TIME animals

This Giant Sea Creature Was Once Earth’s Largest Animal

An artist's rendering of a filter-feeding Aegirocassis benmoulae from the Ordovician Period feeding on a plankton cloud.
Marianne Collins—ArtofFact/Reuters An artist's rendering of a filter-feeding Aegirocassis benmoulae from the Ordovician Period feeding on a plankton cloud.

This 480-million-year-old Aegirocassis was 7 feet long

The newly pieced together skeleton of Aegirocassis benmoulae, a 480-million-year-old sea creature, looks a bit like a cross between a shrimp and a lobster. But at 7-feet-long, this animal was no shrimp. In fact, it was likely once the largest animal on earth.

The fossil’s discovery in Morocco, outlined in a Nature article last week, sheds new light on arthropods from the palaeozoic era, or from about 542 million years ago to 251 million years ago. The Aegirocassis has a second set of fins unlike previously thought, and while many similar arthropods would actively seek out prey, the Aegirocassis captured plankton through a net-like appendage.

But don’t worry: Its method of feeding likely made the Aegirocassis relatively easy going, despite its size, researchers told Reuters.

“Given the huge size of Aegirocassis and its very alien appearance, I assume most people would probably be terrified if they’d encounter it while swimming,” said Yale University paleontologist Peter Van Roy, a study author. However, contrary to almost all other anomalocaridids which were active predators, our animal would have been a very peaceful guy.”

TIME Environment

California May Crack Down Further This Week on Water-Wasters

A new report finds enforcement of penalties is rare

California may only have about one year’s supply of water left in its reservoirs, but a new report suggests regulators aren’t enforcing penalties at stemming water waste strictly enough.

Gov. Jerry Brown called on residents in January 2014 to reduce their usage by 20% when he declared a drought state of emergency, but the Associated Press reports that consumers only hit the mark in December, with the monthly average since July standing at 11%.

The state established rules last summer that allowed communities to fine excessive water-wasters up to $500, but the investigation finds enforcement has been rare. In Los Angeles, for instance, only two $200 fines were issued in a service area of about 4 million people; in the southern area of Coachella, no homes with pristine lawns received a warning letter.

MORE: California’s Drought Is Now the Worst in 1,200 Years

The report of lax enforcement coincided with a strongly worded op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by a NASA water scientist, who admitted the state “has no contingency plan for a persistent drought” like the current one. “We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too,” wrote Jay Famiglietti, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a professor at University of California, Irvine.

On Tuesday, California’s State Water Resources Control Board will vote whether to extend and broaden the penalties for water-wasters.

TIME Education

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Pi Day Tweet Has the Perfect Amount of Nerd

Happy 3/14/15

People around the world were celebrating Pi Day on Saturday, and celebrity-scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson joined in the fun on Twitter. Pi Day refers to the mathematical constant Pi, and is marked every March 14 because 3/14 mimics the start of the number. But once a century, there’s a 3/14/15 like there was Saturday , going even further down the never-ending number (which starts 3.1415) and making the people even more giddy.

DeGrasse Tyson simply fit as much of the number Pi as he could into a tweet.

MORE: The Best Pi Day Deals, Freebies and Events

TIME animals

3 Million Whales Were Killed in the 20th Century

Kate Westaway—Getty Images

Researchers call it "the largest hunt in human history"

Moby Dick got lucky.

A total of nearly three million whales were killed in the 20th century, according to a new estimate—a number driven by rapid advances in hunting technology and illegal catches by nations like the Soviet Union. And the full number of whales killed may be even higher in what researchers call “the largest hunt in human history.”

The study attempts to tally the number of whales that were killed as whaling transformed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from an enterprise carried out by men with rowboats to an industrialized effort capable of processing…

TIME Environment

This Island Appeared From Nowhere

This diptych shows before and after satellite views of a new island, created when the island on the left fused with a volcanic crater, off the coast of Tonga. The pre-eruption satellite view before the island on the left became fused with the volcanic crater created by Hunga Tonga.
Pleiades/CNES/SIPA This diptych shows before and after satellite views of a new island, created when the island on the left fused with a volcanic crater, off the coast of Tonga. The pre-eruption satellite view before the island on the left became fused with the volcanic crater created by Hunga Tonga.

The underwater Hunga Tonga volcano created a new landmass in the South Pacific

The eruption of the underwater Hunga Tonga volcano in December has created a new island in the South Pacific.

The island is 1,640 feet long and made up of rock sediment from magma, the BBC reports. It’s likely to be dangerous for visitors, and remains highly unstable. One visitor noted that the surface was still hot to the touch, and another said we can’t be sure if the volcano is done erupting.

The new island is only 28 miles away from Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa.

[BBC]

TIME ebola

Why West Africa Might Soon Have 100,000 More Measles Cases

Now more than ever: Measles vaccinations have dramatically cut disease rates in Africa
Spencer Platt; Getty Images Now more than ever: Measles vaccinations have dramatically cut disease rates in Africa

One lethal epidemic could give rise to another

Correction appended, March 12

There’s not a war college in the world that couldn’t learn a thing or two from the way viruses operate. They’re stealthy, they’re territorial, they seek and destroy and know just where to hit. And, just when you think you’ve got them beat, they forge an alliance with another of your enemies. That, according to a new paper published Thursday in Science, is what’s poised to happen with Ebola and measles—and it’s the babies and children of Africa who will overwhelmingly pay the price.

The Ebola epidemic is by no means over, but it is being contained and controlled. With nearly 24,000 cases and more than 9,800 fatalities so far—mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia—the epidemic is still claiming new victims, though more slowly. The crisis, however, has disrupted health-care delivery across the entire affected region, preventing children from receiving badly needed measles vaccines. That, the new study reports, could result in an additional 100,000 measles cases over the next 18 months, leading to an additional 2,000 to 16,000 deaths. Rates of vaccination against other diseases—particularly polio and tuberculosis—have fallen too. But measles’ ease of transmission makes it especially worrisome.

“When there’s a disruption of medical services, measles is always one of the first ones in the door,” says Justin Lessler, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a co-author of the paper. “The Ebola epidemic significantly increases the likelihood of a major measles outbreak occurring.”

Lessler and his co-authors arrived at their numbers painstakingly. First, they used health data to map and estimate the share of vaccinated and unvaccinated children in 5 km by 5 km (3.1 mi. by 3.1 mi.) squares across the three affected countries. They then estimated a 75% reduction in vaccination rates during the epidemic and projected forward by 6, 12 and 18 months. They factored in the transmissability of the virus within each region and estimated the likely number of deaths using what’s known as a Case Fatality Ratio—a mathematical tool that, as its name suggests, estimates lethality for any particular disease under any particular set of circumstances.

The final numbers—especially the potential 16,000 deaths—rightly alarmed the researchers, though lessler does admit that they are by no means a certainty. “The 75% decrease in vaccinations is a little too pessimistic,” he concedes. But the critical word in that admission is “little,” and the investigators did consider 25%, 50% and 100% rates too, before settling on 75% as at least the most plausible. No matter what, the odds are still high of a five figure death rate and a five to six figure additional case rate—and the Ebola epidemic, which led to the problem in the first place, has not even fully abated.

Lessler and his colleagues are not waiting until it does to sound the alarm, urging global health groups to mobilize a vaccination campaign now so it can be ready to launch in the affected areas the moment the Ebola all-clear sounds. The new push would first target children who were born during the Ebola epidemic since they would have likely received almost no medical attention at all up until that point, and then expand to all children in the most measles-susceptible age group—about 6 months to 5 years.

“The best time to start the campaign would be as soon as it’s logistically feasible,” says Lessler. “For every month no campaign begins, the risk of an outbreak occurring and the impact of such an outbreak worsens.”

The happy news, Lessler believes, is that done right, the campaign could not only prevent the measles epidemic from beginning, but could actually put West Africa in a better position than it was before Ebola, with vaccine coverage for measles and other diseases exceeding the pre-outbreak rates. “Previous campaigns have reached coverage in excess of 90%,” he says.

Victory in the battle against Ebola—to say nothing of the battle against measles—is by no means yet assured. But, again as the war colleges would teach, with the right cooperation and the right deployment, the good guys can win.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is Justin Lessler.

TIME space

A Commute Home—From Space

The Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft as it lands with Expedition 42 commander Barry Wilmore of NASA, Alexander Samokutyaev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Elena Serova of Roscosmos near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on March 12, 2015.
Bill Ingalls—NASA The Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft as it lands with Expedition 42 commander Barry Wilmore of NASA, Alexander Samokutyaev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Elena Serova of Roscosmos near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on March 12, 2015.

Three astronauts endure a wild ride

Looks peaceful, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled. A descent in a Soyuz spacecraft like the one that just brought astronaut Barry Wilmore and cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova home after nearly six months aboard the International Space Station has been likened by astronaut Scott Kelly to “going over Niagara Falls in a barrel—while you’re on fire.” In this case, the planned thump-down on the plains of Kazakhstan was more harrowing than usual, with heavy fog concealing the reassuring sight of the spacecraft under its parachute until the last minute. But above the clouds, the scene was serene and not long after the picture was taken, the crew was on the ground—rattled but safe.

TIME memory

Scientists May Be Able to Turn Your Bad Memories Into Good Ones

human-brain-model
Getty Images

So far it only works for mice

Scientists have found a way to create happy memories in the brains of sleeping mice, raising hopes of similar treatment for people suffering from stress disorders.

Neuroscientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and ESPCI ParisTech recently conducted an experiment where they placed electrodes in the brains of sleeping mice who had navigated a maze earlier in the day. As the mice consolidated the maze information into memory, the scientists activated the reward center of their brains to create a positive association with certain areas on the map. The next morning, the mice ran straight for those places.

“The learning we induced during sleep was just to change the emotional value of the different locations of the environments,” Dr. Karim Benchenane, a neuroscientist at CNRS and one of the study’s authors, told The Huffington Post. “Indeed, during waking hours, all the locations were neutral. What we made them learn during sleep is that a particular location is now associated to a reward.”

This breakthrough could potentially do much more for humans than tricking us to expect food when we walk into our living room. If scientists can associate different emotions with memories, that could help treat people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. But it may be a while before the treatment can safely be used on humans.

TIME space travel

Watch NASA Fire Up the Biggest Rocket Booster Ever

And blast a serious hole in the Utah desert in the process.

NASA successfully fired up a huge new rocket booster at its Utah test facility on Wednesday, passing a major milestone for future deep-space missions.

The 117-foot booster is the biggest ever built and NASA says it’s powerful enough to reach beyond the Moon, to asteroids or even Mars.

Apart from making a serious dent in the Utah desert, the booster is part of a Space Launch System (SLS) being developed by the space agency that is scheduled to blast off in 2018.

The rocket was fired for two minutes (the same amount of time it takes to launch the SLS) and produced about 3.6 million pounds of thrust.

“The work being done around the country today to build the SLS is laying a solid foundation for future exploration missions, and these missions will enable us to pioneer far into the solar system,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

TIME animals

Wild Beaver Colony in England to Be Set Free After Being Cleared of Disease

The beavers are free of disease and will return to their natural habitat

Beavers in England were once hunted into near extinction, but a small colony of them appears to be thriving and will soon be returned to the wild after the animals were found to be healthy.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was originally going to keep a group of five beavers from the Otter River in captivity due to their risk of becoming infected with Echinococcus multilocularis, which can cause a harmful parasite to grow in humans, The Guardian reports. But after animal and environmental activists called for the beavers to be left alone, arguing that the species was an important part of the ecosystem, the plan has changed.

Now that DEFRA has captured, tested and cleared the beavers of disease, the agency has handed over the animals to the Devon Wildlife Trust, which had applied in January for a five-year license to take care of the beavers and oversee their reintroduction. In a statement, the trust said the beavers were not injured during the testing and appear to be content in their temporary housing.

“We are confident that we will be able to announce the beavers’ return to the Otter in the near future,” the group said.

[The Guardian]

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