This week in science, our attention was very much fixed toward the heavens: A new three-person crew headed to the International Space Station, an asteroid the size of the Golden Gate Bridge (and its moon) stopped by for a not-so-close encounter with Earth, and a triple conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and Mercury put on a rare celestial show.
But there’s still a lot more research that broke this week! Here’s a roundup of the stuff we didn’t get to:
Conspiracy theorists spun tales this week about a rat lurking on Mars, but scientists found something quite different: decisive evidence of flowing water. NASA’s Curiosity rover snapped shots of rounded pebbles on the floor of the Martian Gale Crater; upon closer inspection, scientists found the pebbles were just about identical to the pebbles found on the bottoms of streambeds here on Earth. The find provides the strongest proof yet that much of the Red Planet’s geographic features were shaped by the flowing waterways many eons ago. [BBC, Science]
The persistent buzz of the cicada will soon provide an annoying soundtrack across the East Coast soon. So why would someone want to replicate that sound? Actually, the cicada’s mating call turns out to be a marvel of natural engineering -- it uses very little power to make a very large sound. Researchers from the U.S. Navy are interested in unlocking the secret of the cicada’s call to make efficient underwater signaling devices. [American Institute of Physics press release]
In the misty rainforests high atop an Australian mountain, scientists have discovered some very unusual creatures: hot pink slugs and cannibal snails. [Sydney Morning Herald]
California’s native fish are feeling the heat from climate change. Eighty-two percent of 121 species examined in a new study have been deemed highly vulnerable. Enjoy the coho salmon, the steelhead trout and the Sacramento perch while you still can. [Los Angeles Times]
Some ancient Egyptians accessorized with gifts from the heavens. Using scanning electron microscopes and CT scans, scientists have found that iron beads discovered inside grave pits in the Gerzeh cemetery are made out of meteorite metal. [NPR]
The moon’s gravitational field is lumpy, and scientists think they’ve figured out why. MIT and Purdue University researchers have traced the phenomenon back to asteroid impacts. An asteroid crashing into the moon creates a shockwave that draws dense material up from the mantle of the moon and into the impact crater. Over time, the cooling of that impact zone produces a localized “bull’s-eye” gravitational pattern of positive and negative gravity that creates the moon’s bumpy pull. [MIT News Office]
Human-driven deforestation in the tropics of Brazil has caused a sharp decline among large fruit-eating bird populations. That, in turn, has had a detrimental effect on the region’s forest palms, which are now tending to produce weaker, smaller seeds. [Smithsonian magazine]
The artificial sweetener Splenda may change how the body handles sugar intake, according to a small study. The sweetener, more technically known as sucralose, caused participants’ blood sugar and insulin levels to jump, challenging the notion that Splenda is an “inert” substance that doesn’t affect the body. [NY Daily News]
Roxanne has liked science ever since she started watching "Bill Nye the Science Guy" on Saturday mornings over a bowl of sucrotic O's. She especially likes writing about...