Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

Blog of the real Xenophilius Lovegood, a slightly mad scientist

Archive for September 3rd, 2010

Mass Extinctions “Change the Rules of Evolution”

Posted by Anonymous on September 3, 2010

A reinterpretation of the fossil record suggests a new answer to one of evolution’s existential questions: whether global mass extinctions are just short-term diversions in life’s preordained course, or send life careening down wholly new paths.

Some scientists have suggested the former. Rates of species diversification — the speed at which groups adapt and fill open ecological niches — seemed to predict what’s flourished in the aftermath of past planetary cataclysms. But according to the calculations of Macquarie University paleobiologist John Alroy, that’s just not the case.

“Mass extinction fundamentally changes the dynamics. It changes the composition of the biosphere forever. You can’t simply predict the winners and losers from what groups have done before,” he said.

In the past, many evolutionary biologists thought life would eventually recover its present composition, said Alroy. In 100 million years or so, the same general creatures would again roam the Earth. “But that isn’t in the data,” he said.
Instead Alroy’s analysis suggests that the future is inherently unpredictable, that what comes next can’t be extrapolated from what is measured now, no more than a mid-Cretaceous observer could have guessed that a few tiny rodents would someday occupy every ecological niche then ruled by reptiles.

“The current mass extinction is not going to simply put things out of whack for a while, and then things will go back to where we started, or would have gone anyway,” said Alroy. Mass extinction “changes the rules of evolution.”

via Mass Extinctions Change the Rules of Evolution | Wired Science | Wired.com.

Posted in Archaeology, Biology | Leave a Comment »

Exotic New Mars Images From Orbiting Telephoto Studio

Posted by Anonymous on September 3, 2010

Russell Crater Dunes in WinterA new batch of sharp Martian close-ups from NASA’s HiRISE camera were released on Sept. 1. HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) has been circling Mars on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for four years now, taking dramatic photos of the red planet with a telephoto lens to make any paparazzi jealous. The camera can focus on objects the size of a beach ball from more than 180 miles away.

The 236 new images, taken between July 8 and July 31, cover the planet practically from pole to pole. They zoom in on terrain ranging from volcanic cones to cratered planes, from wind-swept dunes to crusts of ice. The images even capture evidence of ongoing geological processes on Mars today, like fresh craters that may have formed between January and June of this year.

These are some of our favorites from the new set. But since January, the HiRISE team has been letting the public point the camera. You can suggest new terrain to explore using their “HiWish” feature.

via Exotic New Mars Images From Orbiting Telephoto Studio | Wired Science | Wired.com.

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Earth and Moon as viewed from the planet Mercury

Posted by Anonymous on September 3, 2010

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

What does Earth look like from the planet Mercury? The robotic spacecraft MESSENGER found out as it looked toward the Earth during its closest approach to the Sun about three months ago. The Earth and Moon are visible as the double spot on the lower left of the above image. Now MESSENGER was not at Mercury when it took the above image, but at a location from which the view would be similar. From Mercury, both the Earth and its comparatively large moon will always appear as small circles of reflected sunlight and will never show a crescent phase. MESSENGER has zipped right by Mercury three times since being launched in 2004, and is scheduled to enter orbit around the innermost planet in March of 2011.

via APOD: 2010 September 1 – Earth and Moon from MESSENGER.

If you are ever taken up by aliens and they bring you back to the solar system and you have to point out where you live, this photo could save your life.

Posted in Space | 2 Comments »

Recipe for water: Just add starlight

Posted by Anonymous on September 3, 2010

ESA’s Herschel infrared space observatory has discovered that ultraviolet starlight is the key ingredient for making water in space. It is the only explanation for why a dying star is surrounded by a gigantic cloud of hot water vapour.

Every recipe needs a secret ingredient. When astronomers discovered an unexpected cloud of water vapour around the old star IRC+10216 in 2001, they immediately began searching for the source. Stars like IRC+10216 are known as carbon stars and are thought not to make much water. Initially they suspected the star’s heat must be evaporating comets or even dwarf planets to produce the water.

Now, Herschel’s PACS and SPIRE instruments have revealed that the secret ingredient is ultraviolet light, because the water is too hot to have come from the destruction of icy celestial bodies.

“This is a good example of how better instruments can change our picture completely,” says Leen Decin, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, the lead author of the paper about this work. The superb sensitivity of Herschel’s instruments has revealed that the water around IRC+10216 varies in temperature from about -200°C to 800°C, which indicates that it is being formed much closer to the star than comets can stably exist.

IRC+10216 is a red giant star, hundreds of times the Sun’s size, although only a few times its mass. If it replaced the Sun in our Solar System, it would extend beyond the orbit of Mars.

It is 500 light years away and while it is barely detectable at visible wavelengths, even in the largest telescopes, it is the brightest star in the sky at some infrared wavelengths. This is because it is surrounded by a huge envelope of dust that absorbs almost all its visible radiation and re-emits it as infrared light. It is in the envelope that the water vapour has been found. But how did the water get there?

The vital clue was found by Herschel. Observations had already revealed the clumpy structure in the dusty envelope around IRC+10216. The Herschel water detection made the astronomers realise that ultraviolet light from surrounding stars can reach deep into the envelope between the clumps and break up molecules such as carbon monoxide and silicon monoxide, releasing oxygen atoms. The oxygen atoms then attach themselves to hydrogen molecules, forming water.

“This is the only mechanism that explains the full range of the water’s temperature,” says Decin. The closer to the star the water is formed, the hotter it will be. …

via Recipe for water: Just add starlight.

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How Billy Meier hoaxed his UFO videos

Posted by Anonymous on September 3, 2010

It’s only a model.

Posted in - Video, UFOs | 4 Comments »

Triangulum galaxy a city of stars

Posted by Anonymous on September 3, 2010

 Picture of young stars in the Triangulum galaxy.In a new picture, hundreds of young, bright stars heat up the gases of the Triangulum galaxy, creating a distinctive red glow.

The image is being billed as the sharpest shot yet of the star-forming region known as NGC 604. Released August 30, the view combines data from a wide range of wavelengths, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

The star “metropolis” is Triangulum’s largest star nursery, stretching about 1,500 light-years across. Blistering radiation from the infant stars not only lights up the neighborhood but also carves out bubbles in the surrounding hydrogen gas, giving NGC 604 its complex structure.

Published September 2, 2010

via Space Photos This Week: Rocket Test, Tropical Storm, More.

Posted in Space | 1 Comment »

NASA Aims to Plunge Car-Sized Probe Into the Sun

Posted by Anonymous on September 3, 2010

NASA is developing an ambitious new mission to plunge a car-sized probe directly into the sun’s atmosphere, boldly going where no spacecraft has gone before.The spacecraft, called Solar Probe Plus, is slated to launch no later than 2018, NASA announced Thursday.The space agency has picked the five science experiments to ride aboard the new sun-exploring spacecraft. The instruments include a solar wind particle detector, a 3-D camera, and a device to measure the sun’s magnetic field, among other tools.

“This project allows humanity’s ingenuity to go where no spacecraft has ever gone before,” said NASA’s Solar Probe Plus program scientist Lika Guhathakurta in a statement. “For the very first time, we’ll be able to touch, taste and smell our sun.” [Amazing New Sun Photos]

As Solar Probe Plus approaches the sun, it will face temperatures exceeding 2,550 degrees Fahrenheit (1,399 degrees Celsius) and powerful radiation blasts.

The spacecraft is expected to take unprecedented, up-close view of our home star, enabling scientists to better understand, characterize and forecast the radiation environment for future space explorers, NASA officials said.

Researchers submitted 13 proposals for the Solar Probe Plus Mission in 2009. The five NASA picked should cost a total of $180 million for preliminary analysis, design, development and tests.

“The experiments selected for Solar Probe Plus are specifically designed to solve two key questions of solar physics: Why is the sun’s outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun’s visible surface, and what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system? ” said Dick Fisher, director of NASA’s heliophysics division, in a statement. “We’ve been struggling with these questions for decades, and this mission should finally provide those answers.”

The five experiments are:

Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons Investigation: This experiment will count the most abundant particles in the solar wind — electrons, protons and helium ions – and measure their properties.

Wide-field Imager: This telescope will make 3-D images of the sun’s corona, or atmosphere. The experiment will actually see the solar wind and provide 3-D images of clouds and shocks as they approach and pass the spacecraft.

Fields Experiment: This study will make direct measurements of electric and magnetic fields, radio emissions and shock waves that course through the sun’s atmospheric plasma. The experiment also serves as a giant dust detector, registering voltage signatures when specks of space dust hit the probe’s antenna.

Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun: This experiment will take an inventory of elements in the sun’s atmosphere. It will use a mass spectrometer to weigh and sort ions near the spacecraft.

Heliospheric Origins with Solar Probe Plus: This component will provide an independent assessment of scientific performance and act as a community advocate for the mission.

The Solar Probe Plus mission is part of NASA’s Living with a Star Program. The program is designed to understand aspects of the sun and Earth’s space environment that affect life and society.

via SPACE.com — NASA Aims to Plunge Car-Sized Probe Into the Sun.

Posted in Space | Leave a Comment »

NYC sky-scrapers dim lights to help migratory birds

Posted by Anonymous on September 3, 2010

Manhattan skyline at night (Image: BBC)A growing number of New York sky-scrapers are switching off their lights to help reduce the number of birds hitting the high-rise buildings.

The “lights out” project – organised by NYC Audubon – runs until 1 November, when migratory birds are expected to have completed their autumn migrations.

The Empire State and Chrysler buildings are among those dimming their lights.

An estimated 90,000 birds each year are killed in the city as a result of striking glass-fronted buildings.

Organisers of the annual initiative, now in its fifth year, say the bright lights disorientate the migrating birds and override their natural navigational cues.

NYC Audubon – a group that works to protect wild birds and their habitats within the city – is calling on owners and tenants in high-rise buildings to turn off lights on unoccupied floors or unused space between midnight and dawn.

It is also asking late workers to draw blinds or use desk lamps rather than using ceiling-mounted lighting.

A similar project in Toronto, Canada, called Fatal Light Awareness Program (Flap), suggests that “across North America, more birds die from collisions each year than succumbed to the Exxon Valdez oil spill”, which claimed the lives of in excess of 250,000 birds.

NYC Audubon also quotes the findings of a study at Chicago’s Field Museum, which showed the number of birds killed by striking the building at night fell by 83% when the lights were switched off at night.

During the migration season, about 30 volunteers will be patrolling a number of buildings at night.

“The monitoring and research improves our understanding of the causes behind urban bird [strikes], and studies ways to prevent future [strikes] from occurring,” explained Susan Elbin, director of conservation for NYC Audubon.

Among the species that appear to be particularly affected are white-throated sparrows, common yellow throats and ovenbirds, figures suggest.

Although there is no direct evidence, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that at night – especially in foggy or rainy weather – birds fly at lower altitudes, leaving them more vulnerable to flying into well-lit, glass-fronted high buildings.

via BBC News – NYC sky-scrapers dim lights to help migratory birds.

Posted in Biology, Technology, Travel | Leave a Comment »

Deep fried beer created in Texas

Posted by Anonymous on September 3, 2010

Deep fried beerMark Zable holding a plate of deep fried beerA man from Texas has invented deep fried beer.

In an attempt to win a fried food competition at the Texas State Fair, Mark Zable filled ravioli-shaped pieces of dough with beer and then deep fried them.

The BBC’s Mark Whitaker is fascinated by the concept.

Mark Zable says the frying process means the beer inside is served warm

via BBC World Service – News – Deep fried beer created in Texas.

Posted in Food, Strange | Leave a Comment »

Early man ‘butchered and ate the brains of children as part of everyday diet’

Posted by Anonymous on September 3, 2010

A model of a homo antecessor female scooping out the brains of human head

A model of a homo antecessor female scooping out the brains of human head

Archaelogists work on the dig in Sierra de Atapuerca where many bones from early humans have been found since the early 90sEarly cavemen in Europe ate human meat as part of their everyday diet, new research suggests.

A new study of fossil bones in Spain shows that cannibalism was a normal part of daily life around 800,000 years ago among Europe’s first humans.

Bones from the cave, called Gran Dolina, show signs of cuts and other marks which will have been made by early stone tools.

Among the bones of bison, deer, wild sheep and other animals, scientists discovered the butchered remains of at least 11 human children and adolescents.

The bones also displayed signs of having been smashed to get the nutritious marrow inside and there was evidence that the victims’ brains may also have been eaten.

Striek marks on the bone at the base of the skull also indicated that the humans had been decapitated according to the study’s co-author José Maria Bermúdez de Castro.

Bermudez de Castro, of the National Research Center on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain, told National Geographic: ‘Probably then they cut the skull for extracting the brain. The brain is good for food.’

Scientists believe that early man ate fellow humans both to fulfill his nutritional needs and to kill off neighbouring enemy tribes.

Bones of humans that had been eaten spanned a period of around hundred thousand years, indicating that the practice was not just confined to times when food was scarce.

Because human and animal remains were tossed away together, the researchers speculate that cannibalism had no special ritual role linked to religious beliefs.

Bermudez de Castro said that the area surrounding the caves would have been a rich source of food so there would have been little need to turn to cannibalism as a last resort.

Instead the practice was probably more widely used as a way of dealing with competition from neighbouring tribes.

Children will have been targeted as they would have been less capable of defending themselves, the study suggests.

via Early man ‘butchered and ate the brains of children as part of everyday diet’ | Mail Online.

I guess this is gross post Friday.

Posted in Archaeology, Strange, Survival | 1 Comment »

 
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