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Last weekend saw a total eclipse of the sun visible in full from Siberia and China.  Astronomy picture of the day has a brilliant photo.

Explanation: What’s that black dot over the Sun? The Moon. This past weekend, the Sun went dark during the day as the Moon completely covered it. The total solar eclipse was visible over a thin swath of Earth extending from northern Canada to China. As shown above, many sky enthusiasts gathered to witness the total or partial solar eclipse, which lasted only a few minutes. The above image was taken during totality near Barkol in Xinjiang, China, with the Barkol Shan mountain range visible on the horizon. Although the brightest parts of the Sun are covered, the normally invisible corona of hot gas surrounding the Sun became prominent. Just to the upper left of the Moon darkened Sun are planets Mercury and Venus. The increased darkening of the sky toward the right indicates the darkened atmosphere created by the passing shadow cone of the total solar eclipse. The next total solar eclipse will occur next July and be visible in parts of India and China.

The latest TED conference took place last month in Monteray California. If you haven’t come across these talks they are awe inspiring. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and began in 1984 as a conference devoted to the converging fields of technology, entertainment and design. Over the years, the scope has broadened. But the formula remains the same: Gather the world’s leading thinkers and doers; offer them four days of rapid-fire stimulation. The result? Unexpected connections. Extraordinary insights. Powerful inspiration.

The talks are made available on the TED website and one of the latest is by Professor Neil Turok, who is a theoretical physicist who grew up in Africa. He was the founder of the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Cape Town, South Africa. As he says “If you don’t have math, you are not going to enter the modern age.” At AIMS “We emphasize problem-solving, working in groups. Everyone lives together in the hotel, lecturers and students, so it’s not surprising to find impromptu tutorials at 1am. We specially emphasize areas of great relevance to African development”.

His wish is to create 15 more across the continent.

The physics stuff in here is pretty mind blowing – well it is for me, but the ideas and thoughts behind the AIMS project are truly inspirational. See the whole talk – here.

You can become a member of TED for free and even attend one of the Conferences – if you have a spare $6,000.

Why didn’t we have stuff like this when I was at school. You can download it here

Back in May last year, I posted an item on the proposed Encyclopedia of Life.  I was interested to hear that the first 30,000 species were to be launched yesterday.  Unfortuately, the servers hosting the site couldn’t cope and it was down on the first day.  The entries are all written by scientists but it will eventually take contributions from the public – like wikipedia.  So despite my efforts I still haven’t managed to see the site as it is still down though most reports say this is a temporary problem – see if you are more successful than I have been www.eol.org.

I’ve written quite a bit about malaria and the campaign that Tukae are running to raise money for a clinical officer and technician to be based at Emau Hill for a year. They will provide free malaria treatment for all children under the age of 13, following Tanzanian government guidelines. So I was interested to read in the latest copy of Scientific American that a company is developing a chemical that kills viral pathogens but also suppresses the development of the plasmodium parasite that causes malaria.

The so called ‘provector’ will use visual, olfactory and chemical signals to entice the mosquitoes to ingest the antimalarial and antiviral treatments. They haven’t finalised the delivery method yet, but it looks like it might be in the form of an artificial flower which while being shielded from other insects, will have a protective surface that will allow the mosquitoes’ proboscis to get through to reach the petals. This is a totally different way of looking at Malaria prevention, in that they are targetting the pathogens themselves, rather than the mosquitoes, which are just the carriers. Whatever it takes, it is important that this killer disease is conquered. It can and does kill children in the East Usambaras where Steve and the team are working. The World Health organisation fact sheet on malaria has the chilling statistics – ‘an African child has between 1.6 and 5.4 episodes of malaria fever each year’ and every 30 seconds a child dies of malaria.

I’ve had the link for the Blog Action Day in the sidebar for what seems like months so I had better make sure that I do actually post something on global warming.  Whether you adhere to the view that it is caused by human interaction or that it is natural phenomenan , I think it is pretty clear that it is happening.  I’m usually of the view that whatever I can do will make little or no difference but lots of small actions can be greater than one large action.  So go and put a brick in your cistern, don’t leave the water running while you brush your teeth and change your wash cycle to cold – it works just as well!

There is a report on the Guardian Website that a contraversial American scientist is about to declare that his team have created the first artificial life. Craig Venter has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals. It’s not like he has built some sort of monster – he has created a chomosome which is based on the DNA of a bacteria. The DNA has been pared down to the minimum needed and then re-introduced to another bacteria, effectively making a new species. The chromosome has 381 genes and 580,000 base pairs. It is called bacterium laboratorium and although the contents of the cell which will allow the DNA to replicate are not synthetic the actual genetic material is.

How this will be reported will be interesting to watch. Shrieking headlines about Chimera or Frankenstein type science and scientists playing god will no doubt appear. However, if it turns out to be true, it could be used for numerous roles. What the effect will be on the ecology though is a different matter and although he speculates that a bacterium could be engineered to mop up excess carbon dioxide in the atmostphere, what effect would introducing a totally new synthetic bacteria have on the ecosystem.

Fifty years ago today the bip bip bip sound of a man made satellite in orbit around the Earth was heard for the first time. Sputnik orbitted the earth in 98 minutes and weighed 185 pounds. It stayed in orbit for 3 months and caused humiliation to the Americans which was further exacerbated when their first attempt at space flight exploded on launch in December later that year.

sputnik.jpg

(Photo courtesy of Astronomy Picture of the Day)

It was the start of the Space Race and shocked America into creating NASA and ultimately the fledgling Internet. The Advanced Projects Defence Agency whose mission was to ‘prevent technichal surprises’ was a further product of the space race. One of their project was ARPANET which was the first packet switching network and the fore runner to the Internet. So who would have thought a basketball sized lump of metal could have been the trigger to the whole web phenomenon.

A great story was reported in New Scientist yesterday about crocodiles swimming long distances. They are normally seen basking on river banks and only showing short bursts of energy as they lurch into the water to grab some unfortunate for dinner. However, in 2004 the University of Queensland, with the help of the late Steve Irwin captured 3 large saltwater crocs from the coastal areas. They were then transported by helicopter 56, 99 or 126 Km away and after being fitted with a satellite tracking device, released. They all behaved in much the same way, exploring their new habitats for a few weeks, then having looked around, decided that there was no place like home. They took between 5 and 20 days to swim back to where they had been initially captured. Even the scientists were astonished that they were able to swim for days at a time. How they navigated is also a mystery. The policy of rehoming ‘rogue crocs’ is now being revised.

Another great picture from the Astronomy picture of the day site.

saguaromoon_seip800.jpg

Saguaro Moon
Credit & Copyright: Stefan Seip (Astro Meeting) Explanation: A Full Moon rising can be a dramatic celestial sight, and Full Moons can have many names. For example, tonight’s Full Moon, the one nearest the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere, is popularly called the Harvest Moon. According to lore the name is a fitting one because farmers could work late into the night at the end of the growing season harvesting crops by moonlight. In the same traditions, the Full Moon following the Harvest Moon is the Hunter’s Moon. But, recorded on a trip to the American southwest, this contribution to compelling images of moonrise is appropriately titled Saguaro Moon.

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