In the place of the contemporary conception of God, a personal God, God as a Spirit, God as a Being, Triune, or even a unitary God, the conception of a holy law of evolution will emerge.... The thought of pure materialism cannot satisfy; we need something that will meet our desire for imagination and that does not contradict serious and honest thought. We have this in the conception of a holy law of evolution, a concept, which we piously call Providence
07/29/2005 Update on young Enceladus has just reported: go to 7/14/2005 story and read about the new claim of icy volcanos!
New Planet Discovered Beyond Pluto; Another Has a Moon 07/30/2005
Since so many Kuiper Belt objects have been discovered in the last couple of decades, this is not quite the big news it might have been; still, new planets have historically been considered spectacular discoveries. Uranus launched William Herschel to fame in the late 18th century, and Neptune led to a well-known priority dispute between Adams and Leverrier in the the 19th. Clyde Tombaughs discovery of Pluto in 1930 was a monumental task of searching through photographic plates. Now, we know there are many other rocky bodies out there beyond Neptune and far past Pluto. Having a 10th planet will certainly change the textbooks and might turn out to be one of those historical announcements you will tell your grandchildren about. Just hope they dont name it Darwin or Huxley or something. (After Pluto, is another Disney character in the lineup?)Darwins Complete Writings to Be Posted on Internet 07/29/2005
Cambridge University is planning to post online tens of thousands of pages of the complete works of Charles Darwin and the people who influenced him, reported Nigel Williams in Current Biology.1
1Nigel Williams, Darwin on the web, Current Biology, Vol 15, R530, 26 July 2005.
Bad news for the Darwin Party. What will they do when his racist writings become public (09/13/2002), and the world can see exposed his connivances with the Four Musketeers to shut off opposition to his little black book? (See 10/24/2002 and 01/06/2004 entries). What will they do when the intelligent design movement puts links everywhere to their favorite quote? A fair result can only be obtained by balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question. Great idea by Cambridge. Now Charlie can be caught in his own web.Tailpipe Soot: Can It Live? 07/28/2005
Better stay clear of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). They come out of your tailpipe and furnace, line your chimney, and generally are products of unhealthy processes like industrial waste and cigarette smoke. According to Environment Canada, PAHs are a concern because some of them can cause cancers in humans and are harmful to fish and other aquatic life. So why the joy from the Spitzer Space Telescope team?
Robert Roy Britt explains from Space.com: The discovery of organic molecules, called hydrocarbons, shows that the raw materials for life were present long before our solar system formed. The JPL press release claims, Using Spitzer, scientists have detected organic molecules in galaxies when our universe was one-fourth of its current age of about 14 billion years. These large molecules, known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are comprised of carbon and hydrogen. The molecules are considered to be among the building blocks of life. Universe Today picked up on the L word with its title, Ingredients of Life 10 Billion Light-Years Away, and so did New Scientist, Lifes ingredients found in early universe.
It takes a desperate Darwin junky to get high on tailpipe exhaust. They should be weeping over their sins, seeing complex advanced molecules far too early for their cosmological models, but what are they doing instead? Hallucinating with poison, making deadly molecules come alive in their imaginations. How and when did science ever sink to this level? Hydrogen is a building block of life, for goodness sake, and so are electrons. Do we conclude that we have found the building blocks of life in a CRT? Publicists go out of their way to put the L word in any cosmological story because they think its sexier and will attract the public attention. If so, the Great Unwashed have only themselves to blame for giving birth to new suckers every minute. Actually, they probably dont even read this stuff. The problem is with the Washed on the outside but not on the inside.Cells High-Fidelity Proofreading and Editing Explained 07/26/2005
Its unusual to have a story win both Amazing and Dumb awards simultaneously, but the reason will become clear.ed.)
Luisa Cochella and Rachel Green (Johns Hopkins) have published a primer on Fidelity in Protein Synthesis in Current Biology.1 This is a good article for cell biology enthusiasts to read, to learn more about the methods cells employ to translate DNA into proteins without making mistakes: how they perform proofreading, editing and quality control, the molecular machines that are involved, and the remarkable optimization levels they achieve between the competing constraints of accuracy, efficiency and speed. These processes increase the fidelity of translation over simple base-pairing by up to 100,000 times, even working rapidly so that vital cell processes are not delayed by too much inspection. The authors describe strategies used by translation machines, the amazing family of aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases, the ribosomes, and more. They use the word fidelity 18 times and high fidelity five of those.
Despite their contribution in helping readers of the magazine appreciate the wonders of high fidelity translation in the cell, they win the Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week award for their opening two sentences: The flow of genetic information from DNA to RNA to protein constitutes the basis for cellular life. DNA replication, transcription and translation, the processes through which information transfer occurs, are the result of millions of years of evolution during which they have achieved levels of accuracy and speed that make modern life possible (emphasis added in all quotes).
1Luisa Cochella and Rachel Green, Fidelity in protein synthesis, Current Biology, Vol 15, R536-R540, 26 July 2005.
Did that little paean to evolution warm your bosom? More importantly, did it contribute one whit to this article? Cochella and Green, bless their Darwinista hearts, have illustrated again the freakish juxtaposition of intelligence and nonsense that characterizes evolutionary jargon. It seems like a kind of schizophrenia or mystery religion to the uninitiated to hear high fidelity, quality control, optimization, genetic code and other design words ascribed to mindless processes of evolution. Do they explain how this incredible system evolved? Of course not; being brainwashed materialists, they just assume it had to, so it did.Brain Is Faster Than the Blink of an Eye 07/26/2005
You blink about every 4-6 seconds, says David Burr in Current Biology,1 adding to over 17,000 blinks a day. Each time the world goes black for 100 to 150 milliseconds, as the eyelids attenuate the light a hundredfold. Why dont we see the world like a flickering movie? We generally perceive an uninterrupted stream of visual information. It turns out that there is a synchronized interlock between the blink response and the visual cortex of the brain, such that the brain temporarily suppresses vision during each blink.
To find this out, a team of scientists in London, also publishing in Current Biology,2 repeated a 25-year-old ingenious experiment, but this time added functional MRI imaging on the brain. They made the retina see continuous light by shining it up the palate of test subjects wearing lightproof goggles, then watched how the brain reacted during blinks, even though the light seen by the retina (through the mouth) was continuous. Sure enough, the brain anticipated each blink by suppressing the visual cortex during the blink. This means that we dont see the dark; when we blink, the brain just skips the interruption. See also the summary on EurekAlert.
1David Burr, Vision: In the Blink of an Eye, Current Biology, Vol 15, R554-R556, 26 July 2005.
2Bristow et al., Blinking Suppresses the Neural Response to Unchanging Retinal Stimulation, Current Biology, Vol 15, 1296-1300, 26 July 2005.
While this feat was evolving, we wonder if it was like the early fighter planes trying to shoot machine guns through the propeller. Until engineers figured out how to synchronize the firing between the propeller blades, how many test pilots shot themselves down? (Uh, whoops....) How many cheetahs in a full gallop had to learn to coordinate their attacks when the lights were on, till they got frustrated and sent their brains back to Tinker Bells workshop for an upgrade?Life on Mars and Titan? 07/26/2005
Life has not been found on Mars, but some scientists, according to National Geographic News, are worried that we are contaminating the planet with Earth germs that will make the search for Martians more difficult. Speaking of Mars, a report in Science Now claims that Mars rarely got above freezing in its entire history.
The life-on-Mars angle is not news, but life on Titan? Sure enough, two astrobiologists, according to New Scientist, are claiming there might be faint evidence for life on the frozen moon of Saturn among the barbecue lighter fluid (see 04/25/2005 entry). Based on initial chemical analysis from the Huygens Probe (see 01/21/2005 and 01/15/2005 stories), Chris McKay and Heather Smith think something might be feasting on gas. They think the microbes would breathe hydrogen rather than oxygen, and eat organic molecules drifting down from the upper atmosphere, especially energy-rich acetylene, according to the report. Better keep that oxygen from Saturns rings away (see 02/28/2005 entry), or the whole moon might blow like a torch. That produces some follow-up speculations. Would such an event cook the life well done? If a barbecue happens with no one around to eat it, is there really a taste?
McKay ought to know better. He knows chemistry, and he knows thermodynamics. If life is information made flesh (see 06/25/2005 article), where is he going to import that ingredient? Astrobiologists are going to lose their last smidgeon of credibility totally if they keep pushing the myth that life just happens everywhere just because they need to justify their careers. Honesty is the best policy.Do Butterflies Evolve Via Team Stripes? 07/25/2005
A BBC News story is claiming that butterflies split into competing teams when differences in their wing patterns emerge. Based on a paper in Nature,1 this is supposed to be an example of a rarely-observed mechanism for speciation, called reinforcement: in this case, These wing colours apparently evolved as a sort of team strip, allowing butterflies to easily identify the species of a potential mate. Why is this newsworthy? Julianna Kettlewell explains, Given our planets rich biodiversity, speciation clearly happens regularly, but scientists cannot quite pinpoint the driving forces behind it (emphasis added in all quotes).
The authors of the paper are careful to describe their hypothesis of reinforcement as merely a suggestion: Therefore, although we cannot distinguish at what level (intraspecific or interspecific) reinforcement has operated, our comparative study demonstrates that natural selection against maladaptive matings is likely to have caused widespread divergence in pre-zygotic isolating characters between sympatric species of Agrodiaetus, and could have led to speciation.
1Lukhtanov et al., Reinforcement of pre-zygotic isolation and karyotype evolution in Agrodiaetus butterflies, Nature 436, 385-389 (21 July 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03704.
Ironic that Julianna Kettlewell has the same surname as the infamous researcher of peppered moths (see 06/25/2004 entry). This article doesnt improve much on evolutionary storytelling. Who is asking how or why the little flying bugs developed team spirit? Can they even see their own wing patterns, let alone care whether that attractive, sweet-smelling female over there has identical strips? Seems to be another case of imputing human aesthetic values on bugs. As long as were speculating about butterfly fashion fads, why wouldnt they just as easily be saying, vive la difference?What Is Really Known About the Genetic Basis of Evolution? 07/25/2005
Now that the genomes of a variety of plants and animals have been published, is there a clear picture of evolution emerging? Sean Carroll (Howard Hughes Medical Institute) wrote a review in PLoS Biology,1 in which he explored the current thinking about the evolution of anatomy at the genetic level. The thing to watch for in this article is evidence that evolutionary processes at the genetic level can produce complex, novel structures: innovations such as eyes, new organs, new body plans and the like. Carrolls article can be considered a kind of State of the Evolutionary Theory Address on this question. Confident that evolutionists are on the right track, Carroll nonetheless admits that much is puzzling, and that a coherent theory is yet to be discovered.
The picture is much more complicated now than the old neo-Darwinian idea that beneficial mutations in genes would be passed on to offspring, producing net changes over time. Thirty-five years ago, Susumi Ohno suggested that, instead, gene duplication might be the primary source of beneficial variation. Four years later, Allan King and Mary-Claire King suggested that changes in gene regulation might be more important than genetic mutations alone in driving the evolution of anatomy. These ideas were both due to the observation that the small degree of molecular divergence observed could not account for the anatomical or behavioral differences between chimps and humans.
Since those early days of comparative genomics, three molecular mechanisms have become candidates for the evolution of anatomy: (1) gene duplication and divergence, (2) regulatory element expansion, and (3) isoform evolution (new exon and splicing sites in genes that create the potential for alternative forms of a protein to be made). One genetic phenomenon that complicates evolutionary change is pleiotropy: the multiple effects of single variations (see 03/31/2004 and 03/17/2003 entries). This is the law of unintended consequences, so to speak; a mutation that might benefit one tissue could wreak havoc in another and therefore antagonize evolution by being selected against. The three mechanisms listed above must, therefore, provide compartmentation against the damaging effects of antagonistic pleiotropy for the evolution of anatomy to proceed:
The three mechanisms gene duplication, regulatory sequence expansion and diversification, and alternative protein isoform expression accomplish essentially the same general resultthey increase the sources of variation and minimize the pleiotropy associated with the evolution of coding sequences. The global question of the genetic basis of the evolution of form then boils down to the relative contribution of gene duplication, regulatory sequence evolution, and the evolution of coding sequences, over evolutionary time. I will first examine what is known about the role of regulatory sequences and then discuss the contributions of coding sequences and gene duplication to the evolution of anatomy. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Having set the stage, Carroll examines the potential for each of these factors for explaining the evolution of anatomy:
Any statements or claims, then, about the genetic changes that make us human must be weighed critically in light of the power and limitations of the methodology employed, and the scope of the hypotheses being tested. While it is understandable that some biologists have reached for the low-hanging fruit of coding sequence changes, the task of unraveling the regulatory puzzle is yet to come.In conclusion, Carroll makes the case that considering what we now know, regulatory sequence evolution should be the primary hypothesis considered. Thats going to be difficult, because it is impossible to distinguish meaningless from functional changes by mere inspection i.e., what was formerly considered junk DNA (see 07/15/2005 entry), with its repetitions and apparent pseudogenes, is going to be more difficult to interpret than the coding regions. But the task is clear: In order to approach the origins of human traits, much greater emphasis has to be placed on comparative studies of gene expression, regulation, and development in apes and other primates. Thirty years after King and Wilson predicted the importance of gene regulation, his concluding sentence indicates the work has not yet begun: This is precisely the requirement forecast by King and Wilson 30 years ago, only now we have the means to meet it.
1Sean Carroll, Evolution at Two Levels: On Genes and Form, Public Library of Science: Biology, 3:7, July 2005. This article is based on the Allan Wilson Memorial Lectures, UC Berkeley, Oct. 2004.
2Carroll also mentions how differences in Hox gene expression are associated with large-scale differences in axial patterning in vertebrates, arthropods, and annelids, but this assumes evolution rather than demonstrating it.
If you thought Charlie had figured this all out 146 years ago, wake up and smell the bitter coffee. Here we have The Theory of Evolution, that rock-solid foundation for all of law, ethics, philosophy, art, science, education and even religion, so secure that no student in public school should ever be allowed to hear anything else, and now they tell us that everything you thought you knew about it was wrong, and the biologists have to start over. This can make one mad enough to spit the bitter coffee back into the face of the Darwin Party waiter who handed it to us and said there was nothing else to drink.Michael Ruse Balances the Scales in Creation-Evolution Conflict 07/22/2005
Sahotra Sarkar seems in a bit of dilemma about how to treat Michael Ruses new book, The Evolution-Creation Struggle (Harvard, 2005). In his review of the book in Science,1 Sarkar knew that Ruse is an important ally in the fight against intelligent design (see 02/18/2003 entry), but he seemed a little bit put off by Ruses distinction between evolution and evolutionism. Ruse is brazen in his claim that most evolutionists have made a religion out of the theory. Sarkar begins,
In this timely book, Michael Ruse interprets the last 200 years of conflict between biology and religion as a struggle between evolutionism and creationism. Evolutionism is not merely an endorsement of the scientific theory of evolution. It consists of the whole metaphysical or ideological picture built around or on evolution, including a belief in progress and attempts to reduce cultural and ethical values to evolutionary biology. As such, it constitutes a secular religion. Thus, for Ruse (a philosopher of science at Florida State University), the debate over creationism is more a conflict between two religions than one between religion and science. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Since such a position seems to discredit the natural scientists endeavors to investigate the evolutionary roots of ethics and behavior, including altruism and sexual mores, Sarkar appears to take issue with this claim, but only with kid gloves. Most of his review is a dispassionate discussion of the contents of the book with only minor criticisms about omissions or misplaced emphases. For instance, look how he describes Ruses depiction of evolutionary theory in the 19th and early 20th century as more religious rhetoric than sound science:
The Enlightenment offered a vision of progress based on human effort. The emerging pre-Darwinian views of evolution (such as those of Erasmus Darwin, Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, and Robert Chambers), although hardly professional science, co-opted this vision in their accounts of organic change.Nothing but objective reporting so far. But then, Sarkar gets a little riled when Ruse depicts the cult of progress continuing unabated through the formation of neo-Darwinian theory in the 1930s and beyond:
On Ruses account, evolution became a professional science following the modern synthesis of the late 1920s and 1930s. Ruse argues, though not very convincingly, that the architects of the synthesis continued to uphold an ideology of progress and endorse evolutionism. He ignores the fact that, with the exception of R. A. Fisher, these architects largely rejected attempts to deploy evolution in the political arena. (Some, such as J. B. S. Haldane, whom Ruse ignores, often explicitly rejected progress.) Ruses sketch of contemporary evolutionary theory is also idiosyncratic, with sociobiology presented as that theorys most significant achievement. Because the sociobiologists W. D. Hamilton and Edward O. Wilson are the heroes of this story, Ruse claims that contemporary evolutionary biology endorses evolutionism and not merely evolution.That seems too much to take. Yet Sarkar is careful not to alienate his ally. While finding something to praise, he gently scolds Ruse for providing only an unfortunate whimper instead of a triumphant charge to inspire the pro-evolution scientists in their battles against creationists:
The final chapters of The Evolution-Creation Struggle turn all too briefly to the contemporary debates over creationism. Ruse offers a short and cogent critique of intelligent design that concentrates on its failure to spawn any serious scientific research.2 But the book ends with an unfortunate whimper: we are told that we should try to understand the other side; we are not told how Ruses understanding of that side will help us prevent the reintroduction of religion in our science classes.
1Sahotra Sarkar, Evolution and Religion: Seeing Similarities, Science, Vol 309, Issue 5734, 560 , 22 July 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1115782]. For another review, see the 05/06/2005 entry.
2For contrary evidence, see the 06/25/2005 entry.
Wow: this is quite telling. Michael Ruse seems to be evolving toward rapprochement with I.D. with each new book. Although he has been adamant against the cult of progress for quite awhile (see 06/12/2003 commentary), he is making even more startling claims now: (1) most historical evolutionists were more religious than scientific in their embrace of the cult of progress; (2) evolutionism is just as religious as Christianity, (3) the religion of evolutionism continues to the present day, and (4) evolutionists need to understand the other side. Point (1) is clear to any halfway objective historian of science and should not be all that controversial. But points 2, 3, and 4, though flimsy concessions from a creationist view, are almost fighting words to an evolutionist.A Day in the Life of an Evolutionary Biologist 07/21/2005
Meet Dr. Judith X. Becerra. She is an expert on plants of Mexico. Her latest research strove to determine the rate of evolutionary diversification of a genus of trees with a name similar to her own surname: Bursera. These trees inhabit a range of biomes in the tropical dry forests of Mexico and are well adapted to the local conditions.
Dr. Becerra divided the groupings of Bursera into 10 geographical regions then performed molecular comparisons to produce a phylogenetic tree of the genus. She concluded that the crown group began to diversify about 60 million years ago, slowly at first, then radiated more rapidly into additional species as the mountains were forming, but before the Baja Peninsula broke off, floated away, and reattached to the mainland. She deduced that the most rapid diversification occurred between 30 and 7.5 million years ago, with a peak at 13.5 mya mostly in 5 of the 10 geographical areas. Since then, the rate of diversification has slowed to a crawl, in her opinion because the opportunity for diversification of Bursera has declined as the possibilities for further geographical expansion of the tropical dry forest have declined.
Her results were written up and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.1
1Judith X. Becerra, Evolution: Timing the origin and expansion of the Mexican tropical dry forest, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0409127102, published online before print July 20, 2005.
What follows is not to be taken in any way as a disparagement of Dr. Becerra and her efforts. Unless proven otherwise (which seems highly unlikely), we should assume her a bright, active, diligent scientist, respected among peers, fulfilling her career as an evolutionary biologist with exemplary field work and analysis. Her paper looks like standard research fare, complete with dozens of references, graphs, diagrams, equations, and all that would be expected in a scientific paper. She made observations, proposed a hypothesis, tested it, and made conclusions. Who could possibly criticize such a constructive enterprise, undertaken simply with the desire to shed light on the history of a particular group of plants?Lung Link to Dinos and Birds Disputed 07/21/2005
Carl Wieland at AIG has given a creationist response to the widely-publicized claim last week that dinosaurs breathed like birds (see Live Science and News@Nature).
Creationists are good for evolutionists. Otherwise, who would keep their rampant speculations in check? If evolutionists were really interested in truth, they would welcome debate over interpretations of evidence from anyone who argues with sound logic, integrity and respect for the brute facts. Since the scientific establishment will not even consider any opinion coming from outside the Darwin cheerleaders club, its up to individuals to hear both sides and judge who is providing the better interpretation.Computer Model Claims Lucy Walked Upright 07/20/2005
A computer robot model of the gait of Australopithecus afarensis (aka, Lucy), reported in the BBC News, suggests that she walked upright. This is partly on the skeletal structure of the foot and the distance between the Laetoli footprints preserved in fossil ash, where are claimed to date from the same time period Lucy lived. The article ends with some doubt: There are still some people who argue that, looking at the anatomy of the foot bones of afarensis, that they were unlikely to have made the Laetoli footprints, [Chris Stringer] told the BBC News website. So it doesnt end the argument because there is still the possibility that there were different creatures around at the time.
The Laetoli prints are identical to modern human footprints. The only reason paleoanthropologists claim they were made by A. afarensis is the dating: they are too old to have been made by modern man. Thats why the artists rendition shows the tracks being made by a family of evolving creatures with an upright gait, human feet and ape-like faces.Depressed Kerry Supporters Find New Cause: Fight Creationism 07/20/2005
A grass-roots group of Virginia liberal Democrats has found a new cause to lift them out of their depression after John Kerrys defeat last fall, according to a Washington Post article reprinted by MSNBC News: Keep Virginia evolving. Their chosen mission is to defend evolution from intrusions by the intelligent design movement and conservative Republicans and Christians. Peter Slevin writes:
Evolutions newest defenders, who came together in frustration after the November elections, have little political experience, apart from hoisting Kerry-Edwards signs in morning traffic. They mostly are middle-class people with day jobs. Some had protested the Vietnam War but had rarely felt inspired to undertake political activism since. Together, they call themselves the Message Group and depict themselves as determined and balanced voters worried about social conservatives.Starting from scratch about seven months ago, the group realized they shared a general angst but no mission. After some discussion, they landed on the cause of defending evolution, especially after hearing that a Baptist pastor had predicted that if enough doubt could be cast on evolution, liberalism would die. The thought of that prospect apparently provided the spark to lift them out of the malaise of depression and frustration over Kerrys defeat and give them a new rallying cry.
Now, though their aim of defeating intelligent design is explicit, their strategy is, well, evolving.They decided to take a stand in Virginia before ID advocates take up their cause in school board hearings. Their first mailer, urging 75 like-minded souls to Keep Virginia evolving, failed to stir the masses to rise up, Slevin said; this draft leaflet landed with an ugly thud. The cause did not resonate with Virginia Democrats somehow. Those who even knew about it suggested that ignoring ID was the best strategy. The Message Group tried again, this time with the approach of linking ID with the culture war and the Christian Right. Fairfax County, which recently chastised a creationist teacher (see 06/14/2005 entry), might join their cause, they hoped. They also planned to hold a mock Scopes Trial (see 07/19/2005 entry) with the roles reversed for effect, and plotted to link their efforts with the gubernatorial campaign next year. Meanwhile, the Creation Mega-Conference that started Sunday at Liberty University has not seemed to notice these new foes.
One of the leaders of the Message Group was a former Vietnam sit-in protestor who hasnt been politically active for years, but was challenged by his wife, who said, according to Slevin, You used to be so active. You used to be so smart. Why dont you get off your butt and do something? Another was upset by what he perceived as hypocrisy among Christians. Another feels the religious right is a pernicious foe. Conservatives who have heard about this are laughing that it will backfire, stimulating Virginians to come out and defend their beliefs and vote Republican. They think it will make liberals spend a lot of energy but accomplish little. Slevin points out that the Message Group seems more interested in psychotherapy to alleviate their depression over the Kerry loss than any genuine concern about the truth of evolution: The new activists describe the effort as a catharsis, no matter the outcome.
This is really funny. It almost makes you feel sympathy for these old Vietnam hippies with their tie-dye shirts and long gray hair. There must be something they can do. Ah! Heres a flag we can send up the pole to see if anyone salutes: Keep Virginia evolving! Yes, Virginia, there really is a Charlie Darwin.Bone Has Built-In Shock Absorbers with Molecular Springs 07/19/2005
Your bones have little molecular springs in them that unwind and keep the collagen fibrils glued together when stress threatens a fracture. See the description, with electron micrographs and diagrams, in a press release from UC Santa Barbara.
Said co-author Daniel Morse, director of UCSBs Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies: Its especially exciting for us to find the profound medical significance of our discoveries for human bone. He described the discovery of molecular shock absorbers providing a kind of self-healing glue holding biological mineralized structures together when studying the abalone shell six years ago. Its truly remarkable to find the same fundamental mechanisms operating in bone, said Morse.(For a related story on marine shells, see 07/26/2004 entry.) Paul Hansma, physicist at UCSB, noted that while a paper on bone is published every six minutes, little is known about how it works at the molecular level. New techniques like atomic force microscopy are allowing scientists to see these tiny molecular structures for the first time. The UCSB paper has achieved the highest resolution images of bone ever published. Since these safety mechanisms work well in young healthy bone, the new findings may help medical researchers find ways to overcome skeletal problems that often come with aging, including bone brittleness and osteoarthritis.
Since no evolutionists believe people evolved from abalones, their only recourse is to wave the magic wand of convergent evolution to explain built-in molecular shock absorbers. Remember that improbabilities are multiplicative, not additive and so are credulities.Has Anti-Semitism Been Good for Jewish Evolution? 07/19/2005
National Geographic News gave favorable coverage to a controversial theory by anthropologists at University of Utah that anti-semitism was a form of natural selection. The racism against Jews in Europe, while selecting for higher intelligence, also selected for certain types of diseases. Reporter James Owen did point out that not all anthropologists agree with the hypothesis that IQ differences can have a genetic basis.
That such poor reasoning and lousy science would get prominent coverage in the leading popular geographic magazine in the world is an illustration of the pernicious influence of evolutionary thinking on our society. This hypothesis downplays the intellectual and moral factors involved. Consistently followed, it would lead one to believe that anti-Semitism has been a good thing, if it led to the genius of Einstein. If this kind of sloppy research, based on faulty assumptions and selective statistics, were published in some other field, it would be quickly scorned by academics. The phrase natural selection is like a free pass around the security guards of science. Should evolutionary anthropologists watch an Auschwitz as detached observers, measuring what genetic traits are being naturally selected by the process? Its time to call moral evils evil instead of rationalizing them on evolutionary grounds. Lets see how they explain it when the public has had enough, and there is a widespread outcry against Darwinian thinking. Would that prove survival of the fittest ideas?Scopes 80th Anniversary Leads to Reanalysis 07/19/2005
Alex Johnson, reporter for MSNBC News, has written a piece trying to set the record straight about the Scopes Trial of 1925. Often portrayed as a battle of science vs religion and a group of hillbilly hicks against enlightened intellectuals (the Inherit the Wind stereotype), the historical trial was much different, he demonstrates. William Jennings Bryan has really gotten a bad rap, for instance, because he performed well under cross-examination by Darrow and stayed on the offensive. He kept his head throughout the trial and afterwards as he continued to work on his final arguments. His death was not due to stress over evolution but rather to diabetes. History should remember Bryan as a defender of womens suffrage, direct election of senators and many other good things.
The image of the Scopes trial many have comes more from the biased rhetoric of H. L. Mencken and Hollywood than from history:
If you read only Menckens account, dripping with big-city Northern snobbery, or remember Fredric Marchs semi-hysterical performance as the fictionalized Bryan in Inherit the Wind, you could be forgiven for believing Darrow demolished Bryan and, with him, the biblical account of creation. But the trial transcript and more objective contemporary coverage tell a different tale. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Johnson referred to the new book by John Perry and Marvin Olasky, Monkey Business: The True Story of the Scopes Trial, and also a book by Jeffrey P. Moran (U of Kansas), The Scopes Trial: A Brief History with Documents (2002). He indicates that Historians know better than to accept the caricature perpetuated in the media about the trial. The most important thing to understand about the Scopes trial, Johnson writes, was that it was a publicity stunt. There were no fundamentalist preachers trolling the hallways of Daytons schools hunting for teachers who were violating Tennessees prohibition on teaching evolution. This image of yahoos in overalls who didnt like book-learnin has caused trouble for those trying to understand the anti-evolution movement, Johnson says, quoting Moran: Whats happened in the last 40 years is creationism has become quite suburban, even quite well-educated and not purely a Southern phenomenon.
Go to this article and give it a good vote. It was refreshing to see, for a change, a reporter helping dismantle the myths about the Scopes Trial rather than perpetuating them. Johnsons treatment actually made the northern liberals look bad and Bryan look good. He showed how the perception of the Scopes Trial was due more to propaganda and the media circus surrounding it than to the actual record of what happened. He pointed out that historians give a much more favorable impression of Bryan than is commonly assumed. For those of us raised in public school with mandatory viewings of Inherit the Wind, its about time. See The Monkey Trial site for a comparison of portrayals in the movie with the historical record. Inherit the Wind deserves to be thrown into the bin along with Birth of a Nation as an egregious example of twisting history. (Surprisingly, the play and movie was written to satirize the McCarthy era, not the actual Scopes trial, according to Johnson.)First-Generation Star Claim Discounted 07/18/2005
Claims made in 2003 that the first generation of stars, made of pure hydrogen, might have been detected, are now shown to be erroneous (this is an update on the 04/24/2003 entry). Iwamoto et al. in Science1 have shown that the two hyper-metal-poor stars are actually second-generation stars, seeded with heavy elements by supernovae.
Timothy C. Beers (Michigan State), writing in the same issue of Science,2 said that astronomers have been looking for these first-generation stars for 50 years. Theoretically there could not have been anything but hydrogen and helium in the first generation of stars, but all seen thus far contain heavier elements (metals) that indicate an earlier generation must have existed, produced the heavy elements from supernova explosions, then seasoned the dust and gas with these elements which later collapsed to form new stars. Beers hopes new observations will form the basis for assembling the story of creation of the elements that were eventually incorporated into all of us.
1Iwamoto et al., The First Chemical Enrichment in the Universe and the Formation of Hyper Metal-Poor Stars, Science, Vol 309, Issue 5733, 451-453, 15 July 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1112997].
2Timothy C. Beers, The First Generations of Stars, Science, Vol 309, Issue 5733, 390-391 , 15 July 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1114671].
The story of creation is in your hotel room drawer. Starstuff is just stuff, but it takes a mind to know one (see 07/15/2005 entry).School Evolution Bills Listed 07/18/2005
In response to claims in the media that many states are passing bills to mandate the teaching of intelligent design along with evolution, Seth Cooper on the Evolution News blog has listed 10 states where evolution bills are being debated and three more where discussions are taking place in the legislature. Contrary to media reports, most states are not mandating the teaching of I.D. but rather seeking ways to permit alternatives to evolution to be heard. (The Discovery Institute does not recommend mandating the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.)
The highest-visibility case is in Kansas. The Wichita Eagle reported that one member of the school board is considering additional changes to the standards to allow further criticism of evolutionary theories, but the majority are working to clarify the wording of the new standards that take effect in the fall. Tom Magnuson at ARN.org claims the Kansas City Star reporter gave an inaccurate description of the situation and made major misstatements.
Since reporters often fail to do their homework and repeat the propaganda of the Darwin Party, it is important as always to have ones Baloney Detector in good working condition. Notice, for instance, how the Wichita Eagle labels the pro-evolutionists with the mild term moderates as opposed to the conservative members arguing for change. What other political labels can you come up with for these opposing groups that could spin the story either way?Junk Cells Maintain the Brain 07/16/2005
The most abundant immune cells in your brain are not the neurons, but microglia spindly cells that were thought to be static and immobile, the smallest of the glia cells that were once considered mere scaffolding to support the more important gray matter (see 11/20/2001 and 01/29/2001 entries). When two scientists recently applied the new technique of two-photon microscopy to a live healthy mammalian brain, however, they were stunned at what they saw the microglia doing... a static state is hardly what was observed, reported Science magazine.1. They were the most motile cells in the brain.
The little cells were observed to act like well-trained, active patrolmen doing a vital job. They extended probes into their environment to monitor the health of the brain, clean up debris and fight microbes. A caption explained:
Microglia continually extend ... and retract ... processes, surveying their immediate environment within the brain. The processes move rapidly toward a site of injury, such as a damaged blood vessel in the brain, in response to the localized release of a chemoattractant ... from the injured sited. Once at the target site, the processes form a barrier to protect healthy tissue. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Microglia comprise about 10% of cells in the central nervous system. This monitoring and disaster response apparently goes on continually. These two elegant studies provide direct evidence for the highly dynamic nature of microglia, indicating that the brain is under constant immune surveillance by these cells. Who knows what we would think without them.
1Luc Fetler and Sebastian Amigorena, Brain Under Surveillance: The Microglia Patrol, Science, Vol 309, Issue 5733, 392-393, 15 July 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1114852].
Similar to the story on junk DNA (see 07/15/2005 entry), this goes to show that nothing in biology makes sense apart from design. If we would approach biology with a design perspective (see 06/25/2005 entry), we might really begin to understand what life is all about.Sharks and Beavers Inspire Humans 07/16/2005
Animals never cease to amaze us with their clever solutions to problems that plague human technology. EurekAlert told of work being done by the Society for Experimental Biology to emulate shark skin as a self-cleaning surface for boats; National Geographic News has pictures of the new product, and a comparison with shark skin. The navy is very interested in this (ever seen a shark with barnacles?). Not only would a sharkskin-like hull resist barnacles, it would make a ship glide with more ease through the water, saving energy.
From the mammal world, National Geographic News reported that beaver dams are inspiring fish-friendly hydroelectric power plants. Beaver dams usually stand no more than ten feet (three meters) tall and integrate a series of steps into the slope, reporter John Roach explained. This is a height and design surmountable by migrating fish... The dams are also a natural part of the environment in many parts of the world.
Mans solutions to both these problems have been clumsy, polluting and expensive. Its humbling to have to imitate supposed lower forms of life. (Good. Nothing like a little humility for us humans.) Maybe the new biomimetics trend (see 02/09/2005 and 09/21/2004 stories, for example) will teach us how to cooperate with the environment instead of fighting it. Need we point out that biomimetics operates on an implicit intelligent-design assumption.Tulsa Zoo Tolerates Religion Except the Bible Kind 07/16/2005
Its OK to praise the Hindu god Ganesha and preach pantheism at the Tulsa zoo, but not to mention Genesis. The zoo board reversed itself after first agreeing to permit an exhibit of the biblical creation account, reported Agape Press. Christian supporters argued that the zoo already features religious symbols in other displays, including a statue of an elephant-like, Hindu deity. It seemed that it was only fair to add the Judeo-Christian creation account to the mix. At first the zoo agreed, but exhibit designer Dan Hicks thinks the board caved in to special interest groups:
Hicks believes the Tulsa Park and Recreation Board that originally approved the creation display for the zoo ultimately caved in to the demands of a vocal minority. He contends that the Interfaith Alliance, Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries and others of these groups that claim to be all about tolerance and inclusion are actually more like political action committees affiliated with Americans United for Separation of Church and State.Answers in Genesis also had stern comments about the reversal. Polls showed that 76% of the public favored the Genesis display. The Hindu-pantheistic exhibit proclaimed, The Earth is our mother, the sky is our father.
Tolerance in our culture has a very specific meaning: it means forcing Christians, with their hands tied behind their backs and their mouths gagged, to endure witnessing every weird, depraved or wicked viewpoint paraded in front of them, without recourse, with the mantras separation of church and state! or evolution is a fact! shouted endlessly if they appear tempted to resist, to see how much they will tolerate. When the victims appear ready to burst their bands and fight back, they smile and pretend that they didnt really mean it and only wanted to be inclusive. Pacified, the victims relax for another round. Now that you know this, you will understand liberalism much better.Does the Brain Produce the Mind and Ethics? 07/15/2005
Two contrasting views on the mind/body problem appeared in science journals recently. In Nature this week,1 Paul Bloom (Yale) reviewed The Ethical Brain (Dana Press, 2005) by Michael S. Gazzaniga, a member of the Presidents Council on Bioethics. Bloom felt the need to clarify the difference between theological and evolutionary views on the source of ethics, because he felt Gazzaniga was careless about specifying the existence and source of moral sensibilities. Bloom was frank and earnest about the distinction:
Gazzaniga is a lot less cautious when it comes to the implications of neuroscience for ethics in general. As he puts it in his preface, I would like to support the idea that there could be a universal set of biological responses to moral dilemmas, a sort of ethics, built into our brains. My hope is that we soon may be able to uncover these ethics, identify them, and begin to live more fully by them. I believe we live by them largely unconsciously now, but that a lot of suffering, war, and conflict could be eliminated if we could agree to live by them more consciously.A very different view of the mind has been published by the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society2 by Jeffrey Schwartz, a friend of intelligent design leader William Dembski. Schwartz contends that assuming the brain can produce the mind is based on ideas about the natural world that have been known to be fundamentally incorrect for more than three-quarters of a century, namely classical physics compared to quantum physics:
Contemporary basic physical theory differs profoundly from classic physics on the important matter of how the consciousness of human agents enters into the structure of empirical phenomena. The new principles contradict the older idea that local mechanical processes alone can account for the structure of all observed empirical data. Contemporary physical theory brings directly and irreducibly into the overall causal structure certain psychologically described choices made by human agents about how they will act. This key development in basic physical theory is applicable to neuroscience, and it provides neuroscientists and psychologists with an alternative conceptual framework for describing neural processes. Indeed, owing to certain structural features of ion channels critical to synaptic function, contemporary physical theory must in principle be used when analysing human brain dynamics. The new framework, unlike its classic-physics-based predecessor, is erected directly upon, and is compatible with, the prevailing principles of physics. It is able to represent more adequately than classic concepts the neuroplastic mechanisms relevant to the growing number of empirical studies of the capacity of directed attention and mental effort to systematically alter brain function.In effect, you cannot get mind out of matter, because this is precluded by quantum physics. Dembski explains that this proposition challenges the materialism endemic to so much of contemporary neuroscience, and argues for the irreducibility of mind (and therefore intelligence) to material mechanisms.
1Paul Bloom, Dissecting the right brain, Nature 436, 178-179 (14 July 2005) | doi: 10.1038/436178a.
2Schwartz, Stapp and Beauregard, Quantum physics in neuroscience and psychology: a neurophysical model of mind-brain interaction, Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, The Royal Society, 0962-8436 (Paper) 1471-2970 (Online).
Bloom properly distinguished the stark contrast between theological and evolutionary explanations for ethics, but he committed logical fallacies in supporting the latter. He borrowed Christian words like innate moral sense, appreciate, reason and progress which are undefined terms in the Darwin Dictionary. How can he decide that the amorality of evolution is notorious without making a value judgment? His argument shoots itself in the foot and thus leaves the alternative, the proposition that our universal moral sense had been implanted by an all-knowing and all-loving God, the logical choice.Another Dead Sea Scroll Fragment Discovered 07/15/2005
A secretive encounter with a Bedouin in a desert valley has produced a fragment of the Bible transcribed nearly two millennia ago, reported MSNBC News. The fragment, a portion of Leviticus on parchment, was found near the Dead Sea, and has given rise to hope that the Judean Desert may yield more treasures. The artifact dates from the period of the Bar Kochba revolt in the second century of the Roman Empire. This is the first discovery of its kind since the 1960s. The archaeologist reluctantly paid a Bedouin for the fragment for fear it would otherwise be lost.
The land of the Bible remains a buried treasure. Only a small percentage of potential sites have been explored, and only a small fraction of artifacts have been uncovered. Each fragment found in this politically-troubled land has enormous potential to shed light on the greatest story ever told.More Evidence the Molecular Clock is Broken 07/15/2005
We live in interesting times, grinned David Penny in Nature,1 reporting on how estimates of evolutionary past based on comparative genomics (the molecular clock) is producing confusing results. Apparently, evolutionary geneticists are going to have to make use of the theory of relativity i.e., that how fast the clock ticks depends on the viewpoint of the observer. An analysis of genetic data sets from primates and birds provides firm evidence that molecular evolution is faster on shorter than on longer timescales, his subtitle explained. The estimated times of various evolutionary events require a rethink (emphasis added in all quotes). Its hard to give up a pet theory, he continued:
The relative constancy of the rate at which DNA sequences evolve has been a treasured icon of molecular evolution for nearly 40 years. The occurrence of such a stochastic molecular clock was initially quite unexpected, and was explained by Motoo Kimura by assuming that most changes to amino-acid and nucleotide sequences were neutral neither beneficial nor injurious, in Charles Darwins prescient phrase.Penny discussed whether the phenomenon is real, whether it can be explained, and why it was not picked up earlier. Part of the reason is no one was looking:
For some reason, the continuum between population heterozygosity and long-term evolution has not been adequately studied. Although it is a continuum, the techniques required may change as the timescale decreases. For example, some concepts from long-term evolution (binary evolutionary trees with sequences studied only at the tips) have been extended into populations where trees are no longer binary, and ancestral sequences (at internal nodes) are still present in the population. There are hints that a formal multiscale study is necessary, because even though the same underlying process is occurring, different features of trees are observed as the timescale changes.Lastly, he asked what are the consequences of this revelation. Many time estimates will require recalculation thats one practical aspect. In some cases the constraints are from recent events, and it is the long-term events that require re-analysis, he explained; Much more remains to be done. The assumption of a single mutation rate is gone; Even for nucleotides there are many mutation rates, he pointed out. Penny feels the solution is tractable, but the implication is that many former assumptions have been invalidated by the new data hence his last sentence, we live in interesting times.
1David Penny, Evolutionary biology: Relativity for molecular clocks, Nature 436, 183-184 (14 July 2005) | doi: 10.1038/436183a.
Another evolutionary assumption has been overturned by more careful analysis; keep up the good work. Next time, though, remove the assumption of evolution before making the observations. Relativity applies to physics, not biology. An evolutionary tale that requires relativity to keep its plot together has left the science department for the theater class (see 11/29/2004 entry).Planet Orbiting Triple Star Tightens Noose on Planet Formation Theories 07/15/2005
The discovery of a planet orbiting a triple star system (see JPL Press Release), described by Maciej Konacki in Nature,1 has delivered a severe challenge to theorists. In short, the environment is particularly prohibitive for planet formation. This Jupiter-size planet should not be there.
Planet-formation theories have taken a triple whammy lately. The discovery in recent years of so-called hot Jupiters (giant planets close to their parent stars see 05/07/2004) was unexpected; it caused a major reconsideration about where and how gas giants form. Prior to the indirect observation of planets like 51 Pegasi, which is closer to its star than Mercury to our sun, it was thought impossible that a Jupiter-class planet could form in a tight orbit, because the gases like hydrogen and helium that make up the bulk of such planets could only be retained beyond the snow line of about 3 AU.2 This led to a radical reinterpretation of the core-accretion hypothesis: planets formed far out, then migrated inward (see 05/16/2003 entry).
The second whammy was the revival of the disk-instability hypothesis as a strong competitor to the core-accretion hypothesis, with proponents of each arguing not for the strengths of their own views, but against the weaknesses of their opponents views (see 09/22/2003, and Quick Takes following the 07/25/2003 entry). Added to these headaches have been ongoing discoveries of planets where they shouldnt be, like around a binary star (08/24/2004), around a white dwarf in a globular cluster (07/10/2003), in wildly elliptical orbits (07/21/2003), orbiting young stars (11/11/2004 and 05/28/2004) and even wandering alone (11/29/2003). In addition, there seems to be no correlation between dust disks and planets (10/18/2004), and many stellar environments seem downright hostile to planets (07/06/2004 and 04/26/2001). This scattering of strange observations led Stuart Ross Taylor last year to lament the lack of order in planetary science and to call the origin of the solar system one of the oldest unsolved problems in science (07/29/2004).
This third whammy appears to be a crushing blow. Planet-formation theories began optimistically with the nebular hypothesis of Pierre Laplace in the 18th century, but each new observation seems to raise the stakes. Last August (08/27/2004), the planet found around a binary was tentatively rationalized because the two host stars were widely separated (56 year orbital period), leaving enough space for a dust disk to supply planet-building material around one star that would not be perturbed by the other. The binary period of this new pair named HD 188753 is less than half that. German astronomers Hatzes and Wuchteri, commenting on this discovery in the same issue of Nature,3 explain the difficulty:
The binary orbital period of HD 188753 is just 25.7 years, and the orbital separation of the stars, both of Sun size, is a mere 12.3 AU about the distance from the Sun to Saturn. Konackis velocity measurements reveal that the primary star (the more massive star, denoted HD 188753A) has a planetary companion of a minimum of 1.14 Jupiter masses that orbits the star every 3.35 days at a distance of about 0.05 AU. Yet according to the orbital migration theory, this planet should not exist. The secondary star is so close that its gravitational pull would have stripped away the protoplanetary disk of the primary star where, even if it later migrated, the planet must have formed reducing the disk to a radius of just 1.3 AU. But within this radius, ices are unlikely to last and so cannot contribute to the formation of a massive core. The alternative explanation that the planet formed where it is would challenge the standard picture, but runs into the problem of where the necessary solid material came from. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Konacki, the discoverer, mentions but then quickly dismisses simplistic explanations:
It appears that within the favoured scenario for the formation of hot Jupiters, the planet around HD 188753A could not be formed (unless for some reason the orbit of HD 188753 AB was very different during a planet formation phase). One possible explanation is that the snowline can indeed be as close as ~1 au from the star. Another possibility is that hot Jupiters form in situ, near their current orbital locations. However, the problem is probably more challenging. It has been suggested that planet formation in binary systems may be less efficient because the stirring induced by the secondary can significantly heat up the protoplanetary disk. This may hold true for both the standard core accretion scenario and the recently revived gravitational collapse scenario [i.e., disk-instability model] of giant-planet formation. Presumably, the environment of HD 188753 is particularly prohibitive given a small semi-major axis and the high mass of the secondary.He just leaves it at that. Hatzes and Wuchteri admitted in their commentary that the discovery of hot Jupiters shook long-held conceptions of planetary-system formation, and that the new discovery places severe constraints on such theories. What do they suggest? A popular word, in our culture diversity:
Although the planet in the HD 188753 system presents a conundrum to theorists, there might be an easy way out: abandon the make-do-and-mend migration theory to Occams razor, and accept that not all planet-forming nebulae are similar to the solar nebula. Large and small protoplanetary nebulae of the same mass might differ only in their total angular momentum, such that in smaller nebulae more mass is closer in nursing young giants.The problem with their suggestion is that it leaves theorists at square one, with no single theory that could ever hope to explain the formation of such diversity of planets, and with nothing better than an armchair speculation that material will coalesce somehow in spite of the problems with temperature and turbulence. The NASA press release apparently took the easy way out and spun the story optimistically, quoting Dr. Shri Kulkarni of Caltech, who said, This is good news for planets. Planets may live in all sorts of interesting neighborhoods that, until now, have gone largely unexplored. MSNBC News, Science Now and CNN provided a more balanced presentation with clear explanations of the theoretical problems this planet presents. BBC News weighed in on the story July 18.
1Maciej Konacki, An extrasolar giant planet in a close triple-star system, Nature 436, 230-233 (14 July 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03856.
2Astronomical Unit (AU), or the mean earth-sun distance of approximately 93 million miles.
3Hatzes and Wuchteri, Astronomy: Giant planet seeks nursery place, Nature 436, 182-183 (14 July 2005) | doi: 10.1038/436182a.
Anomalies and constraints are good for science. They put the brakes on speculation. Laplaces nebular hypothesis was a plausible-sounding naturalistic story for its day. What would he have thought with todays reality checks? Puzzles and surprises are also good in that they spur the problem-solving juices of humans, who like to find out the reasons for things. That much is good. What turns this good astray is failing to question ones assumptions. None of the theorists is questioning naturalism; the idea of design is never even on the radar screen.Cassini Skimmed Over Enceladus at Close Range 07/14/2005
The Cassini spacecraft made its closest-yet flyby of Enceladus July 14, skimming just 109 miles above the surface. This was the closest approach to any object thus far in the four-year mission. It was nearly three times closer than the earlier record, the March 9 Enceladus flyby (see encounter map).
Enceladus has long been one of the most intriguing moons in the solar system because of its extremely bright surface, and its large uncratered regions riddled with cracks and ridges (see photo gallery). The BBC News summarized some of the puzzles regarding this Saturnian satellite. Is it a source of E-ring particles? Does it have ice volcanos and geysers? Is there an ocean below the surface? The biggest mystery is the source of energy to drive resurfacing processes. Enceladus has a very nearly circular orbit and is not in any known tidal interactions with other moons, or with Saturn. No ammonia has yet been detected in the spectrum (ammonia might allow a lower melting point for the water ice that makes up the bulk of the moon). How, then, could melting occur, especially in recent times?
A beautiful picture of the little moon Prometheus shepherding the F-ring was released by the Cassini team this week: click here, and also the first tantalizing look at a moon that looks like a sponge: Hyperion.
Update 07/15/2005: The raw images were posted at the Cassini website late Friday. New and improved images of Rhea taken from 182,000 kilometers were posted first. Later, the Enceladus data stream came in. Wide-angle views revealed a bizarre set of tiger-like stripes near the south pole (a region never before imaged), and a huge canyon on the eastern limb (example). Distinct boundaries between cratered and resurfaced regions were clearly visible. Closer in (example), the stripes began to look like four nearly parallel canyons emanating from a rough highland across a smooth plain. From 9,000 miles (example), they are seen to intersect earlier canyons in complex ways. The two highest-resolution images near closest approach (narrow and wide angle), slightly smeared due to the speed of the spacecraft (over 18,000 mph) at such close range, reveal a somewhat fluffy-looking region of hills and valleys. No clear signs of volcanos or geysers are apparent, either at highest resolution or looking back along the limb during the outbound leg (example). To first order, the topographic features appear tectonic rather than fluvial. Data from other instruments, such as the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS), will assist scientists in interpreting the images. Here is the BBC News post-encounter report, and check out the photo gallery on the Imaging Team website. The Planetary Society also did a full page spread on the flyby sequence and posted sample images.
The Cassini team has pulled off another resounding success in a string of spectacular encounters during the spacecrafts first year in orbit (see 07/01/2004 story). The rapid-fire sequence of images of Enceladus today, along with those from March and February this year, have brought sudden fulfillment to years of yearning since Cassini was first designed in the early 1980s, with dreams of Enceladus at close range part of the plans. Interpreting the new images is sure to keep planetary geologists busy for years.
Note: dark lines cutting across the right side of some raw images are due to the lossless compression algorithm used. The software estimates the compression ratio in advance because of the constraints of time during the encounter. Interpolation can reconstruct the missing pixels.
Update 07/20/2005: New Scientist quoted some scientists puzzling over the bouldery surface seen at highest resolution: Thats a surface texture I have never seen anywhere else in the solar system, said one; said another, This is just strange. In fact, I have a really hard time understanding what Im seeing. The boulders seem to avoid rather than filling in the cracks, and there are no small craters. Neither is there hoped-for evidence of liquid flow on the surface, and Enceladus, being six times smaller than Europa, seems too small to maintain a subsurface ocean. Trying to figure out what is going on is going to take a lot longer than a weekend of swapped emails, said one member of the imaging team.
Update 07/26/2005: a JPL press release says that the south pole looks younger than the rest of the moon. The region has no impact craters and has been carved into hills of house-sized boulders by unique tectonic features. This was unexpected; the south polar region appears to be distinct from other parts of the moon, and is being called one of the youngest surfaces in the solar system. Young terrain requires a means to generate the heat needed to modify the surface, the report says. More interesting facts about Enceladus may come to light when data from the other instruments are combined with the visible-light images. JPL also provided a dramatic zoom-in movie (also on the imaging team site) showing where the highest resolution image was taken in context to the moon as a whole.
Update 07/29/2005: Another press release from Jet Propulsion Laboratory has announced the discovery of ice volcanism near the south pole. The heavily cratered north pole is very different from the south, where the temperature is significantly warmer, and there are no impact craters. Scientists believe water ice is erupting from cracks that crisscross the south pole like tiger stripes. If so, Enceladus becomes the smallest moon to exhibit cryovolcanism. The previously-reported atmosphere turns out to be localized around the south pole, where it leaks away and is continuously replenished. This eruptive activity, however, is not the source of the E-ring particles. Cassinis cosmic dust analyzer has confirmed, as suspected, that micrometeor impacts against the moon eject particles that become distributed into the broad, diffuse E-ring. To find such activity at one of the poles was a big surprise; one scientist said, This is as astonishing as if wed flown past Earth and found that Antarctica was warmer than the Sahara.
Scientists find the temperatures difficult to explain if sunlight is the only heat source. More likely, a portion of the polar region, including the tiger stripe fractures, is warmed by heat escaping from the interior. Evaporation of this warm ice at several locations within the region could explain the density of the water vapor cloud detected by other instruments. How a 500-kilometer (310-mile) diameter moon can generate this much internal heat and why it is concentrated at the south pole is still a mystery.Another Cassini Press Release from July 29 provides more of the pieces to the cryovolcanism puzzle. The atmosphere earlier detected by the magnetometer turns out to be lopsided; eruptions of material are not coming from the northern hemisphere, but only from the south polar region. The UV spectrometer also detected this asymmetry during an occultation. One of the infrared instruments showed the south to be warmer than the north, and the visible-light cameras observed many tectonic features near the south pole. The cooperative activity of multiple instruments onboard Cassini each contributed to the interpretation that cryovolcanism is occurring. Why, and how, this should happen on a tiny moon subjected to insufficient tidal stresses, and with insufficient radioactive heating in its interior, is unexplained.
Since this moon is turning out to be one of the big attractions of the mission, Enceladus will probably be a front-runner for additional close flybys during any approved extended mission. The next extremely close flyby is scheduled for March 12, 2008 at only 97 km (58 miles). Several others before then are in the 80,000 km range.
Enceladus illustrates several processes going on at Saturn that appear unlikely to be sustainable for billions of years (see 03/10/2005 and 03/04/2005 entries). The BBC news article, for instance, mentioned that E-ring particles can only survive for hundreds of years, not billions. This means that to maintain belief that the ring is ancient, planetary scientists must find that Enceladus has been continually replenishing the particles for over four billion years. Recall, however, that a huge explosion and loss of mass from the E-ring was observed in early 2004 (see 07/02/2004 entry). It is unlikely that event was atypical. Such destructive processes do not add to the ring; they erode it even faster.The Death of the Concept of Junk DNA 07/15/2005
God dont make no junk has been a slogan for the self-esteem movement, and now no less than Science Now is providing support at the genetic level. Dont call it junk the article announces, indicating that stretches of non-coding DNA are apparently not useless regions of material as previously believed, but vital to the regulation of the gene-coding regions.
Studies by geneticists at UC Santa Cruz have shown that The more complex the organism, the more important junk DNA seems to be. Some of these non-coding regions are identical in mice and men. This discovery, made last year (see 11/26/2004), hinted that these geneless regions were important, otherwise neutral mutations should have accumulated in them during the course of evolution. Now, comparisons between five vertebrates, four insects, two worms and seven species of yeast have revealed a pattern that complexity correlates with the amount of junk DNA. This suggests that the regions might contain important regulatory switches that control basic biochemistry and development, which might help organisms build sophisticated bodies.
Although the re-evaluation of non-coding DNA that views it as functionally important is not yet universally shared among geneticists (see 12/10/2004 entry), this latest revelation appears convincing to many. The new paradigm is summed up in the photo caption in the article: Trash is treasure.
Another finding, from the National Institute of Mental Health, claims that prairie vole social behavior is encoded in junk DNA. The extent of the effect on social behavior appears debatable, but the hypothesis relies on the claim that it was caused by a section of non-coding DNA previously thought to have no function. The press release ends, Far from being junk, the repetitive DNA sequences, which are highly prone to mutate rapidly, may ultimately exert their influence through complex interactions with other genes to produce individual differences and social diversity, according to [Dr. Larry] Young.
It bears repeating what we have said for years about this (06/03/2004 and 10/16/2003): the concept of junk DNA was a useless dead end that resulted from evolutionary thinking. It is similar to the now-outmoded concept of vestigial organs used for decades as proof of evolution: the idea that the wasteful process of evolution left relics of junk in our bodies. This viewpoint actually delayed the progress of science. It prevented research into the function of the appendix, tonsils, pineal gland, coccyx, pituitary gland and other body parts now known to be useful and even vital for life and health. How long has fruitful research into the genetic function of non-coding DNA been delayed by the concept of junk DNA? Who would want to waste time looking at junk?Mountain-Building Time Cut by Two Thirds 07/13/2005
How long does it take to build mountains? The conventional wisdom is that mountain building (orogeny) is a slow, gradual process that takes many millions of years. A story on Live Science doesnt deny some millions, but reduces the estimated age of a range in Norway from 40 million to 13 million, and claims the process must have taken place at much cooler temperatures than expected. Mountain building quicker than thought announces the title. Inferences from argon dating suggest that the rocks were heated for only a short period, perhaps only 10 years.
They werent there, and they dont know, but what they do know is that they were surprised by evidence that overturned a belief in a very slow, gradual process. This is an update on last months story (see 06/30/2005 entry) but bears repeating, and noting who was surprised.Astrobiologists Search for Lefty Life in Chile 07/13/2005
The title isnt meant to imply Chile is dead or devoid of left-handers. Instead, it announces that astrobiologists are practicing life detection strategies in the high deserts of that South American country, according to Astrobiology Magazine. Chiles Atacama desert is one of the driest places on earth, with almost no signs of life. NASA scientists have developed an instrument with a sure-fire way to separate the quick and the dead: Life is left-handed, announces the title, referring to the left-handed amino acids that make up earth life. The scientists are convinced that finding one-handed polymers would clinch the evidence for life: We feel that measuring homochirality a prevalence of one type of handedness over another would be absolute proof of life, said Richard Mathies of UC Berkeley.
Its nice to hear naturalistic biologists admit that homochirality separates life from nonlife. Now they need to explain how it got that way: see the problem explained in our online book, Ch. 3 and Ch. 4. After a century since Pasteur discovered this property of the polymers in living things, it remains one of the major stumblingblocks for belief in chemical evolution. Dont let an astrobiologist get away with just assuming it happened somehow. How, now, did we get a left-handed brown cow?How Identical Are Identical Twins? 07/12/2005
Identical twins look identical, and the assumption is that their genes are, too. Not necessarily, found a team of European scientists publishing in PNAS.1 Their studies of genes from identical twins found that even when indistinguishable at birth, divergence over time in the expression of genes became evidence due to epigenetic (above-gene) factors:
MZ [monozygotic] twins constitute an excellent example of how genetically identical individuals can exhibit differences and therefore provide a unique model to study the contribution/role of epigenetic modifications in the establishment of the phenotype [i.e., physical appearance]. What does make MZ twins differ? By using whole-genome and locus-specific approaches, we found that approximately one-third of MZ twins harbored epigenetic differences in DNA methylation and histone modification. These differential markers between twins are distributed throughout their genomes, affecting repeat DNA sequences and single-copy genes, and have an important impact on gene expression. We also established that these epigenetic markers were more distinct in MZ twins who were older, had different lifestyles, and had spent less of their lives together, underlining the significant role of environmental factors in translating a common genotype into a different phenotype. Our findings also support the role of epigenetic differences in the discordant frequency/onset of diseases in MZ twins.The differences could be due to drift over time by chance, or lifestyle choices, or differences in environment. Their results, they concluded, did not prove heredity or environment were the decisive factors: Our comparison of MZ twins suggests that external and/or internal factors can have an impact in the phenotype by altering the pattern of epigenetic modifications and thus modulating the genetic information.
1Fraga et al., Epigenetic differences arise during the lifetime of monozygotic twins, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online before print July 11, 2005, 10.1073/pnas.0500398102.
Philosophers have argued about heredity and environment for a long time. These studies carry the debate down to the molecular level of DNA and gene expression. No conclusions are drawn in this commentary, except the caution that creationists and evolutionists both need to take epigenetic factors into account before propounding simple explanations of stasis or evolution. Genes are not the only things in control; a host of epigenetic factors contributes to the way a plant, animal, or human looks and acts. Staging the debate as heredity vs environment begs the question of whether those are the only explanations for why identical twins diverge over their lifetimes. It would seem that personal choices and unseen mental, moral or spiritual factors cannot be ruled out as significant agents of change that can extend down to the genes and influence their expression.AAAS President Rails Against ID 07/11/2005
Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of Science, wrote an editorial asking Why are scientists so upset about the growing movement to bring intelligent design (ID) into science classrooms and public education venues such as science museums, zoos, and theme parks? He took the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Scopes trial to arouse readers of the journal to oppose the movement.1
The problem is that ID advocates attempt to dress up religious beliefs to make them look like science. By redefining what is and isnt science, they also put the publicparticularly young peopleat risk of being inadequately prepared to live in modern society. Twenty-first-century citizens are regularly required to make decisions about issues that have heavy science- and technology-related content, such as medical care, personal security, shopping choices, and what their children should be taught in school. To make those choices wisely, they will need to distinguish science-based evidence from pseudoscientific claims.He repeats several talking points of the anti-ID position: (1) evolution is just as much a theory as gravity, (2) evolutionary does not attempt to answer the religious questions of whether God was behind evolution, because it is a matter of belief that is outside our realm, and (3) ID can rightfully be taught in humanities or philosophy courses but not in the science class; Redefining science to get a particular belief into the classroom simply isnt educationally sound, he says.
Just as the scientific community has broad responsibilities to monitor the integrity with which its members conduct their work, it also must take some responsibility for the uses of science and for how it is portrayed to the public. That requires us to be clear about what science is and to distinguish clearly between scientific and belief systems, in schools and in various public venues devoted to science. Otherwise, we will fail in our obligation to our fellow citizens and to the successor generations of students who will depend on science for their future.
1Alan Leshner, Redefining Science, Science, Vol 309, Issue 5732, 221, 8 July 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1116621].
So he is a naive positivist. Sad. That the president of the AAAS would have so little understanding of history and philosophy of science is pathetic. He doesnt even realize that he just disqualified Darwinism by his own criteria of science. Clearly evolutionary theory involves heavy doses of belief, while ID entails sound scientific practices similar to those used in cryptography and archaeology. Evolution is neither testable nor repeatable, yet is maintained with such tenacity that any observation, no matter how contrary, becomes retroactively forced into the belief system. And who is Leshner to teach about wisdom, responsibility and integrity? Did those moral qualities evolve, too? If so, they are without foundation; if not, he has conceded the existence of moral absolutes, and by extension, a moral Lawgiver.Scientists Own Up to the Need for Ethics 07/11/2005
The image of a scientist free to follow his quest wherever it goes is changing. In an age of international terrorism, governments are becoming more wary of the potential downsides of scientific investigations, and scientific organizations are beginning to fall in line, reluctantly but understandingly. Biologists may soon have little option but to sign up to codes of conduct, admitted Nature last week,1 (emphasis added in all quotes): ... however outrageous Nature readers may consider it, politicians and policy-makers are taking codes of conduct and licensing in research seriously. (In the past, most researchers would wonder what planet such proposals come from, the editorial quips.)
Scientists may need to become certified, take courses in ethics, be informed about the possibilities of dual use of their findings (i.e., for civic or military purposes), and develop a culture of responsibility in their institutions. Maybe only a malevolent few would ever misuse scientific discoveries, but those few can wreak havoc on society and destroy the reputation of scientific institutions. Scientists had better not wait to be told what to do: in a world threatened by terrorism, governments are taking more interest in such codes, and scientists would do well to engage in a constructive discussion about what role they might play.
The basic idea of professional scientific ethics doesnt have to be complicated. Consider the phrase do no harm, the editorial suggests. Deceptively simple, a trite piece of motherhood and apple pie, and yet, as one medical researcher at the meeting said, this fundamental principle had provided him with significant help when faced with some critical professional decisions.
1Editorial, Rules of engagement, Nature, 436, 2 (7 July 2005) | doi: 10.1038/436002a.
Do no harm? Well, so much for Darwinism. Evolutionists deal with evil by denying its existence, and turn righteousness into a phantom, an artifact of selfishness (for example, see this recent just-so story on EurekAlert). To a consistent Darwinist, harm can be a good thing, as long as it doesnt happen to oneself.Battle for Creation Makes Cover of New Scientist Magazine 07/10/2005
Another indication of the notice the scientific community is giving to creation and intelligent design can be seen on the cover of New Scientist, in a report entitled, Creationism special: A battle for sciences soul. With battle-laden lingo, Debora McKenzie surveys creationism and intelligent-design skirmishes not only among American school boards, but in Holland, Turkey, Pakistan and Brazil. MacKenzie quoted anticreationists who characterize these developments as radical, dangerous, and politically motivated by fundamentalist Christians, but gave no voice to the proponents. The flavor of the alarmist message can be felt in a quote by Ken Miller: What is happening is a political effort to force a change in the content and nature of science itself.
Reporters like MacKenzie display a profound ignorance of the history and philosophy of science. Since the classical days of Plato, Aristotle and Cicero, on through Augustine and into the medieval scholastic universities, well into the Renaissance and Reformation and deep into the Enlightenment, the vast majority of scientists were creationists. Even deists like Voltaire readily admitted that the complexity of life argued for intelligent design. Evolutionary materialism in its current neo-Darwinian guise is a relatively new thing. The scientific revolution, with all its groundbreaking discovery of fundamental laws, with its great inventions and discoveries up into the 19th century, took place in a predominantly Christian culture. No historian denies this. Furthermore, great science continued to be done by Christians and creationists well past Darwins time all the way up to the present. What are they afraid of?Sponge Bobs Upward in Respect 07/08/2005
The simplest group of multicellular animals, the sponges, is not so simple. Researchers have long regarded sponges as the most primitive form of animal life, wrote Helen Pilcher in Nature;1 At first glance, sponges seem simple. They have no gut, no brain, no obvious front or back, left or right. Adults pump water through a system of canals and cavities to extract food. That apparent simplicity belies some pretty advanced technologies possessed by these creatures. Pilcher mentions several (emphasis added in all quotes):
Later, in Science,2 more marvels about the sponge called Venus Flower Basket were revealed (see 03/01/2004 entry). Not only does it know how to create high-performance, flexible fiber optic cable at low temperatures; now, says MSNBC News, it is able to build glass cages that have biologists and materials scientists oohing, ahhing and taking notes for future bio-inspired engineering projects and materials. Reporter Daniel B. Kane continues, These glass cages have at least seven levels of structural organization, many of which follow basic principles of mechanical engineering, referring to the paper by Aizenberg et al. who wrote in the abstract, The ensuing design overcomes the brittleness of its constituent material, glass, and shows outstanding mechanical rigidity and stability. The mechanical benefits of each of seven identified hierarchical levels and their comparison with common mechanical engineering strategies are discussed. Their opening paragraph puts this discovery in context:
Nature fascinates scientists and engineers with numerous examples of exceptionally strong building materials. These materials often show complex hierarchical organization from the nanometer to the macroscopic scale. Every structural level contributes to the mechanical stability and toughness of the resulting design. For instance, the subtle interplay between the lattice structure, fibril structure, and cellulose is responsible for the remarkable properties of wood. In particular, it consists of parallel hollow tubes, the wood cells, which are reinforced by nanometer-thick cellulose fibrils wound helically around the cell to adjust the material as needed. Deformation occurs by shearing of a matrix rich in hemicelluloses and lignin, gluing neighboring fibrils, and allowing a stick-slip movement of the fibrils. Wood is an example that shows the wide range of mechanical performance achievable by constructing with fibers. Bone is another example of a hierarchically assembled fibrous material. Its strength critically depends on the interplay between different structural levelsfrom the molecular/nanoscale interaction between crystallites of calcium phosphate and an organic framework, through the micrometer-scale assembly of collagen fibrils, to the millimeter-level organization of lamellar bone. Whereas wood is fully organic material, bone is a composite, with about half organic and half mineral components tightly interconnected at the nanoscale. However, nature has also evolved almost pure mineral structures, whichdespite the inherent brittleness of most mineralsare tough enough to serve as protection for the organism. In mollusk nacre, for example, the toughening effect is due to well-defined nanolayers of organics at the interfaces between microtablets of calcium carbonate. In such structures, the stiff components (usually mineral) absorb the bulk of the externally applied loads. The organic layers, in turn, provide toughness, prevent the spread of the cracks into the interior of the structure, and even confer a remarkable capacity for recovery after deformation.From here, they discuss how the Venus Flower Basket builds its glass house from the bottom up with each level of organization contributing to the high performance of the end product. Their concluding paragraph seems to contain mixed metaphors: design and evolution
The structural complexity of the glass skeleton in the sponge Euplectella sp. is an example of natures ability to improve inherently poor building materials [e.g., glass]. The exceptional mechanical stability of the skeleton arises from the successive hierarchical assembly of the constituent glass from the nanometer to the macroscopic scale. The resultant structure might be regarded as a textbook example in mechanical engineering, because the seven hierarchical levels in the sponge skeleton represent major fundamental construction strategies such as laminated structures, fiber-reinforced composites, bundled beams, and diagonally reinforced square-grid cells, to name a few. We conclude that the Euplectella sp. skeletal system is designed to provide structural stability at minimum cost, a common theme in biological systems where critical resources are often limited. We believe that the study of the structural complexity of unique biological materials and the underlying mechanisms of their synthesis will help us understand how organisms evolved their sophisticated structures for survival and adaptation and ultimately will offer new materials concepts and design solutions.In the same issue of Science,3 John Currey provided details on six of the levels of organization investigated by Aizenberg et al.:
Euplectella is a deepwater sponge whose glassy skeleton is a hollow cylinder. On the first level of structural hierarchy, nanometer-sized particles of silica are arranged around an organic axial filament. On the second level, alternating layers of silica and organic material form spicules. On the third level, these small spicules are bundled together to form larger spicules. On the fourth level, the larger spicules are arranged in a grid, with struts in longitudinal, circumferential, and diagonal directions, resisting all load modes (see the figure). In the mature animal, these larger spicules are coated with a cementing layer of silica. On the fifth level, this grid is wrapped into a curved cylinder. Finally, on the sixth level, helical surface ridges further resist torsion and stiffen the structure.Currey was most intrigued with level four, a most remarkable feature with its cross-beams and struts providing load strength and protection from shear. The MSNBC article contains three photos illustrating the architecture in this primitive metazoan. Aizenberg told the reporter, It puzzles me. In my wildest dreams I cant imagine how these fibers are assembled to make the nearly perfect, highly regular square cells, diagonal supports and surface ridges of the cage. Despite the simplicity of the sponges anatomy, possessing no brain or nervous system, these structures represent some of the most complex and diverse skeletal systems known.
1Helen Pilcher, Back to our roots, Nature 435, 1022-1023 (23 June 2005) | doi: 10.1038/4351022a.
2Aizenberg et al., Skeleton of Euplectella sp.: Structural Hierarchy from the Nanoscale to the Macroscale, Science, Vol 309, Issue 5732, 275-278 , 8 July 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1112255]
3John D. Currey, Materials Science: Hierarchies in Biomineral Structures, Science, Vol 309, Issue 5732, 253-254 , 8 July 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1113954].
Wild dreams and imagination are not science; they indicate that Aizenberg is in a philosophical slumber by attributing engineering to evolution. If evolution produced this sponges architecture, as assumed by faith by these investigators, each stage must have contributed to an end result. Stage four would not help unless the lower stages in the hierarchy were already conferring their benefits; it would be like trying to build struts out of crumbly styrofoam or bits of broken glass. But end results are prohibited by evolutionary theory which stresses that evolving organisms have no goal in mind. In the Nature article, Simon Conway Morris extolled Tinker Bell: Evolution is an extremely dynamic system and paradoxically a very lazy one. It will co-opt whatever it can. Evolutionists preach that laziness and tinkering with available parts produced wonders of engineering that are the envy of materials science.Rock Formation Built in Millions of Years, Lost in Seconds? 07/05/2005
To the surprise of tourists, one of Australias seacoast rock formations called the Twelve Apostles collapsed into a pile of rubble before their eyes, reported CNN, ABC and other news sources. The fall of the 150-foot high sedimentary formation was caught in before-and-after snapshots by a teenager. Even though standard geology claims the rocks began to form 20 million years ago (see the BBC News story), the remains will probably be washed away by the waves within weeks. Answers in Genesis took this event, and others like it, as evidence that such formations could not be nearly as old as claimed.
Let the evidence speak for itself. Anyone infer millions of years with this kind of eyewitness testimony?Deep Impact Strikes Comet in Tempel 07/04/2005
Cheers and hugs erupted at JPL again last night when the Deep Impact spacecraft successfully sent its washing-machine size copper probe plunging into Comet Tempel 1. A somewhat unexpected plume of powdery material was ejected, so opaque it was difficult to image the crater. Speaking of craters, the camera aboard the probe revealed a surface different than other comets, littered with plains and impact craters. The nature of the ejecta plume indicates the material must be as fine as talcum powder (see BBC News update on July 11). The Planetary Society, echoing most of the press releases, explains that this was a big surprise. The surface is fluffy, light, and relatively dry. Scientists long thought that comets were dirty snowballs. The water ice and other volatiles must be deep beneath the surface. Since no water gushed out of the surface, Theories about the volatile layers below the surface of short-period comets are going to have to be revised, said one researcher quoted in a Nature news item.
Its too early to evaluate the meaning of these exciting new data, but at first glance it seems hard to believe this fine, powdery material could have survived many orbits, or that it represents pristine material from billions of years ago. Comets provide evidence of rapid erosion in the solar system (see 03/27/2003 entry). For now it is worthwhile to congratulate the Deep Impact team on their success at building and navigating this historic mission. Actual samples of dust from the tail of Comet Wild-2 will be returned from the Stardust spacecraft next January.