Discovered: Why this dwarf planet has little atmosphere; roots of PTSD run deep; climate change could affect our past as well as our future; studying holes in old books reveals insect histories.
Makemake's unmade atmosphere. The dwarf planet known as Makemake lies beyond Pluto, way out in far reaches of our solar system. But many astronomers still thought that it was substantial enough to harbor an atmosphere similar to Pluto's. No such luck, according to researchers led by Jose-Luis Ortiz of Spain's Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia. They found that Makemake may be the right size for sustaining an atmosphere, but it is considerable less dense than neighbors like Pluto, making it home to a patchy, unsubstantial atmosphere. "We believe that Makemake probably had plenty of nitrogen ice in the ancient past, like Pluto and Eris, but because Makemake is not very massive, its gravity could not retain the gas," says Ortiz. [New Scientist]
Climate change reaches back in time. The big question on everyone's mind when it comes to climate change is what the future will be like in an increasingly warm world. But if you're an archaeologist, you might actually be thinking about how climate change affects the past. Sonoma University State researcher Mike Newland is leading efforts to examine California's coastal archaeological sites before they're swallowed up by rising sea levels. "This is the history of all of us, everywhere, worldwide that's going to be impacted by this," Newland says. "Can you imagine what's going to happen to the Greek coastline and all the islands? Holy cow. North Africa, the Middle East. The whole Aegean is going to get hammered. If you get six feet of sea level rise, what's going to happen to Venice? These are some of our most important sites as a species." [KQED]
Worm-chewed books unlock insect histories. If you come across a musty old book full of holes, don't chuck it in the trash. Send it to Pennsylvania State University's Blair Hedges, who studies insect-made holes in books in order to better understand entomological history. Wormholes in old books are what Hedges calls "trace fossils," and they reveal a lot about the beetles that are the subject of his work. He's interested in moving from books to woodcut prints in the near future. "Benjamin Franklin had his own printing house in Philadelphia and made some famous woodcut prints, such as Join or Die," he says. "Different species of wood-boring insects have made their mark on those woodcuts as well, and discovering their history in the same way is now possible.” [Discover]
PTSD cases could have roots in childhood. The narrative of shell-shocked soldiers returning home with newly developed cases of post-traumatic stress disorder will be a familiar one to those following news of widespread veteran suicides. However, a team of Danish and American psychologists has found that traumatic events in adulthood are not responsible for PTSD development alone. Many of the patients that come down with the affliction had troubled childhoods, upbringings that may have sown the seeds for future psychological issues. The derived this conclusion after studying 746 subjects, before and after being deployed. [Scientific American]