Thursday, June 23, 2016 5:00pm
Results from the Nasa/ESA Venus Express mission reveal that the planet has an unusually strong ‘electric wind’ which could explain why there is so little water on the surface. The electric wind is the force that holds onto negatively charged electrons in the Venusian atmosphere and sucks positively charged hydrogen and oxygen ions (from water) off into space. Coupled with other atmosphere stripping factors, such as solar wind, it could help explain why Venus is so different from its near neighbour Earth.
Oldest Antarctic Ice Found
The importance of analysing the trapped past atmospheres contained in bubbles in ice cores is invaluable to our understanding of our climate. Until now, ice cores drilled in Antarctica only go back to 800,000 years old. But geologists exploring a little known valley, high up in the Trans-Antarctic Mountain chain have discovered ice that is more than a million years old. And they did not have to use expensive drills to get it, just a shovel! The ice was under a thin layer of debris, pushed up from the deep.
Nuclear Fusion Disappointment
This week spells bad news for the National Ignition Facility (or NIF) in California. The project, which aims to reproduce the fusion processes of the Sun with the help of the most powerful lasers on Earth has been called into doubt. An external official enquiry has just said that after seven years experimenting, the fusion will not catch light.
How can you say when a species went extinct when there are so many gaps in the fossil record? And why does it matter?
(Photo: Artist's concept of the electric wind at Venus. Rays represent the paths that oxygen and hydrogen ions take as they are pulled out of the upper atmosphere © Nasa/Goddard/Conceptual Image Lab, Krystofer Kim)
Thursday, June 16, 2016 4:32pm
We still know less than 95% of what the sea floor looks like. Even shallow coastal waters are poorly mapped. Oceanographers are meeting in Monaco this week to discuss how to measure the landscape under the world’s oceans.
Predicting The Indian Monsoon
The weather system that creates the Indian monsoon is notoriously difficult to model, which leads to inaccurate forecasts of the start date and intensity that can lead to devastation for local residents and farmers. A team of oceanographers and scientists from the University of East Anglia are going to be out at sea during the monsoon and using underwater robots to map current flows and measure sea temperatures. The monsoon is driven by moisture and the temperature being picked up by the atmosphere as it passes over the bay. By measuring how currents mix salty water from the Arabian Sea with fresh colder water from the Ganges, a better understanding of how the monsoon is driven can be gathered.
Gravitational Wave Detected Again
The team at LIGO (The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) have done it again with a Christmas day detection of two black holes colliding. Leading on from the first detection last September, the team have this time detected gravitational waves from two smaller black holes where the collision lasted for a longer time. With the prolonged collision more information could be gathered and one of the black holes was seen to be rotating, the first such observational proof that black holes spin.
Wales in the UK has 1300 rivers with illegal levels of heavy metals. Toxic metals like lead, zinc and copper are a legacy left over from when the area was heavily mined. Natural Resources Wales and Innovate UK set a competition to look for technology that would clean up these rivers. One of the winners was Steve Skill from Swansea University, who has come up with some biotechnology that uses algae to suck the poison out of the rivers.
Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Fiona Roberts
Image: 2005, from the HOTRAX (Healy-Oden Trans Arctic Expedition), credit: Martin Jakobsson
Thursday, June 9, 2016 4:32pm
Atmospheric carbon dioxide injected into volcanic rock as part of a pilot project in Iceland was almost completely mineralized, or converted to carbonate minerals, in less than two years. The results suggest that basaltic rocks may be effective sinks for storing carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere.
New Flores Hominin Fossils
An international team of researchers has uncovered the fossilised remains of ancient hominins in Indonesia, which appear to be the ancestors of Homo floresiensis, the tiny species of human, affectionately dubbed the ‘Hobbit’, that stood at just one metre tall.
Hatching Shell-less Eggs
Japanese school kids from Oihama High School near Tokyo have put up a video online showing how they hatched chickens from shell-less eggs.
By following a scientific protocol, published 2 years ago in Japan’s Journal of Poultry Science, the technique involves a plastic cup, some air-permeable plastic wrap, calcium supplements in distilled water, pure oxygen and a standard incubator.
The video, the pupils posted online, shows the embryo developing. Very early on you can see the eye forming and the tiny heart beating. They managed to hatch 8 of the 14 eggs they tried.
Other Uses for Egg Shells
Egg shells can be used as a disinfectant. When they are ground up, heated and put in water, they increase the pH and deter microbial growth.
When egg shells are ground up to the nanoscale, they can be used with polymers to improve the strength of biodegradable plastic.
Lisa Pathfinder Success
The mission to demonstrate technologies needed to detect gravitational waves in space has been a stunning success.
The Lisa Pathfinder satellite was sent into orbit to test elements of the laser measurement system that would be used on a future observatory. Performance objectives were exceeded on the very first day the equipment was switched on.
Algal blooms in Chile
Chilean scientists are trying to work out whether bad practice at salmon fisheries, themselves devastated by an algal bloom, is responsible for the poisoning of the shell fisheries. Or was the devastating ‘red tide’ a natural phenomenon, made worse by El Nino conditions?
Image: CarbFix pilot CO2 injection site during CO2 injection in March 2011. Credit: Martin Stute
Thursday, June 2, 2016 4:32pm
The Peppered Moth has long been taught in schools as an example of Darwinian Natural selection happening almost on human timescales. In 19th century industrial Britain, soot on trees caused a mutation in the genes that regulated the wing colour to briefly thrive. Birds ate the unfortunate typical lighter coloured ones, while the mutant black ones were better camouflaged. Until that is, the clean air act allowed the older, typical coloured one to return in numbers. For the first time, scientists have now identified the genetic goings-on that underpin this classic case. And even better, they suggest the single original mutation in an individual moth occurred just when one might have expected – sometime around 1819.
After a four-month wait, the eggs laid by a peculiar salamander in a Slovenian cave have started to hatch. Ghostly pale and totally blind, olms - fondly known by locals as "baby dragons" - only reproduce every 5-10 years and are thought to live to 100.
Pluto’s “Beating Heart” explained
The spectacular, flat landscape that dominates the left side of Pluto's icy "heart" can now be explained, say scientists. Sputnik Planum is the most prominent feature on the diminutive world, covering 900,000 square km. Broken into an array of polygons, it is devoid of any impact craters. Reporting in the journal Nature, the researchers say that roiling cells of nitrogen ice remove any blemishes, maintaining a super-smooth appearance.
Federico Capasso and colleagues have developed a flat lens, much better, and much cheaper, than conventional glass lenses. It is also much much thinner than a human hair.)
The impact of gut bacteria on our cardiovascular system and metabolism has been well-researched. But how about the effect on our minds? Scientists are examining the possibility that these bacteria might influence our moods. John Cryan, who's Professor of Anatomy and Neuroscience at University College Cork, has just published a review of the current state of the field in the journal Genome Medicine. So could we see a day when certain gut bacteria are used in the treatment of depression and anxiety? John Cryan and Phil Burnett, who is a neuroscientist working with psychiatrists at the University of Oxford discuss.
Photo credit: AFP PHOTO / Nature / Institute of Integrative Biology / University of Liverpool / Ilik Saccheri
Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Alex Mansfield
Thursday, May 26, 2016 4:32pm
Scientists, using the new gene editing technique called CRISPR have been able to mark and track the development of a zebrafish embryo from the very early stages to adulthood. This technique allows individual cells to be tagged, they can then be tracked as they divide and multiply and specialise into all the cells of the adult body. This holds huge implications for understanding embryo development & stem cell activity.
Millennium Technology Prize
The winner of the coveted Millennium Technology Prize, awarded by the Technology Academy in Finland, has been won by Professor Frances Arnold (from Caltech) for her work on ‘directed evolution’ – a lab-based technique harnessing the massive power of natural selection to create enzymes to be used as catalysts in green chemistry, to help make jet fuel, pharmaceuticals, chemical-free pesticides and a whole manner of other useful, clean technologies.
Drilling the Chicxulub Crater
Exploratory drilling at the central ring of the Chicxulub crater site in Mexico has finished. This crater, only one of three on Earth visible from space, is thought to be made by the meteorite that spelt the end of the dinosaurs, nearly 66 million years ago. Researchers are hoping to learn about the impact of the impact on the planet.
Science in China
The Chinese are super-sizing science – BBC Science Correspondent Rebecca Morelle discusses five big projects that reveal China's plans to become a global scientific powerhouse. These include the biggest radio telescope and exploring the deepest parts of the ocean.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Marnie Chesterton travels to Spitzbergen inside the Arctic Circle to get a rare view inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The seedbank is receiving vital deposits from seed banks in Pakistan, New Zealand, Taiwan, Germany and Thailand – helping to preserve their national crop varieties against war and natural disaster, and guarantee future world food supplies.
Photo credit: Kate Turner, UCL