Credit: NASA

The Kepler team at NASA announced yet another exciting discovery yesterday: the first confirmed earth-size alien planets, Kepler 20f and 20e. The mission has found other exoplanets that pretty close to earth-size, but these two are by far the closest yet. What really befuddled me about this announcement was that that in addition to those two smaller, rocky worlds, there are three bigger gas-giant or super-earths in this system as well. No only that, but all five of these exoplanets’ orbits would fit inside our own Mercury’s orbit around our sun! That’s a lot of planets crammed into a tiny area! Of course that also means that these planets are scorching hot- far too hot to be habitable. But, it’s very reassuring to confirm that Kepler can positively identify alien planets that are earth-size and even tad bit smaller (Kepler 20e is about 87% the size of earth). As usual, Dr. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy has a very good explanation of the whole thing. And I’ll also point you toward this article on space.com about the likelihood of us finding a true earth-twin within the coming year.

And now I will simply tell you to go take a look at this amazing set of volcano photographs and have a a few eyegasms. You’re welcome.

I’m allowed to be a lazy blogger every once-in-a-while, right? Yea, sorry for the lack of posts this week.

The music news item of the day is actually nothing new at all… but still very important to me. For some bizarre reason I have missed out on the fact that sElf’s masterpiece Gizmodgery is on iTunes! Furthermore, their somewhat-rare Half-Baked Serenade is on there as well! I already have both of these albums, but for quite some time they were difficult to come by. sElf/Matt Mahaffey are/is among my top favorite bands/artists of all time. Quite simply, if you aren’t familiar with the band or the man, then you have a massive hole in your music collection/knowledge and you must remedy that problem immediately by going to self-centered.org. There’s actually a ton of his music for free download there, and just about everything you need to fill that hole. I feel compelled to also point out that Gizmodgery was recorded using ALL toy instruments. Keep that in mind when listening to it and allow that fact to further the extent to which your mind gets blown. Ok, stepping down off my sElf soapbox.

My only other offerings to you right now are these two amusing images:

Via Davis

Via Kelly via The Oatmeal

Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano has had all the attention lately, but a much bigger and meaner eruption might be around the corner from its cousin, Katla. This beast almost always erupts around the same time as Eyjafjallajokull, and geologists don’t expect this eruption to be any different. Katla is actually connected to Eyjafjallajokull underground via a common magma chamber, thus the connected eruptions. The main concern is that the ash plume will be even bigger than Eyjafjallajokull’s and will cause even more air travel problems. Another major concern is the fact that Katla is underneath a huge glacier. When 2,000 degree lava comes into contact with that much ice, you’re bound to have major flooding, and history has shown that indeed Katla’s eruptions have caused flooding problems for Icelanders. In fact, I’d say the only thing Katla has on Eyjafjallajokull is that its name is hella shorter and easier to pronounce/spell. (Via Daily Galaxy)

I’m sure you’ve already seen plenty of Iceland volcano photos since it’s been so prevalent in the news lately, but I must share this link: Live Science has a really nice gallery of volcanic lightning images that are simply breathtaking. All of them are of the recent Eyjafjallajokull eruption.

The US Military is not generally known for being environmentally-friendly… let’s face it, they blow up things, destroying not only buildings but also the land, not to mention releasing tons of toxic smoke and gases from the explosives. However, the Navy is trying to at least make a dent in their carbon footprint by adopting renewable fuels for their fighter jets, and eventually all other fuel-consuming vehicles/ships/aircraft as well. They’re about to test a new Camelina-based biofuel for the first time in an F/A 18 Hornet fighter. These are the same types of jets flown by the famous aerobatics demo team the Blue Angels. It’s pleasantly surprising to see the military taking such important steps in the right direction. (Via EcoGeek/National Geographic)

In other news- I now have more homebrew for your drinking pleasure, if interested. It’s a hefeweizen from an ingredient kit. I plan for this this be my last kit brew. I feel confident enough now to start using/tweaking online recipes, buying the ingredients separately and creating some brews that can be truly called “my own creations.” I’m actually about to start on a Belgian blonde ale. This hefeweizen, though, is just a simple straight-up wheat beer. It’s not a Belgian style (no orange peels or corriander) so it won’t taste like Blue Moon, and it doesn’t use any funky yeast strains or spicing to produce fruity flavors (such as Yazoo’s hefe, which has a distinct banana nose to it). It’s actually a very middle-of-the-road, normal-tasting wheat beer. If you want any, you know how to get in touch with me.

I’d forgotten that the Blendtec blender existed. Of course they had to do a demo with an iPad. Sure enough, it blends….

Be sure to check all the other blendable things on their channel.

In case you’ve been under a rock, the Eyjafjajokull (don’t even begin to try to pronounce that…) volcano has been erupting in Iceland for well over a week now. Coincidentally, the sun decided to send a rather strong geomagnetic storm our way last weekend. We all know what happens during geomagnetic storms- aurora borealis. Since Iceland is at such a high latitude, it almost always gets to see these aurorae, and when you combine that with a rather docile volcanic eruption, you get photographers hanging out there and taking eye-gasm photographs like this: (Via Live Science)

Photo by Albert Jakobsson

I haven’t posted any real mind-benders on here in quite a while, so here goes:

An Indiana University theoretical physicists is proposing that our universe might actually exist inside a wormhole, inside a black hole that exists in a much bigger universe. If that isn’t a total mind-fuck, I don’t know what is. But it’s really cool to think about if you can wrap your brain around it. The only way I can do that is to reduce our space-time to 2 dimensions and visualize like they do in all those discovery channel shows that talk about black holes and wormholes. You know- the old bowling ball on a sheet analogy. If you dare, read the full article at Universe Today. And see the 2D visualization.

phot-39a-09-fullresThe floodgates of exoplanet discovery just opened. The High-Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (known as HARPS) discovered a batch of 32 new exoplanets, pushing the list of known exoplanets to over 400. Most of these are low-mass planets about the size of Neptune. Since HARPS (which is a spectrograph) works with a land-based telescope which has to put up with the distortions and aberrations of the Earth’s atmosphere, that’s a very impressive feat. It shows just how good astronomers are getting at planet-hunting, and with the recently-deployed Kepler space observatory working like a charm, it won’t be long before we find the jackpot of astronomy to date: an Earth-like planet orbiting a distant star. (Via Universe Today)

I’ve mentioned that new theories challenging the textbook theory of a massive asteroid impact in Mexico killing off the dinosaurs are gaining serious momentum in the field of paleontology. The main challenge to the impact theory is the one involving a massive, long-erupting supervolcano in India known as the Deccan Traps. India has coughed up yet another, 3rd challenge to the impact theory: an impact event of its own. Some researchers from Texas Tech University think that a huge depression that exists beneath part of the Indian Ocean is actually an impact crater, and that it’s the result of an asteroid that smacked into the earth near the time the dinosaurs went extinct. (In geologic terms “near” actually means within a few million years…) If this turns out to be a true crater, and not just the result of normal tectonic plate movements or volcanic activity, then I’d say it definitely had at least some effect on the dinosaurs, and probably some effect on the ongoing eruption of the Deccan Traps. (Also via Universe Today)

NASA rolled out the first full sized test vehicle for its new Constellation program earlier this week. The Ares I-X was rolled out to launch pad 39B for its scheduled test flight next week on Oct. 27th. This is a full-scale mock-up of the Ares I, which (if the current plan is adhered to) will replace the Space Shuttle as NASA’s method of delivering astronauts to and from low Earth orbit. The test flight, of course, will be unmanned. Here’s a pic via NASA’s website. Keep up with the test launch at the launch blog. The new rocket is 327 feet tall, over 100 feet taller than the Space Shuttle.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

NMDinosaurs01The theory that the dinosaurs were wiped out from an asteroid impact near the modern-day Yucatan Peninsula is beginning to face major challenges. There’s no doubt that a huge impact caused the Chicxculub Crater, but some recent findings suggest that the impact may have occurred some 300,000 years earlier than originally thought. This comes as a second blow to the impact theory, with the first being the discovery/dating of the Deccan Traps in India. This gigantic volcanic feature is the result of a huge eruption that is believed to have lasted around 30,000 years. Can you imagine a massive volcano erupting for 30,000 years and covering an area equivalent to 1/2 of modern India with lava? Trust me, something on that scale is hard for the human mind to comprehend, but that much volcanic ash and gas in the atmosphere would’ve had a devastating effect on the ecosystem, and almost certainly played a major role in the extinction of the dinosaurs. Get ready for science textbooks to be re-written, because the asteroid impact theory is about to see the same fate as the dinosaurs themselves. (Via Daily Galaxy)

NASA recently teamed up with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to test a new, Earth-friendly type of solid rocket fuel. I’m not exactly sure of the details, but somehow they’ve managed to make rocket fuel out of aluminum powder and ice. Yes ice… as in frozen water. The secret apparently is that the aluminum powder is so finely ground that it’s considered “nanoscale.” The nanoscale aluminum has so much surface area in contact with the water ice that the exothermic reaction when it burns is more efficient than normal solid rocket fuel, which is usually powdered aluminum (not nanoscale) mixed with an oxidizer such as ammonium perchlorate and a binding agent. Seriously though, who would’ve ever thought you could make rocket fuel out of ice and aluminum? It just sounds crazy, but it’s true. (Via EurekAlert)

When you think of the type of person who becomes an astronaut, you don’t typically think of race car drivers or musicians, but two of the astronauts about to launch on Space Shuttle Discovery tomorrow morning are just that- a former off-road truck racer and a drummer. Check out this Space.com article to find out more about Commander Rick Struckrow, formerly a Baja off-road race driver, Pilot Kevin Ford who is also a drummer, and several other astronauts who come from surprising backgrounds.

After hearing 1 track from Belle & Sebastian frontmant Stuart Murdoch’s new soundtrack God Help the Girl, I’m totally sold on getting it. Check out this A.V. Club review of this soundtrack for his yet-to-be-filmed musical of the same title. I think I’m gonna fall in love with this album/soundtrack based on the review and listening to the new version of the single Funny Little Frog from B&S’s last album. I’ll let you know once I have it. I foresee a trip to Grimey’s in my near future to pick up both that and the Those Darlins album. Speaking of them… the track Red Light Love has just been posted over at Nashville Cream. Go grab it.

I’ve been a little lacking in the science department lately, so here’s a good chunk of science news and goodness for you.

NASA just launched a probe bound for the moon. The mission is called LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter), and its purpose is to check for frozen water on the surface or just below it, as well as more accurately map the surface. This is all to help us better prepare for our eventual permanent base on the moon. More at Space.com.

Virgin Galactic is hard at work building the much-anticipated Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert. Check out the website for some cool renderings of what it will look like.

This bit of news has been floating around for at least a week now, but it’s still pretty significant and worth posting. We now have absolute, rock-solid evidence of an ancient lake on Mars. We’ve been pretty damn sure water once flowed on the surface of Mars for at least 5 years now, but this latest observation of an ancient shoreline by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has erased all doubt. The Daily Galaxy has more on this, as well as this eye-gasm of a photograph taken from the International Space Station as it passed over Sarychev Volcano while it was erupting on June 12th:

It’s pretty rare for me to instantly fall in love with a band/artist these days. I’ve just become so “Nashville” about everything- jaded/oversaturated/desensitized/insert-apathetic-synonym-here. But RCRD LBL posted some mp3’s from this dude named Evan Voytas on Friday, and I was instantly blown away. It feels good to be totally into something new. This guy’s stuff is a little bit of everything- the tracks I’ve gotten my hands on so far range from a shoegazy, fuzzed out slow pop jam to electro-driven rock with a touch of twee to a full on summery disco-pop groove. That last track I’m describing is called “Getting Higher,” and I have hereby proclaimed it to be the official jam of the summer 2009. Please, PLEASE go to RCRD LBL and download it now! Then go to the Hype Machine and you’ll be able to find several other great tracks. But “Getting Higher” is where it’s at. It’s an instantly love-able dancey track, complete with a 70’s funk bass groove, and straight-up disco beat, and uplifting sunny guitars and syths bathed in a healthy but tasteful dose of reverb.

In local news- Makeout With Violence, the locally made feature-length film starring several members of our music scene, pretty much owned the Nashville Film Festival, taking the best feature-length narrative film and best music awards, along with a few other smaller awards. It’s good to see these guys finally getting the recognition they deserve for their 3 years of hard work on this thing.

My love of science fiction is no secret. That’s why I’m quite pleased to know that one of my favorite TV series Eureka, has finally been scheduled to return to action on July 10th on the SyFy channel. (Yes, the SciFi channel is now SyFy…. go figure.) I read about this on io9, and I agree with their sentiment that moving the show to Battlestar Galactica’s old slot of Fridays at 10pm/9 central was a bad idea. That means I’ll end up watching most of it online because I’m normally out & about by that time on a Friday night…

So we all know that the dinosaurs were killed because of a giant asteriod hitting just off the Yucatan Penninsula in Mexico, right? That’s what they taught us in middle school science class, afterall…. Not so fast. As more and more new evidence is uncovered, that theory is starting to look more and more… extinct. Universe Today posted this morning about some new discoveries that date the actual impact at least 300,000 years prior to the mass extinction. At the same time comes the discovery of a supervolcano eruption (or even a series of supervolcano eruptions) called the Deccan Traps in India. Such an eruption could easily have thrown enough dust and ash into the air to block out the sun and cause a sudden massive cooling. My personal hunch is that the asteroid surely did have some degree of impact on the global climate, (pun fully intended) and obviously would’ve killed a ton of dinos in the immediate area, but ultimately it may have been the volcanic activity that dealt the lethal blow to our bird-like ancestors.

I’ll leave you today with this great image of the next space shuttle crew… I must say NASA has been doing a great job of marketing lately. First the whole C.O.L.B.E.R.T. thing, and now this:

Click to enlarge

Jack White’s latest side project, The Dead Weather, will be playing their first public show in NYC @ Bowery Ballroom on April 14th. They played a private show right here in Nashville for the opening of White’s new label offices/record store/recording studio/photo studio complex back in early March. In other news via Brooklyn Vegan, AC/DC will be heading back to the US for some extended tour dates. I was under the impression that the Nashville show at Sommet Center was to be their last performance in the US… apparently I was gravely mistaken.

In case you’ve been under a rock for the past few days, Lake Fever has posted a special 5-song issue of their “Lake Fever Sessions” video series starring Superdrag. They play several tracks from their new record Industry Giants, which was recorded at Lake Fever. Pretty effin’ awesome if you ask me. I suggest reading Joe Baine Colvert’s blurb to the right of the videos about his teenage years and first discovering Superdrag. The photo to the left was taken by me when I ran into them at SXSW. Speaking of that… I FINALLY got all my pics from Austin on my Flickr, so go have a look. There are a lot of random candid shots on there that weren’t in the Scene slideshows.

For your daily dose of “awww how cute,” check out this article about a new dog that will be a strong contender for the world’s smallest dog. His owners oh-so-cleverly named him Tom Thumb. Via sister sisyphus.

While we’re on the subject of really tiny animals… might as well mention this new species of tree frog discovered in the Andes Mountains. It’s called Noble’s Pygmy Frog. How cute.

The Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog has a set of amazing photos of Mt. Redoubt, the Alaskan volcano that recently erupted. I knew it was only a matter of time before they had a post full of nice Redoubt imagery. I have a hard to choosing between the aerial shots and the nighttime lightning shots as my fav.

Credit: Josh Wurman, CSWR

Credit: Josh Wurman, CSWR

This May 10 through June 13, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are co-funding the greatest tornado chasing effort in history. It’s called VORTEX-2, and in classic scientific tradition, they came up with a really cool acronym, and then figured out words that would work with the acronym and also describe their project. The result- Verification Of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment 2 (VORTEX 2). As if we need verification that tornadoes rotate…. No matter how silly the name, I’d still LOVE to be right there with them!

io9’s quote of the day today: “The Best Green Technology is Population Control.” Just read this whole excerpt by author Paolo Bacigalupi. My favorite quote from the interview:

Advertising agencies and PR firms are delighted to sell us any number of “green” gizmos and they’re throwing in some nice self-esteem blowjobs for all of us, using their persuasive talents to assure us that we’re enlightened and forward thinking because we just stuffed a green X into our Prius.

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.