Science Matters

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A weekly round-up of science news

Ancient Tree

I remember reading about the discovery of the Wollemi Pine some years ago in the Blue Mountains in Australia. Its whereabouts was kept secret for some years whilst they tried to grow it in Britain. Now it has been put on display at Kew Gardens. The pine has survived as a species for at least 200 million years and has been referred to as the dinosaur tree as it populated the earth at the same time as the dinosaurs.

Next year saplings of the tree will go on sale, raising money to aid in the trees' protection and survival. The Wollemipine Website is worth checking out for the 'About the Wollemi Pine' and the 'Photo Gallery' sections, the latter having some great photos. The website is out-of-date on news though.

US Pines

A beetle has arrived in the US which is a known threat to them. The Old World woodwasp has already destroyed up to 80 percent of pine trees in areas of New Zealand, Australia, South America and South Africa. Just one female has now been found in New York; many others have been intercepted at many US ports. This is the first sign that one may have broken through.

Fastest Pollen

The North American Bunchberry Dogwood releases its pollen at a g-force 800 times greater than the g-force an astronaut experiences at take off. It makes you wonder whether it hurts if you are walking by the plant?!

Rare UK Beetle

The Scarlet Malachite beetle is only found in 8 places in the UK. It only comes out for 3 weeks each year so it is difficult to know how many there are and where they are being seen. Buglife is asking for people in Essex, Hertfordshire and Hampshire, where the beetle is found, to let them know if they see it, so they can make an accurate assessment of how endangered it is. More about the campaign at the Scarlet Malachite Beetle Project website.

New Rodent

In Laos on a market table was a rodent completely new to science. Although rat-like it is unique in that is only gives birth to one young as opposed to the more usual litters. A new family in the classification system has been created for it.

Peruvian Frogs

4,000 endangered frogs were saved from certain death in the capital Lima, when city hall officials found them stashed to make 'aphrodisiac' cocktails. They were given a chance to recover in the local fountain before being taken back to their native forests.

North Sea Fish

Fish are moving further in the North Sea due to rising temperatures. Species moving include cod, whiting and anglerfish. 36 species have been studied since the 1970s and of those 21 species have moved north - sometimes by hundreds of kilometres. It is projected that some fish may completely disappear from the North Sea by 2050.

Whale Groundings

It is believed that increased magnetism could be causing more groundings in the North Sea. Research from 1712 to 2003 shows it could be linked to increased solar activity. The greater the activity the greater the disruption in the magnetic field and the more groundings there are. If whales do navigate using the earths magnetic field then this could be a likely explanation and we would expect to see it in other parts of the world.

Iberian Lynx

Following up on the 3 cubs born in the beginning of April, one of the female cubs has died after a fight with the male cub.

Polio Update

Last week I mentioned the 2 new cases in Indonesia. There are now 4 confirmed cases plus 10 suspected in Indonesia and 63 in Yeman, a jump from 22 in Yeman only a week before. All these outbreaks, which undermine the global eradication programme, result from the banning of the vaccination in Nigeria by Muslim authorities.


A glacier in Switzerland has worried the local ski resort workers enough with its retreating for them to wrap it in reflective material to stop the melt. They have covered an area of 3–4,000 square meters. Environmental activists complained saying that longer term methods should be concentrated on, but we all know how important the environment is to politicians (UK ones at least), even though it's the air they breath, the water they drink and the land they stand on, they are happy for it to get polluted and for people to die. So maybe short–term measures are needed here if its all we are going to get.

New Zealand Carbon Tax

The first true carbon tax is starting in 2007 for New Zealanders. It will cost $15 per tonne of carbon dioxide or equivalent emissions.

Nuclear Power in Germany

Germany has just shut down its oldest nuclear power plant as part of its plan to phase out nuclear power by 2020. The country is planning to provide energy using wind power and other renewable sources. Its determination has made it a leader in fulfilling the Kyoto protocol.

Nuclear Emergency Test

60 countries are congregating in Romania to test their response to a major emergency. The 36 hour test started when reports were made of fuel leaking from the reactor core. The rest of the test has been kept secret, though, to make the conditions more life-like.

Space Snippets

Saturn's New Moon

A second moon has been found in Saturn's ring system. As it orbits it leaves a ripple in the rings itself cause by its gravity. More observations will tell us whether it is orbiting at the same speed as the rings and details about its structure. I wonder whether it is a moon which has been captured by the rings or has always been part of them. Its origins will be interesting to know - if we can find them out.

Mars Radar

The deployment of the radar which was going to search for water beneath Mars surface has been delayed. There were 2 antenna booms to be deployed at 20m long. The first has not straightened out properly and so the deployment of the second has been delayed. As the deployment has already been delayed for a year, a while longer will not make a great difference1.

Mars Rovers

Opportunity has been stuck in a sand dune from the 26th April. NASA are working on commands which may help to free it.

Replicating Robots

A robot has been seen to pick up new components and replicate itself. It was composed of 4 cubes, each cube is equipped with simple code which comprises a blueprint, electrical contacts and magnets so they can stick to others. The 4 piece robot, picked up 2 more cubes and then made itself into 2 separate 3-cubed robots. A link is available at this website to see the robot in action.

Save The Forests Before Breakfast

Click this link to help save Årrenjarkas forest in Sweden. Each click is payed for by the sponsors who put the money up to save 4.25 cm of forest. That may not sound like a lot but it's a way to help save the forests before even having breakfast, at very little effort for you.


Science Matters Archive


26.05.05 Front Page

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1Later in the week the problem was fixed so we are now waiting for the second radar boom to be deployed.

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