Science roundup

This week's most exciting science developments

Welcome back for another bout of Science roundup. This week we go up to the heavens and under the sea in search of the most interesting developments in the universe.

A very long engagement

Patience incarnate. Photo courtesy of the NOAA photo library.*

This octopus is patience incarnate. Photo courtesy of the NOAA photo library.*

Expectant parents bemoaning the discomforts of pregnancy, take heart: It could be worse. In an article published on July 30 in PLoS ONE, a team of researchers reported on a species of octopus that tends its eggs for nearly 4 1/2 years.

In 2007, the researchers were using a remote controlled submarine to explore a patch of ocean off the coast of California. They spotted an octopus of the species Graneledone boreopacifica approaching a rocky outcropping about 4,500 feet below sea level. Upon their return a month later, they found the same octopus on the rocks tending to a clutch of eggs. Over the years, the scientists returned to the area 18 times, and on each occasion they found the dedicated mother guarding her brood.

When they revisited the area in October, 2011, however, the scientists found no sign of the stalwart mother, just 160 empty eggshells, clinging to the rock like deflated white balloons.

Octopi aren’t the only pokey parents: some other species take their time at reproduction, too. Frilled sharks, for example, schlep around their offspring’s embryos for about 42 months, and the alpine salamander’s gestation period can last for a whopping 48 months.

The moon’s shape, explained

Your eyes deceive you: That moon is neither round nor made of cheese.  Image courtesy of  Michael Seeley.*

Your eyes deceive you: That moon is neither round nor made of cheese.
Image courtesy of Michael Seeley.*

It turns out that our planet’s most faithful companion is not as perfect a sphere as it might appear.

Using a laser altimeter, scientists mapped the moon and then cancelled out the irregularities caused by craters to divine the heavenly body’s true dimensions.

Our moon’s form? A little flat and bulging on one side. One of the study’s authors suggested imagining a water balloon flattening as it spins through the air — which is fun to imagine, even if it’s not especially useful.

The authors posit that the flattened shape is due to the moon’s crust stretching as it formed and moved away from the Earth.

Yellowstone… in space

Check out those plumes!  Photo courtesy of  Phil Plait.*

Check out those plumes!
Photo courtesy of Phil Plait.*

The waterworks at our nation’s first nation park pale in comparison to those on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Below the moon’s ice-clad surface lies an ocean of liquid water, and in more than 100 locations that water bursts to the surface as enormous geysers.

The geysers themselves are old news, but new research suggests that the moon’s ocean lies about 30 miles below the surface; more than that, the geysers themselves originate at the subterranean ocean’s great depths. All this adds up to seemingly good conditions for the emergence of life, evidence of which seems to be the holy grail of space exploration.

And that’s it for this week’s Science roundup. Check back next time for more empirical delights hot off the presses.

*All photos used under this creative commons license.