The weird science of Light

More mind-blowing discoveries from quantum physics:

In the quantum optical laboratories at the Niels Bohr Institute, researchers have conducted experiments that show that light breaks with the classical physical principles. The studies show that light can have both an electrical and a magnetic field, but not at the same time. That is to say, light has quantum mechanical properties.

via Breaking the limits of classical physics.

 

Obeying the cosmic speed limit

Scientists have determined that neutrinos do not travel faster than the speed of light after all.  Last year, as we posted here and discussed here, an experiment indicated that they did, which would upend much of modern physics.  But apparently a timing device was malfunctioning.  Multiple replications of the experiment show that neutrinos do, in fact, obey the speed limit.  Modern physics is safe, for now.

Neutrinos totally do not travel faster than light, say scientists (+video) – CSMonitor.com.

Transit of Venus

A rare event will take place today, something that won’t happen again this century:  Venus will cross over the face of the Sun.

After Tuesday evening we sink into history’s pages, having witnessed a rare astronomical event: the Transit of Venus across the sun. This won’t repeat for 105 years.

Look to the west Tuesday evening, June 5, Venus begins to cross the sun at 6:04 p.m. EDT Tuesday evening, as a notch in the sun. By 6:22 p.m., from our perspective, Venus becomes a black dot moving across the solar disc.

On this transit, it’s a 6-hour, 40-minute trek for our neighboring, interior planet – and because the sun sets – we only see a few hours of this cosmic memory.

Venus transits occur in pairs, eight years apart, alternating between 105.5 years and 121.5 years apart. Tuesday’s transit is paired with the crossing that last occurred in June, 2004.

Here are the several preceding (and present) pairings, as documented by astronomer Roy Bishop, in the Observer’s Handbook 2012:

* 1631/1639 (each in December)

* 1761/1769 (June);

* 1874/1882 (December);

* none in the 20th century;

* 2004/2012 (June).

Looking ahead, the next pair won’t occur until Dec. 11, 2117 and Dec. 8, 2125.

For many cities in the eastern U.S., including Washington, the transit starts at 6:04 p.m. on Tuesday. The central and western time zones can see more of the transit, while Hawaii can see the whole event.

via Transit of Venus 2012: the last trip across the sun for 105 years – Capital Weather Gang – The Washington Post.

Don’t look at it with your bare eyes or you might burn your optic nerve.  You can watch it here.

I would add that when this happened in 1769, Captain James Cook was sent from England to the Western Hemisphere to study this event.  That voyage led to the “discovery” of Australia.  Capt. Cook would go on to “discover” Hawaii and Alaska.  (The quotation marks mean that I know that human beings already lived in these places, but Capt. Cook was the first European to find them and to open them up for colonization.)

 

Cross-species contagious yawning

You know how when you are in a group of people and somebody yawns, and then other people start yawning, and then you too feel the irresistible impulse to do likewise?  Well, if there are dogs in the room, they too very likely will start yawning.

Scientists have studied the phenomenon of dogs yawning when people do.  Furthermore, dogs don’t have to see someone yawn; they apparently hear humans yawning, which makes them want to yawn too.  Researchers speculate whether this is evidence that dogs can actually empathize with human beings.  See  Dogs yawn when they hear people yawn, suggesting they empathize with humans – The Washington Post.

Now looking at this phenomenologically, I don’t recall empathy as a cause of my own yawning.  I don’t notice someone yawning, feeling his boredom, and expressing that by yawning in an act of emotional solidarity.  My theory is that in a group in which one person is bored or sleepy, the chances are good, since everyone is sharing the same experience, that other people are also feeling bored or sleepy.  When a person yawns, that reduces the social pressure to repress the outward expression of what one feels, an inhibition that disintegrates completely when more and more people do it.

Now that dogs can also share in this collective experience is intriguing.  Dogs are social animals.  They demonstrate pack behavior.  And, as we know from the Dog Whisperer, they consider human beings to be leaders of their pack.  If the group of people were to all of a sudden start running, I’m sure the dogs would join them.  Maybe it’s the same for yawning, although the meaning and the communication mechanisms for dogs remain mysterious.

Then again, it’s also mysterious why people yawn, what the connection is between feeling bored or sleepy and opening your mouth really wide.  Does anyone have any theories about all of this?

Squirrel and deer potty training

I don’t know whether this is gross or sublime.  Actually, I think it is both gross and sublime.  Mostly sublime:

Baby squirrels must be taught to defecate. This fascinating bit of information came from Don Moore , associate director of animal care sciences at the National Zoo. Earlier in his career, Don worked in Syracuse, N.Y., rehabilitating baby squirrels.

Squirrels are among species — deer are another — where the mother uses her mouth to carry her offspring’s poo and pee away from the nest. This is to protect her litter from predators.

“Evolutionarily, that’s a great strategy,” Don said. “The mother’s removing the only thing that can give [the baby] a scent: the pee and poo.” With no scent to follow, predators can’t find the defenseless baby.

The mother’s selfless act is so hard-wired in a squirrel’s very being that babies can urinate and defecate only after being stimulated by the mother licking around . . . down there.

Orphaned squirrels raised by humans risk becoming constipated and bloated. “The gut stops moving,” Don said. “You don’t want that to happen, so you stimulate them. In fact, you have to start stimulating them just to get them to feed.”

Squirrel moms provide stimulation with their tongues. “We don’t recommend that,” Don said. “We would use a warm, damp washcloth.”

Baby squirrels must have their nether regions stimulated at every feeding from birth to about five weeks of age, when their eyes are open and their fur is coming in.

“It’s a wonderful day when they start doing it themselves,” Don said.

via Answer Man gives the scoop on squirrel poop, other readers’ questions – The Washington Post.

Tornado hits my old stomping ground

I was born in Alva, Oklahoma.  I have memories of going to Woodward, the biggest town within an hour’s drive, to go to the movies.  I had to have been younger than five.  Anyway, Woodward was hit by a tornado early yesterday morning, killing five people.

This video is especially eerie.  It’s dark, but when the lightning flashes you get just a glimpse of this massively wide funnel.

 

 

 


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