Credit: NASA/JPL

This bizarre-looking animation is not some kind zit popping (which is the first thing that came to mind when I first saw it), but in fact the hole left behind in some Martian soil after the Curiosity rover zapped with a high-powered laser in order to study its chemical composition. Curiosity has been steadily traveling across its home, Gale Crater, and doing lots of good science along the way. This latest experiment zapped the soil 30 times to heat it up to a temperature so hot that it glows. Each element glows at a specific color of light when heated to those temperatures, and an instrument called a spectroscope reads those colors emitted and can discern exactly what elements the glowing material is made of. Curiosity also recently took several scoops of soil from the surface which will be delivered to various onboard instruments this week, which will directly examine its mineral makeup. I’m looking forward the release of those results, as they could tell us whether or not Mars could’ve supported life in the past. But I couldn’t resist posting this bizarre animated GIF… just keep staring at that for a while.

(Via Bad Astronomy and NASA)

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It’s been a while since I got on my soapbox of how the 2012 Mayan calendar doomsday myth is, well… a myth. Let me begin by saying that there is no reason to believe that anything exceptional will happen when the Mayan long count calendar ends. Anyone that tells you otherwise is either totally full of shit, or is very gullible to fluff and hype (generated by the former). The descendants of the Mayans themselves have even said that the doomsday myth is bullshit. So, this thing is already completely blown out of the water by real science and reason, but just in case you needed another reason not to believe the doomsday hype, now the actual date of the end of the long count calendar is in question. The methods used to convert the Mayan calendar into our own Gregorian years has been shown to be unreliable, and this could throw off the date conversion by as much as 50 to 100 years. So in reality, the Mayan calendar might have already ended (and thus simply started over again)! I’ll keep an eye out for any updates and clarifications to this story, but let’s face it- the Mayan calendar doomsday hype is nothing more than fear-mongering and utter ignorance. (Via LiveScience)

Image via Wikipedia

I know I link to this blog all the time, but the Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog continually showcases some of the most amazing imagery you’ll find anywhere, and what’s best about it is the content. This particular series involves the National Ignition Facility in California. This massive experiment could literally solve all the world’s energy problems. What they’re attempting to do here is essentially create a miniature star right here on earth. Just recently they completed a successful test in which they fired 192 lasers simultaneously into one tiny frozen target capsule containing deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen). The ultimate goal is to create a nuclear fusion reaction- the same process taking place in the center of our Sun. As you can easily deduce, this would release enormous amounts of energy that is completely clean- the only by-product is helium, which is the element formed when hydrogen atoms fuse. The only hurdle is that it already requires a massive amount of energy to power the lasers that start the reaction in the first place, so the reactor must produce significantly more energy than it consumes in order to truly be a viable solution to the energy crisis. Another issue could be safety. With a reaction as powerful as nuclear fusion, things can get dangerous very quickly. Thankfully though, if an explosion were to occur, it wouldn’t involve the radioactive fallout danger associated with current nuclear reactors which use a different process- nuclear fission. (AKA the reaction used in the atomic bomb.) Click here to learn more about the NIF.

I originally planned to resume posting yesterday, but we encountered some traffic issues on the way back from Austin which resulted in us not getting back till 6am monday morning. I had to be at work at 7. Needless to say, I did not feel like blogging yesterday. More on that later…

Mostly quick links today:

First of all, be sure to check all my slideshows of pics from SXSW over at Nashville Cream. I had a blast, even if I did catch the SXSW Cold Virus of Death on saturday.

Also on the Cream, round one of the Mercy Lounge’s Road to Bonnaroo 8 off 8th contest happened last night, and apparently the Features won by one single vote, edging out Kindercastle. Phew. I do like Kindercastle, but I have to say that the Features deserve it more, even if they do get stuck in some tiny side tent playing at noon while everyone’s still nursing their hangovers. They’ve been at this since 1994, and are probably the tightest, best live act in this city.

The New York Times has an interesting article about the extreme branding/marketing/advertising involved with SXSW.

Those Darlins did a Daytrotter session back in January. I guess they don’t always post these right after they’re recorded… I honestly never paid that much attention before though.

Local bloggers Janet Timmons (Out the Other) and Glenn Peoples (Coolfer.com) were both mentioned in a Reuters article about the blogging panel held on Thursday of SXSW.

Ok enough SXSW junk….

Kottke.org highlights a survey that reaveals the average American citizen’s ignorance of basic science. I find it absolutely pathetic and appalling that only 53% of Americans know how long it takes the earth to complete one revolution around the Sun. But it doesn’t surprise me.

Alaska’s Redoubt volcano finally erupted last night after weeks of rumbling. Seismologists have been expecting an eruption for at least a month now. It’s good to see that our prediction methods are at least somewhat accurate.

The entire Cosmos Series, hosted by Carl Sagan, is now available on Hulu. I will be watching them soon. It’s sad that I can only recall seeing one or two episodes…

I hate mosquitoes. They are the bane of my existence. In my opinion, the world would be a better place if they did not exist at all. They do nothing but reproduce uncontrollably and bite people… and animals. That’s why I was very pleased to read this article about a high-tech laser system that targets and kills them. Yes, you heard right- a mosquito-killing laser weapon. This will probably only be used in areas where mosquito-spread disease is a major problem, but we can hope for it, right?

The Space Shuttle Discovery has been attached to the ISS for several days now, and the astronauts have successfully attached the final set of solar panels, which will give the station enough power to support the new crew size of 6-7 astronauts. You can watch live coverage, including footage from onboard the shuttle and the space station, on NASA TV.

Finally, I have some sad personal news to report. My cat Sherman had to be put to sleep this morning. I know it seems lame, but to avoid having to explain the whole story over and over again, I posted a facebook note about it that read as follows:

I’m sad to say that my cat Sherman had to be put to sleep this morning. I’m telling this story on here so that I don’t have to do it 100 times for everyone I know.

We arrived back in nashville from my SXSW trip at 6am monday morning, just barely in time for me to get ready for work at 7. I found him lying on the floor unable to move. He was still yowling, however, so I rushed him to the vet. We discovered that he had a urinary blockage and had been unable to urinate for at least a few days. (Probably since friday, because that’s the day Megan checked on him & he was ok.) This caused his kidneys to malfunction and thus his body was unable to get rid of toxins. He was so near death when I found him that the vet told me there was little hope for him, but I had to at least try to save him. They put him on an IV, relieved the blockage, and put him on a heating pad. His condition improved slightly, but this morning he was unable to control his bladder, showed no interest in food or water, and was still unable to walk or stand. It was obvious that the odds of him recovering were too small for it to be worth the continued suffering it would put him through. So I made the decision to end his suffering. It was a hard choice but it gives me relief to know that he’s no longer suffering.

If you have a male cat 3 years or older, be wary of their urinary habits. This only occurs in male cats, and it’s due to the chemical makeup of cat urine and its tendancy to crystallize. When that happens in their urethra, it causes a blockage. When you can’t pee, it causes major problems VERY quickly. Can you imagine not being able to pee even for 12 hours? If your male cat constantly goes to the litter box but seems to just scratch around a lot, or you notice him squatting but not really doing much, that’s a sign that he might have a blockage problem, and it needs to be treated FAST.