The classic visualisation of the periodic table above is from LIFE magazine of 16 May 1949. It has been doing the rounds, with considerable justification.
This visualisation uses both position and colour to show relationships between the elements. For example, purple colouration and a dashed arrow is used to link the elements of Group VIIB (Manganese, Technetium, Rhenium) to those of Group VIIA (Fluorine, Chlorine, Bromine, Iodine, Astatine). The original caption can be found here.
The planet Venus is about to reach inferior conjunction, the point of closest approach to Earth. Currently, Venus is 43.8 million kilometres (27.2 million miles) away. In a telescope, it is visible as a large, thin crescent – this video (by Stanko Jankovic) shows the planet on December 22nd:
For the current distance to Venus, see Wolfram’s calculator or the live diagram of the solar system at Fourmilab, which includes images (green lines show orbits below the plane of the ecliptic):
Wired is listing their “Best Scientific Visualizations of 2013.”
Included on their list is the interesting network diagram below, from the paper “Parasites Affect Food Web Structure Primarily through Increased Diversity and Complexity” by Jennifer Dunne et al. (PLoS Biology, Vol. 11, No. 6, June 2013) – a paper which I have previously mentioned.
The Christmas fresco above, by Giotto, shows the Star of Bethlehem as a comet (top centre). It is likely that this fresco depicts Halley’s Comet, which Giotto saw in 1301, about two years before he began the series of frescos of which this is part. This work by Giotto was celebrated in the name of the Giotto spacecraft, which observed the comet in 1986.
Let me take this opportunity to wish all my readers a very happy Christmas.
Joseph Hopkinson (a British student) and Dr. Nicholas Hopkinson have published a tongue-in-cheek paper in The Medical Journal of Australia looking at some health issues in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The Hopkinsons suggest that the orcs in that novel were defeated partly because they were sun-deprived (and hence deficient in Vitamin D). The chart below summarises their findings:
This wonderful and timely paper certainly deserves an award for its potential benefits in science education. At the risk of being a grumpy old Scrooge, however, I can’t help but think that their limited textual dataset has led them to somewhat underestimate the Vitamin D content of a diet rich in fish:
So sleek, so fair!
What a joy to meet!
We only wish
to catch a fish,
Photo: Gage Skidmore (at 2012 Comic-Con in San Diego)