The Month in Science – January

Impact takes a look at the science and technology news from January.  

Canine Emotion Recognition

Researchers from The University of Lincoln have discovered that dogs can recognize both dog and human emotions. The team used a combination of audio and visual prompts to investigate. These were split into the different emotional categories such as happy, sad and angry. The dogs were shown a variety of images corresponding to the facial emotions of dogs and humans, and were then subjected to a sound bite of a positive or negative noise. They then timed the duration that the dogs looked at each of the facial expressions and found that the canine subjects conclusively spent more time looking at the picture that closely matched the sound, compared to the remaining ones.

My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming…

After the loss of Pluto’s planet status in 2006, the number of planets was reduced to eight; however, could we soon be returning back to nine?

“Using mathematical modelling and simulations, they have provided statistical evidence for the existence of a new planet currently coined “Planet Nine” “

The debate over Pluto is still ongoing, yet a new planet could be taking its place. Caltech researchers have been studying the orbits of objects, such as debris and moons, present in the Kuiper Belt (an area of space just after Neptune). They found that the orbits measured do not match up to those predicted based on their masses. Using mathematical modelling and simulations, they have provided statistical evidence for the existence of a new planet currently coined “Planet Nine”. The planet would have a mass 10 times that of the Earth and an orbit of between 10,000 and 20,000 Earth years. Due to its position away from The Sun, it would most likely be an ice giant with a similar composition to that of Neptune. There is still, however, no concrete proof of the planet’s existence but most telescopes across the world will be looking out for this potential new planet.

Babylonian Planet Trackers

It has been discovered that ancient Babylonians used mathematical concepts to track the motion of Jupiter in space. Professor Mathieu Osseendrijver, of Berlin’s Humboldt University, has spent a lot of time studying ancient clay tablets which, when translated, show calculations of Jupiter’s trajectory across space. These tablets are well over 3,000 years old but are very small at only a couple of inches in height. Their translations show integral calculus being used to examine how Jupiter’s velocity varied over time. Using the area of trapezoids, a quadrilateral with 2 parallel sides, the Babylonians appeared to split these shapes into equal parts and represent the planet’s motion. This area of geometry is a hot topic in current mathematics and shows the depth of understanding the ancient Babylonians had.

“The translations of the Babylonians’ texts show integral calculus being used to examine how Jupiter’s velocity varied over time.”

Three Minutes Until the End of the World!

The symbolic Doomsday Clock has been put forward to three minutes to midnight, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have announced. The Doomsday Clock is a fictional clock which represents how close the world is to a global catastrophe such as a medical Pandemic or nuclear war and acts as a countdown. Before January 2016, the clock was previously set at five minutes to midnight but has since been moved forward by two minutes. The closest the clock has ever been to midnight was in 1953 when the Soviet Union decided to test a hydrogen bomb, and was set at two minutes to twelve. The reasons given by the Bulletin for this increased danger are the failure of world leaders to reduce the nuclear weapons at their disposal and the effects of climate change.

Steel Otters Spotted

Otters are perhaps one of the UK’s most loved animals and have now been spotted returning to the River Don in Sheffield. Previously, they had been driven out to near-extinction due to the levels of water pollution from the coal and steel industries, and the South Yorkshire river was, at one point, the most polluted in Europe. However, the local trust to the area (The Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust) has recently reported small quantities of otters present along the length of the river and say it is due to the improving water quality of the Don.

Luke Norman 

Image credit: Google Images, marked for reuse

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Science editor for the University of Nottingham student magazine IMPACT

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