It’s been a few weeks since we last covered science news, so I tried to just hit the highlights. What sort of highlights, you might ask? Pink planets, baby orangutans, the olinguito (obviously), and a bear hoedown. Get ready for the awesomeness!
This is just about the nerdiest, most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Happy belated birthday, Curiosity!
Not to be outdone, Curiosity captured video of a lunar eclipse of sorts; the larger Martian moon Phobos crossing in front of the smaller Deimos.
The sun’s magnetic field is going to reverse polarity in the next few months, but there’s no cause for alarm! It does this every 11 years or so.
Scientists found a new planet that’s pink! It’s noteworthy for being the lowest-mass exoplanet ever directly imaged (though it’s still several times larger than Jupiter) and because it orbits its sun at a distance nine times farther than Jupiter’s orbit, which means we understand how planets form even less than we once thought.
A new nova was spotted last week. Nova Delphini 2013 is bright enough to see with the naked eye if you have a dark enough sky, or it’s easily visible with binoculars or a telescope. Lots of cool pics plus a viewing guide are at the link.
Long-necked dinosaurs probably weren’t as flexible as we once thought, but their muscular necks were probably similar to the relatively stiff-necked ostrich.
A 15-million-year-old whale skull was excavated from the banks of the Potomac River in Virginia.
A 10,000-year-old lunar calendar was discovered at Warren Field in Scotland; it predates the previously oldest known calendar by 5,000 years.
New tests show that the Endurance, Edward Shackleton’s ship that had to be abandoned in 1915 after ice breached the hull, may be well-preserved. The wood-boring molluscs that usually devour shipwrecks are absent from Antarctic waters since no trees have grown on the continent for million of years and currents surrounding the continent prevent new larvae from enter the region. Next step: actually finding the ship!
Global warming news. None of it good.
- [icon name=”icon-globe”] Melting sea ice is killing polar bears who are losing their hunting grounds and starving while trying to find food. Meanwhile Fox News ran a segment about how the polar bear population is totally thriving and they’re only listed as Threatened on the endangered species list to screw over companies that want to drill for fossil fuels in the Arctic. (Really sad picture at both links, so proceed with caution.)
- [icon name=”icon-globe”] A combination of warming seawater, overfishing of natural predators, and an ample food supply for young lobsters due to bait escaping from traps has led to an explosion in the lobster population in Maine. Now there are so many lobsters that they’ve turned to cannibalism.
- [icon name=”icon-globe”] Historical data shows that violence is more common as temperatures increase and during extreme rain events such as prolonged droughts or flooding.
As part of a settlement between a Pennsylvania family and the oil and gas company that was drilling on adjacent land, the family’s two children were placed under a life-long gag order that prevents them from ever talking about fracking or the Marcellus Shale formation. That could prove difficult if they ever take a geology class, plus it hardly seems fair to place an order like this on minors!
Residents in west Texas are speaking out against fracking because the region is going through a severe drought and the process is making the already tight water supply even tighter.
The first known member of a newly discovered sub-order of jellyfish has been named Bazinga rieki after a catchphrase on The Big Bang Theory. It’s found in waters off Australia, is about the size of a grape, and is kinda cute!
For the first time, the birth of a baby orangutan has been captured on video. A bit NSFW (and not for the squeamish), but it’s awesome.
Two new studies purport to explain why primates form monogamous relationships. One posits that fathers want to prevent rival males from killing their offspring to make the mother fertile again, so they stick around to protect their genes, while the other says that females tended to live fairly far apart, making it difficult for males to mate with multiple partners, so they stick around to ensure they can father more offspring. Once again, evolutionary theories that make everything about what the men want!
Peacocks go through all that effort to display their tails for the ladies, and it turns out that peahens may not even pay that much attention. Misandry!
The olinguito has been hiding in plain sight for years, but scientists finally figured out that they’re a distinct species from olingos. It’s the first new carnivorous mammal discovered in the Americas in 35 years. And they’re so cute!!
- [icon name=”icon-asterisk”] Several new versions of the flu vaccine are in the works in the U.S.; future shots may be able to protect against four strains instead of three, will be grown in alternate mediums that will enable faster production (and will eliminate any slight risk of a reaction in people with egg allergies), and may even be able to be given every 5-10 years instead of annually. And yes, one version is grown in genetically engineered insect cells, but that doesn’t mean that the government is injecting you with GMOs (which aren’t as bad as the internet would like you to think anyway).
- [icon name=”icon-asterisk”] This chart shows the drastic reduction in the incidence of several diseases in Canada since their vaccines were introduced.
- [icon name=”icon-asterisk”] A new malaria vaccine showed 100% protection against the disease when individuals received five intravenous doses in a small trial. Larger trials are needed to confirm its efficacy and there are logistical hurdles to overcome, but it’s a huge step since there aren’t any malaria vaccines that work at the moment.
- [icon name=”icon-asterisk”] The article floating around social media claiming that the courts have confirmed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism is utter bullshit. You probably knew that, but here’s the proof.
- [icon name=”icon-asterisk”] Why are rich people increasingly skipping vaccinations for their kids?
A new antibiotic has been developed from bacteria found in the ocean off California; it’s proven effective against both MRSA and anthrax.
Orange crops are being devastated by a bacterial disease known as citrus greening, and the only hope to save the fruit may be genetically modifying the trees with genes from other species that are naturally immune.
Despite a recent fear mongering essay in Elle, there’s no evidence that GMO corn can cause allergies, and many of the arguments used in the article totally twist or misrepresent the facts presented to the author by experts.
A plant commonly used in some traditional and alternative medicines has been found to be highly carcinogenic. Stay off the Aristolochia!
Studies on rats show that for at least 30 seconds after cardiac arrest, the brain keeps firing in a heightened state, which could explain stories of the “afterlife” reported by people who have been resuscitated.
- [icon name=”icon-star”] These awesome 13- and 11-year old sisters made a scale-model rover based on Spirit, a now-defunct Mars rover. Their model, which you can drive, is now on display at the New York Hall of Science.
- [icon name=”icon-star”] No, most of the stars we see in the sky aren’t already dead. (At least, not the ones we can see with the naked eye.)
- [icon name=”icon-star”] Also untrue? The recent claim that humans are a result of hybridization between chimps and pigs. I can’t even tell you how hard I laughed when the original story started circulating (on sites that usually know better!).
- [icon name=”icon-star”] Go click through the galleries at The World at Night, a project to photograph landmarks at night with long exposures to show the stars above them. They’re gorgeous.
- [icon name=”icon-star”] Slate has a cool map of the places that Europeans actually discovered (instead of the places that had been inhabited for centuries that they claimed to discover). Spoiler alert: lots of tiny islands (and part of Greenland).
- [icon name=”icon-star”] Next time you’re dealing with someone afflicted with a Man Cold, show them this: women are actually more susceptible to infections, get more severe symptoms, and are more likely to have long-lasting effects from their immune systems ramping up to deal with infections (including changes to their reproductive cycles). But most studies ignore this entirely.
- [icon name=”icon-star”] The “Prisoner’s Dilemma” was finally tested on actual prisoners, and it turns out they’re much more cooperative than students.
- [icon name=”icon-star”] Holy crap awesome gifs of seasonal vegetation/snow cover on Earth!
- [icon name=”icon-star”] Bear. Hoedown. This is the best thing pretty much ever. Someone please make gifs!