The Sciences

Degrees of Separation: Solar Storms, Earliest Flowers and More

By Anna FunkMay 14, 2019 5:00 PM
Hoverfly - Shutterstock
A hoverfly on a cluster of yellow mustard flowers. (Credit: Dave Hansche/Shutterstock)


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2,610 Years Ago

When Earth experienced one of its most intense solar storms, inundations of solar radiation that can affect things like power grids and navigation systems. Experts found traces of the storm, which was 10 times stronger than any recorded by scientific instruments, locked in ice cores and tree rings. 


Roughly how much narrower than a human hair researchers think fossilized dark matter impressions would be. In a recent paper, experts suggest dark matter — the elusive stuff that makes up most of the universe — could have left minuscule traces in ancient rocks, similar to how nuclear fission events can create tiny tunnels through the rocks’ microstructure. Only now do we have the technology to spot such infinitesimal imprints, the authors say. 

174 Million Years

How long ago, at minimum, researchers think the first flowers bloomed. Experts at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences picked apart 264 fossil specimens of Nanjinganthus dendrostyla, dating the ancient flower to the Early Jurassic. 


How many species of arthropods — invertebrates like beetles, flies, ants and spiders — left DNA traces on wildflowers, in a sample analyzed in research in Ecology and Evolution. Using wildflowers this way could give researchers a shortcut for studying the diversity of insects and other arthropods in a given area in the future. 


How many genomes researchers analyzed of people with the degenerative joint disease osteoarthritis, according to results published in Nature Genetics. By comparing these genomes with those of roughly 378,000 people without osteoarthritis, the team revealed 52 new genetic changes linked to the disabling disease. 

16 Years

How far in advance experts can detect damage from Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms appear, thanks to a new blood test developed at the Washington University School of Medicine. The researchers found that as neurons deteriorate in the brain, certain proteins reach the bloodstream. The new test might play a key role in identifying drugs that can slow or stop the disease. 

[This story originally appeared in print as "Degrees of Separation."]

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