This Live Giant Squid in Japan is Not a Kaiju!

Ladies and gentlemen in the Land of the Rising Sun, there is no reason to activate the Kaiju Emergency Alert System!

Sure, this monstrous squid was spotted swimming just offshore last week, but it is a perfectly normal animal. Yet appearances are extremely rare because it lives so deep in the ocean, making the creature practically mythical! And this one’s appearance would be rare if it happened anywhere except Toyama Bay, because giant squids have been confirmed to have visited those waters no less than 16 times! However, this latest sighting and recording is by far the clearest footage on record!

Get this: Scientists who have examined this footage have declared this specimen of the genus Architeuthis to be just a juvenile!

Seeing the beastie live and up close, it’s not hard to sympathize with the sailors of old who were inspired by this terrifying creature to trade stories of the legendary kraken!

Speaking of which, has anyone read the 2010 novel Kraken by the brilliant China Miéville? It prominently features an Architeuthis. It’s a wonderfully layed fantasy mystery that is equal parts a study of gods and human(?) monsters and also questions which particular religion’s apocalypse will end the world.

Read it! Architeuthis would be proud of you.

He Wore Blue Velvet? Red King Crab in Disguise!

An extremely rare blue-colored red king crab has been plucked from the Bering Sea – and it’s at least the second specimen captured this year. Back in January, another lavender-hued crustacean was pulled from the same waters.

Nome, Alaska, fisherman Frank MacFarland spotted the latest mutant delicacy in a pot on July 4, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Scott Kent happened to be nearby to snap a photo. However, Kent could offer no concrete explanation for the weird coloring, telling KNOM radio:

The best answer I can give you is, I have no idea. My hunch is it’s just a very rare mutation and expressed in only few individuals within a population.

Continue reading

What’s Really in Your ‘All-Natural’ Fruit?

chemfruitOne of my old chemistry teachers once said, “There are chemicals in everything, because everything is made of chemicals.”

That’s true, but here in America, lots of people and organizations have spent time and money making the word “chemicals” synonymous with “artificial chemicals” — then painting those chemicals as all bad, all the time. This despite the fact that even the most so-called “all-natural” products not only contain chemicals, they are made of chemicals.

Enter Australian chemistry teacher James Kennedy, who put together some poster graphics that list the chemical ingredients found in an egg, a banana and a blueberry. Kennedy explained to website IO9:

“I want to erode the fear that many people have of ‘chemicals’, and demonstrate that nature evolves compounds, mechanisms and structures far more complicated and unpredictable than anything we can produce in the lab.

“This poster series breaks down all the major ingredients in popular natural foods — using E-numbers and IUPAC names instead of common names where they exist. Anthocynanins, for example, which are said to give blueberries their “superfood” status, are also known as E163.

“With these graphics, I wanted to show that chemistry is everywhere.”

Somewhere, Walter White is smiling.

Amazing, Rare Photos of 1915 Antarctica — in Color!

Did you know there are spellbinding color photographs of Antarctica dating back to the beginning of the last century?

Australian photographer and adventurer Frank Hurley visited Antarctica six times between 1911 and 1932 — most famously as the official photographer on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated voyage aboard Endurance from 1914-’17.

Endurance was trapped in the ice for most of 1915 before finally being crushed that October. Hurley salvaged his photographed plates by diving into slushy ice water as the ship sank, rescuing a remarkable piece of history.

Here is a sampling of what he saved, by way of ShootingFilm.Net:

Bill Nye Resists Holy War on Science

We’ve all heard the numbers — so often that it sometimes feels numbing: The United States ranked 25th in math and 17th in science in a ranking of 31 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The U.S. led the world in high school and college graduation rates 25 years ago; today, the U.S. ranks 20th and 16th, respectively. At this point, it’s no longer about leading the global rankings; it’s about not slipping further behind.

So along comes Bill Nye, known to legions of children as “Bill Nye, the Science Guy,” and he makes a calm, reasonable, common-sense case for teaching children about science and reason, pointing out the challenges our country faces — and the advantages of having a scientifically literate populace to respond to those challenges.

Continue reading

Curiosity Has Landed on Mars!

Curiosity’s shadow on Mars

After traveling for more than eight months through over 350 million miles of space, the Curiosity rover landed safely on the surface of Mars a few hours ago. The 1-ton, $2.5 billion, SUV-sized robot was lowered gently to the planet on a tether from a rocket-fired sky crane almost exactly on the target time of 1:31 a.m. EDT Monday. (I think it was a few seconds early.)

This was an amazing victory for NASA, not only because it puts the most high-powered, sophisticated robotic laboratory ever on the surface of our red neighbor, but because the sky crane delivery system is revolutionary – and, let’s face it, kind of an insane idea to risk billions of dollars on – and the success of the landing should ease the path to more funding for the beleaguered space agency at a time when budget cuts are pushing pure science to the back burner.
Continue reading

Curiosity: Mars or Bust!

To paraphrase my favorite late-night host, Craig Ferguson, “It’s a great night for America!”

Tonight is the night that NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is set to land on the Red Planet. The $2.5 billion, 1-ton, car-sized robot is slated to touch down near the base of Mount Sharp inside the Gale Crater near the equator of our planetary neighbor at about 10:31 p.m. PDT (yes, that’s technically 1:31 a.m. tomorrow for me), kicking off the two-year Mars Science laboratory mission.

What makes this particular mission so exciting is not just the advanced science the robot will perform (see below), but the revolutionary way in which Curiosity will make planetfall. The rover is too heavy to bounce to the surface in a cocoon of cushioning airbags, so NASA engineers came up with what sounds like an insane plan: lower it to surface with a sky crane. Naturally. Why didn’t I think of that?

The graphic explains it much better than I can, but basically, the heat-shielded descent vehicle will stop in midair above the Martian surface and then lower the rover on a cable, release it, and then self-crash a safe distance away. What could go wrong?
Continue reading

Did Easter Island Heads “Walk”?

This terrific video from the good folks at National Geographic tests a theory that the giant statues of Easter Island — the moai — were “walked” into place.

National Geograpic magazine has more on the subject, which I find very fascinating. How did the islanders move those 90-ton things without use of the wheel? (And why were several moai found buried up to their necks, leaving only the heads showing?) Why do some wear hats? But surely “getting there” was more than half the problem for these stone sculptures; the question has dominated talk of the island ever since it was discovered on Easter Sunday in 1722. Its official name is Isla de Pascua (Spanish for “Easter Island”), while the Polynesian name for the place is Rapa Nui.

Continue reading

Shadow of a Single Atom!

This is almost too cool to wrap your head around: This is a photo of a single atom casting a tiny shadow! How tiny? Real tiny: less than a millionth of a meter long!

Big objects (like people) cast shadows by blocking photons of light, whereas little things (like atoms) cast a shadow by absorbing photons from light — but only very specific wavelengths.

The atom is Ytterbium (Yb), captured via ion trap by scientists at Griffith University in Australia. They shone a specific wavelength of light (one Ytterbium can absorb) on their captive, and a light sensor found empty space in the light where the atom had absorbed photons, resulting in a shadow.

Awesome Pic of the Venus Transit!

This is an amazing false-color image of the sun as Venus passed in front of it. (Venus is the black spot at about 2 o’clock on the pic.) I find it a strangely serene photograph — certainly much different from those solar tornadoes we say back in February. I found this in a post thanks to Phil Plait‘s excellent and informative  Bad Astronomy site — which is actually good, because he points out instances where the science of astronomy is used badly (and also good stuff). Phil blogs for Discover magazine, so you know it’s on the level. Phil received this image from a photographer named Alan Friedman, who did all the heavy lifting. You should follow Phil on Twitter @BadAstronomy to keep abreast of the latest science news.

Click on the image to see a really big version…