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Research Roundup

19 March 2008

Gecko's tail key to aerial maneuvering, preventing falls

Berkeley biologists report that geckos rely on their tails to keep from falling off vertical surfaces and, if they do fall, to right themselves in midair and maneuver like a skydiver gliding to a safe landing.

The discovery is already helping engineers design better climbing robots and may aid in the design of unmanned gliding vehicles or spacecraft. Perhaps, the researchers say, an "active" tail could help astronauts maneuver in space.

For the full story, visit newscenter.berkeley.edu/goto/gecko08.

Small 'helper' stars needed for massive-star formation

In order for a rare, massive star to form inside an interstellar cloud of gas and dust, small "helper" stars about the size of the sun must first set the stage, according to a new theory proposed by astrophysicists at Berkeley and Princeton.

Massive stars between 10 and 150 times the mass of the sun are few in number but produce the bulk of the heavy elements in a galaxy when they explode in supernovas. Their extreme brightness makes them signposts of star formation in distant galaxies.

Astrophysicist Christopher McKee, professor of physics and astronomy at Berkeley, and Mark Krumholz, a Hubble postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton, have been modeling the formation of these stars for nearly 10 years. In a report published last month in Nature, they argue that early formation of a few low-mass stars in a cloud paves the way for later formation of a stellar big brother instead of fragmentation of the cloud into a hundred smaller clouds, which would produce only low-mass siblings.

For the full story, visit newscenter.berkeley.edu/goto/helperstar.