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From the worms of Elvis to the shore of the Milky Way, these scientific stories brought joy in 2020


Everyone needed a break from 2020 and the tales of discovery provided a happy distraction from the worries of the day. Here are some reminders that we still live in a world full of wonders.

Flowers at the south pole

Antarctica was once home to a diverse rainforest. The discovery of traces of vegetation in 90 million-year-old sediments off the coast of West Antarctica shows how radically different the planet was during the dinosaur era, with conifers, ferns and blooming flowers where a layer of ice (SN) now sits. : 20/04/20).

About 90 million years ago, a diverse rainforest (shown in this artist’s reconstruction) bloomed about 1,000 miles from the South Pole.J. McKay / Alfred Wegener Institute (CC BY 4.0)

Life finds a way

Researchers continue to identify new species and catalog the amazing diversity of life on Earth. This year it was discovered that the bright “Elvis worm” of the deep sea is actually four different species (SN: 25/05/20). Other scientists have found a bonanza of 10 new species of birds and subspecies on remote Indonesian islands (SN: 1/9/20). And the first complete count of plant species in New Guinea revealed more than 13,600 species of vascular plants, most of any island on Earth (SN: 18/08/20).

Syzygium plantNew Guinea’s stunning floral variety includes this Syzygium plant, a member of the myrtle family.Yee Wen Low, R. Camera-Leret et al / Nature 2020

Rain reptiles

During a cold in South Florida, lizards began to fall from the trees, landing upwards (SN: 30/10/20). The reptiles were not injured, so cold that they could not move and lost control. Interestingly, this may be good news for the six lizard species scientists examined. The ability to withstand temperatures up to about 5.5 ° C may suggest some resistance to extreme weather caused by climate change.

iguana on a sidewalkThis iguana fell from a tree in Key Biscayne, Florida, after a cold in January. Scientists have learned that these lizards are more tolerant of the cold than previously thought.Brett Pierce

Super cold

Hot water can sometimes freeze faster than cold water, a puzzling phenomenon called the Mpemba effect. Scientists could not explain it and were not sure it was real. Now researchers have demonstrated the strange laboratory effect on refrigerating glass beads as a proxy for the more complex freezing process of water. Researchers say that under some conditions, materials may have a cooling “shortcut” that allows warmer objects to cool faster than colder ones (SN: 8/7/20).

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Map edge

Astronomers have found the edges of the Milky Way, for the first time showing its enormous extent and potentially helping to measure its weight. Our home galaxy stretches almost 2 million light-years wide, more than 15 times wider than the spiral disk of stars and planets in the Milky Way (SN: 23/3/20). Beyond that disk is a wide stretch of gas surrounded by a vast halo of invisible dark matter.

Gamma ray image of the Milky WayThe immensity of the Milky Way (shown in a gamma-ray image) seems almost immeasurable, but this year, astronomers are setting boundaries to the limits of our home galaxy.Collaboration FERMI LAT / DOE and NASA

Go fly a snake

Snakes from paradise trees can be thrown 10 feet or more through the air and now engineers have figured out how to keep them high. Once the snakes are in the air, they ripple from side to side and up and down, giving them the stability needed to glide (SN: 29/06/20).

Scientists have captured the undulating motion of snakes from the trees of paradise as they glide across the sky. A computer simulation based on high speed video shows that ripple is necessary for a stable flight.

Float our boat

Here he had the opportunity to witness the seemingly impossible: small toy boats floating along the top and bottom of a levitating liquid. Physicists caused this magic to shake a container of liquid, thus maintaining a fluid layer over a layer of air and allowing inverted flotation (SN: 9/2/20).

Physicists knew that it was possible to keep a levitated layer of liquid on an air cushion by vigorously shaking the layers up and down in a container. But new lab experiments have revealed a surprising effect of that antigravity trick. Toy boats and other objects can float along the bottom surface of a levitated liquid as well as its top.

Willingness to survive

An inspiring creature just refused to accept being eaten. The Regimbartia attenuata beetle is the first prey known to survive a journey through the entire digestive system of a frog, not only taking a walk (like fish eggs found this year to survive the digestive system of ducks) but actively escaping through the back door. (SN: 03/08/20; SN: 29/06/20).

About two hours before this video began, this pond frog (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) ate a water beetle (Regimbartia attenuata). After traversing the digestive tract, the beetle emerges from the back end of the amphibian, alive. It is the first documented example of prey actively escaping from a predator through the digestive system.

Everyone smiled

From smiles to grimaces, facial expressions can be universal in all human cultures and from ancient times to the present day. Just looking at the faces of sculptures made between 3,500 and 600 years ago, without the context of the rest of the sculpture, modern people have correctly interpreted expressions such as anger in combat representations and pain in the sculptures of tortured people (SN: 20/08/20 ).

sculpture of Mayan womanThis ancient sculpture of a radiant Mayan woman holding a child was among the works of art included in a study of universal facial expressions.PRINCETON UNIVERSITY ART MUSEUM 2003-26, GIFT FROM G.G. GRIFFIN

Meet PigeonBot

A robotic bird made with real pigeon feathers can change the shape of its wings by fanning its feathers or picking them up, making a more similar flight. Using the robot, the scientists found that a bird can rotate by bending only one “finger” on one of its wings (SN: 16/1/20).

A robotic dove that can change its wing shape like a real bird paves the way for creating more agile planes and offers a new way to study the flight of birds.

He is alive!

Shaming Rip Van Winkle, the microbes that have been buried in the sediments of the seabed for more than 100 million years have revived and multiplied. All the microbes needed were food to get them out of their dormant state (SN: 28/07/20).

bright microbes in the sediment of the seabedSeabed sediments beneath the Pacific Ocean contain still-living microbes (in this microscopy image) more than 100 million years old.JAMSTEC



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