Science News Update (30 Nov 2006)

I thought I’d share some interesting developments in the world of science.

More on polonium

CNN reports that twenty-one people have now been referred to a specialty clinic for further testing. In addition, radiation has been found on two British Airways airplanes that either Mr. Litvinenko or his contacts travelled on. The 33,000 passengers who have flown on those planes are being contacted for screening. In a column on Nature’s web site, Nicola Jones discusses the difficulty in determining the identity of a poison and why it took so long to recognize the polonium-210. (See my two previous posts on this.)

Cutting back carbon dioxide emissions

As Catherine Brahic of New Scientist reports, Europe has begun setting stricter caps for carbon dioxide emissions. This will help bring them in line with the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty intended to reduce greenhouse gases. The European Union, Russia, India, and Canada have ratified the treaty; Australia, the United States, and China have not (there are many other nations involved as well).

China prepares for launch to moon

China is readying its Chang’e I probe, which is scheduled to be launched next year, Leonard David at writes. India and Japan are both planning unmanned lunar missions of their own. So far, the United States and the former Soviet Union are the only two nations to have sent craft to the moon.

Antikythera mechanism’s purpose elucidated

Justin Mullins at New Scientist discusses this remarkable device and what it might have been used for. Also see Alun’s fine post at his blog Archaeoastronomy discussing the relic, the findings, and the implications.

Discovery to launch 7 December’s Tariq Malik talks about space shuttle Discovery’s upcoming launch and mission to the International Space Station.

Ultrasonic stethoscope

A new stethoscope uses ultrasound to “listen” to the heart and converts the echoes into audible sound waves, reports the New Scientist’s Tom Simonite. The sound is not quite the same as that of a standard stethoscope, and like other ultrasound machines, a gel is required between the probe and the skin. However, it could prove quite useful in noisy situations where a quiet environment is not practical.

Outlawing evolution

A bit off-topic, I suppose, but Pharyngula points out this amusing article from The Onion, a satirical newspaper, discussing an attempt to outlaw evolution.

An excerpt:

The new law prohibits all living beings within state borders from any willful adaptation to changing environmental conditions. In addition, it strictly limits any activity that may result in enhanced health or survival beyond the current average lifespan of their particular species.