Spicy Foods & Mars | SciByte 74

Spicy Foods & Mars | SciByte 74

We take a look at why some people may like spicy foods, cracker sized satellites, spacecraft updates, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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The Right Personality for Spicy Foods?

  • The low down
  • The science of spicy food liking and intake shows there’s more to it than just increased tolerance with repeated exposure
  • Personality, researchers say, is also a factor in whether a person enjoys spicy meals and how often he or she eats them
  • Desensitization to capsaicin, the plant chemical that gives peppers their burn, is well documented, there’s also evidence that the effect is surprisingly small
  • Researchers have also previously linked chili liking to thrill seeking, specifically an affinity for amusement park rides and gambling
  • Significance
  • Investigators found a relationship between chili liking and sensation seeking when using a more formal measure of personality called Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking Scale
  • In both cases, however, the associations were fairly weak, and neither study looked at intake – how often a person eats spicy foods, versus how much a person likes spice.
  • A new study used an updated measure of sensation seeking that avoided gender- and age-biased questions
  • Ninety-seven male and female participants ranging in age from 18 to 45 filled out a food-liking questionnaire and rated the intensity of sensations after sampling six stimuli, including capsaicin mixed in water
  • Sensation seeking emerged as a much stronger predictor of spicy food liking than in the previous studies it also predicted how often a person ate chili-laden meals
  • Personality traits, however, were not associated with high liking of non-spicy foods, which reduced the possibility that thrill seekers are just crazy about food in general
  • Of Note
  • The study group may not have been large enough to show a desensitizing effect as there is a lack of evidence for desensitization in the study boosts the argument for personality as an important factor
  • For instance frequent chili eaters didn’t feel the burn from the capsaicin sample any less than people who ate peppers less often
  • A combination of factors likely influences who goes for the mild wings on Super Bowl Sunday and who reaches for hot
  • Childhood exposure and learning all play a critical role in liking for spicy foods also individuals who acquired an entirely [new] set of food preferences as adults once they moved away from home as may have been a disconnect between reported frequency of intake and actual dose
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Love Of Spicy Food Is Built Into Your Personality | Popular Science


Public Funded KickSat

  • The low down
  • KickSat is set to launch more than 200 of these tiny satellites, nicknamed “sprites,” into low-Earth orbit
  • KickSat will hitch a ride in September 2013 (subject to change) from Cape Canaveral on CRS–3, the third SpaceX Falcon 9 flight destined for the International Space Station
  • The roughly 250 sprites will be sent into space the NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNA) program, will provides a free launch (normally $300,000) for university space research
  • Significance
  • The team raised nearly $75,000 as more than 300 people sponsored a sprite that will transmit an identifying signal, such as the initials of the donor
  • One person, who donated $10,000, Manchester added, will get to “push the big red button” on the day of the launch.
  • Of Note
  • The “Sprites” are the size of a cracker but are outfitted with solar cells, a radio transceiver and a microcontroller
  • A large part of the project is helping people track their own satellites with a simple software radio interface
  • From a research standpoint, the plan is to interested in the dynamics and behavior of the satellites, and plans to test how to track their positions and determine their orbits
  • It’ll look like hundreds of postage stamps fluttering toward Earth-each an independent satellite transmitting a signal unique to the person who helped send it to space
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube KickSat | KickSatInSpace
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • KickSat website
  • Kicksat: Crowd-funded, DIY spacecraft to float into low-Earth orbit | phys.org


Smoking and Bone Density

  • The low down
  • Yet another reason not to smoke, especially as a teenager
  • Note that these tests were specifically aimed at women because there is a much higher incidence rate, but similar results might be a near direct correlation to men
  • Osteoporosis is a loss of bone density that predisposes people to fractures and leaves many elderly people – particularly women – hunched over
  • Significance
  • The teen years are crucial to developing a strong, dense skeleton, it is this age group is when you should gain about 50 percent of your bone accrual
  • A study recruited 262 healthy girls ages 11 to 17. The girls answered confidential questions about their nutritional habits and lifestyles and returned for three yearly visits to undergo bone density tests
  • Girls who reported smoking regularly showed nearly flat rates of bone density growth in the lower vertebrae and a decline in bone density at the hips
  • Nonsmokers showed normal, steadily rising bone density in both regions
  • By the time they reached age 19, daily smokers in the study had fallen a full year behind nonsmokers in bone mineral accrual
  • Of Note
  • The effects of smoking tend to be cumulative as the results also seem to concur with studies done in adults
  • It is estimated that smoking increases the risk of a vertebral fracture by 13 percent and hip fracture by 31 percent in women
  • It is still unclear, however exactly how smoking contributes to the reduced bone mineralization
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Smoking hurts teen girls’ bones | ScienceNews.org

Snapshot Serengeti

  • The low down
  • Researchers at the University of Minnesota have been trying to count and locate the animals of the Serengeti, and began placing automatic cameras across the park a couple of years ago.
  • They now have more than 200 cameras around the region – all triggered by motion – capturing animals day and night.
  • They have amassed millions of images so far, and more come in all the time. So they’ve team up with us here at the Zooniverse!
  • They need the help of online volunteers to spot and classify animals in these snapshot of life in Serengeti National Park. Doing this will provide the data needed to track and study these animals, whilst giving everyone the chance to see them in the wild.
  • Snapshot Serengeti


Opportunity and the Search for a Habitable Environment

  • The low down
  • Opportunity rover is currently studying clay deposits on the rim of the Red Planet’s Endeavour Crater
  • The clays imply that the area was exposed to relatively neutral water long ago, as opposed to harshly acidic or basic
  • This clearly show that the chemistry that would’ve been suitable for life at the Opportunity site
  • Significance
  • The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft spotted them from orbit, leading the rover team to point the golf-cart-size robot toward its current location, which is known as Matijevic Hill.
  • From orbit, scientists saw the unambiguous infrared spectral signature of clays along the rim of Endeavour Crater
  • At this point Opportunity has already circumnavigated Matijevic Hill and is likely stay at Matijevic Hill for a while, trying to understand how the clays were laid down billions of years ago
  • Of Note
  • While Opportunity is still going strong, it has some age-related issues, such as an arthritic arm, but the rover remains in good health
  • Part of the continuing work will involve investigating mysterious tiny spherules Opportunity has discovered embedded in the clay matrix
  • Scientist initially thought the BB-size gray spheres were similar to the iron-rich “blueberries;” however, initial analyses has shown that that’s not the case, leading the team to dub them “newberries.”
  • Currently the team isn’t sure exactly what the newberries are, or how they formed
  • Social Media
  • Spirit and Oppy @MarsRovers
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • NASA Opportunity Rover Does Walkabout of Crater Rim | NASA
  • Mars Rover Opportunity Exploring Possibly Habitable Ancient Environment | Space.com

GRAIL’s Lunar Gravitational Map

The Future Mars Rover?

  • The low down
  • NASA has announced plans to launch another mega-rover to the red planet in 2020 that will be modeled after Curiosity
  • To keep costs down, engineers will borrow Curiosity’s blueprints, recycle spare parts where possible and use proven technology including the novel landing gear
  • Significance
  • This announcement comes as NASA reboots its Mars exploration program during tough fiscal times
  • Many other details still need to be worked out, including where the rover will land and the types of tools it will carry to the surface
  • The science goals of the possible rover remains fuzzy, it will probably kick start a campaign to return Martian soil and rocks to Earth
  • A team of experts will debate whether the new rover should have the ability to drill into rocks and store pieces for a future pick up
  • Of Note
  • Curiosity ran over schedule and over budget, but with the engineering hurdles fixed the new rover is expected to cost less than Curiosity
  • One independent estimate put the mission at $1.5 billion, though NASA is working on its own figure
  • The Future
  • Next year, NASA plans to launch an orbiter to study the atmosphere
  • After NASA pulled out of a partnership with the Europeans in 2016 and 2018, it announced plans to fly a relatively low-cost robotic lander in 2016 to probe the interior but that it will contribute to the European missions, but in a minor role
  • Multimedia
  • New Rover to Mars on This Week @NASA | NASATelevision
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • NASA Announces Robust Multi-Year Mars Program; New Rover To Close Out Decade Of New Missions | mars.jpl.nasa.gov
  • NASA aims to send another rover to Mars in 2020 | phys.org

Martian Mission Extensions

  • NASA plans to keep its Mars assets going as long as possible, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the Opportunity rover and the Mars Odyssey orbiter
  • The Mars Odyssey orbiter is not expected to still be viable in 2021, launched in 2001 the orbiter has been showing some signs of age
  • Of particularly important for the 2020 rover mission will be functioning orbiters at Mars to help relay communications back and forth to Earth
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Mars Rover Curiosity Gets Mission Extension | Space.com


  • Mission Extension
  • Curiosity’s mission was originally planned to last two years. It has now been extended indefinitely.
  • The radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), should be able to continue converting the heat of plutonium–238’s radioactive decay into electricity for an estimated 55 years of positive power margin
  • First Round of Tests Complete
  • Curiosity has wrapped up scientific study of Rocknest, which also means the team has completed the checkout and first scientific use of all the instruments on the rover
  • The ChemCam laser and APXS chemical sensor were used to do initial technical analysis of the soil
  • MAHLI, a hand lens imager is used to take close up views of the soil to look at different particle sizes, shapes and colors and how they change with depth
  • The team analyzed the X-ray diffraction instrument data to see they can identify minerals in the soil based on their unique crystal structure
  • A good amount of the material in the soil was not crystalline but that’s not a problem for the other laboratory, SAM.
  • First Round of Tests Complete
  • Curiosity has also found that the Martian surface is five times richer than Earth’s in deuterium, a heavy version of hydrogen that contains an extra neutron
  • Radiation probably blasted water containing the lighter version of hydrogen into space early in the planet’s history
  • The discovery will help scientists better understand Mars’ early atmosphere and climate.
  • Of Note
  • The overall results show a composition that is typical of Mars soils studied at other sites with perhaps some very simple carbon containing molecules and perchlorate salts.
  • Curiosity has not yet seen any complex organic molecules but sand isn’t the best place to look and there won’t be any single image or measurement that’ll answer everything.
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Curiosity Rover Report (Dec. 7, 2012): Rover Results at Rocknest | JPLNews
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Mars Rover Curiosity Gets Mission Extension | Space.com
  • Transcript | Curiosity Rover Report (Dec. 7, 2012): Rover Results at Rocknest | JPLNews
  • Mars rover deploys final instrument | sciencenews.com
  • Orbiter Spies Where Rover’s Cruise Stage Hit Mars | mars.jpl.nasa.gov


Sir Patrick Moore

Looking back

  • Sir Patrick Moore (4 March 1923 – 9 December 2012)
  • An English amateur astronomer who attained prominent status in that field as a writer, researcher, radio commentator and television presenter
  • He presented the BBC programme The Sky At Night for more than 50 years, making him the longest-running host of the same television show
  • The author of more than 60 books on astronomy geared toward the general public
  • His research was used by the US and the Russians in their space programmes.
  • Was a former president of the British Astronomical Association, co-founder and former president of the Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA)
  • In 1959, the Russians used his charts to correlate the first Lunik 3 pictures of the far side of the Moon and he was involved in the lunar mapping before the NASA Apollo missions.
  • Moore intended to be the first person ever to show a live broadcast of a direct telescopic view of a planet; the result was another unintended ‘comedy episode’, as cloud obscured all view of the heavens
  • He participated or presented for Apollo 8–17
  • Elected a member of the International Astronomical Union in 1966 and remains the only amateur astronomer to be a member of the IAU
  • Further Reading

Looking up this week

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