Nell Greenfieldboyce

A pretty little white flower that grows near urban centers of the Pacific Northwest turns out to be a killer.

The bog-dwelling western false asphodel, Triantha occidentalis, was first described in the scientific literature in 1879. But until now, no one realized this sweet-looking plant used its sticky stem to catch and digest insects, according to researchers who note in their study published Monday it's the first new carnivorous plant to be discovered in about 20 years.

Jason Hodin hauls up a rope that's hanging from a dock in the waters off San Juan Island in the Pacific Northwest. At the end is a square, sandwich-size Tupperware container, with mesh-covered holes in the sides to let water flow through. Hodin pulls off the lid and peers inside at some crushed bits of shell. He points to some reddish-orange dots.

"See that? That little dot right there in front of my finger?" Hodin says. "That's a juvenile sea star that's about a month old."

High up on Mount Rainier in Washington, there's a stunning view of the other white-capped peaks in the Cascade Range. But Scott Hotaling is looking down toward his feet, studying the snow-covered ground.

"It's happening," he says, gesturing across Paradise Glacier.

Small black flecks suddenly appear on the previously blank expanse of white. The glacier's surface quickly transforms as more and more tiny black creatures emerge. The ice worms have returned, snaking in between ice crystals and shimmering in the sun.

A black hole swallowing a neutron star — a star more massive than our sun but only about the size of a city — has been observed for the first time ever.

Each of these space monsters is among the most extreme and mysterious phenomena in the universe. The new find, described Tuesday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, shows how the very fabric of the universe gets roiled when the two come together.

Right now, a couple of planets about as massive as Earth are orbiting a dim star that's just a dozen light-years away from us. Those planets could be cozy enough to potentially support life. But if any one is living there — and if these life forms have the same kinds of technology that humans do — they wouldn't be able to detect Earth yet.

Pages