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The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO), via Wikimedia Commons
The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO), via Wikimedia Commons

A New Theory May Explain the Famous 'Wow!' Signal

The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO), via Wikimedia Commons
The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO), via Wikimedia Commons

A new theory suggests that the origin of a famously unexplained signal from space recorded nearly 39 years ago may have been caused by two passing comets.

In 1977, a volunteer radio astronomer named Jerry Ehman was studying data collected by the Big Ear telescope at Ohio State University when he noticed a signal 30 times stronger than any of the normal radio waves detected. Ehman circled some of the characters on a printout that represented the abnormal 72-second-long signal, and next to them he wrote the word "Wow!" which was later adopted as the name of the rare discovery. The signal was never found again. Nevertheless, for decades some have believed that the Wow! signal was our planet's first interception of an alien broadcast.

According to a new theory by St. Petersburg College astronomer Antonio Paris, soon be published in the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, hydrogen clouds from two comets that were not known at the time—266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs)—could be responsible. "I came across the idea when I was in my car driving and wondered if a planetary body, moving fast enough, could be the source," Paris told New Scientist.

The magazine reports that as comets orbit around the Sun, they release clouds of hydrogen because "ultraviolet light breaks up their frozen water, creating a cloud of the gas extending millions of kilometres out from the comet itself." And not everyone is convinced the comets would release enough hydrogen to generate the signal, New Scientist notes. Paris suggests testing his theory by studying the comets when they return to the region on January 25, 2017 and January 7, 2018, respectively.

[h/t IFL Science]

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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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