Science news quicks – December 3, 2011

Quick recaps of some of this week’s science news from EarthSky

Individuals with synesthesia associate numbers with colors, or flavors with certain shapes. In a November 22 article in the online journal PLoS Biology, resesarchers asked why the gene for synesthesia survives among humans. They say synesthesia is seven times more common in artists, poets and novelists than in the rest of the population. They suggest the gene might have survived to let some individuals to link seemingly unrelated ideas – like numbers with colors – as part of their overall creativity. More

UC Berkeley researchers have found out that it’s true – it will all seem better in the morning. They found that during the dream phase of sleep, also known as REM sleep, our stress chemistry shuts down. The findings – published on November 23 in the journal Current Biology – offer a compelling explanation for why we dream. More

Using computed tomography – or CT – imaging and advanced manufacturing techniques, experts have created a reproduction of a 1704 Stradivarius violin. Radiologists in Minnesota worked with professional violin makers over the course of two years, culling data from over 1,000 scans of the original violin. They explained how they did it on November 28 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. More

Gestures like pointing and holding up objects had been observed only in humans and great apes. But, new evidence says that ravens also gestures to communicate. A team of European researchers investigated the non-vocal behavior of members of a wild raven community in Austria. They observed that ravens use their beaks in a similar way to the way we use our hands to show and offer objects such as moss, stones and twigs. This, according to a study that appeared in the journal Nature Communications on November 29. More

NASA called an official end to its Nanosail-D mission on November 29. Nanosail-D – a satellite- reentered Earth’s atmosphere on September 17. This was after carrying NASA’s first-ever solar sail in low-Earth orbit for 240 days. Researchers say the reentry of the satellite was controlled – it burned up when it entered Earth’s atmosphere. That could pave the way for safe reentry of decommissioned satellites and space debris, in the future. More

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