Frost Flowers: "...they are made of such thin sheets of ice, they will melt away as the sun rises higher in the sky. You may get frost flowers again the following day, but unless the conditions are just right the chances are your first glimpse may be your last."
The Translucent Jewel Caterpillar, the Nudibranch of the Forest. Gorgeous caterpillar covered in break-off gumdrops that may help it escape predators. Turns into a bright orange furry moth.
The Nature of Computation - Intellects Vast and Warm and Sympathetic: "I hand you a network or graph, and ask whether there is a path through the network that crosses each edge exactly once, returning to its starting point. (That is, I ask whether there is a 'Eulerian' cycle.) Then I hand you another network, and ask whether there is a path which visits each node exactly once. (That is, I ask whether there is a 'Hamiltonian' cycle.) How hard is it to answer me?" (via) [more inside]
Nature constantly engineers new and creative solutions to all sorts of problems—turning our stereotypes about sex upside-down along the way.
So, uh, apparently Jet Boards are a thing. Maybe you knew this? I did not. At first I just thought that video was kinda neat, and the idea was interesting. Then I looked at their website and found a ton of amazing photos, a lot more SCIENCE! explanations of stuff than I would have expected, and finally this promovideo which features both an endearingly cheesy original themesong, as well as lightning and explosions (GIF!). Soooooooooo yeah. Jet Boards. Apparently invented as early as 1965. Pretty sweet.
Exploring the audible world:
- How Music Works: Melody, Rhythm, Harmony and Bass. (3 hr. UK Channel 4 documentary).
- The Macaulay Library, the world's largest and oldest library of nature recordings.
- The creative process of industrial sound design and 11 sounds threatened with extinction. The technical challenges of broadcasting the sound of sport and the surprises of “real” sound.
- The woman behind the voice of 200 airports.
The Anternet is always up. On the surface, ants and the Internet don't seem to have much in common. But two Stanford researchers have discovered that a species of harvester ants determine how many foragers to send out of the nest in much the same way that Internet protocols discover how much bandwidth is available for the transfer of data. [more inside]
There are fewer microbes out there than you think. New estimate reduces the number of microbes on Earth by around half. [more inside]
First Evidence Found for Photosynthesis in Insects: [nature.com] "The biology of aphids is bizarre: they can be born pregnant and males sometimes lack mouths, causing them to die not long after mating. In an addition to their list of anomalies, work published this week indicates that they may also capture sunlight and use the energy for metabolic purposes."
"I stood staring at the enemy's trophy, the familiar impotent rage rising. But the impulse to fall to my knees, gnash my teeth, and howl at the gods was stayed this time by a resolution I'd made earlier that spring. The squirrels may take my tomatoes and spit them back, but they would not go unanswered. The time had come to close the circle of life." (via)
Using spare chemicals, a laser bought on eBay and angst from a late-night argument, physicists have got the world's first room-temperature microwave laser working. [more inside]
Mark Peters was Albacore hunting off Santa Cruz, with a torpedo-shaped case enclosing a videocamera, and a pod of dolphins showed up. The footage is simply incredible.
The top ten new species 2012 The International Institute for Species Exploration has come up with a list of top ten new species; among them the snub nosed monkey that sneezes when it rains, a wasp that attacks ants in less than 0.05 of a second, and a psychedelic jellyfish. (previously on MeFi)
The Psychologically Ultimate Seashore was the first in the Environments series of records, an early entry in the field of white-noise nature sound albums. One interesting aspect of the albums was that most were designed to be played on a loop at any speed; another was that selections were included on the Voyager Golden Record as "Sounds of the Earth". [more inside]
There is now a live stream of bears gathering to eat salmon at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park. [more inside]
North Americans may have noticed that U-Haul trucks and trailers are emblazoned with colorful SuperGraphics. First created in 1988 (previously), the mobile gallery now comprises 206 images. Most U.S states and Canadian territories and provinces are now honored by multiple designs, as are the U.S. armed forces and 9/11. The classic America and Canada's Moving Adventure series, seen on trucks and trailers, features an iconic image for each state, province and territory. The Venture Across America and Canada series, begun in 1997, presents "carefully researched rare findings, little-known facts and mysteries," exploring science and nature, technology and history. At the U-Haul website, the "Learn More" link on each Venture SuperGraphic page leads to a surprisingly exhaustive discussion of the subject of each graphic. [more inside]
Morton and Vicary on the Categorified Heisenberg Algebra - "In quantum mechanics, position times momentum does not equal momentum times position! This sounds weird, but it's connected to a very simple fact. Suppose you have a box with some balls in it, and you have the magical ability to create and annihilate balls. Then there's one more way to create a ball and then annihilate one, than to annihilate one and then create one. Huh? Yes: if there are, say, 3 balls in the box to start with, there are 4 balls you can choose to annihilate after you've created one but only 3 before you create one..." [more inside]
"A pod of orcas, or killer whales, cooperate to wash a Weddell seal off an ice floe. This sequence, filmed for Frozen Planet, marks the first complete filming of killer whale "wave washing" behavior." [more inside]
Rosemary Mosco is a field naturalist who draws bird & nature comics: "bird and moon" (previously), "ghosts of the northeast woods", "bird sound mnemonics", "birds are gross", "evolution sucks". Her bi-weekly comic strip Wild Toronto ("It cleverly observed and taught us about the animals and plants that live in our city") ran on Torontoist for some months in 2008; she has an illustrated collection of 55-word stories as well (previously mentioned). Her website, flickr, & tumblr.
"Adrian Owen still gets animated when he talks about patient 23. The patient was only 24 years old when his life was devastated by a car accident. Alive but unresponsive, he had been languishing in what neurologists refer to as a vegetative state for five years, when Owen, a neuro-scientist then at the University of Cambridge, UK, and his colleagues at the University of Liège in Belgium, put him into a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and started asking him questions. Incredibly, he provided answers."
Are bias and fraud damaging the existing public trust in scientific and medical research? (previously) [more inside]
Legendary architect-philosopher Christopher Alexander delivers a fascinating lecture at Berkeley, in which he criticizes "modular" design and offers a radical new vision of architecture's relation to nature. Alexander is best known for A Pattern Language, which aimed to make buildings and towns more "alive" through a series of pleasing and comfortable patterns (five sample patterns can be found here). His most recent work, the four-part The Nature of Order, theorizes that life, whether organic or inorganic, emerges from a single simple process, which can be found on page 4 of Amazon's preview of the third volume. In the first volume Alexander lists fifteen properties that make a structure whole. Also worth reading: Alexander's classic essay A City is not a Tree.
The Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska moves less than a foot a day, but thanks to Extreme Ice Survey you can now watch three years of movement happen in just over a minute complete with a glacier expert explaining what you're seeing. You can also watch giant glacier pieces break into the water and many other non-glacial glacier videos. Finally, some info to make you more of a glacier expert yourself.
"Experimental adaptation of an influenza H5 HA confers respiratory droplet transmission to a reassortant H5 HA/H1N1 virus in ferrets." After an extensive, months-long debate, one of two controversial papers showing ways the H5N1 "avian" influenza virus could potentially become transmissible in mammals with only 3 or 4 mutations was published in Nature today. The journal included an editorial on the merits and drawbacks of "publishing risky research" with regard to biosafety. The debate included an unprecedented recommendation by The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to block publication -- a decision they later reversed. (Via: 1, 2) Nature's special report has additional articles, including interviews with the teams behind both papers.
The trend of mathematics and physics towards unification provides the physicist with a powerful new method of research into the foundations of his subject, a method which has not yet been applied successfully, but which I feel confident will prove its value in the future. The method is to begin by choosing that branch of mathematics which one thinks will form the basis of the new theory. One should be influenced very much in this choice by considerations of mathematical beauty.  [more inside]
An Anna's hummingbird on a tiny nest, smaller than an ivy leaf, with two hatchlings therein. Watch it live. [more inside]
Fishbowl, live cam at the Blue Cavern, Aquarium of the Pacific. Live cams at explore.org: Moon jellyfish | tropical reef live cam. [more inside]
Earth Faces 12% Chance of "Catastrophic Solar Megastorm" by 2020 The last gigantic solar storm, known as the Carrington Event, occurred more than 150 years ago and was the most powerful such event in recorded history. [more inside]
City of the Wildcats 1 2: A documentary about the urban kitties of Rome narrated by Sir David Attenborough.
How the zebra came by his stripes. "Why zebras evolved their characteristic black-and-white stripes has been the subject of decades of debate among scientists. Now researchers from Hungary and Sweden claim to have solved the mystery."
Chill to the re-created chirrups of Jurassic crickets.
Cynthia Nixon (of "Sex and the City" fame) told the New York Times last week that she chooses to be gay. Her comments generated a number of responses from gay bloggers, some angry, some not so much, and generated enough heat to be covered by the AP. In today's New York Times, Frank Bruni tries to make sense of it all.
Lancaster, CA employs an innovative method of crime fighting: bird noises.
Nine ways scientists demonstrate they don't understand journalism. Ananyo Bhattacharya, chief online editor of Nature, writes in the Guardian that science journalism will never and should never be what some scientists want it to be. Meanwhile, aggregators like Futurity (previously on MetaFilter) and The Conversation are aiming to let scientists present their findings to the public without mediation through the traditional press. Bhattacharya describes both as "a bit dull." Bhattacharya, previously: "Scientists should not be allowed to copy-check stories about their work."
The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity has asked the journals Nature and Science to publish redacted versions of the studies by two research groups that reportedly created forms of the H5N1 avian flu that could easily jump between ferrets - animals whose response to influenza is similar to humans. [more inside]
"Richard Lewis is director of Durrell's Madagascar programme. Here he speaks about how the team and the local villagers are working to protect the world's rarest tortoise. This includes the drastic measure of "defacing" the beautiful shells in order to make the animals worthless on the black market."
Keeping wildlife, an amphibious rodent, for uh, domestic, you know, within the city — that ain't legal, either. But in the outskirts of Calgary, that's just adorable.
Finding Oregon is the compilation of six months of timelapse photography across the state of Oregon, punctuated by a 1600 mile road trip in September. Related: how to lose $2400 in 24 seconds.
How fairy wasps cope with being smaller than amoebas. They're so small that they lay their eggs inside the eggs of thrips. Their brains are 50 times less complex than houseflies' brains. They're only the third smallest insect! (video) [more inside]
In a room near Maida Vale, a journalist for The Nation wrote around 1914, an unfortunate creature is strapped to the table of an unlicensed vivisector. When the subject is pinched with a pair of forceps, it winces. It is so strapped that its electric shudder of pain pulls the long arm of a very delicate lever that actuates a tiny mirror. This casts a beam of light on the frieze at the other end of the room, and thus enormously exaggerates the tremor of the creature. A pinch near the right-hand tube sends the beam 7 or 8 feet to the right, and a stab near the other wire sends it as far to the left. "Thus," the journalist concluded, "can science reveal the feelings of even so stolid a vegetable as the carrot."
Nature, one of the most well known (and well cited) scientific journals, recently published a humor piece entitled Womanspace. A senior editor of Nature, Henry Gee, commented last month on the article: "I'm amazed we haven't had any outraged comments about this story." Well, the outraged comments have arrived. [more inside]
"The next time you hear a bird chirping outside your window, you might think twice about what’s going on inside his little birdbrain."
Are birds’ tweets grammatical? [Scientific American] But are the rules of grammar unique to human language? Perhaps not, according to a recent study, which showed that songbirds may also communicate using a sophisticated grammar—a feature absent in even our closest relatives, the nonhuman primates. Kentaro Abe and Dai Watanabe of Kyoto University performed a series of experiments to determine whether Bengalese finches expect the notes of their tunes to follow a certain order.