Betelgeuse is getting strange


No — not this one!

” Normally, Betelgeuse is among the 10 brightest stars in the sky. However, the red giant began dimming in October, and by mid-December, the star had faded so much it wasn’t even in the top 20, Villanova University’s Edward Guinan reported in an Astronomer’s Telegram.

“Now the outline of Orion is noticeably different with Betelgeuse so faint,” he says…

” To be clear, dimming alone isn’t all that odd for a star like Betelgeuse. It’s what’s known as a variable star, and its shifts in brightness have been closely studied for decades. However, it is unusual for one of the sky’s most prominent points of light to fade so noticeably, prompting scientists to consider the possibility that something more exciting could be about to happen: Betelgeuse might explode and die, briefly blazing brighter than the full moon before vanishing from our night sky forever.

Huge, red stars like Betelgeuse live fast and die violently, exploding in stellar events called supernovae that are visible across vast distances. So, while Betelgeuse is a relatively young star—only about 8.5 million years old—astronomers know that it is nearing the end of its life.

Don’t hold your breath, waiting. Our Fake President will stop lying – or the GOP will tax wealth — before this star probably goes supernova.

The life and appearance of a hunter-gatherer in Denmark about 6000 years ago

At the dawn of the Neolithic era, a young woman discarded a lump of ancient chewing gum made from birch tar into a shallow, brackish lagoon that drew fishers to the coast of southern Denmark.

Nearly 6,000 years later, researchers excavating the site spotted the gum amid pieces of wood and wild animal bone and from it have reassembled her complete DNA and so painted the broadest strokes of her portrait.

” The strands of DNA preserved in the gum point to a hunter-gatherer from continental Europe who had dark skin, dark hair and blue eyes. She lived near the lagoon, itself protected from the open sea by shifting sand barriers, about 5,600 years ago, according to carbon dating of the birch tar.

Alongside her DNA, the researchers found genetic material from duck and hazelnuts – presumed remnants of a recent meal – and at least 40 types of microbes.

Anders Götherström said the latest work was exciting. “As for human DNA, these mastics may present an alternative source for DNA from where there are limited amounts of preserved bones. But even more exciting is the ancient microbial DNA,” he said. “The mouth is an exposed area of the body. It is possible that this type of material will outcompete bones when looking for DNA from ancient pathogens.”

Thanks, Honeyman

When your DNA says you aren’t you, not from anywhere around here


Tiffany Brown Anderson/NY Times

” Three months after his bone marrow transplant, Chris Long of Reno, Nev., learned that the DNA in his blood had changed. It had all been replaced by the DNA of his donor, a German man he had exchanged just a handful of messages with…

But four years after his lifesaving procedure, it was not only Mr. Long’s blood that was affected. Swabs of his lips and cheeks contained his DNA — but also that of his donor. Even more surprising to Mr. Long and other colleagues at the crime lab, all of the DNA in his semen belonged to his donor. “I thought that it was pretty incredible that I can disappear and someone else can appear,” he said.

” Mr. Long had become a chimera, the technical term for the rare person with two sets of DNA. The word takes its name from a fire-breathing creature in Greek mythology composed of lion, goat and serpent parts. Doctors and forensic scientists have long known that certain medical procedures turn people into chimeras, but where exactly a donor’s DNA shows up — beyond blood — has rarely been studied with criminal applications in mind.

I can see a B-Movie already glazing over the eyes of someone in Hollywood.

Caffeine in your bloodstream ain’t all you might worry about


Steven Ward, OSU

❝ Scientists at Oregon State University may have proven how much people love coffee, tea, chocolate, soda and energy drinks as they validated their new method for studying how different drugs interact in the body.

In conducting mass spectrometry research, Richard van Breemen and Luying Chen worked with various biomedical suppliers to purchase 18 batches of supposedly pure human blood serum pooled from multiple donors…All 18 batches tested positive for caffeine. Also, in many of the samples the researchers found traces of cough medicine and an anti-anxiety drug. The findings point to the potential for contaminated blood transfusions, and also suggest that blood used in research isn’t necessarily pure.

❝ “From a ‘contamination’ standpoint, caffeine is not a big worry for patients, though it may be a commentary on current society,” said Chen, a Ph.D. student. “But the other drugs being in there could be an issue for patients, as well as posing a problem for those of us doing this type of research because it’s hard to get clean blood samples.”

Article worth reading, folks.

I keep an eye on nutrition and health studies – and being a lifelong coffee drinker that’s one of the substances I track. I even quit drinking coffee for a few years after a scary preliminary study – eventually disproven – from a solid medical source rolled out too many threats to rationalize.

A mast year for acorns in New England

❝ If you have oak trees in your neighborhood, perhaps you’ve noticed that some years the ground is carpeted with their acorns, and some years there are hardly any. Biologists call this pattern, in which all the oak trees for miles around make either lots of acorns or almost none, “masting.”

In New England, naturalists have declared this fall a mast year for oaks: All the trees are making tons of acorns all at the same time…

❝ For trees like oaks that depend on having their seeds carried away from the parent tree and buried by animals like squirrels, a mast year has an extra benefit. When there are lots of nuts, squirrels bury more of them instead of eating them immediately, spreading oaks across the landscape.

❝ Whatever the causes, masting has consequences that flow up and down the food chain.

For instance, rodent populations often boom in response to high seed production. This in turn results in more food for rodent-eating predators like hawks and foxes; lower nesting success for songbirds, if rodents eat their eggs; and potentially higher risk of transmission of diseases like hantavirus to people.

If the low seed year that follows causes the rodent population to collapse, the effects are reversed.

Please, RTFA for discussion of other cause-and-effect relationships, possibilities…even maybe’s

These guineafowl have tiny brains and elaborate social networks — Sound familiar?


James Klarevas

❝ A new study published this week in the journal Current Biology about an East African bird species with a pretty small brain reveals that animals may not necessarily necessarily need to be smart to be social…

❝ Farine and his colleagues decided to study the gorgeous blue-feathered, turkey-like species in depth…They found that the local population was divided into 18 distinct social groups numbering between 18 and 65 birds each…

The groups were remarkably stable, anchored by several breeding pairs. They also found that certain groups liked hanging out with one another, meeting up at certain times of the day and around certain features in the landscape. Some groups would also spend most of the day off on their own, then meet up with another pack of bird friends to roost at night. In other words, they exhibit the same type of multilevel society as big-brained mammals…

❝ Farine (says)…these particular birds aren’t particularly intelligent.

“They don’t only have small brains relative to mammals,” he says. “They also have quite small brains relative to other birds.”

Social networking may be more of an elemental survival skill than something requiring smarts. RTFA. Reflect on critters who dash around trying to be recognized as members of the “correct” group.