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Habitable Planets & Chimps | SciByte 24

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We take a look at new extra-solar planet discoveries, chimps, supernova, Alzheimer’s, Mars, Cables, updates on New Horizons spacecraft and Voyager 1 and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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Extra-solar Planets

Flinging Chimps

  • The low down
  • Chimps are the only other species besides humans that regularly throw things with a clear target in mind
  • Researchers studying such behavior have come to the conclusion that throwing feces, or any object really, is actually a sign of high ordered behavior
  • Watching chimps in action for several years and comparing their actions with scans of their brains to see if there were any correlations between those chimps that threw a lot and those that didn’t or whether they’re accuracy held any deeper meaning.
  • Chimps that both threw more and were more likely to hit their targets showed heightened development in the motor cortex
  • Better throwing chimps didn’t appear to posses any more physical prowess than other chimps
  • Significance
  • Language processing occurs in the left side, which also controls our right hands; and most people use their right hands to throw, as do chimpanzees.
  • Such findings led the term to suggest that the ability to throw is, a precursor to speech development.
  • Those chimps that could throw better appeared to be better communicators within their group
  • Why did these chimps learn to throw in a captive context? The chimp learns is as a form of communication.
  • Throwing stuff at someone else became a form of self expression
  • * Of Note*
  • While throwing at first might not seem demanding, coordinating it requires intensive, on-the-fly calculations.
  • An equation for throwing a ball, for example, would include the distance to a target, the ball’s heaviness and the thrower’s strength. A moving target makes it even harder
  • Social Media
  • Emory University @EmoryUniversity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Researches find poop-throwing by chimps is a sign of intelligence @ PhysOrg.com
  • Poop-Throwing Chimps Provide Hints of Human Origins @ WiredScience.com
  • Philosophical Transactions
  • Emory University

*— NEWS BYTE — *

Supernova warning signs?

Alzheimer’s Research

  • The low down
  • One of the earliest known impairments caused by Alzheimer’s disease is the loss of sense of smell
  • There is currently no effective treatment or cure for the disease
  • Since the 1970s, loss of sense of smell has been identified as an early sign of this disease
  • Smell loss can be caused by a number of ailments, exposures or injuries
  • Significance
  • Researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have confirmed that the protein, called amyloid beta, causes the loss of sense of smell
  • Amyloid beta plaque accumulated first in parts of the brain associated with smell, well before accumulating in areas associated with cognition and coordination
  • Just a tiny amount of amyloid beta – too little to be seen on today’s brain scans – start this process
  • While losses in the olfactory system occurred, the rest of the mouse model brain, including the hippocampus, which is a center for memory, continued to act normally early in the disease stage
  • Mice were given a synthetic liver x-receptor agonist, a drug that clears amyloid beta from the brain
  • The sense of smell an be restored by removing a plaque-forming protein in a mouse model of the disease
  • After two weeks on the drug, the mice could process smells normally
  • After withdrawal of the drug for one week, impairments returned
  • Team are now following-up on these discoveries to determine how amyloid spreads throughout the brain, to learn methods to slow disease progression
  • * Of Note*
  • We could use the sense of smell to determine if someone may get Alzheimer’s disease
  • Use changes in sense of smell to begin treatments, instead of waiting until someone has issues learning and remembering
  • We can also use smell to see if therapies are working
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Reversing Early Sign of Alzheimer’s – Animal Experiment Successful, For A While @ Medical News Today
  • Early sign of Alzheimer’s reversed in lab @ Medical Xpress
  • Published in The Journal of Neuroscience
  • Research by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Martian Glaciers

Spandex Cables

  • The low down
  • Japanese company Asahi Kasei Fibers, originally designed the elastic cable material, called Roboden, for wiring the soft, flexible skin of humanoid robots.
  • The new cable can stretch by a factor of 1.5
  • The cable material is made of an outer elastic shell with spiraled internal wiring that unspirals when pulled.
  • Multimedia
  • VIDEO @ YouTube – Worlds First Elastic Electric/Data/USB Cables – Roboden #DigInfo
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Spandex manufacturer makes elastic electrical cable (w/ video) @ PhysOrg](http://www.physorg.com/news/2011–12-spandex-elastic-electrical-cable-video.html)
  • Stretchable Cables, Designed for Robots, Handy for Humans @ Wired.com](http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/12/stretchable-cables-designed-for-robots-handy-for-humans/)

New Horizons (Pluto spacecraft) – Update

Voyager 1 – Update

  • The low down
  • Launched : Sep 05, 1977
  • Speed : 10.5 mi/s [17 km/s]
  • Significance
  • NASA’s Voyager Hits New Region at Solar System Edge
  • It has entered a new region between our solar system and interstellar space
  • Voyager 1 is about 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from the sun, it is not yet in interstellar space.
  • The data do not reveal exactly when Voyager 1 will make it past the edge of the solar atmosphere into interstellar space, but suggest it will be in a few months to a few years.
  • Social Media
  • Voyager 1 @NASAVoyager1
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Curiosity Rover | SciByte 22
  • NASA’s Voyager Hits New Region at Solar System Edge @ JPL.NASA

SCIENCE CALENDER

Looking back

  • Dec 11, 1911 – 100 years ago – Marie Curie’s second Nobel Prize : Marie Curie became the first person to be awarded a second Nobel prize. She had isolated radium by electrolyzing molten radium chloride. This second prize was for her individual achievements in Chemistry, whereas her first prize (1903) was a collaborative effort with her husband, Pierre, and Henri Becquerel in Physics for her contributions in the discovery of radium and polonium.
  • *Dec 7–11 1972 – 39 years ago – Last moon mission *: On Dec 7th Apollo 17, the sixth and last U.S. moon mission, blasted off from Cape Canaveral. On Dec 11th astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt landed on the moon for a three-day exploration, while Ronald E. Evans remained in orbit. Flight Commander Eugene Cernan was the last man on the moon. Typically the backup crew for an Appolo mission was to serve as the main crew 3 missions later, but with Appolo 17 scheduled as the last Moon mission there was heavy pressure to put a geologist to the crew (Schmitt.)
  • Dec 10, 1984 – 27 years ago – First Extrasolar Planet Discovery Announcement: The National Science Foundation reported the discovery of the first planet outside our solar system, orbiting a star 21 million light years from Earth. The object was found orbiting Van Biesbroeck 8, an extremely faint star about 21 light years from Earth. However, it seemed to abruptly vanish when later attempts to observe its gravitational pull on Van Biesbroeck 8 failed. It is currently unknown whether the object ever existed.

Looking up this week

  • Keep an eye out for …

  • Wednesday, Dec 7 : As darkness falls, Jupiter is to the upper right of the Moon.

  • –Saturday Dec 10 – Total Eclipse of the Moon–

  • The Moon is totally within the umbra of Earth’s shadow for 52 minutes. The partial stages before and after totality each last more than an hour.

  • At the instant of greatest eclipse (14:32 UT) the Moon lies at the zenith in the Pacific Ocean near Guam.

  • The exact hue (anything from bright orange to blood red is possible) depends on the unpredictable state of the atmosphere at the time of the eclipse. As Jack Horkheimer (1938–2010) of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium loved to say, “Only the shadow knows.”

  • Timeline

  • Partial Eclipse Begins – 4:45am PST / 12:45 GMT

  • Total Eclipse Begins – 6:45am PST / 14:06 GMT

  • Total Eclipse Maximum – 6:32am PST / 14:32 GMT

  • Total Eclipse Ends – 6:14am PST / 14:57 GMT

  • Partial Eclipse Ends – 8:17am PST / 16:17 GMT

  • What you can see

  • NASA

  • ShadowAndSubstance

  • United States & Canada : The western United States and Canada will witness a total lunar eclipse. The action begins around 4:45am PST when the red shadow of Earth first falls across the lunar disk. By 6:05am PST, the Moon will be fully engulfed in red light.

  • Europe : Seen as rising over eastern Europe

  • Asia and Australia : Visible from all of Asia and Australia

  • Austrailia and Japan : The eclipsed Moon hangs high in middle of the night

  • South America & Antarctica : Not able to see the eclipse

  • More on whats in the sky this week

  • Sky&Telescope

  • AstronomyNow

  • SpaceWeather.com

  • HeavensAbove

  • StarDate.org