A beautiful periodic table from 1949

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.

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Venus nears inferior conjunction

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):

Live Solar System image

Best Scientific Visualizations of 2013

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.

Merry Christmas!

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.

Three new plant and fungus species described in 2013


Nepenthes kitanglad is an endangered tropical pitcher plant found only on Mount Kitanglad in the Philippines. Specimens had been reported in 2009 as N. saranganiensis, but closer examination found that the plants from Mount Kitanglad formed a distinct species – see Martin Cheek and Matthew Jebb, “Recircumscription of the Nepenthes alata group (Caryophyllales: Nepenthaceae), in the Philippines, with four new species” (photo: Stewart McPherson)


Ampelocissus asekii is a vine found in the mountain forests of Morobe Province in Papua New Guinea. It was recognised as a distinct species based on herbarium studies – see Jun Wen, Robert Kiapranis, and Michael Lovave, “Ampelocissus asekii J. Wen, R. Kiapranis & M. Lovave, a new species of Vitaceae from Papua New Guinea


Amanita augusta is a mushroom found in California and the Pacific Northwest of North America. It was formerly known under the European name A. franchetii, but was long suspected to be and is now confirmed as a distinct species – see Dimitar Bojantchev and R. Michael Davis, “Amanita augusta, a new species from California and the Pacific Northwest” (photo: Darvin DeShazer)

Three new animal species described in 2013


Enyalioides binzayedi is a lizard from Peru – see Pablo J. Venegas, Omar Torres-Carvajal, Vilma Duran, and Kevin de Queiroz, “Two sympatric new species of woodlizards (Hoplocercinae, Enyalioides) from Cordillera Azul National Park in northeastern Peru


Otus jolandae is an owl from Lombok in Indonesia, which was previously known, but not recognised as a distinct species – see George Sangster, Ben F. King, Philippe Verbelen, and Colin R. Trainor, “A New Owl Species of the Genus Otus (Aves: Strigidae) from Lombok, Indonesia

The Hobbit – an unexpected deficiency

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:

Chart of Hopkinson and Hopkinson’s findings on Vitamin D deficiency in The Hobbit

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,
so juicy-sweet!

Statue of Gollum with fish at 2012 Comic-Con in San Diego
Photo: Gage Skidmore (at 2012 Comic-Con in San Diego)