Science in Action on KTTZ-HD2

Science in Action is a magazine program pulling together the science issues of the week and delivering breaking science news.


  • Wednesday, March 22, 2017 7:00pm
    On 14th November 2016, the South Island of New Zealand was struck by a major 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Satellite data and field data reveals that this earthquake is one of the most complex ever recorded. The earthquake spanned a huge 170km and ruptured faults that we didn’t even know existed - at least 12 faults ruptured during the 2 minute quake. This new knowledge of this complex earthquake challenges many previous assumptions about how earthquakes propagate - seismic hazard models will need to be corrected. Seasonal Changes on Comet 67P Comet Churymov-Gerasimenko 67P is famous for being the first comet to be reached by probes, with the landing of Rosetta’s Philae probe taking place in 2014. During Rosetta’s orbit and Philae’s time on the surface of the comet, a lot of photos were taken – famously revealing the duck-shape of the comet. But the photos have also given an insight into the changes that take place on the comet’s surface during its orbit around the sun. Cliff collapses, ripples caused by wind and retreating rock faces have all been observed and it appears that being closer to the sun accelerates these surface changes. Navigating London’s Roads from an fMRI Scanner In a clever experiment in which participants navigated through virtual busy London streets whilst in an fMRI scanner. Researchers pinpointed the parts of the brain involved in finding your way. If you rely on your sat nav, you may be surprised to hear that your hippocampus is almost entirely inactive. If you’re navigating without a sat nav, the more options you have at each junction, the more active your hippocampus is. But when faced with a detour, it’s your prefrontal cortex that takes control. Social Networking for Japanese Macaques Many of us spend a lot of time on social networks, allowing us to interact within our social circles. Our primate relatives may not have Facebook but they too move in social circles. For Japanese Macaques, these social circles dictate who grooms who and who catches fleas from whom. New research ties in these monkeys’ social networks with the spread of diseases and parasites. The findings could also be applied to the spread of disease in humans. Image: The Papatea fault cutting through State Highway 1 and main rail line. © Julian Thomson Presenter: Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts
  • Wednesday, March 15, 2017 7:00pm
    Hunting for habitable exoplanets has just got easier as many exoplanets which have previously been considered too icy may have been falsely dismissed. Exoplanets with volcanos which pump hydrogen into the atmosphere may be warmer than we previously thought. Hydrogen gas absorbs outgoing radiation which warms the atmosphere and melts inhospitable ice, providing an environment which may support life. This greenhouse warming effect could expand the habitable zone around distant stars by 30-60%. Evidence of 4.3 billion year old Earth’s crust found We know very little about the primordial crust which first covered planet Earth billions of years ago. The oldest rocks are extremely hard to find and date - Analysis of rock samples from the Canadian Shield suggests that 2.7 billion year old daughter rocks contain components of 4.3 billion year parent rocks which made up the mysterious primordial crust. New Model Improves Offshore Earthquake Forecasting The 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami far exceeded experts’ expectations, destroying defences and killing thousands of people. A new model called CRUST is the first to simulate all events caused by an offshore earthquake: tsunamis, landslides and aftershocks. It is hoped that it will improve hazard forecasting and strengthen emergency planning to help avoid huge fatalities from disasters like the 2011 Japanese tsunami. Biofuels Reduce Damage Caused by Plane Contrails With the aviation industry rapidly growing, a lot of research has been done to better understand the impact of carbon dioxide emissions. But until recently the impact of the soot found in plane contrails has been overlooked. Contrails may look beautiful and harmless but like carbon dioxide, they too contribute to global warming. By using a 50:50 biofuel conventional fuel hybrid, we may be able to reduce the impact of contrails by 50-70%. This provides a glimmer of hope for climate change as the effect of replacing conventional fuel with biofuel would be seen immediately. Picture credit: Cornell University Presenter: Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts
  • Wednesday, March 8, 2017 6:00pm
    A group of scientists are just back from an expedition to the hottest place on Earth. Dasht-e Loot or the Lut Desert in southern Iran is so hot and desolate it’s hard to imagine anything living there. There is very little plant-life in the heart of this arid, hot, desert, but a series of explorations of the region have shown that there are animals and even water. What caused the “Great Dying”? 250 million years ago Earth suffered a massive extinction event. At the Permian-Triassic Boundary nearly all marine life and most of the life on Earth were killed off. It’s long been thought that this was a result of global warming. But new research looking at the sedimentary layers of rock form the time, show that it could have actually been an Ice-age that froze the seas and killed off the creatures. Famous Fossil on the Move Archaeopteryx is on the move - The Natural History Museum in London is about to let one of its most priceless fossils leave the building for the first time since it entered the institution in the late 19th Century. Archaeopteryx, which lived 150 million years ago, is one of the iconic specimens in all of palaeontology. Seemingly part-dinosaur, part-bird – it excited Darwin when it first surfaced because it looked to be an example of the transitional fossils the great man's theory of evolution had predicted. The "London Specimen", as it is known, is what scientists refer to as the holotype – the example against which all other Archaeopteryx discoveries are compared. To date, that’s about a dozen or so discoveries. And, ordinarily, you would have to go to the London fossil if you wanted to look at it. But the Natural History Museum is about to send the specimen to Japan, as part of a touring exhibition of some key treasures Bumblebee’s Smelly Feet Bumblebees use ‘smelly footprints’ to help determine where to find lunch. A bit like humans leaving fingerprints on everything they touch, bees leave a pheromone scent mark on flowers when they land. Using these smelly cues they can determine who has previously visited a flower and taken all the food. Picture: The Lut may harbour a hidden sea: areas where the water table rises to within a few centimetres of the desert floor. Although vanishingly little reaches the surface - Reg Sookhte Spring is an exception - the extremely salty water may be vital to the Lut's denizens. Credit: Amir AghaKouchak Presenter: Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts
  • Wednesday, March 1, 2017 6:00pm
    More evidence of possibly the earliest life on planet Earth. Strange fibre-like structures in rock that is at least 3.77 billion years old, could be minerals created by the fossilisation of microbes living in very early hydrothermal vents. It’s all still quite speculative, and almost impossible to prove. But if these are evidence of early life forms, this pushes the start of life on Earth 700 million years earlier than previous evidence. Synthetic Embryogenesis Two thirds of pregnancies fail in the first few days after fertilization. Researchers wanting to study and understand human embryo development, at these early stages, have so far struggled to get embryonic stem cells to develop into embryos in the laboratory. But now they have partnered the stem cells that develop into the embryo, with stem cells that develop into extra-embryo structures, like the placenta and yolk sac. When they add a synthetic scaffold for the cells, they manage to get the embryo to develop in what looks like a normal way. Armyworm Invasion Armyworm invasions in southern Africa – Armyworms are the caterpillars of certain species of moths. They’re so-called because they march across the landscape in huge numbers, eating huge quantities of crops on their way. It’s been shown that the recent outbreak in southern Africa, is down to Armyworms from the Americas, not the native African species. Will this mean they’re harder to control? How Dinosaurs Walk They might have died out 65 million years ago, but most of us have an idea of what dinosaurs look like and behave, thanks to fossils, artists’ impressions and various CGI animations. But how close are those animations to the truth? Is the T-rex really a fast runner, as depicted in the Jurassic Park film? Many of our ideas of how dinosaurs moved are based on comparisons with animals alive today, as well as examination of the fossilised evidence left behind – the bones etc. It’s normally quite a biological process. But Dr John Hutchinson from the Royal Veterinary College in London, is attempting to use the laws of physics to work out how dinosaurs really moved. Picture: Layer-deflecting bright red concretion of haematitic chert (an iron-rich and silica-rich rock), which contains tubular and filamentous microfossils. This co-called jasper is in contact with a dark green volcanic rock in the top right and represent hydrothermal vent precipitates on the seafloor. Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt, Québec, Canada. Credit: Dominic Papineau Presenter: Professor Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts
  • Wednesday, February 22, 2017 6:00pm
    A planetary system containing 7 planets orbiting a nearby dwarf star, 39 light years away has been discovered. It’s suspected that a number of these exoplanets are Earth-sized, rocky and exist at a temperature range of 0-100 degrees. Ancient Microbes in Crystal Cave Penny Boston was one of a group of scientists granted access to some scientifically special crystal caves. The researchers have extracted long-dormant microbes from inside the famous giant crystals of the Naica mountain caves in Mexico - and revived them. The organisms were likely to have been encased in the striking shafts of gypsum at least 10,000 years ago, and possibly up to 50,000 years ago. Project Premonition Microsoft’s Project Premonition has devised a way of trapping mosquitoes and quickly analysing the DNA to find out the species, the diseases they may be carrying and the host animals they may have bitten. Neanderthal DNA The last Neanderthal died 40,000 years ago, but much of their genome lives on, in bits and pieces, through modern humans. The impact of Neanderthals' genetic contribution has been uncertain: Do these snippets affect our genome's function, or are they just silent passengers along for the ride? New work shows that Neanderthal DNA sequences still influence how genes are turned on or off in modern humans. Neanderthal genes' effects on gene expression likely contribute to traits such as height and susceptibility to schizophrenia or lupus. Picture: This artist's concept is one interpretation of what it could look like. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Presenter: Professor Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts