Science News: 7/2/13

I’ve got some special treats for you this week! From webcams, we’ve got a volcanic eruption and baby snow leopards. From a lady science blogger, a couple of fantastic takedowns of bad science (the sarcasm, it burns, but in a good way). Plus, news that’ll have you reaching for the paper towels instead of the blowers in public restrooms.

Want to go for a walk on Mars? Check out these 1.3 billion megapixel panoramic images of the planet put together by NASA!

Voyager 1 has entered another strange new layer of the solar system, one that wasn’t predicted by any of our models, so it’s hard to say yet just when it will finally enter interstellar space. (Time for XKCD to add another tally mark!)

Sometimes, science has the best happy accidents, as when the Hubble telescope was pointed at a distant quasar whose light was being filtered through an interesting gas cloud, and it turned out that the cloud was the result of two colliding galaxies. Really cool pics at the link!

Astronomers have just discovered that a star only 22 light years away has three potentially habitable “super-Earths” in its Goldilocks zone; this is the first time a system like this has been identified. Gliese 667C is a cooler star than ours, so its habitable zone is much smaller and the planets orbit much closer. The animation below shows all seven of the star’s known planets, with Mercury’s orbit superimposed for scale.

The Kickstarter campaign to fund a space telescope closed on June 30 and managed to raise over $1.5 million from more than 17,000 individuals. If you still want to get in on it, there’s a mailing list you can sign up for to be notified when they add a grace period to get in on the pledges.

Information from the SUOMI satellite has been used to make an image of all the plant life on Earth. Very cool!

Map of the Earth with green shading where plants are found and beige in deserts/ice caps.
Image courtesy NASA/NOAA

Most of the melting on Antarctic ice shelves is actually coming from the bottom of the ice, where it comes into contact with warm ocean water, rather than from icebergs calving off. The melting isn’t evenly distributed around the continent since the ocean temperature varies in different regions, and the much larger than expected influx of fresh water could be affecting the ecosystem in ways that need further investigation.

When Popocatépetl, a volcano located just 40 miles from Mexico City, erupted on June 17, the whole thing was caught on webcam. Check out the awesome timelapse footage below (which covers about 12 minutes); you can even see the shock wave from the eruption!

Case closed! New evidence shows that the object that exploded over Tunguska in Siberia in 1908 was a meteorite, not a comet.

New species are usually found in remote, unexplored areas, which makes the discovery of the Cambodian tailorbird within the city of Phnom Penh pretty exciting. What else could be hiding in plain sight somewhere?

Scientists have managed to reconstruct the genome of an a horse that lived 700,000 years ago; previously, the oldest DNA sequenced was only 70,000 years old. By comparing the ancient horse to several modern DNA samples and another that lived 43,000 years ago, they were able to determine that the evolutionary split that led to horses, zebras, and donkeys arose about 4 million years ago.

The NIH announced that most of the chimps in its research laboratories will be retired and sent to ape retirement facilities.

For decades, scientists have told us that Komodo dragons are able to bite water buffalos and infect them with all of the horrible bacteria that live in their filthy mouths; while the buffalos are able to escape, they tend to die from infections in the wounds several days later. Too bad it isn’t true. New studies of Komodos show that they have more or less the same oral bacteria as other carnivores, though they do have venom powerful enough to kill smaller animals. The water buffalos’ wounds get infected when they go into dirty water to get away from the Komodos. Oops! I’ll admit to cackling out loud at this last bit, because I’m a bit twisted:

The truth, of course, is of little comfort to anyone planning to visit the islands where dragons roam. Don’t worry, you won’t die of sepsis from a Komodo bite. You’ll just die when the gigantic lizard with inch-long serrated teeth dripping with hemorrhagic venom tears your flesh to shreds.

Kate Clancy at Scientific American is my new favorite science blogger. First, she replied to claims that PMS is culturally bound by explaining that while yes, that’s true to some extent, there are also real biological reasons that Western women experience it more than others – our diets tend to give us higher levels of progesterone, which can lead to bigger hormonal crashes in the days leading up to menstruation. Then last week she went off on an epic rant ripping apart the study that claimed that menopause evolved because men like younger ladies. Seriously, it’s amazing, go read it.

The UK has approved an experimental form of IVF that would combine genetic material from three individuals. Since some rare disorders are transmitted via the mother’s mitochondrial DNA, just that part would be replaced with donor mDNA.

Germophobes, take notice. Those hot air blowers in public restrooms are actually a breeding ground for bacteria, which gets blown onto your hands as you dry them. Gross. While the bacteria found in the study aren’t any that can get you sick, you still might want to grab a paper towel instead.

Speaking of germs and bathrooms”¦ Researchers were able to take poop samples from the latrine at a castle in Cyprus that was briefly inhabited during the Crusades and found eggs from parasites including whipworms and giant roundworms.

Recommended reading

  • The New York Times has a cool profile of Bill Nye.
  • President Obama announced a new plan to reduce greenhouse gases at current and future power plants, but this op-ed explains why it’s ridiculous that Congress couldn’t be bothered to act on it.
  • New Yorkers, take notice–the city has issued new hurricane evacuation maps. Hopefully they won’t be needed again anytime soon!

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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