TIME animals

Antarctic Tourism Could Expose Penguins to New Diseases, Study Warns

Antarctica, South Orkney Islands, Laurie Island, Gentoo
Getty Images

Scientists sound the alarm after foreign pathogens sweep through penguin colonies

A boom in Antarctic tourism could introduce new, infectious diseases to the continent’s penguin colonies, scientists warned in a new study released Friday.

More than 37,000 tourists trekked out to the frozen continent in 2013, more than quadrupling the number of visitors two decades earlier, according to a report in New Scientist first spotted by The Atlantic.

Researchers warned that these well-intentioned visitors could be the unwitting carriers of foreign pathogens. Avian flu, for instance, has caused deadly outbreaks among photogenic colonies of gentoo penguins, killing hundreds in 2006 and 2008. Researchers say that the origin of the virus remains unknown, and that it could also have been introduced by migratory birds flocking to the region.

“The effects of both a growing tourism industry and research presence will not be without consequences,” Wray Grimaldi of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand told the New Scientist.

TIME animals

Birds Sensed Tornadoes Coming a Day Early, Study Finds

Golden-winged warbler
Golden-winged warbler Getty Images

Ecologists say birds could hear the oncoming storm from over 100 miles away

Five golden-winged warblers left their nests one day before devastating tornadoes in the central U.S. in April, suggesting they could sense the storms coming, according to new tracking data.

These migrant songbirds may be able to sense extreme weather events with low frequency hearing, a new study in the Journal of Current Biology says. The warblers left their nesting area when the storm was still over 100 miles away and weather conditions in the area were normal. Ecologists say they could likely hear an “infrasound” signaling the approach of the storm, which humans cannot hear.

The birds left their nesting area just days after completing their seasonal migration. Geolocators show them flying from the Appalachians 400 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico.

The stormfront consisted of 84 tornadoes that led to 35 fatalities and over $1 billion in property damage.

TIME animals

Carnivore Comeback: Wolves, Bears and Lynx Thrive in Europe

A Siberian lynx sits inside an open-air cage at the Royev Ruchey zoo in Krasnoyarsk
A Siberian lynx sits inside an open-air cage at the Royev Ruchey zoo on the suburbs of Russia's Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, May 18, 2013 Ilya Naymushin—Reuters

Data was pulled from all over Europe

Despite having half the land area of the contiguous United States and double the population density, Europe is home to twice as many wolves. A new study finds that Europe’s other large carnivores are experiencing a resurgence in their numbers, too — and mostly in nonprotected areas where the animals coexist alongside humans.

The success is owed to cross-border cooperation, strong regulations and a public attitude that brings wildlife into the fold with human society, rather than banishing it to the wilderness, according to study leader Guillaume Chapron, a professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences’ Grimsö Wildlife Research Station…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME astronomy

NASA’s Kepler Telescope Discovers Another Planet on Comeback

The discovery marks a remarkable turnaround for Kepler

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has found another new planet.

Dubbed HIP 116454b, the new body is bigger than Earth, smaller than Neptune and probably too hot to sustain life as we know it.

“The Kepler mission showed us that planets larger in size than Earth and smaller than Neptune are common in the galaxy, yet they are absent in our solar system,” Steve Howell, a project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, said in statement.

The discovery marks a remarkable turnaround for Kepler. In May 2013, one of Kepler’s stabilizing reaction wheels failed and a team of engineers and scientists were forced to fashion an ingenious alternative for controlling the spacecraft, using pressure generated from sunlight.

During a subsequent test run in February, Kepler collected data on a previously undiscovered planet 180 light-years from Earth.

Follow-up observations confirmed the existence of the planet, which astronomers have called a watery “mini-Neptune,” with a tiny core and gaseous atmosphere, reports the New York Times.

TIME animals

Nature’s Top 10 Cute Critters for 2014

A serious science journal allows itself some cuddles

If you read science journals (and really, who doesn’t?) you know that it’s not easy to top Nature—and Nature itself surely knows it. They’re the major leagues, the senior circuit, the place the serious stuff goes to get seen. Nature doesn’t do small—and it definitely doesn’t do cute.

At least, it didn’t.

But every now and then, even the folks on the peer review panels start to feel cuddly. Spend your days vetting new studies about the Dumbo octopus or the toupee monkey or the robot baby penguins that can fool real penguins, and you have to admit that sometimes nature can be pretty adorable—even if Nature can’t.

So in a nod to the sweetness that hides in the science, the journal just released an uncharacteristically precious video–the Top 10 Cutest Animals in 2014. You can go back to being Mr. Grumpypants tomorrow, Nature. But for now, give us a great big hug.

TIME space

Voyager 1 Surfs a Cosmic Tsunami

Wow, Voyager: 12 billion miles from home and still very much in the game
Wow, Voyager: 12 billion miles from home and still very much in the game NASA/JPL

Earth's only Interstellar spacecraft is rocked by a storm from the sun

Planetary scientists have pretty much stopped haggling over whether Voyager 1, the space probe launched in 1977 to explore Jupiter and Saturn, has finally entered interstellar space. The tough little ship is still going strong, but there isn’t exactly a signpost that marks the heliopause—the place where particles streaming from the Sun bang into the thin gas that lies between the stars. As a result, there’s been some confusion about when the spacecraft actually crossed that invisible boundary—though there’s no confusion over the fact that it did. (There’s no confusion either about whether it’s left the Solar System: despite last year’s breathless headlines, it hasn’t. Comets in the Oort Cloud, which are definitely under the Sun’s gravitational influence, are much farther out than the heliopause.)

But the fact that Voyager 1 is now firmly in interstellar space is evident just by the change in its surroundings, says Don Gurnett, of the University of Iowa, whose plasma wave instrument aboard the probe is the final arbiter. “It’s extremely quiet out there,” Gurnett says. “The magnetic fields are constant, the flux of cosmic rays is constant”—a sharp contrast to the turmoil of the so-called termination shock, where particles racing outward at a million m.p.h. (1.6 million k/h) slam into the relatively stationary particles that make up the interstellar medium.

But the comparative quiet of distant space does not mean there’s nothing going on out there. At this very moment, in fact, as Gurnett explained at a talk at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in San Francisco this week, the sparse interstellar gas is reeling from a powerful blast of solar particles that smashed into it last February. The eruption began its life as a coronal mass ejection or CME, a huge burst of hot plasma fired into space during a solar storm. When they hit the Earth, CMEs can disrupt electronic communications and even cause blackouts.

Their impact further away is much greater, causing a kind of cosmic tsunami—huge pressure waves that make the interstellar gas vibrate like a ringing bell. Indeed, a recording the spacecraft made and NASA released reveals that the phenomenon even sounds like a bell. “This shows us how much influence the Sun can have on the surrounding area,” says Caltech physicist Ed Stone, who has been the Voyager project scientist since 1972, “and it’s very likely to be the same with other stars.”

Voyager detected its first cosmic tsunami back in the 1990’s when the impact of a CME colliding with the heliopause created a blast of radio waves. They’re too faint to be picked up from Earth, says Stone. “You need to be out by Saturn, at least, to detect them.” By 2012, the spacecraft was close enough to the heliopause to experience a later tsunami directly, recording a steep increase in the density of the gas it was flying through. It felt another in 2013, and the probe is now in the midst of its third, which was still going nine months later—a period during which Voyager 1 traveled a quarter of a billion miles (.4 billion km). No one knows how far into space the tsunami will travel before it fades out, says Gurnett. “I’m guessing it could be another hundred astronomical units or more.”

That, by the way, is a whole lot. An astronomical unit is the equivalent of the distance between the Earth and the sun—or 93 million mi. (150 million km). A hundred of those is 9.3 billion miles—or 15 billion km. Voyager 1 is currently at 130 A.U., or about 12 billion miles; it will have to reach 21.3 billion just to catch up with the outer reach of the tsunami—a journey that will take decades.

Stone, Gurnett and the other Voyager scientists won’t have to wait that long for another big event, however. The Voyager 2 probe, which lagged behind its sister ship so it could take a look at Uranus and Neptune, is currently at 109 A.U. from the Sun, and approaching its own rendezvous with the heliopause. “We’re hoping it will happen in the next couple of years,” says Stone.

If it’s hard to imagine what it’s like for Stone to watch the Voyager probes continue to make discoveries more than four decades after he took over the project, he offers a single, simple word of explanation: “Wonderful.”

TIME holiday

Have a Very Marie Curie Christmas With These Nobel Physicist Snowflake Decorations

Because every scientist is unique in their own special way

Do you love the holidays? Do you love science? Are you a nerd?

If you answered yes all of the above, or even just the last one, Symmetry magazine has a holiday decoration just for you: Nobel prize-winning scientist snowflakes.

“Energy and mass may be equivalent, but this Albert Einstein snowflake is beyond compare,” writes Kathryn Jepson of Symmetry a particle physics journal, alongside a downloadable PDF template for cutting out the snowflakes yourself.

Other templates include the Marie Curie snowflake—which “radiates charm”—and the Erwin Schrödinger snowflake: “Is it an Erwin Schrödinger snowflake with cats on it, or is it a cat snowflake with Erwin Schrödinger on it?”

Read more and get your snowflake templates now at Symmetry

TIME portfolio

TIME Picks the Top 100 Photos of 2014

TIME's photo editors present an unranked selection of the best 100 images of the year

2014 was heart wrenching year that brought with it a litany of terror, turbulence and tragedy — from the escalating conflict in Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russian separatists to an reignited war in Gaza that led to the death of more than 2000 Palestinians and 73 Israelis; and from Ebola’s deadly outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone t0 the renewed debate about race in America after the killing of unarmed black men Michael Brown and Eric Gardner.

On a lighter note, though, 2014 also saw New York bid farewell to Yankees captain Derek Jeter who signed off with a walk-off hit, and Germany’s footballers won the FIFA World Cup by famously beating hosts Brazil 7-1 in a one-sided semi-final and defeating Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the final.

TIME’s photo editors present an unranked selection of the best 100 images of the year.

Read next: The Most Surprising Photos of 2014

TIME Environment

This Is How Much Water California Needs to Recover From Its Drought

California Drought NASA
NASA GRACE satellite data reveal the severity of California’s drought on water resources across the state. This map shows the trend in water storage between September 2011 and September 2014. NASA JPL

According to a new analysis on the impact of the three-year drought

California needs about 11 trillion gallons of water to recover from its three-year drought, according to a new NASA analysis, providing the first-ever calculation of this kind.

The figure, equivalent to about 1.5 times the maximum volume of the biggest U.S. reservoir, was determined by using NASA climate satellites to measure the water storage in the region’s river basins, which is one index for measuring drought severity, the agency said in a statement released Tuesday. The data reveals that since 2011, the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins decreased by 4 trillion gallons of water each year — more water than the state’s 38 million residents use annually.

Scientists said that while recent storms in California have helped the state replenish its water supply, a full recovery will take much longer. “It takes years to get into a drought of this severity,” said Jay Famiglietti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “and it will likely take many more big storms, and years, to crawl out of it.”

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