Most Clicked Sigma Xi SmartBrief Stories

1. Giant black hole 12 billion times the size of the sun discovered

Sigma Xi SmartBrief | Feb 26, 2015

A black hole 12 billion times larger than our sun has been found, causing scientists to question common theories about how these celestial objects grow. "Current theory is for a limit to how fast a black hole can grow, but this black hole is too large for that theory," said Fuyan Bian of Australian National University's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The black hole came into being about 900 million years after the Big Bang, researchers estimate. Reuters (02/25)

2. Human head transplant could be proposed this year

Sigma Xi SmartBrief | Feb 26, 2015

A controversial plan to transplant a human head onto a donor body by 2017 could be announced at the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons conference in June. Sergio Canavero is trying to gather support for his idea, which has raised questions of ethics within the scientific community. "If people don't want it in the U.S. or Europe, that doesn't mean it won't be done somewhere else," he said. New Scientist (02/25)

3. Monk's mummified remains found inside ancient Buddha statue

Sigma Xi SmartBrief | Feb 24, 2015

The mummified remains of a monk who died around 1100 have been found encased in a Chinese statue of the Buddha. Researchers put the statue into a CT scanner and took samples of the mummy with an endoscope, which found scraps of inscribed paper in the spaces that once held organs. Scientists suggest the monk may have been practicing a form of self-mummification to achieve status as a "living Buddha." CNET (02/23)

4. Baby woolly rhino found frozen in Russia, scientists say

Sigma Xi SmartBrief | Feb 27, 2015

The remains of an ancient baby woolly rhinoceros, which paleontologists have dubbed Sasha, have been found preserved in permafrost in Russia's Sakha Republic, and scientists are anxious to study it. "Woolly rhinos are less studied than mammoths. We are hoping Sasha the rhino will give us a lot of answers to questions of how they grew and developed, what conditions they lived in, and which of the modern day animals is the closest to them," said Albert Protopopov, who runs the Mammoth Fauna Department at the Sakha Republic Academy of Sciences. Researchers will first look for DNA in the well-preserved carcass. Siberian Times (Russia), The (02/25)

5. Dark matter may have played a role in mass extinction events, study suggests

Sigma Xi SmartBrief | Feb 23, 2015

The cataclysmic events that cause mass extinctions on Earth about every 30 million years may be the result of the planet's interaction with dark matter, according to findings reported online in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Previously, researchers have noticed that mass extinctions seem to happen when our solar system passes through the plane of the Milky Way, suggesting that the gas and dust encountered may trigger comet collisions or geological upheaval. The study suggests that passing through dark matter may have the same effect. (02/20)

6. New species of seadragon found

Sigma Xi SmartBrief | Feb 23, 2015

A third species of seadragon has been discovered, the first new species of the sea creature found in 150 years. Scientists analyzing tissue samples found a DNA sequence that was unlike other seadragons and requested the full specimen, and knew they were seeing something brand new. "If we can overlook such a charismatic new species for so long, we definitely have many more exciting discoveries awaiting us in the oceans," said study co-author Nerida Wilson. Washington Post (tiered subscription model), The (02/20)

7. Research sheds light on teachers' brains

Sigma Xi SmartBrief | Feb 23, 2015

Scientists say they have made a major breakthrough in understanding how teachers' brains work -- particularly how a teacher understands a student's learning. Researchers used an MRI to hone in on the particular region of the brain that is engaged when a teacher gives feedback to a student. Conversation (Australia), The (02/18) BBC (02/17)

8. Central Colombia has a new volcano

Sigma Xi SmartBrief | Feb 25, 2015

A new volcano has been identified by researchers with the Servicio Geologico de Colombia. The scientists have dubbed the volcano El Escondido and say that there is no immediate danger of eruption. In fact, the area doesn't look like a typical volcano, instead appearing as a series of hills. (02/24)

9. New virus found in blood of man who died after tick bite

Sigma Xi SmartBrief | Feb 24, 2015

A new tick-borne virus has been identified in the U.S., according to a report in Emerging Infectious Diseases. The Bourbon virus, named for the Kansas county where a man died last spring after contracting the virus, is a member of the thogotovirus family. Researchers studying the man's blood used advanced molecular detection to confirm the presence of the previously unknown pathogen. Scientist online, The (02/23)

10. Repeated bouts of plague in Europe may have come from gerbils in Asia

Sigma Xi SmartBrief | Feb 25, 2015

Asian gerbils, rather than European rats, were responsible for periodic outbreaks of bubonic plague from the mid-1300s to the early 1800s, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports. Previously, researchers believed that once the initial germs came from Asia, they remained on local rodents to repeatedly infect Europeans during that period. Study co-author Nils Stenseth said the weather conditions in Europe weren't right for a large rat population in the years of the outbreaks. Washington Post (tiered subscription model), The (02/24)

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