How a Bizarre Nazi Military Machine Left a Lasting Mark on the Environment
By Megan Gannon, Live Science Contributor |
VIENNA —The Tirpitz was the Nazis’ most imposing warship and the largest battleship ever built by a European navy. It should have been an easy target for bombers, but this massive vessel could hide in plain sight.
Hitler’s navy used a toxic artificial fog to conceal the ship when it was stationed in a Norwegian fjord. And, according to new research, this ephemeral smoke left a lasting mark on some of the living witnesses ofWorld War II: the trees.
“The effects of one military engagement during World War II are still evident in the forests of Norway, 70 years later,” said Claudia Hartl, a tree-ring researcher at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. [Images: Missing Nazi Diary Resurfaces]
Hartl, who presented her findings here during the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union, didn’t set out to study “war dendrochronology.” Rather, she was taking core samples from pine trees around Kåfjord, near the northern edge of Scandinavia, to reconstruct a record of yearly temperatures for the past 2,000 years. (The trees can live for dozens or hundreds of years, and even older stumps can be found preserved in frigid lakes.)
“Trees are limited by temperature there, so if you have a cold year, trees form a narrow ring, and if you have a warm year, then you have wide ring,” Hartl explained.
At a site near the fjord, Hartl and her colleagues found trees that didn’t produce rings in 1945. This “exceptional stress response” didn’t fit with the researchers’ climate reconstructions, so they had to look for another explanation. And they learned that the Tirpitz had been stationed at Kåfjord, and was finally sunk by Allied bombs, in 1944.
Nicknamed “The Lonely Queen of the North” by Norwegians and “The Beast” by Winston Churchill, the battleship had been moored at Kåfjord to threaten Allied ships bringing supplies to the Soviet Union. Part of the Nazis’ defense was to release chlorosulfuric acid into the air, which attracts moisture and can create a smoke screen. Hartl said there is not much in historical records about the environmental impact of the fake fog. The substance is known to be corrosive, and the group of soldiers responsible for producing this smoke had to wear special protection suits.
The researchers sampled pine trees from six sites near the fjord. Trees farther away from the Tirpitz’s mooring were less affected by the fog. But at the site closest to the location of the battleship, 60 percent of the trees didn’t produce a ring in 1945, and some of the trees didn’t grow for several years after the war. Hartl’s team thinks the trees lost their needles due to the fog, which harmed their ability to photosynthesize.
War dendrochronology could join other nascent fields like “bombturbation” (the study of how bombs alter landscapes) as scientists begin to investigate the environmental impact of war.
“What I think is very interesting is the human impact on ecosystems,” Hartl told Live Science. “If you have a drought event, the trees also show a growth decline, but you can also see that these trees recover, and usually, it doesn’t take longer than five years. But in northern Scandinavia, through this Second World War impact, it took the trees 12 years to recover. That’s a really strong impact.”
This Creepy Fish Packs ‘Switchblades’ in Its Face and Could Kill You with Its Venom
By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer |
If you invite the venomous, armored stonefish to a party, know this: It’s going to bring not one, but two “switchblades” — and it can’t check them at the door, because these weapons are embedded in its skull.
Scientists recently discovered these switchblades, or “lachrymal sabers,” in a group of stonefish — rare, dangerous fish that live in the coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific.
“I don’t [know] why this hasn’t been discovered before,” study lead researcher William Leo Smith, associate curator at the Kansas University Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum, said in a statement. “It’s probably because there are just one or two people that ever worked on this group.” [Photos: The Freakiest-Looking Fish]
All of the stonefish Smith analyzed have a unique type of “switchblade” mechanism on their cheeks, just below the eyes.
“What makes this fish different in terms of the switchblade is that this bone [the lachrymal] is normally immobile, but these fishes can rotate the bone 90 degrees along the head-tail axis,” Smith, who is also a Kansas University associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, told Live Science.
In essence, the spine pokes out from the side when it’s activated, like adangerous mustache.
This rotating lachrymal saber is heavily spined, indicating that these fish use it as a weapon. When it’s not in use, the saber rests against the fish’s head, “safely pointing back and down,” Smith said.
However, when the fish goes “en garde,” it uses its cheek muscles (which are normally reserved for chewing) to pull on the upper jaw, which, in turn, rotates the spine “through a roly-poly-shaped locking mechanism,” Smith said.
Both male and female stonefish have lachrymal sabers. Depending on the individual, these spiny swords range in length from about half the width of the fish’s eye to about 2.5 times the width of the eye, Smith said. In general, large stonefish have smaller sabers, and smaller stonefish species have larger sabers, comparatively, he said.
One species (Centropogon australis) even has a saber that glows an eerie green, thanks to biofluorescence; the saber absorbs light and then re-emits it at a lower wavelength. In a dramatic light show, the rest of the fish’s head fluoresces red, the researchers wrote in the study.
The finding is 15 years in the making. It all started in 2003, when Smith was dissecting a stonefish he had kept as a pet, and he soon became the first scientist to grasp how the locking switchblade mechanism worked anatomically.
While useful, the switchblade is just one of many defenses that stonefish likely use against predators; others include spikes, camouflage and some of the most powerful venoms in the world, which could kill even an adult human, Smith said.
“Of all the fishes I’ve studied, I haven’t yet been stung by any of these stonefishes,” Smith said in the statement. “There is an aquaculture for larger ones in Indonesia. That’s mind-boggling to me. The venom breaks down in our digestive system. But people eat lots of venomous species all over the world, even in the U.S.”
If you’d asked H.R. Giger to design a ravioli, you could expect it to look something like the luminous shark egg captured in a viral GIF on Reddityesterday (April 16). At first glance, it looks like a swampy green husk; but, when lit by a flashlight from behind, the slimy pouch reveals the slithering specter of a shark embryo within. And apparently, Jaws Jr. is none too pleased about the bright light shining into its home.
First of all: Yes, sharks do lay eggs. Some of them, anyway. About 70 percent of sharks are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young; the remaining 30 percent of shark species, plus near-relatives like skates, raysand chimeras (which include the spooky “ghost shark“), are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs externally.
Each shark egg contains an embryo (baby shark) and a yolk sac (baby’s first meal), much like a chicken’s egg. Look closely in the GIF above and you can even see the umbilical cord anchoring the fluttering shark to its yolky lunchbox.
Unlike chicken eggs, shark eggs are encased in a leathery, watertight shell designed to keep baby in and predators out. That leather shield is especially important because mother sharks tend to swim away from their young after laying them, leaving their progeny to fend for themselves from the very beginning.
Given their leathery exteriors and mysterious contents, egg cases that wash up on the beach are sometimes known as “mermaid’s purses.” Some species have egg cases with long, horn-like appendages on either side, and these are sometimes called “devil’s purses.” The shape and size of the purse varies from shark to shark. California horn sharks, for example, lay swirling, corkscrew-shaped eggs, all the better to nestle into the rocky nooks where mother sharks tend to lay them.
According to several Reddit commenters, the egg in the GIF above might belong to a bamboo shark, which is a popular pick for home aquariums. It’s unclear where exactly the GIF originated, but watching (or inducing) bamboo shark hatchings appears to be a popular sub-genre of YouTube’s aquarium culture. Soak up your fill of them here.
Glowing, ‘Living’ Gloves Could Aid Crime-Scene Investigations
By Kacey Deamer, Staff Writer |
One day, glowing gloves made of a “living material” could replace the “CSI”-style black lights currently used to detect certain substances in crime-scene investigations and other scientific applications, according to a new study.
A team of researchers has bioengineered a “living material” that will light up when in contact with certain chemicals. In the new study, the researchers described the living material — a hydrogel filled with E. colibacteria cells — and its potential applications. The cells are genetically reprogrammed to light up, using fluorescence, when they come into contact with different chemicals.
So far, the researchers have injected the hydrogel into gloves and bandages, but they say the living substance could be applied to crime scene investigations, medical diagnostics, pollution monitoring and more. [Super-Intelligent Machines: 7 Robotic Futures]
“With this design, people can put different types of bacteria in these devices to indicate toxins in the environment, or disease on the skin,” study co-author Timothy Lu, an associate professor of biological engineering at MIT, said in a statement. “We’re demonstrating the potential for living materials and devices.”
Though wearable sensors are the goal, the researchers have seen the most success in testing the programmed cells within petri dishes, where the environment can be carefully controlled. Maintaining the living cells when they’re deployed in a functioning device has been a main challenge in the team’s research.
To find a host for his programmed cells, Lu teamed up with Xuanhe Zhao, an associate professor of civil, environmental and mechanical engineering at MIT. Zhao and his colleagues had studied different hydrogelformulations, and their latest iteration offered the bioengineered bacteria a stable environment. The hydrogel is about 95 percent water, it doesn’t crack when it’s stretched or pulled and it can fuse to a layer of rubber while still letting in oxygen.
One test of the cell-filled hydrogel included a bandage, or “living patch” that was programmed to respond to rhamnose, a naturally occurring sugar found in plants. The researchers also tested a glove with fingertips that glowed when they came into contact with different chemicals. In both tests, the cells remained stable in the hydrogel and appropriately glowed in response to the chemicals.
For future living materials, the team also developed a theoretical model to guide researchers in their designs.
“The model helps us to design living devices more efficiently,” Zhao said. “It tells you things like the thickness of the hydrogel layer you should use, the distance between channels, how to pattern the channels, and how much bacteria to use.”
A truck-size dinosaur that sported sharp, long claws the length of bowling pins once tore across the South American landscape, terrorizing animals it hoped to eat about 85 million years ago, a new study finds.
Hafnium is a lustrous, silvery-gray transition metal. Discovered in 1923, it was the next-to-last element with stable nuclei to be added to the periodic table (the final one wasrhenium in 1925). Hafnium is named after the Latin word for Copenhagen: Hafnia. The element has some very important commercial applications, including its use in the nuclear power industry, electronic equipment, ceramics, light bulbs and in the making of super-alloys.
Hafnium is rarely found free in nature, and instead is present in most zirconium minerals at a concentration of up to 5 percent. In fact, hafnium is so chemically similar to zirconium that separating the two elements is extremely difficult. Most commercial hafnium is produced as a byproduct of zirconium refining.
Hafnium is the 45th most abundant element on Earth, comprising about 3.3 parts per million (ppm) of the Earth’s crust by weight, according toChemicool. Hafnium is quite resistant to corrosion because of the formation of an oxide film on exposed surfaces. In fact, it is unaffected by water, air and all alkalis and acids except for hydrogen fluoride.
Hafnium carbide (HfC) has the highest melting point of any known two-element compound at nearly 7,034 degrees Fahrenheit (3,890 degrees Celsius), according to Jefferson Lab. The compound hafnium nitride (HfN) also has a high melting point, around 5,981 degrees F (3,305 degrees C). Among compounds of three elements, the mixed carbide of tungsten and hafnium has the single highest melting point of any known compound at 7,457 degrees F (4,125 degrees C), according to Chemistry World. Some other hafnium compounds include hafnium fluoride (HfF4) hafnium chloride (HfCl4) and hafnium oxide (HfO2).
Just the facts
Atomic number (number of protons in the nucleus): 72
Atomic symbol (on the periodic table of the elements): Hf
Number of isotopes (atoms of the same element with a different number of neutrons): 32 whose half-lives are known with mass numbers 154 to 185
Most common isotopes: Hf-174, Hf-176, Hf-177, Hf-178, Hf-179 and Hf-180.
Hafnium’s presence had been predicted decades before its discovery, according to Chemistry World. The element proved to be quite elusive, as it was nearly impossible to distinguish it chemically from the much more common zirconium.
Hafnium was still unknown when Russian chemist and inventor Dimitri Mendeleev developed the Periodic Law — a pre-modern version of theperiodic table of elements — in 1869. In his work, however, Mendeleev correctly predicted that there would be an element whose properties were similar to but heavier than zirconium and titanium.
In 1911, French chemist Georges Urbain, who had already discovered the rare earth element lutetium, believed he had finally discovered missing element 72 — which he proceeded to name celtium, according toChemicool. However, a few years later his discovery was shown to be a combination of already discovered lanthanides (the 15 metallic elements with atomic numbers 57 through 71 in the periodic table).
It was still unclear whether missing element 72 would be a transition metal or a rare earth metal since it fell at the boundary between these two types of elements in the table. The chemists who believed it would be a rare earth element conducted many fruitless searches among minerals containing rare earths, according to Chemistry World.
However, new evidence arising from both the field of chemistry and physics supported the idea that element 72 would be a transition element. For example, scientists knew that element 72 fell below titanium and zirconium in the periodic table and both of these were known transition elements. In addition, Danish physicist Niels Bohr, one of the founders of quantum theory, predicted that element 72 would be a transition metal based on his electronic configuration for the element, according to Chemistry World.
In 1921, Bohr encouraged Hungarian chemist Georg von Hevesy and Dutch physicist Dirk Costerto — two young researchers in his institute at the time — to search for element 72 in zirconium ore. Based on his quantum theory of atomic structure, Bohr knew that the new metal would have a similar chemical structure to zirconium, so there was a strong chance the two elements would be found in the same ores, according toChemicool.
Von Hevesy and Coster took Bohr’s advice and proceeded to study zirconium ore using X-ray spectroscopy. They used Bohr’s theory of how electrons fill shells and subshells within atoms to predict the differences between the two elements’ X-ray spectra, according to Chemical and Engineering News. This method ultimately led to the discovery of hafnium in 1923. The discovery was one of the only six then remaining gaps in the periodic table. They named the new element after Bohr’s hometown of Copenhagen (Hafniain Latin).
Hafnium is remarkably corrosion-resistant and an excellent absorber of neutrons, allowing its use in nuclear submarines and nuclear reactor control rods, a critical technology used to maintain fission reactions. Control rods keep the fission chain reaction active but also prevent it from accelerating beyond control.
Hafnium is used in electronic equipment such as cathodes and capacitors, as well as in ceramics, photography flash bulbs and light bulb filaments. It is used in vacuum tubes as a getter, a substance that combines with and removes trace gases from the tubes, according to Jefferson Lab. Hafnium is commonly alloyed with other metals such as titanium, iron, niobium and tantalum. For example, heat-resistant hafnium-nobium alloys are used in aerospace applications, such as space rocket engines.
The compound hafnium carbide has the highest melting point of any compound consisting of just two elements, allowing it to be used to line high-temperature furnaces and kilns, according to Chemicool.
Hafnium is pyrophoric (ignites spontaneously) in powder form.
English chemist Henry Moseley was the scientist who realized that Georges Urbain’s element “celtium” was not the true element located under zirconium. Unfortunately, World War I interrupted this young scientist’s important research. Moseley dutifully enlisted in the Royal Engineers of the British Army and was killed by a sniper in 1915. His death led England to establish a new policy prohibiting prominent scientists from engaging in combat.
In 1925, Dutch chemists Anton Eduard van Arkel and Jan Hendrik de Boer came up with a method for producing high-purity hafnium. To do this, the scientists decomposed hafnium tetraiodide on a hot tungsten wire resulting in a crystal bar of pure hafnium, according to Chemicool.This method is called the crystal bar process.
The nuclear isomer of hafnium has long been debated as a potential weapon. In the Hafnium Controversy, scientists debate whether the element is capable of triggering a rapid release of energy.
Although zirconium is chemically very similar to hafnium, it is unlike hafnium in that it is very poor at absorbing neutrons. Therefore zirconium is used in the outer layer of fuel rods where it is important that neutrons can travel easily.
Dating Earth’s layers with hafnium
In a recent study, an international team of researchers was able to confirm that Earth’s first crust formed around 4.5 billion years ago, thanks to their chemical analysis of hafnium in a rare meteorite. The researchers believe the meteorite originated from the asteroid Vesta, following a large impact that sent rock fragments to Earth, according to the study press release inScience Daily. According to the researchers, meteorites are pieces of the original materials that formed all planets. For the study, they measured the ratio of the isotopes hafnium-176 and hafnium-177 in the meteorite. This gave them a starting point for Earth’s composition. They compared the results with the oldest rocks on Earth, essentially confirming that a crust had already formed on the surface of the Earth around 4.5 billion years ago. Their findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
2 Pilots in Different Planes Saw the Same UFO. The FAA Can’t Explain It.
By Brandon Specktor, Senior Writer |
Two airline pilots spotted a mysterious, reflective object hovering some 40,000 feet (12,000 meters) over southern Arizona last month, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is stumped.
According to radio transmissions between the befuddled pilots and air traffic controllers (which you can listen to in full, thanks to an FAA recording recently released to the Phoenix New Times), the sighting occurred around 3:30 p.m. local time on Feb. 24, somewhere over the Sonoran Desert near Phoenix.
“Negative,” an air traffic controller at the FAA’s Albuquerque Air Traffic Center in New Mexico answered.
“OK,” the pilot responded. “Something did.”
The object, whatever it was, was flying high — at least a few thousand feet above the jet, which was cruising at an altitude of around 37,000 feet (11,000 m), the New Times reported. A few minutes later, the FAA asked another nearby flight — an American Airlines Airbus traveling in the same direction — to keep an eye out for anything “passing over” it in the desert.
The confused pilot agreed. And sure enough, within a few minutes, the Airbus crew saw the same mystery object fly over their plane.
“Yeah, something just passed over us,” the Airbus pilot reported. “I couldn’t make it out, whether it was a balloon or what … but it had a big reflection on it and it was several thousand feet above us, going the opposite direction.”
Several weeks later, authorities are still stumped as to the object’s origin. Beyond these two pilot reports, the FAA couldn’t verify that any other aircraft were around. It likely wasn’t a “Google balloon,” the FAA reported, nor a weather balloon or a military craft.
“We have a close working relationship with a number of other agencies and safely handle military aircraft and civilian aircraft of all types in that area every day, including high-altitude weather balloons,” an FAA representative told the New Times.
In other words, whatever the UFO was, the FAA should have known about it. But it didn’t.
Reports like these may be more common than you imagine. According to the National UFO Reporting Center — an online database of alleged UFO sightings in America — there have been nearly 650 UFO sightings reported so far in 2018. However, the website advises, “Many of the new reports have been submitted by individuals who elect to remain anonymous… we encourage visitors to our website to be discriminating in what they accept as accurate and reliable.”