Rock-hard planet on planet action

The first detected “mini-Earth” and an Earth-sized planet with a water-vapour atmosphere are two of five planets found orbiting Kepler-20. Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech.

Two weeks ago Kepler gave us its first probable earth-like world orbiting the habitable zone of a sun-like star. This week it’s not one but two, count ’em two, small and probably rocky worlds. And these guys are tiny by exoplanetary standards: [Read more…]

Of nu-nus and wee-wees: size does matter?

Evolution is all about sex, baby, at least for us big hulking heterotrophs. When it comes to sex, sex organs play a central role in that evolution, regardless of what cultists invested in mythical invisible sky wizards would have you believe. And new research shows size does matter — it’s just that bigger doesn’t mean better:

(MSNBC) — Using data from scarab beetle populations separated by anywhere from 50 years to millions of years, research led by scientists at Indiana University reveals that both male and female genitalia evolve rapidly and in parallel with one another. But between newly evolving species, genitals diverged faster in shape than they did in size.

If a beetle’s wee-wee doesn’t fit in Mrs Beetle’s nu-nu, evolution pronounces a harsh sentence for life and beyond. Remember that the next time you’re staring in a mirror.

Who is in charge of North Korea?

Concentration camps, starving populace, brutal authoritarian regime, and loose nukes; what could possibly go wrong with North Korea?

(TimeMag) — As odd and erratic as the North Koreans might be, they are not about to inaugurate new leadership by raining nuclear destruction on their Asian-Pacific neighbors – and they probably couldn’t do so even if they wanted. While North Korea has enough fuel for six or eight small nuclear weapons, it doesn’t have the technology to put them on missiles. Nor are its missiles particularly accurate beyond a short range.

I guess we’ll find out soon enough. But the littlest Kim, Jong-Il’s son Kim Jong-un, has only been groomed for autocracy for a year or two. It’s unclear how much support the 28 year-old really has among top military brass and the handful of wealthy patrons in the nation. It’s not even certain how old he is, estimates vary from 26 to 29. And I have to admit, I have a bad feeling about this whole deal.

Breaking: North Korea’s Kim Jong II dead at 69

News that Kim Jong-il, the enigmatic leader of impoverished North Korea, died of a heart attack on Saturday has ripped through one of the last truly communist countries like a monsoon this morning. The late dictator was 69 years-old. Presidents, prime-ministers, and monarchs are watching intently to see what now becomes of the world’s most isolated nation. So far it’s a grief-fest:

(Telegraph) — There was wariness about where North Korea goes now under Kim Jong-il’s son, but Britain, France and Germany voiced tentative hope for a new dawn at the end of a tumultuous year that has seen regimes topple across the Middle East. The “Dear Leader”, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), “passed away from a great mental and physical strain” at 8:30am on Saturday (23.30 GMT Friday) while travelling by train on one of his field trips. It urged people to support the Swiss-educated Kim Jong-Un, who is in his late 20s and was last year made a four-star general and given top ruling party posts despite having had no public profile.

There’s a lot of speculation on what happens next, and Odin knows I’m no expert on North Korea. Could this mark the unofficial end of the Korean War and eventual reunification of that torn peninsula? What would that mean to South Korea, to China, and the world?

Oh, and sorry about the lack of posts over the weekend. I did some well earned vacationing and I guess I didn’t understand the ghost scheduling feature as well as I should.

And Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2011 is …..

The Protestor?! From Occupy Wall Street to the bloody sands of Libya, the person who most changed our world in 2011 was the humble protestors. AKA brave patriots when the powers that be agree with their cause in a foreign land, dirty jobless hippies when the protests are here in America. And while choosing the pseudonymous collective as the recipient of an award meant for a single human seems a little bit lame, it also feels a little bit right.

CERN live: Christmas in Geneva

And now I have to leave this exciting story and sign in to help people fix their damn computers over the phone … if anyone is seasonally inclined, contributions to my Paypal account,, might someday help free me of this dreary ball and chain.

BTW, we’re tweeting up a storm on this, I’m at SAndrewDKos. @CERN: Bottom line from #ATLAS: 2.3 sigma excess for a #Higgs mass at 126 GeV. More checks will come with 2012 data.

Via the Bad Astronomer: For clarity, 2.6 sigma = 99% confidence, 2.3 = 97%. Not bad, but not enough to make solid claims. It’ll be another year or so before we know for sure.

The most important insight into our entire cosmos is unfolding in the December afternoon, European time, and all my shitty cable news channels are babbling about is Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney vying to out know-nothing each other to win know-nothing votes. Churchill was right about democracy …

Word is the Higgs has been glimpsed … So far, eggheads are talking, the webcast is streaming. Still photos being posted here. The Guardian is live blogging updating text here: [Read more…]

Saudi’s execute accused witch

She’s a witch! That may be a little comical what with Life of Brian and the weight of ducks and all, but the story linked below is nothing of the sort. Our staunch oily allies in Saudi Arabia literally put a woman to death for being a sorceress:

(SacBee) — Saudi authorities have executed a woman convicted of practicing magic and sorcery. The Saudi Interior Ministry says in a statement the execution took place Monday, but gave no details on the woman’s crime. The London-based al-Hayat daily, however, quoted Abdullah al-Mohsen, chief of the religious police who arrested the woman, as saying she had tricked people into thinking she could treat illnesses, charging them $800 per session.

I’m all for giving faith healing grifters a hard time, up to an including doing hard time when and if they cause harm to trusting victims. But this is sick. Since the details of this case are a state secret we can only speculate that this particular lady did not practice state approved magic and sorcery, aka Islam.