DAN VERGANO, USA TODAY – Icy chasms on one of Saturn’s most humble

moons, hidden amid its glorious rings, have overtaken the sands of Mars

and the stratosphere of Venus as the most intriguing potential hiding

place for alien life in our solar system. Enceladus, a shining ball of

ice hugging Saturn’s rings, was first caught in the act of spewing a

watery geyser from its south pole two years ago by the international

Cassini mission. Water, life’s most crucial ingredient, was blasting 270

miles into space, actually hitting the orbiting spacecraft, from cracks

on the frozen moon dubbed “tiger stripes.”

Astronomers and astrobiologists, who are always looking for signs of

life far from Earth, were caught by surprise – and they remain so,

unable to explain how such a small celestial body (only 318 miles wide

at its equator ) can pump out so much water.

“Nobody has figured it out,” says Andrew Dombard of Johns Hopkins

University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. . .

Every eight seconds, the geyser spotted in a flyby of Enceladus in

December 2005 dumped about a ton of not just water but also a mixture of

life’s building blocks – organic compounds such as methane, propane,

acetylene and carbon dioxide, as well as nitrogen – into Saturn’s outer

“E” ring.


EXTINCT: FIRST LARGE VERTEBRATE IN 50 YEARS AND FOURTH MAMMAL TO DISAPPEAR SINCE THE TIME OF COLUMBUS JEREMY LAURANCE, INDEPENDENT, UK – After more than 20 million years on the planet, the Yangtze river dolphin is officially declared extinct, the first species of cetacean (whale, dolphin or porpoise) to be driven from this planet by human activity. An intensive six-week search by an international team of marine biologists involving two boats that ploughed up and down the world’s busiest river last December failed to find a single specimen. . . To blame for its demise is the increasing number of container ships that use the Yangtze, as well as the fishermen whose nets became an inadvertent hazard. This is no ordinary extinction of the kind that occurs frequently in a world of millions of still-evolving species. The Yangtze freshwater dolphin was a remarkable creature that separated from all other species so many millions of years ago, and had become so distinct, that it qualified as a mammal family in its own right. It is the first large vertebrate to have become extinct for 50 years and only the fourth entire mammal family to disappear since the time of Columbus, when Europeans began their colonization of the world.

Are Bees Being Worked To Death?

– In France a few years back they had a CCD like problem, French beekeepers traced it back to the pesticide, Imidacloprid. Now Imidacloprid is banned in France, but available everywhere else. Seeds of many cash crops are treated with Imidacloprid, after the treatment the pestacide will continue to show up in the mature plant, including it’s flowers, nectar, and pollen. Imidacloprid is a deadly neurotoxin in insects. Even without Imidacloprid, the methods of conventional commercial beekeeping are really hard on bees. Moving hives increases losses, feeding high fructose corn syrup while taking all the honey leaves bees malnourished, repeated doses of pesticide for mites weaken the bees too, frequent outside requeening doesn’t allow the hive to adapt to its local climate, it’s no wonder that commercial beekeeping is in trouble. I’m a natural beekeeper, I don’t use any chemicals on my hives, I don’t have to move them, because my area has plenty of forage, and I’m planting more. My bees keep mites in check, because I let the bees decide how big to make their brood cells. I let my hives raise new queens, and adapt to the local conditions. Commercial beekeeping uses a plastic foundation in the hive for comb that forces the bees to make bigger bees. Bigger bees stay almost two days longer in their brood cells, a duration which is complimentary to the lifes cycle of the Varroa mite. The bees grow to be 1.5 times the size of a natural bee, but their wings only enlarge 20% making the big bees less able to carry large loads of pollen. The bigger bees also have trouble with keeping the hive clean, which encourages mites and other disease. The problem is, to do right by the bees, we will have to change the way agriculture is done in this country, and there are a lot of people invested in things staying the way they are.


Tree Hugger

ECOLOGY & NATURE TREE HUGGER – Prisons probably aren’t the first buildings that spring to mind when you think about green design and architecture. Yet one small island in Norway is set to change that perception with the recent introduction of the “world’s first ecological prison” – a facility powered by solar energy that will put its inmates to work coordinating daily operations, such as recycling and food production, and learning their part to protect the environment. Norwegian authorities hope to thus instill a sense of responsibility in their inmates and to better prepare them for an eco-conscious life once they leave the prison. The facility, which is located on Bastoey Island (about 46 mi south of Oslo), houses 115 inmates. Justice Minister Knut Storberget explained that “from a social and economic perspective, this is cheapest for society,” adding that it only made sense for a prison already renowned for its pleasant living conditions – resembling a summer camp more than a conventional prison with activities like tennis, horse riding and swimming – to go that extra step to rehabilitate its inmates.


SCIENTIFIC BLOGGING – University of Sussex astronomers predict that the Earth will be swallowed up by the Sun unless the Earth’s orbit can be altered – but we have about 7.6 billion years to do it. Dr Robert Smith, Emeritus Reader in Astronomy, said his team previously calculated that the Earth would escape ultimate destruction, although be battered and burnt to a cinder, but they did not take into account the effect of the drag caused by the outer atmosphere of the dying Sun. . . Life on Earth will have disappeared long before 7.6 billion years, however. Scientists have shown that the Sun’s slow expansion will cause the temperature at the surface of the Earth to rise. Oceans will evaporate, and the atmosphere will become laden with water vapor, which (like carbon dioxide) is a very effective greenhouse gas. Eventually, the oceans will boil dry and the water vapor will escape into space. In a billion years from now the Earth will be a very hot, dry and uninhabitable ball. Can anything be done to prevent this fate? Professor Smith points to a remarkable scheme proposed by a team at Santa Cruz University, who suggest harnessing the gravitational effects of a close passage by a large asteroid to “nudge” the Earth’s orbit gradually outwards away from the encroaching Sun. A suitable passage every 6000 years or so would be enough to keep the Earth out of trouble and allow life to survive for at least 5 billion years, and possibly even to survive the Sun’s red giant phase.