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Photo by Michael Moore, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Acquired under National Marine Fisheries Service Permit 17355-01 and NOAA Class G flight authorization 2015-ESA-4-NOAA
Photo by Michael Moore, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Acquired under National Marine Fisheries Service Permit 17355-01 and NOAA Class G flight authorization 2015-ESA-4-NOAA

Researchers Fly Drones Through Whale Spouts to Study Their Breath

Photo by Michael Moore, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Acquired under National Marine Fisheries Service Permit 17355-01 and NOAA Class G flight authorization 2015-ESA-4-NOAA
Photo by Michael Moore, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Acquired under National Marine Fisheries Service Permit 17355-01 and NOAA Class G flight authorization 2015-ESA-4-NOAA

Whales are regularly exhaling a lot of valuable data. Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are capturing samples of whales’ breath, using a small, remote-controlled UAV to collect data on the health of endangered whales. 

Though a whale’s spout looks like a stream of water, that’s actually water vapor from the warm breath being expelled from the whale’s lungs. The hexacopter (the same one that shot these gorgeous aerial images of whales) flies through this stream of breath and collects oily droplets that accumulate on the surface of the UAV. Forced down by the downdraft of the UAV, the whale’s snotty breath liquid lands on the whalecopter’s plexiglass dome (seen below). 

Image Credit: Michael Moore, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The samples are small (only a few tenths of a milliliter at most) but the data is valuable. From it, scientists can determine information about the whales’ family history, stress levels, and body fat levels. The microorganisms found within the whale’s respiratory tract can help researchers track diseases and health. Flying just 10 feet above sea level, the initial survey collected 20 breath samples from 16 whales from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. 

That New England stretch of ocean is home to more pollution and traffic from shipping and fishing vessels, and the breath samples will paint a more complete picture of how these factors affect whale health compared to that of whales in more pristine regions of the ocean. 

According to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution marine mammal researcher Michael Moore, initial results from the survey will be available in 2016. 

[h/t: Jennifer Welsh]

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History
When Chuck Yeager Tweeted Details About His Historic, Sound Barrier-Breaking Flight

Seventy years ago today—on October 14, 1947—Charles Elwood Yeager became the first person to travel faster than the speed of sound. The Air Force pilot broke the sound barrier in an experimental X-1 rocket plane (nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis”) over a California dry lake at an altitude of 25,000 feet.

In 2015, the nonagenarian posted a few details on Twitter surrounding the anniversary of the achievement, giving amazing insight into the history-making flight.

For even more on the historic ride, check out the video below.

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Mrs. John Herschel, Wikimedia Commons
8 Stellar Facts About the Most Accomplished Female Astronomer You’ve Never Heard Of
Mrs. John Herschel, Wikimedia Commons
Mrs. John Herschel, Wikimedia Commons

Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) was a German woman who made great contributions to science and astronomy. 

1. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO DISCOVER A COMET.

Herschel spotted the comet (called 35P/Herschel-Rigollet) in December of 1788. Because its orbital period is 155 years, 35P/Herschel-Rigollet will next be visible to humans in the year 2092.

2. SHE INITIALLY WORKED AS A HOUSEKEEPER.

In her early twenties, Herschel moved from Germany to England to be a singer. Her brother William (the astronomer who discovered the planet Uranus and infrared radiation) gave her singing lessons, and she was his housekeeper. She later became his assistant, grinding and polishing the mirrors for his telescopes.

3. BUT SHE LATER TURNED HER REAL PASSION INTO A PAYING GIG.

Herschel was the first female scientist to ever be paid for her work. Starting in 1787, King George III paid her £50 per year to reward her for her scientific discoveries.

4. SHE WAS TECHNICALLY A LITTLE PERSON.

Herschel was only 4 feet 3 inches tall—her growth was stunted due to typhus when she was 10 years old.

5. SHE BROKE BARRIERS, EARNING RESPECT FROM THE HERETOFORE MALE-ONLY SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY.

Herschel was the first woman to receive a Gold Medal from London’s Royal Astronomical Society, in 1828. The second woman to receive one was well over 150 years later, in 1996.

6. SHE CHEATED AT MATH ... KIND OF.

Because Herschel was female and thus wasn’t allowed to learn math as a child, she used a cheat sheet with the multiplication tables on it when she was working.

7. EARTH'S MOON HONORS HER LEGACY.

By NASA / LRO_LROC_TEAM [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A crater on the moon is named in honor of Herschel—it’s called C. Herschel. The small crater is located on the west side of Mare Imbrium, one of the moon's large rocky plains.

8. SHE GARNERED AWARDS WELL INTO HER NINETIES.

For her 96th birthday, Prussian King Frederick William IV authorized that Herschel receive an award: the Gold Medal for Science.

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