SETI bioastro: New Scientist Newsletter 22 Apr 2000

From: Larry Klaes (
Date: Thu Apr 20 2000 - 06:17:13 PDT

Date: Thu, 20 Apr 2000 14:13:11 +0100
Subject: New Scientist Newsletter 22 Apr 2000

No 30 22 April 2000

Welcome to your weekly digest of stories and snippets from New Scientist.

What with bird-watching and cookery classes, NASA has had a busy week...


A hovering hummingbird dips in and out of a deep flower with its long bill,
extracting nectar in a fleeting visit. Now the touch-and-go techniques of
this small bird have inspired a NASA mission to check out comets. A space
probe will be equipped with dangling tethers and will use "bump sampling"
strategies to dig deep into the very core of a comet. The space agency hopes
its Hummingbird will capture deep-frozen material left over from the big
bang. "What I think is the most interesting question to answer is the
relationships of comets to material that ended up on the early Earth and
took part in the origin of life," says Glenn Carle of the Ames Research
Center in Moffett Field, California.


What do Martians eat? Stir-fries, soups and sandwiches, it seems. NASA is
making great strides with its menu for a 1000-day mission to Mars. A team
led by Jean Hunter of Cornell University has spent two years concocting 200
recipes from plants which can all be grown in a hydroponic greenhouse on the
Red Planet. So far NASA's black bean chilli has gone down well with
volunteers. "I thought the food was delicious," says Elizabeth Babcock
Woodring. Find out what other gastronomic delights the space agency has got
up its sleeve...


Add sugar to sewage and what do you get? An electric socket, according to
Gregory Zeikus. With a little manipulation and some glucose, the Michigan
biochemist has been able to turn common bacteria into tiny powerhouses. This
may mean that astronauts will one day be able to use their spacecraft's
septic tank to keep in touch with ground control. New Scientist takes a look
at the sugar-fed biofuel cell, which could also end up powering pacemakers,
insulin pumps and prostheses.



"Students shouldn't be required to believe scientific theories. They're
something you learn about, but you don't have to believe them." Tom Willis
was an atheist who trained in the hard sciences. So how did he become one of
America's leading creation scientists? We talk to the man who wrote the new
school science curriculum standards that were adopted in Kansas last August,
which omits all references to evolution and the big bang.


Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, a
California-based group that supports the teaching of evolution, believes
that the appeal of creationism lies in its ability to give people a sense of
purpose. "People don't care about good or bad science, but they do care
whether their life means something," Scott says. For whatever reasons,
creation science is alive and kicking, especially in the US. At the moment
47 per cent of Americans believe that humans did not evolve, but were
created by God a few thousand years ago, and nearly a third believe that
creationism should be taught in science lessons. We take a close look at a
movement which is thriving in one of the world's leading scientific nations.


>From creationist tomes to biology textbooks, evolution has spawned many
millions of words. Don't miss New Scientist's highly adaptive selection from
the battle of the books...


Meanwhile, six dozy anteaters have been the focus of much attention at the
University of Tasmania. Stewart Nicol placed needle electrodes under the
animals' skin and monitored their vital signs while they slept at different
temperatures. We investigate research which is confusing sleep scientists
and throwing current theories on REM sleep into disarray.


"Just type in 'satellite communications jamming' and you'll be surprised how
many hits you get," says Tim Marceau, head of Space Aggressor Squadron.
Marceau's squadron was set up to look for weak spots in satellite
communications and navigation systems. And it didn't have to look far. By
rummaging around on the Web the team picked up enough information to cobble
together a cheap jammer that could block satellite signals. As Marceau says:
"For very little money and very little sophistication, we found you could
muck up communications."


Are you a prospective father? If so, start reading up about
Djungarian hamsters. Katherine Wynne-Edwards of Queen's University in
Kingston, Ontario, has watched Djungarian males help pull their babies from
the birth canal, lick off the birth membranes, open the baby's airways, then
share a snack of afterbirth with the mother. We take a look at the hormonal
fluctuations which produce such model midwives.


What do you call a normal male fruit fly which doesn't reproduce?
Homosexual? Sexually disoriented? Or bisexual? Find out in this week's
Feedback column how the sex life of Drosophila melanogaster has sparked a
bitter international wrangle.

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