NASA announced this week that a new solar system comprising of seven Earth like planets has been discovered only about 40 light years from Earth. Named the TRAPPIST 1 system (after the Chilean telescope used to discover them), This system includes at least three planets that are considered to be within the 'Goldilocks Zone' that is "not too hot, not too cold, but just right!". The possibilities are that each of these three planets could be host to life as there is a strong likelihood of liquid water in existence.
While there are still many other factors that determine if life will exist there, the sizes and densities of the planets and their location relative to their star is an exciting possibility for astronomers and astro-biologists.
The BBC (among other news) reported that the polar temperature on December 25th 2016 could break all records by a staggering 20 degrees celsius above the average for that time of the year.
Some would argue that this is merely an unusually warm winter. Nothing more than 'weather'. This may be the case, if examined on its own, however 2016 has broken all current records by some margin with each of the last 15 or so months (by my last count - I may be incorrect here): See image.
2016 Record Breaking Temperatures
Other people refer to the fact that the climate of the Earth is continually going through trends of cooling and warming. One thing about that particular argument is that these trends tend to take centuries and not years/decades.
Yet more people refer to record breaking cold weather in other parts of the world. The data that is presented is a global average. its measured in a consistent way in order to have a minimal local interference as possible. Could this data be questioned? Sure. Could it be wrong? Sure. However, there is much anecdotal and observable evidence that also supports the figures: melting of permafrost, recession of glaciers, shrinking of ice caps, alterations of migratory patterns, extended lives of insects (due to milder winters).
Of course I could still be incorrect. After all, science is built on the mistakes of those that have come before. One thing about a theory is that it can not be definitively proved correct so if you ask me to guarantee my argument, I simply cannot.
Ive been reading posts and websites by people who are in denial of AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) - that is global climate change precipitated by man. It seems that they forget that science is not a liberal conspiracy. Its analysis of data. Data that we have had for decades. I can remember this conversation when I was in school twenty years ago and everything from then has checked out.
The other thing that I do think is ridiculous is a reliance on uncorroborated sources. No hard data, no clear information. No thesis or peer review.
Science has a process. Its simple. If you beleive that a theory is false, you should be able to break said theory. You should be able to come up with an experiment that the theory can not explain. The test should be reproducible and verified by peers (people of expertise in the field). It should be able to withstand attack and criticism.
To my knowledge, no such evidence is forthcoming. This is the same as other theories that come under the same non-peer denunciation such as evolution and the age of the Earth.
Climate scientists have been looking a trends in CO2 and in Global temperature records and have found a remarkable correlation between the two. It could be argued that a correlation does not equal a causality, but the fact is that the correlation is so close (both rise and fall together) that it is very difficult to deny the trend. Not only that, there is no widely accepted theory that provides an alternative explanation for what we are witnessing.
Scientists have for some time projected that water in liquid form had been abundant on Mars and through some environmental incident or over a course of time, that water has disappeared. A number of theories about why it went and what happened have been presented but Mars, the red planet, has been looked upon as more of a dessert.
It has also been known that there is a polar icecap on mars that contains some large quantities of frozen water. Rovers have also dug into the soil and evaporation of moisture has been recorded.
What we are finding out
The Curiosity Rover has already shed more light on the mystery of water, although it has not found any organic substances.
Without knowing too many details, it seems that there are periods during Mars' orbit of the sun that liquid water is prevalent on the surface of some areas of the planet.
What might this mean?
Im taking a long shot here, but it seems that out of our eight planets and few dozen moons in this solar system, at least two planets have been confirmed to have liquid water. Several of the moons are suspected to also have oceans under deep ice sheets. It seems that water, the elixir of life, is more prevalent in the universe than we had suspected.
Perhaps the odds of finding life have changed (for the better). Perhaps the odds of finding another world that would support life from this planet might also have improved. Perhaps life is closer than we think!
This video, published by ESA (European Space Agency) gives some idea what it's like to take a space walk. Hollywood did a great job of recreating something similar in the movie Gravity, but there is nothing like seeing the actual thing. This movie was filmed on a GoPro that looked like it was attached to the astronauts arm. For the best view, watch this on the biggest screen you have and set it to full screen.
While I neither teach Biology, nor is it my primary area of interest, I do love all things science and this is no different. Fossils have been discovered that have found an evolutionary 'missing link' between snakes and other reptiles. The really interesting thing about these fossils is that they HAVE LEGS! The fossil is over a hundred million years old and was discovered in Brazil.
These legs come as no surprise to biologists who have predicted this as a number of species of snakes carry 'spurs' that are vestigial leftovers from legs that have long since evolved away (see image below).
Spurs are vestigial remnants of legs on some species of snake
This is a really cool web page that allows you to do just that (without all that zero gravity of course). It allows you to navigate the entire space station and gives little snippets of information in your own time at your own pace.
At this time of year the 'back to school' buzz is in full swing and everyone wants their child to succeed. If your student has concerns with math, then this may be the thing that they fear the most. For some students, math fills them with anxiety to the point that they will feign illness, skip class and do just about anything to get out.
As a parent or teacher, this can be a very serious concern but there are some things that you can do to help your child deal with their math demons.
Be positive about math. As a teacher, I've spoken to many parents who tell me that they hate or fear math. Some openly admit that they can't do math and hence can not help their child. As the #1 role model of your child, that tells them that its okay to have a negative attitude towards math. It also excuses them from trying because if you can't do it, then why would they need it? Even if you can not actually help them solve the problem that they are doing, being positive will encourage them to try a little harder.
Ask them to explain what they have been doing leading to the problem. Educational Psychologists have shown that teaching and explaining helps retention and cognition far more than listening to lectures or reading. The reason for this is that you can't just go through the motions. You have to actually think about what you are doing and how and examine why each step follows from the last. Being active and asking questions will force your kid to examine their steps and find any mistakes that they may have made.
Use online resources. There are some excellent youtube videos online that explain procedures and give dozens of examples. Talking about the videos and writing out the steps with your child will help them understand what they are doing and why. Not only that, it might help remind you of what they need to do so you can help them more!
Avoid leaving the assignment to the last minute. Its easy to put off the thing that you don't like doing but if you know that your son or daughter has math homework and is avoiding doing it, help them by getting it done first. If they are less tired and stressed while attempting the assignment, they are more likely to be successful at it. If they have a good attempt at it and still can not do it, then they will have plenty of time to contact the teacher.
Contact the teacher. As a teacher, I know that I prefer students to come to me before the deadline to tell me that they had difficulty. This isn't because its eating into my golf time, but because I can make more time to help your child if they come to me sooner rather than later. I would also try to encourage students to contact their teacher themselves. Some students find it difficult to ask for help, but keeping open lines of communication will help in the long run.
With a positive attitude, healthy communication, use of resources available and good timekeeping, your child can reduce the stress associated with math. While these steps may not turn your middle schooler into a math genius overnight, it may help them sleep better, enjoy math classes more and hopefully help their understanding as well.
This wonderful video will catch you up on literally everything that has happened so far (in case you missed it)! This is one of the reasons why I think that Neil's DeGrasse Tyson is a wonderful proponent of science, nature and humanity.