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Protecting Cows—and People—from a Deadly Disease
Seeds of the Future
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Poison Dart Frogs
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Feeding School for Meerkats
Lucky Survival for Black Cats
Sleep Affects a Bird's Singing
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Lost Sight, Found Sound
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The Electric Brain
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Batteries built by Viruses
Nanomagnets Corral Oil
Putting the Squeeze on Toothpaste
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Small but WISE
A New Look at Saturn's rings
Troubles with Hubble
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Dino Flesh from Fossil Bone
Three strikes wiped out woolly mammoths
Ferocious Growth Spurts
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Science loses out when ice caps melt
Digging into a Tsunami Disaster
Hot Summers, Wild Fires
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Where rivers run uphill
An Ocean View's Downside
Antarctica warms, which threatens penguins
Finding the Past
Stonehenge Settlement
Words of the Distant Past
Watching deep-space fireworks
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White Tip Sharks
Seahorses
Flashlight Fishes
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Sponges' secret weapon
The mercury in that tuna
Moving Good Fats from Fish to Mice
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Whoever vs. Whomever
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Monkeys Count
It's a Math World for Animals
Deep-space dancers
Human Body
Teen Brains, Under Construction
Electricity's Spark of Life
From Stem Cell to Any Cell
Invertebrates
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Termites
Daddy Long Legs
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Dingoes
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Choosing a Preschool: What to Consider
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Powering Ball Lightning
Strange Universe: The Stuff of Darkness
Road Bumps
Plants
Flower family knows its roots
Springing forward
Seeds of the Future
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Planets on the Edge
Older Stars, New Age for the Universe
Supernovas Shed Light on Dark Energy
Technology and Engineering
Model Plane Flies the Atlantic
Spinach Power for Solar Cells
A Clean Getaway
The Parts of Speech
What is a Preposition?
Pronouns
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Transportation
Seen on the Science Fair Scene
Ready, unplug, drive
Middle school science adventures
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In Antarctica watch the heat (and your step)
The Best Defense Is a Good Snow Fence
Polar Ice Feels the Heat
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Chaos Among the Planets

Once upon a time, many, many years ago, the giant planets in our solar system took different paths around the sun than they follow now. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune were once bunched together and closer to the sun, says an international team of scientists. Under the influence of gravity, the planets broke out of their original orbits and began violently rearranging the outer solar system. It's "a fairy tale of the early solar system," says Hal Levison. He's a planetary scientist with the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and was one of the researchers who developed a computer simulation of the planets' movements. As the scientists tell it, the tale starts a few million years after the solar system's birth. At first, the four giant planets had compact orbits. Neptune, for example, was only half as far away from the sun as it now. A slowly circulating band of ice, dust, and gas lay beyond these planets. Ice, dust, and gas might not seem like much of a match for huge planets. But the researchers say that the pull of gravity between the particles and the planets caused the planets to gradually break out of their tight-knit group. Jupiter moved a bit closer to the sun, and the other three planets moved further away. All was peaceful in the solar kingdom until the orbits of Saturn and Jupiter aligned so that Saturn took exactly twice as long as its neighbor to go around the sun. The increased gravitational tug of the two planets acting together caused an avalanche of effects. Saturn's orbit changed shape slightly, which threw off the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. The orbits of these two planets started looking like squished ovals. At times, the two planets even crossed paths. And that's when things got really crazy. Uranus and Neptune started hurtling through the band of ice, dust, and gas, scattering the debris throughout the solar system. The planets themselves ended up in their current orbits. In the meantime, some of the scattered material became trapped around Jupiter, the scientists suggest. This could account for the presence of objects, known as the Trojan asteroids, that both lead and trail the planet. Some of the debris could have been flung closer to our home, slamming into the moon and the solar system's inner planets. This bombardment may have created the huge craters on the moon and elsewhere. No one knows for sure whether all this really happened. But, by using computers to play complex games of "what if," scientists can get a better sense of what might have happened to create the solar system as we know it.—K. Ramsayer

Chaos Among the Planets
Chaos Among the Planets








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