‘Wood wide web’—the underground network of microbes that connects trees—mapped for first time
Trees, from the mighty redwoods to slender dogwoods, would be nothing without their microbial sidekicks. Millions of species of fungi and bacteria swap nutrients between soil and the roots of trees, forming a vast, interconnected web of organisms throughout the woods. Now, for the first time, scientists have mapped this “wood wide web” on a global scale, using a database of more than 28,000 tree species living in more than 70 countries.
Viruses genetically engineered to kill bacteria rescue girl with antibiotic-resistant infection
One week after Helen Spencer’s 15-year-old cystic fibrosis patient had a double lung transplant in September 2017, the incision wound turned bright red. For half her life, Isabelle Carnell had been battling a drug-resistant infection of Mycobacterium abscessus, and now it was rapidly spreading, erupting in weeping sores and swollen nodules across her frail body. “My heart sinks when I see that a [lung transplant] patient has got a wound infection, because I know what the trajectory is going to be,” says Spencer, Isabelle’s respiratory pediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. “It’s a torturous course that has ended in death for all those children.”
Theorist calculates the incalculable siren song of merging black holes
Just a month into a renewed observing campaign with a trio of detectors, physicists today announced they have spotted more gravitational waves—fleeting ripples in space set off when two massive objects such as black holes spiral into each other. The collaboration has now bagged 13 merging black hole pairs, as well as two pairs of neutron stars. But even as detections accumulate, one theorist has made an advance that could change how the team analyzes the signals and make it easier to test Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity, general relativity.
Neanderthals may have trapped golden eagles 130,000 years ago
The golden eagle has been hunted and revered by human cultures for thousands of years. Yet this may not have been a uniquely human devotion—Neanderthals, too, may have targeted these impressive birds of prey some 130,000 years ago, according to new research. What’s more, modern humans may have learned their eagle-catching techniques from their hominin cousins.
Emperor penguins flee unsteady ice after ‘unprecedented’ failure to breed
Antarctica’s charismatic emperor penguins are thought to be particularly vulnerable to climate change, because warming waters are melting the sea ice where they live and breed. Now, the penguins have abandoned one of their biggest colonies after breeding pairs there failed to raise almost any new chicks in 3 years. Although the move cannot directly be attributed to climate change, researchers say it is an ominous sign of things to come for the largest of penguin species.
Global warming may boost economic inequality
Over the past half-century, climate change has been blamed for heat waves, flooding, and rising seas. Now, researchers say warmer temperatures are widening the chasm separating richer and poorer countries, effectively boosting the economies of many wealthy polluters while dampening growth in much of the developing world. As a result, inequality between the haves and have-nots is already 25% greater than it would be in a cooler world, the paper asserts.
New climate models predict a warming surge
For nearly 40 years, the massive computer models used to simulate global climate have delivered a fairly consistent picture of how fast human carbon emissions might warm the world. But a host of global climate models developed for the United Nations’s next major assessment of global warming, due in 2021, are now showing a puzzling but undeniable trend. They are running hotter than they have in the past. Soon the world could be, too.
Believe in Atlantis? These archaeologists want to win you back to science
In February, the popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience referred to an idea made famous by some books and TV shows: that an image of the Mayan King K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, carved onto the lid of his sarcophagus when he died in 683 C.E., shows him taking off in a spaceship. Host Rogan was skeptical of the notion, which has been used to argue that extraterrestrial visitors seeded sophisticated ancient societies like the Maya. He asked what mainstream archaeologists made of it.
Ancient ‘Snowball Earth’ thawed out in a flash
More than half a billion years ago, our planet was a giant snowball hurtling through space. Glaciers blanketed the globe all the way to the equator in one of the mysterious “Snowball Earth” events geologists think occurred at least twice in Earth’s ancient past. Now, scientists have found that the final snowball episode likely ended in a flash about 635 million years ago—a geologically fast event that may have implications for today’s human-driven global warming.
Physicists predict a way to squeeze light from the vacuum of empty space
Talk about getting something for nothing. Physicists predict that just by shooting charged particles through an electromagnetic field, it should be possible to generate light from the empty vacuum. In principle, the effect could provide a new way to test the fundamental theory of electricity and magnetism, known as quantum electrodynamics, the most precise theory in all of science. In practice, spotting the effect would require lasers and particle accelerators far more powerful than any that exist now.