Tag Archives: Chile

Scientists Just Discovered a “Chameleon” Vine That Can Make Itself Look Like Any Tree It’s Growing On

The practice of mimicry is pretty popular in nature. Whether its a harmless king snake posing as a venomous coral snake or a cuckoo bee pretending to be its much more dangerous cousin the yellow jacket, animals often use mimicry as one of their tools for protection.

Moths often have large eye-like spots on their wings to mimic owls and scare away potential predators

Before now, scientists had only found a handful of plant species that exhibited mimicry (which is known as crypsis when referring to plants), and all of these species mimicked only one other type of plant.

The recently-discovered Boquila trifoliolata tree vine is in a class of its own when it comes to crypsis, however. The vine, native to Chile and Argentina, exhibits a quality known as mimetic polymorphism which allows it to change its appearance in a number of different ways, depending on its environment. Before the discovery of the vine, butterflies were the only known species to exhibit this quality.

As the B. trifoliolata vine climbs a tree and spreads to its branches, the vine is able to change the size, shape, color, orientation and even the vein patterns of its leaves to match the foliage of the branch it’s growing on.

These leaves, which have totally different sizes and shapes, came from the same vine

If it happens to cross over to a nearby tree, it adapts to match the leaves of the new tree as well, even if they’re many times larger and shaped differently than the leaves of the first tree.

This mind-bowing ability provides the vine with protection by camouflaging it from plant-eating bugs like weevils and leaf beetles.

Scientists still don’t know how the vine figures out what its host tree looks like to be able to mimic it, but they hypothesize that it could be reading subtle cues from the odors or chemical secretions of the host tree.

Read more from Science Mag here.


Blowing the Top Off a Mountain to Build a Telescope So Big It Can See Signs of Life On Other Planets

In a few short weeks, engineers in the Chilean Coastal Ranges of the Andes Mountains in South America will be blowing off the top of Cerro Armazones.  Standing at 10,000 feet, it’s one of the tallest peaks in the region. Here’s Gird Hudepohl, the head engineer for the project:

“We will take about 80ft off the top of the mountain to create a plateau – and when we have done that, we will build the world’s biggest telescope there.”

Cerro Armazones, future site of the world’s largest telescope (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The Coastal Ranges region is extremely arid, which increases visibility since water vapor in the air obscures a telescope’s vision (this is also why telescopes at high elevations have much better vision than those closer to sea level).

This isn’t Hudepohl’s first rodeo. He works for the European Southern Observatory and was in charge of the demolition of another nearby peak (Cerro Paranal) which is now home to one of the world’s most advanced observatories.

The observatory at Cerro Paranal is equipped with four VLTs (Very Large Telescopes), each the size of “a block of flats” and each equipped with an 8m wide primary mirror (thats more than 24 feet).

Here’s some pictures of the European Southern Observatory (click an image to enlarge):

The new telescope, however, will be bigger than all four of those VLTs combined. The E-ELT (European Extremely Large Telescope- they’re not very creative with the names obviously) will be equipped with a massive 39m (128ft) primary mirror made up 800 segments, each 1.4 meters in diameter but only a few centimeters thick. Each segment must be calibrated with microscopic precision for the telescope to function correctly.

When it’s finished (projected completion is 2025), the telescope will be housed in a 74m (~243ft) dome and weigh in at almost 3,000 tons. The project has a price tag of $1.34 billion.

Artist rendering of the completed E-ELT

The telescope is obviously extremely expensive, but the potential benefits it will provide are well worth it. Here’s Cambridge University astronomer Professor Gerry Gilmore explaining why the E-ELT will be such a major breakthrough:

“[Right now] we can see exoplanets but we cannot study them in detail because – from our distant perspective – they appear so close to their parent stars. However, the magnification which the E-ELT will provide will mean we will be able to look at them directly and clearly. In 15 years, we should have a picture of a planet around another star and that picture could show its surface changing colour just as Earth does as the seasons change – indicating that vegetation exists on that world. We will then have found alien life.”

Read the full story from The Guardian here.

The Flamingo’s Mating Dance Is Guaranteed to Put a Smile On Your Face (Video)

These particular flamingoes are Andean Flamingoes, which live in the Andes Mountains of Chile in South America.

While all flamingoes across the globe do a similar mating dance, each species adds their own particular flair and swag to it.

The Birth of A Star Captured Like Never Before

This image is the result of combined observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) which was just recently constructed in Chile. The image shows the erratic throes of star birth as never before; the infant star object is known as HH 46/47.

The image shows  two twin supersonic jets emanating from the central star as they blast through and combust the surrounding gases to create the two bubbly lobes in the picture (the one coming forward that appears pointing to the right, and the one directly opposite, pointing backwards and to the left).

Here is a great diagram illustrating star formation. Click on the image to see the full size version and zoom in on in each step. (The star above is in between steps 3 and 4)

For more information, check out the link below (official NASA press release):