Cosmos Magazine

Cosmos Magazine Issue 86

Global science, from a unique Australian perspective.

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The Royal Institution of Australia Inc
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1 min
reef sails for storm!

Miniaturised by an advancing supercell storm and its menacing shelf cloud, a sailing fleet – and lonely outlier sloop – brace for heavier weather near Sydney, NSW. Characterised by a persistently rotating updraft (vortex), supercells are the rarest, but potentially most damaging, of thunderstorms. They can dump immense volumes of rain or hail and, in certain areas and conditions, form tornadoes. Shelf clouds form when cooler air flows beneath the supercell’s warmer, moisture-rich air. To learn more about clouds go to page 99.…

1 min
about the royal institution of australia

The Royal Institution of Australia is an independent charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science through news, videos, events and educational resources. Our mission is to find new ways for people to discover and understand science and how it shapes the world around us. Everything we do, from the stories we tell to the teachers we support and the events we run, is about connecting Australians – especially young Australians – with the wonders of science. We do this through Cosmosmagazine and the website, SCINEMA (our international science film festival), and Australia’s Science Channel with its STEM teaching resources and comprehensive career guides. Why do we do this? Our vision is for science to be woven into the fabric of society. We want to help people understand science and its…

2 min
from the editors

THE SEASON’S CHALLENGES have seen us constantly reflecting on – and immensely grateful for – the role of science and technology in understanding how our Earth is changing, the likely results of that change, and what we all ought to be thinking about to make things better – or, at least, no worse. As unprecedented bushfires stained the summer skies in eastern and southern Australia, it seemed natural that our thoughts turned to water and sky. In this issue you’ll meet the marine researchers who are getting help from the world’s most magnificent pelagic bird, the wandering albatross, to find illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels operating in Southern Ocean waters. Many deep-ocean fishers play by the rules and adhere to various protocols protecting fishing stocks and seabirds; the “dark” fishing…

1 min
support us

SUBSCRIPTIONS Subscribe to Cosmos for 8 issues and get a free Cosmos Wooden Pen worth $39.95, free delivery to your door, access to over a decade of Cosmos archives and savings of $35. See page 92 for more details, or visit DONATE By donating to The Royal Institution of Australia you are supporting our mission to find new ways for people to discover and understand science and how it shapes the world around us. To help us, visit: THE GIFT OF SCIENCE Gift subscriptions start from just $49 including delivery to your door, plus access to over a decade of Cosmos archives. Subscribe for 8 issues and get a FREE Cosmos Wooden Pen valued at $39.95. NEWSLETTER Each day we collate the most important and interesting science stories. Get a daily or weekly update of…

2 min
how and why butterflies keep their wings cool

Butterflies regulate their wing temperatures through structural and behavioural adaptations, new research shows. And they need to. Far from being colourful but lifeless membranes, the wings contain a network of cells that require a constrained range of temperatures for optimal performance, according to a team of US engineers, mathematicians and biologists led by Columbia University. Writing in the journal Nature Communications, they describe how delicate wings with a small thermal capacity can both overheat rapidly in the sun and cool down too much while flying in a cold environment. “Butterfly wings are essentially vector light-detecting panels by which butterflies can accurately determine the intensity and direction of sunlight, and do this swiftly without using their eyes,” says Nanfang Yu, from Columbia Engineering. By removing the wing scales to enable them to peer into the…

2 min
java man not so old after all

The oldest human remains in Southeast Asia may not be as old as we thought they were. An Indonesian-Japanese team of scientists has overturned a decades-old estimate of Homo erectus remains from Central Java province in Indonesia, shaving off several hundred thousand years from the age of the globe-trotting hominin, the first to disperse out of Africa. The new estimate, published in the journal Science, puts Homo erectus at the fossil-rich Sangiran dome by around 1.3 million years ago, and certainly no earlier than 1.5 million years ago That’s at least 300,000 years younger than a long-standing estimate from the 1990s, which suggested the oldest Homo erectus remains at Sangiran could be up to 1.8 million years old. The age has remained controversial, though, because some studies have come up with much younger estimates…