Astronomy

Astronomers Intrigued by Mysterious Zones of Organic Molecules on Titan

This image is a composite of several images taken during two separate Titan flybys in 2006. The large circular feature near the center of Titan's disk may be the remnant of a very old impact basin. The mountain ranges to the southeast of the circular feature, and the long dark, linear feature to the northwest of the old impact scar may have resulted from tectonic activity on Titan caused by the energy released when the impact occurred. Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

A multinational team of astronomers studying the chemical make-up of the atmosphere on Saturn’s moon Titan has revealed large zones of two organic molecules – hydrogen isocyanide (HNC) and cyanoacetylene (HC3N) – near the moon’s north and south poles. These regions are curiously shifted off the poles, to the east or west, so that dawn is breaking over the southern region while...

Space Exploration

NASA’s HI-SEAS Team Training in Hawaii for Manned Mars Mission

HI-SEAS team members will stay in a dome on the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. Image credit: Sian Proctor / University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Six astronaut-like members of NASA’s Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) team have embarked on the longest dedicated space travel simulation ever conducted in the United States. HI-SEAS team members will stay in a dome on the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. Image credit: Sian Proctor / University of Hawaii at Manoa. On October 15, 2014, HI-SEAS members closed the door to their...

Archaeology

Archaeologists Discover Two 12,000-Year-Old High-Altitude Settlements in Peru

Stone tools found at Cuncaicha and Pucuncho sites in Peru. Image credit: Kurt Rademaker et al.

Archaeologists from the United States, Canada, Germany, and Peru, have discovered two ancient settlements in the Pucuncho Basin in the southern Peruvian Andes – named Cuncaicha and Pucuncho – which they say are the highest-altitude Pleistocene archaeological sites yet identified in the world. Photograph of Pucuncho Basin, facing west, showing the Cuncaicha shelter and the Pucuncho workshop....

Paleontology

New Fossils Help Reconstruct Bizarre Ostrich-Like Dinosaur

Reconstruction of Deinocheirus mirificus. Image credit: © Michael Skrepnick.

A large duck-billed dinosaur with a camel-like hump and the neck of an ostrich lived in what is today Mongolia during the Cretaceous, about 70 million years ago, say Dr Tsogtbaatar Chinzorig of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences’ Paleontological Center and his colleagues who analyzed and pieced together dinosaur fossils recently uncovered in the Gobi desert. Reconstruction of Deinocheirus mirificus....

Biology

Ornithologists Map Family Tree of Mysterious Cotinga Birds

The Andean cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruviana), a species in the family Cotingidae. Image credit: Jerry Thompson / CC BY 2.0.

Yale University ornithologists Prof Richard Prum and Jacob Berv have mapped out the first large-scale evolutionary family tree for the Neotropical cotingas – some of the brightest, loudest, oddest-looking birds in the world. The Andean cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruviana), a species in the family Cotingidae. Image credit: Jerry Thompson / CC BY 2.0. There are more than 60 species of the cotingas,...

Physics

Scientists Build ‘Long-Distance’ Optical Tractor Beam

Australian National University scientists adjusting the hollow laser beam. Image credit: Stuart Hay.

A team of researchers led by Dr Vladlen Shvedov of the Australian National University’s Laser Physics Center in Canberra, Australia, has built what they say is the first long-distance optical tractor beam. Australian National University scientists adjusting the hollow laser beam. Image credit: Stuart Hay. “Demonstration of a large scale laser beam like this is a kind of holy grail for laser physicists,”...

Medicine

Scientists Discover First ‘Virological Penicillin’

Leaves and flowers of the honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine; G6PD deficient patients should avoid consuming this plant. Image credit: Mokkie / CC BY-SA 3.0.

Chinese researchers have discovered what they say is the first ‘virological penicillin’ – MIR2911, a molecule found naturally in a Chinese herb called honeysuckle. Leaves and flowers of the honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine; G6PD deficient patients should avoid consuming this plant. Image credit: Mokkie / CC BY-SA 3.0. Honeysuckle (Lonicera...

Genetics

Easter Island Inhabitants Had Contact with South Americans in 1300-1500

Fifteen moais of Ahu Tongariki. Image credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen / CC BY-SA 3.0.

Evidence for contact between the ancient Rapanui people (inhabitants of Easter Island) and the indigenous peoples of South America sometime between approximately AD 1300 and AD 1500 has been found in the genomes of 27 living Rapanui, according to a new genetic study published in the journal Current Biology. Rapanui people. Image credit: © Santiago Caruso. Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is...

Geology

Tasmania, Western North America were Once Neighbors, Finds New Research

Mount Wellington and Hobart Town from Kangaroo Point (Tasmania), by John Glover, 1834.

According to a new study led by Dr Joanne Whittaker of the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, the Australia’s island state, Tasmania, and the U.S. states of Idaho, Montana, the Canadian province of British Columbia, were close geographical neighbors about 1.4 billion years ago in the Mesoproterozoic supercontinent Columbia (also known as Nuna or Hudsonland). Mount...

Other Sciences

1934 Drought was Driest, Most Widespread in Past Millennium, Scientists Find

A ‘black blizzard’ dust storm in South Dakota, 1934. Image credit: National Archives FDR Library Public Domain Photographs.

Using a reconstruction of North American drought history over the past millennium, a team of researchers from NASA and the Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has found the Dust Bowl drought of 1934 was the worst – about 30 percent more severe than the runner-up drought (in 1580) and extended across 71.6 percent of western North America. A ‘black blizzard’ dust storm in...