Daily Orbit – Snakes in Space

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 9,556
    9-17-13: On this episode of the Daily Orbit, ESA’s working on a snake robot to explore Mars, comets could have brought life to Earth, and studying a whale’s earwax.

    ESA’s going creepy, crawly for their next Mars mission…


    Facing phobias through someone else’s eyes…


    Waxing away the reasons for whale deaths…


    And getting a “jump-start” on life on today’s Daily Orbit!


    Snakes on a plane are going even higher!  ESA’s looking to send a snake to Mars in order to learn more about the Red Planet.  Now before you go “what?!”  It’s not a real snake but a snake-like robot that could potentially serve as one of the arms of a Mars rover that would detach, crawl independently and explore inaccessible areas of the planet. A smaller, more versatile snake robot could get into tight spots that bulky rovers could not reach—exploring Mars’ secrets hidden in nooks and crannies.  A rover is a powerful energy source and would power the snake-bot and if the rover gets stuck, the snake could coil around a rock and help pull the rover free—a true symbiotic relationship.   A little robot-rover love.  


    And if that last story made you feel like snakes are crawling all over you, you might be phobic.  I know I am.  A phobia can be difficult to overcome but new research out of Stockholm says that watching someone else safely interact with a feared creature or person can help you overcome your fear.  Whether you’re dealing with a fear of heights, small spaces, clowns…they say that this vicarious experience works even better than putting yourself in the feared situation and safely overcoming it.  They explained that safety information is often transferred from other individuals through social forms of learning.  In their experiments with vicarious social learning, they found that this type of learning also prevented the recovery of the fear memory.   Not sure if seeing someone “safely” holding a snake in front of me is going to make me feel “safe” to hold it.


    What is the cosmic recipe for life?  One part icy comet, two parts rocky planet.. mix them together with a big galactic collision and voila—amino acid soufflé.  Ok, maybe not so much, but close.  A team of scientists in the UK have discovered that when an icy comet collides with a rocky planet, or a rocky meteorite with an icy planet, the basic building blocks of life can be created.  They say it explains the “jump-start” of life on Earth that occurred when our planet got bombarded with comets and meteorites some 4.5 to 3.8 billion years ago.  The team recreated the impact of a comet by firing projectiles into typical cometary ice mixtures at high speeds from which amino acids, proteins critical for life, were formed.  They say that similar events could occur or have likely occurred elsewhere in our Solar System.  Sounds so simple when they put like that, doesn’t it?

    And here’s another example of using something simple in science for profound means.  New research out of Texas says that the endangered blue whale species could be saved by its earwax.  Blue whales build up layers upon layers of earwax throughout their lives that form a plug up to a foot long that sticks there until they die.  Gross I know but it’s for the best.  Kind of how it works with tree-ring dating, scientists can look at this plug and find the whale’s age, changes in hormones, and what chemicals they are exposed to in the ocean—providing information about the human impact on these creatures, and what’s killing them off.   At one time blue whales were found in every ocean, they are now down to 8,000 thanks to overhunting.


    That’s so sad, it could drive you to drinking!  But it seems some high schoolers need no excuse!  A team of researchers at the University of Michigan is looking at the prevalence and predictors of high school age binge drinking.  In a study of over 16,000 US high school seniors, over 20% reported binge drinking in the past two weeks—that’s 4 or more drinks in a row for women, and 5 for men.  And then there’s extreme binge drinking: ten and half percent said they consumed 10 or more drinks in a row and over 5.6% consumed 15 or more drinks in row.  Males were worse than females, typical, and kids of college-educated parents were more likely to binge drink but not extreme binge drink.  Extreme binge drinking rates have held steady since 2005 and researchers say we need to develop effective prevention and intervention strategies.  Here would have been my Mama’s strategy—she would have knocked me upside the head and drug my drunk-self out by the ear.


    And that’s it for the Daily Orbit! See you tomorrow!