Beautiful and Unexplained Mars Aurora

(Image: University of Colorado)

Mars is quite a wonderful little planet. Obviously, it’s one of the best potential places to find extra-terrestrial organisms (or, at least, fossilized specimens) within the Solar System. Early on in it’s life it would’ve been quite similar to Earth with water flowing on the planet. And now we’re seeing an aurora on it that we can’t quite explain yet (we’ve seen Martian auroras before, but we COULD explain those ones through the same process we can explain Earth’s auroras, namely highly charged particles from the sun interacting with Earth’s magnetic field). As Jacob Aron from the New Scientist explains:

The new aurora, dubbed “Christmas lights” by the team because it occurred from 18 to 23 December last year, is different. It was seen in many different parts of the northern hemisphere and at much lower altitudes than previous auroras. “We’re seeing it not connected to magnetic regions,” says Jakosky. “We don’t know if it is occurring only at the places we’re observing, or if it is globally distributed.”

The timing lined up with a spike in electrons streaming in from the sun at high enough energies to penetrate down into the atmosphere, suggesting this had a hand in creating the aurora, but exactly how it occurs is unknown. The MAVEN team is now planning to look at the entire hemisphere when the spacecraft is in the shadow of Mars, facing the sun, but it is a risky move as MAVEN is not designed to look straight at the sun. “We have to be really careful because we have to turn off some protective measures,” says Jakosky. “If we screw it up we’re going to burn out the instrument.”

They also detected a cloud of dust, which was at least 200km’s above the surface, that stayed for the duration the spacecraft had been operating. Perhaps it’s dust that falls from one of Mars’ moons (Phobos and Deimos), or perhaps it’s coming from the random bits and bobs that float through the Solar System (like comets or asteroids) or it could even be coming from the planet itself (although we don’t know of a mechanism that would bring dust from the surface to such heights). But they don’t know, more research and observation are needed.

The beauty of the solar system is wonderful. I can’t wait to find out more.

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We Live On A TARDIS (Seriously)

I was watching some Doctor Who before and I came to a surprising conclusion. We actually live on a TARDIS. TARDIS, of course, stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space and it’s (if you’re one of the three people that doesn’t know anything about Doctor Who) the ‘ship’ that the good Doctor uses to traverse the universe.

The Tardis. By aussiegall from sydney, Australia (Dr Who Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It has a few odd qualities about it. For one, it’s ‘dimensionally transcendant’, which means, as the Doctor’s companions almost always point out, it’s bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. It can travel through time and space and it possesses sentience, of a sort.

So how does the Earth measure up as a TARDIS? Continue reading

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Christopher Pyne Pines For Australian Science (Though Not Enough To Save It)

So I was reading an article on the Guardian about Australian science being squeezed, like a mob boss squeezes a small fruit stall owner, and this particular quote by Pyne struck me:

“The funds for NCRIS only exist because of savings elsewhere in the higher education package.

“The way for Labor to support NCRIS, which they themselves defunded, is to support the higher education reforms.

“Labor needs to stop playing politics and enter negotiations with the government because it will be on the heads of Labor, the Greens and the crossbenchers if it closes,” he said.

It’s a small statement, well, relatively small at least, but the thing that strikes me is that it’s just so…goddamn…political…

You see, Pyne is giving the excuse, or the ‘argument ender’, to his base. He’s saying, “Look, it’s everyone else’s fault if this travesty of a budget cut to Australian science comes to pass! (It’s just coincidental that in order to stop this travesty of a budget cut to science, everyone else has to agree to my travesty of a budget cut to education.)”

This, as I said, is to give his base something to argue back against with people who disagree about his actions. It doesn’t matter, of course, that what he really means is, “I want my education cuts to pass and until they do, I’m going to hold my scythe next to the string that is holding Australian science up! And if, dog forbid, you don’t agree with me before I cut the string and Australian science plunges into this convenient volcano…Well then you only have yourselves to blame!”

Continue reading

Sexism and Dentistry Collide

Dentistry; apparently another hive of scum and villainy. I hope before this story is told that I don’t have to go over the fact that all dentists are not like this (obviously) and that that doesn’t excuse the behaviour of the people who ARE like this.

The University of Manitoba apparently has a problem with student dentists.

"When I started I was one of two females and the jokes [and] the acceptance for certain kinds of jokes were shocking to me."

"He would make comments about other [female] residents weight or about her height. When we were studying cranial-facial abnormalities he would pick each one of us and say that we look to have this syndrome."

Sarah says eventually it evolved to text messaging.

"I got a text message from him asking where he could find girls like me, I asked what he was talking about and he said 'oh, because you're a whore.'"

In what fucking world is this acceptable discourse to a colleague (for that matter, anyone)? I mean really, what self-entitled jerk thinks it’s ok to text to a fellow student that they’re a whore? Would they have the guts to do that to a male colleague? I very much highly doubt it.

Just another statistic in the chilling effect of discrimination on females in science…We’re actively forcing half of the population out of a highly beneficial area towards humanity. Fuck that, let’s embrace the insights and developments that EVERYONE can bring to us a species.

Newton, Calculus and Evolution

Whenever I read about the theory of evolution, I’m always struck by the juxtaposition of complexity and simplicity. The theory of evolution is simple: change in the inherited characteristics of biological populations over time leads to new, generally more successful, populations. It’s pretty damn simple. If you’re not equipped genetically to handle the environment you’re born into, you’ll most likely die and leave few descendants. Others who are better genetically equipped will live long fruitful lives and leave many descendants, thus altering the genetic landscape of the population.

The complexity comes into how nature goes about the whole evolutionary process. In the theory of evolution, there’s no guiding plan; there’s no pinnacle that nature is striving towards. Rather nature is discovering various ways of achieving different ends using a variety of similar, but not identical (and in some cases, very different), proteins and atomic structures. Really, what evolution is doing is gradually mapping out the the physical constraints imposed chemically on the universe by the laws of physics, while simultaneously dealing with ever-changing environments and needs.

So when I think of mathematics, it seems to me a very similar process. Continue reading