I’m sure you’re quite proud of the SimCity world you’ve created. Awesome stadium, bro. But the technologists and evolutionary scientists at Cornell University have just reduced your accomplishment to correctly assembling a Dominoes pizza. Bravo:

The team incorporated concepts from developmental biology and how nature builds complex animals—from jellyfish to jaguars. The result is an array of bizarre, simulated robots that evolve a diverse series of gaits and gallops.

The video shows evolution in action: A creature evolves into a galloping, soft robot over 1,000 generations. While 1,000 generations is relatively short by natural evolution standards, it is enough to demonstrate the power of evolution to create counterintuitive designs, according to the researchers.

Ever walk to your car on a cool but humid late summer morning and realize that you can’t even see the end of your driveway? Dense, heavy fog smothers everything around you making it even difficult to make out your feet. You might stand in amazement for a couple of seconds, pondering how you will make it to work. Well, as many Rochesterians know fog isn’t just reserved for the summer; in fact different varieties of dense heavy fog can make travel difficult at any time throughout the year.

Before we delve into the numerous types of fog, understanding the basics of this phenomenon is a necessity. Fog is essentially a collection of liquid water droplets or ice crystals suspended in the air just above Earth’s surface. When the air temperature cools to equal the dew point temperature, the air becomes saturated condensing into droplets and creating fog. This is the same process as cloud formation, thus it is fair to say that fog is essentially clouds at the surface. However, there are some differences between clouds and fog, mainly in the ways they are formed. In the upper atmosphere, the air is cooled as it rises, forming a cloud. At the surface the air is cooled in a multitude of ways, creating the many types of fog.

Anyone who lives on or near any of Upstate New York’s lakes knows that throughout the winter, steam sometimes appears to come off the lake. During the early morning, very cool air will tend to move over a warmer, moist body of water. When the cool air mixes with the warm moist air directly over the water, the moist air cools until it becomes saturated and fog forms. The following is a video of steam fog over Lake Ontario during the winter of 2005. Fog like this is common over Lake Ontario and many of the Finger Lakes throughout the winter.

As late summer approaches and fall is imminent, another type of fog called radiation fog is pretty common in Western NY. Radiation fog forms at night under clear skies with calm winds when heat absorbed by the earth’s surface during the day is released into the atmosphere. As the earth’s surface continues to cool, the air will then become saturated and dense fog will form if enough moisture is present. You might see this fog in the early morning before the sun heats the surface.

Sometimes water droplets that compose fog are supercooled, or in a liquid form at temperatures below freeing.  This fog is termed “freezing fog”.  These water droplets remain in the liquid state until they come into contact with a surface upon which they freeze. As a result, any object the freezing fog comes into contact with will become coated with ice.

Rochesterians should always be on the lookout for different types of fog as upstate NY is a unique region where this phenomenon is prevalent.

NASA’s SDO YouTube channel has released some amazing new video, showing comets as they pass close by the sun. When they do, the deformation of the comet’s tail shows where magnetic field lines are pulling at the material in the tail. As the video explains, this process is not unlike meteorologists releasing barium tracers into the upper atmosphere of our Earth to study the wind currents there.

The video goes on to note that we are “in a period of high solar-grazing comet activity,” and NASA will continue to be using these comets to study the mysteries of how the sun works, as well as answering some questions about the solar wind as they track the path of comet tail dust back out into the Solar System. The next SGC expected to make its way around the Sun will be in November of the upcoming year. So… mark your calendars, space fans!

Ever notice that whoever wrote the “12 Days of Christmas” song had a severe bird fetish? At least six of these 12 days of true love gift giving are bird related, and possibly more. History has debated that the fifth day’s gift of “five golden rings” actually referred to ring-necked pheasants, not fancy finger jewelry. So! There we have it. The first seven days of the 12 Days of Christmas are birds, equaling a grand total of 28 birds from your true love.

Um, thanks?

Culturally, we may not typically celebrate 12 days of Christmas anymore, but Rochester is certainly on board with Day 4, albeit perhaps unintentionally. Day 4 is another commonly misinterpreted verse to the 12 Days song, with many singing “four calling birds” when in fact, it is actually “four colly birds.” Okay, well that’s all fine and good, but what the heck is a colly bird? According to our good friends at Wikipedia, colly bird is the old-fashioned term for a black bird. Merry Christmas, Rochester, indeed!

The crows are back in town, and they’re back with a vengeance.  Earlier in the year, the city put forth extensive creative and technological efforts to disperse crows from downtown areas, however, the colder weather has brought them back, much to the city’s chagrin. Earlier this week, wildlife biologists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture began their most recent attempts to chase the overwhelming amount of crows out of Washington Square Park, which, on Sunday’s count, clocked in with over 25,000 crows.

The USDA has been working through the night using non-harmful techniques such as spotlights and pyrotechnics to rid the crows, however, these colly birds aren’t leaving without a fight. Several crows have flown away or moved to other trees while others have barely budged. Back in February, we reported that crows have an uncanny sense of memory – perhaps they’re calling our bluff?

According to USDA wildlife biologist Mark Carrara, these things take time and will decrease gradually, comparing the techniques to pet training, which may not be such a far-fetched comparison. For whatever reason, these crows do seem to believe they’ve found a home in Rochester. Perhaps Rochester should be more selective when choosing its “true love” next year, or at least one that blesses us with better gifts. In the meantime, happy eleven months of the fourth day of Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

As our telescopes peer farther and farther into the cosmos and our Voyager spacecraft edge closer and closer to the edge of our Solar System, still we find there is a lot to be discovered about celestial bodies much closer to home. NASA’s Gravity Recovery And Internal Laboratory (GRAIL) mission explores the closest of them all, our moon.

Using two dishwasher-sized satellites to measure minute changes in the moon’s gravity, NASA hopes to learn more about the internal structure of our moon and suss out finer details about the moon’s creation. The two satellites measure the precise distance between them as they pass over the moon. As the GRAIL probes  detect minute changes in that distance, they record those differences as changes in the gravitational pull of the moon:

The gravity field map reveals an abundance of features never before seen in detail, such as tectonic structures, volcanic landforms, basin rings, crater central peaks and numerous simple, bowl-shaped craters. Data also show the moon’s gravity field is unlike that of any terrestrial planet in our solar system…

“What this map tells us is that more than any other celestial body we know of, the moon wears its gravity field on its sleeve,” said GRAIL Principal Investigator Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “When we see a notable change in the gravity field, we can sync up this change with surface topography features such as craters, rilles or mountains.”

The data has been compiled into two fascinating videos of the topography of the moon. The first displays the thickness of the moon’s crust. This one conforms pretty closely to what you might have expected of the moon, just from staring at it. The craters and gullies we know are there show where our moon has been bombarded in the past:

The second video, showing the variance in gravitational pull, reveals a much more complex world than we’ve generally assumed to be up there. The channels and pock marks reveal much more tectonic and bombardment activity than is generally understood to be taking place on the moon:

It would be interesting to see this same type of data gathering applied to other rocky worlds beyond our own moon. For example, we know gravitational pull keeps Mercury pretty hot in its center, but how much pull is really being exerted and where? Other moons such as Callisto or Ganymede of Jupiter might be candidates for further study in this way, if it is even possible to get that type of equipment that far.

We all have our flaws. Some love too quickly. Some love too deeply. Some love the wrong species. It happens.

And in China, there is an old story about a scholar and a mystical white snake who fall in love. This story has apparently evolved over the years into many different interpretations, including horror stories (the scholar is unaware that his love is the White Snake) and classical Romeo and Juliet meets Snakes on a Plane love story.

I’m not at all sure which interpretation, if either of those, is represented by Jet Li’s newest venture. Which ever one is most appropriately adorned with explosions and kick-ass kung-fu ass whoopin, I presume. Either way, the trailer promises lots of action, lots of Cirque du Soleil style colorfulness and a lot of feminine tongues of extraordinary length. All things considered, this seems like a potential win for the horny and the high. Speaking of which, don’t forget to tell the Democrat and Chronic(le) you’d be OK with voting to legalize weed:

The new trailer is out for Star Trek: Into Darkness and I have to say I’m pretty stoked for this. As much as I love the whole pantheon of Star Trek movies and TV shows, I am beginning to think that, as a story-writing vehicle, the reboot of history is a good idea. Too easy to let old stories calcify and get boring.

Who knows? Maybe this means I’ll also find the (potential, rumored, hated) similar historical reboot of the Star Wars universe equally engaging. Here’s to hoping!

There have been plenty of other solar events in the last few years that the SDO has observed. Some of which have even had their effects felt here on Earth. But I’m not certain we’ve ever seen what appears to be quite so much energy leaving the sun all at one time. Here, courtesy of the SDO YouTube channel, is video including several filters of that massive eruption:

Stewardship is hard. Like, really, really hard. And let’s face it: Americans have to have a gun pointed at them in order to deal with anything this hard.

Ken Caldiera at the Carnegie Institution for Science was approached by a science writer with a relatively straightforward question: if we got off our coal-burning, wasteful, polluting methods of energy production, how long before we felt the benefits of that change? The numbers suck.

In order to do anything that might be considered “repairing” the damage done by fossil fuels, we would basically need to completely eradicate coal burning technologies. And if we did that, we might start seeing the benefits somewhere around half a century from now.

Sleep tight. You can watch the video here.

Sometimes, there’s nothing more cathartic than taking out the garbage – even for your brain.

Neuroscientists at University of Rochester Medical Center have discovered a previously unrecognized system that drains waste from the brain. Dubbed the “glymphatic system” due to its similarities with the lymphatic system, but instead managed by brain cells known as glial cells, this new-found system brings hope for many brain conditions, including Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, stroke, and traumatic brain injuries, which are all attributed in some way to waste protein build up on the brain.

Here’s how it works – the highly organized system acts as a series of pipes, piggybacking off of the brain’s blood vessels to drain away waste products. Think of it as if the brain has two big garbage cans; the first one collecting waste through a gradual trickle, the second one under much more pressure, pushing large volumes daily to carry waste away more forcefully.

That’s a lot going on in our brains on a daily basis – so how were we unaware of all of this until now? According to scientists, the system only works when it’s intact and operating in a living brain, which had previously been extremely difficult. To study the living, whole brain, the team at U of R used a technology known as two-photon microscopy, which allows scientists to look at the flow of blood and other substances in the brain of living animals – in this case, mice.

This is not the first discovery to stem from this research at U of R.  Back in the spring, a similar study found that parts of the brain that were not cleaning properly could be to blame for ADHD.  This is all great news, though. Once a definitive  biological cause has been pinned down with certainty, then medicines can be created to treat the problem.

See? Your mom wasn’t kidding when she told you it’s important to clean!