Science Tuesday: Contacts with Zoom, Ant Colony Toilets, and a New Species of Sea Dragon

(Image of Ruby Red Seadragon by Josefin Stiller , Nerida G. Wilson , Greg W. Rouse [CC BY 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)

Happy Tuesday, Aledan Merfolk! We have a full platter of science news for the week, so let’s get right to it!

Strange haze in upper Mars atmosphere has scientists scratching their heads: Scientists are stumped by a haze that appeared twice in the southern Mars atmosphere in 2012, lasting for days each time. An amateur astronomer first noticed the plume that was later confirmed by a team of international scientists, who speculate that the haze could be a large cloud or a particularly bright aurora, but “it raises more questions than answers,” noted European Space Agency planetary scientist Antonio Garcia Munoz, co-author of a paper on the plume published in Nature. He points out that if either explanation is correct, it would mean current theories about Mars’ upper atmosphere are incorrect.

Satellite images show new deltas forming off La. coast: Two new deltas have formed in Louisiana, protruding into the Gulf of Mexico, satellite images have revealed. Louisiana has been slowly losing land, and the discovery of the new deltas is offering clues on how to slow land loss. “We are looking carefully at the Wax Lake and Atchafalaya deltas as models for building new land and preserving some of our coastal marshlands,” said Harry Roberts, a coastal studies researcher.

National Park Service map shows patterns of sound across the U.S.: The eastern U.S. is louder than the West, according to a sound map created by the National Park Service that uses computer algorithms to assess the loudness of a summer day across the country. The map, released Monday during the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting, includes natural as well as man-made sounds and could be useful to urban planners, biologists and the Park Service itself as it works to preserve “natural quiet.” A second version of the map shows the U.S. soundscape without human sounds, with the West still quieter than the East.

Research absolves humans in extinction of Alaskan mastodons: Humans weren’t responsible for the extinction of the Alaskan mastodon, according to research that puts the creatures in the region much earlier. “For at the least the story of the mastodon, we now know for what we call Beringia — Alaska, parts of Yukon and over into northeastern Asia — they were wiped out in those areas for things that had nothing to do with humans, because they all died out before there were humans there,” said Pat Druckenmiller, a co-author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Druckenmiller and his colleagues re-examined about 40 fossil specimens and redated them to about 120,000 years ago.

Tuscany cemetery offers clues to 1850s cholera epidemic, researchers say: Skeletons found in the cemetery of the Badia Pozzeveri church near Lucca in Tuscany are offering archaeologists clues about the cholera epidemic that killed thousands of people in the 1850s. “To our knowledge, these are the best-preserved remains of cholera victims of this time period ever found,” said Clark Spencer Larsen, an archaeologist at Ohio State University who reported on his team’s findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The scientists are searching the soil where the skeletons were buried in search of cholera DNA to compare it with today’s strain to see how it has evolved.

Advanced contacts include telescopic zoom feature: A team of scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has developed an innovative set of contact lenses that includes a telephoto-like feature that enables users to zoom in on faraway objects. The wearer can, with specialized glasses, toggle between normal and magnified viewing modes by blinking, and researchers say the lenses could be good for people who have macular degeneration.

Space-age technology helping curb zoonotic diseases: With the help of satellites, researchers are learning to predict high-transmission areas for certain zoonotic diseases including schistosomiasis and chikungunya virus. The satellites garner information such as where and how species involved in transmission move. Combining this information with data on human populations is being used to predict and ultimately reduce disease transmission.

Study: There was enough nitrogen 3.2B years ago to sustain life: There was plenty of nitrogen around 3.2 billion years ago to sustain many basic lifeforms such as bacteria or viruses, suggesting that life came to be on Earth about a billion years earlier than previously thought, according to a study published in Nature. Researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Johannesburg studied rocks between 2.75 billion and 3.2 billion years old, finding abundant nitrogen, an essential gene building block.

Latest images of Ceres enthrall, baffle NASA scientists: NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is drawing ever nearer to Ceres, giving scientists more tantalizing images of the dwarf planet. “As we slowly approach the stage, our eyes transfixed on Ceres and her planetary dance, we find she has beguiled us but left us none the wiser. We expected to be surprised; we did not expect to be this puzzled,” said Dawn mission principal investigator Chris Russell. Dawn is expected to enter orbit around Ceres on March 6.

Acidity of Earth’s oceans seen in satellite data maps: The acidity of ocean water can be seen in maps created using satellite images, indicating a rise in carbon dioxide absorbed by the seawater. Scientists at the University of Exeter in the U.K. used satellite data to create global maps charting areas of ocean acidity. “We are pioneering these techniques so that we can monitor large areas of the Earth’s oceans, allowing us to quickly and easily identify those areas most at risk from the increasing acidification,” said Jamie Shutler, leader of the study published in Environmental Science and Technology.

Divers find ancient gold coins off the coast of Israel: About 2,000 gold coins dating back about 1,000 years have been found by amateur scuba divers in an ancient harbor off the coast of Israel, raising the possibility of an ancient shipwreck somewhere in the vicinity. “There is probably a shipwreck there of an official treasury boat, which was on its way to the central government in Egypt with taxes that had been collected. Perhaps the treasure of coins was meant to pay the salaries of the Fatimid [Kingdom] military garrison, which was stationed in Caesarea and protected the city,” said Israel Antiquities Authority official Kobi Sharvit.

New species of ichthyosaur discovered in museum storage room: A new species of ichthyosaur has been identified from a long-forgotten fossil in the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery in the U.K. For 30 years, the fossil was thought to be a plaster copy until a paleontologist spotted it was the real thing, according findings published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The 189-million-year-old species has been named Ichthyosaurus anningae.

Ant colonies have designated waste areas, study finds: Ants have designated places in their colonies where their waste is kept, according to a study published in PLOS ONE. Researchers dyed food for black garden ants red and blue, resulting in feces that also retained those colors, and found that the feces accumulated in the corners of the colony, away from the living space. Why the ants keep their waste inside the colony as opposed to moving it outside remains unclear, the scientists say.

Giant bed of manganese nodules found deep in Atlantic Ocean: An extensive bed of round manganese nodules of varying sizes has been found along the Atlantic seafloor between South America and Africa. Researchers on a German ship had dragged a mesh net to gather marine life several hundred miles off the coast of Barbados when they brought up balls of manganese ore instead. Although manganese nodules are not unheard of on the ocean floor, this patch is the largest ever found in the Atlantic, according to scientists.

Some raindrops surpass terminal velocity in race to the ground, study suggests: Some raindrops outstrip others, moving faster than terminal velocity, according to a study in Geophysical Research Letters. The study, which builds on earlier research by the same scientists, measured the speeds of 1.5 million raindrops as they passed through laser beams during six storms in South Carolina. “Occasionally, smaller drops fall more than 10 times faster than expected. On average, small drops move about 30 percent faster than expected, but it depends on rain type and strength,” said researcher Alexander Kostinski.

Smaller moons seen orbiting Pluto and Charon in New Horizons images: The New Horizons spacecraft has captured images of Pluto’s moons Nix and Hydra as they orbit the dwarf planet and its other moon Charon. New Horizons will continue observing the smaller moons’ orbits through March 6, when the spacecraft will take a break to downlink data before starting observations again April 5.

Genetic technique may protect against HIV infection, study suggests: Researchers have successfully protected monkeys from HIV infection by using non-life-threatening viruses to change the creatures’ genomes to produce antibody-like molecules that neutralize HIV, according to a study published in Nature. Since traditional kinds of vaccines have been ineffective in protecting against HIV infection, researchers say this technique could be developed as a kind of vaccine for HIV. Scientists say more study is needed before testing can be done with humans.

Neanderthals interbred with ancient Asians at 2 points in history, studies suggest: Neanderthals interbred with the ancestors of Asians twice in ancient history, according to a pair of studies published in the American Journal of Human Genetics. The studies approached the same question from different directions, but came to the same conclusion, looking at why Asians have more Neanderthal DNA than Europeans. According to the studies, ancient Asians must have come in contact with Neanderthals a second time after splitting off from Europeans.

Marine animals a lot larger today than ancient counterparts, study finds: Marine animals are about 150 times larger on average today than their ancient ancestors of the Cambrian period, a study published in Science suggests. Researchers compared the measurements of animals from more than 17,000 genera over a 542 million-year time span. Today’s smallest creatures are a tenth the size of their ancient counterparts, but the largest, whales, are more than 100,000 times bigger than their ancestors. “Classes of animals that were already big … tended to persist longer and diversify more than classes that were, on average, smaller,” said paleontologist Noel Heim, co-author of the study.

Study: Bottlenose dolphins moved to the Mediterranean at end of last ice age: Bottlenose dolphins came to the Mediterranean Sea about 18,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, according to a study published in Evolutionary Biology. Before that, the Mediterranean would have been too salty for many sea creatures to live in. But as ice age glaciers melted, it became less salty and fish and other marine life moved in, followed by hungry bottlenose dolphins, researchers say.

Toxins cocktail helps bees fight off parasites, study suggests: Bees given a concoction of toxins, including nicotine and caffeine, were better able to ward off infection by intestinal parasites, researchers have found. The toxins, taken from plants that use the substances to discourage predators, helped reduce parasite infection levels by up to 81% in the bees and one day may help farmers and gardeners improve their bees’ health. “Having bees consume these protective chemicals could be a natural treatment of the future,” said evolutionary ecologist Lynn Adler, lead author of the study published in the Royal Society’s Proceedings B journal.

Scientists measure strength of winds surrounding a black hole: NASA and European Space Agency scientists say they have calculated the size, shape and speed of winds that ring black holes, helping them understand how they affect their galaxies. Researchers looked at winds surrounding black hole PDS-456 in a galaxy 2 billion light-years from Earth, and found that the gusts contain more energy per second than a trillion suns, blowing strongly enough to stop star formation. “Now we know quasar winds significantly contribute to mass loss in a galaxy, driving out its supply of gas, which is fuel for star formation,” said Emanuele Nardini, lead author of the study published in Science.

Skin damage continues long after sun exposure, study suggests: Damage to skin from sun exposure may continue long after coming inside, and melanin, long thought to help protect skin from the damaging effects, may play a role, according to research. The study, published in Science, found that melanin is broken apart by a reaction to two enzymes forming a high energy molecule that damages cells long after sun exposure. While melanin can protect people from short-term damage, “it also causes some of it. It was an interesting finding, but it felt kind of heretical,” said Douglas Brash, author of the study.

Ice may exist hidden in Martian hills, ESA observations suggest: The Phlegra Montes in Mars’ northern hemisphere may be hiding deposits of ice, observations by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express suggest. The hills were covered by glaciers hundreds of millions of years ago, geological evidence suggests, and researchers think ice could be hidden not far beneath their surface.

Search for alien life on Europa begins with NASA workshop: Ideas on how best to search for life on Jupiter’s moon Europa were discussed at a workshop last week at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Funding has been allocated in the 2016 budget request for NASA’s mission to Europa, which scientists believe holds the best chance for harboring life, but what kind of life and whether we’d be able to recognize it are questions the workshop hoped to help answer. “Europa is clearly such a prime target for astrobiology that having a workshop like this to try and figure out all the ways in which we could possibly sample its ocean … [is] critically important,” said astrobiologist Kevin Hand, who attended the meeting.

Dark matter may have played a role in mass extinction events, study suggests: The cataclysmic events that cause mass extinctions on Earth about every 30 million years may be the result of the planet’s interaction with dark matter, according to findings reported online in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Previously, researchers have noticed that mass extinctions seem to happen when our solar system passes through the plane of the Milky Way, suggesting that the gas and dust encountered may trigger comet collisions or geological upheaval. The study suggests that passing through dark matter may have the same effect.

Modern cities’ growth mirrors that of ancient ones, study finds: There are many similarities between the growth of modern cities and ancient ones, according to archaeological data gathered by researchers, who suggest that social behaviors play a big role in developing urban spaces. Researchers used data collected on the pre-Hispanic Basin of Mexico to make their initial comparisons and hope to test it on other ancient sites and cultures. “It implies that some of the most robust patterns in modern urban systems derive from processes that have been part of human societies all along,” said anthropologist Scott Ortman, a co-author of the study published in Science Advances.

Thunderstorms drawn to large cities more than rural sites, study finds: Large cities have more thunderstorms than rural areas, according to research published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society. Researchers studied radar data collected between 1997 and 2013 and hope their findings can help cities prepare for these events. “City planners, meteorologists and citizens who live in or near large urban areas should be aware of the increased risk,” said study lead author Alex Haberlie. “These storms can produce dangerous weather hazards, including lightning, hail, strong winds and flash floods, often with little or no warning.”

New species of seadragon found: A third species of seadragon has been discovered, the first new species of the sea creature found in 150 years. Scientists analyzing tissue samples found a DNA sequence that was unlike other seadragons and requested the full specimen, and knew they were seeing something brand new. “If we can overlook such a charismatic new species for so long, we definitely have many more exciting discoveries awaiting us in the oceans,” said study co-author Nerida Wilson.

Skeletons of embracing couple discovered in Greece: Archaeologists excavating the Alepotrypa Cave in Greece found 5,800-year-old skeletons of a man and woman embracing. The cave has been called a “Neolithic Pompeii,” and is one of the largest burial sites of that period. Researchers found two other Neolithic double burials as well as a Mycenaean ossuary dating back 3,300 years holding bone fragments of several individuals, as well as numerous artifacts.


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I Re-read Nameless for Shits and Giggles. It’s More Shit than Giggles.

Happy Thursday, Aledan Merfolk! It’s been a busy week around here, mostly because my instrument at work has been acting wonky for the past two weeks. I finally figured out why yesterday afternoon: my dumbass switched two of the three columns and connected them to the wrong place. Whee! I’ve reconnected them to the correct places and now I’m waiting for my instrument to normalize again.

My instrument (HP 6890 ECD)
My instrument – a HP 6890 ECD

In writing news: I got my critiques back for the FE short story, and the plot seems to be pretty solid so I’m mostly working on making the words pretty now. I really suck at pretty words, so I have two new CPs to help me :) When this draft is finished I’m sending it to a final person (who’s read FE and has some idea of the world), and then I’ll be sending it in to the anthology and crossing my fingers!

Since I’ve been hanging out in FE world lately I decided to read Nameless for shits and giggles last weekend. HAHAHAHAHA! *cries* It turns out I learned a lot writing and editing StO last year. Nameless is going to need the first 2/3 re-written…again. The last third is solid, at least. And the plot is still good, it’s just the writing that sucks. I’m so glad I spent a whole year sending that abomination out to agents.

I need a drink.

Good thing Sunday is National Margarita Day! I tried to find a margarita-themed custom pony, but could only find drawings. In my searching I did find a few awesome customs to feature though – I’m just waiting on the OK from the customizers. Hopefully one of them will get back to me before Sunday so I can post CPotW this week!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend, Aledans :)

Science Tuesday: The Big Bang Is Bunk, The Dark Side Of The Moon, and Dino LSD.

Happy Tuesday, Aledan Merfolk! There was lots of science news in the past week, so let’s get right to it!

Researchers find evidence of dark matter at center of Milky Way: A team of researchers say they’ve shown that dark matter exists at the center of the Milky Way, according to a study published online in Nature Physics. They studied data about the movement of stars at the galaxy’s center to see how that varied with those distanced from the center, then figured out how fast those stars would be moving if only normal matter was pulling on them. The researchers found that two speeds didn’t line up, suggesting that dark matter plays a role.

Stars at center of strange nebula on course to merge and explode: A pair of white dwarf stars locked in a tight orbit with each other have been seen at the center of an unusually shaped nebula, according to a report in Nature. “When we looked at this object’s central star with [the European Southern Observatory’s] Very Large Telescope, we found not just one but a pair of stars at the heart of this strangely lopsided, glowing cloud,” said Henri Boffin, an author of the paper. Eventually the stars will merge and explode, the scientists say.

Armstrong’s souvenirs from moon landing on display at Smithsonian: Items meant to be left on the moon as excess baggage were kept by Neil Armstrong after the historic Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 as personal mementos that his widow found after his death in 2012 and turned over to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. “What many of the astronauts did once things were surplus and basically not required for science or other missions … certain items that astronauts have managed to keep as sort of personal momenta. Control handles, or something like that,” said Apollo collection curator Allan Needell. Among the items now on display at the gallery are a camera used to film the landing and spacewalk, and a waist tether.

Researchers use microbes to create fuel from sunlight: A team of researchers has developed a system that uses microbes to convert solar energy into fuel, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The team of Harvard scientists put Ralstonia eutropha into a jar, encouraging the bacteria to consume hydrogen, creating a “bionic leaf” that produced isopropanol, which can be used a fuel. “Imagine a system that can be created in a glass of water to produce new and useful chemicals. Efficiency will be our primary goal for the bionic leaf,” said study co-author Pamela Silver.

Study: Flame retardant chemicals found in livers of bald eagles in Mich.: Bald eagles in Michigan have high levels of flame retardant chemicals in their systems that researchers think came from eating contaminated fish or by other environmental means. The chemicals, which are no longer used, are still everywhere, said study leader Nil Basu. “They build up in the food chains so that top predators — such as bald eagles — accumulate high levels,” Basu said. While the bald eagle population is stable, other birds have shown signs of impaired reproduction, odd behavior and disruption of hormones, according to the study published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

Archivist finds early version of Magna Carta in U.K. county’s scrapbook: An early draft of the Magna Carta has been found in a Victorian-era scrapbook along with the Charter of the Forest during a search of the Kent County Council archives. The pair of documents date back to about 1300, and the city of Sandwich, where the scrapbook was found, has no plans to sell them. Though damaged, the Magna Carta could be worth up to £10 million, or $15.2 million, one expert estimates.

15th-century skull drilled for potent bone powder, study suggests: The mystery surrounding holes drilled into the skull of a 15th-century Italian martyr may have been solved, according to researchers at the University of Pisa in Italy. The scientists say the 16 holes in the skull were drilled to collect bone powder to treat diseases such as paralysis, epilepsy and stroke. Skull bone powder from martyred individuals who died a violent death was considered to be highly effective in treating those diseases during the Late Middle Ages, according to the study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

Study: New quantum correction suggests universe wasn’t formed from Big Bang: By applying quantum correction terms to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, physicists have created a model in which the universe has always existed, accounting for dark matter and dark energy as well. “The Big Bang singularity is the most serious problem of general relativity because the laws of physics appear to break down there,” said Ahmed Farag Ali, co-author of the study published in Physics Letters B. That singularity can be resolved by the new model, which suggests that there is no beginning Big Bang and no end.

You know, just to completely blow your mind.

Young, inexperienced bees may contribute to colony collapse: Bees stressed because they started foraging when they were too young are a major factor in colony collapse, an international problem that threatens pollination of crops, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We found the bees that started foraging when they were younger, survived a fewer number of days, completed far fewer successful foraging trips and they also took longer on each foraging trip,” noted study co-author Andrew Barron, an entomologist. Ultimately, the researchers found, the young bees would not be able to support the colony, leading to its collapse.

Wasps use virus to force ladybugs to guard larvae, study finds: Parasitic wasps may utilize a virus to infect the brains of ladybugs, causing them to stand guard over a wasp larva while it gestates, according to research. The Dinocampus coccinellae plants an egg inside a ladybug, the larva emerges from its belly three weeks later, weaving a cocoon underneath the beetle, leaving it alive, but paralyzed. It guards the larva until it becomes an adult about a week later. Researchers found an RNA virus that the wasp injects into the ladybug along with the egg, according to the study published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Pufferfish coat their young with layer of toxins, study finds: Female pufferfish may quickly abandon their offspring, but they don’t leave them undefended, according to a study published in Toxicon. When the female lays her eggs, she also slathers them in tetrodotoxin, and the remnants of the poison stick to the young pufferfish, who aren’t yet able to puff themselves or have enough of their own toxins built up after they hatch. The coating is just enough to ward off potential predators, researchers say.

16th-century mining pollution found in Andes ice cap: An ice cap in the Peruvian Andes holds traces of air pollution left by 16th-century Spanish silver mines, pre-dating the Industrial Revolution, researchers say. “Our study demonstrates that since the colonial time, mining and metallurgic activities performed by the Spanish did also have an impact on very distant areas,” said Paolo Gabrielli, author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Women over 65 may benefit from moderate drinking, study suggests: Women aged 65 or older who drink moderately are more likely to live longer than those who don’t drink alcohol, but researchers stress that the health benefits of drinking are modest. The study, published in BMJ, looked at adults aged 50 and older and found that drinking didn’t have any impact on lifespan for women between 50 and 64, or for men aged 65 and up, though men aged 50 to 64 lived longer than those of that age group who never drank.

Cheers to that!

Lunar orbiter helps map the other side of the moon: NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been mapping the moon since 2009, and now scientists can see what the far side looks like. “It lacks the large dark spots, called maria, that make up the familiar Man in the Moon on the near side. Instead, craters of all sizes crowd together over the entire far side. The far side is also home to one of the largest and oldest impact features in the solar system, the South Pole-Aitken basin,” NASA said in a statement.

NASA: Sea ice declining despite gains in Antarctic: Increases in Antarctic sea ice in recent years do not offset the decline of sea ice in the Arctic, according to NASA. “When I give public lectures or talk with random people interested in the topic, often somebody will say something in the order of ‘well, the ice is decreasing in the Arctic but it’s increasing in the Antarctic, so don’t they cancel out?’ The answer is no, they don’t cancel out,’ ” said NASA climate scientist Claire Parkinson, who charted Arctic and Antarctic sea ice trends in a study published in the Journal of Climate. The study indicates that the losses of ice in the Arctic outweigh the small gains being made in the Antarctic.

Frozen Zoo saves genetic material from endangered species, sparks debate: Scientists are debating the best use of what’s known as the Frozen Zoo, a collection of genetic material gathered from more than 1,000 endangered or already extinct species or subspecies. The Frozen Zoo’s work is hailed for its value as a genetic archive that’s helped move forward studies of artificial insemination, cloning, in vitro fertilization and stem cell technology, but critics wonder how far that kind of research should go to reestablish struggling species.

Specially tagged amino acid may give doctors view of brain cancer growth: Doctors may be able to detect the growth of brain cancer tumors with great accuracy by injecting a specially tagged amino acid into patients, scientists say. Scans pick up the tagged amino acid glutamine, which the cancerous cells feed on, delineating the tumor, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine.

Ancient fungus may have had hallucinogenic effect on dinosaurs: Dinosaurs may have ingested a hallucinogenic fungus that was an ancient precursor to LSD, according to a study published in Paleodiversity. Researchers found the 100 million-year-old fungus encased in amber in Myanmar. “This is an important discovery that helps us understand the timeline of grass development, which now forms the basis of the human food supply in such crops as corn, rice or wheat. But it also shows that this parasitic fungus may have been around almost as long as the grasses themselves, as both a toxin and natural hallucinogen,” said study author George Poinar Jr.

Dogs can distinguish between happy, angry human faces, study suggests: Dogs may be able to tell the difference between happy and angry human faces, researchers say. Scientists trained volunteer dogs to tell the difference between images of people making either happy or angry faces, with the canines getting the differences right more often that what would be expected with random chance. “With our study … we think we can now confidently conclude that at least some dogs can discriminate human facial expressions,” Corsin Muller, author of the study published in Current Biology.

I love when scientists “discover” things that dog owners already know ;)

NASA offers preview of possible submarine mission to Titan’s seas: NASA hopes to one day study the methane and ethane waters of Saturn’s moon Titan using a robotic submarine. Scientists recently displayed a video of a robotic submarine concept at the Innovative Advanced Concepts Symposium. The video shows a submersible studying the depths of Kracken Mare, Titan’s largest sea.

Rare exoplanet is densest, largest ever observed, researchers say: The largest and densest exoplanet discovered so far was spotted by two independent groups of astronomers in Heidelberg, Germany. Kepler-432b is 2,850 light-years from Earth and circles its red-giant star in small but elongated orbit that results in extreme temperature fluctuations. Researchers say Kepler-432b’s star is gradually expanding and will likely consume the exoplanet within 200 million years, according to research published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Hydrogen cloud will reach Milky Way in 30M years, researchers say: A massive hydrogen cloud is zipping its way toward the Milky Way, likely carrying extragalactic material, according to preliminary data. The Smith Cloud, a streak of hydrogen that resembles a comet, is about 40,000 light-years away and on track to crash into one of the Milky Way’s spiral arms in about 30 million years, researchers say. The Smith Cloud reinforces the idea that the space between galaxies is filled with “funny little clouds that seem to have a life of their own,” said Jay Lockman of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. He presented the findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting.

We may not be looking for the right signs of alien life, scientists say: Scientists are suggesting the presence of a “shadow biosphere” made up of forms of life that don’t have the biochemical makeup we’re used to looking for, according to a discussion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting. “Life did not choose DNA or RNA out of chemical necessity. There may have been many alternative paths to the evolution of life,” said Arizona State University’s John Chaput, a biochemist. California Institute of Technology geobiologist Victoria Orphan said that by only looking for the kinds of life we’re familiar with, we might be missing other organisms.

Lost civilizations found in remote areas thanks to drones, satellites: Remote sensing technology, such as drone flights and satellite imaging, have helped find well-hidden ancient civilizations, according to information presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Scientists have recently been able to learn about previously unknown civilizations in remote areas of the Sahara desert and the Amazon rainforest. “These new technologies have just opened up these regions to us,” said archaeologist David Mattingly, who is studying the Garamantes culture found using satellite images of the Sahara.

Changes in dissection techniques seen in hospital graveyard skeletons: Scientists have tracked changes in dissection practices by looking skeletons excavated from hospital graveyards and those stored by medical museums and universities. Jenna Dittmar of the University of Cambridge described early dissection techniques from between 1650 and 1900 in a talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting. She gleaned how tools evolved by studying cut marks left on the bones.

Cover Reveal: Michael, Path of Angels, by Patricia Lynne

Happy Monday, Aledan Merfolk! As I said on Twitter yesterday, I’m having a problem finding custom ponies to feature every week (no one checks their DeviantArt messages, apparently, and I don’t feature a custom unless I have permission from the customizer), but no fear! Today I have something just as awesome for your eyes to ogle: it’s Patricia Lynne’s book, MICHAEL, Book One of the Path of Angels series. Before we get to the cover, have a blurb:

There is only one path.

Born mortal along with his three brothers, Michael is an Archangel with a specific role: hunt fallen angels and send them back to Hell. He is determined in his mission, never straying from his appointed path, until he meets Lake Divine, and discovers there may be more to his beliefs than blind duty.

But Lake is not who he seems. Offspring of a human and a fallen angel, a Nephilim, Lake must choose his own destiny: give in to the coldness and embrace the dark, or seek the light and rise above the sins of his father.

Two paths lay before them, but only one has the potential to destroy them both.

Add to Goodreads:

And now the part I know you actually here for, the cover!

perf6.000x9.000.inddI love the red and the blue – it really makes this cover pop! And who doesn’t love a flaming sword?

About the Author:

PatriciaLynneAuthorPicPatricia Josephine never set out to become a writer. In fact, she never considered it an option during high school and college. She was all about art. On a whim, she wrote down a story bouncing in her head. That was the start of it and she hasn’t regretted a moment. She writes young adult under the name Patricia Lynne.

Patricia lives with her husband in Michigan, hopes one day to have what will resemble a small petting zoo, has a fondness for dying her hair the colors of the rainbow, and an obsession with Doctor Who.







Forcing My “Reading Brain” to Edit

Happy Thursday, Aledan Merfolk! This week has been a roller coaster ride of awesomeness and busyness and a little bit of frustrated-ness. I got a critique back from one of my CPs and I’m expecting another any day. They both liked StO (yay!) but I still have some characterization to work on (boo!). I should finish the edits on my FE short story today, and I’ll be sending it off to a few new readers who don’t know anything about the FE universe to make sure it’s not confusing as all hell. Why are 100k word books so much easier to write and edit than 5k word short stories? (On the plus side, StO is now just under 100k)

TheEternaFilesI finished ATLANTIA (I’m disappointed to say there were never any mermaids in it, although I liked the ending) and started a CP project that I’m thoroughly enjoying so far. I tried listening to THE CITY STAINED RED audiobook, but as a fantasy there are too many strange names and I need to see the words because I’m a visual person. I’m going to see if I can read the free sample on Nook and hope it gives me enough of an idea of what the names are that I can continue listening to the audiobook without being completely confused. In the meantime I have THE ETERNA FILES to read, and I can’t wait.

I know I’ve mentioned my weird writing cycle before, and right now I’m in the READ EVERYTHING phase of it, which is making edits slower than normal. If I was in my writing/editing phase they’d be done by now, but my brain just isn’t in that headspace right now. The next phase is for video games and HGTV, at which point my editing brain will be utterly useless, so I’m really trying to get these edits done now. Am I the only weirdo whose brain has these very specific phases of when it will work on certain things? I can’t wait for the writing/editing portion to come back around (it should be here around the end of Feb, which is the due date for this round of CPs to get StO back to me. Good planning, brain!)

In any case, I’m off to force myself to finish editing this FE short (if you missed last week’s Fie Eoin Friday it’s a cut scene from the short story) and do more CPing. Have a wonderful weekend, Aledans!

Science Tuesday: Two Naked Dudes Riding Panthers…Because #SCIENCE!

Happy Wednesday, Aledan Merfolk! Yesterday was busy busy, so this week’s science news post is a day late, but as you can tell from the title of the post, it’s well worth the wait ;) Let’s get right to it, because I know you’re curious…

Moon may hold evidence of how life started on Earth, study suggests: Evidence of how life began on Earth may be hidden on the moon, encased in what was once lava, according to scientists at Imperial College London. They suggest that organic compounds on asteroids or comets may have hit early Earth as well as the moon, which was covered in lava more than 3 billion years ago, and became preserved there. “Evidence of prebiotic evolution on asteroids and comets or the emergence of life on Earth and Mars could all be preserved. It is an ironic possibility that one of the best places to look for records of early life is our dry and lifeless moon,” said Mark Sephton, an author of the study published in Astrobiology.

Study: Gravitational waves could make entry into a black hole a bumpy ride: Gravitational waves could create turbulence for things approaching a black hole, according to a study that will be published in Physical Review Letters. If a black hole spins fast enough, it could create turbulence by emitting long-duration bursts of gravitational waves, scientists mathematically calculated.

INTERSTELLAR did it right! (I loved that movie, btw)

Two Eagles balloon lands near Baja after record-breaking flight: A pair of balloonists have successfully crossed the Pacific Ocean, landing Saturday just off the coast of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. The helium-filled Two Eagles balloon lifted off Jan. 25 from Saga, Japan, carrying pilots Troy Bradley of Albuquerque, N.M., and Leonid Tiukhtyae of Moscow, 6,646 miles, or 10,696 kilometers. The journey unofficially broke records for distance and duration, 160 hours and 37 minutes. The records are pending review by international regulating organization Federation Aeronautique Internationale.

Researchers create transistor with silicene: A modest transistor made with silicene, an atom-thin sheet of silicon, has the semiconductor industry buzzing. Silicene didn’t exist seven years ago, but researchers, encouraged by the development of graphene, or carbon the thickness of a single atom, have been working on silicene, which could be revolutionary in achieving miniaturization. “Nobody could have expected that in such a short time, something that didn’t exist could make a transistor,” said Guy Le Lay, one of the first researchers to create silicene in a lab, but who was not involved in the creation of the transistor.

Pair of bronze statues may have been sculpted by Michelangelo: Two bronze sculptures depicting nude men riding panthers may be the last surviving bronzes by Michelangelo, according to researchers. The figures are 3.3 feet, or 1 meter, tall, and were in obscurity for over a century before researchers linked them to Michelangelo, though that link is yet to be confirmed. The sculptures are on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge until August, and final conclusions about them will be disclosed in July.

These are way cool looking. Two naked dudes riding panthers? MEOW!

Birds share the burden of leadership when flying in a “V,” study finds: Birds take turns leading the flock as they travel in a “V” formation, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists from Austria, the U.K. and Germany studied the flight of the northern bald ibis, noting that each bird took a turn at the energy-depleting lead spot, allowing other birds to use the extra lift provided by the leader.

Hubble could keep working through 2020: The already long-lived Hubble Space Telescope may last though 2020 or longer, according to scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute. “We’re conducting what we’re calling the ‘2020 vision’ for Hubble, and that is to make sure that the observatory is ready to run for at least five or six years to get at least a year of overlap with James Webb, if not more,” said the institute’s Kenneth Sembach at the American Astronomical Society meeting. The plan is for Hubble to overlap with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which is slated to launch in 2018, and possibly give scientists two perspectives on a target.

Ancient text found to be “Gospel of the Lots of Mary”: An ancient text written in Coptic is “The Gospel of the Lots of Mary,” according to scientist who deciphered the 1,500-year-old tome. It isn’t a gospel in the traditional sense, but contains 37 vaguely written oracles and was likely intended to be used for divination, said Princeton professor Anne Marie Luijendijk, who deciphered the writings.

Study: Gold may have formed during Earth’s early days with help of microbes: Microbes may have played a key role in the formation of gold in the early days of Earth, before oxygen became prevalent, according to research. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology’s Christoph Heinrich suggests that volcanic rain first dissolved the gold, which was then washed into river basins where mats of microbes precipitated it out into what is now the Witwatersrand Basin in South Africa. “We don’t know if the gold precipitated out during life or after they died, but basic chemistry tells us that organic life reduces gold chemically from the ionic to the elemental form,” he said.

Atlantic, Pacific fish may mix as Arctic waters warm up, study says: Fish and other sea creatures may move into new territory as temperatures rise in the Arctic Ocean, according to research published in Nature Climate Change. There is no physical barrier between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, but the temperature of the Arctic has kept creatures in their own space, but researchers say that barrier may be lifted by the end of the century, allowing dozens of fish species to move from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and vice versa. Researchers at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland studied 515 fish species to see how they would respond to changes in climate.

Ancient bull-sized rodent had huge tusklike teeth, study finds: A bull-sized ancient rodent, the largest ever discovered, had large, tusklike incisors that it used for more than just eating, according to a study published in the Journal of Anatomy. “We concluded that Josephoartigasia must have used its incisors for activities other than biting, such as digging in the ground for food, or defending itself from predators,” said anatomist Philip Cox, first author of the study. Researchers created a computer model using a CT scan of the rodent’s skull to get a better idea of how its jaws worked.

Humans can detect magnetism with light, flexible sensor, researchers say: An extremely light and flexible sensor that allows humans to detect magnetic fields has been developed by scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research, the Chemnitz University of Technology, the University of Tokyo and Osaka University. “[The sensors] are … imperceptible magneto-sensitive skin that enables proximity detection, navigation and touchless control,” according to the report published in Nature. “These ultra-thin magnetic field sensors readily conform to ubiquitous objects including human skin and offer a new sense for soft robotics, safety and healthcare monitoring, consumer electronics and electronic skin devices.”

NASA displays photos of Pluto taken by New Horizons probe: NASA has released photos of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, taken by its New Horizons spacecraft, the first taken as the probe approaches the dwarf planet. NASA released the photos Wednesday to celebrate the birthday of Clyde Tombaugh, the late American astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930. New Horizons will fly by Pluto in mid-July, giving astronomers the closest view ever of the dwarf planet.

Dynamite blast reveals channel of molten rock beneath Earth’s surface: A channel of molten rock has been found deep beneath the Earth’s surface by scientists using sound waves from dynamite explosions deep underground. The finding may help scientists learn more about the mechanics of plate tectonics, said geologist Tim Stern, co-author of the study published in Nature. “We think it’s a sort of lubricant that allows plate tectonics to work,” he said.

Fossilized teeth put monkeys in South America 36 million years ago: Fossilized teeth have helped scientists determine that monkeys lived in South America as far back as 36 million years ago, but how the monkeys got from Africa to South America remains a mystery. Researchers say the four molars found in eastern Peru belonged to Perupithecus ucayaliensis, which greatly resembled fossils of the ancient monkeys of Africa. “The primary hypothesis is that they floated on a raft of vegetation, but that is still a big question,” said Ken Campbell of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, which led the study that was published in Nature.

Cockroaches have individual personalities, study suggests: Individual cockroaches have personalities, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “Shy individuals are those that spend more time sheltered and explore less the arena or the surroundings. Instead, bold individuals are those that spend most part of the time exploring the surroundings and spend less time sheltered,” said researcher Isaac Planas Sitja. Scientists believe the personalities help the cockroaches improve their chances for survival in the face of disaster.

So basically you’re only killing the bold cockroaches when you squish them. The shy ones are still hiding and breeding.

Coral reefs thriving near Cuba: Coral reefs near Cuba are flourishing as other reefs around the world struggle to survive, and scientists say it’s because of the country’s environmental laws and the benefits of organic farming. “After the Soviets pulled out [in 1991], Cuba couldn’t afford fertilizers and pesticides, so they were essentially forced into organic farming — and that’s had a beneficial effect on corals,” said marine scientist David Guggenheim.

I can’t wait to visit Cuba. Good food AND good snorkeling? Sign me up.

Chimps adopt new calls when moved to new groups, study finds: Chimps who move into a new group change their calls to match those of their new friends, as humans do to match local terminology after a move, according to a study published in Current Biology. University of Zurich researchers studied a group of seven chimps moved from a safari park in the Netherlands to live with six chimps in Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo and found that over three years, the Dutch chimps started using the Scottish chimps’ calls for the word “apple.” “We showed that, through social learning, the chimps could change their vocalizations,” said Simon Townsend, the study’s co-author.

Remains of ancient dog are really those of wolf, researchers find: Remains once believed to belong to one of the oldest dogs, dating back 31,680 years, instead belong to a wolf, calling into question when the domestication of the dog occurred, according to a study published in Scientific Reports. “Previous research has claimed that dogs emerged in the Paleolithic [era] but this claim is based on inaccurate analyses. We reanalyzed some of the fossil canids from the Paleolithic and show that they are, in fact, wolves,” said Abby Grace Drake, the study’s lead author. Drake and her colleagues say dog domestication likely occurred later, during the Neolithic era.

Scientists find a new evolutionary model in bedbugs: Bedbugs may be a good model to study how a species evolves, according to a study in Molecular Ecology. After nearly vanishing in the 1940s due to the use of DDT, the insects have come back strong with a resistance to pesticides, and that resilience has piqued some researchers’ interest. “For something that is so hated by so many people, it might just be a perfect model organism for evolutionary questions,” said study co-author Warren Booth, a University of Tulsa biologist.

Um, yay bedbugs?

Study: Sea slug can use photosynthesis for nutrition by taking gene from algae: The emerald sea slug steals a gene from the algae it eats, allowing it to get nourishment from photosynthesis, according to a study published in the Biological Bulletin. “There is no way on Earth that genes from an alga should work inside an animal cell. And yet here, they do. They allow the animal to rely on sunshine for its nutrition. So if something happens to their food source, they have a way of not starving to death until they find more algae to eat,” said Sidney Pierce, co-author of the study.

3 of Jupiter’s moons seen crossing the planet in Hubble photos: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has caught images of Jupiter as three of its largest moons passed across the planet’s surface. Hubble snapped the shots in quick succession to capture the relatively rare event, which occurs only once or twice a decade. The moons seen in the photos are Europa, Callisto and Io.

Stem cells heal brain damage from radiation in mice, study finds: Transplanting stem cells that can transform into oligodendrocytes appears to repair and replace the ones damaged by radiation therapy, according to a study reported in the journal Cell Stem Cell. Damaged cells that mature into oligodendrocytes, which covers nerve cells, become incapable of transmitting information, leading to some memory and brain problems. Mice injected with new cells in the forebrain exhibited better object recognition while mice injected in the cerebellum showed improved motor control after 10 weeks, compared with untreated rats.

Tides, ice ages may encourage seafloor volcanic eruptions, study finds: The eruptions of volcanoes on mid-ocean ridges are linked to tides and may be also linked to ice ages, according to a study published in Geophysical Research Letters. Scientists looked at seismic records of 10 eruptions and found that they occurred every two weeks near neap tide, noting that the amount of seawater above the volcanoes was slight lower, reducing the weight on them and prompted small temblors. Researchers also looked at the cycle of ice ages, which lower the sea levels, tying them to increased eruptions.

Book takes close look at whales, dolphins’ social lives: Whales and dolphins have complex social lives and behaviors, according to the book “The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins.” “There is no way even the most outlandish scenarios can explain this pattern with genetics alone,” authors Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell write.

And now I have a new book for my TBR pile.

Impact of invasive species on Great Lakes assessed: Researchers have assessed the future impact of invasive species on the Great Lakes basin, depending on how stringently measures are undertaken to curb their arrival. Researchers put forth pessimistic, status quo and optimistic scenarios to show the various impacts, including a scenario in which the U.S. and Canada work together to minimize invasive-species risks. “In addition to harmonized regulations on live trade, the two countries must coordinate early detection and rapid response to new threats — before an invasion has progressed beyond control,” said biologist Anthony Ricciardi, who supervised the study published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

National Weather Service studies murky rain that fell on Wash., Ore., Idaho: The National Weather Service is investigating reports of rain described as milky-colored, dusty or dirty that fell in Washington, Oregon and Idaho on Friday. Among the possibilities being considered are recent volcanic eruptions in Russia and Mexico. Scientists have collected samples of the strange rainfall to confirm what caused the murkiness.

Scientists find anatomical link among psychiatric disorders: A study in JAMA Psychiatry suggests depression, addiction, bipolar disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia originate from the same regions in the brain. An analysis of 7,381 patients and 8,511 controls who underwent voxel-based morphometry revealed that gray matter loss occurred in the dorsal anterior cingulate and the right and left insula. These structures form a network associated with executive functioning, which is implicated across a range of psychiatric disorders.

Why some corals are more colorful than others: Research at the Coral Reef Laboratory at the University of Southampton lets coral colours appear in a new light: as sunscreening pigments that help explain how corals adapt to environmental stress. The findings are published in the journal Molecular Ecology.


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Custom of the Week: Nova

Happy Sunday, Aledan Merfolk! I told you on Update Thursday that I’d just finished listening to the audiobook THE MARTIAN, and I was feeling very spacey (especially since I’m getting over the flu and a lovely side-infection similar to strep throat. Whee!), so when I saw today’s custom with all those beautiful stars, I knew I just had to feature it.

Nova, by Fire Helix
Nova, by Fire Helix

I’m not usually a fan of puffy hair, but it looks like the gas clouds that birth stars! Which is why it’s so perfect there are stars in her tail.

If you have a pony that you would like featured as a Custom of the Week, please email me: