Sounding like a miniature jackhammer in overdrive, a quiet morning’s peace is suddenly interrupted by bursts of loud, rapid tapping. It doesn’t take long, however, to realize that the intense and precise tapping is actually the sound of a woodpecker using his beak to search for his breakfast – usually insects or tree sap – in a neighboring tree.
Some ornithologists (scientists who study birds) estimate that a woodpecker can peck at a tree at speeds of up to 20 pecks per second or 1,200 per minute. Scientists say that a woodpecker’s brain is able to withstand g-forces of 1,200 G’s from the repeated impacts and deceleration brought on by this rapid pecking.
That’s a lot of physical stress for any living creature to bear. Yet, for woodpeckers, it’s a necessity for survival.
Did you ever wonder how these hardy little birds are able to endure this seemingly punishing routine day after day without injuring themselves?
Chinese scientists thought studying how a woodpecker can regularly tolerate such severe physical impact may also provide some insight into what it would take to protect our bodies from harm that’s caused by shock and vibrations due to high-velocity impacts, such as an automobile accident.
The research team, led by Wu Chengwei at the Dalian University of Technology in northeastern China, decided that the best way to learn how a woodpecker’s body can function as an anti-shock structure was to build a cutting-edge, high-precision 3D model of the bird.
First data from extensive CT scans of a woodpecker’s body were fed into a computer that had been programed with specialized software to create their unique and detailed models.
Tests conducted with the computer models revealed that the creature’s body not only helps support it as it pecks on a tree, it also absorbs and stores most (99.7%) of the energy generated by the repeated impacts in the form of strain energy. The amount of remaining impact energy (.3%) that actually enters the brain is significantly reduced.
The researchers also said that various features in the bird’s head, such as its beak, skull, and hyoid bone (a special bone that’s supported by muscles instead of other bones) further reduce most of the remaining the strain energy that may be absorbed by the brain.
Whatever small amount of impact energy that remains and enters the brain is gradually transformed into heat, said the researchers. This heat caused by the remaining impact energy causes the bird’s brain temperature to quickly rise, which is why woodpeckers peck at the tree in one rapid burst, pause momentarily and resume with another burst of pecking.
Rosetta Rendezvous With Comet, Measuring Happiness with Math, Lowered Testosterone Levels Civilized Us, Bettering our Brains with Electromagentic Stimulation
ESA’s Rosetta Rendezvous with its Target Comet
Today, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft became the first to rendezvous and orbit a comet.
Rosetta, launched back in March, 2004, spent over a decade traveling in space to pursue its target, Comet 67P/Churyumov/Gerasimenko.
Both the Rosetta and its target comet are about 405 million kilometers from Earth and are located about half-way between the orbits of both Jupiter and Mars. The spacecraft and comet are traveling through space at a speed of nearly 55,000 kilometers per hour, according to ESA.
Those associated with the Rosetta project are looking forward to gathering and reviewing the data captured by the spacecraft during its close encounter with Comet 67P/ Churyumov/Gerasimenko.
Scientists have theorized that comets provided Earth with its water some 4.6 billion years ago while others add to that theory and say that the icy space objects may have also delivered the ingredients of life on our planet.
As it gathers crucial information from the comet, the Rosetta will also look for an ideal landing site for its attached probe Philae, which will deploy from Rosetta and land on the comet for further scientific investigation this November.
Researchers Predict a Person’s Happiness with Mathematical Equation
Researchers at the UK’s University College London recently developed a mathematical equation that accurately predicts the happiness of over 18,000 people from all over the world.
They found that moment to moment happiness didn’t depend on whether or not things were just going well for the individual, but rather that things were going better than had been expected.
The UCL researchers first had 26 volunteers complete decision making tasks that, depending on their choices, could lead to them either gaining or losing money.
Throughout the testing the volunteers were asked ‘how happy are you right now?’ As the subjects performed these tasks, the researchers also measured their neural activity with an MRI.
From the data gathered during this initial phase of testing, the researchers built a computational model and presented it to some 18,420 participants in a smartphone game they called ‘What makes me happy?’
The researchers found that the equation developed from their initial research could also predict just how happy the smartphone users were as they played game, even though they could only win points and not money.
The researchers believe their findings may help give medical professionals new insight into mood disorders, which could lead to better treatments of those conditions.
Study: A Drop in Testosterone Levels Made Us More Civilized
A new study published in the journal Current Anthropology suggests that a reduction in the level of testosterone (male hormone) made humans a much more civilized species.
After studying some 1,400 ancient and modern human skulls, Robert Cieri, a biology graduate student at the University of Utah, along with his colleagues at North Carolina’s Duke University, believe that the development of modern human culture, including the complex abilities of communication and cooperation, coincided with a drop in the level of the male hormone some 50,000 years ago.
Examining the wide range of old to younger fossils led the researchers to notice a distinct difference in facial structure between humans from about 50,000 years ago to their ancestors who walked Earth many years earlier.
Humans who displayed more modern and advanced behavioral traits tended to have more “feminine” faces and skulls than their ancestors, according to the study.
The differences between the ancient fossils, compared to those more modern ones, are similar to the faces of people living today with higher and lower testosterone levels, said Cieri.
One cause for the drop in testosterone levels, Cieri said, may be increased human population density. As more and more humans began to live closer together the need for cooperation versus aggression became necessary for our species to succeed.
Our Brains Could Work Better After Some Electromagnetic Stimulation
Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, a team of Australian and French researchers outlined their findings that stimulating a human brain with weak electromagnetic pulses just might make it work better.
The researchers from The University of Western Australia and the Pierre-and-Marie-Curie University in France conducting experiments on mice found that applying electromagnetic stimulation, called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) can change abnormally located neural connections in the brain to more normal locations.
The research team said their discovery could someday lead to treatments for those suffering from disorders that are the result of abnormal brain organization such as depression, epilepsy and tinnitus.
Opportunity Mars Rover Sets Record
Although NASA’s newest Mars rover, Curiosity, has hogged most of the attention since landing on the Red Planet nearly two years ago, Opportunity, the space agency’s Mars rover, which preceded its newer sibling by about 8 years, is the one to set a new record.
Opportunity mission officials said that, after traversing across a little more than 40 kilometers of Martian land, the little Mars rover now holds the off-Earth roving distance record.
On July 27, after a 48 meter excursion, Opportunity’s odometer clicked in at 40.25 kilometers.
“Opportunity driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world,” said, John Callas, the Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in a press release.
The Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover, which landed on the Moon in 1973, was the previous record holder racking up a total of about 39 kilometers in less than five months, according to NASA.
Scottish Scientists Precisely Measure Mass of Milky Way
The Milky Way is not as massive as astronomers have long thought, according to a research team led by scientists at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh. The scientists say they reached that conclusion after being able to accurately measure the mass of our Milky Way galaxy for the first time.
The Scottish scientists compared the Milky Way’s mass to that of one of our neighboring galaxies, Andromeda. They determined that our galaxy has about one-half the mass of Andromeda, even though both galaxies have similar spiral-shaped structures and dimensions.
The researchers also calculated the amount of so-called ‘dark matter’ and found that 90 percent of the mass of both galaxies is made up of the mysterious and theoretical substance.
U.S. Forest Service Says Trees Save Lives
A research project headed up by the U.S. Forest Service has revealed that trees save 850 human lives and prevent 670,000 incidents of acute respiratory symptoms every year.
The new study, recently published in the journal Environmental Pollution, has been described by research officials as the ‘first broad-scale estimate’ of air pollution that has been removed by trees throughout the U.S.
While the study did find that that the tree’s pollution removal improved average air quality by less than 1 percent, research officials said that the effect of that improvement is significant. The researchers estimated the monetary value of human health benefits achieved by the removal of pollution by trees to be about $7 billion each year.
ESA’s Billion Star Surveyor Gaia Ready to Get to Work
The European Space Agency says that its star surveying spacecraft, Gaia, is finally ready to begin its science mission. The spacecraft has undergone an extensive commissioning process and experienced problems in the months since its December 2013 launch from French Guiana.
The goal of Gaia’s ambitious mission is to chart and create an accurate 3D map of our Milky Way Galaxy. To do so, the spacecraft will make precise measurements of 1 billion stars, which they say is about 1% of the total star population of our galaxy. ESA says that in its mission Gaia will make about 70 observations of each of the 1 billion stars.
Mission officials say that, along with producing the stereoscopic and kinematic census of the 1 billion targets stars within the Milky Way, Gaia will be able to provide scientists with valuable data concerning composition, formation and evolution of our Galaxy.
Newborns Can Smell Mother’s Fears
Newborn babies can quickly learn what to fear by simply smelling the odor of their distressed mothers.
That’s according to a team of scientists from the University of Michigan Medical School and New York University.
And, the fears that are picked up by the little ones aren’t necessarily ‘natural’ fears but those that are unique to each individual mother.
For example, if the child’s mother happened to experience a particular traumatic event during pregnancy and as a result developed a specific fear, she could communicate that fear through an odor she emits whenever she feels fear allowing her newborn to also quickly learn that fear.
The researchers said that their findings could perhaps explain how a traumatic event experienced by a mother long before giving birth can deeply affect her children, which is something that has mystified mental health experts for years.