Rosetta Wakes Up And Phones Home – On Science

January 22, 2014

Who’s awake and ready for their rendezvous?

Could Stephen Hawking have been wrong when it comes to space?

What’s the buzz on saving honeybee populations?

And a recent big development in nanotechnology. Coming up today…On Science!

Hello and welcome to On Science. I’m Emerald Robinson.

Monday’s are hard, especially if you’ve been asleep for 31 months. ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft officially awoke from its 31-month-long slumber this past Monday. The comet-chaser phoned home for the first time in a long time. It’s now just a few months away with its scheduled rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta is up and at it too. The spacecraft came out of stabilized spin, pointed its antenna at Earth, and sent a signal back to operators to confirm it had survived its long journey. Before its date with the comet, ESA will be conducting tests on the spacecraft’s instruments to make sure it’s ready. I know girls who take equally as long to get ready for a date.

Dark matter hasn’t been a matter easily explained in our Universe. However, we have long accepted Stephen Hawking’s theory that this universal enigma is formed from primordial black holes. However, a new study from the University of Lisbon in Portugal and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics says that’s not so. They analyzed what would happen if a primordial black hole passed through neutron stars. They found that, despite the small mass of the black hole, it would destroy the neutron star. And due to the prevalence of neutron stars in our own galaxy, the very presence of these stars show that primordial black holes could not be the primary constituent of dark matter. Sorry Hawking, it was a good guess.

Australian scientists are getting all up in some bee’s beez-ness. Researchers at CSIRO are fitting tiny sensors onto honeybees in Australia to try to understand the drivers behind Colony Collapse Disorder. CCD is a growing problem amongst honeybee populations, but these sensors will help scientists monitor the bees’ pollination and productivity on farms. The tiny little insects play a big role, providing free pollination services for agriculture that various crops rely on. They’re nature’s farmhand if you will. Get this—around one-third of the food we eat relies on pollination. But CCD is wiping out honeybees. The researchers are also going to look at the impacts of agricultural pesticides on the honeybees. The tiny sensors work sort of like vehicle tags. Each time the bee passes a checkpoint, information is sent to a central location where researchers use the sensor signals to build a comprehensive 3D model. That’d “bee” cool!

And honeybees have a little company in the endangered category. Scientists from the University of Alberta and the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute are collaborating to find out how climate change is affecting endangered prairie hawks. Officially known as “ferruginous hawks,” this particular prairie-breeding bird species is vulnerable during harsh weather events as there are few places for them to take cover. Longer rain seasons affect the parent hawks ability to hunt food for their young, and strong winds endanger the hawk’s nest. Researchers are monitoring 300 nests every year, checking on them once a week. They are also using satellite tracking to follow the movements of these raptors as they defend their territory. The team’s goal is to figure out how they can build artificial nest platforms to act as a buffer against high winds.

There’s nothing “nano” about the future of “nanotechnology.” The discipline that has brought us electronic skin and electronic eye implants is on the verge of creating something entirely new. A research team from Berkeley Lab and the UC Berkeley are creating electronic whiskers, or e-whiskers, from composite films of carbon nanotubes and silver nanoparticles—similar to those of rats and cats. And they’re pretty sensitive, being able to sense the equivalent of a dollar bill lying on a table. That’s pretty touchy! The researchers say that these electronic whiskers could be used by robots in the future to give them the ability to “see” and “feel” their surrounding environment. How about a human application? Cat Woman anybody?

And that’s the latest…On Science.

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