Oct 23, 2010

Opening of spaceport's first runway brings space tourism closer

Spaceport America is the world's first facility designed specifically to launch commercial spacecraft.
Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company set up by Sir Richard Branson, plans to operate flights from the spaceport with the first flights taking place within the next 18 months.

The opening of the two mile runway was marked with a fly-past of an aircraft carrying SpaceShip Two, Virgin Galactic's rocket powered vehicle that will carry paying tourists to the edge of space and back.

It comes less than two weeks after Virgin Galactic made the first solo flight of SpaceShip Two, another significant milestone.

Sir Richard said he expects flights for space tourists to begin in nine to 18 months, and he will be among the first passengers.

"Today is very personal, as our dream becomes more real," Branson said. "People are beginning to believe now."

"I think the drop flight two weeks ago, which went beautifully, I think it made people sit up and realise this is really reality."

Until now, space travel has been limited to astronauts and a handful of wealthy people who have shelled out millions to ride Russian rockets to the international space station.

Stretching across a flat dusty plain 45 miles north of Las Cruces, New Mexico, the new runway is designed to support almost every aircraft in the world, day-to-day space tourism and payload launch operations.

Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant of the taxpayer-funded $198 million spaceport and plans to use the facility to take tourists on what will first be short hops into space.

State officials want to add companies for other commercial space endeavours, such as research and payload delivery, once the spaceport's terminal hanger facility is complete next year.

Virgin Galactic's White Knight Two — the special jet-powered mother ship that will carry SpaceShipTwo to launch altitude — also made an appearance Friday, passing over the spaceport several times before landing on the new runway.

Tickets for suborbital space rides aboard SpaceShipTwo cost $200,000 (£128,000). The 2 1/2-hour flights will include about five minutes of weightlessness. 

Read more at The Telegraph

Neanderthal Children Were Large, Sturdy

Neanderthal youngsters that made it to the "terrible two's" were large, sturdy and toothy, suggests a newly discovered Neanderthal infant. The child almost survived to such an age, but instead died when it was just one and a half years old.

The remains of this infant -- a lower jaw and teeth unearthed in a Belgian cave -- are the youngest Neanderthal ever found in northwest Europe, according to a study that will appear in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Since the remains of two adults were also previously discovered in the cave, the fossil collection may represent a Neanderthal family.

If the trio said "cheese" for a family portrait, their smiles would have been hard to miss, since Neanderthal front teeth were larger than those for modern humans.

When the infant died, "he already possessed Neanderthal characteristics, notably a strong mandibular corpus (toothy part of the lower jaw)," lead author Isabelle Crevecoeur told Discovery News.

Crevecoeur is a director of anthropological research at the National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS) in France.

She and her colleagues analyzed the Neanderthal child's remains, found at Spy Cave in Jemeppe-sur-Sambre, Belgium. The cave is part of a rock shelter located close to a small river, the Orneau.

"Its location on the bottom of the cliff that overhangs the valley was probably really advantageous with a clear view of the valley," Crevecoeur said.

Neanderthals started to use the cave around 44,000 years ago. The newly discovered infant, however, lived there about 33,000 years ago, suggesting Neanderthal groups persisted in this area over the millennia.

"Belgium has a long-standing Neanderthal history," she explained. "The country has the highest concentration of Neanderthal remains. The first Neanderthal specimen ever found was in Belgium during the 19th century."
The oldest DNA sequence of a Neanderthal also comes from Belgium.

While DNA analysis of the newly identified infant has not yet taken place, Crevecoeur said it could confirm whether the child did indeed belong to the two adults also found in the cave.

Read more at Discovery News

Oct 22, 2010

Ancient Romans Recycled Glass

The 21st century's three Rs -- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle -- were all the rage in Britain during the last century of Roman rule, a compositional analysis of ancient Roman glass tableware has revealed.

According to the study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, large quantities of glass were recycled in Britain during the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.

The reason wasn’t exactly a desire to go green, but a shortage of raw glass in the northern regions of the Roman Empire during the last centuries of Roman rule.

“It appears much of the glass reaching Britain in the late Roman period was manufactured from recycled material,” Caroline Jackson, at the archaeology department of the University of Sheffield, U.K., told Discovery News.

Believed to have originated in Mesopotamia around 2500 B.C., the art of glass-making spread to Egypt, with the most significant technological revolution -- glass blowing employing a tube -- occurring in the 1st century B.C. in the area of Syria and Palestine.

The Romans exploited the technique, and glass-making spread throughout the empire, with glass becoming a common household material.

Made out of sand, glass takes on the color of the chemical elements present in raw material. For example, sand containing iron produces blue-green glass, while iron and sulfur elements make a brownish glass.
Skilled Roman craftsmen were able to control glass color through a careful selection of the raw materials, and produced colorless glass by adding a decolorizer, an element which oxidizes the chemicals in the sand to remove the color.

“In the Roman period, this element would have been antimony or manganese,” said Jackson.

Resembling crystal, colorless glass was much valued. According to the Roman author, Pliny, the emperor Nero (37-68 A.D.) gave 6,000 sestertia (roughly $250,000) for two clear glass cups of ordinary size, with handles.

A highly developed and successful industry, Roman glass-making still holds some mystery. It is unknown where colorless glass was produced, and scholars still debate how the glass industry was organized.

Read more at Discovery News

Warmer Arctic Spells Colder Winters

The Arctic is moving into "a new climate state" and a return to previous Arctic conditions is "unlikely," according to a new assessment from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). One consequence of a warmer Arctic could be colder winters in other parts of the Northern Hemisphere.

The basic facts have been reported widely and often:

    The area covered by sea ice hovered near its historic low this summer. In Greenland, record-high temperatures this year have helped accelerate the melting of the country's massive ice sheet. Throughout the Arctic, permafrost is warming and the blanket of snow is shrinking. Those changes appear to be long-lasting, said an international team of climate experts who wrote the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report. [...] "The Arctic is a system, and the system is changing," said Don Perovich, a sea ice expert with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who worked on the report. "It's not just that sea ice is being reduced. There's changes in Greenland, the atmosphere, the ecosystem, and these changes are affecting human activity."

What is increasingly apparent, as researchers have warned for years, is that "polar amplification" is causing many of these changes to feed on themselves, amplifying each other year after year. In this regard, what is happening to Arctic sea ice is in many ways key.

Read more at Discvovery News

Oct 21, 2010

Vintage Posters Discovered in Abandoned London Tube Station

“The London Underground is an incredible maze of subterranean railways, stations and ticket halls – and that doesn’t account for the myriad abandoned passageways that are strictly off limits to the public, let alone the ageing relics that linger on in this dark underworld.

But a 2010 upgrade to Notting Hill Gate “tube” station revealed a series of vintage posters dating to between 1956 and 1959. The posters, which will be left intact once the modernisation work is completed, include advertising for Pepsodent Toothpaste and the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition, as well as films like Around the World in 80 Days and The Horse’s Mouth, starring Alec Guinness.

The vintage collection was uncovered in an abandoned lift passageway closed to the public after Notting Hill Gate was last upgraded in the late 1950s. The ’50s facelift saw the “two” Notting Hill Gate stations of the District and Circle lines linked by a sub-surface ticket hall beneath the road. Escalators down to the deeper Central Line platforms replaced the ageing elevators, which were sealed off by the time the station reopened on March 1, 1959.

When the latest upgrades are complete, the posters will once again be hidden from prying eyes in the disused area of the tube station. Mikey Ashworth, who discovered and photographed the collection, wrote: “We will be leaving these intact – and please do not pester the station staff as the posters are wholly inaccessible – which is why they’ve probably survived 50 odd years!”

Notting Hill Gate station opened in 1868 as part of the Metropolitan Railway’s extension from Paddington to Gloucester Road. The deep-level Central Line platforms, accessed by the lift passageways where the posters were found, opened in 1900. The vintage artifacts may not be viewable, but it’s fun to think there’s a place deep within the bowels of London that still advertises the “latest work” of David Niven, Rita Hayworth et al. ”

See more photos at Urban Ghosts Media

Facebook Admits Advertising ID Breaches

“Facebook has become embroiled in another privacy controversy after confirming that millions of items of personal information were being shared without users’ consent. The social networking site blamed popular third-party applications for violating its rules and transmitting identifying information to advertising and internet tracking companies. “In most cases, developers did not intend to pass this information, but did so because of the technical details of how browsers work,” Facebook engineer Mike Vernal said in a blog post. “We are talking with our key partners and the broader web community about possible solutions.”

Mr Vernal said press reports had exaggerated the implications of the situation and that getting user identification (UID) information did not provide access to private data without express permission. “Nevertheless, we are committed to ensuring that even the inadvertent passing of UIDs is prevented and all applications are in compliance with our policy,” he added. “We take strong measures to enforce this policy, including suspending and disabling applications that violate it.”

His comments came after a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) investigation which found that the issue affects tens of millions of Facebook application users – including people who set their profiles to be completely private. The practice breaks Facebook’s rules and renews questions about its ability to keep secure identifiable information about the activities of its members. “Our policy is very clear about protecting user data, ensuring that no one can access private user information without explicit user consent,” Mr Vernal said. “Further, developers cannot disclose user information to ad networks and data brokers.”

The WSJ said applications were providing access to Facebook members’ names and, in some cases, their friends’ names, to companies that build detailed databases on people in order to track them online. All of the 10 most popular applications on Facebook were transmitting unique user ID numbers to outside companies, it said. They include Zynga’s FarmVille, with 59 million users, Texas HoldEm Poker and FrontierVille. The WSJ said several applications became unavailable to Facebook users after the newspaper informed the California-based social network that they were transmitting personal information. Facebook is the world’s most popular social network with around 500 million users but has faced persistent complaints about privacy protection.”

Read more at Yahoo News

Lamp That Can Read Your Mind – It Turns The Colour You’re Thinking About

“Is today’s idea brilliant or a bomb?

The Idea: The Mind Lamp is a $189 electric lamp with a random-event generator (REG) built in. When plugged in, the lamp gives off a white light before cycling through eight other colors. It then stays on the one that you’re thinking about.

How does this mind-matter interaction occur? Scientists aren’t sure, but they claim that products that use REG behave “very differently” when subjected to human consciousness.

The inventors attempt to explain the phenomenon: “The REG uses a quantum phenomenon called electron tunneling, which is measured as a randomly fluctuating current across a potential barrier in an electric circuit. Surprisingly, and in a way that violates conventional theories in science, the PEAR researchers found statistically significant correlations between the output of the device and human intention in a variety of well-controlled experiments. The mechanism by which this occurs is unknown, and is the subject of ongoing research.”

Whose Idea: Princeton, NJ-based Psyleron, a for-profit company and a non-profit research cooperative, based on the findings of the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory.

Why we like it: The concept of a mind lamp is fascinating because it draws a direct connection between the mind and physical objects. It’s almost like the lamp is a living being – you stare at it and it knows what vibe you’re giving off. Maybe this all sounds a little hard to believe (or even scary), but according to John Valentine, CEO and co-founder of Psyleron, “We are taking something that science says should be totally random, and we have evidence that suggests it’s not actually random, that people’s thoughts influence it.” The Mind Lamp can be used to represent the human mind and, if anything, certainly helps us understand it.”

Read more at Business Insider

Oct 20, 2010

Cavemen Ground Flour, Prepped Veggies

Dirty "kitchen" tools reveal that cavemen were grinding their own flour and preparing vegetables for meals at least 30,000 years ago, according to new research.

The discoveries represent the oldest evidence for flour preparation and plant food processing. Since the techniques were already well established during the Mid-Upper Paleolithic Period, it's likely that modern humans, and possibly even Neanderthals, incorporated far more plant products into their diets than presently believed.

Cavemen were apparently expert cooks too, so enjoyment of tasty prepared food is not unique to modern times. It also boosted the diners' health.

"Cooking enhances digestibility and also the taste of starch is improved by cooking," lead author Anna Revedin explained to Discovery News, adding that it also helped to fuel the active lifestyle of hunter-gatherers.

"We are quite convinced that flour enhanced their mobility capacity, since it ensured a good source of energetic food during their travels," explained Revedin, a researcher in the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Protohistory.

She and her colleagues analyzed mortar and pestle-type stones that were found at three sites: Bilancino II in the Megello Valley of Italy, Kostenki 16 at Pokrovsky Valley, Russia; and Pavlov VI in southern Moravia, Czech Republic. Since modern humans as well as Neanderthals inhabited these regions, the researchers think it's possible that either or both groups had cooking know-how.

The food preparation tools were found to contain the remains of starch grains from various wild plants, including cattail rhizomes, cattail leaves, moonworts, the ternate grapefern, lady's mantle, burdock, lettuce roots, rye, burr chervil root, parts of edible grasses, edible seeds and more.

Flour made from cattails -- which tastes a bit like the plant's distant cousin, corn -- seems to have been particularly popular.

"Our experiments suggest that it is possible to mix this flour with water to obtain a sort of flat bread cooked on hot stones," Revedin said. "It is also possible that the flour was used in a mixed soup."

Read more at Discovery News

Hagfish Analysis Opens Major Gap in Tree of Life

The origin of all living vertebrates just got more mysterious.

Since the 1970s, many evolutionary biologists have considered an eel-like, deep-sea-dwelling creature called the hagfish to be the closest extant relative of a last common ancestor for all backboned creatures.

That made the hagfish a stand-in for a transitional species between invertebrates and higher animals, spanning a leap as dramatic as any in evolutionary history. But a new family tree based on high-powered molecular analysis lumps hagfish together with lampreys, a jawless fish that’s primitive, but very much a vertebrate.

“It removes hagfish from representing the intermediate step, and makes the jump from invertebrates to vertebrates all the more formidable,” said paleobiologist Philip Donoghue of the University of Bristol. “All of a sudden, you realize that you haven’t got the faintest idea to sketch a last common ancestor.”

Donoghue’s study, co-authored with Dartmouth College biologist Kevin Peterson and published October 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the latest in a series of attempts to arrange hagfish and lampreys in the tree of life.

Prior to the 1970s, researchers extrapolated their trees from comparisons of physical characteristics. On this basis, hagfish resembled lampreys. But when scientists used genetic analysis to revisit those comparisons, they found major genetic differences between the two species. Since hagfish have a skull but no backbone and only a rudimentary nervous system, they were interpreted as resembling an earlier, pre-lamprey evolutionary stage.

The new study goes beyond genes to the level of microRNA — molecular snippets that help turn genes on and off and seem to play a crucial role in allowing basic genetic components to be configured and reconfigured in ever-more-complex ways. As a guide for determining relationships between species, they’re more reliable than genes. And they suggest that hagfish really are close relatives of lampreys, and have only evolved to seem more primitive.

Read more at Wired

Most Distant Galaxy Ever Confirmed

Astronomers’ new observations have spotted the most distant galaxy ever seen. The galaxy’s light comes from about 13.1 billion light-years away, making it one of the first galaxies to form after the Big Bang.

The new galaxy is about 30 million light-years farther away than previous record-holder, a gamma-ray burst that faded within a few hours of its peak brightness, and 200 million light-years farther than the next most distant galaxy.

“We are approaching the limits of the observable universe with this observation,” said astronomer Michele Trenti of the University of Colorado, who was not involved in the new work. “It is quite a good improvement.”

The finding, published in the Oct. 21 Nature, could also give insight into how young stars helped make the universe transparent.

The new distance champion, deemed UDFy-38135539, was first spotted in late 2009 in a Hubble Space Telescope image called the Ultra Deep Field. The image captures 10,000 galaxies in the universe’s earliest epochs, several of which were good candidates for the most distant galaxy.

Because light takes time to travel across the universe, telescopes see these galaxies as they appeared billions of years ago. And because the universe is expanding, distant galaxies appear to be rapidly moving away from us. As the galaxies flee, the wavelength of the light they emit stretches out, or redshifts, similar to how an ambulance siren’s howl drops in pitch as it drives away.

Matt Lehnert of the Paris Observatory and colleagues picked the reddest galaxy in the Ultra Deep Field, then took 16 hours of follow-up observations with the SINFONI spectrograph on the Very Large Telescope in Chile.

Read more at Wired

Oct 19, 2010

Matt Ridley And Richard Dawkins Discuss What Extraterrestrial Life Would Look Like

Enormous freaky ring developing on the Sun

What is this strange ring that has been developing on the Sun during 16-Oct?

Sunspot 1112, located in the southeast quadrant, has been the source of a giant filament that is currently stretching 400,000 km across the surface of the Sun. However, today, there appears to be development of a enormous circular ring which looks to be linking with the huge magnetic filament of sunspot 1112. Most of today’s various wavelength images of the Sun all show this feature over at the SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory) – NASA website.

SpaceWeather.com today reports,

A vast filament of magnetism is cutting across the Sun’s southern hemisphere today. A bright ‘hot spot’ just north of the filament’s midpoint is UV radiation from sunspot 1112. The proximity is no coincidence; the filament appears to be rooted in the sunspot below. If sunspot flares, it could cause the entire structure to erupt. This active region merits watching…

Modern Survival Blog

Next generation tattoos are implantable LEDs

Researchers in the US, China, Korea and Singapore have collaborated to develop flexible ultra-thin sheets of inorganic light emitting diodes (LEDs) and photodetectors for implantation under the skin for medical monitoring, activating photo-sensitive drugs, and other biomedical applications.

The PDMS substrate is flexible enough that the circuits can still function even if twisted or stretched by even as much as 75 percent. Rogers said most research has concentrated on organic LEDs (OLEDs), which are extremely sensitive to water and oxygen, but the flexible arrays are encapsulated in a thin layer of silicon rubber, which makes them waterproof and allows them to function well when implanted or completely immersed in biofluids. The design also eliminates the mechanical constraints normally imposed on such devices by the inflexible semiconductor wafers that support them.

The researchers successfully tested the LEDs by integrating a sheet into the fingertip of a vinyl glove, which they then immersed in soapy water, and they have also implanted an array beneath the skin in an animal model.

Full story and more details at Physorg

Oct 18, 2010

Neuroscience and free will: religion and science do not always disagree

Tom Chivers' lively description of his interview with neuroscience professor Patrick Haggard highlights the fundamental question of whether brain research undermines our belief in free will and responsibility. Our brains determine our thinking and behaviour, and our neurons obey the laws of physics and chemistry, so how are we different from neural machines? As Tom points out in a second article, a lot depends on how you define free will.

On this issue, philosophers are divided into two camps: “libertarians“and “compatibilists”. For libertarians, free will is almost by definition incompatible with brain determinism. They argue from our experience of making choices that somewhere in the brain there must be indeterminate events. Most modern libertarians, including Robert Kane, invoke Heisenbergian uncertainty as the source of brain indeterminism, despite scepticism among scientists. In contrast, compatibilists argue for a different definition of free will. They make the distinction between external and internal constraints. The difference is illustrated by the following two excuses: “It’s not my fault I broke the window, my brother pushed me”, and “It’s not my fault I broke the window, my brain caused me to do it”.

Few people would accept the second excuse, which seems strange at best. If my brain did not cause me to break the window, I was certainly not responsible, so how can brain causation be an excuse? Of course, simple arguments like this are only a start in a complicated debate, but compatibilists are currently in the majority in claiming that the “varieties of free will worth wanting” (to quote Dennett) do not require indeterminate events in the brain. The debate is by no means over.

Our attitude to the free will question is intimately linked to the dualism-monism debate. Dualists believe that there are two separate entities, soul (or mind) and brain, and most maintain that they somehow interact, following Descartes. Monists deny a separate soul, saying that everything is matter. This links in with the question of free will, because if you believe in a separate nonphysical soul/mind that somehow influences the brain, you must assume that conventional physical and chemical forces do not completely determine brain function.

This debate is sometimes caricatured as a rearguard defense by religious or spiritually minded traditionalists against the attacks of modern science and atheistic philosophy, but there is not such a neat dividing line. The first philosophers to invoke physical indeterminism as necessary for free will were the materialists Epicurus and Lucretius, who denied life after death and supernatural intervention in the world. Judaism was monistic throughout the Old Testament era, and early Christianity appears likewise.

Read more at The Telegraph

Thief returns stolen laptop contents on USB stick

The professor, who teaches at Umeå University in northern Sweden, was devastated when ten years of work stored on his laptop was stolen.

But to his surprise, a week after the theft, the entire contents of his laptop were posted to him on a USB stick.

"I am very happy," the unnamed professor told the local Västerbottens-Kuriren newspaper.

"This story makes me feel hope for humanity."

The professor left his bag, containing the laptop, hidden behind a door in his apartment stairwell while he went into the building's laundry room. When he emerged a short time later, the bag had gone.

It was returned shortly after, without the laptop.

"The backpack was there again. With all the papers, calendar and credit cards. It was just the computer that was missing," he said.

"Unfortunately, I have been bad at backing up my computer."

However, a week after the theft, the professor received a USB stick containing all the documents - which would have taken several hours to download.

"It is my life. I have documented everything in it that has happened in the last 10 years and beyond.

Read more at The Telegraph

Osama bin Laden 'living comfortably in Pakistan'

The latest assessment contradicts the belief that the al-Qaeda leader is roughing it in underground bunkers as he dodged CIA drones hunting him from the air.
"Nobody in al-Qaeda is living in a cave," according to an unnamed Nato official quoted by CNN.

He added that Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's second in command, was also living in a house close by somewhere in the country's mountainous border regions.

Pakistani officials on Monday repeated their long standing denials that the Saudi-born terrorist mastermind was being given safe haven.

However, the Nato official said bin Laden was thought to have ranged from the mountainous Chitral area near the Chinese border, to the Kurram Valley which borders Afghanistan's Tora Bora, one of the Taliban strongholds during the US invasion in 2001.

North Waziristan, in particular, has become a nexus for Afghan, Pakistani and Arab militants as they plot attacks against Nato forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month a leaked White House report accused its ally Pakistan of playing a double game by avoiding "military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or al-Qaeda forces in North Waziristan".
Read more at The Telegraph

Oct 17, 2010

Antibiotics Investigated as Asthma, Allergy Cause

Could giving infants antibiotics in their first year of life trigger asthma and allergies that develop later on in childhood?

That's the suspicion of a team of Canadian medical researchers who are conducting a $2.5 million study to find the answer.

More than 50 percent of Canadian infants receive a prescription for antibiotics before they turn one year old.
The study aim is two-fold: first, to discern how intestinal bacteria inside newborns changes after taking antibiotics, and second, to study if those changes trigger medical conditions later.

The researchers are intrigued by microbiota. Considered to be "good" intestinal bacteria, microbiota protect against harmful bacteria and help the body absorb nutrients.

Except no one is born with microbiota. It develops during the first year of life. Hence the age of the research subjects.

The study's proof will be in the dirty diapers. Researchers will analyze the composition of microbiota from fecal samples at three months and again, at one year of age. DNA culled from the baby poop will identify bacteria in the microbiota.

Read more at Discovery News

Antarctic Ice Sheet Preserves Invisible Mountain Range

Buried deep beneath East Antarctica’s ice sheet, the Gamburtsev Mountains are the world’s most invisible range. New research suggests that overlying ice like that hiding them from view today could have preserved their rugged topography for the past 300 million years.

sciencenewsThe work bolsters the counterintuitive notion that glaciers, rather than just carving down young peaks into eroded hills like a buzzsaw, could sometimes protect high jagged terrain.

“It’s feasible for topography to be preserved,” says Stephen Cox, a graduate student at Caltech and coauthor of a paper scheduled to appear in Geophysical Research Letters. A supercold cap of ice could have allowed the ancient Gamburtsevs to look like the Alps instead of the highly eroded Appalachians.

Russian scientists first identified the Gamburtsevs in 1958 as part of a survey during the International Geophysical Year, and geologists have been puzzled ever since about how the range came to be. The mountains are in a stable part of the continent that hasn’t seen much tectonic activity — usually the way mountains are born — in more than 500 million years. “The Gamburtsevs are either really old, or some big part of the tectonic puzzle is missing,” says Cox.

His team tackled the question by looking at how quickly the mountains eroded over time. Because the range is buried, researchers have to study it indirectly — in this case by probing mineral grains at the bottom of Prydz Bay in East Antarctica, where pieces of rock washing off the Gamburtsevs ended up.

Grains of the mineral apatite preserve a record, known as a cooling age, of how fast the mountains were eroded. Cox’s team analyzed the apatite in two ways — the amounts of uranium, thorium and helium it contained, and the number of “fission tracks” left by decaying uranium — to build a cooling history of the Gamburtsevs.

Read more at Wired

Tyrannosaurus Rex Was a Cannibal

Tyrannosaurus rex craved meat so much that it ate individuals from its own species, according to new research supporting that this 35-foot-long carnivorous dinosaur from the Cretaceous Period was a cannibal.
Only one other dinosaur, Majungatholus, is known to have engaged in similar behavior, but paleontologists now believe Gorgosaurus (another huge meat-eater) and many other gigantic predatory dinosaurs were also cannibals.

"A lot of large carnivores tend to be cannibals -- lions, hyenas, alligators, polar bears," researcher Nicholas Longrich told Discovery News. "They're equipped to kill and eat large animals, and if you're hungry enough, fellow members of their species are just one more kind of large animal."

"Of course, small, cute, furry animals like ground squirrels are also highly cannibalistic," added Longrich, who is a paleontologist at Yale University.

He and his colleagues made the discovery, published in the latest PLoS ONE journal, while searching through western North American dinosaur fossil collections. Longrich discovered a T. rex fossil with large tooth gouges in it.

"The tooth marks are typical of tyrannosaur tooth marks, and are just too big to come from any other carnivorous dinosaur," he said, adding that T. rex teeth were about 8 inches long.

Further supporting the attribution is the fact that T. rex is known to have been the only big carnivore in western North America 65 million years ago.

When Longrich searched through additional T. rex fossil collections from several different museums, he found other evidence that this dinosaur was a cannibal. Three foot bone fossils, including two toes, and one arm fossil all retained big tooth marks due to feeding.

While it's possible that all or some of the gouges were the result of scavenging, Longrich and his colleagues think it's likely that the dino-on-dino feasting happened after fights, a meal that would help the cannibal victor.
"You're killing a competitor and getting a free meal at the same time," he explained. "The hunting is going to be better if you eat the other hunters."

Battles between these mega carnivores must have been quite a spectacle.

Read more at Discovery News