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Tag Archive: Real Science


Review by C.J. Bunce

This week the world celebrates the inimitable penguin, now known to number at 12 million across Antarctica.  Yesterday was World Penguin Day, and this week is the premier of The Penguin Counters, a wonderful new documentary from First Run Features with initial screenings at Cinema Village in New York City this week.  Lawyer-turned-penguin researcher Ron Naveen has spent two decades studying and counting penguin populations, releasing the first “State of Antarctic Penguins” report this week.

The Penguin Counters, directed by Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon, follows Naveen as he leads an excursion of researchers to the Antarctic with the task of counting all the penguins on the continent one by one, over the course of a week.  By doing so Naveen demonstrates what most of the scientific community knows–that populations of certain species of penguins (Adélies and chinstraps) have dwindled over the past 20 years–but Naveen now can back that up with actual data.  He and his team also learned that other populations, such as the gentoo, have learned to adapt and increase their numbers.  One of the key causes of the declining populations is that a primary food source, krill, are dying from warming temperatures.  In the film Naveen points to one mass of the tiny crustaceans beached from the record warming ocean temperatures as evidence.

Despite the seriousness of the topic, Getzels and Gordon take viewers along on an amazing trip where few have gone before, to a treacherous and strikingly beautiful place that one of the researchers says he sought out for having the qualities of a completely different planet with similarly unique landscapes and animal life.  Unlike the typical wildlife documentary showing the “circle of life,” this film shows the positive world of the penguins as Naveen & Co. encounter them, with their tens of thousands of nests across the frozen lands.  The filmmakers take two tangent trips along the way, one to visit the final burial ceremony in the Falkland Islands in 2011 of Frank Wild, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s “right-hand man” on his famous Antarctic voyage of exploration (his remains were only recently discovered).  The other follows Naveen as he explores the site of a former processing plant for giant whales, now abandoned and taken over by its own local animal inhabitants.

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As Rock and Roll is concerned, there was no one bigger than Chuck Berry–no one that more great musicians credited with their own successes, and no one more synonymous with the music multiple generations think of when they hear a singer holding a guitar leading a band with a lively, loud, and fast rhythm, bending guitar strings and blending styles, as well as the very image of the brash, cocky headliner across the world today we know simply as the “rock star”.  Berry passed away this weekend at the age of 90.  Unforgettable hits Johnny B. Goode, Maybelline, No Particular Place To Go, Roll Over Beethoven, My Ding-a-Ling, My Tambourine, and Sweet Little Sixteen only highlight his long career.

Even modern generations know his name thanks to a joke in Back to the Future, where Michael J. Fox plays his trademark song Johnny B. Goode with a band that happens to include a fictional cousin of Chuck Berry named Marvin.  The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys all incorporated elements from Berry’s music, including covering his songs.  John Lennon said of Berry, “If you tried to give rock ‘n’ roll another name, you might have called it Chuck Berry.”  Berry never stopped performing.  Only five years ago Berry performed Johnny B. Goode at a concert in his honor with modern legends including fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darryl McDaniels from Run DMC.  And a new album was in the works.

Chuck Berry with Carl Sagan at a concert commemorating the Voyager accomplishments.

NASA and outer space enthusiasts will remember that Chuck Berry performing Johnny B. Goode is one of only two modern American songs included on the Voyager space probe golden records, which we’ve discussed before here at borg.com.  The Voyager missions are celebrating their 40th year in space in 2017.  The selection of music was made by Carl Sagan and the small team that collected music and images for the records (the complete playlist is listed here).  By our count this leaves only one remaining living performer whose music was featured on the albums: Valya Balkanska, a Bulgarian folk singer whose song “Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin,” was included on the golden records.  Balkanska is 75 years old, and performed the song for the album at age 30.

Where are the Voyager space probes, and Chuck Berry’s historic albums, now?

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cernan-2017

Yesterday the last man to walk on the Moon, Apollo 17 commander Capt. Eugene Cernan, passed away at age 82.  Of the 24 men who visited the Moon and the 12 that walked on its surface Cernan leaves only six remaining men who actually walked on the Moon’s surface: Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), Alan Bean (Apollo 12), Dave Scott (Apollo 15), John Young (Apollo 16), Charlie Duke (Apollo 16), and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17).  A three-time space traveler, Cernan was the pilot on Apollo 10 and had previously flown on a Gemini mission.  He served as backup crew for Gemini 12, Apollo 7, and Apollo 14.

“Curiosity is the essence of human existence and exploration has been part of humankind for a long time.  The exploration of space, like the exploration of life, if you will, is a risk.  We’ve got to be willing to take it,”  Cernan said.  Cernan passed away on the annual day America observed the contributions of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he, too, recently recounted a dream.  “I was just a young kid in America growing up with a dream.  Today what’s most important to me is my desire to inspire the passion in the hearts and minds of future generations of young men and women to see their own impossible dreams become a reality.”

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The best tribute to Cernan and his contemporaries is the continuing exploration and discovery missions of NASA, which will be the subject of several documentaries this year on PBS.  In particular, August will be a big month for space aficionados.

The documentary The Farthest will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Voyager space program.  As discussed extensively previously here at borg.com, the Voyager probes continue their role as the farthest humans have stretched their technology into space.  The only objects to ever enter interstellar space are Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.  Voyager 2 was the first to launch forty years ago, on August 20, 1977.

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In the short days of winter, even if you are in the city with the imposition of urban skylights, the night sky seems to release a better view of the stars.  Something about the snap of the cold and the clean smell of the air almost lures you to stay outside a little longer when the darkness appears as an almost otherworldly blue.  But how long will we be able to have this kind of view of the universe?  It’s this kind of moment that an astronomer and artist has captured in a series of spectacular posters, promoting educational viewing events at the National Parks.

Dr. Tyler Nordgren, artist, astronomer, photographer, professor, and national parks “Night Sky Ambassador” is one of those multifaceted people who shares his knowledge with others, giving us all an appreciation for the world around us, and beyond.  His 2012 poster series first spread in a colorful and compelling way word of ranger naturalist programs at the U.S. National Parks Service, including the solar eclipse.  Dr. Nordgren created a series of retro-style travel posters beginning in 2005 exploring a “what if” of planetary travel referring to a “United Nations Department of the Exterior.”  His 2014 Milky Way “Half the Park is After Dark” posters stand out as uniquely magical.  All feature a blue and white color scheme, a national park location, and a constellation or star view visible overhead.  Although they immediately recall–and were inspired by–the famous Art Deco Works Progress Administration and Department of the Interior posters from the 1930s-1940s discussed previously here at borg.com, his 44 designs form their own museum gallery of wonder.

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Dr. Nordgren’s latest project?  The August 21, 2017, solar eclipse.  According to Dr. Nordgren, “Every single man, woman and child in North America will be in the shadow of the moon together on that day and never before has a total solar eclipse passed over such a densely populated country for over 2000 miles.” Dr. Nordgren has created a new set of poster images, featuring 22 designs of varying style influences, each highlighting the total solar eclipse coming this year on August 21–not to appear again until April 8, 2024.  As the appropriately themed mod style poster for Oregon declares, this will be the first such eclipse since 1979.  Dr. Nordgren’s Willamette Valley design evokes those colorful fruit crate labels used throughout the early and mid-20th century.

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Our borg.com Best of 2016 list continues today with the Best in Print and a bonus wrap-up of other year’s bests.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Top Picks and Best Movies of 2016 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2016 here, and the Best in Television here.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Print:

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Best Comic Book Series – Old Man Logan (Marvel).  With just enough backstory from prior series focused on the future world version of Logan/Wolverine, writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino took us through the struggle of the superhero that survived all his contemporaries, only to be plunged into a parallel world where everything is familiar but nothing is the same.

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Best Graphic NovelWonder Woman: The True Amazon, Jill Thompson (DC Comics).  Writer/artist Jill Thompson is probably the best creator in comics today.  Her origin story of Wonder Woman is vibrant, and she presents a flawed, complex, and ultimately strong and fearless heroine.  The best Wonder Woman book we’ve ever read.

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Best Comic Book Limited Series/Best Crossover Comic Book Series – Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (DC Comics/IDW).  James Tynion IV and Freddie Williams II pulled together an impossible team-up of characters that ended up working great together.  An action-packed, nostalgic fun trip.

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Best Comic Book Writing – Matt Kindt, Dept.H (Dark Horse).  Kindt pulls together an incredibly nostalgic assemblage of the best action concepts: classic science fiction of the H.G. Wells variety, G.I. Joe Adventure Team-inspired characters, and a fun character study and whodunit that will have you searching out your old game of Sub Search.  We just hope he makes a prequel at some point so we get to see a similar quest with an old fashioned copper-helmeted deep sea diver.  A fun read month after month and the best writing comics have to offer.

After the cut we continue with the best in comics, books, and more from 2016:

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Expedition 49 official crew portrait with 47S crew (Anatoli Ivanishin, Kate Rubins, Takuya Onishi) and 48S crew (Shane Kimbrough, Andrei Borisenko, Sergei Ryzhikov). Photo Date: January 13, 2016. Location: Building 8, Room 183 - Photo Studio. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

American NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Takuya Onishi safely landed their Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft in Kazakhstan at about 1 p.m. CDT on Saturday.  The Expedition 48/49 trio completed hundreds of scientific research experiments throughout 115 days in space aboard the International Space Station, working with three other ISS crewmembers who remain on the station.  The world class space lab, bypassing international politics and cultural conflicts, continues to demonstrate how humans, when they set their minds to it, can rise above any barrier to work for the betterment of all people and life on Earth.

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The ISS has been continuously occupied for 15 years and 363 days since the arrival of Expedition 1 on November 2, 2000–the longest continuous human presence in low Earth orbit, surpassing space station Mir’s previous record of 9 years and 357 days.

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Expedition 49/50’s Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, will operate the station for three weeks until the arrival of three new crew members from Expedition 50/51, Peggy Whitson of NASA, French spationaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency, and Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos.  The new crew is scheduled to launch November 17, 2016, from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

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Where are they now?

After spending nearly 11,000 workyears on the Voyager space program so far, or one-third of the estimated effort required to build the great pyramid at Giza, the Voyager space probes are currently in the “Heliosheath” – the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas, more than 19 billion miles from Earth for Voyager 1, and 9.5 billion miles from Earth for Voyager 2.  Thirty-nine years ago this past August 22, Voyager 2 was launched and a few weeks later on September 5, 1977, Voyager 1 was launched.  Both spacecraft are still sending scientific information about their surroundings through the Deep Space Network (DSN), according to NASA.

The focus of the original mission for the Voyager probes was the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn.  After making several discoveries there — such as active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and photographing the intricacies of Saturn’s rings — the mission was extended, with Voyager 2 going on to explore Uranus and Neptune–the only spacecraft to have visited those outer planets.  The current mission–Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM)–is exploring the outermost edge of the Sun’s domain.  In 2008 the probes were two of only a handful of objects that man had successfully sent beyond the edge of our solar system.

What the Voyager program did that no other program has done is send a distinct and comprehensive message to be intercepted at some point by a hopefully intelligent and friendly lifeform somewhere beyond our own solar system.  The means was a golden record and record player.  The music and sounds found on that record are the subject of a current Kickstarter campaign, seeking to release an LP version of the Voyager record to the public for the first time.  Back in the 1980s you could buy a limited box set that included the book Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record (an indispensable Voyager reference) as well as a CD of the complete music, languages and sounds and a CD-ROM of the photos included on the space record.  We first discussed the golden record and CD-ROM set here at borg.com five years ago.  Sagan’s Murmurs of Earth book and disc set is still available from time to time at Amazon from $100 on up for the deluxe setThe book alone is also available and is inexpensive despite being long out of print.

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Scanadu Scout

In June 2013, more than three years ago, we previewed the Scanadu Scout First Edition here, a medical device in the concept stage that was being kicked off as an Indiegogo campaign intended to be the first step in bringing to the world a functional medical tricorder.  The future in medicine was expected to arrive by March 2014.  Scanadu, one of the competitors in Qualcomm’s $10 million XPrize competition to build the world’s first medical tricorder, was in final development stages and taking pre-orders for the Scanadu Scout First Edition for only $199.

Inspired by the Star Trek tricorder, medical science already has scanning devices similar to those used by Dr. Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  The competition entrants are expected to go further, to combine the best of both the original series tricorder used by Dr. McCoy, and the updated, smaller device used by the crew of the Enterprise-D, created for the series by designer Rick Sternbach.  To long-time Star Trek fans, we will think of this new Scanadu tricorder not as the “first edition” but as the Mark I.  It’s only a first step, as the XPrize is intended to do much more, as explained below.

Scanadu has had its ups and downs with the Scanadu Scout First Edition and did a fine job keeping its backers notified as to its progress since the launch in 2013.  Ultimately the devices began to be shipped in the first half of 2015– a year after the expected ship date.  When our version arrived we quickly hit the first snag.  Since the hockey puck-shaped device requires an Android or iPhone for data transmission, it requires a Scanadu app.  The problem was the app compatability was limited.  So many of the 8,500 backers were able to proceed, but those of us with a different brand of phone (we used an LG) were out of luck.  So when we switched phones last week we finally were able to test the device, now more than three years after the Indiegogo campaign began.

Scout scan images

Even with a device that had not been charged, we were able to take it from the box, download and launch the app, and commence the first scan within a few minutes.  And it worked.  The Scanadu Scout promises to deliver readings for heart rate, body temperature, blood oxygen saturation, and blood pressure.  Our readings showed consistent measurements for each category.

The device has two sensors.  Holding one on your forehead and the other with the left index finger a circuit with your heart is created.  The device reads the data, which takes less than a minute to collect, and sends it to your smartphone via Bluetooth signal where you can track trends in your data, email it to yourself, etc.  It works just like Dr. Crusher used her medical tricorder on Star Trek: The Next Generation, shown here–one device as scanner is held to the forehead and data is transferred to a tricorder/reader (in Scanadu’s case, it’s a smartphone) and analyzed:

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Independence Day wasn’t only linked to outer space in theaters this weekend with the release of Independence Day: Resurgence.  A real-life five-year mission ended this week with a new look at an old celestial friend.  Following U.S. missions that sent the Pioneer 10 spacecraft past Jupiter in 1973, and Galileo into its orbit between 1995 and 2003, NASA maneuvered a spacecraft named Juno into Jupiter’s orbit Monday, July 4, 2016, providing new, never before seen views of the solar system’s largest planet.  “Independence Day always is something to celebrate, but today we can add to America’s birthday another reason to cheer — Juno is at Jupiter,” said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden.

“And what is more American than a NASA mission going boldly where no spacecraft has gone before?  With Juno, we will investigate the unknowns of Jupiter’s massive radiation belts to delve deep into not only the planet’s interior, but into how Jupiter was born and how our entire solar system evolved,” said Bolden.

The burn of Juno’s 645-Newton Leros-1b main engine began at 10:18 p.m. Central Time, decreasing the spacecraft’s velocity by 1,212 miles per hour (542 meters per second) and allowing Juno to be captured in orbit around Jupiter.  Juno then turned so that the sun’s rays could once again reach the 18,698 individual solar cells that give Juno its energy.

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“The spacecraft worked perfectly, which is always nice when you’re driving a vehicle with 1.7 billion miles on the odometer,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Juno’s scientific purpose is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter.  Juno will investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter’s magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the atmosphere, and observe the planet’s auroras.  The Juno spacecraft launched on Aug. 5, 2011 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.  Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft.

If you haven’t kept up on the mission, check out this footage about Juno, courtesy of NASA:

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Mars Explorers Wanted bannerIt’s a series of WANTED posters only it’s you who NASA is after.  Originally commissioned for an exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex in 2009, NASA has released to the public a series of vibrant posters for printing and art display to get future astronauts and scientists fired up about sending humans to Mars.  Like the Art Deco Works Progress Administration-inspired posters NASA released in February that we discussed here at borg.com, these posters are inspired by WWII recruitment posters and reflect the NASA we all love–reaching out and giving some hope to dreamers everywhere.

Explorers wanted to journey to Mars.

One poster beckons us to hike the solar system’s largest canyon, Valles Marineris on Mars, where you can catch blue sunsets in the twilight, and see the two moons of Mars (Phobos and Deimos) in the night sky.

Build our future on Mars and its moons.

Another wants the builders among us.  Are you someone who can put things together, solving challenges to ensure survival?  Dare to forge our future with space-age tools – build spaceships to carry us to Mars and back, and habitats to protect us while we’re there.

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Other posters seek out the next generation of farmers, teachers, surveyors, and technicians.

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