Science News: 9/24/13

So… did Voyager 1 really leave our solar system this time? What’s new with rhesus monkeys? Why on earth are researchers looking at whales’ earwax?? Find out all this and more in the latest edition of science news!

Voyager 1 is in interstellar space! NASA has gone back and forth on this so many times they inspired an XKCD comic, but it’s finally official. In fact, the best estimate is that the probe crossed the heliopause and left the influence of the sun’s solar winds back in August 2012. Since we’re dealing with a previously unexplored region of space, scientists were’t sure exactly what to expect as the probe moved into the outer reaches of the solar system. A coronal mass ejection that left the sun in March 2012 and struck the probe 13 months later provided the evidence they needed to figure out that Voyager was already surrounded by the plasma of interstellar space and had been for a while. Voyager has not, however, left the solar system (despite lots of journalistic shorthand to that effect); it’s about 12 billion miles from Earth, but the Oort cloud containing small ice objects orbits our sun at a much greater distance.

Artist rendition of Voyager 1 spacecraft with a brown plasma cloud and pinpricks of stars in the distance.
Artist rendition of Voyager 1 entering interstellar space, surrounded by plasma clouds.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A different NASA spacecraft has sadly stopped transmitting. Deep Impact launched in January 2005 to study comets, but its signal was lost last month.

Life has been found in another Antarctic subglacial lake. Scientists were able to grow colonies of 20 different microbes found in sediments at the bottom of Lake Hodgson, which may have been sealed below the ice for 19,000 to 26,500 years (and the sediments could be 100,000 years old).

Arctic sea ice reached its seasonal low on September 13. While the final minimum extent of 1.97 million square miles was 50% higher than last year’s record low, it was still the sixth lowest amount of sea ice on record.

Floodwaters in Boulder, Colorado have not only destroyed many homes and roads, they’re also covering hundreds of fracking sites and oil wells that are leaking unknown quantities of chemicals and oil into the water. Yikes.

While the first half of the Atlantic hurricane season has been remarkably quiet, other regions haven’t been as lucky. Typhoon Man-yi struck central Japan on September 16, killing three people and leading to the release of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant damaged in the March 2011 tsunami. Typhoon Usagi caused mudslides in the Philippines that have killed at least 20 people and another 25 people died when it made landfall in China near Hong Kong. Since some people are still unaccounted for, all of those numbers could change.

New soft-tissue imprints found with a mosasaur fossil prove that the aquatic reptiles that lived at the same time as dinosaurs had shark-like tails and could probably swim much faster than scientists previously thought.

Well damn, there’s no chance of harvesting ancient DNA from organisms that were preserved in amber. Jurassic Park is a lie!

Young planthopper insects have gears on their legs to help them synchronize their jumps. This is the first time gears have been found in nature.

A colony of over 1,000 feral rhesus monkeys living in Florida has been declared a health hazard because most of them are carriers of Herpes B. While the disease is related to the Herpes simplex you’re probably familiar with and doesn’t pose much harm to monkeys, it can cause severe neurological damage or death in humans.

In other rhesus monkey news, a vaccine has successfully prevented them from being infected with SIV, simian immunodeficiency virus, which is closely related to HIV. Initially about half the vaccinated monkeys exposed to the virus had detectable levels, but after three years, it had been cleared from their systems. Hopefully human trials will begin in the next two years.

Recommended Reading and Random Awesomeness

  • First read Phil Plait’s description of how a Japanese satellite took X-ray images of a solar eclipse, then go look at the awesome gifs Patrick McCauley made from the footage. Y’all know how much I love science gifs!
  • Plait’s also been on a tear over the last week ripping apart the dubious claims of climate change deniers. Make some popcorn, head over to Bad Astronomy, and just scroll down until you find them all; there were about half a dozen stories when I last checked.
  • Speaking of which, a House subcommittee hearing on global warming resulted in Republicans asking some pretty dumb questions. Shocking, I know.
  • 19-year-old Boyan Slat has developed an idea for a series of anchored booms that would filter garbage out of seawater and store it for collection.
  • Cool but gross — you can learn a lot about a whale’s life cycle and migratory habits from examining its earwax.
  • When harassed by males, females of one species of squid are able to light up a stripe along their bodies that makes them look like they have testes.
  • A wildlife camera trap in Russia captured images of a golden eagle attacking a young sika deer. (While the picture at the link isn’t graphic, let’s just say the eagle won that round.)
  • The Myrtle Beach Safari park has an orangutan who feeds penguins. Your argument is invalid.
  • You can now explore the Galapagos via Google Street View. Blue-footed boobies! Sea lions! So much awesome.

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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