Blonde Vikings? Not really…


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“The Vikings had a lot more genes from Southern and Eastern Europe than we anticipated. They frequently had children with people from other parts of the world. In fact, they also tend to be dark-haired rather than blond, which is otherwise consider an established Viking trait,” says Eske Willerslev…

However, the Viking’s diverse genome doesn’t just stem from people from elsewhere traveling to their settlements. In fact, they were avid travelers, and historically, we know them best for their plundering and murdering raids abroad. But this genetic study sheds new light on who went where.

“The Danish Vikings went to England, while the Swedish Vikings went to the Baltic, and the Norwegian Vikings went to Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland. However, the Vikings from these three ‘nations’ only very rarely mixed genetically. Perhaps they were enemies or perhaps there is some other valid explanation. We just don’t know…”

Shucks. There goes another movie role for blonde weightlifters.

5 reasons to get a flu shot this year


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Even if you’ve never gotten the vaccination before, experts say, do it this year.

“THIS YEAR, IF WE DON’T DO THINGS RIGHT, THE FLU HAS THE POTENTIAL TO TAKE A MUCH GREATER TOLL.”

Wearing masks, washing hands, and keeping six feet away from other people to avoid COVID-19 are measures you can take that will also help protect you from flu. But some will still get the flu, and COVID-19 is still with us.

That’s number 1. RTFA for more reasons why…if you really need more reasons. My wife and I got our annual flu shots 2 weeks ago.

Thousands of birds falling from the sky in American Southwest


Allison Salas/New Mexico State University

Thousands of migrating birds have inexplicably died in south-western US in what ornithologists have described as a national tragedy that is likely to be related to the climate crisis.

Flycatchers, swallows and warblers are among the species “falling out of the sky” as part of a mass die-off across New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and farther north into Nebraska, with growing concerns there could be hundreds of thousands dead already, said Martha Desmond, a professor in the biology department at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Many carcasses have little remaining fat reserves or muscle mass, with some appearing to have nose-dived into the ground mid-flight…

Historic wildfires across the western states of the US could mean they had to re-route their migration away from resource-rich coastal areas and move inland over the Chihuahuan desert, where food and water are scarce, essentially meaning they starved to death. “They’re literally just feathers and bones,” Allison Salas, a graduate student at NMSU who has been collecting carcasses, wrote in a Twitter thread about the die-off. “Almost as if they have been flying until they just couldn’t fly any more.”

Folks here in New Mexico been talking about this for days. At first, we thought it was just something local. We figured on climate change. Waterways are turning bad as much as trees and vegetation are dying off. It’s just more widespread than we ever imagined.

Discovery of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere could be sign of life


James Clerk Maxwell Telescope…1 of 2 used to detect phosphine on Venus

With phosphine in mind, an international team of researchers used two ground-based telescopes — the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile — to search for any possible signatures of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere. Sure enough, they found the gas at a concentration of five to 20 parts per billion in the atmosphere. That’s a lot when you compare it to how much is found on Earth, where the gas is concentrated in parts per trillion and parts per quadrillion. “That is all very much evidence pushing towards this exotic explanation of something replenishing it and something making it at large quantities,” says Clara Sousa-Silva…

If the phosphine detection is confirmed, then people will set to work figuring out where it’s coming from. It may turn out that life isn’t even the best explanation. The phosphine may have been found in clouds with moderate temperatures, but the area is still a ghastly place for life to survive, even for the hardiest of microorganisms. “There’s nothing definitive saying it is biology,” Rakesh Mogul, a biological chemist at California State Polytechnic University focusing on extreme microbial life, who is not involved in the study, tells The Verge. “There’s still a lot of unknowns. And it’s nice to put biology as the answer, but really, as scientists, we need to back it up and make sure we exhaustively study all the other possibilities.”

Nice to see scientists in charge of this information gathering and analysis. Imagine the hullabaloo if our politicians had authority over this research.

Your street – and your roof – may be polluting the air as much as your car

Extreme rising temperatures are known to increase the risk of environmental hazards like drought and wildfires. But new research published last week in Science Advances adds another danger to the list: extreme heat sends harmful emissions into the air courtesy of hot asphalt…The study, published by a team of Yale researchers, reveals that asphalt is likely an overlooked but major source of hazardous pollutants being released into the air.

“A main finding is that asphalt-related products emit substantial and diverse mixtures of organic compounds into the air, with a strong dependence on temperature and other environmental conditions,” says Peeyush Khare, a Yale chemical and environmental engineer and the lead author of the study…

On a typical summer day in Los Angeles, asphalt can reach to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. At this threshold, the asphalt will release a steady and significant stream of emissions. Under these conditions, scientists predict hot asphalt could become a long-lasting source of pollution…

Researchers estimated that in California’s South Coast Air Basin, the total amount of aerosols formed from hot asphalt emissions is comparable to those released by gas and diesel motor vehicles…

And in some environments, the pollution from asphalt can be higher than internal combustion engines powering our transport.

Sound of two black holes colliding

With a nod to Zen students.

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”

Douglas Adams, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” [originally a radio comedy broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1978]

Dust devil…on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover spotted this dust devil with one of its Navigation Cameras on Aug. 9, 2020…Taken from the “Mary Anning” drill site, this dust devil appears to be passing through small hills just above Curiosity’s present location on Mount Sharp. The dust devil is approximately one-third to a half-mile away and estimated to be about 16 feet wide. The dust plume disappears past the top of the frame, so an exact height can’t be known, but it’s estimated to be at least 164 feet tall.

As we explore this tiny corner of our solar system, sometimes we discover new, sometimes we find same or similar. As someone with a basic understanding of what should be high school-level science…would know.

Is NASA [still] working on a warp drive?

The first scientific theory of warp drive came about in 1994, when theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre used Einstein’s theory of General Relativity to develop a framework that would allow faster-than-light travel within the confines of the laws of physics. The key that makes it possible is that, technically, the ship itself doesn’t travel faster than light.

“What warp drive is doing is basically saying that there is no law of physics that says space-time itself can’t go faster than the speed of light,” says Dr Erin Macdonald, astrophysicist and science consultant for Star Trek.

“And so the concept of warp drive is to say, all right, let’s take our ship, let’s build a bubble of space-time around it, and then we’ll have that propel us faster than the speed of light,” she says. It’s similar to the idea of a racecar driving onboard a train: someone standing by the tracks would see the car travelling much faster than its top speed.

All the folks in the article are involved with NASA in the world of then and now, maybe and might be. Trouble is, success or no success is something folks aren’t especially allowed to talk about. Alcubierre did the work illustrated in the article 26 years ago and more. 🙂