‘Tree farts’ make up about a fifth of greenhouse gases from ghost forests

If a tree farts in the forest, does it make a sound? No. But it does add a smidge of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air. A team of ecologists measured these gases, or “tree farts,” released by dead trees in ghost forests. These spooky woodlands form when rising sea levels drown a forest, leaving behind a marsh full of skeletal dead trees. The new data suggest these trees generate about one-fifth of the greenhouse gases from ghost forests. The other emissions come from the soggy soils. Researchers report their findings online May 10 in Biogeochemistry. Explainer:…

Common parasite may help mussels survive heat waves

When is a parasite not a parasite? Answer: When it provides a benefit to its host. Consider some microbes long thought to bring only harm to coastal mussels. New research shows some may actually help their hosts survive dangerous heat waves. Called cyanobacteria (Sy-AN-oh-bak-TEER-ee-uh), these bacteria bore into the mussels’ outer shells. Studies had shown this can weaken mussel shells, notes Katy Nicastro. She’s a marine biologist at Rhodes University in South Africa. Being infested with those microbes can slow a mussel’s growth — and reproduction, too. It can even cause the shells to shed their dark outer coat. But…

Sleep-friendlier lighting is on the way

Don’t watch TV close to bedtime. Put away your phone, too, or you may have trouble falling asleep. You may not realize it, but the blue light from device screens and even common lamps will confuse your brain’s internal 24-hour clock. Even “white” light contains these blue wavelengths. And when blue light enters the eyes, your brain gets the message that it needs to stay awake. But a new type of lighting appears to get around these sleep-challenging effects so you can nod off easily at bedtime. This new light-emitting diode, or LED, might someday deliver the glow in lamps…

Mantis shrimp inspires somersaults of new soft robot

A tiny mantis shrimp found off the Pacific coast of South and Central America has inspired a new robot that somersaults and rolls as well as a circus acrobat — or Disney sidekick. Forty years ago, Roy Caldwell documented the somersaulting mantis shrimp in his lab.Credit: Roy Caldwell Wen-Bo Li is a mechanical engineer exploring how to design soft robots that move by rolling. He works at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. Not long ago, he came across a description from more than 40 years ago of how a mantis shrimp navigated beaches. Roy Caldwell is an ecologist at…

‘Smart’ pasta morphs into fun shapes as it cooks

This pasta is no limp noodle. When imprinted with grooves, it can morph into tubes, spirals and other traditional shapes as it cooks. This new technique would allow uncooked pasta to take up less space. That means it would need less packaging. Pasta lovers “are very picky about the shapes of pasta and how they pair with different sauces,” says Lining Yao. She studies the design of smart materials at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn. Flat pasta like spaghetti holds less sauce than twisty types like rotini. But those shapes come at a cost: bigger packages. For some curly…

Most species of beetles pee differently than other insects

Like most creatures, beetles and other insects release wastes in their pee. But most species of beetles appear to process urine differently from all other insects. That’s the finding of a new study. That finding could lead to a new method of pest-control: making beetles pee themselves to death. The new finding also may help explain why beetles have been such an evolutionary success. Their more than 400,000 species make up 40 percent of all insect species. In humans, the kidneys make urine. These organs remove wastes and extra fluid from the body through roughly one million filtering structures known…

The Milky Way’s ‘yellowballs’ are clusters of baby stars

Astronomers have cracked a curious cosmic case: What are “yellowballs”? These mysterious space objects were first thought to be signs of young, supermassive stars. Scientists now have confirmed that they do mark stellar nurseries. But these birthplaces for stars can host many types of stars with a wide range of masses. Researchers shared their discovery April 13 in The Astrophysical Journal. The stars in the clusters are relatively young, only about 100,000 years old. “I think of these as stars in utero,” says Grace Wolf-Chase. She’s an astronomer at the Planetary Science Institute and lives in Naperville, Ill. For comparison,…

Let’s learn about lightning

Around 100 times a second, every hour of every day, lightning strikes somewhere on Earth. It might strike over the ocean, far from where anyone might see it. It might hit the beach, perhaps forming a beautiful deposit of fulgurite. It might strike a tree, setting off a wildfire. And on rare occasions, it might hit a person, injuring or even killing them. In fact, some 24,000 people are killed each year by lightning. This is why you should seek cover any time there’s a thunderstorm in the area. Even if the storm doesn’t appear close, you might still get…

Pond scum can release a paralyzing pollutant into the air

The summer sun warms the still surface of a pond on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts. This water contains fertilizer that had washed off of a nearby farm during a storm. In the warm water, cyanobacteria gorge themselves on nutrients from that fertilizer. Soon, their abundance mushrooms into a “bloom.” These bacteria can release a toxin that poisons the air, a study now shows. People often call these bacteria blue-green algae even though they aren’t algae at all. Much as plants do, these bacteria use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide into food. Along the way, they burp out oxygen as waste.…

A common antibiotic might save some sick corals

A dose of antibiotics seems to help some corals recover from a mysterious tissue-eating disease. And yes, they’re the same antibiotics used in people. Divers discovered the coral disease in 2014. It was afflicting reefs near Miami, Fla. Nicknamed skittle-D, it appears as white lesions that rapidly eat away at coral tissue. The disease has no cure. It currently plagues nearly all of the Great Florida Reef, which spans some 580 kilometers (360 miles). In recent years, skittle-D has spread to reefs in the Caribbean. Now, a type of coral with skittle-D just off the Florida coast has improved several…

Warning: Wildfires might make you itch

A burnt orange sky greeted San Francisco’s early risers for several days in November 2018. The California city’s residents usually enjoy good air quality. For nearly two weeks in a row, however, the air quality ranged from unhealthy to very unhealthy. The cause: a raging wildfire some 280 kilometers (175 miles) away. A new report now links pollution from that Camp Fire to flareups of eczema. This itchy skin condition affects almost one-in-three Americans, mostly children and adolescents. More worrisome, polluting wildfires are likely to become even more of a problem in the future as Earth’s climate continues to warm.…

Warning: Wildfires might make you itch

A burnt orange sky greeted San Francisco’s early risers for several days in November 2018. The California city’s residents usually enjoy good air quality. For nearly two weeks in a row, however, the air quality ranged from unhealthy to very unhealthy. The cause: a raging wildfire some 280 kilometers (175 miles) away. A new report now links pollution from that Camp Fire to flareups of eczema. This itchy skin condition affects almost one-in-three Americans, mostly children and adolescents. More worrisome, polluting wildfires are likely to become even more of a problem in the future as Earth’s climate continues to warm.…

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