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Samantha Rolfe: Astronomy and Astrobiology


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Navigating ants, hotting up in 2016 and lunar eclipse: Science Feature with Sam Rolfe 30-01-2017

Original post: http://westhertsdrivetime.radioverulam.com/2017/01/navigating-ants-hotting-up-in-2016-and_30.html

Ants use Sun and step count for navigation

Ants brains are smaller than a pin head but they can navigate to a greater extent than many other larger species. They have been found to use the Sun and visual cues in their environment. They have to carry large pieces of food back to their nests so have to rotate their body position independently of their direction of travel to achieve this. If the Sun was obscured they went in the wrong direction. If they were moving backwards, they stop, drop the food, and double check their direction before carrying on.

Understanding how ants navigate informs robotic research including designing algorithms to guide robots, including self-driving cars.

Ants have also been found to count their steps. A pile of food was placed at a certain distance from their nest, once they had been to the food pile they had small stilts made of pig bristles attached to their legs and rather than making it back to their nests some went up to 50% further than they were supposed to. However, they soon adapted to the additions, and by the next day they could find their way to and from the food pile without difficulty.

Sources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-38665058

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/06/060629-ants-stilts_2.html

2016 hottest year since records began

Despite contributions from a known climate cycle phenomena called El Niño, which among other impacts on weather patterns influences increases the global temperature, 2016 was the hottest year on record. This adds to the growing and substantial amount of evidence of man-made climate change due to the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

97% of climate scientists agree that it is a man-made contribution that is causing a year on year trend of increasing global temperatures. It is real, it is a fact, it is not a bargaining chip for businesses to make money or for political gain, it is not in the realm of opinion. Every individual should take action in our effort to reduce the man-made impact, it is not just a problem for government, councils or businesses.

There are many pages of information on how you can reduce your personal impact on climate change, but here are a few things to put into action if you don’t already.

  1. Recycle or re-use. Make a conscious effort to buy products with a recyclable packaging or choose products that have little to no packaging. Recycling is being made easier and easier for us, there is no excuse for recycling not to be a daily habit. Dispose of items like electronics and batteries responsibly.
  2. Reduce your energy use. For example, turn lights off when you leave a room, turn off computers, televisions and monitors not just on standby, replace bulbs and appliances with more modern energy efficient equivalents.
  3. Think about transport. Walk, bike or use public transport whenever possible. Think about your car, could you replace it with a more energy efficient model. Or at least ensure your tyres are correctly pressured and you aren’t carrying a lot of weight, empty the junk out!
    3a. If you aren’t driving, please don’t sit in your car with the engine idling, if you are unlikely to be moving within 30 seconds, turn your engine off! Save petrol and hence money and reduce the release of car fumes into the atmosphere.
  4. Insulate your home and reduce your water use.

Sources:

http://whatweknow.aaas.org/

http://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/global-warming/science-and-impacts/global-warming-science#.WIT2slxMTIU

http://www.climatechange.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=D27052CE-1

Scientist of the Month

John Hunter (1728 – 1793)

Thought of as the founder of scientific surgery. He made many contributions to medicine including:

A study of inflammation, teeth and bone growth, gunshot wounds, understanding the nature of the digestion and the first complete study of the development of a child, proving that the maternal and foetal blood supplies are separate.

However, to advance his knowledge of the human body he used to pay grave-robbers to bring him cadavers to practise surgical procedures.

In his later career, he prepared over 14,000 samples from 500 species, which were donated to a museum, which now reside at the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons in London.

Sources: http://www.rcseng.ac.uk/museums/hunterian/history/johnhunter.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hunter_%28surgeon%29

Night Sky This Month

The evenings are dark for the next week or so as the Moon heads in and out of New Moon phase, so good viewing for other objects, especially deep sky objects.

There is a penumbral lunar eclipse on the 10/11th Feb, starting at 22:34 10th Feb and the time of greatest eclipse is at 00:45 on 11th Feb finishing at 02:53. The Moon will get darker(, but as it is not a total lunar eclipse the face will not turn a red colour which is due to when the Moon is in the full shadow of the Earth the Sun’s rays are refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere).

In the early evening the very bright object in the West is Venus, visible for the next few weeks – it too has phases, which are visible through binoculars or small telescopes. It will become more and more crescent-like over the next month.

Sources: http://www.seasky.org/astronomy/astronomy-calendar-2017.html

http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~pogge/Ast161/Unit2/Images/lunar.gif

https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/LEplot/LEplot2001/LE2017Feb11N.pdf

Twitter: @smrolfe

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West Herts Drive Time Science Correspondent 23/03/2015 – Scientist of the Month – Stephen Kuffler

Professor Stephen Kuffler (1913 – 1980)

A Hungarian-American, regarded as the Father of Modern Neuroscience.

  • He gave lectures and influenced the research at the University of Sydney.
  • Founded the Harvard Neurobiology department in 1966.
  • Made contributions to our understanding of vision and neural coding.
  • Known for research on neuromuscular junctions in frogs and presynaptic inhibition.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Kuffler