Maybe you spent the summer at camp or at the beach. Perhaps you were just at home playing video games. If so, you might not have kept up with the latest happenings in science. We understand. Everyone needs to disconnect now and again. It’s even healthy. But some of what you missed was important, if not downright cool.
A volcano in Hawaii continued to erupt
Kilauea, a volcano on the big island of Hawaii, began spewing clouds and ash on May 3. Soon, lava engulfed whole neighborhoods, forcing people to leave their homes. And then the lava didn’t stop. This event has offered a rare opportunity to watch an eruption in real time. It’s also provided a lesson in volcanic vocabulary, introducing people to phenomena ranging from vog (volcanic fog) to a lavanado (a lava whirlwind).
There’s probably water on Mars
Scientists announced this summer that they had found what they think is a large lake of liquid water on the Red Planet. It’s hidden deep beneath thick layers of ice near Mars’ south pole. It’s also so cold that that to stay liquid it must be really salty. Researchers are excited that such a lake could be a reservoir for salt-adapted microbes.
Plants are speedier than you might expect
Plants are just stuck to the ground and don’t really move, right? Hardly. Many can move quite rapidly. The Venus flytrap snaps its jaws to capture prey in an instant. And the explosive sandbox tree flings seeds the length of a swimming pool. Finding such plants isn’t all that hard. You just have to look.
People can be exposed to secondhand smoke by being near a smoker. But that smoke can stick to surfaces as “thirdhand” smoke. And this can linger. A new study finds that people can be exposed to such smoke even in places where no one has ever smoked. This is a worry because the chemicals in that smoke can react with others in the air to form cancer-causing compounds.
Electric fields let spiders know when to take flight
Many spiders drift high above Earth’s surface, carried by a parachute made of silk strands. Some of these ballooning spiders can even cross oceans. To take off, they need gentle air currents. But how do they know when it’s the right time to take flight? Electrical currents in the air may cue the spiders for takeoff, new research suggests.
A spacecraft took off and headed to the sun
At 3:31 am EDT on August 12, a rocket carrying the Parker Solar Probe left Earth. Thus began this spacecraft’s epic journey to the sun. The probe will whip around our star two dozen times over the next seven years. During the journey, it will make closeup observations of the solar wind and the sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona.
Wildfires cause major air pollution in the U.S. northwest
This summer, wildfires blazed across the western United States, from Montana to California. Those fires spewed plenty of lung-clogging pollution. In fact, for many impacted western states, air pollution on days with the most extreme smoke is now worse than it was 30 years ago.
Some bacteria can eat antibiotics
Antibiotics are the chemicals designed to kill bacteria. But a new study found that some bacteria like to nosh on those drugs. That’s not necessarily bad. Someday, researchers might be able to harness those microbes to clean up medicines that have polluted the environment.
Researchers recorded narwhals for the first time
What does a narwhal sound like? With the help from some native Greenland hunters, scientists tagged six of the skittish cetaceans with recorders. Those devices picked up a rich array of sounds, including clicks, whistles and trumpets.