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Bonobo adoptees

It’s always nice to see animal altruism. A paper published in Scientific Reports has described the adoption of two bonobo infants by mothers outside their social groups.

The researchers spent a year observing bonobo populations in the Wamba forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They noted two separate instances of adult females caring for infants that weren’t their own, or even from their own social group. The bonobos carried, groomed, and nested the infant bonobos for more than a year each.

Marie, an 18-year-old female, took care of Flora, a 2-year-old infant from another group of bonobos. Flora’s biological mother visited occasionally, but Marie was the primary caregiver for the duration of the study. There wasn’t any aggression in the group towards Flora, despite her different provenance. In fact, Flora was observed playing with Marie’s two biological infants (Marina and Margaux).

Another adult female, approximately 50-year-old Chio, took care of 3-year-old Ruby, whose biological mother couldn’t be identified. As with Flora, Ruby was accepted by her new social group.

The authors believe this may be the first observed example of cross-group adoption in wild apes.

Reactions controlled by light

A team of researchers from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have developed an algorithm that predicts the light needed to control light-sensitive chemical reactions.

They’ve published a description of their photochemistry algorithm in Nature Communications.

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James Blinco, Christopher Barner-Kowollik and Phillipp Menzel, authors on a recent Nature Communications paper. Credit: QUT.

“Our goal was to understand how the molecules work and how we can predict how much is going to react, when using different colours of light,” says Jan Phillip Menzel, first author on the paper.

Light can have unusual effects on chemical reactions. Some reactions, for instance, are activated only by certain types of light – like plastics that break down after ultra-violet treatment. Menzel used a laser to emit very precise wavelengths of light, so they could investigate how this changed chemical reactions.

“One of the key questions in photochemistry is: how can you select colours of light so they impact differently on the materials present?” explains Christopher Barner-Kowollik, a professor at QUT and co-author on the study.

“With which kind of light can I only activate reactant A, and what colour of light will we have to use to activate reactant B without affecting reactant A?

“With our algorithm, scientists can use light to remote-control what material is being created, switching from one material to a completely different one by turning on and off each light source.”

Barner-Kowollik says there’s potential for this research to be used in detailed, small-scale 3D printing.

“Imagine a printer that uses different colours of light to activate different elements for when it needs to print things – like intricate structures in biomedical fields – with different properties, such as hard or soft, or conductive or insulator,” he says.

“It’s science fiction at present, but with huge implications if successful.”

The fast winds of Jupiter

The strongest wind speeds on the Earth’s surface can reach around 400 kilometres per hour. A team of French astronomers have found winds on Jupiter tripling that, with winds in the stratosphere near the poles reaching 1450 km/h.

This image shows an artist’s impression of winds in Jupiter’s stratosphere near the planet’s south pole, with the blue lines representing wind speeds. These lines are superimposed on a real image of Jupiter, taken by the JunoCam imager aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada & NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

The team, based at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Bordeaux, have published their findings in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Astronomers have previously used gas clouds and aurorae to track winds in Jupiter’s lower and upper atmosphere, respectively. But in between those layers – in the stratosphere – there are very few clouds, so it’s hard to tell how fast wind can be.

When comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter in 1994, it left molecular traces in the planet’s stratosphere. The researchers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to trace one of these molecules (hydrogen cyanide) as it moved with the wind.

They found some surprising results – including “jets” of very fast wind.

“The most spectacular result is the presence of strong jets, with speeds of up to 400 metres per second, which are located under the aurorae near the poles,” says Thibault Cavalié, lead researcher on the team.

Previous research had suggested the Jovian atmosphere was calmer at this height, but “the new ALMA data tell us the contrary”, says Cavalié.

“Our detection indicates that these jets could behave like a giant vortex with a diameter of up to four times that of Earth, and some 900 kilometres in height,” says Bilal Benmahi, a study co-author.

“A vortex of this size would be a unique meteorological beast in our Solar System,” adds Cavalié.

Metallic magma

On Earth, lava flows from volcanoes are mostly molten rock. That’s because our planet is largely made of rock – silica in particular. But what would lava look like on a metallic planet?

A paper published in Nature Communications tries to answer this question by examining an asteroid made mostly of iron and nickel.

“Cryovolcanism is volcanic activity on icy worlds, and we’ve seen it happen on Saturn’s moon Enceladus,” says Arianna Soldati, assistant professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences at North Carolina State University, and lead author on the paper. “But ferrovolcanism, volcanic activity on metallic worlds, hasn’t been observed yet.”

The researchers studied an asteroid called 16 Psyche, orbiting in the belt between Mars and Jupiter, to help imagine what volcanic processes might look like on other worlds. They also produced one type of ferrovolcanism in the lab with collaborators at the Syracuse Lava Project, using a furnace to melt metals out of rock and see how the two different kinds of lava behaved.

The experiment revealed that metallic lava flows travel 10 times faster – plus spread more thinly – than lava made from rock. Metallic flows also travelled beneath the rock flow, and broke into many braided channels. This behaviour would leave very different impressions on a planet’s surface than the flows we find on Earth.

“If there were volcanoes on 16 Psyche – or on another metallic body – they definitely wouldn’t look like the steep-sided Mt Fuji, an iconic terrestrial volcano,” Soldati says. “Instead, they would probably have gentle slopes and broad cones. That’s how an iron volcano would be built – thin flows that expand over longer distances.”

Artist’s impression showing one eagle shark. Credit: Oscar Sanisidro

Manta-like shark soared through prehistoric oceans

Palaeontologists have discovered an odd new species of shark from fossilised remains in Mexico, dating back to 93 million years ago.

With long, thin pectoral fins and torpedo-like body and tail, this ancient fish (Aquilolamna milarcae) would have prowled the seas of the late Cretaceous. But it didn’t chow down on other fish – its wide mouth and small teeth suggest it ate plankton.

Fossil of the Aquilolamna milarcae shark found in the limestone of Vallecillo (Mexico). Credit: Wolfgang Stinnesbeck

The shark also reveals interesting evolutionary experimentation. Its “wings” (with a span of 1.9 metres) are reminiscent of manta rays, but predate the appearance of these features in rays by 30 million years. Plus, many of the other features of Aquilolamna milarcae are typical of pelagic sharks such as whale sharks and tiger sharks. This chimera reveals a new facet of evolutionary history, hovering somewhere between modern-day rays and sharks.

The fossil specimen was uncovered in Vallecillo, Mexico, in 2012; the research appears in the journal Science.

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