Good morning, Aledans! I was up early this morning to swim laps (no, don’t call the cops, it wasn’t at gunpoint), so I’m feeling equal parts energized and completely drained. Before I fall over completely exhausted, let’s get to this week’s science news, huh? It seems scientists had a little extra time on their hands this week, but at least they left the mice out of it.
Mars mission entices more than 100,000 potential colonists: More than 100,000 people have answered Dutch nonprofit Mars One’s call to colonize the Red Planet. Applicants paid $38 each for a chance to be part of a four-person team that would head to Mars in 2022 for the mission, which is expected to cost $6 billion.
3-D process finds 3 dinosaur species are really one: Psittacosaurus fossils, once thought to be from three different species, are actually from a single species, according to scientists from the University of Pennsylvania. Using 3-D geometric morphometrics, which uses lasers to gather data on a specimen’s shape, was used for the first time on dinosaur remains and may lead to other re-evaluations of extinct species.
Discovery of Neanderthal tools raises questions about modern humans’ arrival in Europe: Evidence that Neanderthals used tools made from bones about 50,000 years ago has raised new questions about when modern humans arrived in Europe. “It opens the possibility that in this case, maybe (modern humans) learned this tool type from Neanderthals,” said archaeologist Shannon McPherron, co-author of the study.
Archaeologist rushes to study Civil War prison site before it’s sold to developer: Archaeologists are scrambling to raise funds to study the site of a Civil War prison camp that is targeted for development. Chester DePratter, head of the research division at the University of South Carolina’s Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, said he doesn’t have enough time to raise the $300,000 to $400,000 needed to excavate the site through grants, but he has been given four months to do field work while plans are made to sell the property to a developer.
Carnivorous cobia go vegan: A trio of Baltimore scientists have turned the carnivorous cobia fish into a vegetarian. In a four-year study, the researchers developed a mixture of plant-based proteins, fatty acids and a powerful amino acid-like substance that sated the cobia’s appetite.
No. Just, no. Turning a carnivorous fish vegan so you can grow more of it so it can be eaten by carnivores? Sometimes I hate you, science.
The scoop on Elon Musk’s Hyperloop: The Hyperloop, brainchild of entrepreneur Elon Musk, would make the 350-mile trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco seem more like a quick ride across town, according to details released Monday. The proposed superspeed transit system would run on solar power and consist of pods, each carrying 28 passengers, leaving every two minutes, reaching speeds of up to 760 mph, all for the price of a $20 ticket. Musk said such a project would have a $6 billion price tag.
Woodpeckers in Detroit area thriving on diet of tree-killing ash borers, study finds: The emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle that is infesting ash trees in parts of the U.S., has had an impact on the area’s woodpeckers. Researchers found a higher population of red-bellied woodpeckers in areas where trees are overrun with the bugs. “One of the easiest ways to find an infested tree when you’re out in the field is to find a tree that’s been heavily attacked by woodpeckers,” said Andrew Liebhold, an insect scientist for the U.S. Forest Service and co-author of the study.
New worm species gobble up bones in Antarctic: Two new species of worms that feed on the bones of dead whales have been found in the chilly waters of the Antarctic. While studying what happens to bones and wood planks deep on the Antarctic seafloor, researchers discovered the worms, named Osedax antarcticus and Osedax deceptionensis, in abundance on the bones, but the wood came back untouched.
Bunnies glow green in the dark: Bunnies born at a Turkish lab have a special glow, and it’s green. To see if genetic material introduced through injection would become part of the litter’s natural makeup, researchers injected fluorescent protein from jellyfish into a rabbit’s embryos. When the litter was born, two of the bunnies glowed green in the dark.
Another scientist with too much time on his hands…
DNA gives scientists clues about the settlement of the Americas: A new study of mitochondrial DNA has given researchers insight into the genetic makeup of the Americas’ first settlers. By compiling complete mitochondrial genomes from 41 native North Americans, combined with data from previous studies, Italian scientists have pieced together the most complete picture so far of the settlers’ movements, according to a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Study suggests current safe sugar levels are not so safe: Female mice fed a diet with 25% added sugars died at twice the normal rate, while males were less likely to reproduce, according to a study published in Nature Communications journal. That amount of sugar is considered a safe level for human consumption. “Added sugar consumed at concentrations currently considered safe exerts dramatic impacts on mammalian health,” the study says. “Many researchers have already made calls for reevaluation of these safe levels of consumption.”
Dyke excavators unearth remains of medieval boat: The remnants of a medieval boat dating back to between 1400 and 1600 have been found along the River Chet near the town of Loddon in the U.K. Workers excavating the area for a new drainage dyke came across the vessel’s remains.
Rock carvings found in Nevada are the oldest on the continent: Petroglyphs found etched in limestone boulders near Nevada’s Winnemucca Lake are believed to be the oldest in North America, according to a study by researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder. Radiocarbon tests date the rock carvings to between 10,500 and 14,800 years ago.
Researchers: Collapse of ancient Greece linked to centuries-long drought: The effects of a 300-year drought may have led to the decline of ancient Greece, as well as other Mediterranean cultures, a study in PLoS One suggests. “This climate shift caused crop failures, dearth and famine, which precipitated or hastened socioeconomic crises and forced regional human migrations,” said the study’s authors.
New mammal found in the Americas: A small, red-furred, carnivorous member of the raccoon family native to Central and South America is the first new mammal discovered in the Americas in 35 years. The olinguito, or Bassaricyon neblina, has lived under researchers’ noses, often misidentified, until anatomical and DNA evidence was brought forth that differentiated the species from other olingos. “I honestly think that this could be the last time in history that we will turn up this kind of situation — both a new carnivore, and one that’s widespread enough to have multiple kinds,” said Kristofer Helgen of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, whose team made the discovery.
Much cuter than glow-in-the-dark bunnies!
Tahiti crawling with new beetle species: A bevy of beetle species has been identified in Tahiti, which is home to a wide array of insects. Entomologists working for a month to update the island’s species classifications cataloged more than 40 new kinds of beetles, and expect to find more. “Given the amount of time we had, we did quite well,” said Cornell University’s Jim Liebherr, who led the beetle study. “Did we finish? Absolutely no way.”
Medieval remains found in Germany, thanks to burrowing badger: A badger digging a den near the German town of Stolpe led archaeologists to the remains of eight people from the 12th century, including two who appeared to be Slavic warlords. Two local sculptors who had been observing the badger at work noticed a pelvic bone inside the new nest. “We pushed a camera into the badger’s sett (den), and took photos by remote control,” said Hendrikje Ring, one of the sculptors. “We found pieces of jewelry, retrieved them and contacted the authorities.”
Kepler positioning system permanently disabled: The Kepler space telescope’s broken positioning system cannot be repaired, according to NASA officials, dashing hopes of returning the observatory to its planet-hunting mission. “The wheels (that control the telescope’s motion) are sufficiently damaged that they cannot sustain spacecraft pointing control for any extended period of time,” said Charles Sobeck, Kepler deputy project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Scientists might be able to use Kepler for other projects, and NASA is evaluating proposals before deciding on whether to continue funding the Kepler mission.
That’s kind of sad 😦
Voyager 1 is now outside our solar system, researchers say: NASA’s Voyager 1 is going where no man-made probe has gone before — outside our solar system, new research suggests. “We think that the magnetic field within the solar system and in the interstellar space are aligned enough that you can actually pass through without seeing a huge change in direction,” said University of Maryland physicist Marc Swisdak, meaning that the probe may have reached interstellar space last summer, though NASA officials are skeptical.
631 projects to get funding assistance under REAP: The Department of Agriculture has chosen 631 renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects to receive a total of more than $21 million in funding under the Rural Energy for America Program. In the past four years, the program has funded nearly 7,000 projects, said Doug O’Brien, acting USDA undersecretary for rural development. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said REAP and other programs like it underscore the importance of a farm bill with energy programs intact.
Double lunar eclipse seen by Mars rover: NASA released images of a double lunar eclipse taken by Mars rover Curiosity this month. The 41 images show the larger Phobos passing in front of Deimos on Aug. 1, to the delight of researchers studying the Martian moons. “The ultimate goal is to improve orbit knowledge enough that we can improve the measurement of the tides Phobos raises on the Martian solid surface, giving knowledge of the Martian interior,” said Texas A&M University’s Mark Lemmon.
Newly discovered nova visible to intrepid stargazers: A new nova has been located in the night sky just north of the constellation Delphinus. As of Friday, the nova’s brightness measured a magnitude 4.4 and is getting brighter, making it visible to dedicated stargazers.
Human ancestors called China home 1.7M years ago: Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences uncovered evidence that Homo erectus lived in China more than a million years ago. “Homo erectus occupied a vast area in China by 1.7 million to 1.6 million years ago,” paleomagnetist Hong Ao said. Ao’s team analyzed the earth above, below and surrounding ancient stone tools in the Nihewan Basin, about 90 miles west of Beijing, looking at the minerals’ magnetic fields to reach their findings, which were published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Turkish archaeologists take their turn with game-token find: Carved stones believed to be the oldest gaming pieces ever found have been discovered in a Bronze Age burial ground in southeast Turkey. “Some depict pigs, dogs and pyramids, others feature round and bullet shapes. We also found dice as well as three circular tokens made of white shell and topped with a black round stone,” said archaeologist Haluk Saglamtimur of Ege University in Izmir, Turkey. He believes the tokens are part of a chess-like game, based around the number four.
Fatal canine virus linked to tiger deaths in Russia: A rare species of tiger in Russia has been succumbing to canine distemper virus, which may be responsible for at least 1% of the big cats’ deaths. Pathologists at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York studied tissue samples from five wild Amur, or Siberian, tigers that died from a neurological disease, and found that the distemper virus killed two of the animals, and was present in a third. “Losing 1% of an endangered population is pretty significant,” said Denise McAloose, a researcher on the study.
That’s it for this week’s science news, Aledans. Come back next Tuesday for another hit of science goodness!
If you want to receive the same daily science emails I do, you can sign up for the Sigma Xi SmartBrief here.