I love reading discoveries far outside my world of expertise. Astronomy? Underground cities? Yes! It's exciting to see barriers broken, as a reminder that we can all break barriers in our own lives and discover something new.
That's why, each month, I publish a newsletter that rounds up the most fascinating news of the month. I call it Look What We Found! Here was last month's.
If you’ve learned something mind-blowing, I’d love to hear about it — see the bottom of these email for ways to get in touch.
And now: Look what we found!
It appears that Mercury may be covered in diamond dust? According to a presentation by the planetary scientist named Kevin Cannon, the planet used to be covered in a magma ocean, which has since formed a solid graphite crust hundreds of meters thick.
Simulations of the planet’s surface conditions show that as that crust has been hit with asteroids, it has pressurized into microscopic diamonds. If that’s true, Mercury could be holding sixteen times more diamond mass than Earth! Just don’t try to put them in a ring — those bits are tiny.
There’s a new way for ALS patients to communicate! People suffering from the disease typically lose control over their muscles while their brains otherwise continue to function just fine, so they’re mentally cogent but unable to express themselves verbally.
Ever since Stephen Hawking, an ALS patient himself, worked out how to speak through a computer using a working muscle in his cheek, scientists have been working on devices to restore communication to patients who don’t have control over their muscles. In this new solution, researchers implanted electrode rays in a patient’s brain to recognize nerve activity and translate it to speech.
The process is still pretty painstaking — it generates only about a character a minute — but that still opens a huge door to a trapped mind, and it could improve the lives of the 12,000 people in the US suffering from the disease today.
Until recently, Midyat, Turkey was known for its 17th-to-19th-century architecture. But archaeologists just discovered a massive system of dwellings underneath the city.
According to Gani Tarkan, the lead excavator on the team that discovered the remains, the 1,900-year-old site probably housed about 70,000 people, who established the area as a safe haven to practice Christianity while Rome enforced the practice of paganism. The settlement called Matiate, or “city of caves,” appears to be the world’s largest underground city. Researchers have so far uncovered several tunnels and 49 underground rooms, but they think they’ve only accessed about 3% of the total area. More to come!
Here’s a concept you may be familiar with, but, like me, may not know the actual background to:
When scientists and engineers want to improve the way we build things, they often turn to biology for guidance. After all, the biological world has been evolving and refining its structures for millions of years. Skin, bone, cellular material — this stuff is made of tiny but brilliant structures. In 1972, scientists discovered what’s called the helical structure, which is among the most common structures in biology. You can even find it in DNA binding.
“After almost 50 years of research,” reports Science Daily, “remarkable repetitions have been confirmed in most classes of species but only eight categories of design motifs have ever been extracted and adopted in materials design, until now.”
Until now!!! Researchers from Australia’s Monash University discovered a new design motif in the exoskeletons of arthropods, as well as the legs of mammals, amphibians and reptiles. That may now hold the key to building damage-tolerant construction materials. Which goes to show: Though humans have built many amazing things, the natural world still has wonders for us all.
As conservationists work to restore Notre Dame after it caught fire in 2019, they’ve allowed archaeologists to excavate certain exposed pieces of floor, and they are learning that the building contains much more than they knew.
Digging around under a spire, the team discovered a human-shaped sarcophagus. They haven’t confirmed what’s inside, aside from some hair and plant matter, but assuming there’s a person in there, they’re likely to be important, given where they were put to rest.
“Burials in churches and cathedrals were generally reserved for elites or members of the clergy,” reads NPR’s coverage of the discovery. I can’t wait to see what details they uncover as research continues, but what I love about this is that these remains never would have been discovered if the church hadn’t burned. Sometimes it takes what feels like destruction to uncover something new.