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Weekly: Do sperm whales have an alphabet?; Why dark energy is so weird; US bird flu outbreak

10 May 2024

About this episode

#249

Do whales have their own alphabet? We’ve long thought the clicking sounds that sperm whales make is their way of chatting to each other, but those clicks may be even more sophisticated than we realised. After analysing whale recordings, researchers suggest the different click patterns are complex enough to form an alphabet – the closest thing to human communication we’ve yet seen in animals. 

We know very little about dark energy – and it turns out we may know even less than we thought. This mysterious force, which accelerates the expansion of the universe, may be changing in an unexpected way, calling our entire understanding of cosmology into question. This discovery by the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument in Arizona could make room for some exciting new physics.

There’s a bird flu outbreak in the US, spreading through herds of dairy cows in nine states. One dairy worker in Texas has even tested positive, though has also recovered. Underreporting and insufficient testing mean we know very little about how fast the virus is spreading. And as officials warn against drinking raw milk, how worried should we be? 

Quantum batteries, while mostly still theoretical, could make charging your phone or electric car unimaginably fast. Researchers are looking at the quickest way to charge these batteries, harnessing the advantages of quantumness – like charging in two different places at once. 

Plus: Which breeds of cats live the longest; good climate news as renewable energy crowds out gas and coal; why reaching out to long-lost-friends is so hard.

Hosts Christie Taylor and Timothy Revell discuss with guests Clare Wilson, Molly Glick, Grace Wade and Leah Crane. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.

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