Day: December 17, 2015

This Giant Salamander Isn’t 200 Years Old, But It’s Still Super Rare

Via National Geographic:

‘If you’re ever wading through a river in China and step on something squishy, take care—you might be standing on Andrias davidianus, the largest amphibian on Earth.

This is exactly what Chinese media sources say happened last week when a fisherman discovered a Chinese giant salamander in a cave outside the city of Chongqing (map).The gentle giant weighs 114 pounds (53 kilograms) and stretches over 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) long, according to the Chinese state-run publication People’s Daily Online.

Believing the salamander to be ill, the fisherman contacted the authorities, which captured the animal and transferred it to a facility for “protection and further study.”  While some subsequent news reports cite anonymous experts claiming the animal may be more than two centuries old, these estimates are at odds with what scientists know about the species. “It is a big salamander, and they grow slowly,” says Theodore Papenfuss, a herpetologist and researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, “but the oldest I’ve heard of is 50 years, and that was in captivity.” ‘


As Sea Levels Rise, Are Coastal Nuclear Plants Ready?

Via National Geographic:

‘Just east of the Homestead-Miami Speedway, off Florida’s Biscayne Bay, two nuclear reactors churn out enough electricity to power nearly a million homes. The Turkey Point plant is licensed to continue doing so until at least 2032. At some point after that, if you believe the direst government projections, a good part of the low-lying site could be underwater. So could at least 13 other U.S. nuclear plants, as the world’s seas continue to rise. (See maps below.) Their vulnerability, and that of many others, raises serious questions for the future…’

Were medieval magicians experimental scientists?

Via Prospect Magazine:

‘The role of the magic tradition in the inception of science is complex but to present the two as antithetical is wrong. They were in many respects mutually supportive and even hard to distinguish. Magic as an intellectual endeavour can be seen as largely sober and systematic. Even the tricksier “popular” magic of the showman or mountebank was closely allied to practical technologies and mechanical skill. And if it had a tendency to patch together ad hoc explanations for puzzling phenomena, magic wasn’t doing much more than modern science continues to do; what has changed is the rigour with which such “explanations” are now scrutinised.

As historian William Eamon has argued, Renaissance “natural magic” was “the science that attempted to give rational, naturalistic explanations” for why things happened, and natural magicians, like modern scientists, believed that “nature teemed with hidden forces and powers that could be imitated, improved on, and exploited for human gain.” To its advocates, this art was the most potent means of dispensing with the supernatural intervention of demons and God in the day-to-day operation of nature…’


Could the LHC have found the graviton?

Via New York Times:

‘At the end of a long chain of “ifs” could be a revolution, the first clues to a theory of nature that goes beyond the so-called Standard Model, which has ruled physics for the last quarter-century.

It is, however, far too soon to shout “whale ahoy,” physicists both inside and outside CERN said, noting that the history of particle physics is rife with statistical flukes and anomalies that disappeared when more data was compiled…’