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Offline neilep

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Recent Science News Stories and Science Articles
« on: 23/02/2006 18:05:29 »
Hi Everybody.

I've noticed that some of you have been posting some science news articles and I thought it might be a good idea to collate them all in one thread......so, if you see anything that you feel is of interest to the site then please feel free to add them here.

When you do, please credit the source.

Thanks

Neil

« Last Edit: 18/01/2012 15:25:55 by BenV »


 

Offline neilep

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Hot alien world is the closest directly detected
NASA NEWS RELEASE
Posted: February 22, 2006

A NASA-led team of astronomers have used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to detect a strong flow of heat radiation from a toasty planet orbiting a nearby star. The findings allowed the team to "take the temperature" of the planet.

"This is the closest extrasolar planet to Earth that has ever been detected directly, and it presents the strongest heat emission ever seen from an exoplanet," said Drake Deming of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Deming is the lead author of a paper on this observation to be published in the Astrophysical Journal on June 10. An advance copy of the paper will be posted on the astro-ph website on Feb. 22.

The planet "HD 189733b" orbits a star that is a near cosmic neighbor to our sun, at a distance of 63 light years in the direction of the Dumbbell Nebula. It orbits the star very closely, just slightly more than three percent of the distance between Earth and the sun. Such close proximity keeps the planet roasting at about 844 Celsius (about 1,551 Fahrenheit), according to the team's measurement.

The planet was discovered last year by François Bouchy of the Marseille Astrophysics Laboratory, France, and his team. The discovery observations allowed Bouchy's team to determine the planet's size (about 1.26 times Jupiter's diameter), mass (1.15 times Jupiter), and density (about 0.75 grams per cubic centimeter). The low density indicates the planet is a gas giant like Jupiter.

The observations also revealed the orbital period (2.219 days) and the distance from the parent star. From this distance and the temperature of the parent star, Bouchy's team estimated the planet's temperature was at least several hundred degrees Celsius, but they were not able to measure heat or light emitted directly from the planet.

"Our direct measurement confirms this estimate," said Deming. This temperature is too high for liquid water to exist on the planet or any moons it might have. Since known forms of life require liquid water, it is unlikely to have emerged there.

Last year, Deming's team and another group based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics used Spitzer to make the first direct detection of light from alien worlds, by observing the warm infrared glows of two other previously detected "Hot Jupiter" planets, designated HD 209458b and TrES-1.

Infrared light is invisible to the human eye, but detectable by special instruments. Some infrared light is perceived as heat. Hot Jupiter planets are alien gas giants that zip closely around their parent stars, like HD 189733b. From their close orbits, they soak up ample starlight and shine brightly in infrared wavelengths.

Deming's team used the same method to observe HD 189733b. To distinguish the planet's glow from its hot parent star, the astronomers used an elegant method. First, they used Spitzer to collect the total infrared light from both the star and its planet. Then, when the planet dipped behind the star as part of its regular orbit, the astronomers measured the infrared light coming from just the star. This pinpointed exactly how much infrared light belonged to the planet. Under optimal circumstances this same method can be used to make a crude temperature map of the planet itself.

"The heat signal from this planet is so strong that Spitzer was able to resolve its disk, in the sense that our team could tell we were seeing a round object in the data, not a mere point of light," said Deming. "The current Spitzer observations cannot yet make a temperature map of this world, but more observations by Spitzer or future infrared telescopes in space may be able to do that."

Deming's team includes Joseph Harrington, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.; Sara Seager, Carnegie Institution of Washington; and Jeremy Richardson, NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at Goddard, in the Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech. JPL is a division of Caltech

Source: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM


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Offline Ray hinton

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going through these pages im constantly reminded of just how small and insignificant we really are,like a speck of dust in the vastness of space.
 

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Birds that make teeth

Gone does not necessarily mean forgotten, especially in biology. A recent finding by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and colleagues from the University of Manchester have found new evidence that the ability to form previously lost organs--in this case, teeth--can be maintained millions of years after the last known ancestor possessed them.
Birds do not have teeth. However, their ancestors did--about 70–80 million years ago. The evolutionary loss of teeth corresponded to the formation of the beak that is present in all living birds. Nonetheless, it has been known that if mouse tooth-forming tissue is in contact with bird jaw tissue, the bird tissue is able to follow the instructions given by the mouse tissue and participate in making teeth, and that these teeth look very much like those of mammals. However, Drs. Matthew Harris and John F. Fallon and colleagues have found that modern birds retain the ability to make teeth even without instruction from their tooth-bearing cousins.

In the new work, the researchers show that the talpid2 strain of chicken harbors a genetic change that permits tooth formation in both the upper and lower jaw of embryonic birds. These teeth show similar developmental position as mammalian teeth and are associated with similar molecular instructions. Furthermore, when comparing the initial development of the structures, the researchers realized that the teeth forming in the chicken did not look like mammalian teeth, but resembled those of the alligator, the closest living relative of modern birds.

The findings strongly suggest that the birds were initiating developmental programs similar to those of their reptilian ancestors. In addition, the authors found that the capacity to form teeth still resides in normal chickens and can be triggered experimentally by molecular signals. Taken together, the new findings indicate that even though modern birds lost teeth millions of years ago, the potential to form them persists.


SOURCE: EUREKAALERT.ORG


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Offline Ray hinton

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i got a couple of birds next door that make teeth,they work for the dentist i said about,ones quite nice,called wendy.
i might feint a tooth ache one day just to get her to spend time with me !!!!!!!!!![xx(]

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Offline ariel

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ray
you and your animals...[:p]
 

Offline ariel

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Beaver or Otter, It Lived in Dinosaurs' Time

By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
Published: February 24, 2006
In the conventional view, the earliest mammals were small, primitive, shrewlike creatures that did not begin to explore the world's varied environments until the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.
 
Mark A. Klingler/Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Scientists have found a fossil of a mammal — part beaver, part otter, part platypus — that lived in China 164 million years ago.
But scientists are reporting today that they have uncovered fossils of a swimming, fish-eating mammal that lived in China fully 164 million years ago, well before it was thought that some mammals could have spent much of their lives in water.

The extinct species appears to have been an amalgam of animals. It had a broad, scaly tail, flat like a beaver's. Its sharp teeth seemed ideal for eating fish, like an otter's. Its likely lifestyle — burrowing in tunnels on shore and dog-paddling in water — reminds scientists of the modern platypus.

Its skeleton suggests that it was about 20 inches long, from snout to the tip of its tail, about the length of a small house cat.

The surprising discovery, made in 2004 in the abundant fossil beds of Liaoning Province, China, is being reported in the journal Science by an international team led by Ji Qiang of Nanjing University.

In the article, Dr. Ji and other researchers from the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences in Beijing and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh said the fossil skeleton showed that some mammals occupied more diverse ecological niches than had been suspected in the Jurassic Period, an age dominated by dinosaurs.

Thomas Martin, an authority on early mammals at Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, said the find pushed back "the mammalian conquest of the waters by more than 100 million years" and "impressively contradicts" the conventional view.

"This exciting fossil," he wrote in a commentary accompanying the report, "is a further jigsaw puzzle piece in a series of recent discoveries, demonstrating that the diversity and early evolutionary history of mammals were much more complex than perceived less than a decade ago."

Despite similarities with some modern animals, the Jurassic mammal has no modern descendants and is not related to any existing species. The discoverers have given it the name Castorocauda lutrasimilis, Latin for beaver tail and similarity to the otter.

Zhe-Xi Luo, one of the discoverers and the curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie museum, said the specimen was well preserved, unlike the surviving fragments of bone and tooth of most mammals from the dinosaur age.

The skeleton is accompanied by fur and scale imprints and the suggestion of soft-tissue webbing in the hind limbs. Dr. Luo said the fur was to keep water from the animal's skin. It is the most primitive known mammal to be preserved with hair, evidence for its evolution before the appearance of more complex mammals.

The scientists said the tail and limbs of the newfound specimen were well developed for aquatic life. They surmised that like the platypus, Castorocauda swam in rivers and lakes, ate aquatic animals and insects and built nests in burrows along the shore. The animal had molars specialized for feeding on small fish and small aquatic invertebrates.

"So far, it is the only semiaquatic mammal from the Jurassic," Dr. Luo said.

The skeleton was found by peasants in Liaoning, the province in northeast China that in recent years has produced several notable discoveries of mammal diversity. The semiaquatic mammal was uncovered in the same hilly country where paleontologists have collected fossils of feathered dinosaurs and two 130-million-year-old animals that did not fit the lowly image of mammals of that period. One of them, the size of an opossum, had feasted on a small dinosaur just before dying.

Jin Meng of the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, one of the discoverers of previous Liaoning mammals but who was not involved in the most recent one, said in a telephone interview that more than a dozen new mammals from that area had recently produced "real evidence to show the diversity of lifestyles and behaviors of mammals" in the age of dinosaurs.

"We have been seeing mammals at that time that were larger than a mouse or rat, some that climbed trees, and now we see some that could swim in water," Dr. Meng said.

That was from AOL News
 

Offline neilep

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Thank you for your contribution Ariel. please continue, your posts are welcome.

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« Last Edit: 25/02/2006 17:33:49 by neilep »
 

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Parthenon sculptures were coloured blue, red and green
AFP Friday February 24, 05:53 PM

   

Parthenon sculptures were coloured blue, red and green
ATHENS (AFP) - Its austere white is on every postcard, but the Athens Parthenon was originally daubed with red, blue and green, the Greek archaeologist supervising conservation work on the 2,400-year-old temple said.

"A recent cleaning operation by laser revealed traces of haematite (red), Egyptian blue and malachite-azurite (green-blue) on the sculptures of the western frieze," senior archaeologist Evi Papakonstantinou-Zioti told AFP.

While archaeologists had found traces of the first two colours elsewhere on the temple years ago, the malachite-azurite colouring was only revealed in the latest restoration process, Papakonstantinou-Zioti said.

Given the testimony of ancient writers, it is not unlikely that the Parthenon's trademark columns were also coloured, she added.

Archaeologists have been trying since 1987 to remedy damage wrought on the Parthenon's marble structure by centuries of weather exposure and decades of smog pollution.

Principal restoration work on the entire Acropolis citadel, which stands in the centre of the modern Greek capital, is scheduled to be completed by 2009.

Dedicated to the ancient Greek goddess Athena, patron of the ancient city of Athens, the Parthenon was badly damaged during a Venetian siege of occupying Ottoman Turkish forces in 1687.

Much of the temple's eastern frieze was removed in the early 19th century by agents of Lord Elgin, then British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Elgin subsequently sold the sculptures to the British Museum in London, where they are still on display, despite persistent efforts by the Greek government to secure their return for the past 20 years.

SOURCE: AFP via YAHOO NEWS

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quote:
Originally posted by neilep

Parthenon sculptures were coloured blue, red and green
AFP Friday February 24, 05:53 PM

   

Parthenon sculptures were coloured blue, red and green
ATHENS (AFP) - Its austere white is on every postcard, but the Athens Parthenon was originally daubed with red, blue and green, the Greek archaeologist supervising conservation work on the 2,400-year-old temple said.

"A recent cleaning operation by laser revealed traces of haematite (red), Egyptian blue and malachite-azurite (green-blue) on the sculptures of the western frieze," senior archaeologist Evi Papakonstantinou-Zioti told AFP.

While archaeologists had found traces of the first two colours elsewhere on the temple years ago, the malachite-azurite colouring was only revealed in the latest restoration process, Papakonstantinou-Zioti said.

Given the testimony of ancient writers, it is not unlikely that the Parthenon's trademark columns were also coloured, she added.

Archaeologists have been trying since 1987 to remedy damage wrought on the Parthenon's marble structure by centuries of weather exposure and decades of smog pollution.

Principal restoration work on the entire Acropolis citadel, which stands in the centre of the modern Greek capital, is scheduled to be completed by 2009.

Dedicated to the ancient Greek goddess Athena, patron of the ancient city of Athens, the Parthenon was badly damaged during a Venetian siege of occupying Ottoman Turkish forces in 1687.

Much of the temple's eastern frieze was removed in the early 19th century by agents of Lord Elgin, then British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Elgin subsequently sold the sculptures to the British Museum in London, where they are still on display, despite persistent efforts by the Greek government to secure their return for the past 20 years.

SOURCE: AFP via YAHOO NEWS

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Lord Elgin bought the Elgin marbles from the Turkish government, who had legal jurisdiction over Greece at the time (by right of conquest).  The fact that after the Greeks successfully rebelled against their Turkish overlords (facilitated by the general state of collapse of the Ottoman empire, and European support for Greek 'terrorist' activity) they then declared the sale illegal after the fact is something else.

(and, yes, I am being deliberately provocative – simple saying there are two sides to every story).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Bruce%2C_7th_Earl_of_Elgin
quote:

Elgin was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1799 and 1803. He had a great enthusiasm for antiquities, and was shocked by the indifference of the ruling Turks to the worsening condition of the sculptures. His motive in removing them was to preserve them, but his workers did considerable damage in the process. Even at the time, his actions were controversial. Elgin spent vast amounts of money in having them shipped home to Britain, which he never recouped.



As for the perils of preservation:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elgin_Marbles
quote:

The housing of the marbles in the British Museum has been a mixed blessing. While the artifacts held in London, unlike those on the Parthenon, have been saved from the hazards of the elements, they have also been irrevocably damaged by the "cleaning" methods employed by the British Museum in the 1930s. Acting under the erroneous belief that the marbles were originally bright white, the marbles were cleaned with metal tools and caustics, causing serious damage and altering the marbles' coloring. (The Pentelicon marble on which the carvings were made naturally acquire a tan color similar to honey when exposed to air.) In addition, the process scraped away all traces of surface coloring that the marbles originally held. As such, the marbles in both locations have suffered: while the marbles of the Parthenon have been damaged by weather, the ones held in Britain have been damaged by faulty methods.





George
 

Offline neilep

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Amber reveals ecology of 30 million year old spiders

Scientists at The University of Manchester and the Manchester Metropolitan University have carried out the first comparative scientific study of ancient spiders trapped in amber more than 30 millions years ago.

The study of fossilised spiders from the Baltic (Poland) and the Dominican (Caribbean) regions has revealed new insights into the ecologies of spiders dating back to the Cenozoic period.

It is the first time ancient spiders from different parts of the world have been compared on such a large scale. 671 species of spiders were compared in the study which is published in the March issue of the Royal Society's Journal Biology Letters.

Palaeoarachnologist Dr David Penney, of The University of Manchester's School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences who led the research, said: "Amber provides a unique window into past forest ecosystems. It retains an incredible amount of information, not just about the spiders themselves, but also about the environment in which they lived.

"We have not only been able to compare the size distributions of over 600 spiders but we have also been able to gain unique insights into the forest in which they lived."

By analysing the size distributions of the spiders and comparing the distinct hunting traits of each species, Dr Penney found that web-spinning spiders were bigger in Baltic amber than in Dominican amber, but that there was no difference between hunting spiders in either region. It was also found the fauna of the amber producing trees in each region accounted for this difference in size.

"Several lines of evidence show that greater structural complexity of Baltic compared to Dominican amber trees explains the presence of larger web-spinners. The Dominican trees are long, thin and smooth whereas the Baltic trees are wide and bushy, providing a much better environment for web-spinners to prosper," says Dr Penney.

The study demonstrates for the first time that spiders trapped in amber can be scientifically compared across deep time (30 million years). This is due to the fact that until now it was unknown whether the amber resins were trapping organisms uniformly. This study proves they were.

SOURCE: EUREKALERT

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Largest Crater In The Great Sahara Discovered By Boston University Scientists



Researchers from Boston University have discovered the remnants of the largest crater of the Great Sahara of North Africa, which may have been formed by a meteorite impact tens of millions of years ago. Dr. Farouk El-Baz made the discovery while studying satellite images of the Western Desert of Egypt with his colleague, Dr. Eman Ghoneim, at BU's Center for Remote Sensing.

The double-ringed crater – which has an outer rim surrounding an inner ring – is approximately 31 kilometers in diameter. Prior to the latest finding, the Sahara's biggest known crater, in Chad, measured just over 12 kilometers. According to El-Baz, the Center's director, the crater’s vast area suggests the location may have been hit by a meteorite the entire size of the famous Meteor (Barringer) Crater in Arizona which is 1.2 kilometers wide.

El-Baz named his find “Kebira,” which means “large” in Arabic and also relates to the crater’s physical location on the northern tip of the Gilf Kebir region in southwestern Egypt. The reason why a crater this big had never been found before is something the scientists are speculating.

“Kebira may have escaped recognition because it is so large – equivalent to the total expanse of the Cairo urban region from its airport in the northeast to the Pyramids of Giza in the southwest,” said Dr. El-Baz. “Also, the search for craters typically concentrates on small features, especially those that can be identified on the ground. The advantage of a view from space is that it allows us to see regional patterns and the big picture.”

The researchers also found evidence that Kebira suffered significant water and wind erosion which may have helped keep its features unrecognizable to others. “The courses of two ancient rivers run through it from the east and west,” added Ghoneim.

The terrain in which the crater resides is composed of 100 million year-old sandstone – the same material that lies under much of the eastern Sahara. The researchers hope that field investigations and samples of the host rock will help in determining the exact age of the crater and its surroundings.

Kebira's shape is reminiscent of the many double-ringed craters on the Moon, which Dr. El-Baz remembers from his years of work with the Apollo program. Because of this, he believes the crater will figure prominently in future research in comparative planetology. And, since its shape points to an origin of extraterrestrial impact, it will likely prove to be the event responsible for the extensive field of “Desert Glass” – yellow-green silica glass fragments found on the desert surface between the giant dunes of the Great Sand Sea in southwestern Egypt.

Dr. El-Baz is research professor and Director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University. He is a renowned geologist who over the past 30 years has conducted studies in all the major deserts of the world. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and the Geological Society of America. The latter established the “Farouk El-Baz Award for Desert Research” to reward excellence in arid land studies.

Dr. Eman Ghoneim is a research associate at the Center for Remote Sensing. She is an expert in hydrological modeling and now conducts research on arid land geomorphology with emphasis on groundwater concentration under the direction of Dr. El-Baz.

The Boston University Center for Remote Sensing is a research facility that was established in 1986. Researchers at the Center apply techniques of remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) to research in the fields of archaeology, geography and geology. In 1997, the Center was recognized by NASA as a “Center of Excellence in Remote Sensing.”

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. BU contains 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes, which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060303204735.htm
 

Offline neilep

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Thanks JimBob...excellent post...keep em coming !
 

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quote:
Originally posted by ariel

Beaver or Otter, It Lived in Dinosaurs' Time

By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD






Oh come on, no way is that 1st pic a beaver. Any fool can see the difference!
 

Offline neilep

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This is an article which the esteemed DoctorBeaver posted as a separate thread..I thought it would be good here too..thanks Doctor Castor Fiber !!

----------------------------------

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency)
has taken another page from science fiction writer William Gibson's book by creating a neural implant to enable engineers to remotely manipulate a shark's brain signals. This would eventually allow them to control the animal's movements and possibly decode their perceptions.

Given that sharks have senses that humans don't have (like the ability to sense electromagnetic fields), it could open up some interesting uses.

The implant consists of multi-channel neural ensemble readers and stimulators, diverse controllers and sensors. In addition, the DARPA researchers want to use their setup to detect and decipher the neural patterns that correspond to shark activities like sensing an ocean current, a particular scent in the water or an electrical field. If they can succeed in these experiments, it might be possible to control a free-swimming shark; it could be trained to track enemy ships or submarines, or to detect underwater mines or cables.

In the abstract for their presentation to the 2006 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center summarized the implant in the following way:

NUWC is developing a fish tag whose goal is attaining behavior control of host animals via neural implants. This talk discusses a shark tag ... intended for long-term open ocean field efforts investigating viability of animal behavior control and its utility for networked sensing and data acquisition. The tag is centered on a multi-channel neural ensemble reader, a processor to interpret the readings in real-time, and a multi-channel stimulator, intended for both micro and macro stimulation.
(From Autonomous Shark Tag with Neural Reading and Stimulation Capability for Open-ocean Experiments)
In his 1981 short story Johnny Mnemonic, author William Gibson wrote about Jones, a military surplus dolphin cyborg that has equipment that is surprisingly similar to the DARPA sharks.

He rose out of the water, showing us the crusted plates along his sides, a kind of visual pun, his grace nearly lost under armor, clumsy and prehistoric. Twin deformities on either side of his skull had been engineered to house sensor units. Silver lesions gleamed on exposed sections of his gray-white hide.
(Read more about William Gibson's cyborg dolphin)
Of course, there is only so much you can do with a friendly dolphin. Maybe that's why DARPA's military sponsors have chosen sharks. Take a look at these related stories about scientists who have used implants to 'jack' into a cat's brain to see what the cat is seeing, or other researchers who have implanted RFID chips in birds to warn of Avian flu.



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World's oldest ship timbers found in Egyptian desert

The oldest remains of seafaring ships in the world have been found in caves at the edge of the Egyptian desert along with cargo boxes that suggest ancient Egyptians sailed nearly 1,000 miles on rough waters to get treasures from a place they called God's Land, or Punt.
Florida State University anthropology professor Cheryl Ward has determined that wooden planks found in the manmade caves are about 4,000 years old - making them the world's most ancient ship timbers. Shipworms that had tunneled into the planks indicated the ships had weathered a long voyage of a few months, likely to the fabled southern Red Sea trading center of Punt, a place referenced in hieroglyphics on empty cargo boxes found in the caves, Ward said.

"The archaeological site is like a mothballed military base, and the artifacts there tell a story of some of the best organized administrators the world has ever seen," she said. "It's a site that has kept its secrets for 40 centuries."

Ward, an expert on ancient shipbuilding who previously was a member of famed Titanic explorer Robert Ballard's Black Sea project team, joined archaeologists Kathryn Bard of Boston University and Rodolfo Fattovich of the University of Naples l'Orientale as the chief maritime archaeologist at the site, a sand-covered bluff along the Red Sea called Wadi Gawasis, in December. The project, which Ward will detail in an upcoming issue of the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, was conducted with the support of Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Scholars have long known that Egyptians traveled to Punt but they have debated its exact location and whether the Egyptians reached Punt by land or by sea. Some had thought the ancient Egyptians did not have the naval technology to travel long distances by sea, but the findings at the Wadi Gawasis confirm that Egyptians sailed a 2,000-mile round trip voyage to Punt, putting it in what is today Ethiopia or Yemen, Ward said.

The Wadi Gawasis site, located about 13 miles south of the modern city of Port Safaga, was an industrial shipyard of sorts with six rock-cut caves that the ancient Egyptians used as work and storage rooms to protect their equipment from the harsh desert conditions, Ward said. Along with timber and cargo boxes, the archaeologists found large stone anchors, shards of storage jars and more than 80 perfectly preserved coils of rope in the caves that had been sealed off until the next expedition - one that obviously never came.

The team also found a stela, or limestone tablet, of Pharaoh Amenemhat III, who ruled between 1844-1797 B.C., inscribed with all five of his royal names. The plaque provided further evidence that discoveries found at the site date to Egypt's Middle Kingdom period. A period of civil unrest and political instability likely put a halt to further exploration, Ward said, and the Wadi Gawasis site was long forgotten.

While in use, though, the ancient shipyard was central to a sophisticated government operation for the expeditions to Punt that Ward likened to NASA's space program. She theorized that ships were originally built at a Nile shipyard, then disassembled and carried across 90 miles of desert to the Red Sea, where they were put back together and launched on the voyage.

Upon the fleet's return several months later, the crews unloaded the cargo and began breaking down the ship piece by piece. Shipwrights inspected the vessels and marked unsatisfactory pieces with red paint. Others were cleaned, rid of shipworm and recycled. As many as 3,700 men may have taken part in the expeditions.

"The scale of the organization astounds me," Ward said. "They had men carry kits with pieces 10 feet long and 8 to 12 inches thick across the desert to reassemble into ships on the edge of a sea that is still difficult to sail today. To have the manpower and supply line to equip the shipyard there and sail five or so ships on the Red Sea, and to have the knowledge to use the currents and winds to return safely, would be tough today, and they achieved it without GPS, cell phones or computers, not to mention the combustion engine."

Ward will return to the Wadi Gawasis site next year to continue to excavate and record ship timbers and the ship assembly and break-up process and to reconstruct the vessels as they were originally configured.

SOURCE:EUREKALERT.ORG


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Scientists piece together the most distant explosion
PENN STATE UNIVERSITY NEWS RELEASE
Posted: March 8, 2006

It came from the edge of the visible universe, the most distant explosion ever detected.

In this week's issue of Nature, scientists at Penn State University and their U.S. and European colleagues discuss how this explosion, detected on 4 September 2005, was the result of a massive star collapsing into a black hole.

The explosion, called a gamma-ray burst, comes from an era soon after stars and galaxies first formed, about 500 million to 1 billion years after the Big Bang. The universe is now 13.7 billion years old, so the September burst serves as a probe to study the conditions of the early universe.

"This was a massive star that lived fast and died young," said David Burrows, senior scientist and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, a co-author on one of the three reports about this explosion published this week in Nature. "This star was probably quite different from the kind we see today, the type that only could have existed in the early universe."

The burst, named GRB 050904 after the date it was spotted, was detected by NASA's Swift satellite, which is operated by Penn State. Swift provided the burst coordinates so that other satellites and ground-based telescopes could observe the burst. Bursts typically last only 10 seconds, but the afterglow will linger for a few days.

GRB 050904 originated 13 billion light years from Earth, which means it occurred 13 billion years ago, for it took that long for the light to reach us. Scientists have detected only a few objects more than 12 billion light years away, so the burst is extremely important in understanding the universe beyond the reach of the largest telescopes.

"Because the burst was brighter than a billion suns, many telescopes could study it even from such a huge distance," said Burrows, whose analysis focuses mainly on Swift data from its three telescopes, covering a range of gamma-rays, X-rays, and ultraviolet/optical wavelengths, respectively. Burrows is the lead scientist for Swift's X-ray telescope.

The Swift team found several unique features in GRB 050904. The burst was long, lasting about 500 seconds; and the tail end of the burst exhibited multiple flares. These characteristics imply that the newly created black hole didn't form instantly, as some scientists have thought, but rather it was a longer, chaotic event.

Closer gamma-ray bursts do not have as much flaring, implying that the earliest black holes may have formed differently from ones in the modern era, Burrows said. The difference could be because the first stars were more massive than modern stars. Or, it could be the result of the environment of the early universe when the first stars began to convert hydrogen and helium (created in the Big Bang) into heavier elements.

GRB 050904, in fact, shows hints of newly minted heavier elements, according to data from ground-based telescopes. This discovery is the subject of a second Nature article by a Japanese group led by Nobuyuki Kawai at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

GRB 050904 also exhibited time dilation, a result of the vast expansion of the universe during the 13 billion years that it took the light to reach us on Earth. This dilation results in the light appearing much redder than when it was emitted in the burst, and it also alters our perception of time as compared to the burst's internal clock.

These factors worked in the scientists' favor. The Penn State team turned Swift's instruments onto the burst about 2 minutes after the event began. The burst, however, was evolving as if it were in slow-motion and was only about 23 seconds into the bursting. So scientists could see the burst at a very early stage.

Only one quasar has been discovered at a greater distance. Yet, whereas quasars are supermassive black holes containing the mass of billions of stars, this burst comes from a single star. The detection of GRB 050904 confirms that massive stars mingled with the oldest quasars. It also confirms that even more distant star explosions -- perhaps from the first stars, theorists say--can be studied through a combination of observations with Swift and other world-class telescopes.

"We designed Swift to look for faint bursts coming from the edge of the universe," said Neil Gehrels of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., Swift's principal investigator. "Now we've got one and it's fascinating. For the first time we can learn about individual stars from near the beginning of time. There are surely many more out there."

Swift was launched in November 2004 and was fully operational by January 2005. Swift carries three main instruments: the Burst Alert Telescope, the X-ray Telescope, and the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope. Swift's gamma-ray detector, the Burst Alert Telescope, provides the rapid initial location and was built primarily by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt and Los Alamos National Laboratory and constructed at GSFC. Swift's X-Ray Telescope and UV/Optical Telescope were developed and built by international teams led by Penn State and drew heavily on each institution's experience with previous space missions. The X-ray Telescope resulted from Penn State's collaboration with the University of Leicester in England and the Brera Astronomical Observatory in Italy. The Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope resulted from Penn State's collaboration with the Mullard Space Science Laboratory of the University College-London. These three telescopes give Swift the ability to do almost immediate follow-up observations of most gamma-ray bursts because Swift can rotate so quickly to point toward the source of the gamma-ray signal.


SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Mass Extinctions - A Threat from Outer Space or Our Own Planet's Detox?
University scientists suggest extraterrestrial theories are flawed and that more down to earth factors could have accounted for past mass extinctions

Earth history has been punctuated by several mass extinctions rapidly wiping out nearly all life forms on our planet. What causes these catastrophic events? Are they really due to meteorite impacts? Current research suggests that the cause may come from within our own planet – the eruption of vast amounts of lava that brings a cocktail of gases from deep inside the Earth and vents them into the atmosphere.

University of Leicester geologists, Professor Andy Saunders and Dr Marc Reichow, are taking a fresh look at what may actually have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago and caused other similarly cataclysmic events, aware they may end up exploding a few popular myths.

The idea that meteorite impacts caused mass extinctions has been in vogue over the last 25 years, since Louis Alverez’s research team in Berkeley, California published their work about an extraterrestrial iridium anomaly found in 65-million-year-old layers at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. This anomaly only could be explained by an extraterrestrial source, a large meteorite, hitting the Earth and ultimately wiping the dinosaurs – and many other organisms - off the Earth’s surface.

Professor Saunders commented:

    “Impacts are suitably apocalyptic. They are the stuff of Hollywood. It seems that every kid’s dinosaur book ends with a bang. But are they the real killers and are they solely responsible for every mass extinction on earth? There is scant evidence of impacts at the time of other major extinctions e.g., at the end of the Permian, 250 million years ago, and at the end of the Triassic, 200 million years ago. The evidence that has been found does not seem large enough to have triggered an extinction at these times.”

Flood basalt eruptions are – he says - an alternative kill mechanism. These do correspond with all main mass extinctions, within error of the techniques used to determine the age of the volcanism. Furthermore, they may have released enough greenhouse gases (SO2 and CO2) to dramatically change the climate. The largest flood basalts on Earth (Siberian Traps and Deccan Traps) coincide with the largest extinctions (end-Permian, and end-Cretaceous). “Pure coincidence?”, ask Saunders and Reichow.

While this is unlikely to be pure chance, the Leicester researchers are interested in precisely what the kill mechanism may be. One possibility is that the gases released by volcanic activity lead to a prolonged volcanic winter induced by sulphur-rich aerosols, followed by a period of CO2-induced warming.

Professor Andy Saunders and Dr. Marc Reichow at Leicester, in collaboration with Anthony Cohen, Steve Self, and Mike Widdowson at the Open University, have recently been awarded a NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) grant to study the Siberian Traps and their environmental impact.

The Siberian Traps are the largest known continental flood basalt province. Erupted about 250 million years ago at high latitude in the northern hemisphere, they are one of many known flood basalts provinces - vast outpourings of lava that covered large areas of the Earth's surface. A major debate is underway concerning the origin of these provinces –including the Siberian Traps - and their environmental impact.

Using radiometric dating techniques, they hope to constrain the age and, combined with geochemical analysis, the extent, of the Siberian Traps. Measuring how much gas was released during these eruptions 250 million years ago is a considerable challenge. The researchers will study microscopic inclusions trapped in minerals of the Siberian Traps rocks to estimate the original gas contents. Using these data they hope to be able to assess the amount of SO2 and CO2 released into the atmosphere 250 million years ago, and whether or not this caused climatic havoc, wiping out nearly all life on earth. By studying the composition of sedimentary rocks laid down at the time of the mass extinction, they also hope to detect changes to seawater chemistry that resulted from major changes in climate.

From these data Professor Saunders and his team hope to link the volcanism to the extinction event. He explained:

    “If we can show, for example, that the full extent of the Siberian Traps was erupted at the same time, we can be confident that their environmental effects were powerful. Understanding the actual kill mechanism is the next stage….watch this space.”

SOURCE: UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER PRESS RELEASE

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Is it April 1st already? This is from AOL news March 13th, 2006

Never mind tilting trains or the end of slam doors, British Rail once entertained hopes of transporting passengers by nuclear-powered "flying saucer'', it has emerged.
Rail managers filed an application for a patent in December 1970 for a space vehicle powered by "controlled thermonuclear fusion reaction ignited by one or more pulsed laser beams''.
The space vehicle, with its passenger compartment upstairs, like the pod of a jumbo jet, would have been cheap to run and super-fast, according to inventor Charles Osmond Frederick.
The detailed plans, made on behalf of the British Railways Board, were found on the European Patent Office Web site with the patent granted in March 1973.
A patent document reads: "The present invention relates to a space vehicle. More particularly it relates to a power supply for a space vehicle which offers a source of sustained thrust for the loss of a very small mass of fuel.
"Thus it would enable very high velocities to be attained in a space vehicle and in fact the prolonged acceleration of the vehicle may in some circumstances be used to simulate gravity.''
The high-tech world envisaged by rail bosses failed to go further than the drawing board. The patent lapsed because of non-payment of renewal fees.
Space experts dismissed the design as a pure science fiction and based on a fusion process that does not exist yet.
Michel van Baal, of the European Space Agency in the Netherlands told The Times: "I have had a look at the plans and they don't look very serious to me at all."


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River of stars streams across the northern sky
CALTECH NEWS RELEASE
Posted: March 15, 2006

Astronomers have discovered a narrow stream of stars extending at least 45 degrees across the northern sky. The stream is about 76,000 light-years distant from Earth and forms a giant arc over the disk of the Milky Way galaxy.


An artist's depiction of the river of stars. On an evening in early April, the new stream rises 45 degrees from the eastern horizon, passing just under the bowl of the Big Dipper. The North Star Polaris is at far left. Credit: Caltech
 
 
In the March issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters, Carl Grillmair, an associate research scientist at the California Institute of Technology's Spitzer Science Center, and Roberta Johnson, a graduate student at California State University Long Beach, report on the discovery.

"We were blown away by just how long this thing is," says Grillmair. "As one end of the stream clears the horizon this evening, the other will already be halfway up the sky."

The stream begins just south of the bowl of the Big Dipper and continues in an almost straight line to a point about 12 degrees east of the bright star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes. The stream emanates from a cluster of about 50,000 stars known as NGC 5466.

The newly discovered stream extends both ahead and behind NGC 5466 in its orbit around the galaxy. This is due to a process called tidal stripping, which results when the force of the Milky Way's gravity is markedly different from one side of the cluster to the other. This tends to stretch the cluster, which is normally almost spherical, along a line pointing towards the galactic center.

At some point, particularly when its orbit takes it close to the galactic center, the cluster can no longer hang onto its most outlying stars, and these stars drift off into orbits of their own. The lost stars that find themselves between the cluster and the galactic center begin to move slowly ahead of the cluster in its orbit, while the stars that drift outwards, away from the galactic center, fall slowly behind.

Ocean tides are caused by exactly the same phenomenon, though in this case it's the difference in the moon's gravity from one side of Earth to the other that stretches the oceans. If the gravity at the surface of Earth were very much weaker, then the oceans would be pulled from the planet, just like the stars in NGC 5466's stream.

Despite its size, the stream has never previously been seen because it is so completely overwhelmed by the vast sea of foreground stars that make up the disk of the Milky Way. Grillmair and Johnson found the stream by examining the colors and brightnesses of more than nine million stars in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey public database.

"It turns out that, because they were all born at the same time and are situated at roughly the same distance, the stars in globular clusters have a fairly unique signature when you look at how their colors and brightnesses are distributed," says Grillmair.

Using a technique called matched filtering, Grillmair and Johnson assigned to each star a probability that it might once have belonged to NGC 5466. By looking at the distribution of these probabilities across the sky, "the stream just sort of reached out and smacked us.

"The new stream may be even longer than we know, as we are limited at the southern end by the extent of the currently available data," he adds. "Larger surveys in the future should be able to extend the known length of the stream substantially, possibly even right around the whole sky."

The stars that make up the stream are much too faint to be seen by the unaided human eye. Owing to the vast distances involved, they are about three million times fainter than even the faintest stars that we can see on a clear night.

Grillmair says that such discoveries are important for our understanding of what makes up the Milky Way galaxy. Like earthbound rivers, such tidal streams can tell us which way is "down," how steep is the slope, and where the mountains and valleys are located.

By measuring the positions and velocities of the stars in these streams, astronomers hope to determine how much "dark matter" the Milky Way contains, and whether the dark matter is distributed smoothly, or in enormous orbiting chunks.


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" Wasp performs roach-brain-surgery to make zombie slave-roaches

Ampulex compressa is a wasp that has evolved to tackle roaches, insert a stinger into their brains and disable their escape reflexes. This lets the wasp use the roach's antennae to steer the roach to its lair, where it can lay its egg in it. "Parasite Rex" author Carl Zimmer tells the story in gooey, graphic detail:
The wasp slips her stinger through the roach's exoskeleton and directly into its brain. She apparently use sensors along the sides of the stinger to guide it through the brain, a bit like a surgeon snaking his way to an appendix with a laparoscope. She continues to probe the roach's brain until she reaches one particular spot that appears to control the escape reflex. She injects a second venom that influences these neurons in such a way that the escape reflex disappears.
From the outside, the effect is surreal. The wasp does not paralyze the cockroach. In fact, the roach is able to lift up its front legs again and walk. But now it cannot move of its own accord. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach's antennae and leads it--in the words of Israeli scientists who study Ampulex--like a dog on a leash. "

http://www.boingboing.net/2006/02/03/wasp_performs_roachb.html

« Last Edit: 20/03/2006 15:01:31 by ROBERT »
 

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Old-World Primates Evolved Color Vision To Better See Each Other Blush, Study Reveals

Your emotions can easily be read by others when you blush--at least by others familiar with your skin color. What's more, the blood rushing out of your face when you're terrified is just as telling. And when it comes to our evolutionary cousins the chimpanzees, they not only can see color changes in each other's faces, but in each other's rumps as well.
Now, a team of California Institute of Technology researchers has published a paper suggesting that we primates evolved our particular brand of color vision so that we could subtly discriminate slight changes in skin tone due to blushing and blanching. The work may answer a long-standing question about why trichromat vision (that is, color via three cone receptors) evolved in the first place in primates.
"For a hundred years, we've thought that color vision was for finding the right fruit to eat when it was ripe," says Mark Changizi, a theoretical neurobiologist and postdoctoral researcher at Caltech. "But if you look at the variety of diets of all the primates having trichromat vision, the evidence is not overwhelming."
Reporting in the current issue of the journal Biology Letters, Changizi and his coauthors show that our color cones are optimized to be sensitive to subtle changes in skin tone due to varying amounts of oxygenated hemoglobin in the blood.
The spectral sensitivity of the color cones is somewhat odd, Changizi says. Bees, for example, have four color cones that are evenly spread across the visible spectrum, with the high-frequency end extending into the ultraviolet. Birds have three color cones that are also evenly distributed in the visible spectrum.
The old-world primates, by contrast, have an "S" cone at about 440 nanometers (the wavelength of visible light roughly corresponding to blue light), an "M" cone sensitive at slightly less than 550 nanometers, and an "L" cone sensitive at slightly above 550 nanometers.
"This seems like a bad idea to have two cones so close together," Changizi says. "But it turns out that the closeness of the M and L cone sensitivities allows for an additional dimension of sensitivity to spectral modulation. Also, their spacing maximizes sensitivity for discriminating variations in blood oxygen saturation." As a result, a very slight lowering or rising of the oxygen in the blood is easily discriminated by any primate with this type of cone arrangement.
In fact, trichromat vision is sensitive not only for the perception of these subtle changes in color, but also for the perception of the absence or presence of blood. As a result, primates with trichromat vision are not only able to tell if a potential partner is having a rush of emotion due to the anticipation of mating, but also if an enemy's blood has drained out of his face due to fear.
"Also, ecologically, when you're more oxygenated, you're in better shape," Changizi adds, explaining that a naturally rosy complexion might be a positive thing for purposes of courtship.
Adding to the confidence of the hypothesis is the fact that the old-world trichromats tend to be bare-faced and bare-butted as well. "There's no sense in being able to see the slight color variations in skin if you can't see the skin," Changizi says. "And what we find is that the trichromats have bare spots on their faces, while the dichromats have furry faces."
"This could connect up with why we're the 'naked ape,'" he concludes. The few human spots that are not capable of signaling, because they are in secluded regions, tend to be hairy-such as the top of the head, the armpits, and the crotch. And when the groin occasionally does tend to exhibit bare skin, it occurs in circumstances in which a potential mate may be able to see that region.
"Our speculation is that the newly bare spots are for color signaling."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060320221839.htm


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Mass extinctions – a threat from outer space or our own planet's detox?


University of Leicester scientists suggest extraterrestrial theories are flawed and that more down to earth factors could have accounted for past mass extinctions
Earth history has been punctuated by several mass extinctions rapidly wiping out nearly all life forms on our planet. What causes these catastrophic events? Are they really due to meteorite impacts? Current research suggests that the cause may come from within our own planet – the eruption of vast amounts of lava that brings a cocktail of gases from deep inside the Earth and vents them into the atmosphere.
University of Leicester geologists, Professor Andy Saunders and Dr Marc Reichow, are taking a fresh look at what may actually have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago and caused other similarly cataclysmic events, aware they may end up exploding a few popular myths.

The idea that meteorite impacts caused mass extinctions has been in vogue over the last 25 years, since Louis Alverez's research team in Berkeley, California published their work about an extraterrestrial iridium anomaly found in 65-million-year-old layers at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. This anomaly only could be explained by an extraterrestrial source, a large meteorite, hitting the Earth and ultimately wiping the dinosaurs – and many other organisms - off the Earth's surface.

Professor Saunders commented: "Impacts are suitably apocalyptic. They are the stuff of Hollywood. It seems that every kid's dinosaur book ends with a bang. But are they the real killers and are they solely responsible for every mass extinction on earth? There is scant evidence of impacts at the time of other major extinctions e.g., at the end of the Permian, 250 million years ago, and at the end of the Triassic, 200 million years ago. The evidence that has been found does not seem large enough to have triggered an extinction at these times."

Flood basalt eruptions are – he says - an alternative kill mechanism. These do correspond with all main mass extinctions, within error of the techniques used to determine the age of the volcanism. Furthermore, they may have released enough greenhouse gases (SO2 and CO2) to dramatically change the climate. The largest flood basalts on Earth (Siberian Traps and Deccan Traps) coincide with the largest extinctions (end-Permian, and end-Cretaceous). "Pure coincidence?", ask Saunders and Reichow.

While this is unlikely to be pure chance, the Leicester researchers are interested in precisely what the kill mechanism may be. One possibility is that the gases released by volcanic activity lead to a prolonged volcanic winter induced by sulphur-rich aerosols, followed by a period of CO2-induced warming.

Professor Andy Saunders and Dr. Marc Reichow at Leicester, in collaboration with Anthony Cohen, Steve Self, and Mike Widdowson at the Open University, have recently been awarded a NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) grant to study the Siberian Traps and their environmental impact.

The Siberian Traps are the largest known continental flood basalt province. Erupted about 250 million years ago at high latitude in the northern hemisphere, they are one of many known flood basalts provinces - vast outpourings of lava that covered large areas of the Earth's surface. A major debate is underway concerning the origin of these provinces –including the Siberian Traps - and their environmental impact.

Using radiometric dating techniques, they hope to constrain the age and, combined with geochemical analysis, the extent, of the Siberian Traps. Measuring how much gas was released during these eruptions 250 million years ago is a considerable challenge. The researchers will study microscopic inclusions trapped in minerals of the Siberian Traps rocks to estimate the original gas contents. Using these data they hope to be able to assess the amount of SO2 and CO2 released into the atmosphere 250 million years ago, and whether or not this caused climatic havoc, wiping out nearly all life on earth. By studying the composition of sedimentary rocks laid down at the time of the mass extinction, they also hope to detect changes to seawater chemistry that resulted from major changes in climate.

From these data Professor Saunders and his team hope to link the volcanism to the extinction event. He explained: "If we can show, for example, that the full extent of the Siberian Traps was erupted at the same time, we can be confident that their environmental effects were powerful. Understanding the actual kill mechanism is the next stage….watch this space."

SOURCE: EUREKALERT.ORG



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Mars meteorite similar to bacteria-etched Earth rocks
OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY NEWS RELEASE
Posted: March 28, 2006

A new study of a meteorite that originated from Mars has revealed a series of microscopic tunnels that are similar in size, shape and distribution to tracks left on Earth rocks by feeding bacteria.

And though researchers were unable to extract DNA from the Martian rocks, the finding nonetheless adds intrigue to the search for life beyond Earth.

Results of the study were published in the latest edition of the journal Astrobiology.

Martin Fisk, a professor of marine geology in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University and lead author of the study, said the discovery of the tiny burrows do not confirm that there is life on Mars, nor does the lack of DNA from the meteorite discount the possibility.

"Virtually all of the tunnel marks on Earth rocks that we have examined were the result of bacterial invasion," Fisk said. "In every instance, we've been able to extract DNA from these Earth rocks, but we have not yet been able to do that with the Martian samples.

"There are two possible explanations," he added. "One is that there is an abiotic way to create those tunnels in rock on Earth, and we just haven't found it yet. The second possibility is that the tunnels on Martian rocks are indeed biological in nature, but the conditions are such on Mars that the DNA was not preserved."

More than 30 meteorites that originated on Mars have been identified. These rocks from Mars have a unique chemical signature based on the gases trapped within. These rocks were "blasted off" the planet when Mars was struck by asteroids or comets and eventually these Martian meteorites crossed Earth's orbit and plummeted to the ground.

One of these is Nakhla, which landed in Egypt in 1911, and provided the source material for Fisk's study. Scientists have dated the igneous rock fragment from Nakhla - which weighs about 20 pounds - at 1.3 billion years in age. They believe that the rock was exposed to water about 600 million years ago, based on the age of clay found inside the rocks.

"It is commonly believed that water is a necessary ingredient for life," Fisk said, "so if bacteria laid down the tunnels in the rock when the rock was wet, they may have died 600 million years ago. That may explain why we can't find DNA - it is an organic compound that can break down."

Other authors on the paper include Olivia Mason, an OSU graduate student; Radu Popa, of Portland State University; Michael Storrie-Lombardi, of the Kinohi Institute in Pasadena, Calif.; and Edward Vicenci, from the Smithsonian Institution.

Fisk and his colleagues have spent much of the past 15 years studying microbes that can break down igneous rock and live in the obsidian-like volcanic glass. They first identified the bacteria through their signature tunnels then were able to extract DNA from the rock samples - which have been found in such diverse environments on Earth as below the ocean floor, in deserts and on dry mountaintops.

They even found bacteria 4,000 feet below the surface in Hawaii that they reached by drilling through solid rock.

In all of these Earth rock samples that contain tunnels, the biological activity began at a fracture in the rock or the edge of a mineral where the water was present. Igneous rocks are initially sterile because they erupt at temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees C. - and life cannot establish itself until the rocks cool. Bacteria may be introduced into the rock via dust or water, Fisk pointed out.

"Several types of bacteria are capable of using the chemical energy of rocks as a food source," he said. "One group of bacteria in particular is capable of getting all of its energy from chemicals alone, and one of the elements they use is iron - which typically comprises 5 to 10 percent of volcanic rock."

Another group of OSU researchers, led by microbiologist Stephen Giovannoni, has collected rocks from the deep ocean and begun developing cultures to see if they can replicate the rock-eating bacteria. Similar environments usually produce similar strains of bacteria, Fisk said, with variable factors including temperature, pH levels, salt levels, and the presence of oxygen.

The igneous rocks from Mars are similar to many of those found on Earth, and virtually identical to those found in a handful of environments, including a volcanic field found in Canada.

One question the OSU researchers hope to answer is whether the bacteria begin devouring the rock as soon as they are introduced. Such a discovery would help them estimate when water - and possibly life - may have been introduced on Mars

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM


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Preserved in crystal

Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science recently discovered a new source of well-preserved ancient DNA in fossil bones. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Fossil DNA is a potential source of information on the evolution, population dynamics, migrations, diets and diseases of animals and humans. But if it is not well preserved or becomes contaminated by modern DNA, the results are uninterpretable.

The scientists, Prof. Steve Weiner and Michal Salamon of the Institute's Structural Biology Department, working in collaboration with Profs. Baruch Arensburg, Tel Aviv University, and Noreen Tuross, Harvard University, may have found a way to overcome these problems.

It was in 1986 that Weiner first reported the existence of crystal clusters in fresh bones. Even when these bones are ground up and treated with sodium hypochlorite – a substance that removes all traces of organic matter – the clusters of crystals remain intact and the organic material embedded in them is unaffected. Now, almost 20 years later, Weiner and Salamon have returned to these findings, reasoning that fossil bones might possess such crystal structures containing preserved ancient DNA.

After treating two modern and six fossil animal bones with the sodium hypo-chlorite, they found that DNA could be extracted from most of these crystal aggregates that is better preserved and contains longer fragments than DNA from untreated ground bone. The technique for reading the DNA worked better, as well, and the use of sodium hypochlorite reduces the possibility of modern contamination.

The crystal aggregates act as a "privileged niche in fossil bone," protecting the DNA from hostile environments and leaving it relatively undamaged over time. The team's findings suggest that the DNA in these aggregates should be preferred, whenever possible, over DNA from untreated bone.

This method holds much promise for the future analysis of ancient DNA in bones in yielding more reliable and authentic results than has previously been possible, and may help in unearthing the mysteries of our ancestral past.


SOURCE: EUREKALERT.ORG

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