Science News: 5/21/13

Science news takes a turn for the weird (and WEIRD) this week! There was an explosion on the moon, waves of ice from frozen lakes in Canada destroyed several houses, and researchers used freakin’ laser beams to search for an ancient city. Plus, BRCA genes have been in the news a lot recently, and the reason that the mutations haven’t been weeded out by natural selection may shock you. 

NASA’s Keppler mission may be in danger after the spacecraft suffered a hardware malfunction that may make it impossible to stabilize the telescope enough for it to take pictures of distant stars. Engineers are still hoping that they can find a solution and get it operational again. It’s particularly bad timing since the Herschel space telescope just shut down as well.

What happens when a 1′ wide meteorite traveling at a speed of 56,000 mph crashes into the surface of the moon? An explosion equivalent to 5 tons of TNT being detonated, and a brand-new crater that’s 65′ wide. Awesome!

Solar eclipses are always pretty cool-looking, but when they happen at sunrise it’s a whole new kind of spectacular and eerie.

Frozen lakes and high winds have proven to be a dangerous combination, as the resulting wave action can push massive amounts of ice onshore. “Ice waves” (which, despite misleading headlines to the contrary, are not glaciers or tsunamis) destroyed multiple homes in Manitoba and crept up on people’s yards in Minnesota last week.

GPS monitoring could provide faster and more accurate tsunami warnings than the seismological data we currently use.

An eternal flame in New York state may hint at a previously unknown way for natural gas to form, meaning there may be more of it available than we thought. The gas (which was lit on fire at some point in the distant past) comes from a shale formation that’s too young and cool to produce methane in any process we’ve seen before.

Global warming news! I wish I didn’t always have so much of this to report.

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  • A new study of published journal articles and a survey of their authors found that more than 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is real and caused by human actions. That’s what we like to call a consensus, folks.
  • The monitoring station atop Hawaii’s Mauna Loa measured an average daily level of carbon dioxide above 400 parts per million for the first time. Spikes above 400ppm were first measured in the Arctic last year and had been seen at Mauna Loa before as well, but this is the first time that the level stayed high enough to give a 24-hour average above that threshold.
  • A NASA study found that melting glaciers accounted for 30% of the increase in sea levels between 2003 and 2009, for an average contribution of 0.03″ (0.7mm) per year. That’s roughly the same amount as comes from the ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica.
  • Looking forward, a European study found that melting glaciers and ice sheets will likely cause sea levels to rise by 36.8cm (14.5″) by the year 2100. Adding in other factors such as thermal expansion, oceans could rise up to 69cm (27″) by the end of the century.
  • Some good news! The rate of atmospheric warming has slowed somewhat in recent years, so some of the most dire short-term predictions may not come to pass. In the long-term, however, the expected rise in temperatures looks to be right about the same.


Gold miners drilling in Ontario found a pocket of water from an ancient sea that’s been isolated underground for 1.5-2.5 billion years. Scientists are hoping that microbes could have survived there and evolved totally separate from the rest of life on Earth.

Archaeologists have debated the origins of the Bronze Age civilization on the Mediterranean island of Crete, but new DNA tests on remains found buried there show that the Minoans were likely of European descent, not African or Middle Eastern.

Lidar (sort of like radar, but with lasers!) is being used to comb the Honduran rainforests for the fabled lost city of Cuidad Blanca. Two areas have been found to show surface features consistant with known ruins, though the exact locations are being kept secret for now.

A construction crew digging up rocks to use in road-building has inadvertently destroyed a 2,300-year-old Mayan pyramid in Belize.

Most, if not all, of Australia’s ancient megafauna may have gone extinct due to localized climate change before humans even arrived on the continent. Hunting had been blamed for the demise of the giant creatures, but there’s no archaeological evidence that the first settlers had the tools necessary to bring down enormous prey, and many of the species had already disappeared from the fossil record.

Two new fossils have been found that show that apes and monkeys had diverged by 25.2 million years ago. The oldest previously known remains were only 20 million years old and the groups had already evolved apart by that time, so this new discovery helps us pinpoint even further when the initial divergence occurred.

For the first time, scientists have used micro-CT scans to actually see how caterpillars turn into butterflies inside a chrysalis.

Human skin cells have finally been successfully reprogrammed into embryonic stem cells.

New research shows that women may have a longer average lifespan than men in part because women’s immune systems age slower.

Recommended Reading:

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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.

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