Archives: Science

Long ago, four giant beings arrived in southeast Australia. Three strode out to other parts of the continent, but one crouched in place. His body transformed into a volcano called Budj Bim, and his teeth became the lava the volcano spat out.


Beyond China itself, Thailand is the country that most likely will have people who arrive at one of its airports with an infection by the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that has sickened more than 30,000 people. So says the latest update of a global risk assessment model created by a team of researchers from the Humboldt University of Berlin and the Robert Koch Institute that relies on air travel data.

Ancient Egyptians took their board games seriously. The backgammonlike senet started out as a mere pastime, but over nearly 2 millennia it evolved into a game with deep links to the afterlife, played on a board that represented the underworld. Now, a version of the game sitting in a California museum might reveal when this dramatic transformation took place.


Supermassive black holes have a reputation for consuming everything in their path, from gas clouds to entire solar systems. So is there any way aliens could live on a world that actually orbited one of these cosmic beasts? Surprisingly, the answer is a tentative yes, researchers say, although there are plenty of reasons why life could never take hold in such a place. If it did, living on such a planet would be truly surreal, with the black hole filling nearly half the sky and concentrating leftover photons from the big bang into a pseudosun.

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That string of apparent gibberish is anything but: It’s a snippet of a DNA sequence from the viral pathogen, dubbed 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), that is overwhelming China and frightening the entire world. Scientists are publicly sharing an ever-growing number of full sequences of the virus from patients—53 at last count in the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data database. These viral genomes are being intensely studied to try to understand the origin of 2019-nCoV and how it fits on the family tree of related viruses found in bats and other species. They have also given glimpses into what this newly discovered virus physically looks like, how it’s changing, and how it might be stopped.

At the center of nearly every galaxy lies a monster, a giant black hole millions or even billions of times heavier than the Sun. Some, known as quasars or active galactic nuclei, shine brightly from across the universe as they continuously devour surrounding gas. But most are dormant, lurking invisibly for thousands of years—until a star passes too close and is ripped to shreds. That triggers a monthslong tidal disruption event (TDE), which can shine as brightly as a supernova.

As confirmed cases of a novel virus surge around the world with worrisome speed, all eyes have so far focused on a seafood market in Wuhan, China, as the origin of the outbreak. But a description of the first clinical cases published in The Lancet on Friday challenges that hypothesis.

The microbes in our guts have been linked to everything from arthritis to autism. Now, scientists say they can even tell us about our future health. Two new studies find that our “microbiome”—the mix of microbes in our gut—can reveal the presence of many diseases better than our own genes can—and can even anticipate our risk of dying within the next 15 years.

Earth’s earliest lands, hot and hellish, were sheltered from above. Researchers have found more evidence that our planet had a strong magnetic field 4.2 billion years ago, three-quarters of a billion years earlier than previously thought and just 350 million years after the Earth formed. The field would have shielded Earth, protecting its atmosphere from being stripped away by high-energy particles from the sun—and perhaps helping life gain a foothold.

Life is at the heart of much of our material world. We make two-by-four beams from wood, ethanol from corn, and textiles from cotton. But bricks? Researchers have now created a form of concrete that not only comes from living creatures but—given the right inputs—can turn one brick into two, two into four, and four into eight. Although the new material won’t build self-assembling houses anytime soon, it could soon lead to building components that can heal themselves when damaged. The living concrete could even offer Mars-bound astronauts a way to build structures from local materials plus a few adventurous microbes.