Methane on Mars

You probably already saw the news–there has been independent confirmation of the current existence of methane gas in the thin Martian atmosphere.
Is it a lot? No. The pdf abstract on the paper, available through the BBC site here. mentions that it is a pretty thin component (which is why no one has spotted this before in spectral analysis).
The thing is, though, methane is unstable, especially in an environment without an ozone layer. In a few hundred years, any reservoir of methane not replenished would all be lost.
As scientists see it, there are two known possibilities, both exciting.
1. Vulcanism. Despite no evidence of same, rather than being a completely dead world, Mars must still have some active vulcanism. Mars would no longer be a dead world, geologically.
2. Methanogens. There are bacteria on earth which produce methane gas. What’s more, they are anaerobic, they die in oxygenated environments. Not very advanced, considerably primitive…but if they are there on Mars, even in isolated oases, it would be life. Life on another world…
Of course, there could be another, unknown possibility, something unknown and unforseen. And that, too, would be just as exciting.
See why we need to visit Mars? We can only do so much with just robots…

Free Giant Shrimp

Via Apostropher
That promotion Long John Silver’s was going to do involving oceans on Mars and giant shrimp is going to happen, after all.
On May 10th, you can get a piece of giant shrimp, free, at Long John Silver’s.
Gimmick aside, I do support the spirit of the promotion. Trying to excite more interest in science, via the Mars Probes, is a good thing.
(Okay, so I am weird. My first blog entry upon returning back from ACUS is about shrimp…)

Language Purity

Via Ginger, a link to a list of the 100 most mispronounced words.
It’s difficult to creatively and constructively add to her points, but I am going to make one of my own, and in as clear language as possible.
Language is a tool, not a straitjacket. If everyone in America decided to pronounce “ask” as “ax”, that would be the pronunciation. There is no “right” way to pronounce words, in the end, only what is used most commonly and universally understood.
I had an English teacher who bemoaned the idea of people mispronouncing the word ask. But its a fallacious concept. If a pronunciation of a word is universally understood, be it a regional dialect or otherwise, then it is valid.
If I pronounce the word “Car” as “can”, that’s a mispronunciation. If I am in New York (or, yes Ginger, New Jersey) and pronounce it “cah”, then that is a regional variant and it is valid.
I haven’t read it yet, but I’d love to pick up the McWhorter book on language which addresses things like dialects and regionalisms and the like.
I like languages far beyond my limited facility with them.

New FDA Fish Guidelines

Well, the FDA has released new guidelines on eating fish.
I am horrified.
The basic guidelines for children and pregnant women are:
Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
Eat up to 12 ounces � two average meals � per week of fish that are lower in mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.
Check local advisories to determine the safety of fish caught by family and friends. If no such advice is available, limit such fish to one six-ounce portion a week and don�t consume any other fish that week.
Why aren’t we outraged that we’ve polluted the oceans enough that we have to have our kids and pregnant women limit their fish intake because of an excess of a pollutant?
Even canned tuna is not completely safe. Ironically, in a cruel joke, fast food fish is probably safer than other kinds of fish because pollock doesn’t tend to concentrate mercury as much as other seafood.