10 Mind-Blowing Discoveries This Week_Featured_, Sci-Tech Sunday, August 12th, 2012
By Liz Langley
(AlterNet) The Altamaha River in Georgia is said to be home to a fabled sea monster known as the Altamaha-ha. Altie, whom you can read all about in this excellent illustrated story by Creative Loafing’s Curt Holman via Cryptomundo), is said to resemble a plesiosaur.
A few years back, my friend Jim and I drove up to Georgia to see if we could spot it. The trip was a charmed one, a poor-girl’s substitute for Loch Ness, where I’ve always wanted to go. Did we see anything? I thought I remembered seeing something in the water, something pinkish silvery and a bit serpentine, but frankly I can’t remember if it was in that body of water or another one. (“If you go looking for monsters, eventually you’re going to see one,” says a lighthearted skeptic in Holman’s story.)
1. I want to believe….but c’mon.
So, l’d love for the recent headline-making photo of the Loch Ness monster, seen here in the Daily
Record UK to be real, but…I dunno. The photo was snapped by George Edwards, a 60-year veteran of the Nessie hunting-and-touring trade. It looks like a living thing, but that doesn’t make it a sea monster and Edwards says it didn’t register on his deep scanning sonar. It’s kind of an unconvincing hump in the water and frankly, we’ve all had too many of those to get overly eager about another.
It’s intriguing that the same week Curiosity made a great and true stride for scientific exploration, a single blurry photo of the Loch Ness monster is still able to make headlines, albeit briefly. I mean, we’re exploring Mars. You’d think Loch Ness would be taken care of by now.
Benjamin Radford wrote on LiveScience about (among other things) the BBC’s big investigation into the Loch Ness in 2003 using sonar and satellites, which, for all its due diligence, found nothing unusual. The world is irritatingly knowable these days and that may be why Nessie and Altie endure. There’s a little fun in not knowing, and frankly, the power of that fun is what Edwards’ picture proved. There are truly fantastic underwater creatures like this, and this, and this that show up for photos regularly and never get Nessie-level attention. Nessie leaves us wanting more, the saucy minx. I’d look for her any day.
2. Is that a snake-like tetrapod in your pocket, or…
Speaking of mysterious, serpentine creatures, more than one person sent me a link to the tale of the newly discovered African blind snake-like creature that everyone thinks looks embarrassingly phallic.
“If this isn’t up your alley,” my friend Dave said, “I need a new GPS.”
Geekosystem’s Sui Ying Teoh writes that when the Madeira River in Brazil was drained to build a dam, workers found about six of these tetrapods at the bottom of it, making the riverbed look like a Good Vibrations sale rack. They’re a rare species of caecilian, amphibians that look like worms or snakes, known as Atretochoana eiselti. They’re about 30 inches long and have no lungs so they breathe through their skin. You can almost hear it…can’t you? Pleasant dreams.
These actually have a leg-up on Nessie because we clearly see them but they are still mysterious, currently classified as “data deficient” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature “in view of continuing uncertainties as to its extent of occurrence, status and ecological requirements.” There are no other known populations and of the six found one died, two were kept for study and three were released.
Everyone thinks they look like penises and yeah, they do, but in the same way Don Knotts looks like Mick Jagger. I see the resemblance, but it’s hardly exact. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a penis that clearly had a mouth?
3. Spray-on skin?
Okay, if the blind phallic mouthy tetrapod didn’t prove to you that there are plenty of real-life things to be astonished by, can I interest you in some spray-on skin?
The BBC’s James Gallagher reports on a study by US and Canadian researchers on 228 patients with leg ulcers showing that spray coating of “donated skin cells and blood-clotting proteins over the ulcer,” had great promise in healing the wounds more effectively than current treatment of compression bandages. Leg ulcers are caused by high blood pressure in leg veins that damage the skin and can develop into open wounds. With compression bandages, 70% of wounds heal in about six months. With the “spray-on skin” compound, developed by Healthpoint Biotheraputics, “70% healed after three months compared to 46% who received other treatments.”
The new treatment could lessen the need for skin grafts for leg ulcer patients but it won’t be available right away: ”Further studies will decide if it is a practical treatment for leg ulcers.”
So, if it’s spray-on skin, will it fill in wrinkles? If so, it’s going to have a zillion-dollar market before you can say “Cancel the Botox party!”
4. You’re not paranoid…they don’t like you.
It’s one of those weird, self-fulfilling prophecies that often occur, like when someone is feeling insecure about her looks and goes for the plastic surgery and ends up having real reasons to worry. People sometimes end up courting exactly what they fear.
It’s that way with social rejection, according to a study from UBC Sauder School of Business, reports Lindsay Abrams of The Atlantic. Researchers evaluated the subjects’ MARTI levels — “motivation to acquire relationship-threatening information” (i.e., how driven you are to find out who’s been talking smack about you) — then measured the effects of that motivation on the subjects’ social relationships.
“Basically, the researchers confirmed that people who are highly motivated to acquire relationship-threatening information exhibit paranoia and related behaviors,” Abrams writes. High MARTI people were 3.63 times as likely to be excluded from groups than people who wanted feedback and 16.5 times more likely to be left out than people who wanted to learn social interaction.
So one guesses that if you hear your co-workers laughing in another room and you run in and say “You’re laughing at me, aren’t you? Just you wait! I’ll show you!” bang goes your invitation to the margarita-happy-hour-five-o’clock-rock-block after work.
Maybe when they’re developing that spray-on skin, they can work on making one that’s a little thicker for people who are prone to those kinds of worries.
5. The wonderful world of color.
Happily moving on from MARTI to MARDI, the Mars Descent Imager and the first color photo it has sent home from Curiosity here on NASA’s website. The green dot is exactly where Curiosity landed early Monday morning.
Two weeks ago we talked about “awe therapy” — the feeling of time stopping and related calm when you see something that is truly awesome. These NASA photos are a wellspring of it. My favorites are two comparative shots taken from the Hazard-Avoidance camera, first with the dust cover on, then without. It feels like the reveal on a makeover, showing Mars before and after the ladies from How Clean Is Your House? got to it. Plus, the clear picture has that feeling of “sunrise-on-our-first-day-of-vacation” — and it’s on Mars.
What’s great about all these pictures, aside from the obvious, is having to wait them to come back; to be excited about something as simple as a color picture. Weird how this most thrilling feat of human progress is attended by a joy of the past that we don’t get much of now: antici…pation.