By Dawn StoverPosted 07.13.2007 at 3:06 pm 2 Comments
Living in a New York City apartment on a journalist's budget is one way to rein in your greenhouse gas emissions. But a woman in Olympia, Washington, has it all over our two editors who are vying for green bragging rights. Dee Williams lives in a standalone house, not an apartment. But her house measures only 84 square feet.
The tiny house incorporates recycled materials and cost about $10,000 to build. It has heat, electricity and a composting toilet, but no running water.
Williams says she wanted to reduce her impact on the planet, and didn't feel right about spending a lot of time and money on a house when people in other parts of the world have so little. —Dawn Stover
If you think $1,300 is a lot to pay for Kohlers new C3-200 toilet seat, how about $19 million for a toilet that doesnt even have a heated seat or remote control? Thats what NASA has agreed to shell out for a space potty on the International Space Station.
Wildfires rage across the West, earlier than usual this year Lori Morris; nytimes.com
While the Angora fire raging near Lake Tahoe is getting all the attention, more than a dozen other major wildfires are also burning around the drought-stricken West. They're the result of a perfect storm of fuel accumulation (thanks to years of fire suppression), climate change and rural sprawl.
An article in today's New York Times reports that, according to research done by Volker C. Radeloff at the University of Wisconsin, more than 8.6 million new homes have been constructed within 30 miles of a national forest since 1982. Many of the people occupying these homes are new to the rural West—and unaware of the danger they're facing. They haven't taken the necessary steps to protect their homes from forest fires.
The rest of us are paying the price. With firefighting efforts focused on saving scenic homes, there are fewer resources available for protecting public lands. And the fire season has just begun.—Dawn Stover
Where do the eggs you eat come from? If you answered the grocery store, youre one link short of a food chain. And if you answered cows, youre in the company of some really confused schoolchildren.
A recent survey of more than a thousand eight- to 15-year-olds in Great Britain found that many city kids are confused about the origins of food. For example, two percent of city kids think that eggs come from cows, and bacon from cows or sheep. Eight percent of city kids dont know that beef burgers (as hamburgers are known in Britain) come from cows. Ten percent have no idea where yogurt comes from.
Dairy Farmers of Britain, a company owned and run by 2,750 British dairy farmers, sponsored the survey. The company has launched a campaign to reconnect children with their food.
Increasing urbanization threatens to make people of all ages and nationalities ignorant about where their food comes from. In the U.S., less than one percent of the population now works in the agricultural sector. There are only about two million farms in the U.S. today, compared with 6.8 million in 1935.
Next weeks lesson: Electricity doesnt come from the wall.—Dawn Stover
First it was demoted to a dwarf planet, leaving only eight proper planets in our solar system. Then scientists reported that another dwarf planet, Eris, is bigger than Pluto. And now the final blow: Eris is 27 percent more massive than Pluto.
Scientists Michael E. Brown and Emily Schaller at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena used the ground-based Keck Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope to determine the mass of Eris: 16.6 billion trillion kilograms. Brown and Schaller calculated the mass by measuring the time it takes for Eriss moon Dysnomia to complete an orbit.
Earlier observations by Hubble had already shown that Eris has a diameter of about 2,400 kilometers, which is slightly larger than Pluto. Both dwarf planets are probably made of rock and ice. Brown says they are essentially twins—except that Eris is slightly the pudgier of the two.
Like Pluto, Eris resides beyond Neptune in the Kuiper belt. The icy bodies in this belt orbit the sun at distances 30 to 50 times greater than Earths orbit. Eris is three times farther from the sun than Pluto, and takes twice as long to orbit it.—Dawn Stover
Whats happening to the birds and the bees? Reports of vanishing bees continue to pour in from beekeepers around the country—in many cases, entire colonies have suddenly failed to return to their hives. Now bird lovers are sounding an alarm too.
Ornithologists have long known that many rare birds are in decline or even on the verge of extinction. But citizen scientists are reporting that common birds are also disappearing at an alarming rate.
An analysis of data collected around the U.S. by volunteer birdwatchers shows that all of the 20 species listed as Common Birds in Decline lost at least half their populations over the last 40 years. The data come from annual Christmas bird counts led by the National Audubon Society, along with annual summer breeding bird surveys organized by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Among the birds that are declining are familiar species such as meadowlarks, bobwhites and even robins. Because these birds are still relatively abundant, their waning has gone largely unnoticed.
Scientists theorize that the declines are due to a combination of factors, including climate change and the extensive conversion of forests and grasslands to residential development. Suburban sprawl has also expanded the range of the domestic cat, a birds worst enemy. Even when cats arent actively killing birds, they may be scaring them so badly that they cant breed successfully.
A recent study published in the journal Animal Conservation estimated that a reduction of only one hatchling per breeding pair per year per cat could eventually reduce some bird populations by up to 95 percent.
The birds and bees have long been used as stand-ins to explain the miracle of birth. Now it seems theyve also become a metaphor for human reproduction run amok.—Dawn Stover
Weve always known that popular and science belong together. Even so, we were surprised to learn that they are, respectively, the 956th and 957th most frequently used words in the English language. We found the complete rankings of the 86,800 most common words at WordCount
WordCount currently gets its data from the British National Corpus, a 100-million-word collection of written and spoken texts. Eventually, WordCounts creators plan to track word usage at many levels, ranging from a single document to the entire Internet.
According to WordCount, each word in its current archive is scaled to reflect its frequency relative to the words that precede and follow it, giving a visual barometer of relevance. So what comes before and after popular science? Products and notes, appropriately enough.—Dawn Stover
Who can resist the charms of a bird that waddles around dressed in a tuxedo? Not fishermen, apparently.
Biologists have never found any penguin colonies north of the Galapagos Islands, which are near the equator. But over the years there have been a few sightings of Humboldt penguins, which are native to Peru, off the northwestern coast of the U.S. What are these penguins doing so far from home?
Biology professor Dee Boersma and doctoral student Amy Van Buren at the University of Washington have been scratching their heads over this, and they have ruled out several theories. They say the flightless birds probably didnt swim 5,000 miles from Peru, because they would have had to cross dangerously warm waters. And they say the penguins didnt escape from a zoo, because zoo birds would have flipper tags.
The biologists best guess about what happened: penguin kidnapping. They theorize that fishermen in the Southern Hemisphere accidentally hauled the birds aboard in their nets and then kept them as pets until they reached the north.
In the early- to mid-20th century, scientists made their own attempts at transplanting penguins to the Northern Hemisphere, but were unsuccessful due to predation. Back in Peru, penguins dont have to worry about being eaten by bears. —Dawn Stover
When NASAs space shuttle Atlantis lifts off on Friday, June 8, it will be carrying a 400-year-old metal cargo tag inscribed Yames Towne. The tag was once attached to a British shipment that is believed to have arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, around 1611.
Also along for the ride will be gold and silver coins commemorating the Jamestown settlement. After their round trip to the International Space Station, the coins and shipping tag will become museum pieces. If all goes well, they wont look any different than when they left the ground.
NASA says the four-million-mile exercise continues the legacy of exploration and discovery begun 400 years ago by Americas earliest explorers. I say it continues the modern NASA legacy of going round and round without actually getting anywhere.
If were going to spend $10,000 per pound on shipping, lets send items that actually advance our understanding and exploration of space. —Dawn Stover
A spacecraft delivers rare samples of extraterrestrial dust to Earth. Now scientists need your help to study it
By Dawn StoverPosted 03.14.2006 at 2:00 am 0 Comments
"We believe we have the Holy Grail," says Don Brownlee, the lead scientist for NASA's Stardust mission, in which a robotic spacecraft traveled nearly three billion miles to capture interstellar dust and comet particles and then flew back to Earth in a seven-year round-trip voyage. The touch-down this January in the Utah desert marked the first successful return of extraterrestrial material since 1976, when an unmanned Soviet probe last brought home moon rocks.