Top Story: October 29, 2010

Unbelievable Science News!

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Tim Lincecum aside, everyone knows that San Francisco is full of freaks. It turns out so is the solar system. We felt right at home when Discover posted a beautiful photo gallery this week of smelly (pictured here), rainy and just plain weird objects neighboring us in space.

This image was left out of the lot—but it is one of the coolest pictures of the sun I’ve ever seen.

Earth-sized exoplanets are plentiful, read the headlines yesterday. UC Berkeley researchers, publishing in the journal Science, reportthat 23% of stars harbor a close-in Earth-mass planets (ranging from 0.5 to 2.0 Earth masses).” As the 80beats blog in Discover reports, “As is always the difficulty with planet hunting, ‘Earth-size’ is not ‘Earth-like.’” Most of these are too close to their parent star—hot, hot—to be inhabitable. Nature’s The Great Beyond has a great, concise blog post about the news, “There’s no place like home?”—check it out for more info.

Another science headline that caught our eye this week was from the BBC, “Sea urchins tolerate acid water.”

Sea urchins are likely to be able to adapt to increasingly acidic oceans resulting from climate change, according to new research.

Are they the cockroaches of the sea? We asked our sea urchin scientist (actually, Curator and Department Chair of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology here at the Academy), Rich Mooi, about the news article. He was unable to find the actual research online, and found many holes in the BBC’s piece:

I cannot see how the idea that these urchins will "adapt" to dropping pH or "tolerate acid water" can be reconciled with the finding that the larvae deposit less calcium carbonate under lower pH conditions.  Successful metamorphosis and subsequent development of the skeleton in the young adult is heavily dependent on the amount of calcium carbonate that the larvae start out with…

The article quotes the researchers on the subject of carbon sinks and carbon budgets, suggesting that "echinoderms currently contribute more than 5% to the total removal of inorganic carbon from the surface ocean to the deep sea."  This is an overestimate of rather large proportions….

Overall, this study only used the larvae of a single, shallow-water species of common urchin.  The results are interesting as far as that goes, but the broader implications of the work need so much more investigation that the article seems more sensational than is justified.

So don’t believe everything you read…

What did you find unbelievable in science news this week? Let us know.

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