Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it’s a levitating mouse

Mice don’t much like being levitated, it seems. NASA-funded researchers came to this conclusion after an experiment using magnetic fields to simulate the effects of space travel.

The first mouse was just three weeks old and got itself into a bit of a tizz. Yuanming Liu, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “It actually kicked around and started to spin, and without friction, it could spin faster and faster, and we think that made it even more disoriented.”

The researchers sedated the next mouse, which seemed a lot happier as a result. And repeated tests showed tyhhat, sedated or not, most mice quickly acclimatised to weightlessness. After three or four hours, the mice acted normally, including eating and drinking.

The set-up consisted of a superconducting magnet that generated a field powerful enough to levitate the water inside the animals, inside a small plastic cage. The magnetic field didn’t appear to have any effect on the animals.

The researchers are interested in the effects of weightlessness on bone density. Liu said: ‘We’re trying to see what kind of physiological impact is due to prolonged microgravity, and also what kind of countermeasures might work against it for astronauts,” said Liu. “If we can contribute to the future human exploration of space, that would be very exciting.”

Similar experiments have been carried out before on frogs and grasshoppers, but nothing quite so cute. The study will be published in Advances in Space Research.