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Specialised organisms

Specialised organisms
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One of the most surprising facts about Earth scientists have found at the Danakil Depression – and in other areas with very hot hydrothermal vents, where chemical-rich fluid escapes to the Earth’s surface – is that specialised organisms call them home. When this happens deep under the ocean, especially, where sunlight can’t penetrate to allow photosynthesis, microbes use chemosynthetic processes to create organic matter out of hydrogen sulfide, methane, and other chemicals. Tubeworms and other animals that live near the vents often host these microbes on or in their bodies.

Largest single organism

Largest single organism
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Scientists have been surprised by other forms of life over the past few decades as well – particularly the Armillaria fungus, a mushroom that’s proved to be a gigantic wonder. A scientist in Michigan found one in the early 1990s that turned out to weigh almost 10 tonnes and extend out 15 hectares; when scientists started hunting competitively for more giant Armillaria, an Oregon sample was found that covered more than 970 hectares. Researchers estimate its age at 8,650 years old. This particular fungus gets so big (and evades notice so effectively) because it grows root-like structures called rhizomorphs that extend underground for miles. It grows up into trees from below, and as a result, can kill large swaths of forest, biologist László Nagy, of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, told The Atlantic. “You can basically see entire hills wiped out,” he said.

Raining frogs

Raining frogs
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Another example of life showing up where you least expect it is when living creatures fall from the sky in a storm – and yes, this really happens. “Frog and toad rains, fish rains, and coloured rains – most often red, yellow or black – are among the most common accounts of strange rain, reported since ancient times,” Cynthia Barnett writes in her book, Rain: A Natural and Cultural History. Scientists believe that a waterspout or tornado picks up the animals, dust, or other items in one place, and they get blown by the storm to another location where they fall. John Knox, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Georgia, told Smithsonian Magazine that he’s seen photographs that fell back to earth 322 kilometres from where they were picked up by tornadoes. Find out 45 amazing facts about your favourite animals.

Saharan dust

Saharan dust
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Dust can travel in the atmosphere even farther than photographs or frogs, and besides causing odd-coloured rain, can also make the sky look hazy and cause asthma attacks in vulnerable people. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, hundreds of millions of tons of desert dust blow across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa every year, adding to Caribbean beach sand and fertilising the Amazonian soil. The dust might also disrupt hurricane formation by suppressing cloud formation.

Cosmic dust

Cosmic dust
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Dust isn’t just coming from deserts on Earth either – scientists recently collected samples of dust in the upper atmosphere that travelled here with comets. By studying the chemical composition of the particles, they can tell that the dust is actually older than the solar system. “Our observations suggest that these exotic grains represent surviving pre-solar interstellar dust that formed the very building blocks of planets and stars,” lead researcher Hope Ishii, from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said in a statement. “If we have at our fingertips the starting materials of planet formation from 4.6 billion years ago, that is thrilling and makes possible a deeper understanding of the processes that formed and have since altered them.” These are the 10 audio tracks we’ve sent into deep space.

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Source: RD Canada

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