This Week in Science (1/1 – 1/5)


Bowie Funk, East Staff Writer

The Last Apollo 7 Astronaut Has Died

Civilian astronaut Walter Cunningham, age 90, has died in Houston, Texas.  He was on board the Apollo 7 in 1968 and was part of NASA’s mission to put humans on the Moon.  Mr. Cunningham was a former physicist and marine pilot who completed 163 orbits around the Earth.

In his 1977 book called “All American Boys”, Walter wrote “We carried the nation’s hope with us.” This book was a memoir about how he and his crew changed the world of science and space. Twenty-one months before the launch, three of his crewmates unfortunately died before they could ever see space. “The task wasn’t only technical,” he added. “We also had to address any psychological barriers that still remained.”

Along with being the second person to ever reach outer space, Cunningham also carried a camera to provide the world with live footage from the ship.  This became known as the “The Wally, Walt and Donn Show”, with the astronauts demonstrating the weightlessness of space and how they could float around.  The legacy of this legend will never be forgotten.  Rest in peace Walter Cunningham.

Green Comet Not Seen Since the Ice Age Will Pass By Earth 

A green comet discovered in March of 2022 will pass by Earth later this month and was discovered using wide field cameras at Zwicky Transient Facility in California.  It is currently called C/2022 E3 (ZTF).  Although it is still too dim to see with the naked eye, astronomers do know what it looks like, having a short dust tail and a very thin ion tail, which are located on the end of the comet in the opposite direction it’s going.

NASA says that it will likely be visible in the Northern Hemisphere throughout January mostly during the night and morning when it is still dark outside, while it will likely be visible in the Southern Hemisphere in February.  However, this is less of a spectacle and more of a science thing, as its dimness will not be remarkable, but it is the first time a “green comet” has passed by Earth since the Last Ice Age, so keep your eyes peeled for this special wonder.

Chinese Scientists Find Ancient Bird With Modern Features

Although we think of dinosaurs as either large armored herbivores or giant ravenous carnivores, quite a few were actually quite tiny, and this animal was no exception.  This was Cratonavis zhui, a small bird that lived in the Liaoning province of China during a time known as the Lower Cretaceous, a critical time for small, feathered dinosaurs especially in colder climates like ancient China.

Although other birds and birdlike dinosaurs have been found in Liaoning before, this creature is unique for several reasons.  Firstly, it provides a time filler between the oldest birds during the Jurassic and the newer, beaked birds during the Upper Cretaceous and Cenozoic.  It also had small teeth and developed claws like a dinosaur, but it was almost identical to a modern songbird.

A previous species discovered in 2015 was less intact, but this 2023 specimen was very well preserved, quite typical for the region, which is known as the feathered dinosaur capital of the world.  However, this particular bird was especially advanced, having a beak, not a bony mouth and lizard-like lips.

Further exploration shows a special structure on the end of the short tail, known as a pygostyle.  Another example of an advancement was in the form of the wings, more specifically though, the hands.  These claws are extremely small and the fingers were abnormally short compared to other early birds such as Confuciusornis and Archaeopteryx and even smaller than bird-like dinosaurs such as Velociraptor and Stenonychosaurus.

Cambodia Sets Up Safe Zones for Endangered Dolphins

Not all dolphins like the ocean; some prefer the freshwater environments of rivers throughout the world, like the Amazonian pink river dolphin that lives in Brazil. Asia is also home to these unique creatures, with the most endangered being the Irrawaddy river dolphin found in southeastern Asia, most prevalent in Cambodia.

Because of this, the Cambodian government has implemented safe areas in the gigantic Mekong River to help save these beauties.  The reason is mainly because of fishermen accidentally catching Irriwadies in their nets.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Irriwady dolphin population is 89 with 29 deaths recorded over the last three years, a startling number for the number of babies being born each year.  Cambodia’s premier, Hun Sen, urged the government to install safe zones for the animals without fishermen catching the wrong things in their nets.  Additionally, the World Wildlife Fund said that dolphin tourism could help the smaller impoverished communities on the Mekong.