Throbbing Oil and a Tiny Brain
Friday’s science news post. I know, I said I would do this every Friday, but I’m just not one for regimen. It’s hard enough coming up with a decently written post every day, let alone conforming to some self-imposed organizational ideal. Plus sometimes I wake up Friday morning and there is some event in the news that just screams to be blogged about. Not today though, so here we go…throbbing oil, a tiny brain, and so much more…
First, throbbing oil. A great scientific mystery has been solved. (Well, OK, a minor science mystery, sue me.) Pour a plate full of clean water. Mix a drop of oil with a tiny bit of detergent, and drop it on the water. It will expand and contract repeatedly for some while. News to me. And because I have been fooled before, I went in my kitchen and checked. Sure enough, throbbing oil. Well, actually it was more like a lava lamp, but the darn oil does indeed change shape and skitter around. The problem has been around awhile, Benjamin Franklin wrote about it.
Well, scientists at MIT have solved this little problem. In a nutshell, the surface tension between the oil and water changes as the detergent evaporates. Which makes the oil change shape. Not terribly enlightening when it comes right down to it, but still, nice to get even a minor mystery cleared up.
Then there is the mystery of a man with a tiny brain. A 44 year old Frenchman was discovered to have half or more of his brain filled with fluid. Amazingly enough, he lives a normal life and has an IQ of 75, low but not retarded by any means. Does this mean that the brain is overrated and that consciousness is not dependent on a brain? While some will use this case for decades to “prove” this point, no, it doesn’t mean that. While the man’s brain has been compressed, it’s still all there. And the damage occurred very slowly over many decades, so his brain was able to adapt. It’s a wonderful example of how adaptable the brain really is and will fuel further study, that’s all.
Speaking of science and the brain, there’s a new report out claiming that scientists can now induce “out of body” experiences in people. Not sure what to make of it, since all they are doing is “tricking” people into something that seems like an “out of body” experience. Does this mean that astral travel is merely a function of the nervous system and that people’s consciousnesses really can’t leave their bodies? Maybe, but it by no means rules it out either. Still, fascinating research and I hope it is followed up on.
There’s enough happening in space exploration to fill a whole post, a giant mysterious hole discovered in the Universe, new images of Uranus’s rings, an upcoming Lunar eclipse, and of course ongoing stuff about Mars. So I will leave all that for another day and just cover the recent claim of “life on Mars.” Basically a scientist has come up with a new way to look at the Viking Mars lander experiments of the seventies that could be interpreted as evidence of life. Most scientists think it is reaching, or are even less politic.
In short, the Viking lander conducted two soil experiments. One showed what would be expected if there was life in the soil, one showed nothing of the sort. This is what is known as an ambiguous result. Most scientists think it shows that Mars has some exotic soil chemistry, but no life. Since the seventies scientists have tried to think of ways to interpret the results as evidence for life, and this is simply just another attempt at same. Until we go there and look, the question is likely to remain unsettled. Fortunately a far more sophisticated life searching probe is now en route, and maybe this question will be settled soon. Fewer than half of Mars missions make it there safely though, so I’m not going to get too excited yet.
Speaking of soil, an interesting footprint (shown above) has been discovered in an archaeological dig in Israel. This footprint dates from the Roman era, in fact is basically contemporary with Jesus. Could this be Jesus’s footprint? Possibly…if he was in the habit of wandering around construction sites wearing Roman hobnailed military sandals. It’s more likely that of a Roman soldier or a former Roman soldier, all we can say for sure is that it is a footprint of someone who was wearing Roman military sandals. Roman era footprints are pretty rare, so it’s a nifty find even if of little or no scientific importance.
For me though, I wonder, did the person who made this footprint ever dream in their wildest dreams that their footprint would be preserved for thousands of years? And everyone leaves “footprints” of one sort or another every day, so I suppose everyone has a shot at immortality. Heck, they just found a 6000 year old piece of used chewing gum in Finland. Something to think about the next time you spit a piece of gum on the ground.
Have a great weekend everyone!
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, it is central to illustrating the post, it is the only image of the footprint available, and it is arguably an historically important image. Credit: University of Haifa)