Feature

Health & Science

How Chile’s earthquake shortened the day; Down the hatchling; An even wetter moon; Secondhand hot; Altruism takes time to develop  

How Chile’s earthquake shortened the day As if the day weren’t already short enough, it just got a little shorter. The massive, magnitude 8.8 earthquake that rocked Chile on Feb. 27 was so deep and strong that it redistributed Earth’s mass slightly, geophysicists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have calculated. That movement, they say, shifted the axis around which Earth’s mass is balanced by about 3 inches, enough to speed up Earth’s rotation. And the faster Earth rotates, the shorter the day. “It’s what we call the ice-skater effect,” British geologist David Kerridge tells BusinessWeek. “As the ice skater going around in a circle pulls her arms in, she gets faster and faster. It’s the same idea with the Earth going around; if you change the distribution of mass, the rotation rate changes.” Thanks to the Chile quake, experts estimate, the day is now 1.26 millionths of a second shorter than it used to be—which is twice the amount that was sliced from the day by the 2004 earthquake in Sumatra. These may sound like infinitesimal reductions, says Earth scientist Benjamin Fong Chao, but they will last “forever.”

Down the hatchling An extraordinary set of fossils unearthed in India provides a rare glimpse into a baby dinosaur’s first—and last—day on earth, about 67 million years ago, says Scientific American. The fossils show an 11-foot snake in a dinosaur nest menacingly coiled around two eggs and a hatchling. “It’s actually one of the very few examples that we have of anything other than a dinosaur eating a dinosaur,” says University of Michigan paleontologist Jeffrey Wilson. The snake, Sanejeh indicus, had a relatively small mouth compared with modern snakes, but its large size meant it could swallow large things. The dinosaur in this case was a species of sauropod, a long-necked plant eater. Scientists believe the frightful scene was fossilized by a sudden mudslide. The discovery sheds new light on the feeding habits of ancient snakes and the hazards that even the largest of earth’s animals once faced. “It’s a rough life if you’re a juicy little dinosaur,” Wilson says.

An even wetter moon Spacecraft orbiting the moon last year found incontrovertible evidence of water on the lunar surface. Now, reports Space.com, it’s become clear just how much water is up there—an estimated 600 million tons of frozen water, in vast reservoirs. The deposits, spied by a NASA instrument aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 orbiter, lie at the bottom of some 40 craters near the moon’s north pole, where they are permanently shaded from sunlight. Scientists say all that water could easily sustain a moon base. “The results from these missions are totally revolutionizing our view of the moon,” says NASA geologist Paul Spudis. “Now we can say with a fair degree of confidence that a sustainable human presence on the moon is possible.”

Secondhand hot Dating a sexy partner makes you more appealing to possible mates, a new study has found. Scientists at the University of California, Davis, asked male and female volunteers to rate the attractiveness of men and women they viewed in photos. The volunteers then looked at different photos of the same people, this time showing them with companions. Both men and women found individuals more desirable when they were paired with attractive companions. By tracking eye movements, the researchers found that the volunteers “all spent a significant amount of time looking at the mate’s partner,” evolutionary biologist Jessica Yorzinski tells LiveScience.com. Although the study aimed to probe the evolutionary factors in mate choice, it could suggest dating strategies for singles. “Perhaps if women doing online dating websites are pictured with attractive boyfriends,” says Yorzinski, “that would help them get more responses with their ads.”

Altruism takes time to develop Humans have an instinct to be altruistic, says a new study, but it can take a little time for that instinct to kick in. Australian researchers compared the reactions of passengers and crew of the Titanic, which took about three hours to sink in 1912 after it hit an iceberg, to those of the Lusitania, which was torpedoed in 1915 and sank in just 18 minutes. The ships were about the same size, had similar types of passengers, and about the same number of people survived. But the difference in who survived was stark. The Lusitania’s survivors were more likely to be young, able-bodied men; they survived at an 8 percent higher rate than people over 35. On the Titanic, women were 53 percent more likely than men to survive, and children were 15 percent more likely to survive than adults. The findings suggest that when people have little time to react, survival instincts rule, but with more time, social influences play a bigger role. “People will sacrifice themselves,” researcher Benno Torgler tells Science News. “But time is crucial, because the elements that retrigger social interactions only emerge after time.”

Recommended

Missouri commissioned, buried, a report that found mask mandates save lives
Mike Parson
Unmasked

Missouri commissioned, buried, a report that found mask mandates save lives

New York governor says not to panic as 5 Omicron cases are reported in state
The Statue of Liberty and New York City skyline at dusk.
'we are in a far better place'

New York governor says not to panic as 5 Omicron cases are reported in state

NFL suspends 3 players for misrepresenting COVID-19 vaccine status
Antonio Brown.
suspensions

NFL suspends 3 players for misrepresenting COVID-19 vaccine status

America has gravely undervalued booster shots
Vaccination.
Picture of Ryan CooperRyan Cooper

America has gravely undervalued booster shots

Most Popular

Fox News personality Lara Logan condemned for likening Fauci to Nazi doctor
Lara Logan.
wow

Fox News personality Lara Logan condemned for likening Fauci to Nazi doctor

7 cartoons about Thanksgiving inflation
Political Cartoon.
Feature

7 cartoons about Thanksgiving inflation

Police reportedly seize hard drives from Marilyn Manson's home
Marilyn Manson
raid

Police reportedly seize hard drives from Marilyn Manson's home