Research News: December/January

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KCW Today’s monthly run down of the most exciting, shocking and bizarre science, technology and health research news from the UK and across the globe.

Historical, astronomical and biblical records suggest that the star of Bethlehem that led the three kings to baby Jesus in his manger may not have been a star at all, but was, in fact, an extremely rare planetary alignment occurring in 6 B.C., the likes of which may never be seen again. University of Notre Dame

Evidence in a chunk of bedrock drilled from nearly two miles below the summit of the Greenland ice sheet suggests that the sheet nearly disappeared for an extended time in the last million years or so. The finding casts doubt on assumptions that Greenland has been relatively stable during the recent geological past, and implies that global warming could tip it into decline more precipitously than previously thought. Nature

Evolutionary changes to insulin regulation in two of Australia’s most iconic native animal species, the platypus and the echidna, could pave the way for new treatments for type 2 diabetes in humans. The findings reveal that the insulin produced in the gut of the platypus to regulate blood glucose is also, surprisingly, produced in their venom. Scientific Reports

The Great Barrier Reef of Australia has suffered the worst bleaching on record this year. In the reef’s worst-hit Northern section, 67 percent of the corals died, 6 percent of the central section perished and the Southern reef continues to be in good health. Bleaching is caused by the sustained rise of water temperature and, with 2016 as the hottest year on record and 2017 tipped to be another scorcher, scientists have warned that recovery could be difficult if climate change continues. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Solar-panel roads are to be built on four continents in 2017. To resist the weight of traffic, several types of plastics are layered to create a clear and durable casing. The electrical wiring is embedded in the road and the contraption is topped by an anti-slip surface made from crushed glass. The 2,800 square meters of solar panels are expected to generate 280 kilowatts at peak, with the installation generating enough to power all the public lighting in a town of 5,000 for a year. Wattway

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