Researchers working near the Mariana Trench have captured footage of a jellyfish that boggles the imagination.
Earlier this week, researchers working on the NOAA’s ship Okeanos Explorerdispatched their remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer to the Enigma Seamount, a ridge located just west of the Mariana Trench. At a depth of 2.3 miles (3.7 km), it managed to capture video of this rather remarkable jellyfish.
Marine biologists have identified it as a hydromedusa, belonging to the genusCrossota.
These jellies are usually quite small, either transparent or lightly pigmented, and featuring deeply colored internal features in the “bell,” or head. These sea critters typically live for a few days, and never grow more than a few millimeters in size, though some have been known to grow a few centimeters across and live for months.
This particular specimen features two sets of tentacles, one short and one long. Towards the start of the video you can see that its long tentacles are even and extended outward, while the bell is motionless. This likely means the jellyfish is in ambush predation mode. Within the bell, the radial canals in red are connecting points for what looks like the gonads in bright yellow.
The Okeanos Explorer is currently making the rounds near the Marianas Trench, and the marine biologists on board are finding all sorts of amazing things, from fields of small sedimented balls through to slimy deep-sea acorn worms. You can track the ship’s progress here, and even watch a live-feed of the exploration here.
A first-of-its-kind space rock filled with pristine material from the formation of the Earth itself has returned to the inner solar system, after billions of years in the cosmic boondocks. And it could help us piece together our planet’s origin story.
Four and a half billion years ago, chunks of the same material that formed Earth and the other rocky planets are thought to have been flung into the Oort cloud, a ring of icy debris encircling the outermost edge of the solar system. Untouched, they’ve been preserved for eons in the deep freeze of space. Now, astronomers have spotted one of these fossils nearby, marking the very first observation of a rocky object from the Oort cloud.
“This is super exciting, because it could be a piece of what formed the Earth” Olivier Hainaut—an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory and co-author on the new Science Advancesstudy describing the discovery—told Gizmodo.
The object, dubbed PANSTARRS, was spotted in 2014 by Pan-STARRS1, a Hawaiian telescope used to identify rogue comets and asteroids in our planet’s backyard. The telescope routinely surveys the entire sky and turns up thousands of uninteresting hunks of debris. But as soon as PANSTARRS’ orbit had been calculated, Hainaut and his colleagues realized they had found something exceptional.
The shape of the orbit was indicative of a long period comet—an icy body that fell into the inner solar system from the Oort cloud. But as comets from the Oort cloud hurl toward the Sun, they release a long tail of sublimating ice and dust. This one didn’t.
Curious, the astronomers decided to take a closer look using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. And things got even stranger. By studying the faint light reflected off PANSTARRS, Hainaut and his colleagues learned that it is not filled with ice at all, but with rocky material. In terms of composition, it’s a classic S-type asteroid, similar to those found main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
“If you’d shown me the spectrum, I would have just said this is another stupid asteroid,” Hainaut said. “If you showed me the orbit, I’d say yea, it’s a standard long-period comet. But you don’t at all expect to find a rocky asteroid on an Oort cloud orbit. That’s wrong.”
One possible explanation is that an asteroid was flung into the Oort cloud somewhat recently, before falling back toward the inner solar system. But it soon became apparent that this wasn’t the case. “When we observed it very carefully, its spectrum showed that the rocks hadn’t been baked by the Sun,” Hainaut explained. “They’re primordial.”
Eventually, the astronomers concluded that PANSTARRS was formed in the inner solar system long ago, before being ejected into the Oort cloud as the rocky planets themselves were coalescing. That makes it a potential building block of Earth, Venus, Mercury, or Mars.
“This one is the first uncooked asteroid we have found: it has been preserved in the best freezer there is,” lead study author Karen Meech of the University of Hawaii said in a statement.
Now that PANSTARRS has caught our attention, astronomers are hoping to find more objects like it. There are several competing theories about how the solar system formed, and they predict different ratios of icy to rocky objects in the Oort cloud. “Depending on how the planets migrated, the number of rocky planetesimals in the Oort cloud will change dramatically,” Hainaut said. “Just by counting these objects up and doing statistics, we can say which theories are completely wrong and which ones survive.”
PANSTARRS has already made its closest approach to the Sun, and it’s now on its way back to the outer solar system. But if we get lucky, one of its cousins may whiz even closer to Earth, allowing astronomers to get a detailed look at its composition. This could lend insight into the exact conditions under which our planet was formed. Our history is flying around out there, and if we’re patient enough, we’ll find it.
The Cassini mission is sending us better and better data and images of just what’s happening on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan. And it’s beginning to look awfully familiar…
The latest data NASA researchers have been pouring over shows new details about the strange lakes and seas that trickle across Saturn’s frigid moon, Titan. It also draws comparisons between the only other interstellar body found to have similarly liquid lakes and seas on its surface—our very own Earth. Unlike our watery planet, though, Titan’s lakes and seas are made up of pure liquid methane.
But how do the seas stay filled up with all that methane? One potential new explanation takes the liquid cycle we see here on Earth, tweaks it slightly to account for Titan’s own conditions, and comes up with something pretty familiar: Rain.
Of course, instead of being made up of liquid water, that rain is also made up of pure liquid methane. Still, it is rain which, as it falls, fills up the lakes. These lakes then create Titan’s shorelines, which look very like our own as you can see in this flyover visualization:
Researchers even suspect the weather along those Titan shorelines behaves a lot like the shores along our own seas, with temperatures along them influenced by the temperature in the lake.
But although the liquid cycle coupled with Titan’s nitrogen-heavy atmosphere may look a lot like Earth, there’s plenty of differences to separate them. For instance: Titan’s almost total lack of oxygen, the freezing temperatures, and the pesky fact that its liquid methane filling up those seas instead of water. Still, it’s quite a familiar sight to see in some incredibly strange terrain.
For six years, an underground garbage fire has been steadily burning outside of Saint Louis, Missouri, right next to a landfill filled with nuclear waste buried in the mid-70s. So why hasn’t anyone managed to extinguish it yet?
The AP reports that the EPA handed down a series of measures designed to stem the fire, including temperature monitors, cooling loops, and a giant smothering tarp. Those new measures aren’t being instituted because the fire has spread closer to the nearby waste site, officials said. Rather, the measures are merely to make sure it doesn’t.
But what’s going on with this fire, and why isn’t it just being put out? The problem is that no one seems to have a plan for how to extinguish it. In fact, nobody even knows what’s causing the fire.
The state of Missouri sued the burning landfill owners, Republic Services, three years ago, but the case is stuck in court. Even the EPA’s newest measures still wouldn’t actually put out the fire. They would merely keep it from spreading. What happens if the fire does spread, despite the efforts?
Since no one seems to have had any luck in figuring out how to put out the fire yet, the idea of just digging up and moving the waste has also been floated. The EPA’s decision about whether it will actually do that, however, isn’t set to come down for another year. So for now, the fire continues to burn.
When a pigeon flies, you can hear it sloppily slap its wings as it makes its way through the air. When a peregrine falcon flies, the flight is powerful and beautiful but you can still hear the movement. When a barn owl flies? Complete silence. It’s amazing to see. BBC Earth set up microphones along the flight path of the birds to let us hear the difference.
It’s because the barn owl has such giant wings attached to such a small body. That allows it to gently flap its wing to glide along. A pigeon’s wing is much smaller so it needs to furiously flap its wings to fly while a falcon’s large wings are used powerfully to generate speed in order to catch prey.
After a full month spinning out of control in space, Japan’s Space Agency has finally figured out how it lost control of Hitomi, a very expensive satellite that was hunting for black holes. This also means the agency will never get it back.
JAXA announced today that it has exhausted all efforts at getting Hitomi back and will leave the $273 million satellite—which it had previously described as key to unlocking the mysteries of the universe—to drift off into space. Although the agency will never get Hitomi back, it does, at long last, have an explanation for just what it was that caused the problems for the highly-anticipated satellite almost immediately after it was launched. The source of the trouble was Hitomi’s solar array panels, which broke off and sent the satellite spiraling out of control. More on that in a second.
Hitomi had barely clocked a month in space before signs that something had gone wrong emerged. First, debris was spotted around the satellite. Then, attempts at contacting Hitomi were met with an eerie silence. Soon enough, JAXA researchers spotted the satellite spinning wildly out of control. Even then, the agency believed it might find a way to get the black hole-monitoring satellite back on track.
When the satellite re-emerged and sent some strange, terse messages back to JAXA, the researchers hoped it was a sign that the damage was relatively minor. Short and cryptic as they were, the mere fact that Hitomi had sent messages gave researchers hope that it could still be recovered.
Now, JAXA has not only given up hope of ever retrieving the lost satellite, but it also doubts whether it actually received any messages from the crippled Hitomi at all. Researchers inspected the messages much more closely and have noticed something odd. All the messages seemed to come from slightly different frequencies. While the agency had initially blamed damage for the nonsensical dispatches, it now looks like the real reason is that the “messages” were never from Hitomi at all. They were probably just the result of intercepted radio interference.
On the bright side, JAXA thinks it finally knows what smashed Hitomi off course. It wasn’t a collision with debris or a malfunctioning thruster, as had been speculated. Instead, Hitomi’s solar array panels caused the trouble. The panels on both sides broke away at their bases (potentially explaining some of that debris that was spotted around the satellite immediately after it began having problems). Not only did this leave Hitomi rotating erratically, it also killed one of its primary power sources, making the possibility of getting it back on track all the more difficult.
Of course, exactly how and why those panels broke off still remains a mystery. Now that it has given up all hope of ever retrieving the satellite, JAXA says it is going to focus on solving that mystery, so that the next one doesn’t drift away from us, spinning alone into space.
File this under definitely not good: global warming is depleting the oceans of oxygen. You know, that little molecule that we, along with all other complex life forms, require in order to breathe and therefore live.
The reason is simple. According to basic thermodynamics, cold water can hold more dissolved gases than warm water. As our ever-warming atmosphere heats the surface of the ocean, the oxygen content starts to fall. Also, as water warms, it expands and gets lighter. This makes it less likely to sink, which in turn reduces the transport of oxygen from the atmosphere into the deep ocean.
All of this is well-established science. It’s also understood that the oxygen content of the ocean varies all the time due to changes in weather, seasons, latitude, and longer-term climate patterns like El Niño. But a study published this week in Global Biogeochemical Cycles is the first to show that the oxygen content of the world’s oceans is now falling thanks to climate change.
“For a lot of the tropics, this decline is actually starting now,” Matthew Long, an oceanographer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and lead author on the study told Gizmodo.
Long used supercomputer simulations to model ocean oxygen concentrations from 1920 to 2100, and to tease out natural variability from a global warming signal. As he pointed out, that signal is already visible in the southern Indian Ocean and the eastern tropical Pacific. By the 2040s, Long’s models predict that evidence for ocean deoxygenation will be widespread.
The fall in oxygen concentrations may be small—in some cases, it amounts to just a few percent. But for many organisms including humans, a little deoxygenation is the difference between enjoying life and being dizzy, lethargic, or dead. And remember, we’ve already seen how this can play out in the oceans—just look at the 6,500 square-mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by algae blooms that aggressively choke out sunlight and and oxygen.
The entire ocean isn’t going to choke. But if Long’s models are even close to correct, we will start seeing more low oxygen (hypoxic) waters, and more dead zones, reducing the amount of habitat for animals that are already feeling the stresses of global warming, pollution, and ocean acidification.
“I think it’s a major concern that ocean ecosystems will become more fragmented, that there will increasing be barriers to dispersal, and that certain areas will become uninhabitable,” Long said.
And if a bunch of fish out of water sounds like something that’s not your problem, consider this: about half of the oxygen we breath comes from tiny marine organisms called phytoplankton. As Slate’s Phil Plait puts it, “messing with their habitat is like setting fire to your own house. Which is pretty much what we’re doing.”
Here’s hoping Elon Musk comes through on that promise to get us to Mars soon.