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‘Once-in-a-generation’ find reveals microscopic fossil in amber

By Ashley Strickland, CNN

Let’s hear it for the trailblazers.

This week, the winners of the Nobel Prize in physics, medicine, chemistry and literature were announced, as well as the Nobel Peace Prize.

The research, discoveries and contributions of these individuals cannot be understated — they can change lives, enhance understanding and shift perspectives.

Scientists Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann were awarded for their groundbreaking work in sounding the early alarm on human-caused climate change in the 1960s and 1970s — and this kind of recognition is game-changing.

My favorite was the creative approach used in the discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch. The Nobel Prize-winning research by David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian was rooted in how chili peppers cause us to feel the heat.

We’re fortunate to have a front row seat to history. And who knows? Perhaps some of the fascinating findings shared here each week may one day receive such recognition.

Fantastic creatures

Microscopic tardigrades — you may know them as water bears — were around long before humans, and they’ll probably outlive us, too.

These tiny creatures, which are the smallest animals with legs, have survived five mass extinction events over 500 million years. But they don’t leave a lot of fossils behind — not ones we can see, anyway.

The third-ever tardigrade fossil on record has been found within a piece of 16-million-year-old Dominican amber. Researchers called it a “once-in-a-generation” discovery.

Defying gravity

All of those missions to the moon and Mars are paying off as we learn surprising new things about our planetary neighbors.

China’s Chang’e-5 mission brought back the first fresh lunar samples in more than 40 years to Earth last December. Now, scientists have had a chance to study the 2 billion-year-old rocks and determine that the moon was volcanically active more recently than they thought.

Images captured by the Perseverance rover revealed that flash flooding energetic enough to move massive boulders occurred on Mars before the red planet’s climate changed and its water was lost.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates announced an ambitious new space mission that will orbit Venus and ultimately land on an asteroid, slated for launch in 2028.

And NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test is ready to launch on November 23. The planetary defense mission will deliberately crash into an asteroid’s moon in September 2022.


Modern technology is illuminating the secrets of royalty.

An analysis using X-rays has revealed that an obsidian “spirit mirror” used by John Dee, a confidant and adviser of Queen Elizabeth I, is actually a product of the Aztec culture. The nearly 500-year-old mirror, made from volcanic glass, had spiritual significance for the Aztecs — and Dee used it in a spooky way.

Meanwhile, redacted lines from letters between Marie-Antoinette and her alleged lover, Count Axel von Fersen of Sweden, have been revealed for the first time, using advanced scientific techniques. The once-hidden words definitely appear to confirm their connection.

And a 2,700-year-old toilet was found during archaeological excavations of a former royal mansion in Jerusalem — quite the throne in its day.


Earth isn’t as bright as it used to be.

Researchers measured “earthshine,” which is when “the dark face of the Moon catches Earth’s reflected glow and returns that light,” according to NASA.

Our planet’s “ghostly light” has dimmed dramatically over the last few years, so much so that the scientists thought their data was flawed.

The culprit? A side effect of the ongoing climate crises.

Across the universe

On the exoplanet WASP-76b, located 640 light-years from Earth, it’s so hot that iron falls like rain from the sky.

On the dayside of the planet, which faces a nearby star, temperatures exceed 4,400 degrees Fahrenheit (2,426 degrees Celsius).

Because of its close proximity to the star, WASP-76b completes one orbit around it every 1.8 Earth days — soaking up thousands of times the radiation that Earth receives from the sun.

Now, researchers have also detected elements in the planet’s atmosphere that suggest the planet is even more extreme than they thought.

The wonder

There’s a little more to see:

— It’s taken nearly 50 years for scientists to name this paper lantern-like tropical “mystery plant.”

— This dinky dinosaur was the smallest of its kind when it roamed Wales 200 million years ago.

— A Russian crew has beat Tom Cruise as the first to film a movie in space, despite some very real drama they faced when docking with the International Space Station.

Like what you’ve read? Oh, but there’s more. Sign up here to receive in your inbox the next edition of Wonder Theory, brought to you by CNN Space and Science writer Ashley Strickland, who finds wonder in planets beyond our solar system and discoveries from the ancient world.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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