Mother-of-pearl is surprisingly difficult to mimic. Cheap plastic watch faces don’t count—they may look like the inside of a seashell, but real mother-of-pearl, or nacre, to give its scientific name, is made of thousands of layers of calcium carbonate, with an intricate, interlocking crystal structure.
Because of that, it is phenomenally tough, and engineers would like to be able to use it as an industrial coating. Recently, a team of scientists devised a way to make microscopic layers of calcium carbonate accrete into a very similar crystal structure, mimicking the process that takes place in shellfish. You can see the result above: a sheet of material with the sheen and the strength of real mother-of-pearl.
Image courtesy of Nature Communications
Carved into the northern slopes of China’s Mount Gongga, the Yaijiageng river valley looks like the site of a massive paint spill. But the red is actually all-natural: it is a massive bloom of a newly discovered variety of algae. The alga belongs to the species Trentepohlia jolithus, which is capable of growing on rocks and tree trunks. This yajiagengensis variety, named after the river valley where it originates, only grows on local exposed rock—and with debris and human activities blocking and rerouting the flow of the Yajiageng river in recent years, a lot more stone has become exposed. The alga’s spread has turned the location into a tourist attraction with the nickname “Red-Stone-Valley.”
[via New Scientist]
Image courtesy of Guoxiang Liu
The Sun’s atmosphere, or corona, is spectacularly hot—far, far hotter than the Sun’s surface. Why this is is still something of a mystery, and scientists watching the Sun’s surface have built software that looks at the heating and cooling occurring in the corona in an attempt to understand how fast temperature changes happen.
Above is an ultraviolet image of a small patch of the sun’s corona. The right half has been processed with a computer program so sections that are growing cooler over a 12-hour period are colored yellow, orange, and red, while heating sections are labeled blue and green.
Colorado’s Waldo Canyon forest fire spread over almost 30 square miles, forced the evacuation of more than 30,000 residents, and destroyed 346 homes, more than any other fire in the state’s history. NASA’s Terra satellite snapped this visible and infrared image of the devastation while the fire was still burning but had been mostly contained. In the photograph, vegetation shows up as red, partially burned areas look light brown, and severely burned ones are dark brown.
The image shows the extent of the fire’s reach, the damage it inflicted on the Mountain Shadows neighborhood, and just how close it was to the Air Force Academy and Colorado Springs.
Image courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video / flickr
Archaeologists working near Leipzig, Germany, have unearthed a surprisingly arrangement of more than 100 dog’s teeth in a grave between 4,200 and 4,500 years old. The way the teeth are arrayed suggests that they might have been sewn as decoration onto a piece of leather or textile which has since decayed, prompting the team who found it to call in the remnants of a purse. Taking a closer look has revealed that the teeth come from dozens of different dogs.
The team has already found hundreds of graves at the site, as well as artifacts like an amber necklace, bone buttons, stone tools, and, in one later grave, a pound of gold jewelry. Unfortunately, they have just a few years left to learn what they can from the place: it’s due to become a coal mine in 2015.
Photograph courtesy Klaus Bentele, LDA Halle
In the right light, everything casts a shadow—even an atom. A large object creates a shadow by physically blocking the light flying past it, and even a miniscule atom or ion can prevent photons with specific wavelengths from reaching their destinations.
Australian researchers from Griffith University captured a relatively large ytterbium atom in an ion trap, and then hit it with light of a wavelength the ytterbium could absorb. When the light reached the detector, the missing photons that the atom had gobbled up left this negative space: the shadow of a single atom, less than a millionth of a meter in length.
Image courtesy of Kielpinski group, Griffith University / Nature Communications
Ever wondered how the Tiangong-1 module of China’s in-progress space station measures up to, say, the International Space Station? Over at the astronomy blog Supernova Condensate, molecular astrophysicist Invader Xan has created an infographic comparing the sizes of various spacefaring vessels. It’s fun to see how different ships stack up next to each other, like the British spaceplane Skylon versus the U.S.’s recently retired spaceplane (i.e., the Space Shuttle). And Invader Xan also made a bonus image to demonstrate how our past may compare to the future, where no man has gone before.
[via Boing Boing]
This beautiful golden earring, decorated with figures of goats, was one of a trove of jewelry pieces that were wrapped in cloth and stuffed into a jar discovered by archaeologists at the Tel Meggido dig in Israel. When the team flushed the jar’s interior with water, earrings, a ring, and carnelian beads came tumbling out.
They aren’t sure why the jewelry was in the jar, but they posit that it could have been hidden there by the inhabitants of the home where the jar was found for safekeeping. The layer of soil where the find occurred dates from the 11th century BCE, a period when Meggido was under Egyptian rule, and the team believes the jewelry is either of Egyptian origin or inspired by Egyptian designs.
Image courtesy of American Friends of Tel Aviv University
A few days ago, we wrote about a remarkable graphic released by the USGS, showing all the water on Earth—freshwater, saltwater, water vapor, water in plants and animals; all of it—rolled into a sphere.
That sphere was only 860 miles in diameter, fitting comfortably between Salt Lake City and Topeka, Kansas, on a map. It was striking, especially considering that the water available for humans use in our daily lives is only a very small fraction of that; the vast majority of the Earth’s water is saltwater, and most of the freshwater is tied up in glaciers.
How big would a sphere of just the freshwater available to humans be? Reader Jay Kimball of 8020Vision, his interest piqued, went ahead and made such a graphic:
That sphere—the sphere representing the freshwater available to humans—has a diameter of just 170 miles. Head to his blog to see the math.
Peering inside an ancient piece of amber, scientists have uncovered the oldest direct evidence of pollination: insects covered in pollen grains, likely from a gingko tree, from between 105 and 110 million years ago. These insects—a new genus of thrips, insects that still scuttle around today—had likely gathered pollen for food, trailing it from plant to plant along the way. To get an even closer look at the specimens (without cracking open the amber), the researchers took the lump to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility. There, they used synchrotron X-ray tomography to generate a detailed 3-D image of the bugs, revealing tiny, specialized hairs they used to collect pollen grains (which are shown here in yellow).