Insects Flew Before Anything Else Did. So How Did They Get Their Wings?

Insects Flew Before Anything Else Did. So How Did They Get Their Wings? Photo A fossil of a cockroach dating to the Cretaceous period, about 145 to 65 million years ago. Insects took to the skies much earlier, but there is scant fossil evidence from the period showing how they evolved wings. Credit The Lighthouse/Science Source Beetle wings are often hidden. Nestled behind armored shields on the beetle’s back, they unfurl in whirring sheets, whisking their clumsy owners from danger. Beetles don’t have more than two sets of wings — unless they’re in Yoshinori Tomoyasu’s lab.
In research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Tomoyasu and co-author David Linz genetically engineered beetle larvae with wings on their abdomens, part of an ongoing attempt to unpack one of evolution’s greatest mysteries: how insects gained the ability to fly.
Insects took to the empty skies sometime between 300 and 360 million years ago, long before birds, bats or ptero..

Out There: Meet TESS, Seeker of Alien Worlds

Meet TESS, Seeker of Alien Worlds KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — The search for cosmic real estate is about to begin anew.
No earlier than 6:32 p.m. on April 16, in NASA’s fractured parlance, a little spacecraft known as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, bristling with cameras and ambition, will ascend on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in a blaze of smoke and fire and take up a lengthy residence between the moon and the Earth.
There it will spend the next two years, at least, scanning the sky for alien worlds.
TESS is the latest effort to try to answer questions that have intrigued humans for millenniums and dominated astronomy for the last three decades: Are we alone? Are there other Earths? Evidence of even a single microbe anywhere else in the galaxy would rock science.
Continue reading the main story Photo A plaque with the signatures of people who worked on the TESS project. Also installed on the satellite was a memory chip that included drawings of exoplanets by school..

Mass Die-Off of Whales in Atlantic Is Being Investigated

Mass Die-Off of Whales in Atlantic Is Being Investigated Photo Workers inspecting a dead humpback whale that washed up on Rockaway Beach in Queens this month. Credit Spencer Platt/Getty Images Humpback whales have been dying in extraordinary numbers along the Eastern Seaboard since the beginning of last year. Marine biologists have a term for it — an “unusual mortality event” — but they have no firm idea why it is happening.
Forty-one whales have died in the past 15 months along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Maine. In a news conference on Thursday, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries said that they had not identified the underlying reason for the mass death, but that 10 of the whales are known to have been killed by collisions with ships.
The agency is starting a broad inquiry into the deaths.
These whales “have evidence of blunt force trauma, or large propeller cuts,” said Deborah Fauquier, a veterinary medical officer at the agency..

The New Threat to Wolves in and Around Yellowstone

The New Threat to Wolves in and Around Yellowstone
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — The vast, sagebrush-studded valleys in this huge chunk of wild country, teeming with herds of elk and bison, are home these days to 10 packs of wolves.
Once among the first species to be listed as endangered, the gray wolf has made a healthy comeback within Yellowstone National Park and its bordering states. Since 1995-96 when 31 wolves were trucked into the park from Canada, their numbers have grown and stabilized to the point that officials could essentially post a “no vacancy sign” at Yellowstone. That’s because the park’s wolf population has hovered for the last decade at 100, give or take, which experts consider Yellowstone’s carrying capacity.
Protected on parkland, gray wolves show little fear of humans, often living out their lives within view of roads. They attract thousands of tourists a year who sometimes become witnesses to the life-or-death dramas between predator and prey.
And some catch..

How to Spot a Nuclear Bomb Program? Look for Ghostly Particles

How to Spot a Nuclear Bomb Program? Look for Ghostly Particles Photo The Boulby mine in northeast England will be home to the Watchman experiment, which aims to detect antineutrinos from a nearby nuclear power plant. Credit Science and Technology Facilities Council Boulby Underground Laboratory What are nations like North Korea and Iran really doing at nuclear reactors that are out of sight?
Someday, wispy subatomic particles known as antineutrinos could provide a clear view of what countries with illicit nuclear weapons programs are trying to hide.
Antineutrinos are devilishly difficult to detect, but this quality is precisely what makes them potentially ideal for monitoring international nonproliferation agreements aimed at preventing the spread of atomic weapons.
A collaboration of American and British scientists announced on Tuesday that they would build a test antineutrino detector called Watchman in a mine on the northeast coast of England. The project is sponsored by the Nationa..

NASA’s Webb Telescope Faces More Setbacks

NASA’s Webb Telescope Faces More Setbacks Photo Engineers and technicians assembling the James Webb Space Telescope in November 2016 at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. A large space-based observatory optimized for infrared wavelengths, the Webb is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit Alex Wong/Getty Images America’s next big space telescope has been delayed at least a year to May 2020, NASA said on Tuesday, throwing the nation’s plan and budget for space astrophysics into potential turmoil.
It now seems likely the cost of the James Webb Space Telescope, the agency’s long-planned successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, will exceed an $8 billion limit that was imposed by Congress, meaning that the project will have to be reauthorized and other NASA missions could be jeopardized.
NASA is beefing up management overview of the program and has appointed an independent review board, chaired by Thomas Young, a former agency manager and a retired aerospace execut..

By Degrees: A Parable From Down Under for U.S. Climate Scientists

A Parable From Down Under for U.S. Climate Scientists Photo John Church in Hobart in September 2010. He is known internationally for helping to bring statistical and analytical rigor to longstanding questions about sea level rise. Credit Peter Boyer HOBART, TASMANIA — John A. Church, a climate scientist, did not look or sound like a man who had recently been shoved out of a job.
Speaking softly and downing coffee at an outdoor cafe in this old port city, he sounded more like a fellow fresh off a jousting match. “I think we had a win — a bigger win than I ever anticipated,” Dr. Church said in an interview last month.
Australian climate science went through an upheaval last year, one that engaged the press and the public in defending the importance of basic research. In the end, Dr. Church did indeed lose his job, but scores of his colleagues who had been marked for layoffs did not. Some of them view him as having sacrificed his career to save theirs.
What happened in Australia shows the..

E.P.A. Dismisses Members of Major Scientific Review Board

E.P.A. Dismisses Members of Major Scientific Review Board Photo Scott Pruitt, left, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, with President Trump and a group of coal miners in March as the president signed an executive order that rolled back many climate-change policies. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal of what critics call a campaign by the Trump administration to shrink the agency’s regulatory reach by reducing the role of academic research.
A spokesman for the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, said he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” said the spok..

Trilobites: Arctic Foxes on a Swedish Mountain Turned ‘Blue.’ It Was a Good Thing.

Arctic Foxes on a Swedish Mountain Turned ‘Blue.’ It Was a Good Thing. Arctic foxes are endangered in Sweden, Norway and Finland, scattered in isolated populations that can fall victim to severe inbreeding, further threatening their survival.
That’s what happened to a group descended from six white foxes that settled in the early 2000s on Helagsfjället, the highest mountain in southern Sweden.
But in 2010, a local ranger noticed something different: slate-colored or “blue” Arctic foxes, which had to be newcomers. The immigrants presented a rare opportunity for scientists to study what happens when new genetic material flows into a small, isolated population threatened with extinction.
In a study published Wednesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, scientists from Sweden and Norway reported that just three new males dramatically reduced inbreeding and produced a generation of more robust offspring in the Helagsfjället arctic fox population.
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