Welcome to this week’s edition of Saturday Science Links, an overview of some of the most significant (and intriguing) science headlines of the last two weeks.
More than meets the eye? Researchers at James Cook University (Australia) discovered that the Malaysian black leopard’s spotting patterns, which are mostly hidden by their black coats, are visible under infrared light. This discovery will help with conservation efforts, as observing and documenting the spots via cameras with infrared lighting will allow researchers to identify and monitor the animals.
After a 9 and a half year journey and traveling at 31,000 miles per hour, NASA’s New Horizons survived its scheduled pass of Pluto and delivered much anticipated photos of the dwarf planet. The pass only lasted three minutes, but it offered a vital glimpse of the previously mysterious body. The flyby revealed the planet’s surface to be different than was expected, especially in its geographic complexity and variance, featuring cliffs, craters, and fault lines. For now, New Horizons continues its exploratory journey into the outer solar system.
July 20 was the 46th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. You are probably familiar with the story of the landing, but did you know that a key to the success of the mission was flight software developed by Margaret Hamilton and her MIT team? Her team’s work prevented a potential cancellation of the landing, and she was awarded NASA’s Exceptional Space Act Award for her work on the Apollo systems. Scientists like her make our continued, successful exploration of God’s creation possible, so we applaud her and her work on the anniversary of such a monumental achievement.
Photos of our planet have always been cherished because of the beauty of God’s earth, but a new portrait and surrounding research also show how useful they can be. The photo is from the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) onboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and is just one of the many photos to come. Beginning in September, EPIC will deliver photos of Earth on a daily basis. DSCOVR’s unique perspective provides scientists with important information, which amongst other things, allows for the early detection of “space weather” events caused by the sun.
The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced the discovery of the “pentaquark,” thanks to information gathered by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). As is the case for any hadron (a composite particle), the pentaquark is not a single entity, but is a collection of quarks (subatomic parts); in this case, it is constituted of five quarks, hence the name pentaquark. Though the existence of a five-quark hadron has already been postulated, it wasn’t until evidence from the LHC confirmed its existence. Though the particle’s exact configuration remains elusive, scientists hope that further study of the particle and its properties will offer insight into the constitution of matter and of the world.
The careful and persistent work of Sam Van Aken—an artist and professor at Syracuse University—has brought artwork to life. Van Aken has developed and nurtured a tree that bears 40 different fruits, including plums and apricots. One of many, the tree is the result of the careful and persistent grafting. To ensure that the trees blooms as beautifully and fully as possible, Van Aken develops timelines and charts to sculpt how each one blossoms. This hobby, however, is not for the impatient: it takes 8 to 9 years for his creations to develop and bloom to full capacity.
The field of artificial intelligence has potentially leapt forward. Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute AI and Reasoning Lab in New York posed an inductive reasoning puzzle to three robots, and one of them passed the test. The experiment was adapted from a classic puzzle known as “The King’s Wise Men,” and researchers think the correct response, as displayed by one of the robots, shows self-awareness—as it required the robot to understand the puzzle’s rules, to recognize its own voice, and to recognize itself as distinct from the other robots in the experiment. The implications of the results are still being debated, but for now, Selmer Bringsjord, chair of the department of cognitive science at the institute, will present his work at the IEEE symposium on robot and human interactive communication, RO-MAN 2015, set to be held in Kobe, Japan.
Research conducted by Greg Gavelis at the University of British Columbia and his colleagues focusing on a creature that looks like a floating eyeball may offer insight into the evolution of the human eye. The single-celled sea creature, known as a warnowiid, features components that resemble parts of the human eye, including a lens, cornea, and retina, though it likely functions much differently. Though originally discovered more than a century ago, studying the creature has proven challenging, as it quickly disintegrates when out of the water and is difficult to find. But the new research results, following a year-long search for even one such creature, have proven fruitful. Upon finding one, Gavelis preserved the warnowiid in plastic resin and was able to identify it as an important transitional form for the evolution of the eye.
To end this week’s Saturday Science Links, take a look at one of God’s unique and strange creations. Gelatinous blobs have been dotting the beaches along the U.S. East Coast, resembling jellyfish missing their tentacles or jellyfish eggs. These creatures, however, have very little in common with jellyfish. They are called salps, and are members of the tunicate group. Follow the link to learn more about these eccentric creatures, their reproductive tactics, and their role in their environment.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/saturday-science-links-july-25-2015