Science Tuesday: Air-polluting Aliens, Radio Signals from Space, and the Robot That Can Build Itself.

The science news in the beginning of August was very space-heavy, but there are some great non-spacey tidbits in there. Check it out:

Researchers: Dinosaurs that shrank quickly were more likely to survive: Dinosaurs that quickly shrank in size during their evolution to becoming birds were better able to adapt and thrive over time, according to researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia. Theropods decreased in size at least a dozen times over 50 million years, going from an average mass of 139 pounds, or 163 kilograms, to 1.8 pounds, or 0.8 kilogram, they report.

Iron Age warriors’ bones were ritually mutilated, archaeologists say: The bones of warriors who died on the battlefield in Denmark during the Iron Age were collected at least six months later for a mutilation ritual, according to archaeologists. The bones would be scraped clean of remaining flesh, sorted out and dropped into a lake. “We think it’s a kind of ritual closure of the war,” said Mads Kahler Holst of Denmark’s Moesgard Museum.

How air pollution can aid in the discovery of extraterrestrial life: Scientists are betting that if there are intelligent beings outside of Earth’s galaxy, they’ve probably been polluting their environment just like we have, a fact that could one day unlock clues leading to their discovery. Astronomers say an advanced infrared space telescope scheduled for launch by NASA in 2018 would have the ability to sniff out the universe for chemical signatures, like those of polluting fluorinated gases, and identify sectors in space where environmentally unfriendly beings may exist.

Makes sense.

Hubble telescope finds “lensing” galaxy 9.6B light years away: NASA scientists say the Hubble Space Telescope has found the most distant “lensing” galaxy ever discovered. The galaxy is so big it “lenses” or magnifies the smaller galaxy behind it, which means light in the discovered galaxy has taken 9.6 billion years to reach Earth, and the magnified galaxy’s light is 10.7 billion light years away. Scientists say the discovery is a boon to the study of dark matter.

USGS tracking polar bears with satellite: Researchers are keeping an eye on polar bears by using satellites, according to a study published in PLoS ONE. U.S. Geological Survey scientists found that tracking the polar bears on Rowley Island, just west of Greenland, could be done accurately from space, comparing the data with that collected from helicopter sightings. “It gives us a tool that is completely noninvasive,” said Todd Atwood, who heads the research program.

Ancient baleen whale fossil found in Calif. backyard: A rare baleen whale fossil was found in a Southern California backyard in a 1,000-pound rock that a sheriff’s search-and-rescue team helped hoist up from a ravine. The fossil is about 16 million to 17 million years old and is one of about 20 baleen fossils known to have been found, said Howell Thomas, a paleontologist with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The fossil was found not far from a school where a whale fossil was recovered in January.

Fossil remains of huge penguin found in Antarctica: A huge penguin once roamed Antarctica between 37 million and 40 million years ago. Palaeeudyptes klekowskii grew to a height of about 6.6 feet, or 2 meters, from beak tip to toes and weighed about 254 pounds, or 115 kilograms. Bones from the giant penguin were found among fossil deposits on Seymour Island.

Winds, sandstorms reveal new geoglyphs in Peru’s Nazca Lines: High winds and sandstorms have uncovered new geoglyphs within the ancient Nazca Lines in Peru. Pilot and researcher Eduardo Herran Gomez de la Torre spotted the shapes as he flew over the area last week, saying one of the new geoglyphs is of a snake near the famous hummingbird geoglyph. Other new shapes seen on hills in the El Ingenio Valley and Pampas de Jumana include a bird, zigzag lines and camel-like creatures that may be llamas.

Male bass gender switch may be due to pollutants, research suggests: Bass captured in the Delaware, Ohio and Susquehanna rivers in Pennsylvania have been found to be intersex, a category of creatures that has two genders, and scientists are concerned. Researchers suspect that chemical pollutants are causing endocrine changes in the fish. “We keep seeing … a correlation with the percent of agriculture in the watershed where we conduct a study,” said U.S. Geological Survey biologist Vicki Blazer.

Americans who contracted Ebola given experimental treatments: Two Americans who contracted the Ebola virus while working in West Africa received experimental treatments for the deadly disease. Dr. Kent Brantly, who returned to the U.S. and is receiving further treatment at a hospital, received a blood transfusion from a patient who had recovered from the virus. Nancy Writebol, also a health care worker, was given an experimental serum. Each treatment is believed to contain Ebola antibodies, officials said.

Study: Lower testosterone levels may have sparked civilized behavior: Modern civilization may have occurred as a result of a drop in testosterone among humans, according to a study published in Current Anthropology. Researchers measured 1,400 modern and ancient skulls to find that rounder faces and less heavy brow lines, characteristics associated with lower levels of testosterone, coincided with a move toward more cooperation and other cultural shifts as humans evolved.

Opulent 2,100-year-old burial site for king found in China: Archaeologists have found the mausoleum of the Chinese King Liu Fei, who died in 128 B.C. after 26 years ruling the kingdom of Jiangdu. The 2,100-year-old site has been looted over the years, and the king’s body itself is missing, but the site contains more than 10,000 artifacts, including items made of gold, silver, bronze and jade, according to findings published in Chinese Archaeology. Also among the artifacts are several life-size and smaller chariots, an assortment of weapons and musical instruments.

Stopping an invasive species and reviving an endangered one in Fla.: Florida is experiencing an influx of an invasive species and facing the extinction of a native one. Biologists are trying to stop the population explosion of a South American lizard called tegu, which has found its way into the state’s natural environment and is wreaking havoc on the local wildlife. Meanwhile, other biologists seem to be having some success at restoring the population of the western striped newt, a species native to Florida whose numbers have been dwindling.

Bird migration started in the north, study suggests: North American birds began migrating south, rather than north, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. University of Chicago researchers analyzed the family trees of the largest group of American songbirds and found that long-distance migration was more prevalent among birds living in the temperate north rather than the tropical south. “We’re not saying it only happens one way. But it happens more often by moving winter ranges toward the south,” said lead researcher Ben Winger.

Jupiter’s Io experiences massive volcanic eruptions: Huge volcanic eruptions rocked Jupiter’s moon Io over a two-week period last year, bright enough to be seen by ground-based observatories. Io is known for its volcanic outbursts, but the eruptions during that time span were particularly massive. “These new events are in a relatively rare class of eruptions on Io because of their size and astonishingly high thermal emission. The amount of energy being emitted by these eruptions implies lava fountains gushing out of fissures at a very large volume per second,” said Ashley Davies, a volcanologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech.

Rosetta makes history as first space probe to orbit comet: The Rosetta spacecraft on Wednesday became the first space probe to orbit a comet, after a 10-year journey, according to European Space Agency officials. “Europe’s Rosetta is now the first spacecraft in history to rendezvous with a comet, a major highlight in exploring our origins. Discoveries can start,” said Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain. The next step will be to set the robotic lander Philae on the comet’s surface, planned for November.

German scientists cultivate “space lettuce” meant for Mars: Scientists at the German Aerospace Center in Bremen are growing “space lettuce” in an aeroponic greenhouse that could one day be used to grow plants on the moon or Mars. No dirt is involved; plants hang suspended and their roots are sprayed with nutrients every two minutes. The greenhouse uses water-cooled LED lighting to spark photosynthesis since sunlight is scarce on Mars and the moon.

Radio bursts from deep space intrigue astronomers: Radio blasts coming from deep space have researchers excited. Fast radio bursts previously had been detected only at Australia’s Parkes Observatory, but the most recent blast was picked up by the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico in 2012. Scientists continue to investigate the bursts. “The radio waves show every sign of having come from far outside our galaxy — a really exciting prospect,” said McGill University’s Victoria Kaspi, co-author of the study published in the Astrophysical Journal.

New dolphin species getting caught in shark nets: The Australian humpback dolphin has just been identified as a new species, but it is already being threatened by beachgoers’ fears of sharks. The dolphins are getting caught up in nets meant to keep sharks away from Australian beaches, according to a study in Marine Mammal Science.

Tortoises learn to operate a touch screen: Red-footed tortoises can be trained to operate a touch screen, according to a study on how the creatures learn that was published in Behavioral Processes. “Generally people see reptiles as inert, stupid and unresponsive. I would like people to see that there is something much more complex going on,” said University of Lincoln researcher Anna Wilkinson. The tortoises not only learned to operate a touch screen in exchange for a strawberry, they also transferred that knowledge to a real-world task, scientists say.

Tiny dinosaurs found in Venezuela likely lived in herds: A tiny bipedal dinosaur that lived about 200 million years ago at the end of the Triassic Period, was mostly herbivorous and tended to live in herds, according to a description in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Laquintasaura venezuelae measured about 3.3 feet, or 1 meter, long with slightly curved and elongated teeth. Fossils of the creatures, ranging in age from about 3 to 12 years old, were found together, suggesting they were social.

Stone Age skull fragment found in Norway may still contain bits of brain: A fragment of skull from a Stone Age child has been found in Norway and may have bits of brain matter still affixed to it, according to archaeologists with the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo. Researchers haven’t been able to fully remove the skull fragment, thought to be about 8,000 years old, because it is so tightly packed in the soil. However, scientists noted that bits of spongy matter sticking to the back of the skull could possibly be brain matter.

Museum finds 6,500-year-old skeleton lost in its storage rooms: The complete skeleton of a man who lived 6,500 years ago has been found in a coffin-like box in a storage room of a Pennsylvania museum. The remains had originally been collected around 1930 during an expedition in southern Iraq, but sat undisturbed until a recent inventory at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Museum finally matched the box with its missing paperwork. Museum officials hope to glean more information about the man, who lived to be about 50, with a thorough skeletal analysis.

Supernovas may leave a little something behind, researchers say: Some supernovas may not completely destroy a star, but instead leave a remnant behind that astronomers are calling a “zombie star,” according to a study published in Nature. Researchers found evidence of this zombie star in images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of a supernova in the galaxy NGC 1309. Scientists expect to get more information next year when Hubble sends more images of the galaxy after the supernova’s light fades and it can see if the zombie star is still there.

Study: Glowing sharks living in dark depths evolve special vision: Some species of bioluminescent sharks that live in the darkest depths of the ocean have eyes that have evolved to detect complex patterns of light to communicate with each other, locate prey or hide themselves, according to a study published in PLoS ONE. Researchers found that the eyes of bioluminescent sharks provide better resolution than those of sharks that live in lighter waters, helping them see swiftly shifting light patterns.

Upper ocean mercury levels high due to human activities, study suggests: The upper ocean’s mercury levels have risen threefold since the Industrial Revolution caused mostly by human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and mining, according to a report in Nature. “You’re starting to overwhelm the ability of deep water formation to hide some of that mercury from us, with the net result that more and more of our emissions will be found in progressively shallower water,” said marine geochemist Carl Lamborg of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the co-author of the study.

Inexpensive robot can assemble itself, researchers say: Small, economical, self-transforming robots have been created by researchers at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They are made from materials that can be found at hobby shops and can transform from a flat polymer material to a moving four-legged robot in about four minutes. “Our big dream is to make the fabrication of robots fast and inexpensive,” said MIT’s Daniela Rus, co-author of the paper in Science.

Microbes found living inside water droplets in asphalt lake: Scientists were surprised to find microbes living in water droplets in a huge asphalt lake on the island of Trinidad, raising their hopes that alien life might live in similar conditions on other celestial bodies, like Saturn’s moon Titan. “Each of these water droplets basically contains a little mini-ecosystem,” said astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University, co-author of the study published in Science. The researchers say the droplets come from ancient seawater deep within Earth that bubbled up along with the oil in Trinidad’s sludgy Pitch Lake.

I’ve been to this lake! How cool 🙂

Neanderthals may have hunted small, speedy birds: Neanderthals may have been more intelligent than previously thought, hunting and eating agile birds, once believed to be beyond their abilities, according to a study. “Neanderthals were seen as too brutish to catch fast prey,” said the Gibraltar Museum’s Clive Finlayson, whose team studied 1,724 bones of ancient rock doves that lived between 67,000 and 28,000 years ago in an area once inhabited by Neanderthals. The scientists found burn, cut and tooth marks, suggesting Neanderthals caught and ate the small, quick prey.

Researchers trace solar system’s gestation period: The origins of our solar system have been traced back to a time before the sun and planets were formed, according to a study in Science. The solar system gestated for about 30 million years before the sun came into being. “This timing is significant because it represents the maximum time that the solar system matter was isolated from the rest of the galaxy — and hence could not experience any more addition — inside a stellar nursery before the formation of the sun,” said Monash University’s Maria Lugaro, the lead researcher.

Study: Early black holes grew swiftly because they lacked accretion disks: Supermassive black holes may have grown rapidly in the early universe because they lacked accretion disks, which impede matter from falling into modern black holes and limit how fast they grow, according to a study published in Science. Researchers created a computer model of a black hole and fed it a continuous stream of dense gas because the early universe was more dense than it is today. Because of the gravitational pull of many stars in the vicinity of the black hole, it moved erratically, preventing the formation of an accretion disk, researchers suggest. That allowed the black holes to grow to massive proportions.


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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. Her debut novel, SPEAK THE OCEAN, comes out with Reuts Pub in Fall 2018!

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