Deadly Aztec Epidemic “Cocoliztli” Linked to Salmonella

(NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC) Sarah Gibbens, January 26, 2017 — From 1545 to 1550, Aztecs in what is today southern Mexico experienced a deadly outbreak. Anywhere from five to 15 million people died. Locally, it was known as cocoliztli, but the exact cause or causes has been a mystery for the past 500 years.

Now, a new study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolutionsuggests the outbreak could have been caused by a deadly form of salmonella.

Salmonella enterica—subset Paratyphi C to be exact—was present in the DNA of ten different individuals buried at the only known burial site, Teposcolula-Yucundaa, associated with cocoliztli.


Extinct Woolly Rhino ‘Sasha’ Reconstructed in Russia’s Siberia

(NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)  It’s named Sasha after the hunter who found it.

Russian scientists aren’t quite sure if their 10,000-year-old Sasha was male or female, but the name, they say, universally applies.

That any of Sasha, the Ice Age woolly rhino, is intact at all has been a surprising find for the researchers who study this bygone period.

Unlike woolly mammoths, which also lived during the Ice Age, woolly rhino remains are rare to find. Their place on the evolutionary timeline is less clear. And their lifestyles—what they ate and how long they lived—is hazy.

First image of a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy are weeks away

(NEWSWEEK) , December 20, 2017 — Updated |An international collaboration will allow humans to see a supermassive black hole for the first time. Although we have residual evidence of black holes’ existence, such as measurements of the gravitational pull around the holes, we’ve never been able to see these invisible entities. Thanks to this ongoing project, we soon will.

Scientists believe that black holes exist at the center of every galaxy. Our galaxy’s black hole is called Sagittarius A, and lurks within the Sagittarius constellation, NASA reports. Starting in April 2017, a team of international researchers linked telescopes around the globe, aiming them simultaneously at Sagittarius A, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory reported. This black hole is about 26,000 light years away from Earth and has a mass equal to 4 million suns.

Related: Supermassive Black Hole Plasma Jets Can Explode And Outshine Galaxies

Photographing a black hole is no easy feat. First, as you’ve likely guessed by the name, these holes are immensely dark. In fact, because they are void of any light, the holes are actually invisible. This means traditional telescopes will not work. Instead, researchers have used something called a radio telescope to catch a glimpse of the black hole. A radio telescope can catch pictures of objects that are not visible to the human eye, and the tools are extremely helpful at taking images of objects that cannot be seen with visible light, such as a black hole. The telescopes measure electrical signals and translate that into a visual image.


How NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Met Its Fiery End

(NATIONAL GEOGRAPHY) After 13 years exploring Saturn, the probe went deep into the planet’s atmosphere for its explosive grand finale.

In the predawn hours on Friday, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft boldly went where no spacecraft has gone before: into the planet Saturn itself.

As the spacecraft raced toward its end, scientists in mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena watched the drama play out.

Source: How NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Met Its Fiery End

What Your Dreams Actually Mean, According to Science

(TIME) Jeffrey Kluger, September 13, 2017 — If dreams were movies, they wouldn’t make a dime. They’re often banal, frequently fleeting and they’re screened for an audience of just one. As for the storyline? You’re in a supermarket, only it’s also Yankee Stadium, shopping with your second-grade teacher until she turns into Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Then you both shoot a bear in the cereal aisle. Somebody call rewrite.

But dreams are vastly more complex than that, and if you’ve got a theory that explains them, have at it. The ancient Egyptians thought of dreams as simply a different form of seeing, with trained dreamers serving as seers to help plan battles and make state decisions. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that dreams were equal parts predictions of future events and visitations by the dead.

Sigmund Freud considered dreaming an expression of repressed conflicts or desires, which were — no surprise, this being Freud — often sexual in nature. Carl Jung took a more rigorous approach, explaining dreams as a sort of “shaped energy,” inchoate emotions or thoughts released by the deep subconscious and entrained into narratives by higher regions of the brain. Modern psychologists and neurologists, armed with imaging equipment including PET scans and MRIs, have taken things to a deeper and more technical level, speculating that dreaming is the brain’s way of dumping excess data, consolidating important information, keeping us alert to danger and more.

Source: What Your Dreams Actually Mean, According to Science |

Famous Viking Warrior Was a Woman, DNA Reveals

(NATIONAL GEOGRAPHY) New evidence forces reconsideration of a well-known gravesite—and may shed light on Viking gender roles.

More than a millennium ago in what’s now southeastern Sweden, a wealthy Viking warrior was laid to rest, in a resplendent grave filled with swords, arrowheads, and two sacrificed horses. The site reflected the ideal of Viking male warrior life, or so many archaeologists had thought.

New DNA analyses of the bones, however, confirm a revelatory find: the grave belonged to a woman.

The study, published recently in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, sends ripples of surprise through archaeologists’ understanding of the Vikings, medieval seafarers who traded and raided across Europe for centuries. (Explore how Vikings really lived in National Geographic magazine.)

Source: Famous Viking Warrior Was a Woman, DNA Reveals

How science found a way to help coma patients communicate

(THE GUARDIAN) September 5, 2017 — On 20 December 1999, a young man pulled away in his car from his grandfather’s house in Sarnia, Ontario, with his girlfriend in the passenger seat beside him. Scott Routley, who was 26, had studied physics at the University of Waterloo and had a promising career in robotics ahead of him. But at an intersection just a few blocks from his grandfather’s house, a police car travelling to the scene of a crime crashed into the side of Scott’s car, hitting the driver’s side full on. The police officer and Scott’s girlfriend were taken to the hospital with minor injuries. Scott wasn’t so lucky; his injuries were devastating.

Source: How science found a way to help coma patients communicate | News | The Guardian

FDA Approves First Gene Therapy Treatment For Cancer

(TIME.COM) Alice Park, September 5, 2017 — The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) followed the advice of its advisory committee and approved a breakthrough treatment for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) on Wednesday. It’s the first gene therapy approved in the U.S.

Dr. Carl June, director of the center for cellular immunotherapies at University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center, who pioneered the therapy, was still emotional an hour after receiving the news of the approval in an email.

“It’s unbelievable,” June told TIME, his voice wavering. “It’s an amazing feeling. We worked on it and worked on it and finally to have such a discrete, palpable event like this is such an amazing thing.”

Source: FDA Approves First Gene Therapy Treatment For Cancer |

The Air You Breathe Is Full of Surprises

(NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC) The gases in the air around us are unseen but their influence is surprisingly visible. For instance, did you know that, right now, you are probably inhaling the air from Julius Caesar’s last gasp in A.D. 44? Or that poison gases inspired Einstein to invent a refrigerator? Or that a man became the toast of turn-of-the-century Paris by controlling his own farts?

These are some of the fascinating details that science writer Sam Keanpacks into his new book, Caesar’s Last Breath. When National Geographic caught up with Kean at his home in Washington, D.C., he explained why analyzing the gases in the atmospheres of other planets will be the best way of finding intelligent life; how a German physicist created the gas warfare that killed thousands in World War I and continues to do so in Syria today; and why releasing sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere may be the best way of reducing global warming.

The idea that we might still be inhaling the last breath exhaled by Caesar as he lay dying is a cute conceit for a book title. But there’s no science to it, is there?

As far as we can tell, it is a legitimate idea. It’s sort of an inevitable consequence of a) how many molecules you breathe in every time you take a breath and b) how long those molecules persist in our atmosphere. It’s not a guarantee that every single breath you’re going to get one. But, on average, it’s inevitable that you’re going to inhale some of those same molecules over the course of a day.

Source: The Air You Breathe Is Full of Surprises