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Science Illustrated Issue 74

Science Illustrated delivers natural science, break through discoveries and an understanding of the world for the entire family. Packed with stunning photography and in-depth editorial it’s a visually spectacular gateway to the world looking into the beginning of life to distant objects in the universe.

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1 min
hole in the middle: viewing the centre of the milky way

Although we can now identify incredibly remote galaxies, we are unable to observe the centre of our own Milky Way. A wall of intergalactic dust blocks our view of the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy, Sagittarius A*. But the long-running Spitzer space telescope has used infrared imaging to peek beyond the wall of dust and create this image. The blue spots are old cold stars; the red clouds are dust illuminated by young warm stars. The large bright area is the centre, where millions of stars are slowly sucked into the black hole. NASA, JPL-CALTECH, SUSAN STOLOVY (SSC/CALTECH) ET AL. Photo //NASA/JPL-Caltech…

1 min
new life: early-stage embryo grown from stem cells

Scientists have for the first time produced an initial-stage embryo without the use of either sperm or eggs. Scientists from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies produced stem cells using cells from adult mice, and those cells very soon began to divide in the same way as they would after natural fertilisation. We still don’t know very much about how life originates in a fertilised egg, and scientists hope that the discovery will provide new knowledge about these first stages of life, when one cell divides to become millions of cells.…

3 min
asteroid strike in wa defrosted the frozen earth

GEOLOGY More than once, our planet has experienced a ‘Snowball Earth’ global ice age, during which its entire surface has been covered in ice. It happened 2.4 billion years ago, after new oxygen-producing bacteria made the atmosphere colder. The oxygen broke down a layer of methane that had kept Earth warm, but some 2.2 billion years ago an event suddenly defrosted the world again. Geologists used to believe that the cause was a series of intense volcanic eruptions, but now scientists from the Johnson Space Center in the US are offering a different explanation. The scientists studied minerals from an asteroid crater by the name of Yarrabubba in south-western Australia. The minerals contain uranium, which decays into lead over time. By analysing the relationship between the two elements, the scientists determined the…

1 min
ancestors with new faces

EVOLUTION A skull recently discovered in Ethiopia belonged to one of our early ancestors, according to scientists from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in the US. After analysing the skull, they determined that it belongs to the Australopithecus anamensis species, an ancestor of the Homo genus. The 3.8-million-year-old skull reveals features that differ from those which scientists know from the Australopithecus afarensis, the species which became famous when an almost complete skeleton known as ‘Lucy’ was discovered in 1974. The two species differ particularly in the lower part of the face of anamensis being more protruding than that of afarensis. The differences are important, because scientists can now identify other finds of skull bones such as 3.9-million-year-old finds made in 1981. According to the new knowledge, they must be from an afarensis. AUSTRALOPITHECUS…

1 min
sex selection by slowing down sperm cells with the x factor

BIOLOGY A new discovery can make it easier to determine the gender resulting from a pregnancy. By studying mouse sperm, Japanese scientists from Hiroshima University have identified previously unknown differences between sperm cells with an X chromosome and those with a Y, finding 18 genes in the X sperm cells that code for proteins which protrude from the surface. The genes are not active in sperm cells with Y chromosomes. The scientists subsequently produced a gel with molecules that bind to the proteins in question, then made sperm cells swim through it. The cells with X chromosomes were delayed by the molecules in the gel, but it did not affect Y chromosome cells. So a simple elimination race via the gel can separate the sperm cells in a way that, according to…