Your cosmic questions
Regarding the “The vital statistics” in “Cosmic questions, answers pending” (SN: 4/23/11, p. 20), I was puzzled by two values: 13.75 billion years (time since the Big Bang) and 90 billion light-years (diameter of the universe). If light has been streaming away for 13.75 billion years, then shouldn’t the diameter of the universe be 27.5 billion light-years? Or is the outer two-thirds of the universe populated with something moving faster than the speed of light?
Mark Brown, Littleton, Colo.
As the age of the universe is 13.75 billion years, it has ... (p. 30)
NASA budget blunder
My thanks and admiration to Ron Cowen for writing about NASA’s “culture of deception” in his recent article on the James Webb Space Telescope mission (“Star cents,” SN: 4/9/11, p. 22). If the astronomy community (and Congress) had decided years ago that spending $7 billion or $8 billion on JWST would be our best use of funds, then I would be happy to live with that. Instead, we have swallowed the bait of a series of low-ball estimates, and are now held hostage by a project that is “too big to cancel.”
Patrick Broos, University Park, Pa.
Anot... (p. 31)
In all I’ve read in the popular press about spent nuclear fuel, including “Natural catastrophe begets nuclear crisis” (SN: 4/9/11, p. 6), all that is written about is on-site storage or burial. Why is reprocessing of the fuel never seriously considered? I understand that the French have done it successfully for years. Are they so much smarter than everyone else?
Paul Baker, Browns Valley, Calif.
Given the political problems in disposing of nuclear waste, the U.S. Department of Energy has proposed reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, which involves sep... (p. 31)
Ain’t got the beat
Obviously, Bruce Bower hasn’t tried to teach tourists how to dance. “A man oblivious to music’s tempo” (SN: 3/26/11, p. 9), though not common, is not rare. In the last 35-plus years I’ve shown more than 10,000 visitors to New Orleans how to do the Cajun two-step or waltz, and perhaps 1 to 2 percent exhibit “beat deafness.” In spite of the music’s strong beat, I have run into one or two a month who are not blessed with even the slightest sense of rhythm. I do refrain, however, from asking them to be included in a neurological study.
Ben Rauch,... (p. 31)
Promising new Alzheimer’s model
“Memories can’t wait” (SN: 3/12/11, p. 24) was a well-written analysis of the problems facing those of us working in the field of geriatric psychology. The new research model based on inflammation is very promising. From a cost-benefit standpoint, early diagnosis and preventive treatment of potential Alzheimer’s patients will be essential for Medicare to survive.
Joe Roberts, Jackson, Miss.
I read with interest the article titled “‘Diabetes belt’ cinches the South” (SN: 4/9/11, p. 14). Looking at the map... (p. 33)
Science not in the zone
It makes no sense to analyze basketball shooting streaks (“In the zone,” SN: 2/12/11, p. 26) as though they were similar to slot machines or video games, which are supposed to be random. Basketball shooting, and other sports activities, are definitely not random events.
Walt Gray, Richland, Wash.
I was very surprised to hear the model that statisticians use to try to measure “streaks” in basketball. I would say that it is clearly wrong, and throws away very important information about time. Humans do not see streaks as mere repetition. They see th... (p. 35)
Water at the start, and later
“Liquid acquisition” (SN: 1/15/11, p. 26) discusses two new models about how Earth got its water. But the two models are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, I wonder if perhaps two (or more) sources of water may be the only way to match all of the observed isotopic abundances. Is anybody working along these lines?
Stanley Friesen, Frederick, Md.
A combination of the two proposed scenarios—some of Earth’s water coming from the planet’s immediate surroundings at its formation, some delivered later from space—is definitely possible. Some resea... (p. 31)
The liver’s carbon fixation
The possibility that insects can harness solar energy (SN: 1/15/11, p. 8) is no less fascinating than the ability of the mammalian liver to do the light-independent part of photosynthesis: carbon fixation. When concentrations of the amino acid methionine rise after a high-protein meal, the liver shifts gears to get rid of the excess via activation of a specific transmethylation pathway requiring the amino acid glycine as a methyl acceptor. This also sets in motion what I call the “glycine generator” — a short cycle involving two reversible folat... (p. 30)
I have been a fan of Science Service (now Society for Science & the Public) since I won a subscription to Things of Science [science kit] as a boy in the 1950s, so I feel I must correct a common misunderstanding on how an airplane wing develops lift as stated in your fine publication (“Study finds light can be uplifting,” SN: 1/1/11, p. 9). Laura Sanders used the analogy of an airplane wing to contrast how optical lift is generated and stated that the airflow above the wing is increased in velocity and thereby creates lower pressure that, in turn, creates lift. B... (p. 30)
Religion at Sacred Ridge?
I follow your magazine with zeal. I was somewhat surprised by “Massacre at Sacred Ridge” (SN: 11/6/10, p. 22), which seems to attribute the slaughter to some action by those who were murdered and does not discuss potential religious overtones of the attack. Is organized religion the culprit in this incident? Man’s inhumanity to man has often been triggered by some form of religious belief system.
Charles Havnen, New Orleans, La.
Religious beliefs of the Ridges Basin groups are poorly understood, though the documented ethnic differences wo... (p. 31)