The best science photos of the week
Each week at Live Science we find the most interesting and informative articles we can. Along the way, we uncover some amazing and cool images. Here you’ll discover the most incredible photos we found this week, and the remarkable stories behind them.
The blob on the beach
A mysterious, many-armed sea creature — initially described as a large “red glob” — lying on a rocky shore in Washington has drawn in cephalopod experts across the country, each wondering what this gelatinous animal is.
The 3.5-foot-long (1 meter) beast is thought to be a seven-armed octopus (Haliphron atlanticus), a deep-water creature that is rarely seen as far north as Washington, according to the Whidbey News-Times.
Despite its intriguing name, the octopus doesn’t have just seven arms. In males, the eighth arm is positioned in a sac next to the right eye, and the male takes it out when transferring sperm to potential mates. “Therefore it appears to have only seven arms, giving it the common name of the seven-arm octopus,” according to a study in Scientific Reports.
Read more: Bright ‘red glob’ washes ashore in Washington. It may be a 7-armed octopus
Hidden crater (deep) down under
Gold miners in the Australian Outback recently discovered a gigantic meteorite crater dating to about 100 million years ago, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Found near the Western Australian town of Ora Banda, the newly dubbed Ora Banda Impact Crater is about 3 miles (5 kilometers) across. This huge hole was likely created by a meteorite up to 660 feet (200 meters) wide, or longer than the length of two American football fields, according to Resourc.ly, a Western Australia news outlet.
Geologists studying a drill core sample from the site immediately noticed shatter cones — telltale signs of a meteorite crash. Shatter cones form when high-pressure, high-velocity shock waves from a large impacting object — such as a meteorite or a gigantic explosion (such as would occur at a nuclear testing site) — rattle an area. These shock waves shatter rock into the unique shatter cone shape, just like a mark that a hard object can leave on a car’s windshield.
Because “we know they didn’t do any nuclear testing at Ora Banda,” the evidence suggests that an ancient impact crater hit the site, geologist Jayson Meyers told Resourc.ly.
Read more: Gold miners discover 100 million-year-old meteorite crater Down Under
The mother of all penicillin
A sample of mold that first led to the discovery of penicillin in the 1920s has been revived. The newly awakened fungus could provide hints about how to conquer drug-resistant superbugs, CNN reported.
Dr. Alexander Fleming, a professor of bacteriology in London, accidentally discovered the antibiotic penicillin in 1928, when some of his petri dishes became contaminated with a mold, Penicillium notatum, Live Science previously reported. He extracted the active ingredient “penicillin” from the mold and found that it killed many kinds of harmful bacteria; scientists later purified penicillin for use as a treatment for bacterial infections. The mother mold was frozen and kept in storage for future study.
In new research, scientists compared Fleming’s original mold to two modern strains of Penicillium used to produce antibiotics in the U.S., CNN reported. They zoomed in on genes that enable the fungus to produce penicillin; some of these genes contain instructions to build the enzymes that make penicillin, while others control the function and total amount of these enzymes. Differences between the historic and modern mold strains could reveal how Penicillium has evolved through time, and whether the drug made from it could be improved, the researchers say.
Read more: Mold that led to penicillin discovery revived to fight superbugs
A WWII wreck revealed
Divers in Southeast Asia have located the lost wreck of what’s thought to be a U.S. Navy submarine that sank in 1943 after it was attacked by Japanese aircraft. The submarine wreck was found in a search of the northern end of the Straits of Malacca, between the Malay peninsula and Sumatra.
The wreck is almost certainly that of the USS Grenadier, named after a type of fish like many U.S. subs, which joined the American submarine fleet in the Pacific Ocean after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. It helped defend the island of Midway in June 1942 — one of the decisive naval battles of the Pacific during World War II — and later patrolled the coasts of Southeast Asia, according to the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command.
On April 20, 1943, the Grenadier was closing on two Japanese cargo ships near Phuket, intending to sink them, when it was spotted by a Japanese aircraft. The submarine crash-dived to a depth of around 120 feet (36 m), but it was hit by a torpedo dropped from the aircraft. The stricken submarine fell to the seafloor, while its crew tried to make repairs and put out the fires; it only surfaced after dark, 13 hours later, but it was too badly damaged to move.
Read more: Divers discover lost WWII submarine wreck off Southeast Asia
Wizard battles of the Bible
Have you ever heard the story of a wizard battle that supposedly took place when an early church was constructed? Or how about the story of a border guard who defied King Herod’s orders and spared Jesus’ life? Scholars have now translated these and other “apocryphal” Christian texts (stories not told in the canonical bible) into English for the first time.
More than 300 Christian apocryphal texts are known to exist, Tony Burke, a professor of early Christianity at York University in Toronto, Canada, wrote in the book he edited “New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (Volume 2)” (Eerdmans, 2020). One of the newly translated texts tells of a battle against ‘diabolical’ wizards who are trying to destroy an ancient church being built as a dedication to the Virgin Mary in the city of Philippi in Greece.
The text is written in Coptic, an Egyptian language that uses the Greek alphabet, and may have originally been written around 1,500 years ago, Paul Dilley, a professor of religious studies at the University of Iowa, who translated the text, wrote in the book. The story is told in two texts that were both from the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Egypt (pictured above). Today the two surviving copies of the text are in the Vatican Apostolic Library and the Leipzig University Library.
Read more: Wizard battles and demon circles revealed in newly translated Christian texts
Smoke meets storm
Smoke meets cyclones in a jarring new series of satellite images posted to NASA’s Earth Observatory website. In the images, which combine recent observations of the United States taken by several different NASA satellites from Sept. 14 to 16, orange-tinted smoke from an immense series of wildfires on the West Coast sails clean across the country to collide with tropical cyclones on the other side.
One image, from Sept. 15, shows the two weather catastrophes directly interacting, as churning winds from Hurricane Paulette literally block wildfire smoke in the upper atmosphere from flowing further into the Atlantic Ocean. Meanwhile, Hurricane Sally — bearing down on the Gulf Coast at the time — pushes the smoke plume further north. When Paulette dissipated the following day, the smoke continued its eastward journey over the ocean.
These composite pictures clearly paint the intensity of the ongoing hurricane and wildfire seasons battering North America, both of which have already made history.
Read more: Climate fires and hurricanes collide in this shocking NASA satellite image
Give Earth a ring
The rings of Saturn grant it a majesty befitting a planet named after the king of the Titans. Made almost completely of bits and chunks of ice and spanning thousands of miles wide, Saturn’s rings are its most spellbinding feature; they have mesmerized humans ever since Galileo discovered them with a telescope in 1610.
What might Earth be like crowned with rings? Space and science-fiction illustrator Ron Miller created extraordinary images of how the sky might look if Earth possessed rings of the same proportions to our planet as Saturn’s are to it. The most stable place for rings is around a planet’s equator, so the appearance of the rings would vary by latitude.
For instance, near the equator at Quito, Ecuador, you would see the rings from the inner edge on, so they would look like a thin line rising straight up from the horizon. In comparison, near the Arctic Circle, the rings might look like a hump on the horizon. At more temperate latitudes, the rings would look like a giant arch, crossing from one end of the sky to the other. These glittering rings would neither rise nor set, and would always appear in the exact same place in the sky. These cosmic landmarks would be visible both day and night.
Read more: What if Earth had rings?
Something in the water
Scientists in Botswana may finally know why more than 350 elephants have mysteriously dropped dead in the country’s Okavango Delta wetlands since May. The culprit — or one of them, anyway — appears to be neurotoxins spread by thriving colonies of bacteria living in the region’s water holes.
“Our latest tests have detected cyanobacterial neurotoxins to be the cause of deaths,” Mmadi Reuben, principal veterinary officer at the Botswana department of wildlife and national parks, said during a news conference Monday (Sept. 21). “However, we have many questions still to be answered, such as why the elephants only and why that area only.”
More than 70% of the fallen elephants were found near water sources polluted with large amounts of cyanobacteria — a single-cell organism also known as blue-green algae, named for their tendency to clump together in large green mats or “blooms” on aquatic surfaces. These blooms can be hazardous or even deadly, harboring toxins that attack the nervous system, skin or liver of animals exposed to them. Toxic cyanobacteria blooms have previously caused the mass dieoffs of fish, birds and other animals, according to a 2008 study in the journal Global Change Biology.
Read more: 350 elephants killed by ‘a combination of neurotoxins’ in water, Botswana government says
The oldest footprints in Saudi Arabia
Humanity originated on the African continent at least 300,000 years ago. We know from fossil evidence in southern Greece and the Levant (modern-day Israel) that some early members of our species expanded beyond Africa around 200,000 years ago, and again between 120,000 to 90,000 years ago. But it was not known at what point humans turned south after crossing the Sinai Peninsula, reaching modern day Saudi Arabia.
Researchers have discovered human and other animal footprints embedded on an ancient lake surface in the Nefud Desert in Saudi Arabia that are around 120,000 years old. These findings represent the earliest evidence for Homo sapiens on the Arabian Peninsula, and demonstrates the importance of Arabia for understanding human prehistory, the researchers said.
It is difficult to know which species of human left these prints, the researchers added, but they were likely Homo sapiens. This is based on the fact that Homo sapiens were present in the Levant, 700km to the north of the Nefud Desert, at a similar time. Neanderthals were absent from the Levant in this period and did not move back into the region until thousands of years later, when cooler conditions prevailed.
Read more: Prehistoric desert footprints are earliest evidence for humans on Arabian Peninsula
Planets aren’t the only things in the solar system with auroras. Comets can have them too, data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta mission has revealed. While looking at data from Rosetta, researchers found evidence of ultraviolet auroras at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which the probe studied up close for nearly two years before the mission ended in 2016.
“Rosetta is the first mission to observe an ultraviolet aurora at a comet,” Matt Taylor, a Rosetta project scientist at ESA, said in a statement. “Auroras are inherently exciting — and this excitement is even greater when we see one somewhere new, or with new characteristics.”
Similar to Earth’s auroras (also called the Northern and Southern Lights), Comet 67P’s auroras appear when charged particles from the sun, known as the solar wind, interact with atoms and molecules of gas around the comet, causing them to glow. However, the auroras on Comet 67P are not as pretty as auroras on Earth — because they’re invisible to the human eye. Earth’s auroras, which appear when solar wind interacts with atmospheric particles like oxygen and nitrogen, boast vibrant shades of green, pink, purple and blue. But when solar wind strikes particles in the comet’s coma — the cloud of gas flowing out from a comet’s icy nucleus sometimes referred to as its “atmosphere” — it produces high-energy ultraviolet radiation, which is outside the range of visible light.
Read more: Rosetta’s ‘rubber ducky’ comet has ultraviolet auroras
Originally published on Live Science.