Measuring moon drift by the inch:

1. The moon is drifting away. Every year, it gets about an inch and a half farther from us. Hundreds of millions of years from now, it will be distant enough that there will be no more more total solar eclipses.

For decades, scientists have measured the moon's retreat by firing a laser at light-reflecting panels, known as retroreflectors, that were left on the lunar surface, and then timing the light's round trip.

But the moon's five retroreflector's are old, and they're now much less efficient at flinging back light. To determine whether a layer of moon dust might be the cause, researchers devised an audacious plan.

They bounced laser light off a much smaller but newer retroreflector mounted aboard a NASA spacecraft that was skimming over the moon's surface and it worked.

The five retroreflectors, which were delivered by Apollo astronauts and two robotic rovers, are akin to really long yardsticks.

By previously timing how long it takes laser light to travel to the moon, bounce off a retroreflector and return to Earth [roughly 2.5 seconds, give or take], scientists can calculate the distance between the moon and Earth. [Katherine Kornei]

Drinking it up :

2. One way or another, the nectar is theirs. For a century, scientists have known how honeybees drink nectar. They lap it up.

They don't lap like dogs and cats, videos of whose mesmerizing drinking habits have been a staple of high speed video. But they do dip their hairy tongues rapidly in and out of syrupy nectar to draw it up into their mouths.

For the last century or so, scientists have been convinced that this is the only way they drink nectar.

Scientists have now discovered bees can also suck nectar, which is more efficient when the sugar content is lower and the nectar is less vicious.

High-speed videos of bees drinking a nectar substitute in a lab shows that not only do honeybees have this unexpected ability, they can go back and forth from one drinking mode to another. [James Gorman]

Toothy Outreach

3. Creature always stuck its neck out. 

Nearly 250 million years ago, a very odd reptile patrolled the shorelines and coves of Triassic Alps.

Called Tanystropheus, it had a toothy head and a body that resembled those of monitor lizards.

But between them stretched a horizontal, giraffe-like neck. The question of how this 20-foot creature used that nine-foot neck - how it could even breathe or swallow - has bedeviled paleontologists for over 100 years.

But new research shows evidence that its body was primed for an aquatic hunting strategy.

Also, research shows that the creature came in two varieties : regular and miniature.

Tantstropheus was initially described as in the 1850s, based on a few tubelike bones. But only in the 1930s did scientists realize they were dealing with a reptile whose way of life they couldn't figure out. [Asher Elbein]

Odd Hues

4. What produces the shiny blue color of a viburnum bush. Big leafy viburnum bushes have lined yards in the United States and Europe for decades - their domes of blossoms have an understated attractiveness.

But once the flowers of the Viburnum tinus plant fade, the shrub makes something unusual : shiny, brilliantly blue-fruit.

Scientists had noticed that pigments related to those in blueberries exist in viburnam fruit, and assumed this must be the source of their odd hue.

Blue fruit, after all, is rare. But researchers now say viburnum's blue is actually created by layers of molecules, arranged under the skin's surface, a form what scientists call structural color. [Veronique Greenwood]


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