Eight stories you missed while on summer vacation

Catch up on the science you may not have had a chance to read


A health worker with the World Health Organization works in Congo’s North Kivu Province. She is screening people who may have come in contact with someone sick with Ebola.

J. Kannah/WHO

Taking a break from the news every now and then can be healthy. And it’s especially understandable during summer vacation. That’s when you should be having fun with friends and family. But such a break means, of course, that you may have missed some big news. Some important. Some just fun. Here are eight stories to help you catch up.

An Ebola outbreak became an emergency

It’s been more than a year since an outbreak of Ebola began in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And in July, the World Health Organization officially declared this outbreak a public health emergency. There’s no worry of the disease spreading globally. But the risk in this region of Africa remains high.

The golden toad Incilius periglenes was once abundant in the cloud forests of Central America. Its last recorded sighting was May 15, 1989.
Papa Lima Whiskey/Wikimedia Commons

A million species could vanish from Earth

A new tally revealed just how many species humans could soon wipe off the planet. One million. That’s equal to 1 in every 8 animal or plant species. And it’s tens to hundreds of times faster than the extinction rate typical of the past 10 million years.

A friendly neighborhood Spider-Man might help calm people’s fear of spiders, a new study shows.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Spider-Man can fight off spider fear

Lots of people are frightened of spiders and other creepy crawlies. But a study published earlier this year offers some hope. Watching a bit of the superheroes Spider-Man or Ant-Man may help people see spiders and ants less negatively. The scientists behind the research hope their work may one day help people with serious phobias.

A measles infection can bring a rash, fever, cough and sore eyes. Other impacts of the virus, though, can last years after those initial symptoms are gone, scientists are finding.

CHBD/E+/Getty Images

How measles messes with the immune system

Some people may dismiss measles as being only a rash. But scientists now know it’s much more dangerous. The measles virus makes an all-out attack on the immune system. And it can leave people at risk of developing infections from other viruses and bacteria for years.

An extra finger on the right hand of a 17-year-old boy is controlled by its own muscles and tendons.
C. Mehring et al/Nature Communications 2019

A sixth finger proves extra handy

About one or two in every 1,000 babies will be born with extra digits. And for some, spare fingers can be very helpful. Two people born with six fingers on their hands, for instance, can tie their shoes single handed.

People throughout Central Europe fought to stay hydrated during the unexpectedly hot weather they encountered this summer.
CasarsaGuru/Getty Images

Climate change and a European heat wave

Extreme heat hit Europe in June, leading to broken records in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. Climate change didn’t cause the heat wave. But scientists calculate that it made the heat wave five times more likely than normal.

This section of California’s State Route 178 crumbled and closed after a powerful magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the region on July 5.

Two large earthquakes rattled California

A magnitude 6.4 quake struck near the town of Ridgecrest on July 4. Then a magnitude 7.1 earthquake shook the area the next day. The earthquakes left scientists scrambling to explain what led to the temblors — and what they mean for the future.

There’s a potentially new kind of space object out there. The “ploonet.” This is a moon that escaped the gravity of a gas giant. These ploonets might explain the existence of comets around distant stars, shown here in an artist’s illustration.
Lynnette Cook/Fuse/NASA

What’s a ploonet?

A ploonet is a planet that used to be a moon. Scientists have yet to actually find a ploonet. There aren’t any in our solar system. But they could be common elsewhere. Now, researchers just need to find one.

Sarah Zielinski is the Editor, Print at Science News Explores. She has degrees in biology and journalism and likes to write about ecology, plants and animals. She has three cats: Oscar, Saffir and Alani.

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