The mystery of the acorns

Do you have any oak trees in your yard? Go out and look on the ground. (We’ll wait.)

Did you see any acorns? “The Washington Post” reports that there aren’t any. Not in the D.C. area, but also not in Pennsylvania or New England. (They don’t have much data from other regions, which is why I am asking you.)

This seems to be true of all varieties of oaks (red, white, etc.). And climate, weather, disease, parasites and other possible suspects don’t seem to explain it. See this.

The article said that when oaks feel threatened, so to speak–as in last year’s drought–they put out a superabundance of acorns so as to keep the species going. Maybe they are all going through a season of celibacy. But why? And how?

The oaks are in no danger, according to the experts, but it is making the squirrels very hungry, which, in turn, is making them act, well, squirrellier.

The oldest human cells?

Fifty years ago, a Norwegian man named Bernt Aune received a cornea transplant from a man born in 1885. Today, Mr. Aune is 80. His cornea works works fine. It is 123 years old.

For details, see this. Somehow those cells did not degrade with age, as one might expect. Some think this phenomenon, should we come to understand it, could be a key to stopping aging. Good idea? Or a futile attempt at eternal life on our terms?

HT: Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.

Space race

India has launched a probe that will orbit the moon. It will also send down the flag of India to join those of the United States, Russia, and Japan.

In the meantime, the American space program, which will soon retire the space shuttle, will depend on Russian spacecraft to take us back and forth from the International Space Station. From The Long Countdown – For U.S. Astronauts, a Russian Second Home – NYTimes.com:

During the five-year gap after NASA shuts down the space shuttle program in 2010 and the next generation of spacecraft makes its debut by 2015, Russia will have the only ride for humans to the station.

The gap, which was planned by the Bush administration to create the next generation of American spacecraft without significantly increasing NASA’s budget, is controversial. But it is also all but inevitable, because much of the work to shut down the shuttles is under way, and the path to the new Constellation craft would be hard to compress even with additional financing.

Those who work side by side with their Russian counterparts say that strong relationships and mutual respect have resulted from the many years of collaboration. And they say that whatever the broader geopolitical concerns about relying on Russia for space transportation during the five years when the United States cannot get to the space station on its own rockets, they believe that the multinational partnership that built the station will hold.

The candidates on evolution

The science journal NATURE sent both candidates a series of questions about their position on various scientific issues. Only Barack Obama replied, but the journal cobbled together statements that McCain has made on the subjects. Sample:

Do you believe that evolution by means of natural selection is a sufficient explanation for the variety and complexity of life on Earth? Should intelligent design, or some derivative thereof, be taught in science class in public schools?

Obama: I believe in evolution, and I support the strong consensus of the scientific community that evolution is scientifically validated. I do not believe it is helpful to our students to cloud discussions of science with non-scientific theories like intelligent design that are not subject to experimental scrutiny.

McCain said last year, in a Republican primary debate: “I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also.” In 2005, he told the Arizona Daily Star that he thought “all points of view” should be available to students studying the origins of humanity. But the next year a Colorado paper reported him saying that such viewpoints should not be taught in science class.

On the other side of the black hole

Well, we made it. The earth apparently didn’t get sucked into a singularity (a.k.a. black hole) generated by the mega-particle accelerator in Geneva. We can breathe a sigh of relief. Your life today is a gift. Although it may be that we HAVE been sucked into the singularity and been spit out into another dimension. So if your day proves weird today, that might be the explanation.

The world might get destroyed today

Today, a super-particle accelerator will get turned on just outside of Geneva, Switzerland. Some people, though, are afraid it will generate black holes that will suck in all the matter of the earth. They are also afraid of “strangelets,” whatever those are, and no telling what they might do. The project is part of the search for a unified theory that accounts for both electro-magnetic forces and gravity. The hope is to find the “God particle.” (Which does not mean what it sounds like! Someone else had better explain it.) From Excitement and Fear Abound Over Super Collider:

The concerns are nothing less than a total doomsday scenario. The anti-LHC hysteria was started by Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho, who filed suit in U.S. and European courts to stop the LHC. Their theory is that the LHC will produce micro black holes and “stranglets” that may not decay as rapidly as mainstream physics predicts.

“Any miniature black hole created at rest in a collider would essentially be trapped in Earth’s gravitational field, and over seconds to hours, slowly interact and acquire more mass,” Wagner says on his LHCDefense.org Web site.

A number of safety studies conducted by CERN and independent physicists have concluded that the doomsday scenarios posited by Wagner and a few other researchers are fundamentally flawed, and there is virtually no chance the machine will produce matter-sucking phenomena.

Some are calling these fears “faith based science”–or F-BS–but I would venture to say that NO Christians believe the earth will be destroyed in this way. I suspect that the opponents are instead radical environmentalists, who currently oppose scientific research more than Christians ever do.

Another issue is whether such research, which has no practical application, is worth the expense. The liberal arts answer, which values knowing truth for its own sake, would be “yes.” The Christian liberal arts answer adds to that the great impetus for science in the West, the desire to know what God chose to create as a way of glorifying Him.

See you tomorrow. If there is a tomorrow.


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