Dear readers,

I’ve come to the hard decision that it’s time to put Steve Cross Loves Music and Science to rest. Don’t worry, I still love music and science! I just don’t have time to blog about it anymore. The natural progression of life, relationships, commitments, etc… has forced me to re-organize priorities. That’s not a bad thing, it just means that blogging has to take a backseat to more important things. So, this is the end of this blog! I’ll keep the domain for the foreseeable future, and everything will remain archived as-is. Everything has a a life cycle, and this blog has reached the end.

This is not the end of me sharing this type of content on the internet, however! I do intend to share more science articles, links, tidbits, etc… on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, so follow me there. This will allow me to still share my interests and love of music & science with whomever is willing to listen. I’m also on Instagram, so follow me there for more visual content.

I also have other blog ideas that I’ve been milling around for a while, but I’m keeping that under wraps until I officially decide what I’m doing. If and when that comes to fruition, it will be made public via my Twitter and Facebook.

Whether you’ve just started following me or have been for many years, I hope you learned something, gained something, or otherwise benefited from this blog!

Peace out.

-Steve

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Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS

Fuck yes! That’s all I can think right now about the awesome news that came from NASA a few hours ago. The Curiosity rover has found evidence in samples of rock gathered a few weeks ago that Mars once had an environment suitable for microbial life. The rover drilled out samples from inside a rock in an area dubbed “Yellowknife Bay” by mission scientists. Those powder samples where then analyzed by specialized instruments on board, and the results showed that sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, phosphorus, and carbon are all present in the rock. The range of minerals actually surprised the mission scientists, who weren’t expecting to find quite such a wide range of minerals.

“Were conditions on Mars ever suitable for life?” is one of the core questions the Curiosity mission, and now that question has been answered with a big YES. This is very exciting news, and hopefully there will be even more clues into Mars’ past discovered on this mission. For the full report, check out the press release on NASA’s website.

In other, less-exciting science news, beware of media reports claiming that fossils of diatoms (microscopic plant life) were recently found inside a meteorite. The claims come from Chandra Wickramasinghe, who is a scientist known for outlandish claims that don’t stand up to real scientific scrutiny, and are largely intended to stir controversy. This latest report claims that the fossilized diatoms were found inside a fragment of a meteorite that fell over Sri Lanka in 2012. Except they don’t prove that a) the sample was from said meteorite, or b) that the sample was from a meteorite at all! Also diatoms are EVERYWHERE on earth, and can very quickly contaminate any meteorites that make it to the surface. Thankfully there are skeptics like Dr. Phil Plait out there who regularly and thoroughly debunk such things when they pop up. Head over to his blog Bad Astronomy to read more on how Wickramasinghe’s experiments were flawed, and why his claims just don’t hold water.

Image credit: Dr. Phil Plait/Bad Astronomy Blog

Rant warning: I’m about to go on a major rant. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

There’s simply no way else to put it, science classrooms in Tennessee’s public schools are fucked. It’s clear that our Republican Governor Bill Haslam didn’t actually like the so-called “monkey bill” that will allow teachers in TN public schools to teach creationism and climate change denialism under the guise of “scientific weaknesses,” but unfortunately he proved to be a coward by finding the political equivalent of “having your cake and eating it too”- allowing it to pass without his signature. The bill is nothing more than Bible-thumping socially conservative legislators trying to create a seemingly politically correct path for religious-based ideas to be taught alongside thoroughly proven scientific principles in our public schools. Honestly the state Board of Education is who should be making decisions like this, not state lawmakers. The separation of church and state is made crystal clear by the US Constitution, and teaching pseudoscience that is solely based on religion- creationism and intelligent design- should never EVER be allowed in public schools. Climate change denialism, while not religiously motivated per se, is very politically motivated and not supported by scientific evidence. Both evolution and climate change are overwhelmingly supported by rock-solid scientific evidence. Both are large and complex topics, the minor details of which are constantly going to be debated/improved/clarified, but the overall facts of both are very certain. They are not “scientifically controversial,” they are only politically controversial. It’s times like these that I’m quite ashamed of my home state. Dr. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy Blog has much better and more professional commentary on this than I, so I suggest reading his blog post about it.

However, things like this Elon Musk interview from last night’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart bring me right back up when I’m down. Watch part 1 here and part 2 here, because you can’t embed Comedy Central videos on a wordpress hosted blog. 😦 It’s awesome and inspirational to see people like him be successful. People who have both the money and the vision to do great things and push the boundaries of mankind’s knowledge and capabilities. Elon Musk is one of many who are pushing the human race forward. The religious right pandering morons in the TN legislature and our coward of a Governor are among those pulling the human race backward.

End of rant.

So there has been some excitement and confusion lately over a signal discovered by SETI researchers after they aimed one of their radio telescopes toward “objects of interest” discovered by the Kepler mission. These are possible exoplanet discoveries, but they’ve yet to be confirmed by other telescopes. (These are called Kepler Objects of Interest, or KOIs.) Until now, SETI researchers have been blindly aiming their telescopes all over they sky listening for possible alien radio signals. Now that the Kepler team has a few KOIs that might be habitable, it makes sense for SETI to narrow their search and start listening specifically in the direction of those KOIs. Well, they did just that, and they found an interesting signal! One that is clearly not just natural background noise. But, that signal is almost definitely interference from one of our own satellites, because the signal still shows up even when they aim the radio telescopes away from the exoplanets. So, don’t let anyone fool you- SETI has NOT discovered an alien radio signal.

As he always does, Dr. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy lays out the truth on this. Universe Today has an excellent post on it as well.

Before I remove myself from the interwebs for a few days to be with the fam, I thought I’d debunk one of the most pervasive turkey myths out there: that turkey contains more tryptophan than other foods and that it makes you sleepy. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Turkey contains about the same amount of tryptophan as other meats and some veggies. What makes you feel sleepy after a big holiday meal is what makes you sleepy anytime you eat way too much- food coma. There are some slightly differing opinions out there as to what causes the proverbial food coma, but it is not the tryptophan in turkey that directly causes sleepiness after holiday meals. It is simply the fact that you probably ate way too much in one sitting, and probably had some wine to go along with it. For more info see this article from Snopes, this article from NPR, and this article from Live Science.

I’ll leave you with this bit of complete and total absurdity from an Indian gameshow. That should hold you over till next week when I eventually resume posting. Have a great Thanksgiving!

Of course the big news about the “faster than light” neutrinos would have to break right in the middle of Soundland, when I was insanely busy running around taking literally thousands of photos for 4 days straight… but the above image pretty much sums up how I feel about it. There’s an old saying in science- extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. However, in this case we’re not dealing with crackpot fringe scientists, we’re dealing with CERN scientists. In other words these people are very disciplined and have ruled out just about every other statistical anomaly, measurement inaccuracy, or other explanation for their results. So the fact that they measured neutrinos that appear to have traveled faster than light is not in question. The key word there is appear. And this is such a massively important discovery that the scientists involved are asking for comparison from the rest of the worldwide scientific community. They want others to repeat their experiments and see if they get the same result. When you’re questioning one of the most iron-clad, thoroughly proven theories of science such as General Relativity, you’d better have rock-solid, repeatable evidence to support your claim. No matter what the outcome of this, it will fascinating to sit back and watch as it unfolds. Here are a few links to interesting articles I’ve found relating to this news:

So I’m thinking that some Fridays I’m gonna steal NPR’s “Science Friday” idea and write a post debunking some popular myths. Not gonna happen every Friday, but I’m gonna make a pointed effort to do it somewhat often.

Today we’ll tackle the myth about water spinning in opposite directions down the drain in the northern and southern hemispheres. This is simply not true at all. While large-scale weather systems do indeed follow this pattern due to a phenomenon called the Coriolis Effect, water going down a drain does not. Minute things such as imperfections in the angle at which a basin was installed, inconsistencies in the surface or shape of the basin, and any residual motion in the water itself are what determine the direction the water rotates when drained. Once the water begins to drain, the conservation of angular momentum takes over and any hint of rotational motion in the water, whether clockwise or counter-clockwise, gets amplified as it moves toward the drain, creating a vortex. This is the same law of physics that causes tornadoes and dust devils to behave the way they do. The classic explanation for this concept is the spinning ice skater. As he/she moves her limbs closer to their body the conservation of angular momentum forces their rotational speed to increase. They can then move their limbs further away and they will slow down again. So no, no matter what you’ve heard, water does NOT always drain counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern. That being said, experiments have been done that show the Coriolis Effect can be seen in draining water IF AND ONLY IF all other forces are completely removed. A large and absolutely perfect cylinder-shaped container with one very small hole exactly in the center was filled with water and allowed to sit untouched for 24 hours to allow any residual motion in the water to die out. The container was perfectly balanced with extreme precision. The plug in the hole was then carefully removed and the water did eventually start rotating counter-clockwise, and continued to do so when the experiment was repeated. BUT clearly this only happens in extremely controlled conditions. In your sink or toilet, a myriad of other forces are orders of magnitude stronger and completely overwhelm the minute effect of the Earth’s rotation. Snopes has a decent debunking of this myth as well.

Tornadoes are different. I was asked about this yesterday, in the wake of the massive tornado outbreak on Wednesday. The Coriolis Effect does influence the direction tornadoes spin, but in a more indirect way. There have, in fact, been clockwise (anticyclonic) tornadoes documented in many cases in the U.S. There have even been a few storms that dropped multiple tornadoes, both cyclonic and anticyclonic, at the SAME TIME. As I said earlier, the Coriolis Effect is what causes large-scale weather systems such as hurricanes, low pressure systems, and high pressure systems to rotate the way they do. Low pressure systems and hurricanes always rotate counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern. The opposite is true for high pressure (clear weather) systems. The storms which produces tornadoes are always associated with a large-scale low pressure system. The Coriolis Effect determines the rotation of that large-scale system, which in turn has an indirect influence on the structure of the supercell thunderstorms which spawn tornadoes. Tornadoes are far, far more common in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, and because the warm moist air which “feeds” these storms at the surface is moving in from the southeast, and the cooler, drier air aloft is moving in from the northwest, that setup naturally lends itself to counter-clockwise rotation, hence most but not all tornadoes in the U.S. spin counter-clockwise. This illustration from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory shows the inner workings of a tornadic storm quite well:

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science Education has a website called NEWTON, with a forum of sorts called “ask a scientist.” This very question regarding the rotation of tornadoes was asked, and I found this particular response quite helpful:

At least the great majority of tornadoes rotate counterclockwise (as do all low-pressure systems) in the northern hemisphere, and clockwise in the southern hemisphere, for the reason (coriolis force) given by Eric Peterson in response #1. But occasionally, it would seem, northern hemisphere tornadoes do rotate clockwise: S. Flora’s book “Tornadoes of the United States” cites an 1890 article in the American Meteorological Journal. Its author, a J.P. Finley, states that, of 550 American tornadoes he studied, 29 were deemed to have rotated clockwise. I have not been able to find any “modern” study of this question. But I believe it could be true. The region of swirling air that contracts to become the tornado is not itself large enough in extent to have its rotation dictated by the coriolis force; rather, it “inherits” this tendency from the great masses of air whose movement sets the stage for the storms and any associated tornadoes. If the study cited is correct and representative, on occasion the direction of rotation is set by some other factor, perhaps the topography in the area where the tornado forms, for example.

So there you have it. I won’t have as much time every week to write up a post this in-depth, so don’t expect this every Friday, but I’ll do my best.