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Postcards from the Planet

Published by Rosalind on 22 Apr 2010

Happy Earth Day!

The most detailed image of our earth to date (credit: NASA)

There’s still (always) a lot of work to be done, but the fortieth celebration of Earth Day is definitely a big moment! Visit Earth Day to find celebrations near you, or just make up your own! For possible actions you can take, try Actions.

Published by Rosalind on 06 Apr 2010

New Money for NASA Studies of Our Earth

As the space shuttle Discovery circles the earth this week , the Obama administration is proposing a 60% rise in funding for NASA to study the earth. One particular focus of study will be carbon dioxide and its effects on the atmosphere — part of the money would pay for a new Orbiting Carbon Observatory. The GRACE satellites, which study gravity, will also be replaced. You can listen to the NPR story here: NASA Slated to Receive Billions of Dollars to Study Earth.

For updates on the Discovery mission, the astronauts, and to find out when Discovery is passing overhead, visit NASA Shuttle and Space Station.

Published by Rosalind on 02 Apr 2010

Monarch Butterfly Update 2010

It hasn’t been a very good winter for Monarchs – bad weather seems to have taken a toll on them. Plan now to plant some milkweed for them and help the population recover. Read an update here: Monarch Butterflies . (Do you know how to tell the sex of Monarchs? The one in the picture is a male – you can tell by the dark spots on the inner wings. Those are the pheromone sacs, part of the way that the males communicate with female butterflies – by smell!)


Published by Rosalind on 03 Mar 2010

Plastic is not so fantastic (in the ocean, anyway)

Plastic Rubbish Blights Atlantic Ocean

After more than 6100 tows of special nets over twenty years, scientists and students from the Sea Education Association have shown that the Atlantic Ocean has its own garbage patch area. Like the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean, the ocean currents collect small bits of plastic and trash, endangering sealife and birds. The maximum “plastic density” found by the researchers was 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometer.

Published by Rosalind on 12 Feb 2010

New Look at Ancient Human (and his earwax)

Researchers led by Eske Willerslev at the University of Copenhagen this week announced the first completed sequencing of the genome of an ancient human. The genetic material came from an ancient clump of hair, collected in Greenland by Danish archeologists in the 1980’s. “From the DNA, we can tell a lot about the individual,” says Willerslev. “He had brown eyes, brown skin, a tendency to baldness, dry earwax, and shovel-shaped front teeth.” The researchers have named him “Inuk,” which means “man” or “human” in Greenlandic. To see a drawing of Inuk and read more about the research, check out this article: Ancient Human Sequenced for First Time.

Published by Diana on 25 Jan 2010

Viruses in our DNA

“The borna virus is at once obscure and grotesque,” starts this New York Times article: Hunting Fossil Viruses in Human DNA. The article continues by describing the effects of the virus: “horses sometimes kill themselves by smashing in their skulls.”

The borna virus is only one fossil virus found in the DNA of every human. Other viruses are retroviruses, which are viruses uses RNA to make DNA, like the HIV virus.

Scientists have only begun to research these fossil viruses, buried deep in our DNA.

Published by Diana on 20 Jan 2010


A Tale of Two Flagella is written by Olivia Judson, one of the best science writers there is.

Dinoflagellates are single-celled organisms that make coral reefs possible; they have a symbiotic–mutually beneficial–relationship with corals that make corals grow faster. Corals with certain kinds of dinoflagellates can cope with warmer water better than corals without them.

But other dinoflagellates are bad news. Ciguatera, a nasty form of poison found in some fish, and parlytic shellfish poisoning, a nasty form of poison found in some shellfish, both are caused by dinoflagellates. Red tides (in which massive numbers of dinoflagellates accumulate rapidly in one area) kill many animals, including dolphins, turtles, and other endangered species.

Dinoflagellates are weird; they can photosynthesize, despite being mobile cells; they have taken over the chloroplasts (the sun-utilizing bodies within the cell) of other organisms. And their DNA is unusual too.

Read the article for more details!

Published by Rosalind on 15 Jan 2010

Earthquake in Haiti

The destructive earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 measured 7.0 on the Richter scale. The earthquake destroyed many buildings in the big city of Port-au-Prince. There have been lots of smaller earthquakes, called aftershocks. The earthquakes are happening on the boundary between the Caribbean plate and the North American plate.

Below you’ll see a map from the United States Geological Survey. Visit Earthquakes for more information on the Haitian earthquake and worldwide earthquakes.

USGS Map of Earthquakes in Haiti over the last week (1/15/2010)

USGS Map of Earthquakes in Haiti over the last week (1/15/2010)

Published by Rosalind on 12 Jan 2010

Winter patterns

This NASA image shows the frozen Yukon River in Alaska.

This NASA image shows the frozen Yukon River in Alaska.

“Nature works in patterns, and one of those patterns is imprinted on the frozen Alaskan landscape in this true-color image from January 11, 2010. Like a winter-bare tree, a network of roots, or the veins, arteries, and capillaries that enclose an organ, the Yukon River branches across the snowy Yukon Delta to the Bering Sea.” As this NASA description says, we often see repeating patterns in nature. The bare branches of trees on a snowy winter day echo the frozen river and its tributaries…

This woodland stream still has enough open water to reflect the trees above.

An icy woodland stream still has enough open water to reflect the trees above.

Published by Rosalind on 10 Jan 2010

EPA issues new standards for Smog – will your county be affected?

Many counties nationwide will find it hard to follow the new rules issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Read a story about it here: New Smog Standards.

You can use the EPA website to find out lots of information about your home town or county. Visit http://www.epa.gov/ and use the “My Environment” search to find out about the place where you live! You can find out about local ozone levels, too, and see how your home county stacks up against other counties across the United States.

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