SpaceX launches its Falcon Heavy rocket on Feb. 6
Private aerospace company SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time on Feb. 6 from the Kennedy LC-39A SpaceX South Texas Launch Site.
The Falcon Heavy, essentially consisting of three rocket boosters strapped together, is the most powerful rocket to launch since NASA's Saturn V. SpaceX hopes that like Saturn V, which sent astronauts to the moon, the Falcon Heavy will shoot humans into space.
One of SpaceX's most important goals is to make all its rockets reusable. This means that after each launch, the rocket boosters have to return to Earth, and land safely. In last Tuesday's launch, two of the Falcon Heavy's three boosters landed successfully.
SpaceX's goal in producing reusable rockets is to significantly lower the cost of space travel. They are currently working on another rocket, the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), that they intend to use to send humans to Mars.
Source: Science News
New superdense wood stronger, lighter than steel
A newly developed type of compacted wood has been proven by researchers to be incredibly dense and as strong as steel.
To create the ultra-compacted material, a team of engineers, led by researchers from the University of Maryland, soaked a block of wood in a boiling solution of water, sodium hydroxide, and sodium sulfite. This process destroyed the chemical elements of the wood that keep it rigid. Then, the researchers squeezed the wood between hot metal plates, at extremely high pressure. The squeezing "squashes the gaps between the cell walls in the wood, shrinking the block to about 20 percent its original thickness and making it three times denser," according to science writer Maria Temming.
Researchers determined that the ultra-compacted wood was 11.5 times stronger than natural wood, by testing how well it could withstand being stretched without breaking. The ultra-compacted wood was also dense enough to stop a bullet.
The lightweight wood could have many applications in manufacturing — for example, to produce vehicles that are lighter, and therefore more fuel-efficient.
Source: Science News
Chemical in cavefish brains could help study sleep variation
Blind Mexican cavefish sleep only one-and-a-half hours per day, on average. Researchers from Florida Atlantic University believe this is because the cavefish brain contains high amounts of a chemical called hypocretin/orexin (HCRT).
HCRT helps regulate hunger and sleep cycles. The cavefish, which have no eyes, have far higher amounts of HCRT than related fish who have eyes and live closer to the water's surface - roughly twice as much.
To test the effects of HCRT, researchers gave some cavefish drugs to block HCRT in the brain. The drugged cavefish slept three times longer than the control group, suggesting that HCRT keeps the fish awake.
This study was published in eLife by researchers from the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University on Feb. 6.