Category Archives: Science in the News

How a Device Used to Kill Humans Saved Penguins

Humans Saved Penguins By Trying to Kill Other Humans

Be honest: do you like penguins?

The answer is yes. You love penguins just like everyone else.

You’ve watched Happy Feet more times than your 11-year-old niece has sang “Let It Go” in the last 5 months. (Don’t worry, we won’t talk about how much you cried during March of the Penguins.)

Well, what would you and your penguin-loving friends say if I told you that humans placed close to 20,000 land mines  on the beaches of the Falkland Islands? Perhaps I should tell you that millions of penguins call the islands home.

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you how that really isn’t as bad as it sounds. In fact, these gruesome seeds of war may have actually saved the penguins from, you guessed it, humans. The Falklands’ reputation for penguin-based conflict began with whale oil.

Whale Oil for Energy

As everyone who has completed their whale oil handbook knows, rendering whale oil requires big vats and boiling water. This posed a problem to the European whalers in the area, as the Falklands don’t possess much in the way of trees for burning. They turned to something way, way out of left field: penguins. Penguins proved to be easily caught, and even better for fire because of their own fat layers.

How Bombs Saved Penguins on the Falkland Islands.
WE ARE NOT WOOD!

Now, in the year 2014, we don’t have much use for whale oiling. We find our relentless desire for power from other places like fossil fuels, the sun, and water.

War in the Falklands

With the fossil fuel discovery, so came a reprieve from penguins being used as tuxedoed pieces of firewood. The population began to grow in numbers, again, until Argentina’s government attempted to regain control over the islands from the hands of the British.

Those two combatants are less likely than a Mike Tyson – Evander Holyfield rematch, but combine political instability in Argentina with an aggressive no-dictator policy from one Margaret Thatcher, and you’ve got a 2 month conflict over the Falkland Islands.

When the tide went out the British remained victorious, but had a large military invoice show for a fairly lackluster piece of real estate.

To make the conflict worthwhile, the Falklands became an exclusive fishing zone. Our tux-wearing bird friends also eat fish. You can see where this is going.

Competition from human counterparts dropped the penguin population from 6 million to 1 million in just 10 years. So, humans contributed to this penguin downfall, but they’ve also saved the penguins.

Humans Saved Penguins

Remember those land mines we told you about?

The Argentinians left them all over the coast of the islands as British deterrent (we’ve found George Washington does a great job, too).

Thankfully, no humans have actually died from the estimated 20,000 left. Instead, these land mines protect the islands’ penguin inhabitants. The penguins are too light to set off the incredibly dangerous explosives, while humans and the 700,000+ sheep on the island will go… um… kaboom!

So, humans, what do we have to say for ourselves? Our best animal protection efforts happen out of trying to blow the legs off of each other. Thankfully, both Argentina and Great Britain are tentative about going back for the estimated 11 billion (that’s billion with a gigantic “B”) gallons of oil there. Maybe nukes will give the penguins an even better habitat, but don’t count on it.

3D Printing: The End of Manual Labor?

Robots and other automated, mechanical beings have been a staple in science-fiction for a very long time, finding their first mentions in the ancient world. At the onset of the 21st century, however, robots became much more than an idea in a sketchbook. Robots are now a very real part of the modern world.

The world of robotics has seen its share of successes and failures (see Roomba and Asimo for examples of each, respectively). Many of the most notable applications of robots can be found on production lines: automotive, furniture, and food, to name a few. That brings us to the topic at hand, 3D printing.

Get it? (http://bit.ly/1iJOweL)

3D printing isn't, by strict definition, a form of autonomous robot, but the application of the technology is very similar to those listed above. 3D printing has the ability to completely change the world as we know it. Imagine houses, cars, guitars, furniture, or entire body parts printed at exponential rates and for a fraction of the cost. Every field from industry, to medical, to leisure would be altered by mass adoption of 3D printing.

Therein lies a (possible) dilemma.

3D printing has the possibility of putting an already weak job market into further turmoil. Manual human labor would fall to the wayside as a method of accomplishing things from days gone by. Why purchase some do-it-yourself furniture when you can by a 3D printed armchair for less than half of the price at a furniture outlet. This scenario is very possible, and approaching way faster than a hungry Roomba.

I guess my main question is this: where do we draw the line?

Looks small, but it's just the beginning of his full-scale model of 2nd century Rome. (http://bit.ly/1eqysOh)

We are a society with an astoundingly weak ability to define and maintain boundaries, especially when it comes to quality of life. 3D printing may have the ability at increasing quality of life for many, many people through ease of access and low cost, but what of men and women that earn through manual labor? When do we stop progress from becoming too overbearing?

3D printing isn't something that seems inherently evil or corrupt. There are many, varied, amazing things that 3D printing can accomplish. The capabilities that are being discovered and put to use, what seems like, every week are absolutely astonishing. But, the risk is large, too. A balance has to be found and consistently enforced between automation and manual, human accomplishment. 3D printing can, and probably will, be one of the greatest human accomplishments of the early 2000s, but it also has the possibility of being a last, fatal, 3D printed straw on the proverbial camel.

Boiling Water Turns Into Snow in Subzero Temps a Hoax

As two-thirds of the country is gripped in the clutches of a Polar Vortex, many are spending time outside in the cold trying to create instant snow.

Throwing Hot Water into Freezing Air Does Not Create Instant Snow - It's a Hoax | Steve Spangler Science

Internet videos and stories are telling people to head outdoors in the subzero temps with a pot of boiling water. They claim when you throw the hot water into the freezing air, the result will be instant snowfall.

We hate to burst your frozen bubbles everyone, but this is a hoax. When you throw hot water into cold air, you do get a cool reaction of water vapor and condensation, but you don’t get snowflakes. Only some of the hot water will condensate, but most of it will fall back down to the ground. Many people have been burned after throwing hot water above their head and having it fall down on top of them.

If you want to try this on a safer, smaller scale, you will get the same result from placing a steaming cup of hot coffee in the freezer.

While the reaction of throwing the hot water into the cold air is pretty dramatic, it isn’t creating snowfall. Snowflakes are created when a water droplet attaches to a piece of dirt or dust in a cloud. The hot water droplets don’t have time to attach to anything before they fall back to earth.

If you are in the areas with extreme cold and want to use your scientific skills to experiment and learn, here are a few safe experiments to try. And remember, don’t stay outside very long. It doesn’t take a lot of time for skin to freeze or frostbite to set in. Go out in small bursts and get back where it’s warm.

 Throwing boiling water into freezing air during the Polar Vortex to make instant snow is a HOAX | Steve Spangler Science

Get an Email When the International Space Station is Overhead

The International Space Station is the third brightest object in the sky (after the sun and moon) – it can be seen without a telescope by the naked eye.

The ISS is even visible when spotted over a city and flies over about 90 percent of the Earth’s population.

Backdropped against the Caspian Sea, this full view of the international space station was photographed by a crewmember onboard the Space Shuttle Discovery after the undocking of the two spacecraft. Image credit: NASA
Backdropped against the Caspian Sea, this full view of the international space station was photographed by a crew member onboard the Space Shuttle Discovery after the undocking of the two spacecraft. Image credit: NASA

How do you know when to look up?

NASA is now offering a Spot the Station service. This provides a list of upcoming opportunities to spot the ISS from thousands of world locations. You can also sign up to receive an email or a message on your cell phone when it’s overhead. You will only receive alerts during prime viewing opportune times, like only when the station is high enough over the horizon and in view long enough. NASA believes most will receive alerts a few times a week to a few times a month.

The ISS looks like a fast moving airplane but is much higher and travels thousands of miles an hour faster. It orbits the Earth every 90 minutes.

The station is about the size of a football field and has more livable space than a six-bedroom house, including two bathrooms, a gym and a 360-degree bay window.

ISS Size Compared to a Football Field - Courtesy NASA
ISS Size Compared to a Football Field – Courtesy NASA

Sign up for ISS alerts at NASA

Here are some facts about the ISS, courtesy of NASA

  • The International Space Station marked its 10th anniversary of continuous human occupation on Nov. 2, 2010. Since Expedition 1, which launched Oct. 31, 2000, and docked Nov. 2, the space station has been visited by 204 individuals.
  • At the time of the anniversary, the station’s odometer read more than 1.5 billion statute miles (the equivalent of eight round trips to the Sun), over the course of 57,361 orbits around the Earth.
  • A total of 174 spacewalks have been conducted in support of space station assembly totaling almost 1,100 hours, or nearly 46 days.

The International Space Station is not only an orbiting laboratory, but also a space port for a variety of international spacecraft. As of June 2013, there have been:

  • 89 Russian launches
  • 37 Space Shuttle launches
  • 1 test flight and 2 operational flights by SpaceX’s Dragon
  • 3 Japanese HTVs
  • 3 European ATVs

 

 

 

Move Over 'Selfie' – Merriam-Webster Dictionary Names 'Science' the Word of the Year

Move over ‘selfie,’ there’s a new word of the year in town.

Merriam-Webster, America’s leading dictionary publisher, announced its Top 10 Word of the Year on December 3rd. Their choices weren’t based on the new, hip buzz words, but instead by the lookups on the online dictionary. The words that made their list had the biggest increase in lookups over last year.

Move Over Selfie, Science is the True Word of the Year According to Merriam-Webster | Steve Spangler Science

The words that increased in lookups were not new or headline-worthy, but instead were “words behind the stories in this year’s news.”

‘Science’ saw an increase of 176 percent in lookups in 2013.

Peter Sokolowski, Editor-at-Large at Merriam-Webster believes ‘science’ tops the list because of a wide variety of topics and discussions that came about this year, from climate change to educational policy.

“We saw heated debates about ‘phony’ science, or whether science held all the answers. It’s a topic that has great significance for us. And it fascinates us–enough so that it saw a 176% increase in lookups this year over last, and stayed a top lookup throughout the year,” Sokolowski explained.

Move Over Selfie, Science is the True Word of the Year According to Merriam-Webster | Steve Spangler Science

We decided to have some fun at the recent National Science Teacher Association’s conference in Denver.  Some crazy science teachers took #ScienceSelfies with Steve. Are you a science teacher, science student or science fan? Take your own #ScienceSelfie and share it with us on Twitter using the hashtag. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler Share your #ScienceSelfie with us on Twitter. @SteveSpangler

 

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2013:

  1. science
  2. cognitive
  3. rapport
  4. communication
  5. niche
  6. ethic
  7. paradox
  8. visceral
  9. integrity
  10. metaphor