Life in this universe begins and ends with supernovae. In a spectacular eruption powerful enough to outshine a galaxy, a star is killed — and new elements are forged. For years, scientists have been trying to capture the moment one happens. And they’re getting really close. In a study in the journal Nature Physics, an international team of astronomers describes the first three to 10 hours after a supernova in the galaxy NGC 7610, a faint smudge in the constellation Pegasus. Their observations represent the most complete image of a supernova’s immediate aftermath to date. Scientists were able to take spectra — analyses that separate light out into its component wavelengths — earlier in the event than had ever been done. This study gives scientists a first good glimpse not just at the explosion, but at the events immediately preceding it — opening a new window on stellar evolution.
Saiga antelope is struck by plague
It was December when the first reports started coming in: All across the frozen Mongolian steppe, saiga were dying. The antelope species, with its tawny coat, ringed horns and incongruous oversize snout, has roamed the world’s chilly northern grasslands since the Pleistocene. But the International Union for Conservation of Nature now deems it critically endangered. And in the past two months, the rare Mongolian subspecies Saiga tartica mongolica has been decimated by a deadly virus. The Wildlife Conservation Society in Asia said last week that a quarter of the Mongolian saiga population has been lost to the small ruminant plague, or PPR. When PPR infects domestic goats, it kills anywhere between 30 and 90 percent of the herd. Carcass counts of the Mongolian saiga suggest that 2,500 animals — a quarter of the population — have already died. The rate of infection seems to have slowed, but it has not run its course, and the virus could flare up again when the animals congregate in the spring.
Gecko strips down to escape danger
The fish-scale gecko has a freaky way of eluding danger. When snatched by an attacker, it rips off its scales and skin so it can slip away unscathed. The torn-away scales reveal the gecko’s pink flesh, through which you can see its spine and blood vessels. “It looks like a fish until you grab it, and then it looks like a naked chicken breast,” said Mark Scherz, a doctoral candidate at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich who just discovered a species with the largest scales yet in northern Madagascar. The gecko isn’t hurt. Scales grow back in a different pattern, but otherwise are nearly indistinguishable from the originals.