- 2014 – December
Curiosity rover finds active, ancient organic chemistry on Mars
NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.
“This temporary increase in methane—sharply up and then back down—tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”
Gamma-ray bursts ‘common in storms’
Scientists have shed light on a mysterious phenomenon that occurs in thunderstorms.
They have discovered that gamma-ray bursts – the most powerful explosions of energy in the Universe – are far more common on Earth than was thought.
Data from Nasa’s Fermi satellite shows that all storms produce the blasts and an estimated 1,100 occur each day.
The findings were presented at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting.
Until recently, it was thought that gamma-ray bursts were only found in deep space.
Herd mentality: Are we programmed to make bad decisions?
A natural desire to be part of the ‘in crowd’ could damage our ability to make the right decisions, a new study has shown.
Research led by the University of Exeter has shown that individuals have evolved to be overly influenced by their neighbours, rather than rely on their own instinct. As a result, groups become less responsive to changes in their natural environment.
The collaborative international study, which includes academics from Princeton University and both the Sorbonne Universites and Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA) in France, is published in the Royal Society journal Interface.
Lead author of the report, Dr Colin Torney, from the University of Exeter’s Mathematics department explained: “Social influence is a powerful force in nature and society.
“Copying what other individuals do can be useful in many situations, such as what kind of phone to buy, or for animals, which way to move or whether a situation is dangerous.
“However, the challenge is in evaluating personal beliefs when they contradict what others are doing. We showed that evolution will lead individuals to over use social information, and copy others too much than they should.
Scientists race to save ‘books’ in the burning ‘library of life’
As species blink into extinction all around the world, environmental scientists in Australia have come up with a way to decide ‘which of the books we rescue from the blazing library of life’.
Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) have developed a cost-effective way to save a wide range of threatened species, including rare old ones that may be costly to protect.
Their new technique to help maximise both the species and genetic diversity we save helps resolve the dilemma facing conservation managers worldwide: whether to rescue a larger number of recent and more common species or fewer, unique and older species that may be more costly to preserve.
The technology will help nations such as Australia and New Zealand to protect as much diversity of both species and their genes as possible, says lead researcher Dr Joseph Bennett of CEED and The University of Queensland (UQ).
India launches biggest ever rocket into space
India successfully launched its biggest ever rocket on Thursday carrying an unmanned capsule which could one day send astronauts into space, as the country ramps up its ambitious space programme.
The rocket, designed to carry heavier communication and other satellites into higher orbit, blasted off from Sriharikota in the southeast state of Andhra Pradesh in a test mission costing nearly $25 million.
“This was a very significant day in the history of (the) Indian space programme,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K.S Radhakrishnan said from mission control as fellow scientists clapped and cheered.