Killer Brains, Gamma-Ray Fungus, And Octopus Selfies, All In This Week's Sci-Blog

Ahoy Wonkeratti! It's time once again for another horrible Wonkette Sci-Blog. Grasp a flagon of mead and come on in!

Ah, Summer has passed into Fall, Fall is passing into Winter and the Season of Festivals is upon us once more. As the year's harvest is gathered in, everyone prepares for the traditional Winter's feasting and gift-giving celebrations.

Supplies are gathered, the Meal is carefully prepared, all the far-flung spawn travel home to be with the family once again.

Yes, the days of Cephalopodmas are wonderful, indeed.

NASA's remarkable Cassini-Huygens probe, launched on October 15, 1997, completed its primary four-year exploratory mission to the Saturn System in June 2008 and a secondary mission (the Cassini Equinox Mission) in September 2010. Now, the plucky spacecraft is working on the Solstice Mission. It has sent us the most detailed photos yet of what has to be the weirdest storm in the Solar System: Saturn's Polar Hexagon

NASA paid tribute to Nelson Mandela yesterday, releasing a photo of Cape Town, South Africa from the orbiting International Space Station on its social media accounts. Goodby, Mr. Mandela and thank you.

Sad news for skywatchers this week:  ISON, the sungrazing comet that could have become "the comet of the century"disintegrated or was blasted to bare rock during its close solar perihelion passage. It leaves behind several trillion siblings in the Oort cloud and a legion of very sad fans on the Earth.

Are you still looking for that perfect Advent calendar? Well, here's one that's flat-out awesome: 24 hi-res photos from the Hubble Space Telescope. It's a season of wonders, indeed.

It's been a busy Fall for the Wallops Flight Facility, on the beach at Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. On September 6th an USAF-supplied Minotaur V rocket lofted NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer probe towards the Moon. NASA's commercial partner, Orbital Sciences successfully launched its automated Cygnus spacecraft module on a first-ever demonstration resupply mission to the International Space station on September 18th. The US Air Force launched the ORS-3 microsatellite mission on the night of November 19th (carrying a payload of an amazing 29 satellites)and was visible from a large part of the East coast of the US.

The next launch is scheduled for a December 15th -- 17th window and will also be a night launch. If you'd like to see it and you have an Android device, there's an App for that!

Put your pants on! Smile! A Canadian company called UrtheCast is mounting two powerful HD cameras on the International Space Station (ISS). Not to look at the planets, or the stars, nor the Sun. These will be streaming images of the Earth down to a Web feed so that in a few months anyone with an Internet connection can see themselves from space as the ISS passes overhead. Live. In Real Time. Oh, it's free, too. Future, you are here. (But don't worry, Enemy of the State is still fake.)

If you're ever wondered about the origins of the Universe and thought that GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan would be the perfect person to rap a lecture session about it...well, you'll love this:

Hip-Hop and Astrophysics: together at last!

Archaeological researchers in Qatar have found that the earliest known iron artifacts -- 5000 year old cylingrical beads excavated from an Egyptian tomb in 1911 -- were made from meteoric iron and not processed iron ore from the Earth's surface as everyone had thought.

Vairochana, the Cosmic BuddhaOh, you have to see this. The Smithsonian Institution has only about 1% of its entire collection displayed to the general public. So, the Smithsonian's Digitization Program Office is digitally scanning the museum's collections, creating 3-D printed models, rendering them in digital 3-D files and posting them to their website, with the idea of making a significant percentage of all the institution's collection viewable (in 3-D!) online. The Beta-version of the site is called Smithsonian X 3D and is already endlessly fascinating.

Back in Autumn of 2006, researchers on a fairly routine field trip in the waters off Iceland collected a batch of the Ocean Quahog clam Arctica islandica. While they were examining the specimens, they found something astounding: they determined one of the clams to be over 400 years old, making it the world's oldest known single animal and an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records. Amazing, huh? But wait -- ocean scientist Paul Butler, at Bangor University in Wales, looked again with "more refined methods" and found that the clam actually in fact lived for 507 years! A new new World's Record. And now the bivalve-curious must wonder if any older clams are out there waiting to be discovered.

In 1986, a systems test at Unit 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the then Soviet Ukraine quickly went sideways, blowing the containment building's roof and much of the reactor core into the atmosphere and creating the worst nuclear disaster in history. The radiation released was so intensely lethal that the only solution was to bury the shattered remains of Unit 4 in concrete and evacuate the reactor complex, the nearby city of Pripyat and everyone in a 30-kilometer radius of the devastated power facility.

Something weird is happening near the heart of the reactor now, though. Five years ago, a robot sent to check on the structural status of the still highly radioactive remains came out with samples of a black goo that was happily growing on the walls of the reactor room where nothing should be able to survive for long. Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine discovered that it is a type of fungus that -- and this part is truly amazing -- uses the pigment melanin to capture and utilize for metabolism the energy of gamma radiation. This is a similar mechanism to the one used by green plants, which capture and utilize a different spectrum of energy from the Sun. An astounding discovery that really pushes on the boundaries of where we understand living things can be found. Get those monster movie screenplays started!

Dr. James Fallows, a neuroscientist (but not the Atlantic Monthly guy), was looking at PET scans of serial killers brains, looking for signature anatomical patterns that all sociopaths should have in common. He had scans of killers, schizophrenics, depressives, and putatively normal brains all mixed in too, and a separate stack for an Alzheimer's Disease study he was conducting. He looked down at the Alzheimer photo stack and recognized a brain image that was pathological -- an obvious sociopath. The patient records were sealed, but he had to know. Some of his family were in there. He opened up the file and looked at the name. It was his own. And the calls were coming from inside the house.

Here is your 2014 Calender of Climate Models. Boring, you say? Oh, my -- Not at all!

The data's in. This past spring was Australia's warmest on record, climate data indicate. They've elected an extractive industry friendly Teabagger-style government just in time so we don't have to worry about that Global Warming nonsense anymore.

Dolphins are trying to tell us something. And we're not gonna like it. If we even bother listening, that is. At least they appreciated all the fish.

Scientists, fishermen, environmentalists and (some) politicians aren't the only ones that are nervous about CO2 -- driven ocean acidification. The fish are noticing, too. And they're getting very nervous indeed.

It turns out that sharks are so much more complex than the simplistic swimming/eating machines they're normally portrayed as. Scientists from the Field Museum of Natural History tracked Lemon sharks through the waters of the Bahamas for 17 years and found that the females ready to give birth try to find their way back to the place they were born.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary folks, Science is the Most Popular Word searched (the bad news: everyone's looking up the definition *sob*.) The Oxford Dictionaries' Word of the Year for 2013 is "Selfie". So, for your Cephalopod of the Day, here is one of the only known instances of an Octopus taking a Selfie:

Cheers, everyone! Remember, there's only a few more days of Sanity until Cephalopodmas!


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