Nov 14, 2015

Paris Attacks: Inside the Minds of Terrorists

Coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic State Friday using a combination of suicide bombs and automatic weapons left at least 128 people dead across Paris.

As the city mourns, ordinary citizens around the world express sympathy for and solidarity with the French capital this weekend. World leaders have condemned the attacks, with French President Francois Hollande calling the assault “an act of war.” European governments have also beefed up security and called for heightened vigilance from the general public, reports Agence France-Presse.

How could something like this happen? It’s a question that security and intelligence officials around the world consider in order to prevent future incidents. Psychologists, social scientists and other researchers have also investigated this subject by studying the minds of terrorists.

Why Do Terrorists Attack Civilian Areas?

Yesterday’s attacks in the French capital targeted restaurants, a soccer game and a concert hall, exactly the kinds of places the average young Parisian or tourist would want to be on a Friday night.

In “Ciottone’s Disaster Medicine (Second Edition)“, which devotes a chapter to the psychology of terrorism, author Robert Ciottone explains:
Terrorists seek to destabilize individuals and societal organizations by undermining the cognitive, affective, and valuative perspectives they have of the physical, interpersonal, and sociocultural aspects of the world. In other words, terrorists seek to reshape the frame of reference by which people know about, have emotional reactions to, and attach relative importance to the world of objects and places, of people and of laws, and of rules, customs, and expectations.

Because of the disparity between the resources available to governments versus terrorist organizations, civilian targets offer terrorists the possibility of a greater return on investment, so to speak. These areas are chosen not because of military or political significance but for other strategic reasons because terrorists strike where populations feel most secure.

How Do Terrorists Choose Their Targets?

Instead of seeking to maximize economic or physical impact, terrorists make decisions based on “emotional and visceral factors,” according to a study published in June in the journal Risk Analysis.

These targets are specifically considered not only to instill fear in a particular demographic but also demonstrate the capability of the organization to bolster support amongst its followers.

In “The logic of terrorism: Terrorist behavior as a product of strategic choice,” author Martha Crenshaw explained that “pectacular humiliation of the government demonstrates strength and will and maintains the morale and enthusiasm of adherents and sympathizers.”

Terrorists of course can never be assumed to be fully rational actors, which explains major flaws in the decision-making, but also makes it more difficult for security analysts to predict their next move, the immediate impact of which is extremists’ chief concern.

The authors of the Risk Analysis study note that “passions and visceral factors influence an agent to behave extremely myopically and to seek immediate rewards, disregarding any detrimental effects.”

Who Are Terrorists Typically?

Aside from being collectively bound to an extreme ideology, terrorists generally have one other demographic connection: They’re often young men, which may be explained by behavioral biology, according to the recently released book “Evolutionary Psychology and Terrorism.”

In early adulthood, young men are more prone to risk-taking behaviors, previous studies have found. They also have higher levels of testosterone. Testosterone “makes them more susceptible to influence by other males, who are usually older,” Jason Roach of the University of Huddersfield said in a statement in September upon the book’s release. “That is why you will find that it is younger males who do the suicide bombing, but the direction comes from older men.”

Suicidal terrorists in particular “seek care and guidance from stronger personality figures,” according to the Risk Analysis study, and crave the attention they get for their extremely violent actions.

Read more at Discovery News

Exoplanet's Global Winds Let Rip at 5,400 MPH

A windy day on HD 189733b is nothing to take lightly.

The planet, located about 63 light years away in the constellation Vulpecula, has winds reaching 5,400 mph, roughly 20 times faster than anything ever experienced on Earth.

Granted, everything about HD 189733b is extreme. It’s about 10 percent bigger than Jupiter, but its located 180 times closer to its parent star than Jupiter is to the sun, far closer than even Mercury, the innermost planet in the solar system.

Scientists estimate its temperature reaches almost 3,700 degrees Fahrenheit.

HD 189733b orbits its host start every 2.2 days, at a breakneck speed of 341,000 mph.

Scientists at the University of Warwick were able to measure velocities on the day and night sides of the planet. They discovered the 5,400 mph wind blowing from the day to the night side.

“As parts of HD 189733b’s atmosphere move towards or away from the Earth the Doppler effect changes the wavelength of this feature, which allows the velocity to be measured,” lead researcher Tom Louden said in a statement. “This is the first ever weather map from outside of our solar system.”

Astronomers used HARPS, the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher, in La Silla, Chile, to watch the planet as it passed in front of its host star, relative to the telescope’s line of sight.

“The surface of the star is brighter at the center than it is at the edge, so as the planet moves in front of the star the relative amount of light blocked by different parts of the atmosphere changes. For the first time we’ve used this information to measure the velocities on opposite sides of the planet independently, which gives us our velocity map,” Louden said.

The research is being published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

From Discovery News

Nov 13, 2015

Pieces of Roman Sign Reunited After 2,000 Years

Two fragments of a marble Roman sign have been pieced together in England after 2,000 years apart, yet revealing only one part of the original meaning.

The fragments were discovered more than 100 years apart in Silchester Roman Town, at a site that is now being excavated by archaeologists of the University of Reading, UK.

One marble fragment, inscribed with the letters “AT,” was unearthed in 1891 and is now part of Reading Museum’s Silchester Collection. The other piece, etched with the letters “BA,” was found 33 feet away at the same site in 2013.

Analysis of the stone fragment by Roger Tomlin, an authority on the inscriptions of Roman Britain, confirmed the pieces were from the same object.

Both fragments boast the same style and size of lettering, and the dimensions of the slab match as well, he concluded.

“Matching pieces which were discovered over 100 years apart to a 2,000-year-old object is incredibly rare,” Mike Fulford of the University of Reading said in a statement.

Pieced together, the fragments read At(e)ba(tum), or “of the Atrebates,” the French tribe who likely founded Silchester in the 1st century BC.

“We now know what the bottom line of the sign reads. However, the top line remains a mystery,” Fulford said.

The mysterious sign was possibly destroyed by the legendary Boudica, the rebel queen of the Iceni (a British tribe) who unsuccessfully attempted to defeat the Romans in the first century AD.

The fragments were likely part of a slab of marble from Purbeck in Dorset, which was either a sign commemorating the construction of a significant building, or a dedication to a deity.

Read more at Discovery News

Amazon Deforestation Could Cause Extreme Droughts

Since 1970, humans have cut down about 20 percent of the Amazon rain forest in South America. Though the pace of deforestation had slowed in recent years, it’s now picking up again, thanks to an improved global economy that’s boosted demand for farmland, and recently-enacted Brazilian laws and policies that promote development of the wild.

But if we revert to the aggressive rates of deforestation seen in the mid-2000s, the denuded Amazon eventually is going to exact a vengeance of the people who caused it — and a lot of others in South America, in the form of punishing long-term drought.

That’s the takeaway from a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. It predicts that by the mid-21st Century, the Amazon basin, which covers 40 percent of South America’s land mass, will suffer a devastating drop in precipitation. The projected norm for annual rainfall actually will be less than the region currently receives during drought years.

“Maintaining low deforestation rates in the Amazon is essential to ensure survival of the Amazon forest,” said lead author Dominick Spracklen, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Leeds in Great Britain, in a press release.

Destroying trees creates a water problem because trees are an important factor in regulating the exchange of water, energy and gases between the Earth’s surface and the atmosphere. Cutting down forests can alter local temperature, humidity and rainfall, though the results are tricky to forecast. To do so, the study’s authors did a meta-analysis of 96 different models.

The Amazon already is showing signs of water distress. A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014 reported that precipitation has decreased 25 percent since 2000 over a wide swath of the southeastern Amazon, and that vegetation in that area has suffered from the drying out.

Read more at Discovery News

Why Pluto Was Turned Into Pop Art

Before July, we only had a very vague and very fuzzy idea about what Pluto would look like up-close. Now, since the NASA New Horizons flyby, we’re becoming intimately familiar with the tiny, complex world’s icy plains, mountains, chemical composition and tenuous, yet intricate, atmosphere.

The mission’s findings so far have been nothing short of revolutionary — we have a complex, dynamic world living in what was once thought to be a dead and frozen region of the solar system.

With all this diversity on Pluto, it can be hard for planetary scientists to discern the different types of surface features for scientific study, so they have produced what, at first, looks like an iconic Andy Warhol creation. They’ve created a psychedelic Pluto, blotted with highly contrasting colors.

Although science often imitates art, this interpretation of Pluto’s famous hemisphere holds critical scientific purpose. The technique is known as “principal component analysis” and it is used to see slight changes in surface composition. The observation was captured with New Horizons’ Ralph/MVIC color camera on July 14 as the spacecraft was nearing closest approach of the dwarf planet — at a range of 22,000 miles (35,000 kilometers).

Presented by the New Horizons surface composition this week at the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in National Harbor, Md., this false-color view of Pluto is testament to how complex the world really is.

The splashes of vibrant hues highlight slight color differences between Pluto’s distinct regions. Immediately, Pluto’s plains and canyons pop into view. We can distinguish between the older, more cratered region of Pioneer Terra (to the north) and compare it with the astonishingly young ice flows in Sputnik Planum (the western lobe of Tombaugh Regio — Pluto’s huge heart-shaped region). To the far right (east) of the observation, we can see the shadows cast over Pluto’s bizarre “snakeskin”-like Tartarus Dorsa region.

Read more at Discovery News

Could 'Pale Orange Worlds' Lead Us to Alien Life?

A pale blue dot may not be the only hint of life beyond the solar system. New research suggests astronomers pay attention to pale orange worlds as well, since they may resemble what Earth looked like earlier in its history.

During Earth’s so-called Archean era, some 2.5- to 3.8 billion years ago, the atmosphere had little oxygen and much more methane, thanks in large part to organisms called cyanobacteria that filled the seas.

Computer models show that methane released by the bacteria left Earth periodically wrapped in an orange blanket of hydrocarbons, the result of sunlight breaking down the methane and molecules recombining in the atmosphere.

A similar phenomenon can be seen today at Saturn’s moon Titan, though its hydrocarbon haze is not tied to biological activity.

“In the later Archean, when there was a lot of methane there were times when our entire planet was enshrouded by hydrocarbons,” Giada Arney, an astronomy graduate student at the University of Washington, said at the American Astronomical Society’s planetary sciences meeting in Maryland this week.

“When we look at Earth through time, we would see that Earth has looked very different at different epochs in its geological history. When we ask the question ‘What does an Earth-like planet look like?’ the answer depends on the time period that we’re thinking about.

“Pale orange dots can be Earth-like planets too,” Arney said.

Baby Earth’s blanket of hydrocarbons helped shield the planet from damaging ultraviolet radiation, much like ozone does today. The haze also helped Earth cool off, by reflecting solar heat back into space. Gradually, Earth’s climate and environment changed, leading to the rich diversity of life that exists today.

Astronomers may be able to find chemical footprints of similar early processes unfolding beyond the solar system.

Read more at Discovery News

Don’t You Dare Call the Deepstaria Jellyfish a Whale Placenta

Deepstaria jellyfish aren't usually this active–this one is caught up in the wash of the submersible. It looks a lot like a hot air balloon, doesn't it? Or does a hot air balloon look like Deepstaria? Something to think about.
The internet could have sworn it was looking at a whale placenta. Not that many folks could say they’ve ever seen a whale placenta, but it seemed to be a reasonable explanation for the underwater video that popped up in May 2012 of a dancing curtain of flesh. Hell, it could be a NEW SEA MONSTER, as the YouTube title yelled.

That guess was closer, but this was no monster. It was one of the weirdest jellyfish in the sea, Deepstaria. This underwater oddity relies not on long stinging tentacles to catch its prey, but on its entire body. It’s a floating blanket, enveloping victims and then cinching its bottom bit shut to create a balloon of death. And it doesn’t appreciate people calling it a whale placenta.

Roaming the oceans are two species of Deepstaria, named after the submersible Deepstar that first spotted one intact in the 1960s. Deepstaria reticulum, shown at top, features that beautiful red hue, while the other, Deepstaria enigmatica, appears whiter. Otherwise, they look largely the same.

“Most jellies would have a relatively small bell and then relatively long tentacles,” says Steven Haddock, a biologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. “These guys have the really big bell that’s almost like a trash bag or something, and pretty much no tentacles.”

Deepstaria are real loosey-goosey, tumbling around the deep. They seem to be able to manage some measure of undulation, but have nowhere near the power of your typical jelly. (Interestingly for such strange jellyfish, their closest known relative is the most typical of jellies, the moon variety, which you’ll find in any self-respecting aquarium.)

The thing is, in the deep ocean, being spry isn’t necessarily an advantage. Deepstaria does just fine by suspending in the water column and waiting for prey to crash into it. “They can be a meter large, so they could certainly have small fish and shrimp end up inside of that bell,” says Haddock. When the jelly detects something in there, it tightens the edge of the bell shut like a drawstring on a fleshy trash bag.

Now the jelly just has to get the food into its gob. How it does so is still a bit of a mystery, but naturalist Ron Larson has a hunch. Like other jellyfish, Deepstaria has stinging cells called nematocysts, he says, only instead of covering the tentacles, they likely cover the bell or other concentrated patches of flesh. Deepstaria also has little hair-like structures lining the bell called cilia, which collectively act as a conveyor belt to ferry the prey toward the mouth.

Deepstaria jellyfish create a balloon of death to overwhelm their prey. They’re available now for kids’ parties at a very low fee.
So say something like a little copepod crustacean makes the mistake of wandering into the bell. “Eventually the copepod is going to hit some of the nematocysts, which will stop it from swimming,” Larson says. “And then the cilia and muscular contractions are going to help get the prey close enough to the lips—the oral arms we call them—so that it can eventually get into the stomach.”

You may have noticed from these here GIFs that Deepstaria has a sort of mesh structure running through its body. And you may assume that mesh is for supporting the bell, which is just a seventh of an inch thick. In fact, these lines are connected to the stomach, and help carry nutrients throughout the jelly’s body. After all, a jellyfish three feet wide has a whole lot of surface area to provide for. The muscle that cinches the bell closed is particularly hungry for energy.

And Deepstaria needs every inch of that surface area. Food is scarce in the deep compared to, say, a bustling coral reef. By evolving to be so big, the jelly casts a bigger net to better its chances of snagging prey.

At least one critter, though, can wander into Deepstaria scot-free: the isopod. These crustaceans aren’t winning any titles for their good manners. One species, for instance, will crawl into a fish’s mouth, devour its tongue, and replace the organ with its body because hey, someone was bound to. It’s a parasite if there ever was one.

Here’s a good shot of an isopod catching a ride in a Deepstaria enigmatica and looking coy as all hell.
The variety that hangs out inside Deepstaria, though, may or may not be parasitic—the relationship between host and parasite here still isn’t clear. “They’re probably just taking a little bit of a tax on what the jelly eats,” Haddock says. “Whatever the jelly captures, the isopod takes its share. It could be parasitic, but if it ate too aggressively it would destroy the jelly and it would no longer have that nice habitat for itself.”

What is clear is that the isopods are great at finding these hosts. “I don’t know if we’ve ever seen one of those jellies that doesn’t have one of those things in it,” Haddock says. And the isopods might be setting up shop in Deepstaria and Deepstaria alone—scientists haven’t found them on any other variety of jelly.

Stranger still, Deepstaria don’t roll in big groups like other jellies might, which would theoretically make it difficult for the isopod to get its offspring to other jellyfish. “If you think about how far between those jellies are from each other,” Haddock adds, “it’s pretty incredible that [the isopods] could find and set up that association.”

Read more at Wired Science

Nov 12, 2015

After Mass Extinction: Just Animals at Extremes

As human civilization drives more and more animals to extinction, what will be left? Extreme sizes will likely become the new norm, according to research published in the latest issue of the journal Science.

“Survivors tend to be either much smaller or much larger than most of their relatives,” lead author Lauren Sallan of the University of Pennsylvania told Discovery News. “Those extremes favor survival through either fast breeding and large populations, or large ranges and ability to weather the storm.”

Sallan and co-author Andrew Galimberti, who is now a graduate student at the University of Maine, focused on marine animal body-size trends after what is called the end-Devonian mass extinction that occurred 359 million years ago. The researchers believe, however, that their findings, when combined with prior research, suggest patterns that could affect all animal life — both marine and terrestrial — after all known mass extinctions.

Their analysis of 1,120 fish fossils spanning the period from 419 to 323 million years ago determined that, in line with a theory known as Cope’s rule, the fish tended to evolve larger body sizes because of the evolutionary advantages of being larger. These include avoiding predation and being better able to catch prey.

On the other hand, they also found support for yet another theory, known as the Lilliput Effect, which holds that after mass extinctions, there is a temporary trend toward small body sizes.

Sallan also said that it will “take 5–20 million years (for surviving animals) to recover in species numbers and begin diversifying.”

The present mass extinction is unprecedented in terms of speed and ultimate triggers, she said, yet “it is likely that recovery will take just as long as every other event: tens of millions of years. Ecosystems will remain fragile during that entire time, with many additional species lost.”

In terms of predicted winners and losers of the current die off, the researchers suspect that, in the marine realm, sharks will unfortunately be goners.

“Since we are killing the sharks directly, they likely won’t make it this time, however, large ‘living fossil’ trash fishes (not desirable to sport anglers or for human consumption), like gar and bowfin, which are freshwater apex predators, will likely survive initially, as they have through all other extinctions, but won’t contribute much to future biodiversity.”

On land, mice and other small, fast-breeding mammals are expected to “eventually give rise to new radiations, but not for 5–20 million years,” Sallan said.

Humans are in a surprisingly good position, given that our primate and even earlier mammal ancestors were among the longer-term success stories, she said. Sallan quickly reminded, however, “survival is a prolonged process, not a one-off event.”

In fact, geophysical scientist David Jablonski of the University of Chicago has coined the term “dead clade walking,” to refer to survivors of mass extinctions that gradually die off anyway after the big wipe out. He explains that large-bodied animals ultimately become victims due to their lower population sizes and longer generation times.

Another new study, published in the journal Current Biology, suggests that as any animal dies off, there is a domino effect leading to an increased rate of extinction in other species. The authors from the University of Exeter refer to the phenomenon as “extinction cascades.”

Read more at Discovery News

Cockroach's Bite Force Is 50 Times Its Own Weight

The mighty cockroach packs a powerful bite, thanks to jaws that can grind five times stronger than a human, or with 50 times more force than the bug's body weight, researchers said Wednesday.

The creatures don't always chomp so ferociously.

Only if they need to chew through tough materials like wood will they activate certain slow twitch muscle fibers in their jaw in order to launch a force boost that is necessary for a repetitive, heavy-duty task, said the study in the journal PLOS ONE.

"Ours is the first study to measure the bite forces of ordinary insects, and we found that the American cockroach, Periplaneta americana, can generate a bite force around 50 times stronger than their own body weight," said lead author Tom Weihmann from the University of Cambridge's Department of Zoology.

"In relative terms that's about five times stronger than the force a human can generate with their jaws."

Researchers wanted to understand the cockroach's bite because insects play a crucial role in many ecosystems and findings could enable "bioinspired engineering," said Weihmann.

So the team analyzed 300 bites made by specimen cockroaches, ranging from quick and feeble bites to powerful, long-lasting ones.

"The weaker, shorter bites were generated by relatively fast muscle fibers, while the longer, stronger bites were driven by additional muscle fibers that take time to reach their maximum force," said Weihmann.

"These slower muscle fibers give the mandibles a force boost to allow them to exert up to 0.5 Newtons during sustained grasping or chewing."

Read more at Discovery News

Stone Age Farmers Were First Beekeepers

Humans have been exploiting honey bees for almost 9,000 years, according to chemical analysis on ancient pottery from Europe, the Near East and North Africa.

In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature, a large international team of researchers and archaeologists, reveals that traces of beeswax were found trapped in the clay fabric of cooking vessels dating from between 9,000 and 4,000 years ago.

In over 20 years of research carried out at the University of Bristol’s School of Chemistry, led by chemist Richard Evershed, more than 6,400 pottery fragments from over 150 Old World archaeological sites were analyzed.

“Although evidence from ancient Egyptian murals and prehistoric rock art suggests mankind’s association with the honeybee dates back over thousands of years, when and where this association emerged has been unknown — until now,” Evershed said.

Indeed, since bees leave no fossil record, they remained ecologically invisible for most of the past 10,000 years.

The researchers found the distinctive chemical fingerprint of beeswax in pottery from Neolithic Europe, the Near East and North Africa, suggesting the use of bee products was geographically widespread.

Traces of beeswax were found in Neolithic pottery from southern Britain to Denmark, from the Balkans to Algeria.

The oldest beeswax-bearing pot was found in Çatalhöyük, a nearly 9,000-year-old site in Turkey.

“Bee products were exploited continuously, and probably extensively in some regions, at least from the seventh millennium B.C., likely fulfilling a variety of technological and cultural functions,” the researcher wrote.

However climate limited the spread of bees into Northern Europe. There was no trace of bees wax in any of the 1,200 pottery samples from Ireland, Scotland and northern Scandinavia.

According to Mélanie Roffet-Salque, a chemist at the University of Bristol, and lead author of the paper, honey might have been the most obvious reason for exploiting the bee.

“It would have been a rare sweetener for prehistoric people,” Salque said.

Read more at Discovery News

Earth's Water was Present During Planetary Birth

Analysis of water samples from Earth’s deep mantle suggest that the planet’s water has been present since Earth’s formation, a finding that has implications for other rocky bodies in the solar system and planets beyond as well, a study released on Thursday shows.

The primordial water was fortuitously sealed in tiny glass pockets trapped inside the mineral olivine, bits of which were later incorporated into volcanic rocks found on Padloping Island, northwest of Canada’s Baffin Island, and in Iceland.

The glass itself is microscopic, roughly 0.0008 inches, or 20 micrometers, in diameter and it contains just a trace amount of water.

“The measurements are extremely difficult to make. Only in the past few years has the technology developed enough to measure such low concentrations of water inside such small amounts of material,” Lydia Hallis, a cosmochemist at the University of Hawaii, told Discovery News.

Using the school’s newly purchased ion microprobe, Hallis and colleagues were able to ferret out a telltale ratio of deuterium-to-hydrogen isotopes in the water. A deuterium atom, also known as “heavy hydrogen” has an extra neutron, while the far more common hydrogen atom has just a proton and an electron.

The ratio of deuterium to hydrogen, abbreviated as D/H, is considered a key diagnostic -- but not the only one -- of where in the solar system a body was made. That is because deuterium, which was created in the Big Bang explosion, was not spread evenly throughout the disk of gas and dust that surrounded the young sun and from which the planets and other bodies were were formed.

The D/H ratio also is an indication of chemical processes over time. For example, lighter-weight hydrogen atoms in the atmosphere can more easily escape to space than slightly beefier deuterium isotopes. A range of D/H ratios are found on Earth due to hydrological cycles.

The source of Earth’s water has been a long-standing debate.

“It’s a very complex story,” University of Hawaii astronomer Karen Meech told Discovery News. “It’s going to take a whole bunch of measurements before we can make any conclusions.”

Some scientists believe that whatever water existed in dust grains which eventually came together to form Earth would have been vaporized and released into space during the massive impact that led to the creation of the moon. Those theories rely on water-rich comets and/or asteroids later smashing into the planet to create the oceans.

Other computer models show Earth’s original water may have remained in the atmosphere after the moon-forming impact and then returned to the surface as the planet cooled.

Now, research published in this week’s Science indicates that water deep in Earth’s mantle remained intact during the moon-forming blast, raising questions about whether comets and asteroids needed to serve as water boys, and, if they did, when those deliveries occurred.

“I think our data points towards most of Earth’s water being present from its formation, but we can’t rule out that later addition of material also added some water to Earth’s surface and upper mantle reservoirs,” Hallis wrote in an email.

“What we can say is that the deep mantle water measured in our samples would have been isolated from this addition, as none of the later impacts would have been large enough to penetrate down to that level in the Earth,” she added.

The work has implications for all the rocky bodies in the solar system, as well as planetary systems beyond.

“If we accept that water is retained from the accretion process, rather than all being boiled away and having to be added again later, then it implies this would happen during the formation of other rocky bodies, so water should be present (and abundant) in these other bodies,” Hallis said.

“The recent measurements and images from Mars support this, showing that despite the loss of most of its atmosphere (thus a huge amount of water) sub-surface ice is still present on Mars, and even liquid water still exists,” she wrote.

Read more at Discovery News

Nov 11, 2015

5-Ton 'Superduck' Dino Featured Flashy Crest

"Superduck," a newly unearthed big dinosaur from Montana, featured a flashy head crest that suggests it was a missing link between other known duck-billed dino species, according to a new study.

The distinctive crest of the new dinosaur, Probrachylophosaurus bergei, links it to a related earlier dino with no crest and another, later species that had a large one.

Superduck's "crest would have only poked up a little bit on the top of the head, above the eyes," said Elizabeth Freedman Fowler of the Museum of the Rockies and Montana State University.

"We cut open one of its leg bones, the tibia, and counted the growth rings," she continued. "Superduck was 14 years old when it died, and it was close to full size, but it would have grown a bit larger if it had lived longer. It was about 29 feet long and would have weighed about 5 tons."

She and co-author John Horner analyzed Superduck's remains, which were unearthed at the Judith River Formation of north-central Montana. The dinosaur was dated to approximately 79.5 million years ago.

Its fossils were found to be similar to those of another plant-eating dinosaur, Brachylophosaurus, which lived around 78 million years ago, and Arcristavus, which lived 81 million years ago.

Arcristavus had no head crest, but Brachylophosaurus had a large, flat paddle-shaped crest that completely covered the back of the top of its skull. The three dinosaurs are therefore believed to be related, with Superduck being an intermediary.

"It is a perfect example of evolution within a single lineage of dinosaurs over millions of years," Freedman Fowler explained.

She and Horner said that such crests were either too small, or too large and fragile, for use in head fights. Instead, they think that the head ornamentation of both males and females would have been used as visual signals so that the dinos could recognize members of their own species and also tell whether or not the animal was mature.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, adds to the growing body of evidence that most dinosaurs, like today's birds, were very social animals.

"On a crowded floodplain, you want to make sure you stay with the right (dinosaur) herd," Freedman Fowler explained. "The crests may have also helped them attract mates. Just like with modern birds that have big colorful feathers and dances to show how strong and healthy they are, dinosaur crests aren't essential for the animal's life, so by spending energy growing a big, flashy crest, the animal is advertising that it's doing really well in life, and has really good genes."

There was a risk to such head bling, though. The dinosaur's warm environment had a meandering river and was rich in vegetation, so it was also home to horned dinosaurs, such as Wediceratops, newly unearthed Medusaceratops, and soon-to-be-renamed Gryposaurus.

Read more at Discovery News

Chimps Found Caring for Disabled Infant

A chimpanzee mother cared for her disabled infant in the wild in Tanzania, Japanese researchers reported in a study published this week, research they hope will help in understanding the evolution of social care in humans.

A team of Kyoto University researchers discovered that a "severely disabled" female chimpanzee baby was born in a group in Tanzania's Mahale Mountains National Park in 2011, and recorded behaviour of the group for about two years.

"The observed infant exhibited symptoms resembling Down syndrome, similar to those reported previously for a captive chimpanzee," they said in an abstract of the study published Monday in the online edition of Primates, an international journal of primatology.

"The mother's compensatory care for her infant's disabilities and allomothering of the infant by its sister might have helped it to survive for 23 months in the wild" when the infant disappeared and was believed to have died, they said.

Allomothering refers to care of infants performed by those other than the biological mother.

The mother and the sister of the chimpanzee supported its body with their arms when the mother was breastfeeding it, Michio Nakamura, associate professor at Kyoto University's Wildlife Research Center, told AFP on Wednesday.

"Usually, a chimpanzee baby can hang onto their care-giver by itself, but this infant's legs were not powerful enough," he said.

"It is the first time it was observed in the wild that a disabled chimpanzee was receiving social care."

"We believe the study offers a fresh clue as to how human society, which socially cares for disabled members, has evolved," he said.

Read more at Discovery News

Gladiator Colosseum Found in Tuscany

Italian archaeologists have unearthed remains of an oval structure that might represent the most important Roman amphitheater finding over the last century.

The foundations of the colosseum, which is oval-shaped like the much larger arena in the heart of Rome, were found in the town of Volterra and might date back to the 1st century A.D.  Amphitheaters like these were used during Roman times to feature events including gladiator combats and wild animal fights.

The archaeologists estimate this structure measured some 262 by 196 feet, although only a small part of it has been unearthed.

“This amphitheater was quite large. Our survey dig revealed three orders of seats that could accommodate about 10,000 people. They were entertained by gladiators fights and wild beast baiting,” Elena Sorge, the archaeologist of the Tuscan Superintendency in charge of the excavation, told Discovery News.

By comparison, the Colosseum in Rome could seat more than 50,000 spectators during public games.

“The finding sheds a new light on the history of Volterra, which is most famous for its Etruscan legacy. It shows that during the emperor Augustus’s rule, it was an important Roman center,” she added.

One of the most powerful Etruscan cities, Volterra fell under Roman rule in the 1st century B.C.

The most striking monument dating to the Roman period is a theater built in the Augustan age, which is one of the finest and best preserved Roman theaters in Italy. It stands about a mile from the newly discovered arena.

With the help of ground penetrating radar and a digital survey by Carlo Battini, of the University of Genoa, Dicca Department, the archaeologists were able to estimate that much of the amphitheater lies at a depth of 20 to 32 feet. So far the survey dig has been funded by the Cassa di Risparmio bank of Volterra.

“We are hoping to find more sponsors and funding to excavate this wonder. We believe that within three years it could be fully brought to light,” Sorge said.

Read more at Discovery News

Venus Exoplanet Twin Found in Nearby Star System

Astronomers have found a rocky planet orbiting a small star that is within easy telescope views from Earth.

The planet circles too close to its parent star, a red dwarf known as Gliese 1132, for any water to remain liquid, a condition believed to be necessary for life. But astronomers suspect it has other attributes that are directly related to the search for life beyond Earth, namely an atmosphere.

“We have long imagined how rocky planets around other stars -- particularly small stars -- maybe be similar or distinct from the planets in the solar system,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology astronomer Zachory Berta-Thompson wrote in an email to Discovery News. “With this planet, we will finally be able to observe one! "

Viewing conditions should be ideal. The planet, known as GJ 1132b, is slightly bigger than Earth and is in an orbit that is nearly edge-on to an Earth-based observer’s line of sight.

The trump card is that the system is only 39 light-years away, a stone’s throw by cosmic yardsticks and three times closer than any previously discovered Earth-sized planet.

It was discovered in May with an eight-telescope array located at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

As GJ 1132b passes in front of its star, telescopes will be able to measure the small fraction of starlight that passes through the planet’s atmosphere. Scientists can then analyze the light for telltale chemical fingerprints of atmospheric gases and conditions. Ultimately, scientists want to be able to scan distant planets’ atmospheres for chemical signatures of life.

GJ 1132b should prove an excellent starting point. Its parent star is about one-fifth the size of the sun, so the planet blocks a higher percentage of starlight during transits than similarly sized planets orbiting sun-like stars. GJ 1132b also transits every 1.6 days, presenting lots of viewing opportunities.

“Astronomers love transiting planets because the transit geometry allows them to unambiguously measure a planet’s mass and radius (and thus to determine its bulk density), thereby providing basic information about its chemistry,” University of Maryland astronomer Drake Deming wrote in a commentary in this week’s Nature.

Orbiting just 1.4 million miles from its parent star, GJ 1132b is likely tidally locked (like the moon is to Earth) with a hot side of the planet facing the star, and a cool one facing away.

“An atmosphere could redistribute the heat,” Deming wrote in an email to Discovery News. “The equilibrium temperature we calculate for this planet is above the habitable range, but with tidal locking and modest heat redistribution there could be habitable regions on the planet.”

Read more at Discovery News

Mars' Moon Phobos Is Double-Doomed

Scientists have known for some time that Phobos, the larger of Mars’ two small moons, is a victim of gravity, edging closer toward its parent planet.

But new research shows Phobos already is starting to fall apart.

Long shallow grooves cut into the moon’s surface appear to be stress fractures, according to a study presented at the American Astronomical Society’s planetary sciences meeting in Maryland this week.

Previously, scientists thought the grooves were fractures from an asteroid impact that nearly shattered the moon. The impact left a lasting impression in the form of the Stickney crater, a six-mile wide basin that is nearly half the width of Phobos itself. Later analysis showed the cracks are not stemming outward from the crater, but radiate from another point nearby.

That led to a new theory that the grooves are produced by small pieces of debris flying off Mars and smashing into Phobos, which orbits as close as just 5,800 miles above the Martian surface, closer than any other known moon circles its parent planet.

Terry Hurford, a planetary scientist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, and colleagues have another idea. New computer models show that the grooves are aligned like stretch marks, telltale evidence of tidal forces in the ongoing gravitational tug of war between Phobos and Mars.

Phobos is losing the battle, inching closer to Mars at a rate of three- to six feet per century, Hurford told Discovery News. That gives the moon between 30 million and 50 million years before impact, but scientists doubt it’ll get that far.

“We think the grooves are signs that this body is starting to break apart tidally and that these are the first evidence of the tidal deformations of Phobos,” Hurford said. "Eventually, Phobos will be ripped apart before it reaches Mars’ surface."

Read more at Discovery News

Nov 10, 2015

Acidic Ocean Benefits 'Killer Algae,' Jellyfish

About a quarter of all the carbon dioxide pumped out by humans’ burning of fossil fuels goes into the oceans, and it's causing a nasty phenomenon called ocean acidification.

Seawater has gone up about 30 percent in acidity since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, making the oceans a much less hospitable place for many species.

But as a new study reveals, that’s not the only problem, as a new study by scientist’s at Great Britain’s Plymouth University reveals. Ocean acidification actually is helping invasive species of algae, jellyfish, crabs and shellfish, which are more tolerant of rising CO2 levels than native species in many areas, to spread and take over new habitats.

The study, published in the scientific journal Research and Reports in Biodiversity Studies, notes that the invasive species are proliferating even as CO2 levels destroy coral reefs, which are being dissolved by the pollution.

"We are witnessing the spread of marine life that cause problems -- such as toxic jellyfish blooms and rotting algal mats,” Plymouth professor Jason Hall-Spencer, lead author of the report, said in a press release.

“Based on a synthesis of evidence available to date, we predict the problems associated with harmful marine life will get worse in response to rising CO2,” Hall-Spencer explained. “Pathogens like cholera do not recognize national borders so seawater warming is a health issue for cities like London, and it remains to be seen which organisms will spread and cause problems as Arctic shipping routes open up.”

Hall-Spencer has studied volcanic sites in the Mediterranean, in an effort to record which forms of marine life cope well with higher CO2 levels. The results show that invasive species of algae and jellyfish thrive at levels that are predicted for the oceans later in this decade.

One species that’s expected to do well in the more acidic ocean waters is so-called ‘killer algae,” scientific name Caulerpa taxifolia, which already is spreading worldwide. The algae is so toxic that native herbivores will die of starvation rather than eat it.

From Discovery News

Real-Life 'Indiana Jones' Wins Coveted TED Prize

A technology-wielding archaeologist billed as a modern world "Indiana Jones" won a coveted million-dollar TED prize Monday for her work tracking antiquities and the looting of such wonders.

Sarah Parcak was named winner of a 2016 TED Prize that provides a million dollars to kickstart a big-vision "wish" and opens a door to call on the nonprofit organization's innovative, influential and ingenious community of "tedsters."

Parcak is to reveal her wish at an annual TED Conference in Vancouver in February.

"I am honored to receive the TED Prize, but it's not about me; it's about our field –- and the thousands of men and women around the world, particularly in the Middle East, who are defending and protecting sites," Parcak said.

"The last four and half years have been horrific for archeology."

Parcak bemoaned extensive looting and destruction at archaeological sights that she has mapped using a method she created for processing satellite imagery.

The archeologist vowed to use the TED Prize to rally the world to find and protect such treasures.

"At a moment when so many ancient sites are under threat -– and being destroyed –- it feels particularly poignant that we are awarding the TED Prize to a brilliant mind, committed to finding, sharing and protecting these gems," said TED Prize director Anna Verghese.

Parcak was introduced to aerial photography through her grandfather's use of it in forestry work.

She was studying Egyptology at Yale when she began exploring the potential for using more modern tools to apply her grandfather's approach to archeology, according to TED.

Parcak was pursuing an advanced degree at Cambridge University when she created a technique for processing infrared imagery from satellites that helped her detect undiscovered archaeological sites in Egypt. She has since turned to mapping looting.

Her work has caused some to refer to Parcak as a modern-age, real-world version of the Indian Jones character made famous in films starring Harrison Ford.

"TED is committed to the ancient tradition of storytelling, and making it relevant to a modern, global audience," Verghese said.

"Sarah's work honors that -- she uses 21st century technology to make the world's ancient, invisible history visible once again."

Parcak is a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she founded the Laboratory for Global Observation.

She has won attention for her work satellite mapping Egypt and uncovering hidden pyramids, tombs and settlements.

Parcak and her team have been credited with also discovering ancient sites in Europe, the Mediterranean and North America as well as extensively mapping looting in Egypt.

The annual TED Prize has grown from $100,000 to a million dollars since it was first awarded in the year 2005, to U2 band leader Bono and his vision of fighting poverty and disease.

The list of previous winners includes oceans-defender Sylvia Earle and StoryCorps founder Dave Isay, whose wish was to use smartphone applications to archive the spoken wisdom of humanity.

The TED community includes scientists, celebrities, politicians, artists, and entrepreneurs.

Read more at Discovery News

Striking Anomaly Found in Great Pyramid

A striking anomaly has been detected on the eastern side of the Great Pyramid at Giza, Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty said on Monday.

The announcement comes at the end of a two-week project to scan Egypt’s main pyramids in order to identify the presence of unknown internal structures and cavities.

Called Scan Pyramids, the study is in its first stage and is carried out by a team from Cairo University’s Faculty of Engineering and the Paris-based organization Heritage, Innovation and Preservation under the authority of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

The project uses a mix of technologies such as infrared thermography, muon radiography, and 3-D reconstruction to look inside four pyramids, which are more than 4,500 years old. They include Khufu, or Cheops, Khafre or Chephren at Giza, the Bent pyramid and the Red pyramid at Dahshur.

Several thermal anomalies were observed in all the monuments, but one remarkable anomaly was detected in the Great Pyramid, known as Khufu or Cheops.

“This anomaly is really quite impressive and it’s just in front of us, at the ground level,” Mehdi Tayoubi, founder of the Paris-based Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute, told Discovery News.

Thermal measurements were carried out at different times in order to observe the pyramids during their warm-up phase from early morning until sunrise and during their cooling phase from late afternoon until sun set and early night.

“In cooling phase, the heat transfer is usually happening from the inside to the outside; while in heating phase, it is the opposite,” the researchers said.

They noted that if an object is built with blocks of the same material and has an identical “heat emissivity,” no significant temperature differences are detected.

On the contrary, if there are heterogeneities in the structure, such as cavities or different type of material used in the construction, temperature differences are detected since some parts heat up or cool down faster due to difference in “heat emissivity.”

The Great Pyramid showed striking thermal differences.

Temperature differences detected between two adjacent stones from limestone of different qualities usually range from 0.1 to 0.5 degrees.

But Tayoubi’s team detected at the ground level of the Cheops pyramid, on the eastern side, an area of few blocks that had a 6-degree gap with neighboring blocks.

“This anomaly is impressive and obvious. We have several hypothesis but no conclusion for the moment,” Tayoubi said.

Read more at Discovery News

What's a Planet? There's a Test (and Pluto Flunked it)

Nine years ago, the International Astronomical Union established new criteria for determining what classifies as a “planet,” a controversial move that officially (but not in spirit) stripped Pluto’s status as the solar system’s ninth planet. Left undecided was what to do about all the so-called planets being discovered outside the solar system, a number that now approaches 5,000.

On Tuesday, astronomer Jean-Luc Margot, with the University of California Los Angeles, unveiled what he describes as a simple “planet test.”

The IAU says a “planet” is defined as a celestial body that is a) in orbit around the sun; b) has sufficient mass of self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that is assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium shape (in English, that means it’s nearly round); and c) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.

It’s this last criteria that kicked Pluto out of the planet club and into a new category of “dwarf planets,” a classification Pluto currently shares with Ceres, located in the Main Asteroid Belt, and Pluto’s Kuiper Belt cousins Eris, Haumea and Makemake.

The ability of a planet to dominate its region of space also is the criteria that Margot focused on in devising a classification system for planets beyond the solar system.

His test can “determine whether a body can clear a specific region around its orbit within a specific time scale, such as the lifetime of its host star. The test is easy to implement and allows immediate classification of 99 percent of all known exoplanets,” UCLA said in a press release.

The proposed criterion requires only estimates of the star mass, planet mass, and orbital period, all of which can be easily obtained with Earth-based or space-based telescopes, UCLA noted.

When applied to the solar system, Pluto still flunks the planet test.

“The disparity between planets and non-planets is striking,” Margot said in a statement. “The sharp distinction suggests that there is a fundamental difference in how these bodies formed, and the mere act of classifying them reveals something profound about nature.”

Read more at Discovery News

Weird Pluto Mountains Are Evidence of Ice Volcanoes

Giant mountains found on Pluto are believed to be volcanoes that spewed out ice and other volatiles, new research presented on Monday shows.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft spotted two giant mountains during its unprecedented July 14 flyby of Pluto and its primary moon Charon.

The mountains are more akin to volcanoes found on Mars and Earth than anything ever previously found in the outer solar system, scientists said during the opening day of the American Astronomical Society’s planetary sciences meeting in Maryland.

Pluto’s mountains are more than 100 miles across and several miles high. The tops have depressions, similar to volcanic shapes.

“If these are indeed volcanic edifices they would form due to eruption of ice onto the surface of Pluto, rather than eruption of rock. That would be one of the most phenomenal discoveries of New Horizons and it would make Pluto and even more fascinating and unique place than it is already proving itself to be,” said planetary scientist Oliver White, with NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

“Whatever they are, they’re definitely weird. Volcanoes is probably the least weird hypothesis at the moment,” he added.

Heating to fire up the volcanoes likely came from the decay of naturally radioactive elements in its silicate core.

“The heat source may have died off quite a bit over the 4.5 billion years of Pluto’s existence,” White said.

“We are dealing with very volatile ices at the surface, if these are indeed cryo-volcanic features, they wouldn’t require as much heat to be mobilized and to erupt onto the surface as rock would for the inner terrestrial planets. While there’s less heat to go around, perhaps you get more bang for your buck, given the nature of these ices,” he said.

Other highlights of some 50 papers being presented by the New Horizons team include details about several large fractures cutting into Pluto’s surface, possible evidence of an underground liquid ocean.

Scientists also discovered that Pluto’s atmosphere is colder, smaller and more compressed than computer models predicted, and that its four small moons are spinning rapidly and wobbling.

Two of Pluto’s moons, Kerberos and Hydra, appear to have two lobes and, like the comet begin studied by Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft, may be the result of bodies merging together.

Read more at Discovery News

Nov 9, 2015

Giant Rat Species in East Timor Was Largest Ever

Fossils of the largest rat ever known to have existed were discovered during an expedition in East Timor, according to archaeologists with The Australian National University (ANU).

The biggest-ever find was part of a collection of newly found fossils representing seven new species of giant rat.

"They are what you would call mega-fauna," explained ANU lead researcher Julien Louys in a press release. "The biggest one is about five kilos [11 pounds], the size of a small dog."

"Just to put that in perspective," he added, "a large modern rat would be about half a kilo [1 pound]."

The fossil finds occurred under the aegis of a project Louys is leading to learn more about the earliest movement of humans in Southeast Asia. He said the giant rats lived among East Timor's first humans some 46,000 years ago, based upon the discovery of rat bones from the time that had cut and burn marks on them.

East Timor's humans went on to live with the giant rats for thousands of years. But then, about one thousand years ago, the supersized rats disappeared. Why?

"The reason we think they became extinct is because that was when metal tools started to be introduced in Timor," said Louys. "People could start to clear forests at a much larger scale."

Louys presented his findings at a recent Meetings of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology gathering in Texas.

From Discovery News

Ostrichlike Dinosaur Covered in Fossilized Feathers

The skeleton of a heavily feathered, ostrichlike dinosaur has "unparalleled" fossilized feathers and skin — anatomical features that aren't usually preserved in dinosaur remains, a new study reports.

The remains indicate that the dinosaur — an Ornithomimus, a fast-moving theropod (bipedal, mostly meat-eating dinosaurs) with an uncanny resemblance to an ostrich — sported a feathery coat during the Late Cretaceous, more than 66 million years ago.

Study lead researcher Aaron van der Reest found the partial skeleton in Alberta's Dinosaur Provincial Park in 2009, during his first undergraduate year at the University of Alberta. The newfound skeleton is just one of three feathered Ornithomimus specimens in the world, and the only one with a well-preserved tail, he said.

"It's pretty remarkable. I don't know if I've stopped smiling since [excavating it]," van der Reest said in a statement. "We now know what the plumage looked like on the tail, and that from the midfemur down, it had bare skin."

Modern ostriches also have exposed bare skin, which they use to regulate their body temperature, the researchers said in the study. Given that the newfound Ornithomimus specimen has a lightly feathered neck and doesn't have feathers on its legs or the underside of its tail, perhaps it, too, used its bare skin for thermoregulation, they said.

"Because the plumage on this specimen is virtually identical to that of an ostrich, we can infer that Ornithomimus was likely doing the same thing — using feathered regions on their body to maintain body temperature," van der Reest said.

In fact, the fossilized feathers were crushed because of the weight of the sediment over them, but a scanning electron microscope revealed a 3D keratin structure of feathers on the dinosaur's tail and body.

"We are getting the newest information on what these animals may have looked like, how they maintained body temperatures and the stages of feather evolution," van der Reest said.

In addition, it provides more evidence that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs.

"There are so many components of the morphology of this fossil as well as the chemistry of the feathers that are essentially indistinguishable from modern birds," said study co-researcher Alex Wolfe, an adjunct professor of paleobiology at the University of Alberta.

Read more at Discovery News

Will Climate Change Affect Fall Colors?

If you live in the Eastern or Midwestern part of the United States, the autumn season in which leaves change color seems like an immutable phenomenon. We've grown accustomed to that predictable explosion of red, purple, orange and yellow on tree branches as leaves near the end of their life cycle and lose chlorophyll, the sunlight-absorbing chemical that gives leaves their green tint. That, in turn, unmasks other pigments such as carotenes and xanthophyll, and creates a fall feast for our eyes.

But recent research suggests that autumn in years to come may be a bit different, as climate change alters the timing and duration of the colorful foliage season, and perhaps selection of the colors and their intensity as well. Exactly how those effects play out, however, may vary according to region and the type of trees in local forests, scientists say.

The fall foliage season is influenced by a variety of different factors, explained Howard Neufeld, a professor of physiological plant ecology at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, who writes a blog about the science of fall colors.

"One thing we're finding out is that trees don't always respond to environmental cues the same way," Neufeld said. "Some trees depend more on temperature, others on the day length. Rising levels of carbon dioxide can affect when a tree drops its leaves, but they react differently to it. And if climate change alters the weather, so that we get more or less rain, or more or less drought, that can make a difference too."

While we may not realize it, humans already have altered the autumn color palette, by changing the type of trees found in forests, Neufeld said. At the beginning of the 1990s, eastern forests had a lot more bright yellow, because the American chestnut tree was a dominant species. But then, importation of trees from Europe brought chestnut blight, a disease that killed off vast numbers of the large American chestnuts. Today, the species tends to grow only to 10 to 15 feet tall before it's attacked by the disease, Nuefeld said.

Climate change could alter the composition of forests even more, because tree species that are sensitive to temperature could gradually shift northward or to higher elevations, Neufeld said. "Some species that are currently in the Northeast, like the sugar maple, which gives that nice color, might move to Canada." The oaks and hickory trees that would replace the sugar maple would have less vivid colors, he said.

Additionally, some studies suggest that climate change could prolong the growing season and push back the start of autumn leaf changes. A 2011 study of satellite data by South Korean researchers found between 1982 and 2008, the start of autumn had shifted by more than nine days.

Other research suggests that trend could continue, A study published in PLOS ONE in 2013, which looked at leaves on eight different tree species in a New England forest from 1993 to 2010, projected autumn leaf displays could arrive as much as two weeks later. Those researchers also found that future forests might actually have more colored leaves than they do now -- though, as Neufeld pointed out in a blog post analyzing the results, the intensity of the colors of individual leaves wouldn't necessarily increase.

"Our results show that there is variation, year-to-year, in the timing and amount of autumn color, and at least some of this variation can be associated with temperature and precipitation during the preceding months," explained Andrew Richardson, one of the study's authors and an associate professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University. "Also, our prediction that climate change will both delay and increase the amount of autumn color is I think interesting."

The timing of autumn leaf coloration also could be influenced more extreme weather caused by climate change, according to a study by University of Connecticut researchers, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014. Those researchers found that while northern New England could experience later leaf changes, the southern coastal part of the region might shift toward an earlier autumn.

Shifts that change how trees look could have a surprisingly big economic impact, since it would affect tourism to areas with vivid autumn colors.

Read more at Discovery News

'UFO' Identified as Navy Missile Launch

An unannounced Trident missile test launch from a submarine off the coast of California on Saturday lit up not only the skies, but the phone lines and social media with reports of an unidentified flying object or a meteor, prompting an unusual statement from the military.

“The unusual light show observed (Saturday) night from California and outlying areas was the unannounced launch of an unarmed Trident II (D5) submarine launched ballistic missile. The Trident was launched off of the southern California coast by the submarine USS Kentucky,” the Air Force said in a statement.

“The interesting display was caused by the missile’s exhaust plume being illuminated at high altitude by the sun’s rays after the sun had set for observers on the ground,” the Air Force added.

The Navy routinely launches Trident missiles off the California and Florida coasts as part of its testing program, with advance notices only to pilots and mariners.

From Discovery News

Most Powerful Explosion Since Big Bang Seen

Bathed in bright blue and fluorescent pink light, the galaxy cluster in this image is home to the most powerful explosion since the big bang.

What’s more, the explosion is ongoing and has been continuing for the last 100 million years, releasing as much energy as hundreds of millions of gamma ray bursts.

The blast is generated by the largest black hole in the known universe, a gravitational monster over 10 billion times the mass of our sun.

Astronomers calculate this behemoth has consumed almost 600 million times the mass of the sun in order to generate such a powerful explosion.

To create the image, X-ray and radio wave data was combined with optical images from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The X-rays are shown in blue and were detected by NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

They indicate the hot gas that makes up most of the mass of this enormous galaxy cluster.

Shown in pink are vast cavities each over 600,000 light-years in diameter, blasted out by powerful supersonic jets from the gargantuan galaxy at the very heart of this image.

These cavities have displaced a trillion suns’ worth of mass and have been filled with magnetized, extremely high-energy electrons emitting radio waves, which were detected by the Very Large Array radio telescope.

Read more at Discovery News

Nov 8, 2015

Growing pains in a cluster of protostars

A Yale-led study has found a cluster of young stars that develop in distinct, episodic spurts.

It is the first time astronomers have seen such a growth pattern within a star cluster -- a chaotic, turbulent environment that is common for star formation. Previous observations have focused on stars forming in more isolated regions of space.

In a study published this week in the journal Nature, astronomers described the cosmic convulsions within Serpens South, a star cluster 1,400 light years from Earth. The researchers focused in particular on a protostar called CARMA-7.

The researchers recorded 22 "episodes" in which CARMA-7 experienced the gravitational push-pull that characterizes star formation. As protostars ingest raw material, they have counter-balancing emissions of material they don't need. Such "outflow" is important to researchers because it can be measured more easily, unlike the hard-to-detect incoming matter.

"Outflows are very common in astrophysics," said co-author Héctor Arce, an astronomy professor at Yale whose research group focuses on outflow dynamics. "They are good indicators of protostars, evolved stars, and even supermassive black holes. They tell us that there is a central, massive object in the outflow origin, with a surrounding accretion disc."

The first author of the paper is Adele Plunkett, a recent Yale graduate student now working with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Santiago, Chile. Plunkett and her colleagues used data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile to conduct the research.

"This is the beginning of being able to understand cluster regions," Plunkett said. "In the past, we only saw cumulative outflows. To be able to observe individual outflows, with distinct ejection events, was exciting -- and something we could only do with ALMA."

Plunkett said the technology allows researchers to determine details about the star formation process, such as how often material is accreted or ejected, on time scales of a few hundred years. Further observation promises an even greater level of detail about protostars in their most common environment, said the researchers.

Read more at Science Daily

Graphene could take night-vision technology beyond 'Predator'

Movies such as 1987's "Predator," in which an alien who sees in the infrared hunts down Arnold Schwarzenegger and his team, introduced a generation of sci-fi fans to thermal imaging. Since then, heat-sensing devices have found many real-word applications but have remained relatively expensive and rigid. But a new development featuring graphene, reported in ACS' journal Nano Letters, could lead to a flexible, transparent and low-cost infrared vision system.

The concept of humans -- or aliens -- having the power to see in the infrared to help fight enemies in the dark has been around for decades. Technology has allowed real-life military, police, firefighters and others to do their jobs successfully at night and in smoky conditions. It also helps manufacturers and building inspectors identify overheating equipment or circuits. But currently, many of these systems require cryogenic cooling to filter out background radiation, or "noise," and create a reliable image. This approach, however, complicates the design of these imaging devices, and adds to the cost and the unit's bulkiness. Tomás Palacios, Pablo Jarillo-Herrero and colleagues wanted to find a more practical solution.

The researchers integrated graphene with silicon microelectromechanical systems (known as MEMS) to make their device. Testing showed it could be used to detect a person's heat signature at room temperature without cryogenic cooling. In the future, advances could make the device even more versatile. The researchers say that a thermal sensor could be based on a single layer of graphene, which would make it transparent and flexible. Also, manufacturing could be simplified, which would bring costs down.

From Science Daily

Peru Creates Huge National Park in Amazon Basin

Peru is creating a national park to protect a vast territory in the Amazon basin that is vulnerable to drug trafficking and illegal logging and mining, the country's environment minister said Saturday.

Called the Sierra del Divisor National Park, it covers an area of about 14,170 square kilometers (5,470 square miles) in a region inhabited by a variety of indigenous communities living in self-imposed isolation.

Peru's President Ollanta Humala will travel to the region Sunday to sign a decree creating the park, Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal said on his Twitter account.

The park has an estimated 3,000 species of plants and animals, many of them found nowhere else in the world, according to the government.

The announcement comes just three weeks ahead of a UN summit aimed at sealing a global pact on climate change.

Advocates of the new park have said it will enable the capture of 150,000 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of nearly 40 percent of Peru's daily carbon output.

Sierra del Divisor has been a protected zone since April 2006. Since then, the communities living there have lobbied for its designation as a national park to stiffen legal protections against encroachment by loggers, miners and drug traffickers.

Sierra del Divisor is the second national park created since Humala took office in 2011, after the Gueppi National Park, a 6,260 square kilometer expanse centered on the Gueppi River in southeastern Peru.

From Discovery News