Saturday, July 27, 2013

Weekly Science Roundup #21

It was hard to narrow down to three this week. Tried for a good mix: we've got space rocks, climate science, and talking dolphins. Onwards!

1. Centaurs are Comets!

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
A group of mysterious objects lies between Jupiter and Neptune, hanging out in orbit amidst the gas giants. It's never been clear if these things were asteroids that had made their way farther out in the solar system, or comets heading on in. Because of this identity confusion, they got their nickname: Centaurs.

But a new study has cleared things up. NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has made observations on infrared images which indicate, because of their darker coloring, that these mystery objects have a cometary origin. This means these objects likely came from the edges of our solar system, and were once active comets. They might even become active again in the future.

One space mystery solved! ...ish. It's still unclear exactly how those objects got there, but at least we've figured out which direction they came from!

2. Greenland's Inland Ice Melts "Like Butter"

Credit: Chmee2
The inland regions of Greenland's glaciers are flowing 1.5 times faster than they were just a decade ago, which has puzzled scientists. They knew the edges of the glaciers were flowing faster because they were melting from climate change, but the middle should've been relatively unaffected.

But a new model demonstrates how this very scenario could occur: you just need to consider the glaciers as if they're big chunks of butter that you're softening for cooking. The melting exterior drains warm water into the interior, which then softens until it bends and flows, even though it's not yet pure liquid and "drippy".

So... great that we understand why Greenland is melting so much faster than predicted. Now to find a way to slow that down.

3. Dolphins Have Names (and not just ones we give them!)

Credit: Peter Asprey
As has already been observed in captivity, though never proven, a new study demonstrates that bottlenose dolphins respond to unique, "signature whistles" that dolphins develop and broadcast to others. Each dolphin has its own. And now, it's shown that they respond to those signature whistles as a person would respond to someone calling their name.

When scientists played a particular dolphin's signature whistle, that dolphin's attention would be captured, and it would call back, repeating the whistle. It is clearly an identifying marker of each individual dolphin. Therefore, for the first time in biological history, it's been proven that other animals name themselves.

I wonder what they call us.


  1. Katie~

    What a great, snapshot of coolest.things.ever. I love your roundup posts. They spur me on to further reading & thinking. For this, I thank you.


    1. Aww, thanks, Lucas! Glad you could stop by and take a look at what science was up to this week. :)