Scientists in Germany successfully completed another phase of an experiment designed to one day produce nuclear fusion
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Particle Physics heated up a small sample of hydrogen to over 170 million degrees Fahrenheit using the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator, a donut-shaped device that uses magnetic fields to suspend hydrogen gas while zapping it with powerful microwaves. They succeeded in creating a super-hot plasma, which lasted for about a quarter of a second, according to a news release from the institute. Although fleeting, this experiment successfully demonstrated that plasma can be contained while heated to such extremes, a key step in harnessing nuclear fusion. Read More
Scientists performed some heady origami in the lab.
In order to study how the brain forms its unique structure of folds and grooves, a team of scientists from Finland and the United States recreated the folding process with a 3-D printed, artificial brain. One could be forgiven for confusing their model with the real thing, and they published findings from their hyper-realistic simulation Monday in the journal Nature Physics. Read More
An arachnid encased in a shard of amber found in Burma died in a rather compromising position.
A harvestman of the species Halitherses grimaldii was discovered sporting a massive erection, a position it had been stuck in for the past 99 million years. What’s more, the creature was so uniquely endowed that scientists declared the find a brand new family of arachnids — a move based mostly on the shape of its penis. They published their findings last week in the journal The Science of Nature.
The researchers used photography and 3-D imaging to study the preserved harvestman, focusing special attention on the penis, which extended to almost half the length of the unfortunate male’s body. The erect appendage possesses a distinctively heart-shaped head and a twisted tip, meant for delivering sperm to females via a hole near their mouth.
While other arachnids such as spiders and scorpions reproduce using a modified leg to transfer sperm to the female, the harvestman, also known as a daddy longlegs, uses a bona-fide penis to carry the act out. In addition to being a remarkably well-preserved specimen, this harvestman is the first to be discovered in such a, well, unique position.
Differentiating between species using penis morphology is not a new tactic for arachnid researchers. Different species of harvestmen often look very similar to each other, with the exception of their penises, making the sexual organs indispensable to researchers. The penis is usually carried within the body, and it’s typically invisible in preserved specimens.
Surprisingly, there was no female harvestman found nearby, indicating that the two were likely separated while in the throes of passion. While it’s not clear what cruel circumstances ripped this amorous fellow from his lover, he must have fallen into the resin soon afterward, locking his passion in place for the ages.
Alternatively, researchers have suggested that the harvestman may have gotten his erection while locked in a struggle with the sticky resin, raising his hemolymph, or blood, pressure enough that his penis hardened.
Harvestmen have crawled around on this planet for at least 400 million years, and are found today on every continent except Antarctica. Although there are over 6,500 species in existence today, this particular species likely died out or evolved millions of years ago.
Up close, the sun is a roiling mass of plasma with a surface that’s whipped into a frenzy by its self-generated magnetic fields.
While invisible to us, the magnetic forces produced by the sun are responsible for massive bursts of superheated material, called solar flares, that our neighboring star periodically jettisons. Such flares are responsible for the spectacular auroras that paint the sky here on Earth. And while auroras are beautiful spectacles to behold, the solar flares that produce them could potentially knock out electrical systems across the globe if they’re powerful enough. Therefore, understanding the sun’s magnetic structure is crucial for scientists to forecast and understand these events. Read More
Regulators in the United Kingdom on Monday approved a request from scientists to use the emerging CRISPR gene editing tool to perform experiments on human embryos.
Researchers from the Francis Crick Institute in London filed a license application in September 2015 with Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to perform gene editing experiments to better understand the genes that help humans develop in their earliest stages of growth. Their request was granted, which marks the first time scientists have received official permission to alter human embryos. Read More
Alternating between different antibiotics could help steer bacterial evolution away from antibiotic resistance.
Humans have shaped the evolution of the organisms around us – animals, plants, and even yeast – for thousands of years. Since the early 20th century, we’ve been unwittingly doing the same thing with the bacteria that make us sick, mostly by ensuring that only the strongest bacteria survive. Now medical researchers are investigating ways to reverse that process by rotating different drugs. Read More
According to a newly translated cuneiform tablet, ancient Babylonian astronomers were the first to use surprisingly modern methods to track the path of Jupiter.
The purpose of four ancient Babylonian tablets at the British Museum has long been a historical mystery, but now it turns out that they describe a method that uses figures on a graph to calculate the motion of Jupiter. It’s a technique that historians previously thought no one came up with until medieval Europe, and it’s a staple of modern astronomy, physics and math. Read More
One question has always burned in the minds of paleontologists: If Tyrannosaurus rex was still around today, would it be able to catch and eat you?
The problem stems from our ability to accurately reconstruct the speed of extinct animals when all you have to go off are their bones. Trying to figure out where all the muscles went and the forces exerted by them during sprints, especially with dinosaurs, is no easy task.
Trackways, a series of foot impressions, are key evidence in speed investigations, as scientists can use footprints to work out how fast an animal was traveling when they made the tracks. Unfortunately, T. rex trackways are notoriously rare. But under the guidance of University of Alberta paleontologist Scott Pearsons, three trackways were recently discovered on the surface of an ancient, dried up riverbed — known as the Lance Formation — in Glenrock, Wyoming. Read More
Five planets adorn the morning sky this week — the same quintet of “wanderers” (Mercury to Saturn) our ancient ancestors recognized as being different from the background stars. Head outside about 45 minutes before sunrise and you will see the solar system objects spread out across approximately 110°.
Start with Jupiter in the southwestern sky, then pick up Mars nearly due south, Saturn climbing in the southeast, brilliant Venus to its lower left, and lastly Mercury hanging low in the twilight. The view of the five improves over the next week or two as Mercury climbs higher and grows brighter. Read More
Scientists have long pondered how life arose from a primordial soup of inorganic chemicals and began to reproduce. An essential component of this process is DNA, which tells cells how to form and what to do. DNA guides organic processes, yet DNA itself is the result of an organic reaction. So which came first? It’s a microbiological version of the chicken and the egg. Read More