Original snowflake pictures for sale

Some of the snowflake photomicrographs taken by the man who invented the technique are up for auction at a price of around $5000 U.S. each. “Snowflake” Bentley received a microscope when he was fifteen years old and by the time he was nineteen, in 1885, he had invented a way to photograph snowflakes through the microscope, outside in the cold so they wouldn’t melt.

He spent much of his life photographing thousands of snowflakes. To show other people their beauty, in 1931 he published a book called Snow Crystals. It was re-issued in the 1970s (above) and at one time I had a copy of it.

He told a magazine in 1925: “Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind,” he said.

In Jericho, Vermont, where he lived, there’s now a museum with about 2000 of his prints.

Russet feathers!

Before birds, there were feathers–naturally enough. Feathers, like hair, no doubt provided insulation and were grown by dinosaurs. Indeed, reptilian scutes when properly treated with a mild acid can fall apart into a feather-like structure. I suspect that the first advantage that they imparted was warmth for a small animal. But camouflage probably came second. When you have temporary structure like feathers, you can change color with the seasons. The color can vary by combining red and black pigments. It can pulse on and off as the feather grows or in different parts of the body to form pigmented bands. I have seen dinosaur-bird fossils where the bands in the feathers call to mind the wings and tail of a hawk.

But that’s just a hypothesis! Scientists have shaved a pigmented fossil into microscopic bits to identify the pigment granules and classify their color type: black or Irish-setter red. They applied their findings to the reconstructed fossil to see its color pattern. Behold!

True colors

The lovely illustration is by Chuang Zhao and Lida Xing

GrrlScientist has a fine, detailed description and lots of images of how the research on Sinosauropteryx was done with scanning electron microscopy.

It’s easy to create lines, cross-hatching, or speckles when two such color pulses combine into a moire pattern.

Chandra X-Ray Observatory cuts through star-fog

Phil Plait at the Bad Astronomy blog shows what Chandra can do to resolve a dim glow of star-fog in the Milky Way.

Biggest X-ray ever!

Not Totally Rad talks about the X-ray art of Nick Veasey, who has taken what are probably the biggest X-ray images ever.

…work by photographer Nick Veasey, who has X-rayed backhoes and entire buses full of people. Check out this shot of a Boeing 777 and hangar, which may be the largest radiograph ever taken.


Besides these enormous objects, his online portfolio also includes a lot of other cool stuff, such as bats, spiders and….

I think that they must be manipulated or composed in some way, because how would you get an image of people inside (or in front of) the solid metal walls of an airplane? And wouldn’t more distant objects be fuzzy, not dim? And if you did take an image through a hangar, would it not fry the innards of the people in the scene?

Training effect

For just over a year now, I’ve been taking swimming lessons and practising under the direction of a coach.
I’m still enjoying the training effect, which hasn’t yet levelled off: the more I practice, the better I get. I’m not racing, but just improving my endurance and aerobic fitness. It’s odd: when I get into the pool next time, I swim better than when I got out the previous time

The chart shows distances swum on successive dates. Some of them are estimates. The times aren’t always the same; most of the sessions are 1 hour long, but some are longer and some are only half an hour. Some are in pools, either with lane swimming or maneuvering among swimmers, with or without a wetsuit, in smooth or rough water. Still, there’s a trend: on the average, I can swim farther and faster as time goes on.

How swimming improved in one year
How swimming improved in one year

I suppose to do this properly I should drop the obstructed swims, add a slowing factor to the wetsuit sessions, and use the per-hour rate for all dates. I don’t have a record of all the short lessons, but here’s an attempt:

Swimming improvement in one year, adjusted

Swimming improvement in one year, adjusted

The training effect was discovered by Dr. Cooper.

“None of this is speculation. The anatomic and biochemical characteristic of the training effect have been documented in the laboratory many times.”, Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., M.P.H. President and Founder, The Cooper Aerobics Center.

Satellite photo of wildfires

California wildfires from space

California wildfires from space

This image of wildfires in California in July shows the smoke drifting out to sea from northern California and what I take to be sea-fog in the lower part of the picture, extending up to about Orange County. It’s from NASA’s Terra satellite and comes courtesy of Orange County’s Science Dude, Gary Robbins.

Michigan Basin from space

Lake Michigan from space

Geologist Harold Asmis has dug up a beautiful image of the Michigan Basin from space. And he mentions something I didn’t know: the reason for the basin is myterious. I have a low-resolution image here. Go check out the big picture at “Modis image of Great Lakes.”

Doctors use robot to do brain surgery

Dr. Garnette Sutherland demonstrates MRI-compatible NeuroArm

Doctors in Calgary, Alberta, have made medical history: they used a robot to remove a tumor from a woman’s brain while they watched what they were doing with an MRI scanner. Here are Dr. Sutherland and Ms. Nickason with the machine.

Dr Garnette Sutherland and Paige Nickason look at robot surgery arm“Doctors used remote controls and an imaging screen, similar to a video game, to guide the two-armed robot through Paige Nickason’s brain during the nine-hour surgery Monday.

“Surgical instruments acting as the hands of the robot -called NeuroArm – provided surgeons with the tools needed to successfully remove the egg-shaped tumour….

“‘Paige’s brain surgery represents a technical achievement in the use of image-guided robotic technology to remove a relatively complex brain tumour,’ said Dr. Garnette Sutherland, professor of neurosurgery at the University of Calgary faculty of medicine and NeuroArm team leader.

“NeuroArm has the distinct advantage of being able to move in smaller increments than a surgeon’s hand, Sutherland said.

“Typically, the human hand can steady itself and move in increments of one or two millimetres. NeuroArm can move in increments of 50 microns. [A micron is 1/1000 of a millimetre.]…

“NeuroArm can operate in the brain in a way that is less invasive and more delicate than a surgeon’s hands.”

robot NeuroArm surgical tool, Dr. Garnette Sutherland

You can read more about the NeuroArm here and here.

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