Another week, and yet more incredible science. This week we've seen the rockets that sent men to the Moon dredged up from the ocean floor, instantaneous gold creation, and HIV-killing bee venom.
Meanwhile, you might want to cut back on the sugary drinks, and don't forget to say a cheery farewell to Voyager 1, which has just left our little corner of the galaxy, or at least so some think. All that and more in this Week in Science.
To infinity and beyond -- Voyager 1, the man made object furthest from Earth, has finally left our Solar System, or so some astronomers claim, and is heading into the unknown, even if NASA's not quite so sure. Launched way back in 1977, Voyager 1 was designed to survey the outer planets, but upon completion of its mission just kept on sailing through space. It's now around 18 billion km from Earth and has apparently exited the heliopause, the border of our Solar System, entering the interstellar space. What's on the other side is a bit unknown, but both Voyager 1 and her sister Voyager 2, which is not far behind, have another 10 to 15 years left in their plutonium batteries so we'll find out soon enough. [AGU]
Apollo 11 rockets dragged from the depths -- Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos has found, and brought back to the surface of the Atlantic ocean, the rockets that sent Apollo 11 out of Earth's atmosphere and onwards to the Moon. Part of the massive Saturn V rockets, the F-1 engines, have been sitting 4.3km below the surface at the bottom of the Atlantic since July 16, 1969. Enough parts have been found to salvage two full F-1 engines. After restoration, the history-making engines will go on show in a couple of US air and space museums for all to see. [Bezos Expeditions]
Rise of the robotic salamanders -- When it comes to mimicking real-life, the robot salamander is king. The Salamandra robotica II robot was built to replicate the movements, nervous system, and behaviour of a real salamander, right down to the spinal cord. A laptop-for-a-brain sends electrical impulses down the robots spine, controlling its movement, direction, and gait using bursts of electrical pulses, just like a real nervous system would. The robo lizard is being shown off at Innorobo this week in France, and is being used to study the mechanisms that vertebrates use to move, and what can go wrong with them. [New Scientist]
There's gold in them there earthquakes -- Next time the Earth shakes beneath your feet, think of the gold. Scientists have discovered that gold veins are formed instantly during an earthquake, due to a massive drop in pressure. As the plates slip along the fault line, the 'fault jogs' -- sideways zigzag cracks connecting the main fault plains -- open up. That instantly reduces the pressure inside them from around of 290MPa to just 0.2MPa, or twice our atmospheric pressure at sea level. The rapid depressurisation instantly vaporises any liquid trapped between the pieces of rock, depositing any gold held within. Even the smallest of quakes causes gold formation in the right kind of rock too, which means prospectors could use quake activity to track gold deposits in the future. [Nature Geo]
Road-kill selection in action -- Evolution is generally thought to be produced though a process of natural selection combined with other, smaller factors. For roadside-nesting cliff swallows, getting hit by cars was one massive positive pressure to evolve, and it seems that's exactly what they've done. A recent study seems to have shown that they've managed to evolve shorter, more manoeuvrable wings, which helps them shift direction more easily to avoid oncoming cars. This is the strongest evidence yet that animals are able to evolve adaptations to human activities. [Current Biology]
Bee venom could be an important weapon in the fight against HIV -- Bees are fantastic little creatures. They pollinate our plants, make honey, and could even hold a cure for HIV. Researchers have found that by creating nanopackages of melittin, the venom component of a bee sting, they can target the virus and smash holes in its protective protein coat. In turn, that leads to dramatically reduce levels of HIV, while the coating on the nanoparticles keeps the venom away from healthy human cell membranes. Lots of work still needs to be done to turn the lab samples into an effective drug, but the results certainly look promising in combatting the deadly sexually transmitted disease. [Science News]
Are sugary drinks as big a killer as asthma? -- A new study out of Harvard seems to suggest sugary drinks like coke, lemonade, and Iron Bru could cause around 184,000 deaths a year, the same amount as asthma. The sugary drinks contributed to deaths by diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. The link has been made statistically, but according to experts in the field, there could be plausible biological links to back it up. Either way, it could be wise to cut down on drinks with added sugar; if they don't rot your teeth they could cause premature death. [New Scientist]
Take two of these a day and you'll be fine, probably -- When you go to the doctor you're expecting an immediate answer to all your health problems. But sometimes modern medicine just doesn't have the answer. When that happens your doctor has two choices, try a placebo -- a pill that does nothing other than make you think it works -- or admit defeat. Apparently some 97 per cent of UK GPs admitted in a recent survey to giving at least one of their patients a placebo of either a sugar pill, or one that has no proven efficacy against the patient's symptoms. The thing is, your doctor isn't doing that to deceive you, but to help you, as the placebo effect a real, documented phenomenon, and has been shown to be effective in certain situations. Placebo or not, when you get a cure from your doctor you don't question it, and isn't that what everyone is after at the end of the day, a cure to our ills? [PLoS One]