Science Briefs

Men beware: only vote for winners!

Scientists knew that being on the losing team in sports had a negative effect on the amount of testosterone in your body, however it now appears that voting for a losing political candidate has the same effect.

A joint study between Duke University and the University of Michigan examined saliva swabs from 163 men before and after the 2008 American presidential election. They found that while the testosterone levels of individuals who voted for now-president Barack Obama remained stable, John McCain’s supporters experienced a drop.

Testosterone — the male sex hormone — is linked to aggression, risk-taking and threat response. The scientists who performed the study suggested that the response to winning or loosing may give winners the edge they need to keep on succeeding while simultaneously encouraging losers to go with the flow, perhaps to prevent further injury.

The researchers noted that this drop in testosterone has only been monitored in people who have a direct influence on the outcome of a contest, such as a player or voter, but might also exist in spectators, who support one side over another.

The hormone levels of women swabbed for the presidential election study showed no change, regardless of which candidate they voted for.

Sitting too close to the TV does not hurt your eyes

Much to your mother’s chagrin, according to an article appearing in Scientific American (Jan. 27, 2010) you can’t sit too close to the TV.

Apparently the controversy regarding safe distances from televisions was created by a GE television from the 1960s, which emitted 100,000 times the amount of radiation deemed safe by regulatory bodies. The model was quickly recalled and repaired, however the stigma stuck.
Interestingly, children who sit strangely close to televisions may actually be advertising to their parents that they might be nearsighted, and could be an indication that a trip to the optometrist is in order.

The author of the article, while dispelling the myth that proximity to televisions is a cause for concern, points out that more than four hours spent sitting in front of a TV per day can increase a child’s risk of becoming overweight.

Still no purple dinosaurs

If you were approached by a wide-eyed youngster and asked the question, “What colour were dinosaurs?” you would probably be at a loss for an answer. However, if that same whippersnapper asked Michael Benton of the University of Bristol in the UK, he might just get that answer thanks to some new discoveries in the field of paleontology published online in the Journal Nature on Jan. 27.

Because almost everything we know about dinosaurs comes from fossilized bones, we know an awful lot about what dinosaurs probably looked like, structurally speaking, but we know almost nothing about the finer details, such as colouring or anatomy, since body parts like skin and organs do not fossilize well.

Pigment cells in structures such as skin, fur and feathers get their colouring from organelles called melanosomes, which contain melanin. Differently coloured melanosome structures contain differently shaped forms of melanin, which Benton and his team think they have identified using the fossilized remains of a dinosaur and a bird from the cretaceous period, the age of the dinosaurs.

The melanosomes were observed in fossilized bristles, which ran from the head to the tail on a very small two-legged dinosaur called Sinosauropteryx. The bristles — thought by some paleontologists to be an example of simple feathers — contained melanin structures corresponding to black-grey and reddish-brown colours. Interpreting a lack of melanin in a bristle to indicate white, Benton postulates that Sinosauropteryx might have had reddish-brown and white stripes running from head to tail.

Diamonds, in space!

Any sane person, at one point in their life, has dreamed of jumping into a swimming pool filled with diamonds. Accomplishing this goal, until now, has remained a thoroughly impossible feat, unless your last name is De Beers. However, according to J.H. Eggert of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, living your dream might be as simple as flying to Uranus or Neptune.

It might surprise you to know that diamonds can melt, but not until they reach a scorching 3,547 C. And even if you can find a way to heat a diamond to such an extreme, odds are it will just convert to graphite, a chemically identical but structurally dissimilar material.

Using lasers and pressures reaching 40 million times what you would experience at sea level on Earth, Eggert and his team successfully liquefied a small one half-carat diamond. Not satisfied with simply liquefying the diamond, the researchers then gradually reduced the pressure and temperature, and that’s when something weird happened.

When the pressure was reduced to a paltry 11 million times that of Earth, with the temperature settling at about 50,000 C, some of the liquid diamond solidified and began floating on top of the liquid diamond, like ice in a glass.

On its own this might not sound interesting, until you consider the fact that most matter in a solid state is more dense than if it were a liquid. One of the only other molecules that we know is less dense as a solid is water, which is why ice floats.

So what does this have to do with Neptune and Uranus? We know that up to 10 per cent of these planets is carbon (the element making up diamond) and through observations of these two gas giants we know that something is causing their magnetic poles to be distorted. It has been suggested that this “something” might be oceans of liquid diamond, peppered with massive iceberg-like diamonds floating on the surface, just waiting to show that Hope Diamond who’s boss.

Even after failing, Mars rover exceeds expectations

Before you call someone an overachiever, it might be prudent to compare him or her to the Mars rover, Spirit, which has spent the past six years sending us information about our rust-coloured neighbour for nearly five years and nine months longer than its mission was expected to last.
Unfortunately, in April 2009 the Spirit rover, while exploring the Troy crater on the planet’s southern hemisphere, broke through the crusty surface, and found itself wheels-deep in sand, from which it has been unable to escape, despite the best efforts of NASA.

The final effort to unstick the plucky 180-kg, six-wheeled explorer resulted in a failure of its right rear wheel. Coupled with a failure of the rover’s right front wheel soon after landing planet side, NASA now feels like the odds of Spirit ever removing itself from the sand are slim, at best.
Without the ability to move, Spirit cannot remove dust from its solar panels, and will start to lose power as the martian dust builds up on their surface, eventually failing completely. NASA estimates this could happen in as few as 90 days.

However, as one final insult to underachievers everywhere, while spinning its wheels Spirit unearthed sulphates, which are signs of ancient underwater hydrothermal vents, and a great place to start searching for signs