Pluto’s Dark Spots Puzzle Scientists, But NASA’s New Horizons Probe May Solve Mystery

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What are those weird dark patches on Pluto?

Photos beamed back recently by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft show several evenly spaced spots along the equator of the icy dwarf planet. Scientists are at a loss to explain the spots, which are unlike anything seen before. But the researchers are hopeful that the spacecraft, which is poised to make its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, will provide better images that may reveal some answers.

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The spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager obtained these images of Pluto between July 1 and 3. The images show the full extent of a continuous swath of dark terrain that wraps around much of Pluto’s equatorial region. The western end of the swath (right image) breaks up into a series of dark, regularly-spaced spots.


New Horizons scientists combined the July 1 black-and-white map of Pluto’s surface features (left) with a map of its colors (right) to produce a detailed portrait of the dwarf planet’s northern hemisphere (center).

The spots were first detected in New Horizons images taken in late June. Each spot is about 300 miles in diameter.

“It’s a real puzzle–we don’t know what the spots are, and we can’t wait to find out,” Dr. Alan Stern, principal investigator for the $700-million New Horizons mission, said in a written statement. “Also puzzling is the longstanding and dramatic difference in the colors and appearance of Pluto compared to its darker and grayer moon Charon.”

Indeed, the spots aren’t the only new findings that recent images have yielded. So far, New Horizons images have also shown Pluto’s reddish hue, the “orbital dance” of its biggest moon Charon and its two distinct faces, one that’s smooth and the other that’s —> Read More

Rare Harpy Eagle Found in the Amazon

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Biologist Aaron Pomerantz and wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer recently visited a rare harpy eagle nest in Tambopata, Peru.

Timing is everything in the Amazon rainforest. So when Jeff and I heard that there was a harpy eagle nest near the Refugio Amazonas jungle lodge, we knew that we had a narrow window of opportunity to see these rare birds caring for their young.

Why are harpy eagles so cool? For one, they are the largest eagle in the Americas and are considered the most powerful bird of prey in the entire world. With tarsal claws 5 inches long and a wingspan of up to six and a half feet, these beautiful and formidable predators make quick meals out of monkeys and sloths.

An adult harpy eagle brings back a howler monkey for breakfast. Image by Chris A. Johns

Harpy eagle nests are extremely rare and difficult to find. One researcher I spoke with in Peru described searching for harpy eagle nests like “searching for a needle in a haystack!” There are several reasons for their elusiveness:

  • Harpy eagle nests are sparsely distributed throughout the vast rainforest
  • The adults have slow reproductive rates, producing one chick every two to three years
  • They tend to nest in massive trees, like the Brazil nut, making them difficult to spot from the ground

This last reason made things tricky. If we wanted to film this nest, we were going to need to be high up. So we grabbed our camera equipment, ropes and harnesses, then climbed up 100 feet into the canopy to observe this rare harpy eagle chick.

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Harpy eagles are the most powerful raptors in the world. Here is a rare —> Read More

Team publishes research on friendship

In the most inclusive study to date on friendship, Chapman University research looks at gender, age, and sexual orientation differences in the number of friends people rely on for support, to what extent they choose friends of the same gender, and overall life satisfaction. In a survey of more than 25,000 participants from all walks of life, this study examines at how U.S. adults rely on friends for expressive, instrumental and companionate support. Specifically, how many same-gender and cross-gender friends people have who they can talk to about their sex life, who they can call/text if they were in trouble late at night, and who they could expect to do something with to celebrate their birthdays. —> Read More

7 Drawbacks Of Online Dating, According To Science

The upside of online dating is obvious: It’s an easy way to meet a bunch of potential dates whenever you want. But does all of that quantity and convenience equal quality? Not always.

As 38 percent of contemporary American singles looking for love online, there’s now a whole body of scientific research to give us a bit of perspective. These sites and apps may have come a long way since Match.com kicked off online dating in 1995, but studies are showing that there’s still plenty of reasons to look away from your smartphones and try to meet people the old-fashioned way.

Here, we’ve rounded up a few kew drawbacks of online dating that might make you want to put more effort into meeting someone IRL.

1. All of that scrolling and swiping might make you look at potential dates — aka people — as commodities.
A 2012 comprehensive review of online dating sites found that having access to a seemingly infinite supply of profiles “can lead individuals to commoditize potential partners.” In that situation, it’s pretty easy for people to become overly picky — women can sometimes be deemed undesirable with any profile picture they pick (seriously).

2. Unlimited options means you may have a hard time finding someone who’s willing to commit.
Three words: paradox of choice. Having an unlimited pool of potential dates can not only make people feel less satisfied with their ultimate decision, but it can also lead them to freeze up and not make a choice at all. In fact, that aforementioned 2012 review found that online daters were less willing to settle down and commit to a single partner while they had boundless options literally at their fingertips, a sentiment that 32 percent of —> Read More

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