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.

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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.

Linkadelica

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.

Linkadelica

“Okay, here’s what we’ve got: The Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the Saucer People, under the supervision of the Reverse Vampires, are forcing our parents to go to bed early in a fiendish plot to eliminate the meal of dinner.”

Milhouse van Houten

Fabian Oefner, Black Hole (detail)Cassini buzzes Titan again today.

• Paint … drill … physics … camera … art.

• This time it’s in Turkey; or, they found Hell … again.

• Er … oh, wait … Ur? (Wait, wasn’t that the Geo Quiz last week?)

Rhett Allain would like to confuse you; but then he sets everything straght again, so it’s safe to click the link.

• Today’s vocabulary lesson: ectopic eyes.

Decorah Rocks

Decorah, Iowa (detail)Decorah, Iowa is a quiet sort of midwestern town. With a population of just over 8,100, the seven square miles of Decorah make up the Winneshiek County seat, right about where Route 52 crosses Highway 9. Once upon a time, the Winnebago tribe lived here after being driven from Wisconsin; the town is named after Waukon Decorah, who led Ho-Chunk Winnebago warriors alongside American forces in the Black Hawk War of 1832, and lived to see his people once again uprooted so that white American settlers could have the land. The good people of Decorah named their town after him, and then dug up what they believed was his body in 1859 in order to build over the gravesite. In 1876, they dug up the bones again, in order to renovate the courthouse.

The town is also home to Luther College and the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. Each year, the town is flooded by thousands of tourists celebrating Norwegian heritage during Nordic Fest.

It is a picturesque little place in the American heartland.

And it also sits on a 470 million year-old cosmic impact crater:

An asteroid as big as a city block smashed into what is now northern Iowa about 470 million years ago, says a Smithsonian geologist, supporting a theory that a giant space rock broke up and bombarded Earth just as early life began flourishing in the oceans.

The impact dug a crater nearly four miles wide that now lies beneath the town of Decorah, said Bevan French, one of the world’s foremost crater hunters and an adjunct scientist at the National Museum of Natural History.

The asteroid that carved it would have dwarfed the estimated 55-foot-wide space rock that exploded over southern Russia on Friday.

The Decorah object smashed into bedrock with such force that it shattered tiny grains of minerals. French found this “shock quartz” in gravel from beneath the town, he told two dozen colleagues during a seminar at the museum last week.

Finding impact craters is rare, as erosion and the shifting of tectonic plates tend to erase them. The Decorah crater, if accepted by other scientists, would be just the 184th known, according to an international database at the University of New Brunswick.

But spying the evidence of the Earth’s most dramatic explosions requires only humble equipment — a simple black microscope. As sun streamed into French’s office above Constitution Avenue one recent afternoon, he placed a glass slide under the microscope’s lens and invited a reporter to peer in. A thin slice of rock from beneath Decorah sat on the slide.

Three white circles — quartz crystals no bigger than mustard seeds — popped into view. Dozens of parallel lines striped each circle: evidence of a rock-crushing pulse.

“They’re shattered,” French said of the crystals. Geologists consider shock quartz near-definitive evidence of an extraterrestrial impact.

The Decorah crater lay undiscovered until now because almost none of it peeks above ground. Instead, it is filled by an unusual shale that formed after an ancient seaway sluiced into the crater, depositing sediment and an array of bizarre sea creatures that hardened into fossils, French said.

This shale was the first clue that certain Iowans may be unknowingly living in a crater.

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