Daily Archives: January 11, 2012

Three Smallest Planets Yet Discovered

… outside our solar system.

Kepler has discoverd theree planets around the star KOI-961, and they are a mere 0.78, 0.73 and 0.57 times the radius of Earth, rocky like the earth, but alas, they are too close to the star so there can’t be any liquid water on them. But still, there are hardly any rocky exoplanets known, and the small ones are hard to find.

And the possibility of life being on them is, well, just have a look:

Here’s the NASA press release on this new finding.

Comments on Zimmer's "Can A Scientist Define Life?

Imagine a “primordial soup” on some planet somewhere from which there occasionally emerges a thing that could locomote, and as it locomoted around it would scrape up some of the dust that lay around on the planet, and occasionally eat other things that had come out of the “primordial soup” and it would thus grow. Eventually it would wear out as its molecules, put together by some chemical process of abiogenecis in the aforementioned soup, and thusly worn out, molecules broken down by ultraviolet rays from the nearby star, it would eventually stop moving and remain exposed to the elements and dry out and become part of the dust, to be scraped up and consumed by other things.

Imagine that dozens of shallow seas of primordial soup on this planet each produced a range of such things, and they moved around on the planet, some staying in the soup, some going onto land, interacting, competing, cooperating, eating each other, sliding past each other, being born of the soup and dying, the dust sometimes being blown back into the soupy seas or being scraped up by other things.

The things are alive, right?

What if there was a form of thing on some other planet that had crawled out of the ooze and over time evolved, changed, varied, but over even longer periods of time, a self replicating version of this thing, or set of things, developed a way of perfectly identifying copies of itself that were not perfect, and destroying them. Say this emerged in several lineages of things, and this invariance gave some advantage to the things that did this. All other things, the ones that vary and change over generational time, are out-competed and those lineages disappear. So eventually, there are dozens of lineages of distinct but invariant things walking, sliding, coasting, flying, around on the surface of this planet, replicating but always duplicating perfectly, for hundreds of thousands of generations.

These things are alive, right?

Not according to Edward Trifonov, who defines life as:

Continue reading Comments on Zimmer's "Can A Scientist Define Life?

Tasty Linux News

Don’t like Gnome 3.0 or Unity? Linux Mint 12 offers Gnome 2 like option.

The latest version of Mint channels Gnome 2.0 goodness via two different approaches: Firstly, Mint Gnome Shell Extensions add Gnome 2.0 features to the Gnome 3.0 shell. Secondly, Mint now ships with Mate, a maintenance fork of Gnome 2.0 that can co-exist with a Gnome 3.0 installation.

Details here.

A word or two about tobacco, and some neat and new research

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgOver the last few weeks I’ve run into a few misconceptions about tobacco, as well as some interesting news, so I thought I’d share. If you already know some of this, forgive me, not everyone else does.

First, tobacco, Nicotiana tabacum, is a member of the Solanaceae family of plants, which from a human perspective has got to be one of the most interesting plant families out there. It includes Belladonna, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes. So, from this one family of plants, you can kill your neighbor, have a nice meal, and a smoke a cigar afterward.
Continue reading A word or two about tobacco, and some neat and new research

Help with the Minnesota Atheist Billboard Campaign!

You know about the billboards and the bus ads: Christian groups are very good at getting anti-choice billboards, or Jesus Luvs U bus ads, or whatever, plastered round the countryside. They can raise the money, and no one seems to mind or stand in their way (as it should be, I suppose). Some of the billboard companies, however, are actually Christian Run, so the Christian groups are getting fantastic discounts and other forms of extra help. That seems a bit unfair to me.

But then, when a secular, atheist, or humanist group tries to put up one measly billboard or a couple of ads on bus-sides, everybody freaks out, wrenches are thrown into the works, and there’s a big fight.

And, I know you’ve been watching this and waiting for your opportunity to get into the ring!

Minnesota Atheists, with the help of American Athesits, is putting up a billboard. “The purpose of the billboard is to advertise our organization, encourage local atheists to join, and offer a pithy, cogent argument that most atheists can support.” This is the proposed design at the time I wrote this post:

Here is the current version of the billboard as of Jan. 12th

The fundraising is going pretty well, but they need a little more. Please click here and donate!!!

Study: “Better medical care has kept gun deaths constant, but total number of people shot has risen dramatically in the United States”

Photo of Browning 9x19mm Grande Puissance 35 handgun
Browning GP 35 handgun. Photo from Wikipedia.

A study just out compiling data up to the year 2008 shows that the number of Americans killed by firearms has held stead or gone up slightly in recent years, but the total number shot has increased.

The overall change in numbers is not especially dramatic, but the statistical effect is important. If this trend continues, it could begin to appear that gun violence has dropped off while in fact it increases, depending on what statistic is use; What is dramatic is that it is a large number and little is being done about it. Here’s the data: Continue reading Study: “Better medical care has kept gun deaths constant, but total number of people shot has risen dramatically in the United States”