Tag Archives: Science/research

19:57, Sunday 21 September 2003

Galileo just made its final plunge into Jupiter’s frankly unwelcoming gaseous heart – vapourised, sterilised and thoroughly mashed up as it did so. Goodbye sturdy traveller! We all got pretty misty-eyed about it round here (but not as misty-eyed as we did when little Sojourner was left behind on Mars).

While reading up on the final plunge I found NASA’s pretty good webcast archive, J B S Haldane’s 1954 speculations on ammonia-based lifeforms in Jupiter’s atmosphere (from David Darling’s amazing Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy and Spaceflight), New Scientist’s special report on the mission and some stuff about JIMO, the next generation, nuclear-powered Jupiter probe that will have enough onboard power to cruise around the icy moons like a minicab without waiting around for gravity assists.

What was that about a free lunch?

The bad news about hydrogen is coming in. Alex Farrell at UC Berkeley and David Keith at Carnegie Mellon University conclude that the switch to hydrogen will quite likely just displace the production of carbon dioxide, creating as many problems as it solves. Meanwhile, researchers at Caltech reckon the hydrogen itself could produce global warming effects if routinely leaked into the atmosphere from cars and homes.

Still, I reckon that Hydrogen has passed its tipping point – the switch is now inevitable. Industry and government support is building and the political and ideological dividend from scaling down dependence on Middle Eastern oil will continue to be irresistible to US leaders. The rest of us will certainly fall into line nicely.

From the World Future Society‘s newsletter The Futurist.

Biotech overload

Glenn Crocker in New Scientist says that too many biotech firms are started and too few allowed to go bust when it becomes evident that they’re not going to work. This unproductive layer of dodgy firms with poor products blocks the creation of the next generation of potentially more successful businesses by soaking up scarce resources.

Quite an interesting ecological angle on business creation. Crocker reckons that the solution is to give scientists development money to take their ideas further before they have to start a firm to exploit them. It’s certainly kinder than thinning out the forest of duds once they’re up and running.

SARS links, scary and otherwise

Azeem provides the scariest SARS link so far. The cold statistics show the ineluctable progress of a disease vector. Global SARS cases are doubling every 14 days:

“There will be 100,000 cases on about June 20, 2003. A million cases will be reached on about August 6, 2003, and ten million on about September 21, 2003.”

The graph plots current daily WHO data and can’t take account of longer term changes to the trend that accompany any epidemic so it’s very unlikely, even in the worst case, that the actual numbers will approach these but the lesson is pretty clear: many more will get ill before the outbreak is contained.

New Scientist is building a very useful SARS page with about a dozen SARS stories and links, including a useful FAQ (you may need a subscription or a free trial to see these stories but it’s probably worth it).

Beats ‘win a year’s supply of Lion Bars’

You can enter a competition in this week’s New Scientist to have your mitochondrial DNA sequenced. This is one of those mind-bogglingly 21st Century things that we now take utterly for granted but would once have taken twenty technicians and a roomful of those black cubes covered in little blinking red lights about a year and a half to do. I’m certainly up for it (mind you, submitting the competition form seems to produce a fancy 404 page – “we can send a man to the moon and sequence the human genome but we can’t…”).