Physics for Future Presidents, Four-Eyed Fish, The Mystery of the Meandering Martian Rocks, Runaway Stars, Unnatural Selection

 

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Physics for Future Presidents


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When Barack Obama is inaugurated next week as the 44th president of the United States, he'll be expected to quickly grasp a lot of complex issues, ranging from foreign affairs to economic policy. But according to Dr. Richard Muller, he also needs to have a firm understanding of basic physics. From terrorism and energy to nuclear issues and global warming, President Obama will face a barrage of difficult decisions that all require a core of scientific knowledge. Dr. Richard Muller is a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, a Senior Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, and author of the new book, Physics for Future Presidents.

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Four-Eyed Fish


spookfish.jpg The four-eyed spookfish, Tammy Frank

When Dr. Ron Douglas and his colleagues found an extremely odd looking fish in their nets, while trawling for new species in the deep South Pacific, at first they didn't know what they'd found. They soon realized they'd found something unique. This strange species, a spookfish, can see up and down simultaneously, but more remarkably, it's evolved mirrors in its eyes that gather light and focus it on their retinas. This is an adaptation unique in vertebrates. Dr. Douglas is Professor of Visual Science at City University of London.

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The Mystery of the Meandering Martian Rocks


Mars_rocks.jpg Mars Rocks, NASA/JPL

If you're prone to bizarre alien conspiracy theories, then Mars is your planet. Every since we first aimed our telescopes at the Red Planet, there have been all kind of conjectures -- there were the so-called Martian canals, alleged water ways built by Martian engineers and the famous face on Mars. Of course, once we got a closer looks, these mysterious features turned out to be nothing more than natural geological features. Now, there's another Martian mystery: take a close look at the surface of Mars and you'll see perfectly distributed rocks. It's as though a crew of Martian landscapers has been meticulously distributing them in an orderly fashion. Well, Dr. Andrew Leier, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Calgary, isn't one to believe in aliens. He's found a perfectly down-to-earth explanation. He says the same geological processes cause a similar phenomenon on Earth and he's applied his model to the surface of the Red Planet.

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Runaway Stars


runaway_stars.jpg Runaway stars, NASA, ESA, and R. Sahai (NASA/JPL)

Talk about a serendipitous discovery: Dr. Raghvendra Sahai, a Principle Research Scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, was conducting a routine sky survey with the Hubble Space Telescope when he spotted something unexpected: runaway stars. Dr. Sahai says he and his colleagues have likely discovered a whole new class of stars -- he calls them "interstellar interlopers" -- and he thinks they're zipping through interstellar space at about 5-10 times the speed of ordinary stars. These interlopers may be on the move but they make highly photogenic subjects; their speedy progress through interstellar gas makes for quite a show. Dr. Sahai says he's now trying to get a better read on the age, mass and trajectory of these stars and he says he expects to find a whole lot more of them in the near future.

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Unnatural Selection


Big_Horn_Sheep.jpg Hunting is selecting sheep for smaller horns and bodies. Copyright Alan D. Wilson, source Wikimedia Commons

It's perhaps not surprising that humans are having an impact on the evolution of other animals on the planet. What is surprising, according to Dr. Chris Darimont, an NSERC postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is the way we're doing it. Dr. Darimont and his colleagues looked at several examples of species that humans prey on: fish, plants and animals. What they found is that these species are forced to change far more quickly than happens with more "natural" selection. What's more, since humans tend to choose the largest and healthiest animals, the kind of selection we do is very different from natural predators that ordinarily take the sick and the weak.

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein.
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