Feeds

Space butterflies invade ISS

…and they're hungry

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.