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The world is not only stranger than we imagine, it's stranger than we can imagine. And that is *awesome*.

Mark Morford: Your mind, well and nicely blown
We are never going to run out.

This is the good news. Wait, check that: This is the astonishing, God-exploding, soul-altering, holier-than-wow news you must sip like a fine absinthe and jack straight into your bloodskin like a heroin bomb and then suck into your very anima like Lindsay Lohan on a coke bender.

It might sound obvious, the idea that wonders will never cease, that we will continue to be blown away by new discoveries for as long as we shall exist, that the world will keep astonishing us with stunning ideas, organisms, diseases and cures, synapses and connections, modes of being and ways of understanding for all eternity, despite our efforts to thwart it, deny it, reject it, or dumb ourselves down so much that we no longer have a goddamn clue what's going on.

But it's not obvious at all. We are, after all, nothing if not preternaturally jaded and wary. Many assume we're at a point in history when we've made most of the major breakthroughs and discoveries, have established all the laws of time and physics we are ever going to need. No more man on the moon, no more discovery of antibiotics, no more E=MC2, no more sorry-Pope-the-world-ain't-flat kind of epiphanies left.
autographedcat: (newsflash!)
Fermilab Experiment Hints At Existence of Brand-New Elementary Particle | Popular Science
Physicists working with a Fermilab neutrino experiment may have found a new elementary particle whose behavior breaks the known laws of physics. If correct, their results poke holes in the accepted Standard Model of particles and forces, and raise some interesting questions for the Large Hadron Collider and Tevatron experiments. The new particle could even explain the existence of dark matter.

Working with Fermilab's MiniBooNE experiment — the first part of the larger planned Booster Neutrino Experiment — physicists found evidence for a fourth flavor of neutrino, according to a new paper published in Physical Review Letters. This means there could be another particle we didn’t know about, and that it behaves in a way physicists didn’t expect.
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Absolutely awesome

British team send paper plane to the edge of space before it flies back to Earth | Mail Online
NASA, eat your heart out. Who needs a multi-billion-dollar spacecraft to study the Earth when you can use a paper plane?

Pictured here is the incredible British mission to send the plane 17 miles into the atmosphere to capture images of the curvature of the globe using a miniature camera.

The plane, which has a 3ft wing span and is made from paper straws covered in paper, was launched using nothing more powerful than a large helium balloon.

The craft soared to 90,000ft before the balloon exploded, freeing the plane to glide back down, taking photographs as it descended.

And the cost of Operation PARIS (Paper Aircraft Released Into Space)? A modest £8,000.
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I pretty much agree with this. We need more science driving policy, not less. More rationality, less superstition. More reason, less dogma.

The new barbarism: Keeping science out of politics - How the World Works - Salon.com
Keep science out of the political process? Science? I thought it was supposed to be the other way around; that the goal was the keep politics out of science. I can understand, albeit disagree with, categorizations of anthropogenic global warming as bad science, but I'm afraid I just can't come to grips with the notion that we should keep "science" from influencing politics at all. What is the point of civilization in the first place if we don't use our hard-won understanding of how the universe works to influence our decisions on how to organize ourselves?

Watching one Republican candidate for office after another declare outright that they do not believe humans are causing climate change is befuddling enough. But to flat-out reject science as a guide to policy is beyond medieval. It's a retreat to pure superstition, a surrender to barbarism. We might as well be reading omens in the entrails of sacrificial animals. Our wealth as a country, our incredible technological wonders -- the Industrial Revolution! -- were built upon scientific discovery.
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Science is utterly fascinating. The more we learn about the universe, the more we realize how much we don't know about it.

The 10 weirdest physics facts, from relativity to quantum physics - Telegraph:
Physics is weird. There is no denying that. Particles that don’t exist except as probabilities; time that changes according to how fast you’re moving; cats that are both alive and dead until you open a box.

We’ve put together a collection of 10 of the strangest facts we can find, with the kind help of cosmologist and writer Marcus Chown, author of We Need To Talk About Kelvin, and an assortment of Twitter users.

The humanities-graduate writer of this piece would like to stress that this is his work, so any glaring factual errors he has included are his own as well. If you spot any, feel free to point them out in the comment box below.
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Someone once said, "Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." While this is almost certainly true, the universe is awesome in its vast complexity, and the more we understand of it, the more amazing and mysterious it is.

So, on that note, here's some fun stuff from the world of science.

First up, from [livejournal.com profile] camwyn, an animated GIF file that illustrates the relative sizes of celestial bodies, starting with the Earth and moving outward. As she notes:
Turns out that when you are conscious of the size of the largest known astronomical object in existence- VY Canis Majoris, a star so huge that it literally takes eight days for light to get from one side to the other- you have a hard time taking "But you ruined my view!" as quite so relevant to the greater scheme of things.


If that wasn't enough to confirm that we're all really puny , [livejournal.com profile] epi_lj points me to an article in New Scientist magazine which suggests that it's entirely possible that the entire universe is, in fact, a giant hologram:
For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time - the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into "grains", just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. "It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time," says Hogan.

If this doesn't blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab's Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: "If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram."


The best part about this story is that it was discovered more or less by accident. Issac Asimov once said that the most exciting words in science were not "Eureka! I have it!", but "Hmmmm. That's funny.":
So would they be able to detect a holographic projection of grainy space-time? Of the five gravitational wave detectors around the world, Hogan realised that the Anglo-German GEO600 experiment ought to be the most sensitive to what he had in mind. He predicted that if the experiment's beam splitter is buffeted by the quantum convulsions of space-time, this will show up in its measurements (Physical Review D, vol 77, p 104031). "This random jitter would cause noise in the laser light signal," says Hogan.

In June he sent his prediction to the GEO600 team. "Incredibly, I discovered that the experiment was picking up unexpected noise," says Hogan. GEO600's principal investigator Karsten Danzmann of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany, and also the University of Hanover, admits that the excess noise, with frequencies of between 300 and 1500 hertz, had been bothering the team for a long time. He replied to Hogan and sent him a plot of the noise. "It looked exactly the same as my prediction," says Hogan. "It was as if the beam splitter had an extra sideways jitter."


I love the whole world. The world is just awesome.
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I picked up the link for this story from [livejournal.com profile] amacker's mailing list. What a cool idea!

Mad Max Meets Cannonball Run in Alt-Fuel Race to Vegas

Wayne Keith is headed to Las Vegas in an old Dodge pickup that runs on, of all things, wood. He gets about 1.6 mpp (that's miles per pound) and reckons he needs about 1,000 pounds to get there. No problem. He's carrying a chainsaw and a list of lumberyards along the way.

Such are the provisions you need for Escape from Berkeley, a madcap alt-fuel race that mashes up Mad Max and Cannonball Run with a touch of the Darpa Challenge and Burning Man. If the rules are simple -- no petroleum allowed, and fuel must be scavenged along the way -- the challenge is anything but.

"The basic premise is build a vehicle out of junk, we'll give you the equivalent of one gallon of gas and you have to drive 600 miles to Las Vegas. Oh, and you can't buy any fuel along the way," says Jim Mason, the artist and inventor behind the race. "That's a pretty heavy stone to carry."

That isn't keeping the 10 teams lining up for this weekend's race from giving it a try in everything from a veggie-oil Lotus 7 to a steam-powered three-wheeler that looks like it rolled right out of the 19th century.


Read the whole story. It's pretty fabulous.
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According to an Associated Press article, the science journal Nature found that in a head-to-head comparison, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia was substantially as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica.



Will Shetterly ([livejournal.com profile] shetterly) links to a report in The Christian Century: The University of Geneva’s Rodolphe Kasser will soon be publishing a translation of the long-lost Gospel According to Judas Iscariot. The gospel, first mentioned as early as 180AD by Irenaeus of Lyon, will be an English translation of a fourth century Coptic language text discovered a few decades ago at Muhazafat Al Minya in Middle Egypt. I’ve always been facinated by apocryphal texts like the Gnostic Gospels, so this should be quite a lot of fun to read. More information about the text can be found here.



Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett offer up New Years Resolutions for Ariziphale and Crowley, characters from their novel Good Omens, which HarperCollins is apparently issuing a new hardcover edition of in 2006.



[livejournal.com profile] thespian points to one of the more bizarre things I’ve ever seen printed, A Ziggy Stardust comic book.



Someone on rec.arts.comics.strips points to this lovely essay by Mark Evanier detailing a chance encounter with Mel Torme in Los Angeles one Christmastime. It’s a lovely story.



[livejournal.com profile] earthmystic ponders the formulation of an anatomy of Love. Lots of stuff here I agree with.



New Scientist Space has a facinating article on thirteen things that don’t make sense, including the placebo effect, dark matter, and cold fusion.
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This is positively, without a doubt, the dumbest thing I have heard since....well, it's the dumbest thing I've heard today, at least.

Ananova reports that a company is developing an mp3 player which can be included in breast implants:

Computer chips that store music could soon be built into a woman's breast implants.

One boob could hold an MP3 player and the other the person's whole music collection.

BT futurology, who have developed the idea, say it could be available within 15 years.

BT Laboratories' analyst Ian Pearson said flexible plastic electronics would sit inside the breast. A signal would be relayed to headphones, while the device would be controlled by Bluetooth using a panel on the wrist.

According to The Sun he said: "It is now very hard for me to thing of breast implants as just decorative. If a woman has something implant

Admittedly, there might be some useful application of this technology, as the article mentions offhandedly in its final paragraph:

The sensors around the body linked through the electrical impulses in the chips may also be able to warn wearers about heart murmurs, blood pressure increases, diabetes and breast cancer.

But seriously, consider the ramifications of this. What if it starts playing randomly during a moment-of-passion short-circuit. If you think your (ABBA|Rick Dees|Winger|Carpenters|Bone Thugs 'n' Harmony) collection is embarrassing now, just wait until it's blaring out of your left nipple at a volume of 11.

What an amazing world we live in.

EDIT: Does this mean that in the future when you say a woman has a "nice rack", you'll just be talking about her stereo?
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Diane Duane ([livejournal.com profile] outofambit) points to article in the Boston Globe about a study which indicates that one of the things we thought we knew about the function of mammalian reproduction may be fundamentally wrong:

In a finding that could someday revolutionize fertility treatments, researchers yesterday reported evidence that appears to topple a decades-old tenet of reproductive biology: that girls are born with all the eggs they'll ever have, a pool that dwindles and degenerates with age.

[...]

Clearly, they needed even better evidence. They gathered more. In particular, they took a mouse that had been genetically engineered so that every cell in its body glowed green under fluorescent light, cut its ovary in half, and grafted onto it pieces of a normal mouse's ovary.

In three or four weeks, they found green-glowing eggs that had been surrounded by a layer of nongreen supporting cells to make what is called a follicle. That mixture, Tilly said, indicated that green egg stem cells had migrated into the nongreen pieces of ovary and started to produce new eggs that then attracted the supporting cells they needed to form follicles.


If the study can be reproduced and substantiated, this could be a truly revolutionary development in biology. Very nifty!
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[livejournal.com profile] aolscalzi links to a facinating article in Discover magazine about the fledgling studies of the neuroscience of moral reasoning.

Excerpt:
Many of the world's great conflicts may be rooted in such neuronal differences, Greene says, which may explain why the conflicts seem so intractable. "We have people who are talking past each other, thinking the other people are either incredibly dumb or willfully blind to what's right in front of them," Greene says. "It's not just that people disagree, it?s that they have a hard time imagining how anyone could disagree on this point that seems so obvious." Some people wonder how anyone could possibly tolerate abortion. Others wonder how women could possibly go out in public without covering their faces. The answer may be that their brains simply don't work the same: Genes, culture, and personal experience have wired their moral circuitry in different patterns.

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