Barnacles’ information about whales

This video from California in the USA says about itself:

Rare Blue Whale with Many Barnacles

9 July 2015

Just very close and shallow to the shore of the Torrey Pines Cliffs, with the depth of between 150 and 200 feet, the blue whale had so many black specks all over its body! It also had a dorsal fin that had been torn off and shaped like a sickle! It is very unusual for a blue whale to have very many barnacles.

From Science News:

Barnacles track whale migration

Chemical composition of hitchhikers’ shells might reveal ancient baleen travel routes

By Thomas Sumner

12:01pm, September 27, 2016

DENVER — Barnacles can tell a whale of a tale. Chemical clues inside barnacles that hitched rides on baleen whales millions of years ago could divulge ancient whale migration routes, new research suggests.

Modern baleen whales migrate thousands of kilometers annually between breeding and feeding grounds, but almost nothing is known about how these epic journeys have changed over time. Scientists can glean where an aquatic animal has lived based on its teeth. The mix of oxygen isotopes embedded inside newly formed tooth material depends on the region and local temperature, with more oxygen-18 used near the poles than near the equator. That oxygen provides a timeline of the animal’s travels. Baleen whales don’t have teeth, though. So paleobiologists Larry Taylor and Seth Finnegan, both of the University of California, Berkeley, looked at something else growing on whales: barnacles. Like teeth, barnacle shells take in oxygen as they grow.

Patterns of oxygen isotopes in layers of barnacle shells collected from modern beached whales matched known whale migration routes, Taylor said September 25 at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting. Five-million-year-old barnacle fossils have analogous oxygen isotope changes, preliminary results suggest. Converting those changes into migration maps, however, will require reconstructing how oxygen isotopes were distributed long ago, Taylor said.

Rosetta spaceship’s comet mission ending tomorrow

This video says about itself:

5 August 2016

Animation visualising Rosetta’s two-year journey around Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

The animation begins on 31 July 2014, during Rosetta’s final approach to the comet after its ten-year journey through space. The spacecraft arrived at a distance of 100 km on 6 August whereupon it gradually approached the comet and entered initial mapping orbits that were needed to select a landing site for Philae. These observations also enabled the first comet science of the mission. The manoeuvres in the lead up to, during and after Philae’s deployment on 12 November are seen, before Rosetta settled into longer-term science orbits.

In February and March 2015 the spacecraft made several flybys. One of the closest flybys triggered a ‘safe mode’ event that forced it to retreat temporarily until it was safe to gradually draw closer again. The comet’s increased activity in the lead up to and after perihelion in August 2015 meant that Rosetta remained well beyond 100 km distances for several months.

In June 2015, contact was restored with Philae again – albeit temporary, with no permanent link able to be maintained, despite a series of dedicated trajectories flown by Rosetta for several weeks.

Following perihelion, Rosetta performed a dayside far excursion some 1500 km from the comet, before re-approaching to closer orbits again, enabled by the reduction in the comet’s activity. In March–April 2016 Rosetta went on another far excursion, this time on the night side, followed by a close flyby and orbits dedicated to a range of science observations.

The animation finishes at 9 August 2016, before the details of the end of mission orbits were known. A visualisation of the trajectories leading to the final descent to the surface of the comet on 30 September will be provided once available.

The trajectory shown in this animation is created from real data, but the comet rotation is not. An arrow indicates the direction to the Sun as the camera viewpoint changes during the animation.

From Science News:

So long, Rosetta: End is near for comet orbiter

Spacecraft’s legacy will live on after it lands on comet 67P, shuts down for good

By Christopher Crockett

5:30am, September 29, 2016

Rosetta is about to take its final bow.

On September 30, the comet orbiter will wrap up its nearly 26-month visit to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by touching down on the surface and then shutting down. Before sending its last signal to Earth, Rosetta will snap pictures and gather data all the way to the end, collecting some of the most detailed looks ever at a comet.

“Every time you look at a body and increase the resolution … it’s another world,” says Jessica Sunshine, a planetary scientist at the University of Maryland in College Park. “It’s going to be very interesting to see what this place looks like.”

After more than 10 years in space, Rosetta arrived at 67P on August 6, 2014 (SN: 9/6/14, p. 8). About three months later, a lander named Philae detached from the orbiter and dropped to the comet’s surface. It was a rough landing: Philae bounced twice and nicked a ridge before coming to rest on its side in the shadow of a cliff. With insufficient sunlight to charge its battery, Philae went to sleep about 60 hours later, though not before getting some pictures of its new home.

Unlike Philae, the orbiter was never designed to land on the comet. Despite meeting the ground at a walking pace of about 3 kilometers per hour, Rosetta’s landing — described as a “controlled impact” by mission scientists — will probably snap pieces off of the spacecraft.

“Feelings are mixed,” says mission lead Matt Taylor of the European Space Research and Technology Center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. “Sadness that this is over, but great joy on what [we’ve] achieved.”

Before bidding the spacecraft adieu, here’s a look back at five mission highlights.

  1.  One surprise came right away when researchers got their first good gander at the comet. Described as resembling a rubber duck, comet 67P has two distinct lobes. Some planetary scientists suspect that 67P was once two comets that smooshed together (SN: 10/31/15, p. 17).
  2.  Comets are not just big balls of ice, as once thought. Towering cliffs, dusty dunes, shadowy pits — the landscape on 67P is a hodgepodge of terrains, some scarred by erosion, others blanketed under seasonal flows of fine dust (SN: 2/21/15, p. 6). Comets “are much more dynamic than a lot of surfaces in the solar system,” Sunshine says.
  3. Water on 67P is unlike Earth’s, suggesting that comets provided little help in bringing H2O to our planet (SN: 1/10/15, p. 8). The ratio of deuterium (a heavy form of hydrogen) to hydrogen in 67P’s water is roughly three times that on Earth. Comets as a whole, however, exhibit a large range in this ratio, implying comets have diverse origins.
  4. Comet 67P carts around a cocktail of chemicals that includes oxygen and noble gases, both indicators of a birthplace that was cold and far from the sun (SN: 11/28/15, p. 6). Organic molecules are prevalent as well. While asteroids probably delivered the bulk of Earth’s water, “comets do have complex organics and could have brought those to Earth and provided the seeds of life,” Taylor says.
  5. The interior of the comet is quite porous, which suggests that 67P was assembled gently 4.6 billion years ago (SN: 8/22/15, p. 13). That means the comet’s building blocks weren’t altered by forceful collisions, which supports the long-standing idea that comets are time capsules that preserve samples from the solar system’s formative years.

Comet science doesn’t end with Rosetta. Ground-based telescopes will continue to study them from afar, and next year NASA will consider proposals for flying a spacecraft to a comet, plucking a piece off the surface and bringing it back to Earth.

“As for Rosetta data, there is loads of it,” Taylor says. “There is decades of work to do. So Rosetta isn’t over — it’s just begun.”

Record number of migrating spoonbills

This video from Belgium says about itself:

Migration: spoonbills – Fonteintjes, Zeebrugge, 29/03/14

Group of spoonbills migrating over land, hesitating to land on the pools next to the counting station.

According to Dutch site, on 27 December 2016 844 spoonbills, migrating to the south, passed the Digue de Malo near Dunkirk in France.

This is a record number.

Human evolution, fire and smoke

This video says about itself:

Smoking Causes Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema

20 jul. 2012

This 3D medical animation created by Nucleus Medical Media shows the health risks of smoking tobacco.

ID#: ANH12071


Every time you smoke a cigarette, toxic gases pass into your lungs, then into your bloodstream, where they spread to every organ in your body. A cigarette is made using the tobacco leaf, which contains nicotine and a variety of other compounds. As the tobacco and compounds burn, they release thousands of dangerous chemicals, including over forty known to cause cancer. Cigarette smoke contains the poisonous gases carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, as well as trace amounts of cancer-causing radioactive particles. All forms of tobacco are dangerous, including cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco and snuff.

Nicotine is an addictive chemical in tobacco. Smoking causes death. People who smoke typically die at an earlier age than non-smokers. In fact, 1 of every 5 deaths in the United States is linked to cigarette smoking.

If you smoke, your risk for major health problems increases dramatically, including: heart disease, heart attack, stroke, lung cancer, and death from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Smoking causes cardiovascular disease.

When nicotine flows through your adrenal glands, it stimulates the release of epinephrine, a hormone that raises your blood pressure. In addition, nicotine and carbon monoxide can damage the lining of the inner walls in your arteries. Fatty deposits, called plaque, can build up at these injury sites and become large enough to narrow the arteries and severely reduce blood flow, resulting in a condition called atherosclerosis. In coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis narrows the arteries that supply the heart, which reduces the supply of oxygen to your heart muscle, increasing your risk for a heart attack. Smoking also raises your risk for blood clots because it causes platelets in your blood to clump together. Smoking increases your risk for peripheral vascular disease, in which atherosclerotic plaques block the large arteries in your arms and legs. Smoking can also cause an abdominal aortic aneurysm, which is a swelling or weakening of your aorta where it runs through your abdomen.

Smoking damages two main parts of your lungs: your airways, also called bronchial tubes, and small air sacs called alveoli. Cigarette smoke irritates the lining of your bronchial tubes, causing them to swell and make mucus. Cigarette smoke also slows the movement of your cilia, causing some of the smoke and mucus to stay in your lungs. While you are sleeping, some of the cilia recover and start pushing more pollutants and mucus out of your lungs. When you wake up, your body attempts to expel this material by coughing repeatedly, a condition known as smoker’s cough. Over time, chronic bronchitis develops as your cilia stop working, your airways become clogged with scars and mucus, and breathing becomes difficult.

Your lungs are now more vulnerable to further disease. Cigarette smoke also damages your alveoli, making it harder for oxygen and carbon dioxide to exchange with your blood. Over time, so little oxygen can reach your blood that you may develop emphysema, a condition in which you must gasp for every breath and wear an oxygen tube under your nose in order to breathe.

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are collectively called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. COPD is a gradual loss of the ability to breathe for which there is no cure.

Cigarette smoke contains at least 40 cancer-causing substances, called carcinogens, including cyanide, formaldehyde, benzene, and ammonia. In your body, healthy cells grow, make new cells, then die. Genetic material inside each cell, called DNA, directs this process. If you smoke, toxic chemicals can damage the DNA in your healthy cells. As a result, your damaged cells create new unhealthy cells, which grow out of control and may spread to other parts of your body. Cigarettes can cause cancer in other parts of your body, such as: in the blood and bone marrow, mouth, larynx, throat, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, uterus, and cervix.

Smoking can cause infertility in both men and women. If a woman is pregnant and smokes during pregnancy, she exposes her baby to the cigarette’s poisonous chemicals, causing a greater risk of: low birth weight, miscarriage, preterm delivery, stillbirth, infant death, and sudden infant death syndrome. Smoking is also dangerous if a mother is breastfeeding. Nicotine passes to the baby through breast milk, and can cause restlessness, rapid heartbeat, vomiting, interrupted sleep, or diarrhea.

Other health effects of smoking include: low bone density and increased risk for hip fracture among women; gum disease, often leading to tooth loss and surgery; immune system dysfunction and delayed wound healing; and sexual impotence in men.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Are modern humans simply bad at smoking?

Published on 21 September 2016

Scientists looked for the genetic footprint of fire use in our genes, but found that our prehistoric cousins – the Neanderthals – and even the great apes seem better at dealing with the toxins in smoke than modern humans.

Mixed blessing

The art of making and using fire was one of the greatest discoveries ‘ever made by man’, wrote Charles Darwin. Besides providing protection against cold temperatures, the use of fire in food preparation and the introduction of energy-rich cooked foods in our prehistoric diet had a major impact in the development of humankind. However, fire use comes at a cost. Exposure to the toxic compounds in smoke carries major risks for developing pneumonia, adverse pregnancy outcomes in women and reduced sperm quality in males, as well as cataracts, tuberculosis, heart disease, and chronic lung disease. In short, the use of fire is a mixed blessing.


This mixed blessing, however, put researchers at Leiden University and Wageningen University on the trail of finding genetic markers for the use of fire in prehistoric and recent humans. The use of fire is notoriously difficult to ‘see’ for archaeologists, and this has led to strong disagreement over the history of its usage. A very early start is advocated by Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham, who argues that our Homo erectus ancestors were already using fire around two million years ago. However, numerous excavations and intensive research carried out by archaeologists in Europe and the Near East suggest that control of fire occurred much later, around 350,000 years ago.

Genetic markers for fire use

In order to bring fresh data into this ‘hot’ debate, the Leiden/Wageningen team studied the biological adaptations of prehistoric and recent humans to the toxic compounds of smoke: fire usage implies frequent exposure to hazardous compounds from smoke and heated food, which is expected to result in the selection of gene variants conferring an improved defence against these toxic compounds. To study whether such genetic selection indeed occurred, the team investigated the gene variants occurring in Neanderthals, in Denisovans (contemporaries of the Neanderthals, more related to them than to modern humans), and in prehistoric modern humans.


Single nucleotide variants in 19 genes were tested that are known from modern tobacco-smoking studies to increase the risk of fertility and reproduction problems when exposed to smoke and hazardous compounds formed in heated food.

These genes were compared with variants observed in Neanderthals and their Denisovan cousins, and were also studied in chimpanzees and gorillas, two closely related species that are obviously not using fire, and are therefore not exposed to smoke on a regular basis.

Neanderthal more efficient in handling smoke?

In a study now published in PLOS ONE, the team shows that Neanderthals and the Denisovan predominantly possessed gene variants that were more efficient in handling the toxic compounds in smoke than modern humans. Surprisingly, these efficient variants were also observed in chimpanzees and gorillas, and therefore appeared to be evolutionary very old (ancestral) variants.

Plant toxins

The less efficient variants are observable from the first modern human hunter-gatherers for which we have genetic information onward, i.e. from about 40,000 years ago. The efficient defence against toxic compounds in chimpanzees and gorillas may be related to the toxins in their plant food. Smoke defence capacities in humans apparently hitchhike on those adaptations, developed deep in our primate past. Our prehistoric ancestors were probably already good at dealing with the toxic compounds of smoke, long before they started producing it through their campfires. What allowed for the emergence of less efficient hazardous chemical defence genes in modern humans is a question for future research.

Jupiter moon Europa spouting water

This video says about itself:

26 September 2016

NASA has announced that a team using the Hubble Space Telescope has spotted possible water vapor plumes on Jupiter’s moon Europa.

From Science News:

Europa spouting off again

Hubble images of plumes on Jupiter’s icy moon revive talk of hidden ocean

By Christopher Crockett

5:18pm, September 26, 2016

Jupiter’s moon Europa might once again be venting water into space, further supporting the idea that an ocean hides beneath its thick shell of ice, researchers reported September 26 at a news conference.

Plumes erupting from the moon’s surface, silhouetted against background light from Jupiter, appear in several images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in early 2014. The geysers — presumably of water vapor or ice particles — showed up in the same location as an eruption captured by Hubble in 2012 (SN: 1/25/14, p. 6). The eruptions also appear to be intermittent, appearing in only three out of 10 images. Material hovering over the moon’s southern hemisphere and absorbing ultraviolet light coming from Jupiter made the plumes visible.

“The plumes are a sign that we may be able to explore the ocean without having to drill through unknown miles of ice,” said William Sparks, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. “We presume it to be water or ice particles because that’s what Europa is made of and those molecules do absorb at the wavelengths we observed,” he said. Future spacecraft could plow through the plumes and sample the water to better understand its chemistry and look for by-products of life.