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Weird new species, feathered fossils and salt in space: This week in space and science

Weird new species, feathered fossils and salt in space: This week in space and science

There was a lot going on in the news this week, so you might have missed that six new species of tentacle-nosed catfish were found in the Amazon River. And that’s not even the best part.

There were also two very different kinds of feathered fossil discoveries, beautiful photos from the cosmos and the surprising news that our galaxy is being “twisted.” Oh, and a salty young star. Space is weird.

Here’s all of the new knowledge you can drop on your friends this weekend.

Look at these really good fish dads

The Amazon rainforest is home to about one-third of the animal and plant species in the world, according to scientists (get ready for that to be on “Jeopardy!” at some point). So of course it’s where six new species of catfish would be found. And, naturally, they have tentacles on their faces.

“We discovered six new species of really cool catfish from the Amazon and Orinoco River basins. They have tentacles on their snouts, they have spines that stick out from their heads, almost like claws, to protect themselves and their nests, and their body is covered with bony plates like armor,” said Lesley de Souza, a conservation scientist and ichthyologist at Chicago’s Field Museum. “They’re warriors. They’re fish superheroes.”

Even better: The female fish just love those tentacles because they mean the males are going to be great dads. These catfish dads guard their babies when they’re still nestled inside eggs. Their job is to keep predators away, and those tentacles must look terrifying. Do not stop here. Do not eat my babies.

Feathered, not-so-much friends

It’s hard to imagine a better-looking fossil than this. The bird looks like it decided to take a nap after a long, happy life of eating seeds. Let’s assume that’s what happened.

It’s a 520 milion-year-old fossil of the earliest-known perching bird that was equipped with a beak to help it eat seeds. Perching birds, called passerines, make up 6,500 of the 10,000 bird species we know today. But millions of years ago, they were rare.

This particular bird lived and died near Fossil Lake in Wyoming, a site known for perfect fossilization that includes examples of fish, crocodiles, insects, reptiles and early mammals.

On an unrelated note, researchers found a previously undiscovered species of oviraptorosaur in Mongolia. It was part of a diverse group of feathered, bird-like dinosaurs that lived during the Cretaceous period.

What makes this guy, Gobiraptor minutus, distinct are the unusual thick jaws that could help it munch on eggs, seeds and mollusks with tough shells. And based on where it was found, it seems likely that they did well in wet environments about 66 million years ago.

It strikes the right balance between awkwardly adorable and kind of scary (including that “raptor” part of its name).

Milky Way’s getting twisted

Thinking about our galaxy getting warped and twisted sounds a little like a concerned parent worried that it’s been listening to too much loud music. But it’s really based on a new 3D map that suggests that the Milky Way is packed with stars and gas that influence its shape.

From afar, the Milky Way appears like a thin rotating disk of stars, orbiting the center every few hundred million years. In the center, hundreds of billions of stars and dark matter hold the galaxy together.

But as you move toward the outermost reaches of the galaxy, the gravitational glue of the center fades. In the outer disk, this keeps hydrogen gas from being confined, which contributes to an S-shaped warping.

Researchers discovered that the galaxy’s disk of stars is increasingly twisting, most likely due to the spinning of the disk. And the farther the stars are from the center, the more twisted it becomes. So the massive inner disk’s rotational force causes the outer disk to warp, the researchers concluded.

And it gives our galaxy a distinct shape in a universe full of otherwise flat-looking spiral galaxies.

Space bubbles

Although space bubbles are beautiful, that’s not the main takeaway from this photo — OK, it can be, for the moment. We’ll wait while you admire it.

This is the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring galaxy that may one day contribute to our doom — but that’s neither here nor there. What you’re looking at are stellar nurseries, churning out new massive stars. And those new stars ionize clouds of hydrogen, which look like bubbles.

Deep inside the cloud, a star is emitting a jet nearly 33 light-years in length, the first one observed in visible light outside our own galaxy.

Salt in spaaaaaaace

There are a lot of things in space that don’t appear obvious: elements, heavy metals, gold and apparently salt. And this salt was found around a young star that we bet Salt Bae could love.

In the Orion Nebula, astronomers and chemists have found the chemical traces of salt and other similar compounds in the dusty disk around Orion Source I, a massive and young star.

The discovery is exciting because these compounds have usually been seen only in outer layers of dying stars. Researchers believe the salts could originate from grains of dust that collided and contributed to the disk.

They don’t know whether this is present around other young stars, and only time and observation will tell.

The researchers called it both “shocking and exciting.” And probably well-seasoned.