With three flares in two days it has been a strange week indeed for our sun. You may be aware that we are currently in a solar maximum, a period where the sun is in its most active, but for the majority the this maximum the sun has been relatively quiet with words like ‘dud’ and ‘tranquil’ thrown around; it is this which makes this rather out of the ordinary.
On the 23rd there was a M9.7 solar flare which was quickly outdone by a X1.7 flare and then a X2.1 flare where X-class flares are much more powerful than M-class flares, and an X2 flare is twice as powerful as a X1 flare. X-class flares are known to cause blackouts and radio-degradation although this has not been observed from these two flares as of yet.
NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center is monitoring the situation but sadly no coronal mass ejection has accompanied the flares and as such no geomagnetic storms are expected.
Check out this awesome video of the ejection from NASA here!
It has been known for some time that corals serve as the main producer of dimethylsuphoniopropionate (DMSP), the chemical which acts as the seed for clouds and that gives the sea its unique sent, but until recently it was not known that it was not just the algae living with the coral that produced DMSP, but also the young coral animals, or polyps.
In a paper published in the journal Nature, a documented increase of 54% in the levels of DMSP was observed when polyps were introduced into the setting. “… In fact we could smell it [DMSP] in a single baby coral,” said co-author Cherie Motti from the Australian Institute of Marine Science. The researchers also found that when the temperature of the water was increased the polyps produced ~76% more DMSP. This could be used as an indicator for warming sea temperatures, but would also forewarn a mass die-off of the corals. This is of importance because of the role clouds place in climate regulation in the tropics; if the corals die off because of increasing temperatures less DMSP will be produced and thus less clouds will form leading to an even higher increase in sea temperatures. This is known as a negative feedback loop.
lachrimaestro asked: These recent images of the skull are topical for me as my mother was just diagnosed with Hyperostosis Frontalis this afternoon! Your blog is fantastic.
Cool! If her skull keeps thickening, maybe she can win a harem of wildebeest or antelope! I wouldn’t advise going against the bighorn sheep, though; those guys have a honeycombed “double skull” in addition to the thickened bones.
By the by, for anyone who doesn’t know, hyperostosis frontalis is exactly what it sounds like - “hyper”: excessive, over - “osto”: bone - “-sis”: process, condition. And “frontalis" simply refers to the "frontal crest" - the flat-ish, "forehead" region of the frontal bone in the skull.
Put it together and you can see that the term means, roughly, “a process producing an excessive frontal bone”. The condition is pretty common in post-menopausal women, and as the thickening is internal, it is not usually discovered until a CT or MRI is taken for some other condition. The cause of the thickening of the bones isn’t known, but given that the majority of the people who have it are post-menopausal women, it’s assumed to be hormonal.
~ Interestingly, hyperostosis frontalis used to be thought to actually be a clinically significant finding, back before CT/MRI scans made it possible to see the skull prior to death. As the finding wasn’t universal, but not uncommon, in older women, pathologists thought that it went along with numerous other fatal conditions, and at times, actually used it as a “shortcut” to finding the true cause of death. Unfortunately, none of those assumptions turned out to be correct - the bone thickening on its own has no significant clinical implications (other than there may be a potential hormone imbalance in a younger person - but even this doesn’t have a high correlation).
'X-Shape' Not True Picture of Chromosome Structure
A new method for visualising chromosomes is painting a truer picture of their shape, which is rarely like the X-shaped blob of DNA most of us are familiar with. Scientists at the BBSRC-funded Babraham Institute, working with the University of Cambridge and the Weizmann Institute, have produced beautiful 3D models that more accurately show their complex shape and the way DNA within them folds up.
This is the chromosome structure from single-cell Hi-C. (Credit: Dr. Peret Fraser. Babraham Institute.)
Takashi Nagano, Yaniv Lubling, Tim J. Stevens, Stefan Schoenfelder, Eitan Yaffe, Wendy Dean, Ernest D. Laue, Amos Tanay, Peter Fraser. Single-cell Hi-C reveals cell-to-cell variability in chromosome structure. Nature, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nature12593
You Hiccup Because of Evolution
Why do we hiccup? Evolution. Our amphibian ancestors needed to be able to switch back and forth between breathing air with lungs and pushing water over their gills. The nerve signals that regulates this process of snapping the epiglottis shut and sucking in water is identical to a hiccup. We still have the ability but no longer have the gills to make it worth anything.
Via our partner page EvolutionEvidence.org.
Bonus fact: Charles Osborne holds the Guinness World Record for the longest continuous hiccup at 68 years. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Osborne_(hiccups)
Read more on our evolutionary vestiges:
"Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes" …
I am currently working on illustrations for a field guide on ‘Snakes of Costa Rica’ for an international publisher of natural history books. I did not realise *how many* species and sub-species there are, in one country. This shall keep me busy & out of trouble for the rest of the month…
I was supplied with all kind of shed snake skin and bones. I do find the shed skin in the last picture rather adorable. :D
A majestic rare albino whale shark graces the ocean
Sometimes, Nature puts on a show that leaves Man awestruck. And these spectacular displays by two denizens of the deep left all who saw them beguiled by their grace and beauty. Divers were stunned by the sight of a 33ft albino whale shark as it glided through the waters off the coast of Darwin, an island in the Galapagos group. (Full Story)