The Right Stuff, eh?, Herschel's Night Vision Goggles, This is Your Brain in Neutral, Duck Billed Protein, Heatstroke, Fact or Fiction: Lightning

 

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The Right Stuff, eh?

astro_hansen.jpg Jeremy Hansen, courtesy CSA

Earlier this week, The Canadian Space Agency revealed the names of Canada's 2 newest astronauts: Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques. The two were chosen from among 16 finalists in the highly competitive contest to select the next generation of Canucks in Space. And those 16 were themselves whittled down from more than 5,000 people who originally applied for the coveted job. Its' the first time since 1992 that the Agency has launched a competition for new astronaut candidates. Jeremy Hansen is one of those lucky winners. He is a CF18 fighter pilot, currently stationed at Cold Lake, Alberta, but raised in Ingersoll, Ontario. He also holds a Masters Degree in Physics from the Royal Military College.

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Herschel's Night Vision Goggles

herschel.jpg Artist's impression of Herschel - courtesy ESA

This past week, the European Space Agency launched a powerful new telescope, to look at part of the invisible universe. The Herschel Space Observatory is designed to look in the far infrared - essentially seeing heat. It is, however, the heat from very cold objects, as Herschel will be able to see dust, rocks and ice around distant stars that are only 30 degrees above absolute zero. Dr. Michael Fich is an astronomer at the University of Waterloo, and worked with the Canadian team that helped build one of Herschel's three main instruments. He and his colleagues are interested in looking at water in the clouds of gas and dust that will soon form stars and solar systems.

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This is Your Brain in Neutral

daydream.jpg MRI brain scans of daydreamers, courtesy Kalina Christoff

No matter how focussed you are, you probably spend more time letting your mind wander than you realize. In fact, researchers have found that, on average, we can spend up to one third of our waking lives daydreaming. Dr. Kalina Christoff, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and the Brain Research Centre at the University of British Columbia, says she's one of these people. However, far from seeing daydreaming as lazy or unproductive, Dr. Christoff believes it's key to creative problem solving. She's recently completed a study that looks at exactly what's going on in our grey matter when we're letting our thoughts drift. Rather than being inactive, Dr. Christoff found that the brain is actually more active when we're daydreaming than it is when we're concentrating on completing a routine task. Interestingly, the areas that are active when we daydream are the same areas that are activated when we're being highly creative.

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Duck Billed Protein


hadrosaur.jpg Brachylophosaurus, copyright Debivort, GFDL

Dr. Mary Schweitzer stunned the paleontological world several years ago when she discovered soft tissue and fragments of protein from the bones of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. She's now repeated the experiment with another newly discovered fossil dinosaur, taking particular care to satisfy those skeptical about her earlier finding. The result, she thinks, is even better this time, as they recovered soft tissue and protein fragments from a Duck-Billed dinosaur even older than the T-Rex. Dr. Schweitzer, a professor of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at North Carolina State University, thinks one big challenge with this work is figuring out how this unlikely preservation could have occurred.

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Heatstroke


heatstroke.jpg

Dr. Anthony Barnosky thinks we're facing the end of life as we know it. In his new book, Heatstroke, Nature in an Age of Global Warming, Dr. Barnosky, a paleoecologist and professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, explains just what he means by this. He sees climate warming as already having an impact on the distribution and populations of animals, and thinks the impact of accelerating change in the future will threaten many species with extinction, because they can't live where they are. And we've cut off their escape routes to what will be more suitable habitat. He thinks we can help ameliorate this problem by assisting the migration of species in the future, but thinks we'll have lost something important. Managing wildlife like this involves treating our planet like a large zoo.

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Fact or Fiction - Lightning in the Shower


Another episode of our occasional feature, Science Fact or Science Fiction. From time to time, we'll present a commonly held idea or popular saying - and ask a Canadian scientist to set us straight on whether we should believe it or not.

And today's adage is certainly a shocking one: You shouldn't take a bath or shower during a lightning storm because you might get electrocuted. According to Dr. William Burrows, a Research Scientist with Environment Canada, and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta, it is science fact.

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