Chocolate & Black Holes | SciByte 65

Chocolate & Black Holes | SciByte 65

We take a look at a scientific excuse to eat chocolate, shifting plate tectonics, measuring a black hole, a possible new element, comet’s, statue’s, updates on Google Maps, crowdsourcing science, spacecraft and Curiosity updates, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

Direct Download:

MP3 Download | Ogg Download | Video | YouTube

RSS Feeds:

MP3 Feed | Ogg Feed | iTunes Feed | Video Feed

Support the Show:



Chocolate and Memory

  • A recent study shows that chocolate might help increase your memory
  • The low down
  • “Superfood” is an unscientific term sometimes used to describe food with high nutrient or phytochemical content that may confer health benefits, with few properties considered to be negative
  • Some places even say that dark chocolate can have beneficial effects
  • However scientific studies on these claims are fairly sparse
  • A University of Calgary undergraduate became curious about how dietary factors might affect memory
  • Despite his misgivings he decided to concentrate on a group of compounds, flavonoids that found in a wide range of ‘superfoods’ including chocolate and green tea, focusing on one particular flavonoid, epicatechin (epi).
  • Significance
  • Figuring out how a single component of chocolate might improve human memory is almost impossible as there are too many external factors influence memory formation
  • Instead the team used the pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis, to find out whether the dark chocolate flavonoid, epicatechin (epi) could improve their memories
  • To test their memory the snails were trained to remember a simple activity: to keep their breathing tubes (pneumostomes) closed when immersed in deoxygenated water
  • Pond snails usually breathe through their skins, but when oxygen levels fall, they extend the breathing tube above the surface to supplement the oxygen supply
  • The test snails were trained to remember to keep the breathing tube closed in deoxygenated water by gently tapping when they try to open
  • The strength of the memory depends on the training regime.
  • Of Note
  • A half-hour training session in deoxygenated water allows the snails to form intermediate-term memories (lasting less than 3 h) but not long-term memories (lasting 24 h or more)
  • When the snails received the dark chocolate flavonoid they were able to remember to keep their breathing tubes closed
  • And when they provided the snails with two training sessions, the animals were able to remember to keep their breathing tubes shut more than 3 days later
  • The flavonoid was able to boost the molluscs’ memories and extended the duration, but how strong were the epi-memories
  • Memories can be overwritten by another memory in a process called extinction, where the original memory is not forgotten and if the additional memory is stored weakly it can be lost and the original memory restored
  • To test this the researchers tried to replace it with a memory where the snails could open their breathing tubes
  • Instead of learning the new memory, the epi-trained snails stubbornly kept their breathing tubes shut.
  • The memory was too strong to be extinguished.
  • They also found that instead of requiring a sensory organ to consolidate the snails’ memories, like their memories of predators triggered by smell, it directly affects the neurons that store the memory
  • The fact that the cognitive effects of half a bar of dark chocolate could even help your grades is good news for chocoholics the world over.
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Chocolate makes snails smarter |
  • How to improve snail memories with chocolate | ScientificAmerican


Plate Tectonics

  • Indo-Australian plate is breaking into two or perhaps three pieces because it is colliding with Asia in the northwest, which slows down the western part of the plate, while the eastern part of the plate continues moving more easily by diving or “subducting” under the island of Sumatra to the northeast in a geologic process that will take millions of years to form a new plate boundary, and will likely take thousands of similar large quakes for that to happen
  • The low down
  • The great Indian Ocean quake of April 11, 2012 previously was reported as 8.6 magnitude, has a new estimate that means the quake was 40 percent larger than had been believed
  • Studies show that tectonic plates continued to resonate around the globe, triggering big aftershocks as far away as Mexico
  • The first quake disturbed four perpendicular faults one after another in less than two minutes, all four faults were strike-slip faults well below magnitude 5
  • The first one ruptured along a roughly 90-mile length, where the seafloor on one side of the fault slipped about 100 feet past the seafloor on the fault’s other side
  • The second fault, which slipped about 25 feet, began to rupture 40 seconds after and extended an estimated 60 miles to 120 miles north-northeast to S-SW perpendicular to the first fault and crossing it
  • The third fault was parallel to the first fault and about 90 to the miles southwest which started breaking 70 seconds after the quake began along a length of about 90 miles
  • The fourth fault paralleled the first and third faults and began to rupture 145 seconds after the quake began, the rupture was roughly 30 miles to 60 miles long and the fault slipped about 20 feet past ground on the other side
  • Significance
  • The number of quakes of magnitude 5.5 or greater, located more than 1,500 kilometers from the April 11 quakes, went up nearly fivefold for six days afterward
  • The biggest of which was a magnitude 7 in Baja California, about 22 hours afterward
  • The strike-slip fault geometry allows the stress of a crustal movement to propagate much farther across the planet’s surface
  • Of Note
  • According to prevailing theories of plate tectonics, the Indo-Australian plate began to deform internally about 10 million years ago, thrusting the Himalayas up and slowing India down, creating twisting tensions
  • This theory comes from the stress changes shortly before the 2012 earthquakes
  • The great quake of last April 11 "is possibly the largest strike-slip earthquake ever seismically recorded although a similar size quake in Tibet in 1950 was of an unknown type
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Intraplate Quakes Signal Tectonic Breakup |
  • Unusual Indian Ocean Earthquakes Hit at Tectonic Breakup | Scientific American
  • Sumatra quake was part of crustal plate breakup: Study shows huge jolt measured 8.7, ripped at least 4 faults |

Black Hole Size

  • An international team, has for the first time measured the radius of a black hole at the center of the distant M87 galaxy, the closest distance at which matter can approach before being irretrievably pulled into the black hole.
  • The low down
  • Not everything can cross the event horizon to squeeze into a black hole
  • The area in which gas and dust build up, creates a flat pancake of matter known as an accretion disk
  • This disk orbits the black hole at nearly the speed of light, feeding the black hole a steady diet of superheated material
  • Over time, this disk can cause the black hole to spin in the same direction as the orbiting material
  • Caught up in this spiraling flow are magnetic fields, which accelerate hot material along powerful beams above the accretion disk
  • The resulting high-speed jet, launched by the black hole and the disk, shoots out across the galaxy, extending for hundreds of thousands of light-years
  • Because M87’s jet is magnetically launched from this smallest orbit, astronomers can estimate the black hole’s spin through careful measurement of the jet’s size as it leaves the black hole
  • Significance
  • Until now, no telescope has had the magnifying power required for this kind of observation
  • The “Event Horizon Telescope” enables scientists to view extremely precise details in faraway galaxies.
  • Astronomers linked together radio dishes in Hawaii, Arizona and California to create a telescope array called the “Event Horizon Telescope” (EHT) that can see details 2,000 times finer than what’s visible to the Hubble Space Telescope.
  • The “Event Horizon Telescope” uses a type of astronomical interferometry used in radio astronomy called Very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI)
  • VLBI observations are made simultaneously by many telescopes to be combined, which then synthesizes a telescope with a size equal to the maximum separation between the telescopes
  • Each observation is correlated to a local atomic clock to be combined and analyzed later
  • Using this technique the team measured the innermost orbit of the accretion disk to be only 5.5 times the size of the black hole event horizon
  • According to the laws of physics, this size suggests that the accretion disk is spinning in the same direction as the black hole
  • Of Note
  • This is the first direct observation to confirm theories of how black holes power jets from the centers of galaxies
  • The team plans to expand its telescope array, adding radio dishes in Chile, Europe, Mexico, Greenland and Antarctica, in order to obtain even more detailed pictures of black holes in the future.
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Event Horizon Telescope
  • For the first time, astronomers have measured the radius of a black hole |


Element 113

  • Japanese researchers claim they’ve seen conclusive evidence of the long-sought element 113, a super-heavy, super-unstable element near the bottom of the periodic table
  • The low down
  • Super-heavy elements do not occur in nature and must be produced in the lab, using particle accelerators, nuclear reactors, ion separators and other complex equipment
  • Science have been hunting for element 113 for nine years, and there has been evidence a few times already, but it has never been this clear,
  • Super heavy element discoveries
  • Elements 93 to 103 were discovered by the Americans
  • Elements 104 to 106 by the Russians and the Americans
  • Elements 107 to 112 by the Germans
  • The two most recently named elements, 114 and 116, by cooperative work of the Russians and Americans.
  • *August 12 experimental data
  • Japanese scientists created element 113 by speeding zinc ions through a linear accelerator until they reached 10 percent of the speed of light.
  • The ions then smashed into a thin bismuth layer, when the zinc and bismuth atoms fused, they produced a very heavy ion followed by a chain of six consecutive alpha decays identified as products of an isotope of the 113th element
  • Of Note
  • The discovery has not yet verified by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry
  • If the IUPAC grants its blessing, the researchers could be the first team from Asia to name one of nature’s fundamental atoms.
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Search for element 113 concluded at last |
  • Japanese Team Claims Discovery Of Elusive Element 113, And May Get To Name It | Popular Science

  • For some people with dyslexia a bottom-heavy font helps, There is a new free app for that, try it on iPhone, Android, Kindle …
  • Mars_Base / Heather @JB_Mars_Base

Comet ISON, 2013

  • The low down
  • Is due to shine in the sky next March, perhaps rivalling the fondly-remembered Comet Hale Bopp from 1996
  • Initial calculations of its orbit show it will pass ridiculously close to the Sun next November
  • Although it looks promising, very promising in fact, it’s very early days.
  • We will need more observations before we know exactly what’s in store, and it is impossible to predict this far ahead what it will look like
  • Of Note
  • It could live up to the most breathless predictions and blaze in the sky, tail spanning half the sky, becoming visible as soon as the Sun has set
  • Or it could break up passing the sun and develop no tail
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Guest Post: Comet Kerfuffle |
  • Newfound Comet C/2012 S1 May Dazzle in 2013 |

Statues from space

  • A 1,000 year-old ancient Buddhist statue which was first recovered in 1938 has been analysed by scientists and has been found to be carved from a meteorite
  • The low down
  • The statue, known as the Iron Man, weighs 22lb [10kg] and is believed to represent a stylistic hybrid between the Buddhist and pre-Buddhist Bon culture
  • It was discovered in 1938 by an expedition of German scientists
  • It is unknown how the statue was discovered however it is believed that the large swastika carved into the centre of the figure may have encouraged the team to take it back to Germany
  • It only became available for study following an auction in 2007.
  • At that time the first team was able to study the origins of the statue
  • The team was able to classify it as an ataxite, a rare class of iron meteorite with high contents of nickel.
  • Of Note
  • It is thought that the statue was chiseled from a fragment of the Chinga meteorite which crashed into the border areas between Mongolia and Siberia about 15,000 years ago
  • The fragment that the statue was carved out of is believed to have been collected many centuries before
  • The first debris from that meteorite crash was officially discovered in 1913 by gold prospectors
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Buddhist statue, discovered by Nazi expedition, is made of meteorite, new study reveals |

— Updates —

Crowdsourcing Cyclone’s

  • Cyclone Center
  • The global intensity record contains uncertainties caused by differences in analysis procedures around the world and through time. Scientists are enlisting the public because patterns in storm imagery are best recognized by the human eye
  • *Further Information
  • Cyclone Center
  • ZooNiverse

Google Maps – Great Barrier Reef


NASA’s Dawn spacecraft and the asteroid Vesta

  • New analysis supports the notion troughs seen Vesta are faults that formed when a fellow asteroid smacked into Vesta’s south pole. The research reinforces the claim that Vesta has a layered interior, a quality normally reserved for larger bodies, such as planets and large moons.
  • The low down
  • New measurements taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft last year indicate that a large collision could have created the asteroid’s troughs
  • Previous research has found signs of igneous rock on Vesta, indicating that rock on Vesta’s surface was once molten, a sign of differentiation
  • If the troughs are made possible by differentiation, then the cracks aren’t just troughs
  • The troughs could be possible if the asteroid is differentiated, meaning that it has a core, mantle and crust
  • The longest of those troughs, named Divalia Fossa, surpasses the size of the Grand Canyon by spanning 465 kilometers (289 miles) long, 22 km (13.6 mi) wide and 5 km (3 mi) deep
  • Such information would indicate that Vesta was a planet trying to form
  • Significance
  • Observations indicate that Vesta is also unusually planet-like for an asteroid in that its mantle is ductile and can stretch under a lot of pressure
  • Unlike the larger asteroid Ceres, Vesta is not classified as a dwarf planet because the large collision at its south pole knocked it out of its spherical shape
  • However if Vesta has a mantle and core, that would mean it has qualities often reserved for planets, dwarf planets and moons—regardless of its shape
  • Of Note
  • Scientists are not yet fully convinced that Vesta’s troughs are graben however
  • There are other qualities of Vesta that could be clues to how the troughs formed
  • The pole collision may caused the equator to bulge outward so far and so fast that the rotation, once per 5.35 hours, caused the troughs rather than the direct power of the impact
  • Dawn has already left to explore Ceres, so scientists will continue to analyze the data already collected and improve computer simulations of Vesta’s interior
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Dawn’s Greatest Hits at Vesta | JPLnews
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Vesta’s Deep Grooves Could Be “Stretch Marks” From Impact |
  • Asteroid’s troughs suggest stunted planet |


  • Longest drive
  • On Sep 26 (Sol 50) Curiosity rolled about 160 ft [48.9 m] making it the longest drive in day for the mission so far
  • The rover has now drive roughly a quarter mile [416 m] during the course of the mission so far
  • Photo of Phobos
  • On September 21 Curiosity’s right Mastcam was able to take a daytime view of the Martian sky and see a crescent Phobos
  • There have been pictures of Phobos before, most recently during the transit on September 13
  • This is the first time that the 8 mi [13 km] wide Phobos has been seen during the day
  • Ancient River
  • Scientists have now seen for the first time evidence of water-transported gravel on Mars
  • The site is between the north rim of Gale Crater and the base of Mount Sharp, a mountain inside the crater
  • A channel named Peace Vallis originates in the rim of a nearby crater and feeds into the alluvial fan where Curiosity is now
  • The number of channels in the fan between the rim and conglomerate suggests flows continued or repeated over a long time, not just once or for a few years.
  • The discovery comes from examining two outcrops, called “Hottah” and “Link,” with the telephoto capability of Curiosity’s mast camera
  • The first outcrop, “Link,” exposed by thruster exhaust as Curiosity touched down
  • The latest outcrop, ‘Hottah,’ looks like someone jackhammered up a slab of city sidewalk, but it’s really a tilted block of an ancient streambed
  • It appears similar to another outcrop seen at the landing site that was exposed by the exhaust thruster
  • The gravel in the conglomerates at both outcrops range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Some are angular, but many are rounded
  • From the size and shape of the gravel scientists are able to interpret that the water was roughly ankle to hip deep and moved at about 3 ft/s [1 m/s]
  • The rounded shape of some stones in the conglomerate indicates long-distance transport from above the rim
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Curiosity Rover Report (Sept. 28, 2012) Mars Streambed | JPLNews
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • NASA Rover Finds Old Streambed On Martian Surface |
  • Longest Drive Yet |
  • NASA Rover Finds Old Streambed on Martian Surface |
  • Curiosity Finds Evidence of An Ancient Streambed on Mars |
  • A Crescent Moon in the Martian Sky |


Looking back

  • Oct 04, 1957 : 55 years ago : Sputnik : The Space Age began as the Soviet Union, to the dismay of the United States, launched Sputnik, the first manmade satellite, into orbit around the earth. The craft circled the earth every 95 minutes at almost 20,000 miles per hour 500 miles above the Earth. The Sputnik (meaning “companion” or “fellow traveller”) was launched from Kazakhstan. It stayed in orbit for about three months. Sputnik fell from the sky on 4 Jan 1958. The 184-lb satellite had transmitted a radio signal picked up around the world, and instrumentation for temperature measurement.

Looking up this week

Question? Comments? Contact us here!