As North America enjoys a startlingly balmy winter, Europe is in the midst of a cripplingly frigid cold snap, with snow in Rome that damaged the Colosseum and hundreds dead from the cold. In Hungary, charities are getting heating fuel from the government…in the form of piles of money.
The moolah—Hungarian forints—that people feed into their stoves is paper currency so tattered and worn that is has to be retired from circulation. To make it truly burnable, the authorities tatter it even more, in special factories where old forint bills are shredded and then pressed with fragments of wood into combustible bricks, by workers who must wear special clothes with no pockets.
In Greek mythology, Zeus hurled thunderbolts down from Mount Olympus whenever some uppity mortal or ravaging monster dared distract him from his carousing. New research suggests this mythological god-king would have had another weapon at his disposal as well: beams of antimatter.
Researchers working with the Fermi space telescope made the discovery while examining the gamma-ray flashes that thunderstorms are known to produce. (The multitasking Fermi can observe everything from gamma ray bursts in the most distant reaches of the universe to terrestrial phenomena.) The high-energy gamma-ray flashes are thought to be caused by the electrical fields produced during lightning storms.
The toothpaste in question was created by the MIT Media lab as your own personal early morning weather station–it changes flavors based on the day’s forecast. So when you’re half asleep and drooling white toothpaste foam out of your mouth onto your clean shirt, at least you know which jacket you should bring to cover that toothpaste stain.
Researchers Henry Holtzman and David Carr designed the toothpaste, which mixes different flavors to alert you to the weather outside. More cinnamon means it will be warmer, more mint means colder, and a blue stripe means it will rain. Brilliant, guys, but who wants to have mint and cinnamon toothpaste mixed together? That’s just wrong.
A computer checks the weather, then regulates the amounts of each of the toothpaste components. Every day is a flavor adventure! (Unless you live in Los Angeles.) Both this toothpaste and the “proverbial wallet” the team invented that made headlines a few weeks ago belong to a new category of “super-mechanical” products, which take something mundane and give it dynamic data-analyzing abilities. But would we use it if it shows up on the shelves?
Discoblog: Painless Plasma Jets Could Replace Dental Drills
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DISCOVER: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Teeth
DISCOVER: Tourist in a Taste Lab
Image: MIT Media lab
Those “green UFOs” that caused a stir in Australia four years ago? Researchers say they definitely weren’t alien spaceships (not like they were going to say anything different), but they still aren’t sure what they actually were.
The three green fireballs were spotted by more than 100 people in the sky over Queensland, Australia on May 16th, 2006. The potential abductees said the lights were brighter than the moon, but not as bright as the sun. A single farmer claims to have seen one of the green balls bouncing down the side of a mountain after hitting the earth.
Stephen Hughes, a researcher at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, has just published a paper on the phenomenon in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A. He explained to LiveScience that the main fireballs were most likely caused by a meteor breaking up and burning in earth’s atmosphere:
In fact, a commercial airline pilot who landed in New Zealand that day reported seeing a meteor breaking up into fragments, which turned green as the bits descended in the direction of Australia. The timing of the fireballs suggests they might have been debris from Comet 73P/Schwassmann–Wachmann 3.
In 2001, a bizarre red rain showered India’s southern state of Kerala. Godfrey Louis, a physicist now in Cochin University of Science and Technology’s astrobiology department, decided to collect samples and take a closer electron-microscope look. He noticed some particles in the rainwater that looked like biological cells, but when he went looking for DNA, he found none. That enticingly strange result led Louis to speculate that he had found extraterrestrial bacteria.
The new paper (pdf) appears in Arxiv.org, not a peer-reviewed journal. But it repeats earlier work by Louis and a collaborator that they say shows the cell-like particles can survive and grow at high temperatures that would kill most life as we know it (around 250 degrees Fahrenheit). At room temperature, particles appear as inert as, well, odd looking red rain dirt.
The bigger the fossilized feces the more ancient rain. A team of paleontologists has uncovered this apparent correlation during a study of chinchilla scat at nine sites in South America’s Atacama Desert.
Claudio Latorre Hidalgo of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago presented his findings on this rainfall metric at a talk held yesterday during the ongoing American Geophysical Union’s Meeting of the Americas. Science News, where we found the story, reports that Latorre Hidaglo looked at fossilized feces from middens–shared rodent poop piles that contain “fecal pellets cemented together by crystallized urine.”
Latorre Hidaglo’s team carbon dated organic bits from the largest twenty percent of the chinchilla pellets (so as to exclude pellets from rodent youth). Given information on rainfall from other sources, they correlated the larger feces with periods of greater rainfall. According to Science News, Latorre Hidaglo suggests that the more rain, the better the environment to support bigger chinchillas; the bigger the chinchillas, the bigger the chinchilla poop. The poop test, the researchers say, may provide a way to estimate past rainfall when other tests aren’t available.
The American Geophysical Union talk announcement advises researchers to keep digging into the middens for more information:
A correlation between the size of rodent droppings and rainfall quantities is enabling researchers to establish a new paleoclimate record. Plus, a study of the contents of middens accumulated long ago by rodents offers further insights into the Atacama’s past.
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Image: wikimedia / Rumpelstiltzkin
It tends to come in autumn. The Venetians call it acqua alta–the seemingly seasonal flooding of their historic city center. But a paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres suggests that Italians eager to predict the next flood shouldn’t study the Earth’s seasons, but should instead look at the sun.
A project led by David Barriopedro at the Universidade de Lisboa in Lisbon, Portugal analyzed hourly recordings of water levels in the city from 1948 to 2008. His team noted a correlation of these “high-surge events” and the eleven-year solar cycle: Periods of maximum solar activity, when sun spots usually appear, seemed to herald the acqua alta.
Come to Kazakhstan—specifically the ice-cold capital of Astana—said Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev in an annual speech yesterday. Here is part of his pitch to diplomats and government officials, via Reuters:
“Well today it’s only -30 C (-22 F). It only strengthens our spirit,” Nazarbayev, in power for 20 years, told diplomats at his lavish marble-and-turquoise presidential palace.
“This city is so sterile. Even germs can’t survive in this weather. So we can enjoy living long lives here. Well, maybe not as long as those of mammoths, but still quite long.”
Great success! Nazarbayev thinks Astana is so extreme that he moved Kazakhstan’s capital there in 1997, which makes Astana the second-coldest capital city in the world. Watch your back, Ulaanbaatar!
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Since World War II, Russian scientists have been researching ways to bend the weather to their liking. Today, they routinely ensure sun-splashed Victory Day celebrations by chasing away clouds using a technology known as cloud seeding (the same technology the Chinese government used to chase away clouds during the Beijing summer Olympics).
It’s nice to have sunny parades, but Moscow officials believe they can use their technology to alter the weather and save some rubles, according to the Los Angeles Times:
Now they’re poised to battle the most inevitable and emblematic force of Russian winter: the snow.
Moscow’s government, led by powerful and long-reigning Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, has indicated that clearing the capital’s streets of snow is simply too expensive. Instead, officials are weighing a plan to seed the clouds with liquid nitrogen or dry ice to keep heavy snow from falling inside the city limits.
Hugo Chavez: ardent socialist, Venezuelan president, rain maker?
A crippling drought in his country has led Chavez to embrace cloud seeding. This week, he announced that he will team up with Cuban scientists to fly through clouds and “zap” them with silver iodide so they produce precipitation, one of the most popular kinds of cloud seeding and the one China said it used to induce a snowstorm this February.
Reuters was there to catch the president’s excitement:
“I’m going in a plane; any cloud that crosses me, I’ll zap it so that it rains,” Chavez said.
Seeding the clouds doesn’t do any good if there’s no moisture to begin with, but we presume that President Chavez wants to try anything that might help. Anyway, “zapping” is a more pleasing alternative to threatening, which the president previously tried on his countrymen. From UPI:
Earlier this month Chavez accused Venezuelans, including businesses, of wasting water and warned of tough punitive measures. He advised people … to limit showering to three minutes. Jacuzzis, watering of lawns and flowerbeds and filling of swimming pools have all been banned.
For the sake of Venezuela’s swimmers, horticulture enthusiasts, and hot tub manufacturers, here’s hoping the president’s plan is a success.
DISCOVER: Harnessing the Weather
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The Intersection: When Will Geoengineering “Tip?”
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Image: flickr/ Daniel Zanini H.