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Why not celebrate turkeys as evolutionary heroes?

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By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor

In 2018, we here at Nat Geo celebrated The Year of the Bird, a recognition of all things avian through the ages. As part of this parade of plumage, I became entranced with the fact that birds are dinosaurs, and that one of the closest dino descendants still alive today is the turkey.

Part of the Galloanseres group, turkeys belong to a line of birds that traces its evolutionary path to before the devastating Chicxulub impact 66 million years ago, with deeper branches connecting them to fierce predatory theropods like the infamous Velociraptor.

The modern turkey has left an indelible mark on North American culture. Turkeys were domesticated by the ancient Maya, proposed as the national bird of the U.S., and they continue to be pardoned by sitting presidents. So, as you settle in to gobble up a drumstick this Thanksgiving, consider this bird’s amazing story of survival, and think about how the tables would be turned if you found yourself whisked back into the Cretaceous.

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Today in a minute

Addicted to oil. Global governments plan to produce 120 percent more fossil fuels by 2030, an amount that would torpedo already pledged efforts to rein in global warming, research groups and the United Nations say. Some of the increase comes from locked-in investment in fossil fuels. People fighting climate change say countries instead should limit exploration and extraction, remove subsidies, and align future production plans with climate goals.

Avoiding landfills: An Israeli company is turning trash into pseudo-plastic pellets that can be made into everyday items like trays and packing crates. UBQ is diverting household refuse destined for long-term burial, reducing methane gas and creating new life for hard-to-recycle plastic, the Washington Post reports.

Lavender Doe no more: Genetic genealogists are working on some of America’s toughest cold cases, The Atlantic reports. While law enforcement DNA databases traditionally look at just 13 to 20 markers in the genome, these amateurs use 23andMe and Ancestry, which DNA test for 600,000 to 700,000 markers. Their searches are yielding distant cousins and other clues to search in Facebook profiles, obituaries, and census records. Sleuthing in Texas, for instance, uncovered a name for a mysterious woman murdered 13 years ago.

This art is alive! It’s gorgeous, and it’s made from live bacteria. An annual contest combines art and science in a way that was enthusiastically endorsed by Alexander Fleming, the scientist who discovered penicillin. Take a look at this year's winners!

‘Singing’: That’s what the Earth’s magnetic field was described as doing when it was pummeled by a solar storm. Technology Review also has a spooky recording of the sound, via the European Space Agency.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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Whoa! Photographer Michael Melford was rushing from Fairbanks, Alaska, to the scenic Birch River when an aurora suddenly lit up the sky. Of course he grabbed his camera, but he didn’t have to hurry—the northern lights went on all night long. Related: See a time-lapse of the northern lights, and find the seven best places to see them.

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This week in the night sky

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See the Seven Sisters. In the moonless late evenings this week, see one of the brightest and closest star clusters visible to the naked eye. Rising in the northeast, the Pleiades star cluster will appear in the constellation Taurus, the bull. Named after the seven daughters of Atlas from ancient Greek myth, the Pleiades cluster looks like seven stars arranged in a teaspoon pattern. Binoculars will reveal even more stellar gems huddled in this cluster of hot blue stars. Also check out the whisker-thin crescent moon near Venus low in the southwestern sky about 45 minutes after sunset on Friday. —Andrew Fazekas

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One last glimpse

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Next: One day, it was a miracle container. The next, hated garbage. Nevertheless, a million plastic beverage bottles are being purchased each minute. Efforts to clean Earth have focused on reducing the number of bottles or making something else from them after they are used. But recovery of plastic waste won’t improve, says Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste, until consumers “have to pay the full cost of delivering that water in a single-serving container, which includes recovering that container as waste."

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard. Have an idea or a link? I’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Thanks for reading, and have a good day.