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If you’ve ever spent a night under the stars, it’s likely that, if only for a single moment, you’ve thought about Life Out There. Whether you’re a believer or not, it’s hard to go camping without being surrounded by the idea as soon as those big balls of light start showing their pretty faces. My feelings towards extraterrestrial beings are clearly augmented after a few sips of blackberry brandy around the campfire, but I suppose that’s to be expected.

Stuff You Should Know, a favorite around these parts, posted a new podcast earlier this month that explores the origin, aims and challenges of  SETI (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence), the institute and the term that explains the general search for alien life. It also starts off explaining the wonderful photo above, known as the Wow! Signal.

Listen to the podcast here.

Watch the 1997 trailer for Contact, written by Carl Sagan and starring Jodi Foster as a SETI scientist, right here.

March 15, 2012 | Science | Continue Reading | Comments { 3 }

West Texas Agate

MP3: Willie Nelson – Beautiful Texas

February 15, 2012 | Science | Continue Reading | Comments { 0 }


Ever wondered why moss only grows on the north side of trees? Didn’t think so…

****Actually, moss doesn’t only grow on the north side of trees, it just MOSTLY grows on the north side. Also, that rule only applies in the northern hemisphere–in the southern hemisphere, moss mostly grows on the south sides of trees. The reason is that in the northern hemisphere, because of the tilt of the Earth on its axis, the sun almost always appears to be a little south of directly overhead. That’s why rooms with windows facing south are brighter than rooms with windows facing north. This is important for the mosses because the north sides of trees (in the northern hemisphere) are shadier and therefore moister. The south sides of trees get more sunlight, so water evaporates faster there.

Mosses need a lot of water for two reasons. One is that they’re not “vascular” plants–that means that they don’t have the plant version of a circulatory system, and they can’t move water around inside their bodies. All cells in a moss’ body need to have easy access to water from the environment. The second reason they need water is because their male reproductive cells can only survive by swimming in droplets of water. The only way these cells can get from one plant to another is to hope that a raindrop will cause the water they’re swimming in to be splashed onto a neighboring plant. If the surface that they live on (like a tree trunk) dries out, the moss will be unable to reproduce, and it will dry out. That’s much more likely to happen on the sunnier side of a tree trunk than on the shadier side.

The same rule applies to rocks, fallen logs, or anything else that mosses might grown on. If it has a sunny side and a shady side, the moss will mostly grow on the shady side. In the northern hemisphere, that’s usually the northern side, and in the southern hemisphere, it’s usually the southern side. If you look closely enough, though, you’ll see exceptions.

The texture of mosses is usually (but not always!) fuzzy because their leaves have many little projections on them, like the finger-like projections on a maple leaf. The moss leaves and their projections are so small, though, that they seem fuzzy to us. These projections are probably to help the moss cells deep inside the leaves to be as close as possible to external water sources.

MP3: Cocteau Twins – Cherry-Coloured Funk

September 27, 2011 | Science | Continue Reading | Comments { 3 }

From Ashes to Forest

From Ashes to Forest is a feature length film archived on the goldmine that is the National Film Board of Canada. Shot in Banff and Wood Buffalo National Parks, this film released in 1984 surfaces the need for fire to promote the renewal and health of the forest. Also called into question are the risks involved with the Smokey Bear campaign and brand of fire management.

Mostly, the film is beautiful, the soundtrack is majorly feel-good era specific, and it’s educational as can. Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.

Watch it here.

August 26, 2011 | Music/Movies/Books, Science | Continue Reading | Comments { 2 }

Scorpion Antivenom

For those of you in the southwestern part of these United of States, you’ll be glad to know that last week, the FDA approved the first-ever antivenom specifically for the treatment of scorpion stings. The drug, developed in Mexico, is called Anascorp, and is capable of rapidly reversing the symptoms of scorpion bites, which can include fluid in the lungs, breathing problems, excess saliva, blurred vision, slurred speech, trouble swallowing, abnormal eye movements, and muscle twitching.

“This is an historic event,” Leslie Boyer, MD, lead investigator on the antivenom’s clinical trials, said in a press statement. “This is the first-ever drug approved for this use by the FDA; the first-ever drug that we are aware of being developed fully in Latin America and subsequently approved by the FDA; the first-ever scorpion antivenom proved effective under controlled clinical trials; and the first-ever antivenom with so few allergic reactions.”

Adventure Medical Kits, take note. More info on Anascorp here.

August 8, 2011 | Science | Continue Reading | Comments { 0 }

Why Ticks Suck

It’s been several months since I started listening to Josh and Chuck on Stuff You Should Know, and while most of their podcasts aren’t exactly about camping and the outdoors, their episode on the tick, “Why Ticks Suck,” is rather relevant for the coming months. For most of us, spring means camping, and of course, camping can mean ticks. Tuck your pants into your socks and go here to listen for free. It’s #74 on the list.

April 11, 2011 | Science | Continue Reading | Comments { 3 }


Pancake Ice is formed when temperatures hover right around zero degrees with at least moderate wave activity. The sections themselves can range from a few inches to several feet in diameter, with fairly even depth and slightly raised rims. The rim is built up with each compression of wave, being drawn together in each trough. Conditions in which pancake ice occur most are when there is a thin film of slush on the top of agitated water (sometimes called grease ice) that freezes into larger sections, or when a more solid base of ice breaks up into pieces. In high school we’d all pack into my rusted out ’95 Neon to go check out the ice on Lake Michigan. It almost always ended in very irresponsibly running across these churning pancakes just off shore. And more than once somebody rode home with a frozen pant-leg.

January 10, 2011 | Long Hairs, Science | Continue Reading | Comments { 2 }

The Miller Planisphere

Ever used a Miller Planisphere? Probably. If you haven’t, do us all a favor and buy one already. Lord.

Just dial the date and time and you’ll see what’s happening up there in the sky, then rotate the time dial to simulate sky motion. No math-heavy introductory astronomy college course required. Make sure you order the model number that corresponds with your latitude. Comes in a pocket size too.

MP3: Iris Dement – Leaning On The Everlasting Arms

January 5, 2011 | Long Hairs, Science | Continue Reading | Comments { 0 }

Baidarka + The Starship and The Canoe

Baidarka is the name sometimes used for an Aleutian style sea kayak. A prominent feature of a baidarka is its forked bow (bifurcated bow). Very lightweight and maneuverable, it was made out of seal skin sewed only by Aleut women, over a frame made strictly of driftwood (since no trees grow in the Aleutian Islands), bone and sinew. It was treated as a living being by Aleut men (it was taboo for women to handle them).

George Dyson, son of astrophysicist Freeman Dyson, is often credited with the revival of the baidarka, through his company Dyson, Baidarka & Company, though Dyson’s Baidarkas are made from modern materials such as aluminium for the frame and coated polyester fabric for the skin.. Dyson and his boats were the subject of Kenneth Brower’s book The Starship and the Canoe, a book I just finished reading and the obvious reason for this post. Brower’s story chronicles Freeman, who is trying to build an inexpensive spaceship to travel the cosmos, and George, who is living in a tree in British Columbia, building a kayak to travel the coast. Awful title, wonderful book.

MP3: The Doobie Brothers – It Keeps You Runnin’

October 19, 2010 | Music/Movies/Books, Science | Continue Reading | Comments { 0 }

The Great Daylight 1972 Fireball

The Great Daylight 1972 Fireball, or US19720810, is an Earth-grazing meteoroid which passed within 35.4 miles of the surface of the Earth at 20:29 UTC on August 10, 1972. It entered the Earth’s atmosphere in daylight over Utah (2:30 pm local time) and passed northwards leaving the atmosphere over Alberta, Canada.

Watch a pretty amazing home movie of the meteoroid that someone shot at GRTE right here. (The video is a little less dramatic than Woody Harrelson watching Yellowstone erupt in 2012.)

MP3: Bob Dylan – Shooting Star

August 19, 2010 | Science | Continue Reading | Comments { 4 }