Scientific discoveries this week: 3-7-11

Christchurch, New Zealand – A new study by physiologists at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, shows that hagfish, an Eel-like proto-vertebrate, has a unique way of feeding. It involves the fish burying itself inside a corpse of another fish, eating it’s way out. Scientists now think that the hagfish may be absorbing the corpse’s nutrients through its own skin, while eating the flesh with it’s mouth.

Wyoming, U.S.A. – Geologists have long pondered exactly how the central Rocky Mountains formed. Geologists are now postulating that there was a bulge under a fractured portion of the North American crust known as the Wyoming craton. The forces of the tectonic plates rubbing against each other have been enough to keep the process going ever since to form the central region of the Rocky Mountains.

Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan – Two giant statues, known as the Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan, were systematically destroyed by the Taliban ten years ago. Archaeologists have been studying similar statues in earnest recently to try to understand more about what these statues looked like and what cultural significance they served. The statues, which were part of a monastic Buddhist complex that existed sixth to seventh century AD, were 38 and 55 meters high and were built to look out over the Bamiyan Valley. Archaeologists have now determined that the statues were painted bright colors and were carved out of the sandstone and then finished with a tough clay mixture that was very smooth and strong. There is talk of turning the area into a large, open-air museum.

Massachusetts, USA – A new study which seeks to better understand the mechanisms of sleep and brain function has uncovered more of what is going on under the surface as we are sleeping. Alpha waves, which indicate high levels of brain function and are closely connected to our ability to perceive our environment, have previously been thought to disappear during sleep. The reality is that they are still there, but are nearly concealed by other brain waves. Researchers found that the relative strength of the alpha waves was directly connected to how deeply you are sleeping, and control how easily you wake up to a disturbance.

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