SCIENCE IN THE NEWS WEEKLY
'Open Tree of Life' to Include All Known Species
Scientists are drawing a tree of life that includes every known species. A tree with about two million branches. "I think it is an amazing step forward for our community if it can be pulled off," said Robert P. Guralnick, an expert on evolutionary trees at the University of Colorado, who is not part of the project.
In other environmental news, the ship formerly known as the Exxon Valdez is floating off India in a kind of high-seas limbo as a court decides whether the vessel that dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's unspoiled Prince William Sound in 1989 can be hacked apart in this graveyard for once-mighty ships. Local environmentalists have petitioned the High Court in the western state of Gujarat to block its entry pending an onboard inspection for toxic chemicals, including mercury, arsenic and asbestos.
Researchers say hundreds of crown-of-thorns starfish found on a beach in southern Japan in January stranded themselves because they were starving. More than 800 were discovered on a 300m stretch of sand on Ishigaki Island. The starfish population "boom" was first identified in 2009, when masses of juveniles were seen feeding on the island's outer coral reef. The coral-eating starfish then took three years to move onto the beach where they perished.
Little is known about the condition of the many tropical glaciers that descend off the three peaks of mounts Baker, Speke and Africa's third highest peak, Mount Stanley. But last month, an expedition led by a London-based Danish photographer returned from Uganda with the best evidence yet that the 43 glaciers are still mostly there, but are in dire condition and can be expected to disappear in a decade or two.
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PODCASTS: From Balloons to Space Stations: Studying Cosmic Rays
Cosmic rays have mysterious qualities about them that scientists continue to research in order to better understand their origins and composition. Dr. Eun-Suk Seo, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland, and her colleagues, fly enormous balloons as large as a football stadium and a volume of 40-million-cubic feet for extended periods over Antarctica to study particles coming from cosmic rays before they break up in the atmosphere.
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