By carefully studying evidence ranging from the composition of asteroids to the microwave radiation emitted from deep space, scientists have traced the history of the universe back 13.7 billion years to a single, massively explosive event called the Big Bang. This year at The Naturalist's Notebook— "A place for everyone who's even a little curious about the last 13.7 billion years (give or take)," as we like to say—we will celebrate our own Big Bang Year.
The 2013 calendar conveniently makes the first full month of the Notebook season (July) a universally appropriate date: '13.7. Despite the foot-and-a-half of snow currently burying our little century-old building in Seal Harbor, we have already begun transforming the three floors of the Notebook into an environment that will embody the last 13.7 billion years. In the months ahead, through the blog, we will take you on a 13.7-billion-year journey through the Big History of Our Life. Each blog will offer a snapshot of a different era in the universe's history, building up to the opening of our 2013 season.
Stay tuned...and here's hoping that your 2013 is a Big Bang year too.
Global Update We're happy to report that, according to WordPress, people in 153 countries read The Naturalist's Notebook blog during 2012. That group represents more than three-quarters of the nations on Earth.
Unlucky '13? Nah. The year 2013 may seem hard to size up in advance—there's no U.S. Presidential election, no Olympics, no other globally galvanizing event on the calendar—but we know at least two things: It won't lack for noteworthy anniversaries (April 1: the 65th anniversary of the Big Bang theory first being proposed, by Russian-born American physicist and cosmologist George Gamow and his associates in an article in Physical Review!) and, despite the worries of triskaidekahobics, it won't be cursed by any supernatural force.
In analyzing why people have an irrational fear of the number 13, National Geographic interviewed Donald Dossey, founder of a phobia institute in Asheville, N.C. Here's the story:
"Dossey traces the fear of 13 to a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party at Valhalla, their heaven," according to Nat Geo. "In walked the uninvited 13th guest, the mischievous Loki. Once there, Loki arranged for Hoder, the blind god of darkness, to shoot Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow.
" "Balder died and the whole Earth got dark. The whole Earth mourned. It was a bad, unlucky day,' said Dossey. From that moment on, the number 13 has been considered ominous and foreboding."
By the way, mathematicians actually refer to 13 as a "happy number." To determine whether a number is happy, add the square of its digits, then add the square of that number's digits, and continue the process until the result is either 1 (meaning your original number is happy) or a repeating pattern that doesn't include 1 (meaning your original number is, in mathematical terms, unhappy).
Here's why 13 is a happy number: 1 squared (1) plus 3 squared (9) equals 10. Now repeat the process using 10: 1 squared (1) plus 0 squared (0) equals 1. And as you now know, every 1 is happy!
Thirteen also happens to be one of the Fibonacci sequence of numbers (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 ...and so on, with each number equal to the sum of the previous two numbers). As we've described here before, those very cool numbers correspond to many patterns in nature, including the number of spirals on pine cones and pineapples.
Top Science Stories of 2012 (Cont.) We continue our countdown of the 100 biggest science stories of the past year, as chosen by the editors of Discover magazine:
79: India's passing the U.S. to become the world's No. 1 source of e-mail spam. "Indian computers distribute a sixth of the roughly 100 billion junk emails sent daily," reports Discover.
78: New telescope images revealing that Uranus, previously though to be what Discover calls "a featureless blue-green ball," in fact has stormy, constantly changing weather and clouds that are 360 degrees below zero. The magazine notes that sunlight on Uranus is only one-900th as strong as sunlight on Earth.
77: The expanded use of commercial "element-analysis" technology to determine the behavior of extinct animals. It showed, for example, that 25-ton diplodocus dinosaurs living 150 million years ago fueled themselves by gobbling leaves off trees and swallowing them whole.
76: The creation of 3-D digital images of large, heavy dinosaur bones by a team at Drexel University in Philadelphia, to enable scientists to more easily explore how the bones fit together and worked.
75:The unearthing in northeast China of three specimens of the first large dinosaur ever found to have sported feathers.Yutyrannus, a relative of Tyrannosaurus rex, was nearly 30 feet long and weighed 1.5 tons. The dinosaur couldn't fly; according to Discover, its feathers may have served to keep the animal warm during the relatively cool Early Cretaceous period 125 million years ago.
74: The discovery of a previously unnoticed, basketball-sized, gel-filled, sensory organ inside the jaws of certain baleen whales. The organ enables the whales to better coordinate their mouth movements when gulping down vast quantities of food (and sea water) when lunge feeding. It may explain why blue and humpback whales have become so large.
73: The first picture ever taken of the shadow cast by a single atom, by physicist Dave Kielpinski of Griffith University in Australia. The image was 450 nanometers across, less than one-100th the width of a human hair.
72: The discovery of a treatment that, at least in test mice, eliminates the distorted proteins that cause Huntington's Disease, a condition that causes neurons in the brain to waste away. It is possible that human trials on an anti-Huntington's treatment could begin within the next five years.
71: Evidence that the heavy use of antibiotics on factory farms may be causing pigs to develop dangerous strains of bacteria that can be spread to humans and are resistant to antibiotics.
70: The composing, by a computer designed in Spain, of a 13-minute contemporary music work so good that the London Philharmonic Orchestra made a recording of it.
A Look at America's Prairies Today I came across a good blog post written by Cathy Bell, who is a ranger at Badlands National Park. Click on the link below to read Cathy's take on the worrisome ecological state of America's prairies and on appreciating the Badlands of South Dakota. http://cathybell.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/from-prairies-to-cornfields/
Answer to the Last Puzzler Here are the unscrambled words taken from science and nature:
1) selaws = weasel 2) nogar = argon (or organ) 3) ugaain = iguana 4) pelectoes = telescope
Today's Puzzler Complete this sentence:
No human ever looked at the sky through a telescope until: a) 1486 b) 1608 c) 1792 d) 1911