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Scientists Name Just-Discovered Brazilian Cave Spider After Aragog from Harry Potter

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Multiple new species, from wasps to crabs, have been named after Harry Potter characters. Now, CNET reports that Brazilian scientists have given a newly identified cave spider the name Ochyrocera aragogue, after Hagrid's enormous pet spider Aragog. Keeping with a theme of literary inspiration, the researchers also chose classic names for six additional arachnids they discovered underground in northern Brazil. They published news of their finds on January 10 in the science journal ZooKeys.

A team from Brazilian biological research center Instituto Butantan, Sao Paulo, found the cave-dwelling spiders among 2000 adult specimens collected throughout five years of field research. All seven species belong to the genus Ochyrocera and reside underground in iron caves across Pará, a state in northern Brazil. (Pará is home to Carajás Mine, one of the world's largest iron ore mines.) Scientists say the region might contain even more spiders like them, though mining activities reduce the area's biodiversity.

Unlike the elephant-sized Aragog, who readers first met in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the newly discovered arachnids are all tiny, measuring less than an inch in total size. They're also distinct from many cave-loving critters in that they aren't all pale white and aren't missing any of their six eyes. The spiders are technically able to spend their entire lives in caves, but they've also been known to crawl towards the opening and even venture outside.

In addition to Ochyrocera aragogue, researchers were inspired to name some Brazilian cave spiders after creepy-crawly figures from fantasy works like George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, and H. P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu. Monikers included Ochyrocera laracna, after the spider Laracna who attacks Frodo and Sam in LOTR; Ochyrocera varys, after GoT's Lord Varys (a.k.a. The Spider), and Ochyrocera atlachnacha, in honor of the Lovecraftian spider god Atlach-Nacha.

Ochyrocera varys, a new cave spider discovered in Brazil named after the character Lord Varys from 'Game of Thrones'
Ochyrocera varys
Igor Cizauskas

Ochyrocera atlachnacha, a new spider discovered in Brazil named after the Spider God Atlach-Nacha from H. P. Lovecraft's works.
Ochyrocera atlachnacha
Igor Cizauskas

Since not all literary spiders are spooky, the scientists also paid homage to E.B. White's Charlotte's Web and David Kirk's children's series Little Miss Spider, dubbing two other newly discovered spiders Ochyrocera charlotte and Ochyrocera misspider, respectively.

Ochyrocera misspider, a new arachnid species discovered by cave areas in Floresta Nacional de Carajás, in Brazil.
Ochyrocera misspider
Courtesy of Igor Cizauskas

This isn't the first time a spider has been named after Hagrid's pet; in 2017, scientists from the University of Tehran dubbed a new species of wolf spider discovered in southeastern Iran Lycosa aragogi.

[h/t CNET]

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Mysterious 'Hypatia Stone' Is Like Nothing Else in Our Solar System
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In 1996, Egyptian geologist Aly Barakat discovered a tiny, one-ounce stone in the eastern Sahara. Ever since, scientists have been trying to figure out where exactly the mysterious pebble originated. As Popular Mechanics reports, it probably wasn't anywhere near Earth. A new study in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta finds that the micro-compounds in the rock don't match anything we've ever found in our solar system.

Scientists have known for several years that the fragment, known as the Hypatia stone, was extraterrestrial in origin. But this new study finds that it's even weirder than we thought. Led by University of Johannesburg geologists, the research team performed mineral analyses on the microdiamond-studded rock that showed that it is made of matter that predates the existence of our Sun or any of the planets in the solar system. And, its chemical composition doesn't resemble anything we've found on Earth or in comets or meteorites we have studied.

Lead researcher Jan Kramers told Popular Mechanics that the rock was likely created in the early solar nebula, a giant cloud of homogenous interstellar dust from which the Sun and its planets formed. While some of the basic materials in the pebble are found on Earth—carbon, aluminum, iron, silicon—they exist in wildly different ratios than materials we've seen before. Researchers believe the rock's microscopic diamonds were created by the shock of the impact with Earth's atmosphere or crust.

"When Hypatia was first found to be extraterrestrial, it was a sensation, but these latest results are opening up even bigger questions about its origins," as study co-author Marco Andreoli said in a press release.

The study suggests the early solar nebula may not have been as homogenous as we thought. "If Hypatia itself is not presolar, [some of its chemical] features indicate that the solar nebula wasn't the same kind of dust everywhere—which starts tugging at the generally accepted view of the formation of our solar system," Kramer said.

The researchers plan to further probe the rock's origins, hopefully solving some of the puzzles this study has presented.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]

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Ocean Waves Are Powerful Enough to Toss Enormous Boulders Onto Land, Study Finds
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During the winter of 2013-2014, the UK and Ireland were buffeted by a number of unusually powerful storms, causing widespread floods, landslides, and coastal evacuations. But the impact of the storm season stretched far beyond its effect on urban areas, as a new study in Earth-Science Reviews details. As we spotted on Boing Boing, geoscientists from Williams College in Massachusetts found that the storms had an enormous influence on the remote, uninhabited coast of western Ireland—one that shows the sheer power of ocean waves in a whole new light.

The rugged terrain of Ireland’s western coast includes gigantic ocean boulders located just off a coastline protected by high, steep cliffs. These massive rocks can weigh hundreds of tons, but a strong-enough wave can dislodge them, hurling them out of the ocean entirely. In some cases, these boulders are now located more than 950 feet inland. Though previous research has hypothesized that it often takes tsunami-strength waves to move such heavy rocks onto land, this study finds that the severe storms of the 2013-2014 season were more than capable.

Studying boulder deposits in Ireland’s County Mayo and County Clare, the Williams College team recorded two massive boulders—one weighing around 680 tons and one weighing about 520 tons—moving significantly during that winter, shifting more than 11 and 13 feet, respectively. That may not sound like a significant distance at first glance, but for some perspective, consider that a blue whale weighs about 150 tons. The larger of these two boulders weighs more than four blue whales.

Smaller boulders (relatively speaking) traveled much farther. The biggest boulder movement they observed was more than 310 feet—for a boulder that weighed more than 44 tons.

These boulder deposits "represent the inland transfer of extraordinary wave energies," the researchers write. "[Because they] record the highest energy coastal processes, they are key elements in trying to model and forecast interactions between waves and coasts." Those models are becoming more important as climate change increases the frequency and severity of storms.

[h/t Boing Boing]

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