February's Chile earthquake was so powerful that it likely shifted an Earth axis and shortened the length of a day—a NASA revelation that helped make this story National Geographic News's tenth most visited of 2010.
By speeding up Earth's rotation, the magnitude 8.8 earthquake—the fifth strongest ever recorded, according to the USGS—should have shortened an Earth day by 1.26 millionths of a second, according to new computer-model calculations by geophysicist Richard Gross of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Evolution has been caught in the act, according to a study we covered this summer suggesting that a species of Australian lizard is abandoning egg-laying in favor of live birth.
Along the warm coastal lowlands of New South Wales (map), the yellow-bellied three-toed skink lays eggs to reproduce. But individuals of the same species living in the state's higher, colder mountains are almost all giving birth to live young.
Like part of a cosmic Russian doll, our universe may be nested inside a black hole that is itself part of a larger universe.
In turn, all the black holes found so far in our universe—from the microscopic to the supermassive—may be doorways into alternate realities.
According to a mind-bending study released this past spring, a black hole is actually a tunnel between universes—a type of wormhole. The matter the black hole attracts doesn't collapse into a single point, as has been predicted, but rather gushes out a "white hole" at the other end of the black one, the theory goes.
Image courtesy NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al., MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al. and ESO/WFI
5. "Yoda Bat," Other Rarities Found
This tube-nosed fruit bat—immortalized elsewhere as the "Yoda bat"—is just one of the roughly 200 species encountered during two scientific expeditions to Papua New Guinea in 2009, including a katydid that "aims for the eyes" and a frog that does a mean cricket impression, Conservation International announced in October.
Though seen on previous expeditions, the bat has yet to be formally documented as a new species, or even named. Like other fruit bats, though, it disperses seeds from the fruit in its diet, perhaps making the flying mammal crucial to its tropical rain forest ecosystem.
In all, the expeditions to Papua New Guinea's Nakanai and Muller mountain ranges found 24 new species of frogs, 2 new mammals, and nearly a hundred new insects. The remote island country's mountain ranges—which have yielded troves of new and unusual species in recent years—are accessible only by plane, boat, foot, or helicopter.
Photograph courtesy Julius Nielsen, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources
2. Dead Sea Scrolls Mystery Solved?
The recent decoding of a cryptic cup, the excavation of ancient Jerusalem tunnels, and other archaeological detective work may help solve one of the great biblical mysteries: Who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?
The new clues hint that the scrolls, which include some of the oldest known biblical documents, may have been the textual treasures of several groups, hidden away during wartime—and may even be "the great treasure from the Jerusalem Temple," which held the Ark of the Covenant, according to the Bible.
Using its fins to walk, rather than swim, along the ocean floor in an undated picture, the pink handfish is one of nine newly named species described in a scientific review of the handfish family released in May.
The new-species determinations were made based on a number of factors, including number of vertebrae and fin rays, coloration, the presence of scales and spines, and proportional body measurements, according to the review's author.
Even among the previously known species, the fish are poorly studied, the review authors added. Little is known about their biology or behavior.