Feeds

Space butterflies invade ISS

…and they're hungry

High performance access to file storage

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are now hopelessly outnumbered by orbital butterflies as part of a student education project dubbed, "Butterflies in Space."

Four Painted Lady butterflies emerged this week from chrysalises floating freely in a suitcase-sized container on the ISS, after blasting off in space shuttle Atlantis in late November as six-day-old larvae. Although butterflies have pupated in the orbiting outpost before, this is the first time the insects have spent so much of their lifecycle in microgravity.

NASA said the test will be instructive to how the butterflies function living in a near zero-G environment for most of their lives, and whether aspects of their nervous system and physiology will adjust to the adverse conditions.

Down on Earth, thousands of students across the United States are following along with the project by watching video streams and pictures of the "butterflynauts" as they develop - and in some cases raising Earthbound examples of the species in their classrooms.

The experiment is a partnership of the National Biomedical Research Institute, the University of Colorado's BioServe Space Technologies, and Baylor College of Medicine. The latter has drawn up a free teacher's guide for the project, available here.

Dr. Nancy Moreno, senior associate director of Baylor College of Medicine's Center for Education Outreach told El Reg that the space-faring Painted Ladies are looking healthy and have properly inflated their wings - although thus far they've been holding on to the container's walls rather than attempting to float about.

She explains that the special container is designed to take a snapshot of the butterflies automatically every 15 minutes. Fortunately for the ISS crew that's shorthanded most of this month, the container requires a minimal amount of attention. The slots on the lefthand side of the box contain all the artificial yellow paste a growing larvae would ever want to eat. And after the four larvae pupated, astronaut Bob Thirsk simply placed a sugar water feeder inside the container - which is visible as the red and yellow circle on the righthand side.

The gunk inside, by the way, is larvae poop. Lots and lots of larvae poop.

Moreno said an adult Painted Lady butterfly can be expected to live about two to four weeks in a similar environment on Earth, which is longer than it would on average out in the wild. With the relatively short lifecycle of the species, there may even be a second generation of Painted Lady butterflies if all goes well.

"It's really a wonderful technical success as well as incredibly exciting for all the students following the experiments," Moreno said. "Very rarely do we have an opportunity in science education that's this exciting for kids."

Kids schmids. Grown-ups can also follow along with the space-butterfly updates here and the latest pictures here. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
IBM Hursley Park: Where Big Blue buries the past, polishes family jewels
How the internet of things has deep roots in the English countryside
Video games make you NASTY AND VIOLENT
Especially if you are bad at them and keep losing
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Honeybee boffin STINGS OWN WEDDING TACKLE... for SCIENCE
Not the worst place to be stung, says one man
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.