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cover of May 30, 2015 issue

Susan Gaidos' Articles

  • Troubles with Hubble

    If your family car breaks down on the road, a roadside assistance crew will be sent immediately to make repairs. But how do you tackle emergency repairs on an orbiting space telescope hundreds of miles from Earth?

    That’s a problem that some NASA engineers are now working to solve.

    After 18 years of capturing images of nearby galaxies and newborn stars, the hard-working Hubble Space Telescope mysteriously stopped sending data in late September.

  • Honeybees do the wave

    Bee researcher Gerald Kastberger stands next to a giant honeybee nest.

    Bee researcher Gerald Kastberger stands next to a giant honeybee nest.

    Kastberger

    When a buzzing hornet comes near, most people want to run away as quickly as possible. But if the hornet targets your home, you will need to find a way to shoo it away.

  • Math and our number sense

    Not all math skills are learned in the classroom. Some of them come naturally. Consider the split-second calculations you make when you estimate the number of empty seats on the school bus or gauge the number of cookies in a cookie jar.

    These ballpark estimates can often be done without counting. That’s because humans are born with the ability to approximate, or closely guess, the number of items in a group. Researchers refer to this trait as a person’s “number sense.”

  • From dipping to fishing

    Chimpanzees not only share our ability to use tools. They also share our ability to create tools for a specific purpose. A group of Japanese scientists recently witnessed this inventiveness in action.

    The researchers watched a 5-year-old chimp named JJ use a long twig to capture ants in a new way. At first meeting with only limited success, the innovative chimp then refashioned his tool for better results.

    Tool use among chimpanzees is well documented. Chimps in some communities, for example, plunge long sticks into anthills and then eat the clumps of ants that cling to the sticks. This behavior is called ant-dipping.

  • Sugary survival skill

    Dehydration dooms most animals. Humans, for example, die if their bodies lose about 12 percent of their water. But some tough little critters can get through long periods of drought. One bug survives dry times by entering a dehydrated state. Now, scientists have discovered the sugary secret behind this feat.

    The larvae of an African fly known as Polypedilum vanderplanki live in the bottom of rain puddles in the African desert. When the dry season hits, and their habitats dry up, they can endure an almost complete loss of body water. They can persist in this dormant state, which is similar to a very deep sleep, for up to 17 years.

  • Foul play?

    Drug testing in sports is a serious matter. Athletes train hard to build muscle and body strength. Some may even resort to cheating. They can do this by abusing drugs called steroids to build extra muscle. This practice is not only unhealthy, but it also gives an athlete an unfair advantage. That's why most professional sports test for it.

    Now, scientists say that to keep the game fair, teams may want to test athletes' genes, as well. Depending on what genes they have, some athletes can beat drug tests, even if they're cheating. Others who play fair might be unjustly accused of cheating.

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