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NASA spots a distant galaxy that is actually sucking up other galaxies

When NASA sets its sights on a far-away galaxy, there’s often a lot to take in. Even if it only appears to be a dim blob, researchers can often combine various observations to determine the galaxy’s size and shape. Normally, they’re just there, sitting in space, creating new stars and doing the other things that galaxies do. But a recent snapshot of a galaxy known as WISE J224607.55-052634.9 is special.

Originally discovered a few years ago, new observations of the galaxy by Chile’s ALMA array show that the galaxy is actually eating its neighbors. From our vantage point, the galaxy is tearing apart a total of three smaller galaxies, yanking material off of them with its gravitational pull.

NASA says that WISE J224607.55-052634.9 is considered the “most luminous” galaxy, and this new observation helps to explain why.

The extremely bright galaxy isn’t a record breaker in terms of size, so why is it so bright? Scientists now believe that the galaxy is essentially stealing “fuel” to power its energy output from three neighboring galaxies. As the intense gravity sucks up material from the trio of smaller galaxies, the larger central body continues to give birth to new stars and cause super-heated gas and debris to glow brightly around the black hole at its heart.

Researchers had a hunch that the incredibly bright galaxy had some neighbors, but had no idea that it was actually feeding on them. Their work was published in the journal Science.

“We knew from previous data that there were three companion galaxies, but there was no evidence of interactions between these neighbors and the central source,” Tanio Diaz-Santos, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “We weren’t looking for cannibalistic behavior and weren’t expecting it, but this deep dive with the ALMA observatory makes it very clear.”

WISE J224607.55-052634.9 might be hungry, but you don’t need to worry about our own Milky Way falling victim to its gluttonous ways. The galaxy is estimated to be a whopping 12.4 billion light years from Earth.

Police jailed drunk raccoons in West Virginia because they were being obnoxious

Rabies is no joke, so if you see a wild animal acting weird, it’s always a good idea to both avoid it and alert animal control so they can take a look. When police in Milton, West Virginia, got calls about suspected rabid raccoons acting obnoxious in broad daylight, they discovered that the bandit-faced animals were merely drunk. Yes, drunk.

Officers discovered that the raccoons had been munching on crabapples that had fermented. The tasty treats made the creatures a bit tipsy and caused them to act erratically, much like a bar patron who doesn’t know their limit. So, what do you do with a bunch of drunk raccoons? The same thing you do with a drunk human: stick ’em in a jail cell until they sober up.

The story, as posted on the police department’s Facebook page, is quite funny. Multiple calls of allegedly rabid raccoons resulted in the apprehension of at least two of the animals. Once they were allowed to sober up, they were set free in a nearby woods.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first incident of inebriated wildlife we’ve seen over the past few months. Back in early October, police in Minnesota had to tell citizens to stop reporting suspicious bird behavior, because the birds were likely just drunk off of fermented berries that resulted from an early frost.

Law enforcement received several calls about birds acting strange. The feathered fellas were running into buildings and cars and acting odd. The advice given to locals was to let the birds sober up and move on with their lives, but Milton police had to handle things a bit differently since raccoons can actually be dangerous if approached, drunk or not.

Humans are getting bigger, and that means more strain on the world’s food supply

Everyone knows that obesity is a major health crisis in the United States and many other countries, but humans aren’t just getting fatter, we’re also getting bigger overall. Humans are getting larger and larger, and the average person is now significantly taller than the averages of decades past.

On top of that, we eat more, and that’s bad news for planet Earth.

A new study conducted by researchers with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) reveals that the nutritional demands for the human race are steadily climbing, and not just because there’s more of us. Larger people need to eat more, and as humans get larger, that’s going to put additional strain on food supplies.

“We studied the effects of two phenomena,” Gibran Vita of NTNU’s Industrial Ecology Programme said in a statement. “One is that people on average have become taller and heavier. The second is that the average population is getting older.”

According to the data, humans are now around one-and-a-half percent taller overall than we were in 1975, as well as 14 percent heavier. Because the human population is living longer, the average age is also over six percent higher than it was in 1975. Crunching the numbers, the scientists figure that this means the average person needs around six percent more food energy than they did back then.

Over that same time frame, overall human food consumption spiked by a whopping 129 percent, with approximately 116 percent of that growth coming from population increases and the other 15 percent stemming from humans being larger on average. Humans are already struggling with maintaining food supplies in many areas of the world, especially developing countries, and those issues are only going to get worse as each generation consumes more and more.

The solution? Well, we don’t really have one yet.

Here’s how NASA is helping deal with the California wildfires

NASA spends plenty of time peering into space, but the agency’s high-powered tools can also provide some serious help to us here on Earth. With deadly wildfires raging out of control in California, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is using satellites to map the progress of the various blazes, giving disaster management officials vital info in the process.

In a new post on its website, JPL shows how it processes satellite images to easily spot where fires have changed the landscape. This gives responders a good idea of where a fire is moving and how well it’s been contained.

JPL explains:

The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, produced new damage maps using synthetic aperture radar images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites. The first map [above] shows areas likely damaged by the Woolsey Fire as of Sunday, Nov. 11. It covers an area of about 50 miles by 25 miles (80 km by 40 km) – framed by the red polygon. The color variation from yellow to red indicates increasing ground surface change, or damage.

The second map [below] shows damage from the Camp Fire in Northern California as of Saturday, Nov. 10. It depicts an area of about 55 miles by 48 miles (88 km by 77 km) and includes the city of Paradise, one of the most devastated areas. Like the previous map, red areas show the most severe surface change, or damage. The ARIA team compared the data for both images to the Google Crisismap for preliminary validation.

The instruments on the satellite don’t actually spot the fire itself, but are instead used to detect changes in the landscape. These changes, happening over very short periods of time, indicate areas where the fire has already passed over, and the boundaries between those spots and the unchanged landscape is the fire line itself.

California is still dealing with these fires, which have broken records for their destructive power. Emergency management crews are working to contain them, but many areas are still burning freely.

This dog-faced bat is a very good boy… with wings

Bats have a nasty reputation for being creepy, dangerous, and sometimes turning into blood-sucking vampires, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Bats are incredibly special animals that are in desperate need of a PR makeover, and I think we’ve found the mascots that might be able to turn things around.

The adorable little fella you see above belongs to a group called “dog-faced bats,” and there’s more of them now than ever before. In research that came out earlier this year, a pair of new dog-faced bat species was officially added to the bat roster, and they are very good bats.

The bats, which Smithsonian perfectly describe as “sky puppies,” were identified by specimens gathered a number of years ago. The process of differentiating closely related species can take a while, but the verdict was finally reached and the two new species, the Freeman’s dog-faced bat (seen above) and the Waorani dog-faced bat. The animals were found in Panama and Ecuador, respectively.

“After characterizing the body shapes of 242 dog-faced bats from museum collections across the Americas and Europe, comparing their DNA, and adding in field observations including sound recordings, we consider there to be eight species in this group, two of them new to science,” Ligiane Moras, who led the research, said in a statement.

There’s lots of interesting details in the paper, which was published in Mammalian Biology, so feel free to dive into that if you’re looking for the nitty gritty, but I’d rather talk about how cute these friggin’ bats are. I mean look at this guy, which is one of the newly-classified Waorani dog-faced bats:

Look at him! All he wants to do is hang out, eat some bugs, and smile at passersby. Frankly, these bats look like the only thing they need from humans is a nice little belly rub. I would be happy to volunteer.