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Red Planet Roundup: March 2019

With two rovers and a lander on the surface of Mars, six spacecraft orbiting above it, and scientists here on Earth studying the Red Planet from afar, new findings are announced often.

28 Mar 2019

Grounding Asian jumping worms

To tell the difference between a regular earthworm and an Asian jumping worm, pick it up. An earthworm will likely just lay there, perhaps curling gently around a finger, but a jumping worm will thrash around violently until it jumps out of your grasp. Researchers are looking at how this invasive species is altering soil in Wisconsin, where the worms have been found in growing numbers since 2013.

26 Mar 2019

Frogs fill in post-Gondwana picture

The positions of landmasses after the breakup of Gondwana during the late Mesozoic and early Paleogene are highly debated, especially the configurations of the Indian and Australian plates around the newly opening Indian Ocean. In a new study, the paleogeographic and genetic distributions of a group of frogs called Natatanurans were used to test the various post-breakup models — and the results bring additional clarity to the post-Gondwana puzzle.

22 Mar 2019

Abiotic amino acid found in subseafloor rocks

In 2000, scientists discovered a new type of deep-sea hydrothermal vent site in the North Atlantic about 20 kilometers west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which they named Lost City. Nearly two decades later, researchers have discovered that an amino acid detected in rocks beneath the site is produced by a geochemical process, rather than a biological one. The find reveals conditions that might have kick-started life on Earth.

20 Mar 2019

Neanderthals and humans suffered similar levels of head injuries

Paleolithic Neanderthals have traditionally been depicted as more aggressive than Homo sapiens, and reliant on inferior hunting techniques with close-range weapons that would have put them at greater risk of suffering gruesome injuries and shortened life spans. A seemingly high incidence of Neanderthal remains bearing evidence of traumatic injuries has helped shape the narrative that they lived harder, more violent lives and died younger than their modern human neighbors. But a new study in Nature looking at skull injuries in Eurasian hominids casts doubt on this brutish stereotype.

19 Mar 2019

Hard-knock hominid skeletons tell harsh tales

The Pleistocene was a hard time for hominids. Homo fossils from this period, when humans evolved and expanded from Africa and across Eurasia, are riddled with an unusual number of skeletal abnormalities. Swollen braincases, bowed femurs, twisted long bones, pronounced dwarfism and malformed teeth are just a few of the unusual skeletal features found in many Pleistocene hominid fossils. A new statistical study has confirmed that these anomalies occur at higher-than-expected rates in the Pleistocene fossil record. But whether this elevated incidence was mainly caused by nutritional stress or inbreeding, or if it’s an artifact of preservational bias, is unknown.

15 Mar 2019

Kerogen's nanostructure determines oil and gas reservoir capacity

The petroleum and natural gas that power engines and heat homes are extracted from the complex networks of nooks and crannies that permeate kerogen — a waxy organic mishmash that forms within sedimentary rocks as algae, terrestrial plants and other organic matter is compacted and heated over geologic time. In a new study, scientists have taken the closest look yet at kerogen’s internal pore structure, and the resulting images are helping scientists understand why some oil and gas reservoirs are more productive than others.

14 Mar 2019

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