My monthly science highlights – 9)

TateHow time flies when you are enjoying yourself, or at least blogging and before you know it it’s the end of the month and time for my personal round up of nuggets of interest from the world of science.  Again these are not in any order of importance, they are simply what has piqued my interest as numerous headlines flit across social media.  As always I hope you at least find them intriguing, in some cases thought provoking and if you’re a writer a little inspiring.

Out of this world

Search for ET

SETI, The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute have had no luck finding signs of aliens.  However, they now believe that could be because they’re looking in the wrong place (Doh!). So far, SETI have only searched younger stars.  It will expand its search to include older, red dwarf stars as well.  These account for about 75 percent of the stars in the Milkyway.  As they are far older than our Sun their planets have had more time to develop intelligent civilizations.

Steam (yes steam) powered space craft

I know, sounds bizarre but scientist believe steam-powered spacecraft could help us colonise the Moon and more.  Water ice from asteroids and the lunar poles could be used as fuel.  Unlike steam power on Earth, the thrust would come from steam being ejected into space, propelling the craft forward.  Given the low gravity of the moon, just a small push is needed to get a spacecraft going. The water would be heated via solar panels and vented through a nozzle.

Space craft propelled by light

In 2018, a small space probe will start a journey to a distant asteroid.  However, this will be the first NASA spacecraft propelled entirely by sunlight. This technology could allow an inexpensive way of exploring the solar system and maybe further.  It will take 2.5 years for the NEA Scout to reach, a smallish asteroid, 1991 VG. But it’s not slow. The sunlight hitting the solar sail will accelerate the probe to 63,975 mph (28.6 km/s).  Apparently, given enough time, a spacecraft equipped with a solar sail could accelerate to higher speeds than a similarly sized spacecraft propelled by a conventional chemical rocket.

Down to Earth

Spanish drone to be used to fight disease

I like this because there is so much bad press about the use of drones at the moment (quite rightly) and I have just seen the film ‘Eye in the Sky’.  The idea is that a drone will be used to spread sterilised male Tsetse flies in an area of Ethiopia where the insect is a carrier for sleeping sickness (affecting over 10,000 people a year).  These will then have non-productive sex, depleting the Tsetse fly population. The advantages of using a drone are that they can fly lower and longer, and disperse flies through the area more evenly. Each drone flight can release 5,000 from 1000 feet, covering an area of about 40 square miles.  If successful then this could be used against other insect borne diseases such as malaria.

northumberland1Protein injection reverses Alzheimer symptoms in mice

With a significant birthday looming on the horizon this caught my eye.  Researchers have found that an injection of a protein called IL-33 reverses Alzheimer’s-like symptoms in mice, restoring memory and cognitive function to the same levels as healthy control mice, in the space of one week.  OK these are mice bread especially to develop these symptoms and they are only mice.  So there is no guarantee this would translate to man.  Apparently, only about 8 % of positive results in mice translate across to humans.  However, it shows it can be done and that researchers are on the right track.

5 Fun (strange?) science facts

1)  Polar bear livers are poisonous to humans, apparently we can’t handle all that vitamin A.

2)  The Kakapo bird in critically endangered.  It has a strong pleasant musty odour which helps predators find it, hence…

3)  Going back to one of the articles above it would take 1,200,000 mosquitoes taking a single bite to drain the average human of blood.

4)  If we removed all the empty space from the atoms that make up every human on earth we could fit all 7 billion of us into a single apple.

5)  The body of the 18th and 19th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham is stuffed and kept at the University of London.

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

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