November 25, 2014

Unlocking Antarctica with Time-lapse Photography

At a remote Antarctic outpost, cameras are being installed to capture time-lapse images of geological features in the McMurdo Dry Valleys.
Satellite image of the McMurdo Dry Valleys (NASA)
The images are giving scientists from Brown University and elsewhere a view of geological change in the Dry Valleys of the Antarctic that can't be seen any other way. Time-lapse photography is combined with weather data is revealing new details about the changing climate on Earth, but also offering insight into what conditions might be like in the similar frozen deserts of Mars.

November 24, 2014

Physicists Make a Quantum Whirlpool

Imagine changing matter into light and light into matter, and then using that technology to build computers that are faster and more powerful than anything most of us can dream of.
The brass mask used to create the spiral laser beam.
The spiral is created by a circular pattern of holes of
increasing size. (Stuart Hay, ANU)

That dream is closer to reality thanks to a new discovery that could link electronics with photonics. Physicists have successfully engineered a spiral laser beam that can create a vortex, or whirlpool, of particles called polaritons, hybrid particles with the properties of both matter and light. Polaritons form in semiconductors when laser light interacts with electrons and holes (positively charged vacancies) so strongly that it is no longer possible to distinguish light from matter.

November 22, 2014

Tapeworm Removed from Man’s Brain Reveals Genetic Secrets

Doctors in the UK recently removed a very rare tapeworm from a man’s brain that had been living there for four years. During its residency, the worm traveled five centimeters from one side of the brain to the other before it was detected and removed. Following the successful operation, a team took the opportunity to sequence the genome of this rare and poorly understood parasite.

Tapeworm in brain tissue (CDC)
The tapeworm, Spirometra erinaceieuropaei, has been reported only 300 times worldwide since 1953 and never before in the UK. The parasite causes sparganosis: inflammation of the body's tissues and, when this occurs in the brain, it can cause seizures, memory loss and headaches. It is thought that people may be infected by accidentally consuming tiny infected crustaceans from lakes, eating raw meat from reptiles and amphibians, or by using a raw frog poultice - a Chinese remedy to calm sore eyes.

November 21, 2014

Archaeologists Get a Bird's-eye View of Ancient Roman Gold Mines

Archaeologists and geologists in Spain studying Las Médulas, the largest known open-cast gold mine of the Roman Empire, have discovered it was a much bigger operation than previously thought.

Ancient Roman gold mines in the Eria river valley (J. Fernández Lozano et al)
The mines, located in the province of León, form a unique cultural landscape that was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1997. The mining technique used by the Romans known as ruina montium, (Latin, “wrecking of mountains”) created a challenging terrain for later archaeological exploration, and the full extent of the mining operation had been underestimated, until now.

November 17, 2014

Magic Tricks Created Using Artificial Intelligence

Researchers working on artificial intelligence (AI) at Queen Mary University of London have taught a computer to create magic tricks, and audiences are enjoying the results.

(Boians Cho Joo Young via
The research team is using magic tricks as a means of exploring what artificial intelligence can do. "Using AI to create magic tricks is a great way to demonstrate the possibilities of computer intelligence and it also forms a part of our research into the psychology of being a spectator,” says team member Peter McOwan, Professor of Computer Science. “For example, we suspected that audiences would be suspicious of the involvement of technology in the delivery of a trick, but we've found out that isn't the case.”

November 16, 2014

Warmest Ocean Temperatures Ever Recorded

A study of the variability of the global climate system has revealed that a significant warming of our planet’s oceans has taken place in recent months.
Global Ocean Temperatures (Axel Timmerman)

"This summer has seen the highest global mean sea surface temperatures ever recorded since their systematic measuring started. Temperatures even exceed those of the record-breaking 1998 El Niño year," says Axel Timmermann, climate scientist and professor at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

November 13, 2014

Birds Demonstrate the Value of Bonding After a Team Fight

As any fan of Hitchcock knows, birds often work together and, when threatened by rivals, are capable of marshalling their troops to defend resources. Now, researchers from the University of Bristol have found that clashes between rival bird groups have a long-lasting impact on the birds' behaviour.
Green woodhoopoe (Dick Daniels of

Biologists Dr. Andy Radford and Dr. Tim Fawcett have been studying the social behaviour of green woodhoopoes in Sub-Saharan Africa. Following a territorial conflict with their neighbors, victorious green woodhoopoes will unite at nightfall. Such disputes prompt these birds to spend the night together in the conflict zone, in an effort to strengthen the defence of the most desirable roosting sites.

November 12, 2014

Artificial Retina Could Someday Restore Vision

An international and interdisciplinary team of scientists is working on a compact, artificial retina that could someday be used to restore the eyesight of people with retinal degeneration.

(jscreationzs via
The gradual loss of eyesight, often caused by the degeneration of the retina, can be a life-altering health issue for many people, especially as they age. The development of a prosthetic retina, however, could help reverse conditions that affect this crucial part of the eye.

November 11, 2014

Tired Hospital Workers Wash Hands Less Often

Hand-washing in hospitals is known to reduce patient infections, but a new study has found that hospital nurses and other employees wash their hands less frequently as the workday progresses.
(Kimberly Smith)

The research team, led by Hengchen Dai at the University of Pennsylvania, examined three years of hand-washing data from 4,157 caregivers in 35 U.S. hospitals. The team found that "hand-washing compliance rates" dropped by an average of 8.7 percent during a typical 12-hour work shift. The decline in hand-washing appeared to be magnified by increased stress on the job.

November 10, 2014

Mars Spacecraft Reveal Comet Flyby Effects on Martian Atmosphere

A comet traveling from the most distant region of our solar system passed amazingly close to Mars on October 19, and three spacecraft were there to observe the effects. If you had been standing on Mars, you would have seen thousands of shooting stars, according to astronomers from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Illustration of MAVEN spacecraft at Mars (NASA)

The comet came from the Oort Cloud and passed within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of Mars. That’s less than half the distance between Earth and our moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth.

One European spacecraft and two from NASA, including one from its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, have used this rare opportunity to gather new information about the comet and how its visit has altered the Martian atmosphere.

November 9, 2014

Armored Dinosaurs Had Elaborate Nasal Passages

Since paleontologists began using CT scans and 3D reconstructions of dinosaur remains, they have been able to tell us much more about dinosaurs than ever before.
Ankylosaur skull
(William Diller Matthew, US PD)

Now a new study shows that armor-plated dinosaurs (ankylosaurs) had the capacity to modify the temperature of the air they breathed using nasal passages shaped like "crazy straws."

We know that animals use strategies such as sweating, panting, and swimming to prevent their brains from overheating. However, the ankylosaur appears to have relied upon its long and winding nasal cavity to cool down, using it as a heat transfer device.

Modern mammals and birds use scroll-shaped bones called conchae or turbinates to adjust the temperature of inhaled air. But ankylosaurs seem to have accomplished the same result with a completely different anatomical construction.

November 6, 2014

Frozen Extinct Bison Found in Siberia

Many large mammals went extinct at the end of the last Ice Age (approx 11,000 years ago), including the Steppe bison, or Bison priscus. A team of scientists has found one of these extinct bison frozen and naturally mummified in Eastern Siberia. It's a complete specimen frozen in time.
A Steppe bison on display at the University of Alaska 
Museum of the North
(Bernt Rostad from Oslo, Norway, via Wikimedia Commons)

According to the research team, they have uncovered the most complete frozen mummy of the Steppe bison ever found. The frozen body has been dated to 9,300 years before the present day. It was found in the Yana-Indigirka Lowland and the team performed a necropsy to reveal how this animal lived and died at the end of the Ice Age.

November 5, 2014

Madagascar: Fossil Offers Clues to Evolution of Mammals

About 70 million years ago, in the heyday of the dinosaurs, a groundhog-like mammal lived on the island of Madagascar. Weighing an estimated 20 pounds (9 kg), it was the largest mammal of its time.
This image is a finite element analysis result, showing how
stress is distributed through the skull under an incisor
bite at a wide gape angle. (UMass Amherst)

The mammal is named Vintana sertichi. Its fossilized skull was found in a geological formation that was deposited when a great variety of dinosaurs roamed the earth. With a skull that is almost five inches (125 mm) long, it was double the size of other mammals alive on the southern supercontinent, Gondwana, during the Age of Dinosaurs. 

Using modern technology, scientists have been able to analyze the fossilized skull and make some exciting discoveries about the diet, lifestyle, and relationships of this ancient mammal.

November 4, 2014

Digital Dinosaurs: Paleontologists Use New Technology to Digitally Restore a Dinosaur Fossil

Fossils are usually crushed or incomplete when they are found. Millions of years can take a toll, after all. Consequently, fossils have to be studied very carefully to avoid damage and sometimes they are hard to access. Now, an international team of scientists has found a better way to examine delicate fossils and reconstruct their original forms. 
An artist's rendition of Erlikosaurus, depicted with feathers
(Arthur Weasley)

The team has been using high-resolution X-ray computed tomography (CT scanning) and digital visualization techniques to restore a rare dinosaur fossil. They went to work on the skull of Erlikosaurus andrewsi, a 3-4meter (10-13 foot) large herbivorous dinosaur called a therizinosaur, which lived more than 90 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period in what is now Mongolia.

"Therizinosaurs, with their pot bellies and comically enlarged claws, are arguably the most bizarre theropod dinosaurs. We know a lot about their oddball skeletons from the neck down, but this is the first time we've been able to digitally dissect an entire skull," says Dr. Lindsay Zanno.

Astronomers Have Identified the Bizarre Object at the Center of Our Galaxy

For years, astronomers have been puzzled by a bizarre, fuzzy-looking object in the center of the Milky Way. The object was suspected of being a hydrogen gas cloud headed toward our galaxy's enormous black hole. However, it's not a gas cloud. It's something much more awesome.
Telescopes at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii
(Ethan Tweedie)

In astronomy circles, the mysterious object is known as G2. It is circling the black hole at the center of our galaxy like a rubber duck circling a bathtub drain. Astronomers have spent years trying to figure out what it is, and a team from the University of California, Los Angeles finally has an answer.

November 3, 2014

Fanged Musk Deer Found Alive in Afghanistan

The endangered Kashmir musk deer and it's unusual set of fangs hasn't been seen in about 60 years, until now.
A musk deer photographed in Siberia
(Julie Larsen Maher © WCS)

The strange deer with tusks that look like vampire fangs has been sighted in the rugged forested slopes of northeast Afghanistan, according to a research team led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The team confirmed the presence of the deer in Nuristan Province during recent surveys. 

So where has the deer been hiding, and what are those fangs for, anyway?