Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Jason and the Octopus

So octopuses just got cooler, guys. I know - is that possible? Turns out it is. A couple of Australian scientist have been observing the Argonauta argo octopus, largest in its genus, and also called the paper nautilis (paper sailor). The females secrete a white, paper-thin shell. Aristotle was all up on these guys, and theorised that they used their shells to sail along to the top of the ocean.

Like Argonauts. You know, only octopus style. He was wrong, though. These octopuses actually trap air under their shells and use them to achieve a bouyancy that holds them under the surface of the water.

Whenever I got my paws on a helium balloon as I child I would try my best to turn it into a little zephyr. I'd tie whatever I could to the bottom as a counter weight to the helium. If I got it right, the balloon would just hang in the air, perfectly still. I would poke it to propel it around, but I didn't need to hang onto it. It was like taking a pet for a walk, except, you know, much sadder.

That's pretty much what the Argonauta argo are doing. By achieving perfect bouyancy, they can jet around the ocean with little effort. Read more here, look at some pictures here, and check out this vid:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Kate Beaton is one of the best things about the internet. Check out her fine, fine work at

This is one of my recent favourites:

those crazy sea-jellies

So what is happening in jellyfish this week? Some crazy shit, that's what. Tasmanian scientists found this guy in the Derwent River. He represents a whole new species, a whole new genus, and a whole new family of jellyfish. He's called Csiro Medusa Medeoplis. It means "city of gonads". Cos that's what this guy's got going on on his head. A cluster of sex organs.

He's harmless, though. Read more here.

Ocean, you just keep getting better.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

whales will save us

Want some good news on climate change? Whales are doing their bit. Scientists at the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart have figured out that iron rich whale poop helps algae and photoplankton grow, which draws carbon from the atmosphere when it photosynthesises. Krill then feeds on the algae, and the whales eat the krill. It's a beautiful, carbon reducing cycle.

And it supports my hypothesis that you can solve pretty much any problem with whales. Full story here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Holding Theorems in Our Hands

For years, hyperbolic space was purely theoretical. It was emerged out of a failure to prove one of Euclid's axioms: which states that there is only one infinate straight line that can run next to another without intersecting it - a parallel line. Mathematicians eventually proved that there were many lines, running in many directions, that would not intersect the original, but they existed in hyperbolic space.

All well and good, but when you start getting into theoretical spaces you kind of lose me. Mathematicians such as Poincare and artists like Escher have given us abstract representations of hyperbolic space. Poincare gave us the hyperbolic disk - an abstract representation of tiled shapes (such as heptagons) in hyperbolic space - necessary because the sum of their angles exceed 360 degrees. Poincare achieved this by reducing scale exponentially. Escher even put fish in his, always a plus on this blog.

They're quite gorgeous, as well as useful. I love repetition as motif, and find myself agreeing with the Institute of Figuring online exhibition when it notes that, "If, as the Moors believed, repeated patterns connote the divine, we might conclude that Heaven itself would be a hyperbolic space."

As lovely as they are, however, they're just analogies. Enter Daina Taimina, a mathematician who learned the dark arts of knitting and crochet as a child in Latvia. Her crochet models are a mathematically accurate example of hyperbolic shapes. They are not just representations, they are not abstract. They are, as she says, theorems we can hold in our hands. Check out the Institute for Figuring's online exhibition to see models that refute Euclid's parallel postulate, and buy her book here.

This is a model of a cone in hyperbolic space:

And this is where the marvelous ocean comes in. Hyperbolic-esque shapes are found in nature too - lettuce leaves, for example, or the frills of a nudibranch. And, of course, the coral reefs. From this realisation came the Hyperbolic Coral Reef, a global craft project that aims to draw attention to the frightening and rapid destruction of our coral reefs.

I saw examples of the Sydney HCR on display at last year's This Is Not Art festival in Newcastle. They are surprising and beautiful - colourful and intricate organic shapes, painstakingly crafted by hundreds of dedicated people.

Hyperbolic Reef projects exist all over the world. As beautiful as they are, we must remember they are but imitations - analogies, abstracts - of the real thing. The real thing, sadly, we are losing too soon.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Oh, Mariana

It's moment's like this that make me wonder why science fiction populates other planets with life - when we have our own undiscovered world right here.

The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the world's oceans - that we know of. If you were at the bottom of this trench, you would be further from sea level than if you were at cruising altitude on an international flight.

That tiny, tiny black dot on the surface? A person. Below, a blue whale. Click to get a better view.

Just imagine what's waiting at the bottom of all that blackness.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I love it when mythology comes to life. The oarfish, thought to be the inspiration for millennia old stories of sea serpents and dragons, has been filmed by scientists in the Gulf of Mexico.

This king of herrings, as it's known, is an amazing fish. Rarely seen, or caught, it's the longest fish in the sea at a confirmed 11 metres. They think it probably gets as long as 15 metres. That's 50 feet, people. I would not be messing with this herring. It's also got some pretty fancy headgear.

It's easy to see why people wrote stories about this guy. Check out the vid below:

And read about a "woman angler" catching one of these bad boys here.