Sep 12, 2015

Globally unique double crater identified in Sweden

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg have found traces of two enormous meteorite impacts in the Swedish county of Jämtland, a twin strike that occurred around 460 million years ago.

The researchers have discovered two craters in Jämtland. One is enormous, while the other is a tenth of the size of the first.

"The two meteorite impacts occurred at the same time, 458 million years ago, and formed these two craters," says Erik Sturkell, Professor of Geophysics at the University of Gothenburg.

Erik Sturkell and his research colleagues found one of the craters 20 kilometres south of Östersund in Brunsflo. This is an enormous crater, with a diameter of 7.5 kilometres. The smaller crater is located 16 kilometres from there, and has a diameter of 700 metres.

An era of meteorites

The two meteorite impacts 458 million years ago were not the only ones to strike Earth at this time.

"Around 470 million years ago, two large asteroids collided in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and many fragments were thrown off in new orbits. Many of these crashed on Earth, such as these two in Jämtland," says Erik Sturkell.

Jämtland was under the sea at the time, with a water depth of 500 metres at the points where two meteorites simultaneously stuck. Double impacts like this are very unusual. This is the first double impact on Earth that has been conclusively proved.

"Information from drilling operations demonstrates that identical sequences are present in the two craters, and the sediment above the impact sequences is of the same age. In other words, these are simultaneous impacts," says Erik Sturkell.

The water was forced away during the impact, and for a hundred seconds these enormous pits were completely dry.

"The water then rushed back in, bringing with it fragments from the meteorites mixed with material that had been ejected during the explosion and with the gigantic wave that tore away parts of the sea bed," says Erik Sturkell.

Impacts at several locations in Sweden

Several meteorites have also been found on Kinnekulle.

"In the 1940s, an unusual-looking red limestone slab was found in a quarry. A few years later, researchers understood that there was a meteorite in the slab. Large meteors explode and disintegrate almost completely, while small meteors fall as rocks, such as in this limestone," says Erik Sturkell.

Around 90 meteorites from meteorite impacts have been found on Kinnekulle over the past fifteen years.

"Small meteorites survive the fall, while large ones explode and disintegrate. In Jämtland we have only found minerals from the meteorites, small grains of chromite.

Read more at Science Daily

Stonehenge Myths and Conspiracies

With the news earlier this week about the discovery of a “super-Stonehenge” circling one of the world’s most famous monuments, attention has once again focused on the Wiltshire marvel. There are thousands of ancient stone circles across Europe, of which Stonehenge is by far the best known and most impressive.

While there are many genuine historical mysteries about Stonehenge — such as who built it and for what purpose — there are just as many fabricated ones trading in myth and conspiracy.

In his book “British Folklore” historian Marc Alexander notes that “Theoretical explanations for Stonehenge are plentiful and varied. Ley hunters — those who research imaginary lines claimed to connect important sites around the world such as the Great Pyramid — find great significance in its geographical relationship to other sites. UFOlogists gleefully point to the usual number of flying saucers reported over Wiltshire and draw obvious conclusions, and those who believe in ‘earth forces’ see it as a gigantic ‘battery’ for storing ‘terrestrial energy.’”

Others claim that the stones are designed to be some sort of cosmic portal, perhaps to other dimensions or realities; as one speculative commenter noted, “It’s said that Stonehenge is a sound resonator that when a sound is played at the right frequency and the right placement it’s supposed to have an effect. Maybe a portal to another dimension or a (alien) base.”

Stonehenge Conspiracies

Ironically some of the most outlandish conspiracies about Stonehenge were created by attempts to preserve it. When most people see the monument they believe (or assume) that they’re seeing more or less what has always been there. And indeed that’s the story promoted in guidebooks: the idea that what today’s visitors see is what has stood for thousands of years.

But that’s not quite true; in fact most of Stonehenge has been moved at one point or another. It’s not the result of a hoax, fraud, or deception, but instead merely early attempts to preserve and restore the site — for example reinforcing the stones with concrete.

Over the millennia some stones have fallen into the soft earth, and it’s not known whether they fell straight back or twisted slightly at an angle, and so on. At least a dozen of the stones were straightened and re-erected between 1900 and 1960, and early depictions of Stonehenge (such as artist John Constable’s 1835 painting) look quite different than what is seen today. Those restoring the area made an effort to give a sense of what Stonehenge might have been like thousands of years ago, but in fact no one really knows what it originally looked like — or was supposed to look like.

For most visitors, of course, whether a given stone was originally 10 or 20 degrees off kilter to one side or another is irrelevant: Just being among the immense stones is awe-inspiring enough.

However for others such details may be crucially important. If the monument was designed to cast a shadow or serve as some sort of astronomical calendar corresponding with celestial bodies, for example, a difference of a few degrees could lead to vastly different interpretations about its role or significance.

Many mystics and paranormal buffs have carefully analyzed the exact positions and angles of the Stonehenge rocks, hoping to glean some information left behind four millennia later that might reveal clues to its meaning. The layout of Stonehenge — as it is now, not as it was created — has been subjected to countless crank theories, ranging from numerology to astrology to calculating lunar eclipses.

Because the restoration work at Stonehenge is not widely known, it has generated conspiracy theories. Some have even suggested that the monument dates back less than a century, created to spur tourism profits or for other unknown — and possibly nefarious — reasons.

Mick West, a British researcher who writes for the Metabunk web site, has visited the site several times and investigated such conspiracy claims. “The idea that Stonehenge is a relatively modern construction is appealing to a certain type of conspiracy theorist who has fallen far down the rabbit hole,” West told Discovery News. “Images appearing to show the construction of Stonehenge with cranes and concrete are an intellectual delight to them. No particular reason is needed for Stonehenge to be faked, because in their mind everything is faked, and this is simply pleasant circular confirmation that they were right all along.”

West notes that “By the 1800s Stonehenge had fallen into ruin. Several stones had fallen over and others were leaning perilously. Some large sarsen stones were so eroded by thousands of years of inclement British weather that they were in danger of falling to pieces. Numerous restoration projects were carried out between 1901 and 1963, and of course many photos and film clips of these restorations exist.

“It’s easy to take these images out of context and present them as construction when they are actually just restoration. This concrete can be seen in several places today, and a modern visitor to Stonehenge (unaware of the restorations) might be forgiven for thinking they have discovered some evidence of forgery or hoax.”

Stonehenge fell out of use around 1500 B.C., and has stood as a mute mystery ever since. However one by one several of the mysteries of Stonehenge have been solved. Last year, for example, a new analysis of some of the stones determined that many of them had been quarried in a place called Carn Goedog, several miles further away than previously believed.

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 11, 2015

'Lightning Claw' the Largest Carnivorous Dino Ever Found in Australia

A newly discovered 22-foot dinosaur now holds the distinction as being the largest carnivorous dinosaur ever found in Australia. Nicknamed 'Lighting Claw', the 110-million-year-old creature dates back to the Cretaceous Period.

The specimen was originally found by miners in the town of Lightning Ridge, New South Wales. Paleontologists were able to unearth pieces of the dinosaur's hip, ribs, arm and foot, along with a 10-inch claw that researchers say was used as a "grappling hook" to snatch prey. The large dinosaur's partially complete skeleton is the second most complete specimen found on the island.

Lightning Claw also leaves paleontologists questioning long-held notions about dinosaur evolution.

"What is fascinating about this discovery is it changes the popular notion that Australian dinosaurs came from ancestors derived from Africa and South America," Dr. Phill Bell, a University of New England paleontologist who penned a study about Lightning Claw, said in a news release. "Instead, the 'Lightning Claw' appears to be the ancestor of all megaraptorids, meaning this group appeared first in Australia."

Prior to Lighting Claw's discovery, Australovenator was thought to be the largest carnivore found in Australia.

From Discovery News

Cosmic Hourglass Reveals Tricky Birth of Giant Stars

While probing the heart of a massive-star-forming region, researchers found an intricate surprise: an unusual hourglass-shaped structure carved by multiple jets of gas. The presence of the jets suggest the structure hides two bulky newborn stars at its heart.

Although similar hourglass structures have been seen around low-mass star-forming regions, this is the first time one carved by jets of methanol has been detected in a high-mass-star creation region, and could help to probe these hard-to-examine regions, scientists reported in a new study.

For the research, an international team of astronomers studied the birthplace of massive stars, called IRAS 16547-4247, using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an enormous, powerful radio telescope in Chile. Because high-mass stars form in complex environments with multiple protostars — the clouds of dust and gas that ultimately form stars — that lie far from the Earth, the region has remained a mystery that only ALMA could solve.

“Even though many of the astronomers assumed that this would be a fertile high-mass-star-forming region, we couldn’t probe the kinematics of gas around high-mass at the level of resolution provided by existing telescopes,” principal investigator Aya Higuchi, of Ibaraki University in Japan, said in a statement.

Shrouded in mystery

Scientists can study sunlike stars fairly easily, but stars with masses above 10 times that of the sun become more challenging to understand. While sunlike stars are close and plentiful, high-mass stars are distant and far less common. The closest massive star-forming region is the Orion Nebula, about 1,500 light-years from Earth.

With its high angular resolution, ALMA can pierce the dust and gas around these distant star-forming regions and allow scientists to make detailed observations. Previous studies of IRAS 16547-4247, a luminous infrared source about 9,500 light-years away from Earth in the direction of the constellation Scorpius, revealed a pair of gas outflows thought to be emitted from a single star as well as several other radio sources, including a bright object at the center.

While probing the dust with ALMA, the team found that the region contained two high-density compact gas clouds, each 10 to 20 times as massive as the sun. The astronomers think a newly formed high-mass star lies inside each of these cocoons of gas.

ALMA showed that the previously identified outflows, which seemed to extend in the north-south direction, were actually two pairs of outflows — one set extending north-south and the other pushing east-west. ALMA also revealed new high-velocity outflows. Because a star can produce only one pair of outflows extending from its poles, the scientists concluded that the region hosts multiple stars in the process of forming.

Read more at Discovery News

Last Surviving 9/11 Rescue Dog Gets a Birthday Bash

A female golden retriever named Bretagne is the last living rescue dog that worked in lower Manhattan in the rubble of the fallen Twin Towers after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

In honor of her 16th birthday, the website threw her a birthday bash in the Big Apple.

Bretagne's handler and owner Denise Corliss, a member of the Texas Task Force 1 rescue team, worked with Bretagne searching for survivors after the attack. It was Bretagne's first deployment, according to BarkPost, and the pair have been together ever since.

In the BarkPost video above, you can get a front-row seat for Bretagne's trip to New York with Corliss, her party, and even her trip to Times Square.

Happy Birthday, Bretagne! And thanks to Corliss, Texas Task Force 1, and all of the rescue workers out there for all you do!

From Discovery News

No 'Specific or Credible Threats' on 9/11 Anniversary: FBI Chief

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Thursday that it has picked up no “specific or credible threats” linked to the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

FBI director James Comey said it was closely watching for threats from Al-Qaeda or Islamic State, but told a conference on intelligence “there are not any specific or credible threats tied to tomorrow.”

Friday is the 14th anniversary of the attacks that brought down the World Trade Center in New York and destroyed part of the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people.

The attack by Al-Qaeda militants flying hijacked airliners was the deadliest ever on US soil, and propelled the United States into an era of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Admiral Michael Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, said September 11 was “clearly a date that resonates for a lot of people.”

“You hear groups talking about the significance of that date,” he said at the same conference. “But I wouldn’t say that it is as high as I have seen… in the last 14 years.”

From Discovery News

The Near-Impossible Challenge of Designing the 9/11 Museum

One of the last photos taken of the intact Twin Towers, snapped minutes before they were struck on September 11. It hangs in the new ­museum’s concourse lobby.
You descend into the museum on a long ramp, sloped so gradually that you barely feel your steps gathering momentum. It’s as if you’re gently being pulled into orbit. Then you walk out onto an underground balcony overlooking the museum floor, some 40 feet below, and gaze out into a vast, nearly empty space punctuated by the Last Column—the final piece of steel hauled away from Ground Zero during cleanup. Weighing 60 tons and standing nearly 40 feet high, it’s still covered in spray-painted messages, tributes to the dead left by those who did the work. (“My brothers, you ran into hell,” one reads.) You get an overwhelming sense of absence and awe. There may be no public space more cavernous in New York City, and the vista was designed to preserve the dizzying experience of looking into the gaping pit left when the cleanup was complete in the spring of 2002.

To your left is the Slurry Wall, a 3-foot-thick concrete barrier studded with iron pilings that once girded the foundations of the site and managed to hold even after the towers fell. The wall still seems both immovable and ­fragile. It’s what keeps the Hudson River from drowning this space, which is an unprecedented hybrid of archaeological site, cathedral, and tourist attraction.

As you keep walking downward, the ramp switches back, and you pass by a quote rendered in metal letters 15 inches high and cast from steel recovered from the original Twin Towers: NO DAY SHALL ERASE YOU FROM THE MEMORY OF TIME. It’s a line by Virgil, who, in the Inferno, serves as Dante’s guide through hell. Stepping off the ramp and passing down a flight of stairs and a hallway, you are now 70 feet belowground, standing on the bedrock that rooted the Twin Towers.

Twenty feet above your head hangs a piece of steel more than 35 feet long and weighing nearly 5 tons. It’s positioned vertically on the side of a massive silvery cube that marks the outline of where the North Tower once stood. Twisted like a ribbon blown in the wind, it has a ter­rible beauty. This and a counterpart down the hall are the “impact steel,” the columns hit by the first passenger jet when it slammed into the North Tower almost 13 years ago. You pass under one of the steel pieces and through a pair of plain glass doors to enter the main exhibits of the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

Watch this video on The Scene.

 Historical museums typically serve as a way to tell the official story of something that happened and what it means. This one is different. “It is a story that has no end,” says Paula Grant Berry, a ­museum-­planning-­committee member whose husband died in the South Tower. The events of 9/11 are still raw in our memories and alive in our political and cultural climate.

For the museum’s designers and curators, that tension led to a ­tangle of quandaries: How can you present a lasting memorial to an event whose impact is still unspooling through developments such as the Edward Snowden leaks and the Senate’s torture report? How can you speak to 9/11’s polarizing effects, such as the ­bungled search for WMD, without alienating some significant portion of your audience? How can you create a meaningful tribute that will resonate with every visitor: the school­children who know almost nothing of what happened, survivors who ran from the buildings covered in ash, and all those—more than a billion worldwide—who experienced the attack live on TV? “Conventional narrative wouldn’t cut it,” says Alice Green­wald, director of the museum, which opens in May.

Perhaps the most vexing problem of the project’s design, which incorporates thousands of artifacts, is that it risked becoming one massive trigger for victims and a trauma in its own right for everyone else. “This is not the Disney World of 9/11,” says Green­wald, a petite, dark-haired woman whose room-­filling good cheer belies the material she has absorbed and calibrated. “We weren’t going to immerse ­people in the experience.” As Jake Barton, founder of Local Projects, which helped design the space, says, “That was the first, panicking challenge: How do you rise to the event itself for the ­people who lived it without overwhelming everyone else?” The fear of seeming hasty or naive was almost paralyzing. “Usually, as designers, you try to create meaning. Here there was almost too much of it,” Barton says.

The museum’s creative team ­tackled these emotional and psychological challenges through a combination of sophisticated design and artfully deployed technologies: a data-mining algorithm, onsite digital recording booths, a web-based platform for gathering crowdsourced testimony, touchscreens that let you access remembrances of the dead. The result isn’t so much a record of an event as a testament to how much we’ve all witnessed—no one more so than the survivors and family members, whose experiences are almost impos­sible to imagine until you hear from them yourself.

Foundation Hall | The last column stands wrapped in protective canvas. The installation called timescape is projected on the wall behind it.
 The museum began to take shape eight years ago in a generic office on the 20th floor of One Liberty Plaza. In late 2001, the room, which features a view of Ground Zero, was set aside by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation as an interim memorial space for the families of victims. The windows and walls were soon papered over with remembrances. To glimpse Ground Zero at all, you had to peer through the narrow spaces between pictures of ­people who had died. Many were small framed photos like the ones you’d see on a nightstand; a few were kids’ drawings with pictures ­stapled to them. At the center of the room was a podium bearing an oversize guest book filled with notes written to the dead. It remains in place today, off-­limits to everyone except families. (A new private family room in the museum will replace this one later in 2014.)

Tom Hennes first visited the room in 2007, soon after his firm, Thinc, won the original museum commission. It felt like a time capsule. Hennes remembers that the notes were written in the present tense; one woman wrote to a relative asking for his approval of her new boyfriend, whom she’d brought with her. “The room tuned us in to what trauma means,” Hennes says. “Time had stood still.”

To the designers, the very rawness and variety of expression suggested an answer to a central challenge: how best to present events when, as William Faulkner once wrote, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Instead of providing its own interpretive explanations, the designers realized, the museum could focus on direct testaments from the ­people who had experienced it. The hope was to avoid a ­single story line and instead allow visitors to reconstruct narratives on their own, using the artifacts on display. “Witnesses are the way into the museum,” Green­wald says.

It was an approach that Barton had been inching toward for more than a decade, influenced by such Anna Deavere Smith plays as Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. For that meditation on post–­Rodney King racial resentments, Smith conducted more than 300 interviews and then condensed the material into four dozen characters. She portrayed each of them herself, one blending into the next. “It was a lightning bolt,” Barton says. “It was really an exercise in empathy, in trying to find the humanity of everyone involved.” Ever since, Barton has used this as his inspiration in commissions that integrate mul­tiple narrators. For ­example, Local Projects designed the oral history booths for Story­Corps, a project that is collecting thousands of personal stories and archiving them at the Library of Congress.

The Goal: Create A Meaningful Tribute to the Victims without Traumatizing the Visitors.

Voices are the first thing you hear in the museum, in the vestibule that precedes the entrance ramp: 417 ­people completing one another’s sentences. These are not from the victims but ­from people around the world who contributed their own 9/11 recollections via phone, video, or a web-based platform. Their words are mapped to hundreds of cities across the globe and then projected onto a series of staggered panels. As you walk around and stand in front of the screens, the words project around you, enveloping you in their stories.

Visitors are invited to bear witness again as part of Reflecting on 9/11, one of the museum’s signal installations. It consists of videos projected on massive walls and featuring interviews with figures who shaped our responses to 9/11, from the head of the ACLU to then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. They answer intentionally broad questions such as, how do you balance national security and personal freedom? Visitors, in turn, can answer the same questions in their own booths next to the installation. The curators can then pick visitor responses to display on the main wall.

But the same intimacy that makes all these voices so powerful can also make them overwhelming. The curators had access to thousands of hours of recordings of witnesses, survivors, and victims—voicemails, 911 calls, even radio call-ins. These posed a dilemma: Experts like Billie Pivnick, a clinical psychologist who worked closely with the designers, warned that hearing victims’ voices in the throes of terror could traumatize listeners. Even for the designers, direct access to the material proved difficult. “It felt like being a war correspondent,” Barton says. He recalls having persistent nightmares about buildings crumbling. Some ­people on Hennes’ team burst into tears at unexpected moments, unable to explain why the material, which seemed so familiar one day, was intolerable the next.

With this in mind, the curators had to decide which recordings were appropriate. For ­example, they opted not to include a 911 call from a woman trapped on a high floor who knew she wasn’t going to survive; the call ends with her simply praying with the operator. They did decide to include a voicemail that 24-year-old Brad Fetchet left for his mother minutes after the first plane hit the North Tower. “Hey, Mom. I’m obviously alive and well but obviously pretty scared … Love you.” Fetchet died in the South Tower. Green­wald admits that these were judgment calls. The choices usually favored the recordings in which ­people, even those who died, seemed most in control.

Chosen Paths

The 9/11 Memorial Museum uses technology and artful curatorial techniques to bring personal testimony to the fore without overwhelming visitors’ emotions. Here’s how the curators pulled it off. —C.K.

Historical Exhibition The bulk of the material lies in a chronological exhibit of media and artifacts about 9/11. 1 | Day of the Attacks Visitors follow the day’s events starting at 8:46 am on September 11, 2001, the moment the first plane hit the North Tower. Alcoves house the most emotionally sensitive material. The toughest exhibit to create was the one that depicts the people who jumped or fell from the towers. To avoid aestheticizing the event, designers stripped the display of nearly all adornment. 2 | Looking Back The museum then turns back the clock to understand the history leading up to 9/11, showcasing artifacts like a laptop used by the FBI as evidence linking the 1993 World Trade Center bombing to al Qaeda and the 2001 attacks. 3 | Aftermath This is where visitors follow the recovery after the attacks, viewing such artifacts as a preserved storefront covered in dust, and steel that was mangled in the burning towers’ collapse. 4 | Reflecting on 9/11 Here visitors can watch key figures such as Eric Holder and Donald Rumsfeld answer questions about how the attacks affected government and society.

Location The National September 11 Memorial’s twin reflecting pools (squares) mark the footprints of the North and South Towers aboveground. The 9/11 Memorial Museum lies below.

Memorial Exhibition The ­people who died on 9/11 and in the 1993 World Trade Center attack are remembered in pictures mounted on the perimeter of the room. Visitors can see and hear materials from an ever-­expanding archive in an inner chamber designed to encourage eye contact among visitors.

Last Column Standing nearly 40 feet high, the Last Column was the final piece of steel removed from Ground Zero. At the museum, touchscreens allow you to pan around images of the entire column so you can read inscriptions alongside annotations of the stories behind them.

Exposed Box Columns The original steel columns, once used to anchor the North Tower to the bedrock, have been sheared to floor level here.

Timescape An algorithm collects headlines related to 9/11 and projects them on a concrete wall, evoking the attacks’ effect on current events.

That element of control is emphasized in the museum’s layout, which allows visitors to decide how much of the most emotionally provocative moments they will experience. The main path through the historical exhibit is dominated by physical artifacts—a storefront preserved from a block adjacent to Ground Zero (complete with dust-­covered blue jeans and sweatshirts emblazoned with American flags), the hand rakes used to sift the site for remains, mangled steel from the building. But the curators ­struggled most with how to present hundreds of more personal audio recordings and visual records. In the end, they decided to put this sensitive material inside alcoves placed off the main pathway through the exhibit. To confront these collections, you have to seek them out.

The most difficult alcove to design was the one dedicated to the ­50 to 200 men and women—the exact number is not known—who, overwhelmed with heat and smoke, jumped or fell from the buildings. “Those ­people were on a ledge and feeling like they had no option but to step into a sky that would not support them,” says Joe Daniels, president of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. “It is so unbelievable. Maybe you don’t show it.” And yet, after much intense debate, the board overseeing the museum, including Daniels, voted unani­mously to dedi­cate an exhibit to those victims.

Some suggested a ­simple text panel and a statistic printed on the wall, nothing more. Others thought the video footage had to be used. Between these poles of detachment and immediacy, Green­­wald says, was a limit­less range of possibilities. One initial, commonsense idea gathered support: Mount pictures of ­people falling, in ­simple frames. And yet the effect, once tested, was horrifying. “It was the equivalent of a gallery display,” Green­wald says. “It aestheticized the moment. We recoiled from it.” They tried video in turn, and this created a gruesome loop as the event ran to its awful conclusion over and over.

The exhibit that finally emerged after dozens of prototypes is so artful that it seems almost totally undesigned. The entrance is marked by a photo of a small group of ­people on the street, looking up in shock. One woman is gazing just past the camera, covering her mouth. “There were a ­couple of instances when we said, there is no other photo pos­sible,” Green­wald says. “You know from this photograph what they’re looking at.” Once you step into the alcove, you see a ­single picture, mounted on a stout column that dominates the center of the room. Titled “Trapped,” it shows men and women leaning out of the towers’ broken windows, with black smoke streaming out from behind them. On the walls surrounding you are quotes from ­people who witnessed victims jumping or falling:

They were ending their life without a choice, and to turn away from them would have been wrong.

This woman stood there for what seemed like minutes, then she held down her skirt and then stepped off the ledge. I thought, how human, how modest, to hold down her skirt before she jumped.

You won’t see anyone falling unless you make your way around the big column to a nook at the back of the room. There, 3 feet above your head, are projected a series of five still photographs of ­different people falling from the towers. They fade from one to the next, in a slow progression that gathers no rhythm. “We don’t ask the person jumping to repeat the act over and over again,” Green­wald says.

That room, designed by David Layman, made it pos­sible to present potentially explosive imagery without glossing it over or causing offense. But when it came to presenting the ways that 9/11 shapes political debate, current events, and news coverage, the curators resorted to a different tool altogether: an algorithm. “The system lets the curators say they haven’t set an agenda,” Barton says. The algorithm, coded by Local Projects, sifts through the news of the day, finding nuggets relating to 9/11 and extracting connections among them. Its output is projected on a concrete wall as an enormous graph some 34 feet across. Dubbed Times­cape, it is a constantly evolving chart of news ­articles connected to 9/11. At times it looks like a spray of data points charted against two axes: time versus frequency. Each point is labeled according to a topic or theme, from lead hijacker Mohammed Atta to the Snowden leaks. As the display cycles, each theme is unfurled in a new, more detailed chart that reveals the series of headlines that relate to it.

Academic researchers and even the Associated Press have experimented with using similar data-­mining technologies to sift through massive document archives such as the Chelsea Manning leaks. But Local Projects wasn’t sure any of them would work for the museum. Confirmation came suddenly when Dylan Fried, one of the programmers coding the algorithm, was checking the themes and ­articles the machine was culling line by line. Fried, only 11 years old at the time of the 9/11 attacks, came upon a funny acronym and Skyped a colleague: “Who’s this KSM guy?” He was, of course, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, master­mind of the attacks, and he kept popping up as a detainee at Guantanamo Bay and linked to the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing. “This algorithm showed Dylan a whole world of connections,” says Sundar Raman, Fried’s colleague. In other words, it worked.

The algorithm’s precision offers startlingly sharp insights about the ebb and flow of current affairs. It doesn’t elide what’s there, and it doesn’t overplay or underplay some themes for emphasis, as a curator inevitably would. It simply shows events for what they are, in news headlines. In that way, its effect is akin to the polished black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which allows visitors to see their own reflections atop the inscribed names. Architectural critics have given almost metaphysical weight to the fact that the memorial’s ­marble literally mirrors the present day. At the 9/11 Museum, the mirror is a math equation.

Moral philosopher Avishai Margalit, in his meticulously reasoned book The Ethics of Memory, wrote, “We need morality not so much to counter evil as to counter indifference.” By that measure, a museum like this one must aim to shake the familiarity that robs us of our shock and horror, blunting our moral reactions. Tom Hennes, who’s something of a museum radical, echoed that idea from the start. He doesn’t believe museums should be venues for education but rather places of encounter. He offers an ­example: “Natural history museums are lousy at teaching natural history,” he says. “But they can provide a new sense of wonder that changes your next walk in the woods.”

Hennes is proudest of the museum’s memorial, which lies apart from the historical exhibit, in the footprint of the South Tower. He and Barton designed the space, which presents stories and artifacts provided by the fami­lies of victims. The challenge was to somehow satisfy all the families, each of whom may have envisioned a different form of memorial. Hennes and Barton’s solution is not a grand architectural gesture, just a ­simple square room of about 3,000 square feet.

Upon entering, you are surrounded by the faces of those who died, shown in mounted photos arrayed in neat alphabetical rows, from floor to ceiling, on all four walls of the room. In the center are the four walls of another, smaller room of about 700 square feet. In the space between the outer and inner walls there are waist-high tables embedded with touchscreen versions of the portraits on the walls. Touch one and you can see more pictures of that person, audio recordings of their family’s remembrances, and an obituary. (The archive will grow over time as loved ones add more artifacts.) You can then choose to pro­ject or play those items in the inner room.

Impact Steel | These exterior columns bore the blow when flight 11 slammed into the north tower.
As you walk into the inner chamber, the perimeter is lined with benches facing inward. The floor is glass, and below your feet you can see the scarred bedrock that once supported the towers. The recorded material you selected plays across two opposite walls, which are covered in ultrasuede to ­muffle the sound and lend the room a hushed stillness. The entire space is designed for eye contact, like a Quaker meetinghouse: On the perimeter, you meet the gazes of the other visitors. The experience is communal—but also intimate.

It’s hard to miss the resemblance to the original memorial room at One Liberty Plaza overlooking Ground Zero. Just as that room had windows papered over with pictures and a ledger in the center for family remembrances, this new memorial has a perimeter of pictures and an inner chamber for displaying family recollections of the lost. Hennes says the similarity wasn’t strictly intentional, but he allows that the original memorial room may well have exerted an unconscious influence on him and his colleagues.

Read more at Wired Science

Sep 10, 2015

Key to Survival Found for Sailors Shipwrecked in Alaska in 1813

In 1813, the Russian-American Company frigate Neva wrecked near Kruzof Island, Alaska. The survivors managed to live for nearly a month — in winter — despite struggling to shore with almost nothing.

Now, archaeologists are uncovering the story of how these sailors lived until rescuers arrived. The researchers found that the sailors started fires with gunflints and steel scraps and cannibalized the ship’s wreckage to build the tools they used to survive.

“The items left behind by survivors provide a unique snapshot-in-time for January 1813, and might help us to understand the adaptations that allowed them to await rescue in a frigid, unfamiliar environment,” Dave McMahan, an archaeologist and member of the Sitka Historical Society, who is excavating the site of the Neva survivors’ camp near the city of Sitka, said in a statement.

Lost cause

The Neva was carrying about 75 people and a shipment of goods that included guns and furs when it left Okhotsk, Russia, in August of 1812. According to the National Science Foundation, which is funding the new excavations, the sailors endured three months of storms, sickness and water shortages before arriving in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

Though storms had damaged the ship’s rigging, the crew pushed eastward toward Sitka, just south of what is now Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Near Kruzof Island, mere miles from their destination, the ship hit rock and went down. Twenty-eight members of the original crew made it to shore (15 had already died at sea before the wreck). Of those survivors, only two died before rescuers arrived nearly a month later.

With the help of the oral history of the indigenous Tlingit people, McMahan and his colleagues located the site of the survivor camp near the shore where the Neva went down. The researchers found hearths surrounded by artifacts: copper, musket balls and a Russian axe. The researchers realized that, in many cases, they were looking at washed-up wreckage that the sailors desperately modified to make something useful. For example, musket balls had been whittled down to fit smaller weapons than the ones they were made for. A fishhook was fashioned out of copper scraps.

“Collectively, the artifacts reflect improvisation in a survival situation,” McMahan said.

No graves were found, in part because the archaeologists avoided disturbing too much of the site, which is in an area significant to the Tlingit people.

Ongoing discovery
Before it foundered in Alaskan waters, the Neva was an important ship; it was part of the armada that helped defeat the Tlingit in 1804, enabling the Russians to establish the city that would become Sitka.

Researchers have been excavating at the Neva survivors’ camp for two years, and plan another season of fieldwork in the upcoming year.

Read more at Discovery News

Blood Fats May Play a Role in Migraines

Women who get migraines have different levels of certain fats in their blood than women who don’t get these headaches, a small new study suggests.

If confirmed, the new findings could lead to a blood test that could diagnose patients with migraines, the researchers said.

Currently, patients are diagnosed with migraines on the basis of the symptoms they report, said study author Dr. B. Lee Peterlin, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “In other words, there is no biomarker or blood test that can help us to differentiate” people who get migraines from those who do not, she said.

The researchers tested the women’s blood samples for a class of lipids that had previously been shown to play a role in regulating energy balance and inflammation, according to the study.

In the study, the researchers examined blood samples from 52 women with episodic migraines and 36 women who did not have any headaches. “Episodic migraines” means having migraine headaches up to 14 days per month; people who have more migraines than that are diagnosed with chronic migraines. The women in the study had headaches about six days per month, on average.

The researchers tested the women’s blood samples for a class of lipids that had previously been shown to play a role in regulating energy balance and inflammation, according to the study.

The investigators found that the levels of lipids called ceramides were lower in the women with episodic migraines than in the women who did not have any headaches. The women with migraines had about 6,000 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) of ceramides in their blood on average, compared with about 10,500 ng/ml in the women without headaches.

Moreover, it also turned out that women’s risk of migraines increased with higher levels of two types of a different lipid, called sphingomyelin.

These results suggest that the lipids examined in the study may be involved in causing migraines; however, further study of this question is needed, the researchers said.

In another experiment in the new study, the investigators looked at the levels of the lipids in blood samples from 14 participants, without knowing which of the women had migraines. They found that they were able to correctly identify, based on the blood test, the women with migraines and those who did not have any headaches.

Read more at Discovery News

New, Tiny-Brained Human Found in South African Cave

A supposed new species of human with an exceptionally small brain and an unusual combination of both primitive and more modern human-like features has been discovered in a remote South African cave chamber, according to research published in the journal eLIFE.

Named Homo naledi, the undated new species is represented by more than 1,500 fossils that belonged to at least 15 individuals.

Estimates reveal that their brains were comparable in size to those of some of the world’s first known humans, australopithecines, as well as those of today’s gorillas, Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, who did not directly work on the project, told Discovery News.

"That brain volume (about 500cc), implies significantly less brain power than recent humans," added Stringer, who authored a paper commenting on the finds.

Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand, Paul Dirks of James Cook University and an international team of colleagues discovered the remains deep within the Rising Star cave system in South Africa's Gauteng province. The Dinaledi Chamber containing the fossils can only be accessed via several steep climbs and fissures.

Discovering the enormous collection of bones "was akin to (archaeologist) Howard Carter moving into Tutankhamen’s tomb for the first time...seeing all of this bone material all over the floor," lead excavator Marina Elliott of Simon Fraser University recently told science teacher John Mead of St. Mark's School of Texas during a videocast recorded in the cave.

Berger and his team conclude that Homo naledi's curved fingers, shoulder, trunk and hips are, like its brain, more primitive. The wrist, hands, legs and feet, however, are similar to those of Neanderthals and our own species.

"The foot seems structurally and functionally very human, thus implying a human-like gait," Stringer said.

He said the teeth and other features also that this human was a dexterous omnivore that must have hunted and eaten at least some meat.

Multiple mysteries currently surround the discovery. One is the age of the fossils. Berger said it is possible that the new species is more than 2 million years old, putting it fairly close to the origin of the genus Homo. On the other hand, it has not been ruled out that the fossils are less than 100,000 years old.

Yet another mystery concerns how so many Homo naledi individuals, including babies as well as adults, wound up in the chamber. One possibility is that all willingly went to the cave room, where they later succumbed to some kind of tragedy.

"I suppose it is possible that the group hid in the chamber as a refuge from something or somebody and then died there of starvation, but they would have had to access the dark zone of the cave through difficult terrain," Stringer said.

Meanwhile, some human origins experts are not convinced by the Homo naledi claims.

Anthropologist Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History told Discovery News that he congratulates the researchers "for moving so fast and sharing the information so quickly." Tattersall thinks this push to rapidly get the information out, though, means that the papers "provide more of a progress report rather than a definitive statement."

"I would not have classified the remains as belonging to our genus Homo," Tattersall continued. "In fact, after looking at the photos of the fossils, they may represent more than one species."

He believes that scientists have expanded our genus too much in recent years, "adding bit by bit at the end, when there really is no clear definition now of what Homo is."

"These small brained, primitive individuals don't yell Homo to me," Tattersall concluded.

Stringer did say that other remains claimed as being human may "not rightly belong in the genus Homo." He supports the theory that our genus is "polyphyletic," meaning that some members might have originated independently in different regions of Africa.

Despite all of the questions surrounding just who wound up in Rising Star cave long ago, Stringer believes the recent find is important.

Read more at Discovery News

China Aims to Land Probe on Dark Side of the Moon

China is planning to land a lunar probe on the far side of the moon, state media reported, the latest step for Beijing's ambitious space programme.

The mission will be launched before 2020 and aims to land a probe on a part of the moon never visible from earth, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing officials at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The far side of the moon has been seen by previous probes, but no country has attempted a landing.

The goal will be to study low frequency radio waves and geological conditions, according to the Xinhua report. The mission, named Chang'e 4, follows the Chang'e 3, which landed a rover dubbed Yutu on the moon in 2013.

That made China the third nation after the US and Soviet Union to land on the Earth's only natural satellite.

Chang'e is the name of the moon goddess in Chinese mythology and Yutu is her pet rabbit.

"If we can place a frequency spectrograph on the far side, we can fill a void," Zou Yongliao, of the moon exploration department at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Plans for China to land on the dark side of the moon first emerged in May, but with no details, according to a report by the state-run China Daily.

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 9, 2015

Some Penguins Wander Far, But Always Come Home to Mates

A species of remarkably faithful penguins may have found the secret to monogamy -- plenty of time spent very far apart.

A group of southern rockhopper mums and dads were hundreds -- in one case thousands -- of kilometers (miles) away from each other when not making babies, says a study out Wednesday.

Yet when the birds returned home to New Island off the coast of Argentina they managed to find each other and mate, according to findings published in the prestigious Biology Letters journal.

While their reunions may have been sweet, they were decidedly short, with the penguins together for just under a quarter of the year.

"In these extremely faithful animals -- the pair bonds for breeding may last all life long in this species -- the partners may actually be separated by hundreds to thousands of kilometers at sea," researcher Jean-Baptiste Thiebot told AFP.

The birds engage in an incredible variety of behavior including "divorce" and home building that might seem very familiar to humans.

Once back on land in October after six months or so at sea, the penguins got straight to the business of mating, egg-laying and incubation, all of which kept them busy for about a month.

There was no lingering over the kids here, as the rearing of the chicks took up another roughly 70 days before the parents split up in April.

Given the risk the animals could lose each other for good by going their separate ways in the wild, the researchers wanted to see if the creatures would make an effort to stay close together outside breeding season.

"Divorce" happens among the penguins, but it is rare to find two ex-partners breeding with somebody new, Thiebot said.

The scientists decided to follow the penguins by clipping lightweight sensors to 20 birds -- 10 couples -- which tracked their movements during their roughly six-month separations.

Seven pairs made it home and rekindled their relationships, while two birds came back solo. Researchers surmised the remaining penguins from their study either died at sea or moved away.

The data from the sensors showed the penguins generally stayed hundreds of kilometers apart as they feasted in the ocean.

However, researchers found one case where a couple had nearly 2,500 kilometers between them.

When the birds finally got back together they promptly turned into homebodies, with most of their time spent at the nest.

It led researchers to note that birds like Emperor penguins, which do not build a home together, are less likely to be monogamous.

"Penguins may use the same nest site or nesting area to breed every year, over and over again," Thiebot said. "This probably helps the two partners to meet up ashore at a known place."

The birds' elaborate courtship rituals may also help them recognize each other.

Read more at Discovery News

Australia Spider May be New Species of Deadly Funnel-Web

Australian scientists have discovered what could be a new species of the deadly funnel-web spider, after finding a large specimen living in a national park.

The 50-millimeter (two-inch) spider found in Booderee National Park near Jervis Bay south of Sydney is believed to be from the Hadronyche genus, which typically lives in trees.

Until now, only the Sydney funnel-web, the ground-dwelling Atrax genus and one of the world's most venomous, had been known to live in the park.

"It's remarkable that we have found this... in the Booderee National Park," said Australian National University biologist Thomas Wallenius.

"It shows we still have a lot to learn about what's out there in the bush.

"It may even turn out to be a new species of funnel-web."

Funnel-web spiders are feared in Australia, where there have been 13 recorded deaths from bites although none since the development of an anti-venom in the early 1980s.

Wallenius said he found the female funnel-web in the lair she had created inside a rotten log.

"They build a silk-lined burrow inside the hollow log, which can be up to two meters (yards) long. She had probably been living in there for 25 to 30 years,? Wallenius said.

"This was a big one," he said, adding that there had been reports that there may even have been larger specimens in the area.

Read more at Discovery News

New Calves Raise Hopes for World's Rarest Rhino

Three critically endangered Javan rhino calves have been filmed in an Indonesian national park, raising hopes for the future of the world's rarest rhino after years of population decline.

One female calf and two males were spotted in recent months in Ujung Kulon park, on Java island, and were all likely born in the past year, park chief Mohammad Haryono told AFP on Wednesday.

The rhinos were filmed with their mothers by cameras set up to track the shy creatures in a recently established sanctuary inside the park, he said.

They were all born from different mothers and both the parents and their youngsters looked healthy, the official added.

Haryono said the discovery of the calves -- filmed in April, May and July -- brings the population of the Javan rhino to 60, all of which live in Ujung Kulon.

"This is wonderful news, now we just need to ensure their protection," Widodo Ramono, head of conservation group the Indonesian Rhino Foundation, told AFP.

The Javan rhino, whose folds of loose skin give it the appearance of wearing armor plating, once numbered in the thousands and roamed across Southeast Asia.

Poaching and human encroachment on its habitat have led to a dramatic population decline, as with other rhino species around the world, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has said the Javan rhino is "making its last stand".

Poaching in particular represents a severe threat, with rhino horns fetching high prices on the black market for use in traditional Asian medicine.

The IUCN classifies the Javan rhino as "critically endangered".

Read more at Discovery News

Moon, Venus and Mars Offer Triple Skywatching Treat Early Thursday

If you want to see an eye-catching celestial display involving a slender crescent moon and two bright planets, be sure to wake up an hour before sunrise on Thursday morning (Sept. 10).

You might also want to make sure that you have a clear and unobstructed view toward the east, as this nice array of the moon and planets will be relatively low — only about 15 degrees above the horizon. (Your clenched fist held out at arm's length measures about 10 degrees.) So you'll need to make sure that there are no trees or buildings any higher than a fist and a half; otherwise your view may be partially or completely blocked.

The most obvious celestial object will be the crescent moon, a sliver of yellow-white light only 7 percent illuminated by the sun. To the right of the moon will be the second-brightest object of the night sky: the planet Venus. Venus, which had been a prominent evening object since the start of this year, finally relinquished the title of "Evening Star" less than a month ago and disappeared from view before beginning to appear in the morning instead.

In the hour before sunrise Thursday morning, Venus and the crescent moon will provide a pleasing celestial tableau as they ascend the eastern sky side by side, just 2.5 degrees apart. Use binoculars to better appreciate the appearance of the full globe of the moon, its grayish-blue tone delicately interposed between the brighter sunlit crescent and dark background sky. Leonardo da Vinci was the first to recognize the faint glow of the moon's globe  as Earthshine — light from the sun, reflected off Earth to the moon and then back to Earth.

Finally, there is much fainter Mars. If you extend an imaginary line from Venus through the moon and continue that line for a bit more than twice the distance between the two, you will come to the Red Planet. Don't look for red, though; in actuality, Mars appears to glow with a yellowish-orange color.

Mars shines at a magnitude of +1.8. For comparison, Venus dazzles at magnitude -4.5, or 316 times brighter than Mars!

One of the reasons that Venus is so bright in the sky is because of its high albedo, or the amount of light it reflects back into space. This albedo comes from the permanent cloud layer that surrounds the planet; the clouds reflect about 75 percent of the sunlight they receive back toward Earth. Another reason has to do with distance. Currently, Venus is 34.4 million miles (55.3 million km) from Earth. In contrast, Mars is 230.3 million miles (370.6 million km) away — more than 6.5 times farther compared with Venus. Mars is also considerably smaller than Venus.

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 8, 2015

Spider 'Ginger' Bares Red Fangs in Australia

A one-of-a-kind spider from Down Under looks more like a Transylvania transplant than an Aussie, thanks to its red fangs.

The funnel-web spider (Atrax sutherlandi) does not actually vant to suck your blood, however. These shy spiders build their webs at the top of subterranean burrows and mostly eat insects. (Some species, though, do have venom dangerous to humans, and will defend themselves if they feel threatened. A. sutherlandi is venomous, but isn't known to have caused any fatalities in humans, according to the Australian Environmental Pest Management Association.)

As a species, A. sutherlandi has been known for a long time. But when Mark Wong, an ecologist at Australian National University and the winner of a National Geographic Young Explorer grant, uncovered this one under a piece of fallen wood, he met with a surprise.

"Almost instantly, the spider had rushed out of her silken lair with her legs raised and fangs greeting me with glistening venom," Wong wrote in an email to Live Science. "Taken aback by her colors, I knew there and then this was something special."

In years of hunting and studying funnel-web spiders, Wong and his colleagues had never seen a "redhead." The spider has one bright red fang and patches of red on the rest of its head.

Other specimens do sometimes have red on different body parts, Wong said, so it's possible that in this spider, the genes for the red pigment are simply expressing themselves in the wrong places. Alternatively, all funnel-web spiders of this species might have genes for red-pigmented heads and fangs, but typically this color doesn't show up, because it's masked by more dominant black pigmentation.

"Perhaps in this specimen, the genes for black pigments have not been expressed, thus revealing the red pigmentation underneath," Wong said.

Wong discovered the spider in Australia's Tallaganda State Forest, where he and his colleagues often do fieldwork and collect funnel-web spider specimens. It's a careful process: The researchers search for telltale webs of silk, typically shaped like a funnel, under logs and rocks and then use a probe to figure out the direction of the spider burrow. They then gently scrape away the dirt to find their quarry.

"As they are usually hiding deep underground (>25 centimeters) [10 inches], there's really no easy way to collect them, and it usually takes between 10 to 30 minutes just to retrieve one specimen!" Wong said. The spiders are about 2 inches (5 cm) long.

It's not possible to draw many conclusions from a single odd-colored specimen, Wong said, but the find is interesting because many spiders show color variation from individual to individual. The Hawaiian happy-face spider (Theridion grallator) changes color depending on its diet, he said, while some crab spiders come in different colors depending on their camouflage needs. And the brightly colored peacock spider (Maratus volans) can have lots of variation in its elaborate body decoration.

"Interestingly, the male red-headed mouse spider (Missulena occatoria), a spider distantly related to funnel-webs, also displays red colors and looks quite similar to this particular specimen," Wong said.

Read more at Discovery News

Baby Woolly Rhino 'Sasha' Died 34,000 Years Ago, Tests Show

The remains of a baby woolly rhinoceros found in Yakutia, Russia last year have now been dated to 34,000 years ago.

Initial reports had indicated the 18-month-old was at least 10,000 years old, based upon the fact that that is about when the species went extinct, but subsequent testing has provided a better estimate, and an extra 24,000 years.

New timeline in hand, researchers now confirm that Sasha lived during the Karginsk interglacial period, The Siberian Times reports, when the climate was much warmer than it is in modern-day Yakutia.

While further study will look more closely at the baby rhino's death, thus far scientists continue to say Sasha likely died from drowning.

Researchers from the Academy of Sciences of Yakutia, where Sasha is kept, plan to share their research with other experts, including scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who will try to sequence the animal's DNA so it can be compared with that of modern rhinos.

From Discovery News

World’s Oldest Sea Turtle Was 6 Feet Long, Fossil Shows

Paleontologists have described what is now believed to be the world's oldest sea turtle specimen, beating the previous record holder by 25 million years. The 120-million-year-old creature, dubbed Desmatochelys padillai sp., measures nearly 2 meters (6.5 feet) long.

In 2007, the "almost completely preserved skeleton" was discovered next to four skulls and two shells in central Colombia by hobby paleontologists. Researchers have dated the fossils back to the Cretaceous period based on the turtles' physical characteristics and the sediment in which the fossils were discovered.

That the turtle dates back to the Cretaceous period is significant: It was at some point during that period that turtles split into land and sea dwellers. A "sparse" fossil record, however, prevents paleontologists from determining exactly when the split occurred.

"This lends a special importance to every fossil discovery that can contribute to clarifying the phylogeny of the sea turtles," turtle expert Dr. Edwin Cadena explains in a news release.

Cadena and his colleagues have classified Desmatochelys padillai sp. in the Chelonioidea group, making it an ancestor of the modern hawksbill and green sea turtles.

From Discovery News

Hidden Blue Paint Found in Ancient Mummy Portraits

A stash of 1,900-year-old Egyptian mummy paintings that sat mostly undisturbed for 100 years is helping researchers understand how ancient artists used a fashionable pigment called Egyptian blue.

Researchers previously thought that ancient painters reserved Egyptian blue for eminent occasions because, as the first man-made blue pigment, it took effort to make it. But in an analysis of 15 paintings, scientists found five contained the pigment.

Intriguingly, the blue pigment was used for preliminary sketches and color modulation, meaning it was hidden beneath other colors used later during the painting process.

“This defies our expectations for how Egyptian blue would be used,” study co-author Marc Walton, a research associate professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University in Illinois and an expert on the color blue, said in a statement. “The discovery changes our understanding of how this particular pigment was used by artists in the second century A.D. I suspect we will start to find unusual uses of this colorant in a lot of different works of art, such as wall paintings and sculpture.”

Researchers uncovered the paintings in 1899 and 1900 during excavations at the archaeological site of Tebtunis (modern-day Umm el-Breigat), located about 92 miles (148 kilometers) southwest of Cairo.

Today, the paintings are housed at the University of California, Berkeley, and comprise one of the largest groupings of Roman Egyptian mummy portraits and paintings to survive intact since their excavation, the researchers wrote in the study. The research was published online Aug. 14 in the journal Applied Physics A.

Based on the artistic style, researchers dated all of the portraits to the second century, when Roman Egyptians painted portraits of the dead on wood panels, and tied this artwork to the deceased’s face during mummification.

During that time, Roman-period painters tried to emulate Greek painters, who were considered masters of the art world. Before the Greek era, painters used the lapis-inspired Egyptian blue throughout the Mediterranean, including on frescoes, temples, pottery and Egyptian funerary masks. But the Greeks tended to avoid blue pigments, instead relying almost exclusively on yellow, white, black and red.

“When you look at the Tebtunis portraits we studied, that’s all you see, those four colors,” Walton said. “But when we started doing our analysis, all of a sudden we started to see strange occurrences of this blue pigment, which luminesces. We concluded that although the painters were trying hard not to show they were using this color, they were definitely using blue.”

Pigment scrutiny

In the study, the researchers studied 11 mummy portraits and four painting fragments from Tebtunis. The investigators examined the artwork with a routine battery of tools, such as X-ray fluorescence (a method that bombards material with high-energy X-rays and examines the type of fluorescent X-rays emitted), X-ray diffraction (a technique that identifies crystalline material) and a scanning electron microscope (an instrument that gives a magnified view of paint particles).

The analyses showed that four portraits and one panel had unusual amounts of Egyptian blue, the researchers found.

“Our findings confirm the distinction between the visual and physical natures of artifacts — expect the unexpected when you begin to analyze an artwork,” said study co-author Jane Williams, a conservator at Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley. “We see how these artists manipulated a small palette of pigments, including this unusual use of Egyptian blue, to create a much broader spectrum of hues.”

Read more at Discovery News

Grandmothers Drove Evolution of Monogamy

Women not only have grandmothers to thank for our long lives, it turns out they helped men evolve into monogamous mates, a new study suggests.

The finding, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science , builds on previous research around the evolution of grandmothering.

The ‘grandmother hypothesis’ was proposed by Professor Kristen Hawkes — co-author on this latest study — and colleagues in 1997 based on their observations in the 1980s of the Hazda hunter-gatherer people in Tanzania.

They noted that older women of the tribe spent their days collecting foods for their grandchildren. Except for humans, all other primates and mammals collect their own food after weaning.

Hawkes, from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Utah, proposed that when grandmothers helped feed their grandchildren after weaning, their daughters could produce more children at shorter intervals.

They then used computer modelling to show that by allowing their daughters to have more children, those ancestral females who lived long enough to become grandmothers passed their longevity genes to more descendants, who had longer adult lifespans as a result.

The team’s computer simulations showed from a start point of just 1 per cent of women living to grandmother age within 24,000-60,000 years about 43 per cent of adult women are grandmothers — a figure consistent with today’s hunter-gatherer populations.

For the latest study, Hawkes and her team again used computer modelling to examine how the evolution of grandmothering impacted on male to female interaction.

For the study they compared simulations of male to female sex ratios of great apes — no grandmothering — with modern-day human hunter-gatherer populations.

They found that over a million years, the ratio of available males to females ready to conceive doubled when ‘grandmothering’ was present, averaging about 111 males for every female.

Co-author Dr Peter Kim, at the University of Sydney, says the increase in human life span meant while older women became infertile after menopause, older men still remained able to reproduce.

Over time this created an imbalance in the sex ratio of fertile adults increasing competition among men for the still-fertile females, says Kim.

Increased competition led to reduced success in finding a mate, making it more important to find a mate and guard them.

Read more at Discovery News

NASA's Europa Mission May Land on Ocean-Harboring Moon

NASA’s upcoming mission to Europa may actually touch down on the potentially life-harboring Jupiter moon.

While the main thrust of the Europa mission, which NASA aims to launch by the mid-2020s, involves characterizing the icy satellite from afar during dozens of flybys, the space agency is considering sending a small probe down to the surface as well.

“We are actively pursuing the possibility of a lander,” Robert Pappalardo, Europa project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said last week during a panel discussion at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Space 2015 conference in Pasadena. (JPL manages the Europa mission.)

“NASA has asked us to investigate: What would it take? How much would it cost? Could we put a small surface package on Europa with this mission?” Pappalardo added.

NASA has also asked the European Space Agency if it would be interested in contributing a lander, ice-penetrating impactor or other piggyback probe to the roughly $2 billion Europa mission, Spaceflight Now reported in April.

Solar system’s best bet for alien life?

The 1,900-mile-wide (3,100 kilometers) Europa is covered by an ice shell perhaps 50 miles (80 km) thick, but underneath this crust is thought to lie a huge ocean of liquid water 12 miles (20 km) deep or so.

At least five other moons in the solar system — the Jovian satellites Ganymede and Callisto, Saturn’s Enceladus and Titan and the Neptune moon Triton — are believed to harbor such subsurface seas, Kevin Hand, deputy chief scientist at JPL’s Solar System Exploration Directorate, said during the same panel discussion at Space 2015.

But only the oceans of Enceladus and Europa are likely in contact with the rocky mantle, a scenario that makes all sorts of interesting chemical reactions possible, he added. (The other moons’ oceans are probably sandwiched between layers of ice.)

So Europa and Enceladus are the top two destinations on many astrobiologists’ mission wish lists. Hand gives the Jovian moon a slight edge, though.

Researchers know enough about Europa to surmise that its ocean has existed since the dawn of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago, giving putative lifeforms plenty of time to evolve, Hand explained.  Modeling work about the 310-mile-wide (500 km) Enceladus is less mature, so it’s unclear how long the Saturn satellite has harbored its sea.

“When it comes to habitability, we’d like to have the knowledge that the potentially habitable environment has been there for a significant duration,” Hand said.

But enthusiasm about a possible Enceladus mission is high as well, especially because the Saturn moon’s powerful geysers offer a way to sample its ocean from afar. Indeed, NASA is considering a potential mission called Enceladus Life Finder (ELF) that would do just that.

The Europa flyby mission

While ELF remains a concept at this point — it’s competing with about two dozen other proposals to become the next mission in NASA’s low-cost Discovery Program — the Europa project is officially on the space agency’s books.

The as-yet-unnamed Europa mission could launch as early as 2022. After reaching Jupiter orbit, the robotic probe will perform 45 flybys of Europa over the course of 2.5 years or so.

During these flybys, the spacecraft will scrutinize Europa using nine different science instruments, including high-resolution cameras, a heat detector and ice-penetrating radar. The mission’s observations should teach scientists a great deal about the moon’s surface composition, the nature of its underground ocean and its ability to support life as we know it, NASA officials have said. (Actively hunting for signs of life is not part of the current plan.)

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 7, 2015

Climate change could leave Pacific Northwest amphibians high and dry

Far above the wildfires raging in Washington's forests, a less noticeable consequence of this dry year is taking place in mountain ponds. The minimal snowpack and long summer drought that have left the Pacific Northwest lowlands parched also affect the region's amphibians due to loss of mountain pond habitat.

According to a new paper published Sept. 2 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, this summer's severe conditions may be the new normal within just a few decades.

"This year is an analog for the 2070s in terms of the conditions of the ponds in response to climate," said Se-Yeun Lee, research scientist at University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group and one of the lead authors of the study.

Current conditions provide a preview of how that will play out.

"We've seen that the lack of winter snowpack and high summer temperatures have resulted in massive breeding failures and the death of some adult frogs," said co-author Wendy Palen, an associate professor at Canada's Simon Fraser University who has for many years studied mountain amphibians in the Pacific Northwest. "More years like 2015 do not bode well for the frogs."

Mountain ponds are oases in the otherwise harsh alpine environment. Brilliant green patches amid the rocks and heather, the ponds are breeding grounds for Cascades frogs, toads, newts and several other salamanders, and watering holes for species ranging from shrews to mountain lions. They are also the cafeterias of the alpine for birds, snakes and mammals that feed on the invertebrates and amphibians that breed in high-altitude ponds.

The authors developed a new model that forecasts changes to four different types of these ecosystems: ephemeral, intermediate, perennial and permanent wetlands. Results showed that climate-induced reductions in snowpack, increased evaporation rates, longer summer droughts and other factors will likely lead to the loss or rapid drying of many of these small but ecologically important wetlands.

According to the study, more than half of the intermediate wetlands are projected to convert to fast-drying ephemeral wetlands by the year 2080. These most vulnerable ponds are the same ones that now provide the best habitat for frogs and salamanders.

At risk are unique species such as the Cascades frog, which is currently being evaluated for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Found only at high elevations in Washington, Oregon and California, Cascades frogs can live for more than 20 years and can survive under tens of feet of snow. During the mating season, just after ponds thaw, the males make chuckling sounds to attract females.

"They are the natural jesters of the alpine, incredibly tough but incredibly funny and charismatic," said Maureen Ryan, the other lead author, a former UW postdoctoral researcher who is now a senior scientist with Conservation Science Partners.

The team adapted methods developed for forecasting the effects of climate change on mountain streams. Wetlands usually receive little attention since they are smaller and often out of sight. Yet despite their hidden nature, ponds and wetlands are globally important ecosystems that help store water and carbon, filter pollution, convert nutrients and provide food and habitat to a huge range of migratory and resident species. Their sheer numbers -- in the tens of thousands across the Pacific Northwest mountain ranges -- make them ecologically significant.

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A humanoid robot to liaise between space station crews

A team of French researchers from the Institut cellule souche et cerveau (Inserm/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1), led by CNRS senior researcher Peter Ford Dominey, has developed "an autobiographical memory" 1 for the robot Nao, which enables it to pass on knowledge learnt from humans to other, less knowledgable humans. This technological progress could notably be used for operations on the International Space Station, where the robot, which is the only permanent member, would liaise between the different crews that change every six months in order to pass on information. These results will be presented at the 24th International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication, on September 3, 2015 in Kobe, Japan.

Human culture stems from knowledge acquired through society's shared experience. Cultural transmission enables new members of society to quickly learn from this accumulated experience. In order for a robot to understand cooperative behavior, which is necessary for the cultural transmission of knowledge, researchers developed a system whereby a human agent can teach the Nao humanoid new actions through physical demonstration (by putting the robot's members in the correct position), visual imitation (through the Kinect system), or voice command. These individual actions are then combined into procedures and stored in the robot's autobiographical memory developed by researchers, thus enabling the robot to reproduce them for other human agents if needed.

Researchers set up this autobiographical memory system to meet the challenge of cooperation between humans and robots, which is becoming more and more of a reality in the field of space operations, with the humanoid Robonaut 2 2 now permanently flying aboard the International Space Station.

To test their system, the scientists imagined a scenario that could occur on the International Space Station. The transmission of information on board is essential, since crews change every six months. In this scenario, an electronic card is damaged. Nao plays the role of the scientist's assistant by following his directions, bringing or holding parts of the card during repair. If this same failure happens again, the memory of this event will enable the robot to use a video system to show the repair that was made to a new member of the crew. It could also respond to questions regarding the previous event, while helping with the new repair. If a slightly different failure takes place, the robot could share its expertise on failures of this type, while recording the steps needed to resolve this new problem and then transferring them to the scientists in the next crew.

These results demonstrate the feasibility of this system, and show that such humanoid robots represent a potential solution for the accumulation and transfer of knowledge. Researchers are now hoping to test their Nao robot in the real conditions of space operations, with zero gravity. They would also like to develop another area of application, assisting the elderly, with the robot this time playing the role of a personal memory aid.

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Mathematical 'Gingko trees' reveal mutations in single cells that characterize diseases

Seemingly similar cells often have significantly different genomes. This is often true of cancer cells, for example, which may differ one from another even within a small tumor sample, as genetic mutations within the cells spread in staccato-like bursts. Detailed knowledge of these mutations, called copy number variations, in individual cells can point to specific treatment regimens.

The problem is that current techniques for acquiring this knowledge are difficult and produce unreliable results. Today, scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) publish a new interactive analysis program called Gingko that reduces the uncertainty of single-cell analysis and provides a simple way to visualize patterns in copy number mutations across populations of cells.

The open-source software, which is freely available online, will improve scientists' ability to study this important type of genetic anomaly and could help clinicians better target medications based on cells' specific mutation profiles. The software is described online today in Nature Methods.

Mutations come in many forms. For example, in the most common type of mutation, variations may exist among individual people--or cells--at a single position in a DNA sequence. Another common mutation is a copy number variation (CNV), in which large chunks of DNA are either deleted from or added to the genome. When there are too many or too few copies of a given gene or genes, due to CNVs, disease can occur. Such mutations have been linked not only with cancer but a host of other illnesses, including autism and schizophrenia.

Researchers can learn a lot by analyzing CNVs in bulk samples--from a tumor biopsy, for example--but they can learn more by investigating CNVs in individual cells. "You may think that every cell in a tumor would be the same, but that's actually not the case," says CSHL Associate Professor Michael Schatz.

"We're realizing that there can be a lot of changes inside even a single tumor," says Schatz. "If you're going to treat cancer, you need to diagnose exactly what subclass of cancer you have." Simultaneously employing different drugs to target different cancer subclasses could prevent remission, scientists have proposed.

One powerful single-cell analytic technique for exploring CNV is whole genome sequencing. The challenge is that, before sequencing can be done, the cell's DNA has to be amplified many times over. This process is rife with errors, with some arbitrary chunks of DNA being amplified more than others. In addition, because many labs use their own software to examine CNVs, there is little consistency in how researchers analyze their results.

To address these two challenges, Schatz and his colleagues created Gingko. The interactive, web-based program automatically processes sequence data, maps the sequences to a reference genome, and creates CNV profiles for every cell that can then be viewed with a user-friendly graphical interface. In addition, Gingko constructs phylogenetic trees based on the profiles, allowing cells with similar copy number mutations to be grouped together.

Importantly, Gingko, which Schatz and his colleagues validated by reproducing the findings of five major single-cell studies, also analyzes patterns in the sequence reads in order to recognize, and greatly reduce, amplification errors.

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Nanoparticles: Small but unique

Scientists at Chalmers University of Technology have developed a new way to study nanoparticles one at a time, and have discovered that individual particles that may seem identical in fact can have very different properties. The results, which may prove to be important when developing new materials or applications such as hydrogen sensors for fuel cell cars, will be published in Nature Materials.

"We were able to show that you gain deeper insights into the physics of how nanomaterials interact with molecules in their environment by looking at the individual nanoparticle as opposed to looking at many of them at the same time, which is what is usually done," says Associate Professor Christoph Langhammer, who led the project.

By applying a new experimental approach called plasmonic nanospectroscopy, the group studied hydrogen absorption into single palladium nanoparticles. They found that particles with exactly the same shape and size may exhibit differences as great as 40 millibars in the pressure at which hydrogen is absorbed. The development of sensors that can detect hydrogen leaks in fuel cell powered cars is one example of where this new understanding could become valuable in the future.

"One main challenge when working on hydrogen sensors is to design materials whose response to hydrogen is as linear and reversible as possible. In that way, the gained fundamental understanding of the reasons underlying the differences between seemingly identical individual particles and how this makes the response irreversible in a certain hydrogen concentration range can be helpful," says Christoph Langhammer.

Others have looked at single nanoparticles one at a time, but the new approach introduced by the Chalmers team uses visible light with low intensity to study the particles. This means that the method is non-invasive and does not disturb the system it is investigating by, for example, heating it up.

"When studying individual nanoparticles you have to send some kind of probe to ask the particle 'what are you doing?'. This usually means focusing a beam of high-energy electrons or photons or a mechanical probe onto a very tiny volume. You then quickly get very high energy densities, which might perturb the process you want to look at. This effect is minimized in our new approach, which is also compatible with ambient conditions, meaning that we can study nanoparticles one at a time in as close to a realistic environment as possible," says Christoph Langhammer.

Even though they have now reached the level where their results are ready to be published, Christoph Langhammer believes they have just scratched the surface of what their discovery and developed experimental methodology will lead to in relation to further research. He hopes that they have helped to establish a new experimental paradigm, where looking at nanoparticles individually will become standard in the scientific world.

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