NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ. (22 Jan. 2015)




Oppy’s Eleven

Marathon Oppy

Blowing stuff up for science

Earth Still Needs Exploring, Too

A newly-observed snailfish species from the Marianas Trench currently holds the record for the deepest-observed surviving marine animal.The modern era sometimes tends toward a headline culture, a tendency to skip the detail in order to receive as much of the information spectrum as possible. Consider the bland headline for Rebecca Morelle of BBC News, “New Record for deepest fish”. In and of itself, certainly that might be a reason to check in, but it is also true that few of us are rushing to check the sumsα.

But Morelle’s article is written in that classic Beeb voice, with shorter sentences and paragraphs for comprehensibility, and scrolling through one finds astounding bits and pieces—

Until this expedition, the deepest fish had been found in the Japan Trench, also in the Pacific Ocean. A 17-strong shoal of pink, gelatinous snailfish (Pseudoliparis amblystomopsis) were recorded 7,700m down.

Dr Alan Jamieson, from Oceanlab at the University of Aberdeen, said: “After we found these, we started seeing them in other deep trenches. Each trench has its own snailfish species.

—including some that probably deserve their own headline:

During the voyage, researchers also studied the geology of the Mariana Trench by grabbing rocks and returning them to the surface.

Prof Patricia Fryer, from the University of Hawaii, told the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco that a sample collected from an earlier expedition suggested that a previously undiscovered tectonic plate lies at the bottom of the trench.

“The rock we picked up – it turns out this thing is 100 million years younger than the Pacific Plate,” she told BBC News.

“It means that the plate that’s being subducted beneath the Challenger Deep (the lowest point of the trench) is 100 million years or more younger than the Pacific Plate.”

We are nowhere near finished exploring this wonderful, mysterious planet. Fascination abounds.


α Rachel Feltman of The Washington Post posted more precise numbers; 8,143 meters for the new species, compared to 7,703 for the previous record holder, a difference Morelle describes as “beating the previous depth record by nearly 500m”. As far as headlines are concerned, Feltman wins hands down: “Ghostly new fish discovered at record-breaking depths”.

Morelle, Rebecca. “New record for deepest fish”. BBC News. 18 December 2014.

Feltman, Rachel. “Ghostly new fish discovered at record-breaking depths”. The Washington Post. 19 December 2014.

Inquiry, Discovery, Inquiry

The feature called Maskelyne is one of many newly discovered young volcanic deposits on the Moon. Called irregular mare patches, these areas are thought to be remnants of small basaltic eruptions that occurred much later than the commonly accepted end of lunar volcanism, 1 to 1.5 billion years ago. (Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

This is why NASA rocks:

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has provided researchers strong evidence the moon’s volcanic activity slowed gradually instead of stopping abruptly a billion years ago.

Scores of distinctive rock deposits observed by LRO are estimated to be less than 100 million years old. This time period corresponds to Earth’s Cretaceous period, the heyday of dinosaurs. Some areas may be less than 50 million years old. Details of the study are published online in Sunday’s edition of Nature Geoscience.

“This finding is the kind of science that is literally going to make geologists rewrite the textbooks about the moon,” said John Keller, LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Variations of a blue pigment were developed at Oregon State University. (Photo: Mas Subramanian)Science as a career is, to a certain degree, a form of job security. That is, while one might argue the idea of job security through perpetuation of the problem in certain political argumentation, the reality is that you don’t need to do that with science. That is to say, when you make a scientific discovery, you also raise a million new questions for scientists to answer.

No, really. Did you hear about the time all of five years ago that scientists at Oregon State University accidentally created a new shade of blue?


NASA. “Release 14-284: NASA Mission Finds Widespread Evidence of Young Lunar Volcanism”. 12 October 2014.

Chang, Kenneth. “By Happy Accident, Chemists Produce a New Blue”. The New York Times. 23 November 2009.

Did Someone Say ‘Firehole’?

And then there is this ….

Ed Mazza explains what we are seeing:

The park says extreme heat from thermal areas is causing hot oil to bubble to the surface of Firehole Lake Drive, a scenic 3.3-mile loop that runs past Great Fountain Geyser, White Dome Geyser and Firehole Lake ….

…. “It basically turned the asphalt into soup,” park spokesman Dan Hottle told USA Today. “It turned the gravel road into oatmeal.”

That same thermal heat melting the road is what gives the park its famous geysers, hot springs, mudpots and fumaroles. But for the moment, some of these natural wonders will be off-limits as officials ask both motorists and hikers to avoid the area.

Yellowstone Road Melts, Shutting Down Access to Famous Geysers

Continue reading

Cassini: Cosmic Gestation?

File under, And we are so amazed ….

JPL explains:

Say hello to Peggy.NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet’s known moons.

Images taken with Cassini’s narrow angle camera on April 15, 2013, show disturbances at the very edge of Saturn’s A ring — the outermost of the planet’s large, bright rings. One of these disturbances is an arc about 20 percent brighter than its surroundings, 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) long and 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide. Scientists also found unusual protuberances in the usually smooth profile at the ring’s edge. Scientists believe the arc and protuberances are caused by the gravitational effects of a nearby object. Details of the observations were published online today (April 14, 2014) by the journal Icarus.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Continue reading



Might we suggest some light, enlightening reading?

Linden-2014-FermiGC-detail-smDark matter?

• Or, maybe, zebra stripes around planet Earth?

• Perhaps contemplating the multiverse?

• Or puzzling over the “strangest magma on Earth”? How about extraterrestrial volcanoes?

• Would you believe the Permian-Triassic extinction was caused by microbes?

• Was that whole skydiver and meteorite thing true?


Animal armory

• The legend of rocket cats.

• How does the internet get from here to there?

• Two words to brighten your day: beekeeping donkey.

• It turns out your teeth can teach scientists about how to make glass stronger by cracking it.

• Study well, and one day you, too, can unlock the secrets of the Universe.

• Space is really, really big, right? Contemplate our solar system with interactive models from BBC Future and Josh Worth.

• The name of your next band? Try earthquake lights.

• It’s not all in the wrist; the “flat loop” rope trick is also in the thumb and forefinger.


Detail of photo by Olivier Grunewald

• If you haven’t discovered Summer Ash, do so. Or, consider the physics of your morning coffee, an exoplanet extravaganza from Kepler, or maybe the oldest known piece of planet Earth (and other notes).

• What do you get when you cross Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and President Barack Obama? I don’t know, but it sure is smart ….

Disordered hyperuniformity: You’ll never look at a chicken the same way again.

• Two words: blue lava.

• What does the number 915,103,765 have to do with LEGO bricks?

• Cosmic spiders? Not quite, but black widow binaries are still pretty scary.

• Every cloud has a silver lining, and really bad weather helps us find things we’ve lost.

• The question on everyone’s minds: What is a dropleton?

Say Hello to Niijima

They call it ... NiijimaErik Klemetti last month noted one of those terrestrial phenomena we hear about but so rarely get to see:

We have an eruption like Surtsey occurring in the middle of the Pacific Ocean south of Japan. A new eruption at Nishino-shima has breached the surface and started to produce a small island (see above) of black volcanic tephra. The new island (being called Niijima) still looks small, with some reports putting the island at a cozy 200 meters (650 feet) across and 20 meters (65 feet) high — likely not something that would survive for long in the rough Pacific if it only grows to this size. The plume hasn’t been noticeable (at least to me) in any satellite imagery, but that could change some now that the island is above sea level. So far, there isn’t really any hazard for people who live near the remote island, but the Japanese Meteorological Agency has warned ships not to approach the crater . . . . The new vent is just off the shores of another small island and some of the stills included in the news report show those classic “rooster tail” eruptions that go with these Surtseyan eruptions (named after the aforementioned Iceland event).

Evolving Exactitude

“We have yet to be able to monitor a volcano closely before it produced such a cataclysmic event, so we aren’t sure exactly what the full range of events before such an event might be.”

Erik Klemetti

Myth: Science is supposed to know everything exactly.

Reality: Science is science. The word exists in diverse contexts, and that’s where the trouble begins. That is, to the one, science can be described most basically as a tool, or perhaps a set of principles. The word is also used to refer to a body of knowledge collected and applied through those principles, or by that tool.

False color ASTER image of Laguna del Maule (vegetation is in red) on April 9, 2003, showing some of the rhyolite lava flows and domes around the lake. Image: NASA Earth Observatory.But science is also limited according to its practitioners. There is bad science out there, but with the best of science, the most precise outcomes do not emerge ex nihilo. Well, obviously, as nothing emerges ex nihilo, except perhaps things that, by their very nature, cannot be tested by science or otherwise verified to exist.

But we can track the tale of science through history, and perhaps we should avoid the example of hysteria, a superstitious diagnosis of almost astounding convenience, which would eventually lead to the recognition of psychology by Sigmund Freud. No … no, you don’t really want to know how that works.

The point being that as time goes by, the tool fashions more, and also more refined, produce. If science, as such, were the magic-wand some advocates of superstition and “alternative” science would suggest, we would already have figured out everything there is to know.

All of which is a really long way of suggesting Erik Klemetti’s enlightening and entertaining article on developments at Laguna del Maule, an active volcano in Chile. If you want to know exactly what is happening with this volcano right now, science cannot produce an exact answer. To the other, if you would like a glimpse of the changing “personality” of “a complex of Holocene rhyolite-rhodacite domes and ash deposits that center around a lake that straddles the Chilean-Argentine border”, well, this is certainly the article for you.

And the really fun thing is that you learn a bit about geology in general, and vulcanology specifically, along the way.

If you don’t know who Sigmund Freud was, ask someone; their answer will almost inevitably make you wonder why we might suggest one imagine being strapped in a chair while being hosed with a giant water cannon. Actually, don’t try to imagine it. Just take our word for it this time, please?