Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Science news: Of mice and moons
And now for some nice news.

First, mice sing, and not just in the movies.
Male mice serenade females with ultrasonic love songs, a U.S. study had found.

Birds, insects and frogs commonly sing during courtship but until now, the only mammals known to croon have been people, bats and cetaceans such as whales and dolphins.

Scientists realized decades ago that male mice emit squeaks too high-pitched for humans to hear when they encounter female mice or their urine. However, the cries could have been random.

When a team from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., analysed the vocalizations, they found that male mice were actually repeatedly producing a series of differently-pitched "chirp-like" syllables – similar to bird songs.


Each of the mice sang a unique tune, said the scientists, who published details of their study on Nov. 1 in the scientific journal Public Library of Science Biology.

Four octaves above the range of our hearing, the world is filled with the hopeful love songs of mice. Meanwhile, forty astronomical units away and slightly to the left, Pluto has two more moons than we knew.
The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted two possible new moons around Pluto, the ninth planet in the Solar System.
If confirmed, it would bring Pluto's tally of satellites to three; Charon, the only known moon of Pluto, was discovered by astronomers in 1978.

Confirmation of two new moons would shed light on the evolution of the Kuiper Belt, the vast region containing icy objects beyond Neptune's orbit.

All the candidate moons seem to orbit Pluto in an anti-clockwise direction.

The candidate moons, given the provisional names S/2005 P1 and S/2005 P2, are between 45 and 160km (30 and 100 miles). By comparison, Charon's diameter is about 1,200 km.

Observations suggest they orbit Pluto at at least twice the distance Charon does. P2 stays about 49,000km from the planet, P1 lies even further away at 65,000km.

The headline writer at the New York Times has suggested mickey and Minnie as names for Pluto's newly noticed companions. That would fit in nicely with the singing mice announcement coming in the same week, but I suspect the International Astronomical Union will go with something more classical, say Persephone and Cerberus.

There is no political or social significance in either story. They are just cool.

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