Something Strange




Watch A Writhing Aurora in Real Time

I love me some auroras. They are the visual manifestation of an invisible force field, tongues of light that illuminate Earth’s magnetic shell, which by shielding this blue orb from the onslaught of the charged radiation known as solar wind, makes life itself possible.

As charged particles belched from the sun strike our planet’s magnetic carapace, they are diverted poleward on electromagnetic conduits and eventually thrust into the upper atmosphere at Earth’s higher latitudes. There, collisions with atmospheric molecules illuminate the sky in green and red atomic excitation spectra. Their downward orientation makes them appear like needles pushing in from space itself, or as if one was gazing upward at a flag flapping vertically in the wind.

None of that have I ever witnessed with my own eyes, because I live at far too equatorial a latitude for even the largest solar storm to deliver this show to my front door. In learning about auroras through time lapses and astrophotography, which I have done my fair share of here on It’s Okay To Be Smart, I suppose I’ve always assumed they were a slow, gradual thing to behold, moving alomst imperceptibly, but definitely moving, like the way we can watch a cloud dissipate without ever really seeing it happen.

This video of a recent aurora over Yellowknife, Canada tells a different story. It is moving in real time. Stunning work from photographer Kwon O Chul. Not every aurora moves this fast, but this video completely changes the way I look at auroras.

I’ve often thought of the auroras as Earth’s own performance art, as if the sun is thanking us nightly for the simple act of noticing. But for this private light show, it is we who should be thanking the sun.

For more beautiful aurora science check out one of the first videos I ever made for the It’s Okay To Be Smart YouTube channel

Via It's Okay To Be Smart



Happy birthday to medical superhero William Stewart Halsted! If he were alive today he’d be 162. That would be pretty unbelievable. 

Things you should know about this great man: He established the first residency program in the US and pioneered a whole lot of fields. Like, a lot. This one time he did an emergency blood transfusion on his sister using his own blood and it was one of the first times anyone had ever done a blood transfusion, ever. How cool is that? Also he liked giving cocaine to his patients - what a guy. 

Hear more about him and how he introduced tons of the techniques we’re still using today.Thanks Dr. Halsted, for paving the way! 

Fun fact: He also began the practice of wearing gloves in the lab. 


Carved water buffalo skullI depicting a raging battle between a skeleton army and a snarling dragon. Available at the Skull Store


The varying wavelengths of different colors


Metallothioneins, proteins able to capture metal ions, play a major role in the virulence of Cryptococcus neoformans, a fungal pathogen which causes severe infections in immunodeficient and immunocompetent individuals (AIDS patients, transplant receivers, etc.) This is one of the main conclusions of the research published on the journal Cell, Host & Microbe, and developed by the researchers Sílvia Atrian and Anna Espart, from the Department of Genetics and the Institute of Biomedicine of the University of Barcelona (IBUB), affiliated with the campus of international excellence BKC.

Discovered in 1957 by the experts Marghoses and Vallee, metallothioneins (MT) are low molecular weight, cysteine-rich proteins. Thanks to their structure, they can bind metal ions and act as chelating agents — compounds which capture metals — to capture and distribute biologically interesting metals (copper, zinc, cadmium, quicksilver, etc.). MTs are very heterogeneous and polymorphic, and can be found in any type of organism (prokaryotes, fungi, plants, vertebrates, etc.), in which they facilitate metal detoxification processes and help to modulate the of the organism’s physiological response against a lack or excess of metals.

Primary source: Cell: Host and Microbe


Aerial | Baptise Debombourg.

Shattering glass flooding into a room of Brauweiler Abbey in Germany.

(Source: floatingiseasy)

Via Talking Shrimp

Let’s Get Quizzical (19/10/14)

I didn’t think I was going to get this post out tonight - it’s been a busy weekend for me! Yesterday I went climbing (as in proper outdoor rock climbing) in the Peak District with my housemate and the uni climbing club. I haven’t been rock climbing for years and it was just as awesome as I remembered it (it was also just as cold thanks to a killer wind)! It involved an early start to give us time to drive to Stanage Edge and have a good 7ish hours to climb a few routes. My trio managed to get in 5 climbs in that time which isn’t bad going at all! The great thing about climbing actual rocks is that it’s like a puzzle, you have to work out your own route to the top - there aren’t any fancy coloured holds to help direct you. The sense of achievement you get when you finally make it to the top is immense - I felt especially proud after our last climb because it began with an overhang, so I had to reach up as high as possible with my hands before then attempting to get my right foot up to shoulder-height. It took a few  many attempts but I managed it in the end =D

So my first climbing trip with the club was pretty awesome….despite then spending 3 hours sitting in a broken-down minibus (my housemate seems to be cursed when it comes to the company the university uses for buses etc - she’s built up quite the collection of mishaps involving them and their minibuses). Fortunately we were rescued by a trusty AA man who saved us from having to have a sleepover in the middle of nowhere!

Tonight I was out with the Football girls for a team-bonding pub quiz! I love pub quizzes =D There were rounds on Disney, football club nicknames and home grounds, general knowledge, flags, anagrams of famous singers, pictures of famous British sports stars, and a round involving embarrassing old photos of club members (fortunately none of them were of me!). It was really fun and as a bonus, my team came second (yes!). Plus I opted to cycle so there were no breakdowns this evening either =P

Another sports related thing that happened this week was that we played our first rugby match of the season - and we won! 52-0 to be exact - we scored 10 tries =D I had a great game: I stole a scrum and I got to jump in the lineout (I love jumping) - and even stole a lineout too! I made some good runs, did some good rucking, and even helped hold up a try. Basically it kicked ass. Everyone played really well (our Captain got 3 tries!) and it’s a brilliant start to our season =]

I have more good news! My supervisor and I have finally met up and I now have a project! I guess that means I should actually start working on it now…. It means I can now do a more detailed literature search, do some more background reading, and get cracking on writing my introduction. It feels like I’m actually going somewhere now =] However, my priority over the next couple of days is getting ready for the group presentation I have to do as part of one my optional modules. I have a really good group who are all proactive and really nice, so I have a good feeling about it =]

Anyways, I really need to catch up on sleep so that’s all for tonight. Have a great week guys =D



The oldest living thing in the world: These actinobacteria, recovered from the subterranean brrrrr-osphere that is Siberian permafrost, are estimated to be 500,000 years old. While many ancient microbes have been revived from ancient dormant states, these bacterial cells have been continuously living for half a million years. It’s known that the bacteria aren’t mobile in the frozen Earth, so by radioactively dating the layers of soil around the microbes, scientists were able to estimate their age.

Unable to divide and reproduce, these microbes were shown to be actively repairing their DNA despite the frigid temperatures, their enzymes uniquely adapted to an environment that would mean certain death for perhaps every other creature on Earth. While not growing, moving, or reproducing, this sort of cryostasis counts as living if you ask me (and the scientists who study them).

What do you think this means for the possibility of life on other planets?

(via Rachel Sussman and Brain Pickings. Check out the original 2007 research paper here)

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