Amazing images: The best science photos of the week
Each week at Live Science we find the most interesting and informative articles we can. Along the way, we uncover some amazing and cool images. Here you’ll discover the most incredible photos we found this week, and the remarkable stories behind them.
Screaming through time
It seems simple enough to guess what the famous “screaming mummy” was thinking at the end of her life (hint: “AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!) but the details of the ancient Egyptian’s death have long eluded researchers. Now, new CT scans of the iconic mummy reveal that her expression may not be one of pain, but rigor mortis. Live Science Associate Editor Laura Geggel writes:
“A computed tomography (CT) scan of the mummy found widespread atherosclerosis, deposits of fatty plaques within the blood vessels. Egyptologists argue that the woman died alone of a massive heart attack and was not found for several hours, by which point rigor mortis set in. Her jaw, which may have fallen open in death, was then frozen open forever.”
The mummy, dubbed “Meritamun” after the name inscribed on her wrappings, was discovered near the city of Luxor in 1881. It’s unclear who she was in life, but several princesses bearing the same name lived around 1558 and 1279 B.C., respectively. Royal, or just royally dead? We may never know.
Spiral bees? Yes please
In a world of bland hexagonal honeycombs, the Australian bees of the genus Tetragonula have chosen to build spiral staircases. The images of these spiral nests, or “brood combs”, have long captivated beekeepers and Internet image forums alike, but nobody is really sure why these bees have chosen to go all Frank Lloyd Wright. Now, a new study provides an answer.
According to the study authors, these bees aren’t following some master plan, but rather following the same, simple rules that crystals use to grow (crystals also form in a spiral pattern). Furthermore, the researchers were able to reproduce the same spiral shapes with a simple computer model by giving their digital bees just two rules to follow: Bees could add a cell to the growth front — the edge of the comb where other bees had been laying cells — so long as their new cell was placed slightly higher than its neighbors; or, bees could build a new cell on top of an existing cell, so long as that cell was more or less level with its neighboring cells.
“What we found is that the bees don’t need a plan,” study co-author Julyan Cartwright, a researcher at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) who studies mathematical patterns in nature, told Live Science. “They just come with a set of simple rules as to where one should put a new piece of wax when it arrives at the comb. And if you program those rules into a computer, they produce the same pictures.”
UAE takes to space
Another flag will soon soar over the Red Planet. On July 19, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched a Mars-bound probe named Hope into space, marking the first planetary science mission led by an Arab country.
The project, which began 6 years ago, hopes Hope will orbit Mars to collect atmospheric data that could inform scientists about the planet’s possible life-bearing past. Live Science Staff Writer Rafi Letzter writes: “For the UAE, the Hope project offers an opportunity to build a more robust scientific community, to build national prestige, and to contribute directly to the global effort to uncover historical life on Mars, according to the Emirati space agency.”
As Forbes reported in 2018, only about 40% of all Mars missions in history have been successful. Hope is due to arrive in February 2021.
Antarctica’s methane problem
Just below the freezing Antarctic ice shelves, researchers have discovered a gas leak that could change the region’s climate destiny. For the first time, scientists have detected an active leak of methane gas — a greenhouse gas with 25 times more climate-warming potential than carbon dioxide — in Antarctic waters.
While underwater methane leaks have been detected previously all over the world, hungry microbes help keep that leakage in check by gobbling up the gas before too much can escape into the atmosphere. In Antarctica, that wasn’t the case. It took methane-eating microbes (seen as white mats in the image above) roughly five years to respond to the leak, the researchers said, meaning significant amounts of methane were almost certainly seeping into the atmosphere during that time.
Current climate models do not take the impact of Antarctica’s marine methane into account when predicting the severity of future atmospheric warming, the it’s hard to know exactly how important these leaks are. One thing is certain: this is just one small leak, but Antarctica may contain as much as 25% of the world’s underwater methane. This is just the beginning.
A black flood in Arizona
On a pleasant summer day in Pima County, Arizona, a steaming river of black sludge oozed down a local wash. It’s not a sign of the apocalypse (we hope), but an eerie result of the ongoing wildfires in the nearby mountains.
Rafi Letzter writes: “According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), fires can change the way rainwater flows over land. Under normal circumstances, most dirt is capable of sucking up a lot of water, which keeps flash floods from happening every time it rains. But after a wildfire, the land is no longer able to absorb as much water. And even minor rains can trigger flash floods filled with debris.”
“Fast-moving, highly destructive debris flows triggered by intense rainfall are one of the most dangerous post-fire hazards,” according to USGS’s California Water Science Center. “It takes much less rainfall to trigger debris flows from burned basins than from unburned areas. In Southern California, as little as 7 millimeters (0.3 inches) of rainfall in 30 minutes has triggered debris flows.”
This is the universe (in 3D)
After five years of peering into the deepest reaches of space, researchers have released what they call the “largest three-dimensional map of the universe” ever. No, you cannot see your house.
The mind-boggling map is the result of an ongoing project called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) — an ambitious, international quest to map the expansion of the observable universe, and hopefully solve a few cosmic conundrums in the process. With this newest update, the project has mapped and measured more than 2 million galaxies, stretching from our Milky Way to ancient objects more than 11 billion light-years away.
Scientists attribute the universe’s expansion to a mysterious force called dark energy, though no one is entirely sure what it is or where it exists. Surveys like this one help scientists better constrain the properties of dark energy, the researchers said, though it remains far from understood. The solution to that conundrum will have to wait for another day … hopefully one not too many billions of years away.
Teensy dino gets a new identity
Last month, researchers unveiled a skull stuck in amber which they attributed to a bizarre, hummingbird-sized dinosaur. Now, that research has been retracted, and the identity of the 99-million-year-old-skull remains in question again.
The creature in question, named Oculudentavis khaungraae, weighed just 0.07 ounces (2 grams) and had a bird-like beak stuffed with more than 100 super-sharp teeth, the researchers found. However, new CT scans of the skull reveal it to have more lizard-like characteristics than previously thought. “These included features of the animal’s lizard-like teeth and the features on its fenestra, or the openings in the skull behind the eye sockets that are found in animals such as dinosaurs and lizards,” Laura Geggel wrote.
Dinosaur or lizard? Stick around to find out.
[Read more: Hummingbird-size dinosaur may actually be a lizard]
An Iron Age mystery
His hands were tied. His captors killed him. His body was thrown face-down in a ditch outside town. Now, he’s back.
This week, archaeologists reported the discovery of an Iron Age man killed and buried just outside London, some 2,500 years ago. The man’s identity and cause of death remain a mystery, but the, shall we say — nefarious — position of his body suggests foul play was most certainly involved.
“He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch,” said archaeologist Rachel Wood, who led the excavation for the high-speed rail developer HS2. “There are not many ways that you end up that way.”
Further study of the skeleton, plus contemporaneous pottery shards found at the burial site, could fill in more details of the sordid story. For now, it’s just another (very, very, very, very) cold case.
[Read more: Iron age ‘murder’ victim unearthed outside of London]
Scattered showers of space rocks
About 800 million years ago, a “cosmic storm” of small asteroids slammed into the moon, and its unlucky neighbor — us.
In a new study of lunar craters, researchers found that a flurry of space rocks — collectively weighing up to 60 times the mass of the asteroid that slammed into what is now Mexico and formed the Chicxulub crater, ending the reign of the dinosaurs — mark the far side of the moon. If the moon was caught in the cosmic crossfire, then Earth (a much larger target) almost certainly was too, the researchers suggested.
If that’s the case, there will be little physical evidence (craters tend to weather to nothing after 600 million years, thanks to volcanic and tectonic activity here). However, the bombardment may have triggered the period in Earth’s history known as “snowball Earth,” when the planet underwent a deep freeze that blanketed our blue marble in white from pole to pole.
Ramping up healing
In ancient Greece, worship wasn’t just for the able-bodied. A new study suggests that, at some temples, the Greeks installed ramps so that people with disabilities could access the sites, too.
In a new study of ancient Greek healing sanctuaries — destinations for people seeking treatments or cures for both permanent and temporary health conditions, including eyesight problems, pregnancy issues, nefarious poisonings, and other injuries — researchers noticed that many of them were equipped with ramps.
“It seems clear that the most reasonable explanation for [these] ramps is that they were intended to help mobility-impaired visitors access the spaces that they needed to experience religious healing,” study researcher Debby Sneed, a lecturer of classics at California State University, Long Beach told Live Science in an email. “This shouldn’t surprise us, really: The Greeks built these spaces for disabled people, and they built the spaces so that their target visitor could access them.”
Originally published on Live Science.