I think this is great. Two recent engineering graduates decided to create a line of dolls called Miss Possible - and what makes these dolls special is they represent famous women in STEM from history, such as Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, and Bessie Coleman (the first African-American female pilot for those of you who don't know). The dolls will come with apps that describe the life of these women and allows girls to do hands-on activities relating to their lives, such as creating a compass for Marie Curie. The doll creators are raising funds on IndieGoGo and allowing for preorders of the dolls.
Image from the above link.
Polar bears in the Arctic have been losing the sea ice they use as part of their habitat in recent years due to warming, and because of the inaccessible, remote landscape, scientists have had difficulty monitoring their populations. Biologists found that they could actually identify 92 polar bears from satellite images in Nunavut, Canada. Satellite images do not have as high of resolution as aerial surveys done from airplanes, but aerial surveys are very expensive and hard to do in remote places. Satellite images could have an advantage in these cases.
Aerial surveys of the same area found 77 polar bears, so scientists now know that satellite numbers can be comparable.
First, let me apologize for the long break in my posts . . . I have been in the midst of daily field work for my PhD research and driving around southwestern Michigan. Even though I have many links saved up that I wanted to write about (and many of you probably read about the stories by now), it was hard to find the time after I got back from a long, hot day. Hopefully I will start to catch up this week.
Today's post is about the solar storms that affected the Earth on July 23, 2012. In a solar storm, a solar flare erupts from a sunspot, and extreme UV radiation and X-rays reach the Earth's atmosphere, which can interrupt radio broadcasts and mess up GPS communications. A little later, electrons and protons arrive and can damage satellites. Last come coronal mass ejections (CME), which is magnetized plasma that is delayed by about a day. This can cause huge electrical blackouts and loss of our running water through our pipes, since electric pumps wouldn't work.
In July 2012, two CMEs occurred that hit the STEREO-A spacecraft, and would have hit Earth if it occurred one week later, when Earth would have passed the ejection location in its orbit. This CME event could have been larger than the largest CME ever recorded, in 1859, named the Carrington event. The CME hit the earth head-on, and caused telegraph lines to spark around the world and set fire to telegraph offices. Auroras (northern lights) were seen as far south as Cuba! For a modern comparison, in 1989 a strong geomagnetic storm knocked out power across much of Quebec.
If the 2012 CMEs did hit the Earth directly, scientists speculate that they could have caused damage totaling $2 trillion. It could have fried transformers that weigh several tons that take years to repair. Losing power for several years would eliminate the use of much of our modern technology. "If an asteroid big enough to knock modern civilization back to the 18th century appeared out of deep space and buzzed the Earth-Moon system, the near-miss would be instant worldwide headline news." Scientists were able to collect so much data on the 2012 CME because the STEREO-A spacecraft was designed to withstand solar storms, and so it wasn't even damaged while taking a direct hit. It sits in interplanetary space and was able to continue collecting data because there is a weaker magnetic field than that around earth, and strong electric currents aren't generated by CMEs there that could damage spacecraft. Scientists predict there is a 12% chance that a solar storm as big as the Carrington event will hit Earth in the next 10 years. I wonder how we can best prepare for something like that . . . be able to switch everything to battery or gasoline-generated power?
When both Sir David Attenborough and Jane Goodall publicly denounce something, you know it must be a big deal. Kew Gardens, a more than 200-year-old botanical research institution in London, is facing massive budget cuts of 1.5 million pounds to help with a 5 million pound deficit. Up to 120 expert scientists and staff could lose their jobs. The garden is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has over two million visitors per year, and has world-famous plant collections from around the world. Kew plays an important part in plant conservation research, and has greatly improved crop production for coffee, cocoa, rubber, and other food crops. They even do drug research on plants for treating malaria, HIV and diabetes!
Paul Grafton, a union representative, said in 1983, the British Government ensured that it would adequately fund Kew "to fulfill its statutory obligations, which include: research; providing advice and education; caring for scientific collections, as national reference collections available for study; and as a resource for the public to gain knowledge. The Government is no longer fulfilling its role to allow Kew to meet these obligations. The majority of posts to be cut are for people in specialist careers measured in decades of experience so Kew will lose dedicated, expert staff, and whole areas of work are likely to be halted."
Jane Goodall said, "There is a tremendous feeling of anger and frustration there and I share it. This an unbelievably stupid thing to do. This is the mother of all other botanical research centers. Britain should be proud of it, not dismantling it. It is like tearing up the union jack. That is why I wrote my letter. I want my protest to go viral. I want thousands and thousands of people to protest as well."
A petition on change.org has already received over 100,000 signatures and was handed to 10 Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives.
A video about Kew Gardens for a previous campaign. David Attenborough says in the video that Kew has about 90% of all known plant species in the world! Unbelievable.
Voyager 1, launched in 1977, is now the only man-made spacecraft that has left the heliosphere (the magnetic field and charged particles around the sun) and entered interstellar space. However, it hasn't left our solar system, and unfortunately won't leave during our lifetimes. Voyager 1 is approaching the Oort Cloud, made up of many comets, and will reach the edge of the solar system in 14,000 to 28,000 years.
It is not a very simple task to determine when Voyager 1 reached interstellar space. Scientists had to do some detective work to determine that the spacecraft was surrounded by higher-density particles that were vibrating after a powerful solar eruption, and that surrounding particles in the heliosphere wouldn't be as dense.
Both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, its twin spacecraft, have been operational and actively recording information since their launches.
There is a large squirrel rarely spotted in Borneo that hunters say will jump onto deer and bites at their jugular vein to bring them down and disembowel them. It turns out the tufted ground squirrel also has the bushiest tail compared with its body size of any small mammal (30% more voluminous than its body). This fact was only discovered recently after motion-sensing cameras took some photos of the squirrel. Scientists think that this super-bushy tail might confuse predators or cause them to get a mouthful of hair if they try to attack the squirrel, acting as a form of defense.
A photo taken by a motion-activated camera of the tufted ground squirrel in Borneo. Photo credit: Rona Dennis.
Although scientists have known there were a few types of fish-eating spiders out there, we recently just discovered there are many more than we once thought. There are 26 known spider species that eat fish from eight families, and some have been observed doing this behavior in the wild. The spiders do this by dangling their front legs in water while they sit on a leaf at the surface, paralyzing a fish that comes by with neurotoxins, and dragging the fish away onto land to consume it. Surprisingly (at least to me), half of the wild observations were in the U.S. and not in the tropics! There are a ton of spiders of the Dolomedes genus in Florida, where they feast on mosquitofish. They are also found in the U.K., Australia, and South America - in fact, on every continent except Antarctica.
These fish-eating spiders are only able to eat small fish - the largest fish one was spotted eating was 9 inches long (still huge for a spider). They probably still get most of their food from insects, but fish are a nice, big, protein-rich meal that they can enjoy occasionally.
You crazy, fish-eating spider. Photo credit: Patrick Randall.
I'm an ecologist in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I'll share what I find interesting in this blog.