Health & Science

T. rex’s miniature ancestor; Water in an unlikely place; Progress on an AIDS vaccine; Struck by stupidity; Stress makes acne worse

T. rex’s miniature ancestor

Tyrannosaurus rex, that ferocious and most recognizable of dinosaurs, once had a “mini me,” says the Los Angeles Times. In a remarkable find, scientists digging in China unearthed the fossil of a meat eater with all the features of the Terrible Lizard—large head, strong legs, tiny arms, and a set of flesh-tearing teeth—but in a far smaller package. The new species, named Raptorex kriegsteini, stood 9 feet high and weighed only 150 pounds—about 100 times less than the 7-ton T. rex. The biggest surprise of all is that the miniature predator preceded T. rex by 40 million years. The timing upends conventional thinking about the T. rex’s origins. Scientists had thought that the dinosaur first evolved to a colossal size and only subsequently developed meat-eating abilities, to better sustain its bulk. But the discovery of Raptorex clearly suggests that the design for a creature made to hunt other dinosaurs came first, and evolved because it was a success. “What we’re looking at is a blueprint for a fast-running set of jaws,” says paleontologist and co-author Paul Sereno. “It was a blueprint that was scalable.”

Water in an unlikely place

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The moon has always been thought to be bone-dry, but in fact, large portions of its surface may be laced with water, says new research. New data from three research satellites sent to study the moon found the chemical signature of H2O not only at its poles, where it was expected, but scattered all over its surface in trace amounts. In a 2-liter soda bottle filled with lunar dirt, University of Maryland astronomer Jessica Sunshine told The Washington Post, there would be a medicine dropper’s worth of water. In addition, chunks of ice may exist below the surface. One theory is that ice-filled comets crashed into the moon millennia ago, scattering bits of ice everywhere. Another is that hydrogen in the solar “wind” constantly bombarding the moon fuses with oxygen molecules in the dirt, forming water. “We always think of the moon as dead,” Sunshine said, “and this is sort of a dynamic process going on.”

Progress on an AIDS vaccine

For the first time, a combination of two different AIDS vaccines has protected some people from being infected with the deadly virus—a breakthrough that some experts doubted would ever occur. Researchers for the federal government administered the combination of two previously unsuccessful vaccines to thousands of volunteers in Thailand, where HIV is rampant, and were able to cut the risk of infection by 31 percent. It’s a modest benefit, but “conceptually, we now know a vaccine is possible,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The Washington Post. “At least we know it can be done.” Neither of these vaccines alone prevented HIV infection in individual trials, and the failure of several other vaccines to work led many researchers to conclude that the search was futile. Since the level of protection the new combination of vaccines provides is low, it’s unlikely to be produced commercially. Instead, it will help teach virologists what happens in an immune system that does ward off HIV—which they hope will lead to more effective vaccines.

Struck by stupidity

Of the 648 people killed by lightning in the U.S. in recent years, more than 80 percent were men. Do males perhaps contain more lightning-attracting iron? Does their slight height advantage make them more attractive targets? Alas, no. It’s just that men are stupid. Whether through ignorance, denial, or bravado, men seem less willing to interrupt their outdoor activities when dark clouds begin gathering. “Men take more risks in lightning storms,” John Jensenius of the National Weather Service tells Popular Science. Behavioral psychologist Peter Todd ascribes the problem to the male evolutionary mandate to appear bold in the face of danger. Apparently Zeus is unimpressed; this year’s casualties so far include men killed while fishing, playing baseball, and mowing the lawn.

Stress makes acne worse

Acne is a bummer; it mars the complexion and, in severe cases, the self-esteem of the sufferer. But stressing about it may only make it worse, a new study suggests. An international team of researchers surveyed 3,500 teenagers in Oslo about the extent of their acne and their state of mind. Teens with anxiety and depression were far more likely than happier kids to report having acne—and the more blue they felt, the worse their acne. The study didn’t address why that might be; one theory is that stress stimulates nerves in the face, stimulating the production of more oily sebum and creating more clogged pores and pimples. “I hope that this study will encourage doctors to help adolescents to treat their acne,” lead author Jon Halvorsen tells Science Daily. “Young people deserve better!”

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