Saturday, April 27, 2013

Weekly Science Roundup #19

Since I finished my novel draft, I'm allowed to have a bit of science fun around here again. Time for a Weekly Science Roundup!

1. CONFORM. Monkeys do.

In a new study featuring pink and blue corn, of all things, vervet monkeys demonstrate that conforming to social norms is a trait with deep roots in our primate brains.

Monkeys that switched from a group where all corn colors were acceptable to eat to a group where only blue was acceptable (this group had been giving gross-tasting pink corn earlier, so they only ate blue) immediately conformed to eating only blue corn like was customary for their new group. Well, except for one guy:
The one monkey who did not switch, was the top ranking in his new group who appeared unconcerned about adopting local behavior.
So it seems that fitting it culturally is a big deal for vervet monkeys, likely because the "locals" know what's safe and it's evolutionarily a good idea to heed local advice. Unless you're a bad*ss trend-bucker, like that top-ranking monkey who didn't care one way or another about what culture told him.


So Dark Lightning is a real thing, and not just a teenage garage band name.

Dark Lightning is an intense gamma ray burst caused by fast-moving electrons hitting the air during a thunderstorm, and no one knew about it before 1991. It's been a mysterious phenomena since its discovery, but now scientists have learned that it might be linked to normal, "bright" lightning.

What new research has shown, is that Dark Lightning may be triggered by the electric field that forms just before visible lightning. When electrons move quickly, that moving charge releases energy that we see and hear as lightning, but it might also result in these electrons smacking around air molecules and simultaneously creating gamma radiation.

Basically, the moral of this story is that lightning is way cooler than we thought, and dark and "bright" lightning might be two sides of the same awesome event.

3. Dinosaurs Crouched, So Now They Can Fly

Theropod dinosaurs walk on two legs, as do humans. But the way humans move around bipedally is very different than the way dinosaurs do.

Humans stand upright, with our legs straight underneath us, while theropods have a crouched, bent-legged posture. Our way is more efficient, so why don't birds walk like us?

Well, new research suggests that as forelimbs got bigger and bigger, the center of mass had to move forward in dinosaur bodies to compensate (think lever and fulcrum). Thus, the feet--being what holds up the center of mass--had to move forward. The femur ended up becoming more horizontal so that the feet can be farther forward under the animal, creating the zig-zag leg posture that we see today.

One reason forelimbs increased in size was because they were becoming wings. But before being used for flight, the forelimbs were likely increasing in size to aid in capturing and manipulating prey with their sharp, deadly claws. So once again, we can confirm birds evolved because dinosaurs are scary, scary creatures.

This goose WILL destroy you. There's no denying it has murder glinting in its eye.

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