Between a rock and a Mars place

Scientists have the strongest evidence yet that granite exists on Mars. The findings suggest a much more geologically complex Mars than previously believed.

Large amounts of a mineral found in granite, feldspar, have been detected by the spectrometers on board the NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter; the granite is present in an ancient Martian volcano. Moreover, minerals that are common in basalts that are rich in iron and magnesium, ubiquitous on Mars, are nearly completely absent at this location. The location of the feldspar also provides an explanation for how granite could have formed on Mars.

Granite, or its eruptive equivalent, rhyolite, is often found on Earth in tectonically active regions such as subduction zones. This is unlikely on Mars, but the researchers studying the data suggest that prolonged magmatic activity on Mars may well have led to these compositions on large scales.

Evidence found for granite on Mars.

What is ambergris?

Ambergris (ambergrease or grey amber) is a waxy, inflammable solid with a dull grey colour formed as a biliary secretion in the gut of sperm whales. It is thought to act as a protective lubricant so that squid beaks and other hard, sharp ojects the whale may swallow don’t pierce its intestine.

Its main use was as a fixative in perfumes. Alluded to in the Rush song Panacea from their 1975 album Caress of Steel in the line:

I catch the scent of ambergris and turn my head, surprised

Fresh ambergris actually has an oceanic, fecal odour when first expelled by the whale, but happily acquires a sweet, earthy scent commonly not dissimilar to the smell of rubbing alcohol but without the “chemical” astringency, which presumably was what turned Geddy’s head, not the smell of whale poo.


According to its Wikipedia entry, ambergris is relatively non-reactive to acid. White crystals of ambrein can be separated from ambergris by heating raw ambergris in alcohol, then allowing the resulting solution to cool. Ambrein is fairly odourless but breaks down to ambrox and ambrinol, which give it its characteristic sweet scent.

Today, ambergris has been replaced by synthetic agents, such as ambroxan. However, 83 kg of ambergris in the intestine of a recently stranded whale is estimated to be worth €500,000.

Antioxidant backlash redux

According to Henry Scowcroft of Cancer Research UK writing in The Guardian: “Large studies have repeatedly shown that, with the possible exception of vitamin D, antioxidant supplements have negligible positive effect on healthy people, at least in terms of important things such as preventing people getting cancer or dying prematurely. And some supplements – notably vitamins A, E and beta-carotene – even seem to slightly raise the risk of disease and early death.”
The antioxidant myth is too easy to swallow.

I’ve been saying as much for years, and was quoted from a short blog post here in Newsweek a couple of years ago in an article about the antioxidant backlash. It caused quite a shtstorm at the time with all sorts of CAM quacks crawling out of the woodwork to slag me off. Quite bizarre really given that the quote was a throwaway remark in a very short blog post and not a full critique of the state of research into antioxidants at all.

Antioxidant supplements are big business, but they promise an elixir of life that is, it seems, really not supported by scientific evidence and repeatedly advertisers come unstuck when they make overblown and hyperbolic claims about the benefits of this or that product.

Scowcroft points out that we seem to cling to the idea of panaceas and elixirs because the alternative is a bitter pill to swallow. If any life changes can overcome genetics and environmental factors then they are: Don’t smoke. Stay in shape. Eat a balanced diet. Limit alcohol intake. Keep active.

Now, who wants to do that instead of just popping a few daily pills?

Strong test for FUR

A new spectroscopic method has been developed for the determination of the drug furosemide used to treat congestive heart failure and other conditions. The drug is alsosed illegally by some athletes as a stimulant and rapid weight-loss agent.Yali Liu, Huijuan Wang, Jian Wang and Yuanfang Li of Southwest University, in Chongqing, China, explain how furosemide 4-chloro-N-furfuryl-5-sulfamoyl-anthranillic acid, FUR is a potent diuretic. It is widely used in the treatment of chronic kidney failure, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and cirrhosis of the liver. Its effects are correlated directly with administered dose as too are its side-effects. Testing for FUR.