SciTech Briefs

Researchers find giant rodent fossil

Scientists in Uruguay have discovered a rodent skull over 20 inches long belonging to the largest species of rodent ever recorded.

The fossil is an estimated 4 million years old, and its size suggests that the rodent was about eight feet long, weighing 1700 to 3000 pounds.

Scientists interpret this new species of rodent, called the Josephoartigasia monesi, as a distant relative of the guinea pig and porcupine.

Although the fossil was unearthed in 1987, it was only recently acknowledged when a curator found it in the storage area of Uruguay’s National History and Anthropology Museum.

Source: The New York Times

Scientists make “darkest” material

A team of U.S. researchers has created the “darkest” material to date; it is able to absorb light from many angles and wavelengths while reflecting as little light as possible.

To create the material, scientists used carbon nanotubes — carbon cylinders with walls only one atom thick.
For scientists, the biggest hurdle in developing such a material was minimizing reflection. The team overcame this difficulty by creating a rough surface on the carbon nanotubes.

The end result was three times less reflective than the previous record, making it the “darkest ever” man-made material.
This technology is likely to improve solar cells, which are present in devices that draw power from the sun.

Source: BBC News

Images reveal clear view of Mercury

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University are studying high-quality pictures of Mercury sent from the Messenger spacecraft, which passed by the planet on Monday.

Before Messenger, the latest images of Mercury came from a spacecraft Mariner 10 over 30 years ago.
The new images show clearer versions of shots from Mariner 10, in addition to capturing portions of the planet that have never been photographed before.

Along with taking pictures, Messenger recovered data about Mercury’s minerals, atmosphere, and magnetic field.

Source: The Los Angeles Times

New palm dies after flowering

A new species of palm tree that destroys itself after flowering was recently discovered in Madagascar.

The plant, named Tahina spectabilis, is the country’s largest palm, surpassing six stories in height with a diameter of 1.5 feet.

Scientists suspect the palm lives for decades before reproducing, at which point a formation of flowers — almost like a second tree — emerges above its leaves.

The hundreds of flowers secrete nectar, then become fruit after pollination. This process uses up the last of the tree’s nutrients, causing it to die.

Source: National Geographic News