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Before Pangaea — What? — Science News , September 30, 1972 The continents as we know them resulted when the proto­continent Pangaea broke apart and its fragments made the long slow journey to their present positions. The process took about 200 m­illion years. But the Earth’s crust is an estimated 4.5 billion years old.… [Scientists are exploring] the perplexing p­roblem of what went on during the billions of years before Pangaea went to pieces. Update The continents have an on-again, off-again relationship that has existed since well before Pangaea, fossil and rock evidence shows. Most scientists agree that the earliest known supercontinent, called Nuna, formed around 1.5 billion years ago. It broke apart and reunited as the supercontinent Rodinia about 1 billion years ago. A third supercontinent called Pannotia may have formed roughly 600 million years ago near the South Pole, but its existence is debated . Today, scientists are predicting how continents will merge in the fut

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If you look at parts of the circulatory system of whales and dolphins, you might think that you are looking at a Jackson Pollock painting, not blood vessels. These cetaceans have especially dense, complex networks of blood vessels mainly associated with the brain and spine, but scientists didn’t know why. A new analysis suggests that the networks protect cetaceans’ brains from the pulses of blood pressure that the animals endure while diving deep in the ocean, researchers report in the Sept. 23 Science . Whales and dolphins “have gone through these really amazing vascular adaptations to support their brain,” says Ashley Blawas, a marine scientist at the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, N.C., who was not involved with the research. Called retia mirabilia, which means “wonderful nets,” the blood vessel networks are present in some other animals besides cetaceans, including giraffes and horses. But the networks aren’t found in other aquatic vertebrates that move differently from

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For one tiny Australian spider, somersaulting is the secret to taking on ants twice its size. Ants — armed with powerful jaws and sometimes chemical weapons — are so dangerous to spiders that fewer than 1 percent of arachnids attempt to hunt the insects ( SN: 9/8/21 ). High-speed footage now reveals that the Australian ant-slayer spider ( Euryopis umbilicata ) can tackle this risky prey by leaping over and lassoing its victims with silk. The hunting maneuver hasn’t been found in any other spider species , researchers report September 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . “This acrobatic behavior is just fascinating. I’ve personally never seen this kind of hunting,” says Paula Cushing, an evolutionary biologist and curator of invertebrate zoology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, who was not involved in the study. Alfonso Aceves-Aparicio, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Plank Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, stumbled across the so

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In many oil and gas producing regions, flames light the sky. The flares burn off 98 percent of the escaping natural gas, oil and gas companies claim. But observations of three U.S. oil and gas fields show efficiency is only around 91 percent , scientists report in the Sept. 30 Science . Making up the difference would be the equivalent of taking nearly 3 million cars off the road.  The natural gas escaping is primarily methane. This greenhouse gas lingers for only nine to 10 years in the atmosphere, but its warming potential is 80 times that of carbon dioxide. So oil and gas companies light flares — burning the methane to produce less-potent carbon dioxide and water. The industry and the U.S. government assumed those flares worked at 98 percent efficiency. But previous studies said that might be too optimistic , says Genevieve Plant, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor ( SN: 4/22/20 ). Plant and her colleagues sent planes to sample air over more than 30

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It’s a frustration many parents know all too well: You’ve finally lulled your crying baby to sleep, so you put them down in their crib … and the wailing begins again. Science may have a trick for you. Carrying a crying infant for about five minutes, then sitting for at least another five to eight minutes can calm and lull the baby to sleep long enough to allow a parent to put the child down without waking them , researchers report September 13 in Current Biology . Some of those same researchers previously showed that carrying a crying baby soothes the child and calms a racing heart rate ( SN: 4/18/13 ). For the new study, the team looked at what it takes to get that crying baby to nod off and stay asleep. The researchers put heart rate monitors on 21 crying babies, ranging in age from newborns to 7 months old. The team also took videos of the infants, monitoring their moods as their mothers carried them around a room, sat holding them and laid them in a crib. That allowed the team

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Josep Cornella doesn’t deal in absolutes. While chemists typically draw rigid lines between organic and inorganic chemistry, Cornella, a researcher at Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany, believes in just the opposite. “You have to be open to cross boundaries,” he says, “and learn from it.” The fringes are “where the rich new things are.” Cornella is an organic chemist by industry standards; he synthesizes molecules that contain carbon. But he’s put together a team from a wide range of backgrounds: inorganic chemists, physical organic chemists, computational chemists. Together, the team brainstorms novel approaches to designing new catalysts, so that chemical reactions essential to pharmaceuticals and agriculture can be made more efficient and friendly for the environment. Along the way, Cornella has unlocked mysteries that stumped chemists for years. “He has told us about catalysts … that we didn’t have before, and which were just pipe dreams,

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A mucus-wicking robotic pill may offer a new way to deliver meds. The multivitamin-sized device houses a motor and a cargo hold for drugs, including ones that are typically given via injections or intravenously, such as insulin and some antibiotics. If people could take such drugs orally, they could potentially avoid daily shots or a hospital stay, which would be “a huge game changer,” says MIT biomedical engineer Shriya Srinivasan. But drugs that enter the body via the mouth face a tough journey. They encounter churning stomach acid, raging digestive enzymes and sticky slicks of mucus in the gut. Intestinal mucus “sort of acts like Jell-O,” Srinivasan says. The goo can trap drug particles, preventing them from entering the bloodstream. The new device, dubbed RoboCap, whisks away this problem. The pill uses surface grooves, studs and torpedo-inspired fins to scrub away intestinal mucus like a miniature brush whirling inside a bottle. In experiments in pigs, RoboCap tunneled through