11 Billion Years Ago (in Context)

On Brookhaven Bits & Bytes, Kendra Snyder shows us new images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III, which analyzed the light of 14,000 distant quasars to map the ancient universe in 3-D. Hydrogen gas absorbs the light from quasars at certain wavelengths, generating a pattern known as the “Lyman-alpha forest” and allowing researchers to model the gas as it was distributed 11 billion years ago. Ethan Siegel puts this time period in context in his exhaustive cosmic history, which starts before the Big Bang and stretches a quadrillion years in the future. The universe eventually “goes dark, being populated only by black holes, neutron stars, and degenerate dwarf stars, which eventually themselves cool, fade, and turn black.” Sounds bleak, but in the meantime, we’ll enjoy a little sunshine.

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High-Flying Patriots

Corvids are among the smartest animals on the planet, and Mo reports that the United States military considered tactical uses for their intelligence. The dream of “spy crows” sprang from research conducted at the University of Washington, where researchers donned rubber masks in the likenesses of Dick Cheney and ‘cavemen’ to study facial recognition among crows. Perhaps untrue to form, the cavemen molested the crows while the Dick Cheneys left them alone. For months and even years afterward, the crows harassed anyone seen wearing a caveman mask on campus. Now all the Pentagon needs is the face-maker from Mission: Impossible. And a new bad guy.

Next, Greg Laden considers the advantages having of the bald eagle instead of the turkey as a symbol of national identity. Eagles may be petty bird bullies and thieves, but if the United States held itself to be a turkey, we’d be eating ourselves for Thanksgiving (or else imitated) with cranberry sauce. And when Congress protects the bald eagle from extinction, it helps “all the other life forms that free rode on those regulations, including osprey, [and] other birds high up on the food chain.” That’s a few more wings in the sky, at least for now.