Health & Science
Did Earhart die a castaway?
It’s widely assumed that Amelia Earhart’s 1937 attempt to become the first female pilot to circumnavigate the globe ended when her twin-engine Lockheed Electra crashed into the Pacific Ocean. But new research has added weight to the theory that the celebrated aviator may in fact have managed to land on a remote, uninhabited island and survived for weeks or even months as a castaway. The speculation is based on skeletal remains that were found on Nikumaroro, or Gardner Island, in Kiribati in the South Pacific, three years after Earhart’s ill-fated trip. The possibility that the bones were Earhart’s was initially rejected after a doctor who examined them concluded they belonged to a short, stocky man. But in 1998, forensic anthropologists working with The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) re-examined the doctor’s files and concluded that the remains actually belonged to a woman of Earhart’s height and ethnicity. Now, after further analysis of the original measurements and photographs—the bones themselves were lost decades ago—those researchers have determined that the skeleton’s larger-than- average forearms were almost exactly the same size as Earhart’s. “The match does not, of course, prove that the castaway was Earhart,” TIGHAR’s Richard Gillespie tells CSMonitor.com. “But it is a significant new data point that tips the scales further in that direction.” The TIGHAR team is planning an expedition to Nikumaroro for next year to search for the Lockheed Electra in the deep water off the island.
When the sea makes snowballs
Residents of Nyda, a small village in Siberia above the Arctic Circle, were greeted with a spectacular sight last week: thousands of almost perfectly spherical snowballs covering an 11-mile stretch of the coast. The icy orbs, which ranged in size from a few inches to almost 3 feet across, were a rare but naturally occurring phenomenon, reports NPR.org. They form during outbreaks of extreme cold, when chunks of ice break off from larger ice sheets and get rolled along the beach by the wind. The process isn’t unique to Siberia; icy boulders have also washed up in the United States, on the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. “First there is a primary natural phenomenon—sludge ice, slob ice,” says Sergei Lisenkov from the St. Petersburg– based Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute. “Then comes a combination of the effects of the wind, the lay of the coastline, and the temperature and wind conditions. It can be such an original combination that it results in the formation of balls like these.”
Rise in middle-school suicides
For the first time, middle-school students are as likely to die from suicide as they are from traffic accidents, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As recently as 1999, the death rate for children ages 10 to 14 from car crashes was quadruple the rate for suicide. But in 2014, 425 kids in that age group took their own lives, and 384 were killed in traffic accidents. This inversion is in part due to improved safety features in automobiles that have helped reduce the car-crash death rate by 58 percent since the turn of the century. Over the same period, though, the suicide rate in 10- to 14-yearolds has more than doubled. Exactly what is driving this worrisome trend is unclear, but scientists caution that relentless exposure to social media may magnify the challenges and insecurities that preteens face. “Cultural norms have changed tremendously from 20 years ago,” clinical psychologist Marsha Levy-Warren tells The New York Times. “If something gets said that’s hurtful or humiliating, it’s not just the kid who said it who knows, it’s the entire school or class.”
Prehistoric sea lizards
Antarctica was once home to a giant predatory sea monster that hunted the reptilian equivalent of whales, paleontologists have discovered. The new species of mosasaur, Kaikaifilu hervei, lived 66 million years ago, when the Antarctic seas were much warmer. About 33 feet long and featuring sharp teeth, paddle-like limbs, and a long tail, the lizard-like beast mainly hunted the aristonectine plesiosaurus, a long-necked marine reptile that fed like a modern-day whale. K. hervei would have been the largest marine predator in the region. Scientists with the Chilean Paleontological Expedition identified the creature after unearthing a huge skull fossil on Seymour Island in the Antarctic Peninsula. At 4 feet long, the mosasaur fossil is the largest ever found in the southern hemisphere, and about twice the size of the next-biggest mosasaur skull to be unearthed on the continent. “Prior to this research, the known mosasaur remains from Antarctica provided no evidence for the presence of very large predators like Kaikaifilu,” the study’s author, Rodrigo Otero, tells LiveScience.com. K. hervei died off along with the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period 66 million years ago, when a giant meteor impact off the coast of Mexico triggered a mass extinction event.
Health scare of the week
Hypochondria and heart disease
Worrying about getting sick may actually make you sick. That’s the conclusion of a new study from Norway that suggests hypochondriacs are at greater risk for heart disease, reports The Guardian (U.K.). Researchers asked 7,052 adults to complete questionnaires about their health concerns and then undergo physical exams. About 10 percent of the volunteers had “health anxiety”—they essentially worried about ailments they didn’t have. When the researchers tracked the volunteers’ heart health for 12 years, they found that those with health anxiety were 71 percent likelier to develop cardiac problems. The more severe their anxiety, the higher their risk. These findings don’t prove that hypochondria causes heart disease, but the study’s authors nevertheless believe that taking steps to ease unnecessary anxiety could have health benefits. “Instead of worrying about what’s going on with your body and running to the doctor for any physical health problem,” says lead author Line Iden Berge, “[people should] seek a proper diagnosis and help for the anxiety disorder.”