Recent Interesting Science Articles (February 2017)

A solid selection of articles this time around, with findings that are a lot more significant than the boring stuff last month.

  • Let’s just get NASA’s huge announcement out of the way first. As I’m sure all of you have heard by now, this is the discovery of a system that contains at least seven planets that are approximately the same size as our Earth orbiting around a single star. The system is less than 40 light years away from us and the planets seem to be packed in an astonishingly small volume of space, which makes it appropriate that it’s being called TRAPPIST-1 although it really refers to the telescope that found the system. Obviously we still know very little about them but the most exciting thing that we do know is that since they’re packed so close together, it should be possible to view the other planets if you’re on the surface of one of them. Their skies must have an amazing view.
  • Moving on to animal behavior, this study talks about how monkeys and dogs can engage in social evaluations as humans do. The animals were allowed to observe humans interacting with each other, specifically a human actor making a request of another and the other one either cooperating or refusing. The scientists found that when the second person helped, they were equally likely to accept food from either person. But when the other person refused, the animal was more likely to accept food from the first person.
  • Next are the workings in human society and I was fascinated to read this study about school voucher programs in the United States. It finds that a lot of this funding has gone on to schools that are affiliated with religions but instead of making the education more religious it seems to have made the schools more secular instead as they strive to welcome more students. Combined with the drop in attendance of church services as seen everywhere, the funding seems to also be displacing traditional tithes as a major source of funding for churches.
  • Then there’s this study which tries to explain the unusually high life expectancy of Israeli men by linking it to obligatory military service. Apparently Israeli men live for around 7 years longer than men in other countries under similar conditions. The military service which is theorized to impose physical fitness on men doesn’t explain all of the additional lifespan but it does seem to explain about half of it.
  • Finally here’s an article that is less about what was discovery than about how it was made. The finding is that about 2,500 years ago, the Earth’s magnetic field was briefly 2.5 times stronger than it is usually. It was possible to know this by studying ceramic pots that were made during that time. The dates on which they are made can be precisely dated because the bureaucracy of that era required that they carry administrative stamps. The clay used include ferromagnetic minerals that once fired and then cooled down, lock in information about the magnetic patterns at that time, allowing scientists to make inferences about the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field.

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