The Week In Science: Mini-Brains, Whooping Cranes And Dainty Black Holes

 @rpalmerscience
on August 30 2013 2:44 PM
minibrain
A cross-section of a "mini-brain" grown in the laboratory, showing different regions developing. Madeline A. Lancaster

This week in science, we learned about some of the scars that migraines might leave on the brain, discovered a giant canyon hiding out under the vast ice sheet covering Iceland, and wondered if all of us Earthlings might be Martians in disguise. But there were still a lot of other neat findings that broke this week, so here’s a roundup of what we missed:

Scientists have grown “miniature brains” in the laboratory. The brains are pea-sized, comparable to the brain of a 9-week-old fetus, but they are incapable of thought, the researchers say. The mini-brains may prove useful in the investigation of rare diseases. [BBC]

Humanity has an ally in mitigating the effects of global warming: the Pacific Ocean. The cooler sea-surface temperatures on the Pacific may explain why global average temperatures have held steadier in recent years, despite continued greenhouse gas emissions. But the Pacific cycles through periods of warmer and cooler surface temperatures, so it’s unclear how long the pattern will continue to hold. [Christian Science Monitor]

The black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, Sagittarius A*, is something of a picky eater. It seems to  absorb only about 1 percent of the gas that falls toward it. Scientists still don’t know exactly why this happens, but new observations of Sgr A* apparently confirm that the black hole is indeed spitting up most of its food. The new find rules out a competing theory that the Sgr A* was somehow sucking the gas in discreetly, without emitting a telltale belch of radiation. [Wall Street Journal]

That big, Texas-sized patch of garbage floating in the Pacific isn’t the only area where you can find plastic particles clogging waterways. Scientists have found tiny bits of plastic in all of the Great Lakes. They think a lot of the waste comes from the tiny beads found in some facial scrubs, as well as toothpastes. Researchers worry that the plastic is also absorbing toxic chemicals, like an armada of miniature sponges. [Lansing State Journal]

How do young whooping cranes fly straight during their migrations? By listening to their elders. Scientists found that older, experienced cranes help teach their younger feathered friends the most efficient migratory paths. [BBC]

NASA is about to launch a mission that will test the feasibility of using lasers to establish two-way communication pathways between Earth and the moon. The car-sized Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, will be gathering information about the moon’s thin atmosphere and transmitting it back using a special kind of laser-beam encoding format that can send six times more data than an equivalent radio system. [Tech News World]

Share this article