Why does the porcupine smell like body odour?Both male and female porcupines defend territories. Females defend larger territories than males and often, the males’ territories will over lap. They mark their territory by urinating, which warns other males to stay away while at the same time attracts females. Their mating season is between October and November so during this time their odour becomes stronger. Our porcupine Quillan has thoroughly marked his territory here at Science North and that is why he has such a strong odour.Another interesting fact about porcupine urine is during their mating season, a male will urinate on a receptive female.If you have a question for a scientist, ask us on our Cool Science homepage!
Every month, we recap the previous month's top local science stories. Sometimes it's about billion year old water. Sometimes it's about asteroids or neutrinos. Sometimes it's about worms. This month, it's about throat singing at Science North, mysterious turtle deaths, and mass extinction events.Inuit throat singers to be featured in museum karaoke boothScience North's upcoming Arctic Voices exhibit is already making waves:“Now we’re going to show you how to throat sing,” says Lynda Brown, to no one really, just a video camera. “Say ‘Hum-ma.’” She pauses, smiles. “Excellent!” she says. “Now say Hum-ma again, using your monster voice.” She demonstrates by saying “Hum-ma, Hum-ma” in a throaty way.Manitoulin Island turtle deaths worry researchersResearchers at Laurentian University in Sudbury say they are stumped in the case of more than 50 dead turtles found on Manitoulin Island.The turtles were found by a Ministry of Natural Resources scientist earlier this year and, so far, the cause of death is unknown.A Laurentian herpetologist — a researcher who studies amphibians and reptiles — is working on the investigation.“At least in Canada, as far as I know, nobody has ever seen such a large number of turtles killed without an obvious reason,” Jacqueline Litzgus said.How to combat the next great extinction eventWith species now vanishing at 1,000 times the rate they did before humans became the big threat to life on Earth, scientists and philosophers from around the world met this month at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., to discuss the best way to combat what amounts to the sixth great extinction event in the planet’s history.HEY! Do you live in Northern Ontario and work in SCIENCE?If so, we want to hear about your work. Email me, Mario, at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me about your research. If we think it would be interesting and relevant to our readers, we'll include it in our next monthly post about local science.
We know that potato chips taste salty, coffee tastes bitter, and lemons taste sweet.Wait... sweet?Lemons can taste sweet, if you trick your taste buds - and it's a lot easier to do than you might think.One way to change the way that you perceive taste is by sampling miracle berries. Miracle berries are small, red berries that grow in West Africa. When you eat a berry - either fresh or dried - the fruit coats your tongue and a protein called miraculin binds to your tongue's sweet taste receptors. These receptors send signals to your brain whenever you eat something sweet. At your mouth's normal pH level, these proteins are inactive, but when you introduce an acidic food that lowers the mouth's pH, the protein changes shape and activates the sweet taste receptors.Most acidic foods, like lemon or vinegar, usually taste sour or bitter, but when miraculin is present, the sweet taste receptors are activated and you perceive them as tasting sweet.The effects of miraculin last for about an hour.These berries might have some very useful applications: it is thought that miraculin might be mass-produced as a low-calorie artificial sweetener and flavour enhancer. This could be especially beneficial for diabetics and for people who would like to lose weight but want to avoid a bland diet. Another interesting application is use in conjunction with chemotherapy; evidently, miraculin helps to remove the metallic taste that is sometimes a side effect of the treatment.Finally, miraculin isn't the only chemical that can trick your taste buds. Cynarin - a non-protein compound found in artichokes - can make other food ingredients taste sweeter. This reaction is not as long-lasting as that of miraculin, but if you're curious, try eating artichoke and then taking a drink of water. The water just might taste sweeter!
If you hear the words ‘courtesy’, ‘parliament’ and ‘Timbits’, what do you think of? What if we add the word ‘snow’. A lot of snow. Chances are you’re thinking of our great and snowy nation, Canada – the true North strong and free. Not only is Canada’s North an integral part of our Canadian identity, it’s an integral part of our physical geography as well. Making up 40% of Canada’s landmass and the second largest national share of arctic landmass as a whole, the Canadian Arctic is an indispensably important part of understanding incredibly complex arctic ecosystem.That proud responsibility has been magnified in 2012 when Canada took on the role of Chair of the Arctic Council – an intergovernmental forum for addressing issues facing the Arctic. The council’s mandate is no small challenge considering the remarkable and devastating impact climate change is having on the Arctic in particular. Ice in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago is melting at an alarming rate of approximately 61 gigatonnes per year. Shifts like these threaten Arctic ecology and Canadian identity. But addressing these changes is an enormous problem. Less than 1% of Canada’s population resides in the Canadian Arctic. Most of us will never have the chance to visit the Arctic. So stories from scientists, film makers, traditional communities and commercial exploration are woven together to create our understanding of these changes happening in the Arctic. Often these stories can contradict one another and are subject to the biases, financial interests and political ideologies reporting them. So which stories should comprise the data that will inform Canada’s and the world’s strategy in protecting Arctic ecosystems and the Canadian identity? Share and explore your thoughts, opinions, beliefs or questions December 3rd at The Laughing Buddha, where Science North will be hosting a public Science Café on the topic. Admission is free and snacks will be served. Visit sciencenorth.ca/cafe for details.
As winter moves in, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about how reptiles and other ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals survive the winter. Do they migrate like birds? Do they freeze solid? Do they hibernate? Here's a Cool Science blog post that Staff Scientist Bruce Doran wrote on November 21, 2012 that answers what these unique animals will do to survive the plummeting winter temperatures.Bruce writes:Many invertebrates (animals without backbones) such as snails, worms, insects and spiders deal with the cold in several ways. Some of them will try to escape the cold weather by digging deep into the soil below the frost line. Others survive in their immature forms in the water underneath the ice layer of lakes and rivers. But most will survive by allowing themselves to freeze during the winter.Want to learn more? Read the rest of Bruce's original post.If you have a question for a scientist, ask us on our Cool Science homepage!
Why do you keep animals at Science North? Wouldn't they be happier in the wild?On the third floor of our Science Centre is the Northern Ecosystems area. This area is completely devoted to the plants, animals and science of the ecosystems of Northern Ontario. Some of the live animals you may have a chance to meet include our porcupine, beaver, striped skunk, Northern flying squirrels, big brow bats, various snakes, turtles, fish and Eastern Screech Owls. But why do we have them? Good question!Many folks are not aware that with the exception of some of our frogs and fish, none of the animals we have at Science North could actually live a healthy life in the wild. We do not remove any animals from the wild to be kept at Science North, so all of our animals have come to us under special circumstances; some were found as orphans, others were confiscated as they were being kept illegally or sold as pets, some have permanent injuries and others were bred in captivity. The one thing they all have in common is that none of them are candidates for reintroduction into the wild.Unfortunately, when an animal is permanently handicapped by an injury or becomes too habituated to people (or lacks a natural fear of people), it often cannot be successfully rehabilitated into the wild. This is either because its injury makes it impossible for the animal to physically survive in the wild or its habituation to people would pose a danger to humans and the animal. In those cases, if there is no alternative facility or sanctuary in which to place the animal, the animal is often euthanized. This is where a facility like ours offers another option for that animal to live a full life, under our expert care where the animal can receive any special medical or behavioral attention they might require.Our animals also play an important role in helping us to educate the public about their species. It is not by coincidence that many of the animals we choose to place at Science North are species that are commonly misunderstood like skunks, beavers, porcupines and snakes. By meeting and seeing these animals up close, many of our visitors gain a new appreciation and understanding for these unique animals. It is for this reason that we also refer to our animals as ambassadors for their species.If you have a question for a scientist, go to our Cool Science webpage and click on “Ask a Scientist”!
Is that a dinosaur skeleton hanging over the ramp at Science North?No, it's actually a fin whale skeleton! Mistaken every once in a while for a dinosaur fossil, Science North’s fin whale skeleton came to live at the Science Centre in 1986. This magnificent animal was beached on Anticosti Island at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.The fin whale is one of the largest animals that live on our planet today; it can grow 20 to 24 m in length and weigh up to 70 tonnes. It is second only to the blue whale, which according to scientists is the largest animal that has ever lived on Earth.Fin whales are members of the baleen family. Unlike toothed whales such as orcas, dolphins and belugas, they lack teeth. Instead they have 350-400 long sheets of keratin, called baleen, in their mouth that can measure 74cm in length. To eat, the whale gulps water and then uses its pouch-like throat, baleen, and tongue to capture and filter thousands of tonnes of small sea creatures, such as krill. In fact, fin whales can eat up to 1800 kg of food each day. Next time you are on the fourth floor of Science North, pause on the ramp to look at the massive head structure of this whale.Another feature you may find fascinating about the skeleton are the two small bones hanging free in the pelvic region. These are the whale’s “leftover” hipbones. These bones are vestigial, meaning they are not used anymore, similar to a human’s appendix. Looking at the remnants of its terrestrial life, it's wonderful to imagine how this mammal could have evolved from a land-dwelling animal; but only by living in the water could this animal have become the impressive size it is today.Sadly, the fin whale, like many of its relatives, is an endangered species, protected from further hunting and exploitation. Scientists estimate a current population of 50,000 – 90,000 fin whales roaming the oceans.If you have a question for a scientist, click on “Ask a Scientist” on our Cool Science homepage!
There was enough credible science to make this extraordinary premise a plausible reality and make Steven Spielberg’s film Jurassic Park one of his most lauded works of science fiction.And it seems that the science is now catching up to the fiction. The real-life success of an emerging field called resurrection biology relies on the same crucial material as in the film – DNA. DNA is the blueprint for life, found in every cell of every living creature on earth, including the very first cells of life: embryos.In order to bring an individual of an extinct species back to life we need a healthy living cell with a complete copy of DNA and an environment in which it can grow. For this reason, resurrection biologists have been perfecting the process of transferring DNA from one cell to another. Doing this successfully means we could hypothetically take the DNA from a dead cell – from, say, a T-Rex – and transfer it into the living embryonic cell of a related species. In the right conditions it could grow into a living, breathing dinosaur.So, is the resurrection of real dinosaurs possible?Well, the short answer is no. DNA only remains intact for about 6.8 million years. And since the dinosaurs lived about 65 million years ago, there would be no usable DNA to work with.This does not however preclude the possibility of resurrecting more recently extinct animals. And given the significant impact of human activities on the planet, there are no shortage of species to pick from.The number of endangered or critically endangered species on the planet as of 2012 was roughly 10,000, and the list continues to grow. Current estimates indicate that biodiversity on the planet will drop by at least 15% by 2050, representing the loss of a staggering 2 to 3 species a day. Although extinctions are not unusual – in fact, they’ve been a regular part of the history of life on earth – human activity is responsible for accelerating the rate of extinction to 100 times above the normal rate. Can we bring back the dodo? While it would be hypothetically possible to use resurrection biology to bring back species like the dodo, the passenger pigeon and Lonesome George, there are a number of potential problems that could arise. Predicting the outcome of introducing extinct species into their old ecosystems may prove exceedingly difficult. Should we be concerned about disturbing the newly established balance of an ecosystem?As well, many species have been driven to extinction because of habitat loss. Would these resurrected species not face the same demise as their ancestors? So the question remains: should we use resurrection biology to bring back species we drove to extinction? We want to hear your thoughts on this. Join us at The Laughing Buddha Café at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 13th. A panel of international experts on the biology and philosophy of extinction and de-extinction will be enjoying food and beverage and exploring these questions as part of Science North’s Science Café series. We hope you’ll join us too. Free light snacks will be provided and a cash bar will be available. For more information, contact Dana Murchison at 705-522-3701 x208. Want to join the conversation on Twitter? Tweet @danamurchison or use the hashtag #SNSciCafe
One of the many questions we get from visitors during the summer months is, "I saw this HUGE green caterpillar with blue spots or yellow lines and bumps. What is it?"What they have probably found is one of our many moths. These moths are memorable because of the size of their caterpillar (larvae) and adult. The larvae is big, taking all summer to grow to be able to pupate and cocoon over the winter and emerge as a moth in spring.These are the possible suspects:The Cecropia moth, Hyalophora cecropia, is the largest of the giant silkworm moths, with a wingspan of 10 to 15.5 cm. The larva reaches a length of 10 cm, with two rows of blue tubercles (pegs) on each side, two rows of yellow tubercles down its back and two pairs of large red tubercles on the thorax. This caterpillar feeds on the leaves of a wide variety of broad-leaved trees and shrubs like maple, wild cherry, apple, oak and poplar. They're most widespread east of the Rockies and in southern Canada.The Polyphemus moth, Antheraea polyphemuares are our most widely distributed large silk moths. They are found from southern Canada down into Mexico and in all of the lower 48 states except for Arizona and Nevada.Polyphemus moths have wings with a rich brown colour reaching 10 to 15 cm across. Their markings consists of oval transparent spots on each wing ringed by yellow, black and blue crescent-shaped pink and white marks near the base of the forewing.The larvae are bright green, up to 7 cm long with sparse protruding hairs, yellow streaks and reddish spots on their sides. Preferring oak, the larvae will also eat elm, hickory, maple, birch or basswood.Luna moths, Actias luna, are large green moths with a long tail on each hind wing and discal eyespots on both the fore and hind wings. The adult wingspan is 6 to 10 cm. They are usually found in forested areas. In southern Canada, they occur from Nova Scotia to Saskatchewan.Larvae are bright green, with a yellowish lateral band below the spiracles (breathing holes), and three lateral rows of reddish tubercles on each side. The larvae eat a variety of trees including white birch, persimmon, sweet gum, hickory, walnut and sumac. Imperial Moth, or Eacles imperalis, larva is usually green but may be brown or tan with yellow tubercles and some fine hairs. It eats oak, maple, basswood, birch, walnut, cedar and pine.It occurs east of the Rocky Mountains and in southeastern Canada. The moth reaches a wingspan of 12 cm. The wings are yellow with grey-purple marks and dark speckles. The forewings have pointed tips.Promethea Moth, Callosamia promethea, has a wingspan of 6 to 10 cm. The female promethea resembles the cecropia but is a richer brown and much smaller. Both have an eyespot near the tip of the front wing and a white mark near the middle of each wing. The male promethea is dark brown to nearly black and lacks the white marks.The larva only reaches lengths of 5 cm with two short red pegs on the second and third body segments and a single yellow peg on the next to last body segment.
Once a month, we look at the top science stories from around Northern Ontario. Welcome to the October edition, written while being one-step away from a post-Halloween sugar coma.Invasive Plant Thrives Because It Adapts Quickly To Local ClimatesUniversity of Toronto research has found that purple loosestrife – an invasive species that competes with native plants for light and nutrients and can degrade habitats for wildlife – has evolved extremely rapidly, flowering about three weeks earlier as it has spread to northern Ontario. This has allowed populations of the species to thrive in the colder climate with a more than 30-fold increase in seed production.Global warming threatens Hudson Bay Lowlands Arctic refugeGlobal warming is fast transforming Canada’s Hudson Bay Lowlands, one of Earth’s most southern Arctic refuges, scientists report. The vast wetland region in northern Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba has “passed a tipping point, the pace and magnitude of which is exceptional even by Arctic standards,” the team led by Queen’s University concludes in a study published Tuesday.Space mining is bedrock of Sudbury research venture“There was no longer any interest by NORCAT to carry on space activity and so we thought there was a good opportunity here for Sudbury. We had developed a good global image and so to continue the work of the department we elected to create this company.”HSN researchers tackling superbugs in new studiesThe Advanced Medical Research Institute of Canada (AMRIC) and Health Sciences North/Horizon Santé-Nord (HSN) are [...] working on two separate studies to develop improved methods of detecting and treating C. difficile and MRSA, and prevent their spread in a hospital setting.Extreme weather 'the new reality'The director for the Ontario Centre for Climate Impacts and Adaptation Resources said scientific evidence supports the conclusion that climate change is a major reason for extreme weather patterns and storms that have inflicted damage in Sault Ste. Marie and to other Canadian cities in recent years.“I think it is the new reality,” Al Douglas said from his Laurentian University office last Thursday.HSN, AMRIC researchers awarded $650,000 in grantsIs opioid replacement therapy more effective in rural vs. urban areas? Can a pain management protocol improve recovery from knee replacement surgery? Will a specialized mental health program help women recover better from post-partum depression? Can time in a simulation lab help a health-care team better manage a crisis? These are among the research projects that are being launched by physicians affiliated with Health Sciences North and the Advanced Medical Research Institute of Canada (AMRIC).Thirteen research projects received $667,000 in funding from the Northern Ontario Academic Medicine Association, through its Clinical Innovation Opportunities Fund and Academic Health Sciences Centre Alternate Funding Plan.Sudbury hospital zombies teach students how to stay undeadFor the past year, the Simulation Lab at Health Science North in Sudbury has been used to teach people how to respond to medical emergencies — but what happens when zombies take over?
How does fear work?Once you boil it all down, fear is your brain's way of protecting you from a perceived threat.Deep in your brain are two small, almond-shaped structures called the amygdalae. The amygdalae play a large role in many functions such as memory and emotion. Crucially, when it comes to experiencing fear, your amygdalae trigger what is known as the fight-or-flight response.Fight-or-flight dictates that when you encounter a threat - an attacker, say, or a spooky shadow - there are two main responses: to run away, or to face the threat and fight it. When faced with something scary, the amygdalae react quickly to trigger the hypothalamus, which directs a cascade of chemicals and hormones to flood through the brain and body. It signals for another part of the brain, the pituitary gland, to produce a hormone called ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), which in turn signals for the adrenal glands to produce the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine (also known as adrenaline and noradrenaline). These hormones get your heart racing and prepare your muscles for action. Your adrenal glands also release cortisol, a stress hormone, which works to increase blood sugar levels and give you an extra boost of energyNow your body is primed to either run away quickly, or to fight to save itself.This makes sense when a threat is real, but why do we respond in the same way to imagined threats, like bogeymen or other monsters that might lurk in the dark?Your brain is programmed to anticipate threats. In terms of survival, it's much easier for your brain to react first and ask questions later. When you hear the sounds of your house cracking and popping at night, you might feel a few moments of terror as your brain anticipates an intruder. This fact response could save your life if an intruder did in fact exist.Often, however, there is no real threat. So, at the same time that your fear response is being triggered, another slower process is occurring. Your brain is taking in sensory information about those creaking, cracking sounds and is wondering Hmm...Where have I heard these noises before? After a few moments, you might remember that those sounds are the normal sounds of your house's structure contracting in the much cooler night air, and your brain will readjust its signals to the body and calm you down.Fear is unpleasant. So why do some people seek to be scared by watching horror movies? Do some people actually enjoy being scared?This is something referred to as "the horror paradox". As we already mentioned, the body's fear response triggers an adrenaline rush. It also releases endorphins, which can be interpreted as pleasurable. This is the same response that occurs to those who enjoy riding rollercoasters or playing extreme sports. Another important factor is context: many people watch horror movies in a controlled environment, in the comfort of their own homes, and they usually don't watch them alone. This context offers a way to experience a threat (the scary parts of a horror movie) in a way that is safe and comfortable.Do you enjoy scary movies or do you avoid them at all costs? What spooks you? Let us know in the comments!If you have a question for a scientist, click on the "Ask a Scientist" button on our Cool Science homepage!
Why do all the planets orbit around the Sun in the same direction?A long time ago, about 5 billion years or so, the solar system started out as just a huge cloud of dust and gas. This cloud was much bigger than the solar system is today. The cloud was also spinning very slowly; pretty much everything in space spins just a bit. Then something happened to change things: maybe it was a nearby supernova explosion that rocked the cloud. Whatever it was, the event compressed the cloud enough that gravity took over. The cloud started to collapse. Gas and dust started falling towards the centre and formed the Sun. Around the Sun, a disk of gas and dust also emerged. It is here that the planets started to form. Now let's remember that this cloud rotated just a bit before it collapsed. As it got smaller and smaller, the speed of the rotation became higher and higher and everything was spinning in the same direction. This is just like a figure skater that spins faster and faster as she pulls in her arms from an outstretched position. In physics terms: due to conservation of angular momentum, a spinning object that becomes smaller has to speed up its rotation. So as the planets, moons, and asteroids formed in this spinning disk, their orbits and their rotation followed the same spin direction. The cloud of material that they formed out of gave that original direction to them.If you have a question for a scientist, click on “Ask a Scientist” on our Cool Science homepage!
Where do snakes go for the winter?Snakes are ectothermic (cold-blooded) and therefore need to “hide” from the winter’s cold in order to survive. Some snakes such as the eastern massasauga rattlesnake and northern water snake will hibernate in mammal burrows. Most other snakes will spend the winter in cracks or holes deep in the ground. Some snakes species such as garter snakes will join together in these holes and spent the winter as a group. These specialized holes, called hibernaculums, can house thousands of snakes!If you have a question for a scientist, click on “Ask a Scientist” on our Cool Science homepage!
How big do beavers get?Looking at Drifter, Science North’s resident beaver, one might think he’s got a few extra pounds to spare and in fact Drifter weighs in at about 25 kg (55 lbs); a big boy indeed! The truth is that beavers can weigh anywhere from 12 -35 kg (27-77 lbs). When we see a beaver in the wild, it is more often than not in the water swimming as that is where they are truly at home. Their heads are designed so that their nose, eyes and ears are perfectly aligned so only a few centimeters of their heads can be seen above the water. This allows them to swim quietly and unseen by predators. Onlookers can easily misjudge how big the animal actually is because much of the body mass is under the surface, like an iceberg. Then suddenly you hear a loud slap of their tails on the surface of the water and they are submerged swimming at top speed towards their lodge, which is accessible only from underwater.Beavers are considered the largest rodents in North America and second in the world to the capybara, found in South America, that can weigh an astounding 35-66 kg (77-146lbs).If you have a question for a scientist, click on “Ask a Scientist” on our Cool Science homepage!
By midnight, the crimes had been committed. What would follow was the highest profile murder trial of all time. And forensic science would play a star role. With ample blood, footprints and hair fibres, the prosecution was confident they would have no trouble getting a conviction. The verdict came down on October 3, 1995 and O.J. Simpson was found not guilty. If the forensic evidence was so clear-cut, how could this be? The blood found on O.J. Simpson’s infamous glove was confirmed to be a match for both the victims and the accused. However, the defense team highlighted the fact that the vial containing O.J.’s blood was carried around for nearly a full day in a lab tech’s pocket. The potential susceptibility of strands of DNA to such circumstances casts doubt on the validity of the resulting DNA evidence. Issues of accidental and even intentional evidence tampering like these cloud what we like to believe about science providing “conclusive” evidence. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To this day there is still a great deal of public debate around the forensic science in O.J. Simpson’s case, each side arguing that the other is interpreting the science in a biased way. Forensic science aims to establish objective facts, but there is much to consider when applying evidence to legal proceedings. How do forensic scientists approach their evidence and present their findings to juries? What happens if two scientists present contradictory evidence? To what extent do the biases of judges, juries, and even forensic scientists influence the outcome of court cases? And if science gives us probabilistic evidence, how sure do you think science has to be to convict someone?If the evidence is nuanced or unclear, how much do you think we need to understand about science to be a fair jury? Should we take science literacy into account when selecting jurors for cases with complex forensic evidence?Dr. Scott Fairgrieve, Dr. Gerard M. Courtin and Dr. James Watterson, experts from Laurentian University’s Department of Forensic Science, want to hear your thoughts on this. Join us at The Laughing Buddha Restaurant @ 7:30 Tuesday October 8th as part of our Science Café series to explore these questions and share your thoughts about how science can help achieve the goals of our justice system.Admission and snacks are free. For more information, contact Dana Murchison at email@example.com or 705-522-3701 x208. Want to join the conversation on Twitter? Tweet @danamurchison or use the hashtag #SNSciCafe.
Half the Night Star PartyHalfway Lake Provincial Park is host to an annual event for amateur astronomers and campers. Star parties are a gathering of people who want to look at the night sky, no skills necessary. Most other star parties occur over the period of a new moon, when skies remain darkest all night long. Half the Night is unique as it occurs the weekend prior to the Labour Day Weekend, regardless of the moon phase.Halfway Lake Provincial Park skies are dark, free of light pollution from any nearby city or town. It provides a great setting for sky gazing, a safe wide open area with terrific horizons, and campers who look forward to the opportunity for night sky tours and a chance to look through a variety of telescopes. The star party is arranged by Linda Pulliah, in conjunction with the nature program director at the park. It is sponsored by the Sudbury Astronomy Club, and attended also by members from the North Bay and Timmins Astronomy Clubs. Afternoon and evening programs are offered by some very skilled amateur astronomers. A session of daytime viewing allowed campers to witness numerous sun spots as we enter a phase of solar maximum activity. Sky gazers at night were treated to tours through the visible constellations, planets and a number of deep sky objects. Viewing starts naked eye (simply looking up), progresses to binocular viewing, and eventually all have an opportunity to look through a variety of telescopes providing stunning views of deep sky objects. This year the moon was full, giving everyone a chance to appreciate the features on the surface of our solar system’s nearest neighbor.The Sudbury Astronomy Club holds monthly meetings September to June in the Doran Planetaruim at Laurentian University. Largest Stratospheric Balloon to launch from TimminsWhen launched, the balloon will ascend to between 25 and 32 km, will fly for about four to ten hours, and should land in a 500 km radius area from the launch site. If the wind blows east, it could land close to Rouyn-Noranda, Amos or Val d'Or. If it blows west, it could land close to Wawa, Kapuskasing, Chapleau or Sudbury. A recovery team will be sent to the landing site to pick up the balloon envelope and the flight chain.Stand Up For Science RallyOn September 16th, fans of science gathered to show their support for government funding of scientific research and the right of government-funded scientists to communicate about their research directly with the public.What are your thoughts on this? Sound off in the comment section.E-books discussed as Ontario librarians gather in SudburyAfter schools, what's the most important social institution for promoting scientific literacy? If you said "libraries", you'd probably be right. (And if you said "Science North", we wouldn't argue.)According to Radio Canada International, the City of Greater Sudbury has recently invested $80,000 in new digital content for the city's libraries, and there were 35,000 digital checkouts from city libraries in 2012. As the world moves paperless, our libraries are clearly at the forefront of making sure knoweldge is available to everyone.As Arthur and friends say, having fun isn't hard when you have a library card.David Suzuki on Climate Change DenialDavid's been on a roll lately with excellent opinion pieces in the Sudbury Star. Here are 2 from September.Sudbury Star, September 7, 2013:[Why do] some people believe in phenomena rejected by science, like chemtrails, but deny real problems demonstrated by massive amounts of scientific evidence, like climate change[?]Sudbury Star, September 28th, 2013One attack that's grabbing media attention is the so-called Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change's report "Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science." It's written by Fred Singer, a well-known tobacco industry apologist and climate change denier, with Bob Carter and Craig Idso, also known for their dismissals of legitimate climate change science, and published by the Heartland Institute, a U.S. nonprofit known for defending tobacco and fossil fuel industry interests. Heartland made headlines last year for comparing people who accept the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-caused climate change with terrorists and criminals such as Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski.Being Green in SudburyIt's Not Easy Being Green will take place at the South End Library on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. This event will feature three panel members who will discuss the challenges of recycling and living a green lifestyle. Presented in partnership with EarthCare Sudbury and the University of Sudbury Ethics Centre, this event is free to the public, but advanced registration is recommended to ensure a seat.
How do we know that Voyager 1 has left our solar system?The short answer is that Voyager 1 itself told us so! More specifically, the space probe is still actively collecting data on its surroundings and transmitting that data back to Earth. Two different kinds of measurements from its sensors have given us the clues we need to know that it is now travelling through interstellar space.The first clue came from measurements of cosmic rays, high-energy particles that come from both our own sun, and from other sources beyond our solar system. On August 25th, 2012, the number of solar cosmic rays detected by Voyager 1 decreased dramatically. At the same time, measurements of cosmic rays coming from the rest of the galaxy increased. It was a promising sign, but not enough evidence on its own to convince most scientists.The second piece of evidence was found more recently. Voyager used one of its instruments to measure vibrations of the plasma (ionized gas found throughout space) that surrounds it. The frequency of the vibrations is an indication of the density of the plasma. Faster vibrations mean denser plasma. The constant stream of charged particles given off by our sun pushes back the interstellar plasma surrounding our solar system, essentially creating a bubble. This bubble is called the heliosphere. The plasma should therefore be denser on the outside of our solar system's heliosphere than on the inside.From two sets of measurements, one taken from October to November 2012, and the other from April to May 2013, scientists determined that the density of the plasma around Voyager is steadily increasing, and has been since about August 2012. This estimate corresponds well with the date indicated by the change in cosmic ray detections. However, scientists were expecting a third indication to confirm Voyager's exit from the solar system: a distinct change in the direction of the local magnetic field. This change hasn't been seen yet, but it may turn out instead that the magnetic field of our solar system has no clear boundary. Instead of a sharp transition, there may be a more gradual blending between the magnetic field created by our sun and the one that fills interstellar space. Ongoing measurements by Voyager will help improve our understanding of this region as it continues to explore new territory.Extra Facts:The plasma vibrations Voyager detected in April 2013 were caused by an eruption of material from our sun in March 2012, which travelled for about 400 days before reaching Voyager. The measurements of the vibrations were stored as an audio recording on Voyager's eight-track tape recorder. You can listen to the recording here.Depending on how you define the edge of a solar system, Voyager 1 still has a long way to go. It took 36 years for Voyager to travel beyond the sun's heliosphere, but it has yet to cross the Oort cloud, home to the icy comets that occasionally swing by the sun. It will take Voyager about 300 years to reach the inner edge of the Oort cloud, and maybe 30,000 years to reach the outer edge, where the gravity of other stars begins to take effect.Voyager 1 has enough power left to operate its scientific instruments until 2020. After that, they will be powered down one by one until 2025, when the last will be shut down. Voyager 1 is travelling at 61,000 km/h (38,000 mph) in the direction of the constellation Ophiucus. In about 40,000 years, it will pass within 1.7 light years of the star AC+79 3888 in the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper). Learn more about Voyager 1 from NASA.
Is the solar system flat? Do planetary orbits more or less align like they do on our models of the solar system? Or do orbits spin in full 3 dimensions? If the solar is flat, why is that? How does that work?Good question.All the planets in the solar system do roughly go around the Sun in one plane (called the ecliptic). The reason for this lies in how the solar system formed. The Sun and its planets formed out of a cloud of gas that was very large and spun very slowly at first. As this cloud collapsed due to gravity it started to spin faster and faster. This is just the same thing that happens when you spin yourself slowly with your arms outstretched and then pull them in - you start spinning much faster (the physical principle behind this is conservation of angular momentum). Why is this important? Well, once the cloud spins rapidly, particles won't fall towards the centre in the plane they are spinning in - they become stabilized in orbits. The particles that lie above and below the plane of the spin keep falling in though. So essentially as the cloud collapses most of the material above and below the ecliptic kept falling in, but the material in the ecliptic stayed in its orbit around the centre. With gravity doing its work, larger objects soon started forming in this disk of gas and dust and eventually we were left with our planets and asteroids.Got a space question? Send me an email or use the "Ask a Scientist" form on the Cool Science homepage.
Back in late April, I planted my first giant pumpkin seeds at home. This was a very exciting time for me as the feeling of spring had already sprung me into gear with a new passion led by a simple question: why not grow giant pumpkins this year? As a garden enthusiast, and a generally passionate person, deciding to take this on prompted a lot of investigation and research about how to grow this amazing fruit. Over the next few weeks, I spent hours reading information and scouring the Internet for sources related to growing giant pumpkins. Without knowing, I found myself in a moment of “serendipity”. As defined by Wikipedia, serendipity means a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; a fortunate mistake; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.Around the same time, I was listening to Markus Schwabe, the host of CBC’s Morning North program (which I highly recommend by the way). Markus had recently launched his seasonal giant pumpkin growing contest in the Sudbury area. It was simple: write a poem about giant pumpkins. I thought to myself, "All I had to do was call or write in a poem about giant pumpkins? Hmmmm and I could win a seed?" This prompted me to put my social media skills to the test as the fierce competitor in me told me I had to be a part of this. I can’t write poetry but I'd already started giant pumpkin seeds at home. This can’t be a mistake, I had found someone else as passionate about growing giant pumpkins as me. So, I tweeted Markus and asked if he would be interested in giving me a giant pumpkin seed to grow at Science North. Markus promptly replied to my tweet and hand delivered two seeds the following day. On May 7th, I germinated these two giant pumpkin seeds.I was so excited to pilot this program, growing giant pumpkins at work, where visitors could come and see them grow and learn about gardening and the science of growing giant pumpkins. This project quickly evolved into the idea of growing a full-blown garden. And so this story comes to a very critical point, with the culmination of serendipity, community, competition, gardening and science: not only did we plant and grow giant pumpkins, we built three raised garden beds and planted a number of gardening favorites, including tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, beans, peas, herbs, carrots, and various salad greens. I was very proud to see our very own garden at Science North.Ideas perpetuated and brainstorming led to using this project to reach out to our community on multiple levels. We partnered with the Food Shed project, becoming a part of the Grow A Row program, growing rows of vegetables that would be harvested and shared within the community. We also grew food for our animals at Science North, becoming more self-sufficient and more green. Growing food locally has become a big thing and I highly encourage everyone to do it. What an amazing feeling to know that not only are we providing food but we're doing it without the use of pesticides and herbicides. In fact, food has been harvested and used right here at Science North in our very own Elements Food Court. Many salads, pizzas and various specials have been cooked up and served to patrons of the restaurant and it all came from our own garden.So, next time you think about the word serendipity, I hope you remember this story of how an accidental thought can sometimes turn into a powerful quest for understanding the art and science of growing food and an amazing fruit, the giant pumpkin. For more information about our giant pumpkins, please visit our Facebook page. Please “Like” the page to find out how big our giant pumpkins have grown as well as receive updates about our future gardening plans at Science North.
Once a month, we recap science stories from around Sudbury and Northern Ontario.SNOLAB featured in How It Works DailyHow It Works magazine has an interactive feature on SNOLAB. Very cool!Perseids meteor showerIf you were lucky enough to be looking skyward on August 12, you may have seen over 100 shooting stars. Did you make a wish? Dr. Simon McMillan, staff scientist at Science North, wrote about the annual phenomenon for the Sudbury Star.David Suzuki on the mystery of dying beesThe Sudbury Star ran a fascinating piece by David Suzuki on the mystery of dying bees:We need to get a handle on the toxic chemicals we use to grow food. If our practices kill insects and birds that make it possible to grow crops, we're defeating their purpose and putting ourselves and the rest of nature at risk. As individuals, we can help bees. Stop using pesticides and join the call to ban the worst ones. Plant bee-friendly plants and gardens, make wild bee "houses" and learn more about our fuzzy, buzzing friends. Like our DSF staffer, you could even adopt a hive.Taking the red pill: New technologies for virtual world immersionThis month, visitors at Science North enjoyed a special presentation by Laurentian University researchers on new computer interfaces, including:The Oculus Rift, a headset that immerses the user in a true 3D environment. The user's display follows the movement of their head, and each eye receives a slightly different image, to create the illusion of truly being inside the game.A vibrotactile belt that creates the illusion of pressure being applied to areas of the skin where no pressure is happening. Similar technology could be used to create various sensations, such as hot or cold. Although there are many practical applications, the young gamers in the audience quickly grasped that the technology could lead to gamers feelings themselves being hit or shot at when gaming.Advances in brain-computer EEG interfaces allow users to control simple functions in games using only their minds. Spooky. Even spookier, Popular Science reports that researchers at the University of Washington has successfully controlled one professor's hand movements via the thoughts of another professor. What a mouthful. In short: they've invented telepathy.Stratospheric balloons launched in TimminsFrom the Canadian Space Agency:As of August 2013, Timmins residents will see open stratospheric balloons (BSO) in their skies.These BSOs are proven. They have been used by the CNES for 50 years! The size of these balloons can vary from a few thousand to nearly one million cubic metres. The largest balloons can handle payloads from a few dozen kilograms up to 1.1 tonnes, at any desired altitude in the stratosphere (up to approximately 42 km).In addition to being non-pressurized, the main feature that distinguishes the BSO from other stratospheric balloons is that they have two inflation sleeves located in the upper part of the envelope of the balloon. These openings allow the balloon to be filled with gas that is lighter than air, either helium or hydrogen. The envelope is also opened by exhaust hoses placed at the bottom of the balloon. These openings are used to strike a balance between the atmospheric pressure and the gas, thereby avoiding the creation of an overpressure situation.
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