Super-Jupiter, Fighting Floods and What’s the News on Mars?

BY Jenny Marder  November 21, 2012 at 12:30 PM EDT

Artist’s concept of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover. Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Update: 1:30 p.m. ET | Science watchers are buzzing that NASA’s Curiosity rover has found something on Mars. But hell if anyone knows what it is.

NPR’s Joe Palca reported that one of the Mars Curiosity rover’s instruments is feeding “exciting new results,” back to NASA. So exciting, he uses the word “earthshaking.” Problem is, NASA can’t divulge the results. Not yet.

Astronomer and science writer Phil Plait cautions folks to take a breath, and perhaps temper their expectations. It’s happened before, he says.

“If you immediately jump to the conclusion that this is really something amazing, then when you find out what it’s actually about, as exciting as it may be, it may not live up to what you think.”

ENGINEERING AGAINST A FUTURE SANDY

Even a six-foot high platform failed to ward off the near 10-foot storm surge that flooded Ronnie Forster’s Staten Island home last month.

Ronald Forster Looks Through Remains of His House

As Forster and others in storm-damaged homes pull up floorboards and sweep debris, part of a major gut and rebuild effort, much of the talk among city planners and engineers has focused on what could have saved the city from Sandy.

Hari Sreenivasan tackled that question in a NewsHour report last night. The piece looks at the mechanics and cost of several engineering options, ranging from rebuilding wetlands and oyster beds in the harbor to building giant storm surge barriers with sliding doors or mechanical swing gates. Watch the piece here or below.

Plus, here’s a closer look at four storm barrier designs proposed by engineering firms at a 2009 conference.

SUPER-JUPITER: A PLANET OR A FAILED STAR?

Researchers have discovered a planet 13 times the size of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, orbiting a star 2.5 times the mass of our sun. It’s so big researchers calling it a Super-Jupiter and believe it falls just shy of qualifying as a brown dwarf — a failed star unable to generate fusion — though they haven’t ruled out that possibility.

Ian O’Neill of Discovery News provides this explanation of brown dwarfs, which he dubs “the runts of the stellar litter.”

At only 30 million years old, the exoplanet, named Kappa Andromedae b after its host star, is young, has reddish glow and circles its star at twice the distance that Neptune circles our sun. And the star can be seen without a telescope from suburban skies.

The image shows the location of the star, the planet and how its orbit compares to Neptune’s. More here.

Also notable is that astronomers were able to snap a direct picture of the planet. Most exoplanets are viewed indirectly, by measuring a wobble or dimming of their host star, for example, that indicates a planet is orbiting around it.

Slate and again Phil Plait (see earlier post on Mars pseudo-news)have compiled a terrific collection of images of all of the exoplanets we’ve been able to see directly.

WHO’S KILLING THE DOLPHINS?

A bottlenose dolphin with its lower jaw missing was found dead off the coast of Mississippi on Friday, adding another shocking and mysterious death to the six that have already occurred in the region. Other dolphins have been found with bullet holes, hacked off fins or cuts to their bodies. One dolphin carcass washed ashore in Alabama with a screwdriver stuck in its head.

A criminal investigation is underway, Reuters reports. Reuters has this quote from Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi”

“In my 30-plus years in this business, I’ve never seen anything so heartbreaking, cruel and senseless,” Solangi said on Tuesday. “You hear about serial killers who chop up bodies and put the parts in the freezer. This is just as horrible, but involving defenseless animals.”

Richard Stifel, an enforcement officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was appointed on Tuesday to head a criminal investigation. Solangi’s organization added a $5,000 reward for anyone with information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is harming the animals.

Read more in the SunHerald.com.

LINE ITEMS

  • Bugs in the gutters. Predatory ants marching en masse through sand. Parasitic larvae emerging alien-like from the body cavities of comatose hornworms. These bug videos, compiled by the New York Times from the 2012 YouTube Your Entomology Contest, are wild and wonderful and stomach-turning. But caution, don’t watch while eating.

  • Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hit a new record high in 2011, reaching 391 parts per million, the World Meteorological Organization said on Tuesday in its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

  • Methane is leaking all over Boston. Researchers have discovered 3,356 methane leaks with isotopic characteristics indicating that they originated in fossil fuel rather than microbial sources.

  • Treatment with MDMA, more commonly known as the party drug Ecstasy, may help patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the New York Times reports. Note the fitting grin on the researcher’s face in the photo.

  • A new science museum that’s slated to open in Dallas includes a shake floor that simulates severe earthquakes and an EEG sensor-powered machine that lets visitors use their brain waves to send ping-pong balls through a chute. It’s named for and funded by the children of Ross and Margot Perot.

  • The Bellybutton Diversity Project has set out to catalog the diverse ecosystems living inside your bellybutton, Washington Post reports.

  • A new fiber optic device “can deliver 1000 precise points of light to a 3D section of living brain tissue matter smaller than a sugar cube.”

  • From the Thanksgiving files, did you know that turkeys are the least genetically diverse of all U.S. livestock animals? In fact, they bear little resemblance to their Mexican ancestors. That’s according to a study recently published in the journal BMC Genomics.

View more on our science page.

Rebecca Jacobson, Jeremy Blackman and Saskia de Melker contributed to this post.