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Competing ideas abound for how Earth got its moonScience News, April 2017
The moon’s origin story does not add up. Most scientists think that the moon formed in the earliest days of the solar system, around 4.5 billion years ago, when a Mars-sized protoplanet called Theia whacked into the young Earth. The collision sent debris from both worlds hurling into orbit, where the rubble eventually mingled and combined to form the moon.
Devastation detectives try to solve dinosaur disappearanceScience News, January 2017
Below the shimmering turquoise waters of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula lies the scene of a prehistoric mass murder. In a geologic instant, most animal and plant species perished. Drilling through hundreds of meters of rock, investigators have finally reached the footprint left by the accused: Earth’s most notorious space rock impact, Chicxulub. The dinosaur killer.
Year in review: AlphaGo scores a win for artificial intelligenceScience News, December 2016
In a hotel ballroom in Seoul, South Korea, early in 2016, a centuries-old strategy game offered a glimpse into the fantastic future of computing.
Melissa Omand’s clever tech follows the fate of ocean carbonScience News, September 2016
As chief scientist for a voyage of the research vessel Endeavor, oceanographer Melissa Omand oversaw everything from the deployment of robotic submarines to crew-member bunk assignments. The November 2015 expedition 150 kilometers off Rhode Island’s coast was collecting data for Omand’s ongoing investigations of the fate of carbon dioxide soaked up by the ocean.
New desalination tech could help quench global thirstScience News, August 2016
The world is on the verge of a water crisis. Rainfall shifts caused by climate change plus the escalating water demands of a growing world population threaten society’s ability to meet its mounting needs. By 2025, the United Nations predicts, 2.4 billion people will live in regions of intense water scarcity, which may force as many as 700 million people from their homes in search of water by 2030. Those water woes have people thirstily eyeing the more than one sextillion liters of water in Earth’s oceans and some underground aquifers with high salt content.
How alien can a planet be and still support life?Science News, April 2016
Just how fantastical a planet can be and still support recognizable life isn’t just a question for science fiction. Astronomers are searching the stars for otherworldly inhabitants, and they need a road map. Which planets are most likely to harbor life? That’s where geoscientists’ imaginations come in. Applying their knowledge of how our world works and what allows life to flourish, they are envisioning what kind of other planetary configurations could sustain thriving biospheres.
Changing climate: 10 years after An Inconvenient TruthScience News, April 2016
More than 25 years before the star-studded Los Angeles premiere of An Inconvenient Truth, glaciologist Lonnie Thompson was about as far away from the red carpet as possible. It was 1978, and high in the rugged Andes, Thompson and fellow scientists were witnessing the first glimpses of a pending worldwide disaster. Rising temperatures were melting ancient titans of ice and snow. Mammoth glaciers were disappearing at unprecedented rates and withering to the smallest sizes in millennia. The delicate balance of Earth’s climate was upset.
New fascination with Earth’s ‘Boring Billion’Science News, October 2015
Earth’s long history starts with an epic preamble: A collision with a Mars-sized space rock rips into the young planet and jettisons debris that forms the moon. Over the next few billion years, plot twists abound. The oceans form. Life appears. Solar-powered microbes breathe oxygen into the air. Colossal environmental shifts reshape the planet’s surface and drive the evolution of early life.
Shinsei Ryu: Error-free quantum calculationsScience News, September 2015
On the boundary between the quantum and everyday realms, things don’t always make a whole lot of sense. The bundles of particles that make up materials behave in ways both unexpected and unexplained. This is the weird world that theoretical physicist Shinsei Ryu hopes to bring into focus.
The magnetic mystery at the center of the EarthScience News, September 2015
Earth’s depths are a hellish place. More than 5,000 kilometers belowground, the iron-rich core scorches at temperatures comparable to the sun’s surface and crushes at pressures akin to the weight of 20 blue whales balanced on a postage stamp.
Ice particles shaped like lollipops fall from cloudsScience News, May 2017
Right now, somewhere in the world, it could be raining lollies. A 2009 research flight through clouds above the British Isles gathered ice particles with an unusually sweet look. Each millimeter-sized particle consisted of a stick-shaped piece of ice with a single water droplet frozen on the end, giving it the appearance of a lollipop. Atmospheric scientist Stavros Keppas of the University of Manchester in England and colleagues report the discovery of the atmospheric confections in a paper to be published in Geophysical Research Letters.
Mars may not have been born alongside the other rocky planetsScience News, May 2017
Mars may have had a far-out birthplace.
Crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf forksScience News, May 2017
The 180-kilometer-long crack threatening one of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves has branched out, new satellite observations reveal. The main rift in the Larsen C ice shelf hasn’t grown longer since February. But radar mapping shows that a second crack has split off from the main rupture like a snake’s forked tongue, members of the Antarctic research group Project MIDAS reported May 1. That second branch, which stretches around 15 kilometers, didn’t exist on radar maps taken six days earlier, the scientists say.
Here’s how an asteroid impact would kill youScience News, May 2017
It won’t be a tsunami. Nor an earthquake. Not even the crushing impact of the space rock. No, if an asteroid kills you, gusting winds and shock waves from falling and exploding space rocks will most likely be to blame. That’s one of the conclusions of a recent computer simulation effort that investigated the fatality risks of more than a million possible asteroid impacts.
‘Fossil’ groundwater is not immune to modern-day pollutionScience News, April 2017
Groundwater that has lingered in Earth’s depths for more than 12,000 years is surprisingly vulnerable to modern pollution from human activities. Once in place, that pollution could stick around for thousands of years, researchers report online April 25 in Nature Geoscience. Scientists previously assumed such deep waters were largely immune to contamination from the surface.
Plot twist in methane mystery blames chemistry, not emissions, for recent riseScience News, April 2017
A recent upsurge in planet-warming methane may not be caused by increasing emissions, as previously thought, but by methane lingering longer in the atmosphere.
The Arctic is a final garbage dump for ocean plasticScience News, April 2017
The Arctic Ocean is a final resting place for plastic debris dumped into the North Atlantic Ocean, new research suggests.
‘River piracy’ on a high glacier lets one waterway rob anotherScience News, April 2017
Ahoy! There be liquid booty on the move in the high mountains. Since May 2016, a channel carved through one of northwestern Canada’s largest glaciers has allowed one river to pillage water from another, new observations reveal. This phenomenon, almost certainly the result of climate change, is the first modern record of river piracy caused by a melting glacier, researchers report online April 17 in Nature Geoscience. Such piracy was rampant as the colossal ice sheets of the Last Glacial Maximum began shrinking around 18,000 years ago.
More than one ocean motion determines tsunami sizeScience News, April 2017
Earthquake-powered shifts along the seafloor that push water forward, not just up, could help supersize tsunamis.
New tech harvests drinking water from (relatively) dry air using only sunlightScience News, April 2017
A new device the size of a coffee mug can generate drinkable water from desert air using nothing but sunlight.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo Joins Jim and Marilyn Simons to Dedicate Flatiron InstituteSimons Foundation, September 2017
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo joined Simons Foundation co-founders Jim and Marilyn Simons on September 6 to dedicate the foundation’s new Flatiron Institute, an intramural research division of the Simons Foundation that tackles big data sets — and big scientific questions — by developing cutting-edge computational methods.
New Initiative Ponders Origins of the UniverseSimons Foundation, July 2017
The Simons Foundation has assembled an international group of theoretical physicists to tackle one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in science: What exactly went down at the dawn of the universe around 13.8 billion years ago.
Remembering the Life and Contributions of Fields Medalist Maryam MirzakhaniSimons Foundation, July 2017
Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian-born mathematician and the first and to-date only female winner of the Fields Medal, died on July 14 after a years-long battle with breast cancer. She was 40 years old.
New Collaboration on Theory of Microbial Ecosystems LaunchedSimons Foundation, May 2017
The Simons Foundation has established a new collaboration investigating the mysteries of nature’s smallest communities. Called the Simons Collaboration on Theory of Microbial Ecosystems, or THE-ME, it is an at least five-year undertaking that will investigate how microbial ecosystems in the oceans form and function.
Rediscovered Apollo data gives first measure of how fast Moon dust piles upAmerican Geophysical Union, November 2013
When Neil Armstrong took humanity’s first otherworldly steps in 1969, he didn’t know what a nuisance the lunar soil beneath his feet would prove to be. The scratchy dust clung to everything it touched, causing scientific instruments to overheat and, for Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, a sort of lunar dust hay fever. The annoying particles even prompted a scientific experiment to figure out how fast they collect, but NASA’s data got lost.
Martian chemical complicates hunt for life’s cluesAmerican Geophysical Union, September 2013
The quest for evidence of life on Mars could be more difficult than scientists previously thought. A scientific paper published today details the investigation of a chemical in the Martian soil that interferes with the techniques used by the Curiosity rover to test for traces of life. The chemical causes the evidence to burn away during the tests.
Upgrade to Mars rovers could aid discovery on more distant worldsAmerican Geophysical Union, September 2013
Smart as the Mars Curiosity mission has been about landing and finding its own way on a distant world, the rover is pretty brainless when it comes to doing the science that it was sent 567 million kilometers to carry out. That has to change if future rover missions are to make discoveries further out in the solar system, scientists say. The change has now begun with the development of a new camera that can do more than just take pictures of alien rocks – it also thinks about what the pictures signify so the rover can decide on its own whether to keep exploring a particular site, or move on.
Crowdsourcing weather using smartphone batteriesAmerican Geophysical Union, August 2013
Smartphones are a great way to check in on the latest weather predictions, but new research aims to use the batteries in those same smartphones to predict the weather. A group of smartphone app developers and weather experts created a way to use the temperature sensors built into smartphone batteries to crowdsource weather information. These tiny thermometers usually prevent smartphones from dangerously overheating, but the researchers discovered the battery temperatures tell a story about the environment around them.
Ozone hole might slightly warm planetAmerican Geophysical Union, August 2013
A lot of people mix up the ozone hole and global warming, believing the hole is a major cause of the world’s increasing average temperature. Scientists, on the other hand, have long attributed a small cooling effect to the ozone shortage in the hole. Now a new computer-modeling study suggests that the ozone hole might actually have a slight warming influence, but because of its effect on winds, not temperatures. The new research suggests that shifting wind patterns caused by the ozone hole push clouds farther toward the South Pole, reducing the amount of radiation the clouds reflect and possibly causing a bit of warming rather than cooling.
Distorted GPS signals reveal hurricane wind speedsAmerican Geophysical Union, July 2013
By pinpointing locations on Earth from space, GPS systems have long shown drivers the shortest route home and guided airline pilots across oceans. Now, by figuring out how messed up GPS satellite signals get when bouncing around in a storm, researchers have found a way to do something completely different with GPS: measure and map the wind speeds of hurricanes.
The Great Barrier Reef is experiencing a major coral bleaching event right nowScience News, April 2017
A severe coral bleaching event spurred by high ocean temperatures has struck the Great Barrier Reef for an unprecedented second time in 12 months, reveal aerial surveys released April 10 by scientists at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. While last year the northern third of the reef was hardest hit, this time around the reef’s midsection experienced the worst bleaching. The two bleaching events together span around 1,500 kilometers of the 2,300-kilometer-long reef.
Arctic sea ice hits record wintertime lowScience News, March 2017
Arctic sea ice has hit a record low for the third year in a row. It’s the paltriest maximum extent seen since recordkeeping began in 1979, scientists at NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced March 22.
Saturn’s ‘Death Star’ moon may not conceal an ocean after allScience News, February 2017
An ocean of liquid water probably doesn’t lurk beneath the icy surface of Mimas, Saturn’s smallest major moon, new calculations suggest. Scientists had proposed the ocean in 2014 to help explain an odd wobble in the moon’s orbit.
Antarctic sea ice shrinks to record lowScience News, February 2017
Sea ice around Antarctica shrunk to its lowest monthly extent on record in January, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports.
Dual magma plumes fueled volcanic eruptions during final days of dinosaursScience News, February 2017
Not one but two rising plumes of magma from deep within the Earth fueled the titanic volcanic eruptions that marked the final days of the dinosaurs, new research suggests. The Deccan eruptions in what is now India, some scientists argue, helped wipe out most animal and plant species around 66 million years ago, including all nonbirdlike dinosaurs.
Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf nears breaking pointScience News, January 2017
One of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves is nearing its breaking point, scientists warn. A colossal crack in the Larsen C ice shelf abruptly grew by 18 kilometers during the second half of December 2016, members of the Antarctic research group Project MIDAS reported January 5. The crack is now only about 20 kilometers away from reaching Larsen C’s edge and snapping off a hunk of ice the size of Delaware.
CO2 emissions stay steady for third consecutive yearScience News, November 2016
Global emissions of carbon dioxide won’t increase much in 2016 despite overall economic growth, newly released bookkeeping suggests. The result marks a three-year-long plateau in the amount of CO2 released by human activities, scientists from the Global Carbon Project report November 14 in Earth System Science Data.
First signs of boron on Mars hint at past groundwater, habitabilityScience News, December 2016
A new element has been found in Mars’ chemical arsenal.
Solar panels are poised to be truly greenScience News, December 2016
The solar panel industry has nearly paid its climate debt. The technology will break even in terms of energy usage by 2017 and greenhouse gas emissions by 2018 at the latest, if it hasn’t done so already, researchers calculate.
Say hola to La NiñaScience News, November 2016
El Niño’s meteorological sister, La Niña, has officially taken over.
Infographic: ScienceWOW FactsScience, February 2014
— Thomas Sumner (@SumnerScience) February 13, 2014
— Thomas Sumner (@SumnerScience) February 15, 2014