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What Would Mars Have Looked Like Covered in Water?


The western hemisphere of Mars, with the volcano Olympus Mons on the horizon. Photo courtesy Kevin Gill.

In September, NASA announced that the Curiosity rover found remnants of an ancient stream bed on Mars—evidence that our red neighbor was, at one point, a blue planet covered in water. Now, Kevin Gill, a software engineer, has given us a vision of what a watery Mars might have looked like.

According to Smithsonian's Smart News blog, Gill used elevation measurements based on the observations of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to create his vision. But he also took artistic liberties with his creation by exaggerating the topographic features approximately 10 times, choosing the height of the atmosphere and its clouds, determining a consistent sea level, and picking what areas would be covered by forest and desert. "I tried to envision how the land would appear given certain features or the effects of likely atmospheric climate," the engineer writes on his Google+ page. "For example, I didn’t see much green taking hold within the area of Olympus Mons and the surrounding volcanoes, both due to the volcanic activity and the proximity to the equator (thus a more tropical climate)."

To create the deserts, Gill used textures from the Sahara and the sands in Australia, and based the tropical and subtropical greens on the rainforests in South America and Africa. "As the terrain gets higher or lower in latitude I added darker flora along with tundra and glacial ice," he writes. "These northern and southern areas textures are largely taken from around northern Russia."


Photo courtesy Kevin Gill.

Gill hopes that his blue marble version of Mars will trigger the imagination, even if it isn't a totally scientific vision.

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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The Prehistoric Bacteria That Helped Create Our Cells Billions of Years Ago
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We owe the existence of our cells—the very building blocks of life—to a chance relationship between bacteria that occurred more than 2 billion years ago. Flash back to Bio 101, and you might remember that humans, plants, and animals have complex eukaryotic cells, with nucleus-bound DNA, instead of single-celled prokaryotic cells. These contain specialized organelles such as the mitochondria—the cell’s powerhouse—and the chloroplast, which converts sunlight into sugar in plants.

Mitochondria and chloroplasts both look and behave a lot like bacteria, and they also share similar genes. This isn’t a coincidence: Scientists believe these specialized cell subunits are descendants of free-living prehistoric bacteria that somehow merged together to form one. Over time, they became part of our basic biological units—and you can learn how by watching PBS Eons’s latest video below.

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