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Your body is made of the same elements that lionesses are built from. Three quarters of you is the same kind of water that beats rocks to rubble, wears stones away. Your DNA translates into the same twenty amino acids that wolf genes code for. When you look in the mirror and feel weak, remember, the air you breathe in fuels forest fires capable of destroying everything they touch. On the days you feel ugly, remember: diamonds are only carbon. You are so much more.


2009 Norwegian Spiral Anomaly

On the night of December 9, 2009, the skies over Norway were lit by a strange spiraling light that lasted for 2-3 minutes. Hundreds of calls flooded the Norwegian Meteorological Institute as residents wanted to know what they were seeing.

Many witnesses made speculations about its source, including a rare variant of the northern lights, an opening worm hole, extraterrestrial activity, or that it was linked to the recent high-energy experiments undertaken at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

The cause of the phenomenon seems to be a failed Russian missile launch. The Russian Ministry of Defence confirmed on December 10 that a Bulava missile test had failed. The spiraling occurred as the missile’s third stage nozzle was damaged, causing the exhaust to come out sideways and sending the missile into a spin.

Russian defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer stated to AFP that “such lights and clouds appear from time to time when a missile fails in the upper layers of the atmosphere and have been reported before … At least this failed test made some nice fireworks for the Norwegians.”


The beautiful Hawaiian Petrel lives in the Pacific Ocean, catching fish, squid and other animals from the ocean’s surface. Some information about their diets is stored in the birds’ bones—and Smithsonian scientists study old petrel bones to learn about what they used to eat thousands of years ago.

For 3,000 years, Hawaiian petrels consistently ate at the same level in the food chain. But in the past 100 years, petrels began eating smaller prey further down in the food chain. The most likely cause is industrial fishing, which started about 60 years ago in the open ocean, and focuses on bigger fish for people to eat. This only leaves smaller fish left for the birds—and eventually for us.

Read more on the blog by Smithsonian scientist Anne Wiley: 4,000 Years of Marine History through the Eyes of a Seabird

Bird photo courtesy of Jim Denny; Skulls and bones courtesy of Brittany Hance, Smithsonian Institution.


Sunflowers Do the Math

The spiraling shapes in cauliflower, artichoke, and sunflower florets (above) share a remarkable feature: The numbers of clockwise and counterclockwise spirals are consecutive Fibonacci numbers—the sequence 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, and so on, so that each number is the sum of the last two. What’s more, those spirals pack florets as tight as can be, maximizing their ability to gather sunlight for the plant. But how do plants like sunflowers create such perfect floret arrangements, and what does it have to do with Fibonacci numbers? A plant hormone called auxin, which spurs the growth of leaves, flowers, and other plant organs, is the key: Florets grow where auxin flows. Using a mathematical model that describes how auxin and certain proteins interact to transport each other around inside plants, researchers could predict where the hormone would accumulate. Simulations of that model reproduced patterns exactly matching real “Fibonacci spirals” in sunflowers, the team reports this month in Physical Review Letters. Based on their results, the researchers suggest that such patterns might be more universal in nature than previously thought, so keep an eye out: Fibonacci numbers might be spiraling in every direction.


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An Illustration of Vogel’s model for the pattern of florets in the head of a sunflower.


A Long-lost relic from the Eastern Ghats: Morphology, Distribution and Habitat of Sepsophis punctatus Beddome, 1870 (Squamata: Scincidae) [2013]

 Sepsophis punctatus Beddome 1870, the only species of a monotypic genus, was described based on a single specimen from the Eastern Ghats of India. We rediscovered the species based on specimens from Odisha and Andhra Pradesh state, India, after a gap of 137 years, including four specimens from close to the type locality.

The holotype was studied in detail, and we present additional morphological characters of the species with details on natural history, habitat and diet. The morphological characters of the holotype along with two additional specimens collected by Beddome are compared with the specimens collected by us. We also briefly discuss the distribution of other members of the subfamily Scincinae and their evolutionary affinities.

DATTA-ROY, A., MOHAPATRA, P.P., DUTTA, S. K., GIRI, V.B., VEERAPPAN, D., MADDOCK, S.T., RAJ, P., AGARWAL, I. & KARANTH, P. 2013. Zootaxa. 3670 (1): 055–062.

(via: NovaTaxa - Species New to Science)

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