I know what you were thinking, Aledans. You thought I forgot about Science Tuesday because of all the PonyFest excitement, didn’t you? You’re half right – I did forget about it until this afternoon 😛 But last week was full of really cool science news, so enjoy!
Interstellar winds change direction, study finds: Interstellar winds that blow through the solar system have changed direction by 4 to 9 degrees, according to a study by NASA researchers, who examined data collected by 11 spacecraft between 1972 and 2011. Scientists had long believed that the winds gusted in a steady direction. “Previously we thought the very local interstellar medium was very constant, but these results show just how dynamic the solar system’s interaction is,” said study co-author Dave McComas, lead investigator for NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer.
Drug combo shows promise as treatment for deadly virus: A combination of ribavirin and interferon protects monkeys from the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, and potentially could be used to treat humans, according to a study published in Nature Medicine. Three of six rhesus monkeys were given the drug cocktail eight hours after being infected with MERS, and showed only minimal signs of the virus, while the other three became very ill, researchers said.
Hyperactive behavior tied to genetic ear defect, study finds: A genetic defect in the inner ear has been linked to hyperactivity, according to a study published last week in Science, leading researchers to believe that the condition, in some cases, can have a neurobiological root. Scientists removed a gene from young mice that caused inner-ear defects, including a loss of hearing, and found that the gene removal coincided with higher levels of two proteins in an area of the brain that regulates motor functions, resulting in hyperactive behavior.
Milk intake during pregnancy may affect height, diabetes risk in children: According to a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, children born to women who consumed more than 150ml of milk, or roughly 5 ounces, daily during pregnancy are more likely to be tall later in life than those whose mothers drank less. Researchers also found that children whose mothers had high milk intake during pregnancy had higher insulin levels by their late teens, suggesting that they had lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Artifacts found at Israel dig site date to King Solomon’s rule: Artifacts found in excavations in Israel’s Timna Valley have been carbon-dated to the 10th century B.C., the time of King Solomon’s rule. The find offers clues to life during the period. “The mines are definitely from the period of King Solomon. They may help us understand the local society, which would have been invisible to us otherwise,” said Tel Aviv University archaeologist Erez Ben-Yosef.
Final instrument completed for James Webb Space Telescope: Work has been completed on the Near-Infrared spectrometer, known as NirSpec, one of four instruments that will go into the James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to take over for the Hubble in October 2018. NirSpec will determine age, movement, composition and distance of objects that come into its view.
Researchers authenticate forgotten Van Gogh painting: A painting by Vincent van Gogh long thought to be a forgery has been authenticated after an investigation showed it significantly matched other works by the Dutch artist. “Sunset at Montmajour” dates to 1888 and spent many years in the attic of a Norwegian collector after it was declared a fake in the early 1900s. “We carried out art historical research into the style, the depiction, use of materials and context, and everything we found indicated that this is a work by Van Gogh,” explained researchers Louis van Tilborgh and Teio Meedendorp.
I think Amy really would have liked that painting 😉
Large Bermuda Triangle quake triggered 1817 tsunami, researchers find: An 1817 large wave that struck the East Coast was actually a tsunami triggered by a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in the Bermuda Triangle, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey. Using newly discovered archival records, researchers created a computer model of the tsunami, which led them to revise the earthquake’s magnitude from 4.8 to 7.4.
Increased risk of bites in autumn corresponds with tiger shark migration in Hawaii: A seven-year study of tiger shark migration has lent credence to a long-held Hawaiian belief that the danger of shark bites increases in the fall. “Both the timing of this migration and tiger shark pupping season coincide with Hawaiian oral traditions suggesting that late summer and fall, when the wiliwili tree blooms, are a period of increased risk of shark bites,” said University of Hawaii researcher Carl Meyer, who co-authored the study. Researchers tagged more than 100 tiger sharks and found that about one quarter of the female sharks return to the islands every year, likely to give birth.
Sediment from Antarctic lake bottom shows signs of life: The mud deep below the surface of an ice-covered lake in Antarctica has evidence of life, according to a report in the journal Diversity. Scientists grew 20 cultures of microbes found in the sediment, indicating that life thrives in the extreme environment, and also found fossilized fragments of DNA from many kinds of microbes that appear to have adapted to the harsh conditions over the ages.
Larger brains help birds cope with stress: Birds with larger brains cope better in difficult situations, according to an analysis of 189 avian studies. Correlating the studies, evolutionary biologists determined that big-brained birds have lower levels of the stress hormone corticosterone, helping them anticipate and avoid problems.
Researchers identify microbes in panda waste that may aid biofuel production: Researchers have identified 40 microbes in giant panda waste that have the potential to speed up the conversion of plant cellulose in advanced biofuel production without the need for costly inputs used by existing methods, according to a report. The microbes have “unusually potent” enzymes that pandas use to extract nutrients from their bamboo diet, the researchers said.
Biofuels of the future, coming to you from…panda poop.
Naturally occurring chemicals can keep mosquitoes away, study finds: Chemicals that naturally occur in human skin could render people invisible to mosquitoes, researchers say, and may lead to an alternative to current repellant options. Scientists tested various compounds and found that some blocked the bugs’ sense of smell. “We are exploring a different approach, with substances that impair the mosquito’s sense of smell. If a mosquito can’t sense that dinner is ready, there will be no buzzing, no landing and no bite,” said Department of Agriculture researcher Ulrich Bernier.
Scientists uncover 6 million-year-old juvenile ape skull: The skull of a juvenile of an extinct species of ape dating back 6 million years has been found in China, researchers say. “The preservation of the new cranium is excellent. This is important because all previously discovered adult crania of the species to which it is assigned, Lufengpithecus lufengensis, were badly crushed and distorted during the fossilization process,” said paleoanthropologist Jay Kelley of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University.
Curiosity rover to stop and study Mars landscape: The Mars Curiosity rover will soon have a respite from its long trip to its next major destination, according to NASA. The rover is nearing the first of five waypoints in its journey to the base of Mount Sharp and will stop to do a detailed study of the area.
Butterflies thirsty for sodium find solace in turtles’ tears: Butterflies flock around the yellow-spotted river turtles in the Amazon rainforest and drink the reptiles’ tears to ingest sodium, researchers say. The mineral is scarce in the Amazon and the fluttery herbivores struggle to get enough of it, said scientist Phil Torres. The butterflies can also get their sodium from other sources.
These badass butterflies will drink your tears!
Mass grave found on site of ancient Maya excavation: The bones of 24 dismembered and decapitated bodies have been found in a mass grave in the ancient Mayan city of Uxul. Archaeologists were studying the water system when they came across the find, which lends credence to depictions of violence in the art of that time period. “After the 24 victims had been buried, the pre-Hispanic Maya covered the remains with a coarse layer of gravel and sealed it with a clay layer. Due to this sealing layer, the documented bones were found in an extraordinarily good state of preservation,” said archaeologist Nicolaus Seefeld of the University of Bonn in Germany.
Trio of buried rivers in the Sahara thrived in ancient times, study finds: Three large rivers ran through the Sahara Desert about 100,000 years ago, creating oases in the arid landscape, according to research published in PLoS ONE. “These rivers were big. They were about the same as the Missouri or the Rhine or even the Nile when it’s low flow,” said University of Hull hydrologist Thomas Coulthard, the study’s co-author. Researchers say these now-buried rivers could have helped ancient humans migrate across the Sahara.
Archaeologists uncover parts of ancient Stonehenge pathway: Parts of an ancient pathway leading to Stonehenge has been uncovered by archaeologists deconstructing a modern road near the site. “We found the bottoms, the truncated ditches, that belong to the feature known as the avenue, which is the processional leading up to Stonehenge,” archaeologist Heather Sebire said. The avenue is believed to be an ancient path to Stonehenge that had been dissected by the modern road.
Arctic sea ice continues to show declines, officials say: The amount of Arctic sea ice for this summer is well below average, but will not reach the all-time low set last September, as it reaches its annual minimum, say officials at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Meanwhile, scientists studying the region with the Cryosat spacecraft say the volume of sea ice did hit a new low during the March-April period, when marine floes are at their thickest. “The Arctic will be ice-free in the summer in a few decades. All we’ll have is winter ice,” said NSIDC Director Mark Serreze.
NASA drones: Keeping an eye on the hurricane’s eye: NASA is employing drones as storm chasers over the Atlantic Ocean, using them to watch for and track hurricanes as they develop. The two Global Hawks are studying how the storms grow and how they’re being affected by their environment.
Reprogrammed stem cells in mice could pave way to tissue regeneration: Spanish scientists successfully forced mature cells into an embryonic-like state inside the bodies of living mice, creating so-called reprogrammed induced pluripotent stem cells. Transforming mature cells into stem-like cells “means turning back the clock when everything in the environment favors the opposite,” lead author Manuel Serrano said. The experiment, published in the journal Nature, opens the possibility that damaged tissue can be regenerated in patients with conditions such as diabetes and heart disorders.
NASA confirms that Voyager 1 has entered interstellar space: Voyager 1 has indeed left the solar system, NASA confirmed, making it the first spacecraft to enter interstellar space. Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 and is currently more than 11.66 billion miles from the sun, entering interstellar space in August 2012, according to a study published in Science.
NASA rounds up 3 asteroid candidates for space lasso mission: NASA has identified three asteroids as candidates for its robotic space lasso mission, which aims to corral one of these space rocks, tow it to the moon and set it in orbit there so astronauts can explore it. Scientists are looking for asteroids between 20 and 30 feet wide that meet certain orbital constraints for the program, which hopes to have astronauts visit as soon as 2021.
WHUT? We’re going to give the moon a moon? This is so bizarre.
Molasses spill causes sticky situation for Hawaii: A molasses spill that has killed hundreds of fish in Hawaii could attract predators such as sharks, barracuda and eels, prompting health officials to warn people to stay out of the water. A leak in a molasses pipeline has dumped 1,400 tons of the sticky, sweet liquid into the waters of Hawaii.
Insect has functional gears on hind legs: Juvenile plant-hopping insects are the first living creatures known to have functional gears in their legs, according to a study published in the journal Science. The immature Issus coleoptratus uses the gears to help synchronize its hind legs when it jumps.
Evolutionary changes came swiftly 530M years ago, study finds: By combining evidence from the fossil record with genetic clues in living species, scientists have estimated the speed of the so-called Cambrian explosion, when the number and diversity of Earth’s life forms ballooned 530 million years ago. Researchers studied the evolution of arthropods through fossil records and found that they were evolving new traits four times faster during the dawn of modern creatures than they did in following eras, according to the study published online in Current Biology.
New snail species with translucent shell found in Croatian cave: A new species of snail with a semi-transparent shell has been found deep inside a cave in western Croatia. Zospeum tholussum has no eyes or shell pigmentation, which are unnecessary in the complete darkness of the cave. A live specimen and eight empty shells were collected by a team of cavers and biologists from the Croatian Biospeleological Society, which was on an expedition to measure the depth of the cave.
Dual-purpose bacteria help raise shrimp cheaply, ecologically: A shrimp-farming business in the U.K. says it has created an economical and ecological alternative to traditional methods by using bacteria with a dual purpose — to clean the water and provide food for the shrimp. Biochemical students from University College London founded the startup, called Marizca, which uses portable indoor units running on solar power to raise the shrimp. “The bacteria eat the shrimp waste and, at the same time, the shrimp eat the bacteria when they have reached a certain size. It makes producing shrimp a lot cheaper,” said co-founder Leonardo Rios.
Researchers identify gene mutation that blocks pain: Scientists have identified a gene mutation that causes people to not feel pain, which may lead to the development of pain treatments that work the same way. Researchers at Jena University Hospital in Germany compared the gene sequence of a girl with congenital analgesia — the inability to feel pain — with those of her parents, who do not have the disorder, to isolate the gene mutation.
Gene combo linked to left-handedness: Genes that control body asymmetry may also play a role in whether a person is left-handed or right-handed, according to a study by researchers at the University of Oxford in the U.K. They linked handedness to a complex combination of genes, including the gene PCSK6, which plays a key role in body asymmetry during development.
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