This Week in Science: 1/8 – 1/13


Bowie Funk, East Staff Writer

NASA’s Webb Telescope Discovers its First Exoplanet

Since its launch in late 2021, the James Webb telescope has been traveling our galaxy and setting records. Now, it has found its first planet from outside our solar system. The planet, called LHS 475 b, was recorded using NASA’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), and is nearly the size of Earth.

However, unlike our blue planet, LHS is much hotter, being very close to its star, which is a red dwarf, while the sun is a yellow dwarf. Because of this, no life could exist on it, as water would get too hot to sustain it, but LHS is confirmed by NASA to be a real planet. “There is no question that the planet is there,” says astronomer Jacob Lustig-Yaeger, from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. “Webb’s pristine data validated it.”

Normally, telescopes like Webb are trying to find larger exoplanets about the size of Jupiter or even larger, but because of its clear cameras, Webb is able to get smaller planets on camera. This technological revolution in the world of space exploration is something that scientists are very excited for and will hopefully be improved on in the future.

Fast, Fluffy, and Deadly Dinosaur Discovered in Chile

The name “Megaraptor” might sound like something a child would make up, but paleontologists in Chile’s Patagonia region have recently uncovered a few, maybe even being a new genus.

The current understanding of these predators is still very much obscured, with the first genus only being described from a single claw in 1998, Megaraptor namunhuaiquii. Throughout the 2000’s, the family was still unknown until the genus Austrolovenator was described in 2009, only containing a lower jaw, two legs, and two arms with a single claw. The claw that was assigned to Megaraptor is thought to go on the index finger, which likely aided it in hunting along with its advanced teeth and robust arms.

This new creature is very similar to both Megaraptor and Austrolovenator, but is a lot larger, growing to almost thirty-three feet in length, rivaling Miap macrothorax as the largest megaraptoran to ever live.

Study Shows That T. rex was as Smart as a Baboon

We all know the Tyrannosaurus rex, the huge predator that roamed North America 66 million years ago, or we at least know it from Jurassic Park. Many depictions show it as fairly stupid, usually being outsmarted by the protagonist, but there is a new study to suggest that this huge dinosaur was actually quite intelligent. In a study published last Thursday in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, it says that Tyrannosaurus had the neural capacity to solve problems. This might make theropods, dinosaurs like Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus, the “primates of their time,” says Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a neuroscientist and biologist who wrote the paper.

A smart and powerful dinosaur was indefinitely the apex predator of its time and probably hunted in groups as juveniles and might have as adults. Such a large brain is only observed in social animals such as apes, parrots, and of course, humans, so T. rex was probably quite social, but pack hunting might be a stretch.

Basing her information from modern day birds, Herculano-Houzel estimated the neuron count to be as many as three billion. To compare, some intelligent monkeys, such as the brown capuchin, only have one billion neurons, which is what she estimated some relatives to be such as Alioramus remotus and possibly Qianzhosaurus sinensis.

Researchers Find That Chimpanzees Have Local Dialects

Chimpanzees have always been thought of as the next most intelligent thing to humans, and that was only confirmed this week when researchers from St. Andrews University discovered that chimps use local dialectal gestures based on their community.

As most people know, chimps are very social animals, living in large groups that control a territory and because of this, need to communicate over long distances. In the Budongo Forest of Uganda, scientists noticed that two different groups used leaves to mean different things. The lead researcher Gal Badihi said in an interview “Like human dialects, the different forms of gestures used by the two communities are used in the same contexts and seem to have the same meaning. It makes me think of the song ‘you say Potayto, I say Potaato’; it’s the same word, with the same meaning, but with a different pronunciation.”

There are several reasons why these chimps have these leaf gestures, one of which surprised the researchers. Badihi added, “They use these leaf-modifying gestures for a few reasons, but the most common reason chimpanzees in Budongo use them is as a sort of gestural ‘pick-up line’—they’re the equivalent of chimpanzee flirting; and it turns out that even once you’ve plucked up the courage to ask the girl if she’s interested, you also need to know how to do it in the local ‘style.'”

This finding means that when females move between different groups, a common practice for most communal ape species, she would have to learn the local dialect to communicate properly. Because this happens, chimpanzees might be a lot smarter than we first thought, not only being able to use stone tools and communicate over long distances, but also being able to learn a slightly different language than their own.