This week in science - Issue 60

This week in science

Dark Milky Way, Octobots assemble!, Neighbouring Earth like planet, The Greater Great Barrier Reef.

  1. Dark Milky Way

    An international team of astronomers has found a galaxy, Dragonfly 44, that consists almost entirely of dark matter.

    While this is not the first time a dark matter galaxy has been found, it is one of the biggest at 1 trillion times the mass of our Sun, Dragonfly 44 is roughly the same size as our Milky Way.

    “Ultimately what we really want to learn is what dark matter is. The race is on to find massive dark galaxies that are even closer to us than Dragonfly 44, so we can look for feeble signals that may reveal a dark matter particle,” said Yale University astronomer Pieter van Dokkum, lead author of a paper in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

  2. Octobot: first autonomous, untethered, entirely soft robot

    A team of researchers from Harvard University has created a proof of concept for an autonomous soft robot, which is the first of its kind.

    In the past, such robots were tethered to a rigid structure that contained elements such as the battery.

    “The entire system is simple to fabricate, by combining three fabrication methods – soft lithography, molding and 3D printing – we can quickly manufacture these devices,” said Ryan Truby, a graduate student in the Lewis lab and co-first author of the paper.

    The team hopes to build on this research to design and develop more complex soft robots.

  3. Our nearest neighbour has an Earth-like planet

    Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star that is just four light-years from the Solar System.

    Astronomers have now found clear evidence of an Earth-like planet orbiting the star in the habitable zone. The planet orbits the star much closer than Mercury does to the Sun, however as the star is much fainter than our Sun, it is still well within the habitable zone.

    The planet orbits the star every 11 days and has temperatures that are suitable for liquid water.

    This discovery is the beginning of extensive further observations using both current and future instruments as it is the prime candidate for light elsewhere in the Universe.

  4. The Greater Gret Barrier Reef

    Scientists have known about the existence of geological structures in the Great Barrier Reef since the 1970s and 80s, but the true nature remained elusive until recently.

    High-resolution seafloor data was provided by an LiDAR-equipped aircraft which has allowed for over 6,000 square kilometres of reef to be mapped, this is three times larger than what was expected.

    The new data has revealed unusual donut-shaped mounds spanning as much as 300 meters across and as much as 10 metres deep.