Science Tuesday: New Species of Human, “God’s Hand”, and Ebola May Be Mutating.

Happy Tuesday, Aledan Merfolk! I’m recovering from a nasty bout of the flu that left me with laryngitis today, but Science stops for no one. Today’s science news list may be a bit space-heavy because I’ve been listening to the audiobook of THE MARTIAN while sick. It makes my little scientist heart happy because the science is so spot on in the book. I very highly recommend it. Now on to the actual science news!

Photos show passing asteroid has its own moon: The asteroid that passed close to Earth on Monday was accompanied by its own moon, according to NASA. Asteroid 2004 BL86 is the nearest asteroid this large to pass close to Earth until 2027, giving scientists a unique view of the celestial object with its surprising moon following behind. “We should be getting some great radar images of this asteroid. Radar would be the key to study the asteroid’s surface, give an idea of its shape, whether it has rocks and that kind of stuff on it,” said Paul Chodas of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program Office.

Scientists decode rain’s earthy scent: When raindrops hit the right kind of soil at just the right velocity, they produce a unique, earthy scent, and a pair of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have figured out why. The falling drop of water traps tiny air bubbles that pick up molecules in the soil, which are then released back into the air when the bubbles pop. “The sweet spot has to do with the velocity of the droplet and the qualities of the soil,” said Cullen Buie, co-author of the study published in Nature Communications.

Researchers turn thirst off, on in mice brains: Scientists have found a way to switch thirst on and off in mice. They used optogenetics to identify two distinct sets of neurons that, when stimulated with a laser, would either cause the mice to drink even if they weren’t thirsty or stop them from drinking, according to the study published in Nature. The researchers say that learning what causes feelings of thirst in the brain may help scientists better understand disorders in which people drink too much or too little.

Study: Telomere extension reverses aging in cultured human cells: A new technique uses modified ribonucleic acid to increase telomere length by about 10%, reversing the internal clock of cultured cells, according to a study in The FASEB Journal. The findings can be applied to regenerative medicine and cellular studies, according to researchers.

Snakes have been around much longer than once thought: Snakes have been around millions of years longer than previously thought, according to an examination of four of the oldest-known fossils, the oldest of which dates back 167 million years. Previously, the oldest snake fossil was 102 million years old, but Eophis underwoodi beats that by 65 million years, followed by Portugalophis lignites and Diablophis gilmorei, both 155 million years old, and Parviraptor estesi at 144 million. The fossils were described in a study published in Nature Communications.

Jawbone fossil may be new species of early human, scientists say: A jawbone with large teeth still attached found by fishermen off the coast of Taiwan may be a new species of ancient human that lived as recently as 10,000 years ago, says a study published in Nature Communications. Scientists speculate that the big-toothed human, dubbed Penghu 1, may have lived alongside Homo sapiens. “The available evidence at least does not exclude the possibility that they survived until the appearance of Homo sapiens in the region, and it is tempting to speculate about their possible contact,” said Yousuke Kaifu, co-author of the study.

Medical supplies found on remains of Blackbeard’s pirate ship: Archaeologists have found medical equipment among other artifacts aboard the wreckage of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of the notorious pirate Blackbeard. The ship ran aground in 1718, and researchers say the medical equipment indicates Blackbeard went to great effort to keep his crew healthy. “Treating the sick and injured of a sea-bound community on shipboard was challenging in the best of times,” said archaeologist Linda Carnes-McNaughton, who described the finds in a paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology.

Kepler finds ancient solar system born in early universe: A small solar system of five planets smaller than Earth formed not long after the birth of the universe has been discovered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. “By the time the Earth formed, the planets in this system were already older than our planet is today. This discovery may now help to pinpoint the beginning of what we might call the ‘era of planet formation,’ ” said Tiago Campante, who led the research described in the Astrophysical Journal.

Giant asteroid may once have held flowing water, study suggests: Images of the giant asteroid Vesta suggest that it once held liquid water. “Nobody expected to find evidence of water on Vesta. The surface is very cold and there is no atmosphere, so any water on the surface evaporates. However, Vesta is proving to be a very interesting and complex planetary body,” said Jennifer Scully, lead author of the study. Images sent from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft indicate curved gullies similar to debris-flow channels found on Earth when water moves dirt and rocks, leading researchers to think water may have once flowed on the asteroid.

New images give scientists better view of Ceres as Dawn orbiter nears: As NASA’s Dawn spacecraft moves closer to Ceres, it is recording the best images of the dwarf planet yet taken, a vast improvement over images snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2003 and 2004, as well as those Dawn itself took earlier this month. The images are grainy, but they are providing scientists with a lot of new information ahead of Dawn’s March entry into orbit. “This is just starting to illuminate the fact that Ceres is one of these unique bodies that has astrobiological potential … and it’s just continued to become more intriguing as we’ve been marching inexorably closer,” said Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator.

Scientists demystify metal explosions: The explosive reaction between alkali metals and water has been demystified by scientists in the Czech Republic and Germany, who suggest the reaction is caused by positive charges repelling each other. Researchers used computer simulations and video taken by an ultra-high-speed camera to capture the explosive moment when the metal hits water. “If you want to have an explosive reaction … you need a lot of contact between the reactants. And this is exactly what we don’t have here,” said Pavel Jungwirth, an author of the study published in Nature Chemistry.

Skull found in Israel may shed light on human migration from Africa: Clues about the migration of modern humans might be gleaned from an ancient skull found in a cave in Israel. “This is the first evidence that shows indeed there was a large wave of migrants out of East Africa, crossing the Sahara and the Nubian desert and inhabiting the eastern Mediterranean region 55,000 years ago. So it is really a key skull in understanding modern human evolution,” said Tel Aviv University’s Israel Hershkovitz, an author of the study published in Nature.

Tattoo found on 5,300-year-old ice man mummy: An additional tattoo has been found on the skin of the mummified 5,300-year-old ice man known as Otzi, according to researchers documenting the markings. Like his 60 other tattoos, the new one found on his ribcage is made up of black lines, and researchers suspect the tattoos may have had some therapeutic use. Otzi was found in the Italian Alps in 1991.

Long-necked dinosaur may have influenced China’s dragon mythology, researchers say: The remains of a dinosaur with a neck half as long as its body is a new species, according to a study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, and it may have inspired much of ancient China’s dragon mythology. “There is one theory that the Chinese got an inspiration for the dragon by looking at a dinosaur skeleton in the ground. They stumbled upon a long-necked creature like this and they didn’t know what it was,” said Tetsuto Miyashita, who studied the remains of a dinosaur, called Qijianglong, or “Dragon of Qijiang,” referencing the place it was found. Researchers say Qijianglong lived about 160 million years ago.

Researchers to examine northern lights with space probe: A space probe launched Wednesday by NASA and Utah State University will study the northern lights. “The successful launch of the Auroral Spatial Structures Probe will enable scientists and satellite operators to better understand the energy processes during auroral activity in the thermosphere and its effects on satellites as they orbit Earth,” said principal investigator Charles Swenson, director for the university’s Center for Space Engineering. The large main probe also released six small probes in midflight to make a network of measurements, the scientists said.

Cometary globule “God’s Hand” seen in detail by ESO telescope: The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope has captured a detailed image of the cosmic cloud of gas and dust known as “God’s Hand,” or CG4. The cometary globule, called such because the cloud appears to have a head and a tail like a comet, is about 1,300 light-years away from Earth in the Puppis constellation. The image is part of the ESO’s “Cosmic Gems” initiative, which uses images taken with ESO telescopes for education and outreach.

Bubbles of radioactive nickle may have made holes in Cassiopeia A, researchers say: Expanding bubbles of radioactive nickle may be responsible for holes seen in the supernova Cassiopeia A, which exploded 340 years ago 11,000 light-years from Earth, according to a study. Researchers say their bubble theory could also account for large rings seen in the outer regions of Cassiopeia A, and their next step is to search for iron deposits left behind by the exploding bubbles. “We’re like the bomb squad. A bomb’s gone off and I want to understand how that bomb exploded. … The first thing I’m going to say is: Where did the debris go?” said Dan Milisavljevic, the study’s co-author.

Early Paleo-Indians hunted large game with spear-throwers, study finds: Paleo-Indians, long considered one of the first American peoples, used spear-throwers to propel their spear heads at big game, according to a study of microscopic fractures on spear points. It’s long been assumed that the Paleo-Indians used spear-throwers, but until now, there had been no empirical evidence to support that theory. “If the spear-thrower originated in the Old World, then it only made sense that it must have shown up with early [North American] colonists,” said Karl Hutchings, author of the study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Study: Isolated starlings prefer to view photos of other starlings: Lonely starlings in captivity prefer to stare at photos of other starlings versus landscapes or other creatures, according to a study published online in Animal Cognition. Researchers isolated starlings for four days in separate cages with large-screen monitors that would show either a life-size photo of an unknown starling, a suburban landscape or monkeys, depending on which sensor the starling poked with its beak. The starlings more frequently triggered the sensor to bring up the other starling’s photo, suggesting a natural yearning for social interaction, researchers said.

Scientists: Ebola virus may be mutating: Scientists at the Pasteur Institute in France have warned that strains of the Ebola virus in Guinea have mutated and they are investigating whether the changes have made it more contagious. There have been several cases in which the patients showed no symptoms, according to a Pasteur geneticist.

Civil War submarine starting to reveal its secrets after 150 years: Scientists are finally getting a look at the hull of a Civil War submarine that sank after taking down a Union ship off the coast of Charleston, S.C., 150 years ago. The hand-cranked Confederate sub H.L. Hunley was raised 15 years ago, but the hull was encased in concretion that scientists have been working to dislodge. About 70% of the hull has been uncovered, and researchers are just starting to uncover clues about what may have caused the submarine to sink.

Baird’s beaked whales form complex relationships, study finds: Baird’s beaked whales have a complex social structure in which they prefer the company of specific individuals within their community, according to researchers who have identified individual whales by the patterns of scars on their bodies. The creatures, also known as giant bottlenose whales, are difficult to study, researchers say, because they rarely spend time on the surface. The study was published in Marine Mammal Science.

Scientists twist light into Mobius strips: Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light in Germany have created a Mobius shape with light, according to a study published in Science. Peter Banzer and his colleagues followed up on predictions by Isaac Freund and took two polarized green laser beams and scattered them off a gold bead smaller than the wavelength of light, giving it a Mobius-like structure by introducing a polarization pattern with three or five twists.

Long period of frequent droughts linked to ancient city’s demise: The Mesoamerican city Cantona, east of today’s Mexico City, was abandoned about 1,000 years ago due to frequent long-term droughts, research suggests. Scientists looked at the climate before and after Cantona’s decline, studying sediment cores and samples taken from a lake not far from the site. “In a sense the area became important because of the increased frequency of drought. But when the droughts continued on such a scale, the subsistence base for the whole area changed and people just had to leave,” said Roger Byrne, an author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

3D map reveals ancient ice layers in Greenland: Using information from airborne radar and ice cores, scientists have created a detailed 3D map of Greenland’s ice sheet, including the island’s oldest ice from the Eemian Period, 115,000 to 130,000 years ago. Scientists hope to find clues about future climate changes by studying those of the ancient past.

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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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