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2018-04-05 Science Illustrated

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GRAVITY NEW SILK ROAD
BIGGEST RAILWAY EVER
AU STR ALI AN
Will we ever understand it?
Today
900°C 1230°C
530°C
Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Evening cool
change will see
temps fall to
1,900°C, with light
rain of rubies.
Heavy, utterly
black cloud cover
and an overcast
day with 0.01% of
usual sunlight.
Warm morning,
with temps rising
to 1,700°C, and
scattered showers
of molten iron.
After a cool start,
clear skies should
see temps rise
by 700°C before
lunch. No rain.
SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM.AU
9 771836 517000
ISSUE #58 $9.99 NZ $10.99
58
Fri
Unstable
conditions bring
thunderstorms and
continent-sized
lightning strikes.
CURING
CANCER
FIRST
FLOWERS
ANTARCTIC
ANIMALS
No longer a dream, but
still a hard fight ahead
How a new kind of
plant remade the world
Extreme conditions,
extreme solutions
EDITORIAL
Issue #58 (5th April 2018)
EDITORIAL
Editor Anthony Fordham
afordham@nextmedia.com.au
DESIGN
Art Director Malcolm Campbell
ADVERTISING ENQUIRIES
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ph: 02 9901 6151
Production Manager Peter Ryman
Circulation Director Carole Jones
INTERNATIONAL EDITION
Editor-in-Chief Sebastian Relster
International Editor Lotte Juul Nielsen
BONNIER INTERNATIONAL
MAGAZINES
International Licensing Director
Julie Smartz
Art Director Hanne Bo
Picture Editors Allan Baggesø,
Lisbeth Brünnich, Peter Eberhardt
NEXTMEDIA
Chief Executive Officer David Gardiner
Commercial Director Bruce Duncan
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or nextmedia Pty Ltd. ISSN 1836-5175.
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THE SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED CREDO
We share with our readers a fascination
with science, technology, nature, culture
and archaeology, and believe that through
education about our past, present and future,
we can make the world a better place.
Cancer Won’t Be the Last of Our Problems
F
or the last few decades
at least, the phrase “a
cure for cancer” has, in
many ways, stood for more
than just ending this terrible
side-effect of being a multicelled organism.
In some respects, “cure
for cancer” is code for humans gaining final and
ultimate control over our own biology. In the
sense of us defeating the last great killer.
We beat the beasts. We beat the elements.
We beat the bacteria and the viruses. To a large
extent, we’ve even beaten those loaded genetic
dice that lead to terrible congenital conditions.
And in the years ahead, if the latest research
and tests go well, we’ll have beaten our own cells’
propensity to occasionally go nuts and replicate
out of control.
Unfortunately, this list of achievements makes
something really clear. Every time we “win”
against something that kills us, something newer
and even harder adds itself to the top of the list.
It’s hard to imagine, but for people living
anything more than about 100 years ago, cancer
was barely a thing.
Sure, people died of it. But you had to survive
bacterial and viral infection first. And war,
of course. Malnutrition. And all the other
things that contributed to the vastly lower life
expectancy of the past.
And if you did manage to live to 83 in, say,
1876 and then died of cancer, you were still
celebrated as someone who lived a notably long
life. Dying of cancer at 83 was an achievement,
not a tragedy.
Each time we defeat a whole class of killer micro-organisms being the classic example - we
extend our life expectancy, and allow harder and
more insidious diseases a chance to become “the
biggest killer” in turn.
In the mid- to late-20th-century we became so
good at medicine that people started being able to
die of “lifestyle diseases”. For thousands of years,
death from complications due to obesity used to
be something that could only kill a king. Half of
the really bad drugs only exist because medical
research invented them. Type II Diabetes? How
many people living in 18th century rural Europe
could even find the calories necessary to develop
such a condition?
The curing of cancer - or rather, the
understanding and management of the wide
range of conditions that cause cell replication to
go haywire - is already well underway. Many
cancers are already downgraded to something
you live with, rather than die from. Survival
rates for childhood cancers are incredible, from
almost-certain-death in 1900 to almost-certainrecovery in 2000.
So what gets us next? Curing cancer in the
young will be a good thing, just as eradicating
smallpox and creating reliable defences (many not
even medical) against most other diseases has been
key to creating the world we take for granted.
But if reducing all forms of cancer to a health
condition no more serious than a bad infection
doubles our life-expectancy again - as antibiotics,
sewerage, and nutrition did over the last 200
years - we’re going to have to face a fact that’s
been staring us down for a while now.
At 80 years old, your “lifetime risk” of
developing Alzheimer’s is 14%. At 85 years old
it’s 19.3%. At 90, it’s 30.8%. And if you live to 95,
there’s a 50% chance you have some form of
Alzheimer’s. That’s a flip of a coin.
The cause and pathology of Alzheimer’s
and dementia isn’t yet fully understood, but
given how much harder “curing cancer” has
been compared to, say, developing antibiotics...
the next war against disease isn’t going to be
straightforward, or short.
But we’ll still win.
Anthony Fordham
afordham@nextmedia.com.au
THINGS WE LEARNED IN THIS ISSUE
+ If you evolve TEETH ON YOUR TEETH you can
really do well in Antarctica.
+ The elusive CURE FOR CANCER might not be as far
off as we think.
+ The building of a new SILK ROAD will change how
Europe trades with China, forever.
+ On other worlds, the weather is BEYOND INSANE
especially the rain (rubies, or molten iron?!).
+ Gravity remains science’s GREATEST MYSTERY and
we still don’t know how it fits with everything else.
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
3
CONTENTS
ISSUE #58
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED AUSTRALIAN EDITION
PUBLISHED 5TH APRIL 2018
36
CLOSING ON A CURE FOR CANCER
Cancer isn’t a single disease, so has no simple
cure. But our understanding has reached a
new tipping point, and hope is rekindled...
62
THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF BITCOIN
When it comes to cryptocurrency, you either
get it or you don’t. Bitcoin continues to evolve,
without a plan, without a leader. Here’s how.
28
COVER
STORY
CRAZY SPACE WEATHER
Other worlds may not have a climate
quite as nice as Earth. Not nice, as in,
raining glass or molten iron. Find out
why (and how) this can be possible.
4
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
REGULARS
AND OTHER
FEATURES
48 58
WHAT’S UP WITH GRAVITY?
Gravity is predictable in its effects, but we
still don’t know exactly how or why it works.
It’s arguably science’s greatest mystery.
6
MEGAPIXEL
Neutrino cubes and killer kitties.
BUILDING A NEW SILK ROAD
Want to ship something from China to Budapest
really fast? You need to go by ship. That is, until
China completes the biggest railway ever built.
10
SCIENCE UPDATE
All the new science that’s fit to be
reported (including weird dinosaurs).
18
ASK US
How does the ISS get fresh water? Can
drills make volcanoes erupt? And more!
66 72
ANIMALS OF ANTARCTICA
Despite frigid and hostile conditions, coastal
Antarctica is full of animals. Here’s how they
survive blistering winds and, of course, the ice.
FLOWERS MADE YOU (SORT OF)
Why flowering plants were an evolutionary
innovation arguably more significant to us than
the death of the dinosaurs.
78
INSTANT EXPERT: CLIMATE ZONES
Become knowledgeable about how
climate works on a planetary scale!
80
TRIVIA
Melt your brain with awesome facts!
82
BIODIVERSITY
What if a tree frog hated trees?
SUBSCRIBE
70
NOW!
Get Australian Science
Illustrated delivered to
your door and save $$$!
scienceillustrated.com.au
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5
MEGAPIXEL
PA R T I C L E P H Y S I C S
Cubes Will Capture
Massless Particles
Neutrinos are some of the most abundant
elementary particles in the universe, but they
are also very difficult to detect, as they have no mass
(or a maybe a strange kind of very small mass,
according to newer theories). Neutrinos can be
captured in large tanks such as the two under
construction at CERN. The cubes will be filled with
argon and cooled to -184 °C. These 12 x 12 m tanks
are just the forerunners of the more extensive
experiment called DUNE, which will search for
neutrinos in a tanks 20 times bigger, from 2026.
CERN
Photo // Maximilien Brice
6
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
MEGAPIXEL
8
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
P R E DAT O R S
WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR
Bold Lions Take
A Huge Mouthful
Lions normally refrain from attacking giraffes,
as a giraffe kick can be deadly to them. So,
photographer Michael Cohen knows that he is
witnessing an unusual incident when a fully-grown
male giraffe is galloping towards him with two lions
in full pursuit. One lion runs in front of the prey to
prevent the large animal from widening the gap, and
the other one sinks its teeth into the hind leg. The
unexpected attack makes the giraffe lose its balance,
and then, the struggle is soon over. It's a reminder
that lions are not "lazy", but can be deadly hunters.
Photo // Michael Cohen
Science Update
REACTOR CORE
Small Nuclear Reactors To
Supply Mars With Power
Lack of energy is one of the major obstacles for a colony on Mars.
NASA will now test nuclear reactors that will solve the problem.
TECHNOLOGY Five small nuclear reactors are to make
the dream of a colony on Mars come true. Each of them can
generate 1-10 kilowatts of power continuously over a period
of 10+ years – enough for such a colony's light, heat, and
technical equipment. The unit is called KRUSTY - the
Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology.
It uses fission, which is also used in nuclear power plants,
in which thermal energy from nuclear fission is converted
into power. But nuclear power plants are large and
complex, so engineers from NASA’s Glenn Research Centre
in Cleveland have developed a more simple, miniature
fission generator involving self-regulating, stable nuclear
fission. The generator is the size of a rubbish bin and the
reactor core itself is something like a roll of kitchen paper.
Heat from the core drives pistons which spin a motor - a
Stirling Engine. Stirling Engines usually run on heat from
steam or the sun, but a chunk of hot radioactive metal
can work just as well on frigid Mars.
The advantage of a nuclear reactor over, for instance,
solar panels, is that it is sturdy and independent of its
surroundings. Those qualities are important on Mars, as
large regions are dark, and prolonged dust storms block
out the sunlight.
A Mars mission including a Kilopower reactor could
land anywhere – also in the dark, northern regions, where
there might be ice (for water supply) and signs of life.
TSUNAMI KILLED MAN
6,000 YEARS AGO
This skull might have
belonged to the world’s first
victim of a killer wave.
Scientists studying the
geological layers, in which
the 6,000-year-old skull was
discovered on a river bank in
Papua New Guinea, 12 km off
the coast, found microorganisms from the deep ocean
floor, which only a monster wave
could have brought along.
ARTHUR DURBAND
THE LATEST
FINDINGS AND
DISCOVERIES
COOLING PANELS
Editor: Jakob Mikael Espersen
Radioactive Material Lets
Heat Loose In Reactor
A radioactive core emits heat into a reactor, in which motors convert the heat into
power. In the future, the small power
plant is to supply a Martian base.
COOLING PANELS
5 RECEIVE
surplus heat from the motors.
The panels unfold like an umbrella,
once the reactor is placed on Mars.
reactors,
heart of the nuclear
A uranium core is the er a Martian base.
pow
to
which are
PISTONS MOVE UP
4 AND DOWN MOTORS,
A CORE OF RADIOACTIVE
1 URANIUM FISSURES,
emitting heat, when a control rod
made of hard mineral is extracted
from the core. The rod remains stuck
in the core, until the reactor is placed
on Mars.
when the heat enters them,
generating mechanical energy,
which the motors convert into
electric energy for the Mars colony.
PIPES WITH LIQUID
3 SODIUM DIRECT THE HEAT
BERYLLIUM RINGS
2 REGULATE,
MIKKEL JUUL JENSEN
from the nuclear fission to the motors
– without the use of pumps. The lack
of a pumping system means that the
reactor is more reliable.
how quickly the reactor's atomic
core fissures, so the other parts
of the reactor can keep up.
NASA
CONTROL ROD
Bats have the codes for SARS epidemic
ALAMY/IMAGESELECT
MEDICINE Since 2002, scientists have been virus exist in the horseshoe bats from the
Yunnan Province.
searching for the host animal behind the SARS
One of the populations with virus ingredients
epidemic that killed 800 people globally over a
for triggering a new SARS epidemic lives only 1
period of two years and made many more ill.
km from the closest village, and the
According to Chinese scientists
SARS causes flu
risk of a new outbreak is evident, the
Shi Zheng-Li and Cui Jie from the
symptoms such as
scientists warn.
Wuhan Institute of Virology, the
coughing and fever. In
The first case registered when
culprit is a population of horse-shoe
10-20 % of the cases,
the
SARS virus broke out, was in the
bats discovered in a cave in the
the virus is fatal.
city of Guangdong – 1,000 km from
Yunnan Province.
the caves, where the scientists discovered bats
Over five years, scientists took samples
with the building blocks of the disease.
from bat guano. Studies showed that the bats
Consequently, the team behind the study
carry versions of the SARS virus which are very
believes that there must be more bat
much like the one that claimed human lives in
populations that have virus codes. The
the early 2000s. By sequencing the genes of 15
scientists continue to search for hosts, so the
different viruses, the scientists learned that all
world can avoid another outbreak.
the building blocks of the human version of the
Horseshoe bats from the Yunnan Province in
China carry versions of the SARS virus and
could trigger a new epidemic.
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
11
S C I E N C E U P DAT E
SHUTTERSTOCK
BY THE WAY · Dinosaurs
ARMOURED FOSSIL
Canadian palaeontologists have found a very wellpreserved nodosaurus – a 1,270 kg herbivore that
lived 110 million years ago. Apart from the almost
complete armour, scientists also found remains of
stomach contents, that will be examined.
Under the lakes of the Yellowstone national park in the US, there is liquid
magma, which might at some point cause a super-eruption.
Super-Eruption Takes Place
More Often Than Estimated
ROYAL TYRRELL MUSEUM OF PALAEONTOLOGY
AND TALKING OF DINO DISCOVERIES ...
TICKS FEASTED ON
DINOSAUR BLOOD
Like humans, the huge
prehistoric creatures had to
put up with blood-sucking ticks.
Palaeontologists from the Oxford
University Museum of Natural
History in England have found
99-million-year-old lumps of amber
including ticks. In one of the lumps,
the tick is stuck on a dinosaur feather.
ENRIQUE PEÑALVER/MUSEO GEOMINERO
HERBIVORES CONSUMED
CRUSTACEANS
Some herbivores found it difficult to remain vegetarians. A
new analysis of fossilised dinosaur
excrements has revealed remains of
crustaceans. According to palaeontologists, egg-laying, plant-eating,
prehistoric behemoths might have
eaten the crustaceans as a protein
source during the mating season.
SHUTTERSTOCK
12
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
LIU ET AL.
DINOSAUR FLEW LIKE A
WOODPECKER
Chinese scientists have
compared the wings of a
126-million-year-old fossil to
modern birds. The study shows
that the creature flew like small
birds such as woodpeckers. It
flapped its wings rapidly, folding
them along its body and darting
through the air like a missile.
GEOLOGY Volcanoes make up
a geological threat that could be
destructive on a global scale. In
case of a super-eruption, 1,000
gigatonnes of volcanic material
would be ejected, burying
continents under ash. Material
will also rise into the air and
potentially alter global weather
systems for decades.
Scientists from the University
of Bristol have gone through
geological data to find out how
often super-eruptions have taken
place. The frequency of the
major eruptions is higher than
volcanologists used to think.
“The previous estimate from
2004 was that super-eruptions
took place at intervals of 45,000714,000 years – longer than our
modern civilisation has existed.
But according to our
calculations, it was rather at
intervals of 5,200-48,000 years –
with 17,000 years being the
typical frequency,” says statistics
professor Jonathan Rougier.
The two most recent supereruptions took place 20,000 and
30,000 years ago. So, we have
been lucky, the scientists think.
However, they also emphasise
that nature is hard to predict
precisely, when it comes to
volcanic eruptions. So a supereruption could be imminent... or
it could still be thousands of years
away. Let's hope for the latter.
According to the scientists,
the calculation methods are also
to be used to learn more about
other geological threats such as
earthquakes in the future.
17,000
years is the period between volcanic
super-eruptions, according to scientists.
Still, 20,000 years have passed since the
most recent such eruption.
S C I E N C E U P DAT E
By collecting eggs and sperm cells from spawning corals in a lab,
scientists can produce large quantities of larvae. When the larvae
are placed on a dying reef, new corals develop.
MEDICINE A major weakness
of existing cancer detection tools
is that tumours often manage to
grow to harmful sizes, before they
can be seen in scans.
If you spot cancer cell division
early, the odds of curing the
disease are much higher.
Scientists from Rutgers
University in the US, have
developed nanoparticles that can
accurately trace and identify
tumours at an early stage –
months before the cancer would
materialise in ordinary screening.
Nanoparticles which emit
infrared light are injected. The
particles are designed to stick to
specific types of cancer cells. By
reading the light from the
nanoparticles, scientists can trace
any cancer in the body.
So far, the method has been
tested on mice, in several of
which the scientists were able to
spot early breast cancer.
But that was not all. In the
experiment, the scientists could
observe the spread of cancer cells
to other places in the animals’
bodies – as it was happening.
“We always dreamed of being
able to trace the development of
cancer in real time, and that is
what we have done,” says
Prabhas V. Moghe, who coauthored the study.
The results are so promising
that, according to the scientists,
the new method could already be
ready to be used on humans
within a period of five years.
SCIENTISTS
COLLECT
30 colonies of
15-20-cm-large
corals which are
ready to spawn
(orange and pink),
placing them in
separate basins.
1
THE CORALS SPAWN
2 at night, when scientists
harvest large portions of egg
and sperm cells. The coral
larvae hatch in another basin.
14
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
protect the larvae for five days,
until they have gained a
proper foothold.
EIGHT MONTHS LATER,
4 the corals have
reproduced. New microscopic
corals have started to grow on
the damaged reef.
Coral Reefs Revived
In Large Incubators
A new method is to revive the world’s coral reefs
by combining lab-grown larvae with dying corals.
ALFRED PASIEKA/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Nanoparticles travelling
through the blood stream to
observe the spread of cancer cells.
LARVAE ARE PLACED on
3 the damaged reef. Nets
NATURE Once a year, corals breed. Right
after full moon and in the middle of the night,
millions of small, orange-red bubbles rise from
the ocean floor like “snow”. The bubbles are
lumps of sperm and egg cells from corals,
which are hermaphrodites. At the ocean
surface, the lumps disintegrate, and eggs and
cells from different colonies get together.
However, such "parties" are getting less
intense, as the world’s coral reefs suffer
due to climate change, ocean acidification,
and fishing. More than 60 % of the coral
reefs are either damaged or endangered.
So, scientists are working on boosting
reproduction. At the Great Barrier Reef off
Heron Island, Australia, marine biologist
Peter Harrison from the Southern Cross
University has helped new generations of
corals along for the first time by means of a
new method that could assist endangered
coral reefs through-out the world.
In the lab, the scientist bred millions of
coral larvae. Instead of making them grow
more in the lab, he placed them directly on
the reef in a giant incubator – a 100 m2 net
that held the larvae in place, until they
settled onto the dead corals.
Scientists plan to use an even bigger net
at some point, as the reefs stretch more
than 344,000 km2.
GARY CRANITCH/QUEENSLAND MUSEUM
Marine Biologists Mass-Produce Coral Larvae
Nanoparticles
Spot Cancer
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S C I E N C E U P DAT E
title, scientists first had to analyse collected versions
of the fish. This has now been done, and the title has
been claimed. Recently, a Japanese deep sea
mission filmed a group of snailfish swimming about
at a depth of 8,178 m in the Mariana Trench, and
that is the new official world record.
Although the deepest place of the ocean
reaches almost another 3 km into the abyss, it
is, according to marine biologists, unlikely that
we will ever spot fish at much lower depths than
the Mariana snailfish. This is due to the fact that
the pressure is so intense that the fish will be
unable to preserve the chemical compounds
such as proteins inside their bodies.
SNAILFISH TOLERATES
INTENSE PRESSURE
Name: Pseudoliparis swirei.
Observed depth: 8,178 m.
500 m deeper than the
previous record holder.
Water pressure on the fish:
Equivalent to the weight of
an entire African elephant
on your thumb.
A magnetic field around the skull
can direct power through the brain,
eliminating voices.
MACKENZIE GERRINGER/UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
ZOOLOGY Only twice as long as a cigar and
equipped with wafer thin skin, so you can see its
liver from the outside. The fish that lives at the
lowest ocean depths does not look very tough
nor able to resist the huge water pressure at
depths of 8,000+ m.
Nevertheless the fish, Pseudoliparis swirei –
also known as the Mariana snailfish – has now
officially been named the world's deepest fish,
after scientists took a closer look at it and
named the species based on specimens collected
in the Mariana Trench.
The fish was originally spotted at unbelievable
depths back in 2014, when it unofficially beat the
previous record holder, which is
also a snailfish.
In order to give the new
snailfish an official name and a
UNIVERSITÉ DE CAEN NORMANDIE
Ghost fish is the best diver
A fish has been observed at a depth of 8,178 m in the Mariana Trench.
It is now officially the world's deepest-swimming fish.
SHOOTING STAR · The Milky Way
NASA/ESA
Milky Way Interior Swarms With Stars
For more than nine years, astronomers have been studying 10,000 stars near the centre of the
Milky Way to find out how the galaxy formed. This image created based on the Hubble
telescope’s archive shows that the galaxy's interior is packed with huge, old, red stars, smaller
white stars, and small, young, blue stars.
16
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
Gentle Current
Silences Intrusive Voices
BRAIN To schizophrenics,
distracting voices inside their
heads are often an ordinary
symptom, which causes severe
problems, but scientists from
the University of Caen in France
may have found a way to
silence the voices.
The scientists have shown
that the voices disappear, if
patient brains are subjected to
transcranial magnetic
stimulation (TMS).
The method involves
sending an electric current
through selected places in the
brain by producing a magnetic
field around the skull.
In the experiment, 59
patients first answered
questions about the voices
inside their heads – such as
how often they occur and if the
voices seem to come from the
outside or inside of the head.
Based on the answers, the test
subjects were given a
hallucination score.
The participants were
randomly divided into groups.
Some got the treatment, others
just a placebo.
Of the test subjects who
were given the proper
treatment, 35% experienced a
marked improvement, whereas
only 9% of the control group
heard fewer voices inside their
heads. Scientists now aim to
find out if the method can help
the patients in the longer term.
3D Printed Bacteria
Purify Water Of Toxins
HOW THE 3D PRINTER
PRINTS BACTERIA
First, the scientists select the bacteria
that they wish to use. 1 The bacteria are
nourished and propagated in jars. 2
Hydrogel is added to the bacteria to
produce ink. 3 The 3D printer prints the
ink in the required shape.
1
Scientists in Switzerland have developed a new printing
material that includes living bacteria. The material can be
used to print small, biochemical purification plants.
TECHNOLOGY Materials researchers
from the ETH Zürich institute of
technology have developed a living
3D-printing media known as Flink. The
scientists mixed bacteria and nutrients
with hydrogel – a type of jelly – which
keeps everything together.
Using the material, they can print 3D
structures of any shape and equip the
structure with up to four different
bacteria at a time and brand new
characteristics.
In an experiment, the scientists
demonstrated two different ways of
using the material. They printed a small
net with bacteria which can break down
phenol, a toxin in pesticides, which
threatens streams and lakes. It is
already common to make bacteria break
down phenol – and other chemical
pollution – but weaknesses are
involved: It is difficult to keep track of
where the bacteria are in the water, and
the bacteria need energy in the shape of
nutrients which do not always exist
where they are placed.
With the new printing material, a
reusable net of bacteria can be placed in
the water, and the bacteria even bring
their own food.
The scientists also printed a
customised patch using a bacterium,
which produces wound-healing cellulose.
Instead of flat patches, which are
inconvenient on elbows and heads, the
printer can use Flink to get the right fit.
2
3
3D PRINTED
BACTERIA
MANUEL SCHAFFNER/PATRICK A. RÜHS
OIL-REMOVING
BACTERIA
3D printed rings light up, as
they include active bacteria,
which produce cellulose.
A 3D printed mould with bacteria
removes oil. The method can be used
in connection with oil spills.
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
17
S C I E N C E U P DAT E
337 km/h
top "take it easy" speed obtained by the Bloodhound racer
in a test. The jet car aims to break 1,600 km/h in 2020.
ESA/NASA
SHOOTING STAR – a cosmic knot
Two galaxies collide with each other into a cosmic knot 250 light years from Earth. In
the collision, gas clouds are compressed, causing a blue tail of star formations. In four
billion years, our own Milky Way will suffer the same fate, according to NASA.
SHUTTERSTOCK
The Hubble Telescope Observes
The Fusion Of Two Galaxies
FEAR OF CREEPYCRAWLIES IS INNATE
Evolution taught us to
be wary of venomous
animals, according to
German and Swedish brain
researchers. In an
experiment with 48 sixmonth-old kids, the
scientists showed that the
babies’ pupils expanded
due to stress at the sight of
snakes and spiders. The
babies did not react to fish
and flowers.
UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER
T. Rex Ancestor
Roamed Africa
ARCHAEOLOGY Footprints 57-cm-long and
0.5-m -wide, from an unknown dinosaur were
discovered in Lesotho by palaeontologists from
the University of Manchester.
Based on the size of and the distance
between the prints, the dinosaur is believed to
have been 3 m tall at the hips and 9 m long,
making it one of the largest that ever roamed
Africa. The dinosaur, Kayentapus ambrokholohali, was a theropod – the same as
Tyrannosaurus rex and modern birds.
It lived about 200 million years ago – 30
million years after the first dinosaurs emerged.
The latter were the size of Labradors, and so,
the discovery indicates that the prehistoric
animals grew tremendously over a short
period of time.
18
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
FOOTPRINTS
1m
Based on the size of the footprints,
scientists estimate that the African
T. rex ancestor was 9 m long.
ASTRONOMY Usually, a star
dies, when it explodes into a
supernova. But for the first time
ever, astronomers have observed
a star – which has been named
iPTF14hls – explode several
times over a period of 50 years.
Plant Halts
Ageing
MEDICINE A new experiment
proves that we can all add at
least 15 years to our lives, if we
eat more wasabi.
With 83.7 years, the Japanese
have the longest life expectancy
in the world. And a new
experiment carried out by John
Happer from the Las Vegas
Medicine Institute in the US may
have revealed the reason for
their longevity.
Happer studied nine people
and found out that the cells of
the four, who ate a lot of the
Japanese wasabi plant, showed
fewer signs of ageing than the
cells of the test subjects, who
only consumed a little.
The sensational results,
which have just been published
on Happer’s website, mean that
we can add more than 15 years
to our lives.
According to a US experiment, paralysed people can grow nerve
links, making electrodes in the spinal cord superfluous over time.
MEDICINE Andrew Meas is a
sensation. The 38-year-old American
became paralysed in his lower body
following a motorbike accident in
2007. Four years later, an implant
was placed in his spinal cord, which
can activate the muscles of his legs
by means of electric signals.
Following long, intense training,
Andrew Meas can now deactivate the
implant, bend his knees, and stand
for a few minutes.
Normally, spinal cord injury
cannot heal, once a year has passed
since the accident. However,
scientists think that Andrew Meas is
an example that the spinal cord is
plastic and able to grow new nerve
links following intense exercise and
electric stimulation.
When electric signals activate a paralysed
person's muscles, customized impulses from
a small generator control the motion.
Implant with 16
electrodes is placed
in the part of the spinal
cord that controls the
lower body. Electrodes
stimulate nerves linked
with different muscles.
Electrode No. 5 often
affects the hip muscles,
and No. 10 the lower leg
muscles.
1
LANCET
TELOMERE LENGTH
An implanted
2 generator sends
electricity and signals to
the electrodes. Depending
on the reaction of the
patient's body, scientists
can adjust the impulses.
Scientists measure the
muscles' reactions to the
electric stimulation with
electrodes, enabling them to
customise the exercise based on
the signals' effect on the
paralysed person's motions.
3
HENNING DALHOFF
The telomeres – DNA-sequences that
become shorter over time – were 25 %
longer in wasabi eaters.
Andrew Meas’
spinal cord is injured,
but he can stand
without electrode
stimulation.
Implant
Stimulates Motion
With
wasabi
Without
wasabi
Andrew
Meas' back
was injured
here.
REDUX/SCANPIX
Star Refuses
To Die
Paralysed Man Learns
How To Move His Legs
Ask Us
SCIENTISTS ANSWER
QUESTIONS FROM
OUR READERS
How Does The ISS Get
Oxygen And Water?
How do astronauts make resources such as oxygen
and water last until the next supply mission?
At regular intervals, supply modules
are launched to the International
Space Station (ISS). They bring everything that the astronauts need,
including water and oxygen. However,
the ISS's six inhabitants would die of
oxygen deficit between two supply
missions, if recycling systems did not
utilize the water and oxygen aboard
as efficiently as possible.
Astronaut urine is collected and
sent through a system, in which it is
filtered and chemically purified, so it
can be reused as drinking water. And
all the water vapour produced in the
air of the space station is retrieved,
purified, and reused. Vapour from wet
towels, sweat from the gym, and
moist from astronaut exhalation air
also end up in a plant, in which the
water vapour of the air is condensed
and purified. The system makes sure
that about 93 % of the water flown to
the space station is reused.
Water is particularly valuable, as
it is also used to produce oxygen,
which the astronauts inhale. In
electrolysis, water molecules are split
and converted into oxygen and
hydrogen. The oxygen is used in cabin
air, whereas the hydrogen cannot be
used, so it is lost in space.
Oxygen And Water Circulation
Moisture is separated
The ISS’ Environmental Control and Life Support System
recycles almost all liquid and vapour in the cabin air,
so the astronauts can use it over and over again.
1
AIR
CONDENSATION
EXTRACTION
O F WAT E R
FROM AIR
PURE WATER
3
P U R I F I C AT I O N
PLANT
Water vapour in the air
condenses and is purified.
The dry air is "cleaned" of CO2, so
the oxygen content of the air is
the same as at sea level on
Earth – some 21 %.
1
DRY
AIR
DAMP
AIR
PURIFIED
URINE
2
Vapour in the
air turns into
tap water
First, urine and
3 collected vapour pass
through a particle
filter that captures solids.
Then, the liquid is heated
and directed through an ion
exchanger, that removes
unwanted materials
dissolved in the water.
URINE
COLLECTION
ISS
URINE
PURE WATER
Urine becomes pure drinking water
The astronauts’ urine is collected and processed in a special plant.
2 The system can handle a maximum of nine litres a day, which covers
the requirements of the six people aboard the space station at any time.
OXYGEN
Editor: Martin Bernth
TOP 5
Why Do Some People Love
To Watch Pimples Burst?
Online videos of pimples being squeezed are popular. In
spite of the fact that the videos cause disgust in viewers,
many of us find it hard not to look. Disgust is the brain’s
way of telling us that we should distance ourselves from a
potential danger – such as contagious diseases – but
curiosity is another strong incentive in the brain.
According to scientists, the videos might be so popular,
because the brain acts out its
curiosity without any risk of
We love to be scared by
infection. The same
thrillers. The same is true
phenomenon is at work when
for disgusting videos on
we watch thrillers, etc.
the Internet.
Which insect is
the fastest flyer?
STURGIS MCKEEVER/GEORGIA SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY
Astronauts would run out of
water, if the majority were
not reused. The water is also
used to produce new oxygen.
1
SHUTTERSTOCK
2
3
HORSE BOTFLY
Top speed: 145 km/h
The 4-cm-long, biting fly owes
its name to the fact that it loves
to suck horse blood.
BLACK CUTWORM
Top speed: 113 km/h
Scientific name, Agrotis ipsilon,
is due to wing mark-ings resembling the Greek letter Y.
DRAGONFLY
Top speed: 85 km/h
This carnivorous insect uses its
vision to hunt other insects,
capturing its prey in mid-air.
IN SHORT
?
Why do we grow wisdom teeth?
The teeth were our ancestors’ primary
tools for pulverising food. Early humans had
larger jaws than we do, so there was plenty of
room for the wisdom teeth. In modern humans,
the extra set of teeth is not necessary and often a
nuisance. About 35 % of the population do not
grow wisdom teeth.
Water produces
astronaut oxygen
Some of the pure
4 water from the water
purification system passes
through a device that splits
the water into hydrogen
(H2) and oxygen (O2) via
electrolysis. The oxygen is
sent into astronaut cabins
and the hydrogen ends up
in space.
4
5
DEER BOTFLY
Top speed: 80 km/h
As big as a blowfly and very
hairy, this is a parasite, whose
larvae live in deer throats.
ONE-SPOTTED PREPONE
Top speed: 80 km/h
Central and South American
butterfly. The male uses speed
to drive away competitors.
WHY ARE AIR ROUTES CURVED ON MAPS?
The shortest air route between two destinations is curved, as it
is a part of a great circle. Due to Earth’s shape, a straight line
between Sydney and Los Angeles would go underground! As a
plane follows Earth’s curve, the
route is drawn in this way.
4
WAT E R E L E C T R O LY S I S
HYDROGEN
SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK
ASK US
Why Does Water Feel So Cold?
?
HIGH HEAT
CONDUCTIVITY MAKES
MATERIALS COLD
Air: 1
Water: 24
Concrete: 44
Glass: 44
Steel: 1,920
Aluminium: 10,400
Copper: 16,700
Y IMAGES
The higher the heat
conductivity, the colder a
material feels.
DAVID TROOD/GETT
A 15-degree day is cold but not extreme, but
water of the same temperature is almost
unbearable. It's because water’s ability to
conduct heat is greater than that of air,
“stealing” heat faster from the body. The
opposite is also true, if the temperature is
higher than that of the body.
Materials' heat conductivity depends very
much on temperature and on the type of
material. Many metals' conductivity is high, as
electrons are free to transfer the heat rapidly.
In other solids, the heat is primarily transferred
by atomic lattice oscillation.
Water “steals” heat more quickly
from your body than air does.
INSIDE THE BODY
The brain "creates" sound
What is the Doppler Effect?
Sound is an experience that our brains
produce based on tiny pressure
fluctuations in the air. The more
frequent the
fluctuations, the
higher the notes we
hear. The number of
fluctuations is known
as frequency.
The Doppler effect is the change in frequency or
wavelength of a wave for an observer, who is
moving relative to the wave source. A very good
example from everyday life is the way in which the
sound of an ambulance changes as it passes by.
Air is compressed
The ambulance emits sound as
pressure fluctuations in the
air, which is compressed in the
direction in which the car is headed.
1
LOW NOTE
HIGH NOTE
METTE AIRS & SHUTTERSTOCK
The note gets deeper
An observer, from whom the ambulance
2 is moving away, will receive fewer
pressure fluctuations/s than the car emits,
and so, he will hear a deeper note.
22
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
The note gets higher
An observer, to whom the ambulance
3 is coming closer, will receive more
pressure fluctuations than the car emits,
and so, he will hear a higher note.
Catamarans sail faster, when
none of the two hulls touch
the water. The boat’s
daggerboards produce a lift
under the water.
RAISED
DAGGERBOARD
LOWERED
DAGGERBOARD
How Can Catamarans
“Fly” Above The Water?
During sailing races, it is not uncommon to see
catamarans fly above the surface of the water,
sailing a long distance without the two hulls
being in contact with the water. A catamaran
is equipped with daggerboards – a type of
right-angled wings, which reach into the water
under the two hulls. As the catamaran gains
speed, the water is forced to flow around the
wing in such a way that a pressure difference is
produced which is sufficiently significant to
carry the boat’s weight above the water.
The daggerboards, which can be raised and
lowered, are located around the centres of the
two hulls. The aim of the crew is to steer the
catamaran, so the hull avoids contact with the
water surface, if possible. During America’s
Cup, a catamaran can reach speeds of about 50
knots or some 90 km/h.
The top side of the
dagger-board profile is
curved like a plane wing.
The water flows faster on
the top side than on the
lower side of the daggerboard, producing a pressure
difference that lifts the boat.
LOW
PRESSURE
HIGH PRESSURE
How much more paper is produced annually than plastic?
Plastic: In 2016,
the annual plastic
production reached
322 million t. Every year,
about one billion plastic
bags are used globally.
SCALE
NATURALLY WOOD
What makes catamarans able to take off
and fly above the water? And is this at all intentional, when it happens during a race?
WING SHAPE CAUSES
PRESSURE DIFFERENCE
1.26 X
more paper than plastic.
Annual global paper production:
Some 407 million t.
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
23
SHUTTERSTOCK
Annual global plastic production:
Some 322 million t.
Paper: In 2015, a total
of 407 million t of
cardboard and paper were
produced globally. In the
EU, about 75 % of all
paper is recycled.
ASK US
Homeopathy is an alternative type of medical treatment
based on the theory that a diluted substance can cure a
person of symptoms which large doses of the same
substance will cause in a healthy person.
Homeopathy proponents claim that insomnia can
be cured by caffeine, which has been diluted in water.
Onions are also believed to be efficient against hay
fever, as in normal concentrations, it irritates the eye
and nose of healthy people. A homeopathic drug,
Allium cepa, which is extracted from onions, is
consequently used against hay fever, by which the
eyes and nose are irritated. The reputable Cochrane
research database concludes that there is no
documented positive effect of homeopathy.
SHUTTERSTOCK
What is Homeopathy?
Homeopathy has no documented
positive effects, so the treatment is considered to be alternative.
How cold can stars be? Stars come in many sizes and types, and brown dwarfs are so small that they
cannot fuse hydrogen. The coldest ones that scientists know about have a maximum temperature of
- 13° C
WHAT IS THIS?
At low water levels, long
sandy beaches are often
full of small, coiled worms
scattered across the moist
sand. They are sandworm
excrements, or "casts".
The sandworms live in
U-shaped burrows in the
sand. They can grow up to 30 cm
long, but are typically much
smaller.
1
The worms' heads are
located at one end of the
burrow, swallowing sand and
digesting organic material and
tiny creatures located on/in
between sand grains.
2
The sand grains pass
through the worm and out
of its rear end undigested.
Surrounded by a slime layer,
they keep their shapes, until
they dry up or are touched.
DAVID KILBEY/ARDEA/ALL OVER
3
SANDWORM
CASTS
24
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
THE NORTH POLE LE
FT
ANTARCTICA
Based on geological dat
a,
scientists have determine
d
that the magnetic north
pole
was located around Ant
arctica
about 790,000 years ago
. After
a period of 6,000 years,
in
which the magnetic fiel
d was
highly volatile, the north
pole
moved north to its presen
t
location in the Arctic in
just
100 years.
Earth’s magnetic poles
have switched places many
times over time, but during
the past 800,000 years,
they have been stable.
KEN IKEDA MADSEN & SHUTTERSTOCK
MA GNE TIC NOR TH
POL E NOW
100 YEARS
MA GNE TIC NOR TH
POL E BEF ORE
Is it really true that ...
... the Poles Change Places?
Pole Reversal Causes Magnetic Mess
According to scientists’ data, Earth’s magnetic field is weakened
prior to pole reversal, making Earth more exposed to space
radiation. But a computer simulation shows that the magnetic
field never disappears.
G. GLATZMAIER, LANL & P. ROBERTS, UCLA/SPL
The magnetic poles have changed places many
times. Over the past 20 million years, pole
reversal typically took place every 2-300,000
years, but lately, the reversal has been long in
coming. Scientists know that about 786,000
years have passed since the most recent pole
reversal. If it were possible to travel 800,000
years back in time, the red end of the compass
needle would point at the geographic south
pole instead of north.
Earth’s magnetic field is believed to be
produced around the outer core which consists of
molten iron. Due to tiny temperature deviations
in the molten mass, convection currents occur,
which keep the molten iron in constant motion
along with Earth’s rotation. The motion
generates an electric current, which induces a
magnetic field that sets more of the charged iron
moving – a process known as the geodynamo.
In the past 160 years, the magnetic field
has been waning, which could indicate that
pole reversal is coming up. According to
scientists Carlo Laj and Catherine Kissel, it will
be in 500 years.
1
Before pole reversal: The blue and
orange field lines, which illustrate
Earth's magnetic field, all emerge
from one of two poles – as we know it.
2
During pole reversal: The field lines
become chaotic, and several south
and north poles emerge. The magnetic
field wanes, but never disappears.
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
25
ASK US
Can Geothermal Drilling
Make A Volcano Erupt?
Geothermal plants drill hundreds of m into the ground to harvest heat
produced by magma. But is drilling in volcanic areas not risky business?
SHUTTERSTOCK
The utilisation of Earth’s heat as an energy
source requires drilling into Earth’s crust – often
in volcanic areas, where red-hot magma is
located close to the surface. Although it may
sound risky, the drilling has absolutely no effect
on volcanic activity.
One reason is that engineers deliberately
never drill too close to a magma chamber. They
are interested in the warm water located at a
safe distance from the molten rock. The water is
extracted from the ground to release its energy
on the surface either as district heating in
homes or by powering a turbine which
generates electricity.
Another important reason is that the
quantity of thermal energy in the magma is
much larger than the energy that geothermal
plants potentially need to harvest. According to
experts, 47 terawatts are flowing out through
Earth’s crust – partly deriving from the original
heat in Earth’s interior, partly from the decay of
radioactive elements such as uranium, radium,
thorium, and potassium. Today, only 0.009
terawatts are utilised via geothermal methods
globally. According to geologists, the relatively
small quantity of energy utilized has no effect
on volcanic activity. The switch-over to thermal
energy is well under way in several places – such
as Iceland, south-western USA, the Philippines,
Mexico, and Italy. Common to those places is
that the temperature in Earth’s crust rises very
quickly with depth, so the energy is basically easy
to obtain.
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
VAPOUR POWERS
A TURBINE
The evaporated
3 isobutane powers a
turbine at high pressure.
LIQUID EVAPORATES
The hot water is
2 used to make
isobutane evaporate.
Geothermal wells are typically 100 m deep. One of the
world’s deepest drillings (in Iceland) is 3,640 m deep.
ARE MEN POORER AT EXPRESSING
THEMSELVES THAN WOMEN?
Already from the age of 2, girls
develop better language skills than
boys. One reason is that women
use both cerebral hemispheres
for some language tasks,
whereas men only use one.
Experiments have shown that
testosterone seems to restrict
the development of cerebral
language centres.
26
TURBINE
GENERATES POWER
The turbine moves
4 magnets in an
electric coil, which
generates power in a
generator. The power is
distributed to
consumers via the grid.
LANGUAGE CENTRE
HEAT PUMPED UP
Hot water is
1 pumped up
through a well.
TOP 5
Underground water generates power
Most Extreme
Roller-Coasters
Hundreds of metres underground, water is heated by hot
rocks. The scalding hot water is pumped up to generate
power in geothermal power plants.
ALAMY/ALL OVER
VAPOUR IS COOLED
A cooling system
5 condenses the
evaporated isobutane
back into its liquid state.
1
2
3
COLD WATER
4
HOT WATER
CLAUS LUNAU & ALAMY/ALL OVER
COLD WATER
IS REHEATED
The water has
6 released its heat
and is directed back into
the ground to be reheated.
5
FORMULA ROSSA
Ferrari World, UAE
Top speed: 240 km/h
Highest point: 52 m
Inaugurated: 2010
KINGDA KA
Six Flags Great Adventure, USA
Top speed: 206 km/h
Highest point: 139 m
Inaugurated: 2005
TOP THRILL DRAGSTER
Cedar Point, USA
Top speed: 190 km/h
Highest point: 120 m
Inaugurated: 2003
DO-DODONPA
Fuji-Q Highland, Japan
Top speed: 180 km/h
Highest point: 49 m
Inaugurated: 2001
RED FORCE
Ferrari Land, Spain
Top speed: 180 km/h
Highest point: 112 m
Inaugurated: 2017
Does An Antimatter Dimension Exist?
IN SHORT
?
Why are all
airliners white?
CLAUS LUNAU
As passengers leave a large plane in
the airport, it is often a challenge to
keep the aircraft cool. A white plane
body reflects more solar radiation,
keeping the temperature down. The
white colour also protects the
aircraft against UV light, which is
more powerful at high altitudes.
Big Bang theory says equal quantities of matter
and antimatter were produced, as the universe
was born. Antiatoms have the same
characteristics as atoms, only with the opposite
electric charge, hence the name “atomic
reflections”. If matter gets in contact with
antimatter, the two will invalidate each other.
The mystery? Everything that we can
observe in the universe seems to be made of
matter. Antimatter planets, stars, and galaxies
might exist, but most physicists believe that
there must be a tiny difference, which made
antimatter disappear in the young universe.
According to theory, antimatter and matter
ought to be each other’s spitting images.
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
27
S PA C E
PLANETS
New ultrasharp telescopes will help scientists understand:
THE CRAZIEST WEAT
In recent years,
astronomers have
discovered hundreds
of new planets. As
they are located
billions of km from
Earth, scientists
used to know
nothing about them,
but new powerful
telescopes have
spotted enigmatic
worlds, where ruby
clouds and glass
storms might be
as common as a
little light rain
here on Earth.
28
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
MONDAY
TUESDAY
Clouds of rubies
light up the night sky
Pitch-darkness blocks
out the sunlight
Tonight, temps will fall to
1,900 °C, and the sky of
HAT-P-7 b will be scattered
clouds made of ruby.
Pitch-black clouds will give
total coverage, so only 0.01%
of the sunlight reaches the
gas giant TrES-2b.
By Mikkel Meister
HER IN THE UNIVERSE
WEDNESDAY
THURSDAY
FRIDAY
Scattered showers
of iron rain
Temperatures rise by
700 °C in six hours
Severe thunderstorm
with extreme lightning
A warm morning with
temperatures of 1,700 °C
and showers of molten
iron on OGLE-TR-56b.
During the day, the weather
will clear, and temperatures
rise by 700 degrees on the
gas giant HD 80606b.
Tonight, HAT-P-11 b will
see thunderstorms millions
of times more severe than
those on Earth.
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
29
S PA C E
PLANETS
T
he early morning will be cloudy,
possibly with showers of molten
iron. In the afterno on,
temperatures will rise by 700
degrees, and the night is going to
be windy with wind gusts of up to 10,000 km/h.
This is what the weather forecast is like on
some of the planets that scientists have spotted
outside the Solar System in recent decades.
Known as exoplanets, they orbit stars billions
of km from Earth, and for years, astronomers
have been unable to make out much more than
their sizes, weights, and distances to their stars.
But in recent years, a new generation of
sophisticated telescopes have provided
astronomers with new insight into the remote
exoplanets, and armed with new methods,
they can now accurately calculate what the
foreign worlds look like. And with glass storms,
light-absorbing atmospheres, and ruby clouds,
they are nothing like Earth.
EARTH RECORDS
THE MOST RAIN IN 1 HOUR: 305 mm.
22 June 1947 in Holt, Missouri, USA.
HEAVIEST HAILSTONES: 1.02 kg.
14 April 1986 in Gopalganj, Bangladesh.
OGLE-TR-56b
Distance to Earth: 4,900 light years
Discovered: 2002
Type: Gas planet
Space weather forecasts
Astronomers have discovered some 3,500
planets that orbit distant stars, but bearing the
immense cosmic distances in mind, existing
technologies will not allow us to land a
spacecraft on a remote planet in the next
couple of decades nor will a telescope be able to
take direct pictures of the worlds. So,
astronomers have found new ways to find out,
whether the worlds are similar to Solar System
planets concerning make-up, atmospheric
conditions, etc. – and, more importantly, is
there life on the exoplanets?
When astronomers detect exoplanets, it is
usually by means of the transit method. A
telescope observes the star’s light over a period
of time, and if the light is repeatedly reduced, it
is an indication that a planet is orbiting the star,
blocking out some of the light at regular
intervals, as it passes in front of the star.
Astronomers use the same principle, also
known as transmission spectroscopy, when
they study exoplanet weather. When the
exoplanet passes in front of its star, it is
substantially illuminated from the back. As
molecules refract the light differently,
scientists who take a look at how the light is
affected by the planet’s atmosphere can see
exactly which molecules – such as iron – it
contains. The atmospheric pressure is
calculated by observing its extent. A dense
atmosphere, in which the pressure is high, does
not extend as far from the surface as a thin
atmosphere with a low pressure. Scientists
calculate the temperature based on the host
star’s temperature and the distance from the
star to the exoplanet.
30
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SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
The Kepler space telescope has
measured the planet's light. Over 50 orbits,
it changed by 6 millionths, i.e. the light
intensity is about the same, when the
planet passes in front of/behind the star.
TrES-2b
Distance to Earth: 750 light years
Discovered: 2006
Type: Gas planet
Pitch-dark planet
consumes 99.9 %
of the star's light
Iron drops rain
down over gas
giant
Pitch-darkness prevails on
the sinister TrES-2b exoplanet. According to
astronomers from the HarvardSmithsonian Centre for
Astrophysics and the Princeton
University, the planet “swallows”
up to 99.9 % of the light from its
host star. This means that TrES-2b
is the darkest of all known
exoplanets. The explanation is to
be found in the atmosphere's
contents of light-absorbing,
gaseous sodium and titanium
oxide. However, all of the darkness
cannot be attributed to the above
factors, so scientists are trying to
find the full explanation.
Drops of molten iron rain
heavily down though the
atmosphere of the
Jupiter-like OGLE-TR-56b exoplanet,
according to astronomers. The gas
giant's atmosphere contains iron
atoms. As the atmospheric
temperatures reach approximately
1,700°C, the iron can form clouds,
which could in principle result in
precipitation in the shape of iron
drops. The planet was discovered
in 2002 and confirmed in 2003.
Measurements showed that OGLETR-56b only takes 29 hours to
orbit its star,so one year
corresponds to only 29 hours,
which is very brief.
Light refraction could
reveal precious clouds
Based on observations of light refraction,
astronomers can work out the contents
of a planet’s atmosphere.
Some rays pass
2 through, others
are refracted.
The light
3 reveals the
Rays of light
enter the
planet's atmosphere.
1
At specific
4 temperatures,
corundum, which exists on
HAT-P-7b, can form clouds
of rubies and sapphires.
HAT-P-7 b
Distance to Earth: 1,040 light years
Discovered: 2008
Type: Gas planet
On the day side of the planet,
temperatures are probably too high for
the mineral to form clouds.
On the night side, where temperatures
are lower, the mineral can condense into
droplets, which combine into clouds.
Clouds of rubies and
sapphires light up
The cloud cover on the HAT-P-7 b exoplanet contains the
mineral building blocks of sapphires and rubies.
1,040 light years from
Earth, you will find the
sparkling HAT-P-7 b
exoplanet, complete with
clouds of rubies and sapphires,
according to astronomers, who
have studied the light reflected
from the planet.
The atmosphere contains the
aluminium oxide mineral, also
known as corundum in its
crystal-line form, which forms
the basis of sapphires and rubies.
In 2016, scientists from the
University of Warwick in the UK
used the Kepler space telescope
to prove that both clouds and
violent storms are probably very
common on the planet. The
weather is caused by the “cold”
night side air of about 1,900°C
meeting the warmer day side
air of up to 2,500°C. The
temperature difference occurs,
because the gas giant orbits in a
close, bound rotation, meaning
that the same side is always
facing the hot host star.
PRECIPITATION AND ATMOSPHERE
molecules of the
atmosphere.
S PA C E
PLANETS
VENUS’ ORBIT
Space telescope
measures temperatures
Spitzer telescope data has revealed the light
intensity – and consequently the heating –
during the 80 hours of planet heating.
On its way towards the
TEMPERATURES
2 star, the planet crosses
orbits corresponding to
those of the innermost
worlds – Venus and Mercury.
When the planet is
STAR
3 closest to the star,
the distance is 4.5 million
km – 3 % of the distance
from Earth to the Sun.
When farthest away
from the star, it is
almost as far away as
Earth is from the Sun –
about 131 million km.
1
MERCURY'S ORBIT
During the 6 hours,
4 when the planet is
closest to the star,
temperatures rise from
about 530 °C to 1,230 °C.
EARTH'S ORBIT
Travelling away from
5 the star, the planet
is cooled once again.
HD 80606b
Distance to Earth: 190 ly
Discovered: 2001
Type: Gas planet
Temperatures rise
700 degrees in 6 hours
An extraordinarily skew orbit causes extreme temperature
fluctuations and violent winds on the HD 80606b gas giant.
The HD 80606b exoplanet
orbits its star in an
extremely skew path. When
the planet is farthest away from its
star, the distance is 29 times longer
than when it is closest. The
comet-like orbit means
that the planet
gets so close to
the star that
temperatures rise from 530 °C to
1,230 °C in only six hours every 111.
days, according to scientists from the
US University of California, Santa
Cruz, who base their conclusion on
infrared data from the Spitzer space
telescope. The sudden heating makes
the atmosphere expand
tremendously, causing pressure
waves, which trigger wind gusts of
up to 18,000 km/h. Moreover, the
expansion probably means that the
upper atmosphere explodes.
EARTH RECORDS
HIGHEST TEMPERATURE: 56.7 °C.
10 July 1913 in Furnace Creek, Death Valley, USA.
LOWEST TEMPERATURE: -89.2 °C.
21 July 1983, the Vostok Station, Antarctica.
OGLE-2016-BLG-1195Lb
Distance to Earth: 13,000 ly
KELT-9 b
Discovered: 2017
Type: Earth-like
Distance to Earth: 620 ly
Discovered: 2017
Type: Gas planet
Based on the data, astronomers can
calculate the conditions on the surface of the
planet. If an atmosphere with a high pressure
contains iron atoms, and if temperatures are
higher than the melting point of iron, scientists
have strong indications that iron drops could
rain down over the planet.
Astronomers can also predict the wind
conditions of the alien planets. Some of the hot
Jupiters – gas planets orbiting close to their
stars – are locked in a bound rotation, so the
same side always faces the star. The result is
major temperature differences between the
planet’s dark and bright sides. Scientists can
convert the differences into approximate wind
speeds. Astronomers use spectroscopy to
measure wind speeds in an exoplanet’s
atmosphere. In an atmosphere
characterized by powerful wind
systems, one half of the atmosphere
will travel towards the observer,
whereas the other will travel in
the opposite direction. Based on
the shifting wave-lengths
measured via spectroscopy in
both situations, scientists can
calculate how quickly the winds
have moved the atmosphere.
Shield blocks out the light
World boils
like a star
Failed star makes
world ice-cold
The KELT-9 star is almost
twice as hot as the Sun,
which has a tremendous
effect on its closest exoplanet - the
KELT-9 b gas giant. The world is
heated to such extents that
temperatures on the day side
reach some 4,316°C – only 1,200
degrees lower than the Sun's
surface. The intense ultraviolet
radiation that the star mercilessly
uses to “sandblast" the planet is so
intense that it burns the planet's
atmosphere, according to scientists.
A conservative estimate says that at
worst, the star could eliminate the
planet's atmosphere completely
over a very short period of time.
The OGLE-2016-BLG1195Lb planet weighs
about the same as Earth
and orbits only 174 million km
from its star – only slightly longer
than our 150 million km from the
Sun. Nevertheless, a visit to the
planet would not be very
pleasant, as temperatures are as
low as -240 °C. The planet orbits
a star with only 7.8 % of the Sun's
mass – an ultra-cold dwarf star.
Its limited size makes
astronomers believe that the star
might instead be a brown dwarf
rather than a star. A brown dwarf
is an unsuccessful star, which has
never ignited.
So far, space telescopes such as
Kepler and Spitzer have produced
the most weather forecast data, but as
the light from the exoplanets is only
1/100,000,000 of the star’s, it is a tough job
even for the sharpest of telescopes.
To make things easier, astronomers could
try to block out part of the star’s light and
study the exoplanet’s atmosphere directly. For
this purpose, astronomers use a coronagraph.
The device was invented in 1931 by French
astronomer Bernard Ferdinand Lyot, who
aimed to take a close look at the Sun’s corona.
The coronagraph causes an artificial solar
eclipse by blocking out the direct light from
the Sun, so it is possible to see the corona.
Today, astronomers use coronagraphs to
search for exoplanets orbiting other planets,
and NASA’s new prestigious James Webb
telescope, which will be launched in 2019, is
equipped with a coronagraph.
Scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory and the Goddard Space Flight Centre
have recently improved coronagraph efficiency.
With the new PISCES instrument – an integral
field spectrograph – scientists have improved
the ability to differ between light and darkness
in a larger portion of the wavelengths that
coronagraph telescopes observe, so now they
scienceillustrated.com.au
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33
S PA C E
PLANETS
10,000 tonnes of gas
disappear every second
can see 18 % of the spectrum as compared to
the previous 10. Scientists expect the result to
improve the ability of the WFIRST (Wide-Field
Infrared Survey Telescope), which NASA will
launch in the mid-2020s, to characterize
exoplanet atmospheres – and so weather.
Osiris’ host star "fries" the exoplanet. The
maltreatment means that the upper atmosphere
evaporates, so hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon
bleed into a 200,000-km-long tail.
The WFIRST is not alone, as astronomers can
look forward to a considerable upgrade of their
arsenal of telescopes both on Earth and in
space in the years to come.
In the spring of 2019, NASA will launch the
James Webb space telescope, the successor of
the Hubble telescope, which was launched in
1990. With its 6.5 m mirror – as compared to
Hubble’s 2.4 m – James Webb is much more
powerful than its predecessor, and it can be
used to find out if the atmospheres of the seven
planets in the recently discovered TRAPPIST
system include water. In 2023, NASA will
launch another space telescope, FINESSE, which
specializes in exoplanets. The telescope is still on
the drawing board, but according to plan, it will
study the atmospheres of about 500 exoplanets
by means of transmission spectroscopy,
providing scientists with new knowledge about
weather conditions and climate.
Huge, Earth-based telescopes are also
under construction, and according to plan, the
ELT (Extremely Large Telescope) will be
finished in the Atacama Desert of Chile in
2024. The ELT, which will be the world’s largest
optical telescope, will have a primary mirror
with a diameter of 39.9 m and will primarily
search for small, Earth-like planets orbiting
other stars. With its huge mirror, the telescope
is 100 times sharper than its predecessors and
will be able to take direct pictures of the largest
planets and their atmospheres.
Soon, astronomers will also have access to
the AURA space telescope with a 12 m mirror.
The project is supported by almost 50
universities, and according to plan, the
telescope will be launched in the 2030s. It will
not only be 100 times more light-sensitive than
the Hubble telescope, it will also have a 25
times higher dissolution. With such a powerful
telescope, it will not only be possible to
describe atmospheres and weather better than
previously, it will also be possible to differ
between exoplanets, which are very much like
Earth, and those that just look like it, but are
too hot to support biological life. So,
astronomers might – in the swarm of remote,
alien planets – be able for the first time to spot
a world that does not only have the right
climate and perfect weather conditions, but
will also be home to alien life.
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SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
STORMS
More telescopes to study weather
The heat
In the upper
atmosphere,
temperatures rise from
725 °C to 14,730 °C.
2 makes the
1
atmosphere swell.
Osiris
Distance to Earth: 154 ly
Discovered: 1999
Type: Gas planet
Osiris weighs about 60 % of Jupiter,
but has a larger volume – approximately
2.5 times Jupiter's.
Around the planet, there is a comet-like
tail made up of primarily hydrogen,
which escapes the atmosphere.
Heat creates a
200,000 km tail
Osiris's atmosphere evaporates into a 200,000-km-long
tail escaping at a speed of 100 km/s.
The Osiris gas giant
is so close to its host
star that the heat
converts the atmosphere into
a comet-like tail.
Using the Hubble
telescope, scientists have
measured the quantity of
hydrogen in the tail by
looking at the quantity of
ultraviolet light that the
element absorbs from the
star, also known as the
Lyman-alpha line. When the
planet passes in front of the
star, the light is dimmed.
Scientists have calculated
that the light reduction of the
star corresponds to a cloud of
hydrogen covering 15 % of the
star’s area passing in front of
it. According to scientists, it
is an approximately
200,000-km-long, comet-like
tail, which also contains
oxygen and carbon. The tail
is probably escaping at a
speed of some 100 km/s.
Every second, at least
4 10,000 t of gases
escape the atmosphere,
which will disappear
completely over time.
EARTH RECORDS
POWERFUL WIND GUSTS: 407.5 km/h. 10 April
1996 on Barrow Island, Australia.
Heated
LONGEST LIGHTNING: 7.74 seconds.
30 August 2012 in the south of France.
3 hydrogen is
lighter and escapes
the planet's
gravitational field,
producing a cometlike tail.
HD 189733 b
Distance to Earth: 63 ly
Discovered: 2005
Type: Gas planet
Glass storms
of 8,600 km/h
ravage planet
Thunderstorms
a million times
worse than Earth's
Like Earth, HD 189733 b is
a blue planet, but the
colour is not due to water.
According to astronomers, the
blue colour results from silicate
particles – a type of very small
pieces of glass. In 2015, scientists
from the UK University of Warwick
calculated, that wind speeds
reach about 8,600 km/h. The
scientists measured how much
light was absorbed by the
atmosphere's sodium molecules
and how it changed during the
planet's orbit of the star. The
difference indicates how much the
molecules moved, which allows us
to estimate the windspeed.
On the HAT-P-11 b
exoplanet, you could
experience thunderstorms
that are millions of times more
powerful than those on Earth,
according to a theory from
scientists who have studied the
planet. In 2009, telescopes picked
up a weak radio signal from the
planet, but in 2010, it was gone.
Scientists have calculated that the
signal could be from lightning bolts
of an intense thunderstorm.
HAT-P-11 b
Distance to Earth: 122 ly
Discovered: 2009
Type: Miniature Neptune
HUMANS
CANCER
How to find
A CURE
AGAINST
CANCER
Promising new cancer
treatments fail on a daily basis.
The aggressive disease’s mutated
cells are constantly one step ahead
of scientists. But armed with huge
global databases, genetically
edited immune cells, and artificial
intelligence, scientists are well
on the way to combating
cancer on its own home turf.
CLAUS LUNAU & SHUTTERSTOCK
CANCER PUTS PRESSURE ON SCIENTISTS:
36
Challenge 1
Challenge 2
Challenge 3
Challenge 4
Challenge 5
Cancer cells
mutate very
quickly, escaping
doctors' attacks.
Tumours grow
undetected, until
they are big enough
to resist drugs.
All tumours are
different, and each
type requires its
own treatment.
Cancer cells
make healthy cells
help them grow.
Animals respond
to drugs differently
to humans.
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
By Johann Mar Gudbergsson
HUMANS
CANCER
CHALLENGE 1
Survival of the fittest
Just like cloned animals, cancer cells must fight for their
lives, and the hard conditions drive rapid development.
MUTATIONS BOOST CELLS
TUMOUR IS UNDER PRESSURE
Via mutations, individual
cancer cells obtain useful
characteristics. They could
liberate neurotransmitters, which slow
down the immune system, or produce
proteins that can pump chemo drugs
out of the cell.
The life of a cancer tumour is constantly in
danger. Poor blood supply causes it to suffer
oxygen deficit, the immune system attacks it,
and doctors try to kill it with radiation and chemotherapy.
2
1
CHEMOTHERAPY
SURVIVING
CANCER CELLS
IMMUNE
CELLS ATTACK.
OXYGEN DEFICIT
SURVIVORS DEVELOP AGAIN
The most resistant cancer cells survive and
develop into new types of cells with other
characteristics. Attacks by immune cells
and doctors continue, but the result is just that the
most resistant cancer cells keep up their superiority.
3
NEW TYPES OF
CANCER CELLS
Tumours Are Constantly Mutating
Cancer cells are one step ahead of doctors. The aggressive cells rapidly develop
weapons, which help them avoid even the most forceful of treatments.
D
CLAUS LUNAU & SHUTTERSTOCK
octors attack the most aggressive cancer types by means of
surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Nevertheless, cancer
returns time and time again, because tumours almost always
include cells that are resistant to the attack.
Cancer cells mutate much faster than normal cells, securing
new characteristics. This means that one single tumour
consists of a confusion of different cancer cell types. Some of
the cells are resistant to radiation or chemotherapy, and some
manage to escape both unharmed. Although only a few cancer
38
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SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
cells survive the treatment, they can quickly cause a new
tumour.
As the new tumour is growing, its resistant cells mutate
again, turning it into a mosaic of different types. At some point,
some of the cells become able to break loose from the organ in
which they are located. Via the blood stream, they spread to
other organs, digging their way into them. Once there, they
cause the development of new tumours or metastases, which
doctors are only rarely able to combat.
I
n 1999, a promising new drug put a stop
to cancer tumours in lab mice. Known
as SPI-77, the treatment was more
efficient than ordinary chemotherapy
and even caused fewer side effects.
Soon, a hopeful drugmaker spent millions of
USD on testing the drug on people, but the
experiments were soon halted again. SPI-77
had almost no effect and was later scrapped
and forgotten.
So, the promising treatment suffered the
same fate as more than 95% of all new cancer
treatments tested on humans annually. Even
the drugs that end up being approved often only
have a limited effect. Moreover, medication
against other conditions such as infections is
much more successful in human experiments.
Cancer cells’ incredible ability to avoid just
about anything that scientists use to attack them
means that the disease kills 8 million people
annually. 14.1 million new cases are registered
every year, and the number will probably rise to
23.6 million in 2030. But scientists have not by
far given up. They have now discovered the
major obstacles standing in the way of new,
ground-breaking treatments, and they are ready
to eliminate them once and for all.
SOLUTION
Databases Map
Out Cancer
Huge publicly available
databases allow scientists
throughout the world to share
their knowledge about cancer.
The databases contain
information about how different
mutations affect the cancer cells,
and how the cells’ thousands of
proteins cooperate.
The accumulated knowledge
makes it possible to analyse the
cancer behaviour in details, so
scientists can combat the
aggressive disease and beat it,
even if the cancer cells develop
new, die-hard characteristics.
Cells kill their own originators
Every second, the billions of cells in your body
are working hard to keep you alive. They
divide, produce lots of different proteins,
communicate with each other, and kill
themselves for the sake of the community. But
in spite of the endless series of tasks, the body
machinery often functions surprisingly
smoothly. Or so it seems. Deep inside
individual cells, lots of flaws constantly occur,
which could have immense consequences for
the rest of the body.
MAP OF
PROTEIN
BEHAVIOUR
During World War I, mustard gas
victims helped scientists develop
the first chemotherapy.
UNIVERSAL HISTORY ARCHIVE/
GETTY IMAGES
When one of your cells is about to divide, it
copies its own DNA, so its two daughter cells
can have a copy each, but the process often
goes wrong. Luckily, the cell has efficient tools
which usually repair the errors as soon as they
occur, but some chemicals or exterior radiation
could cause errors that the cell is unable to
correct. The result is that the DNA copies
which the cell passes on to its descendants are
defective. They include mutations.
Most of the defects are harmless, but in a
few cases, they affect the genes that code for
important proteins. The mutations could
change the behaviour of the proteins, forcing
the cell to divide out of control. The cell
includes a series of safety measures in the
shape of proteins that slow down the division,
but if they also mutate, the cell turns into a
cancer cell. It keeps on dividing, until it
produces a lump of cells – a tumour – which
could destroy the organ in which it is present.
The runaway growth also means that the
cancer cells make more mistakes, as they
divide. So, new mutations constantly occur,
which could give the cells new capacities,
allowing them to break out of the original
organ and colonize other organs, etc. The
aggressive cells make the organs fail one after
the other, finally killing the body, which they
originally emerged from.
Poison gas was first cancer drug
Scientists have found evidence of tumours in
70-million-year-old dinosaur bones and in
120,000-year-old Neanderthals, so cancer is
not a new disease. The Ancient Greeks named
the disease 2,600 years ago, when the search
for a cure had already been going on for at least
1,000 years. 3,600-year-old Egyptian
inscriptions indicate that the Ancient Greeks
SHUTTERSTOCK
HUMANS
CANCER
Scientists Yechezkel Barenholz and Alberto
Gabizon developed microscopic balls which
could carry drugs to the tumour.
NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90
experimented with eliminating breast cancer
by means of primitive surgery.
The first modern breast cancer surgery was
carried out by US surgeon William Halsted in
1882. 14 years later, a brand new technology
was used in the struggle, when French doctor
Victor Despeignes bombarded a patient’s
tumour with X-rays. Both treatments were
efficient – Despeignes' eliminated 50 % of the
tumour – but they were by no means a cure.
And they were not harmless. Scientists quickly
discovered that X-rays caused severe side
effects. One of them was cancer.
During World War I, a brand new weapon
against cancer surprisingly materialized:
mustard gas. In the battle field, the gas killed
about 90,000 people and wounded more than
one million, but it involved a thera-peutic secret.
When doctors examined the survivors, they
discovered an unusually low number of white
blood cells in the patients’ blood. A few decades
CHALLENGE 2
Tumours Grow
Secretly
Some types of cancer hide deep inside the body, not
revealing themselves, until they have grown big.
O
nly around 7 % of patients with
pancreas cancer survive for more
than five years after being diagnosed.
The unusually high death rate is
particularly due to the fact that the
disease is not spotted, until it has
been developing for years.
Early cancer diagnosis is extremely
important, as early stage cancer cells
are typically more vulnerable to
treatment. Some cancer types are
quite easy to detect early, as they
cause pronounced symptoms or are
easy to identify by simple medical
examination. Prostate cancer is usually
spotted early, and 99 % of the patients
40
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
survive for more than five years. In the
case of breast cancer, routine
screening in Scandinavia has caused
the death rate to fall by about 30 %.
Other types of cancer such as
pancreas cancer only cause feeble
symptoms such as stomach pain and
poor appetite early in the course of
the disease. Usually, doctors will not
suspect cancer, as the symptoms
could easily have been caused by
other, more common diseases.
Moreover, doctors are unable to
make quick pancreas cancer routine
checks, as the cancer is hiding deep
inside the body.
SOLUTION
Glass plate reveals
cancer cells
Scientists from the American University of
Pennsylvania have just discovered that
cancer cells in the pancreas liberate a very
special mix of proteins into the blood. They
took blood samples from about 700 people –
some healthy and some with pancreas cancer
– and tested for the presence of two proteins,
thrombospondin-2 and CA19-9. The test was
positive in 87 % of the cancer patients, but
very rarely so in healthy people.
Tests such as this one are expensive at
this point in time, but in the future, they
could form part of routine checks. A groundbreaking technology makes it possible to
quickly identify not just two, but hundreds
of proteins at a time. The blood sample is
placed on a glass plate divided into small
fields. Each field contains a specific type of
antibodies, which can only bind one type of
protein. If the protein is included in the
sample, the particular field will light up.
later, the discovery led to American scientists
Louis Goodman and Alfred Gilman testing the
gas on patients with lymph node cancer – a
cancer type that originates in the white blood
cells of the lymphatic system.
Neither surgery nor radiation had been
able to wipe out the patient’s aggressive cancer
cells, which kept on escaping, spreading to
other parts of the body. On 27 August 1942, the
patient received the first of a series of injections
with the active ingredient of mustard gas. 10
days later, all his tumours had disappeared.
Louis Goodman and Alfred Gilman had
developed the world’s first chemotherapy – a
treatment that requires no surgery nor
radiation, rather it uses chemicals to kill
tumour cells.
Nevertheless, the treatment was not a
perfect one. The medication made the patient
severely ill, and one month later, the cancer
started to come back. When doctors resumed
the treatment, the patient’s body was no longer
able to cope with the side effects, and a short
time afterwards, he died.
Scientists "wrap" medication
Today, surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy
are still the most common cancer treatments.
They have all been markedly improved since
the 1940s, but their basic weaknesses remain
the same. Surgery and radiation cannot
eliminate the cancer efficiently, once it has
started to spread in the body. And while
chemotherapy can affect cancer cells
throughout the body, it still causes severe side
effects, because it also kills healthy cells.
In an attempt to protect the healthy cells of
the body, Israeli scientists Yechezkel Barenholz
and Alberto Gabizon set out to develop a new
way of delivering the medication to the cancer
cells. The scientists included the
chemotherapeutic drug doxorubicin in
microscopic fat balls knowns as liposomes –
with diameters of only 100
nanometres – and tested them in
animal experiments. When
the tiny balls flowed
with the blood,
the drug
was safely "hidden", so without affecting
healthy cells, the medication was still
carried to the tumour, efficiently killing
the cancer cells.
The explanation was that the
liposomes could get access to
the cancer cells via sick,
leaky blood vessels
around the tumour.
Cancer proteins
light up under the
microscope.
ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY
PROTEINS
IN THE BLOOD
GLASS PLATE
SEEN FROM ABOVE
CLAUS LUNAU
PROTEIN BINDS
TO ANTIBODY.
BRIGHT
MOLECULES
1
The patient's blood
sample is mixed with
a bright material.
2
The bright molecules
bind to all proteins of
the blood.
3
Antibodies on a glass
plate capture specific
proteins of the sample.
4
The pattern of bright
fields reveals, which
proteins are present.
scienceillustrated.com.au
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41
HUMANS
CANCER
All Herbs
Useless...
Except One
One in seven cancer patients try
alternative treatments, amost always
based on a "traditional" herb or plant-based extract. While most do nothing, some actively
harm the patient or interfere with effective
treatment. Patients who choose
alternative treatment over medical therapy
suffer a five times higher risk of dying within
five years. And even those who stick with medical treatment are in danger, if they take herbal
medicine at the same time. There is, however,
one exception. A herb that, while it may not
cure cancer, is effective at relieving pain and
even relaxing a patient. The catch? It's not exactly legal... yet.
Vitamin C disappoints
T
housands of cancer patients worldwide inject high doses of
vitamin C into their blood streams to stop cancer. The method
was first introduced by Nobel Prize Laureate Linus Pauling, and
when it was tested on humans in 1970, it turned out that the
vitamin had the desired effect.
However, the old experiment does not live up to modern
scientific standards. And when scientists have subsequently
tested vitamin C in more well-planned experiments, they have not
found the treatment to have any effect. However, lab experiments
with cells and animals show that vitamin C might curb the growth
of cancer cells, if used in extremely high, hazardous quantities.
So, scientists will not rule out the development of a treatment
that takes advantage of the vitamin’s qualities.
SHUTTERSTOCK
NO EFFECT
Intoxicant helps patients
C
ancer patients from all over the world struggle to make
medical cannabis legal – and justly so. According to an
extensive study, cannabis drastically relieves a series of
chemotherapy side effects. 47 % of the patients who were
given the intoxicant experienced markedly less nausea as
compared to just 20 % of the patients who received placebo
treatment. In some cases, the intoxicant turned out to
relieve pain related to the chemotherapy.
The reason for the beneficial effect of the intoxicant is
that its active ingredients, cannabinoids, bind to specific
proteins on nerve cells. Consequently, they can moderate
the cells’ pain signals or change the quantity of hormones
liberated by the cells.
Cannabis has also been tested as a means of killing
cancer cells, and the Internet is ripe with claims that the
intoxicant is able to combat cancer
tumours, although there is no scientific
proof of this. When cannabis has been
tested on humans, scientists have
not been able to observe any effect
whatsoever on the cancer cells.
Diet supplement causes bleeding
F
or a long period of time, a dietary supplement known
as PC-SPES was popular among patients with prostate
cancer, because it apparently curbed the cancer. The
supplement was sold as a plant product, but since then, it
has proven to contain a mix of synthetics such as antiinflammatory indomethacin, oestrogen- like DES, and
blood-thinning warfarin. The latter increases the risk of
bleeding – particularly following surgery – and can at
worst cause the patient to bleed to death.
Chemo disrupted by herb
E
xtracts from the perforate St John's wort are used
by cancer patients to treat the cancer or reduce
depression. The herb is not hazardous in itself, but
experiments have shown that it can reduce the
concentration of some types of chemo drugs in the blood.
That is probably because it interrupts specific chemical
processes in the liver, so the chemotherapy is not as
efficient as it would otherwise be.
SHUTTERSTOCK
REATMENT
T
OBSTRUCTS
AIN
RELIEVES P
SHUTTERSTOCK
BODY
SHUTTERSTOCK
HARMS THE
HUMANS
CANCER
Inside the tumour, the chemo drug leaked
from the liposomes, affecting the cancer cells.
Barenholz and Gabizon spent more than 10
years optimising the microscopic balls, before
they finally proved successful in an
experiment with humans. The liposomes
caused fewer side effects than traditional
chemotherapy and were approved for use in
Europe and the US under the names of Caelyx
and Doxil. The success of Caelyx triggered the
development of new types of liposomes that
could be used against other cancer types,
killing the cancer more efficiently.
Promising drug scrapped
The SPI-77 drug was among the promising
treatments emerging in the wake of Caelyx.
Like Caelyx, the drug was made up of tiny fat
balls, but instead of containing doxo-rubicin,
SPI-77 was full of cisplatin. It is extremely
efficient at eliminating cancer cells, but causes
a long series of side effects. By using liposomes
to carry the drug straight to the cancer cells,
scientists hoped to defeat the tumour without
harming the patient. In 1999, SPI-77 was tested
on mice, and the liposome treatment seemed to
work, just like scientists had predicted.
Normally, cisplatin is hazardous for the
function of the kidneys, but studies of the test
mice showed that the liposomes reduced the
quantity of cisplatin ending up in the kidneys by
about 75 %. Moreover, the liposomes increased
the quantity of cisplatin in the cancer tumour by
a factor of 28, and SPI-77 slowed down the
growth of cancer cells much more efficiently
than unwrapped cisplatin. But a few years later,
when SPI-77 was tested on patients with lung
cancer, the liposome performed more poorly
than traditional chemotherapy. None of the 29
patients in the study experienced a marked
effect of the drug, which was later scrapped.
Nevertheless, SPI-77 is not a total failure.
Scientists learn from mistakes
SPI-77 was first tested on mice, which had had
intestine or lung cancer cells injected under
the skin of their thighs. And the SPI-77
treatment began, when the mice’s tumours
were very small.
CHALLENGE 3
All Tumours Are Different
Breast cancer can be divided into 11
different types, each of which can be
divided into subcategories. None two
patients have the exact same tumours, and
so, they will react differently to therapy.
The tremendous variation is firstly
due to the fact that cancer can originate
in different cell types –
in the breast it might be mammary gland
cells or connective tissue cells. Secondly,
cancer cells mutate quickly, so they all
develop differently.
The differences between the tumours
mean that a treatment that is extremely
efficient in one cancer patient has no
effect in another patient.
Scientists take small samples
of the tumour to study it closely.
WILLIAM TAUFIC/GETTY IMAGES
SOLUTION
SCIENTISTS CUSTOMISE TREATMENT
Test
Dictates
Treatment
Scientists colour
samples of a patient’s tumour by
means of antibodies or DNA
sequences. The coloured antibodies
only stick, if specific proteins are
present on the surface of the cancer
cells. The sequencing reveals
mutations in the genes of the cells.
The analysis indicates the
characteristics of the tumour, helping
doctors to pick the correct treatment.
The method is already used, but
scientists are constantly getting
better at categorizing the tumours,
and new medication customized for
individual cancer types is coming up.
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Cancer cells with
the ER protein
grow fast, but if ER
is blocked out by
the tamoxifen
drug, the cancer
can be halted.
The HER2 protein
makes cancer cells
extremely
aggressive, but
trastuzumab blocks
out HER2, attracting
the immune system.
Cancer cells
without ER and
HER2, but with a
mutation of the
BRCA1/2 gene, are
eliminated by
taxane agents.
A taxane agent
mixed with
platinum are most
efficient against
cells without ER,
HER2, or BRCA1/2
mutations.
TREATMENT
Tamoxifen
Trastuzumab
Taxane
Taxane + platinum
Cancer 'Brainwashes'
Immune System
Cancer cells are experts on manipulating other cells,
resulting in the body’s defence helping the tumour.
Y
our immune system eliminates
potential cancer cells throughout
your life. The efficient system means that
the risk of developing cancer is limited,
after all. But in rare cases, the cancer cells
develop the ability to slow the immune
system, so the cancer is allowed to grow.
The immune system consists of a series
of different types of cells. Some recognize
cancer cells, some kill cancer cells, some
keep track of the other immune cells.
Particularly the latter type is a good target,
when it comes to cancer cell manipulation.
By means of specific neurotransmitters,
the tumour convinces immune cells to stop
the entire immune system’s attack.
However, the manipulation does not
stop with the immune system. According
to a new study, cancer cells in the
pancreas often use bacteria to destroy
chemo drugs in the tumour, so the
treatment cannot kill the cancer.
Cancer Cells Cheat Their Way To Help
SOLUTION
CLAUS LUNAU & SHUTTERSTOCK
CHALLENGE 4
Super Defence
Avoids
Manipulation
Scientists can already
prepare the immune cells for
the tumour’s manipulating
neurotransmitters. Today,
cancer patients can get drugs
that prevent the
neurotransmitters from
binding to immune cells. And
in new experiments, scientists
use the CRISPR method to alter
immune cell genes, so cancer
signals glance off.
The result is an immune cell
army attacking the tumour
without being affected by the
cancer cells’ persistent
attempts to defend
themselves.
The tumour changes immune cell behaviour, making them
increase its growth instead of trying to halt it.
KILLER CELLS
Killer T cells, NK cells, and
dendrite cells form part of the
body's hit squad. By means of
proteins on their surfaces, they
recognize and kill foreign or sick
cells,including cancer cells.
GENE-EDITED
KILLER CELL
DEVELOPMENT OF
NEW BLOOD VESSELS
KILLER
T CELL
NK
CELL
DENDRITE
CELL
CONTROL CELLS
M2 macrophages, regulating
T cells, and myeloid-derived
suppressor cells control the hit
squad's behaviour by submitting
stimulating or damping neurotransmitters.
M2
MACROPHAGE
REGULATING
T CELL
SUPPRESSOR
CELL
THE TUMOUR DIES.
HUMANS
CANCER
CHALLENGE 5
Lab Experiments
Lead Scientists Astray
TUMOUR
Lab cancer tumours are not like those of patients,
so scientists’ results are often misleading.
S
cientists test thousands of potential
drugs in the lab. Of those, only a
few pass through the eye of the needle
to be tested on humans. But the
selection process is not optimal. Drugs
that should never have been tested on
humans pass, whereas treatments that
could have saved lives, do not.
The problem is that scientists make
their cancer cell experiments in culture
dishes or animal tumours – and those
do not resemble what is going on in
patients. A culture dish is nothing like
the environment of different cell types,
blood vessels, and chemical substances
inside a body. Moreover, differences
between animals and people
concerning metabolism, immune
system, tissue structure, etc., mean
that animal tumours develop differently
from those of humans.
So, the drugs have very different
Scientists often test drugs on mice with
tumours right under their skin.
PATRICK SEMANSKY/AP/RITZAU
conditions in labs and patients, and the
chance that the effect of an animal
experiment will be the same in humans
is small.
SOLUTION
ARTIFICIAL TUMOUR
Scientists create artificial tumours
which are similar to patients’.
SHUTTERSTOCK & HAYLEY E. FRANCIES,
WELLCOME TRUST SANGER INSTITUTE
Cancer Researchers
Recreate Patient
Interiors
Hundreds Of Artificial cancer
tumours, on which scientists can test
drugs. That is the aim of a project
headed by Dutch scientists Hans Clevers
and Hans Bos. They aim to grow tumours
in the lab from a long series of patients
by means of specific nutrients and neurotransmitters. The method previously
proved efficient – the tumours have
almost the same characteristics as in the
patients, and they react in the same way
to medication.
In a matter of a few years, scientists
will be able to create artificial tumours
which are even more like those of real
patients. The tumours will consist of
many different cell types and include
artificial blood vessels that are to carry
nutrients, hormones, and immune cells
to the cancer cells.
Artificial intelligence boost
In 2017, the US authorities swiftly approved a
new treatment known as Kymriah, which had
eliminated any trace of cancer in 83 % of the
patients it had been tested on; patients, who had
fruitlessly tried more traditional treatments.
Kymriah consists of the patients’ own
immune cells, which are extracted from the his
blood, after which a new gene is inserted that
enables them to recognize cancer cells. When
the immune cells are injected back into the
patient, they find the tumour and attack it. The
treatment is extremely efficient, and media
throughout the world praised it as something
close to a medical miracle. Is Kymriah the
ultimate cure that scientists have been looking
for for so long?
Not quite. Kymriah could activate the
patient’s immune system so efficiently that it
also attacks the healthy cells of the body.
When a similar treatment was tested in 2016,
it killed five patients. The fatal side effects
mean that doctors only use Kymriah as the last
resort, when other, less hazardous treatments
have failed.
However, Kymriah is not necessarily a
dead end, and the same goes for liposomes.
Every day, scientists learn more about the
treatments’ weaknesses and the biology of
cancer, and they use the knowledge to
optimise existing therapies and develop new
ones. Moreover, revolutionizing technology
ensures that scientists can soon make progress
much faster than they us e d to. One
technology comes from the US company
twoXAR, which equips computers with
artificial intelligence that is able to spot new
medication against cancer, etc. The system can
very quickly go through huge quantities of
data from labs and hospitals throughout the
world, delving into cancer cell genes, taking a
close look at the chemical make-up of existing
drugs and going over previous experiments on
animals and humans. After the extensive
analysis, the system identifies unknown
weaknesses in the cancer cells and suggests
drugs that take advantage of them; a process
that would have taken years to carry out for
scientists. The result is that doctors can soon
get access to a large arsenal of efficient
weapons against cancer.
GETTY IMAGES
Today, scientists know that this type of
animal experiments are very poor at predicting
the effect of a treatment on humans. Lung
cancer cells growing in the thigh will not cause
anything like lung cancer. And scientists also get
the wrong impression of the treatment’s effect,
if they test it on new, small tumours – human
patients are typically diagnosed with cancer,
when their tumours have grown rather large.
The scientists’ choice of patients for the SPI77 experiment was probably not optimal either.
Like other liposomes, it is difficult for SPI 77 to
get access to cancer cells, if the tumour's blood
vessels are not sick and leaky. Many tumours
have healthy blood vessels without holes, and
patients with such tumours will typically not
benefit much from liposome treatment. If
scientists had actively selected patients with
leaky tumour blood vessels, SPI-77 might have
had a better chance of killing the cancer.
Since then, scientists have become better at
creating lab tumours similar to those of
patients. They have also developed new
methods, which can more accurately predict
which patients will react the best to a specific
treatment. The improvements mean that
scientists are better at estimating which drugs
have a real effect on humans and selecting the
cancer patients who will benefit the most from
the treatment.
Moreover, scientists have invented groundbreaking new treatments that were completely
unimaginable a few decades ago.
WE WILL
BEAT CANCER
Cancer researchers have already
saved millions of lives. A British
study has shown that the death rate of
cancer has been reduced by 14 % since
the 1970s due to diagnoses, surgery,
radiation, and chemotherapy – together
with the invention of new types of
treatments such as immune therapy.
In the case of some cancer types,
including breast cancer, the survival
rate has doubled since 1970,
whereas among patients with
intestinal cancer, it has tripled.
And the development continues.
Scientists predict the death
rate will be reduced by another
15 % towards 2035.
IMPROVED SURVIVAL RATES SIN
CE THE 1970S
0 %
25 %
50 %
75 %
100 %
ALL CANC ER TYPE S
TEST ICUL AR CANC ER
SKIN CANC ER
PROS TATE CANC ER
BREA ST CANC ER
LEUC HAEM IA
INTE STIN AL CANC ER
Source: Cancer Research UK
scienceillustrated.com.au
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47
N AT U R E
G R AV I T Y
The apple
falls
down
from
the tree,
because
Earth
pulls
at
it,
Newton
believed.
Einstein
realised,
that
Earth's
mass
makes
space
itself
bend.
By Stine Overbye
Challenge
Some problems are so important that scientists
have been trying to solve them for centuries.
No matter if they are ever found, the search for
the answers provides us with new knowledge.
What's
The Deal
With
Gravity?
It keeps our feet planted solidly
on the ground and planets
orbiting the Sun at distances of
millions of km. Nevertheless,
gravity is very much weaker
than the other forces of nature,
and it remains a mystery to
scientists. The search for the
particle which carries its force
has been in vain so far. Perhaps
the answer to the mystery of
gravity is not a particle,
rather it is hidden in seven
so far unseen dimensions.
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
49
N AT U R E
G R AV I T Y
A
few days after astronaut Jack Lousma had
returned to Earth after spending two months
in the US Skylab space station, he put down his
aftershave bottle in the air beside him. A loud
bang and lots of broken glass suddenly
reminded him that it was a bad idea. In the space station, he
had gotten used to everything flying about in a state of
weightlessness. But in a bathroom on Earth, other rules apply.
We are subjected to gravity, and although it is not particularly
“loud”, it rules everything – including aftershave.
When you lift your coffee cup from the table, you sense the
invisible force. When your smartphone hits the asphalt, it is
due to gravity. And when you step down from your bathroom
scales, it decides the number of kg indicated. Indeed, Earth and
the universe would not exist, if it were not for gravity.
Almost 14 billion years ago, after the Big Bang, gravity
made sure to contract matter, so stars and planets were
formed. The fact that Earth is circular, is also due to gravity.
Grav i t y t ri e s t o at t ra ct
everything that planets are
made of to their centres, but
as the material cannot be
totally compressed, they are
shaped like balls.
In short, gravity is the
ruler of the universe. But
although it might s e ems
evident, it is one of the major
scientific mysteries. Every
time scientists have managed
to lift a bit of the veil, they
have run straight into new
problems. The major question
that still remains unanswered
is how gravity is carried.
Some scientists assume that a
ISAAC NEWTON
particle carries the force, but
in a letter to a friend in the 1690s
although they have already
name d the particle – a
graviton – they have never managed to capture it in spite
of persistent efforts.
Thanks to geniuses such as Isaac Newton and Albert
Einstein, we now know how gravity works between Earth
and a rocket, etc., and how it makes planets orbit their stars.
But how it works at the atomic level remains a mystery, which
scientists are still struggling to solve. If they are successful, we
might get the very “manual” of the universe – from the tiniest
of elementary particles to the largest of galaxies.
That one body
should act upon
another... without
the mediation of
anything else
is so great an
absurdity that no
man suited to do
science... can ever
fall into it...
Rocks and water long to be back on Earth
Around 1600 AD, Galileo Galilei of Italy climbed to the top of
a tower to throw down two metal balls. That was the
beginning of scientific research concerning gravity. Galileo
was highly sceptical of the existing view of the world, which
dated back to around 350 BC.
At that time, Greek philosopher Aristotle realised that
objects falling towards the ground had to do so for a reason
– and according to Aristotle, the explanation was obvious.
Objects fall towards the ground, because they try to get
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SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
back to the place they originally came from. A rock comes
from Earth, and so, a falling rock will try to get back to
Earth. The same is true for water, which is also native to our
planet. Fire and air, on the other hand, are not earthly, so
they will rise, according to Aristotle. Moreover, he was
convinced that the heavier an object is, the faster it will
return to its starting point to be reunited with its element.
In short, heavy objects will fall faster than light ones,
according to the Greek philosopher.
The theory seemed so evident that about 2,000 years
passed, before anyone questioned it. That was when Galileo
entered the scene. Among the professors of the University
of Pisa, Galileo Galileo had a reputation for being a very
bright student, but he was also very stubborn indeed. He
questioned everything. In 1582, at the age of 17, he began to
study medicine, but after all, he loved mathematics and
mechanics more, and something was bothering him. Every
time his teachers talked about Aristotle’s theories, Galileo
objected. He refused to accept that the weight of an object
has anything at all to do with the speed of its fall. In a
vacuum, in which there is no air resistance, any body will
fall at the exact same speed – and a rock will not fall any
faster than a feather, according to Galileo.
Around 1600, he decided to put theory into practice. He
carried a heavy and a light metal ball up the stairs of a
tower – the Leaning Tower of Pisa, according to the myth –
to make an experiment. Hundreds of curious people came
to the base of the tower to watch the rebellious Galileo
make a fool of himself.
Heavy and light balls fall at the same speed
The crowd stared at the daring scientist, as he let go of the
two metal balls, making them fall freely from the top of the
tower. People cheered, as contrary to expectation, the heavy
and the light ball hit the ground at the exact same time,
proving Galileo right.
With this and a long series of similar experiments, Galileo
pulled the rug from under the existing theories,
demonstrating over and over again that gravity is
characterized by the fact that that all bodies, disregarding
their masses, fall at the same speed under its influence.
If he had lived for about 400 years, he would no doubt
have celebrated an experiment which American Apollo 15
astronaut David Scott made during a lunar landing in
August 1971. A few hours before the return, Scott took a
falcon feather from his pocket and made the 30 g feather and
a 1.3 kg hammer fall from the same altitude in the vacuum
as a tribute to Galileo. And just as the late Italian had
predicted, the feather and the hammer hit the moon dust at
the very same time.
“Nothing like a little science on the Moon,” David Scott
enthusiastically said from his outpost approximately 400,000
kilometres from Earth.
At the time when Galileo was engaged in his
experiments with bodies in a free fall, German astronomer
Johannes Kepler made a surprising discovery. Following
many years of observations of planetary positions in the sky,
he had to acknowledge that the planets travel in elliptical
orbits, not in perfect circles, such as scholars used to believe.
FROM ATTRACTION
TO BEND
Newton was the first to describe gravity in
mathematical terms. His formulas still
apply, but Einstein’s general relativity theory
explains the deviations observed in powerful
gravitational fields.
GRAVITY according to Isaac Newton
Invisible
force
EARTH
THE SUN
The Sun and Earth
attract each other
All objects that weigh
something attract each
other with an invisible force. The
larger the mass of an object, the
stronger its attraction. According
to Newton’s law of gravity,
gravity is inversely proportional
to the square of the distance
between the two bodies. A
planet located twice as far away
from the Sun as another one is
consequently only affected by
one quarter of the force.
GRAVITY according to Albert Einstein
THE SUN
EARTH
Johannes Kepler introduced a series of laws concerning
the way in which planets travel around the Sun, but he
was unable to explain the reason why they travel in the
fashion which they do.
Newton’s apple tree travels into space
Hardly anybody else in the world would have paid
attention to how mature fruit falls to the ground, but
23-year-old Isaac Newton was an unusually gifted young
man. Due to the plague, which caused havoc in Europe, he
had fled Cambridge, where he was studying, for the
countryside. One day in the late summer of 1666, he was
sitting in the garden of his childhood home, drinking tea
in the shadow of an apple tree, as his mind travelled.
Suddenly, an apple fell and landed at his feet.
This very ordinary phenomenon made Newton
wonder, why apples always fall vertically? Why do they
not rise or move sideways, he thought. He imagined that
some sort of attraction was at work. Earth attracted the
apple and all other bodies near it, and perhaps the
attraction had an even longer reach – as far as to the Moon
and further into the universe. The realization was to have
far-reaching consequences and take up all Newton’s
time for many years to come.
Ever since he was a child, Newton had impressed
people around him with his brilliant ideas. When he was
a boy, he had invented a grain grinder powered by mice,
he had designed clever clocks that measured time by
means of water, and by watching his own shadow, he
could immediately tell what time of day it was.
Moreover, if he had had the ability to look into the
future, Isaac Newton would have known that the very
apple tree which let go of one of its fruits in the late
summer of 1666 in the garden of his childhood home,
Woolsthorpe Manor, would at some point in the future be
known as the Gravity Tree. He would also have known
that a handful of seeds from the same, extremely die-hard
apple tree would one day in December 2015 be launched
with a rocket to escape the very force that had once made
the apple fall down at Newton’s feet.
The seeds formed part of an experiment at the
International Space Station, ISS, where Newton’s fellow
countryman, astronaut Tim Peake, studied how space
travel affected their growth.
Spacetime bend
KEYSTONE/GETTY IMAGES & T.PYLE/LIGO
The Sun’s mass
bends space
According to Einstein, space
and time can be considered as
one, and gravity is to be understood
as a bend of “space-time”. The
larger the mass of an object,
the more spacetime will bend
around it. The Sun sits like a
large ball on a rubber sheet,
weighing it down. Smaller balls
such as Earth, which roll across the
sheet, are bent by the bend.
Anything with a mass has attraction
Inspired by the fallen fruit, Newton thought about
linking Kepler’s laws of planetary motion with
Galileo’s laws concerning falling objects. The forces
applying on Earth must also govern the universe, Newton
realized. The force that makes the apple fall from the tree
must be the exact same one which keeps the Moon in its
orbit around Earth and the planets in their orbits around
the Sun. And the reason why the planets do not crash into
the Sun is that they travel so fast that they enter into an
orbit around it.
In 1687, Isaac Newton published his ground-breaking
theory of gravity in the Principia masterpiece, which
would be known as one of the most important scientific
A feather is much
lighter than an
apple, so it will fall
more slowly, as it is
slowed more down
by air resistance.
In a vacuum such
as on the Moon,
apple and feather
will fall at the
same speed.
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51
N AT U R E
G R AV I T Y
works ever written. In it, Newton in an intellectual tour de
force introduced not only a mathematical theory of gravity,
but also three laws that describe the motion of bodies.
According to Newton, gravity is a force between two
bodies. All objects with weight attract each other. The extent
of the attraction depends on the masses of the objects and the
distances between them, according to the theory, which,
Newton insisted, had to apply to all bodies in the entire
universe, and so he named it the law of universal gravitation.
Thanks to Newton’s equations, it had finally become
possible to calculate planetary orbits in the Solar System and
the Moon’s orbit around Earth extremely accurately. Newton
could even explain tides and Earth’s shape. Tides are caused
by the attraction of the Moon and the Sun, and as a result of
Earth’s rotation around its own axis, the world must be flat at
the poles, Newton proved theoretically. Since then, the
assertion has been fully confirmed by a wealth of
measurements, photos from space, and radar and satellite data.
Newton has proved to be just as durable, when it comes to
determining the orbits of planets and comets. By means of
Newton’s formulas, astronomers
can calculate the motions of
heavenly bodies thousands of
years into the future or back in
time and predict future solar
eclipses or state the time of past
ones very accurately.
Newton’s law of gravity can
also explain why Galileo’s two
balls fell at the same speed,
although one was heavier than
the other. According to his
gravity equation, the attraction
which Earth exercises on the
heavy ball is greater than its
attraction on the light one. On
ASTRONOMER FRANK DYSON
the other hand, it takes more
at a meeting of the Royal Society and Royal
Astronomical Society in London on 6 November 1919
force to move the heavy ball as
far as the light one, so the two
factors cancel each other out.
We have
completed this
landmark
experiment
testing Einstein's
universe, and
Einstein
survives.
Planet affects Uranus
According to Newton’s theory, gravity exists throughout the
universe, and this very assumption was some camel to
swallow for contemporary scholars. The fact that the forces
of attraction can be exercised over millions of km and reach
all the way from the Sun to Earth seemed completely contrary
to nature to them.
Newton was claimed to work with occult forces, but in 1846,
the criticism ceased once and for all. Up until then, all planets
had been discovered by accident, but based solely on Newton’s
theories, two astronomers, John Couch Adams and Urbain Le
Verrier, independently predicted the existence of an unknown
planet, Neptune. Both had noticed irregularities of Uranus’
orbit, which, they concluded, had to be due to the gravitational
pull of an unknown planet outside Uranus’ orbit. The analysis
proved correct. In the position which the two astronomers had
predicted using pen and paper, Johann Galle of Germany in
1846 used his telescope to observe the planet of Neptune.
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But although Isaac Newton was the "father" of the law of
gravity, he did not believe that he had found an explanation
of the nature of gravity – he had not discovered how it works,
he had only found the formula.
“That one body may act upon another at a distance
through a vacuum, without the mediation of anything else . .
. is to me so great an absurdity, that I believe no man, who has
in philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking, can
ever fall into it,” Newton wrote about his discovery in a letter
to a friend in the 1690s.
Consequently, he passed the task of discovering the "soul"
of gravity on to his descendants – specifically, it turned out, a
German by the name of Albert Einstein, who in the early
1900s worked as a clerk in a patent office in Bern, Switzerland.
Are we on Earth or inside a spacecraft?
Space is bent, the man with the unruly locks and the vivid
gaze claimed – and the planet of Mercury proves that Einstein
was right, when it came to his epoch-making recognition.
From the mid-1800s, it was clear that Newton’s law of
gravity could not explain Mercury’s orbit around the Sun. For
every orbit, the elliptical orbit shifts slightly, which is
inconsistent with Newton’s theory. The discovery turned
physicists' hair grey and triggered a large-scale search for an
unknown planet, which was able to influence Mercury’s
orbit. But in spite of persistent efforts, the planet was never
discovered. For very good reasons, as it does not exist.
In 1905, the young clerk Albert Einstein introduced his
special relativity theory, according to which time and distance
are relative factors that depend on how fast the observer is
moving. Space and time cannot be seen as separate phenomena,
but must be considered as one: spacetime. The special relativity
theory can explain a lot about the universe, but not gravity.
One autumn day in 1907, as Einstein was sitting in his office in
Bern, staring out the window, he had his “best idea ever”. He
thought that if a man falls from a roof, he will not feel gravity
in the free fall – he will be weightless. The man will not feel that
he accelerates, for if he drops his hammer or something else, it
will accelerate at the exact same speed beside him.
In a moment of clear-sightedness, Einstein realized that
there had to be a connection between gravity and
acceleration. It is impossible to make an experiment that
determines, if you are on the surface of Earth or in a
spacecraft accelerating at a speed of 9.8 m/s2 – the
acceleration of objects in a free fall at Earth’s surface, also
known as the acceleration of free fall. In practice,
acceleration and gravity are the same.
This insight put Einstein on the track of a new, groundbreaking theory, the general relativity theory, which he
introduced in 1915. According to his special relativity theory
from 1905, differences of speed make space and time change.
Acceleration is a change of speed, and as acceleration and
gravity are basically the same, it is clear that spacetime
changes around all objects with a mass. In his general
relativity theory, Einstein determines that gravity is simply
spacetime bends. The heavier an object, the greater the bend
around it. Spacetime can be compared to a rubber sheet, on
which the Sun, etc., is lying like a heavy iron ball. The weight
of the ball makes the rubber sheet give in, wearing it down to
form a kind of funnel, and
when a lighter ball such as
Earth rolls across the sheet, it is
forced to change direction.
Solar eclipse puts Einstein to the test
DID YOU KNOW this about gravity?
A FREE FALL MAKES
ASTRONAUTS WEIGHTLESS
The weightlessness of astronauts in space is not
due to the absence of gravity. Still in Earth’s
gravitational field, they are weightless, as they are in a
free fall towards (but around) Earth.
DO NOT BURP IN SPACE
When astronauts burp, their
stomach contents might
follow, without gravity to help
separate gases from liquids.
THE SUN MAKES YOU FAT
An object that weighs 45 kg on
Earth would weigh 1,270 kg
on the Sun, because the Sun’s mass
is about 333,000 times that of Earth.
MOUNTAINS BRAKE ROCK
If air resistance did not exist, a
rock would fall more slowly on
a mountain peak than in a valley, as
it is further away from Earth's centre.
THE WEIGHT OF BLACK HOLE
A black hole with a diameter
of 1 cm weighs just as much
as half of Earth. Not even light can
escape the extreme gravity.
EARTH WAS LIQUID
When Earth was formed from
the dust surrounding the Sun, it
was effectively liquid. The only thing
holding it together was gravity.
Newton had understood gravity as an enigmatic force
between two bodies, but in his general relativity theory,
Einstein claimed that gravity is a characteristic of space
itself – and with his ground-breaking theory, he was able
to solve the old mystery of Mercury’s strange orbit.
Mercury is maintained in its orbit around the Sun,
because the Sun’s powerful gravitational field causes a
bowl-shaped bend of space, in which the small planet is
rolling about like a ball in a game of roulette. This means
that for every orbit, the angle of the path changes relative
to the Sun. Mercury is the Solar System planet which is
orbiting the closest to the Sun, and so, it is subjected to the
most powerful gravitational pull. In the case of such strong
gravitational fields, Newton’s law of gravity is inadequate.
The decisive test of Einstein’s relativity theory came
during a total solar eclipse in 1919. Einstin had predicted
that the light from a remote star passing closely by the Sun
would be bent by the star’s bend of space, and now, his
prediction would be put to the test.
During the solar eclipse of 29 May 1919, British
astronomer Arthur Eddington photographed a star close
to the Sun, and at a meeting of the Royal Society and Royal
Astronomical Society in London on 6 November of the
same year, the tension was finally relieved:
“We have completed this landmark experiment
testing Einstein's universe, and Einstein survives,”
astronomer Frank Dyson said at the meeting.
The Sun had indeed bent the light of the star. And
Einstein had "defeated" Newton with his general relativity
theory, which made the headlines of newspapers
throughout the world in the days that followed:
“Scientific revolution. New theory about the universe.
Newton’s ideas have been defeated,” it said on the front
page of the Times of London. “The light is off course in the
sky,” the New York Times wrote, adding: “Scientists are
more or less beside themselves due to eclipse observations.
Einstein’s theory wins.”
When we are in a free
fall, such as on a steep
roller coaster, we are
weightless and do not
feel that we are
accelerating, because
everything within our
reach is accelerating
at the same pace. If
we drop a ball, it will
"fly" in the air next to
us. This made Albert
Einstein realize that it
is impossible to differ
between acceleration
and gravity.
Satellite measures Earth’s bend of space
Einstein’s general relativity theory is now the best
concerning gravity, but Newton’s law of gravity still
functions quite well, when it comes to calculating rocket
paths as they are launched from Earth, where the bend of
space is minimal, and Albert Einstein himself doubted that
it was really possible to measure the effect of Earth’s
relatively weak gravity on space. But in 2011, like an echo
from 1919, NASA scientists declared, that Albert Einstein’s
theory also holds water in this respect.
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
53
N AT U R E
G R AV I T Y
By means of four ultra-accurate gyroscopes – i.e. devices
used to measure direction – the Gravity Probe B satellite had
tested Einstein’s theories in its orbit 640 km above Earth. The
measurements consisted of following the axes of rotation of
the four gyroscopes inside the probe, whose telescope was
aimed at one single star, IM Pegasi. As the direction to the star
was fixed, tiny changes of the gyroscopes’ axes of rotation
could be measured by magnetic quantum detectors.
According to Einstein, the axes of rotation of Gravity Probe B’s
gyroscopes were to gradually change due to Earth’s mass and
rotation, and when the scientists analysed the measurement
results, they found an angle change of the gyroscopes’
orientations. In other words, the data definitively revealed
that Earth’s gravitational field bends space in the same way as
a ball wears down the rubber sheet of a trampoline.
“By means of this ground-breaking experiment, we have
tested Einstein’s universe, and Einstein holds water,” one of
the scientists, Francis Everitt from the Stanford University,
said during a press conference on 4 May 2011.
Five years later, in February 2016, Einstein’s idea of the
bend of spacetime was once
again confirmed. Physicists
from the American Laser
Interferometer GravitationalWave
Observatory
sensationally published that
they had measured waves in
spacetime, i.e. gravitational
waves, that ripple through
space, spreading like rings on
the water. The ripples of time
and space came from two black
holes that had collided, causing
– just as Einstein had predicted
– waves in spacetime.
Our problem in
physics is that
everything is based
on these two
different theories
and when we
combine them, we
get nonsense.
EDWARD WITTEN,
the physicist behind the string theory about the incompatibility
of quantum mechanics and the relativity theory.
Is gravity carried
by a particle?
Although
several
astronomical observations have confirmed Einstein’s
relativity theory, scientists still get blank expressions, when
they are to explain, how gravity works. They now know that
gravity exists, as space bends. But how the force is carried –
how masses attract each other – they cannot say. Presently,
the most likely explanation is that gravity is carried by a
special – so far only imaginary – particle know as a graviton.
And the assumption does not come out of the blue, as the
exact same principle applies to the other forces of nature.
Gravity is one of four fundamental forces of nature which
govern our world. If atoms are the building blocks of the
universe, the forces of nature are the glue and mortar that do
not only hold the atoms together, but also tell materials how
to behave. Two of the forces, gravity and the electromagnetic
force, have eternal reaches. All mass in the universe attracts
other mass via gravity, and the electromagnetic force can be
observed even from remote galaxies in the shape of light. The
two other forces of nature, the strong and the weak nuclear
forces, only apply inside atoms, where the first one holds the
atomic nucleus together, whereas the other one is responsible
54
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
for radioactive decay.
Of the four forces of nature, gravity is the one which
scientists know the least about, which could seem to be a
paradox, as we feel its effect anywhere. However, the problem
is that gravity is extremely much weaker than the other
forces of nature – even a fridge magnet will easily overcome
Earth’s gravity to pick up a needle from the floor.
In experiments, physicists have proved the existence of
the particles that carry force in the cases of both the
electromagnetic force and the weak and strong nuclear forces.
Small packets of energy are sent and received, which
physicists have named quanta. The best known examples are
light quanta, called photons, which carry the electromagnetic
force. When this applies to the three other forces of nature,
why would the last force, gravity, not also function by means
of quanta, they argue.
However, the problem is that all physicist efforts to find
the imaginary gravity particles have been in vain. But at the
European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, in
Switzerland, scientists are working hard to find it. In the
future, physicists hope to be able to detect the graviton in
experiments in the world’s largest particle accelerator, the
27-km-long, underground Large Hadron Collider. In the
accelerator, protons are fired at speeds close to that of the
light, and when they collide, particles result, which do not
exist under normal circumstances.
The force is hiding in invisible dimensions
If they do one day confirm the existence of the graviton,
physicists will have come a giant step closer to one of the
greatest aims of science: a theory of everything. The theory is
to explain both the largest and the tiniest of phenomena in the
universe – from stars and galaxies to atoms and molecules –
and hence solve the greatest of all mysteries: what caused the
Big Bang, the explosive birth of space about 13.7 billion years
ago, and what happened during the period immediately after
the Big Bang?
In the search for a theory which can explain all
phenomena, scientists have, throughout history, been on the
lookout for simple laws of nature to describe a complex world.
But gravity is the eternal problem and the only one of the four
forces of nature that cannot be explained by means of
quantum mechanics – the theory which describes nature at
the smallest scales of energy levels of atoms and subatomic
particles – but only by means of Einstein’s relativity theory.
“Our problem in physics is that everything is based on
these two different theories, and when we combine them, we
get nonsense.”
These words were said by American physicist Edward
Witten. The formulas of quantum mechanics and the
relativity theory are mathematically incompatible, but
Witten represents the so far most promising theory of
everything – a theory that could combine Einstein’s general
relativity theory and quantum mechanics. Witten, who has
been named the most gifted physicist of his generation, has
been working on the string theory since 1975. The theory
aims for a coherent understanding of matter and forces of
nature, and the essence of the theory is that everything in
the universe – all matter and all four forces of nature – were
pro duc e d from incre dibly tiny,
vibrating strings, which are the tiniest
building blocks of the universe. The strings
are to be understood as threads of energy that
vibrate in no less than 11 dimensions: the three
spacial ones and the time dimension plus seven
other dimensions that are curled up so we cannot
see them.
According to the superstring theory, gravity is not
weaker than the other forces of nature, although that
seems to be the case – we just do not feel its full effect, as
it is spread across the extra dimensions.
The superstring theory lives up to all physicists’
requirements for the long sought theory about
everything – but fails big time, when it comes to
documentation. So far, the theory is only a mathematical
construction and pure imagination. The strings and the
extra dimensions are so tiny that we can never spot them.
So, the theory cannot immediately be tested – unless the
Large Hadron Collider produces a miracle.
If the particle accelerator detectors suddenly spot
an unexpected guest in the shape of an unknown
particle, it might prove to be the long sought graviton,
which shows signs of life, before it disappears into the
invisible dimensions. If it happens, scientists will, in
spite of gravity, have major difficulties keeping their
feet on the ground.
GRAVITY in 2 minutes
FALL TIME:
1 SECOND
Speed: 9.8 m/s
2 SECONDS
Speed: 19.6 m/s
3 SECONDS
3m
Duration:
4 seconds
Altitude:
Altitude:
0.5 m
Duration:
1 second
0.9 m
Duration:
2 seconds
The invisible point that
two objects are
orbiting is the centre
of mass. When the one
object is much larger
than the other, such as
Earth and the Moon,
the point is located
inside the large
object, which sways
slightly around it.
When two objects are
about the same size,
such as in a binary star
system, the point is
located approximately
in between them.
Altitude:
Infinite
Duration:
Infinite
Altitude:
7.6 m
Duration:
10 seconds
Speed: 29.4 m/s
EARTH & THE MOON
A free fall
accelerates
Altitude:
The Moon
orbits a
point inside Earth
Gravity accelerates all
objects equally much.
If there were no air
resistance, any object
in a free fall on Earth
would accelerate at a
speed of 9.8 m/s2,
which is Earth’s
standard acceleration
due to gravity.
THE MOON
Centre of mass
EARTH
B I NA RY S TA R S
STAR A
Centre of mass
STAR B
You jump higher on Pluto
EARTH
RADIUS: 6,371 KM
When you are standing on a planet, gravity is a product
of your own and the planet’s masses, according to
Newton’s law of gravity. So, gravity is less marked on
small worlds such as Pluto, and you can jump
higher and longer than on Earth. The
smaller the world, the lower the
speed required to escape its grip
and travel into space. On Earth,
it requires a rocket travelling at
a speed of 40,000 km/h to
MARS
escape its gravity, but on a
RADIUS: 3,390 KM
comet, a simple jump
may be enough.
PLUTO
RADIUS: 1,188 KM
THE MOON
RADIUS: 1,737 KM
COMET 67P/CHURYUMOV–GERASIMENKO
RADIUS: 2 KM
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ROTTERDAM
TECHNOLOGY
SILK ROAD
DUISBURG
NEW SHORT
CUT TO EUROPE
MOSCOW
The new railway between China
and Europe will be a huge
engineering challenge.
CLAUS LUNAU
VENICE
BETTER RAILWAYS
IN EUROPE
Rail networks in south-east
Europe are too limited. With
a new Silk Road, they will be a
freight traffic bottleneck.
SOLUTION: New railway between
Belgrade and Budapest.
ULTRA-FAST
TRAIN EMPLOYED
Traditional trains take a few
weeks to complete the trip
from China to Europe. Fresh
goods are out of the question.
I S TA N B U L
SOLUTION: A new Hyperloop train
will cut travel time to a few hours.
PIRAEUS
SAMARKAND
TEHERAN
DUSJANBE
PIRAEUS WILL
BE A HUB
Goods from China must
be carried to all of Europe
from hubs – but port
capacities are insufficient
SOLUTION: China pays for an
upgrade of the port of Piraeus.
MOTORWAY ACROSS
THE HIMALAYAS
Goods from India
and Pakistan must cross
Himalayan mountain passes
to reach the new Silk Road.
SOLUTION: The world's most
elevated motorway is constructed
across the mountain range.
China has an epic plan to create
SILK ROAD 2.0
Centuries ago, Marco Polo spent 24 years travelling from Europe to the Far East.
The trip through Asia remains long and troublesome, but in the years to come, the
travel time will be markedly reduced. A huge construction project will update the
ancient trade route, so goods can be carried across the continent in a few days.
58
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
By Lasse Skytt & Ebbe Rasch
NEW CONTAINER TYPE
CAN HANDLE HEAT
Temperatures on the route
might fluctuate between -45 and
+40 degrees, which could
devastate electronics and food.
VACUUM TUNNEL
THROUGH MOUNTAINS
Transport through the
region is slow and costly, and
it is too expensive to construct
a traditional railway.
SOLUTION: A new climate-regulating
container adjusts temperatures.
SOLUTION: A Hyperloop tunnel
sends containers under mountains.
NEW SILK ROAD
New rail tracks
across Asia.
FEEDERS
link regions.
ÜRÜMQI
SHUTTERSTOCK
BISHKEK
LANZHOU
X I ’A N
ISLAMABAD
RAILWAY THROUGH
THE JUNGLE OF LAOS
A new railway will link
China and south-east Asia,
but the jungle is highly
impassable.
A new Silk Road
halves travel time
SOLUTION: Major sections of the
link will be placed on bridges and
built using special equipment.
LAOS
F
or over 1,000 years, the Silk Road
was the most vital trade route
between China and Europe.
Caravans of merchants travelled
slowly across plains, through
jungles, and over mountain ranges to bring
exotic goods to European markets. Today, the
vast majority of freight between the Far East
and Europe is carried by ships, but China
intends to establish a new, fast version of the
legendary (but very real) land route.
The new Silk Road – or One Belt One Road,
as China has named it – is one of the biggest
railway projects ever. Once the rails have been
laid, goods transport along one of the world’s
most important trade routes will be safer,
cheaper and very much quicker. Already in one
decade, travel time could have been halved.
And China is developing a transport system,
which could allow us to complete the trip
between China and Europe in only half a day.
In recent years, China has spent huge sums
on developing the infrastructure of the
enormous country. Ports have been expanded
to be able to handle the world’s largest container
vessels, thousands of km of new motorways
have been constructed, and in 2015-20, 74 new
regional airports are inaugurated throughout
the nation. The world’s largest network of high
speed railways – stretching about 30,000 km –
link the 150+ cities with 1+ million inhabitants
in the country, and over time, the transport
options will be so excellent that freight
bottlenecks are non-existent.
Goods transport by train
China’s most important trading partner is the
EU, and Chinese factories export goods worth
US$350 billion+ to Europe annually. By far the
most is carried by ship, which is the cheapest
and most eco-friendly solution. In 2016, about 52
million t of goods were carried by ship, involving
Today, freight trains take weeks to
complete the trip from China to
Europe. The route winds through
Central Asia along run-down tracks,
but a huge Chinese construction
project will change that. A modern
railway network will be the backbone
of a new Silk Road, reducing travel
time by 50+ % and bringing
prosperity to cities along the route.
The project is a huge one. The
new Silk Road will be a railway link
of about 12,000 km, passing
through some of the most deserted
places in the world – from the
dense jungle of Laos, across the
plains of Inner Mongolia to the
mountains of Kyrgyzstan.
a travel time of approximately one month. In
comparison, about 1 million t of goods were
carried by train or plane, but whereas air cargo
is very expensive, railways could become an
important supplement to container vessels.
With a well-developed railway network, the
transport time from the Far East could be
reduced to some two weeks, i.e. able to compete
with sea transport.
Ten years ago, logistics experts considered
the idea of freight trains between China and
Europe unthinkable. Major local rail width,
signal, and regulations differences meant that
sea transport was the only realistic option, but
the new Silk Road is going to change that.
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
59
TECHNOLOGY
SILK ROAD
Chinese engineers will lay down new tracks
all the way, which are fit for high-speed trains,
and in the countries through which the route
passes, bureaucracy will be standardised and
eased markedly. In return, cities in Kazakhstan,
Uzbekistan, etc., will experience growth and
affluence, when the EU and China can
suddenly be reached by train in a few days.
The new Silk Road will link fabulous cities
such as Bishkek and Samarkand, but the
construction requires much more work than
rubbing an old lamp – and the task cannot be
completed in 1,001 nights. The main route and
its feeders, which are vital for the success of
the project, cut through some of the most
impassable terrain in the world.
4.4
billion people in 64
countries will benefit
from the new railway link.
Jungles make up a major challenge, so
China aims to position the tracks above trees,
rivers, and valleys. The link from Laos through
the jungle to China – 414 km – will include 154
bridges and 76 tunnels with a total length of
260 km. When it comes to building bridges, the
Chinese engineers will use recently developed
technology known as the “Iron Monster”.
Bridge builder crawls forwards
Just like in the case of traditional bridge
construction, the supports that the segments
rest on are built first. Subsequently, large cranes
normally lift the segments into position, but that
is a costly and labour-intensive process. The Iron
Monster will ease the task considerably. It
The T-Flight train will travel at a speed of 4,000
km/h through a near-vacuum tube.
CASIC
60
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
advances on the part of the bridge that has
already been built, and when it reaches the edge
of the front bridge support, it can continue to
the next by itself, positioning a new segment. In
this way, it can very quickly – and without the
use of ground-based cranes – build bridges
across frothing rivers and deep gorges.
Containers "fired" through a tube
Tunnels can also be made in one work flow. As
the drill head eats its way through the rock, the
back part of the machine lines and completes
the new tunnel. Along part of the route, China
wants more than a railway tunnel. Northeastern China is to be linked with the new Silk
Road via a Hyperloop near-vacuum freight
tube, through which special container trains are
fired at a speed of 600 km/h. Once the tunnel
has been finished, 7,200 containers a day can be
shipped from the Chinese city of Hunchun.
Hyperloop links are more expensive
than traditional railroads, and so, the
technology is more fit for carrying people than
new smartphones. And busy travellers can
look forward to going from China to Europe in
a few hours (much faster than planes),
according to the visions of Chinese engineers.
The T-Flight Hyperloop passenger train is
still only an idea involving carriages travelling
through an almost air-void tube at a speed of
up to 4,000 km/h. The 20-tonne, 35-metre train
will seat 16 passengers, and magnets will keep
it "flying", ensuring that there is no friction
between tunnel and train. The propulsion is
produced by linear electric motors placed
inside the tube, and theoretically, it is possible
to complete the trip from Beijing to Paris in
only four hours.
This wild vision is, however, not 100 %
problem-free. All curves must be very soft, so
passengers can sit quietly without getting the
feeling of being on a roller coaster. It is still
unknown whether T-Flight will ever be
realized, but the work with the new Silk Road
is in progress, and 10 years from now, the old
trade route will once again be the backbone of
Eurasian trade.
BRIDGE BUILDER
Iron Monster
crawls between
supports
Once the supports are in place, it is
usually a slow process to combine them
by means of bridge segments. For every
segment, large cranes and scaffolding
must be moved into position, which is
not easy in steep, impassable terrain.
So, the Chinese Wowjoint company has
developed the SLJ900/32 bridge builder,
also known as the “Iron Monster”. The
580 t and 90 m long machine can link
supports all by itself.
TRACK LAYER
100M Of
New Rail
Every Hour
For the purpose of establishing the
thousands of km of railway tracks,
of which the new Silk Road will
consist, Chinese workers will use
the huge Plasser & Theurer SVM
1000 track layer. With a total
length of 100 m, it is the world’s
biggest track laying machine. In
front of the Plasser & Theurer SVM
1000, the ground is levelled and
furnished with broken granite, and
moving forwards, the machine
lays down ties and rails in one
process at a speed of about 100
m/h. In one day, the SVM 1000 can
complete about 2 km of rails.
SLJ900/32
WOWJOINT
Ultra-quick
Track Builder
The Wowjont SL
I900/32
combines supp
orts by new
bridge segmen
ts.
With customised equipment,
railroads can be built incredibly quickly.
IRON MONSTER
SEGMENT CARRIED FORWARD
SEGMENT
SUPPORT LEGS ATTACHED
The Iron Monster lowers
two support legs onto the
edges of the bridge
supports. In this position, the device
can move towards the next support
without the risk of overturning.
2
MONSTER ADVANCES
Then the monster moves
to the next support,
where the front support
legs are attached. When the back
support legs have been raised, the
next segment slides forward.
3
CLAUS LUNAU
SEGMENT MOVED FORWARD
When the supports are
ready, the Iron Monster
moves forward to the front
of the bridge, bringing the next
approximately 50-m-long and 7-8m-wide concrete bridge segment.
1
FRONT
SUPPORT LEGS
BACK
SUPPORT LEGS
SUPPORT
BRIDGE SEGMENT
LOWERED
SEGMENT POSITIONED
When the bridge segment
has been advanced, it is
lowered onto the two
supports, and the support legs
move on to the next support,
so the process can be repeated.
4
CONTROL ROOM
CONCRETE TIES
BELT CONVEYS
MATERIALS
The concrete ties are
carried forward via
the conveyor belt that
is linked with the back
part of the system.
ROBOTIC ARMS
LAYS DOWN TIES
Robotic arms
automatically and very
accurately lays down
the concrete ties on a
layer of broken granite.
CRAWLERS PULL
SYSTEM FORWARD
Crawlers at the front
of the system pull
everything forward, as
it accurately lays
down the new tracks.
RAILS
POSITIONED
As the system moves
forward, two parallel
rails are lowered
about 15 m and
attached to the ties.
scienceillustrated.com.au
CLAUS LUNAU
INTEGRATED
MATERIAL
LOGISTICS
The back part of the
system, which runs on
the new rails, carries
ties and rails.
|
61
TECHNOLOGY
BITCOIN
Bitcoin Wakes From
Long Hibernation
KEN IKEDA MADSEN
The price of bitcoins reflects how much
buyers are willing to pay. Here, the
currency behaves more like shares, but
it can still be used as a means of
payment. The currency’s volativity is
clearly reflected by price developments.
When bitcoin gets bad publicity, prices
fall quickly, and when investors buy
digital coins on a large scale such as in
the second half of 2017, prices rise
dramatically.
62
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
$ 20,000
$ 17,500
$ 15,000
$ 12,500
$ 10,000
$ 7,500
May 2010
FIRST COMMODITY
PAID WITH BITCOINS
November 2013
POLITICIANS SPEAK HIGHLY
OF VIRTUAL CURRENCY
An American from Florida pays
10,000 bitcoins to have two pizzas
delivered to his home. The food costs
US$25, and the price is quoted as
US$0.0025 for one bitcoin.
Politicians in the US Senate discuss
bitcoins, and many expect the virtual
currency to be in for a bright future. In China,
the currency is also spoken highly of, making
the price of one bitcoin reach $1,000.
$ 5,000
$ 2,500
$ 0
2011
2012
2013
By Lasse Skytt
Unbreakable Chain
Protects Virtual Currency
Bitcoins have become legal tender. In 2017, one bitcoin
was worth more than 300g of gold. The technology behind
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies could change the world.
The digital bitcoin currency can
now be used to pay rent and
the bills in many restaurants.
SHUTTERSTOCK
A
t the age of 12, Erik Finman of
the US received US$1,000 from
his grandmother, who urged
the boy to save the money to
pay for a college education, but
Erik was tired of school and had other plans.
His older brother had told him about a new
online virtual currency by the name of
bitcoin. Only very few people had heard of the
digital coins back in 2011, when one coin was
worth US$12, but Erik Finman followed his
brother’s advice and bought some bitcoins.
Two years later, Erik Finman’s original US$
1,000 was worth 100 times more. But he did
not sell his bitcoins yet, and that turned out
to be a wise decision. In early 2017, the price
of the online currency starte d to ris e
dramatically, and when Erik Finman turned
18 in June, the value of his bitcoins had just
reached US$1 million. He gave up his college
education and started his own business in
Silicon Valley. However, bitcoins are much
more than an investment objects. They are
Late 2014
EXCHANGE COLLAPSE
CAUSES SELL OFF
Prices soon fall, because a
major bitcoin exchange collapses.
For the next three years, prices
remain stable around $500.
2014
supported by the blockchain technology, which
could revolutionise society by rendering banks,
authorities, and many companies superfluous.
Record bitcoin year
In 2017, bitcoins became widely accepted.
Millions of people throughout the world have
used the currency as a means of payment or
investment object, and the rising demand for
bitcoins meant that the price of one coin
exceeded the value of 100 g of gold in the
spring. Prices continued to rise in the autumn,
and bitcoins ended 2017 at a price of some
U S $ 1 4 , 0 0 0 – a n a n n u a l i n c re a s e o f
approximately 1,250 %.
Bitcoins' speedy upward "bull run" was
Unhackable technology
particularly due to increasing interest from
The bitcoin phenomenon emerged in 2008,
the world’s most populous nation, China, where
when an unknown programmer by the pen
the demand for the digital currency rose, as the
name of Satoshi Nakamoto published a nine
nation's own currency, the yuan,
page article introducing
fell markedly. Moreover, Japan was
the idea of a
Mid-late 20
17
the first country to set the stage
reliable
DEMAND M
AKES
for bitcoins being considered a
virtual
BIT
COIN PRICE
S
RISE MARK
EDLY
Early 2017
CHINA SHOWS INTEREST
IN DIGITAL COINS
The price of one bitcoin once again
exceeds $1,000 due to massive media
coverage and interest from Chinese
investors in particular. Prices triple
during the first quarter.
2015
currency just like dollars and others.
The interest spread to other parts of the
world, which adopted the currency. Housing
associations in London and Dubai have begun
to accept rent paid in bitcoins, and hundreds
of restaurants and bars through-out the world
accept the digital coins as a means of payment.
The Virgin Atlantic airline, the Expedia online
travel agency, the Amazon electronic commerce
company, and Microsoft accept payment made
in bitcoins. And in many cities – such as
Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Helsinki
– you will even find ATMs, where the digital
currency can be purchased or exchanged.
2016
Over the summ
er, prices cont
inue
to rise. In Sept
ember, there is
a sharp
fall, because th
e Chinese gove
rnment
bans trading th
e currency. Bu
t prices
soon rise again,
and on 17 Dece
mber,
they peak at al
most US$20,00
0 for
one bitcoin – a
rise of 1,900 %
since
January. In one
week, prices fa
ll by
one third, and
the early month
s of
2018 sees the
price soften fu
rther, yet
still remain ov
er $5000.
2017
2018
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
63
TECHNOLOGY
BITCOIN
monetary system. The financial crisis was
undermining the faith in banks and financial
institutions, but the institutions play an
indispensable role in transactions. They verify
that the money has actually been transferred.
If a third party is not involved, there is a risk
that the same money is transferred several
times, as the amount never really leaves the
sender’s account – a challenge known as the
double spending problem.
According to Satoshi Nakamoto, the solution
was to create a virtual currency in an encrypted
system, in which individuals can transfer
money directly to each other without involving
any banks. All transfers are saved in a long
digital chain known as a blockchain – a type
of global spreadsheet. The chain is on all
computers of the bitcoin network, where
users can keep an eye on the transactions, so
hackers are unable to manipulate with the
chain, but the data of the chain cannot be
traced back to people.
Currency becomes legitimate
In 2009, the idea of a digital currency came true,
when the first bitcoins were generated.
During the currency's first year, buyers were
primarily computer wizards and soldiers of
fortune such as Erik Finman. One of the reasons
why interest was limited was that the currency
quickly earned a tarnished reputation as the
preferred means of payment in connection with
shady activities. Drug dealing and arms trade
could be anonymous, not leaving any traces.
Now, the scenario is markedly different.
Bitcoins have become "public property", and
CURRENCY
GROWS SLOWLY
The number of bitcoins rises, every
time a transaction is confirmed by a
blockchain technology process known as
mining. The digital coins are minted
according to an algorithm, which will
result in a total of just under 21 million
bitcoins as an absolute maximum.
companies specialize in analysing the digital
transactions, spotting any crime. The Nordic
Chainalysis company has developed a tool
that uses the public data in the bitcoin chain
to make a risk assessment of whether bitcoin
transfers are connected with ransomware
payments and dark web transactions. Many
consider the currency as a means to solve
problems that exist in other common currency
systems such as counterfeiting.
However, bitcoin users' major incentive is
still to avoid bank charges and administration.
bitcoin transfers are a common way of
transferring money from people who live and
work in the West, but have African or Asian
roots and wish to send money back to their
families. Bitcoin transfers aren't free, but they
are much faster than many bank transfers.
The use of bitcoins is now so widespread
that even banks – which the currency was
developed to eliminate – are taking it seriously.
In 2017, a Swiss bank was the first to let its
customers trade in and invest the virtual
currency. Several central banks also consider
the technology viable.
In spite of its success, the currency’s future
is doubtful. Prices are extremely sensitive and
marked by considerable volatility. Many
consider the currency a financial bubble like
the dot.com bubble, which burst in 2000,
because websites did not prove as valuable as
expected. Others think that the price of a
bitcoin will continue to rise, settling at
approximately US$ 500,000.
Major price volatility
YURIKO NAKAO/BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES
No matter how bitcoins' future will turn out to
be, the digital currency is only a test of the
underlying blockchain technology. The
technology could also revolutionize other parts
of society. In the world of finance and the IT
industry, blockchain has been named the most
important invention since the Internet, as in
principle, the technology could render all third
parties such as banks, authorities, and private
companies superfluous.
Blockchain can be used to improve the
peer-to-peer economy. Airbnb and Uber are
among the major market players, but really,
the companies do not share anything. They are
third parties that connect users and provide
access to flats or car rides, guaranteeing that
nobody is defrauded. For this they get paid – just
like banks. Blockchain could eliminate the
intermediate link and produce a more genuine
peer-to-peer economy, in which drivers use
the system to deal directly with their customers,
rendering Uber superfluous.
The blockchain technology has already
spread to systems which administrate contracts,
verify that elections are carried out in the correct
way, and protect personal data. If the trend
continues, all third parties might end up being
superfluous in the society of the future.
In most Western cities, you can find bitcoin ATMs, from which you can buy bitcoins and
pay with ordinary credit cards. In some ATMs, the digital coins can also be sold again.
64
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
A bitcoin transfer
takes approximately
10 minutes.
Chain keeps hackers out
The key to easy and quick bitcoin transfer
is the complex, encrypted blockchain system.
The technology unites transactions into blocks,
which make up a chain that hackers cannot break.
BITCOIN EXCHANGE
Lasse would like to
1 transfer a
bitcoin to Nadia.
First, he must log
onto an online
bitcoin exchange, where he
can buy the digital currency
using a credit card.
DIGITAL WALLET
The acquired
2 bitcoins are in
Lasse’s digital online
wallet – an account
without a bank. Lasse
can gain access to the
currency via his computer
or smartphone.
PRIVATE KEY
In Lasse’s wallet,
5 a key is
generated which is a
digital fingerprint that
signs the agreement.
At the same time, a
public code that all
users can see is sent.
PUBLIC KEY
Based on the code,
6 other users verify
that the transfer comes
from a legitimate source.
Only the code can be
seen – not Lasse, nor
Nadia's personal details.
MINING
The bitcoin
7 "moves" on the
blockchain from Lasse to
Nadia when a new block
is "mined" by the
network, and the
transaction is added
forever to the blockchain.
ADDRESSES
The wallet uses
3 addresses, to
which other bitcoin
users can make
transfers. You can
reuse an address, or
get a new one each
time you transact.
CONFIRMATION
The mining of
8 the block
containing Lasse's
transfer gets
confirmed by the
network. Nadia can
now use "her" bitcoin
as she wishes.
Blockchain is not just a virtual currency
SMART CONTRACTS implement themselves without legal advice. Two
parties make an agreement, stating the terms in the contract. The smart
contract functions as an algorithm, that will automatically move on to the
next point, once a requirement has been fulfilled in the blockchain system.
DIGITAL VOTING SLIPS prevent ballot rigging, as a voter can personally
check if his vote has been registered. When the vote has been cast, it is
added to the blockchain in an encrypted version. The voter can see his
vote's code, but not the vote itself. The result cannot be hacked.
TRANSFER
REQUEST
Nadia gives an
4 address to
Lasse – only Lasse
and Nadia know that
the address belongs
to Nadia. Lasse
transfers a bitcoin.
BLOCKCHAI
N?
The miner colle
ct
!!
s information
about
the new bitcoi
ns and the appr
oved
transactions in
an
electronic pack
known as a bloc
age
k. The block is
entered into a
chain of blocks
long
– a blockchain
.
The blockchain
huge digital fil
is a
e, which contai
ns information
about all bitcoi
n transfers ever
made. All bitc
users have a co
oin
py of the file on
their compute
and the file is
rs,
constantly upda
ted, so everyo
has a record of
ne
recent transfe
rs. This makes
transfer chain
the
impractical to
hack. Irregular
will quickly be
ities
detected and
corrected, so a
er would need
hackto alter the fil
e on all compu
in the bitcoin
ters
network, which
is impossible.
Transfers ar
e
united in bloc
ks
that are plac
ed
in a long chai
n.
KEN IKEDA MADSEN
PERSONAL DATA can be protected by blockchain instead of a password,
such as in the case of e-commerce or "cloud" storage. In blockchain,
data is encrypted, so it cannot be hacked and can only be passed on to
others, when the owner of the data allows transfer through the system.
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
65
N AT U R E
A N TA R C T I C A
Frozen Coast is
Home To Millions
The average coastal temperature is -10 °C, but
highly specialised animals defy the Antarctic cold.
Some survive on a diet of seal faeces. Others have
converted their teeth into a fine-meshed strainer.
NATUREPL
ARTERIES
W I T H WA R M
BLOOD
SHUTTERSTOCK
NGS/GETTY
ROYAL SOCIETY
VEINS WITH
COLD BLOOD
PENGUINS KEEP
EACH OTHER WARM
BLOOD HEATS BLOOD
HEAT IN THE COLD
The surface of penguin
feathers is colder than the
surrounding air. So the
plumage absorbs heat from
the air, even though the
temperature with wid chill
might be -60 °C.
Penguins keep warm by standing close
together in groups. The offspring is at the
centre, where it is warmest.
FRED OLIVIER/NATUREPL & KLEIN & HUBERT/NATUREPL
66
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
Veins and arteries
intertwine at the top of
penguin feet. The cold
blood, which is headed into
the body, is heated by the
warm blood, that is headed
out, so the bird is
not cooled by
the blood in
its veins.
SPECIAL FEATHERS
ENSURE INSULATION
Under a penguin's
external contour feathers
(photo), there is a thick layer
of tangled down that holds
on to an air layer, which
functions as extra insulation,
keeping the bird warm.
The birds crowd to keep
warm. They change places,
taking turns to protect each
other against the cold.
The temperature at the centre
of the group can be +35 °C.
By Lars Thomas
ON LAND
RICHARD E. LEE JR
Size Keeps Emperor
Penguin Warm
The emperor penguin breeds in the cold Antarctic winter,
so the bird must be able to tolerate the brutally low
temperatures.
Temperatures can be as
low as -60 °C, food is
scarce, and it is always dark. In spite of
the tough conditions, emperor penguins
breed in the freezing Antarctic winter – which
requires a special ability to keep warm.
An emperor penguin weighs up to 40 kg,
and the size reduces the heat loss. Penguin
surfaces are relatively small compared
to their volumes, and so, less heat
escapes the bodies. Positioned in
layers, individual surface feathers
are small and scale-like, so
extremely high winds are required
to lift them and introduce cold air.
The thick layer of blubber that the
penguins accumulate over the
summer, insulates and functions
as an energy store that the
birds can eat into during the
cold months.
FROSTPROOF
Antarctica’s
biggest land
animal is an
insect
COLD EXPERT
FRANS LANTIN
G/GETTY IMAGES
True terrestrial creatures –
species that spend all their
lives on dry land – are scarce
in Antarctica. The biggest
one is a small, wingless
midge, which grows 6 mm
long. It is also the only
insect in Antarctica.
Midges live short, hectic
adult lives (10 days) in midsummer after two years as
larvae under the ice. They
protect themselves against
the cold by accumulating
sugars in their cells that
prevent ice formation. The
midges are so welladjusted to the cold that
they die if temperatures
rise above 10 °C.
HEEL BALA
NCE
PREVENTS
COLD
Penguins st
and on their
heels to min
imise heat
loss to the ic
e. The heels
are covered
in a thick
layer of horn
y skin, that
reduces hea
t loss.
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
67
N AT U R E
A N TA R C T I C A
IN WATER
Animals Take Refuge In
The Freezing Cold Ocean
The water is cold, but it is better than living on dry land.
Temperatures of a few degrees below zero are to be preferred over
-60°C extremes in midwinter – and conditions are more stable in
the ocean, which offers easy access to food.
The ocean surrounding Antarctica is full of plankton algae,
which thrive in the nutrient-rich, clear meltwater. The clear water
allows the Sun to supply energy for the small creatures. The many
plankton algae make up food for krill – tiny crustaceans – which
are consumed by about all other animal species in Antarctica. So,
the plankton algae keep the entire ecosystem around Antarctica –
and major parts of the rest of the world – alive. The algae produce
50-85 % of all the oxygen in the atmosphere.
THE CONTINENT IS BONE-DRY
In spite of the huge quantities of
ice, Antarctica is a dry place. The
cold results in low atmospheric
humidity, and so, an average of only 165
mm of precipitation falls annually – so
little that the continent is the same
category as deserts.
WIND MAKES IT COLDER
High winds blow in the open
landscape, making it feel even
colder. Wind chill makes -20 °C feel like
-34.5 °C at a wind speed of 10 m/s. In the
ocean, everything is quiet below the
surface.
LAND IS COLDER THAN WATER
The Antarctic Ocean is cold, but
conditions are stable. The water will
never be any colder than a few degrees
below zero, before it freezes, whereas
temperatures on dry land could be as low
as minus 60+ °C.
WILDERNESS
PARADISE
KRILL CONSUMES PLANKTON
Tiny, shrimp-like krill filter
2 plankton algae out of the water.
The algae are so numerous that groups
of krill measuring several km can be
observed by satellites.
68
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
BIG MARINE ANIMALS EAT KRILL
The large baleen whales specialize
3 in filtering krill out of ocean water.
A fin whale or blue whale can capture
several tonnes of krill in one mouthful.
DOC WHITE/NATUREPL
SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
DAVID TIPLING/NATUREPL
PLANKTON EMERGES
Huge quantities of plankton algae
1 "mushroom", when the sun is
shining. One cubic metre of water could
include thousands of monocellular algae.
Toothed Teeth Make
Seals Successful
Customised teeth make it easy for crabeater
seals to munch food. Hundreds of
indentations in their teeth have helped
them flourish in Antarctica.
The waters around Antarctica are the
home of the world’s most numerous seal
species, the crabeater seal, which does
not eat crabs, rather it specialises in
consuming krill.
Krill are rarely more than 1-2 cm long,
so it is not energy-efficient to catch them
one at a time for seals that grow up to 2.5
m long and weigh 200+ kg. To take
advantage of all the small portions of
food, the crabeater seal has developed
special molars, which have more than
100 tiny indentations that function like
the holes of a strainer. When a crabeater
seal is searching for food, it swims with its
mouth wide open into a group of krill,
closes the mouth, and forces the water
out through the many molar indentations.
Subsequently, it consumes the krill which
was trapped inside its mouth.
The seal’s teeth
function like a
strainer, which lets
water escape, but
traps the krill.
The back of the mouth is
sealed off by a protruding
bone, making it a closed
strainer.
The teeth are
designed to be
close fitting at the
front and sideways.
SEAPICS.COM
FLOOR GNAWER
DOUG ALLAN/NATUREPL &
CHRIS AND TILDE STUART/
FLPA/MINDEN PICTURES
The seal's molars
include more
than 100 small
indentations.
Sea Pig Exploits Ocean Floor
Food is not limited to the upper
layers of the waters surrounding
Antarctica. Atlantic sea pigs takes
advantage of the fact that the
ocean floor is also rich in nutrients.
The 20-cm-long creatures are
related to sea cucumbers, and
large groups of them comb the
ocean floor, eating their way
through the top layers like
earthworms on dry land. Sea pigs
feed on the organic substances in
the sea floor material or what has
fallen to the floor from above –
such as a dead whale. Moreover,
sea pigs make sure to recirculate
the nutrients, so they are not
wasted on the ocean floor.
scienceillustrated.com.au
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69
N AT U R E
A N TA R C T I C A
IN THE AIR
The snow petrel uses its oil as food,
defence, and to build nests.
Without the sheathbill, Antarctica
would be a little less white and full
of dead animals, etc.
OIL
REFUSE COLLECTOR
With their thick, snow-white plumage,
sheathbills look like big , fat pigeons,
but they behave very differently – the
white birds are Antarctica’s vultures.
They are excellent flyers, but they
cannot swim nor dive for food,
because they lack web. Instead, they
play the role of refuse collectors on the
freezing continent. They clean up,
when a seal has given birth,
consuming blood, placentas, and
other "litter". If they happen to find
fresh seal excrements, they will also
eat those. In the penguin colonies,
sheathbills eat broken eggs and dead
babies with equal enthusiasm – or the
penguins’ vomited stomach contents –
and near scientific bases, they feed on
garbage and other human waste.
In a region such as Antarctica,
animals of this type are extremely
important. The cold preserves dead
bodies and other waste and so, the
breaking-down takes a long time.
Sheathbills ensure that the process
happens much faster.
COLIN MISKELLY & AUSCAPE/GETTY IMAGES
WATER PLOUGH
OIL EXPERT
Small Bird Makes
the Good Oil
ANTOINE DERVAUX/BIOSPHOTO
ARJEN DROST/BUITEN-BEELD/MINDEN PICTURES & RICK PRICE/GETTY IMAGES
Antarctica’s Refuse Collector Survives
On Poop, Vomit, And Placentas
The snow petrel survives the extreme
conditions by means of a special oil,
which it produces in its digestive
system. The oil is foul-smelling and
scares off enemies. It is also highly
nutritious, so the offspring is fed with
it – and the adult bird can digest it
itself, if necessary. Moreover, the oil
hardens in the cold climate, so it can
be used to make nests.
Bird Copies Whales to Catch Food
LAMELLAE
Broad-billed prion beaks
contain lamellae that
function just like baleens.
The broad-billed prion's beak is
designed in the same way as the
mouths of big baleen whales. In
the upper beak, you will find
about 250 lamellae in two rows
approximately 1/10 mm apart.
When the prions search for
food, they use a method known
as hydroplaning. Flying with
their beaks over the ocean, they
immerse their lower beaks into
the water. When they find krill,
water fleas, or other plankton,
they raise their lower beaks,
forcing it firmly against the
upper beak. Subsequently, they
use their tongues to force the
water out between the lamellae,
capturing and swallowing the
creatures.
With a wing span of 3+ m, the
albatross has the longest
wings of any animal.
GLENN BARTLEY/GETTY IMAGES
CHAMPION FLYER
The Albatross Stays
Airborne For Months
In one single mating season, an albatross covers a distance corresponding
to several times around the world to find food for its offspring. That can
only be done because of the bird's highly efficient flying technique.
The albatross uses its huge wing span
to take advantage of the high winds
over the Southern Ocean. The bird
breeds on many of the small islands
near Antarctica, but its food comes
from the ocean, and the search for
food is a strenuous one. Adult birds
with offspring to feed must often fly
thousands of km to find fish and
squid – corresponding to several
times around the world during a
mating season. The only chance of
resting is sitting on the water, whose
surface is also frequented by
predators such as sharks and whales.
To avoid their hungry bites, the
albatross has evolved the ability to
sleep in the air. In this way, the bird
can remain on its wings for weeks
and months at a time.
The flying skills of the albatross
are primarily due to its long, narrow
wings, which make the bird
extremely manoeuvrable and allow
it to take advantage of the
slightest wind patterns changes
over the ocean. The large bird can
glide fast for long distances – more
or less without flapping its wings
and consuming valuable energy.
The flying practice begins, when
the young birds leave their nest,
heading for the ocean. After that,
they will not land on dry land again,
until they are sexually mature 8-9
years later.
Huge Wings For High Winds
Albatrosses use windy weather and their large
wing spans of 3+ m to remain in the air for
months. The special method is known as
dynamic soaring.
2
5
MIKKEL JUUL JENSEN
WIND DIRECTION
3
4
1
The albatross flaps its
wings, flying upwards
against the wind, until
reaching its maximum
cruising altitude 20 m above
the surface.
1
The albatross turns
2 around, diving the 20
m back to the surface with
the wind.
The dive increases the
3 albatross' speed to
some 100 km/h. Right
before reaching the
surface, it flies back up
against the wind.
The albatross angles
By repeating the
4 its wings to cause
5 pattern, the bird can
overpressure beneath them.
The pressure sends the bird
back to an altitude of 20 m.
complete hundreds of km
and fly for hours without
beating its wings.
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
71
PREHISTORY
FLOWERS
Human History
Owes it All to a
Tiny Flower
A modest flower ended up affecting life on Earth
more than the huge bolide that wiped out
the dinosaurs. Scientists have recreated the
small plant, to which we owe our existence.
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SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
THE WORLD'S
FIRST FLOWER
RTH.
CONQUERED EA
By Niels Hansen
A
SHUTTERSTOCK & HERVÉ SAUQUET/JÜRG SCHÖNENBERGER/UNIVERSITÄT WIEN
4-m-long reptile with rows of
huge spikes down its back is
eating its way through the juicy,
green leaves of a ginkgophyte.
The animal is a Regnosaurus
living in a region, which will be north-western
Europe 140 million years later. In between its
legs, much smaller dinosaurs move quickly
about, benefitting from the twigs falling from
the large herbivore’s jaws.
At the top of the high, conical tree, an
Istiodactylus lands, folding up its learther-like
wings. Its toothed beak is smothered in blood
from the carcass that it had for breakfast.
None of the creatures notice that trapped
between ferns and ginkgophyte roots, a small
plant slowly unfolds its top leaves to greet the
morning sun. The small plant will soon turn
evolution upside down. It is Earth’s first flower,
and in only 40 million years, its ancestors will
take over the eco-systems of the world in a
unique biological revolution.
Scientists have for the first time revealed
what the ancestor of almost 90 % of modern
plants looked like. And they are well on their
way to finding out how the small flower
Flowers Invaded
a Green World
The world became seriously
green 475 million years ago. The
first real terrestrial plants
resembled moss, but they later
developed roots and turned into
the groups that dominated Earth
before the flowers.
Among them were forms
such as liverworts, ferns, seed
ferns, cycadophytes,
ginkgophytes, conifers, and
30-m-high relatives of modern
clubmoss. Some of them have
FERNS
CONIFERS
defeated its competitors to finally pave the way
for our own species: humans.
Flowers dominate the world
The descendants of the world’s first flower –
known as flowering plants – now exist almost
anywhere on Earth. So far, scientists have
discovered some 300,000 different species, but
another 100,000 are probably hiding in the
tropical forests of the world.
The flowering plants do not only include
the ones that we usually think of as flowers,
such as sunflowers, tulips, roses, and
dandelions. Leaf-bearing trees, fruit bushes,
cactuses, and carnivorous plants also form part
of the group. To humans, the most important
ones might be grasses, including rice, sugar
canes, wheat, corn, etc.
The central position in almost all
ecosystems has made both palaeontologists
and botanists explore the biology and origins of
flowers, trying to find out what the first flower
looked like, which type of plant it descends
from, and why it took over Earth’s fauna, when
the species that existed before it were
apparently well-adjusted.
FLOWERS
OUTCOMPTED
OTHER
PLANTS.
600
450
300
150
0
Jurassic
Cretaceous
145-66 million years ago
Tertiary
PERIODS
GINKGOPHYTES
FL OW ER IN
G PL AN TS
scienceillustrated.com.au
SHUTTERSTOCK
CYCADOPHYTES
descendants that we can still see
today, when we take a walk in a
dense old-growth forest.
The prehistoric plants did not
have colourful flowers nor did
they make much use of insects for
reproduction purposes. Instead,
they spread their pollen or spores
via wind or water. When the first
flowering plants appeared in the
early Cretaceous, the number of
early plant species began to be
dramatically reduced.
NUMBER OF KNOWN SPECIES
The first flower, which emerged in the
era of the dinosaurs, probably had a
diameter of less than 1 cm.
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73
PREHISTORY
FLOWERS
Insects assisted flowers
Unlike flowering
plants, conifers and
other gymnosperms do
not "wrap" their seeds
in high-energy fruit.
SHUTTERSTOCK
A major international research project has
just answered one of the questions: what did
the first flower look like? Scientists studied the
appearances and genes of almost 800 modern
plant species, and based on the results, they
could figure out the characteristics of their
common ancestor. The conclusion was that it
was very much like modern flowers. All its
characteristics still exist in flowers today – but
not one flower is exactly like it.
In spite of its resemblance to the majority
of modern plants, the first flower was quite
unique in its time. Its new characteristics
provided it with an evolutionary advantage:
they allowed it to cooperate with animals on
an unprecedented scale.
More than six stigma
The flower's female sex
organ had at least six stigma
for capturing pollen.
Flowers’ colourful petals function as signal
lamps, attracting hungry insects. In order to get
to a flower’s high-energy nectar, insects must
push their way past stamens and stigmas. The
stamens contain pollen, the flowers’ male
gametes, which stick to the insect body. When
the insect flies on to another flower, it deposits
the pollen on the flower’s stigma – the exterior
part of the plant’s female sex organ.
This reproduction method was very
different from and much more clever than in
earlier vegetation. Prehistoric plants only
ejected their pollen or spores into the air or
water, counting on them to land in the right
place – just like their modern descendants such
as ferns and pines do today. The pines improve
their chances of hitting another tree’s female
cones by making their male cones produce
millions of pollen grains, but the extensive
production wastes huge quantities of energy.
The flowers’ cooperation with insects
ensures a surplus of energy, and the success
was also beneficial to insects. According to
studies, a few million years later, many new
species of wasps, bees, ants, butterflies, moths,
At least seven stamens
The flower had at least seven
stamens, which gave off pollen.
and flies emerged, whose life cycles were only
based on flowering plants. They developed
mouth parts that were particularly fit for
extracting nectar, eating flower petals, or
entering fruit. They also developed fur-like
structures on their bodies, which efficiently
collected pollen.
The success of the flowering plants did not
only affect insects. Studies indicate that the
explosive growth of flowering species takes
place at the same time as a marked growth in
the numbers of reptiles and birds. The dinosaurs
were undoubtedly also affected by the major
change of the ecosystems, but scientists have
not yet found out how the large animals reacted
to the radical change. Their bones apparently
show no signs of adaptation to the new world.
According to some studies, we can thank
the flowers for our existence. The group of
mammals which humans and almost all other
modern mammals belong to was only one of
a series of mammal groups back then. And it
was not by far the most successful one.
However, the situation changed, when
flowering plants conquered the world.
Scientists propose that the drastic ecosystem
Recreating
the Original
Flower
An extensive analysis of genes and
looks reveals the make-up of the
world’s first flower.
The flower had at least
11 petals distributed
across at least three circles.
In modern flowers, the petals
have normally evolved into
two types: green sepals and
colourful petals.
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SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
HERVÉ SAUQUET/JÜRG SCHÖNENBERGER/UNIVERSITÄT WIEN
Three rings of petals
The world’s first flower had its male and
female sex organs in one place,
scientists have discovered following an
extensive analysis of hundreds of
modern and fossilized species. The
scientists used DNA, etc., from modern
plants to draw up a detailed family tree
of the flowers. Based on the family tree,
they were able to make out, when the
different flowers’ characteristics
occurred and which characteristics the
first flower must have had.
The study eliminates previous
theories that the first flowering plants
had male and female organs in different
flowers. The location of the leaves was
also a surprise. They were found in
separate circles instead of spirals, as
scientists used to think.
Vessel Network Gave
Flowers Advantage
change put most mammals under pressure, but
our own omnivorous anc estors were
sufficiently versatile to perform well during
the challenging period.
Gene flaw caused success
The flowering plants went from nothing to
making up to 80 % of the world’s vegetation in
less than 40 million years – a split second in a
major geological perspective.
Before flowers entere d the s c ene,
gymnosperms, ferns, etc., dominated Earth.
Gymnosperms now include pines,
cycadophytes, and ginkgophytes, but in the era
of the dinosaurs, there were also other types.
Their heyday probably lasted some 150 million
years – today only about 1,000 species remain
on Earth. The majority of them are conifers,
which exist in cool or mountainous regions.
Today, scientists are almost certain that the
first flower developed from an extinct group
of gymno sperms. And they are also beginning
to understand the genetic changes which
triggered the development.
The major breakthrough came when they
studied the primitive Amborella trichopoda
The early flowers improved their own infrastructure,
developing unique cooperation with insects and other
animals to spread pollen and seeds.
Flowers target pollen
Vessels distribute nourishment
The flower attracts insects by means
of nectar, and the small creatures
carry pollen to another flower. Insects
typically stick to one type of flower per
flight, so the plant can rest assured that
its pollen is carried to a peer.
Early flowering plants developed an
improved network of vessels in their
leaves, ensuring that the plants can efficiently
distribute water and nutrients to their cells.
According to some scientists, this invention was
the most important explanation of the success
of the flowers.
POLLEN
SHUTTERSTOCK
Pollen for lunch
Each pollen grain contains
two sperm cells, which
fertilize one egg cell in the flower
each. One fathers a new plant,
whereas the other functions as
the new plant's packed lunch.
Animals spread seeds
After the fertilisation, the ovary
with the fertilised egg cells typically
grows and matures into something edible
such as a berry or nut. The high-energy
fruit attracts animals, which eat it,
spreading the seeds via their faeces. The
seeds of some flowers must pass through
bowels to be able to germinate.
SEEDS
PREHISTORY
FLOWERS
flowering plant, which now only grows on
a small Pacific island 1,600 km east of Australia.
The scientists sequenced the plant’s genes, only
to discover that its ancestors’ DNA had changed
radically about 160 million years ago. The
change happened at least 20 million years
before the time which prehistoric flora experts
estimate to be the most probable for the
evolution of the world’s first flower – and at
least 30 million years before the oldest known
fossilised flowering plant.
The marked change was a genome doubling
– a genetic fertilization mishap, by which the
fertilized egg cell got twice as many copies of
its own genes as normally. In animals, such a
mishap will result in the offspring becoming
sterile or dying during the embryonic stage or
shortly after birth.
But in plants, there is a slight chance that
the individual survives and is even able to
reproduce. According to the scientists, the extra
genes can make sure that the plant and its
descendants are better protected against
harmful mutations. If a mutation destroys one
Scientists studied the
fossilized Kunbarrasaurus
dinosaur under the
microscope and found
evidence of fruits.
copy of a gene, three others can take over. The
biggest advantage might be that the extra genes
could develop into new genes with other
functions over time.
The genome doubling in flowering plant
ancestors consequently laid the foundation of
the ground-breaking characteristics that
triggered their success.
Flowers most important event
Today, the flowering plants are not just the
most species-rich group of plants, but also the
most diverse. It includes anything from the
only 2-mm-wide members of the duckweed
family to the more than 100-m-high Australian
giant eucalyptus.
Furthermore, the success is emphasised by
the fact that scientists have not yet found fossils
of prehistoric flower families, which have gone
extinct at a later point in time. In other words,
the combination of flowers, nectar, and
cooperation with insects was so ingenious that
none of the larger groups of flowers, which
have emerged over the past 140 million years,
have ever disappeared again.
Flowering plants have adapted to life in the
driest deserts of the world, on the highest
mountains, and on the ocean floor. And only
a few environments on Earth are not completely
dominate d by the suc c essful plants.
Gymnosperm conifers are still the most
numerous in northern forests. But it is not by
far unthinkable that the flowering plants will
at some point become able to out compete the
die-hard conifers on their own home turf.
The complete dominance of the plant
kingdom and the huge influence on the world’s
fauna has made some palaeontologists point
out the first flower’s emergence as one of the
most important events in Earth’s history. Over
a period of 40 million years, during the heyday
of the dinosaurs, the small growths managed
to alter life in the world, preparing the plant
and animal groups that rule the world today
for success. Not even the huge meteor that
struck Earth 66 million years ago, wiping out
the dinosaurs, was able to change what the
flowers had produced.
FOSSILISED
FAECES
DINOSAUR
STOMACH
A dinosaur dropping held evidence
of bark, whose cells were much
like those of flowering plants.
Dinosaurs Consumed Flowers
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SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
apparent lack of adaptation has made
some scientists think that the flowers’
conquest of the flora contributed to
wiping out the dinosaurs.
Nevertheless, scientists have found
evidence that some dinosaurs benefitted
from flowers.
In 2000, Australian palaeontologists
took a closer look a a fossilized,
armoured Kunbarrasaurus dinosaur and
found evidence of fruit from a flowering
plant in its stomach. Fossilized dinosaur
droppings – or coprolites – have also
been useful.
In 2005, Chinese scientists examined
a coprolite, finding evidence of an early
grass species, and in 2015, American
scientists analysed a 75-million-year-old
coprolite the size of a football, spotting
evidence of bark from a flowering plant.
LUCY G. LEAHEY ET AL. & NICOLE RIDGWELL
The flowers of the Cretacious shook up
Earth’s ecosystems, but scientists still
do not know how the change affected
the world’s most dominant group of
animals, the dinosaurs. Only a few
groups of dinosaurs increased their
numbers, when flowers emerged, such
as duck-billed dinosaurs, whereas the
animals’ teeth do not show signs of
adapting to a new type of food. The
Flowers Live for Millennia
or Kill in Seconds...
Deadly terrorists, fierce carnivores, and giants weighing several
tonnes. Flowering plants are highly extreme organisms.
GIANT
Huge tree is 80,000 years old
NICOLAS CEGALERBA/GETTY IMAGES
SHUTTERSTOCK
Genetic analyses of an American forest consisting of
about 47,00 aspens have revealed that the forest is
really one single organism. All the trees are genetically
identical and share the same root system. With a total
weight of about 6,600 tonnes, the forest is one of the
heaviest organisms on Earth, and it is also one of the most
ancient. Studies indicate that it is 80,000 years old.
TERRORIST
Toxic flower kills our cells
GERRY WHITMONT/GETTY IMAGES
The castor bean might be the world’s most
hazardous plant due to its toxic proteins. When
prepared as the poison called ricin, a dose as small as
0.2 mg is sufficient to kill a human being. The toxin
curbs our cells’ ability to produce proteins, and
without new proteins, the cells die. Ricin is on the
list of terrorist weapons, and there is no antidote.
SNOW QUEEN
COLIN HARRIS/ALAMY/ALL OVER
CH’IEN LEE/MINDEN PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES
1 m wide and 7 kg heavy. The Rafflesia arnoldii plant
has the world’s largest flowers. They grow in one
single Indonesian province on the island of Sumatra, and
they are very difficult to find. The plant only rarely blooms,
and when it does, it is only for a few hours, until it
withers. A foul smell of rotting meat attracts flies and
beetles, which make sure to spread the plant’s pollen.
ANCIENT
UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP/GETTY IMAGES
Rare giant reeks of ruin
Ice-cold plant helped by wind
Only two flowers can tolerate the
conditions in Antarctica. The toughest one
is Antarctic hair grass. The small plant grows so
close to the South Pole that there are not
enough insects to perform pollination.
Instead, it imitates its remote ancestors,
spreading its pollen with the wind.
Flower eats mammals
Most carnivorous plants
consume small insects, but
the Nepenthes rajah pitcher goes
for more substantial meals. The
plant’s 40-cm-high cups contain
2.5 l of pancreatic juice and can
trap lizards, birds, and mammals.
Borneo’s tropical pitcher attracts
insects with nectar. If they
fall into the cup, they drown,
and the plant digests them.
RAVENOUS
EARTH
C L I M AT E
Instant Expert: Climate Zones
Rain And Heat Divide
Earth Into Zones
Sunlight heats Earth but is not evenly distributed. The regions
around the Equator receive much more sunlight and so more heat
than the polar regions. The temperature differences and varying
precipitation have produced different climate zones, which are
characterised by different flora and fauna.
compare average temperatures and
precipitation to the dominant vegetation
of the region. The distance to the Equator
and to the closest ocean and a region’s
altitude above sea level are important
factors for the local climate.
Mountains produce their own small
climate zones, making sure that snow
can fall on the Equator. In the tropics,
ice-covered peaks with no vegetation rise
above valleys with tropical forests including fragile vegetation that does not
tolerate temperatures below zero.
Moreover, mountains often function as
rain traps, where the air sheds large
quantities of precipitation.
Coastal regions also have common
characteristics throughout the world.
They typically receive more precipitation
than interior regions, where the distance
to the ocean causes a dry climate.
Moreover, oceans function as huge heat
buffers, evening out seasonal
temperature differences, ensuring mild
winters and cool summers, whereas
interior continental regions at the same
degrees of latitude have wild winters and
hot summers.
Climate with major differences
between north and south – and
between wet coastal and dry
continental regions. Regions with
continental climate experience
much more temperature variation
than regions with coastal climate.
SHUTTERSTOCK
E
arth depends on the huge quantity
of energy that flows to us from the
Sun. Every square metre facing the
Sun constantly receives 1,366 watts, and
the total quantity is 180,000 times larger
than the total power generation capacity
of the US. The Sun heats Earth, and
together with the natural greenhouse
effect, this provides Earth with an
average temperature of 14 degrees.
However, the heat is not evenly
distributed. Earth’s axis of rotation
inclines 21.5-24.5 degrees as compared
to Earth’s orbit around the Sun. The
sunlight shines directly on the Equator,
whereas it shines more indirectly on
polar regions – i.e. one square metre of
Earth’s surface in the polar regions
receives much less sunlight than one
square metre in the tropics. Due to
Earth’s curve, the distance to the Equator
determines the temperature, and
together with precipitation, this forms
the basis of climate zones and their
varied vegetation.
Climate zones are defined in different
ways. Most are based on climatologist
Wladimir Köppen’s work in the 1920s and
TEMPERATE
The tropics are often struck by heavy rain,
particularly in regions with high mountains.
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SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
Earth's average annual rainfall is
about 1,000 mm, corresponding to
50,000 billion tonnes of rain, snow, sleet,
and hail. Most rain falls in the tropics,
particularly where mountains force wet
ocean winds to high altitudes such as in
north-western South America and the
Bay of Bengal. The air is cooled with
altitude and sheds its water vapour as
rain. Interior continental regions are far
away from the wet ocean winds and
often receive so little precipitation that
evaporation exceeds precipitation.
TROPICAL & SUBTROPICAL
SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK
Uneven Distribution Of Precipitation
In the tropics, temperatures rarely
fall below 18 degrees at sea level,
and in many places, major
quantities of rain fall – either
throughout the year or during
particular rainy seasons. Seasonal
temperature variations are minor.
In the subtropics, temperatures
vary more, but frosty weather is
rare. The subtropics are typically
located north of the Tropic of Cancer
and south of the Tropic of Capricorn.
ALLAN HØJEN
The Six Zones
MOUNTAIN
In dry regions, atmospheric
humidity is quite low, resulting in
low precipitation and major
temperature differences between
summers and winters and
between days and nights.
Temperatures fall with altitude.
Mountains are not only cold, they
are also more wet than the lowlands, as water vapour condenses
at high altitudes, making clouds
shed water.
SHUTTERSTOCK
DESERT AND SEMI-DESERT
SHUTTERSTOCK
Earth can be divided into six major climate zones.
The tropical-subtropical, the temperate, and the
polar zones are roughly determined by the distance
to the Equator. The three other zones are less
dependent on the degree of latitude. Semi-deserts
and deserts are mostly located in warm areas in
interior continental and polar regions,
whereas coastal and mountain climates
are scattered across the continents.
COASTAL
CLIMATE
RECORDS
Driest place:
The Antofagasta region in the
Atacama desert of Chile has
not received any rain at all in
the past 400 years.
POLAR
Warmest inhabited place:
Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia,
has an annual average temperature
of 35.6 degrees.
Coldest inhabited place:
Mawsynram, India, gets 11,871
mm of precipitation annually.
Eureka, Nunavut, Canada, has an
annual average temperature of
minus 19.7 degrees.
Even in the summer, temperatures
do not rise above 10 degrees, and
the winters are long and cold.
Around midsummer, it never gets
dark, whereas at winter solstice,
there is no light. Most polar
regions are covered in ice or snow
throughout most of the year.
scienceillustrated.com.au
|
SHUTTERSTOCK
Wettest place:
SHUTTERSTOCK
With a few exceptions, the coastal
regions of the world have a more
wet climate than interior regions.
On the other hand, the oceans
reduce the typical seasonal
temperature differences. This
means that coastal regions have
cooler summers and warmer winter
as compared to interior regions.
79
Trivia
PUT YOUR KNOWLEDGE
TO THE TEST
1. Prevailing sea conditions tend to
push the sand of Eastern Australian
beaches in which direction?
2. Which species is the largest, landbased mammalian carnivore ever to
have lived?
3. Depicted as rising from
the sea in a clam shell,
which Greek goddess has
a name meaning “from
the foam”?
q. 9
4. A solid geological
material made entirely
of organic matter,
kerogen is a precursor
to what vital
substance?
q. 4
5. Which dwarf planet was classified
as a full planet from its discovery in
1801, up until 1850?
6. After the Mexican
Revolution from 19101920, the cockroach
in the folk song “La
Cucaracha” can no
longer walk because it
doesn’t have what?
7. What travels at an
almost constant speed of 27,600 km/h
but can never get any closer to you
than about 408 kilometres?
8. The US Lockheed Martin F-22 and
F-35, the Russian Sukhoi Su-57 and the
Chinese Chengdu J-20 are all examples
of 5th generation what?
9. Found in South-East Asia, is the
bearcat, or binturong (see picture), a
bear or a cat?
10. Which kind of generator
technology produces over 60% of
Canada’s electricity?
Trivia Countdown (use fewer clues, get a higher score!)
5 POINTS
1. COSMOLOGY
Name this
theoretical
force
2. PHYSICS
Name this
element
3. ZOOLOGY
Name this
animal
4 POINTS
3 POINTS
2 POINTS
1 POINT
It is partly
responsible for
Einstein calling the
cosmological
constant his
“greatest blunder”.
At large scales, it
has the opposite
effect of gravity and
may be the fifth
fundamental force.
It does not interact
with matter nor
light, and so,
scientists can
neither measure
nor see it.
It may make up 68%
of the entire
universe – if it exists,
which has not yet
been proved.
It can be considered
as a kind of energy
that is accelerating
the expansion of the
universe.
It was discovered in
1804 by BritishFrench chemist
Smithson Tennant,
who also discovered osmium.
The element has
atomic number 77
and is located in
group 9 of the
periodic table, which
also includes cobalt.
The original standard kg and m
prototypes include
10% of this
element and 90%
platinum.
The hard, silverwhite metal exists in
small quantities in
rock and iron
meteorites.
Its name derives
from the Greek
word “irisi” which
means rainbow.
The animal's Latin
name is Ailurus
fulgens. In its native
region, it is also
known as wha or
chitwa.
The animal lives in
southern and central
China and the
Himalayas in Nepal,
Sikkim, Bhutan, and
northern Burma.
It feeds on fruit,
roots, acorns, berries,
eggs, grass, and
lichen. The animal
weighs 3-6 kg and is
about 1 m long.
It’s Latin name can
be translated into
“fire-coloured” or
“shining” cat.
It is best known as a
coloured version of
a famous black and
white bear. (But it
isn’t related at all.)
ANSWERS ON p82!
80
|
SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
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BIODIVERSITY
HERPETOLOGY
WHAT KIND OF A TREE FROG
DOESN’T LIKE TREES?
ANTHONY FORDHAM
W
hat exactly makes a tree frog a tree
frog? Well, the clue is right there in
the name. Tree frogs normally spend most
of their time up a tree, or at least off the
ground in some kind of plant, and only
return to the ground and the water to
mate and spawn.
But evolution being what it is, of
course there are a bunch of tree frog
species that don’t spend much time in
trees at all, and live their lives on the
banks of flowing streams or near deep
pools, just like any other frog.
Here (main picture) a juvenile Litoria
citropa basks on the edge of a pool near
Woodford, NSW. Bushwalkers and
residents know these frogs well, and often
have to share swimming spots with them.
Most frogs hide away during the day,
but Litoria citropa will often appear as you
ford a creek or take a dip. This is a little
one, but they can grow to about six
centimetres (inset above).
Like the famous green and golden bell
frog and a surprisingly large number of
other species, these frogs are tree frogs not
because they live in trees (since they
don’t) but because they’re classified in the
genus Litoria.
Litoria sp. frogs are found in New
Guinea, Timor, various islands, and of
course Australia. The classic white-lipped
tree frog (Litoria infrafrenata) is the largest,
but shouldn’t be mistaken for the much
more boof-headed green tree frog (Litoria
caerulea), which is nearly as big.
Both of these big green frogs are often
found at the top of windowsills or in the
tops of downpipes around the house,
demonstrating their climbing ability.
Meanwhile, the diminutive Blue
Mountains tree frog, and various others,
go about their distinctly non-arboreal
lives, unaware that our increasingly
inadequate classification system has
forced us to call them something they
almost definitely are not.
SPECIES:
Blue Mountains Tree Frog
SCIENTIFIC NAME:
Litoria citropa
DISTRIBUTION: Coastal and
highlands areas in Eastern Australia,
from south of Newcastle down to
south-eastern Victoria.
ICUN CONSERVATION STATUS:
Least Concern
TRIVIA ANSWERS 1. North 2. Polar bear 3. Aphrodite 4. Petroleum 5. Ceres 6. Marijuana to smoke 7. The International Space Station 8. Fighter aircraft 9. Neither. It’s a viverrid, its own thing. 10. Hydroelectric
Trivia Countdown – Name this phenomenon: Dark energy Name this element: Iridium Name this animal: Red panda
82
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SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED
Photograph by Peter Eastway, G.M. Photog.
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