* Hot Rocks Planet * Climate 3000 * Musical Brains * The Price Tag for Penguins * IceCube Neutrino Observatory * Fact or Fiction - Tea and Tooth Stains *

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Hot Rocks Planet

The Kepler Space Telescope was launched in 2009 to survey hundreds of thousands of stars, in order to find planets - ideally, ones similar to Earth.  This week, Dr. Natalie Batalha, Deputy Science Team lead for the Kepler mission, announced they'd found their first small, rocky planet.  In size, it's just a bit bigger than Earth, but there the similarities end.  It orbits more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury does, circling the star in a "year" that lasts only about 20 hours.  And it's likely that the day-side of the planet is partially molten.  Nevertheless, finding this new planet proves that Kepler can find small planets, and they have great hopes that something a little milder will be detected soon.

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Climate 3000

saharan_dunes.jpg Sahara Desert Dunes in Algeria, copyright cc-by-sa-3.0, Bertrand Devouard ou Florence Devouard

Climate change is with us, and will be for a very long time to come, according to research led by Dr. Nathan Gillett at the Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis of Environment Canada in Victoria.  He and his team have run their model out to the year 3000 to try to understand, under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, just how long higher temperatures will persist.  What they found surprised even them.  Largely because of the slow absorption and release of heat in the ocean, even after we cease emissions entirely, the new, higher temperatures persist for at least a thousand years, without showing any sign of returning to their pre-industrial norms.  They also found that, in the long term, warming tends to concentrate in the south, parching Africa and threatening the Antarctic Ice shelves.

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Musical Brains



salimpoor.jpg Part of the reward circuitry in the brain in blue and red. Courtesy Peter Finnie
Many of us have experienced getting a chill of pleasure when listening to music.  Now, research "orchestrated" by Valorie Salimpoor, a Ph.D candidate at the Montreal Neurological Institute and McGill University, has shown that this chill is, in fact, due to music directly affecting our brain chemistry.  The researchers looked at dopamine production and uptake while subjects listened to chill-inducing music.  What they saw was that there was a burst of dopamine in response to the music.  Since dopamine is the same neurotransmitter that activates the brain's reward circuitry when we eat or have sex, this suggests that the enjoyment of music might well be a deeply evolved behaviour in humans.

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The Price Tag for Penguins



penguin_bands.jpg Penguin wearing a metal armband on its flipper. Credit: Benoît Gineste
A ten-year study, led by researchers at the University of Strasbourg, has concluded that banding penguins for the purpose of identification and monitoring is not good for their health and survival.  They found that banded king penguins living on Possession Island produced fewer chicks and had a much lower survival rate than those not banded.  Dr. Rory Wilson, Head of the Institute of Environmental Sustainability and a Professor of Aquatic Biology at Swansea University in Wales, wrote the commentary that accompanied the study in Nature. He says even though the bands do not appear to be intrusive, they have a negative effect of the penguin's hydrodynamic ability; there is a greater energy cost due to the extra drag in the water.  These findings mean that the era of banding penguins for research purposes has likely come to an end.  It also means previous studies involving banded penguins need to be re-evaluated.

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IceCube Neutrino Observatory

icehole.jpgSensor descends down a hole in the ice, Credit: NSF/B. Gudbjartsson
After a decade of planning, testing and construction, the world's largest neutrino detector is now complete.  It is called the IceCube Neutrino Observatory and it comprises a one-cubic-kilometre section of ice on the Antarctic plateau at the South Pole.  In a total of 86 holes drilled deep into the ice, IceCube's more than 5,000 sensors record the rare collisions of neutrinos - high-energy sub-atomic particles - with water molecules.  IceCube began collecting data before it was complete and, in less than a year, has already observed nearly 20-thousand such collisions.  One of many international scientists working on IceCube is Dr. Darren Grant from the Department of Physics at the University of Alberta.  He's hoping to find evidence of dark matter in the observatory as well.  

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Fact or Fiction - Tea and Teeth Stains

This is another episode of our occasional feature, Science Fact or Science Fiction. From time to time, we 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. 

Today's popular belief comes from listener Carol Witt in Scarborough, Ontario, who says: "Tea will stain your teeth, but adding milk will help reduce staining".  To help us clear up this matter, we contacted Dr. Ava Chow, an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. She says it is science fact - in theory.

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0