Cosmos Magazine Issue 88

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
from the digital editor

Covering science at the moment brings mixed emotions. The daily influx of papers dealing with medical, mental, logistical and political issues around COVID-19 weighs heavy, but it also reminds us of the ability of researchers to unite to try to find the way forward. As we go to press, much of Australia is taking early steps towards reopening as a society. I hope all Cosmos readers and their families are staying safe. It’s appropriate that Richard A Lovett wrote the cover story for this issue, as well as contributing to recent science news in Digest. Rick, as I call him in our regular emails, has been an important contributor to Cosmos in print and online for a number of years and through changes to our publications in ownership, editorship and format. He lives…

2 min
from the editors

“NOW IS THE WINTER of our discontent” seems the perfect phrase to reflect this quarter of 2020 – even out of the context in which Shakespeare’s Richard III utters it. It’s the winter we accepted the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications – some of us, and some nations, with greater grace than others. So it’s pleasing that the global viral scourge has prompted something of a glorious summer for science. Spoiler alert: clever people who specialise in careful work in order to reach evidence-based conclusions are helpful – provided we’re prepared to listen to them and act on their advice, of course. Following on from our coverage in Issue 87 of the early scientific investigations into COVID-19 and its possible cures, Dyani Lewis reports on the unprecedented worldwide push…

1 min
behind the scenes in this issue

Another socially distanced issue, with interviews, reports and ideas all being discussed and distilled from a safe remove. Managing editor Gail MacCallum talked to Lucienne Rickard (page 104) across the divide at the normally crowded but now COVID-subdued Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, while editorial assistant Amelia Nichele learned the art of interviewing en plein air when she spoke to Peter Reeve (page 114). And when all else fails, the back of a napkin really does help, as Anna Mullin’s sketch of SUSY particle relationships was just one tiny part of the education we gained creating the graphics for her co-written story on page 32.…

2 min
megafauna fossils found in tropical australia

More than 40,000 years ago, Australia’s tropical north-east was home to giant birds, reptiles and marsupials, including the world’s largest kangaroo, a seven-metre freshwater crocodile and giant lizards. Discovery of their remains, fossilised during the Pleistocene, is reported in the journal Nature Communications, along with unique insights that help unravel some of the mystery of what drove megafauna extinction in Sahul (Australia and New Guinea). “It is the first reliable glimpse into Australia’s tropical lost giants when people first arrived and spread across the continent,” says Scott Hocknull from the Queensland Museum, who led the 12 years of research in collaboration with several Australian universities. It wasn’t the people who killed them off, according to meticulous analyses, but severe climatic conditions and environmental corrosion, including loss of water flow, increased drying, fires…

1 min
a camera system with bugs – but that’s ok

Yes, that is a beetle wearing a camera backpack. Not because it needs to: just because it can. Or, more accurately, so researchers at the University of Washington, US, can show that it’s possible. They have built a camera that weighs just 250 milligrams, yet is capable, they say, of taking high-resolution video and streaming it to a smartphone at one to five frames per second. It sits on a mechanical arm that allows it to pivot 60° to shoot panoramas or tracking shots, yet it does this while expending a minimal amount of energy. And that’s the whole point of the exercise. Most small cameras use a lot of power to shoot in high-res and wide-angle, meaning they need relatively large batteries, which are too heavy for insects or insect-sized robots, thus…

1 min
during lockdown we were light on the earth

The lack of activity during the COVID-19 lockdown between March and May caused human-linked vibrations in the Earth to drop by up to 50%. According to research led by the Royal Observatory of Belgium, the net effect of social distancing measures, closure of services and industry, and drops in tourism was the longest and most pronounced quiet period of seismic noise in recorded history. As a result, scientists could listen in to previously concealed earthquake signals and differentiate between human and natural seismic noise more clearly than ever before. The decrease in human noise was most obvious in densely populated urban areas, but the study also found signatures of the lockdown on sensors buried hundreds of metres underground and in more remote areas. “This is the first global study of the impact of the…