Do humans have natural built-in GPS systems?

Probably not. But new research suggests we might have the ability to sense the Earth’s magnetic field, like many migratory animals.  University of Massachusetts Medical School scientists have found that a chemical produced by humans possesses, at least a molecular level, the capability to function in a magnetic sensing system.

Migratory animals, such as certain birds and sea turtles, are said to be able to sense the Earth’s magnetic field and then use this ability to navigate their long-distance migration journeys.

For their study, the scientists removed a chemical called the human cryptochrome 2 protein (hCRY2) from a human retina and then implanted it into a fly species called Drosophila.

By using a previously developed behavioral system, the researchers found that these now-transgenic flies were able to sense and respond to an electric coil-generated magnetic field and could do so in a light-dependent manner.

The findings should lead to further study and exploration of human sensory biology, which then may pave the way for further investigation into human magnetoreception.

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Future Bat Plane?

Speaking of natural navigational ability, have you ever seen a bat track and pursue its dinner?

It’s fascinating to watch these flying creatures zigzagging through the air, quickly changing direction and speed. Do you wonder how they do that?

A research team from the University of Maryland did and now thinks it has uncovered a secret to the bat’s aerodynamic abilities.

One of the reasons for the bat’s uncanny navigation skills may be the rows of microscopic, domed hairs on their wings, which act as built-in speedometers and stall indicators.

According to the study,  the research team found empirical evidence of what other scientists have long suspected: that the tiny domed hairs are actually an array of sensors that transmit airspeed information to bats’ brains, helping them control their flight and avoid stalling.

The study findings will be be incorporated into work being done at Oregon State University on bat wing-inspired sensors which, eventually could be used to develop a new generation of air speed and stall detectors for aircraft.

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Messenger to Earth

After nearly three months in orbit around Mercury, the Messenger space probe is providing lots of new information about the planet closest to the Sun.

The treasure trove of data produced by Messenger includes thousands of sharply-focused images of the planet. Up until now, those exploring Mercury had to settle for comparatively low resolution pictures.

The spacecraft is also transmitting measurements of the chemical composition of Mercury’s surface, as well as maps of the planet’s topography and magnetic field.  All of which provide important insights into Mercury’s origin, how the planet  functions and its geological history.

NASA launched Messenger on August 3, 2004 and it entered orbit around Mercury on March 18, 2011. The purpose of the mission is to perform the first complete reconnaissance of the planet’s geochemistry, geophysics, geologic history, atmosphere, magnetosphere and plasma environment.

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Glug glug glug…

Yesterday we learned that our oceans are on the brink of a series of mass extinctions due, in part, to global warming. Today, there’s word scientists have noted the fastest sea level rise in more than two millennia, and again point to – you guessed it – increasing global temperatures as the cause.

To make their determination, researchers developed the first continuous sea-level reconstruction for the past 2,000 years and then compared variations in global temperature to changes in sea level over that time period.

The team found that sea level was relatively stable from 200 BC to 1,000 AD.

Then they found that, in the 11th century, sea level rose by about a half-millimeter each year for 400 years, which coincided with a period of warm climate known as the Medieval Climate Anomaly.

Following the era of warm climate, researchers noted a second period of stable sea level, which took place during a cooler period called the Little Ice Age. The sea level remained steady until the late 19th century.

Since then, the scientists say that sea level has risen by more than two millimeters per year on average, the steepest rate in more than 2,100 years.

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