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Lunch in the Lab: Mars Rover Tells Fans to ‘Chill’

A type of sea slug, called a Spanish Shawl, or Flabellina iodinea. Photo by Kent Treptow.

Welcome to Lunch in the Lab, a virtual platter of science news, delivered fresh by the NewsHour every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Consider this blog an excuse to waste your lunch on science.

The menu will include an assortment of news — some of it wacky, wonderful and wild, and some slithery, slimy and a little gross. But we promise to tell you when to put down your sandwich. As in, this caterpillar fungus harvested by Tibetans and thought to treat erectile dysfunction is NOT SAFE FOR EATING.

Sometimes we’ll focus on the day’s big news. Other times, we’ll seek out science in small spaces, like the tiny sea slug half of the size of a fingernail, seen in the photo above. Photographer Kent Treptow* found the little swimmer in a California tidepool on Wednesday. There’s more where that came from on his website here.

Bottom line: science is everywhere, folks.

DAILY SPECIAL

The rumors that NASA’s intrepid rover Curiosity ginned up something exciting has gotten the science world all riled up, and on Monday, NASA scientists are expected to finally produce the goods.

Don’t get too excited though. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released this statement Thursday saying that the the rumors and speculation are “incorrect”, and that Curiosity has “not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics.”

Curiosity may have said it best when it told its Twitter followers to “chill.”

Still, the anticipation has spawned some hilarious speculation on what the rover may have found, ranging from Tang, a black monolith and Jimmy Hoffa, according to Space.com’s Leonard David.

Plus there’s this video, by Seattle-based Cinesaurus, which has Curiosity finding misplaced socks, Amelia Earhart, the lost Nixon tapes and Wall-E. It also discovers microbial life and methane and resuscitates the retired Mars rover Spirit. Oh, and then Curiosity kills a cat.

(It’s based on this Australian public service parody Dumb Ways to Die, which warns against using your private parts as piranha bait, among other things.)

QUICK BITES

  • The story of how the ice arrived at Mercury could give us clues to how life developed on Earth. In fact, the scientists behind Thursday’s announcement think water — or at least the atomic building blocks for it — was likely transported to Mercury by a comet or asteroid that smacked into the planet millions of years ago. That may well be the very same way our own planet turned from a lifeless mass to a soggy planet teeming with life.

“Mercury is becoming an object of astrobiological interest where it wasn’t much of one before,” Sean Solomon, the principal investigator for the Mercury mission said during the announcement on Thursday. “In terms of the book of life, there are some early chapters, and Mercury may indeed inform us what are in those early chapters.”

Here’s the video of Thursday’s announcement:

  • More on the Spanish Shawl sea slug from the photo topping the blog. Here’s a video we found of the animals swimming in captivity. Beautiful, right?

  • This week, Hari Sreenivasan spoke with director James Balog, who spent five years chasing glaciers and documenting their behavior. He notes how his team once saw a chunk of ice roughly the size of southern Manhattan — from 34th Street to Battery Park — break free from the Ilulissat Glacier in Greenland and bob out to sea. You can watch the video below.

The online post that accompanies the piece also looks at the new ice melt findings released yesterday in the journal Science.

  • Bored by gift cards and tube socks? How about giving cousin Timmy that miniature mind-controlled helicopter he’s always wanted. CNN reports on these tiny flying machines, developed in San Francisco and powered by electroencephalography (say what?). In other words, they rely on the brain’s electrical signals to move up and then down. Only catch is, that’s all they can do at this point: fly up and then … fall down.

  • “It is a full-time job, caring for the immortal jellyfish.”

WARNING: NOT SAFE FOR EATING

Want to find out what lives in your gut? Click here.

And as promised, here’s that story on the “miracle fungus” that eats caterpillar brains from the inside out.

*Disclaimer: Kent is a friend of mine. He once tried to teach me how to surf.

Joshua Barajas, Jeremy Blackman and David Pelcyger contributed to this blog.

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