Category Archives: Science & Research

The Asteroid that finished the Dinosaurs. A grain of sand hitting a bowling ball. – Liz Dunphy. 

The asteroid impact that doomed the dinosaurs to extinction had such a devastating effect on Earth by pure chance, scientists say.

If it had struck 30 seconds later – or 30 seconds sooner – it would have caused far less damage and the dinosaurs would probably have survived.

As a result, man might never have become the planet’s dominant species, a BBC documentary reveals tonight, according to Daily Mail.

The asteroid struck 66million years ago 24 miles off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, causing a crater 111 miles wide and 20 miles deep. Scientists who drilled into the crater found the rock was rich in sulphur compounds.

The impact of the asteroid vaporised this rock, filling the air with a cloud of dust similar to that created by a catastrophic volcanic eruption.

This blocked out the sun and cooled the planet dramatically – below freezing for a decade – wiping out most life.

Those dinosaurs not killed by fumes, molten rock falling from the sky or tsunamis would have starved as their food ran out.

Yet if the asteroid, which is estimated to have been nine miles across and travelling at 40,000mph, had arrived a few seconds sooner or later, it could have landed in deep water in the Atlantic or Pacific.

That would have meant that mostly sea water would have been vaporised, causing far less harm. Instead, the effect of the impact of a comparatively tiny asteroid was magnified catastrophically.

Sean Gulick, professor of geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin, who organised the drilling with Professor Joanna Morgan, of Imperial College London, said: “That asteroid struck Earth in a very unfortunate place.”

Professor Morgan said research suggests 100billion tons of sulphates were thrown into the atmosphere, adding: “That would be enough to cool the planet for a decade and wipe out most life.”

The asteroid’s impact was so huge that the blast led to the extermination of three quarters of all life on Earth, including most of the dinosaurs.

But this chance event allowed smaller mammals – and ultimately humans – the chance to thrive.

Had the asteroid crashed seconds earlier or later it would have hit the ocean, potentially causing much less vaporisation which may have allowed the dinosaurs to survive, scientists now believe.

Professor Joanna Morgan of Imperial College London has co-led a major new study with Sean Gullick, professor of geophysics at the University of Texas, Austin into the the impact of this earth-changing asteroid.

The results of this major study will be revealed in a new BBC documentary called The Night the Dinosaurs Died which will be screened in the UK tomorrow and is presented by Professors Alice Roberts and Ben Garod.

In the study, researchers have drilled into the peak ring of the Chicxulub crater in the Gulf of Mexico where the asteroid hit.

Their research has unearthed insights into how impacts can help shape planets and possibly even provide habitat for new origins of life.

It also established a new understanding of how violent asteroid impacts cause a planet’s surface to behave like a fluid – previous scientific analysis suggested that such impacts deform the surface by melting most of the rock around the impact.

Prof Gullick said that the asteroid struck the earth at a very unfortunate place – a concentration of sulphur-rich rock which vaporised, catapulting a light-reflecting cloud into the air.

Prof Gullick explained that sulphate particles reflect light, which effectively shaded the earth from the sun, dramatically cooling the planet, limiting plant growth and ultimately cutting off food supplies.

This caused the decline and death of the dinosaurs as a species which had dominated earth for 150m years.

According to Professor Joanna Morgan, the samples suggest that more than 100bn tons of sulphates were thrown into the atmosphere with extra soot from the fires that followed.

“That would be enough to cool the planet for a decade and wipe out most life,” Prof Morgan said as reported by The Times.

But this dark day for the dinosaurs provided an opportunity for mammals and ultimately humans to evolve.

“Just half a million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs, landscapes had filled with mammals of all shapes and sizes. Chances are, if it wasn’t for that asteroid we wouldn’t be here today,” scientist and BBC presenter Prof Alice Roberts told The Times.

Rock analysis has allowed scientists to calculate the size of the impact which indicates that the asteroid was approximately nine miles wide and hit the planet at 40,000mph.

This would make the asteroid equivalent to a grain of sand hitting a bowling ball.

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The 30 seconds that sentenced dinosaurs to their doom: New BBC documentary reveals the moment an asteroid NINE-MILES long hit the earth and wiped out an entire species. 

Daily Mail

Scientists Are Attempting to Unlock the Secret Potential of the Human Brain – Philip Perry. 

Sometimes, it occurs when a person suffers a nearly fatal accident or life-threatening situation. In others, they are born with a developmental disorder, such as autism. But a slim margin of each group develop remarkable capabilities, such as being able to picture advanced mathematical figures in one’s head, have perfect recall, or to draw whole cityscapes from memory alone. This is known as savant syndrome. Of course, it’s exceedingly rare. But how does it work? And do we all hide spectacular capabilities deep within our brain?

“I noticed the light bouncing off a car window in the form of an arc, and the concept came to life. It clicked for me-­because the circle I saw was subdivided by light rays, and I realized each ray was really a representation of pi.”

He’d acquired an exceedingly rare condition. Only about 70 people in the world so far have been identified with savant syndrome. There are two ways for it to occur, either through an injury that causes brain damage or through a disorder, such as autism.

… Bigthink.com

Vaccination, it’s science, there is no other side – Dr Michelle Dickinson. 

When a high percentage of people are vaccinated, there are too few susceptible people left to infect.

Science is the field of study concerned with discovering by observing and experimenting.

Although anybody can do science, professional scientific researchers follow a scientific method which allows them to explain occurrences using a logical, consistent, systematic method of investigation.

This involves collecting large amounts of data from well thought out experiments and analysing that data to arrive at a well-tested, well documented, theory that is supported by the evidence.

The theory is then subjected to critique by other experts and only if approved by them is it allowed to be published in a peer reviewed journal for others to read and learn from.

As a person who reads and writes peer reviewed journal articles, I’ll admit that they can be difficult to understand, are often filled with specialist jargon, and are not usually available to the public without having to pay a fee.

This makes obtaining and analysing scientific data difficult and expensive.

What is easy to obtain and analyse is scientific information from websites and documentaries which are deliberately designed to be simple to understand, easy to access and contain memorable, shareable sound bites.

Websites, social media posts and documentaries however do not have to follow any of the rules of peer reviewed scientific method, and instead can make incredible ‘scientific’ claims based on anecdotal stories beautifully packaged into believable emotive narratives.

I mention this as the controversial anti-vaccination film Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe is touring New Zealand.

The movie, directed by Andrew Wakefield the former British doctor who was struck off the medical register over an unethical study, claims to give the other side to the vaccination argument.

Let’s be clear – the whole point of peer reviewed scientific method is that there is no other side.

Science presents all sides, that’s the beauty of science, it’s transparent and open about its evidence based conclusions.

Experiments carried out over hundreds of studies by scientists all over the world involving more than 15 million children conclude clearly that vaccines are not linked to autism.

For those that don’t want to trawl through all of the peer reviewed scientific studies that have shown this, the Cochrane systematic review of research on the MMR vaccine gives a great public summary.

In light of this, there are still hundreds of websites claiming that vaccinations are dangerous, an issue emphasised this week at Grantlea Downs School in Timaru.

The school’s board of trustees, of which I couldn’t find out how many were familiar with scientific method, decided not to allow their students to receive the free vaccine against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) on site.

The vaccine is highly effective in preventing infection HPV responsible for about 90 per cent of HPV caused cancers, and school-based vaccinations programmes are the most convenient way for children to get protected against HPV.

Convenient vaccination programmes are important because they work on herd immunity, a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population provides protection for individuals who have not developed immunity due to being too young or too ill to be vaccinated.

When a high percentage of the population is protected, there are too few susceptible people left to infect and diseases become difficult to spread.

Anti-immunisation websites and movies create fear with cherry-picked science and reductions in childhood vaccinations will allow disease transmission chains to rebuild meaning herd immunity will no longer be effective.

I’m all about freedom of choice, but if you are going to put other people at risk, you should have a really good reason. A movie or website isn’t one of them.

Dr Michelle Dickinson, also known as Nanogirl, is an Auckland University nanotechnologist who is passionate about getting Kiwis hooked on science.

NZ Herald

The Kiwi who split the atom. 1917: Sir Ernest Rutherford, our greatest scientist’s biggest breakthrough.

Ernest Rutherford and Hans Geiger in the physics laboratory at Manchester University.

“I have broken the machine and touched the ghost of matter.”

So proclaimed Sir Ernest Rutherford a century ago, in the same year he became the first person to split the atom.

By that point, the Nelson-born godfather of modern atomic physics had already received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry (in 1908) and a star scientist at Cambridge, McGill and Manchester universities.

His greatest triumphs came in three landmark discoveries, which forever changed modern science and created the field of nuclear physics.

In the first, for which he received his Nobel Prize, he conducted a clever experiment using an air-tight glass tube and radioactive radium emanation to prove that alpha particles are helium ions.

In doing so, Rutherford effectively had, said James Campbell in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biographies, “unravelled the mysteries of radioactivity, showing that some heavy atoms spontaneously decay into slightly lighter, and chemically different, atoms”.

“This discovery of the natural transmutation of elements first brought him to world attention.”

Later, Rutherford and his young student, Ernest Marsden – who would become a world-renowned physicist in his own right – conducted an experiment that allowed Rutherford to deduce that nearly all of the mass of an atom was concentrated in a nucleus a thousand times smaller than the atom itself.

This gave birth to the nuclear model of the atom – and later formed the basis for revealing the stable orbit of the atom.

In his third and most famous discovery, in 1917, Rutherford succeeded in splitting the atom itself, becoming the first human to create a nuclear reaction.

Albert Einstein called Rutherford a “second Newton” – but the famed scientist wasn’t so different from other ingenious Kiwi innovators.

Of his knack for unorthodox solutions to experiments, Rutherford noted his early years in New Zealand: “We don’t have the money, so we have to think.”

Jamie Morton, NZ Herald

Black humour is sign of high intelligence, study suggests | Science | The Guardian.  

I’ve always known that 🙂

Who needs Mensa? If you want to find out if someone has a high IQ, just tell them a string of sick jokes and then gauge their reaction.

A new study in the journal Cognitive Processing has found that intelligence plays a key role in the appreciation of black humour – as well as several other factors, notably a person’s aggression levels.

A team of researchers, led by Ulrike Willinger at the Medical University of Vienna, asked 156 people, who had an average age of 33 and included 76 women, to rate their comprehension and enjoyment of 12 darkly humorous cartoons taken from The Black Book by the renowned German cartoonist Uli Stein.

Examples include a cartoon depicting a morgue where a physician lifts a cover sheet off a body. A woman confirms: “Sure, that’s my husband – anyway, which washing powder did you use to get that so white?”

Participants were also tested for verbal and non-verbal IQ and asked about their mood, aggression and educational background.

The group with the highest sick humour appreciation and comprehension scored the highest in verbal and non-verbal IQ tests, were better educated, and scored lower for aggression and bad mood.

The Guardian

NASA Discovers Planet Covered in Cannabis, Scientists Shocked. 

“We always think young people aren’t interested by anything but it’s false. Young people love smoking pot,” says David Charbonneau, astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “Chlorophyll concentration analyses generated by Kepler lead us to believe that the level of THC in these marijuana plants is 3000% higher than the plants found on Earth. If that doesn’t motivate young people to explore space, I don’t know what will”. The Joint Blog

Research suggests being lazy is a sign of high intelligence. 

New research seems to prove the theory that brainy people spend more time lazing around than their active counterparts. 

Findings from a US-based study seem to support the idea that people with a high IQ get bored less easily, leading them to spend more time engaged in thought. And active people may be more physical as they need to stimulate their minds with external activities, either to escape their thoughts or because they get bored quickly. The Independent