For some people with autism, the idea of facing social situations can be so unnerving it impairs their ability to finish school, hold a job or form relationships. And conventional medications and psychotherapy for anxiety often fail. But early results from a new study suggest that MDMA — commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly — may help adults with autism manage disabling social phobias. Read More
Humpback whale babies don’t scream for their mothers’ attention — they whisper.
Researchers who listened in on communications between humpback whale mothers and their calves believe they recorded what amounts to a whale whisper. Using detachable acoustic tags, the researchers followed eight calves and two mothers for 48 hours each as they swam near their breeding grounds off Australia’s coast, and say that this is the first time such vocalizations have been recorded in this manner. Read More
The eyes of the world turned from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft after its 2015 flyby at Pluto. But on New Year’s Eve next year, the space probe will zoom past another object unlike any astronomers have ever seen before.
This world, currently dubbed 2014 MU69, is so dim and far off that we know next to nothing about it — scientists aren’t even certain of its exact size. Read More
In the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica, pristine glaciers are marred in one spot by a striking feature: a crimson stain on the white cliffs, looking not unlike a gaping wound in the ice.
The five-story gash goes by the unnerving name of Blood Falls, although the color is not at all organic in nature. The salty water that seeps from the glacier is actually stained red by its rich iron content, and harbors a community of extremophile microbes. How that water came to be there, and how it continues to flow even in conditions well below freezing has puzzled scientists ever since the falls was discovered in 1911. Now, using high frequency radio waves, a team of researchers has mapped the streams that feed the waterfall, tracing them back through channels in the ice and finding evidence to support the theory that such streams exist all over Antarctica. Read More
Lamb fetuses have been sustained for four weeks outside of their mothers’ bodies with a new system that mimics a placenta.
The system is a step forward for researchers hoping to develop an “artificial placenta” that could allow premature fetuses to continue developing until they are ready for the outside world. It is essentially a fluid-filled bag with ports that allow for oxygen and nutrient delivery, combined with a pump-less oxygenator that allows the fetus to circulate blood using its own heartbeat. Read More
A caterpillar that can eat plastic and produce an industrially useful compound while doing so could take a bite out of the global scourge of plastic trash, a new study finds.
Plastics typically resist breaking down, and as plastic use has risen exponentially over the past 50 years, plastic garbage is piling up in landfills and could wreak havoc on wildlife and the environment for centuries. Read More
The 2003 discovery of the Homo floresiensis added a new, weird branch to the human family tree. At the same time humans were spreading across Asia and Neanderthals were inching toward extinction in Europe (and the mysterious Denisovans were doing … something), this three-and-a-half foot human relative was carving out an existence on the Flores island in what is now Indonesia. Read More
Though they may look ugly to us, naked mole-rats never want for friendship. The hairless rodents live in large colonies under the earth, inhabiting byzantine warrens under the soil of their native East Africa. They send foraging parties out through the dirt in search of the tree roots and tubers that sustain them, and when it comes time to rest, they gather together in a massive pile to sleep.
Their isolation offers security, but being cut off from the surface poses its own dangers. Even basic essentials, like oxygen, are in short supply underground. Naked mole-rats are hardy creatures though, and their subterranean preferences have occasioned some intriguing evolutionary divergences. They are cold-blooded, for starters, rarely get cancer, live decades longer than other rodents, don’t feel most kinds of pain and, as a new study from an international team of researchers shows, they can survive without oxygen for up to 18 minutes. Read More
A new, nearby exoplanet could be just the boilerplate needed to find out if life could exist in untold numbers of star systems.
The planet, LHS 1140b, is 39 light years away. It orbits a small M-dwarf star every 24 days. The planet itself is 1.4 times larger and 6.6 times more massive than Earth, and the principal investigators of the study published today in Nature believe it to be rocky. Read More
Two vibrant bundles of string, over 10,000 feet high in the Peruvian Andes, may hold clues for deciphering the ancient code of the Inca civilization.
Kept as heirlooms by the community of San Juan de Collata, the strings are khipus, devices of twisted and tied cords once used by indigenous Andeans for record keeping. Anthropologists have long debated whether khipus were simply memory aids — akin to rosary beads — or a three-dimensional writing system. The latter seems more possible, and decipherment more feasible, according to new research on the Collata khipus, published Wednesday in Current Anthropology. Read More