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Facing the extremes as an Arctic photographer

<i>Florian Ledoux</i><br/>Two polar bears play on the ice in the Arctic.
Florian Ledoux
Florian Ledoux
Two polar bears play on the ice in the Arctic.

By Ashley Strickland, CNN

The Arctic was once a surprisingly warm place — and a haven for unusual creatures.

About 56 million years ago, Earth began experiencing a global warming event. Temperature differences between the poles and regions near the equator narrowed.

Over time, some intrepid animals began to trek north, including two sister species that each resembled a cross between a lemur and a squirrel.

Scientists at the University of Kansas found fossils of these ancient near-primates north of the Arctic Circle, where they lived in a swamplike environment along with crocodiles. The tiny primate relatives adapted to survive the food scarcity of dark Arctic winters for half the year, evolving heartier jaws to crunch on seeds and nuts.

The unexpected discovery of such animals so far north could provide prophetic context for the changes that the northern polar region faces again today, compelling researchers to question what species could flourish — and which ones could disappear — due to a human-driven climate crisis.

Wild kingdom

Capturing the Arctic twilight takes a physical and emotional toll on French photographer and filmmaker Florian Ledoux, but the outcome is rewarding. “We push our limits; we feel alive by doing it,” he told CNN.

Ledoux has spent the past two winters filming and photographing polar bears on the fragile sea ice of the Arctic. His work sheds light on the lives of these majestic creatures as their habitat shrinks due to global warming.

Now, he’s planning this year’s expedition at the end of February. And if he’s lucky, he may spy a pair of polar bears frolicking on the ice.

He takes his time, allowing the bears to feel comfortable with him. Despite the immense challenges of hours spent in extreme temperatures, Ledoux said his quest was worth it “to give a voice to the one that cannot speak.”

Once upon a planet

Earth’s inner core may have stopped rotating, and it might begin moving in reverse, according to new research.

Our planet’s core is the size of Mars and is about 3,200 miles (5,150 kilometers) below Earth’s crust. The core has revolved at a different speed than Earth’s rotation.

Scientists studied seismic waves from earthquakes that have passed through the core to track how fast it’s spinning. Since 2009, the inner core’s rotation seems to have paused.

This inactivity doesn’t imply that anything “cataclysmic” is occurring, the researchers said. But the phenomenon does shed light on why the deepest part of our planet is so difficult to study.

Across the universe

The James Webb Space Telescope peered inside a wispy space cloud and found an icy surprise.

Astronomers used the space observatory to study the Chamaeleon I dark molecular cloud, located 630 light-years away. It turns out that this cloud of gas and dust is full of frozen elements that could form stars, planets and even the building blocks of life.

And as NASA eyes the future of space exploration, it’s teaming up with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop a nuclear thermal rocket engine that could one day provide quick and safe transportation for humans to Mars.

A long time ago

The mummified remains of a teenage boy who died about 2,300 years ago have been virtually unwrapped for the first time, revealing 49 protective amulets and a golden mask.

The amulets were placed on and inside his body to protect the “golden boy,” as researchers have nicknamed him, for the journey through the afterlife. Each gold or semiprecious amulet held a special meaning, such as a golden tongue placed in his mouth that was intended to help him speak.

Meanwhile, some museums in Britain are questioning whether the word “mummy” should be used for ancient human remains, turning instead to phrases such as “mummified person” or names that emphasize the bodies are not objects but people.

The controversy has led to a larger and more complicated debate on the study of mummified remains and whether they should be kept in museums at all or simply left to rest in peace.

Fantastic creatures

Nodding, pointing and gesticulating are just some of the gestures we use when we communicate — and humans might have picked up those from apes.

Great apes use more than 80 signals to communicate with each other, such as a mouth stroke that means “give me food” or a “big loud scratch” that is a request for grooming.

A recent experiment showed that humans recognized the meaning behind ape gestures, which might suggest we’ve retained the significance of these movements from our common primate ancestors.

Curiosities

These stories might surprise you:

— The creators of “The Last of Us” video game and TV show were inspired by real-life zombie fungi that hijack the minds of insects.

— More than 10,000 men died during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, but only two bodies were ever discovered. Bones found in an attic in Belgium may change that number.

— A rare, cantaloupe-size space rock landed in Antarctica, making it one of the largest meteorites ever found on the icy continent.

The-CNN-Wire
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