By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer | June 10, 2017 08:28am ET
If you’ve ever visited the Grand Canyon, Arizona’s Vermillion Cliffs or the astonishingly rainbow-colored hills of China’s Zhangye National Geopark, you likely noticed they have one thing in common: red-colored rocks.
How did these rocks get so red? The answer involves iron, which bonds with other elements to form minerals famous for their red, rusty hue.
To start at the beginning, the iron on Earth came from ancient supernova events, the collapse of large stars that ran out of energy and “died.” After these stars collapsed (due to extreme gravity at their centers), they released a vast amount of new energy, which fused together elements, creating heavier elements, including iron (Fe).
After the force from such a collapse got too immense, the collapsing star exploded outward, sending the elements into space, said Jessica Kapp, a senior lecturer and associate department head of the geosciences department at the University of Arizona. [Photo Timeline: How the Earth Formed]
“When Earth first formed, it grabbed up a bunch of these elements from the space around it, including iron,” Kapp told Live Science in an email.
In Earth’s early history, during the Archean era (4 billion to 2.5 billion years ago), there was little oxygen in the atmosphere. Without oxygen, iron can dissolve in water, and so Earth’s early Archean oceans carried large amounts of dissolved iron, said Terry Engelder, a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University.
However, single-celled organisms began producing oxygen through photosynthesis — a process that uses sunlight to power a reaction between water and carbon dioxide, leading to the creation of carbohydrates and oxygen.
That oxygen got into the oceans and bonded with the iron, leading to the creation of iron-oxide minerals, such as hematite (Fe2O3), which is often red in color, and magnetite (Fe3O4).
“An oxidation reaction you might be familiar with is rusting — when metal reacts with the oxygen in the air and becomes rust,” Kapp said. “In rocks, it is little grains of minerals like hematite and magnetite that have iron in them. Those minerals experience oxidation and become rust, turning the rocks red.”
The creation of these minerals led to the formation of the banded iron formations, the most important iron deposits in the world, Engelder said. The formations are “banded” because they contain layers of hematite between layers of silica, which were laid down as sedimentary rock layers during the during the late Archean to mid-Proterozoic (an era lasting from 2.5 billion to 541 million years ago), according to a 2016 study in the journal Geoscience Frontiers.
For instance, banded iron formations appear in Carajas, Brazil; Lake Superior, Canada; Hamersley Basin, Western Australia; regions in northern China; and the Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota.
In the case of the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona, the red color comes from iron-rich minerals that are interspersed with the sedimentary rock at that site.
“Red sandstones are very common in the western United States,” Kapp said. “[They] can be found in places like Sedona, Arizona, and in the Mojave Desert of California at Red Rock Canyon State Park.”
Other red rock formations that contain oxidized iron minerals include the Chugwater Formation in Wyoming, Montana and Colorado and theRedwall Limestone cliff of the Grand Canyon, which was stained red by the iron-oxide minerals leaching out from the layers above it.
Why Are Atheists Generally Smarter Than Religious People?
By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer | June 5, 2017 12:21pm ET
For more than a millennium, scholars have noticed a curious correlation: Atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people.
It’s unclear why this trend persists, but researchers of a new study have an idea: Religion is an instinct, they say, and people who can rise above instincts are more intelligent than those who rely on them.
“Intelligence — in rationally solving problems — can be understood as involving overcoming instinct and being intellectually curious and thus open to non-instinctive possibilities,” study lead author Edward Dutton, a research fellow at the Ulster Institute for Social Research in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. [Saint or Spiritual Slacker? Test Your Religious Knowledge]
In classical Greece and Rome, it was widely remarked that “fools” tended to be religious, while the “wise” were often skeptics, Dutton and his co-author, Dimitri Van der Linden, an assistant professor of psychology at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, wrote in the study.
The ancients weren’t the only ones to notice this association. Scientists ran a meta-analysis of 63 studies and found that religious people tend to be less intelligent than nonreligious people. The association was stronger among college students and the general public than for those younger than college age, they found. The association was also stronger for religious beliefs, rather than religious behavior, according to the meta-analysis, published in 2013 in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.
But why does this association exist? Dutton set out to find answer, thinking that perhaps it was because nonreligious people were more rational than their religious brethren, and thus better able to reason that there was no God, he wrote.
But “more recently, I started to wonder if I’d got it wrong, actually,” Dutton told Live Science. “I found evidence that intelligence is positively associated with certain kinds of bias.”
For instance, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that college students often get logical answers wrong but don’t realize it. This so-called “bias blind spot” happens when people cannot detect bias, or flaws, within their own thinking. “If anything, a larger bias blind spot was associated with higher cognitive ability,” the researchers of the 2012 study wrote in the abstract.
One question, for example, asked the students: “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” The problem isn’t intuitive (the answer is not 10 cents), but rather requires students to suppress or evaluate the first solution that springs into their mind, the researchers wrote in the study. If they do this, they might find the right answer: The ball costs 5 cents, and the bat costs $1.05.
If intelligent people are less likely to perceive their own bias, that means they’re less rational in some respects, Dutton said. So why is intelligence associated with atheism? The answer, he and his colleague suggest, is that religion is an instinct, and it takes intelligence to overcome an instinct, Dutton said. [8 Ways Religion Impacts Your Life]
The religion-is-an-instinct theory is a modified version of an idea developed by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, who was not involved in the new study.
Called the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis, Kanazawa’s theory attempts to explain the differences in the behavior and attitudes between intelligent and less intelligent people, said Nathan Cofnas, who is pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom this fall. Cofnas, who specializes in the philosophy of science, was not involved with the new study.
The hypothesis is based on two assumptions, Cofnas told Live Science in an email.
“First, that we are psychologically adapted to solve recurrent problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors in the African savanna,” Cofnas said. “Second, that ‘general intelligence’ (what is measured by IQ tests) evolved to help us deal with nonrecurrent problems for which we had no evolved psychological adaptations.”
The assumptions imply that “intelligent people should be better than unintelligent people at dealing with ‘evolutionary novelty’ — situations and entities that did not exist in the ancestral environment,” Cofnas said.
Dutton and Van der Linden modified this theory, suggesting that evolutionary novelty is something that opposes evolved instincts.
The approach is an interesting one, but might have firmer standing if the researchers explained exactly what they mean by “religious instinct,” Cofnas said.
“Dutton and Van der Linden propose that, if religion has an instinctual basis, intelligent people will be better able to overcome it and adopt atheism,” Cofnas said. “But without knowing the precise nature of the ‘religious instinct,’ we can’t rule out the possibility that atheism, or at least some forms of atheism, harness the same instinct(s).”
For instance, author Christopher Hitchens thought that communism was a religion; secular movements, such as veganism, appeal to many of the same impulses — and possibly ‘instincts’ — that traditional religions do, Cofnas said. Religious and nonreligious movements both rely on faith, identifying with a community of believers and zealotry, he said.
“I think it’s misleading to use the term ‘religion’ as a slur for whatever you don’t like,” Cofnas said.
Religion and stress
The researchers also examined the link between instinct and stress, emphasizing that people tend to operate on instinct during stressful times, for instance, turning to religion during a near-death experience.
The researchers argue that intelligence helps people rise above these instincts during times of stress. [11 Tips to Lower Stress]
“If religion is indeed an evolved domain — an instinct — then it will become heightened at times of stress, when people are inclined to act instinctively, and there is clear evidence for this,” Dutton said. “It also means that intelligence allows us to be able to pause and reason through the situation and the possible consequences of our actions.”
People who are able to rise above their instincts are likely better problem-solvers, Dutton noted.
“Let’s say someone had a go at you. Your instinct would be to punch them in the face,” Dutton told Live Science. “A more intelligent person will be able to stop themselves from doing that, reason it through and better solve the problem, according to what they want.”
The Mummy Returns: Egyptian Dignitary’s Face and Brain Reconstructed
By Rossella Lorenzi, Live Science Contributor | June 19, 2017 07:22am ET
An international team of researchers has reconstructed the face and brain of a 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummy, revealing a unique “packing” embalming treatment.
Consisting of a well-preserved head and canopic jars containing internal organs, the remains belong to Nebiri, an Egyptian dignitary who lived under the reign of the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Thutmoses III (1479–1425 B.C.).
He was between 45 [and] 60 years old when he died,” Raffaella Bianucci, a bioanthropologist in the Legal Medicine Section at the University of Turin, told Live Science. “His tomb in the Valley of the Queens was plundered in antiquity and his body deliberately destroyed.”
In 1904, Italian Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli found what remained of the mummy, now housed at the Egyptian Museum in Turin.
Now, after his desecration, Nebiri has been brought back to life through modern forensics. Using a type of computed tomography and facial reconstruction techniques, the researchers produced an impressive facial approximation.
Nebiri appears as a man with a prominent nose, wide jaw, straight eyebrows and moderately thick lips.
“The reconstruction is nice, but this is not just art in my eyes,” Philippe Charlier, a forensic pathologist and physical anthropologist at the University of Paris 5, told Live Science. “It is a serious forensic work based on the latest techniques of facial reconstruction and soft tissues over skull superposition. Beyond beauty, there is anatomical reality.” [Image Gallery: The Faces of Egyptian Mummies Revealed]
Preliminary chemical data presented at the World Mummy Congress held in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 showed that the linen bandages had been treated with a complex mixture of an animal fat or plant oil, a balsam or aromatic plant, a coniferous resin and heated Pistacia resin. The recent CT scans revealed the bandages were carefully inserted almost everywhere in the head, in the nose, ears, eyes and mouth.
Nebiri’s mummified head is the result of a “perfect packing,” Bianucci, Charlier and colleagues explained in a paper published in the journal Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology.
Additional packing was introduced into the mouth to fill the cheeks.
“The meticulous packing created a barrier to protect the body from insect colonization. At the same time, it had a cosmetic purpose, allowing the facial features and neck to maintain their original lifelike appearance,” Bianucci said.
Intriguingly, CT scans showed a tiny hole in a honeycomb-like bone structure known as the cribriform plate, which separates the nasal cavity from the brain. However, the brain was not taken out.
“Given the meticulous treatment of the head, it can be speculated that the perforation of the cribriform plate was not performed to extract the brain, but to insert the linen packing,” the researchers wrote.
Indeed, fragments of linen strips can still be seen within the dehydrated cerebral tissue.
Using data from the CT scan, the researchers could perform a 3D brain surface reconstruction, which allowed them to reconstruct soft tissues destroyed or modified by post-mortem alterations.
“No anatomical anomalies were detected,” Bianucci said.
“We were able to add strength to the argument that Nebiri was [a] high elite,” the paper’s first author, Robert Loynes, at the KNH Center for Biomedical Egyptology at the University of Manchester in England, told Live Science.
Loynes noted the head is a rare example of a high-status funerary treatment of an early 18th Dynasty nonroyal individual.
“It’s a unique finding that predates the developments seen in later 18th to 20th Dynasty kings, queens and kin,” Loynes said.
Dario Piombino-Mascali, an anthropologist at the University of Messina in Sicily, who next month will begin a mummy field school in Sicily (giving students field experience investigating mummies), found it striking that the head alone could reveal so much about mummification.
“Using a combination of non-invasive techniques, the researchers have been able to find a particular treatment of the brain, which did not require its removal,” Piombino-Mascali, who is not involved in the study, told Live Science.
At the crossroads of forensic anthropology and osteo-archaeology, the research opens new possibilities for the study of mummies.
“The brain reconstruction was produced from the Dicom file of the CT scan and, therefore, could be reproduced on any other mummy which had been CT scanned,” Loynes said.
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Mission to Touch the Sun Explained (Infographic)
By Jef Castro | June 6, 2017 06:40am ET
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission, which is scheduled to launch in July 2018, will come within 3.9 million miles (6.2 million kilometers) of the sun — seven times closer than any other spacecraft ever has.
The specially shielded Parker Solar Probe will have to endure temperatures up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) and solar radiation intensities 475 times higher than we’re used to here on Earth.
If all goes according to plan, the Parker Solar Probe will zoom close to the sun 24 times between 2018 and 2025, gathering a variety of data about the sun’s structure and magnetic and electric fields, as well as the energetic particles cruising near and away from Earth’s star. This information could help researchers solve two longstanding mysteries: How the solar wind is accelerated and why the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, is so much hotter than the solar surface, NASA officials have said.
Icy Water Moons That Might Host Life (Infographic)
By Calla Cofield, Space.com Staff Writer | June 6, 2017 06:40am ET
Icy Water Worlds That Might Host Life
Alien life may be lurking right in Earth’s cosmic backyard. Some of the icy moons of Saturn and Jupiter are known to harbor subsurface oceans that could provide habitable environments.
In the dark, cold sections of the Earth’s ocean floor, communities of life-forms survive on the heat and nutrients from hydrothermal vents. Under the ice of Antarctica, scientists have found rich microbial ecosystems.
These discoveries have opened up the possibility that life could also survive in extreme environments on other worlds.
There are five icy moons in our solar system that could potentially host extraterrestrial life.
This icy moon of Jupiter is thought to harbor a liquid-water ocean more than twice the volume of all Earth’s oceans. The subsurface sea, which lies underneath a thick layer of subsurface ice, likely remains a liquid because of tidal heating, which (similar to tides on Earth) comes from the gravitational pull of Jupiter.
Other geologic activity in the moon’s rocky core could create an additional heat source for life-forms. The ice layer on Europa is more likely at least 10 to 15 miles (15 to 25 km) thick, so getting a look at those life-forms would be extremely challenging. There may be, however, isolated lakes at shallower depths.
NASA has green-lit a mission to orbit Europa and learn more about this potentially habitable world.
Saturn’s moon Titan might appear hospitable at first glance, because it is covered in rivers, lakes and oceans. Unfortunately, all of them are flowing with liquid ethane and methane, and all known life-forms need water to survive. In addition, the surface temperature on Titan is about minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 180 Celsikus) — far too cold for life as we know it.
But the active chemistry on Titan has led some scientists to hypothesize about how life could arise there. Living organisms create most of Earth’s methane supply, but it’s unclear where Tian’s methane comes from. The source could be an underground ocean, where temperatures might be warmer.
The bluish-gray surface of Enceladus looks too frigid to host life, but under its surface lies a vast ocean. Just like on Europa, it’s possible the underground ocean contains a suitable environment for life. Over 100 geysers on the moon’s surface vent material from that ocean up and away from the satellite. Analysis of the plumes by the Cassini probe revealed water, ammonia, salts and organics (molecules that contain carbon, the building block for life on Earth).
A proposed mission to Enceladus would send a probe to collect samples from those plumes and analyze them in situ.
GANYMEDE & CALLISTO
Like their siblings, Europa and Enceladus, the Jovian moons Ganymede and Callisto may have subsurface, liquid oceans. But in these cases, the underground seas would be buried under at least 60 miles (100 km) of rock.
These moons are less likely to support life than icy worlds like Enceladus, according to NASA. But the European Space Agency is planning a mission to study the buried oceans of the Jupiter system, with particular emphasis on Ganymede.
1st American in Orbit: How John Glenn (And NASA) Made History (Infographic)
By Karl Tate, SPACE.com Infographics Artist
When NASA launched astronaut John Glenn into orbit on Feb. 20, 1962, the U.S. joined the realm of orbital spaceflight and never looked back. Seven years later, the first Americans would land on the moon. See how NASA made the leap into orbital spaceflight with Glenn’s historic Friendship 7 spaceflight in the SPACE.com inforgrahic above.
On Aug. 21, 2017, people across the United States will see the sun disappear behind the moon, turning daylight into twilight, causing the temperature drop rapidly and revealing massive streamers of light streaking through the sky around the silhouette of the moon. On that day, America will fall under the path of a total solar eclipse.
The so-called Great American Total Solar Eclipse will darken skies all the way from Oregon to South Carolina, along a stretch of land about 70 miles (113 kilometers) wide. People who descend upon this “path of totality” for the big event are in for an unforgettable experience.
Here is Space.com’s complete guide to the 2017 total solar eclipse. It includes information about where and when to see it, how long it lasts, what you can expect to see, and how to plan ahead to ensure you get the most out of this incredible experience.
REMEMBER: Looking directly at the sun, even when it is partially covered by the moon, can cause serious eye damage or blindness. NEVER look at a partial solar eclipse without proper eye protection. See our complete guide to find out how to view the eclipse safely.
A total solar eclipse occurs when the disk of the moon appears to completely cover the disk of the sun in the sky. The fact that total solar eclipses occur at all is a quirk of cosmic geometry. The moon orbits an average of 239,000 miles (385,000 kilometers) from Earth — just the right distance to seem the same size in the sky as the much-larger sun. However, these heavenly bodies line up only about once every 18 months.
Outside the path of totality, skywatchers in the continental U.S. and other nearby areas will see a partial solar eclipse, in which the moon appears to take a bite out of the sun’s disk. Two to five solar eclipses occur each year on average, but total solar eclipses happen just once every 18 months or so.
What will I see during a total solar eclipse?
During a total solar eclipse, the disk of the moon blocks out the last sliver of light from the sun, and the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, becomes visible. The corona is far from an indistinct haze; skywatchers report seeing great jets and ribbons of light, twisting and curling out into the sky.
“It brings people to tears,” Rick Fienberg, a spokesperson for the American Astronomical Society (AAS), told Space.com of the experience. “It makes people’s jaw drop.”
During totality, the area inside the moon’s shadow is cloaked in twilight — a very strange feeling to experience in the middle of the day. Just before and just after totality, observers can see this cloak of darkness moving toward them across the landscape, and then moving away.
These effects are not visible during a partial solar eclipse, so skywatchers are encouraged to see if they are inside the path of totality during the total eclipse.
From what locations will the total solar eclipse be visible?
The path of totality for the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse is about 70 miles wide and stretches from Oregon to South Carolina. It passes through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
At most, the moon will completely cover the disk of the sun for 2 minutes and 40 seconds. That’s about how long totality will last for observers positioned anywhere along the center of the path of totality. As you move toward the edge of the path, the duration of totality will decrease. People standing at the very edge of the path may observe totality for only a few seconds.
The chart below lists the moment of mid-totality and the duration of totality for a handful of cities that lie close to the center of the path. Data from NASA.
Idaho Falls, ID
Jefferson City, MO
Because the shadow of the moon will move from west to east, totality will occur later in the day the farther east you travel. Use the NASA interactive eclipse map to find out exactly when totality will occur and how long it will last in the location where you plan to observe the eclipse. Just click on a spot on the map, and an informational box will appear with specific times.
Do I need any equipment to view the eclipse?
Anyone planning to view the total solar eclipse of 2017 should get a pair of solar viewing glasses. These protective shades make it possible for observers to look directly at the sun before and after totality. The following four companies sell eclipse glasses that meet the international standard (ISO 12312-2) recommended by NASA, the AAS and other scientific organizations: Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17.
Sunglasses cannot be used in place of solar viewing glasses.
REMEMBER: Looking directly at the sun, even when it is partially covered by the moon, can cause serious eye damage or blindness. NEVER look at a partial solar eclipse without proper eye protection. See our complete guide to find out how to view the eclipse safely.
During totality, when the disk of the sun is completely covered by the moon, it is safe to look up at the celestial sight with the naked eye. (See our in-depth safety guide for more details about when it is safe to view the eclipse with unaided eyes.) Binoculars are helpful for seeing more detail in the solar corona. Telescopes are not necessary, but some skywatchers may use low-powered telescopes.
Skywatchers outside the path of totality will still be able to see a partial solar eclipse. Solar viewing glasses allow skywatchers to look directly at the moon’s progress across the face of the sun. You can also view the progress of a partial solar eclipse using a pinhole camera.
What else should I know before viewing the eclipse?
Aug. 21, 2017, may be one of the worst traffic days in national history, some NASA representatives predict. Although about 12 million people live within the narrow band of totality, approximately 25 million reside within a day’s drive of it, and the agency has estimated that the population inside the path of totality may double on the day of the eclipse.
With that in mind, make sure you plan for extra travel time, especially on the day of the eclipse. Most hotel rooms inside the path of totality have been booked for months or years, so you may not be able to stay inside the path the night before.
When selecting a location where you plan to view the eclipse, keep in mind your proximity to food, water, parking and facilities. Attending an organized eclipse event is an ideal way to make sure those things are close by. Traveling even short distances could be difficult in some areas, and midday in the middle of August can mean punishing heat in many parts of the country.
When is the next time a total solar eclipse will be visible from the U.S.?
In 2024, a total solar eclipse will darken the skies above Mexico and Texas, up through the Midwest and northeastern U.S.
For more information about the total solar eclipse of 2017, check out these additional articles:
Editor’s note: If you take an amazing photo of the 2017 solar eclipse or any other celestial sight you’d like to share with us and our news partners for a possible story or image gallery, send images and comments to managing editor Tariq Malik at email@example.com.