Science and Health: Jupiter’s moon may have life; egg white stimulant; climate warming – proof


By Steve Elliott our Science and Health correspondent

This week: life on Jupiter’s moon; an egg a day helps you work, rest and play; climate warming – proof positive; 2 eye-popping optical illusions, and a handful of weird science.

By Steve Elliott our Science and Health correspondent

This week: life on Jupiter’s moon; an egg a day helps you work, rest and play; climate warming – proof positive; 2 eye-popping optical illusions, and a handful of weird science.

Astronomy – Jupiter’s moon Europa has lakes just beneath the surface

New research suggests Jupiter’s moon Europa has shallow lakes of water just beneath the surface – opening up the tantalising possibility of discovering signs of extra-terrestrial life in the surface ice of the Jovian moon.

The icy moon – discovered by Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei in January 1610 – is 350 million miles from Earth, and is one of 64 Jovian satellites.

In the 1990s, NASA’s Galileo probe sent pictures back of Europa’s surface – the surface is thought to consist of an ocean of liquid water covered by a thick layer of ice.

Glaciologists have been studying Europa’s surface for years trying to work out what formed its scarred, fractured icy surface and they think they have the solution.  Glaciologist Martin Siegert from the University of Edinburgh said by studying Antarctica, where similar features glacial features are found (glaciers, ice shelves) it’s possible to infer something about the mechanisms happening on Europa.

Analysis of the moon’s surface suggests there is an upwelling of warmer water causing surface ice to melt, thus forming cracks.  The warmer water then cools and freezes between the cracks, filling the crack with new cemented ice.  The underside then freezes again, which causes the uplifting since ice is less dense than water and is pushed upwards from underneath.  The results predict that small lakes exist only 3km below the crust.

Computer models of magnetic forces, and images of its surface of Europa, have long convinced scientists that a giant ocean of salty water, approximately 160km in depth, lies between 10-30km beneath the ice crust of the moon’s surface.

University of Idaho planetary scientist Dr Simon Kattenhorn: “Europa has more water than all of Earth’s oceans”.

Liquid water being the foundation of all life on Earth indicates a potential habitat for life exists on Europa.  These recently discovered lakes appear to be embedded closer to the surface – these surface waters are probably vigorously mixing with deeper water from the presumed Europan subsurface ocean.  The icy up flows could potentially transfer nutrients, bacteria and maybe even life forms between the ocean’s depths and the surface water.

A mission to recover water from the Jovian moon has become much more credible with these results.  The US and Europe are working on missions to Europa, and Jupiter’s other moons, which they hope to launch either late this decade or early in the 2020s.


Health – wake up with an egg
The 1960s campaign advised, ‘Go to work on an egg’ – sound advice – it turns out an egg will keep you awake.  The slogan was used in a 1960s advertising campaign by the Egg Marketing Board.

Research by Cambridge University, published in the journal Neuron, agrees with the 1960’s campaign and suggests we ‘ditch the sugar rush’ that is quick temporary fix, soon wearing of, and instead get our boost from egg proteins to help us stay awake and feel alert.

Egg white proteins are much more effective than carbohydrates found in chocolates, biscuits and sweets often relied on for a fast acting energy boost.

Cambridge University researchers looked at how nutrients affect the brain cells keeping us awake and burning calories by triggering the release of the stimulant orexin.  A protein mixture similar to the protein content of egg white activated orexin production in these brain cells – however sugar blocked the release of orexin.

Researcher Dr Denis Burdakov said: “What is exciting is to have a rational way to “tune” select brain cells to be more or less active by deciding what food to eat.  Research suggests that if you have a choice between jam on toast, or egg whites on toast, go for the latter.  Even though the two may contain the same number of calories, having a bit of protein will tell the body to burn more calories out of those consumed.”

Research for the British Nutrition Foundation – funded in part by the poultry industry – found that the type of cholesterol present in eggs causes minimal increase in the risk of heart disease.  Saturated fat, as opposed to the cholesterol fat found in eggs, is accepted as the principal dietary factor which increases cholesterol levels resulting in heart disease.  Other factors involved in increased blood fat levels leading to heart disease include: smoking, being overweight and lack of exercise.

If you start to feel a bit drowsy or peckish in mid-afternoon why not try an egg?

Environment – proof the Earth’s surface is heating up
The Earth’s temperature has risen 1°C since the 1950s and the Earth’s surface was cooler in 1800 than it is today, according to researchers from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperatures project (BEST) from Berkeley University in California.

Scientists at Berkeley University gathered figures from 1.6 billion temperature archived records weather reports from the past 200 years using data from 1800 to 2009 to present their ‘irrefutable’ proof from 15 sources around the world, including the Met Office with the University of East Anglia, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It shows deviation from the mean temperature over two centuries – and overall global warming since the industrial revolution.

The U.S. team includes Saul Perlmutter, joint winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate.

Physicist, Professor Richard Muller leading the Berkeley team said: “This takes a very distinct approach to the problem and comes up with the same answer, and that builds confidence that pre-existing estimates are in the right ballpark.”

The 1°C rise in temperature agrees with estimates by the world’s respected climate watchers who maintain official records.  To help visualise their findings, the BEST team produced a video with their data showing the alarming increase in warming world surface temperature records.

Recorded Earth surface temperature changes from 1800 to 2009


Optical Illusion


Weird Science
i) Most Of Your Body’s Cells Aren’t Yours – there are more microbial cells in your body than cells that have your own DNA.  The human body has 20 times more microbes than cells.

ii) There are more insects in just one square mile of fertile soil than there are human beings on the entire planet.

iii) The average person manages to consume about 430 insects every year of their lives, whether they intended to or not.

iv) Despite the common weather report that “it’s raining cats and dogs out there,” frogs and fish are the most likely animals to fall from the sky in rain.  The most recent rain of frogs occurred in 2005 in Serbia, and it rained frogs in London in 1998.  In 2006 it rained fish in India, while Wales got the fish-drop in 2004.

v) The interstellar gas cloud that comprises Sagittarius B contains a billion billion billion litres of alcohol.