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Play now 28 mins

11/02/2011

Duration:
28 minutes
First broadcast:
Friday 11 February 2011

Funding future space missions

The biggest decision European space scientists have faced in almost two decades is which big missions they can afford to fund. They have to choose a project that will do something extraordinary, both scientifically and technologically. The European Space Agency has just announced the final three missions, which will be considered for joint funding with other space agencies such as NASA.

Lucy's foot bones
Walking on two legs – bipedality - is considered a turning point in human evolution. It has long been debated when our ancestors switched from mainly swinging around in the trees to mostly walking upright, on two feet, on the ground. Most experts have agreed that it was not a sudden evolutionary adaptation, but rather a long slow progression from tree-dwelling to running.

The focus on this debate has centred on the most famous ancient human ancestor 'Lucy'. She was the first Australopithecus afarensis skeleton ever found. And even though her remains are only about 40 percent complete, researchers have been able to work out a lot about how she lived and looked. Now, palaeontologists have described remains from another individual of this species, and this time they have an all important foot bone, which displays a distinctive arched shape, which tells us that our ancient ancestor was well evolved to be able to walk.

How a flea jumps
Over 40 years ago scientists, Miriam Rothschild and Henry Bennet Clark argued about how a flea jumps. They knew that it had a special elastic pad which could store and release the explosive energy the flea needs to jump more than 50 times its length in a matter of milliseconds. But they did not know how the energy was harnessed. Did it come from pressing the 'hip' joint or trocanter on the ground? Or did the energy come from the 'toe' or tarsus pressing down? Now ultra high speed filming techniques, mechanical models and physiological examination has proved once and for all that the energy is harnessed by the flea pressing down its toes.

Information overload
Ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of information that flows at you each day, from the radio, the TV, the internet, newspapers, speech, billboards etc, etc? Well, it is a lot – 295 exabytes of information (an exabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes). This is according to scientists who have calculated all the information in the world, how much is stored everywhere including all the computers, video cassettes, books, in the memory of mobile phones.

  • This image shows the anatomy of a flea showing sections of the leg.

    This image shows the anatomy of a flea showing sections of the leg.

    Credit: Gregory Sutton

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