Random Samples

Science  16 Jun 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5780, pp. 1579
  1. SOLVING THE PIONEER ANOMALY

    Pioneer 10 at Jupiter CREDIT: NASA

    A new effort has been launched to explain the mysterious slowdown of two NASA spacecraft. Pioneer 10 and 11 left Earth more than 30 years ago to explore the outer solar system, and over the past 11 years, Doppler radar data have shown that they are slowing down slightly more than would be expected from the sun's gravity alone. Right now, as the pair approach the edge of the solar system, the two spacecraft are almost 400,000 kilometers closer to the sun than scientists predicted.

    This “Pioneer anomaly” has sparked an array of possible explanations, from dark matter to a flaw in our current understanding of gravity. NASA said it didn't have the budget to look into the question, so the Planetary Society, a private group of space buffs based in Pasadena, California, staged a fund drive to get things moving. With a grant from the society of more than $100,000, physicist Slava G. Turyshev of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena is leading a project to recover 20 years of early Pioneer data from old magnetic tapes and convert the information to modern media for analysis.

    Turyshev, who believes there will be an engineering explanation for the anomaly, hopes to precisely detect the direction in which the decelerating force is operating. Physicist Orfeu Bertolami of the Technical University in Lisbon, Portugal, agrees that older Pioneer data should be analyzed and suggests that the results could be used to decide whether a new space mission should be launched to investigate the anomaly.

  2. HORSE TALK

    CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES/DIGITAL VISION

    In the interest of interspecies communication, two researchers have broken down the components of a horse's whinny.

    David Browning, an acoustician at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston, noticed that whereas the cow “moo” has a straightforward acoustic spectrum like that of a party horn, equines—including horses, donkeys, and zebras—express themselves using a wider bandwidth and a more variable frequency.

    An initial acoustic analysis conducted by Browning and bioacoustician Peter Scheifele of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, has now revealed two major components to the whinny. One, involving an upward shift in frequency, corresponds to a heightened emotional state—as when a stallion is chasing a mare. The other, a “tremolo,” modulates the sound, such as when the whinny is a greeting. Hunger or other stresses also change the frequency of the whinny, the two reported last week at the Acoustical Society of America meeting in Providence, Rhode Island.

    By monitoring whinnies, “we'd like to be able to identify stress and its causes earlier,” says Scheifele. Animal behaviorist Steven Hopp of Emory and Henry College in Emory, Virginia, notes that horse stress levels might be hard to quantify but says a comparison of the sounds of equine species could yield intriguing results. That's coming: Browning and Scheifele have already studied the donkey “heehaw,” and they plan to record and study three zebra species that respectively yip, bray, and whinny.

  3. WHITE WINE AFTER DEATH?

    Drinking fine wine is part of the good life. In ancient Egypt, wine was also essential for a good afterlife because it symbolized rebirth. Yet Egyptian texts mention only red wine, leaving archaeologists to wonder whether whites were also on the menu.

    Spanish researchers have now analyzed residues in amphorae from the tomb of King Tutankhamun and concluded that the young monarch was sent to the afterlife with both red and white wines. Egyptologist Maria Rosa Guasch-Jané and food scientist Rosa Lamuela-Raventós of the University of Barcelona examined 12 amphorae from Cairo's Egyptian Museum that were excavated from the tomb in 1922. Extracting dry residues from six of the vessels, the team analyzed the samples with a methodology they developed using liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. All contained tartaric acid, a marker for grape wine. But two also had syringic acid, a breakdown product from red grape pigment. The researchers conclude in the August issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science that the other four probably contained white wine.

    Regarding the two amphorae flanking Tut's sarcophagus, one apparently held white wine and bore an inscription from the “Estate-of-Tutankhamun.” The other held red wine and was from the “Estate-of-Aton.”

    Carl Heron, an archaeologist at the University of Bradford in the U.K., says the team's claim that this represents the first evidence that white wine was drunk in ancient Egypt is plausible but needs confirmation.

  4. CANADA'S HERITAGE

    CREDIT: UBC MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY/PHOTO: BILL MCLENNAN

    A 4-year, $52 million “Renewal Project” was launched last week at the Museum of Anthropology, on the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver. The museum features one of the world's largest collections of totem poles. One part of the project will be a new digital Reciprocal Research Network to facilitate collaboration among 12 institutions worldwide that have collections of indigenous North American artifacts. Three “First Nation” communities will be involved in helping make it accessible to tribal groups. “Eighty percent of the heritage” of people from the Northwest coast is in museums, notes a museum spokesperson.