal from the Public Library of Science.
Ida lived around 47 million years ago during a critical period in the history of the Earth. Ida’s lifetime fell within the Eocene Epoch, a time when scientists believe the “blueprints” for modern mammals were being established. After the mass extinction of dinosaurs, early horses, whales, and many other and and sea based creatures (including the first primates) were able to thrive on Earth’s subtropical climate. The Earth was then just beginning to take the shape that we are familiar with today — modern animals and plant life were evolving, and famous geological features like the Himalayas were being formed. Land mammals, including primates, lived in enormous jungle landscapes. This is where Ida most likely lived — a massive jungle like region buzzing with plant and animal life.
So how do we know Ida wasn’t just another lemur? The researchers have found that Ida lacks two of the key anatomical features normally found in lemurs: a grooming claw found on the second digit of the foot, and a feature known as a “toothcomb”, which is a row of fused teeth in the middle of her lower jaw. Also, rather than having claws (which are typical of primates on the level of lemurs) Ida has nails, and her teeth are almos identical to teeth found in monkeys. Most enchanting of all, her eyes are very similar to human eyes. They face forward, allowing her two fields of vision to overlap. This is important, as overlapping vision allows 3D processing and a heightened ability to judge distances.
Ida’s hands show opposable thumbs — found in humans, but not lower primates. Like all primates, Ida has five fingers on each hand. The presence of an opposable thumb would have provided an advantage in terms of a strong grip. In the case of our relative Ida, this grip is useful for climbing and gathering fruit, while for humans, the opposable thumb grip allows functions such as making tools, communicating, and writing. According to the researchers of the fossil, Ida also had incredibly flexible arms, which would allow her to use both hands at once. Many tasks can’t be accomplished with just one hand (imagine trying to grab a piece of fruit off a tree with just one hand) so the ability to use both hands no doubt propelled Ida and her kind to the top of the food chain. Like humans, Ida has quite short arms and legs when compared with other lower order primates.
There are a few famous primate fossils who have been given names — “Lucy”, a primate fossil found in the Cradle of Mankind in Africa, was so named because the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was playing during the party after her discovery. But unlike Lucy and the other famous primate fossils found in Africa, Ida is a European fossil who was preserved in Germany’s Messel Pit. The Messel Pit is a mile-wide crater, a significant site for fossils from the Eocene Epoch. The scientist’s fossil analysis has revealed that the prehistoric primate was a young female. Her opposable big toes and the presence of nails in place of claws helped confirm that the fossil “Ida” is a primate, while a foot bone found in Ida’s fossil (called the “talus bone”) provides a direft link from Ida to modern humans.
X-rays reveal that a broken wrist may have been involved in Ida’s death — scientists are not sure why or how, but there is evidence that her left wrist was in the process of healing from a particularly nasty fracture. One possible explanation that the research scientists have come up with — perhaps Ida was overcome by carbon dioxide gas while stopping for a drink from Messel lake. We know that the lake’s waters were often covered by a low lying fog of CO2, due to volcanic forces that formed the lake and were still active at the time of Ida’s life. Though this is pure speculation, it provides a nice window into life 47 million years ago. Overcome by the CO2 gas, Ida fell and broke her wrist, was unable to find food or simply slipped into unconsciousness, at which point she was washed into the lake where particularly unique preservation conditions allowed her fossil to stay well intact for almost 50 million years, until she was discovered in 1983.
The fossil of Ida also features a complete ‘soft body outline”, showing what her original body may have looked like. We also know a ton about Ida’s diet, as her “gut contents” were well preserved: Ida was a vegetarian, eating lots of fruit, seeds and leaves. X-rays of the fossil show that Ida still had a few “baby teeth” as well as a few adult teeth, placing her age somewhere in young adolescence. The X-rays also confirmed the lack of a ‘toothcomb’ or a ‘toilet claw’ , the two attributes of lemurs discussed above. Scientists estimate Ida’s age when she died to be approximately nine months, and she measured approximately three feet in length.
Further evidence linking Ida to us lies in that all important talus bone. The bone in Ida has the exact same shape as it does in humans today. The one difference is size — obviously, the human talus bone is larger, as Ida is only three feet in length. Using X-rays, CT scanning, and other computer based tests, scientists were able to pick apart the well preserved fossil without destroying it. More information about Ida will continue to surface as tests of her fossil continue. For now — we have a new ancestor. Let’s all welcome Ida to the pack.