Paleontologists Discover Large Lizard Fossil in Antarctica

Antarctanax shackleton pic

Antarctanax shackleton

Valerie Varnuska possesses a strong interest in multiple subjects, including astronomy and the natural sciences. A resident of Westbury, NY, Valerie Varnuska enjoys learning about new discoveries in paleontology.

To understand the biodiversity that thrived in Antarctica more than 250 million years ago, paleontologists brave the inhospitable environment to unearth fossils. Many of the specimens date back to the period following the end-Permian mass extinction, which killed more than 90 percent of the animals on earth.

In the January 2019 edition of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, a team of South African and American researchers published their discovery of an Antarctic lizard fossil. The iguana-like Antarctanax shackleton, a distant ancestor of dinosaurs and modern-day crocodiles, proliferated in Antarctica after the mass extinction.

By analyzing bone samples, the scientists theorize that Antarctanax shackleton was a carnivore that ate small animals and insects. The discovery suggests that Antarctica’s once-lush ecosystem served as a habitat to a more diverse group of reptiles, mammals, and insects than previously thought.


Astronomers Find Solar System’s Most Distant Dwarf Planet


2018 VG18 pic

2018 VG18

A resident of Westbury, NY, Valerie Varnuska has a passion for science. Valerie Varnuska enjoys spending much of her free time star gazing and studying astronomy.

On December 17, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center announced the discovery of a pink dwarf planet that exists roughly 120 astronomical units (AU) from the Earth, which is the equivalent of 120 times the distance between Earth and the sun. The planet was officially named 2018 VG18, but was also given the nickname Farout due to its being the most far out planet observed in the solar system to date. Pluto, by comparison, orbits at 34 AUs, while Eris, which was previously the most distant object observed in the solar system, is 96 AUs away.

The planet was first observed in November via the Hawaii-based Subaru 8-meter telescope, and its existence was later confirmed by the Magellan telescope at Chile’s Las Campanas Observatory. It is estimated to be 310 miles in diameter, which is one-third the size of Pluto. Its pinkish hue leads researchers to believe it is covered in ice.

Recent Paleontology Discoveries Center on LUCA, Fish Skeletons

 Last Universal Common Ancestor pic

Last Universal Common Ancestor

A resident of Westbury, NY, Valerie Varnuska enjoys the fitness benefits of the natural world and has a passion for watching the stars. Another of Valerie Varnuska’s interests is paleontology, which focuses on the fossil record of plants and animals and provides a better understanding of the earth’s past.

A recent Forbes article brought attention to landmark discoveries of 2018, including the positing of a Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA). A single-celled organism that likely resembled a bacterium, LUCA cannot be less than 3.9 million years old, as this is the moment at which key splits encompassing 102 species and 29 genes first occurred. At the same time, LUCA may be significantly older than 3.9 million years and may indeed extend to 4.5 billion years and the formation of Earth.

Another study involved building a database spanning 3,000 fish fossils from between 480 to 360 million years old. A key finding was that the oldest vertebrate fossils developed in environments close to the shore, including lagoons and tidal zones. Their descendants then fanned out across the ocean. One impetus for this evolution may have been waves constantly crashing along the shore, which necessitated stronger skeletons and a backbone.

Research Sheds Light on How Radiation Strips Planets’ Atmospheres

Venus pic


A Westbury, New York, resident, Valerie Varnuska is an arts and nature enthusiast and avid stargazer. Valerie Varnuska has a strong interest in the night sky and follows developments in the astronomy realm.

As reported in Astronomy magazine, recent research at the Canary Islands’ Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias indicates that stars that emit high ultraviolet (UV) radiation levels may strip the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets. Observing a number of close orbiting gas giants, astronomers discovered that radiation bombardments were causing a loss of helium. They theorize that this peeling away of clouds results in planets that are barren, rocky, and dense in composition.

If it holds, the theory could prove invaluable in enabling astronomers to compare exoplanet atmospheres and gain a fuller understanding of how they evolve, depending on their distance from their host stars.

How Being Near Water Can Improve Your Health


Health pic


Valerie Varnuska of Westbury, NY, enjoys astronomy and cooking. Valerie Varnuska is also a lover of the outdoors and nature, and enjoys being near the ocean.

Studies have proven time and time again that spending time in nature provides physical, emotional, and mental health benefits. However, much of this research has been focused on how access to open green spaces and water promotes healthy exercise and relaxing activities. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in how being near water can affect the human brain and body.

According to a 2016 study by researchers at Michigan State University, individuals who live near a body of water report lower stress levels. Interestingly, the study did not find the same benefit for individuals who live near green spaces, leading the researchers to conclude that simply looking at bodies of water can provide a calming effect.

This research reinforces what other psychologists and scientists have asserted over the years. One researcher, Walter Nichols, suggested that humans have a “blue mind,” which is his term for the meditative state that is triggered by the sight of water. Additionally, multiple sleep studies have indicated that the sound of running water or waves can improve sleep quality.