ICYMI: This Week’s Science News (4/7/17)
By Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)
“Mind-controlled” turtles, flying sharks, and spacewalk mistakes are just a few pieces of recent news from the science world. If these things didn’t hit the mainstream and sound new to you, read on! ICYMI, here’s some of the science news from the last week!
Port side of the moon…
With the pressure on NASA to get humans on or near Mars by 2033, the space agency announced their “Deep Space Gateway” this week. The idea is to launch a space port to orbit the moon, serving as a launching point for missions exploring distant space, including the Red Planet.
The components to assemble the space port are scheduled to be launched in the 2020s, with hopes to be able to begin using the port and a reusable spacecraft to transport astronauts on their missions as needed.
Looks like Star Trek wasn’t far off, with Federation ports to receive and launch ships coming from and going on missions. NASA is following suit!
Yoga and meditation, among other things, utilize breathing techniques to create a sense of calm. But why does breathing a certain way make us feel good? It turns out that there is an area deep within the brain stem called the pre-Bötzinger complex that has particular neurons associated with breathing. A particular subtype of neuron within that area seem to be associated with feelings of arousal and calm. By genetically altering mice to develop brains without those particular neurons, they found that the rodents exhibited slower rates of breathing and a “zen-like” state, even in a novel environment.
While exploration of this kind hasn’t been made in a human brain, the study supports the idea that breathing techniques have a biological tie and aren’t just hippie hulabaloo. So take a deep breath, and read on!
Thanks for the memories.
In studying PTSD and memory disorders, the focus of research has often been on the recall of memory. However, a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Technology Sydney and the Garvan Institute have found that some of the trouble with PTSD might actually come with the formation of memories.
In tests with mice, the team found that strong memories of fear are formed quickly, which can be a helpful survival response. However, if formed too quickly, the hippocampus is unable to record the details associated with the fear. The brain therefore has difficulties determining when a fear response is called for in later situations, because it lacks details to allow the brain to differentiate situations and environments.
While the study has thus far only be done with mice and further research is needed, it’s a step in the right direction to determine neurological causes of memory disorders and PTSD.
Around and around we go! Where we stop, nobody knows!
On Monday (March 27), the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter officially circled Mars 50,000 times. The orbiter has been making the rounds, circling the Red Planet for approximately 11 years, gathering information about the planet (about 30 terabits of data so far). It will also be integral in the future arrival of NASA’s InSight Mars lander, as well as continuing efforts to get information about Mars in relation to the 2033 goal. Keep circling, MRO!
“Rawr” in dinosaur means, “I’m sensitive!”
A new species of tyrannosaur has been discovered in Montana, and it has given us a more accurate picture of the giant predator’s face. The new dinosaur is called Daspletosaurus horneri, and around 30 feet long and 7 feet tall. The particular fossils found by the paleontologists have allowed them to get a clearer picture of the facial nerves of the ancient predators. That picture tells us that the facial nerves were similar to that of modern-day crocodiles and caused the creature to have an extremely sensitive nose, which may have been used to handle eggs and small baby dinosaurs, or even to rub faces together as a form of foreplay. Hey! It’s hard to hug when you have a big head and tiny arms!
Cell phone-o reparo!
Phones like the LG G Flex have a backing material that can “self-heal” scratches. But for the first time, scientists at the University of California, Riverside, have developed a material for phone screens that can repair cuts and scratches in itself. This particular material is able to conduct electricity, which makes it a unique and new twist on previous materials, allowing it to be used for an electronic screen. Within a few years, the drama of cracked phone screens could be over!
Researchers in Korea have found a way to use the human mind to direct a turtle. Humans have already been able to direct robotic pieces, such as prosthetics, with their mind. This same technology was used in the experiment.
A turtle was set up with a camera so the human could essentially see what the turtle saw. They would then think about a direction they wanted to move. A receiver on the turtle read the signal and then moved a “blind” to the opposite side of the turtle’s view. This would cause the turtle to move the opposite direction, in an effort to avoid the perceived obstacle in their path.
Turtles may be slow, but they have a natural instinct to avoid obstacles and head toward light, making them an ideal species to use in the study. The research might have applications in search and rescue, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Ernest knew what he was doing when he used a turtle army of paratroopers to save the camp. (Y’all have seen Ernest Goes to Camp, right?)
Spooky lighting isn’t just a horror movie thing.
Scientists have been studying light particles (photons) on the quantum scale, trying to learn more about the concept of entanglement, and Einstein’s “spooky action.” They were in for a surprise!
When the researchers created quantum entangled pairs of photons, the particles were expected to originate in the same place and split. In an unexpected result, the scientists reported that the particles actually came from different places in space, meaning they’re actually a lot spookier than we thought! The team learned more about how much they still don’t know about quantum entanglement of photons.
Houston, we have a problem.
2 NASA astronauts went for a spacewalk. No, it’s not the start to a cheesy joke. But it is the beginning of an ISS repair job that went awry. The two astronauts were tasked with placing shielding over a space left after moving a docking port, in order to protect the ISS from micrometeorite debris. However, one of the 4 pieces went rogue and floated away.
Mission control helped devise a plan to place a temporary cover for the gap, so the operation snag isn’t a current threat to the residents of the ISS. Space is not the place you want to have an “oops” moment, but it turns out that pieces float away sometimes, in the form of shields, bolts, and tools. They are pulled into the Earth’s orbit and burn up in the atmosphere, causing no damage.
Houston, we have a silver lining.
While a key piece of equipment may have floated off in the ISS astronaut’s latest spacewalk, there was a bright side to the adventure in space. One of the astronauts, Peggy Whitson, broke the record for cumulative spacewalking time by a female astronaut, with more than 50 hours and 40 minutes total walking in space. (The previous record was held by Sunita Williams.)
Peggy Whitson is also the oldest woman to ever perform a spacewalk, at 57 years old. Last year she was given the title of oldest woman in space. It looks like age is just a number when you want to achieve your dreams and do the work you love. Way to go, Peggy!
SpaceX knows how to recycle and reuse!
On Thursday last week, Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, successfully launched a used rocket booster. The rocket has previously launched and landed in August 2016. This year, it was fueled up, blasted up, and recovered, perhaps to be used again. If the process can be reliably repeated, it means that approximately $18 million could be saved per launch. Welcome to the future!
In the northeast of Australia, Cyclone Debbie caused heavy rains and strong winds, leading to extensive flooding in some areas as well. In the region of Burdekin, the storm appears to have pushed a bull shark from its home, most likely in a local river, onto a road, where the caught shark was eventually beached… Unless it was flown in, which experts at SyFy can probably explain somehow.