Helix @ CSIRO

26 August 2016
by David

Venus’ cool past

A picture of a planet with clouds and oceans.

450 million years ago, Venus may have been habitable
Image: NASA

In some ways, Venus is Earth’s twin – it’s the closest planet to Earth, and it’s almost exactly the same size. But poor Venus flies too close to the Sun. Brighter sunlight and a runaway greenhouse effect makes Venus unbearably hot, with temperatures averaging more than 450 degrees Celsius. But recent climate simulations suggest that Venus wasn’t always a terrifying hellscape. About 750 million years ago, it might have been just as mild and pleasant as Earth!

So how do we know what Venus’ weather was like? Scientists have developed complex computer programs to simulate the Earth’s atmosphere. These models are very useful in forecasting the weather, and also for predicting climate change. Recently, a team of NASA scientists adapted one of these models to look at the weather systems on Venus. Continue Reading →

18 August 2016
by David

Tie your shoelaces properly

For many of us, tying shoelaces is something we learned long ago. And yet, a surprising number of people do their shoelaces incorrectly! So how can you tell, and how do you fix it? Read on to find out!


You will need

  • Shoes with laces
A shoe with red and yellow laces and a wonky bow.

Are your shoelaces wonky like this?

Diagnosing the problem

  1. Tie your shoelaces in a bow.
  2. Look at your bow – do the loops go straight out to the sides and does the middle loop run down your foot? Or is everything on a slant?
  3. If it’s straight, you’re good! You know how to tie your shoelaces properly.
  4. If it’s diagonal, there’s a better way. Don’t worry, it’s not hard to fix!

Continue Reading →

11 August 2016
by David

Toilets up to standard

A toilet surrounded by scientific equipment.

A lab focused on the humble toilet

Not all scientists are smashing particles, discovering new chemicals or exploring exotic environments. Some scientists strive to keep things working in your home. It takes a lot of science to test everyday objects, such as toilets, to make sure they work the way they should.

It starts when a group of people, including scientists and manufacturers, come together to write a standard. For example, “Without standards, you’re never going to be able to go to the toilet,” says Stephen Smith, a CSIRO scientist. “It’s going to leak and flood.” Continue Reading →

29 July 2016
by David

Five reasons why insects are like Pokémon

Three images - one of a caterpillar, one of a pupa and one of a butterfly.

Can you guess which Pokémon was based on a butterfly?
Image: Wikimedia commons/Lepidlizard, Ross Kendall-Butterfly Encounters, Willem van Aken

If you’re a Pokémon fan, then you’re probably obsessed with collecting every species. But did you know that Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri got his inspiration from insects? Here are some reasons why entomology (the study of insects) is like playing Pokémon in real life.

5.       Transformation occurs in Pokémon and insects

Some Pokémon and insects undergo metamorphosis. These stages usually include egg, larva, pupa and adult. Continue Reading →

15 June 2016
by David

Gravity makes the Earth age slowly

The Earth, sitting on a distorted grid that represents the gravitational field.

Earth’s mass bends space-time.
Image: NASA

It’s a science fiction horror story – a young astronaut takes a year-long mission closely orbiting a black hole. When he returns home, thousands of years have passed and everyone he has ever known has been dead for centuries. Is there a hint of truth to this terrifying tale?

This imaginary astronaut’s story is a prediction from Einstein’s theories of relativity. Einstein proposed that the speed of all light is the same, no matter where you are standing, and no matter how fast you’re moving. That means space can shrink and stretch, and the steady tick of time isn’t so steady after all. Continue Reading →

8 June 2016
by David

Fold an ancient Chinese dice

You will need

Someone is cutting out a complicated shape.

Cut out the net

What to do

  1. Cut out the shape – known as the net – along the outermost lines.
  2. Fold and then unfold along each of the lines on the net. They all fold in the same direction, so you don’t need to turn the paper over. Continue Reading →

5 June 2016
by David

Hard work creates simple life

a collection of small round shapes, clumped together.

Scanning electron micrograph of a cluster of Syn 3.0.
Credit: Tom Deerinck and Mark Ellisman of the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at the University of California at San Diego.

It takes a lot of information to make a human. It’s kept in our cells as DNA, which contains at least 20 000 genes. Some other forms of life can get by with much less DNA and fewer genes. Now one team of scientists think they’re close to making the simplest living thing possible.

The team used a bacterium known as Mycoplasma mycoides, which has a very small set of DNA. The team looked at all the genes in the bacterium and tried to work out which ones were most important. Continue Reading →