Science Links of the Week

New Images of Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. Photo: NASA OPAL Grand Tour

A passion for the natural world drives many of our adventures. And when we’re not actually outside, we love delving into the discoveries about the places where we live and travel. Here are some of the best natural history links we’ve found this week.

Hubble telescope captures images of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune:  Every year, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope creates visual maps of the planets to show their ever-changing atmospheres and weather patterns. This year, Jupiter and Saturn are on display in “intense, crisp detail”. Images of Jupiter reveal recent storms above its equator, while color changes in Saturn’s bands indicate that it undergoes seasonal changes, like Earth. Neptune, the only planet in the solar system not visible to the naked eye, shows up as an ice-blue giant, while ultraviolet light bathes Uranus’s north polar region.

Underwater mammoth

Ancient tusk found 250km from land and 3,000m under water: In 2019, scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute were searching for new deep-sea species off the coast of California. Instead, the R.O.V pilot spotted, of all things, a tusk 3,000m below the surface. They collected a small sample of the tusk, but it took years to identify what animal it came from, and how old it was. The tusk belonged to a young female mammoth that died in the Lower Paleolithic era. After returning to collect the whole tusk and analyzing its DNA, they have discovered that the tusk has been sitting on the seafloor for well over 100,000 years. “This is an ‘Indiana Jones’ mixed with ‘Jurassic Park’ moment,” said one researcher. The creature reportedly died on land, then ocean currents carried its body to its current location, where it sank.

Silver-studded blue butterfly. Photo: Shutterstock

Butterflies find new home in abandoned coal mines: Coal mines and quarries are not known for their positive impact on the environment. But rock quarries in northern Germany have become the preferred home of Europe’s silver-studded blue butterfly. The species usually lives in meadows but these have been declining for decades. The number of butterflies in quarries is four times higher than in grasslands of the same size. Researchers think that this is due to the relatively high temperatures in these areas and the abundance of birdsfoot trefoil, the butterflies’ plant of choice for egg-laying.

Another La Niña

La Niña has begun: A La Niña event is occurring for the second consecutive year. Last year in Australia, it caused “once in a century” rains that deluged parts of the country. Although this year’s event is likely to be weaker, it increases the chances of flooding and cyclones in Australia, as well as storms in the U.S. and Canada and heavy rain across Northern Europe. La Niña, the cooler phase of the El Niño, occurs when winds blow away warm surface water in the Pacific Ocean off South America and colder water comes to the surface.

Albatrosses. Photo: Shutterstock

Albatrosses divorce more often when ocean waters warm: Albatrosses are famous for mating for life. On average, just four percent of the birds change partners each year. New research from the Falkland Islands shows that in years when the water temperature has increased, this divorce rate increases to eight percent. The warmer water leads to fewer nutrients and the birds stay out at sea longer. This delays their return to the colony and can mean that they arrive at different times than their usual partner does.

E=Mc2=$13 million

Einstein’s notes on the theory of relativity sell for $13 million: Albert Einstein’s handwritten notes on relativity sold for $13 million at an auction in Paris. The 54-page manuscript contains the initial work that led to his most famous achievement. Christie’s called the notes “without a doubt, the most valuable Einstein manuscript ever to come to auction.” Einstein and Michele Besso, his colleague and friend, wrote it from 1913-1914. In the document, they discuss the theory of relativity and the orbit of Mercury.

The star octopus. Photo: Mark Norman/Amor & Hart, doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.5061.1.7.

New species of octopus discovered: Marine biologists have discovered a new species of octopus. The medium-sized star octopus, with a body length of about 11 to 18cm, lives along the southwest coast of Australia. The newly discovered octopus is a close relative of the common Sydney octopus, but its form and genetics are different.

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About the Author

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca is a freelance writer and science teacher based in the UK.

She is a keen traveler and has been lucky enough to backpack her way around parts of Africa, South America, and Asia. With a background in marine biology, she is interested in everything to do with the oceans.

Her areas of expertise include open water sports, marine wildlife and adventure travel.

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