Top stories: hunting for new elements, asymmetrical aurorae, and the Mars rover’s last gasp | Science

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Top stories: hunting for new elements, asymmetrical aurorae, and the Mars rover’s last gasp | Science

(left to right): MAX AGUILERA HELLWEG; PIXABAY; NASA/JPL/Cornell University

A storied Russian lab is trying to push the periodic table past its limits—and uncover exotic new elements

Are we at the end of the periodic table? Russian physicist Yuri Oganessian, the only living scientist to have an element named in his honor, doesn’t think so. He will soon oversee a new wing of the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions in Dubna, Russia, a fabled place whose six particle accelerators have produced nine new elements over the past half-century, including the five heaviest known to science. The new facility, dubbed the Superheavy Element Factory, will start its hunt for the next-heaviest elements—119 and 120—this spring.

The northern and southern lights are different. Here’s why

The northern and southern lights, aurora borealis and aurora australis, respectively, undulate across the skies in hazy green and sometimes red ribbons near Earth’s polar regions. The two phenomena aren’t identical, however, and now researchers think they know why.

Winds fail to revive NASA’s Opportunity rover

There’s little hope left for rousing NASA’s Opportunity rover, which landed on Mars 15 years ago last month. Since June 2018, the rover has sat silently and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is running out of tricks to revive it. In the next few weeks, officials at the agency’s headquarters will decide whether to continue the search.

Ancient Earth rock found on the moon

What may be the oldest-known Earth rock has turned up in a surprising place: the moon. A 2-centimeter chip embedded in a larger rock collected by Apollo astronauts is actually a 4-billion-year-old fragment of our own planet, scientists say. Sometime after the rock formed on Earth, an asteroid impact blasted it all the way to the moon, which was three times closer to Earth than it is today. The fragment was later engulfed in a lunar breccia, a motley type of rock, and returned to Earth by Apollo 14 astronauts in 1971.

Fossil feathers reveal how dinosaurs took flight

Scientists have long known that many early dinosaurs, the ancestors of today’s birds, were covered in feathers, likely for warmth and to attract mates. But no one knows exactly when—and how—these feathered dinos took flight. Now, molecular evidence from feathered dinosaur fossils reveals how the key proteins that make up feathers became lighter and more flexible over time, as flightless dinosaurs evolved into flying ones—and later, birds.

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