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Top stories: Moths driving cars, hatching dino eggs, and tracking the origins of cosmic radio bursts


(Left to right): Emily/Flickr; Jennifer Kowalczyk (Brown University), Dana Royer (Wesleyan University), and Ian Miller (Denver Museum of Nature & Science); United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Courtesy of Rosanne Bass Fulton

Fossil leaves suggest global warming will be harder to fight than scientists thought

In Earth’s ancient atmosphere, scientists see the faint outlines of a carbon dioxide (CO2) roller coaster, climbing and dipping across deep time in repeated bouts of climate change. But models of ancient atmospheres and tools for teasing out past CO2 levels from fossils and rocks all have limitations. Now, scientists have developed a new method for wringing CO2 estimates from fossilized leaves—one that can go deeper into the past, and with more certainty. Already, it is solving ancient climate puzzles and delivering some unsettling news about the future.

Mysterious radio bursts originate outside the Milky Way

Scientists have identified the source of mysterious flashes of cosmic radio waves known as fast radio bursts: a surprisingly small galaxy more than 3 billion light-years away. The discovery may help researchers understand one of the biggest mysteries in astronomy. Between 23 August and 18 September 2016, the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array observatory detected nine bursts. Those observations reveal that the location of the bursts coincides with a faint, remote galaxy that also hosts a persistent source of radio waves.

Dinosaur babies took a long time to break out of their shells

How long did it take for a clutch of dinosaur eggs to hatch? A new study finds that dinosaur eggs took between 3 and 6 months—twice as long as predicted from bird eggs of similar size. Those long incubation times likely made it tough for them to outcompete faster generating animals, such as modern birds and mammals, in the aftermath of a mass extinction.

Watch this moth drive a scent-controlled car

We’ve all heard the stories about humans losing their jobs to robots. But what about man’s best friend? A new study suggests that drug-sniffing dogs may soon have a competitor in the workplace: an insect-piloted robotic vehicle that could help scientists build better odor-tracking robots to find disaster victims, detect illicit drugs or explosives, and sense leaks of hazardous materials. The robotic car’s driver is a silkworm moth tethered in a tiny cockpit so that its legs can move freely over an air-supported ball, a bit like an upside-down computer mouse trackball. Using optical sensors, the car follows the ball’s movement and moves in the same direction.

Germany to probe Nazi-era medical science

During World War II, as part of its racial hygiene program, the Nazi regime systematically killed at least 200,000 people it classified as mentally ill or disabled, historians say. Now, a new initiative is seeking to reconstruct the biographies of victims used in brain research. Starting this month, the Max Planck Society, Germany’s top basic research organization, will open its doors to four independent researchers who will scour its archives and tissue sample collections for material related to the euthanasia program.

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Source: Science Mag