My monthly science highlights – 10)

I can’t believe I have now been producing these monthly blog round ups of what’s caught my eye in science for 10 months. From the feedback they Marsseem to be appreciated. So here we go with this month’s selection:

Out There…

Five human space flight missions coming up:

I’ll give the link to this one for more info, but in brief:

1) A privately funded inflatable (yes I know) space station. This project is already underway with a module at the International Space Station (ISS)
2) I didn’t realise that the ISS was supposed to be decommissioned this year. It has now been extended to 2020. However, Russia and China are planning new space stations.
3) The Moon is back on the agenda for the 2020s both as a possible staging post for Mars but also as a possible tourist destination (apparently).
4) By 2020 NASA plans to capture an asteroid with a robotic arm and in the 2020s astronauts will visit it.
5) There’s been lots of talk about missions to Mars. Another rover is planned for 2020s with a manned mission in the 2030s (project Mars one aims for 2027?). Before that there will be testing of increasing payloads and more.

Earth sized planets

More of these are being discovered all the time. The Kepler telescope has so far found 100, as well as some planets in the ‘habitable zone’. One of the project scientists estimates there could be about 10 billion potentially habitable planets in the Milk Way. No evidence of life yet (intelligent or otherwise) but at least they’re still looking. It only has to be a matter of time, doesn’t it?

An Umbrella in the sky

This is another idea to try and stop global warming that has backing in high places (Royal Society, NASA etc.) Apparently, we would need to block out only 2-4% of the Sun’s rays to get us back to a preindustrial climate. Recent suggestions include clouds of Moon dust, 55,000 wire-mesh mirrors or a planet-girdling ring of tiny umbrellas.

Down to earth

Living longer

As I said in a previous science round up I’m getting to the age where this sort of work becomes of greater interest. Genetic switches have been discovered that increase lifespan and boost fitness in worms. OK these are worms but they say these so-called epigenetic switches are also found in mammals. When they’ve looked at strains of inbred mice that have radically different lifespans, those with the longest lifespans had higher levels of these enzymes. The hope is that drugs to flip these switches could improve human metabolic function and increase longevity.

Holiday sunflowersThe GM crops argument.

I know that this can be touchy subject, but this article in The Conversation I think is a good piece. Ever since man started actively farming crops about 12,000 years ago (don’t quote me on that) we have effectively genetically engineered them as we have done with animals, except that we call it selective breeding, increasing yield, taste, insect resistance and other traits we want to enhance. However, when science gets involved it becomes GM and the fear of unleashing monsters into the environment comes to the fore. This article suggests that some opportunities are being missed. Not just in things like reducing crop spraying with weed killers and insecticides (has to be a good thing?) but also increasing vitamin A in one form of rice, deficiencies of which in some parts of the world lead to blindness. Perhaps the science needs to better at the PR?, it definitely seems to have lost out up to now.

More strange /fun facts:

1)  The human brain takes in 11 million bits of information every second (I don’t know how they work that out) but is aware of only 40.
2)  You are not the person you once were, literally. In an average lifetime, human skin completely replaces itself 900 times.
3)  A red blood cell can make it round your body in twenty seconds
4)  Human saliva contains a painkiller called opiorphin that is six times more powerful than morphine.
5)  Don’t try this at home, but if you drilled a tunnel straight through the Earth and jumped in it would take you 42 minutes and 12 seconds to get to the other side. They don’t say what state you’d be in when you get there.

As always comments are Welcome.

Ian Martyn

If you are interested in the possibilities of bases on Mars and space exploration beyond that you will enjoy my book ‘PROJECT NOAH’ which looks at just that set, against a backdrop of an earth which is failing.

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

7 thoughts on “My monthly science highlights – 10)”

    1. Many thanks. And while I am considering the future content of my blog (subject of next week’s blog) these will continue.

  1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about science and PR. Scientist have a tendency to see the world (and I’m generalising here) with a narrower focus – usually on fascinating scientific projects – so hiring an excellent PR firm would seem like a good move.
    Just now, the government is trying to do this job for them, but as the general public are less than inclined to trust the word of the government (and who can blame them), perhaps this is not the best move.

    1. It’s a difficult one. It always seems easier to me to be against something, to be an ‘anti’. They are the well organised and the loudest voices. You have one focus, it’s more emotional and you can almost say anything and get away with it. To be pro something leaves you open to ‘well you would say that’. Also, scientists will argue facts and if you are against something 99.9% safe means ‘Ah so you admit it could go wrong.’ In the village I live in there’s the usual housing debate and the anti campaign said 90% were ‘anti’. However, that was 90% of those that turned up to a meeting that was anti the housing.

      1. I remember that sort of ‘voting’ from Uni days – always the activists that turn up and are the most vocal, skewing any realistic picture of the situation.
        You’re right – this is another example of why pitting facts against emotion is a pointless exercise, and fear is such a strong motivator it always wins, even if it just leads to erring on the side of caution.

If you have a view on this, let me know: