To deflect an asteroid, paint it white. That’s the idea that made MIT graduate student Sung Wook Paek the winner of the 2012 Move An Asteroid Competition, a contest set up by the United Nations’ Space Generation Advisory Council that sought innovative ways to deflect asteroids. Paek’s plan is to hurl pellets of white paint at an asteroid in order to make it more reflective, meaning that more photons, or particles of light, would bounce off it, rather than being absorbed. Over time, the force of those photonic collisions, combined with the initial force of the paintballs, would be enough, Paek thinks, to move the asteroid off its path toward Earth.
This striking image represents the chemical composition of Martian sand recently collected by the Curiosity rover. Analysis of it reveals that Martian dirt is similar to volcanic soil from Hawaii, containing crystalline feldspar, pyroxene and olivine. To create this image, the rover’s Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument bombarded sand samples with X-rays, which bounce off in different patterns depending on the sample composition, allowing scientists to figure out which chemicals are present and in what quantities.
Image via NASA
Here in New York City, and all along the US’s eastern seaboard, we had an epic Monday night. Here are photos and videos from the trenches and links to our picks of science reporting answering your questions about superstorm Sandy.
(1) A monster storm surge submerged Lower Manhattan, Red Hook in Brooklyn, and just about anywhere else within 9 feet of sea level.
Ars Technica‘s Casey Johnston looks into new research and reports that by 2200, 9 feet above current sea level will be the new normal, thanks to climate change.
(2) What I thought was a lightning storm turned out to be a transformer blowing.
Paleontologists now think they know how the predatory Tyrannosaur ate the well-protected Triceratops: by ripping its head off. The carnivore may have forcefully yanked on the bony frills around the neck of its horned prey in order to get to the rich meat beneath. The researchers, who reported their findings at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting last week, suggested this scenario after examining Triceratops skulls, where they found puncture and pull marks on the neck frills—along with bite marks on the head-neck joint that could only have been made on a severed head.
For a fuller explanation, replete with step-by-step illustrations, visit Nature News.
Drawing courtesy of Nate Carroll via Nature
“Integrated pest management” is a mouthful. But the farming method, involving growing multiple crops together and playing their strengths and weaknesses off each other, could be key to using fewer chemicals to grow more food. Though it’s been discussed for decades, a set of recent experiments reported in the journal PLOS ONE puts more weight behind it: using this style of farming with moderate use of fertilizers and pesticides, the study found, is just as productive as industrial agriculture while requiring fewer chemicals. Read More
Every year, Nikon asks photographers and scientists to enter their most magnificent microscopic photos into the Small World photomicography competition, and every year, they dazzle. Here are three of the coolest photos from among this year’s winners.
Jennifer Peters and Michael Taylor, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital/Nikon Small World
First Place: This winning photo depicts the blood-brain barrier, the seal between capillaries and the brain, of a live zebrafish embryo. To produce the image, researchers genetically engineered components of the barrier to fluoresce under a confocal microscope, took a series of photos at 20x magnification, then combined the images to create this one. This is believed to be the first time the developing blood-brain barrier of a live animal has been captured on film.
In the video above, 18 people “walk” a 10-foot, 8,700-pound replica of an Easter Island statue along a Hawaiian road by tipping it back and forth (and yelling “heave ho,” of course). They are testing the theory, put forth by archeologists Carl Lipo and Terry Hunt, that this is how the Easter Islanders transported their statues from the quarry where they were carved, a water-filled crater of an extinct volcano, to their final positions. (Others think the islanders rolled the statues horizontally along on logs.) The reenactment, of sorts, is described in a recent paper.
Our cognitive abilities tend to decline when we get older, as we have trouble remembering old facts and skills and learning new ones. But a little young blood reverses some ill effects of old age, at least in mice, researchers reported at the Society for Neuroscience conference last week.
Neuroscientist Saul Villeda and his team gave elderly mice infusions of blood from younger, sprightlier members of their species. The old mice fortified with young blood improved on learning and memory tasks, such as finding a platform submerged in water and getting conditioned (think Pavlov’s dogs) to fear situations associated with electric shocks.
When a brain-damaged person seems unresponsive, the uncertainty is excruciating. Is the person in a vegetative state, awake but not conscious, or are they minimally conscious, still retaining some shreds of awareness? Scientists can now distinguish between people in vegetative and minimally conscious states by measuring brain waves, a Belgian research team announced at the Society for Neuroscience conference last week, which could lead to a more clear-cut, objective way to make the diagnosis.
In 1986, in a flyby shooting, the Voyager 2 space probe took some of our first photos of Uranus. The planet looked blue-green and featureless, a planetary pokerface. In the decades since, we’ve learned that Uranus does have weather, visible as variations in color on the surface, and new photos from by the Keck II telescope in Hawaii (above) reveal the ice giant’s meteorology in more detail than ever before. The scalloped pattern near the equator is a ring of clouds; the busy, blue-flecked cap at the right end—the planet’s North Pole—are storms.
For sunny weather, try another planet: this one gets sunlight hundreds times weaker than we do on Earth, and the temperature of its upper atmosphere drops as low as -371 F, making it the coldest planet in the solar system.
Image via Lawrence Sromovsky, Pat Fry, Heidi Hammel, Imke de Pater/University of Wisconsin