Huggy Snakes, More Pluto, And Other Amazing Images Of The Week

Plus, hairy ice

The Huggy Snake

This 113-million-year-old fossil is said to be the first direct ancestor of the snake. It was found with four legs, which were likely used for burrowing. Scientists at the University of Portsmouth and the University of Bath unearthed the fossil and classified the species as Tetrapodophis amplectus. Tetrapodophis, the genus, is a new classification for four-footed snakes, and amplectus means “embrace.” “It would sort of embrace or hug its prey with its forelimbs and hindlimbs. So it’s the huggy snake,” Dr. Nick Longrich told the BBC.

Pluto shows its true colors

Some of the last photos we’ll see from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were released by NASA today, showing the once-planet in extraordinary detail. The image is a composite of four photos taken by New Horizons combined with color data from another on-board instrument. This image was taken from about 280,000 miles away, and is twice the resolution of previous photos taken.

Smell ya later, Pluto

As New Horizons sped past Pluto, it turned and took one of the most dramatic photos we’ve seen of the dwarf planet. Here we see the sun illuminating Pluto’s atmosphere, revealing nearly 80 miles of haze surrounding the planet. New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern says his “jaw was on the ground” when he saw this photo.

Not quite a plague, but almost

National Weather Service radar picked up a large mass of grasshoppers and beetles traveling through Texas on Wednesday. According to the NWS, this happens fewer than six times per year, but it urged people on Twitter not to call it a swarm, saying the phenomenon is a fairly normal pattern. But if it flies like a swarm..

Africa from the ISS

Scott Kelly is at it again–showing the world what the Earth looks like from nearly 250 miles above. This time, Kelly focused his lens on Africa, which by it’s terrain and coloration could easily be confused for the terrain of some far-away planet. “The ever changing colors of #Africa!” Kelly tweeted.

Left, left, left, right, left

Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine and the University of Illinois announced this week their successful attempts to wirelessly control the walking movement of mice, using a tissue implant they injected into the mouse’s brain. The implant was just 80 micrometers thick and 500 micrometers wide, a tenth of the width of a strand of human hair. The team wants this design to be made available to other labs for further research. “A tool is only good if it’s used,” said Dr. Michael Bruchas, a senior author of the study. “We believe an open, crowdsourcing approach to neuroscience is a great way to understand normal and healthy brain circuitry.”

Become one with the laser

If you’ve ever thought, “Wow, lasers are cool, but I wish they could be implanted inside my cells,” then today is your lucky day. Scientists at the University of St. Andrews report implanting tiny, fluorescent lasers into live cells, capable of producing nanojoule light pulses. This can be used to give individual cells unique tracking frequencies, so doctors can see where specific cells are traveling in the body.

Happy Sweet 16

It’s the X-Ray camera Charon’s 16th birthday this week, and what better way to celebrate than to take photos of a pulsar punching holes in a stellar disc from 7,500 lightyears away? (This may be even better than an ice cream cake.) On top, an illustration depicts what might be happening in Charon’s three photos, tiled below. Astronomers think a large mass of stellar material is being thrown through space after colliding with a pulsar, which was orbiting a star. The debris field is roughly a hundred times the size of our solar system.

The building blocks of life

Nanoscale is the new black, and a study published in Nature this week has demonstrated an ability to fold DNA into minuscule shapes using software, giving scientists much more control over nanoscale structural design. Researchers see this as a big step toward targeted drug delivery. It’s also great for building very tiny bunnies made of pure DNA.

Furry ice

The occurrence of “hair ice” has mystified scientists in the past, but now a research team has been able to recreate conditions and generate the special ice, which can be .02 millimeters in diameter and 20 centimeters long. Hair ice only grows on dead wood and in the presence of fungus. The authors claim that this makes it “one of the most exciting types of ice.”