Stunning Saturn, Sadistic Sippy Cups, Magnetic Pigeons, and More!

Barchan sand dunes on Mars, from Astronomy Picture of the Day. I wrote about barchans in the Sahara last fall.

Oh, what a wonderful week for science this was—I felt like it was all I could do just to keep up with my reading, much less write about it all.

  • A new study has failed to find dark matter in the neighborhood of our Solar System. Obviously, this is one of those striking results that will require a lot of examination! However, I’m with Matt Strassler (scroll down for the bit about the new study): it’s far too soon to conclude that dark matter doesn’t exist. Dark matter models actually work the least well for spiral galaxies (like the Milky Way); we have much stronger evidence for dark matter in galaxy clusters and in cosmology. I suspect I’ll have more to say on this subject later, since it’s me.
  • On a much lighter note, my friend and colleague Greg Gbur recently acquired a Pythagoras cup, which is basically a sadistic sippy cup. If you fill it too full, it drains entirely out through the base! Greg explains the (possible) history and science of the cup, of which there is a surprising amount.
  • Brian Switek finds an analogy dear to me: just as some people get really upset about Pluto’s status, some people are getting really upset that many dinosaur species were feathered. I have to admit when I was a kid, I thought it was disappointing that dinosaurs were supposed to have naked scaly skin, so I find the new discoveries exciting. Living animals are frequently colorful, so I am more than glad to see the mud-drab images of sluggish swamp-dwelling dinosaurs disappear. My mental landscape likewise accepts Eris, Haumea, Makemake, and the myriad other Kuiper Belt objects into the Solar System, even if it means Pluto’s uniqueness is sacrificed in the process. (Which reminds me: I want to cover Haumea and its moons on a Moonday post very soon!)
  • Cassini is my favorite space probe in operation today, which is no secret to regular readers of this blog. I have a post about a cool Cassini finding scheduled for Moonday, but in the meantime, enjoy these images and movies of Saturn’s moonlets as they send waves through Saturn’s F-ring. And if that isn’t enough for you, Caleb Scharf posted a really stunning movie created from Cassini and Voyager images, which I have been watching over again for the last two days.
  • A little farther afield, Ed Yong highlighted a fascinating study about how neurons in pigeons respond to the Earth’s magnetic field. Exactly how this works is still mysterious—the neurons themselves aren’t magnetic, so there must be another magnetic receptor somewhere in the pigeons’ anatomy—but it’s a very interesting discovery. Even if you don’t read the whole post (though I hope you do), at least follow the link to see his illustration.

And now for my own writings on other sites:

  • My friend Seelix invited me to collaborate with her in shredding a hilarious website that sells “quantum jewelry”. How could I refuse such an offer? The jewelry is made by bombarding stones with tachyons and uses the sounds of the Sun. How can you refuse to read our post? (Mad Art Lab)
  • Entanglement continues to be one of the more bizarre aspects of quantum mechanics, and the latest experiment I report is no different. In brief, the decision to create entanglement in photons affects the results of measurements taken before the decision is made—even though there’s no way communication occurred between the different parts of the system. (Ars Technica)
  • While elliptical and spiral galaxies do have differences in their populations of stars, generally astronomers assume the stars formed under similar conditions and occur in the same proportions. A new detailed set of observations of nearby elliptical galaxies shows that assumption to be false, meaning that stars appear to “know” what kind of galaxy they will eventually inhabit. (Ars Technica)
  • Simulating the individual electrons and atoms inside complex materials is too complicated: even for a small number of atoms in the computer simulation, the problem becomes intractable. However, researchers figured out a way to use atoms themselves to simulate other materials, but in a highly controlled way, creating a quantum analog computer.
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