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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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Help name Pluto’s lumps and bumps! (before 7th April 2015, be quick!)

The International Astronomical Union is working with the New Horizons team are going to be naming features seen on Pluto and Charon once the spacecraft completes it’s fly-by this summer (14th July) (and therefore have actual pictures of these features… …).

They need our help deciding!! You can vote on names already suggested or suggest names yourself (as long as they fit into predetermined categories and unfortunately no living persons will have a feature named after them!).

Visit http://www.ourpluto.org/home ASAP! Voting closes on 7th April!

You can see current voting results and discuss nominated names, don’t forget to check out the rules before submitting any suggestions!

I’ve used a lot of exclamation marks in this post, but it is only because this is a very rare opportunity and I am very excited. It is not often we get to see the surface of planet for the first time!


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West Herts Drive Time Science Correspondent 23/03/2015 – Night Sky This Month – March/April

4th April Full Moon (Total Lunar Eclipse – Eastern Asia, Australia, Pacific Ocean, Western Americas. In Britain there will be one on 28th Sept 2015)

13th to 18th April – International Dark Sky Week, join in by reducing light pollution (turn off outside lights where possible) and enjoy dark skies.

22nd/23rd April Lyrids Meteor Shower peak. Moon sets shortly after midnight allowing for a dark sky to view the show, approximately 20 meteors per hour. Produced by debris left behind by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher.

25th April International Astronomy Day

Sources: http://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/total-lunar-eclipse.html

http://www.seasky.org/astronomy/astronomy-calendar-current.html


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Podcast: West Herts Drive Time Science Correspondent 03/02/2015

Radio Verulam Science Feature 03/02/2015

Podcast MP3: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/WestHertsDrivetimeWithDannySmith/~5/h46HRgMNnn0/scifeat20150203.mp3

NEWS:

Waterproof surfaces

A team from the University of Rochester in New York have reported a method of creating waterproof surfaces that could be used to produce easily maintained and hygienic devices. Material would not suffer from rust or icing up in the cold weather.

The test materials that were used are platinum, titanium and brass. The material “self-cleans” as dust is drawn away with water droplets as they hit the surface.

Previously, waterproofing surfaces has relied on coating with another substance, which fundamentally changing the surface properties of the metal.

The method they have used utilises rapid pulses of high powered lasers etching grooves 0.1 mm apart into the surface. Water droplets bounce off the surface if dropped from a short distance and any water sitting on the surface will slide off if the surface is tilted by approximately 4 degrees. A popular hydrophobic material, Teflon, often used on non-stick frying pans for example, has to be tilted to around 70 degrees before water will slide away.

However, as with many new techniques, it is currently expensive and time consuming to produce these materials. It takes approximately one hour to create one square inch.

There are many other ways to create hydrophobic structures, including coating, chemical etching and electron beams, which are more straightforward.

Source and Video: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30915266

Fly by: Pluto

The spacecraft New Horizons is nearing its encounter with Pluto. Launched in 2006, the craft will fly by Pluto in July, but is powering up its systems in preparation, with some images expected back by tomorrow (Tuesday 27th Jan) at the latest. It will be performing correction manoeuvres to make sure the instruments on board will be pointing in the correct direction when it makes its closest approach on 14th July 2015, approximately 11:50 GMT about 13,695 km from the surface. As New Horizons approaches it will be travelling around 14 km s-1, and all the instruments work at different approach distances to get data, so an elaborate observation schedule is planned.

Pluto is one of the “classical” planets, the last to be visited by a space probe. We have been able to remotely observe it using instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope, which has distinguished ‘light’ and ‘dark’ features.

In the same year that New Horizons was launched, the debate about the classification of planetary bodies culminated with the declassification of Pluto as a planet and reclassified as a Dwarf Planet. To be classified as a planet, an object must:

  1. Be in orbit around the Sun.
  2. Be massive enough to be a sphere by its own gravitational force. More specifically, its own gravity should pull it into a shape of hydrostatic equilibrium.
  3. Have cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

The Kuiper Belt is thought to contain many thousands of Pluto-like objects, possibly some that are similar in size to Mars and Earth.

Sources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30954673

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluto#Classification

Scientist of the Month

Clyde Tombaugh (4th Feb 1906 – 17th Jan 1997, 90)

Built his own telescopes, grinding the lenses and mirrors himself. He drew Jupiter and Mars, which earned him a job at Lowell Observatory.

He was given the task of search for Planet X, a planet hypothesised by Percival Lowell beyond the orbit of Neptune.

During WWII he taught navigation to naval personnel at Northern Arizona University.

He discovered nearly 800 asteroids, mostly as a by-product during his search for Pluto and other celestial objects.

He also was involved in the search for Near-Earth Objects.

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

Night Sky This Month

Venus, Mars and Jupiter are all prominent in the night sky this month. Jupiter rises in the east and is available for observing throughout the night. Mars and Venus are setting in the west, and on the 20th Feb will have a fabulous conjunction with the crescent Moon at nightfall on the western horizon.

Full Moon 3rd Feb

Jupiter is at opposition (closest approach to Earth) on 6th Feb, offering the perfect opportunity to view and photograph the planet. Binoculars offer the opportunity to see the four largest moons of Jupiter and a small to medium telescope will show the cloud bands and Great Red Spot.

Sources: http://earthsky.org/tonight/three-planets-come-out-at-nightfall-on-february-evenings

http://www.seasky.org/astronomy/astronomy-calendar-current.html

With thanks to Danny Smith and all the Drive Time Team.

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West Herts Drive Time Science Feature Blog Post: http://westhertsdrivetime.radioverulam.com/2015/02/amazing-science-with-sam-rolfe.html

West Herts Drive Time Blog: http://westhertsdrivetime.radioverulam.com/

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The future of life detection on Mars

The future of life detection on Mars: We come in peace, but carry lasers! (Guest post for II-I- blog).

The robotic exploration of other planets has been happening for many decades now. We have been to almost all the classical planets, with the New Horizons mission presently on its way to the Pluto‑Charon system (Pluto will always be a planet in my heart). Among the earliest fragile feelers of this type were extended in the 1970s in the shape of the Viking missions to Mars. Mars has been the subject of speculation for over a century in the minds of humans when considering whether we are alone in the Universe. For many years, almost right up to the landing of the Viking missions, it was believed that Mars had vegetation on its surface; Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli thought he had observed a network of linear ‘channels’ on Mars during observations in 1877, which was later mistranslated as ‘canals’ by Percival Lowell, further fuelling the fire that intelligent Martians existed there…

Continue reading at www.andrewrushby.com