On Science – The Flight of the Owls

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 10,248
    11-27-13: On this episode of On Science, owl wings could inspire quiet flight technologies, NASA’s VeSpR rocket looks to Venus, and the Goddard Space Flight Center explains how the sun cooks comets.

    Could Venus have once had oceans of water?

    What’s NASA cooking up in the space kitchen?

    That good and the bad news on corals…

    And all the things we're thankful for coming up today…On Science!

    Hello and welcome to On Science.  I’m Emerald Robinson.

    Well, it’s the day before Thanksgiving and we science lovers have a lot to be thankful for.  Like, I’m thankful that nature can inspire scientific innovation.  A team of scientists from Lehigh University is studying owls’ wings to develop quieter aircraft and wind turbines.  Several different owl species have special plumage that pretty much eliminates aerodynamic noise from their wings.  Scientists believe that a combination of stiff feathers along the leading edge of the wing, a flexible fringe at the trailing edge of the wing, and downy material distributed at the wing contribute to their quiet flight.  They say if they can establish how this noise-reduction in owls works, the same mechanics could possibly be applied to aircraft, wind turbines, and underwater naval vessels.  “Who” knew?

    And I’m also thankful for NASA who continues to help us learn more and more about outer space.  Just a week after launching a Mars obiter, NASA has now launched a sounding rocket to observe Venus.  The Venus Spectral Rocket, or VeSpR for short, took off from White Sands, NM.  Like NASA’s MAVEN mission, VeSpR will also be looking into atmospheric loss on Venus.  Though not as complex as the MAVEN mission, the rocket will collect data on the Venusian atmosphere once it clears our own atmosphere. These measurements will give clues about Venus’s water history.  Scientists believe Venus once had oceans worth of water.  VeSpR will observe Venus for only 8 minutes sending back real-time data before it returns back to Earth by parachute.  

    And this Thanksgiving holiday you’re probably trying to figure out the best way to cook your turkey, but NASA is looking at a different kind of recipe.  Animators at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center created this interesting cooking video – “How to Cook a Comet.”  Step 1- sublimation.  Before it even reaches Mars, some 230 million miles away from the sun, the radiation of the sun begins to cook off the frozen water ice directly.  Step 2- if the comet survives sublimation, the intense radiation and pressure closer to the sun could destroy the comet all together.  And that’s the sun’s simple recipe for cooked comet.  Good luck Comet ISON, hopefully you won’t get baked!

    Unfortunately, here’s an environmental woe I’m not thankful for.  A study from Carnegie Mellon University and Harvard says that previous estimates underestimate the true value of U.S. methane emissions—and not by a little!  These researchers put values at double recent EPA estimates.  The study looked at atmospheric methane observations from 2007 and 2008 to improve estimates of methane emissions from human sources like agriculture and fossil fuel drilling and refining.  They found discrepancies with government estimates in several regions but particularly in the south-central US where they found emissions to be 2.7 times greater than the EPA reported.  They hope this new information with help inspire more greenhouse gas reductions strategies.

    And there’re environmental issues under the sea that need attention as well.  One of the longest and largest experiments ever done to look at the effects of pollution on coral reefs showed that it could lead to coral disease and bleaching. The three-year study found that elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorous—common in areas affected by sewage discharge or fertilizers from agriculture-- double the prevalence of disease and tripled the amount of coral bleaching in reefs, a sign of stress.  But here’s the good news.  Researchers found that once the pollutants were controlled, corals recovered in a surprisingly short time.  They’re resilient little buggers.  Researchers say that programs to reduce or eliminate pollution should help restore coral health and that this is actually “very good news!”  And that’s a good note to end today’s show on!

    Well, we here at On Science are very thankful to have you joining us!  Happy Thanksgiving!  Gobble , gobble!