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The benefits and risks of deep-sea exploration

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As humans, we seek to explore the unknown.

This motivation, propelled by curiosity and the quest for knowledge, is why we venture beyond the familiar spaces of our everyday lives.

The beginning of humanity was marked by migration. Many early humans began their trek out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago, eventually settling in just about every corner of the planet.

Different cultures carved and built boats to cross Earth’s oceans and reach distant lands. Over time, human ingenuity has taken us to the most far-flung destinations — even to the moon.

So often, exploration is connected with awe and discovery. But the tragic deaths of five people on a Titanic-bound submersible this week served as a difficult, poignant reminder that such undertakings are not without risk.

Ocean secrets

The deep ocean is an alien landscape that scientists have only just begun to understand.

Miles beneath the waves, the seafloor is home to life that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the planet, including organisms that glow with bioluminescence and cluster around hydrothermal vents for food and energy.

Only an estimated 20% of the seabed has been mapped so far, and humans have spent more time on the moon’s surface than exploring the wonders of Challenger Deep, the deepest known point of Earth’s ocean floor.

So much remains to be explored because reaching the bottom of the ocean is an incredibly difficult task. Deep-sea vessels must be able to navigate intense darkness, pressure, cold temperatures and challenging terrain.

But the ocean depths have much to offer, including lifesaving compounds and the secrets of how life on Earth evolved.

Solar update

The event is nearly 10 months away, but people are already anticipating the total solar eclipse that will pass over Mexico, the US and Canada on April 8, 2024.

For those able to be within the path of totality, the moon will completely block the face of the sun, turning daytime surroundings into night for a few minutes.

While the eclipse presents a celestial spectacle for many, researchers are taking advantage of the opportunity to study the sun and its hot outer atmosphere, called the corona. Scientists plan to “chase” the eclipse using high-altitude research planes and capture images from 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) above Earth’s surface.

We are family

When a teenage Anglo-Saxon girl died in England about 1,300 years ago, she was laid to rest in a way that suggested she was an aristocrat or royalty.

Her grave was uncovered in 2012 near the village of Trumpington, but researchers are still trying to unravel the mysteries surrounding her identity.

So far, chemical analysis of her bones has helped UK researchers determine that she traveled to England from the Alps in what is now southern Germany sometime in the seventh century. She was buried with a rare gold and garnet-encrusted cross.

Now, a forensic artist has created a facial reconstruction that seemingly allows us to meet someone from the past.

A long time ago

Abortion hasn’t always been the controversial quagmire of conflicting opinions, politics and legalities that it is today.

Instead, the practice was more common than people might think in premodern times, appearing in Greek plays, on Roman coins, within the medieval biographies of saints and inside Victorian pamphlets.

The first known written references about abortion appeared in a 3,500-year-old Egyptian papyrus, and the medical text included instructions.

Across time, different plants were associated with ending unwanted pregnancies. The first recorded extinction in world history was traced to such a plant, which disappeared due to its value, in ancient Rome.

Across the universe

On the cold, clear nights of mid-December, glowing yellow meteors can usually be seen streaking across the sky.

Astronomers consider the Geminid meteor shower to be one of the scintillating highlights of the year, but the origin of the shower has posed a bit of a cosmic mystery. Rather than a comet, the celestial event seems to stem from an odd type of asteroid.

Now, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has shed more light on the initial cause of the shower: a sudden collision between space rocks.

Meanwhile, an international team of researchers searching for the source of a gamma-ray burst traced it back to an ancient galaxy, where an unusual clashing of stars appears to have sent the bright light jetting across the cosmos.


These intriguing stories may catch your eye:

— Thousands of snails recently flew from England to Bermuda, complete with a tasty in-flight meal, as part of a critical quest to save an entire species.

— A glowing green light spotted on Jupiter turned out to be a lightning bolt within a swirling vortex, and NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured the phenomenon on camera.

— Lines, swirls and dots found on the walls of a cave in France are believed to be the oldest known engravings made by Neanderthals.

— A 3,000-year-old octagonal sword uncovered by archaeologists in Germany is so well-preserved that the rare artifact is still gleaming.

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