Science News: 12/3/13

I have so much cool stuff to tell y’all about this week! I’m totally geeking out about some cool volcanoes, new species, dinosaur poop, and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new segment on The Daily Show. Come geek out with me! There’s an iceberg gif!

China has launched the Chang’e 3 lander and rover that is expected to land on the moon on December 14 after orbiting it for about a week. NASA also recently launched the MAVEN spacecraft that will reach Mars in about 10 months and then study its atmosphere from orbit.

Hubble’s deep-sky surveys have looked at 400 other galaxies in various stages of formation, which has allowed scientists to get a better idea of how our Milky Way galaxy formed.

The sun’s magnetic field is expected to reverse polarity within the next few weeks. While there could be an increase in sun spots and flares that could affect satellite transmissions, we’re all perfectly safe. The polarity flips every 11 years and this year’s cycle looks to be less powerful than the most recent ones.

Comet ISON made its closest pass to the sun on Nov. 28 and it now looks like it might have been torn apart by the sun’s gravitational pull. It’s surprised us before, though, so it’s possible that a small nucleus survived.

Scientists have finally figured out why Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has persisted for centuries even though previous models indicated that the storm should have blown itself out within decades of its formation.

For the first time, astronomers have detected a massive gamma ray burst that likely came from a giant star’s collapse into a black hole. (Or, you know, alien thermonuclear war, if the commenters are to be believed. Sigh.)

There’s a new island south of Japan after an undersea volcano surfaced in a dramatic fashion.

Mount Etna also erupted last month and blew a few spectacular smoke rings. NatGeo has the pictures captured by photographer/volcanologist Tom Pfeiffer, and they’re gorgeous!

A swarm of shallow earthquakes in Antarctica led to the discovery of a volcano buried under glacial ice half a mile thick. While swarms like this can precede eruptions, there’s no way to know for sure if the volcano will erupt or what effect it would have on the surrounding ice.

Elsewhere in Antarctica, an approximately 252 square mile chunk of the Pine Island glacier broke off and is now floating in the bay. The massive iceberg may eventually impact shipping lanes, though that could take years. Check out the before and after gif!

Two frames showing a massive crack in the edge of the glacier and the subsequent calved iceberg with seawater separating it from the main body
Image via NASA’s Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite

Researchers drilling into the crater left 35 million years ago by an meteorite that crashed into what’s now the Chesapeake Bay found a lake of trapped seawater over a mile beneath the surface. Analyzing it could tell us more about what the ancient seas were like compared to the present.

A 240-million-year-old pile of dino poo has been found in Argentina; it’s the oldest evidence that dinosaurs (in this case, a herd of Dinodontosaurus) used “communal latrines” to mark their territory. The poos are well-preserved and contain fragments of the ancient plants and fungi that they ate. (Bless the BBC for including an artist’s rendition of pooping dinos and for the best related stories sidebar ever. They love poo stories!)

A new dinosaur dubbed Siats meekerorum (after a cannibalistic monster from the mythology of the Utes tribe that lived in the region of Utah where the fossil was found) has been found. It lived 98 million years ago and since it’s most closely related to species that lived on other continents at the time, it may mean that there was still some movement between the landmasses even after Pangaea split apart.

A newly-uncovered baby dinosaur fossil is so well preserved that its discoverer was able to determine its cause of death—drowning—and determine that juveniles of its species have a very similar body to adults.

The Northern Darwin’s frog has been declared extinct after an infection ravaged its population. Darwin’s frogs were discovered by Darwin himself in 1834 in Chile and there were two species (the southern frogs have seen a decline in their numbers but are not yet extinct).

Good news! The South Island kokako, a New Zealand bird that was declared extinct in 2007 because there had been no confirmed sightings since 1967, might have been spotted recently. Its classification has been upgraded to “data deficient.”

A new species of wild cat has been identified in South America! Two geographically separate groups of tigrina were once thought to belong to the same species, but genetic analysis shows that they are distinct species.

Scientists are planning to try to clone the last bucardo, a species of mountain goats from the Pyrenees that went extinct in 2000, if her frozen cells are still in good condition.

The largest snakes in the world, green anacondas from South America, have infiltrated the Everglades in Florida. Since they aren’t susceptible to fire ants in the same way invasive Burmese pythons are, their numbers could increase rapidly if they start breeding (which they probably already have).

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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: 12/3/13”

“Spelunking paleontologists” is the name of my new band. You should totally check us out.

Seriously though – loved that story!

The more HPV-related cancer stories I see, the more I continue to be really pleased I’m vaccinated against (some types of) HPV.

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