We can now safely assume that planets are not unusual, since the first definitive detection in the 1990s numbers have risen steadily to about 2000. However we have yet to find a way of detecting if life exists on them. Finding water, carbon dioxide or methane would indicate the presence of extra-terrestrial life. Professor Jonathan Tennyson from the department of Physics and Astronomy at University College London explains how his team have developed a way of detecting methane in a planet’s atmosphere.
The Gaia telescope, launched last year, will lose some performance because stray light is getting inside. But the impacts are likely to be very small, scientists from the European Space Agency say. Most of the unwanted light appears to be creeping around the giant shield Gaia uses to shade itself from the Sun. The "light pollution" could make it harder for the observatory to see the very faintest stars. BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos updates us on the situation.
The growing field of quantum physics has some grand promises, from advanced computers, better communications and ultra-efficient heat transport systems. But researchers are still working to understand some of the basic rules of this often bizarre world. One feature that is known is that individual particles can sometimes pass through barriers that should be impenetrable – this is known as quantum tunnelling and is seen in stars – where protons and neutrons can tunnel out of the nucleus of an atom in radioactive decay, and here on Earth is used to create images in scanning tunnelling microscopes. Now for the first time scientists at the University of Innsbruck in Austria have seen particles move across a series of barriers, by interacting with other particles which appear to help them move along. Professor Hanns-Christoph Nägerl explains more.
Water in Iraq
As ISIS continues its march towards Baghdad, there are claims that the gains they are making are not just military, but also environmental. Much of the country is dependent on the rivers Tigris and Euphrates for water, both of which start their flow in areas controlled by the militants. The UN declared water a "weapon of war" just last month - could we see it being used that way in Iraq with either supplies limited, dams destroyed, or areas deliberately flooded? Dr. Mark Zeitoun from the School of International Development, and Water Security Research Centre, at the University of East Anglia in the UK, and Dr. Kaveh Madani, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London join us on the programme.
According to the World Food Programme, 842 million people in the world do not have enough to eat. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of hunger and starvation – almost a quarter of the entire population. We’re following up on research that we reported on just over a year ago here on Science in Action, that a devastating crop disease is threatening cassava, which feeds some 300 million people across the continent. Scientists warned us that the potato-like crop is facing a double whammy from the Cassava Mosaic Virus and Cassava Brown Streak Disease. Now, the 5CP Project is starting a 3 year effort that aims to deploy new, virus free, resistant varieties. It will be implemented in Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique, and the aim is to provide farmers with clean planting material and diverse cassava varieties that combine resistance to the two diseases. Sophie Mbuguah reports on how the project is going.
Image: Is there methane on this planet? Credit: ESA (European Space Agency)
Presenter: Jack Stewart
Producer: Ania Lichtarowicz