The Week In Science: Cannibal Baby Sharks, Bug-Eye Cameras And Gray Hair Fixes

 @rpalmerscience
on May 04 2013 8:00 AM

It’s been another crackerjack week in science. During the past few days, we’ve seen an animated movie made from manipulated carbon monoxide molecules, taken a hard look at the potential drawbacks of breast implants and been wowed by vivid pictures of a vast maelstrom hunkered down on Saturn’s north pole.

But there is always more happening than we can cover, so here’s a roundup of what else happened this week in science:

The world’s smallest robot, about the size of a quarter, took off with a flick of its carbon-fiber wings. The wings are made of a special material that contracts when voltage is applied to it -- similar to regular muscles. [BBC News]

If you thought your childhood was tough, make way on the psychiatrist’s couch for the sand tiger shark. These fish fight their half-siblings to the death in the womb (their mom is usually pregnant with babies fathered by several different males). Now some scientists think they’ve figured out the reason behind this in-utero Thunderdome: “Embryonic cannibalism” is a strategy that favors the most aggressive male sharks, who are probably siring the most aggressive baby sharks. But are the aggressive dads siring babies earlier, or do their babies just grow faster than their more mild-tempered wombmates? More research is needed. [The Washington Post]

In the search for extraterrestrial life, humans may want to relax their definition of a habitable planet, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor argued in a paper published Friday in the journal Science. Our current search tends to focus on planets that lie within the “habitable zone” of their stars, where temperatures are at just the right warmth to allow liquid water to persist on the surface, but also heavily favors planets suspected to be Earthlike. But even if we keep the water requirement in place, possibly habitable worlds don’t have to look like Earth: Dry desert planets (similar to the fictional Arrakis in the “Dune” novel series) or planets with hydrogen-rich atmospheres (like Saturn) could harbor a kind of life very different from what we know. [The Verge]

Speaking of Saturn (which is having something of a banner week), a junior at the University of Iowa has figured out how the ringed planet’s magnetic field is connected to the planet’s seasons. [University of Iowa]

Researchers made a digital camera that mimics the rounded, multifaceted eyes of insects. This technology could be useful in capturing large scenes with high resolution, and it might make for better views on the endoscopes that doctors use to look inside patients’ bodies. [CNN]

The cure for both gray hair and the skin condition vitiligo may lie in the same remedy: a compound that works to combat the natural accumulation of hydrogen peroxide in response to oxidative stress. [The FASEB Journal]

Suicide rates have risen sharply among middle-age Americans (by 30 percent), and more people die from suicide than from car accidents nowadays. [The New York Times]

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