Science Tuesday: Oarfish, Bovine Burps, and Tricking Newton’s Third Law of Motion.

We’re back on schedule, Aledans! Here’s your weekly dose of sciencey goodness.

Otzi Replica, By Sandstein (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (]
Otzi Replica, By Sandstein (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (
Living relatives of 5,300-year-old Iceman discovered: Otzi the Iceman, the 5,300-year-old body found in the Italian Alps in 1991, has relatives living in Austria today, according to a study. Researchers found 19 genetic matches to the frozen mummy while examining DNA records of 3,700 Austrian blood donors for G-L91, a rare Y-chromosome mutation that is used to determine ancestral relationships.

Clay balls hold clues to ancient record-keeping system: Ancient clay balls from Mesopotamia contain clues to a lost code used for record-keeping about 5,500 years ago, before writing was invented. Researchers used CT scans and 3D modeling to see inside the sealed balls, which range in size from a golf ball to a baseball, to find tokens in varying shapes. The balls are believed to have been used as a record of economic transactions. University of Chicago professor Christopher Woods presented the findings in a lecture at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, saying the mysterious balls may be the “very first data storage system.”

Virus could be behind white plague in corals: Viruses could be playing a role in an epidemic of the white plague that’s killing corals in the Caribbean Sea, according to a study. Researchers studied viruses present in diseased and healthy corals, finding that corals with the white plague held a specific group of viruses that may have caused the disease. “Viruses can be tracked down to a source. If the viruses behind white plague are tracked down to, say, human sewage, then we may have a way to mitigate disease infections,” said Oregon State University microbiologist Nitzan Soffer, lead author of the study published last month in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal.

Curled leaves serve as hearing aids for tiny bats: Tiny Spix’s disk-winged bats, which roost in plant leaves, also use the curled up leaves to help them hear sounds from outside. Researchers recorded calls made by the bats and played them back through a speaker, first positioned at the narrow end and then at the wider end, finding that the leaves amplified the incoming calls significantly, while the outgoing calls were only slightly louder. The findings of the study were reported in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Snorkeler finds 18-foot oarfish near Catalina Island: The carcass of an 18-foot oarfish was pulled ashore Sunday after being discovered by a marine instructor who was snorkeling near Catalina Island, Calif. Jasmine Santana, an instructor at the Catalina Island Marine Institute, found the eel-like creature resting on the sandy bottom, almost perfectly intact. Oarfish, which are rarely seen, can grow up to 56 feet in length and are thought to have inspired tales of giant sea serpents.

Higgs to retire next year: Nobel Prize winner Peter Higgs plans to retire next year after he turns 85. The physicist isn’t comfortable with all the attention after jointly winning the prize for predicting the existence of the Higgs boson. “I’m getting the prize for something which took me two or three weeks in 1964. It’s a very small amount of my life. If you take Einstein, for the example, his achievements were several orders of magnitude greater,” he said.

Light pulses gain speed by tricking Newton’s 3rd law of motion: A diametric drive, which uses negative and positive mass to accelerate forever, has been created by researchers using effective mass, essentially tricking light pulses into behaving as if they had mass. By firing laser pulses with positive and negative effective mass through two loops of fiber-optic cable, one a bit longer than the other, scientists at Germany’s University of Erlangen-Nuremberg found that the pulses accelerated in the same direction, gaining speed with each revolution, essentially cheating Newton’s third law of motion.

Thinning moose population has scientists puzzled, worried: Moose populations in North America are dying off, and researchers don’t know why. “Something’s changed. There’s fewer moose out there, and hunters are working harder to find them,” said biologist Nicholas DeCesare, of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which is counting moose in the state in an effort to find the reason behind the decline. In different states, there are various causes of death, such as winter tick infestation, brain worms and deforestation. All have the common thread of climate change, but unregulated hunting could also be to blame.

Large fragment of asteroid that exploded over Russia pulled from lake: Divers on Wednesday pulled a meteorite weighing more than 1,255 pounds out of Russia’s Lake Chebarkul, the largest chunk of an asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk in February yet found, scientists said. However, the 5-foot-long rock broke into three pieces as it was hoisted onto a scale, which itself broke as it weighed the boulder. Divers have been searching the lake for pieces of the asteroid, recovering more than 12 rocks, though only four or five actually turned out to be meteorites.

Archaeologists cast doubt on King Herod burial site: A pair of archaeologists dispute that a relatively modest burial site found in 2007 is that of Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Judea. Joseph Patrich and Benjamin Arubas of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem say the tomb discovered by Ehud Netzer as part of a massive complex built by Herod outside Jerusalem is too small and poorly designed to have been the work of the king, who was a master builder. Patrich and Arubas’ findings were presented last week at the Innovations in Archaeology in Jerusalem and the Surrounding Area conference.

Study looks at how teeth evolved: Teeth were not the first bones to evolve, according to a study of conodonts — ancient, jawless, eel-like creatures that died out 200 million years ago. Using X-rays, palaeontologists determined that the bony tooth-like spurs found in the mouths of early conodonts evolved independently from vertebrate teeth, meaning that the tooth as we know it today hadn’t yet evolved when conodonts split from the animals that eventually became humans, according to a report in Nature. “We now have to assume our teeth evolved from the armor of mud-slurping fish,” said Philip Donoghue of the University of Bristol in England, the study’s lead author.

Immune proteins can stop HIV spread, shorten drug treatment: Defensive immune proteins called A3, found in rare cases of people with HIV, could help stop the virus from spreading throughout the body and prevent it from progressing when anti-HIV medications are stopped, according to a study published in PLoS ONE. The protein is part of the intrinsic immune system that can distinguish the core of the virus. The study suggests that increasing this defense in those who are infected with HIV can shorten drug treatment.

N.D. students ready lunar habitat simulation: Students and faculty at the University of North Dakota will participate in a one-of-a-kind simulation funded by NASA. Four students will live for 10 days in a lunar habitat that they have designed, testing its engineering systems and how it works together with the rover and suits also designed by the students. The results will be reported to NASA, followed by a 30-day test next spring.

That would be so much fun!

Well-preserved skull suggests early humans were a single species: A 1.8 million-year-old skull found in the Republic of Georgia has led some researchers to believe that early humans were a single species, Homo erectus, rather than multiple species as generally believed. “We think it is sensible to attribute all specimens to Homo erectus,” said neurobiologist Christoph Zollikofer, the study’s co-author. That is not to say that all fossil human specimens, modern humans included, are lumped into Homo erectus, Zollikofer said.

Scientists get close-up look at ancient spider-like fossil’s brain: One of the most well-preserved nervous systems in an ancient fossil has been found in a spider-like creature that dates back 520 million years, according to a study in Nature. Using a CT scanner and 3D software, scientists were able to see structures they could not see on the fossil’s surface. “It is very exciting to use new techniques to successfully reveal such a complete central nervous system from a 520 million-year-old fossil, and in such detail,” said the study’s co-author, Xiaoya Ma of the Natural History Museum in London.

Asteroid that recently brushed past Earth due back in 19 years: An asteroid that buzzed by Earth in September will come back in about 19 years for another close encounter, scientists say, but just how close it will come is causing some debate. Scientists say the odds of it striking Earth are 1:63,000. “With more observations, I fully expect we will be able to significantly reduce, or rule out entirely, any impact probability for the foreseeable future,” said NASA Near-Earth Object Program Manager Don Yeomans.

Westerlund 1 Super Star Cluster, by ESO/VPHAS+ Survey/N. Wright
Westerlund 1 Super Star Cluster, by ESO/VPHAS+ Survey/N. Wright

Astronomers study giant star about to become a supernova: A glowing cloud of hydrogen gas is surrounding a huge star that is nearing the end of its life, researchers say. Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, astronomers noticed the ionized nebula, the first ever found near a red supergiant, giving them the opportunity to study how stars shed their layers before becoming a supernova. The star, dubbed W26, is the largest known star in the universe and is about 16,000 light-years from Earth.

Astronomers find a “tilted” solar system: Scientists have discovered a “tilted” solar system, according to a report in Science. While looking at Kepler-56, a star about 2,800 light-years away, they were surprised to find that the plane of its equator tilts 45 degrees to its planets’ orbits. Further study revealed that the tilting was caused by a distant body that tugs at the star and its planets’ orbits with its gravitational pull, yet they stay aligned because they are in resonance.

Study: Only a handful of tree species reign in Amazon rainforest: A few dozen tree species of the thousands that exist in the Amazon dominate the rainforest, according to a study that may help researchers identify when tree species are the most threatened with extinction. More than 120 researchers cataloged trees throughout the 2.3 million-square-mile area around the Amazon River, finding about 16,000 tree species, 227 of which made up almost half the tree population. “That’s a much smaller number than anyone anticipated,” said tropical forest ecologist Hans ter Steege of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, Netherlands.

Sleep gives brain a chance to clean up, study says: Getting a good night’s sleep helps flush out waste from our brains, according to a study by scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Researchers injected mice with beta-amyloid, which builds up in brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, and found that the substance was eliminated faster when the mice were asleep than when they were awake. The study, which appears in the journal Science, could lead to therapies for Alzheimer’s and other ailments.

Bovine burps turned into natural gas by scientists in Argentina: Digestive gases from cattle can be used to produce methane, a component of natural gas, say researchers at Argentina’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology. “Once you get it compressed, it’s the same as having natural gas. As an energy source it is not very practical at the moment, but if you look ahead to 2050, when fossil fuel reserves are going to be in trouble, it is an alternative,” said the institute’s Guillermo Berra. The bovine burps are carried from the stomach through a tube into a tank where the gases are separated.

Imagine having a car that runs on cow burps.

Skeleton found in Tuscany tomb was of a woman, not a man: Bone analysis has revealed that the body found in a sealed tomb in Tuscany, Italy, last month is not that of a 2,600-year-old Etruscan prince, but instead is that of a woman. When the tomb was opened last month, researchers found two platforms, one bearing a skeleton with a lance, suggesting a warrior, and the other a partially burned skeleton. The presence of the lance initially led them to believe that the skeleton was a man, and the partially burned skeleton a woman, but it appears it was the other way around.

Flu virus attacks memory B cells to rapidly cause infection: U.S. researchers have discovered that the influenza virus enters and infects its host by attacking the first responders, called memory B cells, that produce antibodies that neutralize the virus. The study, published in the journal Nature, noted that once it enters the body, the virus will replicate efficiently, disrupt antibody production and eventually kill the cells before the immune system can mount a second wave of defense, causing infection.

Orionid meteor shower putting on a light show: The Orionid meteor shower was estimated to hit its peak Sunday and Monday, as Earth passed through the dust that Halley’s Comet left behind. The Orionids are known for producing bright fireballs, which are best seen past midnight and before dawn. “With city lights and the moonlight, you might be lucky to see two an hour. But if they are bright, it will be like free fireworks,” said Anthony Cook of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

Drones map Matterhorn in 6 hours: The Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps has been mapped in incredible detail by three eBee drones in only six hours. SenseFly, an unmanned aerial vehicle company, and aerial photography firm Pix4D showed off their work at the Drones and Aerial Robotics Conference in New York last week. “Such a combination of high altitudes, steep rocky terrain and sheer size of dataset has simply not been done before with drones, we wanted to show that it was possible,” said Adam Klaptocz of SenseFly.

Invading lionfish muscles into Atlantic: The venomous lionfish, an invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean, is growing to unusually large sizes and dining on the local fish off the coast of Florida despite efforts to control its population. It’s not known how the robust lionfish were introduced to the area, though many suspect aquarium owners dumped a few into the ocean in the 1980s. One female can lay as many as 2 million eggs a year. “There is strong evidence that the lionfish is having negative effects on the native population. We don’t see any signal that anything is controlling the lionfish population,” said Stephanie Green, head of a research team that studied the problem this summer.

I hear these are delicious and I can’t wait to try one.

Second oarfish washes up on Calif. beach: An oarfish was discovered last week after it washed ashore in Oceanside, Calif., the second such rare find in as many weeks. The 14-foot carcass was hauled away for study by SeaWorld, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A week earlier, a snorkeler found a dead 18-foot oarfish off the coast of nearby Catalina Island.

Potential baldness treatment found in 3D drops: A cure for baldness may be a 3D drop away, thanks to research at Durham University in England. Scientists have grown dermal papilla cells, which form hair follicles, in a culture system of nutrients hanging in a thick drop, then injected the cells into normally hairless neonatal foreskin that was grafted to mice, resulting in the formation of new hair follicles. “The dermal papilla cells act as a collective group and restoring that collectivity in 3D helps bring these properties back,” said Colin Jahoda, one of the study’s authors.

Advanced 3D method designed to create tiny artificial pancreas: Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have devised a way that could potentially enable them to grow a mini artificial human pancreas using a 3D culture that allows pancreatic cells to expand more efficiently. Researchers hope the technique can be used to help combat diabetes and enable rapid drug testing without the need for animals.

Pancreas, public domain.
Pancreas, public domain.

Researchers identify new dengue virus: A new type of dengue virus has been identified, which could pose a problem for researchers looking to develop a vaccine against the pervasive tropical disease. “We discovered and characterized a new dengue serotype,” virologist Nikos Vasilakis of the University of Texas Medical Branch told the International Conference on Dengue and Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever on Monday. Dengue 5 was found as researchers screened viral samples taken during an outbreak in Malaysia in 2007, noting that it varied significantly from known dengue viruses.


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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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