Quirks & Quarks

Sep 17: 10,000 steps really are good for you, Astronomers thrilled by JWST, garbage picking cockatoos and more

On thin ice with Canadian glaciologists and red skies at night?

On thin ice with Canadian glaciologists and red skies at night?

A woman standing in winter clothing on a large ice field holding a cylinder of ice.
Mountaineer and Glaciologist Alison Criscitiello with a glacial ice core. (Submitted by Alison Criscitiello)


Science says 10,000 steps are actually a health benefit sweet spot

Fitness trackers and smartwatches encourage us to get 10,000 steps a day, but according to Borja del Pozo Cruz, associate professor at Southern Denmark University and senior researcher in health sciences at the University of Cadiz, and his colleagues, there's been little actual research to show that there's anything special about that big round number. Now, two studies published in JAMA Neurology and JAMA Internal Medicine looking at large numbers of people who wore research-grade fitness trackers have shown that 10,000 steps is indeed a great goal for a range of health outcomes, including protection against heart disease and dementia. And it's particularly true if you walk some of those steps a little faster.

What the James Webb Space Telescope really saw this summer

You might have seen some of the spectacular first images from NASA's new space telescope that appeared over the past several months, but they're only a taste of what the telescope has been collecting as it scans the universe. We speak to Sarah Gallagher, the Director of the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration at Western University, about how she and her colleagues are thrilled by the way JWST is outperforming expectations.

A large grey-white bird opens a plastic garbage bin with a red lid using its beak by a house in a suburb of Sydney, Australia.
A sulphur-crested cockatoo pries open the lid of a garbage bin with its beak in Sydney, Australia. A new study is looking at the ways humans are trying to outwit the clever parrots that have learned how to open trash cans, often leaving behind a mess of garbage. (Barbara Klump/Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior)

Garbage-picking Australian cockatoos are in an arms race with homeowners

In Sydney, Australia, some of the country's cockatoos have invented clever techniques for breaking into garbage bins for food. Since the birds toss the garbage everywhere looking for the tastiest tidbits, Sydney's other highly intelligent species – humans – has been experimenting with ways to outwit the birds. Barbara Klump, a behavioural ecologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour, is documenting how humans and cockatoos are racing to outsmart each other. Her latest study published in Current Biology looks at the different techniques humans are using to protect their trash cans.

The ice core drill in action at high camp, Mt. Logan. Kluane National Park and Reserve (National Geographic Society)

Scientists get back to work on Canada's Glaciers after COVID interruptions

Several months ago, Alison Criscitiello, a glaciologist, mountaineer and director of the Ice Core Lab from the University of Alberta, led an expedition up Yukon's Mount Logan, Canada's highest mountain, to take and study ice cores. Ice drilled at depths of over 300 metres will provide insight into the climate going back as much as 30,000 years ago. The team hopes it will turn out to be some of the oldest ice outside polar regions on Earth.

We also speak with Dave Burgess, a research scientist with the geological survey of Canada who leads the National Glaciology Project. The continuing study of Canada's glaciers, which are important to our fresh water supply and, as they melt, to sea level rise, got back on track this summer after a couple of years of interrupted field work. We'll find out what Burgess and his colleagues saw when they got back on the ice this spring and summer. 

Quirks listener question - Red sky at night? 

A listener asks:" The popular saying goes 'Red sky at morning, sailors take warning; red sky at night, sailors delight.' Is there any science behind looking at the colour of the sky to predict the weather?"

For the answer we hear from Neil Tandon, an Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science at York University in Toronto.


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