Happy Summer Solstice! Yay! (Northern Solstice)

Posted on 20th June 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags:

Today, June 20th at 23:59 (one minute to midnight UTC (18:59 EST)), the sun will shine at its highest northern latitude for the year, appearing directly overhead for anyone standing at latitude 23.44° north, also known as the tropic of Cancer.

Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice
Credit: GI

This is the longest day of the year, and from here on out the days will get shorter until the Winter Solstice. So go outside and enjoy the season. Fall is closer than you think!

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Happy Near Miss Day!

Posted on 23rd March 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags:
Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico

Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico
Image by NASA

19 years ago, March 23, 1989, Apollo asteroid 4581 Asclepius passed within 700,000 km (400,000 miles) of Earth, passing through the exact position the Earth was only six hours before.

Had it impacted, it would have generated an explosion thousands of times more powerful than the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. So let’s not forget the importance of projects like the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which search the skies, keeping an eye on the Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) that could reset the human race back to the Stone Age in the blink of an eye.

Happy Darwin Day

Posted on 12th February 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags:
Darwin DayDarwin Day

Check out the official Darwin Day Website here.

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The Problem with Inventors’ Day

Posted on 11th February 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags:

A Happy American Inventor Day to everyone, which occurs on Thomas Alva Edison’s birthday. The same Edison who’s DC power was finally turned off in November after 125 years of inferiority and who swindled Nicholas Tesla out of $50,000. That’s right, today is in honor of Thomas Edison the hypocrite who bootlegged the film Voyage dans la Lune, distributing it in America so that the filmmaker never profited from it, while forcing American filmmakers to flee to the West Coast in order to escape his oppressive monopoly on filmmaking equipment. Today’s celebration glorifies a man who electrocuted cats, dogs, and even an elephant for publicity purposes.

Happy 161st birthday Thomas Edison. Thpppt!!!

Five Fists of Science

Five Fists of Science

These reasons are why I got such a kick out of the historically fictional graphic novel The Five Fists of Science, where Mark Twain, Nicholas Tesla, and Bertha Von Suttner join forces to battle J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison, and Andrew Carnegie’s evil plot for world domination. Morgan, Edison, and Carnegie summon supernatural demons through occult rituals and human sacrifice, which Twain, Tesla, and Von Suttner must battle with electricity guns and a giant robot (I wuv giant robots).

The comic’s introduction goes over the characters and clarifies how much of each presentation is real, and how much is the author’s imagination. The result is a fun ride, filled with witty dialogue and characters that feel true to form based on our historical understanding of them.

Thomas Edison makes the perfect villain, one we love to hate. May he rot in peace.

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50th Anniversary of America Entering the Space Race

Posted on 31st January 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags:

At the time, we didn’t know a great deal, but we felt comfortable that we could put something up. And we liked the difference between our satellite and Sputnik. Ours flew science, the Van Allen experiment.
– Carl Raggio, a mechanical engineer on the Explorer team

Explorer I

Explorer I
Image by NASA

50 years ago, at this minute January 31, 1958 at 10:48 PM, the launch of Explorer I became America’s official entry into the Space Race.

Although Sputnik I and II were first into space, American’s deserve to have pride in Explorer I for going one step beyond just reaching space by performing some science while it was up there.

A Geiger counter installed on Explorer I discovered the Van Allen radiation belt, and it didn’t have to kill a dog to do so.

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There’s Only One Human Race

Posted on 21st January 2008 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior - Tags: ,

Nobel Laureate, James Watson, recently made the claim that blacks were ‘less intelligent,’ than whites, which just goes to show, being smart in one area doesn’t prevent you from being foolish in other realms.

The following message is from the American Anthropological Association:

“race” has no scientific justification in human biology.

Tiger Woods coined the term Cablinasian to describe his ethnicity, merging Caucasian, black, Indian, and Asian to encompass his blending of heritages. The very fact that such diverse groups of people can successfully produce offspring together proves that they are not of different races.

The difference between light and dark skin human beings really is only skin deep, when we trace the course of human migrations we learn that our skin colors are an adaptation to sun exposure. As humans migrated into the North, they were exposed to less sunlight, and began to suffer Vitamin D deficiencies. People with lighter skin produced more Vitamin D and survived to pass on their genes in this environment.

Ryan Sommas Paternal Genetic Journey

Ryan Somma’s
Paternal Genetic Journey

I’m in Haplogroup J2 on my paternal side, according to my genetic ancestry test. My father’s Italian, but specifically Southern Italian, which means we share our ancestry with people from Northern Africa. I’m practically half-Arab genetically (but don’t tell my Italian relatives that).

Similarly, Native Americans bare a stronger resemblance to Asians the further Northwest you go, because that’s where their ancestors crossed the Bering Strait.

All of us are Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, Class Mammalia, Order Primates, Family Hominidae, Genus Homo, Species Homo sapiens, and Subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens, all of us. It doesn’t matter if someone’s dark skinned, blue-eyed, tall, heavy-set, light-skinned, curly-haired, big-nosed, smart, web-toed, etc, etc, they are only about 0.1 percent genetically different from anyone else.

As for Watson, it was also recently found that he has black genes.

Scientific food for thought this MLK Day.

You can read the final revision of the American Anthropological Association Statement on “Race” here.

Happy Kid Inventor Day!

Posted on 17th January 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags: ,
Benjamin Franklin age 12

Benjamin Franklin age 12
Courtesy NPS

Benjamin Franklin was 15 when he started writing notable letters to the Editor of his local paper. Thomas Edison was 15 when he began printing his own newspaper. Louis Braille was 15 when he invented the raised dots that served as a gateway to the blind reading on their own. Today is Kid Inventor Day a day to appreciate the innovative potential of young minds.

Some other ingenious innovators in our present day:

15-year-old Grayson Rosenberger invented a $10 prosthetic limb cover using bubble wrap and a heat gun, a vastly cheaper alternative to designed prosthetics, which can cost $3,000 each.

17-year-old Andrew Sutherland programmed the website Quizlet, which turns memorizing vocabulary, foreign languages, and, my personal favorite, taxonomy terms into a fun online game, perfect for cramming for the SATs or other exams.

10-year-old Taylor Hernandez invented the “Magic Sponge Blocks,” life-sized construction blocks held together with magnets that can be squished down to 20% their original size for storage.

You can find more young inventors here.

Happy Winter Solstice! Yay!!!

Posted on 22nd December 2007 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags: ,

Image by The Slumbering Lungfish

Image by The Slumbering Lungfish

Happy Winter Solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere) to all my fellow Secular Humanists out there! At 6:08 this morning the Sun reached its greatest distance opposite the Earth’s equatorial plane relative to the Northern polar hemisphere, making it the longest night of the year and our days will only get longer an brighter from now till Spring! Hooray!!!

Also celebrated on or around this day are Amaterasu celebration, Beiwe Festival, Choimus, Christmas, Deuorius Riuri, Deygan, DongZhì Festival, Goru, Hogmanay, Inti Raymi, Junkanoo, Karachun, Koleda, Lenæa, Lucia, Makara Sankranti, Meán Geimhridh, Midvinterblót, Modranicht, Perchta ritual, Rozhanitsa Feast, Sabe Cele, Sanghamitta Day, Saturnalia, Seva Zistanê, Sol Invictus Festival, Soyal, Tekufat Tebet, Wayeb, Yule, Zagmuk, and
Happy Holidays to All!!!

Here’s a classic dancing Holiday Lights video set to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Wizards in Winter:”


Happy Evolution Day!

Posted on 24th November 2007 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags: ,
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Photo by J. Cameron, 1869

On this day, 148 years ago, Charles Darwin first published The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (wikipedia). Although the book and specifics of Darwin’s orginal theory have been improved upon, as the evolving body of scientific knowledge perpetually works out the myriad details of the proccess, natural selection, the mechanism or algorithm Darwin proposed as the driving force behind the fossil record’s clear-cut revelation of life’s increasing complexity, remains the dominant explanation for human origins and the origins for all life on Earth.

You can read the complete text and all of Darwins other works at the Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online website…

…or you can download the complete 6th edition of the text in a variety of formats you can read on your cellphone at Project Gutenberg.

…or you can download the complete text in audiobook format from Librivox

For a more advanced schooling in evolutionary theory, I highly recommend Richard Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene,” where he explains why Nice Guys Finish First in survival of the fittest.

Note: This is not to be confused with the flaky, New Age evolutionday.com, which comes up first in Google Searches on this subject. (Some friends and I are cleansing some crystals and enlisting some psychics for an Astral Projection karmageddon assault on the website’s owners to make them relinquish the domain name.)Cross-posted at GO.

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Happy Birthday Kurt Vonnegut!

Posted on 11th November 2007 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags: , ,
Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut
Photo by Ryan Somma

He would be 85 today. This great writer survived the firebombing of Dresden, wrote dozens of books and short stories, and was honorary president of the American Humanist Association.

Although he objected to the description, Vonnegut wrote many science fiction stories. In his book Cat’s Cradle, he came up with the idea of ice-nine a molecule that converts other water molecules to it’s form, turning room-temperature water into ice. Although science fiction at the time, today scientists are aware of prions, which are protein molecules that convert other molecules to their structure. This is understood to be the mechanism behind Mad Cow Disease.

In his book The Sirens of Titan all human accomplishments, from Stonehenge to the Great Wall of China, are revealed to be for the purposes of sending a message on behalf of a stranded alien requesting spare parts for its ship. His book Galapagos includes the evolution of people stranded on the Galapagos Islands into finned and feral animals after the extinction of the human race. His most famous book, Slaughterhouse Five follows a man “unstuck in time” as he visits different moments in his life. All of these books are precious for their statements on the human condition.

Kurt Vonnegut died on April 11th of this year from brain injuries after a fall at his Manhattan home.

There’s a bit of odd numerical synchronicity in this date of birth (11/11). In some parallel universe, where humans have an extra digit on each hand and foot, today would be Powers of Eleven Day. What a tribute that would be, for a writer who was so unique in writing and worldview.

Cross-posted at Geeking Out.