Science News: 8/20/13

It’s been a few weeks since we last covered science news, so I tried to just hit the highlights. What sort of highlights, you might ask? Pink planets, baby orangutans, the olinguito (obviously), and a bear hoedown. Get ready for the awesomeness!

This is just about the nerdiest, most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Happy belated birthday, Curiosity!

Not to be outdone, Curiosity captured video of a lunar eclipse of sorts; the larger Martian moon Phobos crossing in front of the smaller Deimos.

The sun’s magnetic field is going to reverse polarity in the next few months, but there’s no cause for alarm! It does this every 11 years or so.

Scientists found a new planet that’s pink! It’s noteworthy for being the lowest-mass exoplanet ever directly imaged (though it’s still several times larger than Jupiter) and because it orbits its sun at a distance nine times farther than Jupiter’s orbit, which means we understand how planets form even less than we once thought.

A new nova was spotted last week. Nova Delphini 2013 is bright enough to see with the naked eye if you have a dark enough sky, or it’s easily visible with binoculars or a telescope. Lots of cool pics plus a viewing guide are at the link.

Long-necked dinosaurs probably weren’t as flexible as we once thought, but their muscular necks were probably similar to the relatively stiff-necked ostrich.

A 15-million-year-old whale skull was excavated from the banks of the Potomac River in Virginia.

A 10,000-year-old lunar calendar was discovered at Warren Field in Scotland; it predates the previously oldest known calendar by 5,000 years.

New tests show that the Endurance, Edward Shackleton’s ship that had to be abandoned in 1915 after ice breached the hull, may be well-preserved. The wood-boring molluscs that usually devour shipwrecks are absent from Antarctic waters since no trees have grown on the continent for million of years and currents surrounding the continent prevent new larvae from enter the region. Next step: actually finding the ship!

Global warming news. None of it good.

As part of a settlement between a Pennsylvania family and the oil and gas company that was drilling on adjacent land, the family’s two children were placed under a life-long gag order that prevents them from ever talking about fracking or the Marcellus Shale formation. That could prove difficult if they ever take a geology class, plus it hardly seems fair to place an order like this on minors!

Residents in west Texas are speaking out against fracking because the region is going through a severe drought and the process is making the already tight water supply even tighter.

The first known member of a newly discovered sub-order of jellyfish has been named Bazinga rieki after a catchphrase on The Big Bang Theory. It’s found in waters off Australia, is about the size of a grape, and is kinda cute!

Close-up of a tiny jellyfish
Bazinga rieki, courtesy Dr. Lisa-Ann Gershwin and via Wikipedia

For the first time, the birth of a baby orangutan has been captured on video. A bit NSFW (and not for the squeamish), but it’s awesome.

Two new studies purport to explain why primates form monogamous relationships. One posits that fathers want to prevent rival males from killing their offspring to make the mother fertile again, so they stick around to protect their genes, while the other says that females tended to live fairly far apart, making it difficult for males to mate with multiple partners, so they stick around to ensure they can father more offspring. Once again, evolutionary theories that make everything about what the men want!

Peacocks go through all that effort to display their tails for the ladies, and it turns out that peahens may not even pay that much attention. Misandry!

The olinguito has been hiding in plain sight for years, but scientists finally figured out that they’re a distinct species from olingos. It’s the first new carnivorous mammal discovered in the Americas in 35 years. And they’re so cute!!

Vaccine news!

A new antibiotic has been developed from bacteria found in the ocean off California; it’s proven effective against both MRSA and anthrax.

Orange crops are being devastated by a bacterial disease known as citrus greening, and the only hope to save the fruit may be genetically modifying the trees with genes from other species that are naturally immune.

Despite a recent fear mongering essay in Elle, there’s no evidence that GMO corn can cause allergies, and many of the arguments used in the article totally twist or misrepresent the facts presented to the author by experts.

A plant commonly used in some traditional and alternative medicines has been found to be highly carcinogenic. Stay off the Aristolochia!

Studies on rats show that for at least 30 seconds after cardiac arrest, the brain keeps firing in a heightened state, which could explain stories of the “afterlife” reported by people who have been resuscitated.

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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