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fossil

Scientists May Have Solved the Mystery of an Ancient ‘Alien Goldfish’

Scientists may have finally figured out where an ancient sea animal fits into the “tree of life.” The animal, known as Typhloesus wellsi, perplexed scientists for nearly 50 years, leading them to dub it the “alien goldfish.”

Typhloesus was just 90 mm long when it was alive. It had no fins other than a singular large tail fin. Bizarrely, it also had no backbone, anus, eyes or shell.

Scientists previously thought the creature was a conodont, a group of jawless vertebrates that resembled eels. Upon closer inspection, scientists realized that the Typhloesus fossil specimen actually showed the animal had the remains of a conodont inside its digestive tract, indicating the Typhloesus ate conodonts.

The recent discovery of a tooth-covered ribbon-like structure in the Typhloesus helped scientists figure out its possible taxonomic placement. Paleontologists believe they were most likely a marine mollusk and an ancient relative of gastropods like sea slugs.

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Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron and Dr. Simon Conway Morris, paleontologists at the University of Cambridge, made the discovery after examining several Typhloesus fossil specimens taken from a 330-million-year-old fossil deposit in the Bear Gulch Limestone site in Montana, US.

Dr. Caron found the toothed tonguelike structure under a high-powered scanning microscope. The structure was similar to that of a radula, an anatomical structure snails and mollusks use to scrape food into their mouths.

The scientists believe the structure was likely attached to a retractable trunk. The alien goldfish would extend it whenever it was feeding, much like a lizard. The existence of the Typhloesus’ radula led scientists to deduce that the mysterious creature may be a mollusk.

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Dr. Caron believes the creature was similar to a sea slug, which swims through water, sticking its radula through trunklike proboscis to hunt prey. Typhloesus also had a flexible body and large tail. They were likely good swimmers and did not move along the sea floor.

Professor Mark Purnell from the Center for Paleobiology at the University of Leicester in the UK suggests that scientists cannot definitively say “the very strange animal” is a mollusk.

“[The researchers] have found some tantalizing new information, but it is far from being a slam-dunk case in terms of definitely knowing what this weird thing is.”

Typhloesus fossils predate the rest of the swimming snail fossil record by over 100 million years. Dr. Christopher Whalen, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, said that since sea slugs lacked shells and other features commonly imprinted in fossils and quickly swam in the water, they are not as present in fossil records.

Understanding the Typhloesus will help paleontologists learn more about the evolution of mollusks, the planet’s second largest group of invertebrates.

According to Dr. Caron, studying the strangest creatures often unearths the most valuable discoveries.

 “They are enigmatic, but they reveal a lot of important evolutionary information.”

asteroid

NASA To Slam Probe Into Asteroid for Planetary Defense Test

On Sept. 26, NASA will slam a probe into an asteroid during its Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission. The mission is part of NASA’s larger planetary defense plan against any asteroids that may someday impact the Earth.

If an asteroid were to hurl toward Earth in the future, a probe like the one used in DART should be able to realign its trajectory or destroy it, neutralizing its threat.

One of the engineers orchestrating the mission acknowledges, “this is an amazing moment for our space program.”

“For the first time, we will move a celestial body intentionally in space, beyond Earth’s orbit! This test goes beyond international borders and really shows what we can accomplish if we all work together as one team and as one on Earth.”

NASA mapped the orbits of 30,000 nearby asteroids and determined that, as of right now, most of them are unlikely to collide with Earth or are so small that they would burn up in the atmosphere before any significant impact.

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The last time an asteroid collided with Earth, it ended the age of dinosaurs some 66 million years ago. The 6-mile wide asteroid Chicxulub killed over 75% of the Earth’s species, triggering a mass extinction event. Earthquakes reverberated throughout the crust; wildfires spread in all directions from the asteroid’s impact, and mammoth tsunamis engulfed dry land.

NASA does not want to rule out that an asteroid may hit Earth in the future. The probe will impact an asteroid named Dimorphos, which orbits another asteroid named Didymos, nearly the Earth’s size. Its mission is to realign Dimorphos and change the duration of its orbit by 11 minutes.

The agency says this will determine if a strategy like DART would successfully prevent planetary threats posed by asteroids by gauging how asteroids respond to kinetic impact. The stakes of the test are low since it poses no threat to Earth, but the agency says the difficulty of the maneuver will remain the same.

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During a news conference, Andrea Riley, a program executive at NASA, spoke on the importance of the DART test. The probe will only be able to detect Dimorphos an hour and a half before impact, making this an accurate test of its precision. Once the probe detects the asteroid, it will autonomously guide itself into a collision.

“If it misses, it still provides a lot of data. This is a test mission. This is why we test; we want to do it now rather than when there is an actual need.”

NASA will hold a televised briefing for the test at 6 p.m. on Sept. 26. NASA TV will then provide live coverage of the impact, predicted to be at 7:14 p.m. EDT the same day.

glacier

Doomsday Glacier Could Melt Rapidly With’ Just a Small Kick,’ Scientists Say

A glacier the size of Florida could melt at a faster rate than previously anticipated. The Thwaites Glacier, located in Antarctica, has been dubbed the “doomsday” glacier because of its potential to markedly raise already rising sea levels.

The glacier could raise sea levels by 2 feet or more if melted. Its precarious location in contact with warm ocean currents makes it even more susceptible to collapse.

Scientists made the discovery after a team of researchers from the U.S., Sweden, and the United Kingdom conducted a study to determine the fastest rates the glacier has retreated in the past. Dr. Robert Larter, one of the study’s co-authors, noted the significance of the findings in the study’s release.

“Thwaites is really holding on today by its fingernails, and we should expect to see big changes over small timescales in the future — even from one year to the next — once the glacier retreats beyond a shallow ridge in its bed.”

The glacier is the widest on earth, sitting at 80 miles wide. It protects the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, acting as a buffer between the sheet and warming waters. The entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet could raise sea levels by up to 16 feet.

For the study, the researchers sent an autonomous vehicle to the glacier’s former grounding zone. The grounding zone of a glacier is where an attached ice shelf transitions into a floating ice shelf. The autonomous vehicle, named Rán, was equipped with two geophysical sensors and used to produce 3D scans of the underwater surface.

These scans allowed scientists to map the glacier’s movements throughout the last 200 years. Previously, scientists could only see its movements within the past 30 years because of satellite imagery limitations.

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The study aimed to learn about the glacier’s past retreat rates to more accurately predict the rate at which it may continue to retreat. The scientists found that the glacier is capable of retreating more rapidly than previously thought. Sometime in the last 200 years, it had retreated at twice the rate it did between 2011 and 2019.

The leader of the mission, University of Florida’s Dr. Alastair Graham, warned that while the slower rate is seemingly positive, the findings confirm that the glacier is highly perceptible to changes in climate. Since the rate of the glacier retreating has pulsated, it is likely to happen again.

“Our results suggest that sustained pulses of rapid retreat have occurred at Thwaites Glacier in the past two centuries. Similar rapid retreat pulses are likely to occur in the near future when the grounding zone migrates back off stabilizing high points on the sea floor.”

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Dr. Graham said that once the glacier retreats beyond a certain point, it has the potential to shrink at an even greater rate. In fact, “just a small kick to Thwaites could lead to a big response,” Dr. Graham predicted.

These findings rebut the hope once held by scientists that the Antarctic ice sheets would be more resilient to climate change.

alien

A Top Scientist Believes That Alien Tech May Be Located In The Pacific Ocean

Astrophysicist Avi Loeb is on a mission to try and find some alien technology that he believes is lying on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

black hole

NASA Releases Footage Found From A Black Hole That Leaves An Ominous Sound

In a recent tweet from NASA, they revealed some mysterious audio from a galaxy cluster that can be found 240 million lightyears away from Earth.

The new sound waves that have been released were previously identified, but now for the first time they can actually be heard. 

Scientists say the black hole sends out pressure waves that cause ripples in the hot gas, which can be translated into a note,” according to Wesh.com

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The actual note can’t be heard by a normal human ear. The note is roughly 57 octaves below that of middle C. 

The black hole has been associated with the sound ever since 2003. 

Astronomers figured out that the waves that were coming from the black hole ended up causing ripples within the hot gas which translated into the ominous note that was and can now be heard.

“The misconception that there is no sound in space originates because most space is a ~vacuum, providing no way for sound waves to travel. A galaxy cluster has so much gas that we’ve picked up actual sound. Here it’s amplified, and mixed with other data, to hear a black hole” 

NASA ended up scaling the sounds up to their true pitch that way everyone would be able to hear the sound coming from within the black hole. 

According to Business Insider, the scaled up sound is actually 144 quadrillion and 288 quadrillion times higher than what the actual frequency is. 

The news broke across the internet and the outpouring of peoples reactions at being able to hear the interior of the black hole was astounding.

One tweet from CNN anchor Jim Sciutto wrote, “This is cool-and really, really spooky.”

“Everyone is talking about how eerie this is, but, to me the way it just cuts off is by far the creepiest part,” said astronomy blogger Phil Plait. 

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Another Twitter account noted that the black hole actually sounded like “a billion souls being tortured.”

When the clip was originally published, NASA shared a more pleasant version of the noise from M87 which was released by the Event Horizon Telescope project in 2019. 

The incorporated music also came from Chandra telescope’s X-ray data along with audio of optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Atacma Large Milimeter Array in Chile. 

When listening, the loudest part of the M87 music goes along with the brightest part of the image shown which is right where the black hole can be found.

moderna

UK Approves Updated Covid-19 Vaccine From Moderna, Targets Omicron And Original Strain 

The United Kingdom has become the first nation to approve an updated version of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine booster, meant to target the omicron strain as well as the original virus that first appeared in 2020. 

“An updated version of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna that targets two coronavirus variants (known as a “bivalent” vaccine) has today been approved for adult booster doses by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) after it was found to meet the UK regulator’s standards of safety, quality and effectiveness,” read an official government release.

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“Half of the booster, called Spikevax bivalent Original/Omicron, targets the original coronavirus strain while the other half targets Omicron,” it said.

The MHRA, the UK government’s independent expert scientific advisory board, endorsed the decision to approve of the new vaccine after carefully reviewing the evidence. 

The clinical trial by Moderna reported that the booster targets Omicron and showed a stronger immune response against the variant in addition to the original strain. The company said the “updated booster showed a potent response against BA.4 and BA. 5 sub variants.” 

“The side effects are the same as for the original Moderna booster dose and found to be typically mild and self-resolving. No serious safety concerns were identified,” the UK government release said.

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MHRA Chief Executive Dr. June Raine said that “the new Moderna booster will help keep communities protected.

“The first generation of COVID-19 vaccines being used in the UK continue to provide important protection against the disease and save lives. What this bivalent vaccine gives us is a sharpened tool in our armory to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve.”

The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization will advise on the vaccine’s rollout, as it is not yet clear who will be offered the booster or when. 

Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna, said on Twitter he was “delighted the vaccine had been approved.”

“This represents the first authorization of an Omicron-containing bivalent vaccine, this bivalent vaccine has an important role to play in protecting people in the UK from Covid-19 as we enter the winter months.”

Besides Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech have been testing two Covid-19 vaccine boosters that will also target the Omicron variant.

shark sign

Why Sharks Have Been Roaming Closer To The Shore This Summer 

Summer beachgoers have had to be extra cautious this summer as several reports of shark bite injuries and general sightings of ocean predators off the Northeast coast of the US have become prominent. 

According to Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the University of Florida, “globally, shark attacks are at similar levels to previous years, but there are signs that the Northeast coast of the US might be seeing an uptick.”

“We are right on trend for this time of year. I think globally, we usually get between 70 and 80 unprovoked bites by sharks around the world. But that’s a global phenomenon. And it’s distributed in a patchy way.” 

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“One year we might have two or three bites in Hawaii in rapid succession. Next year, it could be New Caledonia; it could be in Western Australia. And this year, it’s off the coast of Long Island,” Naylor stated. 

Last year there were 73 cases of unprovoked shark bites, according to the International Shark Attack database, within the past five years the average amount of unprovoked attacks has remained around 72. 

Naylor emphasized that the sharks that swimmers have been encountering this year, especially off the coasts of Long Island, are looking for food, not targeting humans. 

“Most have been identified as sand tiger sharks, which, while fearsome looking, aren’t considered aggressive. They have likely been venturing into coastal waters to prey on abundant shoals of bait fish.”

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 “These bait fish are in schools of hundreds of thousands – or millions, and when they get quite close to shore, the sharks follow them,” Naylor said.

“The sharks are swimming around trying to chase their dinner. The people are swimming around splashing with beach balls in their circle. … The surf zone gets quite murky because of all the energy and the sharks are all jingled up because they’re excited to see all this food – once in a while they make a mistake,” he explained. 

Off of Cape Cod there have been several great white shark sightings this summer, prompting the closure of at least one major beach. During the summer and fall white sharks are known to hunt their preferred prey of seals, which tend to be towards the shore. 

Wildlife research performed a study last year which showed great whites spend almost half of their time in the summer/fall season in waters with depths of 15 feet or less. 

 “Until now we didn’t know just how much time they spent in shallow water close to shore,” said lead author Megan Winton, a research scientist at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. 

Naylor concluded by offering swimmers advice when it comes to protecting yourself from a potential attack: “Don’t swim or surf on your own, and don’t swim near big shoals of fish or if you spot seals nearby. Don’t wear jewelry in the water that a shark could confuse for the shimmer of fish scales. If you do spot a shark, back out of the water slowly. Don’t panic and splash around.”

white house

White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Explains Why Some Americans Don’t Trust The Science

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid response coordinator, recently spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival and explained why Americans continue to grow less trusting of medical advice from experts. One of the biggest reasons cited is due to a lack of representation in the scientific/medical field. 

“If you look at the experience of the way the public health system has treated, let’s say, African Americans in America, there’s a lot of basis for mistrust. It is not a glorious history.”

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According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 29% of US adults say they believe medical scientists are acting in the best interest of the public: that percentage is down from 40% in late 2020. 

Jha said that for many people of color, that mistrust can be rooted back to not seeing enough representation or diversity in the medical field in general, especially when it comes to positions of power in the public health system. 

“We have to do a much better job at diversifying our scientific workforce. It will make science better. It’ll make the communication better. The proportion of Black men in medical school is the same today as it was 40 years ago.” 

According to a 2015 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), only 1,337 Black men applied to US medical schools in 2014, compared to 1,410 Black men in 1978. Less than 6% of all physicians in America are Black, according to a 2018 study by UCLA. 

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Diversity in medicine has been luckily on the rise recently; January data from the AAMC shows that there were roughly 20% more Black male first-year medical students in the US in 2021 when compared to 2020. However, the report also cited an 8.5% decrease in American Indian and Alaska Native first-year students. 

Jha noted that “diverse doctors and healthcare workers could help get more people of color on board with vaccinations. The words of trusted community members often carry more weight than government officials, even publicly elected ones.”

“Here are communities that have been served badly, where the health system has treated them badly, and then someone shows up and says, ‘You want a vaccine?’ and you’re surprised that people are not immediately jumping for it?”

“You saw incredible vaccine uptick rates in lots of communities of color, but, when you work with those right partners. It was proof of this principle that if you get the right partners, you do this humbly, you do this in an effective way, it really moves the needle,” said Jha.

mrna

Success Of mRNA Covid-19 Vaccines Is ‘Just A Glimpse Of Their Full Potential’

According to a new Perspective published in the Medical Journal Of Australia, the success of mRNA vaccines against Covid-19 shows “just a glimpse of their full potential.” 

Isabella Overmars is a research coordinator at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and her and her colleagues are responsible for the published Perspective in which they explained why mRNA vaccines are so successful. The mRNA contains a code for a specific antigen that is transferred into a host cell where it is then translated into a coded protein. 

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“This typically leads to the host cell displaying the protein on its surface to promote cell-mediated immunity, and the host cell releases proteins outside of the cell which are taken up and presented by other antigen-presenting cells to promote antibody-mediated immunity,” they wrote.

mRNA vaccines are being held in such high regard for a multitude of reasons, including their low toxicity, and the fact that “there is no possibility for an infection to occur from the vaccine itself”.

“mRNA vaccines do not rely on non or mildly pathogenic viral vectors as a delivery method, which in some cases can cause issues of immune-based clotting disorders, such as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), and antivector immunity,” Overmars wrote.

“The manufacturing process also has several benefits, including in vitro development and use of synthetic materials, which improves manufacturing consistency. Moreover, mRNA vaccines can be rapidly synthesized after the required sequence is known, and modifications can be expedited, which is advantageous in responding to emerging immune-evasive variants.”

The biggest “limitation” to mRNA technology is the fact that it can be easily destroyed, which is why the vaccines need to be stored at cold temperatures.

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“mRNA vaccine development will continue to accelerate, spurred on by the success of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, and further improvements to the technology may mitigate some of the current limitations and facilitate broader reach.”

“For example, strategies to make the mRNA vaccines self-amplify, meaning the mRNA delivered in the vaccine encodes not only the antigen of interest but also the replication machinery that amplifies the mRNA, will reduce the amount of mRNA needed in each vaccine. Moderna is already in phase 1 with a seasonal influenza quadrivalent product, and is developing other combination vaccines, including one for human metapneumovirus and parainfluenza virus,” wrote Overmars and colleagues.

“Existing challenges need to be addressed to ensure equitable access and expansion. To do this, manufacturing facilities with advanced mRNA technology may be required in multiple locations globally,” they explained. 

“Testing of different additives, adjuvants and delivery mechanisms will be important to increase the stability of mRNA vaccines at higher temperatures and to therefore facilitate equitable access.”

“mRNA technology has progressed rapidly over the past 2 years in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, revealing new and exciting avenues for prophylactic and therapeutic vaccine development,” they concluded.

ICU

Severe Cases Of Covid-19 Linked To Long-Term Air Pollution Exposure

According to a study conducted in 2020 using healthcare data from 4,443 fatal cases of Covid-19, long-term exposure to high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) correlated to an increased risk of severe/potentially fatal cases of Covid-19.