black bats against the full Moon
Looking for a thriller of a Halloween? Morehead’s got you covered.

On Thursday, catch the newest Chapel Hill Halloween tradition — “Scare-o-lina Skies,” Morehead’s Halloween take on the classic “Carolina Skies” planetarium show. Explore the hidden stories of mayhem, murder and madness in the constellations! Regular ticket prices apply, just $6 for adults, with shows at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2009.

And now Morehead’s added “Scare-o-lina Skies: Family Edition” so you can bring your school-age kids to join the fun. Catch the family-friendly version on Sunday, Nov. 1, at 3:30 p.m. Kids’ tickets are just $5.

How about the one-of-a-kind “Laser Halloween” experience that combines Halloween-themed music with an amazing light show? It’s perfect for the family, and you can only catch “Laser Halloween” on Halloween Day itself, Oct. 31. Treat yourself to “Laser Halloween” at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. (These replace the regular planetarium shows on the schedule, just for this one day.) Laser shows are premium shows, so special ticket prices apply: $9.50 for adults, $7.50 for students and Morehead members. Sorry, no coupons or passes for premium shows.

Of course, Halloween is a major event on Franklin Street, when monsters and maniacs take over downtown! Morehead closes at 2:30 p.m. on Halloween Day. The university parking lot adjacent to Morehead closes at 3 p.m. and becomes a staging area for public safety vehicles throughout the evening, so if you visit Morehead for “Laser Halloween,” be sure to move your car by 3 p.m.

Karen is taking suggestions for an appropriate Halloween costume.

Agression

Could estrogen - the female sex hormone - cause aggression and territoriality in males?

What makes a male behave like a male? Many answers may come to mind – societal expectations, culture and environment, and hormones, to name a few. Hardly anyone would guess that estrogen – the female sex hormone – plays a role in male behavior. Yet this is precisely what a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have discovered: estrogen, rather than testosterone, plays a vital role in “masculinizing” the developing brain shortly after birth. Their research appears in the newest issue of Cell.

Shortly after birth, male gonads release a surge of testosterone into the bloodstream. The UCSF research team discovered that the male brain contains a number of neurons equipped with an enzyme called aromatase, which converts the testosterone into estrogen. Once exposed to estrogen, these neurons establish a particular circuitry that is unique to the male brain and is thought to account for stereotypically male behaviors such as aggression and territoriality.

This theory is strengthened by the fact that female mice who were exposed to estrogen shortly after birth become “tomboys,” exhibiting the same aggressiveness and territory-marking behavior as normal male mice. You might reasonably wonder, if estrogen is the female hormone, why don’t all girls end up acting like boys? It turns out that ovaries typically do not secrete any hormone this early in life, which allows the brain to establish female brain circuitry.

Brain development is an extraordinarily complex subject with many unanswered questions. If you would like to learn more about this topic, come to Morehead Planetarium and Science Center to see the Science 360 presentation “The Developing Brain.”

Casey Rawson is the Science Content Developer for Science 360.

youtube-logoMorehead now has YouTube and Vimeo channels. Check them out here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/moreheadplanetarium

http://vimeo.com/channels/morehead

Right now we’ve got the trailer for our first planetarium show, Earth, Moon and Sun, as well as videos from our Science 360 series that talk about current science topics from stem cells to genetic engineering. Just hit the subscribe button at the top of each page and you’ll be alerted when we put new video content up on the site. Keep an eye out for a couple new Science 360s in the next few months as well as a sneak peak at our next planetarium show.

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.

LHC

Two scientists think that the LHC may be doomed by time-traveling particles. Image from CERN.

In the history of science, there have been more than a few bizarre, wacky, or unintentionally hilarious theories and studies (a few recent examples: one research team found that herring communicate via underwater flatulence; French physicists explored the profound mystery of why spaghetti does not break in half; and a Spanish research team recently investigated the “ultrasonic velocity of cheddar cheese”). But few theories are as strange as that recently set forth by two theoretical physicists regarding the planned restarting of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in December. Holger Bech Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya postulate that the LHC, which scientists hope will answer some of physics’ most basic mysteries, may be doomed to disaster – by time-traveling particles produced by the LHC itself.

One of the major goals of scientists at the LHC is to find the elusive “Higgs boson” – a hypothetical particle which physicists believe may be responsible for giving all other particles mass. Nielsen and Ninomiya postulate that the Higgs boson may in fact be so abhorrent to nature that if it were created in the LHC, it would cause a ripple in time such that the collider would be rendered unusable before making the particle – sort of like a person traveling in time and killing his mother before she gives birth to him. They argue that in fact this may have already happened – twice. Last fall, the LHC had to shut down following a major mechanical malfunction that occurred just days after its first-ever run. And in 1993, production on the United States Superconducting Supercollider, which was also intended to find the Higgs, was abruptly cancelled after billions of dollars had already been spent on its development.

If this all sounds to you like something out of the Twilight Zone, you’re not alone – Nielson and Ninomiya’s research is already being criticized. Meanwhile, plans proceed for the LHC to come back online later this fall. If you’re interested in finding out more about the LHC and the research that will be done there, mark your calendars for MPSC’s next Current Science Forum, “Restarting the Big Bang Machine,” where Dr. Reyco Henning will be discussing the LHC and what its operation could mean for science. The forum will be held Thursday, November 5 at 7:00 pm.

Casey Rawson is the Science Content Developer for Science 360.

math imageThere’s something for you and every member of your family at Saturday’s Family Math Game Fest.  Become a life-size game piece on a chess board.  Compete in the triMATHlon.  Construct a house of cards.  Catch a special showing of Flatland.  Investigate lasers.  Build a network.  Simulate the spread of a virus.  Find math in nature…  Doesn’t this sound like fun?

There will many, many activities that will inspire you to think about math – and the connections between math and science – in new ways.

This free event will be held from 11am-3pm.  We’ll have activities for all ages throughout the building.

A special thanks to Chris, Becca, Emily and the UNC Math Club and UNC Women in Mathematics members for supporting this event.

Please join us!

Denise

Denise Young is Morehead’s director of education and planning. She's been training for the triMATHlon for weeks - so watch out!

Light Pollution

Light pollution can drastically affect the number of stars visible in the night sky. Click on the picture to enlarge. Picture from http://stellarium.org.

Step outside the average suburban home at night, and you’re likely to see the fluorescent glow of streetlights, soft yellow light streaming from the windows of homes, and security floodlighting. One thing you may not be able to see is the night sky. The light sources around us at night can scatter photons upwards into our atmosphere, creating light pollution that blocks our view of the stars – particularly those stars that are smaller, farther away from Earth, or dimmer. For many urban and suburban dwellers, the only Milky Way they’ll ever see comes in a brown candy wrapper.

Astronomers try to monitor levels of light pollution, because it has serious consequences for scientists’ ability to study our universe (Earth-bound telescopes, just like our eyes, are hampered by light pollution). Astronomers can’t be everywhere in the world, though, so to effectively keep tabs on levels of light pollution around the world, they need the help of ordinary citizens.

From October 9th through the 23rd, you can participate in the Great World Wide Star Count along with thousands of other amateur observers around the world. The idea is simple – everyone will observe the same constellation (if you’re in the Northern hemisphere, you will observe Cygnus) and count the number of stars that are visible. Then, observers will post their results online, where they can also view the project’s results. To participate, simply visit the Star Count website and download an activity guide.

If you are interested in learning more about the relationship between light and astronomy, look for the Science 360 show “Bring the Universe to Light,” coming back on the schedule at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center later this fall.

Casey Rawson is the Science Content Developer for Science 360.

MESSENGER took this image of Mercury on September 29, 2009, during its third flyby.  This image shows portions of the planet’s surface never seen before by spacecraft.  (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

MESSENGER took this image of Mercury on September 29, 2009, during its third flyby. This image shows portions of the planet’s surface never seen before by spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

Early tomorrow morning (Thursday, October 8th) will be a good time to spot a rarely seen planet—Mercury.

About 45 minutes before sunrise, look for Mercury low in the east and hanging out just a smidgen below and to the right of Saturn. You’ll need an unobstructed horizon because even at its best placement in the sky, Mercury never appears far from the Sun.

Mercury is not only rarely seen by humans, it hasn’t been seen much by our spacecraft either.  NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, which recently flew by the planet, is only the second to visit Mercury, and in March 2011, it will be the first to orbit it. Mercury’s first visitor, Mariner 10, flew by the planet in 1974-75.

The scientific goals of the MESSENGER mission include answering questions such as why is Mercury so dense and what is its geological history and the nature of its magnetic field. You can learn more about this mission at NASA’s MESSENGER Web site.

Amy Sayle is Morehead's Science 360 project manager. She's considering setting her alarm clock for 6:30 a.m. to see Mercury.

Friday, Nov. 20

Friday, Nov. 20

I can’t believe it’s already October. That means Jupiter Ball,  Morehead’s annual black-tie gala fundraiser, is coming up fast. Invitations are set to go out next week. Also by next week, you’ll be able to download an invitation or reserve your tickets online. I’d better check to see if I can still fit in my tux!

Also this year the Jupiter Committee, a wonderful group of volunteers who pull the event together, came up with another great idea, an online auction. The idea is fairly simple: an online auction has the potential to reach a lot more people than the ball itself — which usually ends up with around 300 guests each year. They’ve got a lot of really awesome items in the online auction. My personal favorite is the basketball signed by the members of the 2009 NCAA championship team. Just a guess — that’ll go for more than I can afford. The online auction preview starts tomorrow, Oct. 2. Bidding starts Oct. 10. Check it out.

Jeff Hill is Morehead's director of external relations

It is officially autumn, and here in North Carolina that means fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, squash, and, of course, pumpkins will be on display at farmers’ markets across the state. All of these fall treats, along with nearly all the other fruits and vegetables we eat, come from flowering plants.

Luckily for those of us who enjoy fresh produce, flowering plants are some of the most evolutionarily successful organisms on Earth – but their success does not come from luck. Instead, flowering plants have developed survival mechanisms that are almost as varied as their beautiful blossoms: from the color, size, and shape of their petals to their scents or pollen size, these plants are carefully designed to maximize their reproductive success through pollination.

Hornet

This rare orchid produces a chemical that mimics a distressed honeybee. Picture from UK Daily Mail.

Scientists in Germany have recently discovered that one flowering plant – a particular type of orchid – is trickier than most when it comes to ensuring its pollination. Scientists noticed that hornets displayed strange behavior around this flower – they would pounce on the center of the blossoms, as if attacking them. The researchers knew that the hornets typically prey on honeybees, and they discovered that the orchid actually produces the same pheromone released by honeybees as a distress call. The hornets pick up the scent and attack the flower expecting a juicy snack; instead, they unwittingly spread the orchid’s pollen!

This orchid is only one example of the diverse and creative world of flowering plants. To learn more about these incredible organisms, you can attend the Science 360 program “Flower Power,” where MPSC educators will share much more about the flowering plants around you.

Casey Rawson is the Science Content Developer for Science 360.


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