Happy Tuesday, Aledan Merfolk! There was lots of science news in the past week, so let’s get right to it!
Researchers find evidence of dark matter at center of Milky Way: A team of researchers say they’ve shown that dark matter exists at the center of the Milky Way, according to a study published online in Nature Physics. They studied data about the movement of stars at the galaxy’s center to see how that varied with those distanced from the center, then figured out how fast those stars would be moving if only normal matter was pulling on them. The researchers found that two speeds didn’t line up, suggesting that dark matter plays a role.
Stars at center of strange nebula on course to merge and explode: A pair of white dwarf stars locked in a tight orbit with each other have been seen at the center of an unusually shaped nebula, according to a report in Nature. “When we looked at this object’s central star with [the European Southern Observatory’s] Very Large Telescope, we found not just one but a pair of stars at the heart of this strangely lopsided, glowing cloud,” said Henri Boffin, an author of the paper. Eventually the stars will merge and explode, the scientists say.
Armstrong’s souvenirs from moon landing on display at Smithsonian: Items meant to be left on the moon as excess baggage were kept by Neil Armstrong after the historic Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 as personal mementos that his widow found after his death in 2012 and turned over to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. “What many of the astronauts did once things were surplus and basically not required for science or other missions … certain items that astronauts have managed to keep as sort of personal momenta. Control handles, or something like that,” said Apollo collection curator Allan Needell. Among the items now on display at the gallery are a camera used to film the landing and spacewalk, and a waist tether.
Researchers use microbes to create fuel from sunlight: A team of researchers has developed a system that uses microbes to convert solar energy into fuel, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The team of Harvard scientists put Ralstonia eutropha into a jar, encouraging the bacteria to consume hydrogen, creating a “bionic leaf” that produced isopropanol, which can be used a fuel. “Imagine a system that can be created in a glass of water to produce new and useful chemicals. Efficiency will be our primary goal for the bionic leaf,” said study co-author Pamela Silver.
Study: Flame retardant chemicals found in livers of bald eagles in Mich.: Bald eagles in Michigan have high levels of flame retardant chemicals in their systems that researchers think came from eating contaminated fish or by other environmental means. The chemicals, which are no longer used, are still everywhere, said study leader Nil Basu. “They build up in the food chains so that top predators — such as bald eagles — accumulate high levels,” Basu said. While the bald eagle population is stable, other birds have shown signs of impaired reproduction, odd behavior and disruption of hormones, according to the study published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.
Archivist finds early version of Magna Carta in U.K. county’s scrapbook: An early draft of the Magna Carta has been found in a Victorian-era scrapbook along with the Charter of the Forest during a search of the Kent County Council archives. The pair of documents date back to about 1300, and the city of Sandwich, where the scrapbook was found, has no plans to sell them. Though damaged, the Magna Carta could be worth up to £10 million, or $15.2 million, one expert estimates.
15th-century skull drilled for potent bone powder, study suggests: The mystery surrounding holes drilled into the skull of a 15th-century Italian martyr may have been solved, according to researchers at the University of Pisa in Italy. The scientists say the 16 holes in the skull were drilled to collect bone powder to treat diseases such as paralysis, epilepsy and stroke. Skull bone powder from martyred individuals who died a violent death was considered to be highly effective in treating those diseases during the Late Middle Ages, according to the study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
Study: New quantum correction suggests universe wasn’t formed from Big Bang: By applying quantum correction terms to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, physicists have created a model in which the universe has always existed, accounting for dark matter and dark energy as well. “The Big Bang singularity is the most serious problem of general relativity because the laws of physics appear to break down there,” said Ahmed Farag Ali, co-author of the study published in Physics Letters B. That singularity can be resolved by the new model, which suggests that there is no beginning Big Bang and no end.
You know, just to completely blow your mind.
Young, inexperienced bees may contribute to colony collapse: Bees stressed because they started foraging when they were too young are a major factor in colony collapse, an international problem that threatens pollination of crops, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We found the bees that started foraging when they were younger, survived a fewer number of days, completed far fewer successful foraging trips and they also took longer on each foraging trip,” noted study co-author Andrew Barron, an entomologist. Ultimately, the researchers found, the young bees would not be able to support the colony, leading to its collapse.
Wasps use virus to force ladybugs to guard larvae, study finds: Parasitic wasps may utilize a virus to infect the brains of ladybugs, causing them to stand guard over a wasp larva while it gestates, according to research. The Dinocampus coccinellae plants an egg inside a ladybug, the larva emerges from its belly three weeks later, weaving a cocoon underneath the beetle, leaving it alive, but paralyzed. It guards the larva until it becomes an adult about a week later. Researchers found an RNA virus that the wasp injects into the ladybug along with the egg, according to the study published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Pufferfish coat their young with layer of toxins, study finds: Female pufferfish may quickly abandon their offspring, but they don’t leave them undefended, according to a study published in Toxicon. When the female lays her eggs, she also slathers them in tetrodotoxin, and the remnants of the poison stick to the young pufferfish, who aren’t yet able to puff themselves or have enough of their own toxins built up after they hatch. The coating is just enough to ward off potential predators, researchers say.
16th-century mining pollution found in Andes ice cap: An ice cap in the Peruvian Andes holds traces of air pollution left by 16th-century Spanish silver mines, pre-dating the Industrial Revolution, researchers say. “Our study demonstrates that since the colonial time, mining and metallurgic activities performed by the Spanish did also have an impact on very distant areas,” said Paolo Gabrielli, author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Women over 65 may benefit from moderate drinking, study suggests: Women aged 65 or older who drink moderately are more likely to live longer than those who don’t drink alcohol, but researchers stress that the health benefits of drinking are modest. The study, published in BMJ, looked at adults aged 50 and older and found that drinking didn’t have any impact on lifespan for women between 50 and 64, or for men aged 65 and up, though men aged 50 to 64 lived longer than those of that age group who never drank.
Cheers to that!
Lunar orbiter helps map the other side of the moon: NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been mapping the moon since 2009, and now scientists can see what the far side looks like. “It lacks the large dark spots, called maria, that make up the familiar Man in the Moon on the near side. Instead, craters of all sizes crowd together over the entire far side. The far side is also home to one of the largest and oldest impact features in the solar system, the South Pole-Aitken basin,” NASA said in a statement.
NASA: Sea ice declining despite gains in Antarctic: Increases in Antarctic sea ice in recent years do not offset the decline of sea ice in the Arctic, according to NASA. “When I give public lectures or talk with random people interested in the topic, often somebody will say something in the order of ‘well, the ice is decreasing in the Arctic but it’s increasing in the Antarctic, so don’t they cancel out?’ The answer is no, they don’t cancel out,’ ” said NASA climate scientist Claire Parkinson, who charted Arctic and Antarctic sea ice trends in a study published in the Journal of Climate. The study indicates that the losses of ice in the Arctic outweigh the small gains being made in the Antarctic.
Frozen Zoo saves genetic material from endangered species, sparks debate: Scientists are debating the best use of what’s known as the Frozen Zoo, a collection of genetic material gathered from more than 1,000 endangered or already extinct species or subspecies. The Frozen Zoo’s work is hailed for its value as a genetic archive that’s helped move forward studies of artificial insemination, cloning, in vitro fertilization and stem cell technology, but critics wonder how far that kind of research should go to reestablish struggling species.
Specially tagged amino acid may give doctors view of brain cancer growth: Doctors may be able to detect the growth of brain cancer tumors with great accuracy by injecting a specially tagged amino acid into patients, scientists say. Scans pick up the tagged amino acid glutamine, which the cancerous cells feed on, delineating the tumor, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine.
Ancient fungus may have had hallucinogenic effect on dinosaurs: Dinosaurs may have ingested a hallucinogenic fungus that was an ancient precursor to LSD, according to a study published in Paleodiversity. Researchers found the 100 million-year-old fungus encased in amber in Myanmar. “This is an important discovery that helps us understand the timeline of grass development, which now forms the basis of the human food supply in such crops as corn, rice or wheat. But it also shows that this parasitic fungus may have been around almost as long as the grasses themselves, as both a toxin and natural hallucinogen,” said study author George Poinar Jr.
Dogs can distinguish between happy, angry human faces, study suggests: Dogs may be able to tell the difference between happy and angry human faces, researchers say. Scientists trained volunteer dogs to tell the difference between images of people making either happy or angry faces, with the canines getting the differences right more often that what would be expected with random chance. “With our study … we think we can now confidently conclude that at least some dogs can discriminate human facial expressions,” Corsin Muller, author of the study published in Current Biology.
I love when scientists “discover” things that dog owners already know 😉
NASA offers preview of possible submarine mission to Titan’s seas: NASA hopes to one day study the methane and ethane waters of Saturn’s moon Titan using a robotic submarine. Scientists recently displayed a video of a robotic submarine concept at the Innovative Advanced Concepts Symposium. The video shows a submersible studying the depths of Kracken Mare, Titan’s largest sea.
Rare exoplanet is densest, largest ever observed, researchers say: The largest and densest exoplanet discovered so far was spotted by two independent groups of astronomers in Heidelberg, Germany. Kepler-432b is 2,850 light-years from Earth and circles its red-giant star in small but elongated orbit that results in extreme temperature fluctuations. Researchers say Kepler-432b’s star is gradually expanding and will likely consume the exoplanet within 200 million years, according to research published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Hydrogen cloud will reach Milky Way in 30M years, researchers say: A massive hydrogen cloud is zipping its way toward the Milky Way, likely carrying extragalactic material, according to preliminary data. The Smith Cloud, a streak of hydrogen that resembles a comet, is about 40,000 light-years away and on track to crash into one of the Milky Way’s spiral arms in about 30 million years, researchers say. The Smith Cloud reinforces the idea that the space between galaxies is filled with “funny little clouds that seem to have a life of their own,” said Jay Lockman of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. He presented the findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting.
We may not be looking for the right signs of alien life, scientists say: Scientists are suggesting the presence of a “shadow biosphere” made up of forms of life that don’t have the biochemical makeup we’re used to looking for, according to a discussion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting. “Life did not choose DNA or RNA out of chemical necessity. There may have been many alternative paths to the evolution of life,” said Arizona State University’s John Chaput, a biochemist. California Institute of Technology geobiologist Victoria Orphan said that by only looking for the kinds of life we’re familiar with, we might be missing other organisms.
Lost civilizations found in remote areas thanks to drones, satellites: Remote sensing technology, such as drone flights and satellite imaging, have helped find well-hidden ancient civilizations, according to information presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Scientists have recently been able to learn about previously unknown civilizations in remote areas of the Sahara desert and the Amazon rainforest. “These new technologies have just opened up these regions to us,” said archaeologist David Mattingly, who is studying the Garamantes culture found using satellite images of the Sahara.
Changes in dissection techniques seen in hospital graveyard skeletons: Scientists have tracked changes in dissection practices by looking skeletons excavated from hospital graveyards and those stored by medical museums and universities. Jenna Dittmar of the University of Cambridge described early dissection techniques from between 1650 and 1900 in a talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting. She gleaned how tools evolved by studying cut marks left on the bones.