Science News: 6/18/13

Welcome to this week’s installment of science news, where we’ll figure out the origin of mysterious Martian gullies, find a lost city in Cambodia, and get the latest updates on women’s health. Plus, pretty Amazonian birds!

Long gullies on Martian sand dunes appear to be caused by blocks of frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice) sliding downhill, rather than by flowing water. Sometimes boulders roll downhill on Mars too, leaving pretty cool tracks.

Scientists have finally figured out why the moon has an uneven gravitational field – under certain conditions, impacts with meteors or asteroids can pull dense material from the moon’s mantle toward the surface.

A five-year-long NASA survey of Arctic permafrost has found that it’s warming even faster than the surrounding air. Massive mounts of carbon are trapped in the soil and when it thaws, it releases carbon dioxide and methane, both of which cause greenhouse warming (though methane’s effects are far worse).

We’ve finally figured out why ancient Roman cement is so much more durable (and environmentally friendly) than modern cement, which could revolutionize modern building.

Lidar surveys of the Cambodian jungle led archaeologists to the lost medieval city of Mahendraparvata; even modern villagers living within the borders of the former city didn’t know about some of the ruins hidden in the jungle.

Triceratops fossils are usually found alone, so the discovery of three skeletons together in Utah may make us revise our image of them as loners. Two of the individuals are sub-adults, so they may have been a family.

In 97% of bird species, males do not have penises. Scientists have finally figured out that a single gene is responsible for suppressing embryonic penile growth in chickens and quails.

15 new bird species have been discovered in the Amazon. They’re so cute!

Aquatic mammals like whales and seals are able to hold their breath underwater for such a long time (up to 90 minutes for sperm whales) because of a modification of the myoglobin that stores oxygen in their blood cells. Even cooler, some land animals including elephants have a similar modification, meaning they likely had an ancestor that spent at least some time in the water.

Bites from lone star ticks can make you allergic to red meat.

Do you feel more aggressive than usual when outside in bright sunshine? Wear sunglasses. Squinting into the sun gives you the same frown lines as actually being angry, which can trick you into feeling like you were angry.

Nine-month-old babies would rather look at pictures of men with pudgier stomachs over men with sculpted abs. (TW at the link for defining them as “attractive” vs. “unattractive,” ugh.)

Women’s health news!

  • In regions where women don’t have access to Pap smears, there’s a much easier test that can detect cervical cancer cells – pouring vinegar onto the cervix and then examining it about a minute later. Cancerous cells will turn white, while healthy tissue doesn’t change color at all.
  • Did women evolve to go through menopause because historically, men preferred younger mates? Maybe, though it’s also possible that men selected younger mates because they were more fertile.
  • Hyperemesis gravidarum (made famous recently by Kate Middleton) puts about 285,000 women a year in the hospital, but we still don’t know much about it. The two most common treatments are Benadryl or other antihistamines that let patients sleep, and Zofran, an anti-nausea drug mostly given to cancer patients. While Zofran sounds scarier, a new study shows that Benadryl led to a higher incidence of  adverse effects, including low birth weight and premature birth.

In a unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that companies cannot patent human genes, though they can patent artificial sequences that can be inserted in the genome.

While we still don’t know precisely what causes it, new MRI studies show differences in the brains of people suffering from Gulf War Syndrome, showing that it isn’t just psychological.

Recommended reading

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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