Even More Incredible Photos from New Horizons

Good morning, readers!

I apologize for the long break. I started a new job this week, and then, unluckily, fell ill. It’s been a tad bit hectic. For now, I have some new photos of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons mission. The first is stunning–a large swath of land that has a “snakeskin-like” texture due to some mystifying geological formations of some sort. Scientists are still working on what could create such formations. The mountainous region has been named (informally, at the moment) the Tartarus Dorsa. Check it out:

pluto_snakeskin

The second is a lovely, detailed panorama of part of the Sputnik Planum, showing close up details of craters and mountains. And it’s close–the image is only 330 miles across. Make sure to click on it to see larger resolution.

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Finally, there is the most detailed color of Pluto we have yet received, and it has enormous potential for helping scientists to determine the geological and climate history of the dwarf planet. You can see the Sputnik Planum there in the middle, and the Tartarus Dorsa in the middle right:

pluto_color

Enjoy the photos! I hope to be posting some solid content soon. Thanks for checking in!

Image credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

A Scale Model of the Solar System in the Nevada Desert? Yes, please.

The human mind did not evolve to be able to grasp the vastness of interplanetary distances. It’s just not something that our ancestors had to factor in to survive, so there was no need for the capability to develop.

Thankfully, we have wonderful people like the team who put this short film together to help us out. Alex Gorosh and Wylie Overstreet created a scale model of the solar system in the Nevada desert, including the orbits of the planets, with an earth the size of a marble as the starting point. Even with an Earth this small, a scale model of our solar system requires seven miles of empty space. Seven miles. Just think about that for a second…

Anyway, I can’t explain it any better than they can. Check it out, and afterwards, just take a moment to ponder the staggering smallness of humanity:

To quote Carl Sagan,

I believe it is true that humility is the only just response in a confrontation with the universe…

I noticed that they thank him in the credits. I think he would have loved what these guys have done here.

When asked in the comments on their youtube page, the team responded that a scale model of an atom was “already in the works.” I can’t wait to see it!

The Global Subsurface Ocean of Enceladus

enceladusPhoto credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Exciting news from research using NASA’s Cassini mission data–confirmation that there is a global subsurface ocean on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus!

The southern pole of Enceladus has active jets of water and vapor (as you can see in the photo). This means that there had to be at least a liquid reservoir of some sort under the surface–or there would be no water and vapor to expel. However, previous research had posited a regional body of water under the southern pole, as there was no evidence that corroborated anything more.

Here’s where the new research comes in.

Continue reading “The Global Subsurface Ocean of Enceladus”

New Species Unearthed in the Human Lineage

Skeletal fossils of Homo naledi are pictured in the Wits bone vault at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, on Sept. 13, 2014. The fossils are among nearly 1,700 bones and teeth retrieved from a nearly inaccessible cave near Johannesburg. The fossil trove was created, scientists believe, by Homo naledi repeatedly secreting the bodies of their dead companions in the cave. Analysis of the fossils -- part of a project known as the Rising Star Expedition -- was led in part by paleoanthropologist John Hawks, professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Photo by John Hawks/University of Wisconsin-Madison)
(Photo by John Hawks/University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Exciting news today in the genus Homo: a new hominin species, dubbed Homo naledi has been discovered in South Africa! A team led by Lee Berger recently retrieved the largest and most complete assemblage of hominin bones ever found in Africa. The bones were discovered in a part of the World Heritage site called “The Cradle of Mankind,” the same system where A. africanus was first discovered.

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Mind’s Eye Blind – Aphantasia and a Lack of Mental Imagery

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I had some fascinating research pointed out to me today.

Three scientists—Adam Zeman, Michaela Dewar, and Sergio Della Sala—published preliminary research in Cortex, a scientific journal that publishes articles regarding the relationship between cognition and the nervous system. The article, entitled “Lives without imagery—Congenital aphantasia,” describes a fascinating phenomenon where a person lacks the ability to voluntarily visualize images in their “mind’s eye.” Right now, 2% remains the best estimate of how commonly congenital aphantasia occurs.

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Cassini’s Dione Flyby – Images

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The Cassini Mission to Saturn has been a powerful and significant step in the exploration of our solar system—a cooperative venture of NASA, the European Space Agency, and Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (the Italian Space Agency).

Since being launched in 1997, Cassini has flown by Jupiter, done tests regarding general relativity, orbited Saturn, and done close flybys of several of Saturn’s moons, not to mention delivering the Huygens probe to the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan—all while sending back reams and reams of data to scientists.

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Darwinian Enigma? The Genetic Basis of Homosexuality

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This past spring, I did an interesting project on the last twenty years of research into the genetic basis of homosexuality. It was a really interesting project. I was an English major while in college, as I’ve said before. Because of this, I’m used to interpreting literature and constructing arguments based on fictional narratives, not scientific articles based on empirical data. It’s a very different mode of thought. I thought I would share some of my findings on here.

Continue reading “Darwinian Enigma? The Genetic Basis of Homosexuality”