Today in Science: Guardian Liberty Voice Daily Digest for August 6, 2014
Today in science, a new species of dinosaur has been discovered in Venezuela, the South American country’s first. Electromagnetic pulses have the potential to help brains heal through reorganization, a discovery that points the way toward treatments for disorders that are caused by abnormal organization.
Astronomers have discovered a celestial body that looks like a planetary gas giant, but that seems to have once been as hot as some stars. Finally, the European Space Agency has reported that the probe Rosetta has successfully rendezvoused with a comet, a historic first for space exploration. Welcome to the Guardian Liberty Voice Science daily digest for August 6, 2014.
New Species of Dinosaur Discovered in Venezuela
A new species of dinosaur has been discovered in Venezuela, a first for the South American country. Laquintasaura venezuelae lived about 200 million years ago, in the early Jurassic, making it a relatively early dinosaur. The discovery is particularly significant because it includes evidence for social behavior, the first such clear evidence from the group of dinosaurs to which Laquintasaura belongs.
The new dinosaur was a small biped, approximately 3.3 feet (1.3 meters) long. Laquintasaura is thought to have been primarily herbivorous, but its slightly curved and elongated teeth are thought to indicate a diet that was probably occasionally omnivorous.
In addition to being the first dinosaur discovered in Venezuela, Laquintasaura is also the earliest known “bird-hipped” or ornithischian dinosaur to show evidence of social behavior. The ornithischian dinosaurs were the group that included the ceratopsian or horned dinosaurs, as well as the hadrosaurs or “duck-billed” dinosaurs, among others. The site yielded the remains of at least four individuals of various ages, from three to about 12 years old.
Electromagnetic Pulses Have Potential to Heal Brain
Electromagnetic pulses have been demonstrated to affect brain organization in ways that have the potential to heal the brains of people suffering from disorders like depression, epilepsy and tinnitus. Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the new study used repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to promote healthy changes in the brains of mice born with abnormal brain organization.
What the science indicated was that the electromagnetic pulses produced changes in a particular brain chemical, affecting several regions of the mice brains. The abnormal neural connections underwent a certain reorganization, shifting toward more standard and healthy positions. The discovery has a great deal of potential to help humans suffering from disorders that are caused by brain organization issues.
Planet-Like Gas Giant May Have Been as Hot as a Star
Astronomers have discovered a celestial body that seems to blur the lines between planetary gas giants and stars. Today, WISE J0304-2705 is a gas giant about 20 to 30 times as massive as Jupiter, with a temperature intermediate between the temperatures of Earth and Venus. However, it may have spent millions of years as hot as a star.
WISE J0304-2705 is a member of the so-called “Y dwarf” stellar temperature class, a class that has only recently been created. Even in comparison with the 20 other known members of this strange new class, the new celestial body appears to be unusual for the extreme degree of temperature evolution it has undergone.
The key to the strange history and life cycle of this planet-like body is its “sub-stellar” status. Although it may have spent roughly its first 20 million years being about as hot as a red dwarf star, its interior never reached temperatures sufficiently high to initiate the process of hydrogen fusion. Over many tens of millions of years, it has cooled accordingly.
Rosetta Makes Historic Rendezvous With Comet
On Aug. 6, 2014, the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Rosetta rendezvoused with a comet, a historic first in the history of space exploration. The spacecraft completed a 10-year-long voyage to meet the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at its current location, about midway between Jupiter and Mars.
Rosetta was launched in 2004, and it has traced a complex course to the comet. Along the way it has gone around the sun five times, and obtained close-up views of two asteroids. The comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has a highly elliptical orbit, crossing beyond the orbit of Jupiter at its farthest from the sun and reaching between the orbits of Mars and Earth at its nearest to the sun, all in the course of 6.5 years.
Commentary by Michael Schultheiss, Science Editor
The University of Western Australia