Science Tuesday: A Warp in Space-Time, Our Solar System Has More Planets, and the Evolution of the Color Blue

Happy Tuesday, Aledan Merfolk! It’s Science Newsday and we have a lot to cover, so let’s get right to it!

Easter Island culture in decline before Europeans arrived, study suggests: After examining obsidian tools at archaeological sites on Easter Island, researchers say environmental factors may have played a role in the decline of the indigenous Rapa Nui culture long before Europeans came in 1722. Researchers gleaned information about climate and soil history that indicated increases and declines in land use. “It is clear that people were reacting to regional environmental variation on the island before they were devastated by the introduction of European diseases and other historic processes,” said anthropologist Thegn Ladefoged, co-author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Images reveal chaotic origins of Andromeda, researchers say: Images of the Andromeda galaxy taken by the Keck Telescope in Hawaii and the Hubble Space Telescope have revealed its chaotic history, according to a study presented at an American Astronomical Society meeting. The study indicates that Andromeda’s younger stars move in a relatively ordered way with similar velocities around the galaxy’s center, while older stars move in a more disordered fashion with varying velocities. Researchers say one explanation would be that thick, clumpy gas formed Andromeda’s disc, and that its oldest stars were created during this time.

Record-breaking X-ray flare detected at Milky Way’s central black hole: A massive X-ray flare erupted from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way in September 2013, according to astronomers, who say it was the largest ever seen in that region. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory spotted the flare, 400 times brighter than the region’s normal level of radiation. A second flare was spotted in October 2014, according to findings presented at an American Astronomical Society meeting.

Tiny fossil may be common ancestor to both bony, cartilaginous fish: A tiny, 415 million-year-old fish skull is giving researchers clues about the origins of all jawed vertebrates, according to a study published in Nature. Janusiscus schultzei has characteristics of bony fish and cartilaginous fish. Researchers say the fish is likely a common ancestor of the two groups of fish and may help them learn more about what the earliest common ancestor looked like.

New insecticide-resistant mosquito found in Mali: A new hybrid mosquito resistant to insecticides has been discovered in Mali. Anopheles gambiae, considered the biggest culprit in the spread of malaria in West Africa, has been mating with Anophele coluzzii, creating the hybrid and raising fears that malaria infections, which has been declining in recent years, could increase. “Growing resistance has been observed for some time. Recently it has reached a level at some localities in Africa where it is resulting in the failure of the nets to provide meaningful control, and it is my opinion that this will increase,” said medical entomologist Gregory Lanzaro, lead researcher of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Groove in human brains set us apart from other primates, study finds: An asymmetrical groove that runs deeper along the right side of the human brain than the left sets humans apart from chimps, whose brains don’t have this feature, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The purpose of this groove is still unknown. “Asymmetrical brain landmarks may be key features to understand what is so specific in our species. We think that [this asymmetry] is related to either speech or social cognition, which are both abilities for which humans outperform other primates,” said researcher Francois Leroy.

Astronomers measure distant binary pulsar just before it vanishes: Astronomers measured a distant binary pulsar system just before it blinked out of sight, hidden by its own sort of invisibility cloak, according to research published in the Astrophysical Journal. One of the closely orbiting neutron stars of the J1906+0746 system has a wobbling axis and gives off a beam of radio waves every 144 milliseconds, causing such extreme gravitational interactions that it creates a warp in space-time, briefly glimpsed by scientists. “By precisely tracking the motion of the pulsar, we were able to measure the gravitational interaction between the two highly compact stars with extreme precision,” said researcher Ingrid Stairs.

This sounds like some crazy Doctor Who science going on!

Mich. neighbors find mastodon bones during backyard excavation: A pair of Michigan neighbors excavating one’s backyard turned up 42 mastodon bones, including leg, hip and shoulder bones, dating back 10,000 to 14,000 years. Paleontologists helped the neighbors dig up the fossils and believe the remains are those of a 37-year-old male mastodon that may have been butchered by ancient humans because of tool marks found on the bones. Daniel LaPoint Jr. and Eric Witzke each plan to keep a few of the bones to preserve the memory of their find.

Humans in Americas long before dogs, study suggests: Humans appear to have been in the Americans thousands of years before dogs showed up about 10,000 years ago, according to a study published online in the Journal of Human Evolution. Researchers studied DNA from ancient dog remains, and their findings suggest not only the canines’ late arrival but also a greater diversity among ancient dogs, whose long relationship with humans can help scientists learn more about human migration. “They can be a powerful tool when you’re looking at how human populations have moved around over time,” said biologist Kelsey Witt, lead study author.

Study: Tools likely the first topic of conversation between early humans: Early humans likely talked about tools when they started having verbal conversations between 2.5 million and 1.8 million years ago, a study published in Nature Communications suggests. “We suggest that the use of tools drove the evolution of language, and it seems likely that ‘words’ for things other than current emotional states would have been very useful for learning to knap,” said Thomas Morgan, lead study author. Researchers tested five ways to convey to students how Oldowan stone-knapping tools were used and found that verbal communication was the most successful.

Shark born in tank with only females does have a dad, study finds: The mystery behind the birth of a brownbanded bamboo shark born in 2012 in a tank containing only three adult females has been solved. The female sharks were acquired by the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco in 2007 from the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif., where they had been kept with male sharks. Scientists studied various scenarios before determining that the mother shark had stored the father’s sperm for years, according to findings published in the Journal of Fish Biology.

Naps key to helping babies form memories, study finds: Napping may help babies form memories, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers studied infants between 6- and 12-months old, looking at the purpose and timing of naps, using furry puppets to test the babies’ memories of their interactions with them and when napping took place. Babies who napped after encountering the puppets showed signs of recall 24 hours later more quickly than babies who did not nap right after the encounter.

NASA investigating ammonia alarm on space station: An alarm signaling a potential ammonia leak forced American astronauts on the International Space Station twice to seal themselves in the Russian portion of the orbiting science center. NASA assures that the crew is safe and that the U.S. portion of the station is clear of ammonia. The astronauts and crew on the ground are investigating the cause for the alarms and say there is no hard evidence of an ammonia leak.

NuSTAR captures image of black hole consuming gas from galaxy collision: A giant black hole gobbling up the remnants of a distant pair of colliding galaxies has been observed by NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array space telescope. An image released by NASA shows a black hole consuming gas and dust from the merging galaxies, known collectively as Arp 299. “We want to understand the mechanisms that trigger the black holes to turn on and start consuming the gas,” said NASA’s Andrew Ptak, lead researcher of the study, which has been accepted by the Astrophysical Journal for publication.

Study suggests zebra striping has to do with temperature: Zebras developed stripes to adapt to temperature changes in the climate, not to deter predators or pests, a study suggests. “In contrast to recent findings, we found no evidence that striping may have evolved to escape predators or avoid biting flies. Instead, we found that temperature successfully predicts a substantial amount of the stripe pattern variation observed in plains zebra,” the researchers write in a study published this week in the Royal Society Open Science. The scientists say they don’t yet know the cause of the temperature-stripe correlation.

Sulfate-eating microbe found in aquifer deep beneath ocean: An exotic microbe has been found in Earth’s undersea aquifer, according to researchers from the University of Southern California and the University of Hawaii. The new species of sulfate-eating microbe was discovered off the coast of Washington at the edge of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate. “One of the surprises of this effort was the discovery of a microorganism that is unique and thriving in a place seemingly inhospitable to life,” said lead author Alberto Robador. The study was published in Frontiers in Microbiology.

Researchers identify hand ax crafted from bone in China: A hand ax crafted from bone, rather than stone, by ancient humans in what is now China has been identified by paleontologists at the China Three Gorges Museum in Chongqing. The tool was made from the lower part of a stegodon jaw and may have been used to dig out edible roots, according to the study published in Quaternary International. Researchers estimate the hand ax is about 170,000 years old.

Ancient scorpion species may have walked out of ocean on feet: A species of scorpion that most likely lived in water more than 430 million years ago has been discovered with feet that would have allowed it to venture onto land, suggesting the creatures emerged onto land earlier than previously thought. Eramoscorpius brucensis stands out from other ancient species of scorpion because “they could have walked on their feet, which is really important because it meant that they could have supported their own weight,” instead of being buoyed by water, said Janet Waddington, leader of the study published in Biology Letters.

First contracting human muscles grown by researchers: Duke University researchers have grown human skeletal muscle that contracts in response stimuli, which can be used to determine which drug would work best for each person. Increasing myogenic precursors, or cells that have yet to develop into muscle tissue, by more than 1,000 before being placed in 3D scaffolds led to the formation of myobundles that contract in response to electrical pulses. The study appeared in the journal eLife.

Renowned researchers pen letter to outline benefits, pitfalls of AI: Renowned scientists and technology leaders including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have issued a warning about the dangers of artificial intelligence. The group signed a letter that touts the many benefits of AI, and outlines the many risks. “Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls. Our AI systems must do what we want them to do,” they said in the letter, published online by the Future of Life Institute.

Because we don’t need a real life Battlestar Galactica.

ESA’s lost Mars lander Beagle 2 spotted by NASA orbiter: NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted the European Space Agency’s missing Beagle-2 lander, lost since it landed on the red planet on Christmas in 2003. “This finding makes the case that Beagle-2 was more of a success than we previously knew and undoubtedly an important step in Europe’s continuing exploration of Mars,” said David Parker, chief executive of the U.K. Space Agency. “These images are consistent with the Beagle-2 having successfully landed on Mars but then only partially deploying itself,” he said.

Study: Planets started forming before meteorites existed in early universe: Meteorites did not play a major role in the formation of the early universe, as previously thought, but instead were a byproduct of the event, according to a study published in Nature. Scientists ran computer simulations on the early formation of the solar system that showed that planets were already forming by the time meteorites began banging around creating chondrules, droplets of molten rock thought to be key in planet formation. “This tells us that meteorites aren’t actually representative of the material that formed planets — they’re these smaller fractions of material that are the byproduct of planet formation,” said author Brandon Johnson.

Ancient tool suggests Neanderthals were more advanced than once thought: An ancient bone tool found in France had many uses and dates back to the Neanderthal era, suggesting the closest ancestor of humans was more intelligent that previously thought. “It proves that Neanderthals were able to understand the mechanical properties of bone and knew how to use it to make tools, abilities usually attributed to our species, Homo sapiens,” said anthropologist Luc Doyon, an excavation participant.

Magnetic pull helps sea turtles return to their birth beaches, study suggests: Unique magnetic signatures help female sea turtles return to the beaches where they hatched to lay eggs, according to a study published in Current Biology. Researchers say magnetic particles found in sea turtles’ brains help them locate the unique magnetic signature of the beaches where they were born, helping them return there to nest after traveling the world’s oceans. “Our results provide evidence that turtles imprint on the unique magnetic field of their natal beach as hatchlings and then use this information to return as adults,” said J. Roger Brothers, co-author of the study.

Deeply submerged grounding zone in Antarctica may hold clues to glacial melting: Scientists have drilled deep into the grounding zone, a submerged area of Antarctica underneath the Ross Ice Shelf, hoping to find clues about the long-term stability of glaciers. What they found were pebbles sitting on top of sandy mud, which could indicate that the ice is melting more quickly. “From the looks of it, there’s been quite a change in the environment,” said glaciologist Ross Powell.

Additional planets may exist in solar system, study suggests: There may be at least two planets hiding beyond Neptune and dwarf-planet Pluto, according to a study of extreme trans-Neptunian objects, which circle the sun at huge distances in elliptical paths. “This excess of objects with unexpected orbital parameters makes us believe that some invisible forces are altering the distribution of the orbital elements of the ETNOs, and we consider that the most probable explanation is that other unknown planets exist beyond Neptune and Pluto,” said Carlos de la Fuente Marcos, lead author of a study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters.

Awww, our little solar system family may be getting bigger soon!

After long journey, New Horizons starting to collect Pluto data: NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has begun collecting data in its first science phase after a nearly 10-year journey to Pluto. Instruments aboard the craft started measuring dust and charged particles this week, and a long-range lens will start taking photos of the dwarf planet in a few days. New Horizons will get its closest view July 14, giving scientists the clearest view yet of Pluto.

Reptile fossils found in China a rare example of ancient parenting: An aquatic reptile from the Early Cretaceous period was caring for six offspring when they all died, a rare fossilized example of parental care, according to a study of the skeletons found on a farm in China. “Although it is possible that the individuals were all swept together during or soon after the event that killed them, it is [felt] that this specimen more likely represents an instance of postnatal parental care,” researchers wrote in the study published in Geosciences Journal. The fossils of the philydrosaurus and its young were donated in 2010 to the Jinzhou Museum of Paleontology.

DNA gives researchers new data on pair of extinct giant kangaroos: Scientists have extracted DNA from a pair of extinct giant kangaroos that died about 45,000 years ago. Short pieces of DNA were taken from a giant short-faced kangaroo and a giant wallaby, whose remains were found in a Tasmanian cave. “The ancient DNA reveals that extinct giant wallabies are very close relatives of large living kangaroos, such as the red and western grey kangaroos,” said Bastien Llamas, lead author of the study.

Evolution of the Color Blue: To compound the mystery, the colors red, black, and white are mentioned many times in the ancient manuscripts, and in the later one, like the bible and the Koran, green and yellow are mentioned as well. In fact, biblical Red is described in many of its hues (“argaman”-dark red, just like Homer’s sea, “shani”-pink, “siqrah”-deep red). And so is Green: olive green, grass green. but not a hint of blue.  So what gives?

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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.

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