Science News Roundup: 2/22/12

Welcome to your latest installment of Science News! This week we have a special bonus – videos of a tornado on the surface of the sun and a waterfall at Yosemite that, due to a trick of the light, looks like lava or fire tumbling down the face of the cliff. Also, scientists in Russia were able to grow plants from 30,000+ year old fruit found frozen in Siberia, and a newly discovered watery planet is in a class of its own.

Silene stenophylla plant grown from 30,000 year old fruit
Looking good for its age!

(BBC News) Russian scientists were able to grow several Silene stenophylla plants using tissue that had been frozen for more than 30,000 years in the Siberian permafrost. Fruits from the plant were found in ancient squirrel burrows on the bank of the Kolyma River, an area frequently explored due to its high concentration of mammoth bones and the remains of other large mammals. Scientists were unable to grow plants from the fruit’s seeds, but rather from “placental tissue” within the fruit itself that was cultivated in the lab. The researchers believe this tissue was still viable after so long due to its high sucrose level; sugar acts as a preservative and is currently being tested to see if its addition to vaccines can help preserve them in hot climates without refrigeration. Silene stenophylla can still be found in Siberia, and the resurrected plants show subtle differences. The success in propagating these ancient seeds means extinct plants may also be able to be grown if preserved seeds are found in good condition in the future. The previous oldest plants grown were from 2,000 year old date palm seeds found at Masada, Israel.

(ABC News) If you hurry, you can still get to Yosemite National Park to see the “lava waterfall” before it disappears on Friday. For a couple weeks in February each year, the sunset is aligned just right to reflect off Horsetail Falls to create the illusion of flowing lava. The phenomenon only lasts for a couple minutes and conditions have to be just right for it to be visible – without a clear horizon and the right amount of water flowing over the cliff, the phenomenon doesn’t work. For stunning visuals and a history of the falls, check out this episode of Yosemite Nature Notes.

(BBC News) A new class of planet whose mass is largely composed of water has been discovered. Exoplanet GJ 1214b has a diameter 2.7 times that of the Earth and weighs approximately seven times as much. It orbits a red dwarf star at a distance of about 200 million km, about the same distance as Mars’ closest approach to our sun. Estimated surface temperatures are about 200°C, or double the boiling point of water on Earth’s surface, but it’s thought that the high pressures on the planet cause water to exist in exotic forms like “hot ice.” First discovered by ground-based telescopes in 2009 and later studied by the Hubble Space Telescope, it’s a “likely candidate” for further study when the James Webb Space Telescope launches later this decade, which will lend more insight into its composition.

(NPR) Earlier this month, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured video of a massive tornado on the surface of the sun. NASA solar physicist Terry Kucera estimated that the tornado could be the size of our planet with plasma moving at speeds of up to 300,000 miles per hour; 1,000 times faster than the strongest tornadoes on Earth. The video is just freaking awesome!

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[E] Hillary

Hillary is a giant nerd and former Mathlete. She once read large swaths of "Why Evolution is True" and a geology book aloud to her infant daughter, in the hopes of a) instilling a love of science in her from a very young age and b) boring her to sleep. After escaping the wilds of Waco, Texas and spending the next decade in NYC, she currently lives in upstate New York, where she misses being able to get decent pizza and Chinese takeout delivered to her house. She lost on Jeopardy.

16 thoughts on “Science News Roundup: 2/22/12”

    1. There’s absolutely no way to find viable tissue that’s millions of years old. It’s also a LOT harder to clone animals from a single specimen than to grow a plant from seeds or reproductive tissue. There is a movement to clone more recently extinct animals like the dodo or mammoths. Frozen mammoths are found pretty regularly in Siberia, but I don’t think they’ve managed to make a complete genome yet because the DNA has been damaged. Ethically it’s a bit weird but it would be so cool!

  1. The solar tornado story reminded me of a story from the Radiolab podcast I listened to last night. It was partially about solar winds and a “solar bubble” that is being explored by the Voyager probe. It’s really interesting and thought provoking stuff! You can listen here if you want to check it out: Radiolab

  2. This news of the 30,000 yr old plant is so freakin cool. I just couldn’t even believe it. I think it could tell us just so much. Who knows. It just made me all giddy.

    Also, it’s really pretty.

    The sun tornado scares the crap out of me. Its size. Its heat. Oh man. Religions based on the sun are totally understandable.

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