Photo: SpaceX, CC0
In today’s roundup, we’ve got the news of the latest SpaceX success, the results of a study about dance songs and lullabies from around the world, and the story of an entire species of clones. It’s the top of the science and technology news for the week of Sunday, February 11, 2018!
Falcon Heavy Tesla Launch
On Tuesday, February 6, SpaceX launched its first Falcon Heavy rocket. All in all, it was a resounding success. The three Falcon 9 cores carried it up and away from the launch site at Cape Canaveral, before separating from one another and returning to Earth, leaving the second stage to boost the cargo—Elon Musk’s now infamous “midnight cherry” Tesla Roadster with the space-suit-clad mannequin “star man” at the wheel—into an orbit around the sun. According to Space.com, NASA has labelled the new solar satellite “Tesla Roadster (Starman, 2018-017A),” and that its minimum distance from the sun will be 0.99 astronomical units (1 AU = 1x the distance from the sun to the Earth), while its maximum distance from the sun will be roughly 1.7 AU, though there will probably be variances because of things like offgassing and solar pressure. Nobody’s ever put a car into space and they’re not really sure how the shape and materials will change in direct unbridled (extra-atmospheric) sunlight. Things didn’t go perfectly—the center core didn’t make it back in one piece, and there may have been damage to one of the two side cores that landed simultaneously to great applause—but even the experimental “long coast” maneuver programmed in as a demonstration for the USAF seemed to go to plan. So what’s next? Well, Musk envisions a few FH flights a year, and in the meantime he’ll be working on the “BFR,” the largest spacecraft ever, designed to aid in (cis)lunar and ultimtely Martian missions. For now, you can watch the launch (and Musk’s reactions to it) in the videos below:
Lullabies and Dance Tunes
You probably know the sound of a lullaby when you hear it. The same’s probably true for dance songs. And that’s even if you’ve never heard it before, don’t know what language it’s in, and what human culture has produced it. So says a new study published February 5 in the journal Current Biology. The researchers took four songs each from 86 “mostly small scale cultures”—the Saami people of Norway, the Yonglu people of Australia, the Ainu of Japan—trying to get one example each of four types of functional songs: songs for dancing, healing, expressing love, and putting people (especially children) to sleep. Then they had English speakers from over 60 countries listen to them, and the results were very interesting. Respondents were very good at identifying the dance songs and lullabies, but not so much the love songs or “healing” songs. To me, that makes sense: a lullaby and a dance song are both very functionally-based. Can you dance to something without a beat? It’s pretty hard. Most dance songs have a steady rhythm. Meanwhile to put someone to sleep, a lullaby has to be pretty soft and, well, sleep-inducing. But love and healing are narratives that I would think would be more culturally dependent, and I think you could read the study in such a way as to show that. NPR has covered it with some examples, and the study itself is here. Their next step is to see how more diverse listeners react.
A new study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution has traced the roots of an unusual species of crayfish. The Marbled Crayfish, which first came into existence through random mutation 25 years ago, is a species entirely of clones, because the mutation was the ability to clone itself. All females, Marbled Crayfish lay eggs that do not require fertilization to hatch, producing offspring that are genetically identical save random mutations. It looks as though they got a start in an aquarium in Germany. From there, thanks to its ability to reproduce, its offspring were given as pets, and spread their way globally. And now, of course, they’re reproducing in the wild, which isn’t great. But they’re also useful for scientific study: not only does having genetically identical test subjects help testing, it’s also potentially useful for studying cancer, which also reproduces clonally and evolves without the addition of new genetic material. And if you’re worried about their populations in the wild, well, they’re edible (google “crawfish boil”), and eating them is environmentally sound. You can read more about the story at The Independent, and the study is here.
That’s the top of the science and technology news for this week. Check back next time for more!
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Richard Ford Burley is a human, YA author, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.