Thursday, January 29, 2009

I'm Only Happy When It Rains! (on Titan)

Recent images of Titan from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft affirm the presence of lakes of liquid hydrocarbons by capturing changes in the lakes brought on by rainfall.

For several years, Cassini scientists have suspected that dark areas near the north and south poles of Saturn’s largest satellite might be liquid-filled lakes. An analysis published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters of recent pictures of Titan's south polar region reveals new lake features not seen in images of the same region taken a year earlier. The presence of extensive cloud systems covering the area in the intervening year suggests that the new lakes could be the result of a large rainstorm and that some lakes may thus owe their presence, size and distribution across Titan’s surface to the moon’s weather and changing seasons.

The high-resolution cameras of Cassini’s Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) have now surveyed nearly all of Titan’s surface at a global scale. An updated Titan map, being released today by the Cassini Imaging Team, includes the first near-infrared images of the leading hemisphere portion of Titan’s northern "lake district” captured on Aug. 15-16, 2008. (The leading hemisphere of a moon is that which always points in the direction of motion as the moon orbits the planet.) These ISS images complement existing high-resolution data from Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) and RADAR instruments.

Such observations have documented greater stores of liquid methane in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere. And, as the northern hemisphere moves toward summer, Cassini scientists predict large convective cloud systems will form there and precipitation greater than that inferred in the south could further fill the northern lakes with hydrocarbons.

Way kewl! I am really excited about what this Titanian summer might bring!

Hat tip to The Gish Bar Times.

Water Jet Pack!

null - Watch more free videos

New Mexico Better Than Most States for Good Teachers!?!

Which states are which is just... bizarre.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hibernating Species Less Likely to Go Extinct?

The best way to survive the ill-effects of climate change and pollution may be to simply sleep through it.

According to a new study published in The American Naturalist, mammals that hibernate or that hide in burrows are less likely to turn up on an endangered species list. The study's authors believe that the ability of such "sleep-or-hide" animals to buffer themselves from changing environments may help them avoid extinction.

The idea that sleepers and hiders may have a survival advantage first arose from a study of the fossil record conducted by Dr. Lee Hsiang Liow of the University of Oslo. That study found that sleep-or-hide mammals seem to last longer as species than other mammals.

In this latest study, Liow and colleagues from the Universities of Oslo and Helsinki wanted to see if this trend holds for mammals living today.

Using a database of over 4,500 living mammal species, Liow and his team identified 443 mammals that exhibit at least one sleep-or-hide behavior. Their list includes tunneling and burrowing animals like moles and chipmunks, as well as animals that can periodically lower metabolic rates like squirrels, bats and bears.

The sleep-or-hide list was then compared with "Red List" of threatened species compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. As the researchers suspected, sleep-or-hide species are less likely appear in any of the IUCN's high-risk categories. The pattern holds even under controls for other traits that may influence extinction rates, such as body size (smaller animals generally have lower extinction rates) and geographic distribution.

There are some interesting implications here.

Potentially, if the Lystrosaurs were burrowers as I believe is suspected could they and other species that were estivators/hibernators or had low metabolic requirements - ie could handle long fasts like crocs can - simply survived because they had lower, much lower constant energy intake requirements. Munch up through the lesser nasty season and then dig in. Or wait it out (if you are croc esque).

That would turn on its ear the idea that endothermy had anything to do with the PT Extinction. Since the gorgons had turbinates, IMNSHO, that was the case anyways, but...

Just. Not. Right.

A college class based entirely around Blizzard's real-time strategy game StarCraft has opened at UC Berkeley, according to a course listing found by StarCraft Wire.

The class will begin with a lecture on topics "from the viewpoint of pure theory to the more computational aspects of how exactly battles are conducted." Following the lecture, replays of students' battles will be "analyzed," and "homework" will be assigned.


While fun, ummm, does this really need to be a class?

Simulating Exoplanet HD 80606b's Weather

(nicked from systematic)

Astronomers have observed the intense heating of a distant planet as it swung close to its parent star, providing important clues to the atmospheric properties of the planet. The observations enabled astronomers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, to generate realistic images of the planet by feeding the data into computer simulations of the planet's atmosphere.

"We can't get a direct image of the planet, but we can deduce what it would look like if you were there. The ability to go beyond an artist's interpretation and do realistic simulations of what you would actually see is very exciting," said Gregory Laughlin, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UCSC. Laughlin is lead author of a new report on the findings published this week in Nature.

The researchers used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to obtain infrared measurements of the heat emanating from the planet as it whipped behind and close to its star. In just six hours, the planet's temperature rose from 800 to 1,500 Kelvin (980 to 2,240 degrees Fahrenheit).

Known as HD 80606b, the planet circles a star 200 light years from Earth, is four times the mass of Jupiter, and has the most eccentric orbit of any known planet. It spends most of its 111.4-day orbit at distances that would place it between Venus and Earth in our own solar system, while the closest part of its orbit brings it within 0.03 astronomical units of its star (one astronomical unit is the distance between Earth and the Sun). The planet zips through this dramatic close encounter with its star in less than a day.

At the closest point, the sunlight beating down on the planet is 825 times stronger than the irradiation it receives at its farthest point from the star. "If you could float above the clouds of this planet, you'd see its sun growing larger and larger at faster and faster rates, increasing in brightness by almost a factor of 1,000," Laughlin said.

Spitzer observed the planet for 30 hours before, during, and just after its closest approach to the star. The planet passed behind the star (an event called a secondary eclipse) just before the moment of its closest approach. This was a lucky break for Laughlin and his colleagues, who had not known that would happen when they planned the observation. The secondary eclipse allowed them to get accurate measurements from just the star and thereby determine exact temperatures for the planet.

The extreme temperature swing observed by Spitzer indicates that the intense irradiation from the star is absorbed in a layer of the planet's upper atmosphere that absorbs and loses heat rapidly, Laughlin said.

Coauthor Jonathan Langton, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSC, fed the Spitzer data into a hydrodynamic model of the planet's atmosphere to predict its response to the intense heating. Langton's simulation shows the global storms and shockwaves unleashed in the planet's atmosphere every 111 days as it swings close to its star.

"The initial response could be described as an explosion on the side facing the star," Langton said. "As the atmosphere heats up and expands, it produces very high winds, on the order of 5 kilometers per second, flowing away from the day side toward the night side. The rotation of the planet causes these winds to curl up into large-scale storm systems that gradually die down as the planet cools over the course of its orbit."


Triceratops Battle Scars

How did the dinosaur Triceratops use its three horns? A new study published in the open-access, peer reviewed journal PLoS ONE and led by Andrew Farke, curator at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, located on the campus of The Webb Schools, shows that the headgear was not just for looks. Battle scars on the skulls of Triceratops preserve rare evidence of Cretaceous-era combat.

"Paleontologists have debated the function of the bizarre skulls of horned dinosaurs for years now," said Farke. "Some speculated that the horns were for showing off to other dinosaurs, and others thought that the horns had to have been used in combat against other horned dinosaurs. Unfortunately, we can't just go and watch a Triceratops in the wild."

If Triceratops fought each other with their horns, wounds from this combat would be preserved in the fossil bones. So, Farke joined forces with paleontologists Ewan Wolff of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin and Darren Tanke of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in order to search museum collections throughout North America for evidence of these injuries. The researchers focused on the skulls of Triceratops and a closely-related dinosaur, Centrosaurus.

"If Triceratops and Centrosaurus only used their horns and frills for showing off, we would expect no difference in the rate of injury for both animals," stated Farke. Instead, the team found that the squamosal bone, which forms part of the frill, was injured 10 times more frequently in Triceratops than in Centrosaurus. He added, "The most likely culprit for all of the wounds on Triceratops frills was the horns of other Triceratops."

Other paleontologists had also noted abnormalities in the skulls of horned dinosaurs, but later work found that at least some of these supposed injuries were caused by random, non-traumatic bone resorption similar to osteoporosis. Additionally, previous researchers only focused on a handful of specimens. The new study included over 400 observations, which were analyzed statistically to detect differences between Centrosaurus and Triceratops.

"In the past individual remains have been used to reconstruct the story of ancient injuries," said co-author Wolff. He continued, "I think this research shows the great potential of looking at injury patterns, even less obvious ones, to provide appropriate conclusions. The features we studied were very subtle and in many cases had been overlooked."

"Our findings provide some of the best evidence to date that Triceratops might have locked horns with each other, wrestling like modern antelope and deer," said Farke. The researchers speculate that many of the injuries they observed may have been caused by misplaced horn thrusts from rival animals. Similar injuries are occasionally seen in modern horned animals.

The size and shape of the horns varied among different horned dinosaurs, and the researchers hypothesize that different horn shapes indicate different kinds of combat. Furthermore, some evidence suggests that certain species may have evolved different kinds of horns in order to reduce the risk of traumatic injury.

At least it wasn't a war wound like what Joel and Ross taunted me about at Nellie's in LC a looooong time ago. Much to their dismay at the results. *snorks*

Anyways, the paper is here. The guilty scientist is here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

State Failure is On the Russian Mind

Drawing on the information models of D.S. Chernyavsky, scholars at the Moscow Institute of Applied Mathematics at the Russian Academy of Sciences have concluded that Russia is rapidly entering a period of “semi-collapse,” in which large parts of the country will either fall under the influence of other countries or separate completely.

According to the model they have employed, “the North, the Eastern and part of Western Siberia will fall under the influence of the US, that Sakhalin and the Kuriles ‘will go’ to Japan, that part of the Far East will fall ‘under China, that a Muslim enclave will arise in the Middle Volga, and that a North-West Republic will emerge around the Kola Peninsula.”

“In order to avoid this outcome,” Georgy Malinetsky writes in his description of their findings in the current issue of “Computerra,” Russian “society will be required to devote extraordinary efforts.” His own description of the situation makes clear why that is so.

Russia, he says the scholars have concluded, currently faces two “unpleasant” possibilities. On the one hand, it faces the likelihood that the price for its major export commodities – oil and gas -- will continue to fall as current consumers seek alternative sources energy supplies.
As L. Badalyan and V. Krovorotov have concluded, Malinetsky points out, “when a serious deficit of any resource emerges, people will search and find a new one, and as a result, the price and importance of the one they had been using will fall dramatically,” an outcome that will hurt Russia more than most because its production of these things is already falling.

And on the other hand, European and American officials are not going to ignore the problems Russia now has and will have in the future. Instead, acting on the basis of notions likes like “Siberia ought to belong to all humanity,” they will get more involved and in ways that will threaten Moscow’s control over much of the country.
Hat tip to Window on Eurasia.

The idea of state failure, especially of large, seemingly powerful nations apparently is plaguing the Russian psyche these days. First there was the Russian prof that has been running around stating America is going to meltdown into multiple nations (see below). Now there is a prof stating that Russia might meltdown...again (link at top is a Google translation of his 'paper'). It could be that the dissolution of the Soviet Union has left scars. Actually, that's probable.

On the other hand, this may be a carrot and stick situation. The Russians are giving hope (The US will melt! Russia can rise in the aftermath!) and adding a bit of fear (Russia might collapse completely), so let's all rally around the flag, or rather The Leader, lest after him, the deluge. The 'artful' use of the ancient enemy of Europe and China plus the recent, hateful antagonist of America, is what really makes me think this is the case.

Perhaps I am wrong. What do you all think?


SecDef Smack Talk Towards the Russian Air Force

Regarding the escort of a Tu-160 strategic bomber from Moscow to Caracas by American F-15s and the Russian complaints.

"When they complained about our escorting their Black Jack bombers I just wanted to say that we just wanted to be there for search and rescue if they needed it."


Algae Lignin Discovery May Be Evolutionary Significant

Land plants' ability to sprout upward through the air, unsupported except by their own woody tissues, has long been considered one of the characteristics separating them from aquatic plants, which rely on water to support them.

Now lignin, one of the chemical underpinnings vital to the self-supporting nature of land plants – and thought unique to them – has been found in marine algae by a team of researchers including scientists at UBC and Stanford University.

Lignin, a principal component of wood, is a glue-like substance that helps fortify cell walls and is instrumental in the transport of water in many plants.

In a study published in today's issue of the journal Current Biology, lead author Patrick Martone and colleagues describe using powerful chemical and microscopic anatomy techniques to identify and localize lignin within cell walls of a red alga that thrives along the wave-swept California coast. Martone conducted the work described in the paper while a graduate student and postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of co-author Mark Denny, Professor of Biology at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station.

"All land plants evolved from aquatic green algae and scientists have long believed that lignin evolved after plants took to land as a mechanical adaptation for stabilizing upright growth and transporting water from the root," says Martone, an assistant professor in the UBC Dept. of Botany, where he is continuing his work on lignin.

"Because red and green algae likely diverged more than a billion years ago, the discovery of lignin in red algae suggests that the basic machinery for producing lignin may have existed long before algae moved to land."

Alternatively, algae and land plants may have evolved the identical compound independently, after they diverged.

"The pathways, enzymes and genes that go into making this stuff are pretty complicated, so to come up with all those separately would be really, really amazing," says Denny. "Anything is possible, but that would be one hell of a coincidence."

The team's finding provides a new perspective on the early evolution of lignified support tissues – such as wood – on land, since the seaweed tissues that are most stressed by waves crashing on shore appear to contain the most lignin, possibly contributing to mechanical support, says Martone.

Were the algae of the Lower Paleozoic preadapted for life on land because of teh crashing of the waves? That's a fascinating thought!

Monday, January 26, 2009

New Metazoan Family Tree

A new and comprehensive analysis confirms that the evolutionary relationships among animals are not as simple as previously thought. The traditional idea that animal evolution has followed a trajectory from simple to complex—from sponge to chordate—meets a dramatic exception in the metazoan tree of life. New work suggests that the so-called "lower" metazoans (including Placozoa, corals, and jellyfish) evolved in parallel to "higher" animals (all other metazoans, from flatworms to chordates). It also appears that Placozoans—large amoeba-shaped, multi-cellular animals—have passed over sponges and other organisms as an animal that most closely mirrors the root of this tree of life.

"To make inferences about the origin of Bilaterians—animals with a bilateral symmetry, like humans—earlier studies suggested sponges, ctenophores (comb jellies), or a small, interesting group called Placozoa as the most basal or primitive animal," says senior author Rob DeSalle, Curator at the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History. "But our new analysis implies that the first major event in animal evolution split bilateral animals from all others, and our work firmly places Placozoa as the most primitive of the nonbilaterian animals."

very kewl. No time to comment.

Oh, other than here's gramma!


Some Climate Damage is Already Irreversible

Many damaging effects of climate change are already basically irreversible, researchers declared Monday, warning that even if carbon emissions can somehow be halted temperatures around the globe will remain high until at least the year 3000.

"People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide the climate would go back to normal in 100 years, 200 years; that's not true," climate researcher Susan Solomon said in a teleconference.

Solomon, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., is lead author of an international team's paper reporting irreversible damage from climate change, being published in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

She defines "irreversible" as change that would remain for 1,000 years even if humans stopped adding carbon to the atmosphere immediately.

The findings were announced as President Barack Obama ordered reviews that could lead to greater fuel efficiency and cleaner air, saying the Earth's future depends on cutting air pollution.

Said Solomon, "Climate change is slow, but it is unstoppable" — all the more reason to act quickly, so the long-term situation doesn't get even worse.

Also a PNAS paper, but I can't see it still.

Obama Wants to Ban Space Based Weapons

President Barack Obama's pledge to seek a worldwide ban on weapons in space marks a dramatic shift in U.S. policy while posing the tricky issue of defining whether a satellite can be a weapon.

Moments after Obama's inauguration last week, the White House website was updated to include policy statements on a range of issues, including a pledge to restore U.S. leadership on space issues and seek a worldwide ban on weapons that interfere with military and commercial satellites.


Study Disputes NorAm Comet MegaFauna Kill Hypothesis

New data, published today, disproves the recent theory that a large comet exploded over North America 12,900 years ago, causing a shock wave that travelled across North America at hundreds of kilometres per hour and triggering continent-wide wildfires.

Dr Sandy Harrison from the University of Bristol and colleagues tested the theory by examining charcoal and pollen records to assess how fire regimes in North America changed between 15 and 10,000 years ago, a time of large and rapid climate changes.

Their results provide no evidence for continental-scale fires, but support the fact that the increase in large-scale wildfires in all regions of the world during the past decade is related to an increase in global warming.

Fire is the most ubiquitous form of landscape disturbance and has important effects on climate through the global carbon cycle and changing atmospheric chemistry. This has triggered an interest in knowing how fire has changed in the past, and particularly how fire regimes respond to periods of major warming.

The end of the Younger Dryas, about 11,700 years ago, was an interval when the temperature of Greenland warmed by over 5°C in less than a few decades. The team used 35 records of charcoal accumulation in lake sediments from sites across North America to see whether fire regimes across the continent showed any response to such rapid warming.

They found clear changes in biomass burning and fire frequency whenever climate changed abruptly, and most particularly when temperatures increased at the end of the Younger Dryas cold phase. The results are published today [26 January] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

It's supposed to be up on PNAS' early edition, yet I can't seem to find it.

Russia Looking for Sevastopol Replacement in Abkhazia?

Russia plans to start building a naval base in Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region this year, the leadership of the Black Sea province said Monday.

A move to base warships in the separatist Black Sea province of Abkhazia would heighten tensions between Russia and Georgia following the war between the two in last summer. It also would deepen Western concerns about Russia's growing military presence in a region the United States, Europe and most of the world consider Georgian territory.

Russia recognized Abkhazia and another separatist province, South Ossetia, as independent nations after the August war broke out over South Ossetia, and has vowed to maintain thousands of troops in both regions.

The U.S. and EU accuse Russia of violating a cease-fire deal that limited the Russian military presence in the breakaway provinces after the war, which brought ties with Moscow to a post-Cold War low.

Russia, meanwhile, accuses the U.S. of encouraging a belligerent Georgia and has warned the West against helping rebuild the small nation's military.

Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh said the separatist region had agreed in principle to allow Russia to create a base for Black Sea fleet warships in Ochamchira, an Abkhazian port about 20 miles (32 kilometers) up the coast from Georgian-controlled territory, according to his spokesman, Kristian Bzhania. He said three was no written agreement but that Russia intends to begin building the base this year.

Bzhania spoke in Abkhazia's capital, Sukhumi, after the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted an unidentified Russian navy official as saying that Russia has decided to build a naval base in Ochamchira. The official said work on the project, including dredging, would start in 2009, but suggested it could take a few years to complete the base, the report said.

Interesting development. I wonder if it will pan out. Russia's facing a big crunch economically here.

Monday Militaria: Couple Kilowatt Laser Kills Drones

Last month, a small robotic plane flew into the skies over New Mexico's White Sands Missile Range. Tracking the drone was an experimental Humvee, equipped with a laser. The real-life ray gun then took aim at the drone, and began blasting. Soon, the drone had a hole burnt through it -- and was crashing down to the desert.

That laser is considerably less powerful than what is the traditional weapons grade laser has assumed to need. The key is kill speed. If it takes more than a certain amount of time, the laser isn't that useful. It would be interesting to see, and frankly vital for the Boeing project above, for the laser to be able to be installed in either existing combat vehicles (every Abrams, Bradley and Striker a beam jockey, man!) and to upgrade that kilowattage. If you can kill mortars with it and pair it with a low power laser spectrometer/lidar combo, you have a very interesting IED killer too.

LBNL HPC Related Post Doc Available

The LBNL Future Technologies Group (FTG) does research in high-performance computing (HPC) technology for petascale systems, including work in compilers, operating systems, runtime systems, performance analysis and modeling, benchmarking and performance engineering of scientific application programs. The overarching goal of the group is to enable computational science through the design and development of hardware and software systems that allow application scientists to more effectively use high-end machines. Members of FTG work closely with application scientists throughout the DOE Office of Science community (e.g., climate modeling, astrophysics, fusion simulation, life sciences and nanoscience), with faculty and students from the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Department at U.C. Berkeley, and with staff in the NERSC production computing facility. Group members have access to leading-edge computing platforms as well as hardware prototypes of experimental systems. FTG members have a strong history of publications in top journals and conferences and have developed software systems that are broadly used outside the group. Specific areas of research being done by FTG include:

Performance analysis, modeling and benchmarking. The FTG performance activity works closely with hardware designers from industry and academia, providing workload information about network patterns and memory system usage to quantitatively drive architecture efforts. Specific projects include petascale system and application characterization, performance modeling and tools, and the usage of these facilities for system assessment and selection.

Novel programming models and supporting software. The FTG programming model activity works with the U.C. Berkeley Unified Parallel C (UPC) project team ( on basic research and development of fast communication libraries, compiler optimizations for parallel languages, and future languages and language extensions for petascale systems.

Operating Systems for HPC. The FTG operating system (OS) activity develops production quality tools such as checkpoint-restart software, and performs research into future OS designs that balance key functional features with the need for lightweight control over hardware resources such as multi-core processors.

The candidate will participate in research projects to develop, analyze, and optimize performance of accelerator modeling codes on HPC computer systems and applications. This project will involve some of the following activities: analysis and optimization of serial and parallel application programs; benchmarking these codes on systems from single cores to large scale HPC systems; assisting the development of auto-tuning software components of interest to this project; assisting domain scientists in developing application codes.

Required: PhD degree in computer science, computational science or a related technical field is required. Excellent written and oral communication. Demonstrated ability to work independently, work collaboratively in an interdisciplinary team, and contribute to an active intellectual environment. Experience in: (1) high performance computing; (2) computer system performance analysis; and (3) performance analysis, modeling and benchmarking.
Desired: Experience in: (1) Fortran90; (2) particle-in-cell methods; (3) scientific computing in general.

All positions require the completion of a background check. This is a one-year term appointment with the possibility of renewal. Salary for post-doctoral positions depends on years of experience post-degree.

Link above.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Single Crusty Mars

Mars may be mythologically known as the Red Planet, but its topography can be as captivating as its celestial glow. Several striking features stand out with only a glance at a topographic map of Mars: the odd distribution of land on its surface and the equatorial string of giant volcanoes known as the Tharsis Rise. Since Mars has no plate tectonics, how these unique features formed has been a longstanding mystery. The answer, scientists now say, may be that instead of many plates sliding across the Red Planet’s surface as we have on Earth, the whole crust of crust moves as a single “shell.”

Earth’s surface consists of multiple tectonic plates, and their motion has produced an easily recognizable crustal dichotomy: Most of its land mass is in the northern hemisphere. Mars, on the other hand, does not have tectonic plates constantly shifting around its surface. Yet it does have its own crustal dichotomy, with most of its highlands concentrated in the southern hemisphere and lowlands predominating in the northern hemisphere.

The Tharsis Rise presents another mystery that plate tectonics can’t explain. Located more or less along the Martian equator, the Tharsis Rise contains four of the largest volcanoes in the solar system. Three of these, Arsia Mons, Pavonis Mons and Ascraeus Mons, fall into a neat line. Scientists have long hypothesized that these mountains formed because of a mantle plume, similar to the one that created Hawaii.

There are two standing theories for the asymmetry of the landmass in the northern and southern hemispheres, says Shijie Zhong of the University of Colorado in Boulder. Either the asymmetry was caused by processes in the interior of Mars, or there was a giant impact in the northern hemisphere that then spewed ejecta into the southern hemisphere. Proponents of the internal, or endogenic, theory have suggested that Mars’ crust rotates like a shell around the planet’s interior.

Using 3-D models, Zhong and his collaborators proved that the “differential rotation” of a single plate was easily possible — provided that two necessary conditions were in place. First, you need “degree-one convection,” which entails one source of upwelling in a single hemisphere (in this case Mars’ northern hemisphere), so the other hemisphere will be devoid of volcanic activity. Also necessary is lateral variation, or the physical movement of the plate, which is often facilitated when there is lots of melt present.

Although this is difficult to test directly, Zhong’s shell model of Mars is “probably right,” says Francis Nimmo, a geologist at the University of California in Santa Cruz. “The one plume has extracted lots of melt, and it has a big effect,” Nimmo says.

Mars’ “shell tectonics,” therefore, could not only produce a crustal dichotomy, but could also explain the volcanoes of the Tharsis Rise — essentially, they would be the result of this single large source of upwelling.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Antarctica Really Is Warming

That image ought to terrify the crap out of you.

The above link is to Nat Geo, but the scientists' press release is here.

Biomes of Millenia Gone By


4000 BC

Last Glacial Maximum
(21 kya)

Hattip to Centauri Dreams.

Tropical Mountain Species Forced 67m Higher

When three undergraduates set off on an expedition in 1965 to trap moths on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, little did they realise that they were establishing the groundwork for a study of the impacts of climate change.

New research led by the University of York has repeated the survey 42 years later, and found that, on average, species had moved uphill by about 67 metres over the intervening years to cope with changes in climate.

This is the first demonstration that climate change is affecting the distributions of tropical insects, the most numerous group of animals on Earth, thus representing a major threat to global biodiversity.

University of York PhD student I-Ching Chen – first author of the new study – said: "Tropical insects form the most diverse group of animals on Earth but to-date we have not known whether they were responding to climate change. The last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change AR4 Report showed a gaping hole in the evidence. Our new study is good in that it increases the evidence available, but it is potentially bad for biodiversity."

Professor Thomas added: "Large numbers of species are completely confined to tropical mountains, such as Mount Kinabalu: many of the species found by the expeditions have never been found anywhere else on Earth. As these species get pushed uphill towards cooler conditions, the amount of land that is available to them gets smaller and smaller. And because most of the top of the mountain is bare rock, they may not be able to find suitable habitats, even if the temperature is right. Some of the species are likely to die out."

The New Expedition in 2007 was joined by Henry Barlow, one of the members of the original survey, whose life-long enthusiasm for moths helped I-Ching Chen, who is from Taiwan, to come to terms with the sheer diversity of moths she had to identify.

The study is published in the latest edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

That's to be expected, though I have to say I am surprised at the height they have already climbed. I really, really hope we don't go into a Huber scenario for the tropics. That'd be...bad.

First Thought Was Wrong

It's not an extant Ostracoderm, only an armored, tree climbing catfish.

Sphenodon-Zealandia Submersion Controversy

The fossil of a lizard-like New Zealand reptile has been identified by a team of scientists from UCL (University College London), University of Adelaide, and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The fossil, dating back 18 million years, has triggered fresh arguments over whether the continent was fully submerged some 25 million years ago.

Today, the endangered New Zealand tuatara (Sphenodon) is a lizard-like reptile that is the only survivor of a group that was globally widespread at the time of the dinosaurs. The tuatara lives on 35 islands scattered around the coast of New Zealand, mainland populations having become extinct with the arrival of humans and associated animals some 750 years ago.

The oldest known Sphenodon fossil dates to the Pleistocene era (around 34,000 years old), while the new discovery dates to the Early Miocene some 19 to 16 million years ago (Mya).The fossil, of jaws and dentition closely resembling those of the present-day tuatara, bridges a gap of nearly 70 million years in the fossil record of the group between the Late Pleistocene of New Zealand and the Late Cretaceous of Argentina.

In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the team says that its findings offer further evidence that the ancestors of the tuatara have been on the landmass since it separated from the rest of the southern continents (Gondwana) some 82 Mya.

Lead author Dr Marc Jones, UCL Cell and Developmental Biology, says: "It has been argued that New Zealand was completely submerged during the Oligo-Miocene drowning of the continent some 25 to 22 million years ago (Mya). However, the diversity of fossils now known from the Miocene (St Bathans Fauna of the Manuherikia Group) suggests it is more likely that enough land remained above the water to ensure the survival of a number of species, such as frogs, kauri trees and several modern freshwater insects, as well as the tuatara."

"The fossil also provides the first direct evidence that the ancestors of the tuatara survived in New Zealand despite substantial climatic and environmental changes, such as a global temperature drop of some eight degrees celsius around 14 million years ago (Mid-Miocene).

"Between the Late Oligocene and earliest Miocene (35 to 22 Mya) a global sea-level rise submerged much of New Zealand, but the question is, by how much? If the continent of Zealandia was completely submerged, the Sphenodon would have had to recolonize it by ocean rafting. If we look at the transoceanic capabilities of modern Sphenodon, it can swim, but only short distances; it is able to survive without food for several months, but dehydration would be a serious problem for a long journey because of high rates of water loss through the skin. Furthermore, there is currently no evidence of a population outside New Zealand at that time.

uh. I thought it had been established that not all of Zealandia subsided already simply because of the nontherian mammal fossils found there not too long ago, but more evidence is always good. It'd ahve been even kewler if Zealandia had stayed above water altogether though.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cheese and Chile

I originally wanted to write a response to the discussion that I have been having with an anonymous individual wrt his/her opinion about the methane calthrates having caused the Permian Extinction. And the Cretaceous Extinction. And others. This is the so-called Methane Calthrate Gun Hypothesis. When I first engaged the poster, I held out that maybe there was something that he (or she) knew that I did not and that their anon posting was a desire to cover for their position: as a note, anon posting for those that read this is very off putting and based on past experience is 99% of the time just a cover for stupidity. I like said, however, I do tend to like to listen now and again to those with commentaries about the Imperial Apparel situation...but some times that leads me into tolerating more than I ought. There's a time and a place for evisceration. I had planned that for tonight.

However, that won't be the post for tonight. The gutting will wait for later.

Unfortunately, I had a mild distraction. That distraction is the cheese that is sitting in the fridge. It's a Cotswold. A yummy Cotswold with garlic and onion. I've thought about doing a post on cheeses for a while. My wife is something of a cheese nut and I've been enjoying the ride.

We normally shop at Trader Joe's for our dairy products, but occasionally will pick them up at Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl. I grew up with the standard cheeses: cheddar, jack, Romano, mozzarella, and Parmesan. Nothing really exciting save for the singular time that my father brought home some truly pungent Limberger! Holy frak!

That said, Lyuda has a definitely far more regined palate when it comes to cheeses. She tends to have a preference for soft or blue cheeses. Bree, an oozing, uber creamy Bree, is one of her favorites. However, I've found several that I rather like. They are not always still available. However, I'll do a run through all the same.

The first is that Cotswold that is currently available from TJs. It's really good. It's also an endangered species atm in the fridge. We've also fallen in love with a Danish Blue: I'm not much of a blue fan, but this one is striking and then some. For a looooong time we were hooked on a smoked Monterrey Jack: it was equally amazing. It looked really bad, but tasted oh-so good. Finally, there was this Moroccan Spiced Cheddar, oil and pimentos, several spices that I've only heard of but not tasted til then. Wow.

Unfortunately, the smoked Jack and spiced Cheddar are no longer available at TJ's and I've not seen them elsewhere. :(

We have hit up a local creamery a few times. Up in Marin is the Cowgirl Creamery. It has a shop up in Point Reyes and another over at the Ferry Building (the nicely reopened one) in SF proper. East Bayers, hop the BART to the Embarcaderro and it's right there. There are also a number of rather good food shops besides that one. It's a foodie mall. lol. Anyways, the CGC is okay as far as I am concerned, but Lyuda really likes it.

Anyways, yes, I am tired. Too much rocket, HPC, and little kiddo. Not to mention spouse and just keeping up with the day-in, day-out everything else has been a little overwhelming as well.

Oh, one more commercial bit from TJ's: They have Hatch Green Chile now. Roasted and in a can like the Ortega stuff, milder than water, but it has the exquisite taste of back home if not the fire (this is California and the lot of them are terrified of a mild chile, witness that abomination they call the Anaheim). I've been eating it straight with cottage cheese (woo! tie back!), serving with eggs, and a bunch more. It's been great to taste home a bit without spending an arm and a leg. So go buy some if your TJ's is close by. I want this item to have a long and happy life on TJ's shelves.

What? Don't really know how to use it? Lemme give you an example:

Take a frying pan and melt a pat of butter. Preferably more than enough to cover the bottom of your pan. Place on medium. Sprinkle in garlic (granules are best, but powder works), sage, and black pepper. Let it infuse the butter. Take chicken breast and rub with salt and pepper. Then place the breast in the pan and cover. Flip a few times. Throw in about a quarter of a diced onion and 3 sliced mushrooms. Saute. When the mushrooms are almost ready, squeeze in a 1/4 to 1/2 of a juicy lime. I normally sprinkle a little more salt in. Then cover. Wait until a good chunk of the lime juice is evaporated and then add a 1/4 to 1/2 can of the Hatch Green Chile. Turn up the heat and brown the chicken a bit, but don't over cook the chile. It ought to pop a few times and be consistently hot. Remove from heat. Remove chicken from pan and place on plate. Remove mushrooms, onions and chile. Place atop the chicken. Grate Jack cheese over the chicken and chile+ admixture. Serve.

Can be done w/o the mushrooms, but must have the onions and chile. You can reduce the lime, but don't eliminate it. Good combo! Lime, chile, garlic, sage, and mushrooms (and onion too).

Anyways, cheese and chile. And I need to hit the sack. I'm getting up in a few hours. oy.

PlanetSpace Protests Commericial ISS Resupply Contracts

Losing bidder PlanetSpace has filed a protest of NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) awards to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp.

Under contracts awarded earlier this month totaling $3.5 billion, SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., and Orbital of Dulles, Va., will launch unpiloted vehicles to deliver pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the International Space Station (Aerospace DAILY, Jan. 5).

Chicago-based PlanetSpace, which includes Lockheed Martin, ATK and Boeing, proposed the space shuttle-derived Athena III for station resupply. The protest effectively stops the program until the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) either dismisses or upholds the protest. GAO has 90 days from the filing of the protest to render its ruling.

"Our prices are so cheap you won't believe them!"

The problem is...we don't. At all.

This is the traditional defense contractors in a new guise. EVERYTHING they do is underbid and suffers massive cost overruns.

I Didn't Realize...

I am reading Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History. I'm about 3/4 done.

I just didn't realize that they were almost strictly a North American lineage that had been restricted to our continent until extremely recently.


*hand waves*

No dogs in the Old World. Or rather there was a single species that goes over to the Old World and it doesn't do well for whatever reason and is extinct by the time humanity is ready to domesticate (sorta the reverse of what happened with the Hyena lineage in OTL. However, dogs are present in the New World.

Would there be a replacement for the canids domestically? Could there be? Cats aren't dogs and cheetahs are about the closest thing that a big cat can produce that would domesticate well, except they just gotta run for their courtships to be successful...Most other cats are just not social enough, too.

A bear line then? hmmm.

What do others think?

Just what was filling the dog niche in the Old World prior to canids? Hyenas?

Bird Brains Ensured Survival Across KT?

The Cretaceous–Tertiary mass extinction 65 million years ago may have wiped out the dinosaurs, but those that survived – the ancestors of today’s birds – may have done so because of their bird brains.

Analysis of computer tomography (CT) scans of fossilised bird skulls shows they had a more developed, larger brain than previously thought.

‘Birds today are the direct descendents of the Cretaceous extinction survivors, and they went on to become one of the most successful and diverse groups on the planet,’ says Natural History Museum palaeontologist (fossil expert), Dr Stig Walsh.

‘There were other flying animals around, such as pterosaurs and older groups of birds,’ says Dr Walsh, ‘but we’ve not really known why the ancestors of the birds we see today survived the extinction event and the others did not. It has been a great puzzle for us – until now.’

A larger and more complex brain may have given them a competitive advantage over the other more ancient birds and pterosaurs, helping them to better adapt when the environment changed after the mass extinction event.
Larger brains in living birds

Species of living birds that have larger brains are more likely to live in more socially complex groups and exhibit more complex and flexible behaviour than those with smaller brains.

For instance, members of the crow family have large brains, and some make and use tools, inventing cunning ways to find food.

Previous research has suggested birds with larger brains are more likely to survive if introduced to new environments than those with smaller brains.

These results suggest that this kind of behavioural flexibility was already a characteristic of the ancestors of modern birds before the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event.
Surviving the aftermath

‘In the aftermath of the extinction event, life must have been especially challenging,’ says Dr Walsh.

‘Birds that were not able to adapt to rapidly changing environments and food availability did not survive, whereas the flexible behaviour of the large-brained individuals would have allowed them to think their way around the problem.’



I'm not sure I buy this one.

First Terrestrial Exoplanet Detected?

In June of 2008, astronomers announced the finding of one of the smallest exoplanets yet around a normal star other than the Sun. The planet – believed to be a rocky exo-world — was found through a microlensing event, and was estimated to be 3.3 times the size of Earth, orbiting a brown dwarf star. But new analysis suggests the star may be larger than first thought, making the planet smaller than the original estimates. Astronomers say the exoplanet, called MOA-2007-BLG-192-L b could weigh just 1.4 Earths - less than half the original estimate. Observations over the next few months should be able to test the prediction.

Most known "exoplanets" are huge gas giants, hundreds of times Earth's mass, and are discovered by detecting the wobble they induce in their parent stars.

But researchers found the planet and star using the gravitational microlensing technique. This is where two stars line up perfectly from our point of view here on Earth. As the two stars begin to line up, the foreground star acts as a lens to magnify and distort the light from the more distant star. By watching how this brightening happens, astronomers can learn a tremendous amount about the nature of both the foreground and background star.

In this case, there was an additional gravitational distortion from the planet orbiting the foreground star MOA-2007-BLG-192L, which astronomers were able to tease out in their data.

However, analyzing these events takes time, because there are so many variables to take into account, including the sizes of planet and star, their separation, and the distance from Earth.

Initially, the team believed that this host star was a brown dwarf - an object too small to sustain nuclear fusion, as normal stars do. That suggested MOA-2007-BLG-192-L b weighed 3.3 Earths.

But more recent observations suggest the parent star is actually heavier than first thought - a type of star called a red dwarf, team member Jean-Philippe Beaulieu of the Paris Astrophysical Institute reported last week at a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in London.

That suggests the planet weighs just 1.4 Earths. In size terms, that makes it a near twin of our own planet, closer in mass than any known planet except Venus.

It all hinges on that stellar mass observation...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Can Tesla Qualify?

Tesla Motors has defied skeptics by delivering an electric sports car many said would never see a showroom. But to develop a sedan with broader appeal and get a battery plant up and running, Tesla says, it needs $450 million in loans from the Obama Administration. That raises a thorny question: Are taxpayer dollars earmarked for green technology best gambled on small startups such as Tesla or big but troubled players including General Motors (GM) and Ford (F)?

Tesla deserves some credit. The Silicon Valley upstart has raised some $195 million in capital—albeit more than a third of it from Chairman and CEO Elon Musk—and has built the first car that runs on cutting-edge lithium ion batteries. Technologically, Tesla's Roadster is a winner. It travels 240 miles on a charge before it needs to plug in—more than twice as far as BMW's soon-to-debut Mini E. After initially losing $40,000 apiece on the sports car, Musk says he's now making money on each Roadster.

Eager to build a sedan, Musk is pinning his hopes on the U.S. Energy Dept. The DOE is offering two kinds of credit lines: one for companies working on alternative energy projects and one for carmakers developing green vehicles. Automakers may apply for both kinds of credit, which they can access as a project hits key milestones.

To qualify for DOE money, Musk needs to prove Tesla is viable. "We'll be profitable in five months," he says. He also needs to raise tens of millions of dollars in matching funds. Given the business environment, that won't be easy. In what some industry watchers deem an act of desperation, Musk aims to ask potential buyers of the new sedan to pay a big chunk of the $50,000 sticker price up front. Yet the car won't be ready until 2011, and that's only if the government gives him credit. Musk acknowledges that customers would be putting "their money at risk."

I really want a Roadster. It's way out of my budget for right now, but I keep praying the company will stay in business until I can afford one. That said, I wish they'd do more than a sedan. They had been working on a mini van before their recent credit issues. All I can say is go, Elon, go!

Korean Triceratops Fossil?!

This may only be a Protoceratops, but with the recent announcement of a Chinese neoceratopsian...

First Disease Linked to Global Warming?

An epidemic of the viral disease nephropathia epidemica (NE) has been linked to increases in the vole population caused by hotter summers, milder winters and increased seedcrop production by broadleaf trees. Research published in BioMed Central's open access International Journal of Health Geographics links outbreaks of this rodent-borne disease to known effects of global warming.

Dr Jan Clement from the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Belgium's Rega Institute (University of Leuven) worked with a team of medical researchers and bioscience-engineers to investigate outbreaks of NE in Belgium. Dr. Clement founded the Belgian Hantavirus Reference Centre in 1985, and noted that of the 2,200 cases since then, 828 (37.6%) occurred in just the last three years, 2005-2007. The epidemic has been shown to extend to neighboring countries such as France, Germany, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg. He said, "This animal-borne disease, scarcely known before 1990, has been increasing in incidence in Belgium with a cyclic pattern, reaching epidemic proportions since 2005. The fact that the growing combined effect of hotter summer and autumn seasons is matched by the growth of NE in recent years means this epidemic can be considered an effect of global warming".

NE is caused by infection with Puumala virus (PUUV), which is spread by the bank vole, a rodent common throughout most of Europe. The authors believe that warmer weather causes increases in the amount of 'mast', plant seeds from oak and beech trees, that forms the voles' staple diet. This plethora of food results in increases in the vole population and warm summers raise the chances that people will visit the forests where the voles live. According to Clement, "Since 1993, each NE peak has been preceded by increased autumnal mast formation the year before, resulting in yearly NE numbers significantly higher than those during the mast years themselves".

Interesting, if it holds up. Diseases appearing in places they were not common before has been predicted for quite a while. hmm. Malaria in...northern Germany? An interesting, if disturbing, possibility.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mars Methane...and/or Water?

Now was that H2 detection from CH4 or H2O?

A team of NASA and university scientists has achieved the first definitive detection of methane in the atmosphere of Mars. This discovery indicates the planet is either biologically or geologically active.

The team found methane in the Martian atmosphere by carefully observing the planet throughout several Mars years with NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility and the W.M. Keck telescope, both at Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The team used spectrometers on the telescopes to spread the light into its component colors, as a prism separates white light into a rainbow. The team detected three spectral features called absorption lines that together are a definitive signature of methane.

"Methane is quickly destroyed in the Martian atmosphere in a variety of ways, so our discovery of substantial plumes of methane in the northern hemisphere of Mars in 2003 indicates some ongoing process is releasing the gas," said Michael Mumma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "At northern mid-summer, methane is released at a rate comparable to that of the massive hydrocarbon seep at Coal Oil Point in Santa Barbara, Calif." Mumma is lead author of a paper describing this research that will appear in Science Express on Thursday.

Methane, four atoms of hydrogen bound to a carbon atom, is the main component of natural gas on Earth. Astrobiologists are interested in these data because organisms release much of Earth's methane as they digest nutrients. However, other purely geological processes, like oxidation of iron, also release methane.

"Right now, we do not have enough information to tell whether biology or geology -- or both -- is producing the methane on Mars," Mumma said. "But it does tell us the planet is still alive, at least in a geologic sense. It is as if Mars is challenging us, saying, 'hey, find out what this means.' "

If microscopic Martian life is producing the methane, it likely resides far below the surface where it is warm enough for liquid water to exist. Liquid water is necessary for all known forms of life, as are energy sources and a supply of carbon.

"On Earth, microorganisms thrive about 1.2 to 1.9 miles beneath the Witwatersrand basin of South Africa, where natural radioactivity splits water molecules into molecular hydrogen and oxygen," Mumma said. "The organisms use the hydrogen for energy. It might be possible for similar organisms to survive for billions of years below the permafrost layer on Mars, where water is liquid, radiation supplies energy, and carbon dioxide provides carbon. Gases, like methane, accumulated in such underground zones might be released into the atmosphere if pores or fissures open during the warm seasons, connecting the deep zones to the atmosphere at crater walls or canyons."

It is possible a geologic process produced the Martian methane, either now or eons ago. On Earth, the conversion of iron oxide into the serpentine group of minerals creates methane, and on Mars this process could proceed using water, carbon dioxide and the planet's internal heat. Although there is no evidence of active volcanism on Mars today, ancient methane trapped in ice cages called clathrates might be released now.

From here.

Also Carl Zimmer live blogged the press conference.

Venus had Oceans and Continents

The planet Venus, now hellishly hot and dry, may have once have been far more like Earth, with oceans and continents. That is the implication of new research claiming to see evidence for granite highlands on the planet in data almost two decades old.

In 1990, NASA's Galileo spacecraft detected nighttime infrared emissions coming from Venus' surface. Analysing these data, an international team led by planetary scientist George Hashimoto, now at Okayama University, Japan, found that Venus's highland regions emitted less infrared radiation than its lowlands.

One interpretation of this lower infrared emission from the highlands, say the authors, is that they are composed largely of 'felsic' rocks, particularly granite. Granite, which on Earth is found in continental crust, requires water for its formation. The results are published in the Journal of Geophysical Research1.

And their abstract:

Felsic highland crust on Venus suggested by Galileo Near-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer data
Felsic highland crust on Venus suggested by Galileo Near-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer data

George L. Hashimoto

Laboratory for Earth and Planetary Atmospheric Science, Organization of Advanced Science and Technology, Kobe University, Kobe, Japan

Maarten Roos-Serote

Lisbon Astronomical Observatory, Lisbon, Portugal

Seiji Sugita

Department of Complexity Science and Engineering, Graduate School of Frontier Science, University of Tokyo, Kashiwa, Japan

Martha S. Gilmore

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, USA

Lucas W. Kamp

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA

Robert W. Carlson

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA

Kevin H. Baines

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA

We evaluated the spatial variation of Venusian surface emissivity at 1.18 μm wavelength and that of near-surface atmospheric temperature using multispectral images obtained by the Near-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (NIMS) on board the Galileo spacecraft. The Galileo NIMS observed the nightside thermal emission from the surface and the deep atmosphere of Venus, which is attenuated by scattering from the overlying clouds. To analyze the NIMS data, we used a radiative transfer model based on the adding method. Although there is still an uncertainty in the results owing to the not well known parameters of the atmosphere, our analysis revealed that the horizontal temperature variation in the near-surface atmosphere is no more than ±2 K on the Venusian nightside and also suggests that the majority of lowlands likely has higher emissivity compared to the majority of highlands. One interpretation for the latter result is that highland materials are generally composed of felsic rocks. Since formation of a large body of granitic magmas requires water, the presence of granitic terrains would imply that Venus may have had an ocean and a mechanism to recycle water into the mantle in the past.

The Universe Today also has a run down.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Anyone Want to Give Me A Slightly Belated Bday Present?

Oligocene from the Dominican Republic is what they say. Sure is purty.

TEH STOOPID Damages Priceless Olmec Sculptures

(dark spots are the stains)
Mexico is restoring nearly two dozen pre-Hispanic Olmec sculptures damaged by an American woman and two Mexican men.

The three were arrested Sunday for allegedly throwing a grape juice-and-oil mixture on the statues as part of a bizarre religious act. The mixture left dark stains on the porous stone carvings in the Gulf state of Tabasco.


A Plea to My Alaskan Readers

Can't you guys keep her at home? Please? Find some excuse. I'm begging you all! PLEASE!

Another Permian Map

Zach, we'll use this one.

Ptomacanthus Braincase Causing a Stir?

The earliest known braincase of a shark-like fish has shown some assumptions about the early evolution of vertebrates are "completely wrong," experts say.

The 415-million-year-old specimen of a Ptomacanthus is only the second known example of a braincase from an Acanthodian, a long-extinct group of fossil fish that existed near the time that bony fish and cartilaginous fish—animals with skeletons made up of a type of connective tissue—split off into separate branches.

The other braincase, from a species called Acanthodes, dates to a hundred million years after the Acanthodian group came into existence, casting most of this period of the group's evolution into shadow.

"We've known about [Acanthodians] for 150 years or more, but the braincase has always been missing," said study lead author Martin Brazeau, a Ph.D. student at Uppsala University in Sweden. "To fit it in now is kind of exceptional."

Before this discovery, most scientists believed that the braincases of Acanthodians resembled those of bony fish, and were thus related to this type of animal.

But data from the new fossil support an emerging idea that the ancient group of fish included a diverse tableau of shapes and characteristics that defy clear-cut categories.

hmmm. Sounds like the Pre PT Extinction therapsids vs mammals today. If there were no mass extinctions life might not be as differentiated into the groups that we recognize today.

To The Last I Grapple With Thee

Rest In Peace.

He was, BTW, so much more than this, but he was really an impressive man in general.

Probably Related to What Doug Just Sent Me

Stretching the Envelope of Past Surface Environments: Neoproterozoic Glacial Lakes from Svalbard

Huiming Bao,1* Ian J. Fairchild,2 Peter M. Wynn,3 Christoph Spötl4

The oxygen isotope composition of terrestrial sulfate is affected measurably by many Earth-surface processes. During the Neoproterozoic, severe "snowball" glaciations would have had an extreme impact on the biosphere and the atmosphere. Here, we report that sulfate extracted from carbonate lenses within a Neoproterozoic glacial diamictite suite from Svalbard, with an age of ~635 million years ago, falls well outside the currently known natural range of triple oxygen isotope compositions and indicates that the atmosphere had either an exceptionally high atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration or an utterly unfamiliar oxygen cycle during deposition of the diamictites.

1 Department of Geology and Geophysics, E235 Howe-Russell Complex, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA.
2 School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK.
3 Department of Geography, University of Lancaster, Lancaster LA1 4YQ, UK.
4 Institut für Geologie und Paläontologie, Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck, Innrain 52, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.

Nat Geo has a Popsci version of the above. Now if only I had the paper. Interesting that the Ediacaran had so many interesting and oddball things happening in it. Or is this Cryogenian?

Related link.

Different time frames from what Doug sent me. I didn't get a chance to read what he had. That covers the Great Oxidization Event: here and here. The GOE was 1.8 billion years older. There was a lot more sulfur in the atmosphere then though like both the Ediacaran-Cryogenian Boundary and GOE.

Two Exoplanet Atmospheric Thermal Emissions Detected

Two independent groups have simultaneously made the first-ever ground-based detection of extrasolar planets thermal emissions. Until now, virtually everything known about atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars in the Milky Way has come from space-based observations. These new results, accepted for publication in Astronomy & Astrophysics, open a new frontier to studying these alien worlds and are especially critical because the major space-based workhorse to these studies, the Spitzer telescope, will soon run out of cryogens, highly limiting its capabilities.

One team of scientists observed a planet named OGLE-TR-56b, which is a "hot Jupiter." Hot Jupiters are massive planets that orbit very close to their stars, whipping around them in 2 to 3 days. Since they are so close to their stars, they are believed to be hot enough to emit radiation in the optical and near-infrared wavelengths and be detectable from Earth. The orbit of OGLE-TR-56b carries it behind its host star from the perspective of an observer on Earth, but a challenge to observing is that the planet is faint and in a crowded field, located in the direction of the center of our galaxy, about 5,000 light years away.


n the other study, published in the same issue of the journal, astronomers in the Netherlands detected thermal emission in the near-infrared from another exoplanet named TrES-3b, also from the ground. Information about atmospheres of hot Jupiters from Spitzer studies has helped both sets of scientists. The hot Jupiters Spitzer has observed have similar atmospheric properties, in particular thermal inversions, in which a warm layer holds a cooler layer underneath. "OGLE-TR-56b is hotter than any that Spitzer has seen so far," said López-Morales. "At over 4400° F it's the hottest atmosphere yet measured. It is way too hot for silicon or iron clouds to form, which would keep it dark—typical of the hot Jupiters that Spitzer had found. It's comforting to know that when Spitzer goes out of service, studies like these two will be able to keep the field alive.

very kewl...ermmm...

Hardy's Paradox Resolved?

Over the course of nearly two years of work, Steinberg and then-student Jeff Lundeen, now a research associate at the National Research Council of Canada, built a complicated quantum optical experiment and developed new theoretical tools. In essence, they combined Hardy's Paradox with a new theory known as weak measurement proposed by Tel Aviv University physicist Yakir Aharonov, showing that in one sense, one can indeed talk about the past, resolving the paradox. Weak measurement is a tool whereby the presence of a detector is less than the level of uncertainty around what is being measured, so that there is an imperceptible impact on the experiment. "We found that all of the seemingly paradoxical conclusions in Hardy's Paradox can, in fact, be experimentally verified," says Steinberg, "but that the use of weak measurement removes the contradiction."

"Until recently, it seemed impossible to carry out Hardy's proposal in practice, let alone to confirm or resolve the paradox," he says. "We have finally been able to do so, and to apply Aharonov's methods to the problem, showing that there is a way, even in quantum mechanics, in which one can quite consistently discuss past events even after they are over and done. Weak measurement finds what is there without disturbing it."


That even needs a blink tag.

Now let's see if everyone agrees with what they found.

You can observe and not disturb.


USAF/DARPA's Secret Sat Inspections?

In a top secret operation, the U.S. Defense Dept. is conducting the first deep space inspection of a crippled U.S. military spacecraft. To do this, it is using sensors on two covert inspection satellites that have been prowling geosynchronous orbit for nearly three years.

The failed satellite being examined is the $400 million U.S. Air Force/Northrop Grumman Defense Support Program DSP 23 missile warning satellite. It died in 2008 after being launched successfully from Cape Canaveral in November 2007 on the first operational Delta 4-Heavy booster.

Since the U.S. is now demonstrating the ability to do such up close rendezvous and inspection of American spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit, it means USAF now has at least a "call up capability" to do the same to non-U.S. spacecraft like those from Russia and China.

The operation, at nearly 25,000 miles altitude, reveals a major new U.S. military space capability, says John Pike who heads GlobalSecurity.Org, a military think tank.

"There is not much we do in space any more that is really new, but this is really new," Pike tells

Although being used in this operation to obtain data on a failed U.S. spacecraft, such inspections of especially potential enemy spacecraft, is something the Pentagon has wanted to do since the start of the space age, Pike says.

The Orbital Sciences and Lockheed Martin "Mitex" inspection spacecraft involved are part of a classified Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) technology development program. When initially launched on a Delta 2 from Cape Canaveral in 2006, the project involved maneuvering around and inspecting each other at geosynchronous altitude.

But there is no unclassified data to indicate whether the two spacecraft may have secretly paid visits to one or more non-U.S. spacecraft in the geosynchronous arc that circles the Earth at about 22,300 miles altitude, much like the Capital Beltway circles Washington, D.C.

A U.S. Defense Dept. analyst speaking on deep background says although a visit to a non-U.S. satellite is doubtful, the demonstration will cause concern, especially among Chinese government military analysts in Beijing. He said they will see the capability as a new U.S. intelligence tool that could theoretically also enable a sneak anti-satellite attack in geosynchronous orbit.

IF the Mitex sats were actually able to go and inspect satellites, it's a fascinating capability that we've developed with a lot of potential.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

10 Million X Finer Resolution MRI

IBM Research scientists, in collaboration with the Center for Probing the Nanoscale at Stanford University, have demonstrated magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with volume resolution 100 million times finer than conventional MRI.

This result, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), signals a significant step forward in tools for molecular biology and nanotechnology by offering the ability to study complex 3D structures at the nanoscale.

By extending MRI to such fine resolution, the scientists have created a microscope that, with further development, may ultimately be powerful enough to unravel the structure and interactions of proteins, paving the way for new advances in personalized healthcare and targeted medicine. This achievement stands to impact the study of materials from proteins to integrated circuits for which a detailed understanding of atomic structure is essential.

Today has been a kewl day for scitech announcements.

IBM isn't out from under the death glare as work though.

DNA to Reveal Book Origins!?!

The animal-skin pages used in early medieval manuscripts contain genetic material capable of solving long-standing mysteries about the works, according to new research.

Before paper was widely used, European books were written on parchment made from the treated skins of calves, young sheep, and goats.

"What I was looking for was a way to date and localize these manuscripts," said Timothy Stinson, an English professor at North Carolina State University.

"In the past, we used an analysis of handwriting and an analysis of the dialects" of the scribes who created the manuscripts, Stinson said.

"But these were fairly inexact," he said, noting that dates determined by this method could be off by a half-century.

Stinson wondered if the pages held enough intact animal DNA to provide useful information, so he called his brother, C. Michael Stinson, a biologist at Southside Virginia Community College.

After several years of testing, Timothy Stinson will present the brothers' preliminary findings next week at the annual meeting of the Bibliographical Society of America in New York City.

If it works, this is damned kewl.

Sorry about the invective, but that's just awesome if true.

New Books

My wife gave me a gift certificate to Amazon for my Xmas & birthday and my uncle and aunt that we visited gave me two gift certificates from Barnes and Noble. As you might guess, I am delighted. I've only ordered one book from B&N, but I've used up the Amazon card already.

I ordered Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History. I already have the volume on cats. Someone ought to do this for bears. I also ordered The World Without Us and The Earth After Us: What Legacy Will Humans Leave in the Rocks?. I also picked up History of the Persian Empire and Solar Sails (I've been in love with the things since I was a teenager). To round it out, I also picked up In the Shadow of the Dinosaurs: Early Mesozoic Tetrapods (used).

From B&N I ordered Byzantium Viewed by the Arabs. I am probably going to order Last Hunters, First Farmers, too, but we'll see. I'd like to pick up some paleo books this route, too.

I was outright given Your Inner Fish which I read very, very quickly: it was good, but I'm hitting the point that I need to start crossing into the pro's papers instead of just the pop sci stuff since I knew 95% of what was covered in the book already. I also finished reading Canada and the United States: Ambivalent Allies. I am half done at the moment with United States and Mexico: Between Partnership and Conflict.

I have some questions for my Canadian readers in the future, but I think I need to dedicate some time to phrase the questions properly. Interestingly, did you guys know back in 1948 (+/-), the Canadians approached the US about a free trade treaty. It wasn't as interesting to the US at first, but a few (couple?) years later, the US came back with interest in the treaty, the Canadians rejected it as an encroachment on their sovereignty by the US...even though it had been their idea. *scratches head* There had to have been a government change in that time frame, but I don't recall one. I'll look again if anyone asks. However, the WI being, had the treaty gone ahead and the US and Canada had formed a free trade zone in around 1950, how would the US and Canadian economies developed differently? I doubt there would be a customs union or whatnot beyond straight up free trade. Think of it similar to the historical CUSFTA treaty prior to NAFTA. yet...There might be as much as 40 years before Mexico decides to join in, if ever. 40 years of deep economic integration between the US and Canadian economies, especially during the 1950s, would have some oddball effects I am sure. Anyone interested in discussing it?

Oh and there are times we hate IBM, too, at work. grrr. Good thing I got a lot of sleep last night and I'm caffed up...I can get uber scary then. Ogre Genes in full expression here! Coherent Ogre Genes at that.