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California Student Investigates Effects of Plastic Debris on Ocean Insects

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Growing up near coastal California, 17-year-old Marci watched plastic litter enter the ocean at an alarming rate. After reading about how this debris affected large vertebrates, she wondered how animals lower on the food chain fared.

Marci decided the water strider species Halobates sericeus would be the ideal subject for her experiment. “Since these fully pelagic water striders live solely at the sea-air interface, their life is played out completely on the two-dimensional surface of the ocean,” where most plastic debris collects, wrote Marci in her essay Effect of Neustonic Microplastic Debris on the Pelagic Insect Halobates sericeus. Her experiment earned her a 2011 Young Naturalist Award.

Tags: Young Naturalist Awards

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Meteorite Mementos

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A crater’s scar on the landscape is the most recognizable remnant of a meteorite impact. But meteorites have left other, much smaller markers of their presence on the surface of the Earth: splash droplets called tektites.

During a meteorite impact, “the ground and the object are trying to occupy the same space instantaneously,” says Denton Ebel, curator in the Museum’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “It’s an explosion at that point.”

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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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