Latest research news

September 8, 2004

Genesis propbe to return its Sun cargo
The Genesis probe, which left Earth in 2001 to gather particles blown off the Sun, returns its cargo on Wednesday. It will eject a capsule that will enter Earth's atmosphere at 40,000km/h before slowing, with the help of a parachute, to fall over the Utah desert. Hollywood helicopter stunt pilots are waiting to snatch the parachute in mid-air to prevent the capsule hitting the ground. Scientists hope the particles of solar wind can tell them about the evolution of the Sun and the planets. The UK's Open University has been involved in the development of the collectors and analytical techniques required for the mission.
BBC Online , September 7

North Pole was once subtropical
The Arctic Coring Expedition, an international scientific team which has been drilling beneath the bed of the Arctic Ocean, has discovered that the area enjoyed a sub-tropical climate 55 million years ago. Fossilised algae in the drilled cores show that the sea temperature was once about 20C, instead of the average now, -1.5C. The early history of the Arctic Basin will be re-evaluated based on the scientific results collected on the expedition.
BBC Online , September 7

Modified animals continue trend
The use of genetically modified animals in UK labs continues to grow, official statistics released on Tuesday show. In 2003, these animals were employed in 764,000 experiments, which represent just over a quarter of all procedures. Overall, total experiments were up, but only marginally, by 2.2 per cent to 2.79 million. A recent comparison of almost 3,000 research papers published over 30 years in major biomedical journals found a 30 per cent fall in the number of studies using animals. The analysis by a Swedish team suggested there was recognition by scientists to try to use alternatives where possible, and when animals had to be used, to use them more efficiently.
BBC Online , September 7

Academic claims Aboriginals got to America first
The first people to colonise American were Australians, according to a contentious study of a "lost tribe" that perished in California in the 18th century. A team of geo-archaeologists has analysed human remains that have led to a theory on the colonisation of the Americas that promises to rewrite the history books. The theory was set out at the Festival of Science by a team from the Natural Environment Research Council led by a Mexican scientist, Silvia Gonzalez, of Liverpool John Moores University.
Daily Telegraph, Times

Shuttle space centre surveys hurricane damage
All three remaining space shuttles weathered Hurricane Frances without apparent damage after the cyclone weakened before hitting the Florida coast south of Cape Canaveral. But the massive Vehicle Assembly Building took heavy damage. About 1000 of its exterior panels - each measuring 1.2 by 3 metres - were ripped off the south and east sides. This is the worst damage experienced by the Kennedy Space Center since its establishment in the 1960s, director Jim Kennedy told reporters in a hastily called teleconference on Monday.
New Scientist , September 7

Inflatable spaceship set for test flight
An inflatable lifeboat could one day ferry stranded astronauts back to Earth, if a prototype's test flights are successful next month. The re-entry vehicle weighs just 130 kilograms and is being developed to carry cargo back from the International Space Station. But its inventors, Return and Rescue Space Systems, Bremen, Germany, which has built the craft with colleagues in Russia, believe that it could also let astronauts bail out of the space station, or deliver robots to the surface of Mars.
Nature , September 2

Climate change can slash animal gene pools
A study examining the evolution of two rodent species over 3000 years suggests that climate change can slash the genetic diversity of animals, affecting their long-term survival prospects. Previous research has shown that climate change can influence animals' behaviour, such as when migratory birds fly south for the winter. And it can spur genetic adaptations in some insects in just a few generations. But now, the mammalian study suggests animals may lose the ability to adapt quickly because climate change can cause unexpected shifts in a species' genetic diversity. Details can be found in the journal PLoS Biology .
New Scientist , September 7

Humans and parrots may share sharp tongues
Parrots may use their tongues to quickly alter aspects of their speech. Until now, only humans had been shown to have this ability. "The parrot tongue modulates speech patterns in a complex way, as in humans," says Gabriël Beckers of Leiden University in the Netherlands, one of the study's authors. "This could explain why they are such good mimics. They have the same equipment to make speech." Details can be found in the journal Current Biology .
New Scientist , September 6

Hair analysis could reveal recent travels
Tracking the recent whereabouts of suspected criminals or uncovering the true origins of asylum-seeking immigrants might come down to a single hair, says a UK researcher. Stuart Black and colleagues at the University of Reading are testing a method of determining where people have lived by measuring the ratios of oxygen and hydrogen isotopes in their tissues or fluids. They presented their results this week at the British Association for the Advancement of Science Festival in Exeter.
New Scientist , September 6

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