Science News: 5/7/13

This week, science will both enrage and delight you. We’ve got extinctions, global warming deniers, and conspiracy theorists, but also the world’s smallest movie and a beautifully terrifying trip inside an active volcano, plus a look at how pregnancy shapes evolution. Let’s go!

Good news/bad news in space: Curiosity and the other Mars missions are back to work; they’d been mostly shut down for the last few weeks since the planet’s orbit had put it behind the sun, which can garble transmissions. Unfortunately, the Herschel Space Telescope is no longer functioning, since it has run out of the coolant needed for its instruments to function. Scientists will continue to comb through the data it has collected, so we my still learn of new discoveries it made.

There’s an enormous hurricane raging on Saturn’s north pole. The Cassini spacecraft just snapped the first pictures of it, but we have no way of knowing how long it’s been going on since the pole has been in the dark since Cassini arrived there in 2004 due to its long winter.

Red clouds in the eye of a hurricane on Saturn
False-color image of Saturn’s polar hurricane. Image credit: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/SSI

Ever wondered what it looks like inside an active volcano? Check out these amazing pictures from Tolbachik. I want to go there! (And yes, I realize that probably isn’t a normal reaction to those pics!)

Global warming news!

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Rats show depression symptoms similar to Seasonal Affective Disorder, but with a key difference from SAD in humans – they’re nocturnal, so they react poorly to long hours of sunshine.

Endangered species/extinction news. Sadface.

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  • Taiwan’s Formosan clouded leopard has been declared extinct; researchers have been looking for them since 2001 and recent attempts to locate any remaining leopards using infrared cameras failed to find a single one.
  • Seven species of South African vultures are facing extinction because some people believe that smoking their brains will make them clairvoyant.
  • Painted turtles are likely to go extinct within the next 100 years. Warm soil temperatures make eggs grow into females, while embryos turn male in cooler conditions, so if temperatures rise too much, they’ll all be female.
  • A new study shows that there’s no single cause of colony collapse disorder, which has been causing widespread bee deaths. Unfortunately, that means it won’t be as easy to reverse as it would be if all it took was eliminating a single stressor.


A 16-year-old African-American girl has been expelled and charged with a felony after a science experiment gone awry. Kiera Wilmot, “Mixed some common household chemicals in a small 8 oz water bottle on the grounds of Bartow High School in Bartow, Florida. The reaction caused a small explosion that caused the top to pop up and produced some smoke. No one was hurt and no damage was caused.” It was later reported that she had combined aluminum foil and toilet cleaner on the urging of another student and thought it would only create some smoke. Many are outraged that an experiment is being treated the same as a deliberate bombing and have suggested that her race is a factor, and there’s a petition asking her principal to reconsider the expulsion and drop all charges against her.

IBM researchers have created a stop-motion animation by moving dozens of carbon atoms around on a copper surface.

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.

7 replies on “Science News: 5/7/13”

I saw your comments before I clicked, and I was all, ‘oh it can’t be that- HOLY CRAP THE HELL?!’

With my rational hat on, I hope there is some scientific explanation. It seems unbelievable that a person that small could survive for as long as they think ze did.

Years ago when my then-fiance floated the idea of getting married in Hawaii and spending three weeks there instead of spending money on a wedding, my reaction was pretty much, “That’s a great idea, so long as we get to go to the volcano.” We hiked out to watch the lava flows at night (from a distance) and then went back during the day and got within a couple feet of the lava. Not anywhere near the actual erupting crater, that was much farther than we were able to hike, but it was still awesome. The shiny rock behind us is still flowing!

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