In Research:

Penguins have remote hideaway

Researchers used a drone to estimate the number of penguins.
Researchers used a drone to estimate the number of penguins.
Image: Rachael Herman, Louisiana State University, copyright Stony Brook University.
Biologists were certain that populations of Adélie Penguins were declining. In fact, the penguins were outsmarting everyone all along.

    A "super colony" of more than 1.5 million penguins has been discovered in the Danger Islands off the Antarctic Peninsula's northern tip, according to a news release from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
    The birds' private abode had gone unnoticed on the remote islands. But scientists spotted guano stains on NASA satellite imagery and arranged an expedition to count the birds.
    The researchers started counting soon after their arrival in December 2015. They also used images taken by a drone to make an accurate tally. Researchers hope the discovery will support proposed Marine Protected Areas near the Antarctic Peninsula.
    The research, "Multi-modal survey of Adélie penguin mega-colonies reveals the Danger Islands as a seabird hotspot" by Alex Borowicz et al, was published in the journal Scientific Reports, Feb. 20.

LIFE ON A DRY PLANET? If scientists can find life on Earth’s driest desert, could they also find it on Mars?
     Possibly, according to research led by Dirk Schulze-Makuch, Washington State University planetary scientist. His research team studied the driest corner of South America's Atacama Desert, where decades pass without any rain.
     They discovered that specialized bacteria can go dormant for decades -- but reactivates and reproduces in the infrequent rainfall. Researchers traveled to the desert in 2015 and, by chance, it rained. Afterward, they detected “an explosion of biological activity in the Atacama soil,” a university news release explains.
     When researchers returned in 2016 and 2017, they discovered that the microbial communities were reverting to a dormant state. Research of Mars has pointed to the presence of water frozen in the Martian soil, along with periodic snowfalls.
     The research concludes, “Our findings expand the range of hyperarid environments temporarily habitable for terrestrial life, which by extension also applies to other planetary bodies like Mars.”
     The research, published Feb. 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is: "Transitory microbial habitat in the hyperarid Atacama Desert," by Dirk Schulze-Makuch, et al.


     Mars ice would be available to astronauts

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