The Hubble Space Telescope has provided scientists with an extra-ordinary insight into our universe. When NASA announced recently that there were to be no more missions to maintain the aging telescope, there was an outcry. Now NASA have revealed the successor to Hubble – The James Webb Space Telescope.
With a mirror 6.5 meters across and a sun-shield the size of a tennis court, it promises to bring us pictures of the furthest reaches of the Universe and help answer questions about the Bing Bang and planetary formation.
The James Webb Telescope will be launched in 2013, until which time, Hubble will continue it’s mission.
Stars have a finite lifespan, and when they die, they can do so with a whimper, or more rarely, in a spectacular supernova. Supernovae are important events, they’re believed to be the method by which heavier elements are distributed across the galaxy, elements which are necessary for life to develop.
Now scientists have found a supernova that was truly enormous – an explosion that was 5 times brighter than any supernova ever seen. It was so bright that it is estimated that the star that exploded was about 150 times as big as our own Sun. This particular star was over 240 million light years away, so it wouldn’t be really noticed here on Earth. Though there may be another one coming that will be noticeable. There’s a star in our own galaxy, about 7,500 light years away that could go supernova in the same manner. According to scientists, if this “local” star explodes in the same way, it will be bright enough to be seen during the day and even read a book by it’s light at night.
The BBC are running an article on a paper just published in Nature regarding the role the death of the dinosaurs played in the rise of our mammalian ancestors.
By examining the family tree for mammals, scientists have created a “supertree” which shows how todays different mammals are related and when they diverged. By examining the data, they can show that mammals were diversifying long before the dinosaurs died out.
Prior to this it was thought that because the dinosaurs had effectively occupied the most beneficial environmental niches, mammals were restricted to side roles in the ecosystem. Once the dinosaurs had died out, they left a huge gap in the biosphere. Mammals were then uniquely positioned to fill the newly available “gaps”. Now it seems that this may not have been the case.
According to scientists responsible for the study, mammals evolved into different orders almost 30 million years before the space impact which ruined the dinosaurs day. Once this initial diversification had taken place, mammalian orders remained pretty static for another 40 million years, until there was another upsurge in the number of orders 55 million years ago.
The full mammal family tree is available from the BBC website here. [PDF]
Scientists have spent years searching for one of the planets most elusive creatures. Scientists at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, have finally gotten their hands on a specimen on the Colossus Squid, only to discover that it’s frozen solid.
Fisherman caught the specimen off the coast Antarctica in February, at which time it was frozen in the ships hold. The problem now is that at room temperature, the squid will take a couple of days to defrost. In that time, the outer layers will have rotted before the core of this beast has defrosted. So what to do? One of the solutions being considered is to use a large microwave to defrost the entire squid in one go.
Despite the fact that the Colossus Squid weighs nearly 500kg and is 10 meters long, scientists are confident that they can locate a microwave big enough for the job.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tasted Calamari, but I can’t imagine that microwaving is going to help the taste.