Our ultimate fate? Researchers have found a planetary system orbiting a white dwarf—a compacted “corpse” of a star like our own sun—in the famous Hyades star cluster, only 150 light-years from Earth and easily visible to the naked eye on a bright winter night. It’s only the 2nd time planets have been found in a cluster similar to the one that probably gave birth to our own sun. This may be the ultimate fate of our own solar system once the sun sheds its gaseous mantle into space and condenses into a white dwarf.IMG: NASA
If you thought walking on water was a big deal try jumping off it. Pygmy mole crickets (Xya capensis) can! The 5.5-milimeter-long insect’s secret weapons: each of its powerful hind legs is equipped with seven paddle-like appendages and four prongs. As the cricket falls into the water, its hind legs kick out and penetrate the drink. That unfolds its paddles and prongs, which push so much liquid downward that the wet insect is propelled up from the water like a missile, achieving heights 18 times its body length. On land, the insect makes stupendous but often ill-directed jumps that often land it in the wet, so water-based leaps come in handy—no swimsuit necessary.
VIDEO: M. Burrows et al., Current Biology
Secret of the black dahlia. There are 20,000+ varieties of dahlia, but the rare black blooms are especially alluring. But where does the color come from? Researchers inspected 14 varieties of black dahlia—including”Karma Choc” (left) & “Tisa” (right)—& 5 other varieties. Their conclusion: The black comes from high levels of anthocyanins, pigments that—at lower levels—also give red dahlias their colors.CREDIT: Heidi Halbwirth
—President Barack Obama on 22 October, 2012, during the final presidential debate in Boca Raton, FL.
Raw food can’t feed big brains. Feeling pretty smart? Thank ancestral cooks! A new study reveals that raw food alone is not enough to sustain the human brain. In fact, humans would have to spend 9+ hours a day eating to get enough energy from unprocessed raw food alone to support our large brains, which consume 20% of our body’s energy. So how did our ancestors manage to grow brains that have 3x as many neurons as those in apes such as gorillas & chimps? They started cooking! Cooking effectively predigests food, making it easier and more efficient for our guts to absorb calories more rapidly.
Vegetarian dinosaurs - with fangs? Some dinosaurs were weirder than others. Long before Stegosaurus & Triceratops stomped the earth, housecat-sized heterodontosaurs scampered about armed with porcupinelike bristles & sharp, protruding fangs. But what did they use those impressive teeth for? Scientists reconstructed a 2-ft-tall specimen, found languishing in a museum drawer, and may finally have an answer. Microscopic analysis of the wear marks on its teeth and this reconstructed flesh model of its close cousin, Heterodontosaurus, suggest it used its mighty choppers to nip and spar, and not for meat-eating. CREDIT: Tyler Keillor
A wrinkle in slime! By examining bacterial communities known as biofilms, researchers may have gained insight into how wrinkles form. Scientists can now control the self-assembly of biofilms, and the death of cells within them, to form specific designs. They even spelled out Science for us! Apart from being very cool, the work that may yield a useful technique for tissue engineering. IMG: Munehiro Asally
Disappointment over dengue. The results of the first trial of the effectiveness of a vaccine for dengue, a sometimes fatal disease endemic throughout most tropical countries, have engendered both enthusiasm and disappointment. The vaccine proved safe, and it protected against three of the four dengue virus variants, or serotypes—but surprisingly, it provided no protection against the fourth. Scientists are stumped as to why and pondering what this means for the global fight against a serious public health threat. IMAGE: James Gathany/CDC
The brightest blue. Don’t let the iridescent blue of this tiny African fruit fool you: It’s neither tasty nor nourishing and contains no pigment to extract. Instead, Pollia condensata’s vivid sparkle comes from the interaction of light with its skin, which contains layers of microscopic cellulose fibers. The effect is a metallic blue brighter than any yet described in a biological material. IMAGE: Paula Rudall
Curly cucumbers. Instead of growing thick trunks for support, cucumber plants sprout tendrils that snake upward and latch onto taller structures. The tendril then starts to coil coil into a helix, shown in this video, winching the plant up toward the sun. Find out how this coiling works and why the weight of the plant below doesn’t make the tendrils unwind. CREDIT: Joshua Puzey