Happy Tuesday, Aledan Merfolk! Are you ready for 2015’s first dose of awesome science news? Let’s see what the new year has in store for us.
NASA works to fix aging rover’s memory problems: The rover Opportunity is starting to have memory problems after more than 10 years of exploring Mars, NASA scientists say, but researchers think they’ve found a way around the problem. Opportunity’s seventh bank of memory is having a problem, storing data instead in its random-access memory, which is wiped whenever the rover is switched off at night or rebooted. This can be a problem if it hasn’t sent the information to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Scientists plan to modify the rover’s software to think it only has six banks of flash memory, thereby skipping the troublesome seventh.
Study finds ancient coyotes sported larger jaws than modern cousins: Coyotes’ ancient ancestors had larger jaws than their modern cousins, allowing them to take down larger prey, according to a study published in PLOS ONE. Canis latrans likely dined on the young of large animals such as llamas, camels and horses as they roamed North America during the Pleistocene epoch, but the jaws began to shrink as prey size started getting smaller about 11,500 years ago and as the coyotes faced competition from larger predators.
Newly discovered frog species gives birth to tadpoles: A new fanged frog species has been identified in Indonesia, but what makes it unique is that its babies are born as tadpoles, skipping the egg process altogether, according to research published in PLOS ONE. The tiny Limnonectes larvaepartus is the only one of 6,455 species of frog known to give birth directly to tadpoles. “Reproduction in most frogs could not be more different from human reproduction. In this case, what is most interesting, ironically, is that the reproductive mode is more similar to our own,” said study author Jimmy McGuire, a herpetologist at the University of California at Berkeley.
Stem cells help researchers learn how dementia affects neurons: Through the use of stem cells, Belgian researchers have produced a sort of “dementia in a dish” to look into how the disorder develops and affects neurons. They found that induced pluripotent stem cells derived from skin cells of dementia patients were not able to generate cortical neurons, cells affected by frontotemporal dementia. The iPSCs have defective progranulin genes that alter the Wnt signaling pathway, which plays a vital role in neuronal development, researchers found. The study appeared in Stem Cell Reports.
Anglo-Saxon coins buried for 900 years found on U.K. farmland: A trove of near-mint-condition silver Anglo-Saxon coins buried for more than 900 years has been unearthed from farmland in Buckinghamshire, England. “This is one of the largest hoards of Anglo-Saxon coins ever found in Britain. When they have been properly identified and dated, we may be able to guess why such a great treasure was buried,” said a Bucks County Museum spokesman. If a coroner rules the $1.52 million coins are treasure under the Treasure Act, a museum will be able to purchase them, with the proceeds going to the farm owner and the Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club member who found the coins with a metal detector.
Tomb of previously unknown queen found in Egypt: The tomb of a previously unknown Fifth Dynasty queen has been found by archaeologists in Egypt in the funeral complex of Pharaoh Neferefre, who ruled 4,500 years ago. Archaeologists also found writings that identify her as Khentakawess III as well as reliefs on the tomb’s inner walls that say she is “the mother of the king” and “the wife of the king.”
Researchers use special heating chamber to learn about Venus: Scientists in Germany are using a super-hot heating chamber to help them learn more about the surface of Venus, which in mass and size is similar to Earth, but has surface temperatures that can melt lead. Researchers at the DLR Institute for Planetary Research in Berlin, using data collected about rocks on Venus, cooked basalt, anorthosite and hematite in a heating chamber that matched Venus’ scorching temperatures. The results suggest that Venus once had continents and oceans, researchers say.
Study: Fat cells produce antimicrobials to fight infections: Fat cells just beneath human skin may be the body’s first line of defense against bacterial infection and may also fight infections by producing antimicrobial compounds, according to a study published in Science. Researchers exposed mice to a staph bacteria resistant to antibiotics through a cut and found that the fat cells just under the wound site would thicken and produce cathelicidin, an antimicrobial compound, suggesting that the fat cells sensed the bacteria’s presence and reacted accordingly. “That was totally unexpected. It was not known that [fat cells] could produce antimicrobials,” said Richard Gallo of the University of California at San Diego and co-author of the study.
Event that spawned life on Earth was delayed due to volcanic iron, study finds: Subsea volcanoes on early Earth littered the oceans with a level of iron that poisoned oxygen-producing cyanobacteria, staving off the Great Oxidation Event by about half a billion years, according to research published in Nature Geoscience. Scientists at the University of Tubingen exposed modern-day microbes to the levels of iron found in ancient sediments, which caused the cyanobacteria to reduce the volume of oxygen they produced by up to 70%. The results help to explain the long period of time between the first appearance of cyanobacteria about 3 billion years ago and the Great Oxidation Event that spawned life about 2.5 billion years ago.
Massive alien planets might be home to ancient oceans, researchers say: Super-Earth planets may be home to long-lived oceans, according to findings presented at an American Astronomical Society meeting. Researchers used computer models to show how planets up to five times more massive than Earth could harbor ancient oceans, potentially allowing the development of life. “When people consider whether a planet is in the habitable zone, they think about its distance from the star and its temperature. However, they should also think about oceans, and look at super-Earths to find a good sailing or surfing destination,” said lead study author Laura Schaefer.
Greek palindrome inscribed on ancient amulet found in Cyprus: A 1,500-year-old double-sided amulet with a palindromic inscription was discovered in Cyprus. One side depicts several images, including a mummy in a boat, while the other side has an inscription that reads the same backward and forward in Greek. It translates to the non-palindromic, “Iahweh is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine.”
New images of “Pillars of Creation” taken by Hubble telescope: The Hubble Space Telescope celebrated its 25th year in service by capturing a new image of the “Pillars of Creation,” about 7,000 light-years away from the sun in the Eagle Nebula. “It allows us to demonstrate how far Hubble has come in 25 years of observation,” said astronomer Paul Scowen, who was on the team 20 years ago when Hubble captured its first image of the Pillars. The latest image, taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, which was installed in 2009, offers a sharper view of the Pillars’ glowing oxygen, hydrogen and sulfur.
Astronomers look ahead in search for Earth-like planets: NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has spotted eight new Earth-like planets in the “Goldilocks” habitable zone of the universe. As they join the hundreds of planets detected by Kepler, astronomers are speculating what to do next as they continue searching for worlds like our own. Scientists shared their findings and ideas at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Kepler will get some help in 2017 when the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is launched, tasked with finding Goldilocks planets closer to Earth.
June will be one second longer than usual: An extra second will be added to the clock just after 23:59:59 on June 30, according to Universal Time officials at the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service. Leap seconds, introduced in 1972 to make up for Earth’s speed variations, are occasionally added either at the end of December or June to correct tiny desynchronizations between International Atomic Time, or the weighted average of some 200 atomic clocks around the world, and Universal Time, based on Earth’s rotation. The last time a leap second was added was at the end of June in 2012.
Fossil find could help determine if Utahraptors hunted in packs: A trove of dinosaur fossils found in a block of sandstone in Utah may help scientists determine if predatory dinosaurs known as Utahraptors hunted in packs or alone. The remains of at least six Utahraptors have been found together, along with those of an herbivore in the sandstone block that may at one time might have been quicksand during the Cretaceous period. “We believe it’s going to be the first example of dinosaurs trapped in quicksand en masse in the fossil record,” said Utah state paleontologist James Kirkland, who is leading the excavation effort.
Human enzyme CD39 shows promise against sepsis: A study in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology has found that the human membrane-bound enzyme CD39 acted against sepsis in an experiment on mice by clearing the bloodstream of high levels of adenosine triphosphate, leading to an improved survival rate. The enzyme also reduced organ damage, inflammation, immune cell apoptosis and bacterial load.
Time capsule placed by Samuel Adams, Paul Revere opened in Boston: Five newspapers, 23 coins, a George Washington medal, a colonial records replica and a silver plaque were taken this week from a time capsule placed underneath the Massachusetts State House’s cornerstone in 1795. The contents of the box were originally placed there by then-Gov. Samuel Adams and Revolutionary War figures Paul Revere and William Scollay, along with more items added in 1855 when the building’s foundation needed repairs.
Pair of black holes on collision course in remote galaxy, researchers say: A pair of supermassive black holes in a distant galaxy are on what appears to be a collision course, according to research published in Nature. Astronomers say the collision could occur about a million years from now, releasing a massive amount of energy into gravitational waves. The black holes circle each other at a range of about 180 billion miles, or about 290 billion kilometers, in the galaxy PG 1302-102, researchers say.
Early Chinese kingdom may have been devastated by rapid formation of desert: The rapid transformation from a verdant landscape to desert may have destroyed the first known kingdom in China about 4,200 years ago, according to a study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. According to earlier research, Hongshan may have been the first-known Chinese kingdom, established about 6,500 years ago. Today scientists, who are trying to establish the importance of Hongshan, suggest that the rapid change in landscape devastated the Hongshan culture, spurring a move to the rest of China and influencing the rise of other civilizations.
New antibiotic shows promise in treating drug-resistant bacteria: An antibiotic isolated from New England dirt has successfully treated mice infected with drug-resistant staphylococci bacteria, which typically leads to death in 90% of the animals that contract it, according to a study in Nature. Teixobactin might be the first major drug breakthrough in more than 25 years, according to researchers, though it has yet to be tested on humans. “It should be used, if it gets successfully developed, as broadly as possible, because it is exceptionally well-protected from resistance development,” said NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals co-founder Kim Lewis, a study author.
Pharaoh, gods depicted in wall relief found in Egyptian quarry: A wall relief depicting an unknown pharaoh and the gods Thoth and Amun-Ra has been found in a sandstone quarry in Egypt. Researchers are having trouble identifying the pharaoh because of the poor condition of the stela, which they suggest dates back to around the Third Intermediate Period between 1070 B.C. and 664 B.C. “The team is currently trying to retrieve more information, but the area of the figure and title of the pharaoh is eroded by wind and sand, not to mention a natural fracture in the rock,” said Gebel el Silsila Survey Project Director Maria Nilsson.
Study: Jupiter’s core eroding faster than previously thought: The rock and ice core of Jupiter may be eroding faster than previously thought, according to research by the RMIT University in Australia. Researcher Hugh Wilson used a quantum-mechanical model to ascertain how elements of Jupiter’s core spread out into the gas giant’s fluid outer layer and found that the disbursement occurred at twice the rate previously calculated. Wilson noted that when Juno, the spacecraft on its way to study Jupiter, arrives in 2016 it might find “a partially eroded husk of the planet’s original core.”
Bats improve chances of finding food by eavesdropping on each other: Bats eavesdrop on each other to improve their chances of finding prey, according to a study published in Current Biology. “When you sit in a dark cinema theater and someone opens a bag of chips, everyone in the theater knows that someone is eating chips and approximately where that someone is. Bats work similarly,” said Yossi Yovel, the lead researcher.
Researchers hear arrhythmia in Beethoven’s compositions: Scientists think the rhythms of Beethoven’s music may indicate an arrhythmia in the composer’s heartbeat, according to research published in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. A cardiologist, a specialist in internal medicine and a musicologist joined forces to study Beethoven’s work as a “musical electrocardiogram,” noting distinctive rhythmic shifts that could be indicative of arrhythmia. “When your heart beats irregularly from heart disease, it does so in some predictable patterns. We think we hear some of those same patterns in his music,” said internal medicine specialist Joel Howell, a study co-author.
Researchers identify neurons responsible for proprioception, touch: Researchers have identified a group of neurons in the brain responsible for the sense of touch and proprioception. The discovery could lead to the development of prostheses that can receive tactile input and actively sense the surroundings. The findings were published in the journal Neuron.
SpaceX rocket launches Dragon cargo ship, but lands hard in return test: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched Saturday from Cape Canaveral, Fla., sending its Dragon cargo ship on a supply run to the International Space Station, but had problems landing on an ocean platform in a test of the company’s plans to eventually return rockets to their launch sites. “Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time,” CEO Elon Musk wrote of the test on Twitter. He later said that the rocket ran out of hydraulic fluid, which it needed to maneuver its steerable fins, and that more fluid would be added for subsequent attempts.
Ancient fossils in Scotland belong to new species of marine reptile: Fossils found on Scotland’s Isle of Skye belong to a new species of marine reptile that lived around 170 million years ago, during the Jurassic period, researchers say. Dearcmhara fed on fish and other reptiles as it navigated the warm waters around Scotland, according to paleontologists who have studied fragments of skulls, vertebrae, teeth and an upper arm bone found on Skye over the past half-century. The findings are described in the Scottish Journal of Geology.
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