Uncertain Hope Blooms for Tasmanian Devils

By Katie Jewett | August 16, 2018 5:16 pm
Using remote camera traps, photographer Heath Holden captured rareimages like this one ofwild Tasmanian devils(Sarcophilus harrisii)in their natural habitat.The animals’brightred ears and eerie, raucous scuffles earned thescrappy marsupials theirhauntingcommon name. (Heath Holden)

Using remote camera traps, photographer Heath Holden captured rare images like this one of wild Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) in their natural habitat. The animals’ bright red ears and eerie, raucous scuffles earned the scrappy marsupials their haunting common name. (Credit: Heath Holden)

On a misty summer morning in 2015, Manuel Ruiz ditched his pickup truck along a dusty two-track road in northwest Tasmania and trod into a grove of eucalyptus. He was searching for a devil. “If I were a devil, this would be a nice place to spend the night,” thought Ruiz, a wildlife veterinarian and doctoral candidate at the University of Tasmania.

The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial. Despite that distinction, the animal is only about the size of a raccoon. But what the species lacks in heft, it makes up for with tenacity. At night, devils hunt and scavenge wallabies, possums, and other small mammals under the cover of their black fur. During the day, they retreat to underground dens and sleep off the rigors of their nighttime exploits. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
MORE ABOUT: animals, cancer

Can Humans Live in Space Without Going Crazy?

By David Levine | August 14, 2018 2:30 pm
NASA astronaut Harrison Schmidt shaves during the Apollo 17 mission. (Credit: NASA)

NASA astronaut Harrison Schmidt shaves during the Apollo 17 mission. (Credit: NASA)

On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space when he piloted the Mercury capsule Freedom 7. His sub-orbital journey lasted 15 minutes. Like most children who grew up in the early era of space flight, I remember this moment well.

The flight was extra special for me because my dad, Arthur L. Levine, worked for NASA. As a human resources administrator, he recruited John Glenn, who in 1962 became the first American to orbit Earth. My dad, Glenn and Neil Armstrong, all worked at the research center in Cleveland, Ohio, which today is called the Glenn Research Center.

Because dad worked for the agency, I became fascinated as a child with astronauts and space flight. That fascination has stayed with me as an adult.

And over and over I keep returning to something: What impact does being in space have on the human psyche? And for those future Mars astronauts, how would the human mind hold up as Mother Earth fades away to a dot?

Surprisingly, it wasn’t until Mars missions became feasible that NASA considered the full breadth of the psychological needs of astronauts.
Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts

Brains Store Temporary Records Before Creating Life-long Memories

By Kelsey Tyssowski, Harvard University | August 13, 2018 5:41 pm
(Credit: Alena Hovorkova/shutterstock)

(Credit: Alena Hovorkova/shutterstock)

A version of this article originally appeared on The Conversation.

The first dance at my wedding lasted exactly four minutes and 52 seconds, but I’ll probably remember it for decades. Neuroscientists still don’t entirely understand this: How was my brain able to translate this less-than-five-minute experience into a lifelong memory? Part of the puzzle is that there’s a gap between experience and memory: our experiences are fleeting, but it takes hours to form a long-term memory.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain

The Evolutionary Quirk That Made Vitamin B12 Part of Our Diet

By Nathan H. Lents | August 13, 2018 2:15 pm
(Credit: bitt24/Shutterstock)

(Credit: bitt24/Shutterstock)

Vitamins and other nutrients that we cannot make for ourselves are called essential. It’s a misleading term because “essential” most often means “important,” but in the world of dietetics, it denotes that we must obtain it in our diets. For example, vitamin Q, also called ubiquinone, is extremely important – it’s crucial for cellular respiration in the mitochondria – but it is not deemed essential because our cells simply make this biomolecule from already available parts.

Humans have a very needy diet when it comes to essential micronutrients, more so than other animals. This likely stems from an evolutionary past in which our ancestors enjoyed a richly varied diet and obtaining vitamins and minerals was rarely a challenge. As I’ve written previously, we need vitamin C in our diet, whereas most animals don’t, because a distant ancestor already had abundant vitamin C in her diet when she suffered the mutation that killed one of the genes for vitamin C synthesis. The story of vitamin D deficiency is another example of wonky evolution in our lineage that you can read about here. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: evolution, nutrition

NASA’s 60-Year Race to Touch The Sun

By Ian Graber-Stiehl | August 10, 2018 5:00 pm
The Parker Solar Probe will help explain the mysteries of our sun's atmosphere - a mission first envisioned more than half a century ago. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben)

The Parker Solar Probe will help explain the mysteries of our sun’s atmosphere – a mission first envisioned more than half a century ago. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben)

We often equate light with a lack of mystery. We elucidate or illuminate answers. So it’s tad ironic that the brightest object in our solar system remains one of its most mysterious.

Scientists still don’t understand why the sun’s corona, or atmosphere, is hotter than its surface — or why the solar wind accelerates as it races away.
Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts

What A Mathematical Formula Can Teach Us About Coincidence

By Noson S. Yanofsky | August 10, 2018 4:08 pm
(Credit: Nelson Charette Photo/Shutterstock)

(Credit: Nelson Charette Photo/Shutterstock)

Was it a chance encounter when you met that special someone or was there some deeper reason for it? What about that strange dream last night—was that just the random ramblings of the synapses of your brain or did it reveal something deep about your unconscious? Perhaps the dream was trying to tell you something about your future. Perhaps not. Did the fact that a close relative developed a virulent form of cancer have profound meaning or was it simply a consequence of a random mutation of his DNA? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics
MORE ABOUT: mathematics

CubeSats Venture Into Deep Space

By Erica Naone | August 8, 2018 3:30 pm
The twin MarCO CubeSats launched May 5th with NASA's larger InSight mission, making them the first pair of miniature probes to ever venture into deep space. Many other mission concepts are in the works for CubeSats that could follow these pioneers beyond Earth's orbit. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The twin MarCO CubeSats launched May 5th with NASA’s larger InSight mission, making them the first pair of miniature probes to ever venture into deep space. Many other mission concepts are in the works for CubeSats that could follow these pioneers beyond Earth’s orbit. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

When NASA’s InSight lander began its journey to Mars on May 5th, two tiny satellites tagged along for the ride — CubeSats called MarCO-A and MarCO-B.

CubeSats are a small and relatively inexpensive type of spacecraft, and they tend to use off-the shelf technologies. In recent years, dozens of them have been launched into low-Earth orbit by scientists, students, and businesses alike. The MarCOs, however, are the first CubeSats to travel into deep space, and they could pave the way for a new generation of small spacecraft that would make doing interplanetary space science much more accessible.
Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics

How These Animals Stay Forever Young

By Erica Tennenhouse | August 8, 2018 10:48 am
(Credit: A. E. Migotto/CEBIMar-USP)

The immortal jellyfish, Turritopsis. (Credit: A. E. Migotto/CEBIMar-USP)

Once we turn 30, our odds of dying doubles every eight years. The formula that churns out that grim statistic is known as the Gompertz–Makeham law, named after the pair of nineteenth-century actuaries who worked it out, and those odds have remained about the same even as modern medicine has advanced.

Humans aren’t the only ones whose mortality can be summed up by the equation. Although that key age will differ if you’re a mosquito or a horse, nearly all animals see their likelihood of death rise sharply as they get older. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
MORE ABOUT: animals

The Microlaunch Space Race Has Begun

By Troy Farah | August 7, 2018 11:46 am
The ELaNa IV launch, containing 11 Cubesat missions, on November 19 , 2013. (Credit: NASA)

The ELaNa IV launch, containing 11 Cubesat missions, on November 19 , 2013. (Credit: NASA)

In the vastness of space, unfathomable size is generally the norm. But when Jordi Puig-Suari, an aerospace engineering professor, began looking at the stars, he started thinking small. Together with Bob Twiggs, a professor at Stanford University, they developed the CubeSat, a tissue box-sized satellite that has intensified interest in space and revolutionized satellite communication.

When Puig-Suari worked at California Polytechnic State University in 1999, he was unimpressed with the typical size of satellites — “kind of overkill,” as he puts it. Satellites of the day could often be larger than a grand piano, and weighed thousands of pounds. So, he helped blueprint a spacecraft measuring 10 centimeters on each side and weighing less than 1.33 kilograms (2.93 pounds.) That’s about the size and mass of a human brain. At first, the only goal with this device was to train students how to build satellites, which are historically expensive to assemble, let alone launch.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics

Why We Didn’t Visit Pluto Decades Ago

By Doug Adler | August 3, 2018 4:42 pm
Voyager (left) launched in 1977; New Horizons (right) launched in 2006. The two missions have a curiously interconnected past. (Credit: NASA/JPL; NASA)

Voyager (left) launched in 1977; New Horizons (right) launched in 2006. The two missions have a curiously interconnected past.
(Credit: NASA/JPL; NASA)

While many people know about the Voyager missions launched in the 1970s and the New Horizons probe that visited Pluto in 2015, few are aware that the relationship between these two missions dates back to the 1960s. Had scientific goals been different at the time, Voyager might have taken the place of New Horizons, decades before the latter was ever conceived.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics
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