Impressive Strength: The Peacock Mantis Shrimp

The ocean dwelling Peacock Mantis Shrimp is tougher than its name implies. Do not let this pretty little guy fool you—this creature’s front appendages can strike with an underwater acceleration that equates to the same velocity of a speeding bullet from 22-calibur rifle! So why are researchers willing to go face to face with such a menacing little crustacean? Researchers have designed a structure for composite materials that can resist impacts tougher than airplane standard materials. All of this is inspired by the stomatopod’s impressive strength that seems out of this world!

Photo by Craig D

Photo by Craig D

With raptorial appendages that fold under its body, similar to that of a Praying Mantis, the Peacock Mantis Shrimp can deliver a hard hitting blow. They can wield their fist-like clubs to strike prey with great force at speeds up to 50 miles per hour in milliseconds—we can blink and miss this shrimp’s punch! Their appendages move so fast that the water that surrounds these limbs start to boil and create cavitation bubbles. When these bubbles collapse, they produce an underwater shock wave that is strong enough to affect their prey even if the Mantis Shrimp misses its target.

What is most impressive about this species is that is can punch up to 50,000 times with out damaging its clubs before molting. This unbelievable strength of such a tiny animal is what makes them one of the more interesting species to scientists in the animal kingdom. Studying the Mantis Shrimp’s fist-like clubs, will allow researchers to identify the key components to its structure and applying that knowledge to creating improvements with everyday objects, including advanced body armor for combat troops.

Flying Snakes

Snakes—scaly, slithering, hissing reptiles that fly? If you disagree, don’t let their lack of wings fool you into believing they can’t! There are some snakes that can glide through the air as far as 100 feet! How do they do it with out wings? Scientists are interested in their ability to glide as it may answer mechanical and aerospace questions.


There are five recognized species of flying snakes that are found in western India and Indonesia. These snakes are thought to be strictly tree dwellers and are rarely seen coming down from their comfy canopy homes. Scientists aren’t quite sure why or how often flying snakes fly, but it’s likely they do to move from tree to tree with out having to slither down just to climb back up another one or to escape predators and even hunt for food.

These flying snakes have the ability to rotate their ribs which allow them to flatten their bodies. The term “flying” isn’t necessarily what they do since they don’t gain altitude, but instead they are able to glide and they are very good at it. From high up on tree branches, flying snakes can fling themselves out of the tree then flattening their bodies into a concave C shape to trap air beneath them to seemingly slither through the air!

New research is investigating how the snake’s technique of gliding works and if their findings can be applied to mechanical problems with identifying the best air flow for smaller wind turbines.

Counting Whales from Space

Who knew there are high tech gadgets to help us count whales? Scientists created a new, high resolution satellite technology to not only just count the number of whales, but to estimate their population size.

Photo by Isaac Kohane

Photo by Isaac Kohane

It has always been extremely difficult and costly to estimate whale population size of marine mammals. This new method is revolutionary in the sense that it is much more accurate and it can cover larger areas at the same time, which is very beneficial for conservation efforts to protect the whale species.

This technique has a 89% chance of identifying probable whales in space. This semi automated method however, still need some manual input to give the most accurate results. Future satellite platforms will provide even higher quality imagery.

New Ability Discovered in Dogs

Did you know that men’s best friend has capabilities beyond affectionate licking and compulsive tackling of their owners? New research has shown that dogs are able to sense the irregular and tiny changes in Earth’s magnetic field, indicating that they prefer a body-alignment along the magnetic north-south axis.

Photo by Tom Godber

Photo by Tom Godber

Although there doesn’t seem to be a prominent usage for this kind of orientation ability, this new discovery does help to explain why most dogs are good at navigation, meaning they excel at recognizing and remembering routes. Research revolving the magnetic sensibility of animals is limited. Therefore, this new piece of evidence does shed light on future projects.

Medium-sized Black Holes

Did you and your Blaster know that black holes come in two extremes – the petite ones with a mass that is only 10 times that of our sun, and monstrous ones that have a mass equivalent to 10 billion suns? However, NASA recently found some interesting data that shows that we may found a new medium-sized category of black holes.

Photo by Hubble Heritage

Photo by Hubble Heritage

Although scientists is yet to determine what caused the formation of intermediate-sized black holes, with theories surrounding the notion of clustering and merging of stars, evidence shows that the proposed medium-sized black holes came from objects called ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs), where the black hole feeds off a normal star. The feeding process is similar to that of supermassive black holes, but less messy. While supermassive black holes are located at the cores of galaxies, ULXs are scattered throughout the galaxies.

Astronomers found that a ULX located 13 million light-years away has a mass that is about 100 times of our sun, which puts it right at the border between small and medium black holes. However, some scientists made the conclusion that the evidence showing the ultraluminous quality of these objects are caused by the high rate of material absorption, not from the size. Therefore, the existence of medium-sized black holes has yet to be determined.

Discovery of a New Species of Carnivore – The Olinguito

The olinguito is the first carnivore species to be discovered in the American continents in 35 years. A team of Smithsonian scientists made the remarkable discovery when they spent over a decade to research the mysterious creature in the cloud forests of Columbia and Ecuador, South America. It shares the same family as the raccoon, and they look like a hybrid between a house cat and a teddy bear.


The original goal of this project is to determine the categories to recognize and to distribute the different tree-living carnivores, specifically the olingos. It was by examining more than 95% of the world’s olingo specimens and reviewing historic data, that they unexpectedly found one particular species with smaller and differently shaped teeth and skull than the rest of the olingos.

After the lucky breakthrough, the team of scientists set out for a 3-week expedition to the forest of Andres to document the animal’s characteristics and home. They found that the olinguito is most active at night, has a fruit-base diet, stays in the trees most of the time, and only give birth to one baby at a time. The team also noted that the body features and behavior of the olinguito is heavily influenced by human development, as 42% of their historic habitat has been converted to agricultural or urban areas.

The olinguito is no stranger to people as it has been living in or near the cloud forest for thousands of years. In 1920, a zoologist in New York came really close to discovering the olinguito as a new species but he never followed through with publishing his unusual findings. Giving the olinguito its scientific name is only the beginning, there is yet more to explore and to understand about his beautiful animal.

Credits: Photo by Ryan Somma

Seven Ways to Discover Alien Planets

Since the first alien planets were discovered in 1992, scientists have found a whopping 800 planets! In order to find these foreign worlds, astronomers have developed a number of techniques to identify them. Here is an overview of the methods scientists use to find new planets.


Direct Imaging
Perhaps the easiest (and most obvious) way to find a new planet is to take a direct picture of it. Using coronagraphs to block the intense glare of parent stars, telescopes can gather images of distant planets. This method is very common in identifying new worlds.

Pulsar Timing
As the name would suggest, this method is specific to planets around pulsars—small, dense remnants of exploded stars that emit radio waves as they rotate. Irregularities in the pulses’ timing can reveal planets. The first planets discovered beyond our solar system were found using pulsar timing in 1992.

The Transit Method
The transit method watches for small dips in a star’s brightness that occur when a planet crosses (or transits) the face of the star. By looking at the timing of a particular planet’s transit, scientists can calculate variations to find multiple worlds orbiting a star. This practice has been utilized by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which has identified more than 2,700 potential planets since it first launched in March 2009.

Radial Velocity
Also known as the Doppler method, radial velocity picks up the tiny wobbles an orbiting planet induces on its star’s motion toward or away from the Earth. This technique measures changes in the star’s light as a result of these gravitational pulls. Radial velocity has been especially effective in locating exoplanets.

Gravitational Microlensing
When a large object passes in front of a star, its gravitational field acts like a lens as it bends and magnifies the star’s light. Astronomers use this brightening and fading light—or light curve—to determine the foreground object (usually a star). Scientists then look for secondary light curves, which can be generated by orbiting planets. This method has been helpful in finding planets deep in space that do not have a parent star.

Special Relativity
Special relativity is a new technique where scientists watch for a star to brighten as an orbiting planet “tugs” it with its gravitational pull. This tug causes photons to gather as light is focused in the direction of the star’s motion.

This method relies upon incredibly precise tracking of a star’s movements to identify the gravitational pulls of orbiting planets. Scientists have employed this technique for decades, to varied degrees of success.

With so many ways to find new planets, it is no wonder that we have been able to identify 800 new planets since 1992. As scientists hone these techniques and technology improves, it will be exciting to see what new discoveries are made as we expand our understanding of foreign worlds.