Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

Blog of the real Xenophilius Lovegood, a slightly mad scientist

Archive for September 23rd, 2009

Mysterious ruins may help explain Mayan collapse

Posted by Anonymous on September 23, 2009

Ringing two abandoned pyramids are nine palaces “frozen in time” that may help unravel the mystery of the ancient Maya, reports an archaeological team.

Hidden in the hilly jungle, the ancient site of Kiuic (KIE-yuk) was one of dozens of ancient Maya centers abandoned in the Puuc region of Mexico’s Yucatan about 10 centuries ago. The latest discoveries from the site may capture the moment of departure.

“The people just walked away and left everything in place,” says archaeologist George Bey of Millsaps College in Jackson Miss., co-director of the Labna-Kiuic Regional Archaeological Project. “Until now, we had little evidence from the actual moment of abandonment, it’s a frozen moment in time.”

The ancient, or “classic” Maya were part of a Central American civilization best known for stepped pyramids, beautiful carvings and murals and the widespread abandonment of cities around 900 A.D. in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador. They headed for the northern Yucatan, where Spanish conquistadors met their descendants in the 1500s (6 million modern Maya still live in Central America today).

Past work by the team, led by Bey and Tomas Gallareta of Mexico’s National Institute of Archaeology and History, shows the Maya had inhabited the Puuc region since 500 B.C. So why they headed for the coast with their brethren is just part of the mystery of the Maya collapse.

New clues may come from Kiuic, where the archaeologists explored two pyramids and, most intriguingly, plantation palaces on the ridges ringing the center. Of particular interest: a hilltop complex nicknamed “Stairway to Heaven” by Gallareta (that’s “Escalera al Cieloa” for Spanish-speaking Led Zeppelin fans) because of a long staircase leading from Kiuic to a central plaza nearly a mile away.

via Mysterious ruins may help explain Mayan collapse – USATODAY.com.

Posted in Archaeology | Leave a Comment »

Supercats that may still be too wild for a family home

Posted by Anonymous on September 23, 2009

Supercats that may still be too wild for a family homeMild-mannered moggies are increasingly being replaced by new breeds in which African or South American wildcats have been crossbred with domestic cats.

Despite price-tags of up to £6,000 for new kittens, breeders report waiting lists of up to six months.

The savannah, the most popular, is bred from a serval, a cheetah-like wildcat found in Africa. It can grow three times larger than a domestic cat and can jump 7ft vertically. …

“They are going to do a lot more damage than a normal domestic cat. Their paws are bigger, they are stronger and they will bite deeper. Just because you can tame one, doesn’t mean you can tame all.”

Claire Bessant, from the FAB, said: “This is a scary trend. The savannah is a big cat that is close to the wild. We are introducing something that is likely to have issues and it worries me a lot.”

An RSPCA spokesman said: “The savannah cat is likely to exhibit a range of temperamental characteristics from both domestic cats and the wildcat species, and as such could prove to be dangerous.”

Beth Skillings, from Cats Protection, said: “Any new wildcat hybrid is likely to retain traits related to its wildcat ancestry.”

via Supercats that may still be too wild for a family home – Telegraph.

Perhaps crossbred cats will become the new attack dogs.

Posted in Biology, Strange | 1 Comment »

‘Quiet’ Sun continues to affect Earth

Posted by Anonymous on September 23, 2009

http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200909/r439513_2118077.jpgThe Sun can lash the Earth with powerful winds that can disrupt communications, aviation and power lines even when it is in the quiet phase of its 11-year solar cycle, say US scientists.

Observers have traditionally used the number of sunspots on the surface of the Sun to measure its activity. The number of sunspots reaches a peak at what is called the solar maximum and then declines to reach a minimum during a cycle.

At the peak, intense solar flares and geomagnetic storms eject vast amounts of energy into space, crashing into the Earth’s protective magnetic fields, knocking out satellites, disrupting communications and causing colourful aurora.

But scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the United States and the University of Michigan found that the Earth was bombarded with intense solar winds last year despite an unusually quiet phase for the Sun.

“The Sun continues to surprise us,” says Dr Sarah Gibson of the Center’s High Altitude Observatory and lead author of the study. “The solar wind can hit Earth like a fire hose even when there are virtually no sunspots.”

Scientists previously thought the streams of energy largely disappeared as the solar cycle approached the minimum.

via ‘Quiet’ Sun continues to affect Earth › News in Science (ABC Science).

Posted in Earth, Space | Leave a Comment »

New species discovered on whale skeletons

Posted by Anonymous on September 23, 2009

New species discovered on whale skeletonsWhen a whale dies, it sinks to the seafloor and becomes food for an entire ecosystem. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have discovered previously unknown species that feed only on dead whales – and use DNA technology to show that the species diversity in our oceans may be higher than previously thought.

Dead whales constitute an unpredictable food source – it is impossible to know when and where a whale is going to die, and when it does, the food source does not last forever. Nevertheless, some marine species have specialised in feeding on whale cadavers.

This is shown by researchers at the University of Gothenburg who have studied the ecosystem around dead whales using underwater cameras. A dead whale is an enormous source of nutrients. In fact, one cadaver offers the same amount of nutrients that normally sinks from the surface to the seafloor in 2000 years, and this is of great benefit to innumerable species: First the meat is eaten by for example sharks and hagfish, then tremendous amounts of various organisms come to feast on the skeleton.

One group of animals commonly found on whale skeletons is bristleworms, which are related to the earthworm. Some bristleworm species are so specialised in eating dead whales they would have problems surviving elsewhere. One example is Osedax, which uses its root system to penetrate the whale bones when searching for food. Other species specialise in eating the thick layers of bacteria that quickly form around the bones.

A dissertation from the Department of Zoology at the University of Gothenburg describes no fewer than nine previously unknown species of these bacteria-grazing bristleworms.

via New species discovered on whale skeletons.

Posted in Biology | Leave a Comment »

Magnetized Gas Points to New Physics

Posted by Anonymous on September 23, 2009

Picture of magnetic domainsIt would be tough to stick it to your refrigerator, but an ultra-cold gas magnetizes itself just as do metals such as iron or nickel, a team of atomic physicists reports. That cool trick shows that the messy physics within solids can be modeled with pristine gases, the researchers say. But others are skeptical that the team has actually seen what they claim.

Condensed matter physicists can tell you essentially all there is to know about how common metals carry electricity and heat. Why some of them are magnetic is a trickier question. Physicists know the basics: The electrons that flow through iron, nickel, and other magnetic materials act like little bar magnets. Below a certain temperature the electrons align so that they all point in the same direction, at least within relatively large “domains” in the crystalline material. The question is why do the electrons align themselves?

An answer was proposed in the 1930s by British theorist E. C. Stoner. It depends on a key bit of quantum mechanics called the Pauli exclusion principle, which says that no two electrons can be in exactly the same condition or “quantum state” at the same time. To see how this works, first consider a nonmagnetic metal. The electrons can be thought of as a kind of gas within the solid, with equal numbers of electrons pointing with their north poles up as down, because that would be their lowest-energy state.

Electrons repel each other, which increases the energy of the gas. Stoner argued that if the electrons repel each other hard enough, they could lower their total energy by aligning. The flipping of some of the electrons would agitate the gas and increase its “kinetic” energy a bit. But because of the exclusion principle, no two aligned electrons could be in the same place at the same time, meaning the electrons would avoid each other so that energy from the short-range repulsion would drop even more. Stoner came up with a highly simplified mathematical model that encapsulates this idea. However, no one has ever rigorously proved that the model produces such alignment or “ferromagnetism.”

via Magnetized Gas Points to New Physics — Cho 2009 (918): 1 — ScienceNOW.

Posted in Physics | Leave a Comment »

The North Atlantic is cooling because the Greenland ice sheet is melting

Posted by Anonymous on September 23, 2009

There is a flurry of wrong information in the news about a German meteorologist and oceanographer named Mojib Latif.  I’d say the North Atlantic Ocean is cooling because the Greenland ice sheet is melting…  The ice sheet is melting due to global warming.  Look at what he actually said, and you will see that this is a non-story. He didn’t predict 20 years of cooling, he gave an example that there *may* be cooling over the course of even 17  years due to natural variability, but we are not off the hook.  Have a look at Greenland. That much ice does not melt for no reason. The Earth is a dynamic system, heat up one area and you melt ice. Ice water  in the ocean changes currents and that changes wind patterns causing new weather patterns.  You may get snow in places you’ve never had snow… but you have to look at the big picture.

Fred Pearce wrote a recent column for New Scientist claiming climate modeler Mojib Latif predicted that up to two decades of cooling were coming: “We could be about to enter one or even two decades of cooler temperatures, according to one of the world’s top climate modellers.” Pearce’s claim was promptly picked up by the denialosphere and has been cited by “skeptics” as well as those who believe climate science is undergoing some sort of shake up, like Mr. Berger. Pearce’s story is greatly misleading both in terms of what Latif actually said and the role climate scientists believe natural variability plays in the climate system. …

This does not represent a “shake up” of the climate science community’s understanding of the system, or a blow to “settled science”. This is acknowledged in the IPCC’s most recent Assessment Report (AR4 WG1 8.3 and 9.4) as well as in the relevant primary literature. For example, the AR4 Synthesis Report states:

On scales [smaller than 50 years], natural climate variability is relatively larger [than human influences], making it harder to distinguish changes expected due to external [e.g.man-made] forcings.

Latif begins the section of his presentation misrepresented by Pearce by confirming that the media incorrectly believes that global warming is monotonic- something that we know the warming is decidedly not; something not claimed by “climate science” or “climate scientists”. Significant natural variability is superimposed on the long term man-made warming trend. Although the press might expect for us to set a new temperature record every year, the existence of natural variability means that we could in theory wait a long time (~17 years) before setting a new temperature record. ..

This was not an explicit prediction by Latif- it was a hypothetical scenario that is a real, if  not necessarily likely, possibility. Latif is saying that because people don’t understand that global warming isn’t supposed to be monotonic, and that there could be periods where temperatures pause or even dip below the present, the media and/or public will incorrectly believe that global warming has stopped/was wrong/etc. even though such “pauses” in warming are decidedly not contrary to our understanding of the climate system and how we anticipate it will respond to emissions driven warming. – thingsbreak

Posted in Earth | Leave a Comment »

Will We Eventually Upload Our Minds?

Posted by Anonymous on September 23, 2009

Neuron networkBruce Katz received his Ph.D. in artificial intelligence from University of Illinois. He is a frequent lecturer in artificial intelligence at the University of Sussex in the U.K and serves as adjunct professor in of Computer Engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Dr. Katz is the accomplished author of Neuroengineering the Future, Digital Design, as well as many prestigious journal articles.

Katz believes we are on the cusp of a broad neuro-revolution, one that will radically reshape our views of perception, cognition, emotion and even personal identity. Neuroengineering is rapidly advancing from perceptual aids such as cochlear implants to devices that will enhance and speed up thought. Ultimately, he says, this may free the mind from its bound state in the body to a platform independent existence.

via Will We Eventually Upload Our Minds? | h+ Magazine.

Posted in Mind, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Miss. Police Use Taser, Handcuffs On Wayward Emu

Posted by Anonymous on September 23, 2009

Officers had to use a stun gun and handcuffs to capture an emu running loose on Interstate 20 in central Mississippi on Sunday. Police Officer Kiley Culpepper told WLBT-TV in Jackson that motorists had been calling 911 since Friday to report sightings of two emus on I-20 and nearby U.S. Highway 80.

Authorities had been unable to find the animals until Sunday, when one was spotted near an I-20 entrance ramp.

The big bird was dodging traffic. Culpepper and deputies were able to surround the animal but has to use the Taser and handcuffs to finally get it off the road.

After being captured, the animal was taken to the Scott County Forest Coliseum.

via Miss. Police Use Taser, Handcuffs On Wayward Emu – CBS News.

Posted in Strange | Leave a Comment »


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