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The June night sky

28 May, by Alan Pickup[ —]

Jupiter rules the heavens, but keep an eye open for noctilucent clouds that gleam low in the sky after nightfall and before dawn

June brings our summer solstice on the 21st and sees Jupiter remain as the stand-out object in a night sky that is blighted by persistent twilight at our latitudes. The latter is so severe over northern Britain that it swamps all but the brighter stars and planets. Those bright stars include Vega in Lyra which is high in the E by our map times as the Summer Triangle it forms with Altair in Aquila and Deneb in Cygnus returns to prominence.

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Fast radio bursts: stirrings from a galaxy far, far away

28 May, by Robin McKie Observer science editor[ —]
Scientists studying FRBs – energy explosions from distant parts of the universe – are on to something vitally important. But what causes them?

In summer 2006, astronomer Duncan Lorimer started work on a seemingly routine piece of scientific research. He and a team of students began examining old records of sky surveys that had been carried out using the Parkes radio telescope in Australia in past years.

Lorimer was looking for observations of pulsars – highly energetic rotating neutron stars left over from supernovae explosions – that might have been missed during previous sweeps of the heavens. Pulsars are his celestial obsession, the astronomer admits, and he was keen to discover as many new ones as possible.

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The Bell-Beaker folk - Science Weekly podcast

28 May, by Presented by Hannah Devlin and produced by Gabriela Jones[ —]

Hannah Devlin looks at a genome study that may explain the spread of bell-shaped pottery beakers across Europe 4,500 years ago

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If you’ve enjoyed this podcast why not recommend it, or any other podcasts you’ve loved, to podcasts@theguardian.com to be in with a chance of featuring in our Hear Here column.

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Does what you do define the type of person you are? | Ben Ambridge

28 May, by Ben Ambridge[ —]

Do you sit around the house naked, read poetry and make compost? If so, you’re not the conscientious type

How do your daily activities define your personality?

Psychologists have explored personality from every conceivable angle except one: what do people with particular personality traits actually do in terms of everyday activities? First, compared to other people broadly similar to you (in terms of age, class and gender) are you more or less:

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The very culture of drugs is addictive | Barbara Ellen

28 May, by Barbara Ellen[ —]

Getting hooked is not just about chemical properties

A Canadian study suggests that people who think that they only use cocaine “recreationally” could be in danger of becoming addicted more easily than previously thought. After taking cocaine, participants underwent a PET scan while watching people with whom they had used the drug taking more cocaine. Just watching fellow participants take cocaine led to craving and a dopamine release in the dorsal striatum, which could lead to dependency.

Certain hard partying reprobates may right now be thinking: “How do I get on to a study like that?” More seriously, drug addiction is a grim, complex and sometimes fatal business and, as the study points out, it would be beneficial to catch it early. Presumably, other factors must be taken into account: how the drug was taken, how often and whether someone has an addictive personality. Something more than dopamine release has to explain why some people taking a hard drug such as cocaine end up addicted, while others don’t.

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Who knew the Scots were such space pioneers?| Kevin McKenna

28 May, by Kevin McKenna[ —]
For such a small nation, Scotland punches far above its weight

The most startling revelation of the year so far came at the end of a BBC Horizon programme called Strange Signals From Outer Space!. I’ve always admired the lads and lasses who produce Horizon; for decades, they have been giving us programmes that stretch our minds and fill them with uplifting concepts about the possibilities of human endeavour. Clearly, though, the producers haven’t been reared in a newsroom environment. If they’d been schooled in the arts of detecting and conveying hard news, they would have stuck this potentially game-changing information at the top of their programme.

It seems astronomers and space scientists have been showing more than a fancy to some bursts of activity in the blue yonder, which they believe might give them a chance of detecting alien messages. They’ve been looking at bursts of radio waves produced by neutron stars to search for unusual signal formations. Basically, these signals happen routinely and intermittently. But if any were to form into a pattern then there’s a decent chance that ET and his chinas are trying to contact us.

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Huntington’s disease: the pope steps in to help raise awareness

https://www.theguardian.com/world/pope-francisplay episode download
27 May, by Dara Mohammadi in Vatican City[ —]

A papal audience for families affected by the inherited brain disease could end centuries of stigma – and open vital doors in the search for a cure

It was with the pomp and intrigue of a Dan Brown novel that earlier this month Pope Francis made his way into the Aula Paolo VI audience hall, a room the size of an aeroplane hangar in Vatican City. Flanked by the flamboyant Swiss Guard and dark-suited men muttering into earpieces, he headed for an oversized chair on a stage in front of nearly 2,000 people. Many applauded, most gawped in disbelief.

The pope was there to do something no other world leader has done before. He was meeting people with Huntington’s disease, a rare and incurable neurological disorder that has long been shrouded in shame and discrimination. It’s a genetic disease that runs in families. It causes involuntary jerky movements and can make people depressed or aggressive, symptoms that can leave them socially isolated, thanks in part to a historic misunderstanding.

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Lab notes: attentive fathers, brainy genes, and faulty fitness trackers – that's science

26 May, by Peter Kimpton[ —]

Hello. Are you sitting comfortably? And are you paying attention? If so, what are you pay attention to? If you happen to be a dad, and have young children, a US study suggests fathers are more likely to be more attentive to their female toddler than a son, 60% more in fact, spending time talking about feelings, singing and whistling, while interaction with boys is more likely to be rough-and-tumble play and used more “achievement-related” language, including words such as “proud”, “win” or “best”. What effect that can have later in life? That is unknown, but is that why people use the phrase “daddy’s girl”? Perhaps we need to be brainier to understand these gender influences. Fortunately, science might help, with the identification of 40 genes that shed new light on the biology of intelligence. The genes provide instructions for the building of healthy neurons, the paths they take through the 3lb lump of tissue, and the construction of hundreds of trillions of synapses that connect them. That doesn’t make you a genius though, but if you want a healthy mind, a healthy body can certainly help. However, if you do regular exercise and want to measure how many calories you burn, don’t rely on fitness trackers, which are revealed to show a wide margin of error on calories consumed, but are far more accurate when monitoring heartbeat. Finally, fitness fanatics aren’t the only things on the move. Scientists say an extra layer of tectonic plates have been discovered within Earth’s mantle, which could explain a mysterious series of earthquakes in the Pacific. An finally another big and moving story from below the oceans, explaining why some species of whales, such as the blue whale, became so large. Research suggests that it was driven by changes in the distribution of their food in the ocean rather than falling water temperatures.

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Gender stereotypes? Worry less, join in more, says world's first professor of play

26 May, by Hannah Devlin Science correspondent[ —]

Paul Ramchandanim, new Cambridge University academic set to lead research into child leisure activity, says parents’ involvement more important than gender roles or games played

Little girls in pink princess costumes and boys dressed as cowboys might strike many parents as a nightmare combination of gender stereotypes and unappealing role models. However, the Cambridge academic who has just been appointed the world’s first professor of play has a message for them: relax.

Paul Ramchandani, who was announced this week in the newly created professorship at Cambridge University, a post sponsored by Lego, believes parents should agonise less over which games and roles they should edge their child towards and devote more energy simply to playing with them.

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The week in wildlife – in pictures

26 May, by Compiled by Eric Hilaire[ —]

Herons in flight, an inquisitive marmot and a blue whale are among this week’s pick of images from the natural world

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