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Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of science... the thrill of discovery... and the agony of failed experiments... the human drama of scientific advancement... This is the Blue Streak Science Podcast!

Aug 1, 2018

  • General Relativity passes the black hole test
  • A day by the lake...on Mars
  • The Climate Lounge
  • And more!

Science News with Amrita Sule and JD Goodwin

Animals Frozen for 42,000 Years Wriggle to Life

Not a lot of us are excited when we hear the phrase, "blast from the past”. But this time we do have news that goes about 40,000 years back.

A team of researchers revived 2 nematodes from samples of permafrost in Siberia.  Scientists claim that these two nematodes have been frozen since the Pleistocene, thousands of years!

Previously, nematodes that were frozen for about 39 years and also tardigrades frozen for about 30 years have been revived. However, this is the first time a complex organism like a nematode has been revived after thousands of years of frozen dormancy.

For this new study Russian scientists worked in collaboration with Princeton University researchers and found two viable nematodes while analyzing about 300 soil samples collected from the melting permafrost. Both are believed to be females.

One permafrost sample about 32,000 years old came from northeastern part of Yakutia in Russia and the other about 42,000 years old permafrost sample came from the Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia.

As these isolated worms warmed, they started moving and eating.

A number of organisms native to Arctic and Antarctica are known to undergo cryo-protective dehydration i.e when they encounter freezing temperatures they rapidly dehydrate – remove water from their cells. This prevents damage to their tissues  which could occur otherwise when the water in their cells could freeze and form crystals.

More information would be indeed vital to understand how these two nematodes survived for thousands of years in frozen state. They would also be key in understanding evolutionary divergence between ancient and present nematode populations.

Live Science, Smithsonian Mag

Einstein theory passes black hole test

The theoretical physicists come up with these elegant equations to explain everything in the universe from the very small to the very large. But it takes scientists who can design experiments to find out if the predictions of these theories line up with what’s out there in the real world.

General Relativity has been experimentally confirmed many times. But one of the best things you can do with a scientific theory is to test it in the most extreme conditions to see if holds up. If it doesn’t then you have to scrap it, or revise it if possible.

For the first time scientists have been able to test Relativity with an extremely massive object. How massive? Is 4 million times the mass of the Sun big enough for ya?

We’re talking about the supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way. This black hole is known as Sagittarius A.

In particular, there’s one star called S2. And S2 goes around Sagittarius A in an elliptical orbit every 16 years at 3% of the speed of light.

There are other stars in the area, and only a few years ago observing these would have been impossible. But these four telescopes, located in the Atacama Desert in Chile, can overcome distortions from the earth’s atmosphere. By bringing the light together from all of them it creates a virtual super telescope.

What they were looking for is a gravitational redshift. That’s when the light from this star gets stretched out as a result of a strong gravitational field.

Gravitational redshift is predicted by General Relativity, and has been observed before, but not from such a massive object with its intense gravitational field.

Until now.

These astronomers followed S2 before and after it streaked by Sag A on 19 May and they measured it every hour.

And they saw that the light from S2 was stretched, that is red-shifted, by the black hole exactly as predicted by the Theory of General Relativity.

They’re not done looking at S2. The more we observe this unusual star whipping around Sagittarius A the more we can learn about the extreme conditions so close to a supermassive black hole.

These results are published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Science, Science News, BBC Science and Environment

Mars May Have a Lake of Liquid Water

Water is the most essential requirement for life. When planets are explored for the possibility of life, scientists first look for evidence of slightest amount of water.  

And much to their surprise the Italian scientists working on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission announced that the Mars orbiter has found a lake of liquid water below the southern ice sheets on Mars.

In the past, there have been indications of presence of tiny amount of water on Mars. However, this is the very first evidence of a liquid lake that spans 20 km across and sits under the planet’s southern polar cap.

Temperatures below the ice sheet could be as low as -68 degree C and pure water would freeze at such low temperatures. There is probably lot of salt dissolved in the water- thereby lowering its freezing point.

This lake was discovered by the The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, or Marsis instrument developed by the Italian space agency. This instrument bounced radar beams on the ice sheets and the reflection revealed presence of a triangular region beneath the sheets – speculated to be a basin into which water had flown.

The Italian scientists matched these radar measurements to similar ice lakes in Greenland and Antarctica on earth to confirm their observations.

So, is this the evidence of life on Mars we’ve been looking for all along? Not yet. More confirmation is needed. If this holds true, it would be substantial in understanding if any organisms can, or have survived.

Since, no other orbiter has detected this in spite of using a similar technology, for example NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, there might be debate about this and a assessment of this martial polar region might follow.

BBC Science and Environment, Science News, The New York Times

Carrie Fisher will be Leia again in ‘Star Wars: Episode IX’

Last Friday the cast for the next Star Wars film was announced. And guess who’s in it?

Hint: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.”

Not just Princess Leia Organa...but Carrie Fisher herself is playing Princess Leia. This is no little hologram or CGI generated image of her, either!

Yes, Carrie Fisher died in 2016. That really happened.

How are they going to do this?

Star Wars: Episode 9, directed by JJ Abrams, is going to use previously unused footage from the filming of Episode 7: “The Force Awakens”.

According to Abrams this has the blessing of Fisher’s daughter Billie.

“Episode 9,” begins shooting next month, and is scheduled to be released December 2019.

Another notable casting appearing in the new film will be Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian.

Washington Post, The New York Times


The Climate Lounge

Heatwaves and wildfires: What is going on?

This week in the lounge we are just going to take a quick tour of the planet and see how things are going. I’m just going to, um, open up a browser real quick here, surely you’re impressed with my preparation, alright, let me type in weather disasters into this here google search...and. Oh god. The world’s on fire… let’s talk about this

First, Europe. Europe has been sitting under a dome of high pressure that has basically let the continent slow cook. Temperatures reached into the 30s C or 90F as far north as the Arctic Circle...normal.. England has been baking. So has France.. So has… you get the picture it’s hot. A preliminary study suggests the heat wave was made 5 times more likely in northern Europe thanks to climate change. In Greece, the recent hotness combined with unusually strong west winds caused wildfires near Athens to grow incredibly out of control. The kineta fire to the west burned through rural areas and didn’t cause too much damage. But the Rafina fire 10 miles to the west was horrible. The hot dry gusty winds made the fire grow rapidly and even worse unpredictably. The fire quickly overtook the seaside resort towns near Rafina including Mati on July 23 forcing residents onto the narrow streets which quickly became clogged with cars. This led people to rush to the beaches and into the sea to protect themselves as the fires burned all the way to shore. Videos of the residents in the water while ash clouds the sky and fire burns in the distance were terrifying. Over 90 people died with dozens still missing. Making it the 5th deadliest wildfire in the past century and the deadliest in Europe. It’s a horrible shocking thing. And this happened in a place that, to be honest, wasn’t that dry. The winds were the unusual part. The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre released in January a report specifically looking at the risk of wildfires in Europe in a future dominated by man-made climate change.  The report found that for the Mediterranean region, the fuel needed for fires will become even drier increasing the risks for weather-driven forest fires.  Making matters worse, drying conditions will extend farther north from the Mediterranean, while the large source of moisture found in the Alps will decrease as temperatures warm.

In the US, hot weather has led to dumbly (is that a word, it should be) hot temperatures in California. Redding hit 110 on July 26. And it’s been hot and dry for quite awhile. A bit different than Greece. But similarly, fires broke out and rapidly grew in size. The Carr fire has burnt 110,000 acres andis only 27% contained and has burned into Redding itself. It has destroyed over 1200 buildings and killed 7 people so far including two firefighters. The freaking fire even creating this rotating fire hellscape that was like a tornado. It created its own weather. There is even a photo of a steel pipe wrapped around a tree. Meanwhile, the Ferguson fire near Yosemite killed two firefighters and caused the largest park related fire closing since 1990 burning nearly 57,000 acres. Country-wide, so far this year the burned area is 25% above-average. That’s alot

Air quality in California as a result of all of the fires has been incredibly dangerous for those outside as well.

Climate change… it’s making this worse but I’ve never felt comfortable saying “new normal” but I never was eloquent enough to say why. Thank god for smarter people. So let me quote Crystal Kolden a fire scientist at the University of Idaho. She noted that the behaviour of the Carr fire is not the behavior firefights are used to seeing in the middle of the night, instead it’s more normal during the hottest parts of the day. She says” That sort of extreme, it’s something we have seen a lot in the past couple years, but it’s something we’ve been seeing more frequently with a greater magnitude ofr the last 20, 30  years. “ But she pushed back on saying this is a new normal because “That implies that it’s not going to get that much worse. But what our projections tell us is that it’s going to get worse”

Of course she’s right. SHE’S A FREAKING FIRE SCIENTIST. As temperatures warm, the fire seasons get longer, the fuel gets drier, and drier more plentiful fuel means if fires form they grow fast and large. Not surprisingly,  In recent research looking at trends in weeks where conditions are favorable for very large fires, scientists found that the potential for the development of very large fires is expected to be up to six times as likely by mid-century (2041-2070) compared to 1971-2000 in the mountain west. 2 to 4 times in California.

It hasn’t been lost on me that I’m doing another story on wildfires and the host of this podcast JD has gone through the terrifying ordeal himself after his home burned down last year. Fires that grow large so fast and going to encroach on that urban wild interface. Another bit about how infrastructure is not built for the extremes we are ALREADY seeing, let alone what may happen in the future.

Wunderground Wunderground climate.gov WaPo Axios


Pub Quiz

Taking part in the pub quiz today are: Amrita Sule and Tom Di Liberto.

What are the rules? The first rule of Pub Quiz is you do not talk about Pub Quiz.

I ask a science question and our panel of dangerous intellectuals provide their brilliant answers along with some witty repartee’.

  1. A pair of papers posted on the preprint server arXiv last month suggests that this cosmological Theory results in far fewer universes than previously thought. What Theory am I talking about?
  2. On Friday, 27 July what notable celestial event took place?
  3. A bite from this animal can make a person deathly allergic to red meat. This week researchers announced that its bite may also be linked to coronary artery disease. What animal is it?
  4. In recent weeks hundreds of dead fish, seabirds and sea turtles have been washing up on the beaches of what U.S. state?
  5. According to a new study published in Nature Geoscience on 23 July, the oldest evidence for life on land was found in what country?

That’s it for the Pub Quiz!

How did YOU do?

What? You want the answers? Then you're just gonna have to listen to this episode!


Recommended by The Team

Are there any birders out there? Of course there are! Well, I have an awesome way for you to waste 90 minutes of your life.

On Twitter there’s a thing called TrickyBirdID. It’s #TrickyBirdID. It’s run by Jason Ward, and you can find him at JasonWardNY.

This is a daily contest on Twitter. Jason posts pictures of birds, and you try to guess what they are! It’s not always easy because the pictures may be backlit, blurry, or maybe a partial picture. It’s meant to be a challenge, and it it.

He gives everyone 30 minutes to give their answers, and whoever answers correctly first wins that round. There are a total of three rounds.

I was in rare form on Monday and won two of the three rounds. That last one was a white-eyed vireo, but I answered with yellow-throated vireo.

Still, this is a great way for birds nerds to waste time, and for that reason I recommend hashtag TrickyBirdID on Twitter.

#TrickyBirdID on Twitter


In Next Week’s Episode

Dr. Grant Ballard, the Chief Science Officer of Point Blue Conservation Science.


In Closing

And that concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast.

If you have any suggestions or comments email us at podcast@bluestreakscience.com

You can subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and any number of podcast directories. And if you have an iOS device like an iPhone or an iPad you can get the new Blue Streak Science app from the App Store.

This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team, and edited by Pro Podcast Solutions.

And our hosts today were Dr. Amrita Sule, and Tom Di Liberto.

I’m JD Goodwin.  

Thank you for joining us.

And remember...follow the science!