New German telescope stares at the sun
May 24th, 2012
10:18 AM ET

New German telescope stares at the sun

A consortium of German scientists unveiled this week Europe’s largest solar telescope, which will give mankind its clearest images of the sun to date.

The telescope, given the appropriately Teutonic name Gregor, is a powerful contraption capable of staring directly into the nearby gas giant.

Until now, scientists were unable to point conventional telescopes at the sun for very long without the mirrors overheating and distorting the image.

But Gregor, built from a sturdy lithium aluminosilicate glass-ceramic, employs reflective surfaces made out of silicon carbide, a material that does not warp under the heat of the sun.

In addition, the telescope, located atop a volcano in the Canary Islands, also boasts a completely open structure, allowing cool ocean breezes to pass through it and further reduce its overall temperature.

ESA's next stop: Jupiter’s icy moons
An artist's impression shows the JUICE spacecraft near Jupiter and one of its moons.
May 14th, 2012
10:23 AM ET

ESA's next stop: Jupiter’s icy moons

From the volatile landscape of Io, pockmarked by eons of volcanic activity, to Ganymede’s saltwater oceans sandwiched between hundreds of miles of ice and rock, Jupiter’s so-called Galilean moons are uniquely diverse and act like a miniature solar system.

“Jupiter is an archetype of gas giants,” says Werner Magnes from the Space Research Institute at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Graz, Austria. “It’s a kind of mini-solar system, which means Jupiter acts like a star in a minisystem with its moons acting like planets.”

That’s why the European Space Agency chose the distant gas giant’s icy moons as the target of its next big scientific mission. The 19-member group opted this month to send a spacecraft to explore and investigate the satellites, which are located some 500 million miles away from Earth. The plan is to launch the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or JUICE, in 2022.


One aquatic worm's foul-smelling fodder
April 30th, 2012
12:37 PM ET

One aquatic worm's foul-smelling fodder

Its meals are poisonous and stink to high heaven, but when you’re a 2-centimeter-long worm living in the Mediterranean Sea, beggars can’t exactly be choosers.

Dubbed olavius algarvensis, the aquatic animal lives in sediment off the coast of Italy and relies on noxious gases like carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide – the latter of which reeks of rotten eggs – for sustenance. Both gases can be deadly to humans.

Weirder still is that the wriggly little invertebrate lacks a mouth and stomach entirely.

“Olavius algarvensis has completely reduced its digestive system. Instead, it relies for all its nutrition on symbiotic bacteria, which live under the outer body wall of the worm,” said Manuel Kleiner, a Ph.D. student and researcher at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology.

Chemosynthetic bacteria under its skin produce nourishment by absorbing the gases in the water and converting them into energy via a process similar to photosynthesis.


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