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Chipping Away at the Mystery of Mercury

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After only six months in orbit about Mercury, a NASA spacecraft has collected measurements that have discredited most theories about how our solar system’s innermost planet formed. Data gathered by instruments on MESSENGER reveal that Mercury’s surface has Earth-like levels of potassium and an even higher sulfur abundance, evidence that is at odds with most theories for how the super-dense planet came to be.

Launched in August 2004, MESSENGER stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging. It entered orbit about Mercury—the first spacecraft to do so—in March of this year.

Some of these new findings, published in a set of seven Sciencepapers available online today, were first predicted in 2003 by Denton Ebel, curator in the Museum’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and Conel Alexander, a researcher in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. The two scientists recently published a separate paper highlighting their model in Planetary and Space Science.

Tags: Space Exploration

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SciCafe Returns Oct. 5 To Debunk the Scientific Myth of Race

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On the first Wednesday of every month, the Museum hosts inquisitive minds for cocktails and conversation about the latest science topics at SciCafe. The popular after-hours series returns on October 5 with an evening devoted to scientific evidence about the nature of race and “racial” differences led by Museum Curators Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle, who recently co-authored a book on the subject.

Tags: Brain, SciCafe

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Mummy and Modern DNA Analysis

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The Nile crocodile, one of Egypt’s most famous icons, is in fact two distinct species, according to recent genetic analyses of mummified crocodiles from ancient Egyptian temples.

Evon Hekkala, an assistant professor at Fordham University, conducted a DNA analysis at the Museum’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics by extracting the DNA of 57 specimens—some of them mummies—from museums around the world and 123 modern crocodiles, which she then sequenced at the Sackler Institute.

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Young Naturalist Tests Honeybee Memory Endurance

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Though honeybees are famous for producing honey, they also pollinate agricultural crops. Intrigued by these tiny pollinators, 16-year-old Jill decided to learn more about the role memory and landscape play in honeybee foraging and pollination.

“Honeybee memory is a primary source of honeybee prosperity,” Jill explains in her essay Memory Retention of Landscape Learning in Honeybees, Apis Mellifera, for which she won a2011 Young Naturalist Award. After researching the importance of landscape memory in honeybees’ ability to forage and return to the hive, Jill conducted an experiment that examined the insects’ long-term memory.

Tags: Young Naturalist Awards

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Beyond Politics: Science Drives Our Future

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This Op-Ed by Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History, was recently published in the Huffington Post.

The United States did not become a great and powerful nation by rejecting science. In fact, this is the country whose forefathers include citizen scientists such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Teddy Roosevelt. This is the country that put a man on the moon, cured polio, and developed the computer. The country of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Rachel Carson; of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

So in this election season, let’s not politicize issues that aren’t inherently partisan. Let’s not undermine our ability to address areas of broad consensus where the stakes are staggeringly high—most especially the central role of science in advancing our society, economy, and future.

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