April 17, 2013

Astronomers Get Ready To Study Saturn’s Auroras – The Daily Orbit

Scientists are getting ready to roar for auroras on Saturn.

Solar panels are losing weight.

Can just the taste of beer give you a thrill?

And why you might want to go green on today’s Daily Orbit!!!

Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit. I’m Emerald Robinson.

Well I’m really excited today because we get to talk about possibly my favorite science topic—auroras! And even better? Auroras on Saturn! A team of scientists have organized the largest ever observational campaign of Saturn’s auroras. The month-long project will call upon the use of the Hubble Space Telescope, Cassini, ESO’s Very Large Telescope, and the WM Keck Observatory and NASA’S Infrared Telescope Facility—both in Hawaii. It’s like the A-team of Astronomy! They hope these combined observations will show exactly how the auroras are formed and the way energy flows from the solar winds and the planet’s magnetic field into the ionosphere and atmosphere of Saturn. The study will take place between April 19 and May 21 when Saturn is closest to Earth. I think when talking about auroras it should always be accompanied by this sound…[ angelic sound ]

So it’s not just the alcohol in beer that can make a happy drunk. Turns out the taste alone triggers a dopamine release in the brain. Researchers looked at dopamine levels in people taking a sip of beer—not enough for intoxication—compared to taking a sip of Gatorade. They found a significantly higher dopamine release in participants tasting beer. And that activity was even greater in participants with a family history of alcoholism, suggesting that this response is an inherited effect. And participants said after the taste of the beer, they craved more, but not so with the sports drink. Maybe it’s just me, but after one sip of beer, I don’t want another.

Here’s a hobbit story for you—albeit not so magical perhaps as Peter Jackson’s. Scientists are saying that the so-called “hobbit” hominid whose remains were found on the remote Indonesian island of Flores a decade ago actually had a bigger brain than previously thought. Before it had been estimated at 400 cubic centimeters but new CT scans of the brain region put it closer to 426, which provides a possible link to Homo erectus—ancestor of modern Homo sapiens. However, these hominids were very different, standing about 3 ½ feet tall. Scientists say that if they did indeed derive from Homo erectus, their small size is due to a phenomenon known as insular dwarfism, where an isolated group of organisms shrink over time to compensate for a scarce availability of food. See every fantasy story has its origins in non-fiction!

And here’s another study that’s not just a fantasy…peel and stick solar cells that can be used to charge your phone! Researchers at Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory are working on a one-micron thick solar cell that, when dipped in water and exposed to heat around 90 degrees Celsius, will stick to nearly any surface. Users will be able to peel and stick the cells on small devices like military helmets, portable electronics, transistors and sensors. This is a huge leap in solar technology, leaving behind the traditional rigid and heavy panels. Scientists say this technology isn’t limited to solar cells, and could one day be used for printed circuits, ultrathin transistors and LCDs.

Okay, I hope you didn’t just eat because this next story might make you feel a little queasy! A recently released report from the FDA found a lot of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the meat they tested. Eighty-one percent of the ground turkey, 69% of pork chops, 55% of ground beef, and 39% of chicken contained the bacteria. They also found significant amounts of salmonella and Campylobacter, which cause millions of cases of food poisoning each year. And this is scary, 59% of the contaminated chicken contained an antibiotic-resistant strain of E. coli. Antibiotic resistance means that if you do get sick, there’re fewer options for treatment. The bacteria is a result of antibiotics being put into the feed of animals to help them grow faster and to compensate for unhygienic conditions. Scientists say we need to seriously re-examine the system. I’m personally re-examining a total veggie diet.

Well that does it for the Daily Orbit. Go green! In every way!

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