The moon landing and another big space anniversary
Its 50 years since the moon landing and 25 years since Shoemaker - Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter. The Apollo missions returned to earth with cargos of moon rocks and the comet crash showed us what happens when celestial bodies collide.
We look at the significance of both this week, and also contemplate a return to the moon. What will the next generation of moonwalking astronauts do there?
One thing’s for sure, they’ll be examining moon rocks once more – though this time with a range of scientific tools which hadn’t been invented when the Apollo missions ceased.
Laser swords, time machines, matter transporters - before the turn of the millennium, movies, books and television promised some extraordinary future technology. How far into the future will we have to go to find a time machine as imagined by H.G. Wells in 1895? Where are the lightsabers wielded by fictional Jedi? Why are we still using cars, planes and trains when a matter transporter or a flying taxi could be so much more convenient? We are joined by a panel of experts to find out if and when any of these much-longed for items are going to arrive.
(Photo: Shoemaker – Levy 9 Comet Impact Marks on Jupiter. Credit: Getty Images)
'Free' water and electricity for the world
Researchers in Saudi Arabia have developed a prototype solar panel which generates electricity and purifies water at the same time. The device uses waste heat from the electricity generating process to distil water. An individual panel for home use could produce around 4 litres and hour. The researchers suggest use of such panels would help alleviate water shortages.
A long running study of gorilla behaviour in the DRC has found they exhibit social traits previously thought to only be present in humans. This suggests such traits could have developed in the prehistory of both species.
More than 500 fish species can change sex. Analysis of the underlying mechanism shows how sex determination is heavily influenced by environmental and in the case of one species social factors.
Farming is a relatively recent invention for our species. For most of human history, people were hunter-gatherers. They moved around the landscape to get their food, hunting prey and gathering fruits and cereals from their environment.
But then, around 10 thousand years ago, human society shifted, and the first farmers appear in archaeological records around the world. So how did this idea start? Who planted the first seed and domesticated the wild ancestors of our cows and chickens?
(Photo: Future PV farm: not just generating electricity, but also producing fresh water. Credit: Wenbin Wang)
Analysing the European Heatwave
The recent European heatwave broke records, but how severe was it really and what were the underlying causes? Having run the numbers, climate scientists say global warming played a large part, and makes heatwaves in general more likely.
And we look at what seems an incredibly simple idea to counter the effects of global warming – plant more trees, but where and how many?
For some people, the idea of eating soil is weird at best and at worst disgusting and dirty. But globally the practice of geophagy – or the regular and intentional consumption of earth – is more common than you might imagine. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates described it 2500 years ago and even today, eating soil, earth and clay can be seen in a wide range of human cultures as well in hundreds of animal species. But what’s the point of it? And what’s going on in the body to drive cravings for things that aren’t bona fide food?
(Photo: People cool themselves down in the fountain of the Trocadero esplanade in Paris. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)
Is climate change driving Europe’s current heatwave?
As Europe experiences another record breaking heatwave, we look at the science of attribution. Usually it’s a long time after extreme weather events that scientists gather enough data to make a judgement on the influence of anthropogenic forces, such as man-made climate change.
However climate experts at a meeting Toulouse France, experiencing the worst of the heatwave, are crunching the data right now, to see if they can quantify the influence of climate change on this heatwave as it happens.
Also we find lakes of fresh water hidden – under the sea, find that Neanderthals went west and discover how spiralling laser light may be used to control a new generation of microelectronics.
It’s frustrating to be stuck in traffic. Listener Collins from Nairobi, Kenya, spends at least three hours a day in traffic and he counts himself lucky. Many of his friends will easily spend six hours in traffic jams to get back and forth from work. Collins wants to know whether there is hope for his hometown – has any city managed to eliminate the worst of the traffic hot spots and how did they do it?
Collins is not alone in his frustration. Congestion plays a major factor in the happiness and health of urban citizens. Commuters have been measured to have stress levels equivalent to that of riot police facing angry protesters.
So should our cities cater less for cars and what are the alternatives? We head to Copenhagen to meet the politicians and urban designers who have transformed the Danish capital from a city for cars to one for bikes and people.
(Photo: Heatwave in Paris. Credit: European Photopress Agency)
The birth of a new volcano
A new undersea volcano has appeared off the coast of East Africa. The sea floor between Madagascar and Mozambique has become increasingly seismically active in the last year. As well as the appearance of this active volcano, local islands are now experiencing frequent earthquakes.
The causes of Indonesia’s Palu Bay tsunami last year are being examined thanks to social media. Videos taken as the tsunami hit have been analysed to determine wave heights and speeds and suggest possible causes.
Scientists at a massive underground physics research facility in Italy are to stand trial over safety risks. The facility uses poisonous chemicals. There are concerns these could leak into drinking water supplies in the event of an earthquake.
As scientists keep finding ever more fascinating facts about the invisible housemates that share our homes, we investigate what might be lurking in quiet household corners or under our beds.
We head out on a microbial safari with expert tour guide Dr Jamie Lorimer from the University of Oxford to find out what kind of creatures are living in our kitchens, bathrooms and gardens - from bacteria normally found in undersea vents popping up in a kettle, to microbes quietly producing tiny nuggets of gold. For so long this hidden world has been one that we’ve routinely exterminated - but should we be exploring it too?
(Image: Multibeam sonar waves, reflecting off the sea floor near the French island of Mayotte, reveal the outline of an 800-meter-tall volcano (red) and a rising gas-rich plume. Credit: MAYOBS team (CNRS / IPGP -Université de Paris / Ifremer / BRGM)