How we know the Earth is about 4.5billion years old

There are lots of lay-folk who suspect that scientists make what amounts to ‘stabs in the dark’ when attempting to answer some of the more intriguing questions of the universe.

Like, for instance the age of the Earth.

This post is one of the best (read: concise) overviews I’ve read of why we should expect the age of the earth to be around the 4.5billion mark. It’s one of the best because it comes right out and acknoweldges the variation of conclusions, but in such a way as to explain that they would be, in fact, just what should be expected.

Anyway, have a read – it won’t take you long.


Pic above is an artist’s impression of the formation of a proto-planetary body, accreted from a disk of stellar debris. Via Wikipedia.

Factors affecting how couples recover from a conflict

Here’s some interesting research: a long-term study, following a group of people since birth, has turned up a correlation between the ability of those individuals’ to get over conflict in their adult relationships and their ‘closeness’ to the person who was their primary caregiver during infancy.

In a nut-shell, people who were close to their caregiver between 12 and 18 months (mum, in most cases, I guess) found it easier to get past disagreements with their romantic partners in adulthood.

The researchers suggest this means that if your caregiver is better at regulating your negative emotions as an infant, you tend to do a better job of regulating your own negative emotions in the moments following a conflict as an adult.

And there’s more: one of the study’s authors, Jessica Salvatore, says they “found that people who were insecurely attached as infants but whose adult romantic partners recover well from conflict are likely to stay together … If one person can lead this process of recovering from conflict, it may buffer the other person and the relationship.”

So even if one person has difficulty getting over conflict, as long as the other partner doesn’t then this won’t have to be a significantly negative aspect of the relationship.


via Science Daily

Science, visualised

I love pretty pictures. Particularly pretty Science pictures.

If you do as well then you’ll love the slideshow, presented at Science magazine’s site, of the 10 final nominees for the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge 2010.

Previous years’ nominations can be perused here.

I caught a whiff of this at Wired.

Now with added tweets

From today, new posts here will also be tweeted to the world.

You can follow my feed @mrwever where I’ve set up a number of Science and Tech identities to bolster the (admittedly meagre of late!) updates authored by yours truly.


How many planets did you say?

The estimate of extra-solar planets in our galaxy just got a bit more grounded. 50 billion is the number. With around 500 million of them thought to exist within their star’s habitable zone.

That is a pretty stunningly large number. And remember, the Millky Way is just an average-sized galaxy without any particularly remarkable features to make it special.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?


Peers encourage risky behaviour just by being there

Worrying findings in a study reported at ScienceDaily this week.

Teenagers are generally regarded to be at a stage where risk-taking behaviour is more common. We now have an indicator of why this behaviour occurs at a time in a person’s development.

A scenario was devised to test whether teenagers were more likely to engage in risky actions in the presence of their peers. The answer, sadly, was yes.

One of the study’s authors, Lawrence Steinberg, says “We know that when one is rewarded by one thing then other rewards become more salient. Because adolescents find socializing so rewarding, we postulate that being with friends primes the reward system and makes teens pay more attention to the potential pay offs of a risky decision.”

Having friends is a risky business when you’re a teen.

Top 10 scientific breakthroughs of 2010

Just what it says up there.


Copernicus vs Tycho! Fight!

While we’re on the subject of the Solar System and illustrative animations, the orrery at this web page enables you to compare Copernicus’ heliocentric model of the solar system – wherein the sun is at the centre, orbited by other bodies – with the view, propounded by Tycho Brahe, of an Earth-centric universe.


As well as looking beautiful, the animation really underlines how complex the Tychonian model had to be to accommodate the observed motions of the planets in the earth-centric model.

Lesson? Don’t try to force the data to fit your theory; the simplest solution is usually the best.

What if Jupiter orbited where the moon is?

Get ready for a ride – the video at this link is really eye-opening.

Starting with the question “what would other planets look like if they were as far away as the moon?”, Brad Goodspeed animated a slow pan across the night sky to give you a better feeling for the relative scale of some of our solar system’s more familiar objects.

Watch it in HD for best effect!

Gender effects on disease?

Here is an interesting theory: noting that certain classes of diseases, including allergies and autoimmune problems, are more prevalent amongst women, researchers in the US are proposing that traditional gender roles have a part to play in limiting the exposure of girls to immune-system ‘challenges’ early in life.

Noting that boys are more likely to be encouraged to play actively while girls tend to be supervised during indoor play and prevented from getting dirty, they suggest that the variation in numbers and kinds of micro-organisms that children encounter is significant.

We’ve heard these ideas before, and the study’s authors are not suggesting that girls should be eating a spoonful of dirt in the backyard. However, this is a trend that they argue is important enough, and notable elsewhere in the world where rapid social change has been observed, that it deserves further consideration in studies of epidemiology.

More here. (Oregon State University)


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