• April 2, 2004 | 8:30 p.m. ET
Is there a canine connection? Cosmic Log fans (including at least one of the canine persuasion) weighed in on this week's research regarding the resemblance between purebred dogs and their owners. Here's a selection of the feedback:
Jacinta Denton, Spring Creek, Nev.: "You can indeed tell something about a person by the type of dog they are willing to be seen with. The dog may represent an aura that the person desires to project, a connection with a lifestyle, a historical era, even a desired physical or temperamental style. There are dogs that I wouldn't be caught dead with! Just look — you don't see the 'soccer mom' with an Argentine Dogo! You don't see a Goth type with a golden retriever. Of course, a dog is a personal expression, as is one's vehicle, clothing, home decor or whatnot. Most importantly, our best friend, if selected carefully. I am a behavior counselor and work at an animal shelter. It is a disaster for the dogs chosen by clueless people. To bond properly with the dog, one must see something of oneself in it. I have Borzoi, go figure!"
Barin H. Beard, Puerto la Cruz, Edo. Anzoategui, Venezuela: "Interesting information ... I am an American living and working in Venezuela. In my neighborhood is an older gentleman who owns a bulldog. He and his dog look like brothers! I am not joking. It is amazing! So this observation applies internationally as well, not just in the U.S.A."
David: "Maybe the dogs select us. There is a notion on the fringes that they’re telepathic and control their feeble primate associates."
George: "The article is interesting, but I doubt that physical appearance alone will ever get a higher correlation than the 16 of 25 cited. Experts may pick up subtle personality clues from the appearance of their fellow humans, but I would expect that adding personality tests, Myers-Briggs for example, would markedly increase the suspected correlation. Aggression may be another interesting factor to correlate. Labradors and German Shepherds may both make excellent seeing-eye dogs, but the latter breed also serves as a protection dog — something never associated with a Labrador. The owner's self-image and willingness to consider violence as a possible solution to certain problems may prove another interesting correlation. The extreme case would be a drug dealer's penchant for pit bulls."
Wade Whitlock, Aberdeen, Md.: "April Fool's Day early? Sounds as though someone had a lot of extra time on their hands! Come on, Alan, this is of Cosmic Significance? ..."
L.R., Newport Beach, Calif.: "In regards to the 'Like Dog / Like Owner' Log: I think that there is some truth to that statement, at least in my own case. I am a 32-year-old, very attractive woman, successful and loves the finer things in life (all paid for myself with very hard work). I live in a very affluent part of Southern California, and my dog of choice? Poodle. My dog is groomed constantly (like me) and is spoiled rotten (like me), but I knew before I got her, I wanted a dog that reflected how I feel about myself. My dog and I are snobs. I loved this article and laughed as I read it. Thanks for making my day!"
Thumper, San Mateo, Calif.: "Woof, woof, woof, grrr woof. (Translation: Thumper agrees with only a minor reservation.)"
• April 2, 2004 | 8:30 p.m. ET
The Grand Moon Challenge: Should there be a "fly-off" contest to decide who gets to build NASA's next-generation spaceship, modeled after the Pentagon's competition for the Joint Strike Fighter or perhaps the DARPA Grand Challenge ?
NASA is considering just such a fly-off, United Press International reported this week — and some space-watchers say it's an idea that's long overdue. But how do you adequately assess a family of exploration vehicles that could be used for low-Earth-orbit missions as well as trips to the moon and Mars? A big part of any fly-off would likely have to be conducted in virtual reality rather than on the launch pad — just as it was in the JSF competition.
In the shorter term, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is conducting its own "Great Moonbuggy Race" this weekend. Students from high schools and colleges across the country built human-powered buggies for racing over lunar-type terrain at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.
High-school winners were announced this evening: First place went to a team from New Orleans area schools, with a finishing time of 4:14. Teams from Lafayette County High School in Missouri and Carlisle County High School in Kentucky tied for second place, with a time of 4:40. Huntsville's New Century Technology High School came in third, at 6:43.
Other awards went to Huntsville Center for Technology, for "most unique" buggy; Franklin County High School of Franklin, Tenn., for perseverance in the pits; and Lafayette County High School for best design. Congratulations to the next generation of lunar adventurers!
• April 2, 2004 | 8:30 p.m. ET
Space telescope sequels: In the wake of this week's update on the fate of the Hubble Space Telescope, most of the feedback is along the lines of "We must save the Hubble!" But there are some other perspectives as well. Here's a selection of e-mails presenting the other side(s) of the argument:
Robert Gessner, Ivins, Utah: "Two things. First, you are only publishing the pro-Hubble point of view — and from what sound like mostly people who don't know much about the subject besides. Second, we are moving too fast on this matter of trying to figure out how the cosmos works — if that is what NASA is trying to do. And I'm as curious as the next to know, but what with the huge amount of money (that I don't think the world can afford) needed, plus the risk of the lives of a few expendable astronauts, I think we are moving too fast. For one thing there are presently other means than telescopes (some possibly better) to study the universe, so the end of Hubble isn't the end of research. If we have to wait 20 or so years for the next-generation space telescope, so be it. What's the big hurry? From what I read, it may take that long to figure out what Hubble and things like the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe have already told us — and that is that what we thought we knew about the cosmos up to present is probably mostly wrong anyway."
Bryan Steinborn, Katy, Texas: "I applaud NASA for finding the courage to cancel the next flight to Hubble. While I feel the Hubble is an extraordinary telescope, I doubt anyone would trade the lives of seven people for a few more years of Hubble viewing. Because of Columbia and the CAIB report everyone should realize that the shuttle is still an experimental vehicle, i.e., dangerous and unpredictable. All remaining shuttle flights will be capable of getting to the station should a problem occur, something not possible with a Hubble servicing mission. Some will argue that going to Mars is far more dangerous than a Hubble servicing mission. While I agree the overall danger of going to Mars is higher, the greatest danger of a Mars flight will not be during the first and last 100 miles. Any new space vehicle developed should and will be much safer during this part of flight than the current shuttle system."
Don Traurig, Geneva, Fla.: "Safety is not the only reason the service mission was canceled. With only three shuttles left, and a delay before we can launch those, we have to concentrate on the space station. You know, the other space obligation we have. The shuttles are the only way we can get the modules up to build it. Sure, the Russians can stock it for a while, But right now we need all our shuttles' resources devoted to it. If an unmanned flight can do it, let's try it. It is not a safety thing, it is a resource thing."
David Rhodes, San Francisco: "NASA should immediately auction off the Hubble to the highest bidder. At the end of the day, the Hubble is a research tool used by research-related institutions. Its function is not related to space exploration or any other core NASA objectives for space. They're obviously unable to justify their outrageous maintenance costs where a private consortium could operate it more efficiently. Why do scientific instruments have to remain national treasures for eternity?"
Dr. John Vahaly, Louisville, Ky.: "Cosmic Log readers advance two main reasons for repairing the Hubble. First, Hubble's scientific contributions would continue. Second, the risk argument against the mission is illogical. There is third which should may NASA's attention. If Hubble is abandoned, a significant amount of NASA's public support and good will end. Mr. O'Keefe should not overlook the fact that his personal opinion could have consequences well beyond this decision. One hopes he has ability to admit his error and do what is best for our space exploration program. It may be a slight overstatement, but without Hubble, where are we?"
Nathan, Utica, Mich.: "The Hubble is perhaps the only symbol of America that terrorists can't take out with a car bomb or hijacked airplane. We should pour all of the time and resources into the telescope as possible, if only so we can say: 'That's right, Osama, the biggest symbol of our national pride is in space, buddy. All the fertilizer and alarm clocks in the world couldn't shoot our bird down! Woot!'"
Greg Hooten: "Isn't there a second Hubble on Earth? I was under the impression that they built more than one, so that they could do work on the one on earth to fix problems in space. Why not put them both in orbit, get the one on earth up to spec or beyond spec and then we have two?"
Greg, intelligence experts say there are indeed other Hubble-class telescopes in operation — but they're looking down, not up. These would be the KH-12 spy satellites, also known as Improved Crystal. Although they're roughly the same size as the Hubble, they're optimized for different purposes (looking for Osama, for instance), so you can't convert a spy satellite into a space telescope, or vice versa.
• April 2, 2004 | 8:30 p.m. ET
Weekend field trips on the World Wide Web:
• 'Nova' on PBS: 'Ancient Creature of the Deep'
• Wired.com: Make way for the Robomower
• The Economist: Quantum computing, bit by bit
•The Atlantic: Faster, stronger, smarter ...
• April 1, 2004 | 1:30 p.m. ET
Scientific foolery: I've never been a big fan of April Fool's Day, particularly since that time in 1999 when I was led astray by a prank involving talk-show host Art Bell's Web site. But I am a big fan of scientific spoofery, such as this week's alert about the Britney Spears asteroid.
It's when real news sounds too weird to be true that I get nervous. Prime examples include today's reports about the Cold War plan to heat nuclear land mines using chickens, and Google's scheme for 1-gigabyte mailboxes . (Also check out Google's lunar employment ad.)
Two years ago, I put together a roundup of scientific silliness, but there have been great advances in the field since then. Here are some additional Web resources that may be part fiction, part fact — but all-around funny:
The Annals of Improbable Research is a longtime favorite, but since the first of the year, AIR proprietor Marc Abrahams has added something extra: an Improbable Research blog that provides a daily dose of research that makes you laugh — and then makes you think.
Hall of Technical Documentation Weirdness: Watch out for the angry amoeba! Technical writer Darren Barefoot offers up real diagrams and instructions that seem too funny to be true, such as the amoebalike warning symbol and the airport sign that reads, "For restrooms, go back toward your behind." If you have a hard time getting onto the Web site today, the problem may be due to the Slashdot effect.
Museum of Jurassic Technology: The museum is a real place in Culver City, Calif., with actual exhibits and artistic flair. But should you take the Web site's flowery descriptions of almond-stone carvings and the mysterious stink ant of the Cameroon at face value? I think not.
Museum of Unworkable Devices: The only thing perpetual about perpetual-motion machines is that the same ideas keep coming up over the centuries. Donald Simanek patiently walks you through the physics of things that don't work — and sets forth a few physical laws of his own. For example, there's Bob Schadewald's Law of Perpetual Motion: "A perpetual motionist typically concocts a scheme so complicated that he can't see why it won't work. He then assumes that it will work." That law can be applied far beyond the realm of physics.
• April 1, 2004 | 4:30 p.m. ET
Space race update: Scaled Composites, one of the front-runners in the X Prize competition for suborbital space travel, reported two flight tests of its White Knight carrier plane this week. The tests served as rehearsals for the next powered flight of the SpaceShipOne craft, which is designed to fire up its hybrid rocket engine after release from the White Knight. Clark Lindsey's Reusable Launch Vehicle News passed along the report of the tests. For more on SpaceShipOne, check out our reports on the rollout and the first supersonic flight.
• April 1, 2004 | 1:30 p.m. ET
Serious science and technology on the Web:
• Defense Tech: Killer drone plans revealed
• Science@NASA: Venus and the Pleiades
• New Scientist: Smell cannon targets virtual-reality users
•Science News: Forensics on trial
• March 31, 2004 | 9:30 p.m. ET
Hope for Hubble: It's been 11 weeks since NASA announced that it was pulling the plug on servicing missions to the Hubble Space Telescope, setting off a wave of lamentation, lobbying and even legislative action. Without doctoring from a space shuttle crew, the brightest star of NASA's astronomical show is likely to fade sometime after 2007 — well before any replacement can be put into orbit.
But just in the past few days, there have been fresh signs of hope that this telescope just might be saved after all — or at least put into suspended animation if need be.
On Monday, Orbital Recovery declared that it was going ahead with development of a robotic space tug that it says could someday move an ailing Hubble into a safer orbit for servicing, or a higher orbit for preservation.
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and other agency officials say a robotic servicing mission is being considered, although it's way too early for details on exactly how such a mission would be conducted. Just today, O'Keefe told the National Space Symposium that he recognized the need to extend Hubble's life and that several options were under study.
"The great news is that we have time," Space.com quoted O'Keefe as saying.
But there's not a lot of time to stew over a decision, O'Keefe's assistant administrator for space science, Ed Weiler, told PBS.
"If we go the robotic route and make that decision as soon as possible, we take the safety and human risk thing off the table. And we can go aggressively," Weiler said in a "NewsHour" report that aired Tuesday. "We can put our best engineers at NASA and industry working this aggressively and get it done by '07. We can't make that decision a year from now or two years from now."
Some of the Hubble feedback I've received in the past couple of weeks has been pretty strongly worded — but it may have been the very vehemence of such reactions that helped fuel the current search for options. Here's a selection from the e-mail:
Rob Scott, Adelaide, Australia: "I have two questions: A. Would it be possible to bring Hubble back to a lower orbit via robot ship, and then service it with the shuttle and crew before sending it back up? B. I would have imagined that a manned trip to Mars would be far more hazardous than a jaunt out to the Hubble. Why are they even considering a trip to Mars if any chance of loss of life will not be tolerated? (By the way, I am not against the voyage to Mars.)"
Rebecca Brawner, Louisville, Ky.: "I can't believe what lame-brain genius in the White House or at NASA doesn't see the Hubble for the wonderful explorer that it is and would continue to be if appropriately funded to maintain. If Bush had good sense, he would push to keep Hubble alive and well. All this other sensationalism is just that — a diversion."
Greg Pickett, Marietta, Ga.: "I think that NASA's excuse of 'safety' as being the reason for not repairing the Hubble Space Telescope is akin to Chicken Little's rationale that the sky is falling. It is truly a shame that such a wonderful and productive tool for mankind is doomed because the powers that be at NASA are afraid. Where would this country be if the cautious road had always been taken?"
Matt Setch, Waterloo: "I definitely think NASA should repair the Hubble. Not only have they gotten upgrades ready for it, but if there is a crew ready and willing to go and do the repairs, upgrade and service needed, then do it. They would all understand the dangers and risks involved, but if they want to, let them. I understand that NASA is a little nervous after the Columbia incident, but you can't go through life worrying about getting scraped knees. It's time we got back out there. Hubble is definitely worth the effort."
Dr. Richard J. Hughes, Guadalajara, Mexico: "The Hubble Telescope should be saved. The cost of upgrades is less than building another. Why are useful scientific instruments in astronomy (which have so precious few) relegated to the trash heap for reasons unsupportable in other areas of endeavor? Maybe we should find a military use for the Hubble. Then it would live forever."
James C. Marion, Marietta, Ohio: "Service missions to the Hubble must continue in the interests of future scientific discoveries and deeper explorations of the cosmos. I believe petty politics entered the arena when NASA declared future shuttle missions to the Hubble as being too risky. Acting like a disciplined child, NASA pulls the plug on Hubble for revenge. If routine service missions are too risky, as NASA declares, then Congress should consider ending the space program entirely. Return visits to the moon and a planned mission to Mars have many more opportunities of accidents and subsequent fatalities. Servicing and extending the space station is also extremely risky, and not too much different from servicing the Hubble. NASA's chief is acting like an misfit plastics engineer who declares, 'I can't work with polyethylene.' A typical supervisor in the plastics industry would respond, 'You can't earn a living in the field of plastics at all then. Find another job.'"
• March 31, 2004 | 9:30 p.m. ET
Your daily dose of science on the World Wide Web:
• Nature: Women look best once a month
• BBC: In the future, how will we get around?
• Popular Science: Who controls the moon?
•Discovery.com: Index theory wins top math prize
• March 30, 2004 | 6:30 p.m. ET
Like owner, like dog? The idea that dogs resemble their owners is a joke that's probably as old as the relationship between the human and canine species. The theme was played for laughs particularly well in a recent series of dog-food ads with the slogan "Your dog might look like you ... but he doesn't have to eat the same food."
Now researchers at the University of California at San Diego say there's a little bit of scientific truth to the old joke, at least when it comes to purebred dogs.
In the May issue of the journal Psychological Science, psychologists Nicholas Christenfeld and Michael Roy report that when a panel of 28 judges looked at pictures of two purebred dogs and the human who owned one of the pets, the owners and their pets were matched up by a majority vote in 16 out of 25 cases. However, when the matching test involved mixed-breed dogs, there was no such correlation.
The psychologists concluded that when people pick a dog, "they seek one that, at some level, resembles them, and when they get a purebred, they get what they want."
"This is a project in which I've been interested for a long time, because you hear a lot of casual talk about dog-owner resemblance, and we wanted to see what could be learned by formal research," Christenfeld said in a news release on the research.
The research doesn't pinpoint the criteria that the owners or the judges might have used to determine pet-to-owner resemblance — whether it had more to do with particular physical attributes or personality traits, for example. But the psychologists say it's definitely not as simple as matching up "hairy dogs for hairy people" or "big dogs for big people." It's also important to note that although a 16-out-of-25 record may be better than random, it's not a slam-dunk for solidifying the connection.
In the end, most dog lovers would probably agree with the researchers' bottom line, which says more about people than about dogs: "It does appear that people want a creature like themselves."
Will the latest findings give scientists plenty to chew on, or is this research strictly for the dogs? Feel free to let me know what you think.
• March 30, 2004 | 6:30 p.m. ET
Scientific twists on the World Wide Web:
• Rice University: Bizarre attractive force found in mayonnaise
• Scientific American: Life in the fast lane
• JSOnline (reg.req.): Hobbyists, we have a problem (via Space Log)
• March 29, 2004 | 6:25 p.m. ET
Time for twisters: It's prime time for tornadoes in the midwestern United States, and the Red Cross has plenty of advice for people who want to avoid the brunt of the storm. But some hardy souls seek out the tempest, and those scientists and storm-chasers are the focus of "Hunt for the Supertwister," airing this week on PBS stations. The centerpiece of this tale is the superstorm that swept through Oklahoma on May 3, 1999.
Meanwhile, National Geographic is making "Chasing Tornadoes" the cover story for its April issue, focusing on a twister that ripped through South Dakota on June 24, 2003.
Even in the short time since then, severe-storm science has advanced significantly, as noted in this Cosmic Log item from last September. To learn more about how tornadoes arise, check out our interactive on Birth of a tornado — and keep track of storms that might affect you by checking our Weather section.
What's the difference between tornadoes and cyclones, between typhoons and hurricanes? To get the full story, you can check out the frequently asked questions at San Francisco State University or FAQs.org.
This week in Brazil, the question isn't merely an academic matter. In the wake of a deadly storm nicknamed Catarina , Brazilians are wondering whether their meteorologists made a big mistake by not labeling it a hurricane to begin with.
Based on satellite data, Brazilian meteorologists at first categorized the storm as an extratropical cyclone, while some American experts said it fit the description of a hurricane. If it was a hurricane, as now appears likely, it would be the first ever recorded in the South Atlantic.
"If the forecasts and warnings were correct it does not matter what the system was actually called ... and it would require more information than I have seen to definitely determine what sort of system that it was," Greg Holland, a meteorological researcher currently with Radiosonde North America, said in an e-mail exchange.
• March 29, 2004 | 6:25 p.m. ET
Quick spin on the scientific Web:
• Science@NASA: Evicting Einstein
• Wired.com: How e-voting threatens democracy
• BBC: Earth on the 'Wimp Highway'
• New Scientist: Flash mob to attempt supercomputing feat
The fine print: Looking for older items? Check the Cosmic Log archive. Share your perspective on cosmic subjects with Alan Boyle. If you link to this page, you can use http://cosmiclog.msnbc.com or http://www.cosmiclog.com as the address. MSNBC is not responsible for the content of Internet links.