Tag Archives: Element

The Weirdest Places On Earth

Other than your basement, I mean.

What? Come on, it was a joke, dude. Just a joke.

Okay, fine. I take it back.

What I’m not taking back, though, is that the Sierra Club has gone and collected up some of the most astonishing, strangest, oddest, weirdest places on Earth. And then went and took pictures of them.

Most of these places I’ve never even heard of. Now I’m afraid my life won’t be complete without going to see some of these and wandering around for a while.

Seriously, how could you not see a picture of this and not want to go there?slide1

Answer: You couldn’t not. Er. Um, what I mean to say is that of course you want to go.

That’s Fly Geyser, which sits about 10 miles away from the site of the annual Burning Man festival. Burning Man is a countercultural arts festival held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. The Fly Geyser was accidentally formed in 1916 when folks were drilling for water. They found it. Scalding hot water about 200 degrees F. They plugged the hole and tried to forget about it. Until someone tried to drill again and again found scalding water.This time, the water wouldn’t be blocked. It started coming to the surface, bringing along with it lots of minerals, which started accreting.

This one, though, is less manmade and more just man-nificent. Sorry about that pun. Couldn’t help myself. Anyway, slide2this is Blood Falls, which is in Antarctica. As you might have guessed, the deal here is that there’s a trickle of highly iron-rich water headed down Taylor Glacier into West Bonney Lake. On exposure to the oxygen in our atmosphere, the iron gets oxidized (rusted) and turns red.

See what I mean?

This stuff is just plain awesome. I would love to head out to Blood Falls, if only to soak in the ambiance to make the story even better. Blood of giants, long dead, staining the very ground upon which they once trod. Yeah, that’s the good stuff.

And all I have to do to get there is head to Antarctica. No worries there, dudes. No worries.

Before I head out, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t give you dudes a picture of this. It’s Mono Lake in California, but I like to think of it as the Drip Castle of the Gods.

It also has an interesting history, weird in and of itself.

At first glance, California’s Mono Lake seems eerily barren. Twisting limestone pinnacles, called tufa towers, line slide3its shores, some reaching heights of over 30 feet. Tufa towers grow only underwater, but Los Angeles’ diversion of Mono Lake’s tributary streams beginning in 1941 exposed the gnarled formations. Mono Lake, which is at least 760,000 years old, has no outlet to the ocean, causing salt to accumulate and create harsh alkaline conditions. Yet, oddly enough, Mono Lake hosts a flourishing ecosystem based on tiny brine shrimp, which feed the more than 2 million migratory birds that nest there each year.

In 2010, NASA astrobiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon reported discovering bacteria in Mono Lake’s arsenic sediments that could incorporate the toxic element into their DNA instead of phosphorous, normally a key building block of the double helix. For the most part, the new species’ weirdness survived the scrutiny of two 2012 studies that debunked Wolfe-Simon’s findings. Their conclusion? Mono Lake’s “alien” bacteria do need phosphorous, but at surprisingly low amounts.

You dudes should pop on over to the Sierra Club’s site and check out the rest of the photos. Then get on the horn to your travel agent and start booking.

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Not Just A Boring Hole In The Ground

This.

This right here. It’s really not just a boring hole in the ground. It’s a boring hole in the ground. . . on Mars!

As you should know, we sent the Curiosity rover up to Mars a while back and used a jet-assisted aerial crane to lower the rover to the surface of the planet. Which was the epitome of cool, the apex of awesome.

Now Curiosity is doing what it’s supposed to be doing: It’s roving the surface of Mars and conducting some rather remarkable scientific experiments. And just last week it did something no other object of person has ever done. Curiosity went and drilled a hole on another planet.

Sure it’s probably the most boring-sounding bit of awesome ever, but it’s the last bit, the another planet bit that makes it top out on the awesometer.

Just look at this thing.

minidrill

Curiosity is doing all the drilling so it can grab some of the previously unexposed rocks and begin chemically evaluating them, subjecting them to laser analysis and stuff like that.

We’re looking for evidence that there once was free water on the surface of Mars and to answer the age-old question: Was there ever life on Mars beyond tiny single-celled organisms?

And were they cold, calculating intellects looking on the planet Earth with disdain and longing?

Odds are, probably no.

Still, I just can’t get enough of the supremely cool pictures that Curiosity keeps sending back from Mars. We can look at the pictures and see that it’s only a dry, rocky soil with a slightly reddish hue. No big dealie.

Until we remember just how that picture was taken, where it was taken and what it had to go through to get back to us.

I made sure to download this picture to my phone. I’ve got a group of students at Awesome Elementary School who are doing research reports on the solar system. I showed this picture to one of the students there and she simply shrugged her shoulders until I explained where the picture came from. Then she was riveted and called over some of her friends to take a look.

To stare at a picture taken on another planet, by looking into the slab of technology I pulled from my pocket and used to display photographs.

Truly, we’re living in a remarkable age. I only wish it were a little later in said age so I could take advantage of it. Yes, dudes, I’m still whining about not getting a chance to walk on an alien planet.

Until I can stop whining and actually accomplish my dream, I’ll keep seeking out these sorts of pictures and staring at them in wonder and awe.

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Moral Choices: Fin

by Richard

No matter how hard we try, we don’t always make the right moral choice.

Who among us dudes can say you have never kept that extra bit of change the cashier accidentally gave you? Never snuck into a movie? Never lied to someone just because it would make your life easier? Never disposed of that drifter’s bloody remains by chopping them up into smaller pieces and feeding them to the hungry gators in the nearby swamp? Well, possibly not that last one, but I think you get my point.

We’ve all got stuff in our past we’re not so proud of.

Which begs the question: How do you deal with it?

If you’re like most dudes, you basically lie to yourself. In a manner of speaking.

Most dudes, when asked to think about their moral character, will rate themselves as morally superior to the next person, overestimate the odds that they’ll act virtuously in the future, count their own moral actions as praiseworthy while discounting the actions of others, and soften their moral stance when asked to do something truly heinous, like fire people who don’t deserve to be let go.

Now, scientists are beginning to learn how memory assists and amplifies this righteous self-messaging. In piecing together a life story, the mind nudges moral lapses back in time and shunts good deeds forward, these studies suggest – creating, in effect, a doctored autobiography.

Recognizing this tendency in oneself, psychologists say, can reduce the risk of lapsing into middle-aged sanctimony and increase moral vigilance for when it matters most: the present.

“We can’t make up the past, but the brain has difficulty placing events in time, and we’re able to shift elements around,” said Anne Wilson, a social psychologist at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. “The result is that we can create a personal history that, if not perfect, makes us feel we’re getting better and better.”

That’s cool, yeah? Turns out we try to make a better us in the present by doctoring ourselves and our actions in the past. Or at least our memory of those actions. I like to think this falls under the heading of if you act nice once, you’re more likely to act nice later. We think of ourselves as good people in the past, so we are more likely to act nice in the present and the future.

The researchers identified a pattern: People dated memories of moral failings about 10 years earlier, on average, than memories of good deeds, according to Jessica Escobedo, co-author of the paper with Ralph Adolphs.

“The main finding is that if I ask you to tell me about a positive moral memory, you’ll tell me something recent,” Escobedo said. “If I ask you to tell me about bad moral memory, you’re going to give me something from much further in the past.”

This, I think, speaks to our need to find or create a narrative from life. We like to think of ourselves as improving, getting better all the time. But we can’t do that if we remember bumping that dude out of the way for no reason last week. If it was two months ago, however, and we gave money to a panhandler in the meantime, well, then we’re getting better.

This tendency to rearrange our personal narrative is something I think we need to watch out for. It’s nice to have a smoothly flowing line of improvement, but I don’t think we’re really improving if we don’t be honest with ourselves.

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