Extracts from selected news and feature articles published this year.
An international team of scientists, including from New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), managed to directly observe structural components of one slowly rotating star, thanks to asteroseismology. This new technique, 10,000 times more precise than its predecessor, reveals a star’s flatter, rounder contours and different rotational speeds. It allows scientists to ‘see’ the nature of the stellar interior with very high precision.
In an unprecedented study on non-model organisms in captivity, scientists from Saudi Arabia, Australia and Norway were able to create large sequence datasets on how reef fish and their offspring react to the phenomenon of decreasing pH levels, called ocean acidification, brought on by climate change. Acidification happens due the uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide. “The amount of sequencing data we generated is unparalleled for a non-model organism,” says Timothy Ravasi, the senior author of the paper. Scientists discovered that the offspring of some reef fish can tolerate acidification by adjusting their circadian rhythm to night time function throughout the day.
Ecology and evolution
An international consortium of researchers analysed the coding portions of genes, or “exomes”, belonging to 1,794 nationals of Greater Middle Eastern (GME) countries, a region spanning from Morocco in the west to Pakistan in the east. “As expected for a region so rich in history and at the crossroads of many civilizations, the Middle East ‘variome’ [the set of genetic variations in a given population] suggests mixing with other populations, although the percentage varies greatly depending on which subpopulation you look at,” says geneticist Fowzan Alkuraya from Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center. Northwest African genes were found in people across northern Africa, most likely representing the Berber genetic background. Arabian Peninsular genes were observed in nearly all GME peoples studied, possibly the result of the Arab conquests of the seventh century. Similarly, Persian expansion in the fifth century into the Turkish peninsula, the Syrian Desert region and parts of northeast Africa probably accounts for the Persian and Pakistan genetic signal present in the peoples of those regions. The peoples of the Syrian Desert and Turkish peninsular regions show the highest levels of mixing with European populations.
Shallow, dense magma reservoirs may be responsible for the most hazardous type of volcano on Earth, according to a new study. Ivan Koulakov and colleagues, including scientists from Saudi Arabia, present a fresh seismic model, based on studying magma paths beneath the Toba volcano in Indonesia, which last erupted some 74,000 years ago. The model explains why the magma system under Toba causes large, devastating eruptions, and how such large volumes of magma are generated.
“We always say it can’t get any worse, and then it does — and that’s the hardest part,” says Allison Cuneo, project manager for the American Schools of Oriental Research’s Cultural Heritage Initiative (CHI), which documents the loss of Syrian heritage. CHI reported 851 incidents of damage to cultural heritage between September 2015 and August 2016, mostly concentrated in areas of northern Syria controlled by forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. With such extensive damage, there “is so much data on destruction to report, it’s like holding the ocean back with a broom,” says Michael Danti, the academic director of CHI.
A world atlas of artificial night sky brightness, published earlier this year in Science Advances, captured the extent to which we are smothered in light. It reveals Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as the most light-polluted places to live on the planet, topped only by Singapore. More than half of people living in Israel and Libya live through extremely bright nights, and the widest connected twilight zone in the world is along the Nile Delta in Egypt. No more can people in Kuwait and Qatar see the glowing band of the Milky Way from their homes. For more than 97 per cent of people in the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Egypt, this is also true. “The night sky is the beginning of our civilization. It leads to all religions, philosophy, science, literature and the arts. The cultural significance of a sky full of stars is huge. The new generations have lost this source of inspiration,” says Fabio Falchi, of the Italian Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute’s Fabio Falchi, who led the study.
The Qatar Exoplanet Survey (QES) has discovered three new “exoplanets” outside our solar system. The planets, named Qatar-3b, Qatar-4b and Qatar-5b, are hot Jupiters: they are similar in size to Jupiter (11 times the size of Earth) and orbit very closely to their respective suns. They are located some 1400 to 1800 light years away from Earth and can be seen in the same part of the sky as the Andromeda Constellation, best observed in autumn in the northern hemisphere.