Taxonomy term

mary caperton morton

Eavesdropping on Old Faithful

The Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park has erupted predictably within a 10-minute window every hour for more than 150 years, but the inner workings that power its regular 30-meter-high eruptive plumes are largely still a mystery. Recent monitoring of the gusher is revealing new secrets about its plumbing system, which may help the National Park Service plan for future infrastructure expansions around the popular attraction.

28 Jul 2017

Earth-like exoplanet shows signs of supporting life

A recently discovered exoplanet 40 light-years from Earth appears to orbit its home star at a distance suggesting it could support liquid water. The planet, dubbed LHS 1140b and reported in a study in Nature, is located in the constellation Cetus and orbits a red dwarf star. The rocky planet is 10 times closer to its star than Earth is to the sun, but the red dwarf only puts out a fraction of the light that the sun does, meaning LHS 1140b lies in the middle of the habitable zone around the star.

24 Jul 2017

Lidar sheds light on roadside rockfall hazard

Rockfalls represent a significant hazard on many U.S. roadways that wind through steep terrain. But with money tight for roadside hazard mitigation, engineers are looking for more efficient ways to assess where and when unstable slopes could give way. In a new study, researchers suggest that lidar might be a cost-effective solution.

21 Jul 2017

Hangover echinoderms survived the Great Dying

The end-Permian extinction event was disastrous for a wide range of organisms on land and in the sea, with as many as 70 percent of terrestrial and 81 percent of marine species dying off. One of the hardest hit marine phyla was the echinoderms, which today includes sea urchins and starfish. Echinoderms are thought to have suffered one of the most severe population reductions in evolutionary history, with only a few members surviving to repopulate the oceans in the Triassic. But in a new study, researchers have identified Triassic fossils from a handful of “hangover” species whose ancestors were previously thought to have gone extinct at the end of the Permian, suggesting the extinction wasn’t quite as cataclysmic for echinoderms as paleontologists have suspected.

12 Jul 2017

Magnetic method dates glacial floods in Iceland

In Iceland, volcanoes buried under glaciers occasionally melt huge quantities of ice, setting off massive glacial floods called jökulhlaups. Dating past jökulhlaups helps geologists better understand the eruptive history of Iceland’s many active volcanoes, which, in turn, sheds light on future volcanic hazards. But such dating is no easy task. A new study of magnetic minerals preserved in large boulders moved by floodwaters might provide a new tool in the effort.

07 Jul 2017

Bipedalism left its mark on human skull: Kangaroos and upright rodents show same signs

The transition to bipedal walking in our ancestors changed the hominin skeleton in many ways. New research looking at how upright walking affected the structures at the base of the skull in both early humans and other bipedal mammals, like kangaroos, is shedding light on a once-controversial marker for bipedalism.

04 Jul 2017

Evolution of eyes, not limbs, led fish onto land

In the Middle Devonian, roughly 385 million years ago, the first vertebrates began making their way out of water. For these pioneering fish, the adaptation of fins into limbs facilitated the transition. But in a new study, researchers have found that millions of years before fully functional terrestrial limbs evolved, some fish were developing better eyesight — an evolutionary adaptation they suggest gave an advantage to fish hunting insects near the shore.

28 Jun 2017

Platinum may point to impact theory for Younger Dryas

Some large meteorite strikes leave obvious craters on Earth’s surface, while others that hit water or ice or explode in the air may only leave subtle markers in the soil, such as exotic minerals or elevated levels of rare elements like platinum or iridium. In a new study, researchers report spikes of platinum in sediments at archaeological sites across North America, offering new evidence, they suggest, of a major meteorite strike about 12,800 years ago, just before the onset of a global cold period known as the Younger Dryas. The lack of a telltale crater dating to this time, however, has left scientists debating for years whether an impact actually occurred and what, if any, role it had in setting off the cold snap and affecting some of Earth’s human and animal populations.

21 Jun 2017

The only Earth: Exploring the link between plate tectonics and life on the blue planet

Earth is the only planet known to have plate tectonics and life. Could that be a coincidence? Most geoscientists don't think so. In fact, it seems that plate tectonics is fundamental to life itself.

18 Jun 2017

Ceres' homemade organic materials

Researchers analyzing data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft have found signs of organic compounds that arose on the surface of Ceres, a dwarf planet one-fourth the diameter of our moon in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The compounds’ origins may provide clues about how life on Earth got started.

09 Jun 2017