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Minds and Matters: Research at Penn State Looks at Ultra-Cool Stars and Rampaging Squirrels

by on June 30, 2012 8:28 AM

Penn State researchers are leading the way in the discovery of ultra-cool stars.

And this story has nothing to do with finding the next American Idol or whipping up a new ice cream flavor at the Creamery.

Alex Wolszczan, Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State, led a team of astronomers who discovered a star that is cold enough to shatter the previous record for lowest stellar temperature. The team used the huge (1,000-foot) radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico to detect what astronomers call a brown dwarf.

A brown dwarf is a small star that has a temperature that ranges between Jupiter-like planets and stars. In fact, the temperature on the star the astronomers discovered is only about five times hotter than Jupiter.

Don't expect any personal interviews with this record-breaking celestial celebrity, though. The star, which the team gave the catchy name, J1047+21, is about 33.6 light years away in the constellation Leo.

Read more.

Here are a few more examples of research happening at Penn State:

Skulls May Offer Hints on How Extinct Species Moved

How would we find out how an extinct animal moved?

Feet? Footprints? Legs?

Maybe… if we could find them after a few million years.

How about the shape of the animal's inner ears?

Timothy Ryan, assistant professor of anthropology, geosciences and information sciences and technology and an international team of researchers are using CT scans of fossilized primate skulls or skull fragments from both the Old and New Worlds to help them understand how these extinct animals moved, especially for those species without any known remains. The team looked at parts of the inner ear in fossil remains and compared them to CT scans of living primate species.

The results were surprising.

Read more.

Infant Death Rates May Signal Need for More Doctors

Infant death rates in Appalachia may signal a need for more doctors in the cash-strapped region of the nation. Penn State health policy researchers report that death rates for infants remain significantly higher than much of the rest of the country, and are especially high in the central Appalachian region.

The availability of physicians in rural areas is low, which may contribute to the higher number of infant deaths.

Read more.

Oh, Those Nutty Neighbors!

Ah, squirrels.

They're such loveable, furry, cute creatures--except when they manage to chew into your house and raise royal havoc in your once peaceful abode. Penn State science and research information officer Tori Indivero wrote on the Penn State Research Matters blog that she was the target of a home invasion by one crafty rodent. Turns out, it's quite common for squirrels to create a drey -- a bowl- or ball-shaped nest -- in empty areas. Seeing a squirrel curled up in an afghan on your sofa when you come back from a little vacation may be disconcerting, but it's not necessarily dangerous, according to a Carolyn Mahan, a professor of biology at Penn State Altoona.

Read more.

Interested in finding out more about the research? Friend us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or check out our blog, Penn State Research Matters.

Matt is a Research and Technology Information Officer at Penn State. He also is a Public Relations Manager and Adjunct Journalism Instructor at the university.
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