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The world’s longest-lasting bubble pops

Ever wanted to blow a bubble that lasts forever? If you add glycerol to your bubble mix, it’s going to exist for longer than just soap and water – and a team of French researchers have figured out how to maximise this bubble trick.

The researchers blew a bubble that lasted for 465 days – a world record. Their water-glycerol bubble was monitored with a camera, initially to be compared to water-soap bubbles (all of which collapsed within 60 minutes).

The recipe, and fluid dynamic modelling, for this super-bubble is published in Physical Review Fluids.

Catching a comet by its tail

A UK spacecraft has just flown through the tail of a comet for the second time, collecting a wealth of data that will help us better understand these cosmic voyagers.

Launched in February 2020 to study the Sun, the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter is also making some pretty useful observations of comets. It first crossed a comet’s tail shortly after launch in May and June 2020, and then in December 2021, the spacecraft flew through the tail of Comet C/2021 A1 Leonard for several days.

It was able to collect information about the particles and magnetic field present there, which – when analysed – will give astronomers insight into how comets interact with the solar wind.

It also took images of the distant comet’s head in both visible and ultraviolet light.

“The visible light images can hint at the rate at which the comet is ejecting dust, while the ultraviolet images can give the water production rate,” says Alain Corso, from the Institute for photonics and nanotechnologies (CNR-IFN) in Padova, Italy.

In March, the Solar Orbiter will make its closest pass of the Sun (just 50 million kilometres away) to take images and data – most excitingly from the Sun’s never-seen-before polar regions.

Scientific figure heatmap of different particles over time
This plot series represents data collected by the Solar Wind Analyser’s Heavy Ion Sensor as the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter spacecraft passed through Comet Leonard’s tail in December 2021. Click here for the full description from ESA. Credit: ESA / Solar Orbiter / SWA team.

Gut microbes help animals to hibernate

When an animal hibernates, it can slow down its metabolism by 99%. A group of US researchers have shown that for hibernating ground squirrels, help can come from bacteria as well.

“Without any dietary protein coming in, hibernators need another way to get what their muscles need,” says Emeritus Professor Hannah Carey, from the University of Wisconsin, and co-author on a paper in Science.

The researchers knew that urea – a rich source of nitrogen in urine – gets processed by microbes in squirrels. But, with the help of some isotopic tracking, they were able to show that this urea-based nitrogen also ends up back in the squirrels’ bodies.

“We followed that nitrogen to [the] livers [of the squirrels], primarily — where it is used to make many proteins — and some to muscles,” says co-author Emeritus Professor Fariba Assadi-Porter, also from the University of Wisconsin.

The researchers have ambitious applications for their findings.

“This process could theoretically reduce rates of muscle loss in space, where microgravity exposure invariably leads to muscle atrophy,” says co-author Dr Matthew Regan.

“And because characteristics of hibernation beyond this gut microbe-dependent process confer protection against other hazards of space flight such as ionizing radiation, it is theoretically possible that, if translated to humans, hibernation-like states could solve numerous challenges of human spaceflight simultaneously.”

‘Radio footprints’ found of galaxy merger

Image of the shapley supercluster
The Shapley Supercluster is the largest concentration of galaxies in our nearby universe pulling itself together instead of expanding. Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi

An international team of astronomers has discovered radio emission from the largest group of galaxies in our local universe: the Shapley Supercluster, a region containing 1000 clusters and groups of galaxies.

The team thinks that the radio emission – extending over millions of light-years – acts as a “bridge” between a cluster of galaxies and a group of galaxies.

“The emission was triggered by the collision of these separate groupings of galaxies,” explains co-author Professor Andrew Hopkins from Australian Astronomical Optics (AAO) Macquarie.

“Despite its difficulty to detect, this unique emission will now allow astronomers to better study the regions between clusters of galaxies.”

This will improve our understanding of some of the largest-scale structures in the universe.

“In the study, we also report the discovery of another couple of objects – a very peculiar head-tail radio galaxy and a ram-pressure stripped spiral galaxy, whose origin is traced back to the same collision phenomenon that generated the emission,” adds lead author Tiziana Venturi, director of the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics.

The observations were also an international affair, made with Australia’s ASKAP radio telescope, as well as the South African MeerKAT radio telescope and the Indian Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT).

The results are published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

A lionfish swims in blue water
Credit: Federico Cabello/Getty Images

Warmer oceans and plastic stop fish from growing

The double-threat of global warming and increased plastic in the oceans is disrupting fish growth, according to research from the University of Sydney.

The researchers highlighted the risk of bisphenol A – a compound that comes from plastic pollution – which disrupts fish hormone regulation.

If the water is above 30°C, the researchers found that this chemical can seriously hinder fish growth, including in some of the most commercially viable species of fish.

Their research is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

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