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Science

Blue Dunes Ripple Across Mars' Surface in a New Infrared Composite from NASA

April 15, 2021

Grace Ebert

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

A striking new image captured by Mars Odyssey is a stark contrast to the rust-colored, rugged landscape that’s synonymous with the Red Planet. Released last week by NASA, the false-color composite—it’s a patchwork captured between December 2002 and November 2004—reveals long dunes surrounding the northern polar cap of the relatively small planet. Warmer areas touched by the sun emit a golden glow, while the chillier parts are tinted blue. The image frames just the dunes carved into a 19-mile swath of land, although the billowing pattern covers an area the size of Texas.

NASA released the infrared image as part of a collection that celebrates the 20th year in service for the orbiter, which currently holds the record as the longest-running spacecraft in history since its launch on April 7, 2001, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It was taken by the Odyssey’s Thermal Emission Imaging System, a tool that’s instrumental in determining the mineral composition of the planet’s surface by documenting temperature changes throughout the day. Since it began exploring two decades ago, the system has transmitted more than one million images of the Martian landscape back to Earth.

 

 



Design History Illustration Science

Nature's Palette: A New Book Expands the Landmark Guide to Color for Artists and Naturalists with 800 Rich Illustrations

April 8, 2021

Grace Ebert

All images © Thames & Hudson, shared with permission

Prior to the proliferation of photography-based reference guides, naturalists and scientists relied on elaborate taxonomic descriptions to identify flora and fauna. One of those invaluable materials was Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, a universal catalog originally arranged by German geologist Abraham Gottlob Werner in 1814 and updated with more detail by Patrick Syme just a few years later.

The rich volume, which was the preeminent guide for artists, zoologists, botanists, and others working with pigments and the natural world throughout the 19th Century, is filled with hundreds of simple swatches and notes on where the various shades can be found around the globe. The head of a golden pheasant, for example, is King’s Yellow, while Hepatica flowers are Berlin Blue and some speckles in iron ore are Greyish Blue.

A forthcoming volume published by Princeton University Press celebrates the 200th anniversary of the chromatic catalog with a 288-page expanded edition. Introduced by Patrick Baty, Nature’s Palette: A Color Reference System from the Natural World pairs Syme’s 110 simple swatches with more than 800 illustrations of the animals, plants, and minerals detailed in the descriptions. The resulting book is a comprehensive visual compendium that ranges from large renderings of red coral to full-page charts spanning fine-grained marble to smoky quartz.

Nature’s Palette is currently available for pre-order on Bookshop. (via Creative Boom)

 

Deliciae naturae selectae, Vol. 1, Georg Wolfgang Knorr, 1766. Red coral

Johann Gottlob Kurr, The Mineral Kingdom, 1859. Greyish Blue is visible on the iron ore (bottom row, right)

 

 



Documentary Science

Chasing Ghosts: A Short Documentary Debunks a Long-Held Theory About What Pollinates the Ghost Orchid

April 5, 2021

Grace Ebert

What insect has the ability to extend down into the nearly foot-long nectar tube of the ghost orchid? For generations, that question has interested researchers who’ve speculated that the giant sphinx moth, which has a proboscis that often exceeds 10 inches, was one of few species with a tubular tongue that could reach the sticky pollen nestled inside the endangered flower.

Shot during the course of three years, a short documentary by Grizzly Creek Films follows researchers committed to proving this hypothesis. It draws on Charles Darwin’s 160-year-old studies about orchids’ evolution, particularly in relation to one species in Madagascar about which he famously said, “Good heavens. What insect could suck it?” In  “Chasing Ghosts,” the team wades into the buggy swamplands of south Florida alongside snakes and alligators to reach a grove of cypress trees, where the white flowers wrap themselves high among the boughs. There they installed cameras to capture the first-ever photograph of the giant sphinx moth probing the ghost orchid.

In total, the mission logged 6,800 camera hours and 52,173 images taken in both Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Fakahatchee Strand and recorded five species capable of pollinating the delicate plant. Surprisingly, the same event that they sought to capture—the giant sphinx moth with its proboscis reaching into the elusive flower—actually debunked researchers’ long-held hypothesis and set them on a new course of study to determine how this plant continues to reproduce.

Watch the full documentary above, and find more of the Montana-based studio’s adventures into Yellowstone and the rugged landscapes of the southern United States on the Grizzly Creek Films’ site and Vimeo. You also can follow its discoveries on Instagram.

 

A giant sphinx moth near a ghost orchid

Peter Houlihan holding the giant sphinx moth

 

 



Amazing Photography Science

An Enormous Mosaic Spanning 1,250 Hours of Exposure Time Captures the Milky Way in Incredible Detail

March 17, 2021

Grace Ebert

The Tulip nebula. All images © J-P Metsavainio, shared with permission

Twelve years and 1,250 hours of exposure time later, Finnish photographer J-P Metsavainio stitched together a massive, 1.7-gigapixel composite detailing every fiery burst and starry expanse dotting the Milky Way. The stellar mosaic documents the 125-degree stretch between Taurus to Cygnus and is comprised of 234 individual images that extend across 10,000 pixels. Nearly 20 million stars are visible in the expanse.

The ongoing project began in 2009, and Metsavainio knew it would take at least a decade to realize. “As a visual artist, the composition of the image means a lot. During the years, I have shot hundreds of individual targets from the Milky Way. Each image taken is an independent artwork. At the same time, I always kept in my mind the needs of the final large composition,” the photographer said, noting that he captured the more pronounced elements, like supernovae, first before filling in the gaps.

After shooting with relatively short focal length instruments the last few years, Metsavainio plans to use this incredibly high-resolution panorama as a map as he shifts to longer focal length tools in the coming months. Find details on Metsavainio’s entire process, along with specifics on the equipment used, on his site, where you also can find a larger portfolio of his galactic projects. (via PetaPixel)

 

The full composite image in mapped colors from the light emitted by ionized elements. Hydrogen = green, sulfur = red, and oxygen = blue. (click to zoom)

The 125-degree stretch from Taurus to Cygnus

Detail of Wolf Rayet Shell around the star WR 134

California Nebulam NGC 1499

Sharpless 124 & the Cocoon Nebula

 

 



History Science

Researchers Digitally Unfold a Renaissance-Era Letter Using X-Ray Technology

March 4, 2021

Grace Ebert

A 3D rendering of the letter as it unfolds. All images via Unlocking History Research Group archive

Three centuries after it was penned, the contents hidden inside a Renaissance-era letter plucked from a trunk at The Hague are finally readable. The correspondence, which we now know was likely spurred by questions about an inheritance, was part of a larger collection of nearly 600 letterlocked notes, a complex method that involves meticulously folding, rolling, tucking, and adhering the paper into its own envelope. Prior to the advent of other sealing practices, this security measure ensured that no one transporting the note became privy to its contents.

According to an article in Nature, a group of MIT researchers, who work as Unlocking History, digitally unraveled the letter, which otherwise would have to be opened by cutting through the paper, damaging the object and potentially leaving it unreadable. Instead, they employed a particularly sensitive X‐ray microtomography scanner designed for dental practices, including mapping the exact mineral content of teeth. After scanning the paper, researchers constructed 3D models alongside an algorithm built to determine specific folding patterns, allowing them to open the note without physically altering the artifact.

Dated July 31, 1697, the letter contained a request for a death certificate from a man named Jacques Sennacques to his cousin Pierre Le Pers, who lived at The Hague. “His request issued, Sennacques then spends the rest of the letter asking for news of the family and commending his cousin to the graces of God,” researchers said. “We do not know exactly why Le Pers did not receive Sennacques’ letter, but given the itinerancy of merchants, it is likely that Le Pers had moved on.” It’s unclear why this letter or the hundreds of others, which are written in Dutch, English, French, Italian, Latin, and Spanish, never reached their recipients.

Head to Vimeo to watch Unlocking History unfold replicas of infamous and fictional correspondence—the collection spans from Mary Queen of Scots to Harry Potter to Beethoven—and dive further into the practice on the group’s site, where you’ll find folding guides, a lengthy history, and an entire archive of discreet missives. (via Science Alert)

Update: This article originally stated that the letter was written six centuries ago, not three.

The scanned letter from July 31, 1697

Digital rendering of the letter as it unfolds

The trunk at The Hague that contains hundreds of letterlocked notes

 

 



Photography Science

A Remarkable Short Film Dives into a Vancouver Lake to Document Tadpoles' Evolution

February 5, 2021

Grace Ebert

During the course of four years, Maxwel Hohn submerged himself in a remote lake on Vancouver Island to record the otherwise unseen life cycles of western toads. The hours of stunning footage culminate in the award-winning short film, “Tadpoles: The Big Little Migration,” which chronicles the tiny amphibians’ evolution from bulbous swimmers—Hohn notes how the critters look like they’re smiling constantly at this stage—to fully formed toads.

Because the ecosystem is incredibly fragile, the Canadian videographer details his precautions to not disturb the environment, which include passing through lily pad trails made by beavers and floating at the surface to keep the silt covering the lake’s bottom from clouding the water. “To see these aquatic tadpoles evolve into terrestrial animals before my own eyes was humbling and heartwarming,” he says.

To watch more of Hohn’s captivating projects, including footage from freshwater dives and a documentary on the sea wolves populating western Canada, check out his Instagram and YouTube.