Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Science updates

From the Sigma Xi July 17 SmartBrief

Hexagonal honeycomb pattern made by forces, not bees 
The hexagonal engineering of a honeycomb could be attributed more to physical forces and surface tension, rather than bees' natural skills, according to a study. The team found that worker bees build circular cells that morph into hexagons as the wax is heated and squeezed by the creation of additional cells. Nature (free content) 

Finally, someone got around to proving that honeybees haven't mastered geometry; now we can all feel superior to insects for graduating high school. The theory that the bees did this through some kind of innate ability never made sense to me anyway. Didn't the people who believed that ever look at other structures in nature? Did they just assume beavers are slobs? And what about poor dung beetles? If they'd ever believed bees were knowingly constructing these intricate hexagons, they would be pretty ashamed of their shoddy dung balls!

NASA asteroid mission struggles to find candidates 
NASA's plan to capture and tow an asteroid for astronaut exploration has hit a snag -- of the 10,000 asteroid candidates, all but 14 do not suit the mission's requirements and observations do not reveal an influx on new candidates in the near future. "There's great skepticism, among both the science community and the public, that this can actually be pulled off," said planetary scientist Jim Bell. Nature (free content) 

Omg, NASA. Thank you. The plan to visit an asteroid has always been completely ridiculous. There are countless pitfalls; it's even more dangerous than other space missions (hasn't anyone seen The Empire Strikes Back?? That's for real. Minus the giant space worm.) Also, we probably don't know as much about asteroids as we do about most other bodies in the solar system, mostly due to the arguably largest pitfall, which is that nobody cares. Wtf. Asteroids? Really? We're not yet advanced enough to get good information on these relatively small, numerous, constantly moving and physically transient rocks. It's not an innovation thing that we can overcome by coming up with some plan full of ingenuity. It's not worth it right now. On the other hand, money and bad attitudes are the things preventing us from exploring Mars, not technology or background research. Think it over, Congress.

Team plans search for "loneliest whale in the world" 
Scientists and documentary filmmakers are scheduled to depart in the fall on a search for a yet-unseen whale, possibly a hybrid between the fin and blue whale, which has been heard on recordings for decades. The whale has been dubbed "the loneliest whale in the world" because its vocalizations were in a much higher range than any other whale species and researchers never heard a return call. "We never had a visual. We don't know what species it is. We don't know if it has a malformation. Obviously, it's healthy. It's been alive all these years. Is he alone? I don't know," said research team member Mary-Ann Daher. Discovery 

Once again, science tries to make us cry. (And succeeds.)

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