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Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Talking of naked mole rats...

BFS Man via Wikipedia Commons.
Social animals, naked mole rats live in colonies of around 60 individuals, but groups of as much as 300 are not uncommon. They have a single queen, and the workers pull together to help the community survive and thrive. When enemies threaten, they attack together, on cue, a naked army of rodent warriors.

To communicate, they chirrup, chatter, gruntle and squeak. If you’ve ever come within close proximity to a naked mole rat population, you’ll know about it.

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Whale geologists

The voice of the fin whale penetrates the earth’s crust beneath the sea floor – a whale born ultrasound.
 
The Earth’s layered structure. (1) inner core; (2) outer core; (3) lower mantle; (4) upper mantle; (5) lithosphere; (6) crust. Wikimedia commons.

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Sailing stones – a SOLVED scientific mystery

Have you heard of the sailing stones?

One of the strangest natural phenomena ever identified, these are dolomite and syenite rocks around 8-17 kg that rest on the flat, barren lakebed known as the “racetrack” in Death Valley. And move. Yes, that’s right. They move. And they leave skidmarks behind them.

Different rocks even move in different ways. Lighter ones move more. Rough-bottomed rocks move in straight lines, whilst smooth ones wander.

The mystery has bewitched researchers and the public alike since the early 1900s. The movements are rare, and no one had been able to observe them and so identify the cause – until December 2013.
 
A sailing stone in Death Valley. By Lgcharlot - via Wikipedia Commons.

Thursday, 5 August 2021

The methane mystery

The methane mystery Methane on Mars is really interesting – and really hard to explain.

On Earth, methane signals microbes: they produce it, lots, as they break down organic matter. Although there are other, non-living sources of methane, such as some geological processes, it is generally considered a useful biomarker: i.e. if you find methane, you may have found life. No wonder scientists are all excited to find lots of it.

At least, lots according to the Mars Curiosity Rover. But very little according to the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) – which is where most of the mystery comes in.
 
Artist's impression of the Curiosity landing on Mars NASA.

Friday, 30 July 2021

The smallest astronauts ever

The extremes of space are sufficient to rip the atmosphere off Mars (our is protected by our magnetic field!) – so what hope does a little bacterium have? Actually, it turns out, rather a lot.

Despite very low pressures and temperatures and direct exposure to ionising radiation, Deinococcus bacteria dumped on the outside of the International Space Station managed to survive there for three whole years[1]! They’ve also been found to survive on and inside meteorites, and scientists are excited to find that they could be little interplanetary travellers – perhaps even explaining where life came from on Earth (yes! We might all be aliens!). This theory is known as panspermia.
 
Public Domain via Nadya_il (Pixabay)

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Stress inner ear

Whale earwax has been studied to unlock the chemical history of the oceans[1]. Forming as a plug, whale earwax has rings in it like a tree that map the history of their hormones – letting us know when they were under stress, for example – and the chemicals they were exposed to. This has allowed chemists to assess which substances such as drugs and fire retardants make their way into the environment and are potentially ecologically harmful.

More recently, researchers have begun studying the chemistry of earwax in humans[2].
 

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Types of twins

Scientists are very interested in twins because it helps us identify the differences between genetic and environmental factors that influence health and behaviour. As a result, there’s been a lot of research on them, and this has uncovered some unusual types of twinning… such as sesquizygotic twins.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

Three Things I Don’t Know (Part III): Eyes

So, I asked myself, what unanswered scientific questions do I have, and are there answers out there for me? I had a think. And I came up with a list of three questions – and did my research. So here is the first of my three “Things I don’t/didn’t know” – let’s find out whether there’s an answer!

Why were my baby’s eyes indigo at birth?


Baby with dark blue eyes. Wiki Commons.
I’ve never heard of purple eyes before, but I know that the colour you’re born with can change. So, you can imagine when I looked into my baby daughter’s face and saw her eyes were a deep, dark purple that I was surprised – but I accepted it would be temporary. And temporary it was. Over the first year of her life, the time scientists say it takes eye colour to settle down, they have lightened to a medium blue, with that reminiscent darker blue round the edges.

I don’t have very clear pictures of the first month or so of her life: she kept her eyes mostly shut, and those I do have simply show their darkness, but me and her father remember that deep indigo colour – a bluish, purplish darkness, which looked indigo both under the artificial lights of the midwife unit, and under natural light from the window at home.

I turned to the internet…