Flash

Thursday, March 31, 2005

* NASA builds a new fuel tank for the SPACE SHUTTLE, getting one step closer to liftoff. The redesign should prevent insulation from sloughing off, the cause of Columbia’s destruction in 2003.

* Humans spell death for GRIZZLIES. Many bears—31 in all—were killed last year by cars, trains, or shotguns near Glacier National Park. Around Yellowstone, grizzly mortality at human hands has also increased. Even so, the federal government stands by plans to drop Yellowstone’s bears from the endangered species list.

* Immunologists find a protein that can BLOCK HIV in humans. The more copies of the gene that encodes the protein, the less likely someone is to contract the virus.

* Male field crickets that eat well have OVERACTIVE LIBIDOS but die earlier. Australian biologist John Hunt says crickets on high-protein diets spend more time serenading females than other males but meet untimely ends.

* Astronomers survey LARGE STARS and identify the three biggest. All three supergiants measure more than 1 billion miles across, an area about 1,500 times bigger than the sun.

SPERM WHALES get the bends. Biologists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found bone damage consistent with decompression sickness, caused by nitrogen bubbles in the blood as an animal surfaces too quickly.

* Rats differentiate between languages. Rodents trained to respond to one language ignore commands in other tongues, say Spanish researchers. The results add to evidence that certain LANGUAGE SKILLS were in place before mammals learned to speak.

Purdue University earth and atmospheric scientists say deep-sea cores show ANTARCTICA became covered with ice when planetary carbon dioxide levels shifted, not when ocean currents changed, as is commonly believed. 

* NASA launches DEEP IMPACT, a probe headed for the comet Tempel 1. On July 4 its 820-pound impactor is expected to smash into the comet’s nucleus, exposing for the first time what’s inside.

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