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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 17:24 EDT

Researchers Get A Look Inside Asteroid Itokawa – On Science

February 6, 2014

It’s what’s on the insides of an asteroid that really matters.

What mysterious story is buried in the fossil beds of Northern China?

How is your brain like editing software?

And Doodle 4 Google. Coming up today…On Science!

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

Here’s a little Asteroid Anatomy 101. Astronomers using the European Southern Observatory’s New Technology Telescope discovered that asteroids have a highly varied internal structure. The subject – asteroid Itokawa. This asteroid was the target of the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa in 2005, which took samples of an asteroid for the first time and sent them back to Earth. New observations of Itokawa reveal that different parts of the asteroid have different densities, which they determined caused a slow increase in acceleration. This is the first time scientists have ever determined what it’s like inside of an asteroid and they say this knowledge is a significant step toward understanding rocky bodies in our Solar System.

And paleontologists are solving their own mystery. Dinosaur, bird and early mammal fossils in the fossil beds of Northern China are famous for their exceptional preservation. But in what way did they die to be so well preserved? One team of paleontologists concluded that sudden pyroclastic volcanic eruptions with air blasts, hot gas, and ground-hugging clouds of fine ash, likely, smothered, charred and then carried forward everything in their path to create these bone beds. Well, that’s quite graphic. The say this explains how the creatures were buried on lake floors and were so well-preserved, much like the victims of the infamous Pompeii eruption in 79 AD.

Death by fire may sound gruesome, but so is death by ice. Researchers at Durham University in the UK found that the last Ice Age decimated killer whale populations around 40,000 years ago. Looking at archived whale DNA, they found bottlenecks in orca populations all over the world, indicating a major loss in population. This mean the genetic biodiversity majorly declined during the last Ice Age, except for one refuge population off the coast of South Africa that remained stable. They think this particular population may have been saved from the effects of climate change at that time thanks to a nutrient rich upwelling of water that provided food in that region. Fire and ice…both can be killer. (http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1113064171/killer-whale-populations-reduced-last-ice-age-020514/)

Just like reality shows edit footage to get the story the way they want it, so does our brain when it comes to our raw memory footage. Researchers at Northwestern University say that our brains act like an editing suite, cutting and splicing past events based on present circumstances. Researchers studied subjects via MRI as they were administered memory tests that simulated the creation of past and present memories and their interaction. They found that the editing happens in the hippocampus and that participants often edited their original memories based on new circumstances, keeping their memory up-to-date. Researchers said this makes the idea of a “perfect memory” nothing more than a myth. Kind of like a reality show that tells the story just like it really is.

I just love Google doodles. You know what I’m talking about, right? The picture that’s above the Google search box that often changes for different holidays? Google has announced its Doodle 4 Google contest, inviting school-age kids to submit a special doodle based on this theme: “if I could invent one thing to make the world a better place…” Kids have until March 20 to send in their “doodle” via online or snail mail. One winner from each state will get a day trip to Google headquarters in Mountain View, California for a day of creative workshops. Then, the general public gets to vote for a winner in each age bracket. Winners will get a $30,000 scholarship and $50,000 for their school and will get to collaborate with Google on their own “doodle” to display on the search engine.

And that’s today On Science.