Hormone Cuts Sugar Craving; inSight Launch Delayed; Space Telescope Mirrors

Posted December 31st, 2015 at 3:14 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

Sugar (Ayelie via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Sugar (Ayelie via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Hormone Cuts Sugar Craving in Mice

For those of us with an active “sweet tooth”, it can be really difficult to resist sweet treats like candy, cake and cookies.

But with diseases and conditions associated with eating sugary foods like diabetes, heart disease and obesity at or near epidemic levels it’s important not to overindulge on the those sweet goodies.

While all the specific physical drivers that trigger our sugar cravings are not known, a group of researchers have found a hormone that actually quashes the intake of some simple sugars.

The scientists conducting studies on mice found that the liver produces the sugar suppressing hormone fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) to respond to high levels of carbohydrates.

Once in the bloodstream the hormone tells the brain to reduce a fondness for sweets.  The scientists say that their findings could lead to improved diets and help those who are obese or diabetic.

This rare overhead shot of the James Webb Space Telescope shows the nine primary flight mirrors installed on the telescope structure in a clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Gunn)

This rare overhead shot of the James Webb Space Telescope shows the nine primary flight mirrors installed on the telescope structure in a clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Gunn)

NASA Reaches Halfway Point in Space Telescope Mirror Installation

The ninth of the eighteen segments that will eventually become the primary mirror for the new James Webb Space Telescope has been put into place.

The new Webb Telescope is the more powerful scientific successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.

Working inside the gigantic clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, engineers and technicians recently used a robotic arm to install the mirror segment.

Each of the hexagonal-shaped pieces measures a little over 1.3 meters across and weighs around 40 kilograms.

When completely assembled all 18 mirror segments will work together to form the telescope’s 6.5 meter primary mirror.

NASA expects the installation of all mirror segments will be completed sometime in early 2016.

The rocket that will carry the new space telescope into space is set for launch in October 2018 from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

Positions of known outer Solar System objects. The centaurs lie generally inwards of the Kuiper belt and outside the Jupiter Trojans. (WilyD at English Wikipedia)

Positions of known outer Solar System objects. The centaurs lie generally inwards of the Kuiper belt and outside the Jupiter Trojans. (WilyD at English Wikipedia)

Giant Comets Pose More Of a Threat Than Asteroids

From time to time the internet buzzes with rumors of an approaching asteroid that just might pose a danger to us.

Now a team of British astronomers say giant comets called ‘centaurs’ in the far reaches of our solar system may pose more of threat to life on Earth than asteroids.

The scientists say that these ‘centaurs’ move through the solar system in unstable orbits past our outer planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

The gravitational fields from these planets can deflect these objects into a trajectory that puts Earth in its path.

According to the researchers, Centaurs are usually between 50 to more than 100 kilometers across and can have more mass than all of the Earth-crossing asteroid discovered so far.

The scientists calculated that one of these giant comets gets deflected into an Earth-bound path every 40 to 100 thousand years.

While most are expected to breakdown into dust and larger fragments, the amount of debris created could make an Earth impact almost certain.

An anxious woman bites her nails. (Maxwell GS/Flickr-Wikipedia)

An anxious woman bites her nails. (Maxwell GS/Flickr-Wikipedia)

Anxiety May Be Helpful in Stressful Situations

A team of French researchers may have found out why we have an uncanny knack for sensing danger.

When reacting to situations that pose a threat, the scientists say the brain assigns more of its processing resources than it does with less threatening circumstances.

Writing in the journal eLife, the researchers say they were able to identify the particular regions of the brain that are involved in this sensation.

They say the human brain can automatically sense social threats within just 200 milliseconds.

The researchers say they also found that the specific regions of the brain that sense threats differ among people who are anxious and those who aren’t as stressed.

The study finds that being anxious can actually be helpful in recognizing threats, since regions of the brain used to process these perceptions are also responsible for getting us to take action.

Artists rendering of InSight lander on Mars. Just under the spacecraft'sleft dish, you can also see the mission's heat-flow probe burrowed into the surface of the Red Planet. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artists rendering of InSight lander on Mars. Just under the spacecraft’sleft dish, you can also see the mission’s heat-flow probe burrowed into the surface of the Red Planet. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s inSight Mission to Mars Postponed

NASA’s inSight Mission was to be its next Mars mission.  inSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport.

But, the space agency recently had to scrub the launch, scheduled for March, after determining that a leak in the prime instrument of the spacecraft’s science payload could not be repaired on time.

According to NASA specific planetary alignments needed for a launch to Mars occur every 26 months and last for only a couple of weeks. So, with the inSight being unable to make its March 4th to 30th window, the next chance for launch won’t be until around May 2018.

The much acclaimed Mars Science Laboratory mission experienced a similar delay when its intended 2009 launch was postponed until November 2011.

NASA says that while it “remains fully committed to the scientific discovery and exploration of Mars,” a decision on what happens next for the inSight mission will be made some time in the upcoming months.

The inSight mission was designed to gather valuable information about the interior structure of Mars.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2016 FROM VOA’S SCIENCE WORLD!

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.

One response to “Hormone Cuts Sugar Craving; inSight Launch Delayed; Space Telescope Mirrors”

  1. Chuck Spohr says:

    Happy New Year 2016– to Science World’s blogger Rick Pantaleo and all the personnel at VOA, my favorite website.