Science Scanner: Gravity Dip & Ice Loss Linked, Settling an Scientific Argument, Powerful Solar Flares Found on Mini-Star, Dolphins May Like Magnets

Posted October 1st, 2014 at 8:01 pm (UTC-4)
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A combination of data from ESA’s GOCE mission and NASA’s Grace satellites shows the changes in Earth’s gravity field resulting from loss of ice from West Antarctica between November 2009 and June 2012. (DGFI/Planetary Visions)

A combination of data from ESA’s GOCE mission and NASA’s Grace satellites shows the changes in Earth’s gravity field resulting from loss of ice from West Antarctica between November 2009 and June 2012. (DGFI/Planetary Visions)

Drop in Gravity Field Over West Antarctic Linked with Ice Loss

A group of German, Dutch and U.S. scientists who analyzed high-resolution satellite data from November 2009 until January 2012 found a drop in the gravity field over West Antarctica, which according to various reports has also experienced record ice loss.

The researchers studied data gathered by the European Space Agency’s Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer – GOCE.

The scientists believe that the dip in gravity and ice loss is related, since they found that the reduction in ice mass throughout the study period was also reflected in GOCE’s gravity measurements.

Various factors such as our planet’s rotation and the location of geological features like mountains and ocean trenches as well as changes in the mass of large ice sheet – such as those in West Antarctica – can slightly vary Earth’s gravity from location to location.

 

A graphic from 1885-1886 that illustrates evolution of limbs into wings (Wikimedia Commons)

A graphic from 1885-1886 that illustrates evolution of limbs into wings (Wikimedia Commons)

Chilean Scientists Work to Resolve A Dispute Between Two Different Fields of Scientific Study

Scientists from the University of Chile writing in the journal PLOS Biology are hoping that they have settled a dispute between developmental biologists and palaeontologists by combining the approaches of each scientific discipline.

As dinosaurs evolved into birds over the course of millions of years, the wrists of the animals went from being straight to becoming bent and hyperflexible, a characteristic that allows birds to fold their wings against their bodies when not flying.

It’s thought that the early dinosaur ancestors of today’s bird had as many as nine wrist bones which were reduced to four as evolution kicked in and the animals became birds.

What the two groups of scientists disagreed about is which four of the nine original wrist bones modern birds kept.

Hopefully this combination of approaches will satisfy scientists from both fields of study.

 

Artist rendering of the series of powerful solar flares that were observed blasting from one of the two Red dwarfs in the DG CVn binary star system. (NASA)

Artist rendering of the series of powerful solar flares that were observed blasting from one of the two Red dwarfs in the DG CVn binary star system. (NASA)

NASA Satellite Finds Unusual Series of Solar Flares on Neighboring Red Dwarf

NASA recently announced that this past April 23rd, the space agency’s Swift satellite found what it describes as the strongest, hottest, and longest-lasting sequence of solar flares ever seen from a nearby red dwarf star.

“We used to think major flaring episodes from red dwarfs lasted no more than a day, but Swift detected at least seven powerful eruptions over a period of about two weeks,” said Stephen Drake, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Scientists reported that the solar flare discharge from one of pair of red dwarfs in the DG CVn binary star system began with what NASA called a ‘record-setting series of explosions’ was found to be about 10,000 more powerful than the largest solar flare ever recorded.

According to the NASA scientists, the temperatures of this ‘record breaking flare’ peaked at 200 million degrees Celsius, is more than 12 times hotter than the center of the sun.

 

One of the six bottlenose dolphins that were observed in the French Study (Planète Sauvage, France)One of the six bottlenose dolphins that were observed in the French Study (Planète Sauvage, France)

One of the six bottlenose dolphins that were observed in the French Study (Planète Sauvage, France)

Are Dolphins Attracted to Magnets?

French scientists found that dolphins may be magnetoreceptive, with an attraction to magnets or objects that have been magnetized.

A study conducted by scientists at France’s University of Rennes noticed that dolphins found swimming near magnetized objects tend to behave differently than when swimming in an environment without magnets.

The scientists studied six bottlenose dolphins in the dolphinarium located at the Planète Sauvage (Wild Planet) safari park near Port-Saint-Père, France.

To make their findings the scientists randomly placed either a magnetic or non-magnetic barrel in one the four dolphinarium pools.  The barrels were identical in appearance. Throughout a number of experimental periods, all six dolphins were free to swim into the pool and interact with the barrel.  The researchers recorded the experiment sessions on videotape and later analyzed the reaction of each of the dolphins to the barrels.

The study has been published in a recent edition of the journal, Naturwissenschaften (The Science of Nature).

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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