Dinosaur Road Kill, Humpback Whale Dictionary, Dolphins Carry their Young, Kicking Out Dead Stars, Shining Light on a Super Supernova, Keeping Aphids on the Farm

 

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Dinosaur Road Kill

eotriceratops.jpg Eotriceratops Skull Cast, Courtesy Royal Tyrrell Museum

Sometimes, what's roadkill to one scientist turns out to be a great discovery for another. In this case, that's a literal description. Almost 100 years ago, a famous American palaeontologist came across a flat skeleton in the Alberta badlands. He ignored the find, moving on to look for bigger, fancier specimens. But in 2001, a group of researchers from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta, rediscovered the fossil. When they excavated the rocks, they realized what they had found was completely new to science, an ancestor to the dinosaur Triceratops. This new animal, Eotriceratops xerinsularis, changes our understanding of how this group developed. Dr. David Eberth was the scientist who led the team that made the fascinating discovery.

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Humpback Whale Dictionary

humpback.jpg Humpback Whale, courtesy NOAA

We're all familiar with Humpback Whale songs, the long beautiful music they make that fills us with fascination and awe. But beyond singing, Humpback Whales also make a lot of shorter sounds that they use to communicate with each other. Dr. Rebecca Dunlop, a researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia, is part of a large project that wants to know how increasing human noise in the ocean is affecting the way Humpback Whales communicate. But before they can understand how the whales are affected, they have to understand what the whales are saying in the first place. So she has been compiling a dictionary of whale sounds, matching each of their vocalizations to a different behaviour.

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Dolphins Carry their Young

echelon.jpg Echelon Swimming, courtesy NOAA

One of the more physically demanding aspects of raising human children is that infants need to be carried. It exacts a huge cost to the parent, who has to exert extra energy and will move more slowly when encumbered with a child. However, it's also extremely worthwhile for the parent, as it allows them to move around and keep their offspring safe. Other mammal species are known to carry their young, such as other primates and even bats. Now Dr. Shawn Noren, a research associate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has discovered that dolphins carry their young too. It's called echelon swimming, a pattern where the baby swims right up beside the mother. Just like human carrying, this slows the mother down, and allows the offspring to travel further and faster than it would alone.

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Kicking Out Dead Stars

whitedwarf.jpg White Dwarf Stars in Globular Cluster NGC 6397, Courtesy NASA, ESA and H. Richer

Dr. Harvey Richer of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of British Columbia has discovered that dead stars - White Dwarf stars - are being kicked around in a nearby globular cluster. Dr Richer noticed that new dead stars were in the wrong places in the cluster, and from this, he has deduced that somehow these white dwarfs are given a kick and rocketed away from their position, just as the star they used to be expires.




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Shining Light on a Super Supernova

superdupernova.jpg Artist's illustration of supernova SN 2006gy - Courtesy, NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

Last year, we brought you the story of Supernova 2006gy, the brightest supernova ever observed. While every supernova is incredibly bright, this one was about 100 times brighter than the previous record holder, and released as much energy in a few months as our Sun produces in its 10 billion year lifetime. While Astronomers were certainly excited when they saw this super-sized explosion, they were also a bit concerned because no one knew exactly how to explain it. Dr. Stan Woosley, an Astrophysicist from the University of California, Santa Cruz, has a theory about what caused this super supernova. He believes the star will die several mini-deaths before one final stellar explosion, and if this theory is correct, Supernova 2006gy might just be the start of an even more spectacular stellar light show.

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Keeping Aphids on the Farm

aphid.jpg Round up at the Aphid Corral

The relationship between ants and aphids is much like that between humans and cattle. Ants herd the aphids, harvesting the sugar-rich honeydew the aphids secrete, and occasionally eat them for a little protein boost. They also protect the aphids from other predators. Ants, however, lack the benefit of fences to keep their livestock under control. Tom Oliver, a Ph.D candidate in the Division of Biology at Imperial College, London, has found that they use a chemical secretion, which slows the aphids down, to control their wanderings.

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Theme music copyright Raphaël Gluckstein. Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0
Musical stings courtesy of Beatsuite.com Music Library.