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(ICRAR; Vivian Abagiu/University of Texas at Austin; JAXA)

Here's The Most Important Science News That Happened This Week

A lot can happen in seven days.

SIGNE DEAN
29 SEP 2018

We know, we know, there's so much internet to read, and so little time.

That's why we've been rounding up the week's most interesting science news for a quick catch-up, with a bonus quiz challenge to keep it entertaining. Answers are at the bottom of the page. Have fun!

 

1. A Renowned Mathematician Announced He Solved the Single Most Important Problem in Maths

The 160-year-old Riemann hypothesis sounds like a tough nut to crack, and we won't pretend to have a truly solid grasp on it. But on Monday 24 September, Sir Michael Atiyah presented his solution at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum in Germany.

To solve the hypothesis, you need to find a way to predict the occurrence of every prime number, even though primes have historically been regarded as randomly distributed. Atiyah thinks he's managed to do just that.

If his solution checks out and is accepted by the mathematics community, he will be entitled to a prize from the Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge. How much is the prize worth?

A. US$1,000

B. US$10,000

C. US$100,000

D. US$1 million

2. NASA Released New Data on Why Earth Wobbles as It Spins on Its Axis

Humans have a lot to answer for when it comes to altering our planetary system, at least in recent decades.

Now, according to a study published by NASA scientists, we can add "influencing the wobble of Earth's rotation" to humanity's collective resume.

 

Our planet doesn't spin on its axis neatly, but instead produces a slight 'wobble' that shifts every six to 14 years. And climate change-induced global ice melt, particularly in Greenland, turns out to be one of the three processes contributing to this wobble.

The second process is glacial rebound - the sloooow rise of Earth's crust as the glaciers from the last great Ice Age don't compress it as much any more.What's the third one?

A. Crust migration.

B. Mantle convection.

C. Pie distribution.

D. Crumb fluctuation.

3. New Evidence Emerged That the World's Most Popular Weed Killer Could Also Be Killing Bees

The potential harm of the widely used weed killer glyphosate - known as Roundup - is a contentious topic. The way the herbicide kills plants involves a metabolic pathway that animals don't have, therefore its toxicity is considered to be low.

But a new study has revealed that a complex interaction could be taking place between the gut microbiome of bees and glyphosate exposure, and the herbicide could be one factor contributing to colony collapse.

 

What was the microbiome interaction?

A. Glyphosate was giving bees upset stomachs, making them vomit their food.

B. Glyphosate completely wiped out gut bacteria in treated bees.

C. Glyphosate made bee gut bacteria go into overdrive, killing the bees.

D. Glyphosate killed off some bacteria, making it easier for bees to catch an infection.

4. Hayabusa 2 Mission Delivered the First-Ever Photos and Video Taken on the Surface of an Asteroid

Japanese space agency JAXA just made history by landing a human-made object on an asteroid for the first time ever, and the mission has already been delivering some stunning views of this little alien world named Ryugu.

On top of sending through amazing footage, the mission will also take surface temperature measurements and even blow a crater into the side of the asteroid so we can get some subsurface samples.

What did we see in those first photos?

A. A bunch of space rocks, illuminated by the Sun.

B. An unusual dark object that looks like coal.

C. A reflective surface thought to be a patch of ice.

D. Aliens.

 

5. Astronomers Announced They Found a Strange Neutron Star That "Shouldn't Exist"

Okay, well obviously it exists. But the dead star astronomers found roughly 24,000 light-years from Earth has two features that were not thought to co-exist in neutron stars, not according to everything we knew about them up to this point.

Not only is the neutron star accreting material from a large binary companion and spewing out relativistic jets, it also has an unusually strong magnetic field.

Normally, such jets would only be found in neutron stars with 1,000 times weaker magnetic fields, so astronomers have their work cut out to re-examine current theories.

What do relativistic jets contain?

A. Galvanized, super-hot iron particles.

B. Radiation and 'stardust' particles.

C. Pure hydrogen gas.

D. 'Nuclear pasta' particles.

6. Major Aerial Survey Revealed That the Maya Civilisation Was Far More Complex Than We Thought

The results of a Guatemalan jungle aerial study - whose preliminary results made waves back in February - were finally published in Science this week.

A LIDAR survey mapping several sites where the ancient Maya once thrived, revealed 61,480 structures, for the first time detailing the scale and extent of infrastructure the ancient Maya had built.

What kinds of structures were amongst the findings?

A. Roads, causeways, and canals.

B. Aerial cemeteries.

C. Large quinoa farms.

D. Aqueducts and super-high buildings.

Answers

1. D. US$1 million

The Riemann hypothesis is one of seven unsolved Millennium Prizes from the institute, each worth US$1 million. For "the single most important open problem" in mathematics, that seems like a pretty decent award. Read the whole story here.

2. B. Mantle convection

This refers to convection currents slowly pushing clumps of hot, gooey rock though Earth's mantle - the thick part of our planets shell sandwiched between the outer layers and the core. Read the whole story here.

3. D. Glyphosate killed off some bacteria, making it easier for bees to catch an infection.

When untreated bees and glyphosate-exposed bees (whose 'good' gut bacteria were reduced) were exposed to the same bacterium – an opportunistic pathogen Serratia marcescens – the ones exposed to the weed killer died at starkly increased rates. Read the whole story here.

4. A. A bunch of space rocks, illuminated by the Sun.

It may not sound like much, but when you realise that no sentient being has likely viewed this landscape ever before, it's rather breathtaking to consider. Read the whole story and see pictures here and here.

5. B. Radiation and 'stardust' particles.

Jets are well known in the Universe - powerful streams of radiation and particles erupting at near light-speed from the poles of accreting objects. "They are produced whenever matter falls onto a dense central object, from newly-forming stars to white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes," writes one of the researchers, James Miller-Jones. Read the whole story here.

6. A. Roads, causeways, and canals.

The previously hidden road and canal infrastructure connected major Maya cities; the researchers also uncovered maize farms, various houses, and even defensive fortifications. Read the whole story here.