30 September, 2010 – This Week in Science


Planet Goldilocks, Hectic Heliosheath, Robot Hood, Dinosaurs Taller than Previously Thought, The Zebra Finch and the Ancient Virus Fossil, Atomic Bondage, Escaping the Event Horizon, And Much More…

Show Notes:
Planet Goldilocks
A new planet that could be just right for life has been discovered just 20 light years away. Orbiting the middle of a ‘habitable zone’ around the red dwarf star Gliese 581, means it could possibly have water on it’s surface. It has a mass of 3 or 4 times that of the Earth and is tidally locked to it’s sun, one half in a perpetual day the other a perpetual night.

Life in the Collision Zone
So what really goes on in the depths of space where the edge of the Heliosphere meets the beginning of infinity? Nasa’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer spacecraft was launched on October 19th to map the interactions between the Solar Wind and the Energetic Neutral Atoms of Hydrogen ( ENAs ) and discovered that not all is what it seemed. Interstellar space is more dynamic than previously thought.

Robot Hits the Target
Scientists at the Italian Institute of Technology have created the iCub, a robot that teaches itself to fire a bow and arrow. The researchers created a complicated algorithm called ARCHER, using a camera to process the bull’s eye and trial and error to figure out the right angle, force, and trajectory to eventually hit the centre of the target.

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Dinosaurs Taller Than Previously Thought
For years paleontologists have calculated the height of dinosaurs by reconstructing the skeletons of these ancient beasts. However, new research indicates that they may have gotten it wrong. Scientists studying the closest living relatives of the dinosaur, the ostrich and the alligator, have discovered that by removing the cartilage from their limbs and measuring the skeletons, they were up to 10% shorter. So, by not factoring in the cartilage in the measurement of dinosaur skeletons, their heights have been underestimated.

The Zebra Finch and the Ancient Virus
The Hepatitis B family of viruses has been around for a long time, but new discoveries in Zebra Finch DNA have revealed that these viruses have been around for at least 19 million years. The studies have changed the understanding of the timescale of the evolution of the Hepadnavirus.

Slicing Proteins with Occams Razor
How does myoglobin have different functions in different animals? This oxygen binding protein functions differently in different animals. From the lightning reflex of the cheetah to the lumbering descent of the whale. Researchers are trying to figure out why myglobin releases oxygen at different rates for different mammals. Scientists have found a way to unlock the secrets of myoglobin at an atomic level.

Escaping the Event Horizon
Are Italian Scientists on the verge of proving Hawking’s Radiation hypothesis in the lab? Hawking theorised that some energy does indeed escape a black hole. Now, researchers in Italy are experimenting with lasers and glass, to replicate a mini black hole with surprising results.

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