Science News: 11/13/13

Happy Wednesday, everybody! Lots of good news this week, from asteroids that aren’t going to kill us all to several awesome new species (and babies of everyone’s favorite new species of the year). Also, updates on the supposed global wine shortage and early puberty epidemic. On the terrible end of the spectrum, though, there’s Haiyan.

Sometimes, science is a right bastard. Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) may have killed 2,000-2,500 people in the Philippines (revised from initial estimates of up to 10,000) and displaced at least 800,000 more. The storm also made landfall in Vietnam and crossed into China, though only 13 deaths have been reported so far, all during storm preparations. Haiyan had estimated sustained windspeeds of 190-195 miles per hour, with gusts of up to 230 mph, and created a 13-foot storm surge in the city of Tacloban.

Space news

Good news! Asteroid 2013 TV135 is almost certainly not going to strike the Earth when it passes us in 2032. As predicted, further measurements of its orbit dropped the odds of an impact significantly, to only 1 in 169 million. Phew!

The European Space Agency’s GOCE telescope ran out of fuel last month and reentered the atmosphere early Monday morning. Fortunately it burned up over the lower Atlantic, so any pieces that survived reentry would have fallen into the ocean near the Falklands Islands rather than hitting land. The ESA’s Albert Einstein Automated Transfer Vehicle reentered the atmosphere on November 2, burning up over the Pacific after delivering cargo to the International Space Station. (Their Flickr stream has some gorgeous pictures of the reentry.)

New photos from the Hubble Space Telescope show us a bizarre asteroid that seems to have a tail like a comet! Six tails, in fact! The most likely explanation is that Asteroid P/2013 P5 is spinning and ejecting dust from its surface.

Two photos of Asteroid P5, with tails in different positions, dated September 10 and 23, 2013
Photos taken two weeks apart show the changing positions of the tails due to P5’s spin.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA)

Ten-year-old Nathan Gray has discovered a new supernova that could be 600 million light years away. He’s 33 days younger than the previous record-holder for the youngest discoverer of a supernova—his older sister, Kathryn Aurora.

It’s now estimated that 20 percent of stars like our sun will have an Earth-sized planet in their habitable zones. NASA recently announced that the Kepler Space Telescope has found another 833 possible exoplanets. Awesome.

Cool new species news!

  • A new dinosaur dubbed Lythronax argestes or “King of Gore” was unveiled in Utah. It was probably a little smaller than T. Rex, but predated it by about 10 million years, making it the oldest known tyrannosaur. (Side note – “King of Gore” would be the best metal band name ever!)
  • Paleontologists have finally found more complete skeletons of a dinosaur that was initially known only from 8-foot long arms discovered in Mongolia in 1965. Deinocheirus mirificus was approximately 16′ tall, 36′ long, and really weird-looking.
  • So, sometime between 5-15 million years ago there were giant carnivorous platypuses that were probably about a meter long. And researchers also just found three previously unknown vertebrates in the mountains of Cape York Peninsula, including a skink, boulder frog, and leaf-tailed gecko (which is freaky-looking!). What the fuck, Australia?
  • A new species of hammerhead shark has been discovered off the coast of South Carolina. It’s what’s known as a “cryptic species”—it looks exactly like the more common species it shares a habitat with, but is genetically distinct and has fewer vertebrae. (The linked article also has some cool findings about the differences in fish species in rivers that were or were not covered by glaciers during the last ice age.)

This and That

Scientists are trying to figure out what’s causing a disease in starfish along the U.S. west coast that’s causing them to basically disintegrate.

For the first time ever, killer whales have been photographed underwater. The whales were spotted in the waters off Kona in Hawaii; while they pass through Hawaiian waters on occasion, so far as anyone knows they don’t live there on a regular basis. Researchers on another boat were able to affix satellite tracking tags to three of the whales (also a first in tropical waters), so we’ll be able to see where the spend their time. (Awesome video at the link!)

Researchers who used DNA barcoding to test the ingredients of 44 herbal supplements found that one-third of them didn’t contain even a trace of their purported main ingredient, while others were loaded with fillers or substitute ingredients with dangerous side effects, especially for those with food allergies or intolerances.

Cores taken from an oxbow lake near the former site of Cahokia on the shores of the Mississippi River shows that the city—the largest north of Mexico at its peak a thousand years ago—was inundated by catastrophic floods circa 1200 C.E. that likely destroyed much of the cropland and residences, forcing residents to abandon the site.

Surgeons in Belgium have discovered a (previously hypothesized in 1879) new ligament in the knee that could explain why some people continue to have issues after undergoing knee surgery.

Recommended reading

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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.

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