Science News: 9/10/13

Some of the greatest videos you will ever watch are in this week’s edition of science news (and only one of them will make you feel dirty). Plus, we’ve got the latest news from Mars, volcanoes in unexpected places, and P-Mag readers will be excited to learn the identity of the “best living science communicator.” (Spoiler alert — he’s also damn smexy!)

Mars news!

  • [icon name=”icon-circle”] Some of the Red Planet’s alluvial fans may have been caused by flooding following rainfall. The most likely cause would be asteroid impacts; surface ice would be melted and blasted into the atmosphere, then fall back to the surface.
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”] You may have seen one of the stories going around last week that excitedly declared that life on Earth might have originated on Mars because of molybdenum. It’s probably not true, and it sucks that so many news agencies didn’t approach it with any sort of critical analysis.
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”] Curiosity captured images of an unusual solar eclipse on August 20th—the Martian moon Phobos partially covered the sun for several seconds.
Three frames of Phobos crossing but not completely occluding the sun
Annular eclipse of the sun by Phobos. Or googly eyes.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems/Texas A&M Univ.

The orbiting WISE spacecraft is being reactivated to study near-Earth objects whose trajectories could pose a risk of impact or that could be well-placed for a proposed mission to study an asteroid up close.

Last Friday, NASA launched the unmanned Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), which will enter orbit around the moon to study its extremely thin atmosphere.

Cool exoplanets of the week! An Earth-sized planet called Kepler-78b orbits its sun in only about 8½ hours. That gives it a surface temperature of about 8,700°F, meaning the planet is covered in boiling lava. Another exoplanet, a super-earth known as Gilese 1214 b, likely has an atmosphere that contains a lot of water.

Surveys with ice-penetrating radar have uncovered a 460 mile long canyon hidden under the ice sheet in Greenland. It’s thought to predate glaciation of the island and may carry meltwater to the Arctic Ocean.

An underwater volcano in the northwest Pacific Ocean has been confirmed as the largest volcano on Earth and is even slightly larger than Mars’ Olympus Mons, the previous record-holder for largest volcano in our solar system. Tamu Massif was once thought to be built up from lava coming from several clustered volcanoes, but new analysis shows that the lava all comes from a single central vent.

A small volcanic geyser has appeared about 900 yards from one of the runways at the airport in Rome. The crater is about six feet wide, three feet deep, and has produced gas clouds reaching 15 feet in the air. While the surrounding road was sealed off to prevent passersby from inhaling the gas pending tests to see if it was dangerous, it is unlikely that the crater will cause any real trouble.

New computer models prove that unusual waves in some Norwegian fjords in March 2011 were caused by the massive earthquake that had struck Japan about 30 minutes earlier. The seiche waves were caused by a kind of seismic wave called S-waves. Fortunately they hit at low tide, so the 5-foot waves didn’t cause any reported damage.

Despite mostly cloudy skies, Germany set a new record for solar energy production in July.

New evidence contradicts the notion that humans are the only apes that can swim. A captive chimpanzee and a captive orangutan were separately taped swimming with a version of a breaststroke, and the chimp even dives to the bottom of a pool.

Dolphins can have wet dreams complete with spontaneous ejaculation. The first-ever video of the phenomenon is at the link if you’re into that kind of thing.

A new species of walking shark has been discovered in Indonesia. Don’t worry, they don’t walk on land! Rather they use their pectoral and pelvic fins to wiggle along the seafloor. They only reach about 28 inches long, and are actually kinda cute.

Bacteria in 100 million-year-old rocks 1.5 miles below the ocean floor may have such a slow metabolism that they reproduce only once every 10,000 years. Freaky.

For the first time, researchers have confirmed the existence of an element with the atomic number 115. It has yet to be named officially, though the name “ununpentium” has been used as a placeholder in the periodic table.

EEG tests show that newborns can recognize words that they heard frequently while in the womb.

Recommended reading

  • [icon name=”icon-star”] The newest series of Lego minifigurines includes a lady scientist! While the description is rather vague as to what kind of scientist she’s supposed to be, at least she’s not freaking pink from head to toe.
  • [icon name=”icon-star”] Neil deGrasse Tyson is the best living science communicator. Obviously!
  • [icon name=”icon-star”] Emily Willingham demolishes one of the dumbest arguments yet against GMOs and science. (It basically boiled down to, “Why do we need to develop weird-looking rice when people could just grow their own carrots and yams!”) And I love how patiently she rolls her eyes at a random comment troll who also fails to understand what science is.
  • [icon name=”icon-star”] New Scientist details an experiment that shows how poverty can effectively lower people’s intelligence and cause them to have a harder time making good decisions.
  • [icon name=”icon-star”] The economic stimulus plan from a few years ago has meant more money for scientific research; Scientific American looks at a few of the fields that have benefitted from extra government funding. Unfortunately, budget sequestration has meant that many researchers have since lost funding. Damnit.
  • [icon name=”icon-star”] I kind of loved this point-by-point takedown by a Discover Magazine blogger of a Buzzfeed article about things we (supposedly) don’t know about the ocean.
  • [icon name=”icon-star”] Brilliant idea! Let’s start naming hurricanes after climate change deniers. Seriously, this is the best thing you’ll watch all day (even if you watched the dolphin jizz video I linked earlier).


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.

2 replies on “Science News: 9/10/13”

I love that they were like, “That thing’s fucking huge; it’s gotta be like Iceland where a bunch of volcanoes merged into one big mountain… Oh holy hell, all the lava flowed from one central point? That’s one damn volcano?!?! You’ve got to be shitting me!” (Based on the geologists I know, I probably went a little light on the profanity there.)

I’m just glad it’s extinct!

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