1. Going to the Moon?

    The European Space Agency has made a beautiful and surprisingly informative movie about exploring the moon.

    In just eight and a half minutes, it says interesting things about the history of lunar exploration, about the scientific questions that can be answered there and about the plans of the ESA and other players to put humans and robots there in the nearish future, and even to build a permanent facility. You should watch it!

    Ars Technica frames this as a kind of jilting of NASA, which plans to go to Mars. Whether or not that is correct, I am glad to see attention paid to the Moon instead of Mars. Any attempt to put humans on Mars would be like a second Apollo program, the human race extending so far outside its comfort zone that it can't hope to do much more than do a symbolic space-walk.

    Paradoxically, the Moon is a more ambitious goal. Any attempt to go there needs to do more than Apollo. We should be going there to explore water resources, to try putting scientists there on long stays and doing other things that are at least potential precursors to real colonisation.

    But even that is a ...

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  2. Ancient Arteries

    This one is old news, but I only just found out about it.

    We are told that heart problems are a modern lifestyle disease caused by rich food and lack of exercise. There is even a "peleo" diet fad urging us to eat like ancient hunter-gatherers. But now it seems ancient mummies show just as much artery clogging (aka atherosclerosis1) as modern people -- even though many of them seem to have had healthy "natural" diets and active lifestyles.

    These studies use computed tomography (CT) scans of the whole mummified body to look for calcium deposits around arteries. Initial research was done on Egyptian mummies and found atherosclerosis to be common -- but this is hardly surprising among wealthy aristocrats, whether modern or ancient.

    The real surprise is that more recent work published in The Lancet finds similar results in naturally preserved mummies from varied societies around the world, including hunter-gatherers. In addition the famous neolithic mummy of Ötzi the Iceman has similar calcium deposits.


    Jo Marchant and Nina Lincoff have good posts on the topic, and Daniel Weiss has an even better one (which also has best title). Do read some or all of them, but I want to concentrate ...

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