News for Nerds - The "It's Snot Funny" Edition!
- 1/18/2013 |
- 10:00 am
Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we make walrus noises, search for extraterrestrial life, and answer a reader-submitted question about cold weather. But first, here are your headlines.
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It's cold and flu season pretty much everywhere across the U.S. right now. Many people are suffering from congestion, a runny nose, and the blahs. But even though the natural temptation is to reach for a box of tissues and blow your nose, doctors tell us that's actually not helping any.
You see, a blocked nose isn't caused by mucus at all. It's actually the result of swelling and inflammation of the blood vessels in the nasal airways, triggered by the infection itself. Blowing doesn't address that inflammation, and can even make things worse. Studies have shown that 'forceful blowing' can shoot infected mucus up into your sinuses and lead to secondary bacterial infections.
If you must blow, experts say, do it gently, and one nostril at a time. Over-the-counter decongestants and nasal sprays are also good options. And for the truly ill, those of you stuck to the couch and feeling miserable: half an hour of The Price is Right seems to help somehow, too.
- from The Daily Mail (UK)
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It doesn't grab much mainstream media coverage, but the progress we're making in the search for Earth-like planets is downright staggering. Consider that we had never found another planet of any kind orbiting another star until the mid-1990s... and now we know of hundreds, with several thousand more that have been spotted but not yet confirmed.
But there's even more to the story. A new study has used the growing body of statistical evidence to extrapolate how many planets there must be in the Milky Way galaxy. (When you're good at math, you can do cool stuff like that.)
The numbers are mind-boggling. They estimate that there may be 100 billion planets in the Milky Way alone, with 17 billion of them the size of Earth! How many do you think might exist in a habitable zone?
Read the full story to learn about the clever problem-solving that astronomers have done to come up with these calculations. And keep an eye out for many more stories about the search for Earth-like planets in the coming years. Big news might be on its way.
- from Slate's Bad Astronomy Blog
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Reader mail! News for Nerds fan Allison asks: Why isn't the coldest time of year at the same time as the shortest day of the year, in December? Shouldn't it start getting warmer after that?
The answer is that yes, it's true that in the northern hemisphere we receive the least amount of sunshine around the 21st of December (it has to do with the tilt of the Earth). But the planet retains heat, built up from the summer and the fall, and it takes time for that heat to slowly dissipate. That's why we usually see the coldest temperatures in late January and early February.
It's the same with summer. The summer solstice occurs around June 21st, but the heat buildup means that we usually won't see our hottest summer days until July or early August. Then the cycle begins again, with gradual cooling.
Our planet is one giant thermal mass, absorbing and releasing heat as it tilts back and forth. You can read more about this phenomenon right here.
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Here are a few other cool science stories to check out:
- I’m no scientist, but in the race to find the first extraterrestrial life forms I’m putting my money on Europa, an ice-covered moon orbiting Jupiter. A Russian team has shown us the way to successfully drill through Europa’s thick ice shell and search the ocean below; they did it with an ancient lake lying more than two miles below the ice of Antarctica.
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has posted a massive online collection of animal sounds. True, most of them are birds, but there are enough other critters on there to keep you entertained for hours. Personally I recommend you search these catalog numbers:
134096, which is an African tree frog
53276, a walrus
135078, a rather rambunctious monkey found in Peru with the one of the most adorable species names: a Dusky Titi
And perhaps the strangest one I heard: 112595, a bearded seal that sounds like some sort of alien.
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That's all for now! I'll be back with more News for Nerds next week, but be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and to sign up for the free e-Newsletter so that you can properly get your nerd on every single month! And please send any juicy News for Nerds tips to me right here!