Friday, October 27, 2006

Science Trek : Episode I

Since my column in the Technician was abruptly canceled due to various reasons, I have decided to create one here, along the same lines.

This one is called "Science Trek", and I hope to capture a few snippets or a weekly roundup of some interesting science & tech stories...this here is the first edition of the same...

Sunny Side up in 3D

NASA launched two spacecraft that are expected to provide the first mapping of the sun in 3D! The main idea is to study violent eruptions from the sun known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). CMEs are huge bubbles of gas threaded with magnetic field lines that are ejected from the Sun over several hours. These eruptions can create huge clouds of energetic particles that can trigger magnetic storms. These may disrupt communications, satellites and even power grids! The mission has two spacecraft, lofted on a delta-2 rocket. These aircraft will send their data directly to the US National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA). This it the agency that makes space weather forecasts, and with the new data they can improve their forecast warning time from a few hours to a few days.

The following image shows the orbits of the stereo observations relative to earth...

Teaching evolution

75 science professors at Case Western Reserve University have signed a letter endorsing a candidate for the Ohio school board of Education. The idea is that they want to oust the Deborah Owens Fink who is a leading advocate of curriculum standards that encourages students to challenge the theory of evolution! The alternate and the preferred candidate - Tom Sawyer, a democrat, former Congressman and onetime mayor of Akron. Apparently over 90% of the professors had signed the petition from as diverse fields as anthropologists, chemists, geologists, physicists and psychologists. But Dr. Owens Frank is not against the theory of evolution, or a proponent of the theory of intelligent design. She finds the idea that there is consensus in the scientific community for evolution as "laughable", and she wanted the students to subject evolution to a critical analysis.

The Mighty Amazon

New research concludes that the world's mightiest river, the Amazon, was forced to reverse direction, not once, or twice but thrice ! Sometime around 65 million years ago, the rise of the Andes blocked the Amazon, which until then used to empty out into the Pacific ocean. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found samples of the mineral Zircon at the center of the Amazon basin - these deposits could only have come from a now-eroded mountain range to the east, called Purus Arch. Of course, this course change was only the latest in a series. Apparently the rise of the Purus Arch in the east, had originally caused the Amazon to change direction westwards. Apparently the Amazon has gone through at least three course changes in the last 110 million years - a short period of time, geologically speaking!

The Oracle forsees a future clash with Redhat

Oracle, one of the largest software companies in the world, seems to have thrown down the gauntlet and taken aim at Redhat - a leader in Linux and open source software. This came in the form of an announcement by Oracle's chief executive, Larry Ellison. He announced that Oracle would begin offering maintenance services for Redhat products, and charge less than what Redhat does for the same! Redhat's shares were crushed by the news, dropping by more than 25% ! The Raleigh-based Redhat, a $1 billion company could become vulnerable to a takeover if their shares continue to drop as a result of this announcement. This might be a game of bruised egos - something that Larry Ellison is known to have in large quantities. Apparently Redhat recently trounced Oracle in a takeover bid for JBoss. This, coupled with an announcement from Redhat that its Linux software would turn software into a commodity caused Ellison to launch this counter-attack. We shall just have to wait and see as to how this saga a classic David vs Goliath scenario.

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