Comet 67P/Churyumov Gerasimenko, imaged by the Rosetta spacecraft in August 2014. Rosetta is the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, it has been traveling for more than 10 years to reach 67P, which is currently between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Later this year Rosetta will deploy a lander named Philae to the surface of the comet to determine its composition. Observations of 67P will continue through its closest approach to the Sun in August 2015, revealing the changes that occur as the temperature of the comet increases.
Meet Anoxycalyx joubini, an Antarctic volcano sponge (it’s the one not wearing a wetsuit). It’s estimated that some slow-growing specimens may be up to 15,000 years old, making them the oldest living animals on Earth. Most live in such deep, frigid waters that they will never be seen face-to-face by human divers, whose entire known history has occurred in less than one spongy lifetime.
Don’t trust your ears, because this bird’s a lyre.
An Australian lyrebird to be precise, one of nature’s most unbelievable vocal mimics. In the above video, narrated by David Attenborough, a lyrebird mimics a vast array of human sounds, including a camera shutter and a chainsaw. Here’s another lyrebird from the Adelaide zoo mimicking construction sounds. Although this sort of mechano-mimicry is very rare in the wild, it showcases the incredible ability of this bird (and others) to learn and recreate sounds.
This aptly nicknamed “superb lyrebird” has perhaps the most complex syrinx (the birdy version of vocal cords) of any songbird. When males are wooing females during the mating season, they use their mimicry of other bird calls (and occasionally power tools) as a means of vocal competition. If you added a balcony to the mix, it’s almost like something from a romantic Shakespeare scene. But I doth anthropomorphize too much…
One notable example: In 1969, an Australian park ranger recorded a lyrebird singing a rather flute-like tune. He sent that recording to songbird researcher Norman Robinson. Here he is in a radio interview with Australian Broadcasting Corp. sharing some lyrebird flute mimicry:
From the park ranger’s original recordings, Robinson was able to pick out two separate popular songs from the 1930’s, “Keel’s Row” and “The Mosquito Dance.” Turns out that decades earlier, a flute-playing farmer had taken that lyrebird as a pet, and the bird “downloaded” the tunes of its human companion into its neural songbook.
Decades after it was released to the wild, that lyrebird sang lost pop songs, a feathered minstrel of the forest. Sure, it didn’t know what it was mimicking, but I’d say it’s a case of culture… for the birds.
Growing up to 3m (10 ft) in length the Alligator gar is the largest species of gar and one of the largest freshwater fish in North America. The primitive fish is able to withstand low oxygen conditions as it is able to breath atmospheric air using a modified swim bladder.
The fish is an ambush predator, lying still in the water as if it were a floating log. Unsuspecting prey, which consists of other fish, small mammals and birds, unknowingly approach the gar. When in striking range, the gar lunges forward, penetrating its prey with its double row of sharp teeth.
The alligator gar has been historically classified as a nuisance, and was indiscriminately hunted in much of its range. As a result, much of its range and population sizes have been reduced. Nowadays, there are projects to help monitor these fish and help protect them against further endangerment.
A recently discovered ‘mega-Earth’, Kepler-10c, is the most massive rocky planet ever discovered and its surface may be cool enough for life.
“A giant rocky planet roughly twice the size of Earth and with nearly 20 times as much mass has been spotted in orbit around a faraway star. The planet is the first to be classed as a “mega-Earth” – an alien world that dwarfs the other rocky planets known to exist outside the solar system.” - Guardian
This reminded me of an article I read a while ago about how intelligent life on large or dense planets such as these would be severely restricted from entering space by the intense gravity of their homeworld. The escape velocity required would need propulsion technology far more advanced than we have used to enter and escape Earth orbit.
Scientists may have gotten closer to figuring out the source of Saturn’s polar aurora. Like our own aurorae, Saturn’s arise from charged particles hurled along the disturbed magnetic field lines around the planet, interacting with the gases in the planet’s atmosphere and giving off light via atomic excitation. New research, which you can read more about at io9, may have unlocked just how those magnetic fields are disrupted.
Whereas our own Northern and Southern Lights (aurora borealis and australis, respectively), shine green and red, here Saturn’s pulse brightly in the ultraviolet range.