Pluto Has Blue Skies And Red Ice, NASA Says

NASA’s New Horizons mission keeps revealing new surprises about Pluto.

The latest: The far-flung dwarf planet has blue skies and small patches of water ice on its surface.

“Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt?” Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator, said in a written statement, referring to the belt of small bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune. “It’s gorgeous.”

On Earth, blue skies are the result of the scattering of sunlight by gas molecules in the atmosphere. Things are a bit different on Pluto. There, sunlight is scattered not by molecules but by a haze of soot-like particles called tholins, which are created as a result of chemical reactions involving methane and nitrogen high above Pluto.

Another difference is that while Earth’s sky looks blue to us most of the time, that doesn’t seem to be the case on Pluto. If you stood on Pluto and looked straight up, the sky would actually appear black, the BBC reported.

“The haze is pretty thin, so you’d mostly see the color of the haze as blue sunrises and sunsets,” New Horizons team member Carly Howett told the BBC.

(Story continues below photos.)

The water ice was detected in several places on Pluto’s surface, including impact craters and valleys. And if you’re envisioning patches of whitish-bluish stuff like the ice seen in chilly spots on Earth, think again. Pluto’s water ice is a crimson color–perhaps as a result of ice-covered tholins that fall to the surface.

“I’m surprised that this water ice is so red,” Silvia Protopapa, a New Horizons science team member from the University of Maryland, College Park, said in the statement. “We don’t yet understand the relationship between water ice and the reddish tholin colorants on Pluto’s surface.”

The New Horizons spacecraft is now —> Read More

Cards Against Humanity Offers $500,000 In Scholarships To Women In Tech

For a company geared toward “horrible” people, Cards Against Humanity sure does do some pretty meaningful things.

Earlier this year, the popular party game announced it would be selling a science-centric 30-card expansion pack to raise money toward its Science Ambassador Scholarship fund, which will provide full-ride, four-year scholarships to women pursuing undergraduate degrees in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering or math.

The pack, co-authored by “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal” creator Zach Weinersmith and Bad Astronomy author Phil Plait, has been a hit, drumming up over $500,000 in sales so far and the company is now accepting video applications from those interested in the scholarship for the 2016-2017 academic year.

According to the scholarship’s website, applications will be evaluated by a board of 50 women who work professionally in the fields of science and engineering.

Cards Against Humanity has made previous forays into philanthropy: In 2013, it donated more than $100,000 from the sales of its holiday pack to needy classrooms through DonorsChoose. Last year, it donated $250,000 to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group that advocates for open government.

H/T BoingBoing

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Inside-out plants let biologists watch how cellulose forms

Researchers have been able to watch the interior cells of a plant synthesize cellulose for the first time by tricking the cells into growing on the plant’s surface, according to a new paper. Cellulose, the structural component of cell walls that enables plants to stay upright, is the most abundant biopolymer on earth. It’s a critical resource for pulp and paper, textiles, building materials, and renewable biofuels. —> Read More

What Do New Cyanide Poisonings Mean for Zimbabwe’s Elephants?

By Oscar Nkala

Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority says laboratory tests on the kidneys and livers of the 14 elephants found dead over the past two weeks in Hwange and Matusadona National Parks confirm that they were killed by cyanide-laced salt licks and fruit used as bait.

This suggests that poachers may be returning to launch large-scale cyanide operations two years after 300 elephants died in Hwange after drinking from water holes contaminated with cyanide.

According to Zimbabwe’s Environmental Management Agency, 11 elephants and two black rhinos were killed by cyanide poaching in the country’s national parks and private game sanctuaries between January 2014 and March 2015.

Cyanide also took the lives of at least four vultures, a warthog, a Cape turtle, a sandgrouse, and various scavengers that fed on the poisoned corpses.

From January to July of this year, according to police, at least 49 elephants were killed in Zimbabwe’s national parks by poachers using firearms, traps, and snares.

Despite the global outrage caused by the 2013 mass cyanide slaughter of elephants, the chemical continues to be used by poachers who have targeted fewer animals at a time, presumably to avoid detection.

Speaking at a press conference in Harare on Tuesday, parks authority
spokesperson Caroline Washaya-Moyo said the three elephants found dead in Matusadona last week had eaten oranges laced with cyanide.

She said the tests, which were conducted at the University of Zimbabwe’s Biological Sciences Department, showed that poisoned salt licks had killed the 11 elephants in Hwange.

According to Washaya-Moyo, the carcasses of four female elephants and one
bull were found more than 30 feet apart near Dete, in Hwange National Park on September 25. Their tusks had not been removed, indicating that the poachers may have been disturbed and left in a hurry.

The carcasses of a second group, of three adult females and three calves—all —> Read More

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