Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Strange but true: Get a load of this horny dino

Scientists have just described one of the most peculiar dinosaurs ever unearthed, all thanks to a chance fossil discovery in the US a decade ago. Photo / Mike Skrepnick
Scientists have just described one of the most peculiar dinosaurs ever unearthed, all thanks to a chance fossil discovery in the US a decade ago. Photo / Mike Skrepnick

Scientists have just described one of the most peculiar dinosaurs ever unearthed, all thanks to a chance fossil discovery in the US a decade ago.

What sets the 76-million-year-old Spiclypeus shipporum or "Judith" apart from other horned dinosaurs, such as the well-known triceratops, is the orientation of the horns over the eyes, which stick out sideways from the skull.

There's also a unique arrangement to the bony spikes that emanate from the margin of its frill; some of the spikes curl forward while others project outward.

Its fossil, discovered by chance near Winifred, Montana, is now housed in the Canadian Museum of Nature, which includes some of the best examples of horned dinosaurs in the world.

Stellar cannibalism: it's a thing

Astronomers have just detected a sub-stellar object that used to be a star but has been almost entirely consumed by a neighbouring white dwarf.

An international team observed a very faint binary system, 730 light-years away, and found that it consisted of a low-mass object about 60 times the mass of Jupiter, in an extremely tight 78-minute orbit around a white dwarf, which are remnants of a star, like our sun.

Due to this close distance, the white dwarf has already "eaten" about 90 per cent of the mass of its companion, turning it from a star into a brown dwarf.

While most brown dwarfs are "failed stars" - objects with too little mass to shine brightly by fusing hydrogen in their cores - this one was a full-fledged star before its mass was stolen away by billions of years of "stellar cannibalism".

Nothing compares 2 U. Or does it?

How much we're satisfied in a relationship - and the energy we devote to keeping our partners - is dependent on how your significant other compares with other potential lovers.

That's the finding of a new University of Texas study, which simulated a "mating pool" from 119 men and 140 women who had been in relationships for an average of seven and a half years.

Each participant rated the importance of 27 traits in an ideal mate and the extent to which they felt each trait described both their actual partner and themselves, while also reporting their general relationship satisfaction and happiness.

The researchers discovered satisfaction was not dependent on how a partner compared with a person's idea of the perfect mate, but rather whether others in the mating pool better matched a person's ideal preferences.

Has Spiderman's web just become a science reality?

Scientists have just figured out why a spider's web doesn't sag in the wind or catapult bugs back out like a trampoline. Photo / Supplied
Scientists have just figured out why a spider's web doesn't sag in the wind or catapult bugs back out like a trampoline. Photo / Supplied

Scientists have just figured out why a spider's web doesn't sag in the wind or catapult bugs back out like a trampoline - something that could lead to new bio-inspired technology. Pull on a sticky thread in a garden spider's orb web and let it snap back, and you'll find the thread always stays taut, even when stretched to many times its original length.

In the journal PNAS, scientists explain this is because any loose thread is immediately spooled inside the tiny droplets of watery glue that coat and surround the core fibres of the web's "capture spiral".

By recreating this "liquid-wire" in the lab with their own composite fibres - capable of extending like a solid and compressing like a liquid - scientists may have just opened the door to a new bio-material.

How we might say g'day to aliens

Imagine if we sent up a visible signal that could eventually be seen across the entire universe - and if another civilisation light years away did the same.

The technology now exists to enable exactly that scenario, according to University of California's Professor Philip Lubin, whose new work applies his research and advances in directed-energy systems to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

"If even one other civilisation existed in our galaxy and had a similar or more advanced level of directed-energy technology, we could detect them anywhere in our galaxy with a very modest detection approach," said Professor Lubin, who has written an intriguing paper about the concept.

"If we scale it up, as we're doing with direct energy systems, how far could we detect a civilisation equivalent to ours? The answer becomes that the entire universe is now open to us."

- NZ Herald

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