June 14, 2013 11:00 am
Exactly 236 years ago today the United States Congress signed the resolution that made the familiar stars and stripes the official American flag. That early flag looked quite different than the one we know today of course, with only 13 stars rather than 50. It wasn’t until August 21, 1959, when Hawaii officially joined as the 50th state of the United States of America, that we finally got those alternating rows of stars. But let’s say that the U.S. does pick up a new state—maybe one of the current unincorporated territories like Guam or American Samoa or Puerto Rico—as an official state. Where do you put that new 51st star? Sure, you could just tack it on the side. But who really wants an awkwardly asymmetric flag?
Well, one way to do it is to crowd source the design. When Puerto Rico voted for statehood, the internet was ready. Smithsonian’s Design Decoded covered the new designs:
Reddit users got started right away after Puerto Rico’s vote, and designs are popping up elsewhere across the Internet. The irregularity of the number makes for some interesting solution, probably the best one being a star-spangled Pac-Man eating star-spangled pac-dots.
But as clever as Reddit might be, there is probably a better way. From Inside Science we learn of a more elegant solution, devised by mathematician Skip Garibaldi, to organize the stars of the future United States:
Garibaldi had worked out his solution a few years ago, says Slate, and he didn’t just figure out how to make a 51-star flag. Rather, Garibaldi could make you a nice-looking flag with up to 100 stars—just in case America decides to go on an imperialistic spree.
To make a good American flag, you need your star pattern to fit in a rectangle. Then, you generally want the stars to be either horizontally or vertically symmetrical, says Slate.
With those rules in mind, the six flag patterns Garibaldi uncovered can be defined as follows:
Long: Alternating rows of even and odd numbers of stars, beginning and ending with the longer row. This is the pattern of our current 50-star flag.
Short: Like the previous pattern, but beginning and ending on the shorter row. This pattern has never been used on the American flag. Out of our six patterns, however, it’s the only one that’s viable for a hypothetical 71-star flag.
Alternate: Like the long and short patterns, but with the same number of odd and even rows, as in the 45-star flag.
Equal: Every row has the same number of stars, like the 30-star or 48-star flag.
Wyoming: The first and last rows have one more star than the interior rows. In addition to the 1890 flag, issued after Wyoming became a state, the 26-star, 32-star, and 37-star flags looked like this.
Oregon: The middle row has two fewer stars than all the other rows, as in the 33-star flag issued upon Oregon’s statehood. This only works for flags with an odd number of rows.
For a 51-star flag, all you really need, says Inside Science, is three rows of nine and three rows of eight.
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June 13, 2013 2:00 pm
Where vast schools of fish dwell, so too do the seabirds that prey on them. Able to dive swiftly from the air or even swim about beneath the waves, many seabirds seem as at home in water as they do in the air. Unfortunately for the birds’ sake, that tantalizing ball of fish may have been corralled together not by predators nipping from below, like in the clip above, but by a fisher’s nets. Every year, says a new study, at least 400,000 seabirds caught by fishers.
The main culprit, says the New York Times, seems to be gillnets—small to medium-sized nets that dangle with a float along the tip and weights at the bottom. Gillnets are a low-cost type of net, a technology that many small independent or local fishers rely on. Gillnets work by by catching the fish by their gills, but they’re also able to catch and drown seabirds. The study found that at least 81 different species of bird have been caught by gillnets, “including penguins, ducks and some critically endangered ones like the waved albatross.”
Bycatch, when other animals such as sharks or dolphins or turtles, or even unwanted species of fish are caught in the net, is a huge problem for fishers worldwide. The new research reminds us that the effects are not limited to the swimmers, and it’s not just a couple of birds here and there. The 400,000 number is a bare minimum, the researchers say, and the actual number is likely much higher.
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June 13, 2013 1:29 pm
There’s at least a small handful of teams—NASA, the Chinese Space Agency, SpaceX, Mars One, and others—looking to put people on Mars in the next few decades. Other than the trouble involved in getting people to the red planet, landing them on the surface, giving them enough food and water to survive and stopping them from going crazy with isolation, there’s another big hurdle to jump: radiation. And not just measly, harmless radiation like from your cell phone. Space is full of galactic cosmic rays, incredibly high energy particles–like lead that’s moving near the speed of light. Galactic cosmic rays can blast through your DNA, shredding the bonds and increasing your risk of cancer.
Stopping all this radiation is one of the challenges for anyone looking to send people far from Earth, and new research is pointing us in an unusual direction on how to do it: plastic spaceships.
Aluminum, being both strong and light, is the material of choice for spaceship building. But aluminum isn’t so hot at blocking radiation. Plastic, on the other hand, seems to be way better.
This isn’t an entirely new idea. Back in 2004 NASA wrote about how plastic could be used to protect the explorers of the solar system, speaking with NASA scientist Frank Cucinotta, who works on the Space Radiation Health Project:
Plastics are rich in hydrogen–an element that does a good job absorbing cosmic rays,” explains Cucinotta. For instance, polyethylene, the same material garbage bags are made of, absorbs 20% more cosmic rays than aluminum. A form of reinforced polyethylene developed at the Marshall Space Flight Center is 10 times stronger than aluminum, and lighter, too. This could become a material of choice for spaceship building, if it can be made cheaply enough. “Even if we don’t build the whole spacecraft from plastic,” notes Cucinotta, “we could still use it to shield key areas like crew quarters.” Indeed, this is already done onboard the ISS.
While plastic was already thought to be theoretically better than aluminum at protecting astronauts based on laboratory tests no one had ever tested it using a craft that is fully exposed to cosmic rays. That’s where the new research comes in, says Cary Zeitlin, the leader of the study:
This is the first study using observations from space to confirm what has been thought for some time—that plastics and other lightweight materials are pound-for-pound more effective for shielding against cosmic radiation than aluminum. Shielding can’t entirely solve the radiation exposure problem in deep space, but there are clear differences in effectiveness of different materials.
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June 12, 2013 2:09 pm
Wildfires are burning their way through Colorado, a region devastated by a series of potent fires last summer. Three fires, one near Colorado Springs, one in Rocky Mountain National Park, and one near the Royal Gorge Bridge, says the BBC, have so far forced the evacuation of thousands of people, including 905 prisoners.
The Colorado Springs fire, says ABC, has so far burned at least 8,000 acres of the landscape, torching up to 60 homes in the process.
“This fire is far from under under control or extinguished,” said Sheriff Terry Maketa to ABC of the Colorado Springs fire.
On top of homes and forests, says the BBC, the fires are also threatening the Royal Gorge Bridge, the tallest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge hangs 956 feet above the Arkansas river. So far, says the Gazette, the bridge seems to be fine, though the land on both sides have been torched.
The trio of Colorado wildfires are the latest in what is expected to be another bad fire season for the west. Indeed, says UPI, the ongoing Colorado Springs fire is supposed to pick up because of high winds and temperatures.
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June 12, 2013 1:28 pm
A new international study has found that, of women who went in to a fracture clinic for a broken bone, roughly 1 in 50 were there because they were a direct victim of domestic abuse. Their broken bone was a direct consequence of intimate partner violence. On top of the one in 50 whose injuries were the result of abuse, one in six women surveyed at the clinics said that they had been abused in the past year, and one in three had been abused in their lifetime.
Those staggering statistics come from a survey that asked 2,344 women at 12 different fracture clinics in the U.S., the Netherlands, Denmark, India and Canada about their history of abuse.
Domestic abuse, or intimate partner violence, is the “leading cause of non-fatal injury to women worldwide,” say the scientists in their study. Partner abuse can present in a lot of different ways: physical and sexual violence, threats of physical or sexual violence, and emotional or psychological abuse. The CDC says that in America 29 percent of women and 10 percent of men have suffered from abuse. The new report focuses on physical and sexual abuse and seems to double-down on that statistic, showing at least how bad domestic abuse can get. The CBC:
“Neck and head injuries are the most common for women who have experienced domestic violence, he said. Also common are “bruising or broken jaws, teeth being knocked out, black eyes.”
Victims of violence also have dislocated elbows, wrists and shoulders, or twisted or broken ankles, he said.
“It’s horrible,” said Mohit Bhandari, one of the leaders of the study, to the CBC.
For women suffering from domestic abuse, it can be hard to get away. Financial dependency, unhealthy ideas of relationships or just plain fear can make some victims unwilling to speak out. Doctors are theoretically in a prime position to help women speak up. Unfortunately, the new survey says that of the 49 women who were at the fracture clinics specifically because of abuse, only seven had ever been asked about abuse by a health-care worker.
“By the time a woman receives broken bones, she’s at sharp risk of being killed by her partner. That’s why orthopedic surgeons need to get better at noticing the signs” said the CBC.
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