TIME space

See the Crater a Meteorite Made in Nicaragua

A Nicaraguan soldier checks the site where an alleged meteorite struck on Sept. 7, 2014 in Managua.
A Nicaraguan soldier checks the site where an alleged meteorite struck on Sept. 7, 2014 in Managua. German Miranda—AFP/Getty Images

No one was hurt

A small meteorite struck a wooded area near the Nicaraguan capital’s airport on Saturday night.

Residents reported hearing a loud bang, and the crater left by the meteorite measured 40-feet wide and 16-feet, BBC reports. No one was hurt.

Astronomer Humberto Saballos said the meteorite could be part of an asteroid that passed by Earth Saturday night. International experts have been asked to help local scientists in their investigation.

[BBC]

TIME Books

Jack the Ripper Was a Polish Barber, Says Amateur Sleuth

Thank goodness for the police officer who thought a murdered woman's blood-soaked shawl was a good gift for his wife. And thank goodness for the wife, who thought it really wasn't

Jack the Ripper was a young Polish immigrant who cut hair when he was not cutting up bodies, according to a new book. The author names the serial killer through DNA evidence recovered on a shawl picked up at a crime scene 126 years ago.

Aaron Kosminski, a 23-year-old barber at the time of the murders, and a longtime popular suspect in the unsolved case, was “definitely, categorically and absolutely” Jack the Ripper, the sadist who butchered at least five women in London’s East End in 1888, says author Russell Edwards, who calls himself “an armchair detective.”

“I’ve got the only piece of forensic evidence in the whole history of the case,” Edwards told the U.K.’s Press Association. “Only nonbelievers that want to perpetuate the myth will doubt. This is it now — we have unmasked him.”

Edwards’ book, Naming Jack the Ripper, will be published in the U.K. this week. His Sweeney Todd–style findings have not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and his conviction that Kosminski was the killer is matched only by the conviction of scores of other sleuths.

The streets of London’s impoverished East End were already bad enough when, on an August night in 1888, prostitute Mary Ann Nichols was found dead on one, her abdomen slit open. Over the next 12 weeks, someone would kill four more local demimondaines in the same grotesque manner — slicing their bellies, pulling out their organs and leaving their bodies in the streets for apparent public viewing. London was petrified, and it was transfixed: so much gore, with a compelling glimmer of sex and rage.

None of the murders were ever solved, but authorities pinned them all on one hand and called the serial killer “Jack the Ripper,” after the signature on a September 1888 letter — albeit perhaps a fake — sent to London police.

Edwards says that he fingered Kosminski through a shawl bought at a 2007 auction. A letter sold with the item said that a local policeman had picked it up from the scene of Catherine Eddowes’ murder — the Ripper’s fourth victim — and had presented it to his wife. However, she was understandably perturbed by the grisly gift and never wore it, instead packing up the blood-splattered rag in storage, the letter said.

Edwards, teaming up with molecular biologist Jari Louhelainen, then contacted living descendants of both Eddowes and Kosminski and matched their DNA with samples on the shawl.

“Thank God the shawl has never been washed, as it held the vital evidence,” added Edwards.

Kosminski was a Polish-Jewish immigrant who fled persecution under imperial Russia and arrived in London in 1881. The barber was admitted, penniless, to a workhouse in 1889 and then to an asylum, where he died in 1899 of gangrene.

London authorities at first wondered if Jack the Ripper was a butcher, or maybe a physician. Later, local officials said he was not a skilled executioner at all, but a messy one. Theorists have also accused — in the court of public opinion and in the market of book deals — a cat-meat salesman, a schoolteacher and a South African pimp, among lots, and lots, of others.

TIME space

Jupiter’s Moon Europa Just Got Even Cooler

Look familiar? Europa (in natural color, left, and enhanced-contrast color, right) is more like Earth than we ever knew.
Look familiar? Europa (in natural color, left, and enhanced-contrast color, right) is more like Earth than we ever knew. NASA/JPL/DLR

There is no moon in the solar system like Jupiter's Europa, with an icy surface and a salty sea that may harbor life. Now, it appears that the moon has plate tectonics too—just like Earth

The more they look at other worlds in the Solar System, the more scientists discover that Earth isn’t as special as we earthlings like to think. Our planet has active volcanoes—but so does Jupiter’s moon Io. We have geysers—and so does Saturn’s moon Enceladus. We have lakes, rivers and rain, and so does Titan, another moon of Saturn’s.

Now a paper in the journal Nature Geoscience argues that one more geological feature thought to be unique to Earth may not be after all. Using images from the Galileo spacecraft, planetary scientists think they’ve found evidence of plate tectonics on Jupiter’s ice-covered moon Europa—a world that’s already on astrobiologists’ radar because the ocean that lies beneath the moon’s thick rind of ice could conceivably host life of some sort.

Plate tectonics is the same process that causes continents to drift slowly around on the surface of the Earth, and, says Michelle Selvans, a research geophysicist at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, who wrote a commentary on the new research for the same journal, “we’ve never seen this anywhere else.”

If plates are indeed shifting on the Jovian moon, it explains a longstanding mystery. Europa’s surface is crisscrossed with cracks where the thick ice has spread apart and the resulting gaps have been filled in by new slushy ice oozing up from the water deep below. “The fundamental question,” says the paper’s lead author, University of Idaho planetary scientist Simon Kattenhorn, “is how you can keep adding new surface without getting rid of old surface?

That’s wouldn’t be a problem if Europa were simply growing in size, but, writes Selvans, that is “unlikely.” (She admits privately that this is really science understatement-speak for “ridiculous.”) It also wouldn’t be a problem if the old surface simply folded like an accordion, as it was pushed aside. “We’ve looked for that,” she says, “and haven’t seen it.”

On Earth, however, the creation of new surface that spreads from places like the submerged Mid-Atlantic ridge is balanced by tectonic plates of crustal rock plunging back down to melt in the sea of magma below. It’s these sinking, melting plates in Earth’s so-called subduction zones that give rise to volcanoes in the “Ring of Fire” surrounding the Pacific Ocean.

And now Kattenhorn and his co-author, Louise Prockter, of Johns Hopkins, seem to have found evidence that Europa gets rid of its excess crust via subduction as well. One clue: they looked at surface ice features on Europa that have been scrambled by repeated cracking and shuffling, then manipulated the imagery to move the pieces around and reassemble them as they must have been when they were intact. Some of the puzzle pieces, they discovered, had clearly disappeared. “We looked at an area about the size of Louisiana,” says Kattenhorn, “and there was a missing piece the size of Massachusetts.”

Another telltale sign: along the boundaries where the scientists think some of the crust plunged back under the adjoining ice, there was evidence of “cryolava”—that is, partially melted, slushy ice—on one side of the divide but not the other. That’s similar to what happens on Earth, where volcanoes happen on one side of a subduction boundary but not the other.

Finally, the existence of plate tectonics and subduction on Europa would answer another longstanding question about the frigid moon. Its surface is remarkably deficient in craters considering the number of comets and asteroids zipping around the neighborhood.

This suggests that Europa was completely resurfaced no more than 90 million years ago. It could have happened just that once, but that, says Selvans, feels like “special pleading”—that we’re looking at the moon at a unique time in its four-billion-year-plus history. It’s much more palatable to scientists to think they’re looking at an ongoing process, which plate tectonics certainly is.

Selvans emphasizes that the evidence so far isn’t a slam-dunk, and Kattenhorn is quick to agree. Galileo took high-resolution images of only a small part of Europa’s surface. “Our paper can’t answer the question of whether this is a global process,” he says. Since melting ice and melting rock behave differently in terms of buoyancy and density, moreover, it’s not clear that what’s going on at Europa is an exact analogy for what’s happening on Earth.

The only way to figure it out for sure is to get more imagery, and Galileo went out of service back in 2003. Unfortunately, the only probe scheduled to visit Europa (and two of Jupiter’s other moons too) is a European Space Agency mission, which won’t arrive until 2030. NASA’s own Europa mission, meanwhile, known as the Europa Clipper, is still only a concept.

TIME Pictures of the Week

Pictures of the Week: Aug. 29 – Sept. 5

From the eruption of the Bardarbunga volcano and the first day of school around the world, to a debutante ball in Rio de Janeiro and a giant hippo in London’s river Thames, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

 

 

TIME Family

Why I Don’t Eat With My Kids

Who invited those two? The 'family dinner' ain't all it's cracked up to be
Who invited those two? The 'family dinner' ain't all it's cracked up to be GMVozd; Getty Images

The curative properties of the nightly family dinner have been greatly overexaggerated

I love my daughters, I really do, more than I can coherently describe. I love my dinner hours too — not nearly as much, of course, but I’ve been on familiar terms with dinner for a lot longer than I’ve been on familiar terms with my children. Frankly, I don’t see much reason to introduce them to each other.

It’s not that my wife and I don’t eat with our daughters sometimes. We do. It’s just that it often goes less well than one might like. For one thing, there’s the no-fly zone surrounding my younger daughter’s spot at the table, an invisible boundary my older daughter dare not cross with touch, gesture or even suspicious glance, lest a round of hostile shelling ensue.

There is too the deep world-weariness my older daughter has begun bringing with her to meals, one that, if she’s feeling especially 13-ish, squashes even the most benign conversational gambit with silence, an eye roll, or a look of disdain so piteous it could be sold as a bioterror weapon. Finally, there is the coolness they both show to the artfully prepared meal of, say, lemon sole and capers — an entrée that is really just doing its best and, at $18.99 per lb., is accustomed to better treatment.

All of this and oh so much more has always made me greatly prefer feeding the girls first, sitting with them while they eat and, with my own dinner not on the line, enjoying the time we spend together. Later, my wife and I can eat and actually take pleasure in the experience of our food. But that, apparently, is a very big problem.

We live in the era of the family dinner, or, more appropriately, The Family Dinner™, an institution so grimly, unrelentingly invoked that I’ve come to assume it has its own press rep and brand manager. The Family Dinner™, so parents are told, is now recognized as one of the greatest pillars of child-rearing, a nightly tradition you ignore at your peril, since that way lie eating disorders, obesity, drug use and even, according to a recent study out of McGill University, an increased risk of the meal skipper being cyberbullied.

O.K., there is some truth in all of this. Sit your kids down at the table and talk with them over dinner every day and you have a better chance of controlling what they eat, learning about their friends, and sussing out if they’re troubled about something or up to no good. But as with so much in the way of health trends in a gluten-free, no-carb, low-fat nation, enough, at some point, is enough.

For one thing, the always invoked, dew-kissed days of the entire nuclear family sitting down to a balanced, home-cooked meal were less than they’re cracked up to be. Ever hear of the Loud family? Ever watch an episode of Mad Men — particularly one that plays out in the Draper kitchen? Welcome to family dinner in the boomer era.

Much more important, as a new study from North Carolina State University shows, the dinner-hour ideal is simply not possible for a growing number of families. The researchers, a trio of sociologists and anthropologists, spent 18 months conducting extensive interviews with 150 white, African-American and Latina mothers from across the socioeconomic spectrum, and an additional 250 hours observing 12 lower-income and poor families to get at the truth of what’s possible at mealtime and what’s not.

The first problem, the moms in the study almost universally agree, is that it is always more time-consuming to prepare dinner than you think it will be. Michael Pollan, the ubiquitous author and food activist, has written, “Today, the typical American spends a mere twenty-seven minutes a day on food preparation, and another four minutes cleaning up. That’s less than half the time spent cooking and cleaning in 1965.” To which I say, huh? And so do the moms in the study.

“I just hate the kitchen,” said one. “I know I can cook but it’s the planning of the meal, and seeing if they’re going to like it, and the mess that you make, and then the mess afterwards.” Added another: “I don’t want to spend an hour cooking after I pick [my daughter] up from school every day.” All of that sounds a lot more familiar to me than Pollan’s rosy 27+4 formulation.

Even if prep time weren’t a problem, dealing with the scheduling vagaries in two-income households can require day-to-day improvisation that makes regular, predictable mealtimes impossible. One couple studied by the NC State researchers worked for the same fast-food company in different parts of the state. Both parents often don’t know the next day’s schedule until the night before, which means inventing dinner plans on the fly and often calling on a grandmother for help. That kind of scrambling is part of what the researchers describe as “invisible labor,” work that is every bit as much a part of dinner as preparing and serving the food, but is rarely acknowledged.

Finally, there is the eternal struggle of trying to prepare a meal that everyone at the table will tolerate — a high-order bit of probability math in which the number of acceptable options shrinks as the number of people who get to weigh in grows. “I don’t need it, I don’t want it, I never had it!” declared one 4-year-old in one observed household. Parents throughout history have dealt with that kind of reaction with all manner of wheedling, bargaining and here-comes-the-airplane-into-the-hangar games, to say nothing of one mother in the study who simply turned a timer on and told her child to keep eating until the buzzer sounded.

Again, none of these problems diminish the psychological and nutritional value of a family sitting down to eat a home-prepared meal together — but perhaps that meal should be an aspirational option, not a nightly requirement. The family-dinner ideal, the authors write, has become “a tasty illusion, one that is moralistic and rather elitist … Intentionally or not, it places the burden of a healthy, home-cooked meal on women.”

With that said, I shall now open some wine and grill my wife and myself some salmon. After all, the girls are in bed.

TIME Archaeology

Researchers Find Dinosaur Species That Weighed More Than a Jumbo Jet

Dreadnoughtus
This undated artist rendering provided by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History shows the Dreadnoughtus. Mark A. Klingler—Associated Press

Bones found in Argentina's Patagonia region

A team of researchers said Thursday that they have found a species of dinosaur that was 85 feet long and weighed as much as 12 elephants, making it one of the largest animals known to have walked the Earth.

The team unearthed the fossilized skeleton of the giant herbivore in Argentina’s Patagonia region and say that some 70 percent of the skeleton is represented. They published their findings in Scientific Reports on Thursday, calling it the most complete skeleton of a titanosaur — a group of giant long-necked dinosaurs that existed roughly 75 million years ago — ever found.

Despite the dinosaur’s enormous size, which is nearly as large as the estimated sizes of other, less-complete fossilized titanosaurs, the researchers say this one was likely still growing when it died.

“I look at this dinosaur every day now and I still can’t believe it exists,” researcher Kenneth Lacovara, of Drexel University in Philadelphia, told the Wall Street Journal. The fossils are on loan to the U.S. but are slated to be returned to Argentina next year.

The dinosaur, formally called the Dreadnoughtus schrani, is believed to have weighed 65 tons, well above the weight of a Boeing 737-900 and nearly 10 times the weight of a T. rex, the Journal notes. Its neck was 37 feet long and its tail extended another 29 feet.

“We are seeing something that is pushing the envelope of how big you can get on this planet,” Lacovara told the Journal.

TIME astronomy

This Asteroid Will Pass Really Close to Earth This Weekend

Zoinks!

NASA says an asteroid that was first spotted only days ago will pass very close to Earth on Sunday.

The asteroid, designated 2014 RC, will “safely pass” our planet at about one tenth the distance from Earth to the Moon, or roughly 25,000 miles away, the space agency said Wednesday. That means it will be only a few thousand miles away from the geosynchronous ring where many of our weather and communication satellites orbit about 22,000 miles from Earth’s surface.

2014 RC is estimated to be about 60 feet in size and, despite its proximity, won’t be visible by the naked eye when it flies over New Zealand, though a simple telescope will be enough to spot it. It was first discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona over the weekend.

“While this celestial object does not appear to pose any threat to Earth or satellites, its close approach creates a unique opportunity for researchers to observe and learn more about asteroids,” NASA said in a statement about the asteroid’s pass.

And this won’t be the last we see of 2014 RC, whose orbit will bring it back to Earth’s neighborhood in the future. But NASA assures us that “no future threatening Earth encounters have been identified.”

 

TIME weather

New Ultra High-Def Satellite Shows Mind-Blowing View of a Forest Fire

A forest fire at the Happy Camp complex in California’s Klamath National Forest imaged with (left) and without (right) SWIR, in Aug. 2014.
A forest fire at the Happy Camp complex in California’s Klamath National Forest imaged with (left) and without (right) SWIR, in Aug. 2014. Courtesy of DigitalGlobe

The new technology can penetrate thick clouds of smoke to reveal clear images

State-of-the-art imaging technology on board DigitalGlobe’s recently launched WorldView-3 satellite offers unprecedented views of world events. The technology, known as Shortwave Infrared Imagery, or SWIR, can penetrate thick clouds of smoke, as shown in the above image of a forest fire. The photo reveals a clear image of an August fire at the Happy Camp complex in California’s Klamath National Forest.

Previous images of the event were covered in a dense cloud of smoke.

TIME animals

The Asian Camel Cricket and 10 Other Invasive Species You Might Not Know

TIME takes a look at species that have overstayed their welcome

This is the camel cricket. You hate it, don’t you? You should. Let’s start with the fact that it’s—how to put this nicely?—repulsive. Add the fact that it’s big, by bug standards at least, measuring up to two inches (5 cm) long; that it resembles a spider more than a cricket; and that it will eat nearly anything—including other camel crickets, which is just plain bad form.

Now to all that, add the additional fact that camel crickets are here. And by “here,” we mean everywhere. An Asian species originally, it has now turned up in more than 90% of cricket sightings across the U.S. It wasn’t as if we needed the import, thank you very much. The North American continent already had its own species of camel cricket. But the Asian variety arrived and appears to be crowding out the native species. There are, at current estimates, more than twice as many camel crickets of all species in America as there are actual Americans, with the bugs outnumbering us 700 million to 314 million.

In fairness, camel crickets don’t bite or pose any other particular threat to people. And since they’re scavengers, they also help keep ecosystems in balance. So really, we should be glad to have them–even welcome them, right? Nah. Sorry science, this time we’re going with our guts: camel cricket, here’s your tiny hat. Please go home.

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