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september 2009

Voyage to the plastic vortex

Out in the middle of the northern Pacific Ocean, a giant floating mess of plastic debris is drifting and bobbing among the waves. Scientists call this expanse of litter, which stretches for hundreds of kilometers across open sea, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But before last summer, there was little information about how large the patch really is, what types of debris are out there and what kind of impact it is having on ocean life.

03 Sep 2009

Art and dinosaurs

Lillian the Albertosaur strolls through the halls of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, glancing sideways at the skeletal model of a T. rex. She’s much prettier than the skeleton, from her textured brown skin, adorned with bright purple spots, to her slightly superior smirk. Neither dinosaur is actually alive: One is a fossil, and the other is a computer graphic superimposed on a photograph of the actual museum. But somehow, Lillian does liven the place up.

08 Sep 2009

Travels in Geology: Arkansas: A geologic diamond in the rough

If the budget belt is a little tighter this year, consider packing your diamond-digging trowel, bathing suit and camping gear and heading to a little-known geologic hot spot in the middle of the United States. Arkansas, “the Natural State,” boasts the world’s only public diamond mine, uniquely heated mineral springs and the Ozark Mountains of Wilson Rawls’ “Where the Red Fern Grows” lore, all within a day’s drive from much of the United States.

10 Sep 2009

Mini-T. rex fossil found in China

The Tyrannosaurus rex — arguably the most famous dinosaur of all time — was also one of the most efficient predators to ever walk on Earth. With its powerful jaws, large eyes, strong hind limbs and even tiny arms, the T. rex was uniquely designed to swiftly run down and dispatch prey. But on Wednesday, scientists announced that those characteristic T. rex features were not as unique as once thought: A new fossil find shows that 60 million years earlier, a T.

17 Sep 2009

Putting Earth's history to sound

Geophysicist Dave Engebretson of Western Washington University in Bellingham has struggled with his eyesight since birth. But when his vision took a serious downturn in 1996 — today he has difficulty recognizing faces up close — Engebretson grasped for the world of sound. He has made a considerable hobby out of audifying scientific data — taking numbers from datasets and setting them to sound frequencies to create seconds-long clips at his home studio.

22 Sep 2009

Breaking the Energy Barrier

Can the Department of Defense solve the world's energy crisis one jet at a time?

18 Sep 2009

The cosmos on key

Engebretson’s latest project involves taking the orbital periods of all eight planets in the solar system and turning them into corresponding frequencies: Planets that have short orbits like Mercury have higher frequencies, whereas more distant planets with longer orbits like Neptune have lower frequencies.

22 Sep 2009

Earth tides in A major

Earth experiences small, millimeter-sized tides, called Earth tides. Using a dataset from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California from A.D. 1600 to A.D. 2200, Engebretson calculated the net gravitational force of the sun and the moon at particular intervals and then mapped them onto the A major scale.

22 Sep 2009

Musical magnetic reversals

Although Earth’s magnetic field currently points toward the North Pole, the planet’s magnetic dipole flips direction every few hundred thousand years or so. Engebretson tracked the last 85 million years of these magnetic reversals, with higher pitches representing shorter polarities (a period of time when the direction of the magnetic field stays the same), and lower pitches longer ones.

22 Sep 2009

Getting a master's in social geology

At first glance, it seems like an obvious solution to a problem: Villagers need vegetables and an aid organization has money to buy tools and seeds. Striving to create a sustainable program, the aid organization develops a training plan to teach the villagers how to garden, invests in local workshops, and purchases tools to distribute to the participants. All plans seem in order and the project is poised for success. However, the project’s managers encounter the first of potentially many obstacles when they realize that shovels are impossible to use if you don’t have shoes.

24 Sep 2009

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