This Week in Science

June 22, 2018

From life on Mars to X-Ray vision, this has been an interesting week for science. STEM news tends to fly under the radar, but have no fear: here’s the rundown of the past few weeks in science.

 

Photo: Hal Gatewood on Unsplash  

 

Extraterrestrial

 

SpaceX Launches New Satellite

This past week, SpaceX launched a new satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The SES-12 satellite, launched by a pre-flown Falcon 9 rocket, was part of a plan to develop cost-effective, readily reusable rockets. The rocket’s first-stage booster, which has been used several times, was left in the Atlantic ocean after liftoff.

 

A Day Once Lasted 18 Hours

According to new research, the moon elongates the Earth’s days as it moves further away from us. The moon is currently 239,000 miles away, but due to tidal forces, it spirals 1.5 inches further away per year. Using a new method called astrochronology - which combines elements of geology and astronomy - researchers determined that 1.4 billion years ago, days on Earth were only 18 hours long. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, also examined changes in Earth’s rotation, orbit, and distance from the moon.

 

Asteroid Lights Up the Sky

Elsewhere in space, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) discovered an asteroid on the morning of June 2, just hours before it disintegrated over Botswana. Fortunately, the asteroid was only six feet wide, too small to cause harm.

 

Evidence of Life on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found the building blocks of life on Mars. It discovered rganic material in 3.5 billion-year-old bedrock from Gale Crater, which implies that conditions on Mars were once conducive to life. Additionally, the rover documented seasonal methane changes in the planet’s atmosphere. Most methane changes on Earth come from plants and animals, so the atmospheric changes provide a case for current life on the planet. The findings, published on Thursday in Science, are the biggest evidence thus far that life exists, or existed, on Mars.

 

Behind the Scenes of Science

 

Report Examines Sexual Harassment in Science, Urges Change

For the past several months, Hollywood has been at the forefront of sexual harassment discussions, but film is not the only affected industry. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report which reviewed sexual harassment in science, concluding that the culture of harassment puts women and their careers at risk, especially for female minorities. The report outlined a University of Texas survey, which found that 20% of female science students, over 25% of female engineering students, and over 40% of female medical students had experienced sexual harassment by students or faculty. A Pennsylvania State University survey found similar results. The report found that male-dominated environments and harassment are instrumental in driving women to leave STEM fields. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine made several recommendations for improving the situation, including the promotion of diverse environments, implementation of mentoring networks, and encouragement of harassment reporting. The report’s full conclusions and recommendations can be found here (page 180.)

 

Real Life Sci-Fi

 

X-Ray Vision is Now a Thing

For the past decade, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) research team has brought X-Ray vision out of the realm of sci-fi and into the realm of possibility. With their new project RF-Pose, the team taught Artificial Intelligence (AI) to use wireless signals for tracking movement, allowing them to see through walls. Researchers analyzed radio waves, which regularly bounce off of humans, using neural networks to create a stick figure “skeleton” of the tracked person. The stick figure moved in sync with its subject, allowing a person’s movements to be seen. Although researchers are working to create 3-D, as opposed to the current 2-D, human models, RF-Pose has a range of potential applications. The technology could be used to track the progression of muscular dystrophy or Parkinson’s disease, assist in search and rescue missions, and monitor the elderly.

 

Inside the Animal Kingdom

 

Bees Understand the Concept of “Zero”

To the joy of all Bee Movie fans, honeybees are, apparently, smarter than they appear. A new study found the insect ranks among an elite group of animals who understand the concept of zero. The concept may seem simple, but even small children grapple with understanding that “nothing” is less than one. In a study published in Science, honeybees trained to move towards greater or fewer values tended to see blank images as being of less value than one unit of something, an impressive feat. Before this, only some primates (and Alex, an African gray parrot) were able to grasp the idea of “zero” being a quantity.

 

Ore James is a high school student who's into books, politics, and green tea. You can usually find her browsing through scientific journals, buried in a novel, or keeping up with current events.

 

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