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whale

Gray Whale Sighted Near New England 200 Years After Species Were Thought To Be Extinct In The Atlantic Ocean 

A gray whale has been confirmed by scientists to be seen near New England, two centuries after it was thought that the whale was extinct in the Atlantic Ocean. While this is an exciting discovery for science, experts are saying that it also illustrated the impact of climate change on sea life and their migration patterns. 

The gray whale was initially seen by members of the New England Aquarium in Boston while they were flying 30 miles south of Nantucket, Massachusetts. They sighted the whale, which can weigh up to 60,000 pounds, on March 1st, according to the Guardian

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The gray whale typically lives in the northern Pacific Ocean, and seemingly vanished from the Atlantic ocean around the 18th century. Within the last 15 years, there have been about five potential observations of the whole in the Atlantic and Mediterranean waters. 

The aquarium stated that the whale found this month was likely the same what that was spotted late last year in Florida. 

The aquarium researchers who recently found the whale near Massachusetts were skeptical after their initial observations, however, after circling the area for about 45 minutes, they were able to take more detailed pictures and confirm it was a gray whale. 

Orla O’Brien, an associate research scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, said that at first she “didn’t want to say out loud what it was, because it seemed crazy,” but was luckily proven to be right with ehr initial observations. 

While scientists are excited to see the gray whale in the Atlantic, they stated its presence likely has to do with the warming of the planet brought on by climate change. 

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The North-west Passage connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Ocean in Canada. In recent years, during the summer the passage has lacked a presence of ice, which prevents animals like the gray whale from passing through. 

Now, scientists are predicting that gray whales are able to travel through the passage during the summer months, when they otherwise would typically be blocked from ice. 

According to O’Brien, the gray whale’s recent sighting near New England is “a reminder of how quickly marine species respond to climate change, given the chance.”

When commercial whaling was more common, gray whales were almost hunted to extinction. Luckily today, the gray whale population has recovered immensely, so much so that they’re considered to be a species of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.” 

The organization also stated that the western population of gray whales that lives off Asia is still considered to be endangered. 

When compared to other, more commonly sighted, whales off the coast of New England, such as humpback whales, gray whales can be identified by their lack of dorsal fin and marks of spots or smears of color. Gray whales also make more gurgling, grunting, croaking noises, while humpback whales are known for their more haunting high pitched songs. 

earth

Scientists Discover New Layer Under Earth’s Crust

Researchers from Australian National University have found evidence of a hidden layer inside Earth’s inner core. The scientists found the layer, an iron-nickel alloy ball around 800 miles (1350 km) wide, by studying the reverberations of seismic waves from large earthquakes through the Earth.

When seismic waves travel through the Earth, they change shape and provide insight into Earth’s internal structure. Previous studies had only looked at single bounces of seismic waves (from one side of the Earth to the other and back).

In this new study, scientists accessed data from waves of 200 earthquakes with magnitudes above 6.0, traveling up to five times across the Earth’s diameter.

“In this study, for the first time, we report observations of seismic waves originating from powerful earthquakes traveling back and forth from one side of the globe to the other up to five times like a ricochet,” study co-author Dr. Thanh-Son Phạm, a seismologist and postdoctoral fellow at the Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University told CNN in an email.

The earthquake waves penetrated different depths and angles near the center, suggesting a different crystalline structure was nestled beneath the surface. The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

Earth’s internal structure has four known layers—an outer crust, a rocky mantle, an outer core made of molten-liquid magma and a solid inner metal core. In the 1930s, scientists used the same seismic wave analysis method to discover the Earth’s metallic inner core.

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In 2002, researchers hypothesized that the Earth’s inner core concealed another unknown layer. Thanks to the improved accuracy of seismic monitoring, scientists can now verify this hypothesis.

Lead author of the study and observational seismologist Thanh-Son Pham of ANU, told Reuters, “We may know more about the surface of other distant celestial bodies than the deep interior of our planet.”

“We analyzed digital records of ground motion, known as seismograms, from large earthquakes in the last decade. Our study becomes possible thanks to the unprecedented expansion of the global seismic networks, particularly the dense networks in the contiguous U.S., the Alaskan peninsula and over the European Alps.”

Both the inner core’s outer shell and the sphere within it are hot enough to be molten. However, the high pressures found at the Earth’s center render them solid.

Australian National University geophysicist and study co-author Hrvoje Tkalčić told Reuters, “I like to think about the inner core as a planet within the planet. Indeed, it is a solid ball, approximately the size of Pluto and a bit smaller than the moon.”

“If we were somehow able to dismantle the Earth by removing its mantle and the liquid outer core, the inner core would appear shining like a star. Its temperature is estimated to be about 5,500-6,000 degrees (Celsius/9,930-10,830 Fahrenheit), similar to the sun’s surface temperature.”

According to Pham, there does not seem to be a clear line that distinguishes the outer region of the inner core from the sphere nestled within. Instead, the transition is gradual. Scientists could tell the two regions apart because seismic waves behaved differently between them.

“It could be caused by different arrangements of iron atoms at high temperatures and pressures or the preferred alignment of growing crystals.”

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As the Earth slowly cools, its inner core grows, while its outer core contracts as molten materials solidify.

The researchers told The Washington Post that the innermost core might hold clues to a “significant global event that occurred in the planet’s past,” allowing scientists to understand the evolution of Earth’s magnetic field by providing something akin to a fossilized record.

“The latent heat released from solidifying the Earth’s inner core drives the convection in the liquid outer core, generating Earth’s geomagnetic field. Life on Earth is protected from harmful cosmic rays and would not be possible without such a magnetic field.”

The discovery may also give “us a glimpse of what might have happened with other planets,” Pham said. “Take Mars as an example. We don’t understand yet why (Mars’ magnetic field) ceased to exist in the past.”

Mars is thought to be devoid of life because it lost its magnetic field some 4 billion years ago, leaving it vulnerable to the solar winds and dust storms that swept away the planet’s atmosphere and oceans.

jupiter

Jupiter Is Now The Planet With The Most Known Moons 

Astronomers have announced that Jupiter is now the planet in our Solar System with the most moons. 

Saturn and Jupiter have been in a battle for the most moons for quite some time now. In 2019, Saturn took the title from Jupiter, however, astronomers have now counted 12 previously unknown moons in orbit around Jupiter; the Solar System’s largest planet.

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The current known total of Jupiter’s moons is now 92, while Saturn currently has 83 known moons. 

According to Science Alert, the observations were led by Scott Sheppard, an astronomer for Carnegie Institution for Science. The new findings have been published by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, which is known for keeping records of all the small bodies newly discovered in the Solar System. 

“Jupiter just happened to be in the sky near the search fields where we were looking for extremely distant Solar System objects,” Sheppard said back in 2018 when his team initially discovered a dozen new moons orbiting the planet. 

These planet’s moons are quite small and dim, making them difficult to see, which is why it makes sense that we’re continuously discovering new ones. 

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According to Sky & Telescope, “nine of the newly discovered moons are quite distant from Jupiter, orbiting in a retrograde motion, the opposite direction to Jupiter’s rotation.

This is not weird; most of Jupiter’s moons are retrograde. This motion means they were probably passing rocks that were snared by Jupiter’s gravity and remained in orbit.”

The additional three moons are closer to Jupiter, and orbiting in the same direction as the planet. Jupiter itself is also extremely bright, so seeing the newer moons has been a challenge due to how dim they are. 

The newly discovered moons were initially spotted in 2021 and 2022, however, it takes time to confirm that these small planetary objects are actually moons. Follow-up observations need to be done both one month and one year after the initial sightings, which is also helpful for tracking the orbits of them. 

According to these reports, it’s very possible that there are even more moons surrounding both Jupiter and Saturn that are yet to be discovered. For now Jupiter holds the lead for Solar System planets with the moons, and only time, and scientific discovery, will tell whether or not it remains in that position.

Thousands Of New Viruses Discovered In The Ocean, According To New Study

More than 5,000 new virus species have been discovered throughout our world’s oceans according to a new study. Researchers at The Ohio State University analyzed tens of thousands of water samples from around the world looking for new RNA viruses, or viruses that use RNA for genetic material. 

These types of viruses are typically understudied when compared to DNA viruses, however, Covid-19 is a type of RNA virus, so scientists and researchers all around the globe have been trying to gain a greater understanding of them. 

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The diversity of the newfound viruses was so great that the researchers have “proposed doubling the number of taxonomic groups needed to classify RNA viruses, from the existing five phyla to 10 phyla. Phylum is a broad classification in biology just below kingdom,” study lead author Matthew Sullivan, a professor of microbiology at The Ohio State University, said in a statement

“There’s so much new diversity here – and an entire new phylum, the Taraviricota, were found all over the oceans, which suggests they’re ecologically important,” he explained. 

“Studies of RNA viruses have usually focused on those that cause diseases. Some well-known RNA viruses include influenza, Ebola and the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But these are just a tiny slice of RNA viruses on Earth.”

“We wanted to systematically study them on a very big scale and explore an environment no one had looked at deeply,” Sullivan said in the statement.

For the study, published in the journal Science, the researchers “analyzed 35,000 water samples taken from 121 locations in all five of the world’s oceans.”

The researchers team are all members of the Tara Oceans Consortium, a worldwide project created to study the impact of climate change specifically on the ocean. 

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The researchers examined genetic sequences that were extracted from plankton; small aquatic organisms. Plankton is known to be a common host for RNA viruses. By focusing on sequences that belonged to RNA viruses, they were able to find the ancient gene known as RdRp, which is found in all RNA viruses, but absent from other types of viruses. 

The researchers were able to identify over 44,000 sequences with the ancient gene. Since the RdRp gene is billions of years old, it has been able to evolve, which makes it harder for the scientists to determine the actual evolutionary relationship between the sequences and how they changed. 

“Overall, we identified about 5,500 new RNA virus species that fell into the five existing phyla, as well as the five newly proposed phyla, which are named Taraviricota, Pomiviricota, Paraxenoviricota, Wamoviricota and Arctiviricota.”

“Virus species in the Taraviricota phylum were particularly abundant in temperate and tropical waters, while viruses in the Arctiviricota phylum are abundant in the Arctic Ocean,” the researchers wrote.

“Understanding how the RdRp gene diverged over time could lead to a better understanding of how early life evolved on Earth,” the authors said.

“RdRp is supposed to be one of the most ancient genes — it existed before there was a need for DNA. So we’re not just tracing the origins of viruses, but also tracing the origins of life,”study co-first author Ahmed Zayed, a research scientist in microbiology at Ohio State, said in the statement. 

Hubble Space Telescope Captures Most Distant Star Ever Recorded; 28 Billion Light-Years Away

The Hubble Space Telescope captured a single star that is 28 billion light-years away, the furthest it’s ever captured a glimpse of. The star could be between 50 to 500 times bigger than our sun, and is likely millions of times brighter, according to a study published in the journal Nature.

Astronomers Discover New Type Of ‘Freak Star’ Formed By Rare Stellar Event 

Astronomers have discovered a new type of “freak star” covered in helium-burning ashes, which is believed to have formed by a rare stellar merger event. 

A German team of experts were looking for “hot stars” in Arizona using a Large Binocular Telescope when they came across two stars with unusual properties. The stars are known as PG1654+322 and PG1528+025, and are about 10,000 and 25,000 light years away from Earth within our galaxy. 

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The experts reported “while normal star surfaces are composed of hydrogen and helium, these newly-found stars are covered in great quantities of carbon and oxygen – the by-product of helium nuclear fusion. Astonishingly high abundances of both carbon and oxygen – each accounting for around 20 percent of surface composition for both stars.”

“Stars that are covered in this much carbon and oxygen usually have finished nuclear fusion reactions that take place at their core. However, temperatures and diameters of the two newly-discovered stars indicate that helium nuclei continue to fuse inside them – an unprecedented finding,” the experts reported. 

The research was conducted by a team of astronomers, led by Professor Klaus Werner of the University of Tübingen, and published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

“We normally expect stars with the chemical surface composition of the stars discovered to have completed the helium fusion in their centers and to be in the final stages of becoming white dwarfs,” said Professor Werner. 

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“These new stars are a severe challenge to our understanding of stellar evolution. Carbon and oxygen are normal in old stars that are fusing helium, but only in their cores. So it is extremely unusual to see them in large quantities at their surface.” 

“We believe that the stars discovered by our German colleagues were formed by a very rare type of merging between two white dwarfs,”said Miller Bertolami, author of a second companion paper by astronomers, also published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

“White dwarfs are the remnants of larger stars that have exhausted their nuclear fuel, and are typically very small and dense,” he explained. 

There are currently no stellar evolutionary models that can fully explain how exactly these new stars were formed and why, which could create a whole new binary for scientists to work off of when it comes to new star discoveries. 

The two stars will continue to be monitored as a part of the larger-scale research the team is doing to track down short-lived, hot stars. This research should also help the team better understand what exactly these stars endured in order to evolve into what they are currently.

Object Discovered In The Milky Way Is ‘Unlike Anything Astronomers Have Ever Seen’ 

Australian scientists and researchers have discovered a strange object spinning in the Milky Way, which they claim to be unlike anything astronomers have ever seen before. 

The object was first discovered by a university student who was working on his undergraduate thesis. The initial discovery showed that the object releases a huge burst of radio energy three times every hour. 

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“The pulse comes every 18.18 minutes, like clockwork,” said astrophysicist Natasha Hurley-Walker, who led the investigation after the student’s discovery, using a telescope in the Western Australian outback known as the Murchison Widefield Array.

Pulsars are an example of other objects in the universe that are known for switching on and off when they release energy, however, Hurley-Walker states that 18.18 minutes is a frequency that has never been recorded before. 

“Finding this object was kind of spooky for an astronomer because there’s nothing known in the sky that does that.” 

The research team is currently working on understanding what exactly it is that they discovered. As they continued to compile and observe data, they came to the conclusion that the object is about 4,000 light-years away from Earth, is incredibly bright, and has an incredibly strong magnetic field. 

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“If you do all of the mathematics, you find that they shouldn’t have enough power to produce these kinds of radio waves every 20 minutes. It just shouldn’t be possible,” Hurley-Walker said.

The object could potentially be something known as an “ultra-long period magnetar,” which researchers have only theorized about existing in the past. It could also be a white dwarf, which would make it a remnant of a collapsed star. 

“But that’s quite unusual as well. We only know of one white dwarf pulsar, and nothing as great as this,” Hurley-Walker said.

“Of course, it could be something that we’ve never even thought of—it could be some entirely new type of object.”

“I was concerned that it was aliens. But the research team was able to observe the signal across a wide range of frequencies. That means it must be a natural process, this is not an artificial signal. More detections will tell astronomers whether this was a rare one-off event or a vast new population we’d never noticed before,” Hurley-Walker said.

The team’s paper on the object has been published in the latest edition of the journal Nature.

Planets in Sky

Planet 10 Times As Massive As Jupiter Discovered Orbiting Around Two Giant Stars

The boundlessness and mystery of space always opens up the possibilities of new discoveries at any moment – and the newest one is changing the way scientists are looking at planet-hosting stars.

A study in the journal Nature revealed a giant planet has been found orbiting a young binary star system, called b Centauri, about 325 light-years away from Earth. The newly found planet, named b Centauri (AB)b or b Centauri b, is about 10 times as massive as Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system.

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“Finding a planet around b Centauri was very exciting since it completely changes the picture about massive stars hosting planets,” the study’s lead author Markus Jansen, an astronomer at Stockholm University, said.

b Centauri b was discovered using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), along with the mounted Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument (SPHERE). According to the ESO, b Centauri has six times the mass of the Sun, which makes it the most massive system where a planet has been discovered. It also becomes the hottest planet-hosting system, and is three times as hot as the Sun.

The discovery is notable, as it disapproved a belief that B-type stars — which possess surface temperatures between 10,000 to 30,000k — couldn’t support a sizeable planet due to their nature. “B-type stars are generally considered as quite destructive and dangerous environments. It was believed that it should be exceedingly difficult to form large planets around them,” Jansen explained.

The observatory said that b Centauri b’s orbit is one of the widest that have ever been discovered – it has a distance 100 times greater than Jupiter from the sun. Taking into account the binary B-Star’s harshness, b Centauri b’s orbital distance could be necessary for it in order for it to avoid the intense emitted radiation.

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This isn’t the first time that b Centuari has been captured – Imaging of it was actually done nearly 20 years ago by another telescope, but it was not recognized as a planet at the time.

b Centuari b now becomes the latest exoplanet, or a planet outside of the Solar System, to be discovered. To date, 4,576 exoplanets have been located, while there have been 3,393 systems with confirmed planets found.

Speaking to ESO, study co-author and Stockholm University PhD student Gayathri Viswanath emphasized just how different the environment of b Centauri b is from what we know and experience on Earth and in our system.

“It’s a harsh environment, dominated by extreme radiation, where everything is on a gigantic scale: the stars are bigger, the planet is bigger, the distances are bigger.”

Jansen noted that it’s currently a mystery as to how b Centauri b formed, but said that finding out the answer will be an “intriguing task.” ESO explained that with upgrades to the VLT and the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) to start making observations within the decade, more about b Centauri b, such as its formations and features, will be studied.

Jasen said in an email to NBC News that the discovery has motivated him and his team to expand on a survey titled BEAST, which is currently examining 85 similar stars. Jasen also acknowledged his belief that the field will see an increased search intensity for high-mass stars in order to confirm planets and characterize them.

Cancer

Study Reveals Whole-Genome Sequencing Can Improve Childhood Cancer Outcomes 

According to a pilot study performed by doctors in Cambridge, reading the full genetic code of childhood cancers can help doctors improve an overall diagnosis. The code can also help doctors learn about how tumors grow and how to find the most effective treatment therapies for specific tumors. 

In the study the doctors used whole-genome sequencing on 36 children with cancer. They found that the extra information they were provided changed four of the patients’ diagnoses and revealed new treatment options in seven cases. 

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Seeing the whole-genome sequence of the cancer’s DNA allows doctors to learn even more about the specific cancers that their patients are dealing with. Clinicians in the study were able to refine two of their previous diagnoses, learn more about the course of the disease in eight of the children, and found potential hereditary reasons for tumors in two of the subjects. 

“Our aim was to illustrate what can be achieved with whole-genome sequencing and to try and advertise its utility. Locally in Cambridge it was never really in question that this would add value,” said Dr Patrick Tarpey, lead scientist for solid cancer in the East Genomic Laboratory Hub based at Cambridge University hospitals NHS foundation trust.

The results are projected to be shared at the National Cancer Research Institute festival. NHS England has already discussed their plans of rolling out whole-genome sequencing for childhood cancers with the goal of making sequencing a normal part of treatment. This will allow doctors to continuously track specific aspects of their patients’ cancer to make adjustments in treatment for the best possible outcome. 

The 36 children involved in the study had 23 different tumor types. All participants endured a standard test to identify their cancer, and test their genome sequencing to see whether or not their current treatment was actually improving the condition or not. 

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According to the study, comparing the genetic makeup of a tumor versus healthy tissue within the same individual can help doctors identify the specific mutations that are driving the cancer, and potentially can reveal the tumor’s weakness. The work itself is no easy task, however, as it can take anywhere from two to three months to successfully and accurately interpret the genome sequence. 

Tarpey said “about three-quarters of the gene variants flagged up in the study came from whole-genome analysis rather than the standard cancer tests the children had. There are cases where the diagnosis was completely uncertain and we’ve been able to confirm it, and in doing so identify the mechanisms that impaired the genes.”

Sheona Scales is a pediatric leader at Cancer Research UK, who said that children with cancer often undergo grueling treatments, and even when they’re over the side-effects can last a lifetime, which is why studies like this are so important. 

“It is vital that we find ways to tailor treatments towards the individual and for this, whole-genome sequencing is a game-changer.” 

“Understanding more about the makeup of a child’s cancer can help doctors make the most informed treatment choices for their patients. The hope is that this will lead to better outcomes for children with cancer, not just in terms of survival, but also in the quality of the rest of their lives,” she explained.

Scientists Discover Tiny Fossil Found In 16-Million-Year-Old Amber, ‘A Once-In-A-Generation Find!’

Microscopic tardigrades are a species that have lived on Earth for more than 500 million years. It’s thought that these miniscule creatures will also outlive humans, however, due to their extremely small size, they don’t typically leave behind fossils for us to learn about them. 

Recently, however, scientists discovered the third-ever tardigrade fossil on record, and they found it suspended in a piece of 16-million-year-old Dominican amber. 

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The species found within the amber has been classified as Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus, a new species thought to be a relative of the modern living family of tardigrades known as Isohypsibioidea. This is the first tardigrade fossil to appear during the Cenozoic era, the current geological era that the Earth is in which began 66 million years ago. 

The study on this discovery was published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a scientific publication. 

Beneath a microscope, these tardigrades look like little water bears. They’re known for their ability to survive and thrive in extreme environments, which is why they’ve been around for so long. They’re no longer than one millimeter, have eight legs with claws at the end, a brain, nervous system, and a pharynx behind their mouth used to pierce food.

“All of these details are incredibly well preserved in the new fossil specimen, down to its tiny claws. The discovery of a fossil tardigrade is truly a once-in-a-generation event,” said Phil Barden, senior author of the study.

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“What is so remarkable is that tardigrades are a ubiquitous ancient lineage that has seen it all on Earth, from the fall of the dinosaurs to the rise of terrestrial colonization of plants. Yet, they are like a ghost lineage for paleontologists with almost no fossil record. Finding any tardigrade fossil remains is an exciting moment where we can empirically see their progression through Earth history,” Barden said.

The fossil will now allow scientists to observe all the evolutionary changes this species has endured within the past hundreds of millions of years. Javier Ortega-Hernandez, the study’s co-author, claimed that at first, they didn’t even notice the fossil in the piece of amber they collected. 

“It’s a faint speck in amber. In fact, Pdo. chronocaribbeus was originally an inclusion hidden in the corner of an amber piece with three different ant species that our lab had been studying, and it wasn’t spotted for months. Close observational analysis helped us determine where the new species belongs on the tardigrade family tree. The fact that we had to rely on imaging techniques usually reserved for cellular and molecular biology shows how challenging it is to study fossil tardigrades. We hope that this work encourages colleagues to look more closely at their amber samples with similar techniques to better understand these cryptic organisms,” Ortega-Hernández said in a statement. 

“We are just scratching the surface when it comes to understanding living tardigrade communities, especially in places like the Caribbean where they’ve not been surveyed. This study provides a reminder that, for as little as we may have in the way of tardigrade fossils, we also know very little about the living species on our planet today,” said Barden.