Scientists have found ancient fleas from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Some are nearly an inch long — compare to modern fleas that top out around half that size — and the fleas seem to be adapted to biting through the hides of dinosaurs.
Yes, it's five days into Advent, but you should still check out the Science Geek Advent calendar from Science Creative Quarterly
— featuring reindeer parasites, festive lobsters, Christmas trees in space and more cool stuff. — Maggie
This is a photo of the Chernobyl "Elephant's Foot", a solid mass made of a little melted nuclear fuel mixed with lots and lots of concrete, sand, and core sealing material that the fuel had melted through. The photo was taken in 1996. At that point, the Elephant's Foot had cooled enough that a human being could stand directly in front of it for an hour before receiving a lethal dose of radiation. When the Foot was first discovered, shortly after the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl power plant, it delivered a lethal dose in just five minutes. You can read Kyle Hill's interesting history of the Elephant's Foot at Nautilus. And be sure to check out this 1991 video that shows how people were able to rig up robotic camera systems to safely take photos of the thing (though, as Hill points out, not all the photos of Elephant's Foot were taken safely).
There's a new paper out suggesting that ladies' brains are different from mens' (in ways that support Western stereotypes of gender behavior, natch). It's pretty flawed
and has been heavily critiqued
, but one critique surprised me — turns out, there's evidence that men tend to move more than women do when you put them in an MRI machine, something that could throw off any attempt to compare MRI data
between men and women. — Maggie
One does not simply sail into the Pacific Garbage Patch and clean it up like convicts on the interstate. For one thing, those pieces of plastic are much smaller than you're imagining. For another, when the plastic is that small, any attempt at filtering inevitably sucks up tiny sea life, as well
. — Maggie
The ice sheet that covers Antarctica is almost two miles thick in some places. But the British Antarctic Survey is able to peek beneath the frozen surface with the help of satellites, lasers, and radar.
Ember the platypus has no stomach. But there's nothing wrong with her. No platypuses have stomachs. They're just one of a surprising number of vertebrate species that have evolutionarily jettisoned their stomachs, in favor of a straight-shot digestive tract that directly connects the throat to the intestines.
WASP-19b is an exoplanet whose atmosphere is probably super hot and super poisonous — filled with methane and hydrogen cyanide instead of water. This video explains how astronomers can even begin to guess at the composition of the atmospheres of far away worlds. (Bonus: A soothing elevator music soundtrack!)
How can a mild-mannered grasshopper turn into a ferocious locust? Why are humans humans when we have share 80 percent of the same genetic material with a cow?
In a fascinating long read at Aeon, David Dobbs delves into the differences between genetic change (evolution as you probably learned it in school) and genetic expression (the amazing powers of natural selection that scientists are only now starting to really understand). — Maggie
KQED created this video of the 2013 Science Hack Day San Francisco organized by BB pal Ariel Waldman! More than 200 people -- makers, scientists, artists, designers, etc. -- spent the night at the California Academy of Sciences and hacked on a fantastically diverse and compelling assortment of prototypes, demos, and experiments. Ariel says "Here's how you can organize a Science Hack Day in your own city!"
I like this Smithsonian story that plays with the Edison/Tesla mythology, wherein Edison was the guy who made business-savvy decisions and Tesla was the financial failure. Set your schadenfreude to stun and enjoy this list of 7 Edison ideas that fell flat
, including a supremely creepy talking baby doll. — Maggie
Popular Science has a great slideshow of tools
used to make the sort of fancy, $15 cocktails that are served to you by gentlemen wearing handlebar mustaches. From CNC routers that carve ice, to drinks aged in sous-vide machines, to repurposed lab equipment like centrifuges and rotary evaporators, it's a cool behind-the-scenes view of the gadgets used by the modernist bartender. (Random shout-out to Peder at Marvel Bar!) — Maggie
An animal rights group has filed the first of three lawsuits aimed at securing legal personhood for chimpanzees. If all goes well, they hope to extend the definition to other great apes, whales, and dolphins, as well. This story by David Grimm at Science
is an interesting look at both the reasoning behind these specific lawsuits and the behind-the-scenes planning that goes into any potentially groundbreaking legal action. — Maggie
Mother Jones has an interesting story about several start-ups trying to create fake meat, dairy, and eggs
that are not only sustainable, but appetizing ... even to people who aren't already committed vegans. It's a story about business and ethics, but it's also a story about chemistry and food engineering. As a meat eater who does enjoy seitan, I'm intrigued. — Maggie
Libyan Desert Glass is opaque, greenish glass formed when the desert sands fused in some sort of extremely hot incident. (Alternately, Sandman Volume 2 Number 9 proposes that the glass is the remains of an ancient city.) What, exactly, created the heat that made the glass is a source of scientific debate, but a new paper suggests it might have been the result of a comet impact. Why a comet and not, say, an asteroid? Scientists studied a stone found in conjunction with the glass and discovered that it contained a mixture of elements that you'd be unlikely to get from an asteroid impact. Instead, the elements suggest an origin outside our solar system's asteroid belt.
Image: H. Raab, used via CC license.