Saturday, 29 September 2012

Science With Sam Rolfe

Sam Rolfe came in to our studio on Monday and told us a little about the mysteries of science - chemistry, biology and astronomy.

Imaging molecules

A team working at IBM in Zurich imaged a single molecule called pentacene in 2009 but have gone on to image other larger molecules (inc. “Olympic rings”) using a technique called atomic force microscopy or AFM. This technique uses a small needle that is dragged over the surface of the molecules, measuring the bumps where the atoms are. “Similar” to getting a pen and drawing over a piece of paper that has sand under it and making a computer image of the places where the sand is. These experiments had to be done at temperatures of -268 degC and isolated from vibrations from its surroundings.

Life expected in deep biospheres

Sean McMahon and Jack O’Malley-James working at Aberdeen University with Professor John Parnell have suggested that life could be more prevalent than previously thought. Originally, estimates on planets that could bear life were constrained to having liquid water at their surface. Not too hot, not too cold “Goldilocks zone”. This new research suggests that we must take into account that liquid water can exist below the surface. As you go deeper into a planet the temperature increases, keeping water liquid. On Earth there is a deep biosphere, thought to extend down by several kilometres. The deepest known multicellular living creature is a worm found at depths of 1.3 km or 0.8 miles. This opens up the possibility for multicellular life on Mars, which, if it exists or ever existed, is widely thought to only probably be unicellular. Taking the deep biospheres into account, Sean McMahon suggests that there will be several times more habitable planets in the universe.

What to see in the night sky

22nd Sept – Autumn Equinox (12 hours day/night)
Those up early – Venus is the bright object in the eastern sky
Jupiter starts to rise before midnight in the evening skies
Those with a telescope Uranus and Neptune are currently visible during the night

Full Moon 30th Sept

Sun is reaching a peak in activity in its approximately 11 year cycle so we get more Coronal Mass Ejections or CME’s and so see a higher activity of aurora or “northern lights”. Not often but very occasionally might get them at these low latitudes, can get updates from: can get email alerts about possible aurora sightings.

ISS or Google “when can I see the ISS”, top result. Currently going over, for any early risers, between 4 and 6:30 am, differing each day – the website gives precise timings and where to look. Check in the future for more favourable early evening sightings.

Meteor showers: Piscies, peak 20th Sept

Pisces rises around 8 or 9 pm, over head between 11 pm and 1 am, setting in the early morning after the Sun rises. So the meteor shower should be visible throughout most of the night. Not the highest rate of meteors compared to other showers, about 5 per hour maximum.

On Friday night (21st Sept) there were reports of bright meteors in the sky (NI, Scot, Midlands, East Anglia) – thought to be man-made space junk and not related to the weak Piscid meteor shower.

Featured scientist
Marie Curie, Polish born Physicist and Chemist, 1867 – 1934
Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre Curie studied radioactivity, discovering the elements polonium and radium, winning a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903. Pierre was killed in 1906 by a carriage and Marie took over his teaching post at the University of Sorbonne in Paris, becoming the first woman to teach there. Having continued the work she and Pierre started, Marie won a second Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry, in 1911. Their research led to the development of x-rays for medical applications and during WW1 Marie drove ambulances on the front line, with x-ray equipment on-board. In the 1920’s her health began to deteriorate and she died from leukaemia in 1934, which was due to her exposure to high-energy radiation over the years. Her daughter, Irene, also went on to win a Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Featured website
Galaxy, Moon, Solar storms, planethunters, recover worldwide weather observations made by Royal Navy ships – helping with climate model projections, help translate old Greek documents to understand the lives of the people that lived in ancient Greece, help understand what whales are saying and explore the ocean floor identifying species that live there.

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