Cool science stuff


So, anyway, I was impressed over the weekend at how many people asked me whether I had heard about the octopus and the coconut. It’s one of those nifty things science brings us from time to time. Dr. Julian Finn, to the one, told BBC’s Rebecca Morelle he “nearly drowned laughing” when he first witnessed the behavior. But I admit I like Brendan Kiley‘s description for Slog:

An octopus goes for a walk.Octopuses continue their long tradition of freaking out human beings—now they’re using tools, excavating buried coconut halves (discarded by humans), tucking them under their … undersides, and “stilt-walking” them away to use as shelter ….

…. They escape from their aquariums, they grab birds from the land and into tidal pools, they solve puzzles, they recognize human faces, they occasionally attack divers, and now they build little houses for themselves.

Maybe the Haida were right all along: Octopuses are the people of the sea.

I just think it’s cool that we can add them to the list of tool-using animals. But, as with the crows, there is something a little unsettling about an animal that both uses tools and remembers who you are.

• • •

In other cool science news, it turns out the coldest known place in the solar system is on the moon. Or, as BBC’s Jonathan Amos explains:

The Coldest Known Place In the Solar SystemNasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has used its Diviner instrument to probe the insides of permanently shadowed craters on Earth’s satellite.

It found mid-winter, night-time surface temperatures inside the coldest craters in the northern polar region can dip as low as minus 247C (26 kelvin).

“The Moon has one of the most extreme thermal environments of any body in the Solar System,” said Prof David Paige.

“During the middle of the day, temperatures can get up to about 400K (127C) at the equator; and at the poles at night, they can get very cold,” the Diviner principal investigator at the University of California, Los Angeles, added.

Prof Paige has been describing his instrument’s latest findings here at the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting, the world’s largest annual gathering of Earth scientists.

Diviner was part of the suite of instruments launched on LRO in June this year and has been operating continuously since it was switched on in July.

• • •

And while we’re at it, Jonathan Amos also tells us about “The Egg”, a nifty geophysical formation some 150 km south of the Azores:

The Egg and its companion obtained by multibeam echosounder bathymetry. (BBC)The Fried Egg was first identified in data gathered by a 2008 multibeam echosounder hydrographic survey. A further cruise from September to November this year confirmed its presence ….

…. The depressed ring sits roughly 110m below the surrounding ocean bottom, with the circular dome-shaped central uplift 3km in diameter and with a base-to-top height of some 300m.

Central peaks are often associated with meteorite impacts and form when the compressed crater floor rebounds. A peak is not definitive proof of an impact, however.

A volcanic origin for the Fried Egg seems unlikely because the Portuguese team has not been able to find any lava flows within the structure or on its surroundings.

Interestingly, there is another – but much smaller – feature just 3-4km to the west of the egg.

“It’s just by the side. If the Fried Egg is a crater, this could be a crater also,” speculated Dr Dias.

Dr Dias and colleagues are examining gravity and magnetic data gathered during September’s cruise. A third expedition to the area early next year will use a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to try to retrieve samples from the ocean floor for analysis.

• • •

And in another piece for the Beeb, Michelle Roberts explains:

Scientists crack 'entire genetic code' of cancerScientists have unlocked the entire genetic code of two of the most common cancers – skin and lung – a move they say could revolutionise cancer care.

Not only will the cancer maps pave the way for blood tests to spot tumours far earlier, they will also yield new drug targets, says the Wellcome Trust team.

Scientists around the globe are now working to catalogue all the genes that go wrong in many types of human cancer.

The UK is looking at breast cancer, Japan at liver and India at mouth.

China is studying stomach cancer, and the US is looking at cancers of the brain, ovary and pancreas.

The International Cancer Genome Consortium scientists from the 10 countries involved say it will take them at least five years and many hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete this mammoth task.

Go humans! The species is on the march … toward … um … well, something. But good news is always welcome.

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