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Small enough to climb onto the inflorescence, or flower cluster, of a palm plant, this tiny mouse opossum belongs to a newly re-classified South American species: Zeledon’s mouse opossum (Marmosa zeledoni). Minute marsupials like this one are rarely seen at flowers, but this species may be a pollinator for some neotropical palms.
Zeledon’s mouse opossum was previously lumped together with the Mexican mouse opossum, Marmosa mexicana. But in a recent study partly funded by the National Science Foundation, Curator Rob Voss of the Division of Vertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History and colleagues examined roughly 1,500 mouse opossum specimens, some collected from as far back as the 1800s. They determined that what had been known as the Mexican mouse opossum could actually be subdivided into two different species.
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Cell phones, hybrid cars, missile defense systems — and many other modern technologies — depend on components that include elements known collectively as rare earth metals. At the next SciCafe on Wednesday, May 4, Curator James Webster of the Museum’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences will be discussing these elements’ properties as well as the pressing issues of supply and sustainability. Dr. Webster recently answered a few questions about the topic.
What are rare earth metals?
It depends on who you ask. To many, the rare earth metals are 17 of the heavier known elements that exhibit similar but unique chemical, magnetic, optical, and electrical properties. They are silver to gray in color, relatively soft, chemically reactive, exhibit high melting temperatures, and are crucial to many modern technologies. But these metals have been mischaracterized and are incorrectly named. Most of the rare earth metals are simply not that rare: they are actually more abundant in the crust of our planet than metals like silver and lead.
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Blogging from Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, Emily Rice, a research scientist in the Museum’s Department of Astrophysics, is working with a collaborator to model the atmospheres of low-mass stars, brown dwarfs, and giant gas planets, including descriptions of their chemistry and clouds. A major new exhibition about the future of space exploration opens at the Museum this fall.
My first full day at Lowell Observatory was calm but productive. I situated myself in my temporary office, caught up with friends and collaborators, and reacquainted myself with the observatory grounds.
Lowell Observatory is located on Mars Hill overlooking historic Route 66 and the city of Flagstaff. There are dozens of buildings on Mars Hill housing telescopes, offices, public exhibits, machine shops, and storage. There are also two telescope sites with large scientific telescopes further outside of town, Anderson Mesa and Happy Jack.
The building where I’m staying is the oldest on Mars Hill. It’s called the Slipher Building after the astronomer Vesto Melvin Slipher, who in 1912 first measured the immense speed at which galaxies are moving away from Earth. Edwin Hubble combined Slipher’s measurements with the distances to those galaxies in order to show that the universe is expanding, a result now known as Hubble’s Law. Slipher served as director of Lowell Observatory from 1916 until his death in 1952, and he was responsible for hiring Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto.
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The Museum Dance, New York City’s longest-running junior benefit, brings together influential and philanthropic young professionals to celebrate and raise essential funds for the Museum’s scientific and educational programs, which enable thousands of underserved New York City school children to visit the Museum annually. This year’s event, which was held on April 28, the eve of the Royal Wedding, celebrated British culture, and guests were encouraged to dress in British fashion.