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10 Amazing Discoveries You Missed This Week

From hidden terrorist messages in porn, to smog-eating buildings, to dolphin coworkers, here are some incredible discoveries.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Elena Larina


The world is full of surprises -- here are 10 from this week. 

1. A honey of a moon

Okay, cue up old-time heroic-type music and get ready for ... SUPERMOON!

It’s not often that we get to write about something in the world of science that’s going to happen. Usually we report on studies that have already taken place or events so deep in the past they don’t need journalists, they need archeologists.

But tonight at 11:35pm EDT, the moon will be full and it will be at its perigee, the closest point in its elliptical orbit around the earth. These simultaneous conditions will make it bigger and brighter -- 16 percent brighter -- than usual, says Space.com via the Christian Science Monitor . (Click on the link for a gorgeous and informative video.) 

Other than causing higher and lower tides than usual, the Supermoon won’t have any unusual effect on events here on Earth.

Well, except for all the skywatchers, campers, lovers and other night owls pointing up and going “Ooooooh!” at roundabout the same time. 

2. The universe’s photo album

If you can’t wait for Supermoon to see wonders from space, thank Amy Rolph from  Seattle PI for posting 61 glorious images in Amazing Photos from the Hubble Space Telescope from Hubble’s 22-year history of documenting the universe. Sit back and be spellbound by how much bigger it all is than you.

Some favorites: Ring Nebula (image 40) which looks like the Mood Ring Nebula (or a peacock eye); Supernova 1987A (image 10) because it looks like the God entity from Futurama; and Centaurus A (image 8) which looks like a photo taken from under the ocean looking up to the surface. In real life, though, you have to watch Centaurus A … it’s been called a " cosmic cannibal" due to evidence that it once collided with another galaxy and consumed a large part of it.

And it’s relatively close to the Milky Way! Quick, before it sees us -- hide all the fava beans! We’ll drink all the nice chianti.

3. Smog-eating buildings?

Some people will eat anything. Some buildings might soon be able to eat smog.

Tina Casey at TPM says (via Green Car Reports ) that Alcoa has developed a new titanium oxide coating for the aluminum panels it manufactures that will enable those panels to “eat” the smog around the buildings. When sunlight energizes the electrons in the titanium dioxide (also used in toothpaste and skim milk) and reacts with water vapor in the air it forms oxidizers that attack surrounding organic material -- in this case nitrogen oxide (NO2), the main component of smog, “turning it into a harmless nitrate (nitrates are commonly used in fertilizer).”

The main purpose of the material is aesthetic but since it will make the panel slick it will prevent “smog, bird droppings and other schmutz” from collecting, making the building and the air around it cleaner…the latter depending on the building’s size and location. Alcoa says 10,000 square feet of the coating material -- named EcoClean --has a “smog removal power equivalent to about 80 trees, or enough to offset the airborne pollution emitted by four cars per day.” It’s getting its first commercial try at a “new regional electronics recycling hub in Badin, North Carolina.”

Looking at some of the comments in the TPM story made us wonder whether those nitrates were harmless to the groundwater they would eventually get washed into…and since we know AlterNet readers don’t take “Oh, relax,” for an answer we asked Dr. Nathan Bryan, assistant professor of molecular medicine at the Texas Therapeutics Institute and co-author of Nitrite and Nitrate in Human Health and Disease Dr. Bryan said he saw no cause for concern and that this amount of nitrate will likely be minimal.

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