The Tentacled Snake (Erpeton tentaculatum) is a bizarre species immediately recognisable by its two antennae-like tentacles on its head. These tentacles are part of the snake’s insanely fast hunting technique, used to “see” in the murky lakes and rivers of its natural habitat in Southeast Asia. The snake hunts fish, which make very difficult prey—they have a defense reflex called C-start, allowing them respond to disturbances in the water within five thousandths of a second: with a flick of their tail, they race off away from danger. The Tentacled Snake, however, has learnt to turn this extremely fast defense mechanism to its own advantage. This master fisherman curves its body into a “J” shape and waits motionlessly. It uses its two tentacles to sense even the smallest movements in the gloomy water, allowing it to perfectly time its deadly attack. When it detects a fish swiming by, the snake feints by rippling its neck. The fish immediately turns and zooms away—and then the snake strikes explosively, often making the fish swim directly into its angled mouth.
Richard P. Feynman (1918–1988) was perhaps the most original theoretical physicist of his time, best known for his work in quantum mechanics and particle physics. He taught himself elementary mathematics before he learnt it in school, and by fifteen he’d mastered differential and integral calculus. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree at MIT in 1939 (after switching from mathematics to electrical engineering to physics), and then went on to receive his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1942, where he assisted in the development of the atomic bomb project. Feynman soon became head of the theoretical division of the project in Los Alamos. After WWII, he was appointed as a professor of theoretical physics at Cornell University, and in 1950 he moved to Caltech to fill the same position, returning to researching the quantum theory of electrodynamics he’d been working on before the war, including the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, and a model of weak decay. He was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 1965 with Schwinger and Tomonoga for his fundamental work in this field. His other work included particle spin and a theory of ‘partons’, which led to the current theory of quarks, and he wrote many popular books. He became part of a committee to investigate the explosion on the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 and became a public scientific figure, but his health gradually deteriorated. Cancer was found in his abdomen, and he died in 1988. He’s remembered for his insatiable curiosity, gentle wit, brilliant mind and playful temperament.
This computer-simulated image from NASA recreates an actual event studied with help from NASA’s orbiting Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) and the Pan-STARRS1 telescope on the summit of Haleakala in Hawaii. It took place about 2.7 billion light years from Earth in a galaxy known as PS1-10jh.
A flare in ultraviolet and optical light revealed gas falling into the black hole as well as helium-rich gas that was expelled from the system. When the star is torn apart, some of the material falls into the black hole, while the rest is ejected at high speeds. The flare and its properties provide a signature of this scenario and give unprecedented details about the stellar victim.
No culture lacks music—some of the oldest human-made artefacts are musical instruments—but what evolutionary purpose does it serve? Researchers think that the key is in the fact that humans are social creatures, and so music is first and foremost a social tool. Verbal communication is heavily influenced by the pitch, rhythm and timbre of human vocalizations, and music can help us encode and remember information, but we use it for more than language—it comforts infants, seduces mates, stirs armies and sports teams, defines social groups and makes people feel connected. It’s curious, however, that there are billions of ways to group and arrange tones, and yet humans only tend to use a small number of scales over and over. This is due to the fact that the most important and appealing tones in our lives are the vocalizations of other humans—and not surprisingly, researchers have found the closer that scales are to human vocalizations, the more popular they are. (Rock n’ Roll, for example, is especially popular.) In today’s society, many people shy away from the ‘frivolity’ of our tribal roots, but music was incredibly important in our evolutionary history—so tell that to the next person who shouts at you for blasting your speakers at full volume.
In Southern Italy, just west of Naples, lies a cauldron-like geological formation called a caldera, formed by the collapse of several volcanoes. It’s basically a supervolcano, which is like a regular volcano except for the tiny fact that a supervolcanic eruption is 30 times stronger than Krakatoa—it can spew out over a trillion tons of material and cover an entire continent in ash. Massive eruptions are rare, but if Campi Flegrei caldera erupts, it could devastate Naples and endanger more than 3 million people. An international team of scientists have set up a deep drilling project to assess the risk. Original plans were put on hold when concerns were expressed about whether the drilling could trigger seismic activity, but a revised version is now underway. First, a borehole 500 metres deep will be drilled to test the rock composition, and then a narrow 3.5 kilometre borehole will follow. Sensors will be placed inside to map the volcano’s underground geometry: measuring changes in temperature, the movement of magma, and seismic activity. This will help researchers to understand the movement of the Earth’s surface caused by magma, called “bradyseism”, and determine whether there’s a connection between bradyseism and volcanic eruptions—enabling scientists to predict eruptions and give warning to the areas at risk.
Just 5 millimetres wide, the tinyTurritopsis dohrnii has discovered how to cheat death. More commonly known as the immortal jellyfish, it has been silently invading oceans all over the world with its ever-increasing population—due to the fact it can age backwards. The jellyfish’s reproduction cycle involves the meeting of free-floating sperm and eggs, which then settle on a hard surface and form a blob-like polyp, which slowly matures. Most mature jellyfish species die soon after reproducing, but the Turritopsis is able to transform from back into a polyp and restart life anew, inverting their ‘umbrella’ and absorbing their tentacles. This can only be done in an emergency such as starvation, physical damage, or temperature or salinity change, but the cycle can be repeated indefinitely, rendering the Turritopsis immortal. Remarkably, their cells are completely transformed in the process. Biologist Stefano Piraino thinks that they’re able to “switch off some genes and switch on [others], reactivating genetic programs that were used in earlier stages of the life cycle.” However, researchers have dismissed ideas that the species could hold the key to anti-aging drugs—and maybe that’s for the best. If the Turritopsis can spread this rapidly through the world’s oceans, then I don’t think immortality would very healthy for humans.
Moon and planets align in the evening sky as seen from Geojedo Island of Korea. The crescent Moon is the lowest, while Venus (in conjunction with the Moon) is second on the line, then Mars, and last Jupiter among stars of Capricornus.