Happy Tuesday, Aledans! There was some really cool science news this past week, so let’s get right to it.
Archaeologists excavate ancient step pyramid in Egypt: A 4,600-year-old step pyramid in southern Egypt, predating the Great Pyramid of Giza, has been found. The step pyramid, once as high as 43 feet, or 13 meters, now stands about 16 feet, or 5 meters, tall due to pillaging and weather exposure, according to archaeologists, who presented their initial excavation results at a Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities symposium. There are seven of these step pyramids, which have no internal chambers, scattered throughout Egypt and their purpose remains a mystery.
Study: Dinosaur fossils in China well preserved due to volcanic ash: Ash from volcanic eruptions about 130 million years ago may have helped preserve the fossil remains of feathered dinosaurs in China, according to research out of Nanjing University. Researchers found layers of carbon on the Jehol fossil bones, which suggests the soft tissue was charred, and the dinosaurs’ limbs were flexed in a way that suggests they had been trapped in volcanic ash, according to the study published in Nature Communications.
Big moons may not be needed to sustain life on alien planets, study suggests: A moon like the Earth’s may not be necessary for other planets to sustain life, according to a study presented at the American Geophysical Union’s meeting in December. “If the Earth did not have a moon, its obliquity — and, therefore, its climate — would vary, indeed, substantially more than it does at present. But it’s nowhere near as bad as was predicted based on previous models,” said Ames Research Center’s Jack Lissauer, who made the presentation. Lissauer and his team ran several computer simulations to determine how a moonless Earth’s axial tilt would change over billions of years.
Study: Bumblebees can adjust to high-altitude pressure: Alpine bumblebees can handle pressure conditions in altitudes as high as 9,000 meters, or 5.6 miles, when they use broader strokes to beat their wings, according to a study in Biology Letters. Zoologists studied the bees in laboratory conditions simulating high altitudes. “They’re essentially sweeping their wings through a wider arc, which means they’re pushing down more air molecules,” said study co-author Michael Dillon of the University of Wyoming.
New bird flu strain poses possible pandemic threat: A study published in The Lancet has found that the new H10N8 bird flu strain in China is a genetic reassortment of other strains of bird flu, including the H9N2 virus and the H7N9 strain. The new flu strain contains characteristics that suggest its ability to replicate easily and become virulent or resistant to drugs. “Although we cannot predict whether an H10N8 epidemic will occur, our findings suggest that the virus is a potential threat to people,” the researchers wrote.
First coral reef found off southern coast of Greenland: A cold-water coral reef has been discovered off the southwestern coast of Greenland, the first ever found in the region, according to scientists. This is the first instance of a reef off Greenland, though cold-water corals have been found before, researchers reported in the journal ICES Insight. In another surprise to scientists, the reef is made up of Lophelia pertusa, a stone coral not commonly found in the area.
Proposal seeks to remove first fish from endangered list: The Oregon chub, a minnow only found in the backwaters of Oregon, is making a comeback after 21 years and may be the first fish to be removed from the U.S. endangered species list. Before it can become final, the proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to go through a 60-day period of public comment. The agency says the fish will need to monitored for several years to verify that the population is still growing.
Giant Ice Age creatures died off as Arctic wildflowers declined, study suggests: The disappearance of wildflowers in the ancient Arctic may have led to the extinction of such creatures as the woolly mammoth and woolly rhinoceros, researchers say. The animals started dying out when the flowers gave way to less nutritional grasses and shrubs during the Ice Age, according to scientists who studied DNA found in Arctic permafrost sediments and remains of the creatures. The findings, reported in the journal Nature, goes against the popular theory that human migration into the Arctic caused the extinction of the big animals due to hunting.
New antibody prevents blood clots without increased bleeding risk: A study published in Science Translational Medicine has shown that a newly developed antibody called 3F7 prevented blood clots without causing major bleeding in rabbits hooked up to a type of heart-lung device. The injectable antibody was designed to specifically block factor XII activity, a protein involved in blood clotting, and could serve as a safer alternative to heparin. Researchers are planning to test the efficacy of the antibody in human trials.
Young universe warmed up more slowly than once thought, study suggests: The warming of the early universe by black holes and their companion stars occurred more slowly than once thought, which could make the events more detectable by astronomers today, according to a study published in the journal Nature. Researchers discovered that the X-rays released when one of a pair of companion stars exploded and created a black hole were high-energy, rather than the low-energy X-rays previously thought to warm the budding universe. The high-energy X-rays took longer to warm up the hydrogen gas that filled the universe, scientists found when they recalculated the heating of the hydrogen.
Remains of Native American village found at Miami construction site: The remains of an ancient village of the Tequesta tribe have been found at the construction site of a condominium and office development in Miami, putting the project in limbo. A team of archaeologists hired to do a historical study of the site found thousands of holes bored into the limestone where pine posts were used as framing for Tequesta buildings. “We got to the point in recent months where we realized this wasn’t an isolated circle or structure but a whole complex of buildings. In some ways, I would say it’s probably the best-preserved prehistoric town plan in eastern North America,” said Bob Carr, whose company is conducting the archaeological study.
Remains of new jellyfish discovered by family on Tasmania beach: The carcass of a 5-foot, or 1.5-meter, jellyfish found by a family walking on a beach in Tasmania is a new species that the scientific community has known about but has yet to classify. It is part of the Lion’s Mane group, according to researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. Researchers are keen to find out more about the new species as well as why a recent influx of jellyfish are showing up in Tasmanian waters.
Earth’s magnetic field helps salmon navigate during migration, study finds: Salmon navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field as they migrate thousands of miles, according to a study in Current Biology. Putting salmon hatchlings that had yet to make a migration into buckets, scientists changed the magnetic fields around the buckets to see how the fish would respond. “It’s like they have a map. They know something about where they are based on what field they are in,” Oregon State University’s Nathan Putman, lead author of the study.
Advanced bionic hand restores sensation of touch: European scientists have developed a bionic hand that transmits the sensation of touch. Dennis Sørensen, who lost his hand in a fireworks accident, was blindfolded and wearing earplugs, yet he could distinguish between round and square or soft and hard objects. The hand, developed at the Swiss École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the Italian Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, uses ultrathin electrodes implanted in nerves in Sørensen’s residual limb.
Team develops highly conductive graphene nanoribbons: Graphene nanoribbons created by physicists at the Georgia Institute of Technology can conduct electricity much better than was expected, according to findings published in Nature. The new graphene nanoribbons differ from other forms by having no rough edges, says research team leader Walt de Heer, allowing electrons to move 10 times more swiftly than theory says they should. The results could have implications in the development of high-end electronics.
800,000-year-old footprints found in England: Human footprints more than 800,000 years old have been discovered in Happisburgh, England, the oldest prints found outside Africa, writes British Museum Curator Nicholas Ashton. Studies of the impressions indicate that the prints were left by about five people, possibly of the Homo antecessor species, also known as “Pioneer Man.” By analyzing overhead photos, researchers could see heels, arches and, in at least one print, toes.
Astronomers identify universe’s oldest star: A star created from the supernova of a first-generation star appears to be the oldest of its kind in the universe, according to astronomers. SMSS J031300.362670839.3, as it’s called, has almost no iron in its chemical signature, according to a report in Nature. There was no iron in the first generation of stars that resulted from the Big Bang, but “as soon as we’ve got a little bit of iron in the universe, that enables much smaller stars to form and that’s what we’re seeing in this finding — one of those stars from the second generation,” said the study’s lead author Stefan Keller of the Australian National University.
Small, distant galaxy from early days of universe found: A small galaxy rich with stars and dating back to about 650 million years after the Big Bang has been found using the Hubble Space Telescope in conjunction with a cluster of galaxies that act as a zoom lens, astronomers say. Dubbed Abell 2744_Y1, the galaxy is smaller than the Milky Way, which is about 30 times its size. It is the first remote galaxy found using the gravitational lensing method, according to research scheduled to appear in Astronomy and Astrophysics Letters.
Study: Dimetrodons developed serrated teeth in response to food-source changes: The ancient predator dimetrodon of the early Permian period developed serrated teeth as changes in food sources evolved, according to a study published online in Nature Communication. “By looking at the variety of tooth shapes, we’re actually able to pick out differences in the ecology and the roles different species of dimetrodon played,” said lead author Kirstin Brink of the University of Toronto. She and paleontologist Robert Reisz studied the fossil remains of the creatures, which predated dinosaurs, and found that the older fossils had smooth teeth that evolved into serrated ones in later species.
Thickness of cerebral cortex tied to intelligence in gene study: The thickness of the cerebral cortex may have an impact on a person’s intelligence, according to a study that identifies a gene associated with intellectual ability. Researchers at King’s College London studied teenagers’ DNA and brain scans, finding that those with a certain gene variant had a thinner left-side cortex and didn’t do as well on intelligence tests. “The genetic variation we identified is linked to synaptic plasticity — how neurons communicate. … This may help us understand what happens at a neuronal level in certain forms of intellectual impairments,” said study leader Sylvane Desrivieres.
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