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Big, BIG night sky map

An international research collaboration has just released a map of more than 690 million celestial objects, including stars, galaxies and quasars, as part of the Dark Energy Survey (DES). Over eight years, telescopes in Australia and Chile scanned nearly an eighth of the night sky and looked back in time nearly half the age of the universe.

Astronomers hope this catalogue may help solve some of the biggest mysteries in astrophysics – including the elusive dark energy.

“I’m excited to use the data to investigate the nature of dark energy itself, which should reveal what’s behind the acceleration of the expansion of the universe,” says co-lead author Tamara Davis, from the University of Queensland.

The data is now available online for anyone to explore.

“Professional and amateur scientists alike are able to dig into this rich mine of astronomical gems – I’m excited to see what they’ll discover,” Davis says.

Thieving macaques are selective with their stolen goods

210118 monkey
Credit: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

The long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) that roam the Uluwatu temple in Bali, Indonesia, are infamous for robbing unsuspecting tourists. Like any clever criminal, the monkeys hold the goods for ransom, until food is offered as payment. 

Now, researchers have found that the macaques will target more expensive, valuable items. 

By studying the monkeys’ interactions over 273 days, researchers found they demanded more to return higher-quality goods such as mobile phones than they did for lower-value items such as hairpins and camera bags.

On average, the longest ransom periods lasted 25 minutes, which included 17 minutes of negotiation between tourists, temple staff and thief.

Such behaviours are an expression of cultural intelligence and are learned until the macaques are four years old, according to the research published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. 

Teamwork makes the dream work – for electric eels

When you think of electric eels, you imagine solitary creatures lurking in wait to zap unsuspecting prey. However, in the Brazilian Amazon basin, scientists have discovered a small, river-fed lake filled with more than 100 adult electric eels (Electrophorus electricus) who work together to herd small fish called tetras into tightly packed balls. 

Groups of 10 eels would peel off from the main group to form hunting parties: think wolf packs. These smaller groups were observed surrounding the prey ball and launching simultaneous electric attacks.

In the journal Ecology and Evolution, the researchers report that the shocks sent the tetras flying out of the water. When they hit the surface again, they were stunned and motionless, rendering them defenceless against the hungry electric eels. 

“If you think about it, an individual of this species can produce a discharge of up to 860 volts – so in theory if 10 of them discharged at the same time, they could be producing up to 8600 volts of electricity. That’s around the same voltage needed to power 100 light bulbs,” explains C. David de Santana, from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. 

De Santana and his colleagues are now organising their next expedition in the hopes of collecting tissue samples and marking individual eels with radio tags. They hope this will shed insight into possible kin relations and hierarchy within the electrifying group.

Credit: Douglas Bastos

No, really?

In news certain to surpise, a study from McGill University, Canada, confirms that mothers with multiple children report more fragmented sleep than mothers of a single child – but that, whatever the number of children in a family, fathers continue to get a good night’s sleep. 

Published in the Journal of Sleep Research, the study had a relatively small sample size (111 parents – 54 couples and three mothers of single-parent families), and yet its findings seem soundly indicative. 

Study supervisor Marie-Hélène Pennestri also delivers a hot tip for intending or expectant parents: “Tension in the marital relationship may transpire if childcare is one-sided and not discussed collaboratively.” 

Shockley shocked

In another study delving into the intricacies of marital relationships, University of Georgia, US, researcher Kristen Shockley learned that traditional gendered patterns of child care persisted during the COVID-19 shutdown, with more than a third of couples relying on women to provide most or all of the child-care heavy lifting.

Shockley’s study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, assessed marital tension, health and job performance, in addition to child-care strategies.

“Most people have never undergone anything like this before, where all of a sudden they can’t rely on their normal child care, and most people’s work situation has changed too,” says Shockley, a psychologist. “We thought this would be a chance for men to step in and partake equally in child care, but for many couples we didn’t see that happen.” 

Rounding it out, Shockley noticed the same thing as Pennestri: “When the wife does it all, not surprisingly, the outcomes are bad for the couple.”

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