Cosmos Magazine

Cosmos Magazine Issue 82

Global science, from a unique Australian perspective.

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2 min
a letter from the director

WELCOME to the second edition of Cosmos magazine published by The Royal Institution of Australia. As the Chief Executive and Director, I thought it important that I take the time to write to all our readers and explain what The Royal Institution of Australia is – and what our role is in the Australian community. The Royal Institution of Australia was established in 2009 as the only sister organisation of The Royal Institution of Great Britain, which has a long and prestigious history dating back to 1799. Our mission is to promote public awareness and understanding of all things science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Through our own productions, and through working with the most trusted scientific sources, we aim to engage the Australian public, bringing science to people and people to science. We…

1 min

PAUL DAVIES Physicist, writer and broadcaster Paul Davies is a professor at Arizona State University in the US as well as the director of BEYOND: Centre for Fundamental Concepts in Science. His books include The Fifth Miracle and The Mind of God. NATALIE PARLETTA With a PhD, Bachelor of Psychology, and Master of Dietetics, Natalie Parletta is a researcher and freelance writer based in Adelaide, South Australia. Her research centres on links between nutrition and mental health. KATIE MACK Katie Mack is a theoretical astrophysicist who studies a range of questions in cosmology. She is an assistant professor of Physics at North Carolina State University, where she is also a member of the Leadership in Public Science Cluster. KIT PRENDERGAST A noted expert in Australian native bee species, Kit Prendergast is a science educator and PhD candidate…

1 min
from the editor and lead scientist

Reality, however you define it WHAT IS REAL? It is the fundamental question that drives many in philosophy, science and religion. In this issue of Cosmos, however, it drives two very different stories – and requires two very different approaches. In our cover story, Life on Mars – the evidence assessed, Richard A Lovett looks at the findings that have been offered – as early as 1877 in some cases – to support the contention that life does, or did, exist on the Red Planet. Extensive and detailed, the result serves to remind us that however possible, or probable, the prospect of Martian biology might be – and however much we might want it to be real – there is as yet no evidence of it. In the second story, Science in the world…

1 min
is it planet nine or a massive disc?

So, are those mystery orbits in outermost reaches of solar system caused by an unknown ninth planet? There’s another group of astronomers suggesting the answer is “no”. They believe it can all be explained by the combined gravitational force of small objects orbiting the sun beyond Neptune. “The Planet Nine hypothesis is a fascinating one, but if the hypothesised ninth planet exists, it has so far avoided detection,” says Antranik Sefilian, from the University of Cambridge in the UK. In a paper published in The Astronomical Journal, Sefilian and colleagues suggest there’s a disc made up of small icy bodies with a combined mass as much as 10 times that of Earth. When combined with a simplified model of the solar system, the gravitational forces of the disc can account for the unusual…

1 min
ancient giant burrowing bat found in nz

Scientists have discovered an ancient giant burrowing bat that is related to NZ’s endemic burrowing bats – and the first new bat genus added to the country’s fauna in 150 years. The bat’s teeth and bones were discovered in 16-19-million-year-old sediments near the town of St Bathans by an international team led by researchers from the University of NSW. It was named Vulcanops jennyworthyae after team member Jenny Worth, who discovered the fossils, and Vulcan, the mythological Roman god of fire and volcanoes. With an estimated weight of just 40 grams Vulcanops is hardly a “giant”, but it is three times the size of living burrowing bats in NZ today, and the largest burrowing bat yet described. NZ’s burrowing bats are so called because of their distinctly terrestrial lifestyle; they forage for insects, fruits…

1 min
the oldest jewellery in europe

This is a collection of bone points and pierced teeth found in the Denisova Cave in the Bashelaksky Range of the Altai mountains in Siberia, Russia. It was retrieved by researchers led by Katerina Douka of the UK’s University of Oxford. The cave is highly significant because evidence shows it was inhabited – at times, perhaps, simultaneously – by both Neanderthals and the little-known hominins known as Denisovans. In papers published in the journal Nature, scientists report that Denisovans occupied the cave approximately 287,000 to 55,000 years ago, while Neanderthals lived there between 193,000 and 97,000 years ago. Dates calculated by the two groups of researchers don’t completely agree, although are not wildly divergent. Douka’s team calculated the bone and tooth artefacts date from between 49,000 and 43,000 years ago. This makes them the oldest…