This is science at its best

No more floating coffee

NASA scientists have solved a major impediment to space travel: how to drink coffee in space.

Mark Weisogel, a physics professor at Portland State University, says: “Let’s suppose you are on the space station and you have a cup of coffee in your hand. Tilting the cup towards your mouth, as you would do on earth, would not be the best idea and would most assuredly be a bad way to start your day. The coffee would be very hard to control,” Weisvogel says.

“In fact, it probably wouldn’t come out of the cup.
You’d have to shake the cup toward your face and hope that some of the hot liquid breaks loose and floats toward your mouth.”

The answer appears to be capillary behavior. If you have a straw in a glass of Coca-Cola, the liquid level in the straw is higher than the level in the glass.

This is because of the intermolecular forces between the molecules in the coke and the straw. NASA is patenting a zero gravity coffee cup using this technology.

The scientists are talking about the importance of fluid dynamics in space, capillary flows and more efficient engines, but I think they’re missing the important thing here: coffee in space.

Naming the stars
And just when we thought that scientists had lost all imagination when it came to naming celestial objects (think Gliese-667C), they christened the moons of Pluto “Kerberos” and “Styx”, reviving the golden age when we named the stars and planets after gods and myths.

In Roman mythology Pluto was the god of the underworld, Styx the river of forgetfulness that separated the lands of the living and dead, and Kerberos the three-headed dog that lived in the underworld. A bit macabre, perhaps, but Kerberos and Styx are better than their previous names, P4 and P5, any day.

T rex – A new discovery
Decades of cartoons and movies of rampaging Tyrannosaurus rex (T rex) were guesswork. Behind the scenes, paleoscientists have been arguing about whether the two-storey-high T rex was the fierce hunter and water-shaker of Jurassic Park or a scavenger of the hyena variety.

This month scientists have found the first proof that the T rex did in fact hunt live prey. A T rex tooth fragment, about 3.75 centimetres, was lodged between the vertebrae of a hadrosaur, according to research led by Robert de Palma of the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History in Florida, US.

However, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Montana, US, told AFP that the discovery “certainly does not refute our idea that T rex was an opportunistic carnivore like a hyena. It simply shows that a tyrannosaur bit a hadrosaur” — Proof that you shouldn’t always trust what you see on TV.

Sarah Wild

Sarah Wild

Sarah Wild is a multiaward-winning science journalist. She studied physics, electronics and English literature at Rhodes University in an effort to make herself unemployable. It didn't work and she now writes about particle physics, cosmology and everything in between.In 2012, she published her first full-length non-fiction book Searching African Skies: The Square Kilometre Array and South Africa's Quest to Hear the Songs of the Stars, and in 2013 she was named the best science journalist in Africa by Siemens in their 2013 Pan-African Profiles Awards. Read more from Sarah Wild

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