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Back with some science

December 30, 2009

The holidays obviously consumed my life to the point that I haven’t posted in over a week. Sorry ’bout that. I also haven’t shared any good sciencey tidbits in a while, so here you go:

I recently saw James Cameron’s latest epic Avatar. I won’t get too involved with reviewing the film as I’m no film critic by any means, but I will say this- it’s beautiful. The animation is astounding and most notably, the landscape is gorgeous. The dialogue and storyline is utterly pathetic. It’s basically the same story as Last of the Mohicans, Fern Gully, or Dances With Wolves, only this time it’s injected into a sci-fi mold. That being said, I always can enjoy that story to some degree no matter how many times it gets retold and rehashed. What is pretty cool about the movie is the science behind it. There will always be a big gap between “movie physics” and reality, but the over-arching idea of a habitable moon similar to Earth orbiting a gas giant similar to our own Jupiter in different star system is entirely plausible. The fact that the moon’s atmosphere is toxic to humans makes it slightly more realistic, along with the reduced gravity resulting in the native animal life being mostly large compared to that of Earth. Space.com has more on the science of Avatar’s Pandora.

Image via Universe Today

I’ve mentioned on here before that NASA and the European Space Agency have teamed up for the next decade or so of Mars exploration. The exact timeline and details of that effort are now beginning to come into focus, thanks to the recent discovery of a constantly replenished quantity of methane in Mars’ atmosphere The first step will be a new orbiting observatory launched in 2016 that is specifically equipped to further explore the possible sources of this methane, and map out exactly where it’s the strongest. Also on this first mission will be small lander designed to test the parachute/thruster landing system that will be used on the future missions involving the “real” landers/rovers. Those rover/lander missions will be launched in 2018, and will be specifically designed to search for signs of life. Recent developments in the theories about the possible source of the methane have started to lean more towards microbial life, probably living under the surface. That’s very exciting. More on this at Universe Today.

What kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t have some sort of “year-in-review” post? Unfortunately I haven’t had the time to come up with anything myself, but here are a couple of 2009 recap posts from other science blogs that you might find interesting:

Live Science: 9 stories we love, and hated, in 2009.

Space.com: The 9 top spaceflight stories of 2009.

Some of probably already know this, but I’m currently in the process of moving. Megan and I are renting a small house near Germantown, and though the house will be awesome once we get settled in, the timing really sucked. I can’t think of a worse possible time to be moving than during the holidays. So posting here will probably be limited until next week.

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Nathan Miller

Credit: Nathan Miller

Murfreesboro’s own Those Darlins are really starting to get some recognition, and are getting on some awesome gigs, many of which are in NYC. The photo links to a recent Brooklynvegan post about their show at Bowery Ballroom in NY with Langhorne Slim. I recommend scrolling down and reading the comments. Seems a few people are in love with lil’ Jessi darlin. Way to go darlins! TN is proud of you!

We Own This Town has been picking up again lately. Started by Doug Lehmann (of the Clutters), it started out in the wake of the demise of Nashville Zine, though Dough says he never intended it to replace the ‘Zine. Now Michael Eades (aka Yewknee) has all but taken it over, and added the help of Joe Baine Colvert, known for his work at Lake Fever Productions and for the Indie Ghetto, and Andrew J. Smithson, who I posted about recently regarding his new blog, indieocrity. Joe and Andrew are joining forces on WRVU 91.1 to start a new radio show which will complement the content of the website, much like Janet Timmons’ Out the Other. I look forward to seeing these guys bring this website back to life, as well as what they do with the radio show.

I found this really good footage of the US Airways plane crash in the Hudson river on Youtube. That pilot really does deserve the recognition he’s been given, because an engine-less jet airliner is basically like a tank with wings. Having always been interested in aviation (I WILL get my private pilot’s license one of these days), and also being the owner of a very realistic flight simulator on my computer (which allows you simulate a few different airliners and engine failures), I know how hard it is to glide one of these things into a safe landing without power.

Now for a little science. Lately there have been some news headlines claiming that we’ve found evidence of life on mars- methane in the atmosphere. In other words, mars farted and dumb newspapers got really excited about it. Those headlines are DEAD WRONG. At least about the life part… Yes we’ve been detecting methane in mars’ atmosphere since 2004. We also know that methane is quickly destroyed by UV radiation, and since there’s no comfy ozone layer in mars’ atmosphere to block it out, any methane on mars would be destroyed very soon after it was released from the surface. So, if we detect it, there must be constant source re-supplying it into the atmosphere. The source of the headlines is a press release saying that the source could be chemical, geological, or biological (life). Of course many news agencies jumped on that last one and made a really big to-do about it. It’s theoretically possible that current life could be the cause of the methane, but it’s only one of many. We still don’t have any conclusive evidence of life on mars. My personal opinion is that there is no life currently on mars, thus I don’t think that the methane is a result of such. I think it’s more likely that it’s coming from the polar regions- we’ve noticed that mars has little global warming of it’s own going on, and that warming is allowing methane trapped in the polar regions under layers of frozen CO2 to be released, much as the global warming occurring on earth has allowed methane under the shrinking permafrost to be released. My opinion is based on this blog post, btw. If it’s not that, I’d say the second best explanation would be some sort unseen geothermal activity. The Bad Astronomer does a really good job of explaining the facts related to this story, as always. Go check out his post if you want more details.

And finally… a serious dose of WTF?!?!?!?….. Joaquin Phoenix is becoming a rapper. Um… ok…

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