Science Links of the Week

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.

Nemo’s Garden takes terrestrial farming to new depths: Nemo’s Garden looks more like a science fiction film set than a research project. Created by the Ocean Reef Group, it is the first underwater cultivation of land plants. Located in the sea off the Italian Riviera, the underwater farm consists of six large domes. They each hold 2,000 litres of air and sit between five and 10 metres below the surface.

The garden uses hydroponics, so soil is not required. Sunlight combines with cool seawater to create plant-friendly humidity and warmth. The idea is to create an alternative farming system for coastal areas with poor plant growth.

Russia’s war hinders space research: A number of space missions face postponement or cancellation because of Russia’s war on Ukraine. Sanctions on Russia include a halt to space collaborations. Previously, the European Space Agency and Russian space agency worked together on the ExoMars mission, including a planned rover launch in 2022.

Germany and Russia also jointly run the eROSITA telescope, which maps the large-scale structure of the universe. Germany refuses to continue the partnership, and the telescope is now in safe mode.

Oddly shaped rocks on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity Rover finds coral-like rocks on Mars:  Curiosity landed on Mars back in 2012. Since then, it has documented the Red Planet’s Gale Crater. It takes in rock, soil, and air samples for onboard analysis and also photographs the crater. A new image, taken on February 24, shows flower-like rocks resembling coral. These were made in the ancient past when the minerals carried by water cemented the rock. “Such features are helping us understand more about the prolonged history of liquid water in the Gale Crater,” said scientists on the team.

Coral-like objects found on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech / MSSS.


Three species of  T. rex?

Tyrannosaurus remains hint at three possible distinct species: Scientists have studied the skeletons of 37 Tyrannosaurus specimens. They looked closely at differences between the femurs and incisor teeth. Currently, the Tyrannosaurus rex is the only known species of Tyrannosaurus, but researchers believe that there may be at least three distinct species.

Some of the dinosaurs had robust femurs, while others were more gracile. The dental structure also varied. Those with lighter femurs also tended to have just one incisor tooth. The different characteristics depended on the location of the specimens. Those with robust femurs were in lower levels of sediment.

As a result, scientists have proposed two new species of Tyrannosaurus. The first is Tyrannosaurus impertor — those found lower down, with robust femurs and two incisors. The second is Tyrannosaurus regina, found higher in the sediment layers, sediment with gracile femurs and one incisor. The original Tyrannosaurus rex would be the ones found in the more recent sediment layers but which kept their robust femurs.

First global treaty on plastic pollution: Plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats to the world’s oceans. Now, 175 countries have agreed to start working on an international agreement to tackle the crisis. Many consider this the world’s most ambitious environmental plan since the 1989 Montreal Protocol, which phased out the use of ozone-depleting substances. World leaders have until 2024 to agree to the treaty.

Migration routes of female northern elephant seals. Image: Beltran et al. 2022


The elephant seal’s exquisite sense of timing

Elephant seals have map sense: Both northern and southern elephant seals migrate thousands of kilometres between their feeding and breeding grounds every year. All arrive at their respective sites within just days of each other. But how do they know when to set off on their long journey?

One hundred and eight tagged female northern elephant seals spent an average of 240 days foraging in the northeastern Pacific before starting their return migration to give birth. Females who had further to go started back earlier. This suggests that the animals “know” the distance to their breeding sites and plan their travels accordingly. Though scientists are unsure exactly how they do it, it is clear that they have a map sense that allows them to adjust their timing based on distance.

Abandoned rocket hits the moon:  A discarded piece of rocket crashed into the moon on March 4. Astronomers class the rocket as “space junk” –- equipment and satellites that do not have enough fuel to return to Earth.

There has been some debate about the origins of the rocket. At first, it was thought to have come from SpaceX, since astronomers say that it is a Chinese rocket. China denies this.

Though the impact created a small crater and dust clouds, astronomers believe the effects will be minor. The European Space Agency estimates that there are now 36,500 pieces of space junk. Despite this large number, there is no formally tracking of this abandoned equipment. A few volunteer astronomers, however, do try to track them and estimate their orbits.