SciTech Briefs

A crater on the moon containing water in the form of ice grains has been discovered by NASA.

Flamingos use their food to turn pink

Scientists in the wetlands of southern Spain have observed the most common flamingo species, greater flamingos, rubbing self-produced pigments on their feathers to brighten their colors. These naturally occurring colorants are carotenoids, the organic pigments responsible for the orange and red hues visible in autumn leaves, which are made in many types of plankton that flamingos consume. After the plankton are eaten, these carotenoids are transferred into the wax oil that flamingos produce in their uropygial, or preen, glands. This preening oil repairs feathers and renders them waterproof, and in flamingos, alters the color of their naturally light pink feathers to a more vibrant tint.

The researchers found that flamingos with brighter feathers may have higher success in attracting mates. Those with more colorful plumage — and, consequently, the flamingos that had spent more time rubbing preening oil onto their feathers — began breeding earlier than paler flamingos, which leads to first priority in selecting breeding sites. In addition, flamingos cover themselves in preening oil more often when they have better habitats and higher-quality food, indicating an apparent correlation between good health and brilliance of color.

Source: BBC

NASA finds moon crater containing water

The National Air and Space Administration (NASA) discovered evidence of water at the bottom of the Moon’s Cabeus crater, a location with temperatures typically at negative 370 degrees Fahrenheit. The water is in the form of ice grains mixed with the lunar soil, and it makes up 5.6 to 8.5 percent of the composite. In comparison, sand in the Sahara Desert contains only 2 to 5 percent water. As one of the coldest places in the solar system, the Cabeus crater has acted as a “cold trap,” preserving a physical record of collisions and regional debris since the formation of the moon billions of years ago.

NASA discovered the existence of abundant water through observations made by the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, which crashed into the moon last year in order to survey it firsthand. The satellite’s impact agitated at least 26 gallons of water in the soil. After transmitting data regarding the water concentration, the instruments in the reconnaissance mission also found compounds such as calcium, magnesium, and mercury.

Source: The New York Times

Fossils suggest new origin for primates

Four recently discovered primate fossils in what is now Libya allude to possible anthropoid — a group consisting of monkeys and apes, which include humans — origins in the Middle East, rather than Africa, as has been the conventional account of human development. The fossils, which are 40 million years old, belong to four species and three taxonomic families. Their disparity indicates a separate point of origin for the evolution of the primates, which were located in Asia at the time of their deposition when the continents were closer together. No other primates were known to have lived in Africa at the time, based on other extant fossils, which implies either an earlier emergence of anthropoids in Africa than previously thought, or the migration of anthropoids from Asia.

Among the scientists who described the fossils in the journal Nature, Christopher Beard, a paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, hypothesized that Asia is now the more probable origin for the “Dawn Monkey,” or Eosimias, which is the genus to which one of the fossils belongs. However, other paleontologists are wary about making assumptions too early, calling instead for a more measured response.

Source: Wired magazine