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!
(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.
(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.