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Did you know the largest freshwater turtle is functionally extinct?

Marcos Hernandez Article

There are only 3 known specimens of the Yangtze giant softshell turtle left alive, all male, after the one female specimen died in a Chinese zoo. She had been living with one of the males in the zoo; the other two males live in a lake in Vietnam. 

It is hard to determine an average size due to the limited number of specimens left alive but it seems to grow larger than alligator snapping turtles and other softshells, making it the largest. They can weigh anywhere from 150-220 pounds.

These turtles are called softshell because their shells lack scales and seem leathery and pliable. Their softer shells allows the turtles to move more easily through open water and through the mud on lake bottoms, allowing them to sit and wait for food to come to them.

Specimens are extremely difficult to find and identify because they spend so much time at the bottom of lakes, only coming up to breath. Unless a wild female is found this species will become extinct when the three remaining males die. 

Did you know Wooly Mammoths share genetic traits with Neanderthals?

Marcos Hernandez Article

new study out of Tel Aviv suggests that the ancestors of Elephants and the ancestors of humans share characteristics which allowed them to live in Europe during the Ice Age.

Mammoths were a known food source for Neanderthals, the large animals providing the calories necessary for their survival.

The similarities are present in genes which are associated adaptation to cold environments. The three genetic expressions had to do with fat storage, keratin (the protein found in hair, nails, horns, claws, hooves, and skin), and pigmentation.

From the leader of the study: “Are there genetic similarities between evolutionary adaptation paths in Neanderthals and mammoths? The answer seems to be yes.”

Did you know you would have to reuse a cotton grocery bag 131 times to make up for saving one plastic bag?

Marcos Hernandez Article

In a  report released by the Environment Agency (UK) the impact of different kinds of carrier bags were assessed on their ability to combat global warming. It takes into account the production, use, and disposal of four main type of bags: standard grocery bags, thicker plastic bags, paper bags, and cotton bags. 

The bags were “compared for other impacts: resource depletion, acidification, eutrophication, human toxicity, fresh water aquatic ecotoxicity, marine aquatic ecotoxicity, terrestrial ecotoxicity and photochemical oxidation (smog formation).”

The study found that resource use and production value has the most effect on environmental impact. So it’s no surprise the cotton bags need to be used so many times to make up for the difference!

The paper bags need to be used 3 times, the thicker plastic bags need to be reused 4 times in order to make up for the use of one standard grocery bag which isn’t reused at all.

The study found the best way to fight global warming is to use ANY bag as many times as possible and recommended using the standard grocery bags as trash can liners in order to get have the least envirnmental impact.

Did you know four teeth found in China don’t belong to any known human species?

Marcos Hernandez Article

The teeth, found in a cave in the Tongzi county of southern China, have been dated to approx. 200,000 years ago.

At first they were thought to belong to Homo Erectus but it turns out they don’t belong to Erectusor the more advanced Neanderthals.

The teeth have both ancient and modern traits. Erectus teeth are distinctive because of a crinkled tissue beneath the enamel, which is missing in the four teeth. This leads to the conclusion that the teeth might be from a later human ancestor but the shapes don’t quite fit. 

There is the possibility the teeth belong to another human ancestor called the Denisovans but there is no way to make a direct comparison.

The most likely scenario is that different species of human ancestors met and reproduced, maybe a Denisovan and an Erectus. This possibility is supported by the recent discovery of a bone from an ancient teenager with a Neanderthal mom and Denisovan dad.

The record of Chinese fossils is expanding as more studies are translated into English so there may be more mysteries in the years to come. 

Did you know India’s destruction of a satellite threatens astronauts aboard the International Space Station?

Marcos Hernandez Article

In the end of March 2019, India became the fourth country to demonstrate the capability to shoot down an orbiting satellite, joining the United States, Russia, and China.

The satellite they shot down was one of their own, roughly 185 miles in space. Simulations suggest over 6,500 pieces of debris larger than a pencil eraser were created.

NASA has the capability to track pieces of debris greater than 10cm. Sixty pieces of the destroyed satellite are large enough to be tracked and of these, 24 were blasted to a distance from Earth greater than the International Space Station (ISS). NASA’s concern is that these pieces might collide with the ISS, putting the astronauts on board at risk. 

“That kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight,” says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Did you know the Taliban destroyed statues of Buddha over 1,400 years old?

Marcos Hernandez Aml Ameen, Big Think Podcast

The Buddhas of Bamiyan were two massive statues of Guatam Buddha carved into the side of a sandstone cliff in central Afghanistan. They were blown up with dynamite in 2001 when the Taliban deemed them as idols. The statues were 115 and 174 feet tall.

When asked about the ancient statues, the man who ordered their destruction, Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar, said, “I did not want to destroy the Bamiyan Buddha. In fact, some foreigners came to me and said they would like to conduct the repair work of the Bamiyan Buddha that had been slightly damaged due to rains. This shocked me. I thought, these callous people have no regard for thousands of living human beings – the Afghans who are dying of hunger, but they are so concerned about non-living objects like the Buddha. This was extremely deplorable. That is why I ordered its destruction. Had they come for humanitarian work, I would have never ordered the Buddha’s destruction.”

The destroyed statues were the largest to show a standing Buddha in the world. (There is a larger statue of Buddha, the Leshan Giant Buddha, but this one is seated.) A video of the destruction can be seen here

Did you know the largest T-Rex skeleton is on display in Canada?

Marcos Hernandez Article

Named “Scotty” after the drink used to toast it’s finding (scotch whisky), the skeleton is currently housed at the Royal Saskatchewan museum. The paper announcing it’s discovery was published in March 2019.

It was discovered in 1990, at the same time as the previous record holder, Sue, but due to the hardness of the rock around it’s skeleton unearthing the bones took decades.

Scotty is larger than Sue by 400kg. It’s estimated Scotty weighed 8,870kg, a number derived from the size of it’s hefty thigh bones.

Scientists estimate the T-Rex was able to grow to become the largest land predator on record because it was over thirty years old. 

For comparison, the largest male African bush elephant weighed over 10,400kg and on average are 6,600kg. So Scotty was the size of a large elephant!

Did you know a quantum experiment recently showed the ability for two different realities to exist simultaneously?

Marcos Hernandez Article

The roots for the experiment extend back to 1961, to a Nobel-prize winning physicist named Eugene Wigner. His thought experiment involved him and another friend both measuring the state of the same particle and obtaining two different but correct results which would mean two realities exist at the same time.

A few details which are relevant:

1. A photon is an elementary particle which can have a spin of +1 or -1.

2. Before a measurement occurs these two states, +1 or -1, are unknown and can be assumed to both exist, a phenomenon known as “superposition.” 

3. Whether or not a photon is in a superposition can be measured without measuring the spin of the particle.

The recent experiment involved 6 photons, four “observers”, and two separate “labs”. Two of the “observers” are inside the “labs,” one in each, and outside the lab are the other two observers. 

In a nutshell, it is possible for the observers inside the lab to measure the spin of the photon while outside the lab it is possible for the other two observers to either verify the observations of those in the lab or take their own measurement and find the photons are in a superposition. 

Remember, if a superposition exists there is no definite spin. This produces two separate realities, both correct.

This flies in the face of the scientific method, that facts are universal and can be verified by multiple observers. Taking this further, there is now proof of a reality two observers don’t necessarily agree on. 

Spooky.

Did you know ancient worms recently came back to life after being frozen for ~40,000 years?

Marcos Hernandez Article

Nematodes, also known as roundworms, are microscopic organisms which have adapted to nearly every ecosystem. Two species of nematodes were recently thawed from Siberian permafrost and were found to be moving and eating.

The two species were from two different samples of permafrost, one ~32,000 years old and the other ~42,000 years old.

Nematodes have two abilities which allow them to survive the largest threat from a deep freeze: ice. First, they are able to produce proteins which surround ice crystals and cushion their cells from ice’s sharp edges. Second, they are able to pump the water from their cells, minimizing the amount of danger from ice their cells are exposed to.

This is the first evidence of the long-term cryopreservation of multicellular animals from permafrost, according to the study.

Did you know the sacrifice of almost 140 children was recently unearthed in Peru?

Marcos Hernandez Article

The sacrifice, performed by the ancient Chimú civilization, occurred in 1450 and also included the bodies of close to 200 young llamas. 

This is the largest known mass child sacrifice, the second being 42 children in an Aztec temple in modern-day Mexico City. 

The children, ranging in ages from 4-14, were organized according to age, which suggests the involvement of priests. Their heads were arranged with their heads facing the sea and the heads of the llamas facing the mountains. 

It is assumed the sacrifice occurred in response to heavy rainfall in the normally arid climate brought on by El Niño. The may have believed the sacrifice would appease angry gods. 

Knife marks were found on the ribs and sternum of the children and llamas, suggesting their hearts had been removed, a practice known to occur among Mesoamerican cultures. Archaeologists are unable to tell if the hearts were removed before or after death.