Monday Awesome: Deepest place on Earth.

This follows on from last Monday’s Awesome. I found a cool interactive graphic on the BBC news website.

You can scroll down and see what life is like at increasing depth and pressure. There are little photos and videos of things at different depths, including some pressure-tests to demonstrate what happens at high pressure. Here’s a screenshot:

At the very bottom of the graphic, in the Challenger Deep (deepest part of the Mariana Trench) there is a video of Don Walsh, one of only two people to have gone to the very bottom. He travelled the 11km to the bottom of the ocean in a little submarine in the 1960s. It’s surprising that no-one else has gone there since.

Go to the interactive graphic here.


Faster than a speeding photon…

… or perhaps not after all.

wooo! check out them photons.

Last year, the physics world was all excited about some preliminary results from CERN regarding neutrinos that were faster than light. The neutrinos were recorded as travelling the 730km test distance 60 nanoseconds faster than light, and that was exciting because it meant that Einstein’s special theory of relativity may have been shown as incorrect, or at least, inaccurate.

However, these results were qualified by the research team as being subject to checking and re-checking, to confirm that the data were accurate. Reported in Science Insider, and the BBC (amongst others), there is new evidence that this astounding reading may have been erroneous after all. The team have checked their GPS equipment and found two things: Continue reading

New caecilians.

Baby caecilians and their mother. Image from BBC.

A new family of caecilian has been discovered, and published in Proc R Soc B. This is exciting because caecilians are amphibians, and that means that this is a new family of vertebrates. It’s not often that new families of vertebrates get discovered these days.

Caecilians look like a cross between and snake and a worm. But they are not related to worms, they just act like them. They have a tropical distribution and go about their business burrowing in soil-litter. The new family is called Chikildae, with the genus Chikila. As far as I can see, the authors did not describe their new discovery beyond genus level which is a bit of a shame, taxonomically speaking. The authors used a combination of morphological characters and molecular phylogenetic position to determine the ‘newness’ of the family. Given that the type species in the paper is listed as Herpele fulleri Alcock, 1904, one can only assume that this particular caecilian group has been hanging around under the false pretences as being in the family Herpelidae. Normally, this would require a redescription of H. fulleri as C. fulleri, but obviously the authors went with the more exciting angle of “we’ve got a new vertebrate family!!”.

How bad is oceanic debris?

It is very bad.

I read an article about how debris from the tsunami that devastated parts of eastern Japan is beginning to wash up on the east coast of North America. This got me thinking about debris and rubbish in oceans in general.

Japanese tsunami debris, image via

The tsunami last year created approximately 25 million tonnes of floating debris that is now moving westward in oceanic currents. In the initial aftermath, giant rafts of debris were visible via aerial views and satellites. It is thought that the huge swathes of Japanese life that got swept out to sea have broken up into smaller chunks, and is now more like individual items or small rafts floating in the ocean. Items from Japan began washing up on the east coast of North America late last year. Continue reading

Monday Awesome: abyss box!

Deep sea crab (image from BBC news)

Things living in the deep sea live under much higher pressure than those living on the surface. This means that they usually die when they are collected and brought up to research vessels. From the BBC, I read about how an aquarium in France has constructed a box that will allow animals to be held at very high pressure, about 18 megapascals (equivalent to 1800m below the surface). The box is small and has walls 10cm thick, but will house deep-sea crabs and shrimp.

Apart from showing the public what deep-sea creatures look like, the box will also be used to conduct research on how species deal with increasing pressure. In a situation where the seas are warming, some species may have to migrate deeper in order to survive. Research into how they may survive this would help with modelling scenarios for species distributions, or other climate change-related studies.

Slightly embarrassed self-promotion.

I’m in transit again, on my way home from Mexico. But while I wait for my flight, I thought I’d share with you a video.

I made a short film of my work for a ‘learn about species’ segment for an Australian science show. The show, however, decided to shelve the idea and will not be including the segment in the episodes of the upcoming series. So, rather than let the hard work of the ANU’s media unit go to waste, I’m now on the Australian National University YouTube channel.

Check it out – the science of parasite taxonomy described in about a minute and a half:


Monday Awesome: aurora borealis

On Friday afternoon, I found some footage that NASA has released of the aurora borealis (is it a proper noun? I don’t know). They’ve collected time-lapse stills from the International Space Station and put them all together to produce a really cool video of the aurora.

This version of the footage is from ITN, and provides a neat explanation of what causes the aurora.

I’m heading home to Australia tomorrow, so I won’t be able to post anything further until I get back. But I hope to write something about my Mexican lab visit/adventure when I get home.