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Sep 22 2011

RCimT: a quick science news roundup

Welcome to the first Random Crap in my Tabs posted to Freethought Blogs! Every once in a while, my browser’s tabs get far too full of “stuff that must be blogged”, stuff that I figured was too interesting to just read and close, and in order to free up resources so I can do other things, once in a while I aggregate a bunch of similarly themed items into a post with links and short commentary. It’s something like a blog carnival, but usually to non-bloggy stuff.

This one’s about some sciencey bits and bobs, and it’s all over the map. Allons-y!

How do amoeba undercut creationists’ claims that multicellular organisms are irreducibly complex? They posse up into a larger life form, like a microscopic Voltron.

Despite technology becoming ubiquitous and Americans demanding more and more access to their digital lives on the go via all manner of gadgetry, surprisingly, American power consumption has leveled off over the last decade. The fact that our smaller, more efficient technology sips at power where older generations drank deeply, helps.

Apropos of last week’s astrology incursion, which appears to have petered out after Ed Kohout vanished mid-argument, here’s a great takedown of astrology as a whole akin to my own effort a year ago. Both are worth a read in case the astrologers return (and they will — they’re floaters). Though longtime readers and those engaged in the Kohout skirmish will have been linked to mine a number of times already.

The Daily Fail sure does know how to frame a story. Their reporting on Craig Venter’s wholly artificially created bacteria takes the most obvious route it could take when looking at something they don’t understand well: fearmongering the living fuck out of it. And not just “will it hurt humans,” but a full-on doomsday scenario. Which is always the most rational way to take any piece of news, honestly.

But it’s okay, we might have found another potentially habitable exoplanet, meaning we’re one step closer to getting off this rock and ensuring that humanity is no longer susceptible to a single calamitous event.

Elsewhere, our favorite weird scientist Scicurious is going to be at the IgNobels, an awards event for weird science. And she was interviewed on CBC’s Spark on the Google+ Nymwars.

What has CERN been up to, while narrowing the hiding spots for the potential Higgs boson? Quite a bit, actually. Lots of places that Higgs could be hiding — under a chair, behind a couch… you name it.

Researchers have apparently discovered a way to keep HIV from attacking the immune system: put it on a diet. Without cholesterol, the virus is hobbled. This might mean a vaccine in the very near future. Or it could mean very tiny Scarsdale Diet books, in syringe-injectable form.

Could dark matter be really tiny black holes? Possibly. Could we be doomed if one of them touches us? No, not with the seriously slow rate of intake such a tiny black hole could produce — if they can even exist without evaporating due to Hawking radiation. Well, unless you’re a Hollywood screenwriter. Then we’re totes doomed if a micro-black hole touches Earth. Fo realz. Call me, I’ll be your science consultant. For a small fee, of course.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    F

    That is random. And totally interesting. Thanks!

  2. 2
    Robert B.

    Rate of intake is not the biggest problem with a nearby black hole. The event horizon itself is really only interesting to physicists; black holes are about gravity, and gravity goes on forever and works on everything. The article mentions detecting 10^18 kg black holes. If one of those intersected Earth it would basically hit like a nuke. By the time it passed by, everything for kilometers around its path would be moving toward ground zero at 100+ meters per second. A few seconds later, all that kinetic energy would be heat, which would probably produce a mushroom cloud over the finely divided rubble. The earthquakes caused by that much gravity shifting the crust wouldn’t be much fun either. And then it does the exact same thing again as it comes out the other side of the planet.

    Of course, those are only the smallest black holes this observation might detect, the ones that, if they hit a star, make a splash visible from light years away. A black hole might be millions of times smaller than that and still have survived since the Big Bang without evaporating. At that scale it would need almost a direct hit to hurt you – with bad luck, it might take out a single building.

    Of course, nothing like that’s ever been observed, at least not that I’ve ever heard, which means there’s probably not many teragram range black holes in these parts.

  3. 3
    aziraphale

    “meaning we’re one step closer to getting off this rock”

    Unfortunately the resources needed to get even one human being to this exoplanet are huge. And it’s probably less habitable than Mars, which is near to hand and could be made habitable in a reasonable time.

  4. 4
    Jason Thibeault

    Robert: I’d read elsewhere once that a black hole with the mass of an asteroid, hitting Earth, would be more like a through-and-through gunshot wound than like an asteroid hit. While neither would be good, the through-and-through would do far less damage. Was this modeled somewhere to give your mushroom cloud inducing figures? Would love to see it.

    BTW, I love having you about, sir. My own personal physicist! :D

    aziraphale: you’ll note I didn’t say how many steps it would be! I’m definitely of the opinion that the Moon and Mars are both necessary first steps before we make it across the DNA-shredding void of deep space. If it’s even possible.

  5. 5
    Robert B.

    I wasn’t considering it directly, but yeah. An actual impact with the same mass would be… meep. 10^26 joules. 10^26 joules would boil the seas. Forget humans, Earth life will be starting over from archaea.

    And I like being about, sir! Posts like this give me an excuse to do physics problems with really really cool answers.

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