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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    This week in science: unicorns, volcanoes, and lakes on Pluto

    Gray skies for Alaska

    Travel was limited in Alaska on Monday due to an ash cloud that shrouded the skies after a volcanic eruption.

    The volcano, named Pavlof and located over 600 miles southwest of Anchorage, erupted late Sunday evening. The eruption left a cloud of ash that rose over 20,000 feet shortly following the eruption. The eruption continued throughout Sunday night and into early Monday morning, by which time the ash cloud had grown to over 37,000 feet. Due to high winds in the area—over 50 miles per hour—the ash cloud spans a 400-mile region, covering a large portion of the Alaskan interior in ash and causing several flights to be canceled.

    “Volcanic ash is angular and sharp and has been used as an industrial abrasive,” according to the Washington Post. “The powdered rock can cause a jet engine to shut down. USGS geologists have compared it to flying into a sand blaster.”

    The USGS will continue to monitor Pavlof and, in the meantime, has raised its volcano alert to the highest level, warning of hazards in the air and on the ground.

    Sitting lakeside on Pluto

    Recent data collected by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft suggests that, in addition to frozen oceans, Pluto may have had and will continue to have lakes on the surface.

    Considering Pluto is in orbit at an average of 3.67 billion miles away from the sun, the dwarf planet never reaches temperatures warm enough to have lakes made of water, but could possibly have lakes of liquid nitrogen.

    The temperature on Pluto is now around negative 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Its atmospheric pressure is very low, having been nearly 10,000 times greater in the past. This could be why there are currently no lakes on its surface.

    Computer models show that when Pluto’s atmospheric pressure is high, conditions may support liquid nitrogen, according to “Discovery News.”

    Given the current state of Pluto’s atmosphere, liquid nitrogen would be impossible to sustain on the surface. In time, the surface could become a vacationer’s paradise again, covered in placid lakes of liquid nitrogen.

    Unicorns were real and they lived in Kazakhstan

    A fossil was found of a prehistoric unicorn in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan.

    Elasmotherium sibiricum, colloquially known as the Siberian unicorn, was thought to have died out 350,000 years ago, but the discovery of a fossilized Siberian unicorn skull is now making experts think the Siberian unicorn last lived on Earth only 29,000 years ago.

    The skull, which had a single horn protruding from the forehead, was radiocarbon dated and found to be around 29,000 years old, making the Siberian unicorn much longer-lived than was thought before.

    “Most likely, it was a very large male of very large individual age,” said Andrey Shpanski, paleontologist at Tomsk State University, in an interview on “The dimensions of this rhino are the biggest of those described in the literature, and the proportions are typical.”

    The Siberian unicorn measured up to 6-foot-6 and nearly 15 feet in length, weighing in at 8,000 pounds, according to U.S. News. These dimensions make E. sibiricum closer to the size of a wooly mammoth, rather than its closest modern analog, the rhinoceros.

    One man’s trash is a sperm whale’s dinner

    Autopsies done on 13 sperm whales that washed ashore in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, resulted in a startling discovery.

    Plastic car parts and fisherman’s netting were found inside the whale’s stomachs. The netting was over 40 feet long and the plastic car part was roughly 28 inches in length.

    All of the whales that washed ashore were male, aged 10 to 15 and averaged 16 tons—much less than average for a sperm whale. Storms in the northeast Atlantic caused the whale’s food source to move into the North Sea, and the hungry mammals ventured into shallow waters, leaving them stranded, according to

    While it was found the whales died from cardiac and circulatory failure, not the foreign matter in their bellies, this find is still a stark reminder of our impact on the environment.

    “These findings show us the results of our plastic orientated society,” said Schleswig-Holstein environment Minister Robert Habeck to The Daily Mail. “Animals inadvertently consume plastic and plastic waste which causes them to suffer and at worst, causes them to starve with full stomachs.”

    Follow Bailey Bellavance on Twitter.

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