Lobsters navigate with magnetic positioning system, study shows

Spiny lobsters possess a remarkable navigational sense based on an ability to read small variations in the Earth’s magnetic field, experiments conducted by North Carolina scientists show. The new work is the first to demonstrate that at least some invertebrate animals, which many people consider primitive underachievers biologically, possess navigational skills rivaling those of sea turtles and homing pigeons.

Hitchhiking rocks provide details of glacial melting in West Antarctic

Rocks deposited by glaciers on mountain ranges in West Antarctica have given scientists the most direct evidence yet that parts of the ice sheet are on a long-term, natural trajectory of melting. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet has been melting and contributing water continuously to the ocean for the last 10,000 years and is likely to keep doing so, says John Stone, University of Washington associate professor of Earth and space sciences. Measuring and understanding changes in the Earth?s ice sheets over the past few decades, and predicting their future behavior are major challenges of modern glaciology. But it is important to view these changes in the context of what?s been happening naturally over centuries and millennia. This work establishes a background pattern of steady decline in the West Antarctic ice sheet.

Diamonds found to contain evidence of ancient atmosphere

A team of scientists has discovered that diamonds can be natural time capsules, preserving information about the cycling of sulfur between the Earth’s crust, atmosphere, and mantle some three billion years ago. “These findings show diamonds are much more than jewels,” said Mark Thiemens, Dean of the Division of Physical Sciences at UCSD and a co-author of the paper. “They are valuable crystals through which geologists and atmospheric chemists can peer to gain insights into the earth’s atmosphere as it existed billions of years ago. The fact that you can make measurements of the atmosphere some two to three billion years ago by looking at the composition of sulfur in diamonds is remarkable and especially valuable for those studying the ancient earth’s geological processes.”

Surprises from Past Could Spell Longer Droughts, Rising Sea Levels

Abrupt climate changes could lead to decade-long droughts and massive sea-level rise, according to a University of Arizona geoscientist who studies the climate of the distant past. Factors that influence the climate system, such as natural changes in the Earth’s orbit or rising carbon dioxide emissions from cars and power plants, can result in dramatic climate shifts, says Jonathan Overpeck, a professor of geosciences and director of the UA Institute for the Study of Planet Earth. Scientists studying natural climate records, such as the variations in tree rings and gas bubbles trapped in the polar ice caps, find ample evidence of these types of rapid changes in the past — sometimes occurring in a decade or less.

Methane Clouds Discovered at the South Pole of Titan

Teams of astronomers at the California Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley have discovered methane clouds near the south pole of Titan. Titan is Saturn’s largest moon, larger than the planet Mercury, and is the only moon in our solar system with a thick atmosphere. Like Earth’s atmosphere, the atmosphere on Titan is mostly nitrogen. Unlike Earth, Titan is inhospitable to life due to the lack of atmospheric oxygen and its extremely cold surface temperatures (-183 C; -297 F). Along with nitrogen, Titan’s atmosphere contains a significant amount of methane. Earlier spectroscopic observations had hinted at the existence of clouds on Titan, but gave no clue as to their location.

Microorganisms isolated in space

Indian and British researchers say they have successfully isolated microorganisms living in the upper atmosphere, as high as 40 km up. Whether the organisms originate on Earth or are “seeding” the planet from passing comets is the subject of some debate. “Contamination is always a possibility in such studies but the ‘internal logic’ of the findings points strongly to the organisms being isolated in space, at a height of 41km,” said one of the lead researchers. “Of course the results would have been more readily accepted and lauded by critics had we isolated novel organisms, or ones with NASA written on them! “

Researchers find 3,000-Year-Old Microbes in Mars-Like Antarctic Environment

Researchers drilling into Lake Vida, an Antarctic “ice-block” lake, have found the lake isn’t really an ice block at all. In the December 16 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team reveals that Antarctic Lake Vida may represent a previously unknown ecosystem, a frigid, “ice-sealed,” lake that contains the thickest non-glacial lake ice cover on Earth and water seven times saltier than seawater. Because of the arid, chilled environment in which it resides, scientists believe the lake may be an important template for the search for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars and other icy worlds.

New Theory Accounts for Existence of Binaries in Kuiper Belt

In the last few years, researchers have discovered more than 500 objects in the Kuiper belt, a gigantic outer ring in the outskirts of the solar system, beyond the orbit of Neptune. Of these, seven so far have turned out to be binaries–two objects that orbit each other. The surprise is that these binaries all seem to be pairs of widely separated objects of similar size. This is surprising because more familiar pairings, such as the Earth/moon system, tend to be unequal in size and/or rather close together. To account for these oddities, scientists from the California Institute of Technology have devised a theory of Kuiper belt binary formation.

S. Pole Telescope Produces Most Detailed Images of the Early Universe

Using a powerful new instrument at the South Pole, a team of cosmologists has produced the most detailed images of the early Universe ever recorded. The research team, which was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), has made public their measurements of subtle temperature differences in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation. The CMB is the remnant radiation that escaped from the rapidly cooling Universe about 400,000 years after the Big Bang. Images of the CMB provide researchers with a snapshot of the Universe in its infancy, and can be used to place strong constraints on its constituents and structure. The new results provide additional evidence to support the currently favored model of the Universe in which 30 percent of all energy is a strange form of dark matter that doesn’t interact with light and 65 percent is in an even stranger form of dark energy that appears to be causing the expansion of the Universe to accelerate. Only the remaining five percent of the energy in the Universe takes the form of familiar matter like that which makes up planets and stars.

Ultrasound Shown To Be Potentially Safe, Effective Way to Kill Bacteria

High-power ultrasound, currently used for cell disruption, particle size reduction, welding and vaporization, has been shown to be 99.99 percent effective in killing bacterial spores after only 30 seconds of non-contact exposure in experiments. In the experiments, bacterial spores contained in a paper envelope, were placed slightly (3mm) above the active area of a specially equipped source of inaudible, high frequency (70 to 200 kHz) sound waves and hit for 30 seconds. There was no contact medium, such as water or gel, between the ultrasound source and the spores as is typically used in low-power, medical diagnostic ultrasound. The experiments mark the first time that Non-Contact Ultrasound (NCU) has been shown to inactivate bacterial spores.

NASA develops new design process for future spacecraft

Building the next Starship Enterprise may have just gotten a little simpler. NASA has announced what it says is an efficient, timely, revolutionary process that may help design the next generation of space vehicles. Engineers at NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, in collaboration with astronauts from NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, are using the Virtual Flight Rapid Integration Test Environment (VF-RITE) to develop and evaluate vehicle designs that may eventually ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The new process quickly and efficiently incorporates virtual test-flight data into the design process, creating a continuous dialog between test pilots and vehicle designers.

Global Warming, Climate Changes May Make Mass Extinction Unavoidable

Worldwide efforts to protect plant and animal species may not be enough to avoid a mass extinction in the face of unexpected climate changes and global warming, says an international team of researchers. While the Earth’s climate is never stable, natural records of the past — such as fossils, ice cores, corals, and lake sediments — reveal that the species and ecosystems of today evolved within a specific range of climate conditions. The scientists are concerned that human activities, such as increased carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, may push the climate outside of its current range, with devastating impacts on species around the globe.