New outer dwarf planet found

Just this month scientists at Hawaii’s Gemini Observatory announced evidence of an undiscovered dwarf planet outside of Pluto’s orbit. This planet has a similar orbit to Sedna, another trans-Neptunian body. The new object, 2012 VP113, has a diameter under 280 miles. It gets as close as ~ 80 AU, and as far as 461 AU.

This body may point to another planet, a supposed super-Earth. VP113’s orbit looks to be perturbed by a planet with a mass of about 10 Earth’s and about 250 AUs out. Previous searches for outer planets looked for gas giants, not terrestrial planets.

The discovery of VP113 points to there being many more Sedna-like objects out there.


Talking to dolphins just got closer

Google Translate will helpfully translate between many languages. But a cetacean researcher has one upped google by translating from dolphin to human. OK, it’s just one word, but it’s a start.

In this case, the researcher, Denise Herzing, had been using a specific whistle for “sargassum”, a variety of seaweed. The dolphins picked up her whistle, and when they used it, Dr. Herzing’s software translated it in real time and spoke “sargassum” into her earpiece.

So far, it’s only one word, and hasn’t been repeated. I’d love to hear about other whistles being translated, and more often.

The Slow Funnel

Usually when you use a funnel the fluid goes through quickly. Even if you’re filtering something you expect it do be done in 10 minutes or so. How about longer? How about over a year? Over a decade? How about almost 100 years?

One of the long running experiments is the Pitch Drop Experiment started at the University of Queensland in 1927. Pitch is another word for bitumen, or asphalt. It’s a very viscous liquid. Water has low viscosity. Honey flows slower, so it has a higher viscosity. Pitch has the somewhat higher viscosity of 2.3 × 1011. That’s 230,000,000,000 times slower than water.

To demonstrate this, in 1927 Thomas Parnell heated a sample of pitch and put it in a sealed funnel. 3 years later he cut the seal on the neck of the funnel to let the pitch start flowing. It took about a decade for the first drop to fall. The 8th drop fell on 28 November 2000. You can see the progress of the next drop in the experiment at this webcam.

This experiment is in the Guinness World Records as the longest continuously running lab experiment. There are other, longer running, experiments, but they have had interruptions.

Update 17 April 2014The 9th drop has collided with the 8th drop. Due to the amount of pitch at the bottom of the beaker, the 9th drop can’t fully detach from the funnel, so they are calling this the official 9th drop (or so I’ve heard). Onward to number 10!

Power from a volcano?

How would you like to get your electricity from a volcano? Well, that’s a little hyperbolic, but in Iceland scientists have drilled down to a magma chamber. The Icelandic Deep Drilling Project was trying to get more geothermal heat. In 2009 one of their holes broke into a magma chamber, with a temperature close to 1000 °C. This did not create a volcano, because the magma is at low pressure. If they use this to generate power, it will be the most efficient geothermal power station.

Ocean biodiversity healthier than we thought

Scientists have recently found that there is much more biodiversity in the oceans than we thought. Especially in the so called oceanic deserts.

The mesopelagic is the region in the ocean that is between 100 m and 1000 m deep; this is a huge region of water. We’ve thought for a long time that this area doesn’t have much fish. Now we know that about 95% of the ocean’s fish live in this zone. They have larger eyes to be able to see where there isn’t much sunlight. They also can detect and avoid fishing nets.

While the article written for says that the fish can avoid nets from 5 m away, the paper written by the original author says that the fish avoid nets from much further out, 100 m away, and take hours to return to the area. This is one of the main reasons that we haven’t known much about these fish before.

Paper or Plastic?

Ah, the age old question. “Paper or Plastic?”. Which should you get? Which is better for the environment? I’ll summarize a great answer from Quora:

  1. Plastic isn’t necessarily worse for the environment than paper. Paper is heavy, and making paper pollutes. There are many factors, some of them that you may not think about right away, that affect what ecological impact of each, and these factors can change over time.
  2. Reusable canvas bags are usually worse than plastic. Because the reusable bags are reusable, they have to be durable, and it takes a lot of energy to make. You’d have to reuse one over a hundred times to use less resources than plastic.

So it really depends on many different things and has more variables than you’d think at first blush. This isn’t a complete answer, and the answer may change year to year depending on circumstances.

Thanks Gayle!