Cosmos Magazine

Cosmos Magazine Issue 83

Global science, from a unique Australian perspective.

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The Royal Institution of Australia Inc
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in questo numero

1 min
a letter from the lead scientist

THERE EXISTS A FUNDAMENTAL new form of matter in our universe, outweighing everything we can see five times over. Its gravity holds the Milky Way together and yet we cannot see it, as it neither shines nor absorbs light. Not only invisible, it is a “ghost”, passing through solid matter as if it were empty space, such that 100 trillion particles fly through your body every day and less than a handful might collide with a single atom. This unknown entity is dark matter, and determining its nature is one of the most important quests in science this century. The search for dark matter involves international teams of engineers and scientists building detectors with tonnes of noble gas or ultrapure crystals to record the rare impact of collisions. The detectors must…

1 min
from the editor

Evidence trumps ideology WELCOME to the latest quarterly edition of Cosmos and what, we hope, is an entertaining and informative deep dive into the realms of science and technology. The recent federal election in Australia demonstrated one thing very clearly. As the heated campaign rolled out, many of the issues that became hot-button topics centred on questions that had more to do with evidence than ideology. The country’s energy-generation mix, now and in the future, was a constant topic. Arguments flared around electric cars, high-speed rail, mining approvals, drilling in the Bight, impacts on the Great Barrier Reef and, above all, very loudly, climate change. Ultimately, these are all issues which – once the fiery rhetoric diminishes – turn on results arising from carefully conducted, randomised, double-blind, peer-reviewed research. Perhaps more than any other election in…

1 min

PAUL BEIGLER After many years working as an emergency doctor, Paul switched tracks to become a bioethicist and writer. As well as contributing to Cosmos, he writes for major newspapers and is an adjunct research fellow at Monash University. ALAN FINKEL Alan, a former publisher of Cosmos, is an electrical engineer, a neuroscientist and Chief Scientist of Australia. He was Chancellor of Monash University from 2008 to 2015. TANYA LOOS Tanya is a naturalist and ecologist based in regional Victoria. She writes regularly for Cosmos and contributes columns to regional newspapers. She is the author of the book Daylesford Nature Diary (em Press Publishing). DREW TURNEY Drew is a US-based Australian journalist, novelist and film critic. He covers computers and technology for a number of outlets, and is director of psi Publishing and Design.…

1 min
why grapes spark when you microwave them

It’s must-watch viewing for the science-curious: cut a grape in half with skin left on, pop it in the microwave, then wait a few seconds for sparks to fly and a bright puff of light, or plasma, to appear. A popular theory is that the hotspot creating the spark occurs because the skin conducts electrons back and forth. But not so, suggest Canadian researchers in the journal PNAS. “The plasma is created due to an amplification of the electromagnetic field in between the grapes,” says Pablo Bianucci of Concordia University, Montreal. This is caused by the interaction of “trapped” microwaves. Skin or no skin, having two grapes, or two halves, is the key.…

1 min
the dawn of the zombie pigs

Neuroscientists have succeeded in restoring partial function to the brains of decapitated pigs, hours after they were killed. In a paper published in the journal Nature, researchers led by Zvonimir Vrselja from the Yale School of Medicine in the US report “the restoration and maintenance of microcirculation and molecular and cellular functions of the intact pig brain” up to four hours after death. The results are at once extraordinary and, legal experts and bioethicists say, deeply concerning. In effect, Vrselja and colleagues have created the world’s first zombie pigs. They did so by first making a fluid, dubbed BrainEx, which was fed into the vascular system of the brains of the pigs, which had earlier been slaughtered for meat production. The researchers say it promotes tissue recovery from anoxia – a lack of…

1 min
cthulu lives! or lived. sort of

A creature with more than a passing resemblance to Chthulu, the mythical creature created by author HP Lovecraft in the 1920s, once actually existed, palaeontologists have revealed – although at just three centimetres wide, it was hardly a danger to shipping or buildings. Not, of course, that there were any human-made structures around when Sollasina cthulhu prowled across the ocean floor some 430 million years ago. The creature, a very distant ancestor of sea cucumbers and sea slugs, is revealed in a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. It was found in fossilised form in the UK county of Hereford. Researchers led by Imran Rahman from the University of Oxford then spent months painstakingly grinding it away, taking photographs at every stage, resulting in an accurate 3D…