Top Stories: Supercharging renewable energy, Babylonian calculus, and the bizarre fish of Death Valley

(Left to right) Brett Seymour, USDI National Park Service; Gerard Lacz/VWPics/Newscom; L Witold Skrypczak/Alamy

Top stories: Supercharging renewable energy, Babylonian calculus, and the bizarre fish of Death Valley

Bizarre desert-dwelling fish may have evolved just a couple hundred years ago

The middle of the Nevada desert seems an unlikely spot to find a fish. But an underground fissure in scorching-hot Death Valley is the only natural habitat for the endangered Devils Hole pupfish, a silvery blue creature about the size of a pet goldfish. A new study suggests that the fish colonized its watery cavern somewhere between 105 and 830 years ago, making scientists rethink how it got there in the first place.

Better power lines would help U.S. supercharge renewable energy, study suggests

Analysts have long argued that nations aiming to use wind and solar power to curb emissions from fossil fuel burning would first have to invest heavily in new technologies to store electricity—after all, the sun isn’t always shining, and the wind isn’t always blowing. But a study out this week suggests that the United States could—at least in theory—use new high-voltage power lines to move renewable power across the nation.

Math whizzes of ancient Babylon figured out forerunner of calculus

Tracking and recording the motion of the sun, the moon, and the planets as they paraded across the desert sky, ancient Babylonian astronomers used simple arithmetic to predict the positions of celestial bodies. Now, new evidence reveals that these astronomers, working several centuries B.C.E., also employed sophisticated geometric methods that foreshadow the development of calculus.

Consciousness may be the product of carefully balanced chaos

Is my yellow the same as your yellow? The question of whether the human consciousness is subjective or objective is largely philosophical. But the line between consciousness and unconsciousness is a bit easier to measure. In a new study, researchers suggest that our experience of reality is the product of a delicate balance of connectivity between neurons—too much or too little and consciousness slips away.

Were cats domesticated more than once?

The rise of cats may have been inevitable. That’s one intriguing interpretation of a new study, which finds that early Chinese farmers may have domesticated wild felines known as leopard cats more than 5000 years ago. If true, this would indicate that cats were domesticated more than once—in China, and 5000 years earlier in the Middle East.

New Mexico's American Indian population crashed 100 years after Europeans arrived

In the 1500s, the ponderosa pine forests of Jemez province in New Mexico were home to between 5000 and 8000 people. But after Europeans arrived in the area, the native population plummeted by more than 80%, probably because of a series of devastating epidemics. A new study suggests that the crash took place 100 years after the first contact with Europeans, and that it had dramatic ecological effects.