WASHINGTON, Sept 5 (Reuters) – Remember when 30,000 kinds
of plants and animals sounded like a lot?
That was three years ago.
When the Encyclopedia of Life released its first online
version in February 2008, it offered 30,000 pages on individual
species. Version 2, released this week, features some 700,000
species pages and more than 600,000 still images and videos on
more than one-third of all living things known to science.
On Earth, we consider design, fuel efficiency, and enduring power when thinking of “green” vehicles. But there’s one solar-powered all-terrain vehicle that has by some lights out-performed anything rolling around on Earth. It is the doughty little robotic rover Opportunity, doggedly using its seven-year-old solar array to chug over the rocky surface of Mars.
Opportunity, like its twin rover Spirit, was designed to drive about .6 mile (1 kilometer) along the martian surface; by last month, Opportunity had driven more than 30 times that distance. It completed its primary mission in 2004 and since then has made important discoveries about parts of ancient Mars that might have been hospitable to microscopic life.
Like many earthly vehicles that are a bit past their prime, Opportunity has a few quirks, according to NASA’s Dave Lavery, who spoke at a briefing on the rover’s latest findings.
“We’re no longer driving a hot sports car,” he said. “We’re now driving a 1965 Mustang that hasn’t been restored.”
Even though Opportunity’s “drivers” are on Earth, controlling the golf-cart-sized robot remotely, they plainly feel a fair amount of affection for the little craft. NASA’s John Callas described the rover’s status almost as if it were a spunky grandparent.
“We have a very senior rover that’s showing her age,” Callas told reporters. “She had some arthritis and other issues, but generally she’s in good health, she’s sleeping well at night, her cholesterol levels are excellent and so we look forward to productive scientific exploration for the period ahead.”
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The El Nino climate cycle, which spreads warm, dry air around the globe every four years or so, doubles the risk of civil wars in 90 tropical countries, researchers reported Wednesday.
And because El Nino patterns can be predicted up to two years in advance, scientists suggest their findings could be used to help prepare for some conflicts and the humanitarian crises they cause.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The strong earthquake that rattled the eastern United States on Tuesday was highly unusual in its severity, though it was centered in a part of Virginia known for smaller quakes, seismologists said.
The initial earthquake, which registered a magnitude of 5.9 just before 2 p.m. EDT, was felt from the Carolinas to New England.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A newly discovered deep, cold current flowing off Iceland’s coast may reveal that the North Atlantic is less sensitive to climate change than previously thought, researchers reported Sunday.
The new current, the North Icelandic Jet, feeds the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a giant pattern known as the “great ocean conveyor belt,” or by the disconcerting acronym AMOC.
Walruses have started hauling themselves out of the waters of the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast — not as many as were seen last September, but enough for scientists to want to track where they go. Researchers see this behavior as a sign that there’s not enough Arctic sea ice for the big, swimming mammals to use as resting platforms after deep dives searching for food. It’s another indication of climate change, according to scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Plants and animals are responding up to three times faster to climate change than previously estimated, as wildlife shifts to cooler altitudes and latitudes, researchers said on Thursday.
Scientists have reported this decade on individual species that moved toward the poles or uphill as their traditional habitats shifted due to global warming, but this study analyzed data on over 2,000 species to get a more comprehensive picture.
WASHINGTON, Aug 17 (Reuters) – Fast-melting Arctic sea ice
appears to be pushing walruses to haul themselves out onto
land, and many are moving around the area where oil leases have
been sold, the U.S. Geological Survey reports.
Walruses are accomplished divers and frequently plunge
hundreds of feet (meters) to the bottom of the continental
shelf to feed. But they use sea ice as platforms to give birth,
nurse their young and elude predators, and when sea ice is
scarce or non-existent, as it has been this summer, they come
up on land.
WASHINGTON, Aug 4 (Reuters) – Now that the shuttle fleet is
permanently grounded, the U.S. space spotlight could shift
toward the path-breaking astronomical science that NASA does
without human beings on board.
Human spaceflight has historically grabbed most of the
public’s attention and NASA’s budget, but robotic probes and
observatories have brought the biggest leaps toward
understanding the cosmos, from roaming around Mars to looking
billions of years back in time to see how galaxies are born.
This just in: the U.S. House of Representatives agreed on something. A bipartisan majority of the House voted to preserve funding for the Endangered Species Act and the animals and plants it protects.
In other legislatures and at other times, this might not sound like such a big deal. Just now, though, with both parties seemingly unable to reach a compromise on raising the U.S. debt ceiling, it’s a sign that agreement is at least a possibility.