Sunday, October 21, 2012

Stance of NASA

NASA has released a collection of statements regarding Comet Elenin. In each case, the organization has downplayed the importance of the object and its potential impact on Earth. After the comet was destroyed in space, Don Yeomans of NASA said: “I cannot begin to guess why this little comet became such a big Internet sensation. The scientific reality is this modest-sized icy dirtball’s influence upon our planet is so incredibly minuscule that my subcompact automobile exerts a greater gravitational influence on earth than the comet ever would.”

The Destruction of Elenin

After Comet Elenin was discovered, many people expected the story to be mentioned in the mainstream U.S. media, but it wasn’t. This caused some to suspect that NASA was keeping secrets. The general significance of Comet Elenin was large. In the United States, NASA has a congressional mandate to catalogue all near-Earth objects that are at least 1 kilometer wide. The impact of such an object would be catastrophic to Earth. Studies show that the United States and China are most vulnerable areas to meteor strikes.

Meteors are generated when debris enters

Meteors are generated when debris enters and burns up in Earth’s atmosphere. Some astronomers have reported that meteor swarms correspond closely to the orbits of known comets. Meteor showers are not threatening to the Earth because the comet’s tail usually doesn’t hold large objects. On December 28, 2005, a potentially hazardous asteroid was discovered by Robert S. McMillan and named 2005 YU55. It is approximately 400 m (1,312 feet) in diameter and caused concern for NASA.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova is a short-period comet discovered in 1948. The comet has an elliptical orbit of 5.26 years and a nucleus estimated to be 0.5-1.6 kilometers in diameter. On August 15, 2011, Honda made a close approach of only 0.0600 AU (8,980,000 km; 5,580,000 mi) to Earth. On August 19, the same day that Comet Elenin was destroyed by a coronal mass ejection, Honda was studied by the Goldstone Deep Space Network. The network detected echoes from the nucleus of Honda and it became only the fifteenth comet in history to be detected by radar.

Hopi Blue Star

In early August of 2011, NASA decided to get a picture of Comet Elenin, so they rotated the STEREO-B spacecraft and photographed it. In the picture, the comet appears to be a deep blue color. The color has caused people to make comparisons between the object and the ancient Hopi Indian prophecy of the blue star. The legend states, “When the Blue Star Kachina makes its appearance in the heavens, the Fifth World will emerge.” The Maya also have stories of a dangerous blue star. The color of Elenin has caused Richard C Hoagland to suggest it is the Hopi Blue Star, a claim which has spawned a number of articles.

The Predictions

Since Comet Elenin was discovered, NASA was adamant in the fact that the comet would not come close enough to strike or harm the Earth in any way. People responded by using a collection of hypothetical scenarios for disaster. For example, if Elenin was to hit an asteroid while passing through the Main Asteroid Belt, it could have been thrown off its predicted trajectory and pushed toward an imminent crash with Earth. People began to fear the comet’s massive coma.

Deep Impact

One of the reasons Comet Elenin has received so much attention is that it holds similarities to the blockbuster movie Deep Impact (1998). For starters, in the movie, the comet is found by a teenage boy named Leo and referred to as Elle (extinction level event). In reality, it was discovered by a young Russian astronomer named Leonid Elenin, who was born in 1981 and 17-years-old when Deep Impact came out. It is a coincidence that a man named Elenin discovered a near-earth comet.

The Discovery

On December 10, 2010, an amateur Russian astronomer named Leonid Elenin discovered a long-period comet in the U.S. state of New Mexico. The near-earth object was given the name of Elenin and was estimated to be 3-4 km in diameter. Almost immediately after the discovery was announced, articles began to appear on the Internet that claimed the comet was dangerous to Earth. People began to make connections between Elenin and extinction level events.

What is a Comet?

In ancient history, comets were traditionally considered to be bad omens. They are small Solar System bodies (SSSB) that will display a visible coma (a thin, fuzzy, temporary atmosphere) when close to the Sun. The main difference between an asteroid and a comet is that a comet shows a coma. Asteroids are also thought to have a different origin from comets, having formed inside the orbit of Jupiter rather than in the outer Solar System. This gives the orbital history of comets more importance.

Monday, October 15, 2012

“Parasites” is admittedly a pretty damn broad umbrella

“Parasites” is admittedly a pretty damn broad umbrella. You can find them within every phylum of every kingdom of life on our planet, they easily outnumber non-parasitic or “free living” lifeforms and almost nothing lives entirely free from their influence. The very word “parasite” is associated with uselessness, and even science was once guilty of the belief that parasites were “lower” on the evolutionary ladder. Today, however, biologists are waking up to the incredible sophistication and significant ecological impact of parasitic organisms. Nearly every wild animal on this planet has parasites feeding and breeding inside it as we speak, influencing the host’s health and even behavior to better suit their needs. It may sound disturbing, but as this has been going on since the dawn of life as we know it, it should have always been obvious that they’re as much a part of nature’s delicate balance as any other form of life, even regulating entire food webs and possibly influencing evolution itself. Most have adapted to cause as little harm to hosts as possible (why kill your own delicious, delicious house?) and even those that haven’t are still playing their part in population control. Parasites are just the eyeless, brainless little governors of ecoville, working hard on the inside to keep those cheetahs running on time.

Maggots - The most nauseating, abhorrent organisms in nature

The very thought of fly larvae squirming around in a corpse is difficult for some people to stomach. It seems like they’re often regarded as one of the most nauseating, abhorrent organisms in nature, largely due to the whole “squirming around in corpses” thing, but the same reasons people detest them are the same reasons they shouldn’t. A dead body is a ticking time bomb of contagious diseases, and no other scavenger can even come close to the importance of maggots. Everything about these little critters – shape, size, squirminess, sliminess and even that ghostly pale coloration – is adapted for maximum efficiency carcass removal, scouring every nook and cranny of a skeleton for the tiniest scraps of soft tissue. Thanks to maggots, most carcasses only lie around in the wilderness for a few weeks before only bones remain, while other processes of decomposition would have them festering for months. Maggot activity is even somewhat antiseptic, destroying the bacteria they’re basically competing with for food. The bottom line is…would you rather every animal dropping dead every moment of every day nourish several hundred flies or several million Anthrax bacteria?

Everyone hates cockroaches

 Everyone hates cockroaches! They’re dirty, nasty, parasites who only exist to live in our garbage, right?! Can there possibly be anything good about them? Do I still have to answer that at this point? The order Blattodea has over 30,000 known species, yet only around a dozen or so have the special characteristics to thrive in our homes – characteristics which make them useful scavengers in the wild. Most roaches prefer a more conventional insect life outdoors, where they help to recycle decaying vegetation, pollinate plants, and in some cases even prey on more harmful insects. Even those few “pest” species aren’t as filthy as you think…in fact, they’re only ever as filthy as their surroundings, and they’re just as likely to live in perfectly sanitary conditions as in decaying garbage. House roaches only have the potential to spread disease primarily by walking through something germ-ridden (like an unkempt kitchen trash bin) and accidentally tracking it onto your food, which is actually rather unlikely; germs don’t cling to their bodies all that easily, and the little neat-freaks groom themselves almost constantly.  Yes, believe it or not, roaches practice better hygiene than a lot of humans.

Dolphins are sweet

What…you thought all of these were going to be negative misconceptions? Many of us unfortunately have it in our heads that while Sharks are mindless, ravenous eating machines, Dolphins are sweet, playful little sea-people, ready to protect us from those big, bad sharks and do fun tricks for our amusement. Dolphins, however, are predators themselves; lethally powerful, cunningly intelligent, fiercely territorial, pack hunting flesh-eaters. Animals live by very different rules, and while it isn’t fair to categorize them as “good” or “bad,” it’s hard to find dolphins very cute when they have been observed tormenting, killing and even sexually assaulting other animals for often unclear reasons, including young pups of their own species, and attacks on humans are by no means unheard of.
Maybe they’re only smiling so much at their own perverse fantasies.

One of nature’s most feared predators

One of nature’s most feared predators, sharks are generally portrayed by the media as ravenous, unfeeling jaws and teeth that happen to have animals attached to them. World-wide, however, the typical year sees under a dozen human deaths by shark attack, as opposed to thousands of deaths by drowning or other swimming accidents. Sharks are quite a bit more intelligent than most people give them credit for, and often avoid prey as unfamiliar as humans. Predation by sharks is of great importance to the health of fish populations, maintaining the balance necessary for many different species to thrive in the same environment, and they’re far from brainless eating machines – some species even demonstrate play behavior and sharks in captivity may be possible to “tame.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The tarantula is vulnerable

There are so many different sizes and color combinations and temperaments to choose from. Some have stripes like a tiger, and some have markings like a skeleton. Most are hairy. They can be found in America, Africa, Asia and Australia. The African and Asian tarantulas are known as old world, and typically have stronger venom and are more aggressive than the new world tarantulas found in America that usually will just flick irritating hairs when threatened. They eat quite a variety of living things, from crickets to mice. Some are arboreal, living high up in trees and others are terrestrial, living on the ground or in burrows.

Scorpions are predators, eating other insects

Scorpions are predators, eating other insects. They sting their prey to paralyze it before eating. There are over 2,000 species, and 30 or more have the venom that can kill a human. They grow from between 0.3 inches to 9 inches long. They have 8 legs, 2 claws that vary in size according to species, and a segmented tail with a stinger on the end.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Giant Stingray

What grew 17 feet across, had a 10 inch poison spike in its tail and was strong enough to drag a boat filled with people? In this case, a prehistoric super-fish that is still lurking around in fresh and brackish waters from the Mekong river to northern Australia. Stingrays have been around since a few million years after the dinosaurs died out, and have proven to be a successful design, much like the sharks they descended from.

Livyatan melvillei

Remember me mentioning “hypercarnivorous” whales? Well here it is. Imagine a cross between an orca and a sperm whale. Livyatan melvillei was a whale that ate other whales. It had the largest teeth of any animal to ever use their teeth to eat (elephant tusks are bigger, but they just look impressive and help them smash things; they don’t eat with them) topping out at 1.18 feet. They lived in the same oceans and ate the same food as the Megalodon, so this whale actually had to compete with the largest predatory shark ever.

These sharks grew to be about 15 feet long

These sharks grew to be about 15 feet long, and had a lower jaw that was made of a “tooth whorl”. It looks like a cross between a circular saw and a shark, and when you mix apex predators with power tools, the world quakes in fear.

Kronosaurus is another short-necked pliosaur

Kronosaurus is another short-necked pliosaur (like Liopleurodon up at number 9), and like Liopleurodon, its overall length has been contested. It was a “mere” 30 feet long and the longest teeth in its massive mouth were up to 11 inches long. This is why it was named after Cronus, the king of the old Greek Titans.

Dunkleosteus was a 30 foot long carnivorous tank

Dunkleosteus was a 30 foot long carnivorous tank. It was outlasted by sharks, but I am sure that is small consolation for the variety of creatures this beast ate. Instead of teeth, it had bony ridges, like a turtle. It has been calculated that they had a bite force of 8,000 pounds per square inch, putting it on par with crocodiles

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Hermit crabs live in shells

Hermit crabs live in shells and as they grow change to newer, larger shells. The largest species can live 30 to 70 years or more. They are great climbers and diggers, and fun to watch. Some species live under water, like marine crabs, and others on land. Most are aquatic, living in saltwater, and even the land ones must return to the sea to breed. There are many different colors, like red, brown, and purple, with varying patterns such as dots and stripes. They are scavengers and omnivores, eating dead things and plants.

Millipedes are long, round, slow, and eat decaying vegetation

Unlike centipedes, millipedes are long, round, slow, and eat decaying vegetation. They also have 2 pair of legs per segment, as opposed to 1. They can have 36 to 400 legs, depending on the species. There are over 10,000 species. Millipedes burrow into the ground. Some may secrete a poison through their skin, and there are some mammals that get drugged off this secretion by licking the millipede. They defend themselves by curling into a ball and do not bite.

Centipedes are fast and aggressive

Centipedes are fast and aggressive. They can be found in the tropics and in deserts. They hunt at night and eat roaches, crickets, mice and bats. If bothered, they will bite or pinch, and are venomous. They have flattened bodies, a single pair of legs per segment, and can get up to twelve inches long. There are over 8,000 species.

Ants are everywhere

Ants are everywhere. They are predators, scavenger, and herbivores. They are very social and live in groups with a hierarchy. The colony is ruled by a queen, who is the only fertile female. The other, infertile females, are workers and soldiers. They communicate through pheromones, sounds, and touch and defend themselves by biting or stinging. They are related to wasps and bees. Some, like harvester ants are sold as food for pet horned lizards.

There are more than 350,000 species of beetles in the world

There are more than 350,000 species of beetles in the world, living in diverse places like deserts, tropical climates, and even in water. Some are pests that eat garden plants and some eat the pests, like aphids and mites, that eat garden plants. Some are useful in cleaning up carrion or dung. And some are eaten by other insects, animals, and birds. They lay eggs that hatch into larvae that can in some cases take years to become mature adults. The adults are generally not long-lived.

Most people think of roaches as pests

Most people think of roaches as pests. Yet only 5 or so out of 4,000 species of roaches are household pests. Roaches adapt easily to their surroundings, although they are typically found in warm areas. They are mostly omnivores, but there are some species that eat wood. They are fast and very hardy, and can survive without food for a long time, without air for up to forty five minutes, and being submerged in water for half an hour. It is believed that roaches would survive a nuclear holocaust, and they certainly have a higher resistance to radiation than humans. As pests, they can leave trails of bacteria with their feces and cause allergic reactions in humans.