Short Science, November 16, 2014

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 November, 2014, 6:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 November, 2014, 6:05am

Space station dodges satellite debris

The International Space Station is out of harm's way after flying higher to avoid space junk. Flight controllers raised the space station's orbit by 1.6km on Wednesday because a small piece of debris from an old Chinese satellite was going to come dangerously close. Without the manoeuvre, the two objects would have come within a kilometre later in the morning, too close for Nasa's comfort. The three station astronauts were informed of the situation, and the US space agency says they were never in danger. A manoeuvre had been planned anyway in preparation for the launch of three more astronauts on November 23 from Kazakhstan, but will now not be needed. AP


Iran denies nuclear scientist killed in Syria

Iran has denied a report that one of its nuclear scientists was killed in an ambush near the capital of its war-torn ally Syria. "There are no Iranian nuclear scientists in Syria," said Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Ghashghavi, quoted by state news agency IRNA. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said five nuclear engineers, including an Iranian, were killed on Sunday as unknown assailants attacked their bus just north of Damascus, near the research centre where they worked. Iran backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has since March 2011 faced an armed revolt. AFP


Microbiome research 'may be tainted'

New DNA sequencing technologies have greatly expanded knowledge of the human microbiome - the teeming world of microorganisms that inhabit our bodies - yet a team of researchers now argues that many studies may be flawed because of contamination. In a paper in the journal BMC Biology, researchers suggested that bacteria living on human skin, in the soil or in water have erroneously turned up in many microbiome studies. "This can critically impact study results, and we're now advising caution to researchers studying microbiota," said a statement from Alan Walker, a microbiologist who led the study. Problems, according to the researchers, are more likely to crop up in samples where relatively few foreign microbes exist, such as in blood or the lungs. Contamination was much less likely to be a problem in samples where large numbers of microbes exist, such as in faeces, researchers said. MCT