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Leon Brooks, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Leon Brooks, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Mass Extinction That Killed the Dinosaurs Also Led to 'Explosive Radiations of Frogs'

Leon Brooks, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Leon Brooks, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

You know what they say: Life finds a way. In this case, we're talking about frog life. Scientists say the mass extinction event that killed off so many dinosaurs may have paved the way for "explosive radiations of frogs," including the nearly 90 percent of species alive on Earth today. They published their report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previous research has suggested that the frog family party started about 100 million years ago. These studies based their conclusions on analysis of modern frogs' mitochondrial DNA, which can provide a sort of road map to an organism's evolutionary past. But sometimes that map is hard to read or even outdated.

To get a clearer picture, researchers from China and the U.S. decided to look at genes inside the nuclei, rather than the mitochondria, of frogs' cells. They compared nuclear (nucleus-based) genes among 301 different frog species, including one from each of the 55 major branches of the frog family tree.

Oddly enough, branches and trees may have been the key to the frogs' success. Analysis of the frogs' genetic histories suggests that the party really only started about 66 million years ago—just after so many of the dinosaurs were wiped out. It also reveals that nearly 90 percent of frog species today trace their genetic roots to just three frog lineages that survived the mass extinction.

But the researchers say it wasn't necessarily the dinosaurs' disappearance that made our planet a more frog-friendly place. The catastrophe that killed the thunder lizards also killed a lot of other things, including primitive prehistoric plants.

"We think the world was quite impoverished as a result of the [extinction event]," co-author David Wake of UC-Berkeley said in a statement, "and when the vegetation came back, angiosperms dominated. That's when trees evolved to their full flowering."

Seeing their opportunity, frogs began moving into the trees. And up there, they thrived.

Around the same time, Wake says, frog species that stayed on the ground learned their own neat trick: direct development, or skipping the tadpole stage, which requires access to water.

"This certainly draws renewed attention to the positive aspects of mass extinctions: They provide ecological opportunity for new things. Just wait for the next grand extinction and life will take off again. In which direction it will take off, you don't know."

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Scientists Analyze the Moods of 90,000 Songs Based on Music and Lyrics
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iStock

Based on the first few seconds of a song, the part before the vocalist starts singing, you can judge whether the lyrics are more likely to detail a night of partying or a devastating breakup. The fact that musical structures can evoke certain emotions just as strongly as words can isn't a secret. But scientists now have a better idea of which language gets paired with which chords, according to their paper published in Royal Society Open Science.

For their study, researchers from Indiana University downloaded 90,000 songs from Ultimate Guitar, a site that allows users to upload the lyrics and chords from popular songs for musicians to reference. Next, they pulled data from labMT, which crowd-sources the emotional valence (positive and negative connotations) of words. They referred to the music recognition site Gracenote to determine where and when each song was produced.

Their new method for analyzing the relationship between music and lyrics confirmed long-held knowledge: that minor chords are associated with sad feelings and major chords with happy ones. Words with a negative valence, like "pain," "die," and "lost," are all more likely to fall on the minor side of the spectrum.

But outside of major chords, the researchers found that high-valence words tend to show up in a surprising place: seventh chords. These chords contain four notes at a time and can be played in both the major and minor keys. The lyrics associated with these chords are positive all around, but their mood varies slightly depending on the type of seventh. Dominant seventh chords, for example, are often paired with terms of endearment, like "baby", or "sweet." With minor seventh chords, the words "life" and "god" are overrepresented.

Using their data, the researchers also looked at how lyric and chord valence differs between genres, regions, and eras. Sixties rock ranks highest in terms of positivity while punk and metal occupy the bottom slots. As for geography, Scandinavia (think Norwegian death metal) produces the dreariest music while songs from Asia (like K-Pop) are the happiest. So if you're looking for a song to boost your mood, we suggest digging up some Asian rock music from the 1960s, and make sure it's heavy on the seventh chords.

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Space
Watch NASA Test Its New Supersonic Parachute at 1300 Miles Per Hour
NASA/JPL, YouTube
NASA/JPL, YouTube

NASA’s latest Mars rover is headed for the Red Planet in 2020, and the space agency is working hard to make sure its $2.1 billion project will land safely. When the Mars 2020 rover enters the Martian atmosphere, it’ll be assisted by a brand-new, advanced parachute system that’s a joy to watch in action, as a new video of its first test flight shows.

Spotted by Gizmodo, the video was taken in early October at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Narrated by the technical lead from the test flight, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ian Clark, the two-and-a-half-minute video shows the 30-mile-high launch of a rocket carrying the new, supersonic parachute.

The 100-pound, Kevlar-based parachute unfurls at almost 100 miles an hour, and when it is entirely deployed, it’s moving at almost 1300 miles an hour—1.8 times the speed of sound. To be able to slow the spacecraft down as it enters the Martian atmosphere, the parachute generates almost 35,000 pounds of drag force.

For those of us watching at home, the video is just eye candy. But NASA researchers use it to monitor how the fabric moves, how the parachute unfurls and inflates, and how uniform the motion is, checking to see that everything is in order. The test flight ends with the payload crashing into the ocean, but it won’t be the last time the parachute takes flight in the coming months. More test flights are scheduled to ensure that everything is ready for liftoff in 2020.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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