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Thursday, February 27, 2020


Sooo, dear reader, woodpeckers hit trees "up to 20 Hz with speeds up to 7 m/s , undergoing decelerations up to 1200g" (see).

Let's break these numbers down, ok?

20 Hz means that those birds hit the tree up to 20 times per second: an AK-47 - aka Kalashnikov - shoots 10 rounds per second, the Giant Hummingbird's wings beat rate is of 10-15 per second (see).
7m/s means that those birds' head hits the tree at a speed up to 25.2km/h (or 15.5mph). Not much? Well, dear human reader, try to run at your full speed into a tree and see how you like it... Oh, and consider also this: when Usain Bolt smashed the 100 meters world record in 2009 with his astonishing 9.58 seconds, well, he ran at 37.6km/h (23,4mph).
As for the 1200g deceleration, well, just think of this: when astronauts take off for space, they suffer an acceleration of about 3.2g, and on reentry the deceleration is about 1.4g (see), meaning that some of the fittest human beings in the world, while performing one of the most stressful procedure of 'em all, endure a deceleration 857 times lower than the one experimented by woodpeckers' head on a daily basis.

In spite of that, though, this birds' brain doesn't become like a triumph of mashed potatoes.

How come?

Well, researchers say (P) that it depends, among other things, on the fact that woodpeckers skull bones are stiffer than those of other birds, as they've "small but uniform level of closed porosity, a higher degree of mineralization, and a higher cortical to skull bone ratio" (P). Moreover, woodpeckers have an "unusual shape of the elongated tongue, also called the hyoid apparatus" which probably helps in absorbing the impacts energy (P).

But this dumb blog has a much simpler and more elegant explanation for all of this: see the following cartoon.

woodpeckers' secret: its brain is a car crash dummy (by @sciencemug)
Woodpeckers' brain secret (by @sciencemug)

[Woodpecker free pic by Bill Pennell (source: Unplash); adapted by @sciencemug]

Wanna see a cool slow-motion vid of a woodpecker banging its beak+head onto a tree? Check this out!

Paper (P)
Jung, J.-Y., Pissarenko, A., Yaraghi, N.A., Naleway, S.E., Kisailus, D., Meyers, M.A., and McKittrick, J. (2018). A comparative analysis of the avian skull: Woodpeckers and chickens. Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials 84, 273–280.

Thursday, February 20, 2020


So, dear reader, a bunch of researchers in Minnesota, USA, for the first time ever observe (P) an adult wolf giving blueberries to pups as food (the wolf regurgitated the berries to feed 'em to the pups).
According to the scientists, their finding "suggests wild berries might be a more valuable food source for wolves in southern boreal ecosystems than previously appreciated" (P).

In this dumb blog's opinion, the following cartoon shows what was actually going on, between the adult wolf and the pups, when they were spotted by the researchers.

Wolves and blueberries (by @sciencemug)
Wolves and blueberries (by @sciencemug)
[Wolves free pic is by M L (source: Unsplash); adapted by @sciencemug]

Wanna see a video of an adult wolf eating blueberries? Check this out.

Paper (P)
Homkes, A.T., Gable, T.D., Windels, S.K., and Bump, J.K. (2020). Berry Important? Wolf Provisions Pups with Berries in Northern Minnesota. Wildlife Society Bulletin 44, 221–223.

Thursday, February 13, 2020


Bumblebees face extinction, and one of the main causes is human driven climate change that makes the number of extremely hot days to skyrocket (P).

Three researchers from the University of Ottawa and the University College London, indeed, checked long-term data about 66 species of bumble bees buzzing in North America and Europe. The scientists wanted to find out whether "increasing frequency of hotter temperatures predicts species’ local extinction risk, chances of colonizing a new area, and changing species richness" (P).
Well, dear reader, as just stated, it does.

This dumb blog, on the following cartoon, reports the bumblebees' thoughts on the matter.

Bumblebees talk of climate change pushing them on the verge of extinction (by @sciencemug)
Bumblebees talk of extinction and climate change (by @sciencemug)

[Bumblebee pic by Windslash is under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license (source: flickr); adapted by @sciencemug]

Paper (P)
Soroye, P., Newbold, T., and Kerr, J. (2020). Climate change contributes to widespread declines among bumble bees across continents. Science 367, 685–688.


Dear reader, I am here to provide You with some useful insight that will complete, if not provide at all, the information the utterly poorly thought and written so called mini-post of this blog (of which, unfortunately I am compelled by fate to be a part of) is about.
In the hope of being of service.
My best regards.

In an attempt of providing You, esteemed reader, with a fruition experience as uniform as possible, in the following lines I tried to mimic the cheap sense of humor and light/childish tone used by this pitiful blog.

The researchers, in their above mentioned paper (P), add that the same mechanism that is making bumblebees facing extinction may also contribute to a general biodiversity loss.

And, dear listener, this biodiversity loss thing would be pretty bad for you humans.

Specifically, without bumble bees and bees in general, well, you’ll find yourselves very much in trouble (besides being left with just a character from crappy sci-fi movies and no more actual adorable little bees).

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (the FAO), indeed, “it is estimated that about one third of all plants or plant products eaten by humans are directly or indirectly dependent on bee pollination. More than half of the world’s diet of fat and oil comes from oil seeds such as cotton, rape, sunflower, coconut, groundnut and oil palm. Even though some of these have special pollinators belonging to other types of insects, these plants all depend on, or benefit from bee pollination to some extent. In addition, many food crops and forage for cattle are grown from seeds of insect-pollinated plants.” (1)

Moreover, a 2017 study by Miller-Struttmann et al (2) says that the decline in bee pollinators, and therefore their services to flowering plants worldwide, can potentially negatively impact more than 85% of flowering plants and of course human health too. The losses for the agricultural compound alone would be over 200 billion bucks per year globally (namely almost a third of Switzerland or Soudi Arabia GDP), and the costs from diminished pollination services in wild ecosystems would most probably be way higher.

Just to make some examples, dear listener, a 2019 research paper by Wahengbam et al (3) reports that without bee pollination services there won’t be anymore superior quality apple, strawberry, cucurbits, citrus, mandarin, apricot, blackberry, blueberries and so on

1- FAO (2008). The value of bees for crop pollination. Date of accessed : 15-04-2019.
2- Miller-Struttmann, N.E., Heise, D., Schul, J., Geib, J.C., and Galen, C. (2017). Flight of the bumble bee: Buzzes predict pollination services. PLOS ONE 12, e0179273.
3- Wahengbam, J., Raut, A., Pal, S., and Banu, N. (2019). Role of Bumble Bee in Pollination. Annals of Biology 35, 290–295.

Thursday, February 6, 2020


600 light-years faraway Betelgeuse red supergiant (destined to go supernova in probably some tens of thousands years) keeps "to gradually decrease in brightness" (less 25% since just last September 2019) (P), and astronomers don't exactly know why, but they think it could be due to "changes in the envelop-outer convection atmosphere" (P) of the star, also known as Alpha Orionis.

Well, pal, this dumb blog has a different explanation for that. See the following cartoon.

Betelgeuse red supergiant wears sunglasses (by @sciencemug)
Betelgeuse red supergiant wears sunglasses (by @sciencemug)

[Betelgeuse pic by Dave Jarvis is under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license; the sunglasses pic by Donald Trung Quoc Don is under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license; (source of both pics: Wikimedia Commons); all pics adapted by @sciencemug]

Paper (P) 
Guinan, E.F.,  and Wasatonic, R.J.  (2020). ATel #13410: The Continued Unprecedented Fading of Betelgeuse.

Dear reader,
I am here to provide You with some useful insight that will complete, if not provide at all, the information the utterly poorly thought and written so called mini-post of this blog (of which, unfortunately I am compelled by fate to be a part of) is about.
In the hope of being of service.
My best regards.

In an attempt of providing You, esteemed reader, with a fruition experience as uniform as possible, in the following lines I tried to mimic the cheap sense of humor and light/childish tone used by this pitiful blog.

Betelgeuse’s name is a corruption of the Arabic "yad al jauza" which means the "hand of al-jauza”, al-jauza being the name of the figure ancient Arabs were seeing in the star constellation, probably a woman. The constellation in question is the Orion one, and Betelgeuse is one of the two brightest stars of it, the other being Rigel, with the couple also called respectively Alpha and Beta Orionis

Betelgeuse brightness is indeed between 80 thousand to 100 thousand times that of the Sun, and its radius is at least double the size of Mars' orbit but it could even be as big as Jupiter's orbit (meaning about 1000 times the size of the Sun), while its mass, at its birth, was probably 18 or 19 times that of the Sun (see).

Now, dear listener, let’s cover some very basic infos to fully get why it’s strange a star like Betelgeuse is getting dimmer and not brighter.

For starter let’s refresh our notion of what’s a light year, ok? Just so to better grasp how far Betelgeuse actually be.
A light-year is the distance light travels in a year. It’s about 9.5 thousand billion kilometers (or 59 hundreds billion miles), it is more than 60 thousand astronomical units that is more than 60 thousand times the distance between Earth and the Sun.
Basically if in a parallel reality New York were the Earth, and Beijing were the 600 light-years far Betelgeuse, well, the extent of a single step made in that parallel reality by you, dear human listener, would be enough to take you to the Moon, in this actual reality of yours.
Now, let’s go to the star itself and its mysterious dimming.
Betelgeuse is a red super-giant.

How a star gets to be a red-super-giant?
Well, y’all know how stars be giant balls of gas where, deep in their guts, nuclear fusion of hydrogen atoms occurs and therefore helium ones are formed. 

The energy coming out from such deeper parts of the star is what ultimately provides the pressure needed to keep the star from collapsing under its own weight, and it’s also what makes the star a shiny thing in the space.
As long as the star uses hydrogen as fuel, thus producing helium, well, it is stable and it is classified as a Main Sequence Star, which is a star in the stable part of its life-span, that, depending on the star, usually (but not always) lasts billions of years.
But what happens when a star runs out of hydrogen in its core? 

Well, then its core begins to collapse and gets hotter. So the starving star counters it’s core's collapsing by expanding its outer envelope, and therefore its overall surface. This makes the expanding star’s surface’s temperature to go pretty down, and the star’s luminosity to go pretty up, to increase, in other words it gets much brighter.

Aaaand, dear listener, this is the time when a star becomes a Red Giant (see).
Now, at this point, as mentioned, the star’s core has no more hydrogen, right, but it has helium (previously produced by the fusion of the hydrogen atoms). And, as said, the core temperature has risen, so now the core is hot enough to ignite the fusion of helium’s atoms into heavier stuff. Besides, right outside the star’s core, there’s still some hydrogen. And, at this point, surrounding the star’s hotter and hotter core there’s now a shell which is, in turn, reaching itself a temperature sufficient to ignite the fusion of the remaining hydrogen into helium. So, more helium is produced in this hot shell around the core. And this brand-new helium then falls onto the core where it becomes more fuel.
Now, dear listener, this Red Giant’s phase lasts much less then the main sequence phase, just a few million years instead of billions.

And, when even the helium runs out in the red giant’s core, well, then the process of core contraction and surface dilatation and so on repeats itself (only with helium and heavier elements instead of hydrogen) and the star expands itself becoming a Red Super-giant (see).

Betelgeuse is in this phase, at the end of it actually. It’s made, by now, of "onion layers" of heavier and heavier elements.

But it’s not able to fuse elements heavier than iron, so its core is an iron one by now.
When this iron core finally reaches a mass about 1.4 times that of the Sun, the so called Chandrasekhar Mass (by the name of the Indian-American astrophysicist who calculated it), well pal, then, the core collapses aaaaand two things happen (see).
The first is that protons and electrons are so pushed together that they form neutrons and neutrinos and, though electrically neutral neutrinos usually don’t interact with matter, at such monster-high densities they cause a gigantic outward pressure.
The second thing that happens when the iron core collapses, is that the outer layers fall inward.
So there’s an overall contraction of the star. But going on with the process, at the end of it, the core stops collapsing, ‘cause the neutrons gets stuffed too tightly, and the outer layers eventually plow into the core itself. And so: bang! And then the outer layers rebound. And this creates huuuge shock waves that run outward.
Sooo, pal, the final result of the combination of the neutrinos gigantic outward pressure and the just mentioned shock waves going outwards is that what’s out of the star’s core is blown apart in a humongous explosion 10 billion times more luminous than the Sun, as bright as entire galaxies for weeks and that takes months or even years to fade away.

Yup pal, I’m describing a supernova (well, a type II supernova, to be precise)(see).
Aaand, dear listener, to put there some more infos, the immense amount of energy released in a supernova is enough to fuse elements heavier than iron, therefore it is what creates things like gold, silver, zinc, uranium and so on which in turns spread through space and end up being part of planets like your beloved Earth(see).
And, if you’re asking yourself what happens to the core of the star after the final explosion, well, dear listener, that depends on its remaining mass.
If it’s less than 2 or 3 solar masses, then it gets to be a neutron star, but if the residual mass is more than 2 or 3 solar masses, then it becomes a mighty infamous black hole (see).
So, dear listener, to super sum up, a red super-giant like Betelgeuse should not be dimming, and astronomers and their colleagues space brains are puzzled by that.
PS: Anyway, in the lately, the playful star, apparently has regained some of its shine.