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Clues to Pollution painted by masters

Sunsets painted by the great masters are now providing a type of information their creators could never have imagined: Clues about air pollution. Polluted skies result in redder sunsets, and artists captured this redness on the canvas, said Andreas Kazantzidis, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Patras in Greece. For example, when the Tambora volcano in Indonesia erupted in 1815, ash and gas spewed into the atmosphere, producing bright red and orange sunsets in Europe for years. This is evident in the paintings of British master J.M.W. Turner. "From Turner you see that in this specific year he starts painting sunsets a little more reddish, compared to two or three years before," he said. "It's a huge new field for research."

advances in solar storm detection

A triple blast of plasma from the sun in 2012 was the first one that researchers have been able to detect without getting smacked, and that's a good thing, noted David Murr, associate professor of physics and Augsburg College and "space weather" researcher. The three-part "coronal mass ejection" was strong enough that, had it been directed at Earth, it could have caused $2.5 trillion in damages to electrical grids, satellites and other modern conveniences, knocking out major facilities for months in some cases. But this blast happened on the opposite side of the sun, and NASA's Stereo-A sun-orbiting spacecraft happened to be in position to detect it, the first time that's happened with a CME of this magnitude that didn't come close to Earth, Murr said. With more such detections, researchers could help governments and industry develop better assessments of the risks faced by increasingly critical technologies. "Our models are just getting good enough to make predictions a few days out," Murr said.

a Harbinger of Mammoth's Doom

Many woolly mammoths from the North Sea had a superfluous rib attached to their seventh vertebra, a sign that they suffered from inbreeding and harsh conditions during pregnancy, researchers report. This may have contributed to their extinction, scientists said. Writing in the journal PeerJ, Frietson Galis, an evolutionary developmental biologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and her colleagues report that the rib occurred in woolly mammoths 10 times as frequently as it does in modern elephants. Though the rib is harmless, it is generally a sign of some other sort of abnormality, she said.

Staff and wire reports