Science News Roundup: 1/25/12

This week in science news is a real mixed bag. We have solar storms colliding with the earth, more twins than ever before, mercury poisoning in areas that were previously thought safe, and really old dinosaur babies. Cool pictures after the jump!

Image of solar flare erupting from the sun
Solar flare erupting from the sun; Credit: NASA

(BBC News) The most powerful solar storm since 2005 is affecting the earth this week as we get pounded by charged particles released by a giant solar flare that occurred overnight Sunday into Monday. The most visible effect of the storm is an increase in the Northern Lights (check out the live camera at the Aurora Sky Station in northern Sweden for fantastic images, or just cross your fingers and step outside if you live in northern latitudes). There is also the possibility for power outages due to interference with the electric grid and for disruptions in satellite communication and navigation systems. Many airlines have rerouted flights that typically fly near the poles to avoid any possible communication lapses due to the thinner magnetic fields in polar regions. The astronauts aboard the International Space Station are not believed to be in any danger from the storm.

(New York Times) A new report by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that twin birth rates in the United States rose 76% between 1980 and 2009. The rise is largely attributed to increased fertility treatments leading to multiple births, but up to one-third of the increase may be due to more women having babies after the age of 30. Older mothers have an increased chance of producing fraternal twins since they’re more likely to release multiple eggs during their menstrual cycle. The rate of increase has actually slowed since 2004, as advances in fertility treatments make multiple births less likely.

(New York Times) Mercury poisoning is being found in species not previously known to be at risk. A new study by the  Biodiversity Research Institute reveals that dangerously high mercury levels are causing neurological disorders in songbirds and bats across the northeastern region of the United States. Mercury poisoning in the wild is most commonly associated with fish and the birds and animals that eat them, but new evidence shows that mercury released by burning coal for power can settle back to earth hundreds of miles from its point of origin, where it is absorbed by trees and enters the food chain. Abnormal behaviors have been observed in much higher rates in contaminated areas, leading birds to abandon their nests in greater numbers and especially affecting chicks’ feeding behavior. Given their much longer lifespan, bats are even more affected since they accumulate higher concentrations of the toxin.

Image of embryonic fossil skeleton
Embryonic Massospondylus skeleton, Credit: D. Scott

(BBC News) At 190 million years old, a dinosaur nesting site recently discovered in South Africa is the oldest such site ever found. A cluster of ten nests have been unearthed, with each nest holding up to 34 Massospondylus eggs. The site even includes fossilized embryonic skeletons, such as the one seen above. Evidence suggests that the area may have been used repeatedly in a behavior known as “colonial nesting,” which has been observed in younger dinosaur nesting sites. Finding the same behavior 100 million years older than the previous earliest known example gives scientists new insight into dinosaur behavior.


By [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.

11 replies on “Science News Roundup: 1/25/12”

The solar flare pic is sweet. I’m a sucker for astronomy. Have you all seen this pic of the northern lights as a result of this one? The pic hasn’t been modified, and it looks straight up like an eagle. Nature is amazing.

I had twins at 22. There’s a gene for hyper-ovulation that I apparently inherited from my mother’s side of the family, but I do find the increase in twins to be very interesting. It makes me hope that my babies won’t be viewed as anomalies because there will be so many more of them…


With that… Are solar flares NOT the coolest (hottest?) things ever? I mean sure, a star going nova could be incredible and the idea of a worm hole ranks up there with awesome unicorn dreams but solar flares, man. That picture is incredible.


I’ve also heard that if you let a kid cry for long enough, they will fall asleep.  And that kids start self-weaning around 18 months.  And that no kid would ever choose to wear high heels, it is their parent that is forcing that on them.

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