Science Tuesday: Billion-Year-Old Water, Crystal Flowers, and a Fluffy Moon.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, the Science News was coming a little late this week (I had two week’s worth of emails to get through!). I’ve finally managed to pry the juicy little nuggets from my Inbox, so let’s get your weekly dose of science goodness started!

By NASA (NASA KEPLER MISSION) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By NASA (NASA KEPLER MISSION) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Einstein, Kepler Combine to Discover Earth-like Planet“This is the first time that this aspect of Einstein’s theory of relativity has been used to discover a planet”, says professor Mazeh, a participating scientist in the NASA Kepler mission. “We have been searching for this elusive effect for more than two years, and we finally found a planet!”

Early Hominins Couldn’t Have Heard Modern SpeechA combination of ape-like and human-like features in the bones indicate some australopiths lacked sensitivity to the midrange frequencies that modern humans use for speech.

Stunning Byzantine Mosaic Uncovered in Isreal: The mosaic would’ve extended the area of the main building, with a total area about 40 feet long by 28 feet wide (12 meters by 8.5 meters). Divided into three squares with circles within each, the mosaic was decorated with “interwoven designs,” Degen said. At each corner were amphoras, or jars used to hold wine, and other designs, such as two peacocks flanking an amphora, a dove and a partridge, and one amphora with a pomegranate and a lemonlike fruit inside.

Eating Insects Could Help Fight Obesity: As well as helping in the costly battle against obesity, which the World Health Organization estimates has nearly doubled since 1980 and affects around 500 million people, the report said insect farming was likely to be less land-dependent than traditional livestock and produce fewer greenhouse gases.

It would also provide business and export opportunities for poor people in developing countries, especially women, who are often responsible for collecting insects in rural communities.

Minoan Civilization Was Made in Europe: The Minoans flourished on Crete for as many as 12 centuries until about 1,500 bc, when it is thought to have been devastated by a catastrophic eruption of the Mediterranean island volcano Santorini, and a subsequent tsunami. They are widely recognized as one of Europe’s first ‘high cultures’, renowned for their pottery, metal-work and colourful frescoes. Their civilization fuelled Greek myths such as the story of the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull creature who lived in a labyrinth. 

Boys Killed Pets to Become Warriors in Early Russia: At the age of eight, the boys were sent to ritualists, who bathed them, shaved their heads, and gave them animal skins to wear. Eight years later, the initiates underwent a midwinter ceremony in which they ritually died and journeyed to the underworld. After this, the boys left their homes and families, painted their bodies black, donned a dog-skin cloak, and joined a band of warriors.

Mighty Algae Could Lead to Biofuels Breakthrough: Schoenknecht’s research found some surprising results: The enzymes that make the algae so tough were “stolen” from bacteria enzymes, something that is not supposed to be possible.

Oldest Fossils Reveal When Apes and Monkeys First Diverged: DNA evidence has long suggested that apes and Old World monkeys diverged from a common ancestor between 25 million and 30 million years ago. But until now, no fossils older than 20 million years had been found.

‘Out of Time’ Fossil Reveals Ancient Ocean Diversity: Researchers had previously believed that ichthyosaurs declined throughout the Jurassic Period, which lasted from 199 million to 145 million years ago, with the only survivors rapidly evolving to keep ahead of repeated extinction events. The new fossil, however, dates from the Cretaceous Period, which lasted from 145 million to 66 million years ago. It looks remarkably like its Jurassic brethren, revealing a surprising evolutionary statis.

Reservoir Deep Under Ontario Holds Billion-Year-Old Water: To date the water, the team used three lines of evidence, all based on the relative abundances of various isotopes of noble gases present in the water. The authors determined that the fluid could not have contacted Earth’s atmosphere — and so been at the planet’s surface — for at least 1 billion years, and possibly for as long as 2.64 billion years, not long after the rocks it flows through formed.

Mechanical Trouble Imperils Kepler: Just over four years after it was launched into orbit, NASA’s Kepler space telescope has broken down. On 14 May, after tilting in an unexpected direction, Kepler entered a protective safe mode and stopped collecting data. Efforts to get the spacecraft going again failed when a wheel crucial for pointing the telescope refused to spin.

Property of Rarest Element on Earth Measured for First Time: Astatine occurs naturally; however, scientists estimate much less than an ounce in total exists worldwide. For a long time, the characteristics of this elusive element were a mystery, but physicists at the CERN physics laboratory in Switzerland have now measured its ionization potential — the amount of energy needed to remove one electron from an atom of astatine, turning it into an ion or a charged particle.

First Grey Whale Recorded in Southern Hemisphere: On May 4, four tour boats on dolphin-spotting cruises near Namibia’s Walvis Bay spotted an unusual whale. Eight days later, photographs taken by John Paterson of the Albatross Task Force confirmed the improbable: the lone whale was a gray whale – the first one ever recorded south of the equator.

Invasive Ladybird Has Biological Weapon: The interloper is the harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis), one of the world’s most invasive insects. From its homelands in central Asia, H. axyridis was introduced to Europe and North America to control aphids. Since then, however, it has become a serious pest that has put native ladybird species under threat by outcompeting or even eating them.

Repeat after me: Do Not Introduce Invasive Species To Control Other Species. It always ends poorly.

Dog Dementia Helps Search for Cure: Associate Professor Michael Valenzuela says 12 per cent of dogs older than 10 develop a form of dementia similar to the type that affects humans.

”(It) has many parallels with human dementia in terms of memory loss, disorientation, agitation and also, at the level of pathology, many similarities in terms of Alzheimer plaques building up in the brain,” he told reporters at the Alzheimer’s Australia national conference in Hobart.

Zap the Brain With Electricity to Speed Up Mental Maths: After just five consecutive sessions, each lasting about 40 minutes, the people given TRNS significantly improved their ability to do mental arithmetic. They were twice as fast at doing the actual calculations and their rate of improvement was twice that of the other group. Their “drill learning”, the ability to recall arithmetic facts such as multiplication tables, also improved five-fold in both measures.

Astrophile: Saturn’s Egg Moon Methone is Made of Fluff: Named Methone, this small, oval moon was seen in close-up for the first time last year by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Methone is utterly unlike the other small balls of ice and rock that dot the solar system, which are deeply scarred by impacts. Instead it is smooth, with not a hill or pockmark in sight. Now astronomers may have a clue as to why: Methone is made of lightweight fluff.

Methone, By NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Methone, By NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Crystal ‘Flowers’ Bloom in Harvard Nanotech Lab: These “flowers” were created by mixing barium chloride and sodium silicate, also known as waterglass, in a beaker of water. The resulting reaction also combines with carbon dioxide in the air to create crystals made of barium carbonate in the water.

Malaria Parasite Lures Mosquitoes to Human Odor: Researchers found that infected insects were three times more likely to be lured towards a human scent. They believe that the deadly parasites are seizing control of their biting hosts and boosting their sense of smell.

Coffee May Lower Risk of Detrimental Liver Disease: A large study of American patients found that those who drank coffee were less likely to come down with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), an inflammatory disease of the bile ducts causing inflammation and subsequent fibrosis that may lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, and biliary cancer.

Honeybees Trained in Croatia to Find Land Mines: Several feeding points were set up on the ground around the tent, but only a few have TNT particles in them. The method of training the bees by authenticating the scent of explosives with the food they eat appears to work: bees gather mainly at the pots containing a sugar solution mixed with TNT, and not the ones that have a different smell.

This makes it sound like they’re feeding the bees TNT-laced sugar, but they’re only using the smell of the TNT to attract the bees to the sugar. Then the bees go out in the fields and go straight to the mines thinking they’ll find sugar in them.

Navy Dolphin Finds Rare 130-Year-Old Torpedo: The brass-coated, retro wonder of technology was one of the first self-propelled torpedoes used by the U.S. Navy. Just 50 of these so-called Howell torpedoes were made and only one other example has been recovered; it sits in the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Wash., outside of Seattle.

Watch out dolphins, soon they’ll teach the bees to swim and you’ll be out of work.

How Salamanders Regenerate Lost Limbs: A study of the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), an aquatic salamander, reveals that immune cells called macrophages are critical in the early stages of regenerating lost limbs. Wiping out these cells permanently prevented regeneration and led to tissue scarring. The findings hint at possible strategies for tissue repair in humans.

Irish Potato Famine Pathogen Identified: DNA extracted from museum specimens shows the strain that changed history is different from modern day epidemics, and is probably now extinct.

T. Rex’s Smaller Cousin Ate Like a Falcon: Researchers at Ohio University in Athens found that while a T. rex whips its head from side to side to gorge on its victims, the Allosaurus — a theropod that lived about 150 million years ago in the late Jurassic period — may have been a more dexterous hunter, using its neck and body to tug flesh from carcasses, the same way a falcon does.

Discovery Could Lead to Faster, Fuller Healing of Diabetic Wounds: Plasminogen stimulates inflammation that promotes wound healing, and the substance was lacking in chronic wounds in diabetic mice, Shen discovered. By injecting plasminogen at the wound site, he was able to trigger the inflammatory response and significantly increase the rate of healing.

Early Weaning Suggests Neanderthals Matured Faster: Manish Arora from the University of Sydney in Australia and colleagues discovered that levels of barium in tooth enamel rise while a child is breastfed but drop off when they are weaned. So they tested barium levels in a 100,000-year-old molar from a Neanderthal child and concluded it was weaned at 14 months.

Of course this is all based on ONE tooth. I wouldn’t really call it conclusive.

Pitcher Plant with Ant, By Bauer et al. [CC-BY-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Pitcher Plant with Ant, By Bauer et al. [CC-BY-2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Carnivorous Plant Keeps House With Ants: Flies and mosquitoes lay their eggs in the pitcher-shaped leaves, and their larvae also feed on the drowned insects. Once the larvae metamorphose into adults, they fly away, removing nutrients that could have gone to the pitcher plant.

Diving ants prey on these larvae, ultimately allowing the pitcher plant to keep their precious load of nitrogen.

New Cave-Dwelling Scorpion Species Discovered: Whip scorpions are not true scorpions, but rather part of a group of arachnids that don’t have stings and are not poisonous. They possess a whip-like tail, but look more like ants.

Amazing Ash Cloud Spied From Space Station: An astronaut aboard the International Space Station snapped a photo of ash streaming from the fiery peak in the Aleutian Islands, about 625 miles (1,000 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage.

Studies Examine Clues of Transoceanic Contact: The Jomon culture was mentioned in other news this month. The largest ever genetic study of native South Americans identified a sub-population in Ecuador with an unexpected link to eastern Asia.The study, published in PLOS Genetics, concluded that Asian genes had been introduced into South America sometime after 6,000 years ago — the same time the Jomon culture was flourishing in Japan.

Battle-Bruised King Richard III Buried in Hasty Grave: The archaeological analysis contains details only alluded to in the initial announcement of the findings. In particular, the archaeologists found that Richard III’s grave was dug poorly and probably hastily, a sharp contrast to the neat rectangular graves otherwise found in the church where the king was laid to rest.


That’s it for this week, Aledans. Stop by again next week for your weekly science fix!

If you want to receive the same daily science emails I do, you can sign up for the Sigma Xi SmartBrief here.


Published by

Rebecca Enzor

Rebecca Enzor is a chemist in Charleston, SC who writes Young Adult and New Adult Fantasy and Magical Realism. Repped by Eric Smith of P.S. Literary.

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