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Go to the ant

Insects show researchers how to sample data


Go to the ant

Creation continues to provide models for scientific progress—this time in the behavior of ants. Researchers at the University of Bristol in England investigated how rock ants, living within a vast social complex, forage for food, water, nesting sites, and other needs so efficiently. As they explored the cracks and crevices of rocks, the ants seemed to somehow communicate with one another to indicate which trails were dead ends. The scientists thought the principles underlying the ants’ secret could help with computer sampling techniques.

For a paper published by The Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the team of scientists watched the ants explore a small arena one at a time. The researchers cleaned the arena between individual ants in one group but not in another. The group without cleaning covered much more ground. The researchers concluded the ants left chemical traces that marked paths leading to dead ends.

“This would be a reversal of the Hansel and Gretel story,” lead researcher Edmund Hunt said. “Instead of following each other’s trails, they would avoid them in order to explore collectively.”

The researchers applied what they learned to develop a new, more efficient method of analyzing data and making complex probability estimates.

Inspired by the ants, the researchers devised a way to ensure that a computer program takes samples from a wider area of a data set, rather than repeatedly pulling from the same area, by leaving a digital trace of already-sampled regions. According to Hunt, their findings highlight an interesting parallel between the exploration needs of the ants and the data sampling problems facing scientists.

“Truly, the evidence of God’s design shines forth once again in His amazing creation,” said Jeffrey P. Tomkins, a geneticist and director of life sciences for the Institute for Creation Research. He noted how this study could reflect Biblical advice in Proverbs 6:6 to consider the ant: “Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.”


A Pac-Man space puzzle

Astronomers discovered a mystery object that is either the largest neutron star yet detected or the smallest black hole.

When massive stars die, they collapse and turn into black holes. Smaller stars die in an explosion called a supernova. These explosions leave behind dense fragments called neutron stars. The heaviest known neutron star measures no more than 2.5 times the mass of our sun. The smallest black hole is about five times as large as the sun. For decades, astronomers have puzzled over why no neutron stars or black holes appear in the gap between those two sizes.

In a paper published on June 23 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, scientists announced they discovered an object in the middle, at 2.6 times the mass of the sun. Astronomers found the object on Aug. 14, 2019. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and the European Virgo detector in Italy picked up gravitational waves when a black hole consumed the celestial body.

The fact that light-based telescopes did not detect the mysterious object could indicate it was a black hole. But it could have been a neutron star too far away for Earth telescopes to see. Scientists also have speculated that a black hole consumed it all at once, leaving no light signature behind.

“I think of Pac-Man eating a little dot,” said co-author Vicky Kalogera. “When the masses are highly asymmetric, the smaller neutron star can be eaten in one bite.” —J.B.


Deepening mystery

Researchers in Britain just discovered at least 20 massive shafts in a circular pattern around Durrington Walls, one of the country’s largest prehistoric monuments 2 miles away from Stonehenge. The discovery raises more questions about the society that created the famous ring of standing stones that are 13 feet high, 7 feet wide, and weigh 25 tons.

The shafts, dating from 4,500 years ago, are close to 33 yards wide and more than 15 feet deep. The discovery gives “insight to the past that shows an even more complex society than we could ever imagine,” said Richard Bates, a researcher at the University of St. Andrews School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. “Clearly, sophisticated practices demonstrate that the people were so in tune with natural events to an extent that we can barely conceive in the modern world we live in today.”

The archaeologists think the pits bordered a sacred area and directed worshippers there or warned away those not permitted to enter. The obvious care and planning on such a large scale and the precise positioning of the shafts suggest the prehistoric inhabitants used some type of counting system to track their paces across long distances. It also suggests the structure and pattern of the pits held important, likely religious, significance. —J.B.

Battling over bones

A couple in Montana just won the rights to dinosaur fossils found on their ranch.

The prehistoric skeletons include a pair of dinosaurs that appear locked in battle, a triceratops skull, and a Tyrannosaurus rex that sold for millions of dollars. In a 2014 auction, the dueling dinosaurs received a bid of $5.5 million, falling short of the $6 million reserve price.

In 2016, Mary Ann and Lige Murray sought a court order saying they owned the fossils. Brothers Jerry and Bo Severson, whose father owned the property before, still held most of the mineral rights to the land. U.S. District Judge Susan Watters of Billings, Mont., found the fossils belonged to the surface estate and granted the Murrays ownership.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018 overturned Watters’ ruling, giving the fossils to the Seversons. In 2019 the Montana legislature passed a bill clarifying that dinosaur fossils come under a property’s surface rights.

The full 9th Circuit on June 17 upheld the 2016 decision, leaving the Murrays with the fossils. —J.B

Julie Borg

Julie is a WORLD contributor who covers science and intelligent design. A clinical psychologist and a World Journalism Institute graduate, Julie resides in Dayton, Ohio.

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