When Earth Was a Snowball, the Moon May Have Grown a Bulge

By Amber Jorgenson | February 14, 2018 10:42 am


Although the moon looks quite spherical from the ground, it is flatter at its poles and wider at its equator, a trait known as an equatorial bulge. This characteristic is common; it’s usually caused by an object’s rotation around its axis. However, it’s been noted that the moon’s bulge is about 20 times larger than it should be given its rotational rate of once per month.

Outlined in a paper published this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder created an innovative model to study the disproportionate bulge and determine the conditions needed for its formation. They found that the bulge formed over hundreds of millions of years during the Hadean time (when the solar system was forming roughly 4 billion years ago). However, for the bulge to form this slowly, Earth’s tidal forces would have needed to be much weaker than they are today. The weak tidal forces suggest that Earth’s water was less mobile — in other words, frozen — during this time period. Read More


Following Battles, Ant Medics Treat Their Wounded Comrades

By Charles Choi | February 13, 2018 6:00 pm

An African ant, Megaponera analis, carries an injured soldier from the battlefield. (Credit: Erik Frank)

Ants that hunt termites can risk getting grievously injured in battle, but that doesn’t mean its the end of the line.

In a newly published study, scientists observed ant medics caring for their wounded comrades, which may be the first scientifically documented example of such medical care in the animal kingdom outside humanity.

The African ant Megaponera analis specializes in hunting termites. After scouts of this ant species find termite feeding sites, the scouts lead columns of 200 to 600 fighters back to capture and kill termite prey.

“The colony only has between 10 to 20 scouts at a time looking for food, and these scouts make all the important decisions about where to forage and how large the army should be that goes out,” said study lead author Erik Frank, a behavioral ecologist who carried out this research at the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg in Germany. “Thus 1 percent of the colony is responsible for the success of the other 99 percent.” Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: insects

In Iceland, Bitcoin Mining Could Suck Up More Energy Than Homes

By Nathaniel Scharping | February 13, 2018 3:04 pm
Reykjavik, in Iceland. (Credit: Boyloso/Shutterstock)

Reykjavik, in Iceland. (Credit: Boyloso/Shutterstock)

Mining bitcoin is not a task for your average Joe. As far back as 2014, researchers estimated that profitable bitcoin mining was out of the reach of commercial hardware. The increasing difficulty of solving the equations that yield the digital currency means that it takes an entire server farm today to make it worth it. And you also might have to move to Iceland. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

Step Aboard the Moa Poop Time Machine

By Charlotte Hu | February 13, 2018 12:27 pm

An illustration of giant moas. (Wikimedia Commons)

Coprolites, or fossilized dung, double as ecological time capsules, preserving an incredible collection of information about past ecosystems.

In Middle Earth (a.k.a. New Zealand) researchers from the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for DNA (ACAD) and Landcare Research NZ reconstructed a pre-civilization community using a bird dung time machine. Dung samples were amassed from numerous sites across the continent. The donors: four species of ratite birds including the extinct giant moa and the critically endangered kakapo parrot, all of which are endemic to the continent. In its heyday, the moa was the dominant herbivore in New Zealand. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: unusual organisms

Man’s Chronic Pain Disappears After Vigorous, Cold-Water Swim

By Carl Engelking | February 12, 2018 5:45 pm

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Those polar plunge nuts—you know, the people who strip to their skivvies in February and jump into freezing water—might be on to something.

According to doctors from the United Kingdom, a 28-year-old man who had been complaining of persistent, post-operative pain was cured after jumping into incredibly cold water for a vigorous 60-second, intense swim. Roughly two months prior to his swim, the man had undergone an endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy procedure to treat his severe facial blushing. In this procedure, a portion of the sympathetic nerve trunk is destroyed to treat excessive sweating, blushing and Raynaud’s disease. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

Huntington’s Disease Reveals a New Weapon to Fight Cancer

By Charlotte Hu | February 12, 2018 3:10 pm

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Scientists have found a silver lining to Huntington’s disease.

The malady causes nerve cells in the brain to break down; there is no cure. But if there’s one redeeming quality to this fatal genetic illness it’s this: Medical data has shown that people with Huntington’s are 80 percent less likely to develop cancer than the general population. But why?

Building off of previous experiments and related studies conducted over several years, Marcus Peter and his colleagues at Northwestern University in Chicago say they have successfully pinpointed the link between Huntington’s and cancer cells: RNA interference. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: cancer

This Is Why Some Bats Have Hairy Tongues

By Charles Choi | February 9, 2018 3:47 pm

(Wikimedia Commons)

Nectar-drinking bats possess hairy tongues, and now scientists reveal these hairs are designed to maximize how much sweet nectar the bats can guzzle.

The South American Pallas’ long-tongued bat, Glossophaga soricina, dips its long tongue in and out of flowers while hovering in mid-air, and the hairs on its tongue apparently helping it collect nectar that pools at the bottom of the blossoms. Other animals, such as honeybees and mouse-like marsupials, known as honey possums, native to Australia similarly possess hairy tongues, but it remained unclear just how much these hairs helped them out with drinking. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

Did The Dino-Killing Asteroid Trigger Global Volcanoes?

By Eric Betz | February 9, 2018 3:22 pm

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Earth’s worst day happened 66.043 million years ago — give or take 32,000 years. Let’s say it was a Monday. And if it was, then around Friday afternoon a strange new star would’ve begun growing brighter and brighter in the sky.

Tragically, it wasn’t a cool new star at all. It was a Mount Everest-sized space rock traveling 45,000 mph. Surprise! The asteroid was so gargantuan, that as its leading edge plunged into the Gulf of Mexico, you would have seen the other side was still higher than a cruising 747 jetliner.

Of course, if you saw the fireball, you wouldn’t be around long enough to worry about the aftermath. But things were pretty terrible for anything that survived. Earth’s vegetation burned that day. Then the sulfur and soot blocked out the sun, eventually killing everything larger than 55 pounds in a sort of nuclear winter. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Your Weekly Attenborough: Sitana attenboroughii

By Nathaniel Scharping | February 9, 2018 2:39 pm
(Credit: Sadasivan, Ramesh, Palot, Ambekar & Mirza, 2018)

Attenborough’s fan-throated lizard. (Credit: Sadasivan, Ramesh, Palot, Ambekar & Mirza, 2018)

It’s a lizard!

It is my distinct pleasure to welcome Sitana attenboroughii, Attenborough’s fan-throated lizard to the world. Measuring somewhere under three inches from snout to vent, the lizard is a welcome addition to the Agamidae family, and bears the “Attenborough” distinction proudly. In lieu of gifts, we are instead asking that you simply be nice to the environment. These little guys live in a fragile habitat. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

We May Have Found Billions Of Exoplanets Outside Our Galaxy

By Mara Johnson-Groh | February 9, 2018 2:27 pm
Astronomers have identified a population of rogue planets - planets not bound to or orbiting parent stars - in a lensing galaxy sitting between Earth and a distant quasar. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Astronomers have identified a population of rogue planets – planets not bound to or orbiting parent stars – in a lensing galaxy sitting between Earth and a distant quasar. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Discoveries of exoplanets in our galaxy exceed 3,700 to date, but if that’s not enough for you, astronomers are now probing outside of the Milky Way to find exoplanets in other galaxies. A group of researchers at the University of Oklahoma has just announced the discovery of a large population of free-floating planets in a galaxy 3.8 billion light-years away. Their results were published February 2 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The researchers used a method known as quasar microlensing, which has traditionally been used to study the disk-like regions around supermassive black holes where material gathers as it spirals in toward the event horizon. When a distant quasar is eclipsed by a closer galaxy, the intervening galaxy will create several magnified replica images of the quasar. These replicas are further magnified by stars in the interloping galaxy to create a final super-magnified image that can be used to study the quasar in detail. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: exoplanets


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