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Weird, Dr. Seuss-looking flower discovered in Texas park isn’t a flower at all


It’s white with big pink spots all over it, and if you didn’t know better, you’d swear it was a flower that jumped right off the page of a Dr. Seuss children’s book.

>> Read more trending news

But it’s not a flower at all. It’s called a wool sower gall and it’s been getting a lot of attention since Texas park rangers at Atlanta State Park near Texarkana discovered one on Tuesday.

The galls are created when a wool sower wasp lays its eggs in a white oak, park officials said.

“When the eggs hatch in the spring, chemicals on the grubs stimulate the plant to produce this gall, which provides food and protection for the growing wasps,” park officials said on Facebook.

Park officials said their Facebook post on the sower gall is getting a lot of attention as interested nature lovers look for more information on the colorful gall.



Mass coral bleaching hits Great Barrier Reef for 2nd consecutive year

An aerial survey of the Great Barrier Reef last week showed widespread coral bleaching for the second consecutive year, an indication that water temperatures stayed too warm for coral to survive, Australian officials said.

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"We are seeing a decrease in the stress tolerance of these corals," said Neal Cantin, of the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences. "This is the first time the Great Barrier Reef has not had a few years between bleaching events to recover. Many coral species appear to be more susceptible to bleaching after more than 12 months of sustained above-average ocean temperatures."

Bleaching occurs when coral, invertebrates that live mostly in tropical waters, release the colorful algae that live in their tissues and expose their white, calcium carbonate skeletons. Bleached coral can recover if the water cools, but if high temperatures persist for months, the coral will die.

Eventually the reef will degrade, leaving fish without habitats and coastlines less protected from storm surges.

Officials with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Institute of Marine Science found severe bleaching in the central part of the Great Barrier Reef Thursday during a six-hour flight between Townsville and Cairns. The area was spared the severe widespread bleaching seen last year.

"How this event unfolds will depend very much on local weather conditions over the next few weeks," said David Wachenfeld, director of reef recovery for the Marine Park Authority.

Wachenfeld emphasized that it's unlikely that all the bleached coral found Thursday will die.

"As we saw last year bleaching and mortality can be highly variable across the 344,000 square kilometer (133,000 square mile) Marine Park — an area bigger than Italy," he said.

The first global bleaching event occurred in 1998, when 16 percent of corals died. The problem spiraled dramatically in 2015-2016 amid an extended El Nino natural weather phenomenon that warmed Pacific waters near the equator and triggered the most widespread bleaching ever documented. This third global bleaching event, as it is known, continues today, even after El Nino ended.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Great white shark visits on the rise off Cape Cod, study finds out why

Great white sharks are discovering what tourists have known for years: Cape Cod is a great place to spend the summer.

The latest data from a multiyear study of the ocean predators found that the number of sharks in waters off the vacation haven appears to be on the rise, said Greg Skomal, a senior scientist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, and the state's top shark expert.

>> Read more trending news  

But that's no reason to cancel vacation. The sharks are after seals, not humans, and towns are using the information from the study to keep it that way.

"How long does it stay and where does it go are the questions we're trying to answer," Skomal said. "But for the towns, it's a public safety issue."

Researchers using a plane and boats spotted 147 individual white sharks last summer. That was up slightly from 2015, but significantly more than the 80 individual sharks spotted in 2014, the first year of the study, funded by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy

More than half the white sharks spotted last summer hadn't previously been documented by this study. Researchers have also tagged more than 100 to track their movements.

The white shark population is probably significantly larger, because the scientists can't possibly spot all of them, Skomal said.

Captain Chip Michalove of Outcast Sport Fishing tagged the 6th white shark of the season yesterday off South Carolina. The 10ft male was named Hunter. Massachusetts Division of Marine FisheriesPosted by Atlantic White Shark Conservancy on Saturday, March 11, 2017

Two of the more interesting findings are the increasing number of young sharks, and that they appear to be swimming farther afield.

"Last summer we saw greater numbers of smaller sharks, including juveniles, and that tells us that the population is rebuilding," Skomal said.

Great whites, made famous in the 1975 movie "Jaws," about a monstrous shark that terrorizes a fictional New England resort town, are coming to Cape Cod waters to feast on seals. Once hunted to near extinction, the now-protected seals are found in great numbers.

The seals used to be concentrated at the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge, off limits to humans, but as they have moved farther north, so have the sharks, Skomal said.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here 

The risk of a swimmer being attacked by a shark is minimal, and Cape Cod towns would like to keep it that way.

Smithsonian Magazine 'Can Social Media Give Sharks a Better Reputation?' - "Tagged sharks are typically assigned...Posted by Atlantic White Shark Conservancy on Sunday, March 12, 2017

The last documented fatal great white shark attack in Massachusetts waters was in 1936, Skomal said. In 2012, a man bitten while swimming off Truro required 47 stitches and surgery to repair damaged tendons. In 2014, two young women kayaking off Plymouth were attacked, although neither was bitten.

Nathan Sears, the natural resources manager in Orleans, said the study is invaluable and is already prompting changes in how the town manages its beaches.

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy operate in the US around the NE, near a base in Chatham where many great whites are...Posted by Earth Times on Monday, March 13, 2017

The town used to fly dangerous marine life flags - they have a picture of shark on them - only when they knew there was a shark in the area. Now, he said, they fly the flag every day during the tourist season.

"The fact that they have an eye on the situation from the air is crucial," he said. "And if they spot a shark in the swimming area, we'll close the beach."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Saturn’s closest moon looks like a UFO — or pasta

On Thursday, NASA released photographs of Pan, one of Saturn's 53 confirmed moons, and its distinctive, bulging shape has viewers comparing it to a flying saucer — or ravioli.

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“Saturn’s tiny moon resembles a large ravioli … Yum!” tweeted photojournalist Seph Lawless.

The images of Saturn’s innermost moon were taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, showing the form of the tiny satellite, which has an average radius of 8.8 miles. Pan rotates 83,000 miles away from Saturn and is located within the Encke Gap of Saturn’s A-ring. It orbits the planet in 13.8 hours.

Cassini's Twitter account tweeted a gif showing the raw images.

According to NASA's website, Pan's strange shape comes from what is called an equatorial ridge, a characteristic it shares with one of its sister moons, Atlas, CNN reported.

Our closest looks ever at Saturn's tiny moon Pan:— CassiniSaturn (@CassiniSaturn) March 9, 2017 <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

Saturn's tiny moon resembles a large ravioli ...Yum! 🚀👽💫#FridayFeeling — Seph Lawless (@seph_lawless) March 10, 2017

NASA finds 'lost' lunar spacecraft orbiting moon nearly a decade after it disappeared

Nearly a decade after scientists lost contact with the first unmanned Indian lunar spacecraft to shoot into space, NASA scientists said the spacecraft has been found.

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The Indian Space Research Organization launched Chandrayaan-1 in October 2008 for "chemical, mineralogical and photo-geologic mapping of the Moon," according to The Indian Express. Less than a year later, researchers said they lost contact with the spacecraft.

But on Thursday, NASA scientists announced that they found Chandrayaan-1 and NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter 237,000 miles above the Earth's surface while scanning the lunar poles.

"Finding (the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) was relatively easy, as we were working with the mission's navigators and had precise orbit data where it was located," Maria Brozovic, a radar scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said in a NASA report. "Finding India's Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August of 2009."

The Indian spacecraft, which is small at about half the size of a smart car, was found using existing interplanetary radar technology.

"Although the interplanetary radar has been used to observe small asteroids several million miles from Earth, researchers were not certain that an object of this smaller size as far away as the moon could be detected, even with the world's most powerful radars," NASA said in its report. "Chandrayaan-1 proved the perfect target for demonstrating the capability of this technique."

Scientists said the discovery could be pivotal to planning future moon missions.

The large radar antennas at NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia working in tandem might be used to detect and track "even small spacecraft in lunar orbit," scientists said.

Meanwhile, NASA researchers said, "Ground-based radars could possibly play a part in future robotic and human missions to the moon, both for a collisional hazard assessment tool and as a safety mechanism for spacecraft that encounter navigation or communication issues."

Stephen Hawking: People must control aggression or face humanity's demise

While physicist Stephen Hawking is optimistic about the future, he warned in an interview published Tuesday that, with the pace of technological advancement, humans must gain control over their aggressive instincts in order to survive.

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The famed English scientist told The Times that the issue lies in the instincts humanity has honed to survive so far.

"Since civilization began, aggression has been useful inasmuch as it has definite survival advantages," he told the British newspaper. "It is hard-wired into our genes by Darwinian evolution. Now, however, technology has advanced at such a pace that this aggression may destroy us all by nuclear or biological war. We need to control this inherited instinct by our logic and reason."

>> Related: Stephen Hawking: Be wary of answering if space aliens come calling

He suggested that the creation of a world government might be necessary to ensure that humanity is addressing high-impact challenges, such as climate change and the rise of artificial intelligence.

"We need to be quicker to identify such threats and act before they get out of control. This might mean some form of world government," Hawking said. "But that might become a tyranny."

It's not the first time that Hawking has said that humanity needs to be aware and cautious to ensure the survival of our species. Last year, he predicted that humanity would see a catastrophic disaster within the next 1,000 years that could ultimately lead to our demise if we fail to establish colonies on other planets.

He warned in a 2015 Ask Me Anything segment on Reddit that artificial intelligence could one day surpass human intelligence "by more than ours exceeds that of snails."

"All this may sound a bit doom-laden but I am an optimist," Hawking told The Times. "I think the human race will rise to meet these challenges."

Asteroid passes inside Earth’s satellite ring, ’20 times closer than moon’

A small asteroid passed so close to the Earth on Thursday, at one, point, it was 20 times closer than the moon, NASA said.

The space rock was detected by astronomers at the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona just six hours before its closest approach to Earth.

>> Read more trending news  

The space rock, named 2017 EA, measured about 10 feet across and streaked safely through Earth’s atmosphere without incident, making its closest approach at 6:04 am Pacific Standard Time at an altitude of 9,000 miles above the Pacific Ocean, the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) said on its website.

Ground-based telescopes can no longer see the asteroid, but astronomers can now accurately track 2017 EA. It won’t approach Earth for at least a hundred years, according to CNEOS.

Tanning beds costing millions in U.S. medical bills, study finds

The rosy glow of indoor tanning pales in comparison to the millions of dollars in medical costs associated with tanning beds.

A new study, published in the Journal of Cancer Policy, found that tanning beds caused more than 250,000 cases of skin cancer and 1,200 deaths in 2015, at a cost of more than $340 million in medical bills.

>> Read more trending news  

“The use of tanning devices is a significant contributor to illness and premature mortality in the U.S., and also represents a major economic burden in terms of the costs of medical care and lost productivity,” researchers from the University of North Carolina concluded.

Previous studies have found significant health risks in the use of tanning beds because they emit UV-A and UV-B rays, which have been linked to cell damage, including DNA mutations and skin cancers.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here 

Scientists called indoor tanning “a public health hazard in the United States,” estimating that some 30 million people use tanning devices at least once a year and an estimated 35 percent of adults in the U.S. have used the devices.

A 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found some 13 percent of students in the 9th through the 12th grades used a tanning bed at least once a year, too.

Ultimately researchers said they hoped information in this study and others like it will help reduce the use of tanning beds.

Millions at risk from earthquakes related to gas and oil industries, USGS warns

More than 3 million people in the central United States, the majority in Kansas and Oklahoma, are at risk for human-induced earthquakes this year, the U.S. Geological Survey warned in a new report released Wednesday.

Combined with people at risk for ground-shaking hazards from natural quakes in the same region, the numbers of those in potential quake zones is around 4 million, the USGS said.

>> Read more trending news 

 Residents in these areas face a significant chance of property damage from induced seismic activity in 2017, the report said.

“The good news is that the overall seismic hazard for this year is lower than in the 2016 forecast, but despite this decrease, there is still a significant likelihood for damaging ground shaking in the CEUS  (central U.S.) in the year ahead,” said Mark Petersen, the chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project.

This year’s forecast is lower than last year because there were fewer significant quakes in 2016 than 2015.

“This may be due to a decrease in wastewater injection resulting from regulatory actions and/or from a decrease in oil and gas production due to lower prices,” the USGS report said.

Some scientists say the quakes result from fracking, which includes a process of collecting wastewater and using high pressure to inject it into deep underground wells, which can ultimately cause dormant faults to shift, according to the USGS.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here 

“The forecast for induced and natural earthquakes in 2017 is hundreds of times higher than before induced seismicity rates rapidly increased around 2008,” Petersen said.

“Millions still face a significant chance of experiencing damaging earthquakes, and this could increase or decrease with industry practices, which are difficult to anticipate.”

This is only the second year that the USGS annual earthquake risk maps have included human-induced quakes. Previous maps only identified hazards from natural earthquakes.

Lego set to honor women of NASA, including Katherine Johnson of 'Hidden Figures'

Lego fans, we have liftoff.

The Denmark-based toy maker announced Tuesday that it will release a fan-designed Women of NASA set featuring minifigures of mathematician Katherine Johnson – whose story was told in the Academy Award-nominated film "Hidden Figures" – and four other trailblazers.

>> Read more trending news

Everything is AWESOME! @LegoNASAWomen has been approved by #LEGO and will soon be available in stores!!!— Lego NASA Women (@LegoNASAWomen) February 28, 2017

Science editor and writer Maia Weinstock submitted the set to the Lego Ideas competition "to celebrate accomplished women in the STEM professions," a Lego Ideas spokeswoman said in a video.

"We're really excited to be able to introduce Maia's Women of NASA set for its inspirational value as well as build-and-play experience," the spokeswoman said.

>> Watch the video here

According to its project description page, the set also features minifigures of Sally Ride, America's first woman in space; Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space; computer scientist Margaret Hamilton; and astronomer Nancy Grace Roman.

Lego said it is still working on the set's design and will have more details about pricing and availability later this year or early next year.

Read more here.

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