SciTech Briefs

NASA receives Mars photographs

Mars rover Opportunity recently sent NASA pictures taken of Mars’ Victoria crater. The crater is in the Meridiani Planum region. After crawling over the Martian terrain for 21 months, Opportunity reached the half-mile-wide, 230-foot-deep crater.

Scientists hope to determine how Victoria’s layers of rocks were formed from Opportunity’s exploration of the crater. If the rock formations indicate water was involved in their creation, Mars may have been able to support life at one time.

Opportunity and its twin rover Spirit have long outlasted their original three-month expeditions. NASA has already extended their stay on Mars for at least one additional year.

Source: CBS News

PSU scientists find ‘sensitive’ plant

Scientists at Pennsylvania State University discovered that the dodder plant, a parasitic weed, “sniffs out” its prey. By sensing chemicals released by its host plants, such as tomatoes, alfalfa, and carrots, the dodder can locate a plant and attack it. The discovery reveals that plants can interact by releasing and sensing chemicals, an idea that was formerly debated in the biological community.

Experiments have shown that the dodder is very selective in choosing a host and responds more readily to the chemicals released by a tomato plant than those released by wheat, a less beneficial host. The U.S. Department of Agriculture includes the dodder on its Top Ten Weeds list.

Source: MSNBC

Temperature nears million-year high

Scientists say Earth is close to having the highest temperatures it has had in the last million years. Already within one degree Celsius of its highest temperatures, the warming of the Earth may cause noticeable changes in weather patterns. One weather phenomenon that will be affected is El Niño, which will increase in strength as temperatures rise. Global warming is the greatest contributor to these record temperatures, and is the product of greenhouse gases.

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies has also noticed an increase in average temperatures. Global surface temperatures have increased about 0.2 degrees Celsius each decade in the past 30 years.

Source: CNN

Fish are first defense for city water

The bluegill, a common type of fish, is being used to prevent the contamination of water supplies of big cities. Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco are among the cities placing bluegills in tanks that are constantly refilled with water from the cities’ supplies.

Sensors in the tanks monitor the heartbeats, breathing, and swimming patterns of the bluegills, which change in noxious environments. In response to toxins in the water, bluegills will flex their gills and experience the fish version of a cough.

Source: ABC News