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Guys!

Last

month

was

crazy!

First, NASA sent its last message to the Mars Opportunity rover! THEN scientists said that all the insects are dying but not the human-looking ones in the GOP. As if THAT wasn't enough, some brave pendejos with grandes cojones are going to try and get seafloor creatures from under a giant ice shelf in the ANTARCTIC!

So, yeah, all three of those stories happened last month. Let's cover each in a science lightning round.


1. Opportunity Stops Knocking

Oppy in happier timesNASA

I'm going to start with the sad story so you can cry now and then recover by the end. Already silent since last summer, the little Mars rover that could wasn't expected to reply. The last message it sent was this:

All the feelsNASA, duh

The overall mission was a great success. Originally planned as a 90-day deal, Oppy landed on Mars in 2004 and then went on to work its little ass off for FOURTEEN YEARS! Didn't even ask for overtime. The main goals were to assess if the potential for life on Mars exists (not to find aliens, just to see if life COULD exist), learn about the climate and geology, and set some groundwork for possible crewed (didn't say "manned"!) missions. Opportunity, along with its little buddy Spirit, generated lots of valuable data on all four counts.

Little Oppy covered over 25 miles during its lifetime on Mars which is the off-world record previously held by the moon rover Lunokhod 2. In your FACE, Soviet Russia! In the end, it was a huge dust storm that caused either a major injury to Oppy or simply covered up its solar cells for too long and it died from lack of energy. The last message sent to Oppy by NASA was "I'll Be Seeing You" by Billie Holiday. Stop it! I'm not crying! YOU'RE crying!

2. All the Insects Are Dying Because They Are DONE With This Fucking Place

Free clip art, no credit!

If the last story was sad, then this one is downright depressing. You probably have already heard that scientists believe we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction. Here's the pisser, the first five weren't our fault. Meteorites, ice ages and volcanoes were the murderers the first five. Guess what? Humanity is the cause this time. Yay us! From pesticide overuse to climate change, we're killing critters with multiple approaches and of course in the end we die too. God, I'm really a Debbie Downer this week!

So, the insects, specifically … Here's a link to the article -- it comes out next month, but was previewed in February. The authors review 73 historical reports and then extrapolate the data to predict some bad shit coming. Not only are species going extinct, but population numbers of those species that have stuck around are dropping, too. Over the next few decades, assuming these trends continue, we can expect 40% of all insect species to disappear. Next few decades, pendejos, not next few centuries. That's in our lifetime.

Some shocking specific examples from the meta-analysis:

  • In Germany, in several PROTECTED areas mind you, they've seen a 76 percent decline in flying insects over a 27-year study.
  • Over 36 years, ground dwelling bugs in the rainforests of Puerto Rico? Down 98 percent. The authors of THAT study found a linked decline in birds, frogs and lizards. It's like if Golden Corral closed nearly all of its stores and you started seeing MAGAs die of starvation!
  • Sweden used to have 269 species of butterflies. In 2004 they couldn't find ANY specimens of 159 of them.

So, "next few decades" means exactly what? Well, the paper comes up with a 2.5 percent annual loss of insects over the 25-30 years they looked at. If we don't do something to reverse this, in 50 years we'll have HALF the insects we have now and in 100 years they'll ALL be gone. This would be bad for humans and for agriculture, what with the old "pollination" thing -- it's what plants really crave.

3. Did You Guys Not Read The Terror Or Watch the Mini-Series?!

Larsen Ice ShelfBy A. J. Cook and D. G. Vaughan, CC BY 3.0

Do you know what an ice shelf is? Surprisingly, it's NOT a place that immigration agents use to display their favorite photos of caged children. Hmmm. What it actually is, is a giant fucking chunk of ice, but don't listen to me, here's the Wikipedia definition: An ice shelf is a thick suspended platform of ice that forms where a glacier or ice sheet flows down to a coastline and onto the ocean surface.

Now, the Larsen Ice Shelf is a crazy big one in Antarctica that's been breaking up since the mid-1990s. With some of the collapses, scientists have discovered some crazy weird life living at great depths in the Antarctic waters. Cool stuff, literally.

Sea demon that will swallow your soul in the dark, dark, loneliness of Antarctic waterNOAA, MBARI, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

And now for what came out last month. An international team of scientists headed out on February 9 to the Larsen Ice Shelf in a FOURTH attempt to hunt weird sea creatures that are now accessible since a Delaware-sized chunk broke off in 2017. Three other expeditions have tried, but it's a pisser to navigate there -- and it was complicated by that giant iceberg that was still looming around. It has moved offshore now, and this fourth expedition has a newer, bigger boat that can handle more extreme weather. Still, there's still only a narrow window when you won't get stuck in sea ice or stranded and attacked by man-eating supernatural polar bears … oh, that's The Terror, again, right. Also, that was the Arctic. Anyone for freaky ghost mythopoetic penguins?

Anyway, super dangerous and old fashioned adventure science in a very harsh environment, so let's wish them well!

[NASA / ScienceDirect / Science News]

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Carlos Sagan

I am a biochemist MexiCAN. I also write screenplays, ever hoping to get one made.

email me at: carlossagan2018@gmail.com

follow me at: @RealCarlosSagan

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