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After reading the science headlines this week, we have A LOT of questions. Why did the Virgin Islands declare a state of emergency over a large blob of floating algae? What can a far-off asteroid tell us about the origins of life? Is the ever-popular bee waggle dance not just for directions to the hive but a map?
Luckily, it’s the job of the Short Waves team to decipher the science behind the day’s news. This week, co-host Aaron Scott, Scientist in Residence Regina G. Barber and science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel are on the case. Buckle up as we journey beyond the headlines and sail out to sea, blast off to space and then find our way home with the help of some dancing bees!
Algae bloom threats
If you are visiting a beach lately, you may be seeing and smelling something a little bit different. A giant floating mat of the algae, known as the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, begins in West Africa and stretches across the Atlantic before swirling into the Gulf of Mexico. The large blob of plant matter has continued to grow every year — and can even be seen from space. The blob of plant matter is both destructive since it smothers coral reefs and marinas, and, once ashore, releases ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotting eggs and can cause respiratory problems.
Read more reporting on this topic from our colleague Emily Olson.
Asteroids and the origins of life
In 2019, a spacecraft named Hayabusa 2 landed on a diamond-shaped asteroid near Earth called Ryugu. Researchers began studying samples of the asteroid and announced earlier this year that they found a bunch of organic molecules. The latest molecule found was uracil, a nucleobase of RNA. One of those researchers Yasuhiro Oba at Hokkaido University, told Geoff via email that this is the first time they have detected a nucleobase in a sample from a rock that isn’t from Earth. Some believe the building blocks of life came from asteroids like Ryugu. This discovery could lead us closer to understanding how life began on Earth.
Bees dancing out maps
If you know anything about bees, you may have heard of the waggle dance, which is how honeybees communicate to find pollen or nectar and return to the hive. Recently, a new study shared that this waggle dance may be more complex. A team of researchers from Germany, China and the United States tagged the bees that witnessed the dance and released them at different locations hundreds of meters from the hive – and pointed in different directions than the hive. They found that most of the tagged bees got to the food source from the dance. So rather than just directions from the hive, the waggle seems to be more of a map of their surroundings.
Have suggestions for what we should cover in our next news roundup? Email us at [email protected].
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This episode was produced by Liz Metzger and edited by Rebecca Ramirez. Anil Oza checked the facts, and the audio engineer was Stu Rushfield.