Dec. 3, 2023: Our weekly roundup of the latest science in the news, as well as a few fascinating articles to keep you entertained.
his week in science news, we saw SpaceX rockets punching temporary holes in our planet’s atmosphere, heard about new technology for smart glasses that use sonar, and learned of the incredible sleeping patterns of chinstrap penguins.
It seems like not a week goes by without another SpaceX launch, but this time, it’s not what goes up but what happens when it comes back down. Deorbiting SpaceX rockets appear to be smashing temporary holes in the upper atmosphere by releasing fuel into the ionosphere, creating bright blobs of light in the sky. Scientists now think these “SpaceX auroras” could be causing unrecognized problems.
When we’re not punching holes in the atmosphere, Earth is happily making its own in the planet’s crust, with the new “baby volcano” off Japan erupting in spectacular fashion, while a big blob of hot water in the Pacific is making this year’s El Niño act a little weird.
Speaking of blobs, there’s a strange one circling the Milky Way’s central black hole. It’s shooting powerful radiation at Earth every 76 minutes — and we might finally know what it is.
Swiftly coming back from space (which in itself may have some unfortunate side effects for male astronauts), the news from ancient Earth was of a possible Arctic graveyard, which could turn out to be the northernmost Stone Age cemetery (though we haven’t found any human remains to prove it). Archaeologists also unearthed a 2,000-year-old coin stash in Pakistan, 73 pre-Incan mummies — some with “false heads” — from Peru, and seven Bronze Age swords in Germany. There was also a tragic story about the stolen remains of Aboriginal people and Tasmanian tigers, which were traced back to a grave-robbing Victorian naturalist.
There was also plenty to report in health news this week, with something positive for those who have lost their sense of smell due to COVID as well as a mysterious respiratory illness in dogs. Meanwhile, China’s own respiratory outbreak is “expected” and not caused by a new virus. We also reported on a large study suggesting the risk of blood thickening for people taking testosterone as gender-affirming care is far less common than previously thought.
Ino technology, this week has given us Martian robo-chemists, exceptionally “human-like” hands, and a pair of smart glasses that use sound instead of cameras to track the wearer’s body movements, making them more accurate and cheaper to produce and providing a significant boost to privacy
And finally, in the animal kingdom, chinstrap penguins have taken the idea of a breeze snooze to the extreme. They sleep for a perfectly reasonable 11 hours a day, but as their breeding colonies contain tens of thousands of individuals, they must remain constantly vigilant against threats to their nests from predatory skua birds and hostile colony neighbors. So how do they pack in all those hours? Every day, they take 10,000 micro sleeps lasting up to four seconds long.