Antonio Lira
'Earthquake lights' flash during a 2017 quake in Mexico City.

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CNN  — 

I once felt the immense force unleashed by an earthquake in 1999 when I was living in Taipei, Taiwan.

magnitude 7.6 quake rocked the island not long after I moved there. I remember my newly purchased mirror falling off the wall (it didn’t smash into pieces) before I rushed out into the street where my neighbors had gathered.

We were far from the epicenter and walked away unscathed, but the experience left me feeling humbled by nature’s raw power.

It was a feeling I was reminded of again this week when writing about a mysterious seismic phenomenon witnessed during Morocco’s recent devastating earthquake.

Force of nature

Reports of multicolor “earthquake lights,” such as the ones seen in videos captured before Morocco’s 6.8 magnitude quake on September 8, go back centuries to ancient Greece.

But it’s only with the advent of smartphone video and security camera footage providing images such as the one seen above that was taken during a quake in Mexico City in 2017 that scientists have been able to study the phenomenon in greater depth.

Researchers are beginning to understand the different forms the lights take and where they might appear. One 2014 study found the mystery lights could result from certain rocks when put under stress, but there is still no consensus on exactly what causes these outbursts.

However, some geophysicists hope that the phenomenon could form part of an early warning mechanism for earthquakes.

Other worlds

The James Webb Space Telescope has discovered exciting — if tentative — evidence that a planet in its host star’s habitable zone could support water.

Closely orbiting a cool dwarf star 120 light-years from Earth, the distant exoplanet — called K2-18b — is 8.6 times as massive as our world.

An analysis of Webb’s observations found the planet has abundant methane and carbon dioxide in its atmosphere.

The presence of these carbon-bearing molecules, along with a scarcity of ammonia, could indicate an atmosphere rich with hydrogen that surrounds an ocean world. The data also hints at the presence of a very special molecule that on Earth “is only produced by life,” according to NASA.

Meanwhile, an abandoned Apollo lunar lander module is causing tremors on the moon’s surface, researchers revealed.

Look up

The first class of women astronauts selected by NASA is shown in 1978 ahead of training: (from left) Rhea Seddon, Anna Fisher, Judy Resnik, Shannon Lucid, Sally Ride and Kathy Sullivan.

In the 1970s, a NASA report on the lack of astronaut diversity dryly noted that the space agency had sent three females into space — two spiders named Arabella and Anita and Miss Baker, a monkey.

That all changed in 1983 when Sally Ride made history as the first American woman in space, completing a six-day mission on the space shuttle Challenger.

But Ride wasn’t the only woman astronaut in the running for that distinction. A new book tells the story of the six women in the first coed astronaut class and the sexism they faced as they vied for a chance to be on that historic shuttle flight.


An effective treatment for indigestion may already be in your spice rack.

Researchers in Thailand compared how more than 150 people with dyspepsia, or indigestion, responded to either the drug omeprazole or turmeric — which contains the compound curcumin — or a combination of the two.

The study found no significant disparities in the symptoms among the groups after up to 56 days of using the different treatments. But a doctor who wasn’t involved in the research cautioned that further investigation is needed and that people should talk to their physicians before ditching their medications.

Once upon a planet

Jesse Rorabaugh
A close-up captures a red fire ant, an invasive species that has spread around the world.

Water hyacinths in Africa, brown tree snakes on Guam and zebra mussels in North America are all part of a problem that costs $423 billion every year, according to a United Nations-backed report.

Known as alien or invasive species, these organisms drive plant and animal extinctions, threaten food security and exacerbate environmental catastrophes across the globe.

Now, one of the world’s most rampant invasive species, the red fire ant, has been detected in Europe for the first time.

“Finding this species in Italy was a big surprise, but we knew this day would come,” said Mattia Menchetti, a researcher at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Spain.


Take in these remarkable stories.

— US astronaut Frank Rubio is on the cusp of becoming the first American to spend more than one calendar year in microgravity.

— A new analysis found that Earth has entered the danger zone on several key indicators of planetary health due to human actions, but some experts question the model.

— Bloodthirsty mosquitoes spread a plethora of diseases, making them the world’s deadliest animal. But could we simply get rid of the whole lot?

— An otherworldly view of a nautilus floating on a piece of debris is one of the winning images in the Ocean Photographer of the Year competition.

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