News Scan Briefs; May 2006; Scientific American Magazine; by JR Minkel, Charles Q. Choi; 2 Page(s)
Lifting the ban on cell phones during flights, a change being considered by the Federal Communications Commission, may be a bad idea: portable electronics can potentially interfere with GPS navigation, which has been increasingly used during landings. Carnegie Mellon University researchers stowed, with permission, a wireless frequency spectrum analyzer onboard 37 commercial flights in the eastern U.S. They found that passengers made one to four cell phone calls per flight. Moreover, the group discovered that other onboard sources (possibly DVD players, gaming devices or laptops) emitted in the GPS frequency, consistent with anonymous safety reports that these devices have interrupted the function of navigation systems. "There's enough to leave you feeling queasy about opening the floodgates to lots of other radiating sources," says M. Granger Morgan, co-author of a report published in the March IEEE Spectrum. If the ban were lifted, portable electronics would still have to comply with airline regulations that prohibit cockpit interference.
Millions of Mormon crickets swarm across western North America--not to devour crops, as do the more familiar locust hordes, but apparently to flee from one another. An international team studying a one-kilometer-long swarm in Idaho last year found that the flightless crickets were avid cannibals. When the scientists left food out for the insects, they clearly preferred meals high in protein and salt, nutrients the crickets are themselves rich in. Impairing cricket mobility (by gluing them to rocks) substantially increased the risk of cannibalization, suggesting that the insects swarm to escape death from behind. Although these forced marches are obviously dangerous for the crickets, apparently traveling alone is even more so, often quickly leading to death from predation. These findings, published online March 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, could elucidate why locusts and other insects swarm.