NASA’s exoplanet count surges past 5,000

It’s official: The number of planets known beyond our solar system has just passed 5,000. The exoplanet census surpassed this milestone with a recent batch of 60 confirmed exoplanets. These additional worlds were found in data from NASA’s now-defunct K2 mission, the “second life” of the prolific Kepler space telescope, and confirmed with new observations, ... Read more

Levitating plastic beads mimic the physics of spinning asteroids

Some asteroids can barely hold it together. Rather than solid lumps of rock, ‘rubble pile’ asteroids are loose collections of material, which can split apart as they rotate (SN: 3/16/20). To understand the inner workings of such asteroids, one team of scientists turned to levitating plastic beads. The beads clump together, forming collections that can ... Read more

Social media crackdowns during the war in Ukraine make the internet less global

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, people around the world have watched the war play out in jarring detail — at least, in countries with open access to social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and the messaging app Telegram. “The way that social media has brought the war into the living ... Read more

Here’s the best timeline yet for the Milky Way’s big events

A new analysis of nearly a quarter million stars puts firm ages on the most momentous pages from our galaxy’s life story. Far grander than most of its neighbors, the Milky Way arose long ago, as lesser galaxies smashed together. Its thick disk — a pancake-shaped population of old stars — originated remarkably soon after ... Read more

Spinosaurus’ dense bones fuel debate over whether some dinosaurs could swim

A fierce group of predatory dinosaurs may have done much of their hunting in the water. An analysis of the bone density of several sharp-toothed spinosaurs suggests that several members of this dino group were predominantly aquatic, researchers report March 23 in Nature. That finding is the latest salvo in an ongoing challenge to the ... Read more

Scientists created ‘smoke rings’ of light

Smoke rings are being seen in a new light. Doughnut-shaped structures called vortex rings are sometimes seen swirling through fluids. Smokers can form them with their mouths, volcanoes can spit them out during eruptions and dolphins can blow them as bubble rings. Now, scientists can create the rings with light. A standard vortex is an ... Read more

Samples of the asteroid Ryugu are scientists’ purest pieces of the solar system

Samples of the asteroid Ryugu are the most pristine pieces of the solar system that scientists have in their possession. A new analysis of Ryugu material confirms the porous rubble-pile asteroid is rich in carbon and finds it is extraordinarily primitive (SN: 3/16/20). It is also a member of a rare class of space rocks ... Read more

Nasal vaccines for COVID-19 offer hope and face hurdles

A few weeks ago, I was obsessed with my nose and throat. I was on a trip to Seattle to speak at a small, masks-required virology meeting about being a journalist during a pandemic. I went to graduate school there, so I was thrilled to see old friends and colleagues. But the irony that I ... Read more

How mammals took over the world

In my opinion, the most satisfying science documentary TV series ever made was a 1970s British production called Connections. Hosted by impish historian James Burke, wearing bell-bottoms and thick-framed tortoiseshell glasses, each episode revealed how one small innovation from earlier human civilizations led to another and then another and another, culminating in the invention of ... Read more

Ancient zircons offer insights into earthquakes of the past

Earthquakes have rocked the planet for eons. Studying the quakes of old could help scientists better understand modern tremors, but tools to do such work are scarce. Enter zircons. Researchers used the gemstones to home in on the temperatures reached within a fault during earthquakes millions of years ago. The method offers insights into the ... Read more