Physicists find new evidence for helium ‘rain’ on Saturn
Using one of the world’s most powerful lasers, physicists have found experimental evidence for Saturn’s helium “rain,” a phenomenon in which a mixture of liquid hydrogen and helium separates like oil and water, sending droplets of helium deep in the planet’s atmosphere. The results show the range of blistering temperatures and crushing pressures at which this takes place. But they also suggest that a helium rain could also fall on Jupiter, where such behavior was almost completely unexpected.
Thousands of unexpected microbes break down our bodies after death
“Dust to dust” may not be God’s work so much as the enterprising efforts of soil microbes. But until now, little was known about how these tiny undertakers turn our bodies to dust. New research shows that, no matter where we’re buried, the same bacteria, fungi, and other small organisms in the soil ransack our bodies, as if they were just waiting for our corpses to arrive. The findings could have important implications for forensic science, including helping police better pinpoint time of death.
Dinosaurs evolved much faster than previously thought
Dinosaurs evolved from their smaller ancestors in just a few million years and not the 10 million years or more scientists had suspected, according to a new study. The work, based on radioactive dating of rocks sandwiching the earliest fossils of those predecessors, suggests that paleontologists have long misjudged the overall pace of dinosaur evolution.
When cuttlefish hold their breath, they become nearly invisible to sharks
Scientists have long known that cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis, shown) and some of their kin stop breathing when threatened by predators, but they supposed that freezing in place merely aided the creature’s visual camouflage. Turns out, it serves another purpose: A lack of water flowing over the gills decreases electrical activity there that can betray the cuttlefish’s presence to foraging sharks, a new study suggests.
New type of ‘flow battery’ can store 10 times the energy of the next best device
Industrial-scale batteries, known as flow batteries, could one day usher in widespread use of renewable energy—but only if the devices can store large amounts of energy cheaply and feed it to the grid when the sun isn’t shining and the winds are calm. That’s something conventional flow batteries can’t do. Now, researchers report that they’ve created a novel type of flow battery that uses lithium ion technology—the sort used to power laptops—to store about 10 times as much energy as the most common flow batteries on the market. With a few improvements, the new batteries could make a major impact on the way we store and deliver energy.
How the moon got its tilt—and Earth got its gold
Miniplanets zooming through our early solar system passed close to our moon and tugged it into the strange, tilted orbit it has today, according to a new study. The findings solve a longstanding mystery and may also explain why Earth’s crust is unexpectedly rich in gold and platinum: When some of these small planets slammed into Earth, they delivered a payload of precious metals.
In electrifying advance, researchers create circuit within living plants
Talk about flower power. Researchers have crafted flexible electronic circuits inside a rose. Eventually such circuitry may help farmers eavesdrop on their crops and even control when they ripen. The advance may even allow people to harness energy from trees and shrubs not by cutting them down and using them for fuel, but by plugging directly into their photosynthesis machinery.
Mathematician claims breakthrough in complexity theory
For days, rumors about the biggest advance in years in so-called complexity theory have been lighting up the Internet. That’s only fitting, as the breakthrough involves comparing networks just like researchers’ webs of online connections. László Babai, a mathematician and computer scientist at the University of Chicago in Illinois, has developed a mathematical recipe or “algorithm” that supposedly can take two networks—no matter how big and tangled—and tell whether they are, in fact, the same, in far fewer steps than the previous best algorithm. Computer scientists are abuzz, as the task had been something of a poster child for hard-to-solve problems.
Nonreligious children are more generous
Religious doctrines typically urge the faithful to treat others with compassion and to put the greater good before selfish interests. But when it comes to generosity, nonreligious kids seem to be more giving, according to a new study of 1170 children from around the world. Children from religious homes—particularly Muslims—also showed a greater inclination to judge someone’s misdeeds as wrong and punish the perpetrators. The study, the first large-scale analysis of its kind, suggests that religion and moral behavior don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand for children.
Feature: How the Amazon became a crucible of life
The western Amazon, which includes parts of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and northwestern Brazil, “is the most diverse region in the world in terms of plants,” says Christopher Dick, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “We have about 300 tree species in eastern North America. In the western Amazon, we have 300 tree species in a single hectare.” And plant diversity is just part of the picture. All told, the Amazon Basin, a 6.7-million-square-kilometer area extending through Brazil all the way to the Atlantic, is home to 10% of the world’s known species.