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UPI NewsTrack Science and Technology News

March 8, 2013 at 6:17 PM   |   Comments

Dolphins may call each other by name

SARASOTA, Fla., March 8 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists studying the clicks, whistles and whines of dolphins talking to each other say the creatures may be calling each other by name.

One dolphin can call to another specific dolphin by mimicking the unique sounds of that other dolphin, they said.

"These whistles actually turned out to be names," researcher Randall Wells told CNN. "They're abstract names, which is unheard of in the animal kingdom beyond people."

Wells, of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program in Florida, worked with U.S. colleagues and scientists from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in a study of what they call "vocal copying" in dolphins.

"Each dolphin produces its own unique signature whistle that describes its individual identity," the researchers said in a University of St. Andrews release. "The new study suggests that in fact dolphins are mimicking those they are close to and want to see again."

Dolphins that were familiar with each other for a significant amount of time would mimic the whistle of another in that group when they were separated, the researchers said.

"The fact that animals are producing whistle copies when they are separated from a close associate supports the idea that dolphins copy another animal's signature whistle when they want to reunite with that specific individual," St. Andrews researcher Stephanie King said in the release.

That ability puts dolphins' communication abilities closer to humans' than any other species, the researchers said.


Space station to watch for Earth disasters

MOSCOW, March 8 (UPI) -- A new crew for the International Space Station will install equipment to monitor Earth's atmosphere and forecast natural disasters, a Russian cosmonaut says.

The crew will lift off from the Baikonur space center March 28 abroad a Soyuz-TMA-08M carrier rocket, ISS-36 Crew Commander Pavel Vinogradov told RIA Novosti Thursday.

The new equipment -- a complex system of sensors and antennas designed to study the plasma/wave processes in the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere -- will be installed on the outer surface of the station's Russian segment during one of the four spacewalks, he said.

It is intended to "eventually benefit mankind by forecasting earthquakes and other natural disasters," Vinogradov said.

A new Russian laboratory module will be docked with the ISS to expand the Russian segment this year, he said, and a research/power module will be added next year.


Budget cuts could hamper nuclear cleanup

HANFORD, Wash., March 8 (UPI) -- Federal spending cuts will slow down the cleanup of radioactive waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said.

The nation's largest environmental cleanup project is being carried out at the site of the largest U.S. plutonium production plant, which produced plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal from World War II until most of its reactors were shut down between 1964 and 1971.

Inslee visited the site in south-central Washington, where six newly leaking tanks of radioactive waste were recently confirmed.

The visit came as federal officials warned of layoffs from budget cuts affecting the Department of Energy.

"I'm very disturbed that at the very month that we have six new leaking tanks of radioactive material, the sequestration hits, which could result in the furlough of several thousand people," Inslee told The New York Times.

As many as 4,800 workers out of Hanford's 9,000-member cleanup work force, mostly employed by private contractors, could face layoffs beginning April 1, Department of Energy officials said.

Of about 56 million gallons' worth of radioactive waste created during Hanford's working lifetime, around 1 million gallons is believed to have leaked over time from storage tanks at the 586-square-mile site, necessitating the giant cleanup effort.

Inslee said the reduction in federal spending will "slow down this process, which we have been waiting decades to get done," and will make the cleanup more expensive for taxpayers in the long run.


Weekend could provide comet viewing

PASADENA, Calif., March 8 (UPI) -- A comet may become visible to the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere starting late Friday and may be brighter in the following days, astronomers say.

The comet dubbed C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS was discovered in June 2011 by the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii when it was hundreds of millions of miles from Earth.

As the comet brightens with the passage of day, next Tuesday and Wednesday could be the best viewing opportunity, astronomers said, and sky watchers should look in a western direction after sunset as the comet will share the sky with a thin crescent moon.

"There is a catch to viewing Comet Pan-STARRS," Amy Mainzer, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement Thursday. "This one is not that bright and is going to be low on the western horizon, so you'll need a relatively unobstructed view to the southwest at twilight and, of course, some good comet-watching weather."

Scientists said they believe the comet is non-periodic, meaning this could be the first time it has passed through the inner solar system.

The head of the comet is estimated to be 12-18 miles in diameter but the gas and dust streaming from the comet as it gets close to the sun could stretch for more 600,000 miles.

Topics: Jay Inslee
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