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NASA's Curiosity shows there's more to life than life

By Kevin Orrman-Rossiter and Helen Maynard-Casely

The Curiosity rover has landed on Mars, driven around, and started reporting integrated science results.

In a news conference at the American Geophysical Union NASA’s Curiosity mission team presented a measured, low-key and hype-free discussion about the first use of Curiosity’s full array of analytical instruments.

What they have found are chlorinated hydrocarbons – simple organic molecules made up of carbon, chlorine and hydrogen, sulphur-containing compounds, and calcium perchlorate.

Just out of Curiosity, did life on Earth come from Mars?

By Jonathan Borwein and David H. Bailey

In an announcement on 3 December 2012, NASA poured cold water on rumours that its Curiosity rover had found life on Mars.

Curiosity found evidence that it had landed on an ancient riverbed, and it identified some interesting chemical species involving chlorine, sulphur, water and organic compounds, but nothing that could be construed as clear-cut evidence for life on Mars, past or present.

All of this underscores Carl Sagan’s caution, reiterated in his final book Billions and Billions, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Alert: you may be living in a simulated universe

By Geraint Lewis

Are our lives real or is the universe just an enormous computer simulation?

As a cosmologist, I often carry around a universe or two in my pocket. Not entire, infinitely large universes, but maybe a few billion light years or so across. Enough to be interesting.

Of course, these are not “real” universes; rather they are universes I have simulated on a computer.

The basic idea of simulating a universe is quite simple. You need “initial conditions” which, for me, is the state of the universe just after the Big Bang.

Caring for Giants of the Deep

By South Australian Museum

The South Australian Museum's marine mammals team will study parts of a minke whale that has washed up at Ceduna on the state's west coast.

Locals spotted the four-metre long whale and contacted the Museum and Environment Department.

Museum zoologist Dr Catherine Kemper says it's the first Minke Whale to wash up on South Australian shores since 1998.

"This will have enormous scientific value. We haven't had a specimen in 14 years and we will be able to determine which species of Minke Whale it is. Our studies help to define whale behaviour and often lead agencies to develop management plans."

Drawing ahead of cancer

By Science in Public

Mark Shackleton has been awarded the Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year.

When he was five, Mark Shackleton’s grandmother asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up. “I am going to cure cancer,” came the confident reply amid raucous family laughter.

Although he’s not there yet, the winner of the 2012 Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year, Dr Mark Shackleton, is already changing the way researchers view, approach and treat cancer.

The physics of a gas-powered world

By Science in Public

Eric May has been awarded the 2012 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.

Fifty years ago, natural gas was usually burnt off because it was too expensive to transport it long distances to customers. Then liquefaction became practical. That made the exploitation of Western Australia’s remote gas reserves possible. The gas can be transported as liquid natural gas (LNG) at 1/600th the volume of the original gas.

Today, Australian LNG is powering the economic transformation of Asia. It’s the cleanest fossil fuel. And Professor Eric May is on a mission to make it cleaner still.

Astronomer Wins PM's Prize

By Science in Public

Ken Freeman's research has made a galactic impact.

In April 2010, an unusual party was held under the clear skies of the Namibian desert. It was an international science conference to celebrate the 70th birthday of Professor Ken Freeman, the Duffield Professor of Astronomy at the Australian National University’s Mt Stromlo Observatory, a man regarded internationally as Australia’s most renowned astronomer.

Historical treasures in a modern pest: the Black Rat story

By Angela Lush

The genome of the Black Rat will provide a clearer picture of its role in spreading disease, and will help policymakers prepare for possible outbreaks in the future.

They scuttle under houses and along fences. Their beady eyes peer out from behind leafy fronds and they often draw screams from the faint-hearted.

Helmets won't cure football's concussion headache

By Caroline Finch and Andrew McIntosh

There is currently no evidence to show that helmets prevent concussion or more serious head injury in sports like AFL and rugby.

We’ve heard a lot about concussion this AFL season, with claims that too many knocks to the head can cause mental illness, calls for more research into the possible link between football concussions and long-term brain injury, the enforcement of mandatory headgear for junior players in s

Two degrees is too much for most coral reefs

By UQ

A modelling study by an international collaboration of scientists has concluded that increasing global temperatures to 2 degrees above pre-industrial global temperatures will be too hot for two-thirds of the world's corals.

The study published in international journal Nature Climate Change reveals that only strong action to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions plus an assumed ability to rapidly evolve will save some coral reefs.

Not taking strong steps to mitigate carbon dioxide, however, is certain to destine most coral reefs to loss by mid to late century.

Coral reefs are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet and provide critical services such as coastal protection, tourism and food to hundreds of millions of people worldwide.