A colossal new ring has been identified around Saturn.
The dusty hoop lies some 13 million km (eight million miles) from the planet, about 50 times more distant than the other rings and in a different plane.
Scientists tell the journal Nature that the tenuous ring is probably made up of debris kicked off Saturn’s moon Phoebe by small impacts.
They think this dust then migrates towards the planet where it is picked up by another Saturnian moon, Iapetus.
The discovery would appear to resolve a longstanding mystery in planetary science: why the walnut-shaped Iapetus has a two-tone complexion, with one side of the moon significantly darker than the other.
“It has essentially a head-on collision. The particles smack Iapetus like bugs on a windshield,” said Anne Verbiscer from the University of Virginia, US.
Observations of the material coating the dark face of Iapetus indicate it has a similar composition to the surface material on Phoebe.
The scale of the new ring feature is astonishing. Nothing like it has been seen elsewhere in the Solar System.
The more easily visible outlier in Saturn’s famous bands of ice and dust is its E-ring, which encompasses the orbit of the moon Enceladus. This circles the planet at a distance of just 240,000km.
The newly identified torus is not only much broader and further out, it is also tilted at an angle of 27 degrees to the plane on which the more traditional rings sit.
This in itself strongly links the ring’s origin to Phoebe, which also takes a highly inclined path around Saturn.
Scientists suspected the ring might be present and had the perfect tool in the Spitzer space telescope to confirm it.
Archive for October 7th, 2009
Posted by Xeno on October 7, 2009
Posted by Xeno on October 7, 2009
A very rare deep water squid, discovered by fishermen off the coast of Grand Cayman last month, is the same species, Asperoteuthis acanthoderma, as the specimen recovered off the coast of Little Cayman last year and one of only five of this species found in Atlantic waters so far. The latest find measured more than 6 feet in length (slightly less than the 24lbs 4oz creature found off Little Cayman in May 2008, which was over 7 feet long). It was discovered on Sunday, 27 September, by Dennis Denton, Stuart Mailer, and M. Christine RoseSmyth-Mailer while they were deep sea fishing.
According to Denton they were trolling along a weed line about 1½ miles north of the Rum Point channel when they noticed something in the water ahead of them. “As we went passed we realised it was a large squid, apparently dead, floating just below the surface.”
Recognising the scientific importance of this sighting, Denton marked the location with a GPS and brought in the fishing lines to have a closer look. He explained, “The animal was intact and much larger than we had thought so it was brought on board for better inspection and photographs.” After a call was made to the Department of Environment (DoE) confirming their interest in examining the squid further, it was placed in plastic bags, put on ice, and brought to shore.
DoE Deputy Director for Research and Assessment Timothy Austin and Research Officer Janice Blumenthal collected the squid from Denton, took DNA samples and preserved the specimen. They then contacted cephalopod experts at the Smithsonian Institution, Mote Marine Laboratory, and the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science to report the discovery. According to Dr. Heather Judkins, a cephalopod expert at the University of South Florida, the squid appears to be Asperoteuthis acanthoderma – a little-known deep sea dwelling species.
Posted by Xeno on October 7, 2009
The picture shows the ring-shaped spectrum against a backdrop of cumulocirrus clouds.
The aeroplane’s shadow can be faintly seen in the centre of the ring, with the colours fading from blue to red around it.
Rainbows are formed when sunlight strikes the curved inside of a raindrop at a specific angle and is reflected back through the water, creating a prism effect.
The apparent semicircle of a normal rainbow is only limited by the horizon. The full circle could be seen if the viewer were standing on a sufficiently high cliff, although it is more easily seen from aircraft.
Rainbows are long said to have had a profound religious and mythological significance. Before they were explained scientifically, they were described in the Bible as a symbol of God’s covenant with Noah, promising that mankind would never again be destroyed by flood.
In Irish folklore, the leprechaun hides his pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. This would, however, be harder to do in the case of a circular one.
Posted by Xeno on October 7, 2009
The severely damaged skull of a Northumberland man involved in a car crash 50 years ago has regenerated itself, a process thought to be rare.
Doctors operated to treat an infection in Gordon Moore’s head and found the bone had grown back beneath the metal plate inserted after the accident.
This would not be unusual in a child, whose bones are growing, but there are very few documented cases in adults.
Doctors said it was particularly remarkable given the size of the area.
Mr Moore, from Ridsdale, made headlines previously by becoming among the first tourists to visit Iraq and Afghanistan.
The former postmaster flipped his car while driving near Berwick in 1955.
The metal plate which was inserted was itself dented three years later in a subsequent car crash.
His new skull reportedly follows the contours of this dent.
Mr Moore said the plate had never bothered him, but he was relieved he would no longer “set the alarms off at the airport”.
His consultant, Param Bhattathiri, told the Newcastle-based Evening Chronicle: “It was a great surprise to find the skull had grown back.
“You would expect it in a child, but not in an adult, certainly not in an area of bone so big.”
But he added it was unusual in any event to remove a metal plate after so many years.
Tests are to be carried out to ascertain the thickness and strength of the new bone.
Posted by Xeno on October 7, 2009
‘Bluestonehenge’ found by archaeologists less than two miles from world-famous prehistoric monument
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of what they believe was a second Stonehenge located a little more than a mile away from the world-famous prehistoric monument.
The new find on the west bank of the river Avon has been called “Bluestonehenge”, after the colour of the 25 Welsh stones of which it was once made up.
Excavations at the site have suggested there was once a stone circle 10 metres in diameter and surrounded by a henge – a ditch with an external bank, according to the project director, Professor Mike Parker Pearson, of the University of Sheffield.
The stones at the site were removed thousands of years ago but the sizes of the holes in which they stood indicate that this was a circle of bluestones, brought from the Preseli mountains of Wales, 150 miles away. The standing stones marked the end of the avenue that leads from the river Avon to Stonehenge, a 1¾-mile long processional route constructed at the end of the Stone Age.
The outer henge around the stones was built about 2400BC but arrowheads found in the stone circle indicate the stones were put up as much as 500 years earlier.
Parker Pearson said his team was waiting for results of radiocarbon dating which could reveal whether stones currently in the inner circle of Stonehenge were originally located at the other riverside construction. It should also show whether the newly discovered circle’s stones were removed by Neolithic people and dragged along the route of the avenue to Stonehenge, to be incorporated within its major rebuilding about 2500BC. After that date Stonehenge consisted of about 80 Welsh stones and 83 local sarsen stones.
Pearson said: “The big, big question is when were our stones erected and when were they removed – and when we get the dating evidence we can answer both those questions.”
He added: “We speculated in the past that there might have been something at the end of the avenue near the river. But we were completely unprepared to discover that there was an entire stone circle.
“I think we have found incontrovertible proof that the river was very important to the people who used Stonehenge. I believe that the river formed a conduit between the living and the dead and this is the point where you leave the realm of the living at the river and enter the one of the dead at Stonehenge.”
The summer dig, which ended last month, also found evidence that the builders of the stone circle used deer antlers as pickaxes. Excavations by the Stonehenge Riverside Project, which is a consortium of university teams, have uncovered a wealth of finds in recent years including the Neolithic village of Durrington Walls in 2005.
“Not many people know that Stonehenge was Britain’s largest burial ground at that time. Maybe the bluestone circle is where people were cremated before their ashes were buried at Stonehenge itself,” Parker Pearson added. Dr Josh Pollard, project co-director from the University of Bristol, described the discovery as “incredible”.
“The newly discovered circle and henge should be considered an integral part of Stonehenge rather than a separate monument and it offers tremendous insight into the history of its famous neighbour. Its landscape location demonstrates once again the importance of the river Avon in Neolithic funerary rites and ceremonies.” Another team member, Professor Julian Thomas, said the discovery indicated that this stretch of the river Avon was central to the religious lives of the people who built Stonehenge.
“Old theories about Stonehenge that do not explain the evident significance of the river will have to be rethought,” he said.
There have been many theories about the use of Stonehenge, including that it was believed to have healing properties and was a giant astronomical observatory. Stonehenge only acquired its famous silhouette after centuries of continuous rearrangement. In about 2500BC the gigantic sarsen stones were dragged across Salisbury plain and added to the smaller bluestones. Evidence from earlier excavations had already suggested that more bluestones were brought in to make a more complex pattern.
“The assumption was that they went back to Wales for more,” Pearson said. “My hunch is that they just took them from our circle down the road.” He believes the new circle marked the processional avenue from the river Avon to Stonehenge.
Archaeologists have released an artist’s impression of what a second stone circle found a mile from Stonehenge might have looked like. // The drawing shows the sensational discovery of “Blue Stonehenge” by a team led by archaeologists from Manchester, Sheffield and Bristol Universities on the West bank of the River Avon last month. Professor Julian Thomas, from The University of Manchester and a co-director of the Stonehenge Riverside Project, said the monument was a circle of bluestones, dragged from the Welsh Preseli mountains, 150 miles away around 5,000 years ago. However, the stones, he said, had since been since removed, leaving behind nine uncovered holes. The team believe they were probably part of a circle of 25 standing stones. The new stone circle is 10m (33 ft) in diameter and was surrounded by a henge – a ditch with an external bank. The standing stones marked the end of the Avenue that leads from the River Avon to Stonehenge, a 1¾-mile long (2.8km) processional route constructed at the end of the Stone Age – or the Neolithic period. The outer henge around the stones was built around 2400 BC, but arrowheads found in the stone circle indicate that the stones were put up as much as 500 years earlier. – physorg
British archaeologists have found the remains of a massive stone henge, or ceremonial circle, that was part of the ancient and celebrated Stonehenge complex, a find that is shedding new light on how the monument was built and its religious uses. The new henge, called Bluestonehenge because it was built with blue Preseli dolerite mined more than 150 miles away in Wales, was on the banks of the River Avon, where ancient pilgrims carrying the ashes of their dead relatives began the journey from the river to Stonehenge, nearly two miles away. Some are calling it the “little sister” of Stonehenge. The approximately 25 massive bluestones were erected in a circle about 5,000 years ago, and eventually were encircled by a ditch and an earthen embankment. About 500 years later, however, the stones were moved and incorporated into Stonehenge itself. – latimes
Posted by Xeno on October 7, 2009
New research from the University of Southampton has demonstrated that it is possible for communication from person to person through the power of thought — with the help of electrodes, a computer and Internet connection.
Brain-Computer Interfacing (BCI) can be used for capturing brain signals and translating them into commands that allow humans to control (just by thinking) devices such as computers, robots, rehabilitation technology and virtual reality environments.
This experiment goes a step further and was conducted by Dr Christopher James from the University’s Institute of Sound and Vibration Research. The aim was to expand the current limits of this technology and show that brain-to-brain (B2B) communication is possible.
Dr James comments: “Whilst BCI is no longer a new thing and person to person communication via the nervous system was shown previously in work by Professor Kevin Warwick from the University of Reading, here we show, for the first time, true brain to brain interfacing. We have yet to grasp the full implications of this but there are various scenarios where B2B could be of benefit such as helping people with severe debilitating muscle wasting diseases, or with the so-called ‘locked-in’ syndrome, to communicate and it also has applications for gaming.”
His experiment had one person using BCI to transmit thoughts, translated as a series of binary digits, over the internet to another person whose computer receives the digits and transmits them to the second user’s brain through flashing an LED lamp.
While attached to an EEG amplifier, the first person would generate and transmit a series of binary digits, imagining moving their left arm for zero and their right arm for one. The second person was also attached to an EEG amplifier and their PC would pick up the stream of binary digits and flash an LED lamp at two different frequencies, one for zero and the other one for one. The pattern of the flashing LEDs is too subtle to be picked by the second person, but it is picked up by electrodes measuring the visual cortex of the recipient.
The encoded information is then extracted from the brain activity of the second user and the PC can decipher whether a zero or a one was transmitted. This shows true brain-to-brain activity.
Posted by Xeno on October 7, 2009
Read the entire post from Anthony Bragalia at the UFO Iconoclast blog. This unfolding story, debunking one of the most famous UFO incidents, comes from an author who does believe the earth has been visited by aliens. Check out my old UFO article and my UFO time line too.
New investigation reveals that the likely culprits behind the Socorro UFO hoax in 1964 were part of a highly secret group of student pranksters at NM Tech. It is now learned that so extreme were some of these Techie “pranks” during the 1960s that they even caused physical endangerment. One especially sophisticated UFO hoax at that time led to the severe reprimand by U.S. military base officials of a Techie whose prank had caused the emergency scrambling of jet interceptors!
… As a vocal advocate of ET visitation, this author struggled with release of this information. I did not look for this story, it fell upon me when I discovered Linus Paulings’s archived secret UFO studies. I did not intend on dousing this campfire story. It is hoped that in reporting this, readers understand that I am simply following the evidence where it takes me. I am obligated to report what I find and have no “hidden agenda.” I remain firm in my conviction that life from elsewhere visits Earth. But I am also firm in my conviction that many UFO researchers simply do not appreciate the extent and sophistication with which UFOs are pranked by our nation’s college youth. This was especially true in the 1960s at places like NM Tech:
“STUDENT SAUCERS” IN THE SIXTIES
John W. Shipman came to NM Tech in the Summer of 1966 as a Freshman. John -an admitted serial prankster- remains so enamored of his college experience that he recounts events of the time in an online blog. John offers keen observations about this most unique school in the mid-1960s: “The spirit of technological uproar rubbed off on the students. With limited opportunities for recreation, the happiest students were the ones that made their own fun.”
John mentions his accomplices to hoaxes- with code names “Joe Hat” and “Harry Hat.” Both he says, were extremely competent with electronics. Shipman says, “They were nerds long before the term was invented.” Shipman says that during that summer, the Hats bought a surplus radar and began working on it. The school paper featured them on the cover with the caption, “They’ve Landed.” Harry had found out that jets from Holloman AFB often used Socorro Peak as a radar target for simulated bombing runs. Apparently the Hats were able to devise a jamming device and then left it on a nearby mountain to the base. Shipman says that the bombing scores “all went to hell” because of this jamming device. Shipman explains that the Air Force had tracked down the problem. As Shipman understands, two MPs came into the Tech classrooms and physically hauled Harry to the Base Commander. After over an hour of scolding, an officer admitted to Harry Hat that, after graduation, he would like to hire Harry because he was better at radar research than most of his people at the base!
Shipman recounts that “Harry also experimented with making Flying Saucers, a popular diversion for dorm residents.” He says that an even more impressive student-made “saucer” was “specifically designed to upset the folks at White Sands.” Shipman explains, “the envelope was a surplus weather balloon filled with natural gas. The payload consisted of a highway flare, a hundred-foot surveyors measuring tape made of steel, and a long fuse. The measuring tape was weighted at one end rolled up and secured with a piece of waxed string. After the prevailing wind had blown the balloon out over the north end of the range, the fuse burned to the end and lit the highway flare and burned the string around the steel tape. The radar operators were rather upset when a hundred-foot long radar target appeared suddenly on their screens. They scrambled several interceptor jets. The interceptors never found what they were looking for.”
Though Shipman came to NM Tech a couple of years after the Socorro UFO event, the information he provides is invaluable in understanding how such a thing could have ever happened. From Shipman we learn that in the 1960s, Techies were making “Flying Saucers” that even fooled military men. This brand of brilliant “merry pranksters” was of an entirely different order then found then or now at other schools.
The Techies of the 1960s were so “ballsy” and rebellious -and had such little regard for safety or legality- that they would even jam sensitive radar and disrupt military exercises! To cause a “hub-bub” with town cop Zamora paled by comparison!
Squint while viewing [the photo of the NM techies in Radiological suits above] and move back a bit from the screen- Lonnie was at a distance from the craft. Remove your eyeglasses if you have them- Lonnie lost his. Note the shortest figure in the middle. Is this an “alien” – or is it a “short in stature” student scientist of “normal shape” who is clad in “white coveralls” as described by Lonnie Zamora? Next try covering up the other figures in the picture with your hands so that only the middle figure remains in view. Squint and place yourself a distance from the screen. The “alien” -precisely as described by Zamora- will appear even more vividly.
In a future article I hope to conclusively identify the white clad students who walked the arroyos outside Soccoro in 1964 – fooling a town, a nation and the world for decades.
Posted by Xeno on October 7, 2009
Any child can tell you that a magnet has a “north” and a “south” pole, and that if you break it into two pieces, you invariably get two smaller magnets with two poles of their own. But scientists have spent the better part of the last eight decades trying to find, in essence, a magnet with only one pole. A team working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has found one.*
In 1931, Paul Dirac, one of the rock stars of the physics world, made the somewhat startling prediction that “magnetic monopoles,” or particles possessing only a single pole—either north or south—should exist. His conclusion stemmed from examining a famous set of equations that explains the relationship between electricity and magnetism. Maxwell’s equations apply to long-known electric monopole particles, such as negatively charged electrons and positively charged protons; but despite Dirac’s prediction, no one has found magnetic monopole particles.
Now, a research team working at NIST’s Center for Neutron Research (NCNR), led by Hiroaki Kadowaki of Tokyo Metropolitan University, has found the next best thing. By creating a compound that under certain conditions forms large, molecule-sized monopoles that behave exactly as the predicted particles should, the team has found a way to explore magnetic monopoles in the laboratory, not just on the chalkboard. (Another research team, working simultaneously, published similar findings in Science last month.**)
“These are not the monopole particles Dirac predicted—ours are huge in comparison—but they behave like them in every way,” says Jeff Lynn, a NIST physicist. “Their properties will allow us to test how theoretical monopole particles should behave and interact.”
The team created their monopoles in a compound made of oxygen, titanium and dysprosium that, when cooled to nearly absolute zero, forms what scientists call “spin ice.” The material freezes into four-sided crystals (a pyramid with a triangular base) and the magnetic orientation, or “spin,” of the ions at each of the four tips align so that their spins are balanced—two spins point inward and two outward. But using neutron beams at the NCNR, the team found they could knock one of the spins askew so that instead three point in, one out … “creating a monopole, or at least its mathematical equivalent,” Lynn said.
Because every crystal pyramid shares its four tips with adjacent pyramids, flipping the spin of one tip creates an “anti-monopole” in the next pyramid over. The team has created monopole-antimonopole pairs repeatedly in a relatively large chunk of the spin ice, allowing them to confirm the monopoles’ existence through advanced imaging techniques such as neutron scattering.
While the findings will not tell the team where in the universe to search for Dirac’s still-elusive magnetic monopole particles, Lynn says that examining the spin ice will permit scientists to test certain predictions about monopoles. “Maxwell’s equations indicate that monopoles should obey Coulomb’s Law, which indicates their interaction should weaken as distance between them increases,” he says. “Using the spin ice crystals, we can test ideas like this.”
Yeah, so what? What’s the big deal about a magnet with only one pole? I’ve read some interesting claims like this one from June 2004: High Energy Magnetic Monopole Sequestered by U.S. Government .
… The monopole is thought of as electric charge’s magnetic cousin, but unlike positive or negative charges, north or south poles always occur together in what’s called a dipole. A lone north or south pole simply doesn’t show up in the real world. Even if you take a bar magnet and cut it in half down the middle, you won’t get a separate north and south pole, but two new dipole magnets instead. For symmetry-minded theorists, however, it’s natural that there should be a magnetic equivalent of charge. String theories and grand unified theories rely on its existence, and its absence undermines the mathematical feng-shui of the otherwise elegant Maxwell’s equations that govern the behavior of electricity and magnetism. What’s more, the existence of a magnetic monopole would explain another mystery of physics: why charge is quantized; that is, why it only seems to come in tidy packets of about 1.602×10–19 coulombs, the charge of an electron or proton.
For decades, scientists have kept their eyes peeled for the elusive monopole, but perhaps they were looking in the wrong place. – symmetrymag
As I understand it from this Scientific American article, north and south still exist, but in pairs that cancel eachother out. Macroscopically you have a monopole acting material made up, on a small scale, of frustrated partially caged north and south poles which are unable to align.
… A pair of papers published online this week in Science offer experimental evidence that such monopoles do in fact exist, albeit not as electron-like elementary particles, a caveat that one self-professed purist says disqualifies them from genuine monopole status.
Both studies examine the magnetic behavior of a family of rare-earth materials known as spin ices—one group using holmium titanate and the other dysprosium titanate. The man-made spin ices take their name from their similarity to water ice—at the molecular level their internal magnetic structure is analogous to the arrangement of protons in ice.
Claudio Castelnovo, a postdoctoral physicist at the University of Oxford who co-authored one of the Science papers and also co-wrote a paper in Nature last year describing how monopoles might be realized in spin ices, explains that the compounds offer a peculiar combination of order and freedom that facilitates the dissociation of the poles.
At low temperatures, there is still some magnetic wiggle room in the spin ice’s lattice structure, but not a lot—the magnetic freedom of the system is frustrated, so to speak. “As a result, this is a substance that has degrees of freedom that look the same, microscopically, as you would see in a fridge magnet,” Castelnovo says. “But a fridge magnet is able to order so as to act as a fridge magnet and stick to metals, while this one is not able to achieve this level of ordering in spite of having this magnetic structure inside, because of this frustration.”
Internally, the tiny magnetic components arrange themselves head to tail in strings, like chains of bar magnets stretching across a table in different directions. In a very cold, clean sample, those strings form closed loops. But excitation induced by a rise in temperature can introduce tiny defects in these chains, Castelnovo says—in the bar-magnet analogue, one of the magnets is flipped, breaking the head-to-tail continuity. “You have your path that is north–south–north–south, and at a certain point one of the needles actually twists 180 degrees and points the wrong way,” he explains.
On either side of that defect, all of a sudden, is a concentration of magnetic charge—two norths at one end, two souths at the other. Those concentrations can float free along the string, acting as—voilà—magnetic monopoles.
“The beauty of spin ice is that the remaining degree of disorder in this low-temperature phase makes these two points independent of each other, apart from the fact that they attract each other from a magnetic point of view because one is a north and one is a south,” Castelnovo says. “But they are otherwise free to move around.”
Of course, this method of synthesizing monopoles cannot bring a north into existence without also generating a south—the key is their dissociation. “They always have to come in pairs,” Castelnovo says, “but they don’t have to be anywhere specifically in relation to one another.”s
Posted by Xeno on October 7, 2009
For Edgar Allan Poe, 2009 has been a better year than 1849. After dozens of events in several cities to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth, he’s about to get the grand funeral that a writer of his stature should have received when he died.
One hundred sixty years ago, the beleaguered, impoverished Poe was found, delirious and in distress outside a Baltimore tavern. He was never coherent enough to explain what had befallen him since leaving Richmond, Va., a week earlier. He spent four days in a hospital before he died at age 40.
Poe’s cousin, Neilson Poe, never announced his death publicly. Fewer than 10 people attended the hasty funeral for one of the 19th century’s greatest writers. And the injustices piled on. Poe’s tombstone was destroyed before it could be installed, when a train derailed and crashed into a stonecutter’s yard. Rufus Griswold, a Poe enemy, published a libelous obituary that damaged Poe’s reputation for decades.
But on Sunday, Poe’s funeral will get an elaborate do-over, with two services expected to draw about 350 people each — the most a former church next to his grave can hold. Actors portraying Poe’s contemporaries and other long-dead writers and artists will pay their respects, reading eulogies adapted from their writings about Poe.
“We are following the proper etiquette for funerals. We want to make it as realistic as possible,” said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum.
Advance tickets are sold out, although Jerome will make some seats available at the door to ensure packed houses. Fans are traveling from as far away as Vietnam.
The funeral is arguably the splashiest of a year’s worth of events honoring the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth. Along with Baltimore — where he spent some of his leanest years in the mid-1830s — Poe lived in or has strong connections to Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Richmond.
With the funeral angle covered, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond staged a re-enactment last weekend of his death. Those with a more academic interest in Poe can attend the Poe Studies Association’s annual conference from Thursday through Sunday in Philadelphia.
People 160 years ago must have eaten a lot of preservatives.
Posted by Xeno on October 7, 2009
Dragons may come from the land Down Under.
Scientists now find that the world’s largest living lizard species, the Komodo dragon, most likely evolved in Australia and dispersed westward to its current home in Indonesia.
In the past, researchers had suggested the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) developed from a smaller ancestor isolated on the Indonesian islands, evolving its large size as a response to lack of competition from other predators or as a specialist hunter of pygmy elephants known as Stegodon.
However, over the past three years, an international team of scientists unearthed numerous fossils from eastern Australia dated from 300,000 years ago to roughly 4 million years ago that they now know belong to the Komodo dragon.
“When we compared these fossils to the bones of present-day Komodo dragons, they were identical,” said researcher Scott Hocknull, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Queensland Museum in Australia.
For the last 4 million years, Australia has been home to the world’s largest lizards, including the 16-foot-long giant (5 meters) called Megalania, once the world’s largest terrestrial lizard but which died out some 40,000 years ago.
“Now we can say Australia was also the birthplace of the three-meter (10 foot) Komodo dragon,” Hocknull said.
The researchers said the ancestor of the Komodo dragon most likely evolved in Australia and spread westward, reaching the Indonesian island of Flores by 900,000 years ago. Comparisons between fossils and living Komodo dragons on Flores show that the lizard’s body size has remained relatively stable since then.
Further support for this notion of dispersal from Australia comes from the island of Timor, located between Australia and Flores. Three fossil specimens from Timor represent a new, as yet unnamed species of giant monitor lizard, which was larger than the Komodo dragon, although smaller than Megalania. More specimens of this new giant lizard are needed before the species can be formally described.
“There are a lot of things we just simply don’t know about this part of the world – Indonesia to Australia,” Hocknull told LiveScience. “In recent years this region has thrown up remarkable discoveries – a new species of hominid, the ‘Lost World’ in New Guinea boasting dozens of new species having never met humans, and now an island chain of giant lizards, including the largest of them all, Megalania from Australia. However, they all went extinct, except the Komodo dragon. The big question now is why? …