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Rosetta awakes, Martians throw donuts, clubfoot, citizen science, more

Suddenly, Opportunity notices a rock that wasn't there before.
Suddenly, Opportunity notices a rock that wasn't there before.NASA

Rosetta awakes (Nature)

The European Space Agency's probe Rosetta has been turned off for three years, while it glides through space on its way toward a comet. The comet is now only a few months away, and Rosetta has awakened on scheduled and phoned it to announce it is ready for work.

Ten years on Mars (NASA)

The Opportunity rover on Mars has been roving there for ten years—nine years and three months longer than the plan called for. Quite a bonus, and still ticking.

Martian jelly donut (NASA)

...And, after ten years on Mars, Opportunity suddenly discovers a jelly donut. Or a rock that looks like one, and wasn't there a little while back. Hm. The boring explanation is that the rock was kicked up by the rover's own wheels. Then there's the explanation that Martians are standing just out of camera-shot, chucking pastries at our rover and laughing.

Cyber-germ (Science Daily)

One of the standard goals of nano-technology is to create microscopic robots that will move around doing stuff on the micro-scale for us. In a half-step toward that goal, engineers at the University of Illinois have created microbots that swim like flagellates or sperm, but they're not entirely nano-tech. The swimming power comes from living heart muscle cells fitted into the little machines. Not so much micro-robots as micro-cyborgs.

Human-powered helicopter (Discover)

Remember the "Gossamer Albatross"? It was an ultra-light airplane that could be flown by purely human muscle power. Now, a company called AeroVelo has created "Atlas," a human-powered helicopter, thereby winning the Sikorsky Prize, $250,000 dollars for being able to hover three meters off the ground for a full minute.

Farming bleaches skin (Science)

Fair-skinned, blue-eyed people come from Europe. But when did they originate? Maybe not that long ago. The popular theory is that Europeans are fair-skinned to let them produce enough vitamin D in Europe's scant sunlight. But consider this: genetic analysis of an 8,000-year-old skeleton found in a Spanish cave reveals a man with blue eyes but dark skin. He lived when farming was just starting to catch on in Europe, but from the circumstances of his bones, he was a hunter, not a farmer.

Now, hunters can get their vitamin D from the meat they eat. So maybe he could "afford" to be dark, not fair, because he was a hunter. Farmers, living on less meat, need to get more vitamin D from the Sun, so maybe Europeans became fair-skinned only after they took to farming.

Braces for clubfoot (NPR)

Clubfoot is a very common birth defect, usually treated with surgery, which is painful and can leave scar tissue causing complications later in life. Now, doctors at Sinai Hospital have come up with an alternative, a series of braces that gradually turn the feet out without surgery.

Black Death in ancient Rome (New Scientist)

In 541 AD, a terrible plague hit the decaying Roman Empire, during the reign of Justinian. It was one of the final blows that brought the Empire down. (Though Alaric the Ostrogoth is usually said to have delivered the coup de grace.) Analysis of DNA from skeletons buried at that time discovers the Black Death, a plague we usually associate with the 14th century.

Crowd researching (Discover)

"Citizen science" is to science what crowd-sourcing is to business. And it started to take off in a big way in 2013. Volunteers, communicating with research centers by internet, are able to cut the time of many research programs to a small fraction of the usual. If you'd like to try your hand at citizen astronomy, look up galaxyzoo.org or zooniverse.org.