The Fate of the American Passenger Pigeon

The passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in the North America, and even the world. The species were often viewed as a nuisance in the public eye because their population had grown so rapidly and had polluted many public areas. People took it upon themselves to take measures to control the population by shooting, trapping, and even poisoning mass groups of the passenger pigeons. This and other biological influences have pushed the population of the passenger pigeon to the brink of extinction.

 

The Situation

The so-called pigeon problem has been ongoing in the United States for over one hundred years. At the turn of the 18th century, we saw their number diminish so quickly that 5 billion birds vanished in two centuries. People’s effort to manage the species’ population has landed their efforts to the tipping point of extinction. New studies have begun to dig deeper into the true reason for the decline of the passenger pigeon. Scientists are turning the bird’s genome to hopefully shed some light on the issue.

One study conducted by Beth Shapiro of the University of California, Santa Cruz along with some of her colleagues have found some new information about the pigeon’s population decline. The study looked at collected pieces of the bird’s skin from about 200 passenger pigeons from taxidermied bodies that are 100 years old. They took these pieces of skin to study their sequenced genomes and compared them to the band-tailed pigeon who is a close relative to the species that still has a managed population in smaller flocks.

Shapiro’s conclusions found that the species’ genome was essentially made to be a superspecies in a natural environment. Her team found that the passenger pigeons biological makeup was at its peak when the species was flourishing in mass flocks. When humans made the push to curb the population, their genome was not made to thrive in smaller flocks thus leading to their decline. Shapiro believes that just because humans push a species to a smaller population, does not guarantee that the species is genetically structured to thrive in that manner.

This may not be the blanket answer for the mass decline but it is a strong step in uncovering the truth of this mystery. Shapiro believes that the pigeons could still be flying today if it was not for the skills of the modern day human hunter. Yet, evolutionary changes also play a factor in the population’s disappearance.

Breaking Down the Science of a Hurricane

Alexander-Lakhanpal-hurricane

Hurricane season has devastated communities this year along the Caribbean Sea. Puerto Rico, Florida, and even the Bahamas felt the wrath of these powerful storms. With the number of storms increasing during the season, paired with unprecedented wind strength, understanding the science of how these storms form and why they are so strong.

 

Hurricane 101

It takes various different circumstances for a powerful hurricane to form. If one small ingredient is missing, a storm that could destroy a city can be turned into a rainy day with big clouds. Tropical cyclones, which is an umbrella term for tropical depressions, storms, and hurricanes need the basic ingredients to form. A preexisting thunderstorm, warm water, humid air, and light winds must all be present to be the foundation for a hurricane. These mighty storms need fuel, and that fuel is heat from the ocean. When the surface of the ocean rises to 80°F, that is when trouble begins.

The moisture in the air is what fuels the thunderstorm needed and the winds cannot be strong enough to hinder the shaping of the hurricane. When all of these factors meet up perfectly is when a power thunderstorm is able to take off. Depressions are normally the spark of growing into something greater.

 

This 2017 Season

This hurricane season has proved to be one of the most aggressive in the history of weather. Not since 2005, the top busiest year for Atlantic hurricanes with 28 storms, has the U.S. been affected by this many storms. This season alone has had 13 identified storms so far. For this season to be put into the books for the top 15 hurricane years, it needs two more named storms by November 30th, 2017.

The true source, specifically, for this year’s intense season is due to the Multi-Decadal Oscillation (AMO). We are currently in the warm phase of the AMO which allows for a lack of vertical wind shear paired with increased surface temperatures on the ocean. This creates frequent storm developments. This warm AMO phase has been active since 1995 and prior to the was a cold phase the lasted between the years 1971 to 1994.

The other factor that is making this season so brutal is its ability to direct itself so well. An area of dominant subtropical high pressure, known as the “Bermuda High” is located above the Atlantic. It forces winds to turn clockwise and pushes them to directly hit towards the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and the east coast. It is essentially a steering wheel towards land.

What We Know About Our Planets

Planets seem like a foreign idea to most but there is quite a bit of information and research we have about the planets in our solar system. It has been said that we know more about our neighboring planets than we do our own oceans. With a solar system that has been in place for billions of years, there is so much history so far away that has yet to be discovered.

 

What We Know

The planets closest to the sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars are all terrestrial planets. These planets have solid, rock-like surfaces which are quite different from earth. These planets are also, naturally, uninhabitable for humans. They have varying atmospheric differences that make them impossible for humans to naturally breathe. As well, the two outer planets beyond Mars’ orbit, Jupiter and Saturn, are known as “gas giants” while Uranus and Neptune are dubbed “ice giants”.

 

NASA is at the forefront of obtaining more information about our planets. Voyager 1 and 2, launched by NASA, are the first space crafts to explore the outer reaches of earth’s solar system.

 

Pluto has been downgraded from a planet to now considered a dwarf planet. With the redefinition of a planets and dwarf planets, new dwarf planets have been identified. These dwarf planets reside in the Kuiper Belt, which is past Neptune. This is information that has lead researchers to believe that there is an existence of a ninth planet. The California Institute of Technology believes that Planet Nine does in fact exist but it is also 10 times the size of Earth’s mass. Planet Nine is so far out of the norm circumference of this solar system that takes 20,000 Earth years to completely orbit the sun.

 

The Next Earth

The search for a planet similar to earth has not been that successful in the past few years. It was not until NASA’s Kepler telescope discovered over 3 thousand planets. With researchers making some great strides to an Earth 2.0, many have been a bit unsuccessful. There is a new European observatory that is expected to be completed by 2024 with the goal of finding that Earth 2.0. A planet similar to Earth would give society something to compare our world to. It would also further the discussion of life in space and a place where humans could travel to.

New Research on Super Bugs

The term “super bug” may be a scary idea but the more we research this global issue, the more we can prevent them from taking over. Superbugs refer to illnesses that normal vaccines or modern medications can not seem to manage because they have become resistant to modern medicine. Imagine the common cold that not even antibiotics can not take care of. There have been some more recent breakthroughs with the superbug situation but there are a few things that everyone must know.

 

In the U.S.

In 2015, it was reported that 2 billion people get infected with superbugs and that over 2,000 die from them. The government has also stepped in and begun releasing plans on how to combat this life threatening issue hitting the medical field and society itself. Superbugs can form from any type of bacteria. The worry is that doctors will run out of antibiotics to treat them.

 

Recent Discoveries

Combining Vaccines

Researchers from the University of Buffalo has found that a new trio of antibiotics will be able to stand up to these antibiotic-resistant microbes. The researchers turned to new antibiotic dosing strategies by creating antibiotic cocktails. They conducted studies of multiple different combinations of over 15 antibiotics paired with polymyxin B to find that after 24 hours, the bacteria were undetectable. On a more technical level, the microbes had the ability to regrow to normal after 96 hours. It was only the triple combination that allowed for the prevention of regrowth in bacteria.

 

Bats and Bees?

New research out of Halifax is also looking for alternative ways to fight medicine-resistant “bugs”. Rather than combining different vaccines to halt bacteria growth, this research is looking for a more natural solution. Bats and bees are now being researched to find new ways to fight bacteria. These two creatures are always in bacteria’s way and have biologically adapted to naturally fight off bacterial infections. There are millions of different bacteria thriving in the same places where bats and bees thrive. With a better understanding of how bats form white-nose syndrome or how colony collapse disorder occurs in bee groups.

A better understanding of how this influences other animals could lead to a better understanding of how we can handle the situation occurring in humans. Superbugs could become a much more prevalent issue in society if we do not find new ways to keep them at bay.

What You Should Know About Coral Reef Bleaching!

Alexander-Lakhanpal-Coral

The Great Barrier Reef and other locations that are home to large amounts are coral are under attack by changes in their climate. Coral is becoming pearly white in the warming water temperatures of the Great Barrier Reef. These white coral are a symptom of a larger issue that is influencing our oceans. Here is all you need to know about the current issue of widespread coral bleaching.

 

What is Coral Bleaching?

In normal coral, the color of ranges from dark browns and greens paired with some splashes of vibrancy. The reason for these dark colors is because coral has algae that live inside their tissue. The coral polyps have an endosymbiotic relationship with the algae and are essential for any healthy coral. With coral bleaching, the polyps expel the algae, leaving the coral to look abnormally white. The coral polyps are still alive but the algae serve as 90 percent of the coral’s energy which leads to coral starvation

A recent estimation from this year stated the about 70 percent of shallow water corals had died near Port Douglas which is a town that is home to the Great Barrier Reef. The bleaching is not only hurting the visible part of the reef but it also has to harm non-visible parts as well.  It has been verified that 29 percent of shallow water corals died from bleaching during the year 2016.

Why many are so concerned with coral bleaching is because of how it creates environments for animals to dwell and how it could affect not only the ocean but also local economies. Reef tourism creates an annual income of $3.9 billion and also employs many Australians (70,000 people).

 

Why is it Happening?

There are quite a few factors as to why coral bleaching has become such a massive issue for most of the globe’s reefs. Above-average sea temperatures caused by a general increase of temperature is the leading cause of coral bleaching globally. Oxygen starvation increased solar irradiance, and changes in salinity are also factors that are influencing the death of coral reefs.

The years from 2014 to 2016 had some of the longest global bleaching events ever recorded.
El Niño, the major weather event, also played a major part in the change in temperature for an extended period of time. The weather event creates warmer than the average temperature in the Pacific Ocean. The impact of El Niño was seen directly in the Great Barrier massive bleaching event.

Current NASA News

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been announcing groundbreaking strides in understanding more of space, other planets, and how the earth functions so efficiently. NASA continues to push the field of science further and further to collect more data of the unexplored. Here are some of NASA’s upcoming plans that have recently been announced.

 

Touch the Sun?

The space agency has announced that it has plans of a mission to create and launch a probe to get closer to the sun than ever before. They anticipate the probe to come within 3.9 million miles of the sun, which has never been done before. The mission is set to depart in the summer of 2018. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is set to handle environments of over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit paired with extreme solar radiation.

The purpose of this mission is to take away data regarding the trace of energy that sources the corona and solar winds. As well, NASA is looking to find more specific information about the magnetic fields and plasma structures from the solar winds. The goal of the probe’s mission is to circle the sun 24 times between the years of 2018 through 2024.

 

Artificial Clouds

NASA has recently released colored artificial clouds on the East Coast of the United States. They released faux blue, green, and red clouds in June of 2017 to test a new system that will aid scientists with studying the auroras of the ionosphere.

Essentially, NASA launched a small sub-orbital rocket off of the coast of Virginia that released fist-sized canisters filled with vapor tracers into the atmosphere. These canisters may appear as colorful clouds. The canisters, or tracers, are made of vapors of lithium, barium and tri-methyl aluminum that react with other elements in space, which create the glow. This glow is to visually trace the flow of the particles throughout space.

 

A Hole on Mars?

One of earth’s closest neighboring planets, Mars, has shown a new, giant hole on the surface of the planet. This abnormally deep crater is a bit larger than Mars’ normal swiss cheese surface. NASA has yet to find the source of this new pit formed on Mars but there are many reasons for holes to be formed on Mars’ terrain from meteorite impacts to collapsing lava tubes.

New Defense Against Extraterrestrial Threat

Hollywood films have been preoccupied with the idea of comets and asteroids threatening our very existence for a long time. From blockbusters like Armageddon and Deep Impact to art films like Melancholia, the threat of space debris destroying the earth is a surprisingly common theme.

These kinds of films tend to display very creative interpretations of fact and dramatize this potential threat from space in order to keep viewers interested.

However, it is interesting to note that the US government is beginning to catch up to the plots of these films by announcing an agreement to begin working on planetary defense.

The nation’s agencies that build civilian rockets and nuclear arms revealed on Wednesday  that they will collaborate in order to deflect asteroids and comets that pose a threat to cities or possibly the planet.

For years both NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration — have researched threats of rocky debris from space independently. Both have assessed the space debris, proposed new designs for rocket interceptors and run computer simulations to test if a nuclear blast could force a massive asteroid onto a different trajectory.

Even so, this new interagency pact will formalize the cooperation between the two. The hope is that the two agencies will now be able to better coordinate governmental planning that would lead to better solutions for deflecting this kind of threat.

Alex LakhanpalIn 2013,  a 7,000-ton meteoroid exploded over a city in Russia which injured approximately 1500 people. This tragedy in Chelyabinsk illustrates the potential risk of cosmic debris.

Scientists who prefer nuclear-free  methods of asteroid interception admit that the atomic method would only be necessary if a huge threat appeared too fast for weaker countermeasures

In public interviews officials refuse to comment on whether or not any arms in the nation’s nuclear arsenal have been set aside for countering extraterrestrial strikes. However, it is acknowledged that there is a discussion surrounding possible nuclear options.

Regardless of the true threat of rock debris crashing into our planet and causing large-scale damage, it is encouraging to see government agencies working together in an effort to combat this kind of potential threat in the future. To learn more, see this article from the New York Times.