Chicago-area birds are nesting and laying eggs earlier than ever before. A mysterious meteor burns up over Papua New Guinea. A fossil could rewrite the history of the evolution of life on Earth. And a disturbing finding about microplastics.
Joining “Chicago Tonight” to give us his take on all of the latest science headlines is University of Chicago paleontologist Neil Shubin.
Birds Laying Eggs Earlier, Climate Change Could be to Blame
A new study published in the Journal of Animal Ecology has found that many birds in the Chicago area are nesting and laying their eggs much earlier than in the past.
Researchers made the discovery by comparing recent observations with century-old eggs preserved in museum collections.
They determined that about a third of the bird species nesting in Chicago have moved forward their egg-laying by an average of 25 days. And as far as the researchers can tell, the culprit in this shift is climate change.
“Egg collections are such a fascinating tool for us to learn about bird ecology over time,” says John Bates, curator of birds at the Field Museum and the study’s lead author. “I love the fact that this paper combines these older and modern datasets to look at these trends over about 120 years and help answer really critical questions about how climate change is affecting birds.”
Meteors large and small are constantly bombarding the Earth’s atmosphere, but in 2014 researchers at Harvard University believe a very special meteor about the size of a dishwasher burned up in the skies above Papua New Guinea.
They claimed the meteor originated from outside our solar system based on information in a NASA database that used data from U.S. intelligence satellites that usually track missile launches. But those claims were initially met with skepticism and rejected by astronomy journal publishers on the grounds that there was insufficient public data to prove the objects alleged interstellar origins.
“We had thought this was a lost cause,” one of the researchers, Amir Siraj, a Harvard undergraduate student studying astrophysics told the New York Times.
But last month, the U.S. Space Command released a memo to NASA scientists to confirm that the data from the satellites used to track missile launches “was sufficiently accurate to indicate an interstellar trajectory” for the meteor.
Diverse Lifeforms May Have Evolved Even Earlier
Scientists from University College London believe that microbial life on Earth may have begun 300 million years earlier than previously thought.
Their evidence is tiny filaments and tube structures in a fist-sized rock from Quebec, Canada, estimated to be between 3.75 and 4.28 billion years old that appeared to have been made by bacteria.
According to the researchers, their findings suggest that a variety of microbial life may have existed on the primordial Earth, potentially as little as 300 million years after the planet formed.
“This means life could have begun as little as 300 million years after Earth formed. In geological terms, this is quick – about one spin of the Sun around the galaxy,” said lead author Dr. Dominic Papineau.
“These findings have implications for the possibility of extraterrestrial life,” said Papineau. “If life is relatively quick to emerge, given the right conditions, this increases the chance that life exists on other planets.”
Microplastics Found Deep in the Lungs of Living Humans
Scientists have found microplastic pollution deep in the lungs of people for the first time.
The disturbing discovery comes just one month after the tiny plastic particles were detected in human blood. It is yet more evidence of the widespread environmental distribution of microplastics which have been found everywhere from the summit of Mount Everest to the oceans of Antarctica.
Researchers are concerned about the potential harmful health effects of microplastics on humans.
“We did not expect to find the highest number of particles in the lower regions of the lungs, or particles of the sizes we found,” said Laura Sadofsky at Hull York medical school in the UK, a senior author of the study. “It is surprising as the airways are smaller in the lower parts of the lungs and we would have expected particles of these sizes to be filtered out or trapped before getting this deep.”