April 4, 2013
The Hunt For Exoplanets Is On – The Daily Orbit
Kepler plans to keep the Earth-like planets coming.
Bzzz…bad news for bumblebees.
Looking at the Earth’s hot history.
And I’m thinking about thinking on Today’s Daily Orbit!
Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit. I’m Emerald Robinson.
The search for extraterrestrial life forges on! Researchers say they have a new method that could lead to the discovery of a 100 billion earth-like planets. These tiny planets can be hard to detect. So they will be using gravitational microlensing, a technique currently used by a Japan-New Zealand collaboration called MOA, in conjunction with info from the Kepler Telescope. Kepler typically spots planets that are quite close to their host stars, while this new technique will look for habitable planets orbiting stars at distances typically twice the Sun-Earth distance. But astronomers say they will need a world-wide network of robotic telescopes to really do the job, which are currently in development. They also said this is a step along the way to finding extraterrestrial life.
Bumblebees have recently been kicking the bucket in large numbers and new research is pointing the finger at metal pollution in flowers as the potential cause. Trace elements of nickel and aluminum are found in flowers growing in soil that has been contaminated by exhaust emissions, industrial machinery, and farming equipment. Besides causing death, ingesting these metals interferes with taste perception, agility, and working memory—necessary attributes for the busy bees. In the study, researchers found that bees could quickly distinguish and discriminate against flowers that contained nickel but not so for aluminum, as they freely foraged on the aluminum-tainted flowers. This study has implications for environmental efforts to decontaminate the soil. And I guess that’s the buzz on that!
Hmm…let me think about thinking about what I’m going to say. Hey that’s an actual thing and it’s called metacognition—the ability to “think about thinking” or the ability to recognize one’s own cognitive states. Scientists have long wondered if this ability was unique to humans, but a new study reveals chimpanzees have this ability too. Researchers had chimps perform a task that required them to use symbols to name what food was hidden in a location. Researchers gave them either complete or incomplete information to determine what the hidden food was. Surprisingly when they were not given enough info, the chimps sought it out themselves! Scientists say this behavior shows a controlled-information seeking capacity that serves to support intelligent responding, much like we humans. Isn’t that thoughtful.
To find out more about how hot Earth might get could come down to Earth’s past hotness. Researchers are looking at conditions in the Pliocene Epoch, which are considered potentially analogous to a future hot Earth, to better predict our planet’s future climate change. During that epoch some 5.3 to 2.6 million years ago, carbon dioxide levels were very similar to levels in recent years. But scientists say they can’t exactly draw correlations from early earth as there were still many aspects that were different, including ocean mixing, atmospheric conditions, and plate tectonics. But they say the more they can understand about the climate system in the Pliocene epoch, the more they can begin to fill the holes in understanding our current warming problem.
And here’s one to get excited about! Scientists have developed a new form of radiation therapy that successfully put cancer into remission in mice. But the best part? The new treatment doesn’t produce any harmful side effects as usually seen with such treatments. How does it work? I call it the boron blast—they call it boron neutron capture therapy—where cancer cells take in a boron chemical that, when exposed to neutrons, shatters and selectively tears apart the cancer cells. Researchers say this technique will work on a wide variety of cancers, and human trials will commence as soon as they’ve secured the funding. I love ending the show on a hopeful note!
Well that’s all for today’s Daily Orbit. It’s been a blast!