Comment »Posted on Sunday 1 March 2009 at 12:41 pm by Jacob Aron
In Biology, Physics, Weekly Roundup

I’ve just realised that “Weekly” Roundup is something of a misnomer if I post one on a Saturday and a Sunday. Oh well!

Could “sprites” explain UFOs?

Scientists at Tel Aviv University in Israel have identified how a natural phenomenon that could explain sightings of UFOs is formed.

A sprite appears! About 30 miles high and 30 miles wide, the strange light show is a brief occurrence.
A sprite appears! About 30 miles high and 30 miles wide, the strange light show is a brief occurrence.

Dubbed “sprites” they were first observed by accident in 1989, and appear as brief flashes high in the atmosphere anywhere from 35 to 80 miles above the ground, unlike regular lighting bolts which occur around 7 to 10 miles up. Prof. Colin Price of the Geophysics and Planetary Sciences Department lead the research:

“Lightning from the thunderstorm excites the electric field above, producing a flash of light called a sprite,” explains Prof. Price.

“We now understand that only a specific type of lightning is the trigger that initiates sprites aloft.”

“Sprites, which only occur in conjunction with thunderstorms, never occur on their own, and are cousins to similar natural phenomenon dubbed by atmospheric electricians as ‘elves,’ ‘goblins’ and ‘trolls,’”

Why do we go grey? Hair dye I know?

Well, I know because a group of scientists have discovered that hair bleaches itself as we get older. Hydrogen peroxide, commonly used by bottle blondes, is produced naturally by hair cells. As we get older, this natural concentration increases and overwhelms the production of melanin, the usual pigment of hair. The result – grey.

The discovery was made by examining human hair follicle cells. The hydrogen peroxide build-up was caused by a enzyme that would normally break it up into hydrogen and oxygen. This has a knock-on effect on other enzymes that results in a disruption of melanin production. The research was published in the FASEB Journal.

Behind the scenes at a natural history museum

Seed magazine have an interesting article about “the hidden side of natural history museums”, and all the specimens that the public never get to see. Words are great’n'all, but what really grabbed me were the pictures from the American Museum of Natural History. Lockers of elephant feet, rhinoceros hides and a wardrobe of leopard skins await you, but this has got to be the strangest of all:

Weird and wonderful. Image by Justine Cooper.
Weird and wonderful. Image by Justine Cooper.

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