Saturday, 11 December 2010

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks Monday

Posted: 10 Dec 2010 10:43 AM PST

If it's clear where you are on Monday night, bundle up, head outside and look up. One of the best meteor showers of the year will peak on Dec. 13.

The Geminid meteor shower, which returns every December as the Earth passes through a debris trail from asteroid 3200 Phaethon, is usually one of the year's best celestial shows. Between 11 pm local time Monday and sunrise Tuesday morning, you may see one or two shooting stars per minute under clear dark skies. Even in areas with a lot of light pollution, the brightest meteors should be clear and sharp.

Part of what makes the Geminids so spectacular is that they travel more slowly than meteors from other showers. They can take several seconds to blaze across the sky, and sometimes leave a brief trail of glowing smoke.

The Geminids get their name because they appear to fly from near the stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini. From the northern hemisphere, Gemini is in the eastern sky in the evening and high overhead after midnight.

Other famous meteor showers, like the Perseids in August and the Leonids in November, have been observed for hundreds or thousands of years. But the Geminids showed up suddenly in the 1860s. It took astronomers another 120 years to figure out that the asteroid 3200 Phaethon was the shooting stars' source. Most meteor showers are linked to the debris left in the wake of a comet, but the Geminids were the first to be connected to an asteroid, suggesting that 3200 Phaethon may actually be an extinct comet.

To check when the best viewing times are in your area, check out this flux calculator applet developed by two meteor hunters at the SETI Institute.

If you want to photograph the meteor shower, head away from city lights and check out our how-to wiki on where to look and how to take photos. Send us your best shots — if we get enough good ones, we'll compile them into a gallery.

Image: Flickr/St0rmz

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Fake Watchful Eyes Discourage Naughty Behavior

Posted: 10 Dec 2010 09:43 AM PST

By Mark Brown, Wired U.K.

Being watched by a photograph of staring eyes can be enough encouragement to behave, follow orders or do the right thing, a study has found.

Psychology researchers at Newcastle University hung two different posters at a restaurant, to see how customers would react. They both featured text asking patrons to bin their rubbish, but one had a picture of flowers on it and the other had a pair of staring eyes.

The number of people who paid attention to the sign, and cleaned up after their meal, doubled when confronted with a pair of gazing peepers. The research team, lead by Dr. Melissa Bateson and Dr. Daniel Nettle of the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution found that twice as many customers followed the orders when met with eyes, compared to figures for the flower poster from the day before.


The study is based on the theory of "nudge psychology," which suggests people behave better if the best option is highlighted, but not forced upon them. Linking that with the eyes grabs peoples' attention, and makes that nudge even more effective.

It's a followup to a 2006 study where similar posters were hung up in a communal tea room, by the honesty box. Subjects were found to pay up nearly three times as much cash when stared at by eyes, rather than flowers. Luckily, we're far too honest to need one of these posters in the Wired offices.

But researchers wanted to know whether the same tactic would work outside the workplace, and would extend to other forms of cooperation. The successful cafe experiment is the first step, but the researchers have even more ambitious plans.

"Painting a pair of eyes on a wall may be useful for preventing antisocial behavior in quiet locations," says Dr. Bateson. And, "if signs for CCTV cameras used pictures of eyes instead of cameras they could be more effective."

Image: Flickr/kevindooley


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