X-Rays of Fish Reveal Diversity
1. X-Ray Image of a Winghead Shark:
5 Everyday Things that Happen Strangely In Space
1. Water boils in a big bubble (video here)
On Earth, boiling water creates thousands of tiny vapor bubbles. In space, though, it produces one giant undulating bubble.
Fluid dynamics are so complex that physicists didn’t know for sure what would happen to boiling water in microgravity until the experiment was finally performed in 1992 aboard a space shuttle. Afterward, the physicists decided that the simpler face of boiling in space probably results from the absence of convection and buoyancy — two phenomena caused by gravity. On Earth, these effects produce the turmoil we observe in our teapots.
Much can be learned from these boiling experiments. According to NASA Science News, “Learning how liquids boil in space will lead to more efficient cooling systems for spacecraft … [It] might also be used someday to design power plants for space stations that use sunlight to boil a liquid to create vapor, which would then turn a turbine to produce electricity.”
2. Flames are spheres
On Earth, flames rise. In space, they move outward from their source in all directions. Here’s why:
The closer you are to the Earth’s surface, the more air molecules there are, thanks to the planet’s gravity pulling them there. Conversely, the atmosphere gets thinner and thinner as you move vertically, causing a gradual decline in pressure. The atmospheric pressure difference over a height of one inch, though slight, is enough to shape a candle flame.
That pressure difference causes an effect called natural convection. As the air around a flame heats up, it expands, becoming less dense than the cold air surrounding it. As the hot air molecules expand outward, cold air molecules push back against them. Because there are more cold air molecules pushing against the hot molecules at the bottom of the flame then there are at its top, the flame experiences less resistance at the top. And so it buoys upward.
When there’s no gravity, though, the expanding hot air experiences equal resistance in all directions, and so it moves spherically outward from its source.
3. Bacteria grow more… and grow more deadly
Thirty years of experiments have shown that bacterial colonies grow much faster in space. Astro-E. coli colonies, for example, grow almost twice as fast as their Earth-bound counterparts. Furthermore, some bacteria grow deadlier. A controlled experiment in 2007 testing salmonella growth on the space shuttle Atlantis showed that the space environment changed the expression of 167 of the bacteria’s genes. Studies performed after the flight found that these genetic tweaks made the salmonella almost three times more likely to cause disease in mice than control bacteria grown on Earth.
There are several hypotheses as to why bacteria thrive in weightlessness. They may simply have more room to grow than they do on Earth, where they tend to clump together at the bottom of petri dishes. As for the changes in gene expression in salmonella, scientists think they may result from a stress response in a protein called Hfq, which plays a role in controlling gene expression. Microgravity imposes mechanical stresses on bacterial cells by changing the way liquids move over their surfaces. Hfq responds by entering a type of “survival mode” in which it makes the cells more virulent.
By learning how salmonella responds to stress in space, scientists hope to learn how it might handle stressful situations on Earth. Hfq may undergo a similar stress response, for example, when salmonella is under attack by a person’s immune system.
4.You can’t burp beer
Because no gravity means no buoyant force, there’s nothing pushing gas bubbles up and out of carbonated drinks in space. This means carbon dioxide bubbles simply stagnate inside sodas and beers, even when they’re inside astronauts’ bellies. Indeed, without gravity, astronauts can’t burp out the gas — and that makes drinking carbonated beverages extremely uncomfortable.
Luckily, a company in Australia has concocted a brew that’ll be just the thing for kicking back on spaceflights. Vostok 4 Pines Stout Space Beer is rich in flavor, but weak in carbonation. A nonprofit space research organization called Astronauts4Hire is looking into whether the beer will be safe for consumption on future commercial spaceflights.
5. A rose by the same name smells… different
Flowers produce different aromatic compounds when grown in space, and as a result, smell notably different. This is because volatile oils produced by plants — the oils that carry fragrance — are strongly affected by environmental factors like temperature, humidity and a flower’s age. Considering their delicacy, it isn’t surprising that microgravity would affect the oils’ production as well.
An “out of this world” fragrance produced by a variety of rose called Overnight Scentsation flown on the space shuttle Discovery in 1998 was later analyzed, replicated and incorporated into “Zen,” a perfume sold by the Japanese company Shiseido.
In a New Vein
New Amphibians Without Arms or Legs Discovered
Photograph courtesy S.D. Biju
The embryo of a newly discovered caecilian species, Chikila fulleri, is revealed in microscopic detail inside its translucent egg.
Also visible is the embryo’s white yolk supply, which provides the legless amphibian enough nourishment to emerge from its egg as a miniature adult (most amphibians go through a tadpole-like, swimming stage in their early development).
Some young caecilians are known to feast on their mother’s skin after hatching. Such behavior has yet to be observed in the newfound Indian species, however.
Priceless Science: Striking Finds From a Rare-Book Fair
There are places where open flames are particularly frowned upon. A textile mill or a stationery store, for instance. And then there are places where the mere mention of a flame, fire, spark, smoke or ember elicits pandemonium. The San Francisco Antiquarian Book, Print and Paper Fair, held earlier this month, would be such a place. In a building stretching one square block sat some of the rarest texts, maps and manuscripts in the world, precariously flammable, and indubitably expensive.
Particularly fetching among these cultural treasures were the scientific tomes — works of biology, astronomy, chemistry and the like — which dealers proudly displayed with the most enticing illustration forward. It’s the intellectual equivalent of the models on the car lot with their hoods popped open, only with more flammability and much more intellect. From Audubon’s The Birds of America, a first edition of which sold last month at auction for $7.9 million, to Copernicus’ heliocentric sketch that changed the world, we’ve selected the most remarkable works the fair had to offer.
1. Anatomy of Plants(1681)
by Nehemiah Grew
If family names are derived from occupations, Nehemiah Grew’s ancestors must have been just as excited about plants as he was. His landmark work Anatomy of Plants was the first to note that a plant’s stamen is a male organ, with pollen being the seed. The text is also remarkable in its unprecedented detail, as seen above, with Grew even getting down into the first microscopic descriptions of pollen.
Owner: Liber Antiquus, Washington, D.C.
2. Theatrum Italiae(1663)
by Joan Blaeu
Moving is never easy, and moving is especially difficult when you own a 327-ton Egyptian obelisk and you want it shifted 275 yards to sit right in front of the Vatican. Such was the task assigned to Italian engineer Domenico Fontana in 1586 and detailed in this illustration from Joan Blaeu’s Theatrum Italiae(see a high-res version here). Enlisting some 900 men and 75 horses, it took Fontana a year to move the 83-foot obelisk.
Says the book’s owner, Paul Dowling: “People look at the 16th century and they look at the development of architecture and the arts and they see it as art and visually stimulating, but very rarely do they see the great technological advances that allowed the things to actually come to fruition…. It’s reminiscent of things like Apple. It’s great design, but there’s an incredible technological layer underlying it. ”
Liber Antiquus, Washington, D.C.
by Francis Willughby
Together with his mentor John Ray, the father of English natural history, Francis Willughby toured Europe for three years to gather material for this, the modestly named Ornithology. When Willughby succumbed to pleurisy during its compilation, Ray picked up the project, publishing the gorgeous work in Latin in 1676 and in English two years later. It was the first study to organize birds by their characteristics, leading distinguished zoologist Alfred Newton to call it “the foundation of scientific Ornithology.”
Owner: Liber Antiquus, Washington, D.C.
4. Cursus Mathematicus(1690)
by William Leybourn
A compendium of British mathematician William Leybourn’s writings, Cursus Mathematicus was aimed at the popular market (particularly for “a dull solitude or vacancy of Business,” as the author put it), as opposed to scholars. It was this book that James Logan, the early American scientist and mentor to Benjamin Franklin, used to teach himself math. The illustration above is a product of a century that saw the introduction of the telescope, affording the first detailed looks at our trusty satellite. We wouldn’t glimpse the far side of the moon, however, until 1959.
Owner: Antiquariat Botanicum, Lynden, Washington
Reports of Looming Male Extinction Exaggerated
Contrary to previous belief, men may not be on the way out after all. New research reveals that the Y chromosome is not rapidly degrading and is unlikely to disappear.
The idea that the male sex chromosome and its owners would someday vanish is based on the process by which our cells form sperm and eggs. These cells each contain pairs of chromosomes, or packets of DNA. When these cells divide, their chromosome pairs swap genetic information in a process called recombination (like shuffling two decks of cards before dividing them back into two decks).
Recombination allows the cells to repair genetic mistakes and mix and match genes. But unlike the other 45 chromosomes that carry human genetic information, the male sex chromosome, the Y, does not come with a matched partner to recombine with. Instead, it gets paired with an X chromosome. That means that when it comes time for cells to divide, the Y has no one to recombine with.
“The Y never gets a chance, because there are never two Ys in a cell,” said study researcher Jennifer Hughes, Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass. “What we have shown time and time again is that if you don’t recombine, you degenerate.”
Specimen: Nycteribia sp. (parasite of bat) (20x)
PHO.N.E Photo Agency - Paris, France, Technique: Darkfield
Specimen: Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) (63x)
Huddersfield, UK, Technique: Polarized light
Advertisments for scanning electron microscopes take you into the world of nano-monsters
Biological flying machine? Terrifying monster of the deep? Nope - this is just a scanning electron microscopy image of a Lamnacarus ornatus, or common mite.
Industrial microscopy company FEI sells a variety of imaging rigs, including the one that produced this image. To show what their SEM machines can do, FEI created an incredible image gallery of shots taken with their equipment. Here is just a tiny subset of what you can see if you visit their site.
Click to embiggen! See more at the FEI image site, which is organized both by subject matter and by type of imaging device.
In the image:
1. A worm found in hydrothermal vents - its mouth can turn inside-out.
2. Here is the same worm with its mouth tucked back inside. Very Alien-esque.
3. Gah! What is that? Oh, only hibiscus pollen
4. Here are the mouthparts of a caterpillar, showing the sensory organs.
5. FEI says this is an “image of sperm tails tangled up in a seminiferous tubule.” The sperm mature inside this tubule before thrusting into the world.
6. This is a coccolithophorid, or tiny marine organism. Yes, it looks completely amazing.
Specimen: Hydrophilidae sp. (water scavenger beetle) larva (100x)
Charles Krebs Photography - Issaquah, Washington, USA, Technique: Brightfield with crossed polarization
Specimen: Giant liposomes of pulmonary surfactant (40x)
University of Southern Denmark - Odense, Denmark, Technique: Confocal
The quest of insects to achieve total world domination is wing-powered.
Insects, the only invertebrates that have learned how to fly, use their wings as key assets in their global colonization. Their wings can be protective shells, musical instruments (grasshoppers), camouflage, signals to recognize each other, a means of attracting mates or warning predators, even tools to fly.
Insects are our greatest competitor for food. They also keep the earth clean and productive. These ecosystem workhorses could easily manage without us, but we could never manage without them.
In celebration of these chitin-made wonders, we’ve collected images to take you on a tour of the insect wing world.
An early and much-needed innovation was the ability of insects to fold their wings, demonstrated by this mayfly (order Ephemeroptera).
“Without that ability, flying is kind of awkward, like a fixed-wing aircraft,” said Dave Kavanaugh, curator of the insect collection at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
With fixed wings, dragonflies are restricted to flying in the open air. Flying through foliage or burrowing into the ground risks too much damage. Insects that fold their wings can use many more habitats.
Image: Eric Beaulieu/Flickr.
The dainty glasswinged butterfly (genus Greta) has pockets of transparency in its wings, which help it blend in wherever it is.
3.Hardened Wing Covers
Beetles use their front set of wings as protective covers. Many beetles, such as this ladybug (family Coccinellidae) can still fly using their second set of wings. These wings, with fewer veins, can be neatly stored under the wing covers.
“That’s probably one of the reasons that beetles are one of the most successful groups of living things,” Kavanaugh said.
“They have the ability to fly when they need to. But they can invade soil and leaf litter, they can dig right into rotting fruit and eat, and they can dig into carcasses to help recycle them. Beetles have the best of both worlds.”
Wing venation is endlessly varied. Studies of venation patterns allow entomologists to trace lineages and identify specimens, like this dragonfly (order Odonata). Separating one species from another can lie in a careful examination of the branching and cross hatching of veins.
Broad similarities across several groups probably stem from an ancestral winged insect. Models like theComstock-Needham System name typical insect veins, and suggest what the ancestral wing veins may have looked like.
Why this fish has teeth all over its body
This beautiful image of a skate fish embryo reveals something truly extraordinary about the scales on its body. As University of Cambridge biologist Andrew Gillis explains, they are, in fact, quite similar to human teeth. They’re even controlled by genes similar to those that control tooth growth in humans. You may never look at fish scales in the same way again.