Science news this week: Asia’s tallest tree and mysterious brain spirals

The tallest tree in Asia has been found in a canyon in China / An artist's illustration of the human mind containing a large spiral
(Image credit: Peking University / Shutterstock)

The news this week was dominated by the search for the OceanGate Titan submersible, which went missing during its descent to the wreckage of the Titanic. Tragically, the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that debris found near the sunken ocean liner was part of the lost sub, and that it suffered a "catastrophic implosion," killing the five men inside.

Elsewhere, there was plenty of science to exercise your brain cells this week. There was the exciting discovery of an exotic new state of matter made of particles called excitons; extraordinary research looking at the cosmological constant problem, which suggests the expansion of the universe could be an illusion; and the discovery that your brain itself is filled with mysterious spiral signals that could be key to our cognition.

Far more tangibly, we learnt of the tallest tree in Asia, which stands at an astonishing 335 feet (102 meters) tall, and an anatomically accurate, 42,00-year-old penis pendant — the world's earliest known depiction of human genitalia.

The fascinating subject of ancient animals also made science news, and this week we learned of an armored ankylosaur that hints at a previously unknown migration, a giant sea monster decapitated with one clean bite and a set of fossils washed up during New Zealand’s deadly cyclone Gabrielle.

In health news, we found out that the key genetic risk factors for Dupuytren's disease, a crippling hand disorder also known as "Viking’s disease," are derived from Neanderthals, and — rather unpleasantly — where the credit card's worth of microplastics we inhale every week end up.

At Live Science, we’re dedicated to bringing you the latest science news with clarity, authority and humor, and this is just a taste of the stories we have to offer. Be sure to visit the site daily to stay updated, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and sign up to our daily newsletter using the form below.

 Picture of the week 

Hundreds of lightning bolts illuminate the night sky during thunderstorm

A time-lapse image of lightning bolts from a thunderstorm near Mudanya in Turkey on June 16.  (Image credit: Uğur İkizler)

This striking time-lapse photo of more than 100 individual lightning bolts was taken during a fierce thunderstorm in Turkey. At least three different types of lightning are visible — cloud-to-cloud, where the bolt begins and ends in the clouds; cloud-to-ground, where the bolt hits the ground; and cloud-to-water, where the bolts strike the water.

Astrophotographer Uğur İkizler created the electrifying image by combining individual shots collected over a 50-minute period, with a lightning strike happening every 30 seconds on average.

"Each and every one of them is beautiful, but when I combined all the lightning bolts into a single frame, it was a frightening sight," İkizler told Live Science in an email. The thunderstorm was a "magnificent visual feast," he added.

 Weekend reading 

 And finally… 

A close-up image of the sun with a halo of plasma spinning around the star's north pole

A close-up image of the sun with a halo of plasma spinning around the star's north pole (Image credit: NASA/ Solar Dynamics Observatory)

From here on Earth, the sun may seem calm and steady, but our home star is in a perpetual state of flux, transforming over time from a uniform sea of fire to a chaotic jumble of warped plasma and back in a recurring 11-year cycle. 

During this cycle, the sun's magnetic field gets tangled up like a ball of tightly wound rubber bands until it eventually snaps, turning the star's north pole into the south pole in the process. The lead-up to this gargantuan reversal is a period known as the solar maximum and is filled with rising sunspot numbers, bizarre plasma structures and enormous solar storms. It is a potentially perilous time for Earth, which gets bombarded by solar storms that can disrupt communications systems, damage power infrastructure and send satellites plummeting toward the planet.

Some scientists think the next solar maximum may be coming sooner — and be much more powerful — than we thought, and that we are poorly prepared for it. 

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.