In Photos: Spooky Deep-Sea Creatures

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In Photos: Spooky Deep-Sea Creatures

Cause of Crohn’s Disease: Gut Fungus Now Suspected

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Cause of Crohn’s Disease: Gut Fungus Now Suspected

The small intestine is about as big around as a middle finger, but it is about 22 feet (6.7 meters) long.

Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki | Shutterstock

People with the inflammatory condition Crohn’s disease may have a higher level of a certain fungus in their gut, a new study finds.

Scientists have known that gut bacteria may contribute to the development of Crohn’s, but the new study finds that this fungus may also play a role in the condition.

The findings could lead to new treatments for people with the disease, who may have such symptoms as severe abdominal pain, weight loss, fatigue and diarrhea. [5 Things Your Poop Says About Your Health]

“We already know that bacteria, in addition to genetic and dietary factors, play a major role in causing Crohn’s disease,” study co-author Mahmoud A. Ghannoum, director of the Center for Medical Mycology at Case Western Reserve, said in a statement. Previous research has shown that people with Crohn’s have an abnormal response to certain bacteria that live in the gut, he said. “While most researchers focus their investigations on these bacteria, few have examined the role of fungi, which are also present in everyone’s intestines,” Ghannoum added.

In the study, the researchers analyzed the microorganisms found in fecal samples from 20 people with Crohn’s, 28 of their relatives without the disease, and 21 people without Crohn’s who were not related to the 20 people with Crohn’s or their relatives. All of the participants were residents of Belgium or northern France.

The researchers found that the people with Crohn’s disease had significantly higher levels of two types of bacteria, called Escherichia coliand Serratia marcescens, and one fungus, called Candida tropicalis, compared with their healthy relatives and the other people in the study who did not have the disease, according to the study, published Sept. 20 in the journal mBio.

Although previous research in mice has suggested that this fungus may be involved in Crohn’s, this is the first time it has been linked to the condition in people, the researchers said.

Moreover, when the researchers examined these bacteria and fungus, they found that the three microorganisms worked together to form a so-called biofilm — a thin, sticky layer of microorganisms — that attaches itself to a portion of the gut. This biofilm could trigger the inflammation that causes the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, the researchers said. [5 Ways Gut Bacteria Affect Your Health]

The new study “moves the field forward,” said Dr. Arun Swaminath, director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not involved in the study. “The really neat thing they have done is to show how [these microorganisms] actually interact together,” to form the biofilm, he said.

However, the study was conducted in a small group of patients in France and Belgium, and more research is needed to see if these findings would apply to patients in other countries, Swaminath said.

Originally published on Live Science.

World’s Deepest Underwater Cave Discovered

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World’s Deepest Underwater Cave Discovered
Polish diver Krzysztof Starnawski began diving in Hranicka Propast, now determined to be the deepest underwater cave in the world, 20 years ago.

Credit: Photograph by Marcin Jamkowski/National Geographic

Man and robot teamed up to discover the world’s deepest underwater cave in the Czech Republic.

The cave, called Hranická Propast, reaches a dizzying depth of 1,325 feet (404 meters). It is about 39 feet (12 m) deeper than what is now the world’s second-deepest cave, Italy’s Pozzo del Merro.

Polish diver Krzysztof Starnawski first explored Hranická Propast in 1999. The type of limestone formation he found led him to believe that the cavecould extend a greater distance than his dives had taken him. So Starnawski led a Czech-Polish expedition to explore the cave, supported in part by a National Geographic grant, which included numerous dives over the past two years to collect more data. The limestone abyss was recently measured with the assistance of a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV), and determined to be the world’s deepest.

During a 2014 dive, Starnawski reached 656 feet (200 m) deep, which he believed to be the bottom of the underwater cave. However, he found a narrow opening that led to another vertical tunnel extending beyond the probe Starnawski was using to measure the cave’s depth — the line ran out at 1,260 feet (384 m), just shy of Pozzo del Merro, which measures 1,286 feet (392 m) deep. [Amazing Caves: Pictures of the Earth’s Innards]

“He is a deep-cave diver, so he was keen to explore the deepest parts of the system,” Marcin Jamkowski, a member of the expedition team and an adventure filmmaker, told Live Science.

With the assistance of an ROV, the expedition team was able to measure the cave's depth and explore the bottom of the limestone abyss.

With the assistance of an ROV, the expedition team was able to measure the cave’s depth and explore the bottom of the limestone abyss.

Credit: Photograph by Marcin Jamkowski/National Geographic

Returning to the cave last year, Starnawski found the narrow passage had widened and he was able to squeeze through to a depth of 869 feet (265 m). He released another probe, this time hitting “bottom” at 1,214 feet (370 m), which was likely the top of debris from the collapsed passage.

A dive on Tuesday (Sept. 27) finally determined the cave’s actual, record-breaking depth. The expedition team used ROV technology to reach the base of the cave, because depths past 400 meters are beyond the limits of scuba diving, Jamkowski said.

“There had been some dives done by the oil industry to such depths (so-called “saturation diving”), but they last approximately a month, surface to surface,” Jamkowski wrote in an email. “This can never be done in the cave like this one, so the obvious choice was to send the robot where the man can’t go.”

Once the team explored the cave’s depths, they found fallen trees, logs and branches at the bottom, suggesting the cave had changed its shape, according to Jamkowski. The configuration of the current shaft would not accommodate natural debris to fall from the cave’s entrance, he said.

They also found the cave to be surprisingly large, as it appears to follow a natural rock feature or a fault line “eaten by the hot water going from the deep spring,” Jamkowski said. The team plans further exploration and research into the cave.

Original article on Live Science.

Massive Earthquake Along the San Andreas Fault Is Disturbingly Imminent

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Massive Earthquake Along the San Andreas Fault Is Disturbingly Imminent

Friday 12:50pm
The USGS estimates a 1 in 100 chance of the San Andreas Fault rupturing between now and October 4. (Image:

A series of quakes under the Salton Sea may be a signal that the San Andreas Fault is on the verge of buckling. For the next few days, the risk of a major earthquake along the fault is as high as 1 in 100. Which, holy crap.

The United States Geological Survey has been tracking a series of earthquakes near Bombay Beach, California. This “earthquake swarm” is happening under the Salton Sea, and over 140 events have been recorded since Monday September 26. The quakes range from 1.4 to 4.3 in magnitude, and are occurring at depths between 2.5 to 5.5 miles (4 to 9 km).

Quakes recorded under the Salton Sea on September 27, 2016. (Image: USGS)

For seismologists, these quakes could represent some seriously bad news. The swarm is located near a set of cross-faults that are connected to the southernmost end of the San Andreas Fault. Troublingly, some of these cross-faults could be adding stress to the San Andreas Fault when they shift and grind deep underground. Given this region’s history of major earthquakes, it’s got some people a bit nervous.

Calculations show that from now until October 4, the chance of a magnitude 7 or greater earthquake happening along the Southern San Andreas Fault is as high as 1 in 100, and as low as 1 in 3,000. On the plus side, the likelihood of it happening decreases with each passing day. These estimates are based on models developed to assess the probabilities of earthquakes and aftershocks in California.

“Swarm-like activity in this region has occurred in the past, so this week’s activity, in and of itself, is not necessarily cause for alarm,” cautions the USGS.

That being said, this is only the third swarm that has been recorded in this area since sensors were installed in 1932, and it’s much worse than the ones recorded in 2001 and 2009. This particular stretch of the San Andreas Fault hasn’t ruptured since 1680, and given that big quakes in this area happen about once every 150 to 200 years, this fault line is considerably overdue.

A big fear is that the rupturing of the southern portion of the San Andreas fault could cause a domino effect along the entire stretch, cracking the fault from Imperial County through to Los Angeles County. Another possibility is that the Salton Sea swarm could cause the nearby San Jacinto fault system to rupture, which would in turn trigger the collapse of the San Andreas Fault.

Should the Big One hit, it won’t be pretty. Models predict a quake across the southern half of California with a magnitude around 7.8. Such a quake would cause an estimated 1,800 deaths, 50,000 injuries, and over $200 billion in damage.

But as the USGS researchers point out, this is far from an inevitability. The swarm under the Salton Sea may subside, or fail to influence the gigantic fault nearby. Moreover, the estimates provided by the scientists are exactly that—estimates. The science of earthquake prediction is still very much in its infancy, and these models are very likely crunching away with insufficient data. No need to panic just yet.

Update 10/01/2016 1:35pm – The USGS has updated its estimates, and thankfully, an earthquake seems slightly less like. The agency’s updated statement reads:

Preliminary calculations indicate that, as of 12:00 pm (PDT) on Sept. 30, 2016, there is 0.006% to 0.2% chance (less than 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 500) of a magnitude 7 or greater earthquake being triggered on the Southern San Andreas Fault within the next seven days through October 7, with the likelihood decreasing over time.

[USGS, LA Times]

George is a contributing editor at Gizmodo and io9.

Fun Photo Series Puts the Size of Random Huge Objects in Perspective

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Fun Photo Series Puts the Size of Random Huge Objects in Perspective

Friday 1:15pm

This wonderful photo series comparing the size of things by Kevin Wisbith is a really fun way to earn some brain wrinkles, because it gives you a better sense of the true size of random buildings, ships, machines, and other objects. You get to see things like the Death Star hover over Florida in space, a B-2 bomber stretch across the width of an entire football field, and the Titanic lay out on top of a freaking aircraft carrier.

It’s totally weird to see things in places where they’re not supposed to be but also pretty interesting since you get a better perspective on their scale. You can see more comparison that Wisbith makes, like the largest radio telescope on The Strip in Las Vegas and a NASA M1 rocket motor compared to a car,here.

Here’s the Willis Tower (née Sears Tower) inside the Mir Mine in Russia. The Willis Tower is 1729 feet tall and the mine is 1722 feet deep.

The B-2 Bomber looks ginormous on a football field because its wingspan is 12 feet wider than the width of the field.

Wisbith writes, “If the Titanic was placed on the deck of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan the ship would have 210 feet of deck room left.”

Imagine the world’s largest oil tank inside the lake in Central Park. This is what it would look like.

Burj Khalifa clowns on New York City skyscrapers.

The prehistoric Pulmonoscorpius kirktonensis scorpion was the size of cats. That ain’t right.

Another One of Saturn’s Moons May Have a Global Ocean

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 Another One of Saturn’s Moons May Have a Global Ocean

Friday 1:10pm
A parting view of Saturn’s moon Dione from Cassini’s final flyby on April 17th, 2015. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The evidence is mounting that our solar system is rife with oceans. Last week, scientists reported that Pluto could have an insanely deep liquid water swimming pool beneath its surface, and on Monday, NASA revealed new evidence for geyser activity on icy Europa. Now, another frozen moon is poised to join the club of outer space scuba retreats: Dione.

The fourth largest moon of Saturn, Dione was first imaged by the Voyager space probes in the 1980s, and has been viewed more recently by the Cassini spacecraft, during a series of five close flybys. It’s a beautiful, cratered ball of ice and rock, home to deep canyons and towering cliffs. While early flybys offered hints of geologic activity, there’s never been a smoking gun to prove Dione is alive inside—particularly when compared with its next-door neighbor (and orbital resonance partner) Enceladus, which is spewing seawater out of enormous geysers.

Dione against a backdrop of Saturn’s rings. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

But a new study, which has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, suggests we may have underestimated Dione. The moon could have a liquid water ocean beneath its surface, just like Enceladus. Using a geophysical model that depicts a crust ‘floating’ atop a mantle, Mikael Beuthe of the Royal Observatory of Belgium shows that gravity data collected by Cassini can be explained by a ~100 kilometer (62 mile)-thick shell of ice enveloping a 65 kilometer (40 mile)-deep ocean. Dione’s ocean, in turn, would smother a rocky core.

The first evidence for a subsurface ocean on Enceladus also came from gravity anomalies detected by Cassini, in a series of flybys between 2010 and 2012. As the spacecraft zipped past the moon, its velocity was slightly altered due to variations in Enceladus’ gravitational field. That change in velocity was measured from Earth via the Doppler effect—a shift in the radio frequency of Cassini’s transmissions.

In 2014, researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory concluded that Cassini’s radio transmissions were hinting at a south polar sea beneath Enceladus’ icy shell. But a year later, independent measurements of Enceladus’ “libration”—a slight wobble as it orbits Saturn—revealed that the ocean is probably global.

“For Dione, we did a similar gravity-topography analysis as was done for Enceladus in 2014, but with improved techniques,” Beuthe told Gizmodo. “Thus that’s the best evidence we have now for a present-day ocean on Dione.”

Color map of Dione’s surface, showing ice cliffs and patches of smooth terrain that indicate recent geologic resurfacing. Image: Wikimedia

According to Beuthe, we won’t be able to confirm Dione’s ocean with libration measurements the way we did for Enceladus, both because Dione is more spherical and because its crust is thicker. But there are other reasons to suspect this moon’s ocean is the real deal.

For one, gravity data also tells us Dione has a rocky core, spanning approximately 70 percent of its total radius. As radioactive elements decay within the core, they produce heat, melting the overlying ice. This almost certainly caused a subsurface ocean to form in Dione’s early history—which, by the way, might not have been too long ago.

“We don’t yet know whether the ocean froze or not afterwards,” Beuthe said. “But freezing would cause global expansion which should be seen in a certain type of cracks [which have] not been observed on the surface.”

Icy cliffs and smooth terrains also hint at recent geologic activity, which again, is difficult to explain if Dione is simply a ball of ice frozen to rock. Detection of geysers, similar to those seen on Enceladus and Europa, would really seal the deal for an ocean on Dione. But we haven’t seen geysers yet, and given the estimated thickness of Dione’s crust, Beuthe isn’t so sure we will.

To confirm the ocean, he says, “we need a new mission, which won’t happen for a long time.”

If Beuthe’s hunch about Dione is correct, the astrobiology implications are thrilling. It’s likely the ocean would have been around for the moon’s entire existence, long enough for microbial life to emerge under the right conditions. Another mind boggling thought: perhaps Dione and Enceladus have been exchanging alien microbes for hundreds of millions of years.

If one thing is becoming clear, it’s that oceans are not so unusual or special in our cosmic backyard. Does that mean life isn’t, either? We’ll need to keep exploring to find out.

Maddie is a staff writer at Gizmodo

Saturn’s Moon Enceladus is Covered in a Global Ocean

9/15/15 11:34pm

Scientists have long suspected that Enceladus, one of Saturn’s tiny moons, might be harboring a subsurface ocean. But new data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft paints a more interesting picture: an ocean is covering the entire thing.

Researchers noticed a slight wobble in Enceladus’s orbit around Saturn, and there’s only one real explanation: the icy crust on the surface and the rocky core within aren’t frozen together. In other words, there must be a body of liquid separating the core and the crust; specifically, a giant undersea ocean.

To calculate the wobble in orbit, researchers examined seven years of images, mapping the positions of features like craters, and using that to build up a picture of the moon’s orbit.

“If the surface and core were rigidly connected, the core would provide so much dead weight the wobble would be far smaller than we observe it to be,” according to Matthew Tiscareno, a Cassini participating scientist at the SETI Institute.

The discovery of an undersea ocean is obviously a big deal — Enceladus’s core contains silicates, things like phosphorus and sulphur that are vital for life. Combine that with a liquid ocean, and it’s an excellent place to look for living things.