Dinosaurs may have been in decline long before the fatal asteroid hit Earth

New Delhi: While scientists widely believe a large asteroid that hit Earth nearly 66 million years ago contributed to the global extinction of dinosaurs, new research from China now shows that prehistoric predators were possibly already in decline long before the incident.

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, along with their collaborators, studied more than 1,000 fossilized dinosaur eggs and eggshells from the Shanyang Basin in central China.

These fossils came from rock sequences with a total thickness of about 150 meters. The researchers obtained detailed estimates of the age of the rock layers by analyzing and applying computer modeling to more than 5,500 geological samples.

This allowed scientists to create a timeline of almost two million years at the end of the Cretaceous period representing the period just before the extinction. This timeline allows for direct comparisons with data from around the world.

The data showed that dinosaurs were likely already in global decline before the fateful asteroid impact led to their extinction.

The researchers suggest that their decline could be the result of known global climate fluctuations and massive volcanic eruptions such as those from the Deccan Traps in what is now India. Read more

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New Research Shows Saturn’s Moon May Have All the Essential Ingredients for Life

Scientists from the Southwest Research Institute in the US have found new evidence of a key element of life in the subterranean ocean of Saturn’s moon Enceladus – indicating the planet may have the potential to harbor life.

Their research indicates that the ocean of Enceladus should be relatively rich in dissolved phosphorus, an essential ingredient for life.

The research is based on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft mission. The spacecraft was deliberately crashed onto Saturn’s surface in 2017 to keep the moons intact, before which it had discovered Enceladus’ underground liquid water and flown through plumes of ice grains and water vapor a erupted into space from cracks in the moon’s icy surface.

The Southwest Research Institute team has been studying Enceladus for years. They found that these plumes contain almost all of the basic requirements for life, and that although phosphorus is not present directly in the plume, there is evidence of its availability in the ocean beneath its icy crust.

Phosphorus in the form of phosphates is vital for all life on Earth. It is essential for the creation of DNA and RNA, energy-carrying molecules, cell membranes, bones and teeth in humans and animals, and even the marine microbiome of plankton.

Team members performed thermodynamic and kinetic modeling that simulates phosphorus geochemistry based on Cassini’s information about the ocean-seabed system on Enceladus. They developed a detailed geochemical model of how seafloor minerals dissolve in the ocean of Enceladus and predicted that phosphate minerals would be exceptionally soluble there. Read more

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Scientists are developing plastics that degrade in seawater

Scientists at the University of California (UC) San Diego have developed a new biodegradable plastic that can break down in seawater, paving the way for new packaging that could solve the problem of plastic waste on Earth.

Previously, the team had developed polyurethane foams that can biodegrade in terrestrial composts.

As plastic litter enters the ocean, it disrupts marine ecosystems, migrating to central sites and forming waste whirlpools such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which covers an area of ​​more than 1.6 million square kilometres. These plastics never degrade. Instead, they break down into smaller particles, eventually becoming microplastics that persist in the environment for centuries.

The UC San Diego team conducted a series of tests on their biodegradable polyurethane materials.

They found that an assortment of marine organisms colonize the polyurethane foam samples and break down the material into their starting chemicals, which are consumed as nutrients by these microorganisms in the ocean environment.

Data from the study suggests that the microorganisms living in these samples, a mixture of bacteria and fungi, live in the natural marine environment, suggesting that mosses will function similarly across the world. Read more

Polygon-shaped storms on Jupiter baffle scientists

An international team of scientists has created a model that may partly explain why the cyclones surrounding Jupiter’s poles have retained their polygonal shape for years

In 2017, NASA’s Juno spacecraft discovered cyclones at Jupiter’s north and south poles. The images returned by the spacecraft show that these cyclones continue to this day and have not even changed shape.

The images are disconcerting because on Earth cyclones take shape, travel for a while and then dissipate.

A group of scientists, led by Andrew P Ingersoll of the California Institute of Technology, published their findings in the journal Nature Astronomy. He describes how shallow water patterns have been used to explain at least in part how cyclones last so long.

Photos from the planet’s north pole show that there are eight cyclones surrounding the central cyclone directly above the pole. All eight are close together and all are nearly equidistant from the central cyclone – and are arranged in an octagonal pattern.

A similar arrangement exists at the south pole where five cyclones are arranged in a pentagon.

Researchers now suggest that there is an “anticyclonic ring” of winds moving in the opposite direction of the cyclones, which keeps them in place. Read more

Three new snake species discovered in the Andes

A team of researchers from the Khamai Foundation in Ecuador have discovered three new snakes that live underground hiding under cemeteries and churches in remote towns in the Ecuadorian Andes.

Like locals who told them about snakes in cemeteries, they were able to discover a group of burrowing snakes belonging to the genus Atractus. These ground snakes are the most species-rich snake genus in the world.

However, since they tend to stay hidden underground, most people never see them. Most of them inhabit remote cloud forests and live buried underground or in deep crevices. In this particular case, however, two of the new ground snakes were found living among crypts and one was found near a church.

All of this seems to suggest that, at least in the Andes, new species of snakes could be lurking just around the corner. Read more

(Edited by Theres Sudeep)

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