Photo: Leeroy,

Shot of Science -Musicians better at cocktail parties

Musicians do better at cocktail parties

In case you needed more reasons to take your favourite muso to your next party, it turns out that they’re better at listening during noisy situations. An article published in Nature shows that people with musical training perform better at what is called the ‘cocktail party problem’. Researchers from Boston University compared musicians and non-musicians attempting to listen to one person, while other people nearby talk at the same time. Finally, an experiment that you can try at home.

Leave nothing but fingerprints

New research suggests that investigators may be able to gather more than your unique skin whorls from your fingerprints. Researchers at the Netherlands Forensic Institute have used Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionisation Mass Spectrometry (MALDI MS) to enhance fingerprint profiling. Their findings show that it is possible to use the technology to detect tiny traces of illicit drugs in fingerprints. Drugs detected included amphetamine, MDA, cocaine, methadone and heroin. So maybe don’t take drugs just before you commit that robbery.

No news is good news

Despite concerns that the world might end, this week’s Leap Second went off without a hitch. No planes were grounded and no stock markets crashed. There was, however, a small period of internet instability, according to internet performance company Dyn Resarch. The instability lasted for about five minutes, and probably nobody in the whole world noticed, except for Dyn. 

(Check out our Headstuff Science article on the Leap Second and the end of the world)

Planet BFFs

Don’t miss the opportunity to see those planetary buddies, Jupiter and Venus, as they cosy up together over the coming days. The planets are the two brightest in our skies and seeing them so close together is a real treat (I was pretty excited about this – just see my Twitter feed). They have been gradually drawing nearer over June and staged their closest conjunction on 1 July. They won’t be seen this close together again until August 2016. Watch out especially on 18 July when the two planets are joined by the star Regulus and a crescent moon to make your night sky especially pretty.

SpaceX explodes shortly after launch

An unmanned SpaceX vessel broke apart two minutes after launching, crashing to Earth and scattering hundreds of kilos of debris. The accident happened last Sunday 28 June, as the rocket was attempting to deliver re-supply materials to the International Space Station. Important research equipment and other equipment was destroyed, but fortunately astronauts aboard the ISS have enough food to last them until October. A second resupply vehicle, the Russian Soyuz-U, successfully launched on Friday, but what the long-term impact of last week’s rocket failure means for SpaceX and the ISS remains to be seen.

This worm will rock you

You guys! Did you know there is such a thing as armoured worms!? With legs! Well, there used to be. Researchers studying fossils in China describe this incredible little beast: “an armored lobopodian with a remarkable degree of limb differentiation including a pair of antenna-like appendages, six pairs of elongate setiferous limbs for suspension feeding, and nine pairs of clawed annulated legs with an anchoring function”. I’m pretty sure I saw that in Mad Max.

collinsium-ciliosum armoured worm
collinsium-ciliosum – the armoured worm Image: Javier Ortega-Hernández)

Meanwhile, on Pluto…

Picture this: a telescope, aboard a Boeing, flying above New Zealand, takes measurements of Pluto’s shadow as it passes in front of a star. Phew. And I thought my job was hard. The occultation of the dwarf planet was successfully observed aboard NASA’s Sofia, a modified jetliner, and lasted just 90 seconds. However, the event couldn’t have come at a better time. NASA’s space probe New Horizons is due to pass Pluto in just two weeks, and the two data sets are bound to enrich one another enormously.