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HomeScientiFixScientists discover 6-million-year-old fossil of day-hunting owl in China

Scientists discover 6-million-year-old fossil of day-hunting owl in China

ScientiFix, our weekly feature, offers you a summary of the top global science stories of the week, with links to their sources.

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New Delhi: Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have discovered the well-preserved fossil of an extinct owl that lived more than six million years ago in China. The study of the skeleton’s fossilised eye bones has shown that this owl was active during the day, and not night.

The fossil came from rocks deposited during the late Miocene Epoch — a geological period that extends from about 23.03 to 5.333 million years ago — and at an elevation greater than 2,100 metres, at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau.

The skeleton was very nearly complete, from the tip of the skull through the wings and legs to the tailbone, and body parts that are rarely fossilised. It includes bones of the tongue apparatus called the hyoid, the trachea, the kneecap, tendons for wing and leg muscles, and even the remnants of its last meal.

This extinct species is the first record of an ancient owl being active during the day. Owls stand out from most other birds because of their largely nocturnal activities. However, many people may not realise that a few species of owls are actually largely active during the day. More about it here

New source of super-fast ‘electron rain’ identified

Scientists have discovered a new source of super-fast, energetic electrons raining down on Earth, a phenomenon that contributes to the colourful aurora borealis but at the same time poses hazards to satellites, spacecraft and astronauts.

The researchers have observed unexpected electron precipitation from low-Earth orbit using the ELFIN mission, a pair of tiny satellites at the University of California, Los Angeles.

By combining the ELFIN data with more distant observations from NASA’s THEMIS spacecraft, the scientists determined that the sudden downpour was caused by what is known as whistler waves, a type of electromagnetic wave that ripples through plasma in space and affects electrons in the Earth’s magnetosphere, causing them to ‘spill over’ into the atmosphere.

The findings demonstrate that whistler waves are responsible for far more electron rain than current theories and space weather models predict. Know more here.

Study predicts when teen girls are most vulnerable to risks of social media 

A new study from the researchers at Oxford University has found that adolescent girls may be more vulnerable to the negative effects of social media at a younger age than boys. 

Data from the UK shows that girls are negatively impacted by social media use and ‘life satisfaction’ when they are 11-13 years old and boys when they are 14-15 years old. 

The researchers also suggested that sensitivity to social media use might be linked to developmental changes, mostly in the brain structure, or to puberty, which occurs later in boys than in girls. 

But, for both girls and boys social media use at the age of 19 years was again associated with a decrease in life satisfaction. At this age, the researchers say, it is possible that social changes – such as leaving home or starting work – may make them vulnerable.

The researchers also found that teens who have lower than average life satisfaction use more social media. The New York Times has more on this. 

How liquid droplets corrode hard surfaces

In a first-of-its-kind study led by the University of Minnesota Twin Cities researchers have revealed why liquid droplets have the ability to erode hard surfaces. 

Researchers have been studying the impact of droplets for years, from the way raindrops hit the ground to the transmission of pathogens such as Covid-19 in aerosols. It’s common knowledge that slow-dripping water droplets can erode surfaces over time. 

But how can something seemingly soft and fluid make such a huge impact on hard surfaces?

In the past, droplet impact had only been analysed visually using high-speed cameras. A new technique by researchers at the University of Minnesota, called high-speed stress microscopy, provides a more quantitative way to study this phenomenon by directly measuring the force, stress, and pressure underneath liquid drops as they hit surfaces.

The researchers found that the force exerted by a droplet actually spreads out with the impact — instead of being concentrated in the centre of the droplet — and the speed at which the droplet spreads out exceeds the speed of sound in short intervals, creating a shock wave across the surface. 

Each droplet behaves like a small bomb necessary to erode surfaces over time.

Besides paving a new way to study droplet impact, this research could help engineers design more erosion-resistant surfaces for applications that must weather outdoor elements. Read more here

Also read: Dinosaurs may have also suffered from cancer — scientists discover fossil with diseased bone

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