Science!: Extinction, Roombas and Earth


People Really Love Their Roombas

I can understand how someone might learn to love, say, a Cylon. They have genuine emotions and act like us, and some of them are just plain hot. But a tiny, cylindrical vacuum cleaner? I kid you not: A new study from Georgia Tech has found that some people express genuine attachment for their little Roombas, a few even going so far as dressing them up, giving them names, and worrying over their “health.”

In a recent study conducted by Beki Grinter and Young Sun at Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, 20 Roomba users out of 30 admitted to naming their devices and giving them a gender (16 of those referred to it as a “he”). Other participants rearranged their houses in order to better accommodate the machines, though that seems more borne out of efficiency than attachment. One subject actually introduced his Roomba to his parents (before “popping the question,” I assume).

Anyone who has owned a Roomba knows that they’re not the most efficient vacuum on the market. Fringed rugs and electrical cords positively baffle them. They often miss cleaning entire areas of larger rooms with more complex furniture layouts. And, yet, instead of replacing the fallible gadget with a more appropriate tool, people will purchase new rugs to play into the Roomba’s foibles. In perhaps the most interesting twist of the study, researchers had found that reliability of a Roomba had become less important to owners than the emotional engagement they received from owning one.

“I was blown away,” states Young Sung, Ph.D. student at Georgia Tech. “Some Roombas break a lot, they still have functional problems. But people are willing to make that effort because they love their robot enough.”

Source: Popular Science, MSNBC


It’s Official: An Asteroid Killed Dinosaurs

The debate over the cause of the dinosaur’s extinction has finally been laid to rest. Probably. An international panel of 41 scientists has looked at all the evidence and has proclaimed the culprit: It is, indeed, an asteroid that ended the golden reign of the dinosaurs.

The asteroid hit about 65 million years ago and resulted in the extinction of nearly half of all species on the planet. This extinction cleared the way for mammals to make their debut and become the dominant species after many years of reptile dominion. The asteroid is believed to have been 9 miles wide, and hit Earth with a force one billion times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. “It would have blasted material at high velocity into the atmosphere, triggering a chain of events that caused a global winter, wiping out much of life on Earth in a matter of days,” explained researchers at the Imperial College.

The asteroid likely hit an area of the Yucatan Peninsula referred to as Chicxulub. When it hit, the impact was so violent that the asteroid and surrounding area was immediately vaporized. Droplets of melted ground began to rain down on exposed vegetation and animals. Eventually dust, soot and other chemicals filled the air and blotted out the sun, creating a darkness that lasted nearly a year. Without the sun, plants couldn’t photosynthesize and began to die. Without plants, herbivores perished, and finally, carnivores.

However, Norman Macleod of the Natural History Museum of London, believes this is where the evidence gets messy. If the asteroid had such catastrophic, far-ranging ramifications, then how did some species survive, while others did not? Other researchers question the date of the asteroid that hit Chicxulub. According to some claims, the asteroid hit hundreds of thousands of years before the mass extinction occurred. However, the paper released by the international panel of scientists comes as a rebuttal to these concerns. The University of Texas at Austin states that “[The scientists] find that alternative hypotheses are inadequate to explain the abrupt mass extinction and that the impact hypothesis has grown stronger than ever.” Though the paleontological field may never settle on a conclusive culprit of the mass extinction, this scientific paper is one of the more robust and thorough investigations into the cause that they have so far.

One of the study’s authors, Tamara Goldin of the University of Vienna, states, “It is almost impossible to change the skeptics’ minds, but we hope we can communicate to the scientific community and the public that this impact-induced environmental catastrophe did happen.”

Well? What do you guys think?

Source: National Geographic



The Earth Has a Mass of Six Hellagrams

Austin Sendek is a man with a plan: a hella big plan. As a physics student at UC Davis in California, he got tired of describing 10^27 as simply “10 to the 27th power.” Now, if he has his way, this scientific measurement may just become “hella,” as in “the diameter of our universe is 1.4 hellameters” or “the mass of the earth is six hellagrams.”

He’s officially petitioning the International System of Units (SI), the guys responsible for these deciding these kinds of things, and asking them to make “hella” an official scientific prefix. Reactions to this proposal at UC Davis have been mixed: One physics student has threatened to switch majors if the proposal goes through.

Currently, the largest prefix is “yotta,” which refers to 10^24. Yotta, of course, follows the popular naming system used by SI, where mostly Greek and Latin terms are used to create prefixes. Yotta is Greek for “eight,” and 10^24 is equal to 1000^8. Hella, not being a Greek or Latin term, will have to rely on its popularity with surfers to gain ground in a system dominated by the ancients.

Sendek isn’t just banking on a mere petition to sway the minds of the SI into making hella an official term. He has created an official Facebook page, a “Make Hella Official” blog and an online store that sells “hella” T-shirts and stickers. Before you ask, I wear a Medium.

Source: CBS


Chilean Earthquake Shortens Day

The devastating Chilean earthquake that occurred February 27 may have shortened the length of a typical day and shifted the Earth on its axis.

According to calculations by JPL research scientist, Richard Gross, the earthquake should have shortened the length of the Earth day by 1.26 microseconds. The quake caused subterranean plates to move vertically, resulting in a redistribution of mass.

Although it takes 24 hours for all mass on Earth to complete a rotation around its axis, some points have to move more quickly or slowly in order do so. When mass is significantly changed, often due to major upheavals during an earthquake, speed may need to increase or decrease in order to compensate for the change in distribution. “On average, the mass of the Earth got a bit closer to the rotation axis,” explains Gross. “Just like a spinning skater brings her arms in closer to her body to rotate faster.” The quicker the planet rotates, the shorter the day.

Don’t worry, you won’t even notice the shortening of the day (unless you’re literally counting the microseconds until it’s the weekend). “Circadian biology…is indeed sensitive to the Earth’s rotation,” explains Michael Terman, director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at Columbia University Medical Center. “But a change of 1.26 microseconds won’t have a significant impact – I hope!”

Source: NASA

Thanks Lord_Ascendant!


About the author