Do you like werewolf legends? Inverse readers K. Jennings and Gregg B. enjoy a werewolf tale every now and again — K. writes that his favorite lunar legend is “that if a man who has been bitten by a werewolf becomes one when the Full Moon comes out,” and Gregg says that he’s “not sure it qualifies as a legend, but ‘Werewolves of London’!”
Another reader says that her “favorite lunar legend is that the missing minutes of the first Moon landing was for the astronauts encountering evidence of alien activity.” What a creepy prospect to consider, just like the radiation-leaking star you can read about in today’s newsletter. This is, of course, the best way to start your week out — being open to possibility.
The recurrent nova RS Opiuchi hadn’t been seen for a while, but on August 9, 2021, it made sure no scientist could miss it. RS Opiuchi had brightened “seven magnitudes over a period of 24 hours,” reports Inverse space writer Passant Rabie, in repeated explosions which might “be a source of cosmic rays that bombard Earth from the Solar System.”
To understand the importance of this event, you can “picture two stars entangled in a binary system, one of which has exhausted all of its nuclear fuel,” writes Rabie. “The white dwarf star, which is the dense core left over after a star has run out of fuel, begins to suck away the gas from its stellar companion. This causes the binary star system to shine up to a million times brighter than its normal luminosity.”
Eventually, all that mooching triggers a thermonuclear explosion on the white dwarf’s surface. In RS Opiuchi’s case, this energetic free-for-all didn’t happen just once, but multiple times, a phenomenon called recurrent novae. The term refers to binary star systems that increase in brightness once every few decades, though “there are only 10 known recurrent novae where more than one outburst has been observed by astronomers,” writes Rabie. Since scientists believe that recurrent novae could be wellsprings of galactic cosmic radiation, which provides a challenge to space missions and astronauts, RS Opiuchi’s most recent meltdown could benefit us.
Starburst: Why did SpaceX’s Starship explode?
Is your hamster ever interested in the fact that you’ve had a tough day? According to biologist Ashley Ward, who recently published the book The Social Lives of Animals, the answer is a hard “maybe, sometimes.” Inverse nature reporter Tara Yarlagadda spoke to Ward to learn more — essential reading for anyone who has ever wondered if the cockroach living in their shower drain hates them, too.
For what it’s worth, “if you go all the way back to the simplest of animals — things like Antarctic krill or cockroaches — they have this fundamental social drive, which promotes the idea of sticking together in a group,” says Ward. “If a cockroach is raised in isolation, it lacks the ability to socialize properly.”
Can you blame them for bringing their friends, and can you tell my student dorms in college were filled with evil cockroaches?
But determining whether or not animals experience empathy is trickier than observing their social patterns. According to Ward, the main “problem is that we can't know what’s going on in the mind of an animal,” so what “empathy” looks like in a critter is ill-defined. But “nonetheless, there are all kinds of examples that strongly point to the idea that they do display empathy,” Ward says.
Look into my eyes: Dog eyebrows evolved to emotionally manipulate humans
“On November 20, 1915, explorer Ernest Shackelton’s ship Endurance sank to the bottom of the Weddell Sea after months of being slowly crushed by Antarctic sea ice,” writes Inverse card story editor Jennifer Walter. “For more than 100 years, Endurance remained underwater, its exact location unknown.” But no longer — this century-old mystery was solved on March 9.
The amazing conclusion was only reached because of the international Endurance22 Expedition team’s efforts to locate Endurance using autonomous underwater survey vehicles “to scan the ocean,” writes Walter. The team at long last found “the wreck four miles south of the location that Endurance’s captain, Frank Worsley, recorded when it sank.”
Though the ship has been in the brine for quite some time, the researchers found it in incredible condition. Click through the card story to see fascinating footage of a wooden wreck (and the little creatures that live inside of it).
Rolling in the deep: Genetics study reveals the route of an ancient Pacific Ocean odyssey
You know this story. Dinosaurs went extinct because a giant asteroid crash-landed on Earth and seriously altered the climate. But did you know that our ancestors’ fate might not have been so different?
In 2015, scientists found “a gigantic crater almost nine times the width of Manhattan under Greenland’s ice sheet, writes Inverse managing editor Claire Cameron. At the time, they wondered if the huge impact was substantial enough to once again shift Earth’s climate. Now, scientists are considering the possibility that the asteroid pelted the Earth into its most recent Ice Age.
“In the study, scientists reveal how zircon crystals and argon gas trapped in rocks and sand found at the impact site, which is called the Hiawatha crater, defied the previous guess at when the asteroid hit,” writes Cameron.
“Using lasers and radioactive dating, scientists broke open the sand and rocks to reveal chemical signatures that push the timeline for the impact event back tens of millions of years.” So, no humans and no Ice Age connection. It’s perhaps not the tantalizing study outcome some scientists wanted, but the discovery allows researchers to actually “tease out what [Hiawatha’s] effects on the globe truly were,” writes Cameron.
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