Science news this week: Crocodile mysteries and spindles in space

Radio observations of the Milky Way's center / Cassius, a nearly 18-foot-long saltwater crocodile living in captivity, is roughly 120 years old
Radio observations of the Milky Way's center / Cassius, a nearly 18-foot-long saltwater crocodile living in captivity, is roughly 120 years old (Image credit: Farhad Yusef-Zadeh/Northwestern University - Marineland Melanesia Crocodile Habitat)

We've gone cuckoo for crocodiles this week, with no less than five stories on the sizable snappers.

First, we reported on the orange crocs of Nepal, and then, on a man's incredible escape from the jaws of death, before we swiftly moved on to the first recorded case of a crocodile "virgin birth." Maybe the croc born of this miraculous conception could live to the ripe old age of Cassius, the world’s oldest crocodile, who turned (about) 120 years old this week

Sadly, all is not positive news in the land of these giant reptiles. On Wednesday, we reported news of the suspected murder of a female croc named "Lizzie." It's the second such case in recent weeks of a butchered crocodile being discovered in the Australian state of Queensland, and the mystery of what, or who, killed the beautiful beasts is only deepening. 

Don't be fooled into thinking that's it from the animal kingdom — there were plenty of other stories snapping at the crocodiles' heels, like the ones about ongoing battle between human and orca, Pablo Escobar's "cocaine hippos," and the ever-impressive octopus brain. Plus, there's the perhaps unsurprising news that primates have been masturbating for at least 40 million years.

Speaking of long-lived things, space is shedding light on some seriously ancient oddities, like the hundreds of thin, invisible structures emanating from our galaxy's supermassive black hole, and the long galactic "tail" near a doomed galaxy group.

Stepping away from cosmology to the core of our own planet, scientists have drilled into an underwater mountain to collect a record-breaking chunk of Earth's mantle that's more than 3,280 feet (1 kilometer) long. Meanwhile, in Siberia, a 650,000 year-old megaslump of permafrost known as the "gateway to the underworld" is revealing secrets about our planet's ancient climate.

There was, of course, so much more we covered in science news this week, so be sure to check our website regularly to stay updated, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also sign up to our daily newsletter using the form below.

 Picture of the week 

photo shows the empire state building as viewed from a nearby skyscraper; the building and those nearby are surrounded by a dense cloud of yellow-orange smog made up of wildfire smoke

Smoky haze from wildfires in Canada diminishes the visibility of New York City's Empire State Building. (Image credit: David Dee Delgado / Stringer via Getty Images)

It might look like a scene from Blade Runner or another dystopian sci-fi, but this is actually the skyline of New York City on Wednesday (June 8), after wildfire smoke from Canada drifted over the city. With wildfires predicted to become more commonplace with climate change, could this alarming pollution be a sign of what's to come?

 Weekend reading 

 And finally… 

Wispy white noctilucent clouds swirl over an orange sunset and blue sea

(Image credit: Getty)

Look up an hour or two after sunset or before sunrise over the next few months and you may see ethereal blue, silver or golden streaks in the Northern Hemisphere's northern skies. Called noctilucent clouds (meaning "night-shining" clouds in Latin), these strange-looking patterns in the sky are the highest, driest, coldest and rarest clouds on Earth.

If you want to see the clouds at their best, you'll need a good view, in the bottom 20 to 25 degrees of the northern horizon, as the stars begin to shine in late twilight. You don't need any fancy equipment to see them — they are easy enough to spot with the naked eye — but with a good pair of stargazing binoculars you'll get a fabulous close-up of one of the summer's most elusive and impressive sky sights. 

Editor-in-Chief, Live Science

Alexander McNamara is the Editor-in-Chief at Live Science, and has more than 15 years’ experience in publishing at digital titles. More than half of this time has been dedicated to bringing the wonders of science and technology to a wider audience through editor roles at New Scientist and BBC Science Focus, developing new podcasts, newsletters and ground-breaking features along the way. Prior to this, he covered a diverse spectrum of content, ranging from women’s lifestyle, travel, sport and politics, at Hearst and Microsoft. He holds a degree in economics from the University of Sheffield, and before embarking in a career in journalism had a brief stint as an English teacher in the Czech Republic. In his spare time, you can find him with his head buried in the latest science books or tinkering with cool gadgets.