NASA Clocks Record Breaking Winds Around a Black Hole

NASA announced earlier this week that astronomers using the Chandra X-ray Observatory observed the fastest winds ever blowing off a disk around a stellar-mass black hole. These observations shed some new light on the mysterious black holes and how they behave.

Artists Rendering of Stellar-Mass Blackhole (Courtesy

So what kind of speed does it take to break a record? How does 20 million mph strike you? Speeds like that are hard to fathom. To put in perspective that is 3% of the speed of light. Ashley King, of the University of Michigan is quoted in the NASA press release as saying, “This is like the cosmic equivalent of winds from a category five hurricane.” Ashley was the lead in the study which was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Stellar-mass black holes are created when a super massive stars collapse. These are stars are usually about 10 times the mass of the sun. An interesting point about this discovery oddly enough, was that this particular black hole was behaving like black holes with much higher mass. “It’s a surprise this small black hole is able to muster the wind speeds we typically only see in the giant black holes,” said co-author Jon M. Miller, also from the University of Michigan. “In other words, this black hole is performing well above its weight class.”

There were several unexpected findings surrounding this observation. For instance, the wind seems to be carrying more material away from the black hole than it is taking in. Unlike hurricane winds here on earth, the stellar-mass black hole winds travel in all directions.

For more information about the Chandra X-ray Observatory, visit

Permian Era Forest Preserved in Pompeii-like Ash Found in China

Imagine being able to go back in time nearly 300 million years and see the flora and fauna that has long since been extinct. Then imagine being able to freeze that moment in time like a snapshot. For professor Hermann W. Pfefferkorn, of the University of Pennsylvania, that experience became a reality. Pfefferkorn and a team of Chinese scientists found a nearly complete Permian era forest frozen in volcanic ash near a mining site in Wuda, China.

Hermann Pfefferkorn
Professor Hermann Pfefferkorn of Penn (Photo courtesy Penn News)

According to Penn News, Pfefferkorn is quoted saying, “It’s marvelously preserved…We can stand there and find a branch with the leaves attached, and then we find the next branch and the next branch and the next branch. And then we find the stump from the same tree. That’s really exciting.” The Wuda site is near a large coal mining operation. This provided a very unique opportunity for them to study this ancient forest on a large scale. They were able to study nearly 1000 square meters. This gave them an unprecedented look at the flora from that time. Pictured below, you can see a well preserved branch from trees classified as a Noeggerathiales. These trees were small spore-bearing trees that are long since extinct.

Noeggerathiales an extinct tree (Courtesy of

The ancient tropical forest dates back nearly 300 million years ago to what is called the Permian era. It sat on a peat bed which eventually became a layer of coal due to many years of pressure. Reminiscent of Pompeii, this forest was beautifully preserved in a bed of volcanic ash. The scientists examined and mapped out this preserved forest and were able to reconstruct how it must have looked millions of years ago. They worked with an artist to reconstruct this vast tropical forest. You can see one of the renderings pictured below.

Reconstruction of Permian Era Forest (Courtesy of

This is certainly a significant find. It’s the first such finding in Asia and the first peat forest of its kind to be found anywhere from this period. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences early edition. You can also see the fantastic images of the preserved flora in the “Supporting Information” supplement here.

Google Honors Hertz with Doodle


On February 22 the 155th birthday of Heinrich Rudolf Hertz will be celebrated. Google is honoring his memory and accomplishments with an oscillating Google doodle.

Hertz was a German born scientist who is most well known for proving the existence of electromagnetic waves. A scientist named James Maxwell had theorized in 1873 that electromagnetic waves existed. In 1887 Hertz set out to prove this theory. He successfully built a device that would allow him to produce and detect radio waves. Basically he created an oscillator that would produce an electric spark and a receiver out of a looped wire with two spheres on the ends with a small gap between them. The oscillator induced a current in the receiving loop which sent sparks across the tiny gap. This was the first documented occurrence of electromagnetic waves being produced and received.

Unfortunately, Hertz would never fully realize the significance of his discovery. As a matter of fact, at the time of this experiment he thought there were no practical uses for the invisible radiation. If only he could see it now. He passed away from an illness at age 36. His amazing and brilliant life cut short however, his legacy lives on. That television you’re watching, the wireless handheld device that entertains you, these are all built on the research of Hertz. Once scientists figured out that electromagnetic waves existed, and that light was just a visible form of such, the field of electromagnetic theory would usher in the wireless age.

His accomplishments were recognized in 1930 by the IEC when they named the measurement of frequency “hertz”. This measurement measured cycles per second in electromagnetic waves. He also enjoys many other honors, including having a crater on the moon named after him.

Once again I am humbled by the incredible accomplishments of a man whose candle dimmed way too soon. Hopefully, this Google doodle and surrounding articles will do Mr. Hertz justice and bring honor to his memory.

Add a Nice Signature to Your Gmail Messages

Microsoft doesn’t own the patent on all things pretty! If you’re a Gmail user, there are lots of options available to you. Today, I would like to show you how you can add a professional looking signature to your Gmail messages.

In Gmail, look to the far right side of the page and you will see an icon that looks like a cog. You can see this picture below. If you click this cog, you will get a dropdown menu where you will need to select “settings”.


In Gmail settings find the “General” tab, highlighted below, and click the radio button below “No signature” to turn on the signature feature.

Turn On Signature

Proceed to type in the white box the information that you would like to include in your signature. Notice above the white box that you have a toolbar with a lot of formatting options such as bold, italicize, and underline. Pictured below, you can see that I have highlighted my name selected the “Change Font” button to select a different font.


If you want to add a link to your website just click the two little chain links on the toolbar to insert a link. If you click the square icon that looks like it has two little mountains, this will allow you to insert an image. Unfortunately, this image has to be hosted on the web somewhere. It doesn’t allow you to upload one from your computer. You can see what I am talking about in the image below. I also ran into some issues trying to do this in Internet Explorer 8. Chrome worked fine.


Once you have your image inserted and all of the text is just the way you want it, click the “Save Changes” button at the bottom of the page. Note, you may have to scroll down a ways to see this button.

I hope you have enjoyed today’s tutorial. Gmail can do a lot of the things you may have come to expect from apps such as Outlook. You just have to dig in sometime to find what you’re looking for. As always, we love hearing your feedback. Thanks for reading Techie Buzz.

Will Your Next Hamburger be Grown in a Tube?

Scientists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting recently took on the challenge of solving the world’s food problems. Dr. Mark Post, professor at Maastricht University, proposed a rather bizarre way to grow meat in the future. The world’s first hamburger developed from cow stem cells is expected to come this fall. The meat will be grown in a test tube. It makes you wonder if Anthony Bourdain would even be brave enough to eat it.

Test Tube Meat
Courtesy Mark Post via

The hamburger is being developed with from an anonymous donor who gave Dr. Post 250,000 Euros to get the job done. Pictured above, you can see a strip of muscle tissue developed from cow stem cells at the lab. It will take many of these strips to produce an actual hamburger.

So why the interest in a new meat substitute. Scientists note the inefficiencies surrounding meat production as it is done today. The environmental impact is also a huge concern. Large meat farming operations produce a lot of green house gases and other environmental issues. There is also a noted risk to humans as there has been a rise of E. Coli outbreaks recently.

Another scientist, Patrick Brown of Stanford University, proposed a meat substitute derived from plant material. Brown sounded very confident that his product could win over the meat and potatoes crowd. This seems to be a more viable alternative as Post’s stem cell approach is a very expensive and time consuming process.

Probably most surprising to me was to hear about the meat industry’s interest in this research. Big names like Tyson Foods have expressed interest in the synthetic meat. It will be interesting to see what the food of the future looks like and how this type of research will change things for us. I have to admit my own skepticism, mostly out of concern for eating synthetic proteins and what unforeseen problems may occur from eating synthetic meat. However, the possibility that we could produce more food with less energy sounds very promising. I think I’ll go get a hamburger now before they become a thing of the past. ;)

First Human to Robot Handshake in Space

It’s enough to make an old Trekkie like me shed a little tear of joy. Yesterday marked a historic moment between man and robot. The first handshake in space between man and robot occurred aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Commander Dan Burbank , American astronaut aboard the ISS, was the first to be greeted by the humanoid hand of Robonaut 2.

Commander Dan Burbank receives first robot handshake in space. (Courtesy

NASA published a YouTube video showing the momentous occasion.


Robonaut 2, R2 for short, is a dexterous humanoid robot designed to assist humans in space. It is the hope of NASA that these robots will be able to aid in construction efforts in space and that they will be able to aid in tasks that may be too dangerous for humans to achieve. General Motors is working in a joint project with NASA to help accelerate the development of these robots. One of the cool things about having a dexterous robot is that they don’t need a separate set of tools just to accommodate them. They are able to use the same tools the astronauts use.

It is apparent that NASA has had a lot of fun with the humanoid. On their website dedicated to Robonaut, they have a fun video where they played a prank on the space station crew. They also have used Robonaut to reach out using social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Robonaut Tweeted “Did you catch that? I don’t have a voice, but I sent you a message — Hello world … in sign language!” after his historic debut yesterday. He went on to say, “What a day! I passed my tests with flying colors!!!”

I look forward to hearing more about the type of work R2 will doing on the space station. In the meantime, if you would like to keep up with Robonaut you can go to its website at


World’s Smallest Chameleon Discovered

A team of scientists have discovered the world’s smallest chameleon on a tiny island off the coast of Madagascar. The leaf litter dweller measures in at a whopping 16mm long. Pictured below, is an example of one of four new species discovered in this expedition, the juvenile of the species Brookesia micra.

Chameleon on Finger Tip
Juvenile Brookesia micra on Finger Tip (Courtesy PLoS One)

The Brookesia micra was identified as the world’s tiniest chameleon species. It was found on a tiny island called Nosy Hara just off the coast of Madagascar. Three other distinct species of chameleon were also found. It inhabits the leaf litter on the forest floor and according to the report published in the journal PLoS One, it climbs on “low perches in the vegetation for sleeping”. You can see in the picture below, the beautiful habitat where scientists discovered the tiny amniote.

Creek Bed where the Brookesia micra was found. (Courtesy PLoS One)

Dwarfism in vertebrates has been brought to center stage lately. Back in January, we reported the discovery of what was then thought to be the world’s smallest vertebrate. It was a tiny species of frog which similarly foraged in the leaf litter on the forest floor of Papua New Guinea. Miniaturization of species has brought about many new evolutionary theories. It also brings about new challenges for scientists to identify differences in the species.

While the news of a newly discovered species is very exciting, we’re also reminded of the fragility of these creatures. The Brookesia tristis, Latin for sorrowful, and the Brookesia desperata, Latin for desperate, both suffer from the consequences of deforestation and habitat loss. Hopefully discoveries like these will shed light on the importance of protecting these creatures and lead to better stewardship of their habitats.


Valentine’s Day Gifts for Geeks

Valentine’s Day quickly approaches! If you’re like me, you have a hard time trying to come up with something unique for that special someone. If you have a Geek in your life, this can be a real challenge. Today, I would like to show you some unique and fun gifts that you can get for your Geek and not break the bank!


Geek Love Poem T-shirt – by ThinkGeek

Show them your undying devotion by giving them this HEX encoded love poem shirt. This is especially good for the graphic designer/web design Geek in your life.

Star Wars Valentines – by

For the Star Wars fan in your life, here is a great place you can print your own Star Wars Valentines. How cute is this! Plus, it’s free! I call that a win win!

Star Wars Han Solo Carbonite Chocolate – by ThinkGeek

Speaking of Star Wars, what Star Wars fan wouldn’t want a Han Solo in carbonite chocolate bar? Let’s just hope they don’t make a Jabba the Hut if you know what I mean. Yuck!

I Love My Geek Babydoll Tee by ThinkGeek

This shirt is perfect for the girl who appreciates her Geek!

Giant Color Changing LED Desklamp – by ThinkGeek

This lamp will surely set the mood for you and your Geek. Gaze into each others eyes under the soft glow of this color changing LED lamp. It has bendy legs so you change it to look just the way you want.

I hope I have inspired you to think outside the box a little. Most of all, Geeks just want to have fun. You don’t have to throw away tons of money this Valentine’s Day. Just add a touch of quirkiness to your gift and I am sure your Geek will enjoy it! Good luck!

First Astronomical Observatory of Harrapan Civilization Discovered

Scientists from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) have discovered two large circular structures which they believe were used by the Harrapan Civilization as astronomical observatories. This is a significant find as it is the first evidence of astronomy being used by the ancient people group.

Dholavira is one of the largest ancient cities of the Indus valley civilization. This civilization existed around 2650 BCE and encompassed areas of western India and modern day Pakistan. Pictured below, you can see the location of Dholavira on the map.

Courtesy Google Maps

Dholavira was first discovered in 1967 and according to Wikipedia “has been under excavation almost continuously since 1990 by the Archaeological Survey of India“. Recently, a team led by Dr. Mayank Vahia of TIFR set out to study the  Dholavira site in hopes to discover what structures might have been used as observatories.

According to an Indian Express article:

“It is highly implausible that such an intellectually advanced civilisation did not have any knowledge of positional astronomy. These (structures) would have been useful for calendrical (including time of the day, time of the night, seasons, years and possibly even longer periods) and navigational purposes apart from providing intellectual challenge to understanding the movement of the heavens,”

It is assumed that Dholavira was surrounded by water back in the day and that it was an important center of trade for the region. This idea is what drove the team to search for astro observatories due to the fact that such a cultural center had to have a strong grasp of time. Out of over a thousand structures observed so far it appears they have only been able to identify these two structures with such a purpose. Due to their “celestial orientations”, it is believed that this was their express purpose. They were able to make assumptions based on computer simulations which showed that shadows would align at an entrance on summer and winter solstice.

This study will enable scientists to measure the intelligence of the Harappan people and will give them some idea how they “used the astronomical data to conduct business, farming and other activities”.

For more information about this archaeological site see the Archaeology Survey of India’s page.


Google Seeks to Solve World’s Problems with Solve for X

Google has rolled out a new project called “Solve for X”. The project seeks to “amplify technology-based moonshot thinking and teamwork.” They’re looking for new ideas and new innovations that will solve some of the world’s most enigmatic problems.

Solve for X

“Solve for X” is a forum that hopes to engage individuals in a dialog to solve massive problems that our world faces. They describe the solutions they are looking for as “radical” as they state on their website:

Radical in the sense that the audaciousness of the proposals makes them sound like science fiction. And radical in the sense that there is some real technology breakthrough on the horizon to give us all hope that these ideas could really be brought to life.

Below is a small video they posted to describe their endeavor.


There are several speakers who have videos posted on this website. If you go to you can see several “moonshot” ideas. You can also view the videos on their YouTube channel at

I really like the premise of this website. To me, the internet will never reach its full potential until we are able to connect the minds of people across the globe and truly seek solutions to the challenges we face. While the internet has been great for commerce, the potential for solving problems and sharing ideas is truly its biggest asset.