Frozen Insects, Glowing Fish and a Futuristic Suit

The International Space Station will stay in orbit for at least four years after 2020, NASA said.

Winter tightened its grip last week, making life tough for New Yorkers and other invasive species. Fortunately, we should fare better than the hemlock woolly adelgid.

Developments

Space: Four More Years

The United States has granted the International Space Station a stay of execution — again. NASA will keep the station in orbit until at least 2024, canceling plans to send it into the Pacific Ocean in 2020. The hope is that the extra time will nurture the growing private space industry, encourage more scientists to propose experiments, and let NASA solve health and technical challenges before sending astronauts farther into space. Other space agencies that help support the station, including the European Space Agency and those of Russia and Japan, have not decided whether they, too, will extend their commitments.

Originally scheduled to end its mission in 2016, the space station was given a reprieve by President Obama in 2010 after he canceled an expensive return trip to the moon.

Entomology: Insects Freeze to Death

As some were braving the icy commute, entomologists and foresters were praying the mercury would drop even further. That is because extreme cold can kill invasive insects like the hemlock woolly adelgid and the southern pine beetle, which have weakened forests from New Jersey to Connecticut. Such species are built to withstand hard winters, but they succumb when the temperature dips far enough below zero. Alas, even a widespread die-off would be little more than a temporary setback. “As soon as the weather warms up,” one entomologist said, “they will take off again.”

Marine Biology: Plenty of Glowing Fish in the Sea

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From sea horses that glow red to bright green eels, researchers have discovered 180 species of fish that fluoresce under blue light.

Scientists have recently found 180 species of fish that produce green and red glowing patterns through biofluorescence. Researchers at the American Museum of Natural History were studying fluorescent coral off Little Cayman Island when they spotted a green glowing eel, which prompted four more expeditions in search of similarly radiant creatures. The findings, published in the journal PLoS One, could provide insight into the evolution of these animals and help produce new chemicals for laboratory research.

Biofluorescence, in which an animal absorbs blue light and releases it as green, orange or red light, is different from bioluminescence, in which animals like fireflies produce their own light.

Technology: Cheaper Batteries From Carbon

Harvard researchers say they have developed an inexpensive battery using a carbon-based molecule found in crude oil and other substances. The findings, published in the journal Nature, could pave the way for a new generation of batteries, Energy Department officials say.

Most current batteries rely on more costly metals, such as nickel-metal hydride and lithium-ion, and hold only one charge per molecule. The carbon-based batteries hold two units per molecule, meaning they could store twice as much energy. Officials said the molecule used by Harvard, called a quinone, was one of many similar molecules, some of which could prove even more effective.

Coming Up

Medicine: An Unlikely Kickoff

A paralyzed teenager using a mind-controlled exoskeleton will kick the ceremonial first ball at the World Cup in Brazil in June, CNet reported. The exoskeleton enables wearers to control their lower body with wireless electrodes that attach to the head and collect brain waves, then signal the suit to move. The futuristic suit was created by the Walk Again Project, an international nonprofit collaboration among scientific institutions including the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering and the Technical University of Munich.

A group of paralyzed teenagers in São Paulo, Brazil, will begin training with the suit next month, and one will be chosen for the honor this spring.

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