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The Most Interesting Science News Articles of the Week



Each week we uncover the most interesting and informative articles from around the world, here are 10 of the coolest stories in science this week.

Earth's solid inner core formed about one billion years ago. Researchers are getting closer to figuring out how it happened.

Earth’s solid inner core formed about one billion years ago. Researchers are getting closer to figuring out how it happened.

Credit: Shutterstock


One day, about a billion years ago, Earth’s inner core had a growth spurt. The molten ball of liquid metal at the center of our planet rapidly crystallized due to lowering temperatures, growing steadily outward until it reached the roughly 760-mile (1,220 kilometers) diameter to which it’s thought to extend today.


Weirder still, the researchers said, once you account for this missing detail, the science seems to suggest that Earth’s inner core shouldn’t exist at all. [Read more about the core.]

The full facial reconstruction of "Cheddar Man" on display at the National History Museum in London on Feb. 6.

The full facial reconstruction of “Cheddar Man” on display at the National History Museum in London on Feb. 6.

Credit: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty


Scientists have put a smiling face to one of the first human residents of Great Britain.


This color combination would be unusual today, but ancient DNA evidence suggests that it was the norm among the hunter-gatherers of northern continental Europe during the Mesolithic, Booth said. Pale eyes apparently evolved in early Europeans before pale skin, which emerged after the advent of agriculture, he said. [Read more about the ancient people.]

Viruses ride the particles that circulate during vast dust storms such as this one, which emerged from the Sahara Desert to extend over the Atlantic Ocean on March 29, 2017.

Viruses ride the particles that circulate during vast dust storms such as this one, which emerged from the Sahara Desert to extend over the Atlantic Ocean on March 29, 2017.

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory


You can’t see them or feel them, but millions of airborne viruses are wafting around you each day, and billions more microbial travelers are descending everywhere on Earth, after riding air currents around the world.


In fact, viruses are the most abundant microbes on the planet, the study authors reported. The total estimated number of viruses is so staggeringly large that if all Earth’s viruses were collected together they would cover an area spanning 100 million light-years. [Read more about the falling viruses.]

Climate change could unleash 15 million gallons of mercury trapped in permafrost. And that's just in the Northern Hemisphere.

Climate change could unleash 15 million gallons of mercury trapped in permafrost. And that’s just in the Northern Hemisphere.

Credit: TheVagabond V.Schaal/Shutterstock


When the mercury’s rising in your thermometer, it may also be rising in the ocean.


Previous studies have attempted to account for the billions of tons of carbon dioxide, methane and even “zombie pathogens” that could be loosed into the air and the oceans by melting permafrost. The environmental impact of a large-scale mercury leak, however, remains an unpredictable problem. [Read more about the time bomb.]

A downy woodpecker (<i>Picoides pubescens</i>) may drum out a beat to attract a mate, establish territory or search for food.

A downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) may drum out a beat to attract a mate, establish territory or search for food.

Credit: Copyright Arlene Koziol/The Field Museum


Scientists may have just pecked new holes in the widely held idea that woodpeckers’ brains suffer no ill effects from the considerable force generated by their high-speed pecking.


For generations, scientists accepted that woodpeckers didn’t develop abnormalities in their brains from the repeated impacts. Then again, no one had ever checked woodpecker brains for signs of damage, the study authors noted. [Read more about the birds.]

In this woodcut, a medieval missionary recounts that he has found the spot where the sky and the Earth touch. The illustration, by Camille Flammarion (1842-1945), a French astronomer and popular science writer, was used to illustrate the notion that mediaeval man believed the Earth was flat.

In this woodcut, a medieval missionary recounts that he has found the spot where the sky and the Earth touch. The illustration, by Camille Flammarion (1842-1945), a French astronomer and popular science writer, was used to illustrate the notion that mediaeval man believed the Earth was flat.

Credit: SSPL/Getty


A believer in flat-Earth conspiracies took another shot at shooting himself toward the stratosphere in a homemade rocket. Once again, it fell flat.


That subculture is flat-Earthers, people who argue that centuries of observations that the Earth is round (including astronaut photographs from space and the fact that round-the-world travel itineraries work) are either mistaken or part of a vast cover-up. Instead, flat-Earthers argue, the planet is a disk. [Read more about the theory.]

A Viking skeleton from a grave at Repton, Derbyshire, in England.

A Viking skeleton from a grave at Repton, Derbyshire, in England.

Credit: Copyright Martin Biddle


Archaeologists could barely believe their luck when they uncovered a mass grave in the 1980s that appeared to be filled with the remains of more than 200 warriors from the Viking Great Army. But subsequent radiocarbon dating cast doubt on this idea, showing that some of the remains dated to hundreds of years before the Viking Age.


According to historical records, the Great Army spent the winter in Repton in A.D. 873-874 and attacked the king of Mercia, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, sending him into exile. [Read more about the mass grave.]

The tomb contains well preserved wall paintings, including this image showing fish and other goods being presented to Hetpet, who is shown seated at the far left.

The tomb contains well preserved wall paintings, including this image showing fish and other goods being presented to Hetpet, who is shown seated at the far left.

Credit: Egypt Antiquities Ministry


The tomb of a woman named Hetpet, who became a senior official in the royal palace, has been discovered in a cemetery on the Giza Plateau, archaeologists from Egypt’s antiquities ministry announced today (Feb 3). [Read more about tomb.]

The success of medical marijuana at alleviating chronic pain could make it a strong contender for chipping away at the American opioid epidemic.

The success of medical marijuana at alleviating chronic pain could make it a strong contender for chipping away at the American opioid epidemic.

Credit: Shutterstock


The number of Americans touched by the opioid epidemic has reached alarming proportions. Millions of people are affected each year, and death rates from overdoses have quadrupled since 1999, numbering in the tens of thousands annually, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). But there may be a less-risky alternative to opioids for alleviating certain types of chronic pain: marijuana. [Read more about the options.]


On April 1, 2014, the American Physical Society announced a landmark change in policy: All scientific papers authored by cats would henceforth become freely available to the public.


As a colleague pointed out while editing the draft, Hetherington listed himself as the study’s sole author, yet he had nevertheless written the entire paper using the “we” pronoun. This was against the journal’s style rules, the colleague noted. Hetherington’s paper would surely be rejected if it wasn’t retyped. [Read more about the cat.]


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