• August 11, 2020
  • Last Update Aug 11, 2020 12:07 am
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Scientists can’t agree on how clumpy the universe is

The universe is surprisingly smooth. A new measurement reveals that the universe is less clumpy than predicted, physicists report in a series of papers posted July 30 at arXiv.org. The discrepancy could hint at something amiss with scientists’ understanding of the cosmos. To pin down the cosmic clumpiness, researchers studied the orientation of 21 million…

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New guidance on brain death could ease debate over when life ends

When your brain stops working — completely and irreversibly — you’re dead. But drawing the line between life and brain death isn’t always easy. A new report attempts to clarify that distinction, perhaps helping to ease the anguish of family members with a loved one whose brain has died but whose heart still beats.  …

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Species may swim thousands of kilometers to escape ocean heat waves

When an intense heat wave strikes a patch of ocean, overheated marine animals may have to swim thousands of kilometers to find cooler waters, researchers report August 5 in Nature. Such displacement, whether among fish, whales or turtles, can hinder both conservation efforts and fishery operations. “To properly manage those species, we need to understand…

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Better playground design could help kids get more exercise

The playground at Lake County Intermediate School in Leadville, Colo., was in desperate need of a makeover. The schoolyard didn’t offer much — just a few swings, some rusty climbing equipment, a cracked basketball court and a play area of dirt and gravel. In the spring of 2014, the community replaced the run-down equipment, installing…

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Predictions for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season just got worse

Chalk up one more way 2020 could be an especially stressful year: The Atlantic hurricane season now threatens to be even more severe than preseason forecasts predicted, and may be one of the busiest on record. With as many as 25 named storms now expected — twice the average number — 2020 is shaping up…

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Rogue immune system reactions hint at an early treatment for COVID-19

In severe cases of COVID-19, a person’s immune system throws everything it has at the coronavirus, but some of the weapons it lobs end up hurting the patient instead of fighting the virus.   Now researchers have new clues for getting the immune system back on target, before the disease becomes severe. One of the…

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How understanding nature made the atomic bomb inevitable

Atomic bombs hastened the end of World War II. But they launched another kind of war, a cold one, that threatened the entire planet with nuclear annihilation. So it’s understandable that on the 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb explosion that devastated Hiroshima (August 6, 1945), reflections tend to emphasize the geopolitical dramas during the…

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‘Exotic’ lightning crackles across Jupiter’s cloud tops

Small, frequent lightning storms zip across Jupiter’s cloud tops. NASA’s Juno spacecraft spotted the flashes for the first time, scientists report August 5 in Nature. “It’s a very exotic thing that doesn’t exist on Earth,” says physicist Heidi Becker of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Previous spacecraft have revealed high-energy “superbolts” on Jupiter.…

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How tuataras live so long and can withstand cool weather

Tuataras may look like your average lizard, but they’re not. The reptiles are the last survivors of an ancient group of reptiles that flourished when dinosaurs roamed the world. Native to New Zealand, tuataras possess a range of remarkable abilities, including a century-long life span, relative imperviousness to many infectious diseases and peak physical activity…

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50 years ago, Mauna Kea opened for astronomy. Controversy continues

Mauna Kea opened, Science News, August 1, 1970 — The new Mauna Kea Observatory of the University of Hawaii has been completed and dedication ceremonies have been held. Standing at an altitude of 13,780 feet on the island of Hawaii, the new observatory is the highest in the world. Its major instrument is an 88-inch…

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Penguin poop spotted from space ups the tally of emperor penguin colonies

Patches of penguin poop spotted in new high-resolution satellite images of Antarctica reveal a handful of small, previously overlooked emperor penguin colonies. Eight new colonies, plus three newly confirmed, brings the total to 61 — about 20 percent more colonies than thought, researchers report August 5 in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation. That’s the…

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Five big questions about when and how to open schools amid COVID-19

It’s back-to-school time in the United States, but for the world’s leader in coronavirus infections and deaths, what “back to school” means is anything but clear.Many countries have gotten ahead of the pandemic with extensive testing, tracing and quarantining. That tight control means that children in Denmark, Singapore and China have returned to school, with…

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Wild bees add about $1.5 billion to yields for just six U.S. crops

U.S. cherries, watermelons and some other summertime favorites may depend on wild bees more than previously thought. Many farms in the United States use managed honeybees to pollinate crops and increase yields, sometimes trucking beehives from farm to farm. Now an analysis of seven crops across North America shows that wild bees can play a…

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A submerged Inca offering hints at Lake Titicaca’s sacred role

A stone box fished out of Lake Titicaca contains tiny items that add an intriguing twist to what’s known about the Inca empire’s religious practices and supernatural beliefs about the massive lake. Divers exploring an underwater portion of the lake’s K’akaya reef found a ritual offering deposited by the Inca, say archaeologists Christophe Delaere of…

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Water beetles can live on after being eaten and excreted by a frog

For most insects, the sticky, slingshot ride straight into a frog’s mouth spells the end. But not for one stubborn water beetle. Instead of succumbing to the frog’s digestive juices, an eaten Regimbartia attenuata traverses the amphibian’s throat, swims through the stomach, slides along the intestines and climbs out the frog’s butt, alive and well.…

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Some spiders may spin poisonous webs laced with neurotoxins

Orb weaver spiders are known for their big, beautiful webs. Now, researchers suggest that these webs do more than just glue a spider’s meal in place — they may also swiftly paralyze their catch. Biochemical ecologist Mario Palma has long suspected that the webs of orb weavers — common garden spiders that build wheel-shaped webs…

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Heavy drinking drove hundreds of thousands of Americans to early graves

Heavy drinking is robbing Americans of decades of life. From 2011 to 2015, an average of 93,296 deaths annually could be tied to excessive alcohol use, or 255 deaths per day. Excessive drinking brought death early, typically 29 years sooner than would have been expected. All told, the United States saw 2.7 million years of…

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Human sperm don’t swim the way that anyone had thought

Sperm have long fooled scientists. Instead of swimming straight by twirling their tails like propellers, human sperm flick their tails lopsidedly and roll to balance out the off-center strokes. Over 300 years ago, microscopy pioneer Antonie van Leeuwenhoek described sperm tails swaying in a symmetric pattern, like “that of a snake or an eel.” The…

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Readers ask about antibody tests, chimeras and public health and privacy

Antibody mysteries Antibody tests can help reveal who has been infected with the coronavirus, but the tests don’t say whether the antibodies protect against future infections, Erin Garcia de Jesus reported in “So many questions on antibody testing” (SN: 6/6/20, p. 22). Reader Bob Reckers asked if antibodies for cold-causing coronaviruses, which are detectable by…

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What it takes to save species, locally and globally

The banks of the Potomac River upstream from Washington, D.C., are often mounded with drifts of tiny shells bleached white by the sun. That invertebrate abundance startles me every time I walk the riverbank, a clue to an invisible city of bivalves under the water. In this issue, freelance writer Stephen Ornes takes us to…

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This parasitic plant consists of just flashy flowers and creepy suckers

Doorknobs in skirts. Microphones in tutus. There are lots of ways to describe Langsdorffia flowers, but parasitic-plant specialist Chris Thorogood says they “absolutely look to me like deep-sea creatures.” Whatever you compare them to, the flowers are intricate, screaming red showpieces. That’s the total opposite of the unshowy rest of the plant. It has no…

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An immune system quirk may help anglerfish fuse with mates during sex

For deep-sea anglerfishes, sex resembles an organ transplant. It’s hard to find a partner in the dark depths, so a tiny male anglerfish fuses its tissues to a more massive female during mating, allowing the two to share not only sperm but even blood and skin (SN: 7/26/75). The creatures are the only animals known…

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The physics of solar flares could help scientists predict imminent outbursts

Space weather forecasting is a guessing game. Predictions of outbursts from the sun are typically based on the amount of activity observed on the sun’s roiling surface, without accounting for the specific processes behind the blasts. But a new technique could help predict the violent eruptions of radiation known as solar flares based on the…

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An immune system quirk may help anglerfish fuse with mates during sex

For deep-sea anglerfishes, sex resembles an organ transplant. It’s hard to find a partner in the dark depths, so a tiny male anglerfish fuses its tissues to a more massive female during mating, allowing the two to share not only sperm but even blood and skin (SN: 7/26/75). The creatures are the only animals known…

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The Perseverance rover caps off a month of Mars launches

NASA’s Perseverance rover took off at 7:50 a.m. EDT on July 30 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and is now on its way to Mars with a suite of instruments designed to search for ancient life. The launch is the third this month of spacecraft en route to the Red Planet. This is the 22nd spacecraft…

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A South American mouse is the world’s highest-dwelling mammal

A yellow-rumped leaf-eared mouse has shattered the world record as the highest-dwelling mammal yet documented. The mouse (Phyllotis xanthopygus rupestris) was found 6,739 meters, or 22,110 feet, above sea level on the summit of Volcán Llullaillaco, a dormant volcano on the border of Chile and Argentina. For comparison, Mount Everest is 8,848 meters high (29,029…

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Close relatives of the coronavirus may have been in bats for decades

Viruses from the coronavirus lineage responsible for COVID-19 have been circulating in bats for decades, long before the virus started infecting people last year, a new study suggests. How exactly the virus jumped to humans is still a mystery. But the study suggests the coronavirus most likely evolved in bats — such as intermediate horseshoe…

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These ancient seafloor microbes woke up after over 100 million years

Even after 100 million years buried in the seafloor, some microbes can wake up. And they’re hungry. An analysis of seafloor sediments dating from 13 million to nearly 102 million years ago found that nearly all of the microbes in the sediments were only dormant, not dead. When given food, even the most ancient microbes…

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A black hole circling a wormhole would emit weird gravitational waves

Gravitational wave detectors have already spotted mysterious black holes. But something even stranger might be next: wormholes. A black hole spiraling into a wormhole would create an odd pattern of ripples in spacetime that the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave observatories might be able to pick up, physicists report July 17 at arXiv.org. The waves…

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A wasp was caught on camera attacking and killing a baby bird

A wasp’s bites may be as bad as its sting. A paper wasp (Agelaia pallipes) has been caught on camera attacking and killing a baby bird in its nest, researchers report July 13 in Ethology. The video shows the wasp landing on the 4-day-old lined seedeater’s head while its parents were away. The wasp repeatedly…

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A popular heartburn medicine doesn’t work as a COVID-19 antiviral

An over-the-counter heartburn remedy probably won’t directly stop coronavirus infections, a new study suggests. Anecdotal reports from China suggested people hospitalized with COVID-19 who were taking famotidine (sold under the brand name Pepcid) had better outcomes than people who took a different type of antacid called a proton pump inhibitor. But famotidine has no direct…

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The star cluster closest to Earth is in its death throes

The closest cluster of stars to Earth is falling apart and will soon die, astronomers say. Using the Gaia spacecraft to measure velocities of stars in the Hyades cluster and those escaping from it, researchers have predicted the cluster’s demise. “We find that there’s only something like 30 million years left for the cluster to…

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Ancient DNA suggests Vikings may have been plagued by smallpox

Some Vikings may have died from now-extinct strains of one of humankind’s deadliest pathogens: smallpox. Researchers collected DNA from viruses in the remains of northern Europeans living during the Viking Age, some of whom were likely Vikings themselves, and found that they were infected with extinct but related versions of the variola virus that causes…

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Masks help new moms with COVID-19 safely breastfeed their babies

Mothers with COVID-19 at delivery can breastfeed their newborns without passing along the infection, as long as they take certain safety precautions. Wearing a surgical mask while nursing and cleaning hands before handling their babies kept the coronavirus from spreading from mothers to their infants, a new study finds. It adds to a growing body…

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COVID-19 lockdowns dramatically reduced seismic noise from humans

Widespread global lockdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the amount of seismic noise produced by humans by up to 50 percent in some places, a new study finds. This 2020 seismic noise quiet period began in late January and hit its peak from March to May. It was the longest and most prominent reduction…

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To prevent the next pandemic, we might need to cut down fewer trees

Reducing tropical deforestation and limiting the wildlife trade might be cost-effective ways of stopping pandemics before they start, a new analysis finds. About once every two years, a virus jumps from animals to humans, raising the specter of a pandemic like COVID-19. These “spillover events” are becoming increasingly common as humans encroach further into the…

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An ancient skull hints crocodiles swam from Africa to the Americas

A resemblance between a long-lost African crocodile and modern American crocs goes beyond the shared bump on their snouts.   New analyses of a roughly 7-million-year old skull from the extinct Crocodylus checchiai suggest that crocodiles journeyed from Africa to the Americas millions of years ago, researchers report July 23 in Scientific Reports. Unearthed in…

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Stone artifacts hint that humans reached the Americas surprisingly early

Humans may have arrived in North America way earlier than archaeologists thought. Stone tools unearthed in a cave in Mexico indicate that humans could have lived in the area as early as about 33,000 years ago, researchers report online July 22 in Nature. That’s more than 10,000 years before humans are generally thought to have…

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COVID-19 vaccines by Oxford, CanSino and Pfizer all trigger immune responses

More coronavirus vaccine candidates have passed initial safety tests and induce immune responses that might protect against the virus. All volunteers in a small clinical trial who were given an experimental vaccine developed by researchers at the University of Oxford made antibodies against a protein the virus uses to break into cells. Those participants also…

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How Yellowstone wolves got their own Ancestry.com page

Wildlife ecologist Jim Halfpenny was standing by the stone arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park on January 12, 1995, when horse trailers eased through carrying the first wild gray wolves to enter the park in about 60 years. Delivered from Canada, these wolves were the beginning of a historic attempt to complete…

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Scientists stumbled across the first known manganese-fueled bacteria

Scientists have discovered the first bacteria known to use the metal manganese to grow. And the researchers had to look only as far as the office sink. “It’s definitely an interesting story about serendipity,” says Jared Leadbetter, an environmental microbiologist at Caltech. He and Hang Yu, also an environmental microbiologist at Caltech, report their fortuitous…

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Coronavirus-infected cells sprout filaments that may spread the virus

Like a scene out of a sci-fi movie, cells invaded by the coronavirus can sprout probing appendages bedecked with viral bits. Human cells infected with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, formed more numerous and longer extremities, called filopodia, than uninfected cells, researchers report online June 28 in Cell. High-resolution electron microscopy confirmed the presence…

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Pinning down the sun’s birthplace just got more complicated

The sun could come from a large, loose-knit clan or a small family that’s always fighting. New computer simulations of young stars suggest two pathways to forming the solar system. The sun could have formed in a calm, large association of 10,000 stars or more, like NGC 2244 in the present-day Rosette Nebula, an idea…

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A giant underground motion sensor in Germany tracks Earth’s wobbles

A giant underground motion sensor in Germany has taken its first measurements of Earth’s spin and tilt. Although researchers are still getting the machine’s accuracy up to snuff, their observations could someday keep GPS navigation working reliably on devices like smartphones. Phenomena like earthquakes and ocean tides continually knock Earth’s rotation off-kilter, requiring constant correction…

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College biology textbooks still portray a world of white scientists

Charles Darwin. Carolus Linneaus. Gregor Mendel. They’re all men. They’re all white. And their names appear in every biology book included in a new analysis of college textbooks. According to the survey, mentions of white men still dominate biology textbooks despite growing recognition in other media of the scientific contributions of women and people of…

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This dinosaur may have shed its feathers like modern songbirds

A patch of three oddly short feathers spotted among the fossilized plumage of Microraptor may be the first evidence of a nonbird dinosaur molting. The fossil find further suggests that Microraptor, which lived 120 million years ago, may have shed only a few feathers at a time — just like modern songbirds, researchers report July…

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How some superblack fish disappear into the darkness of the deep sea

In the depths of the ocean, it might take more than a little light to illuminate some of the planet’s darkest fish. Some deep-sea fish have ultrablack skin capable of soaking up almost all light that hits it, making the fish nearly invisible. That camouflage is the result of a layer of densely packed pigment-containing…

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The closest images of the sun ever taken reveal ‘campfire’ flares

Get out the marshmallows and toasting sticks. The closest images yet taken of the sun show tiny flares dubbed “campfires,” astronomers announced in a news conference on July 16. The images are the first from Solar Orbiter, a new sun-watching spacecraft that’s a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency. These never-before-seen campfire…

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What will astronauts need to survive the dangerous journey to Mars?

On movie missions to Mars, getting there is the easy part. The Martian’s Mark Watney was fine until a dust storm left him fending for himself. Douglas Quaid’s jaunt to the Red Planet in Total Recall was smooth sailing until he came under fire at Martian customs and immigration. But in real life, just getting…

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Two new books explore Mars — and what it means to be human

Science writer Kate Greene couldn’t have known that her memoir about her time on a make-believe Mars mission would be published as millions of people on Earth isolated themselves in their homes for months amid a pandemic. But her book is one of two about Mars published this month that are oddly well-suited to the…

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Agriculture and fossil fuels are driving record-high methane emissions

Methane levels in the atmosphere are at an all-time high. But curbing emissions of that potent greenhouse gas requires knowing where methane is being released, and why. Now, a global inventory of methane sources reveals the major culprits behind rising methane pollution in the 21st century. Agriculture, landfill waste and fossil fuel use were the…

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Remdesivir may work even better against COVID-19 than we thought

Remdesivir can not only speed recovery, but may cut the chance of dying of COVID-19, preliminary data released by the drug’s maker suggest. Among severely sick people, the antiviral drug reduced the risk of dying by 62 percent compared with standard care, the Foster City, Calif., drugmaker Gilead Sciences Inc. reported at a virtual scientific…

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A bacterial toxin enables the first mitochondrial gene editor

Bacterial weaponry has an unexpected use in human cells. A protein secreted by bacteria to kill other microbes has been re-engineered to tweak DNA inaccessible to other gene editors, scientists report online July 8 in Nature. The advance paves the way for one day fixing mutations in mitochondria. Those energy-producing organelles are inherited from a…

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These cells slow an immune response. Derailing them could help fight tumors

Drugs that release brakes on the immune system have helped thousands of people with cancers that were previously untreatable. Yet these therapies, known as checkpoint blockers (SN: 10/1/18), fail in many patients and work poorly for some cancers. That’s because the body’s defense system can stall in more than one way. Checkpoint blockers traditionally target…

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A COVID-19 vaccine may come soon. Will the blistering pace backfire?

In January, vaccine researchers lined up on the starting blocks, waiting to hear a pistol. That shot came on January 10, when scientists in China announced the complete genetic makeup of the novel coronavirus. With that information in hand, the headlong race toward a vaccine began. As the virus, now known as SARS-CoV-2, began to…

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Boosting a liver protein may mimic the brain benefits of exercise

Exercise’s power to boost the brain might require a little help from the liver. A chemical signal from the liver, triggered by exercise, helps elderly mice keep their brains sharp, suggests a study published in the July 10 Science. Understanding this liver-to-brain signal may help scientists develop a drug that benefits the brain the way…

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There’s little evidence showing which police reforms work

When criminologist Robin Engel suddenly found herself leading the effort to reform a police department under fire after a white police officer killed an unarmed Black man in July 2015, she looked for some kind of road map to follow. Instead, she found herself in poorly charted territory. A professor at the University of Cincinnati,…

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South Americans may have traveled to Polynesia 800 years ago

More than 800 years ago, Indigenous people in South America traversed more than 7,000 kilometers of open sea to reach eastern Polynesia, a new study suggests. There, the South Americans mated with Polynesian inhabitants during the initial period of discovery and settlement of those remote islands, researchers say. Genetic analyses show that initial DNA swaps…

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This is the most comprehensive X-ray map of the sky ever made

A new map of the entire sky, as seen in X-rays, looks deeper into space than any other of its kind. The map, released June 19, is based on data from the first full scan of the sky made by the eROSITA X-ray telescope onboard the Russian-German SRG spacecraft, which launched in July 2019. The…

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What you need to know about the airborne transmission of COVID-19

The scientific debate over evidence that the coronavirus can float in the air for extended periods of time is intensifying. The World Health Organization has repeatedly downplayed the importance of such airborne transmission, instead emphasizing, with substantial evidence, the risks of close contact with infected people.  But now, over 200 experts have signed an open…

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This is the first known particle with four of the same kind of quark

In a never-before-seen particle, four quarks of a feather flock together. Physicists think have detected the first conglomerate of four quarks incorporating more than two of the same kind. This tetraquark contains four quarks of the charm variety: two charm quarks and their antimatter counterparts, called anticharm quarks, researchers report online at arXiv.org on June…

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All kinds of outbreaks, from COVID-19 to violence, share the same principles

The Rules of ContagionAdam KucharskiBasic Books, $30 Epidemiologists like to say, “If you’ve seen one pandemic, you’ve seen … one pandemic.” But behind each outbreak lie core principles that help explain why the outbreak began, why it grew, why it peaked when it did and why it ended. In The Rules of Contagion, mathematician and epidemiologist Adam…

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How making a COVID-19 vaccine confronts thorny ethical issues

Ethical concerns abound in the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. How do we ethically test it in people? Can people be forced to get the vaccine if they don’t want it? Who should get it first? Tackling those questions demands that a vaccine exist. But a slew of other ethical questions arise long before anything…

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Self-destructive civilizations may doom our search for alien intelligence

On Earth, civilizations have limited lifetimes. Roman civilization, for instance, lasted less than a thousand years from the founding of its republic to the fall of its empire (after a long decline). In the New World, Maya civilization spanned roughly two millennia (maybe a little longer depending on when you date its beginning). In the…

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Some exoplanets may be covered in weird water that’s between liquid and gas

Small worlds around other stars may come in more than two varieties. Using exoplanet densities, astronomers have largely sorted planets that are bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune into two categories: denser, rocky super-Earths and larger, puffy mini-Neptunes (SN: 6/19/17). Mini-Neptunes are generally thought to be padded in thick layers of hydrogen and helium…

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Underwater caves once hosted the Americas’ oldest known ochre mines

Ancient Americans ventured deep into caves along a stretch of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula to mine a red pigment that could have had both practical and ritual uses, researchers say. Discoveries of mining-related artifacts and digging areas by divers in three now-submerged cave systems indicate that people there removed a natural pigment called red ochre, say…

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Bizarre caecilians may be the only amphibians with venomous bites

Caecilians are amphibians like salamanders and frogs, but they’re often mistaken for snakes because of their long, legless bodies. Now, scientists think that the similarities between the two are more than skin deep. New microscope and chemical analyses suggest that, like snakes, caecilians have glands near their teeth that secrete toxins. The discovery raises the…

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A sparrow song remix took over North America with astonishing speed

Some North American birds are changing their tune. The traditional song of the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) ends with a repeated triplet of notes. By 2000, however, some birds in western Canada were whistling a variation ending in a two-note pattern. That new song has since spread widely across North America, researchers report online July…

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Earth’s annual e-waste could grow to 75 million metric tons by 2030

The planet’s hefty pile of discarded electronics is getting a lot heavier, a new report finds. In 2014, the world collectively tossed an estimated 44.4 million metric tons of unwanted “e-waste” — battery-powered or plug-tethered devices such as laptops, smartphones and televisions. By 2030, that number is projected to grow to about 74.7 million tons,…

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Why COVID-19 is both startlingly unique and painfully familiar

For Abby Knowles, a headache and fatigue was just the start. She soon felt like she had a tight band across her chest, making it difficult to breathe. She developed pain in her upper body, which led doctors to check if she was having a heart attack (she wasn’t). Her blood pressure began to oscillate…

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A newfound exoplanet may be the exposed core of a gas giant

A dense, scorched planet around a faraway star may be the naked core of a gas giant. Satellite and Earth-based telescope observations show that the newly discovered exoplanet has a radius nearly 3.5 times Earth’s and a mass about 39 times as big. Those dimensions combined point to a density roughly the same as Earth’s,…

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4 ways to put the 100-degree Arctic heat record in context

On June 20, a remote Siberian town called Verkhoyansk logged a temperature of 38° Celsius (100.4° Fahrenheit), likely setting a new high-temperature record for the Arctic Circle (SN: 6/23/20). But that new record didn’t occur in a vacuum: It’s part of a long-term trend of historically hot temperatures in Siberia linked to climate change, and…

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The U.S. largely wasted time bought by COVID-19 lockdowns. Now what?

From March to May, much of the United States pressed pause. In the face of a new, highly transmissible coronavirus, widespread lockdowns and social distancing were the only tools available to prevent an overwhelming surge in infections and deaths that threatened to overwhelm healthcare systems. The strategy largely worked to keep most hospitals functioning. The…

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Here’s what we’ve learned in six months of COVID-19 — and what we still don’t know

Just six months ago, the World Health Organization got a troubling report from Chinese health officials. A mystery pneumonia had sickened dozens of people in Wuhan. That virus, which had crossed from an unknown animal host to humans, has now upended lives worldwide with head-spinning speed. Although virologists had long warned of the pandemic potential…

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