Another giant study confirms that your coffee habit is probably good for you | Popular Science

Here’s the thing about coffee: there’s never been much scientific debate about whether it’s healthy.

Source: Another giant study confirms that your coffee habit is probably good for you | Popular Science


Ebola Outbreak in the Congo Has Killed 500 People, Including 100 Children | Smart News | Smithsonian

So when does Sean Hannity interview the Head of the CDC and tell him that he’s wrong and that the President is letting the Ebola come in, mutate and kill us all like he did in 2014?


Efforts to bring the crisis under control are being hampered by violent conflicts and widespread misconceptions about the infection

Source: Ebola Outbreak in the Congo Has Killed 500 People, Including 100 Children | Smart News | Smithsonian

The Ebola outbreak that began in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year has killed close to 500 people—nearly 100 of whom are children. The crisis is showing no signs of slowing down; as CNN’s Rob Picheta reports, the number of new cases spiked last month, jumping from 20 to 40 reported infections per week.

More than 785 people are believed to have contracted Ebola over the past six months, with 731 of the cases confirmed, according to a statement from Save the Children. The virus is often deadly—it has a fatality rate of around 50 percent—and to date, 484 people in the DRC have lost their lives. Ninety-seven children are among the dead, 65 of whom were younger than five years old. The outbreak has not approached the disastrous mortality rates of the 2014-2016 Ebola crisis, which killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa, but it is the second-largest outbreak of the virus in history.

“We are at a crossroads,” says Heather Kerr, Save the Children’s Country Director in DRC. “If we don’t take urgent steps to contain this, the outbreak might last another six months, if not the whole year.”

Kerr added that efforts to stamp out the virus are being hampered by political instability in the DRC. North Kivu and Ituri, the two provinces affected by the outbreak, are wracked by violent conflicts, making it impossible for health workers to access certain communities and putting their own lives at risk. The dangerous situation has prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to pull its skilled Ebola experts from the outbreak zone. Health workers still on the ground have also been met with hostility and resistance due to widespread misconceptions about Ebola.

“People have disrupted funerals because they didn’t believe the deceased had succumbed to the virus,” Kerr says. “Aid workers were threatened because it was believed they spread Ebola. We have to scale up our efforts to reach out to the vocal youth and community leaders to build trust and to help us turn this tide. Treating the people who are sick is essential, but stopping Ebola from spreading further is just as important.”

The outbreak is currently contained within the DRC, but Save the Children notes that there is a real threat of the disease spilling over into neighboring Uganda, where “refugees from the DRC continue to arrive daily.” Amid this worrying situation, hope is resting on an investigational vaccine, rVSV-ZEBOV, which has not yet been licensed but has been shown to be safe and effective, according to the WHOSTAT’s Helen Branswell reported late last month that experts think they have enough of the vaccine to contain the outbreak; as of that time, the 64,000 doses of the vaccine had been administered, with an efficacy rate of more than 90 percent.

This relatively good news, however, has been tempered by recent reports that women in the DRC are being asked to provide sexual favors in exchange for the vaccine. The Ebola crisis has also rendered children particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

“Many children are being left alone [because of the virus] for different reasons.” says Marie-Claire Mbombo, a child protection officer for Save the Children. “In some cases, their parents are at the hospital, or working in the field. Other children were orphaned. Children left alone are at increased risk of sexual abuse or of having to work.”

Last week, health experts called on the WHO to declare the DRC’s Ebola crisis a “public health emergency of international concern.”

“A storm of detrimental factors complicates this event: armed conflict, political instability, and mass displacement,” they wrote in the Lancet. “The outbreak remains far from controlled, risking a long-term epidemic with regional, perhaps global, impacts.”

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Black Holes: #5 Fuzzballs

Rationalising The Universe

Fuzzballs are believed by string theorists to be the true quantum description of black holes. Put forward by Samir Mathur of Ohio State University in 2002, fuzzballs are giant, compact star like objects comprised entirely of intertwined strings. String theory is a theory of quantum gravity, for a recap see How long is a piece of string. These seemingly cuddly and cute entities are actually proposed to be very powerful indeed and in their suggested reformulation of black holes, are supposedly able to resolve some of the biggest problems within theoretical physics.

To understand fuzzballs we must first remind ourselves of the key properties of black holes. Earlier posts in the Black Holes series (#1, #2, #3, #4) at RTU cover these fantastical features in more depth, but in a nutshell they are defined by two key features. Firstly, the event horizon, the barrier…

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A Meteor Struck the Moon During Sunday’s Total Eclipse | Smart News | Smithsonian

It may be the first time that such an event was documented from Earth

Source: A Meteor Struck the Moon During Sunday’s Total Eclipse | Smart News | Smithsonian

he “super blood wolf moon” that lit up the night sky on Sunday marked the rare convergence of three lunar events: the January full moon, known as a “wolf moon,” appeared especially large because it was positioned unusually close to Earth, hence the “super,” and a total lunar eclipse caused the celestial body to glow a deep crimson—or “blood” red, if you will. While this spectacular phenomena was ongoing, yet another special event occurred: a meteor collided with the moon and sparked a powerful flash that could be seen from Earth.

According to Scientific American’s Nadia Drake, this may mark the first time that a meteor strike has been observed during a total lunar eclipse. On the night of the super blood wolf moon, a Reddit user reported seeing the flash on multiple webcasts, and social media was soon filled with images and input from other people who said they caught the meteor collision. Eventually, Jose Maria Madiedo, an astronomer at Spain’s University of Huelva, confirmed on Twitter that the “impact flash has been recorded by telescopes operating in the framework of MIDAS Survey from Europe.

MIDAS, or the Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System, has been monitoring lunar impact flashes since 1997. The moon is constantly being pelted by fast-moving celestial objects, typically fragments that have broken off from asteroids and comets. Space debris also hits the Earth, but it usually gets burned up in our planet’s atmosphere before it can hit the ground. The moon, by contrast, has only an “infinitesimal” atmosphere, so objects hurtling through space collide with it at high speed, causing brief but forceful flashes that can be spotted via telescope on Earth.

Madiedo tells Drake that the object that hit the super blood wolf moon may have weighed around 10 kilograms, and collided with the lunar surface at a speed of 61,000 kilometers per hour, creating a crater up to 10 meters in diameter.

“The most likely situation is that the impactor was a fragment of a comet,” he says. “The explosion would be equivalent to 0.5 tons of TNT.”

This is a relatively small collision, and not in itself unusual—debris of this size hits the moon frequently, around every two to three months, according to Madiedo. But MIDAS had never before captured a meteor strike during a lunar eclipse. In the days leading up to the super blood wolf moon, Madiedo worked day and night to get eight MIDAS telescopes fixed on the moon, hoping this would be the year he caught the coveted event.

“I had a very nice reward,” he tells National Geographic’s Maya Wei-Haas.

Scientists are keen to document lunar impacts because it can give them a better sense of collision frequencies here on Earth. The Earth and moon, which are on close proximity, experience similar rates of impacts, but craters don’t erode on the moon in the same way that they do on Earth. A recent study, in fact, used impact craters on the moon to determine that asteroid strikes on Earth have surged dramatically in the past 290 million years.

Knowing more about lunar impacts is also essential to future manned missions to the moon. “If you imagine this rock falling on your head, it’s not so pleasant,” Stephanie Werner, a professor at the University of Oslo’s department of geosciences, tells Drake. “There is definitely uncertainty in how well we understand the small projectile rate. The more information we can collect, the more exciting it is.”

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New Prehistoric Shark Species Discovered Alongside Sue the T. Rex | Science | Smithsonian

The teeth of Galagadon nordquistae were discovered in the rock that once surrounded the famous T. rex skeleton.

Source: New Prehistoric Shark Species Discovered Alongside Sue the T. Rex | Science | Smithsonian

Dinosaurs tend to dominate our vision of the past. As large and imposing as they were in life, they loom even larger in our imaginations. But much more than just the “terrible lizards” lived and thrived during the Mesozoic era, and some of the creatures that lived alongside the dinosaurs actually bear a striking resemblance to the animals of today.

Sharks, for example, are some of the most successful creatures to ever live. Their fossil record stretches back about 400 million years and includes ancient species both strange and familiar. A new finding adds to the long-lived legacy of these marine predators. Fossil shark teeth were recently discovered alongside the bones of the most famous and complete T. rex skeleton ever found, helping to fill out a more detailed picture of life during the last days of the dinosaurian reign.

The tiny teeth, petrified tidbits about the size of a pinhead, look straight out of an 1980s videogame. They took a circuitous route to discovery, which started with the excavation of the nearly complete Tyrannosaurus known as “Sue” back in 1990. As the tyrannosaur’s bones were removed from the ground, the encasing rock, called matrix, was left around the bones to keep them safe until more detailed prep work could be carried out. Chicago’s Field Museum, where Sue resides today, saved the matrix for future sifting and study. Almost three decades later, those efforts yielded the tiny teeth of a shark that swam upstream in rivers to live in Sue’s neck of the woods.

“This shark lived at the same time as Sue the T. rex, it was part of the same world,” said Pete Makovicky, the Field Museum’s curator of dinosaurs and one of the authors of a study describing the new species, in a press release. “Most of its body wasn’t preserved, because sharks’ skeletons are made of cartilage, but we were able to find its tiny fossilized teeth.”


North Carolina University paleontologist Terry Gates led the work to characterize the new shark species in the Journal of Paleontology. An appropriate name for the ancient shark was immediately apparent to the researchers. Each of the small, triangular teeth look like the persistent space invaders in the 1981 arcade classic Galaga. Thus, Gates and colleagues named the shark Galagadon nordquistae, with the species name also honoring museum volunteer Karen Nordquist for finding the first fossilized tooth.

“It was so tiny, you could miss it if you weren’t looking really carefully,” Nordquist said in a press release. “To the naked eye, it just looks like a little bump, you have to have a microscope to get a good view of it.”

Based on comparisons with other fossil shark teeth, the team proposes that Galagadon belonged to a major shark family called orectolobiformes, or carpet sharks. DePaul University paleobiologist Kenshu Shimada agrees with this identification. Galagadon, he says, “serves as another example of the diversification of this shark group not only in oceans worldwide, but also in the freshwater systems in the terrestrial environments near the end of the so-called ‘Age of Reptiles.’” While only the teeth of Galagadon are known so far, their shape suggests that the living animal would have looked something like today’s bamboo sharks, a subset of carpet sharks found in the warm waters of the Indo-Pacific.

What has intrigued paleontologists about Galagadon, though, is what the shark can reveal about the world that Sue stomped around in. “The new study, including the recognition of the new species, sheds light on the complex evolutionary history of the freshwater system that existed in North America when T. rex roamed the Earth,” Shimada says.

Even though dinosaurs often dominate the spotlight, it’s often the meeker species that help paleontologists reconstruct what ancient environments were really like. Smaller animals such as frogs, turtles and fish can help narrow down the details of ancient habitats like climate and systems of waterways.

Until now, it seemed that the body of Sue was deposited in a lake that had been created by a nearly-dried-up river. It was thought to be a relatively self-contained habitat. But the presence of a shark species only known in ocean environments indicates that the river was likely connected to the sea, allowing Galagadon and other species to swim inland. Without the shark teeth, paleontologists would have missed this watery connection. Whether Galagadon moved in formation like its video game namesakes, though, will have to wait for future finds.

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Male hermit crabs evolved larger sex organs to avoid losing homes

A study suggests hermit crabs with more valuable, easily stolen shells have evolved larger penises to more safely mate.

Source: Male hermit crabs evolved larger sex organs to avoid losing homes

HERMIT CRABS ARE a common sight scuttling across warm beaches, but many of these charismatic crustaceans wield something surprising and hidden—very large penises, sometimes half the length of their shell-anchored bodies. New research suggests the crabs evolved such outsized organs to help them mate without straying far from home.

Some of these hermits expend a lot of energy “remodeling” the inside of their shells, which unlike most crabs they, of course, cannot grow themselves, says Mark Laidre, a biologist at Dartmouth College and a National Geographic Explorer.

These animals can whittle their shells and secrete erosive chemicals, allowing them to create a smooth and expansive interior. These refurbished homes give them space to grow and may even provide room for egg storage—making the shells extremely valuable. They are, in other words, not something that you’d like to leave—even temporarily—which many hermit crabs have to do to mate.

But what if you could have a large enough sexual organ to reproduce without exiting your shell, which rivals may steal?

Varying sizes

While studying land-dwelling hermit crabs at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Laidre noticed that the animals’ penises, also known as sexual tubes, varied widely in size. But the species that did the most remodeling—and thus had the most valuable shells—had the largest penises.

Laidre’s new study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, suggests that hermit crabs evolved bigger sexual organs to avoid becoming homeless.

To test his “private parts for private property” hypothesis, Laidre took a closer look at the genitalia of land crabs in the genus Coenobita, but also set of related hermit crabs over a wide range of habitats and lifestyles. Some crabs modify their shells to varying degrees, while others do not. Some were tiny, tidepool residents, and others, like Petrochirus diogenes, are massive deep sea-dwelling animals.

Laidre also included the watermelon-sized coconut crab—the world’s largest land-lubbing invertebrate—which doesn’t need a shell home.

Upon measuring the penis-to-body-size ratio of more than three hundred museum specimens, Laidre found that the more extensively a given species’ shell was carved, the longer its penis was for its body size. Laidre even ruled out alternative hypotheses that could explain the pattern, like the possibility that penis length went up with body size, or that particular habitat types were responsible.

This makes sense because terrestrial hermit crabs’ lives revolve around their protective shells. The cunning creatures are ruthless about spotting and stealing superior shell property from their neighbors.

Get a grip

“They get into quite a lot of shell shenanigans, where individuals are constantly at risk of being evicted,” says Laidre, noting that remodeled shells are even more apt to being snatched away, since their smooth interiors are even harder for the crab to grip.

Enlarged genitalia are “really a very sensible evolutionary solution to what is one of the most dangerous things [the crabs] can get involved in,” he says.

Losing a remodeled shell makes fatal desiccation all but inevitable, and the crabs have become so specialized, they can’t even fit into unimproved shells as a temporary fix. “If these guys lose that shell, within 24 hours, they’re doomed.”

Because of this, Laidre envisions the enlarged penises as an insurance policy for protecting a crucial investment, one that is bolstered by other behaviors that make sex as safe as possible.

Shell to shell

When mating, the two crabs face their shell openings towards each other and get as close as possible to allow the male to deposit sperm without either crab leaving the shell. (There is not penetration involved.) Laidre notes that the process is fairly speedy in remodeled shell species compared to other crabs, and executed in secretive locations, likely minimizing risk further.

This is in stark contrast to coconut crabs, which have one of the smallest penis-to-body-size ratios among crabs in the study. Coconut crabs use remodeled shells as young but become too large to need them before maturity. With no shell to protect as adults, the danger in copulation erodes, as does the need for enlarged genitalia.

“I thought this study was extremely clever,” says Justa Heinen-Kay, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Minnesota who was not involved in this study. “It is quite remarkable that these animals have actually evolved longer penises in order to stay close to home while copulating.”

“It is quite unusual for an object to be involved in the evolution of sexual traits,” Heinen-Kay notes.