Helix @ CSIRO

For kids who love science

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PLUTO: T-20 Days and Counting

Universe @ CSIRO

Australia’s key role in NASA’s New Horizons mission

Historic Encounter: Artist's concept of the New Horizons spacecraft flying past Pluto and Charon. Image: NASA Historic Encounter: Artist’s concept of the New Horizons spacecraft flying past Pluto and Charon. Image: NASA

After a voyage of 3,443 days and travelling nearly 5 billion kilometres from home, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is now just 20 days away from its historic encounter with the distant world of Pluto.

The science team located at the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas have been dreaming of this moment since plans for the mission were first hatched back in 1989.

Key to the success of this mission are the powerful, yet ultra-sensitive communication dishes at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex – a part of the Deep Space Network (DSN) – one of three NASA tracking stations located in Australia, Spain and USA.

Listening for Whispers: Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex. Listening for Whispers: Canberra…

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Young Aussie scientists on the international stage

News @ CSIRO

And Kevin makes six Our five winners, and Kevin the Kangaroo

Five winners from this year’s BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards, and an inflatable kangaroo called Kevin, were among just eight Australian students competing at the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) – the ‘world cup’ of student science and engineering competitions.

Almost 1700 high school students from 78 countries competed for around $4 million in scholarships and prizes and the Aussies did us proud!

Some of them aren’t yet old enough to drive, but they’re trying to change the world through science, engineering and maths, working on projects so advanced that global research institutes (including CSIRO) are tackling the same issues. It’s not easy to get a spot at this event – almost 7 million high school students from around the world participate in local science contests for a chance to attend the event, held in Pennsylvania this year…

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Happy Halloween! World’s biggest spider

Big hairy spider

Feeling brave? Face a Goliath birdeater tarantula. Image by Bellatrix, CC-BY-SA 2.0

Imagine you’re walking on your own through the forest, late at night, and suddenly stumble across a giant, hairy spider. Frightening thought? Best not to dwell on it too much then. It did happen, though, to an entomologist – and what better day to discuss it than Halloween!

The spider was a Goliath birdeater tarantula, and the lucky entomologist to make the rare sighting was Piotr Naskrecki. He spotted the spider in the deep rainforests of Guyana, South America.

The Goliath birdeater is the largest spider in the world: about the size of a dinner plate. It sports some rather imposing two-inch fangs, but its venom isn’t deadly to humans.

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Kids raid caves in virtual classroom

Check out this excursion in virtual reality! CSIRO has partnered with 3P Learning to allow students to explore the elaborate geology of the Jenolan Caves.

News @ CSIRO

Remember when going on a school excursion meant a trip to the bowling alley? Or, for a really special occasion, perhaps a visit to the local fun park?

Well, things have certainly changed since I was at school.

Today, we’re launching what could be Australia’s biggest (and arguably coolest) school excursion ever. In classrooms around the country, students will set out to explore the spectacular Jenolan caves located in the scenic Blue Mountains.

How will this be possible? They’ll be embarking on their journey in virtual reality. 


To create this digital experience, we teamed up with 3P Learning to combine their latest educational resource, IntoScience, with HD panoramic video and 3D models of the Jenolan Caves scanned using our (ahem, award winning), laser mapping technology, Zebedee.

Using their own avatars, students from years 6 to 9 will be able to delve into the natural wonder of the caves…

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Getting ahead in bread

Scientists are shedding light on bread wheat's genome. Image: © iStock.com/ithinksky

Scientists are shedding light on bread wheat’s genome.
Image: © iStock.com/ithinksky

Wheat is Australia’s main winter crop. Sown in autumn and harvested in spring or summer, it provides us with flour to make our daily bread. We eat wheat as toast with vegemite, or sandwiches for lunch. But wheat is not for everyone, as eating it can cause trouble for some people, such as those with coeliac disease.

Songs and hymns have been sung for bread, yet even today it has its mysteries. Like all living things, it contains a genome – the collection of its genetic material, such as DNA. Scientists have found the DNA sequence for the genomes of humans, lions, tigers and bears. Oh my, but bread wheat is a whole other story.

“With bread wheat, it is a big challenge,” says Ute Baumann at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. “Bread wheat has a genome more than five times larger than the human genome. It’s massive. Rice is tiny by comparison.” Continue reading

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We’re moving – you won’t notice a thing (we hope)!

We're moving

CSIRO@Helix is moving
Image: istock

We want to let all our valued readers, subscribers and followers know that we are moving the Helix@CSIRO to blogs.csiro.au/helix.

This is very exciting for us, as it will allow us to make some helpful changes to the Helix@CSIRO blog over the coming months.

At this stage everything will stay the same. We’ll keep posting the latest science and maths news and activities for you to enjoy and share.

This site will be re-directed and we will begin migrating our email followers this (Friday) afternoon. There’s no need for you to do anything – just sit back, relax and enjoy the new site.

WordPress followers, take a moment to bookmark our new site blogs.csiro.au/helix and why not subscribe via email to ensure you don’t miss a thing!

We hope you continue to visit and enjoy our content!

The Double Helix Team