What We’re Reading: Saturn’s Rings, Little Brown Bat Disease and Fossil Looting

BY Jenny Marder  December 13, 2010 at 11:10 AM EST

Epidemiology: Fear in the Dust

erionite.jpgNature News reports on the mineral erionite, which has been linked to startling rates of the rare lung condition, mesothelioma, in some Turkish villages.

It turns out dangerous levels of erionite are also lurking in gravel roads, driveways and children’s playing fields in North Dakota’s Killdeer mountains. Incidence of the disease hasn’t sprouted in Killdeer the way it has in Turkey, but early lung tissue screenings among those with high occupational exposure don’t bode well. The story tracks a team that includes an epidemiologist, a physician and a geologist investigating the mineral in hopes of preventing a public health disaster. (Brendan Maher, Nature News)

Buried in Peru’s Desert, Fossils Draw Smugglers

Untitled-2.jpgSeizures of illegally obtained fossils have nearly tripled over the past year in Peru’s Ocucaje Desert, according to this New York Times story, and paleontologists are going to extra lengths to safeguard their finds. A 35-million-year old whale cranium, for example, had to be camouflaged with burlap to protect it from looters. The story is an interesting look at a new type of trafficking. (Simon Romero and Andrea Zarate, New York Times)

America’s Most Common Bat Headed for Eastern Extinction

bat.jpgWired has a nice update on the mysterious White-Nosed syndrome, a fungus that is devastating bats in the eastern United States. This piece puts it into a context we can all understand: “By the time today’s toddlers graduate from high school, the most common bat in North America may have vanished altogether from the eastern United States,” it says. It’s a good look at the science, with a color graph that shows the problem inching its way west. (Brandon Keim, Wired Science)

Saturn’s Rings Explained

saturn ring.jpgThe origin of Saturn’s rings has been a longtime mystery to scientists. A new theory explained here posits that 4.5 million years ago, a large moon smacked into the planet. The moon, it says, “was stripped of its icy outer layer before its rocky heart plunged into the planet,” a possible explanation for why the rings are so icy. (Alexandra Witze, Science News)

And in case you missed it, some stories from our Science page last week: