This tumblr's for all the great men and women of science for whom we owe our current understanding of the natural world; their achievements, their failures, and even their quirks, we celebrate them all.
For Science. For Inquiry. For Humanity.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first close-up, visible-light views of a behemoth hurricane swirling around Saturn’s north pole.
In high-resolution pictures and video, scientists see the hurricane’s eye is about 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide, 20 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth. Thin, bright clouds at the outer edge of the hurricane are traveling 330 mph(150 meters per second). The hurricane swirls inside a large, mysterious, six-sided weather pattern known as the hexagon.
“We did a double take when we saw this vortex because it looks so much like a hurricane on Earth,” said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “But there it is at Saturn, on a much larger scale, and it is somehow getting by on the small amounts of water vapor in Saturn’s hydrogen atmosphere.”
Scientists will be studying the hurricane to gain insight into hurricanes on Earth, which feed off warm ocean water. Although there is no body of water close to these clouds high in Saturn’s atmosphere, learning how these Saturnian storms use water vapor could tell scientists more about how terrestrial hurricanes are generated and sustained.
Both a terrestrial hurricane and Saturn’s north polar vortex have a central eye with no clouds or very low clouds. Other similar features include high clouds forming an eye wall, other high clouds spiraling around the eye, and a counter-clockwise spin in the northern hemisphere.
A major difference between the hurricanes is that the one on Saturn is much bigger than its counterparts on Earth and spins surprisingly fast. At Saturn, the wind in the eye wall blows more than four times faster than hurricane-force winds on Earth. Unlike terrestrial hurricanes, which tend to move, the Saturnian hurricane is locked onto the planet’s north pole. On Earth, hurricanes tend to drift northward because of the forces acting on the fast swirls of wind as the planet rotates. The one on Saturn does not drift and is already as far north as it can be.
“The polar hurricane has nowhere else to go, and that’s likely why it’s stuck at the pole,” said Kunio Sayanagi, a Cassini imaging team associate at Hampton University in Hampton, Va.
Scientists believe the massive storm has been churning for years. When Cassini arrived in the Saturn system in 2004, Saturn’s north pole was dark because the planet was in the middle of its north polar winter. During that time, the Cassini spacecraft’s composite infrared spectrometer and visual and infrared mapping spectrometer detected a great vortex, but a visible-light view had to wait for the passing of the equinox in August 2009. Only then did sunlight begin flooding Saturn’s northern hemisphere. The view required a change in the angle of Cassini’s orbits around Saturn so the spacecraft could see the poles.
“Such a stunning and mesmerizing view of the hurricane-like storm at the north pole is only possible because Cassini is on a sportier course, with orbits tilted to loop the spacecraft above and below Saturn’s equatorial plane,” said Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “You cannot see the polar regions very well from an equatorial orbit. Observing the planet from different vantage points reveals more about the cloud layers that cover the entirety of the planet.”
Cassini changes its orbital inclination for such an observing campaign only once every few years. Because the spacecraft uses flybys of Saturn’s moon Titan to change the angle of its orbit, the inclined trajectories require attentive oversight from navigators. The path requires careful planning years in advance and sticking very precisely to the planned itinerary to ensure enough propellant is available for the spacecraft to reach future planned orbits and encounters.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI
The Brain Scoop - Episode 22
Considering how many tours we give to elementary school-aged children, I thought it would be a fun episode to answer some of their questions for a video. My sister is a 4th grade teacher and was more than willing to help out with this episode!
We uploaded this episode last night and I’m pleasantly surprised by the number of comments that are something like, This episode was made for kids but I still learned something. Awesome. Children have a wonderful way of asking questions without feeling embarrassed or with the prerequisite This might be a stupid question…. Fostering that imagination and curiosity is essential to inspiring new generations of scientists!
In his first speech since a bone-marrow transplant at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, astronomer Carl Sagan demonstrated to a Seattle audience the philosopher’s dictum, “That which does not destroy us makes us stronger.”
Though he is temporarily bald and still somewhat gaunt from successful treatment for a precancerous disease called myelodysplasia, a rare life-threatening disease, his mind was as witty and his voice as strong as ever.
Makes me wish he had written more about the internet.
A new image from the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope in Chile shows a beautiful view of clouds of cosmic dust in the region of Orion.
While these dense interstellar clouds seem dark and obscured in visible-light observations, APEX’s LABOCA camera can detect the heat glow of the dust and reveal the hiding places where new stars are being formed.
The image shows the region around the reflection nebula NGC 1999 in visible light, with the APEX observations overlaid in brilliant orange tones that seem to set the dark clouds on fire.
Minimal Posters - Five Great Mathematicians And Their Contributions.
Wood sculptures by Taburin
“This Japanese sculptor carved his niche by carving out an army of clearly accurate dinosaur skeletons entirely out of wood. (…) Extraordinarily detailed, his work is not for sale, sometimes taking several months to complete one species.” paleoartistry
He has taught physics to millions of students through his popular online lectures, always incorporating visual experiments into his lectures to both explain the material and keep the students engaged.
Praise Helium: Praise be unto He, for He is in the heavens, and He is on Earth. | HUMAN
I didn’t find the source to this art, but I did find this t-shirt. Which is equally awesome. Enjoy.
How the brain folds to fit
During fetal development of the mammalian brain, the cerebral cortex undergoes a marked expansion in surface area in some species, which is accommodated by folding of the tissue in species with most expanded neuron numbers and surface area. Researchers have now identified a key regulator of this crucial process.
Different regions of the mammalian brain are devoted to the performance of specific tasks. This in turn imposes particular demands on their development and structural organization. In the vertebrate forebrain, for instance, the cerebral cortex – which is responsible for cognitive functions – is remarkably expanded and extensively folded exclusively in mammalian species. The greater the degree of folding and the more furrows present, the larger is the surface area available for reception and processing of neural information. In humans, the exterior of the developing brain remains smooth until about the sixth month of gestation. Only then do superficial folds begin to appear and ultimately dominate the entire brain in humans. Conversely mice, for example, have a much smaller and smooth cerebral cortex.
“The mechanisms that control the expansion and folding of the brain during fetal development have so far been mysterious,” says Professor Magdalena Götz, a professor at the Institute of Physiology at LMU and Director of the Institute for Stem Cell Research at the Helmholtz Center Munich. Götz and her team have now pinpointed a major player involved in the molecular process that drives cortical expansion in the mouse. They were able to show that a novel nuclear protein called Trnp1 triggers the enormous increase in the numbers of nerve cells which forces the cortex to undergo a complex series of folds. Indeed, although the normal mouse brain has a smooth appearance, dynamic regulation of Trnp1 results in activating all necessary processes for the formation of a much enlarged and folded cerebral cortex.
Levels of Trnp1 control expansion and folding
“Trnp1 is critical for the expansion and folding of the cerebral cortex, and its expression level is dynamically controlled during development,” says Götz. In the early embryo, Trnp1 is locally expressed in high concentrations. This promotes the proliferation of self-renewing multipotent neural stem cells and supports tangential expansion of the cerebral cortex. The subsequent fall in levels of Trnp1 is associated with an increase in the numbers of various intermediate progenitors and basal radial glial cells. This results in the ordered formation and migration of a much enlarged number of neurons forming folds in the growing cortex.
The findings are particularly striking because they imply that the same molecule – Trnp1 – controls both the expansion and the folding of the cerebral cortex and is even sufficient to induce folding in a normally smooth cerebral cortex. Trnp1 therefore serves as an ideal starting point from which to dissect the complex network of cellular and molecular interactions that underpin the whole process. Götz and her colleagues are now embarking on the next step in this exciting journey - determination of the molecular function of this novel nuclear protein Trnp1 and how it is regulated. (Cell 2013) göd