Archive for November, 2013

Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees, but Gold Does

We have all heard that money does not grow on trees, however scientists in Western Australia have found that gold does. They found that eucalyptus trees growing in an area which is said to be above a sizable gold deposit have got a higher content of gold in their leaves, branches and twigs.

Initially it was believed that the gold particles must have been blown by dust and landed on the trees giving its individual parts a dusting of the precious metal. Now the scientists believe that the gold has actually come from the deposit under the ground through the trees themselves.

In general background concentrations of gold in vegetation are typically less than 2 parts per billion (ppb) however in this area they have found gold levels up to 80 ppb. Field tests in Australia showed that eucalyptus trees growing above a deposit lying 35 meters underground had 20 times more gold in the gummy substances coating their leaves than did trees that grew 800 meters away.

Evidence enough to suggest that gold truly did grow on the trees. The next science project to try and prove this theory involved growing seedlings in greenhouses insulated from airborne dust and watering them with gold-laced solutions. It is interesting to note that plants did actually pick up the metal through from the soil through their roots and deposit them in their leaves.

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Comet ISON : Visible without telescope

The comet ISON is making its first and perhaps only round into the inner solar system. While the very nature of comets makes their behavior hard to predict, so far this comet has been sticking to the schedule which will see it disintegrating by 28 November as it approaches the sun. The whole process should offer us on Earth a spectacular view of cosmic fireworks.

Comets are essentially composed of bits of space rock, fluids and gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water and ammonia. They also orbit the sun although their orbits are not as steady as that of planets. As they approach the sun the matter inside them begins to heat up and undergoes a process called sublimation.

In this process the material making up the comet goes from solid to liquid and if there is not enough mass left the whole comet will explode. The disintegration of the comet can be avoided if the critical mass of the comet can be maintained till it starts moving away from the sun and cooling off again.

The people observing comet ISON feel that it will continue to become brighter in the sky as it approaches the sun till it eventually disintegrates. There doesn’t seem to be much hope of the comet surviving a trip into the inner solar system. Still tracing its path and behavior make an interesting science project.

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Space Probes to Intercept Asteroids

The consequences of a potential asteroid strike on earth are literally life threatening. In order to minimize this threat the researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed Dynamics, Ernst-Mach-Institut, EMI in Freiburg are working hard at different science projects. The ultimate aim of keeping earth, and therefore human beings, safe is actually divided into different parts.

The first would be identifying potential threats, and this is what Frank Schäfer is doing as he studies the larger asteroids which have the potential to wipe out entire cities or regions. He is currently throwing space probes to intercept medium sized asteroids and observing the disintegration process of small asteroids and the deviation from its path in larger asteroids.

Both the methods would work in order to avoid impact with Earth. In the experimentation process it was discovered that the more porous the asteroid is the less likely it is to be affected by a probe. So a space probe is likely to work only on a more dense material asteroid.

While currently no large asteroid is seen heading our way, it does pay to be prepared for any such eventuality in the future. Maybe some early warning systems could be improved and more ways to deal with asteroids be developed in future science projects undertaken.


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When Asteroids Strike

Armageddon comes Ancient Greek term that refers to a site where the end of days will occur. It is a term that was used as a popular movie’s name where an asteroid strike was about to literally bring the end of days to human life on earth. That may have been a movie, but the threat of an asteroid strike affecting life on earth is not fiction.

It is widely believed by scientists that the Tsunamis and acid rain that occurred 65 million years ago on Earth causing the mass extinction of close to 50% of species then living, was caused by a giant asteroid strike. The asteroid is believed to have been 10 kilometers wide and is said to have hit the earth in the region today known as the Gulf of Mexico.

The impact of the asteroid hit caused a crater that was 170 kilometers wide. The earth literally was covered in darkness as clouds of dust arose and the oceans churned out of control at the big splash. Yes, this is supposed to be the reason why dinosaurs went extinct. So how would just such a scenario be met today?

Does man really have the system in place to warn him of a potentially disastrous asteroid strike? Can he really deploy nuclear missiles in to space to ensure that such an asteroid does not hit earth? And will the human race survive such a defense? Wouldn’t that make the subject of an interesting science project?


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Can a Website Guess the Movie You are Thinking About?

That is exactly what a website called Filmillion promised to do. What the software on the site does is ask you 30 questions based on the movie. Some of them are general while others may be a bit more revealing. Based on your answers the website then picks a movie which it feels you are thinking about.

Of course it is not fool proof and while it may work well for the better known block busters, it was not able to pick out Herbie, the movie I chose. However it did get me thinking about the programming effort that must have gone into the website’s software. A fair amount of research must have been needed to pick out all the most popular movies in major genres and add them to the software.

In fact when I revealed that the name of the movie was incorrect, I was asked to add the new name along with its IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) reference. That means its a program that is building on itself as it goes along. This is so much like science in its purest form. Each new discovery leads to the next science project and technology improves by leaps and bounds.

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