Mammoth Carcass Found in Siberia

3:17:14 AM, Wednesday, April 04, 2012

"(BBC) The discovery of a well-preserved juvenile mammoth suggests that ancient humans "stole" mammoths from hunting lions, scientists say.

Bernard Buigues and Professor Alice Roberts were part of the team which unwrapped the frozen mammoth, known as Yuka, after its journey from the location where tusk hunters found it in northern Siberia.

Scientists have since completed an initial assessment of Yuka.

"Its foot pads and thick strawberry-blonde hair are exquisitely preserved," noted Professor Alice Roberts.

The mammoth was filmed as part of the BBC/Discovery co-production programme Woolly Mammoth: Secrets from the Ice, which will be broadcast in the UK on Wednesday 4 April at 21:00 BST on BBC Two, and in the US on the Discovery Channel at a later date.”

-- Follow the link for video and close-ups!

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Giant Tibetan Mastiff

3:04:44 AM, Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Photo: Reuters/Stringer

-- Look at this dog. Just look at it.

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Amazing Glow-in-the-Dark Jellyfish Art Sculptures

6:28:49 PM, Tuesday, April 03, 2012

-- U.S. firm The Amazing Jellyfish (theamazingjellyfish.com) takes the bioluminescent bodies of creatures that have died of natural causes and encase them in resin, thus preserving not just their bodies, but also their incredible glow-in-the-dark properties. Do want! Beautiful!

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Evidence of 'Earliest Fire Use'

3:51:18 PM, Tuesday, April 03, 2012

“(BBC) Scientists say they have new evidence that our ancestors were using fire as early as a million years ago.

It takes the form of ash and bone fragments recovered from Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa.

The team tells the journal PNAS that the sediments suggest frequent, controlled fires were lit on the site.

The ability to use fire is regarded as a key step in human development because it gave us access to cooked foods and new technologies.

Stone tools found at Wonderwerk Cave indicate the ancestor in question may have been Homo erectus, a species whose existence has been documented as far back as 1.8 million years ago.

Establishing precisely when humans first acquired the ability to control fire has been very difficult.

There have been several claims that the skill was in existence even earlier than at Wonderwerk.

But they have all been challenged, with sceptics arguing the fire remains from open sites could have been the result of natural blazes ignited by lightning.

In contrast, the PNAS team, which consists of scientists based at US, Israeli, German and South African institutions, says statements about the Northern Cape cave are far more secure.

If correct, the Wonderwerk discovery would push the earliest indisputable controlled use of fire back by about 300,000 years.

In their paper, the researchers describe burnt remains of grasses, brushes, leaves and even bones in the cave's sediments some 30m back from the entrance.

This makes it far less likely that what they are viewing is material from wildfires that was simply blown into the cave by wind, they argue.

The depth of the sediments also suggests fires were lit on the same spot over and over again.”

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New Milky Way Photo Captures 1 Billion Stars

4:27:45 AM, Tuesday, April 03, 2012

“(SPACE.com) More than a billion stars blaze bright in a new photo of our Milky Way galaxy snapped by an international team of astronomers.

The new picture, which was released today (March 28), combines infrared images of the Milky Way taken during sky surveys by two different instruments, the UK Infrared Telescope in Hawaii and the VISTA telescope in Chile. The photo is part of a 10-year project that is gathering mountains of data to help guide future research, scientists said.

"This incredible image gives us a new perspective of our galaxy, and illustrates the far-reaching discoveries we can make from large sky surveys," Nick Cross, of the University of Edinburgh, said in a statement. "Having data processed, archived and published by dedicated teams leaves other scientists free to concentrate on using the data, and is a very cost-effective way to do astronomy."

Cross will present the image Thursday (March 29) at the 2012 National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester, the United Kingdom.”

-- <1%...!!! Follow the link for high resolution image!

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Your Mother Was a Galaxy and You Were Born a Pearl

3:54:25 AM, Tuesday, April 03, 2012

-- Your mother was a galaxy

and you were born a pearl.

Olena Shmahalo, 2012

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Round Triangles!

12:23:49 AM, Tuesday, April 03, 2012

-- Wankel engine!

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NASA's New Mars Rover Will Explore Towering 'Mount Sharp'

12:13:22 AM, Tuesday, April 03, 2012

“A huge mountain on Mars that NASA's newest rover will explore after it touches down on the Red Planet in August now has a name: Mount Sharp.

The science team behind NASA's Mars rover Curiosity announced the new name for the mountain Wednesday (March 28). The moniker was picked to honor the late geologist Robert Sharp (1911-2004), a pioneer planetary scientist, influential teacher of many current leaders in the field and team member for NASA's first few Mars missions, researchers said.

"Bob Sharp was one of the best field geologists this country has ever had," Michael Malin of Malin Space Systems, principal investigator for two of Curiosity's 10 science instruments and a former student of Sharp's, said in a statement. "We don't really know the origins of Mount Sharp, but we have plans for how to go there and test our theories about it, and that's just how Bob would have wanted it."

The 1-ton Curiosity rover — the centerpiece of NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission — blasted off in November and is slated to land at the Red Planet's Gale Crater on the night of Aug. 5. Its main mission is to determine if the Gale Crater area is, or ever was, capable of supporting microbial life.

Mount Sharp rises from the center of the crater, looming 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the surrounding terrain. Its layered rocks preserve a record of Mars' changing environmental conditions going back a billion years or more, providing an inviting exploration target for Curiosity.

Mars orbiters have detected minerals near Mount Sharp's base that only form in water. So some of its lower layers might tell of a lake within Gale Crater long ago, or they might indicate wind-delivered sediments later soaked by groundwater, researchers said.

Higher layers, on the other hand, may represent wind-blown dust deposited after Mars shifted from a relatively wet world to the dry and frigid planet we know today.

"Mount Sharp is the only place we can currently access on Mars where we can investigate this transition in one stratigraphic sequence," said John Grotzinger of Caltech, MSL's chief scientist. "The hope of this mission is to find evidence of a habitable environment; the promise is to get the story of an important environmental breakpoint in the deep history of the planet. This transition likely occurred billions of years ago, maybe even predating the oldest well-preserved rocks on Earth."

Mount Sharp is a gently sloping mound rather than a steep, jagged peak, so Curiosity should be able to drive pretty far up it over the course of its operational life, researchers have said.

The rover's nominal mission was designed to last about two Earth years, but it wouldn't be surprising if Curiosity kept on chugging long beyond that. NASA's Opportunity Mars rover, after all, is still going strong today more than eight years after landing, and its original mission life was pegged at 90 days.

Whatever Curiosity ends up finding would doubtless have intrigued and excited Bob Sharp, those who knew him say.

"Recognition of this remarkable scientist and leader by the naming of Mount Sharp is highly fitting, and I hope it will serve to perpetuate his legacy," said former MSL chief scientist Edward Stolper, provost at Caltech, where Sharp taught for many years.”

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Dead Stars 'to Guide Spacecraft'

6:47:26 PM, Sunday, April 01, 2012

“(By Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent, BBC News) Spacecraft could one day navigate through the cosmos using a particular type of dead star as a kind of GPS.

German scientists are developing a technique that allows for very precise positioning anywhere in space by picking up X-ray signals from pulsars.

These dense, burnt-out stars rotate rapidly, sweeping their emission across the cosmos at rates that are so stable they rival atomic clock performance.

This timing property is perfect for interstellar navigation, says the team.

If a spacecraft carried the means to detect the pulses, it could compare their arrival times with those predicted at a reference location. This would enable the craft to determine its position to an accuracy of just five kilometres anywhere in the galaxy.

"The principle is so simple that it will definitely have applications," said Prof Werner Becker from the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching.

"These pulsars are everywhere in the Universe and their flashing is so predictable that it makes such an approach really straightforward," he told BBC News.

Prof Becker has been describing his team's research here at the UK National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester.

The proposed technique is very similar to that employed in the popular Global Positioning System, which broadcasts timing signals to the user from a constellation of satellites in orbit.

But GPS only works on, or just above, the Earth so it has no use beyond our planet.

Currently, mission controllers wanting to work out the position of their spacecraft deep in the Solar System will study the differences in time radio communications take to travel to and from the satellite. It is a complex process and requires several antennas dotted across the Earth.

It is also a technique that is far from precise, and the errors increase the further away the probe moves.

For the most distant spacecraft still in operation - Nasa's Voyager satellites, which are now approaching the very edge of the Solar System, some 18 billion km away - the errors associated with their positions are on the order of several hundred km.

Even for a probe at the reasonably short separation of Mars, the positioning uncertainty can be about 10km.

It is unlikely though that navigation by pulsar beacon will find immediate use.

The telescope hardware for detecting X-rays in space has traditionally been bulky and heavy.

Engineers will need to miniaturise the technology to make a practical pulsar navigation unit.

"It becomes possible with the development of lightweight X-ray mirrors," said Prof Becker.

"These are on the way for the next generation of X-ray telescopes. Current mirrors have a 100 times more weight and would be completely unusable.

"In 15-20 years, the new mirrors will be standard and our device will be ready to be built."

The scientist believes his navigation solution will certainly find use on Solar System probes, providing autonomous navigation for interplanetary missions and perhaps for future manned ventures to Mars where high performance systems will be an absolute requirement for safety reasons.

But he also likes the idea of humanity one day pushing out across interstellar space.

"You know for GPS that if you go to another country, you have to buy the maps for your device. Well, we were joking with our students in Garching about selling maps for different galaxies for ships like Enterprise [on Star Trek]."”

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Oldest Alien Planets Found—Born at Dawn of Universe

7:22:07 PM, Saturday, March 31, 2012

“(Nat. Geo.) Two huge planets found orbiting a star 375 light-years away are the oldest alien worlds yet discovered, scientists say.

With an estimated age of 12.8 billion years, the host star—and thus the planets—most likely formed at the dawn of the universe, less than a billion years after the big bang.

"The Milky Way itself was not completely formed yet," said study leader Johny Setiawan, who conducted the research while at the Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany.

During a recent survey, Setiawan and colleagues found the signatures of the two planets orbiting the star, dubbed HIP 11952.

Based on the team's calculations, one world is almost as massive as Jupiter and completes an orbit in roughly seven days. The other planet is nearly three times Jupiter's mass and has an orbital period of nine and a half months.

It's possible the planets are much younger than they seem if the worlds formed long after their star was born—but such a scenario is unlikely, the team says.

"Usually planets form just shortly after the star formation," Setiawan said. "Second-generation planets might also form after a star has died, but this is still under debate."

Ancient Planets Defy Theory

Setiawan and colleagues found the ancient planets using a technique called radial velocity, in which astronomers watch for periodic wobbles in a star's light due to the gravitational tugs of orbiting worlds.

The discovery indicates that planet formation in the early universe was possible despite the fact that stars in existence back then were metal-poor—the astronomy term for stars lacking in elements heavier than hydrogen and helium.

In the case of HIP 11952, "its iron abundance is only about one percent that of our sun," Setiawan said.

The idea of planets springing from such a stellar makeup runs counter to a widely accepted theory called the accretion model, which says that heavy elements are needed to form planets.

Even gas giants like Saturn and Jupiter require heavy elements to take shape, the thinking goes, because they are built upon solid cores.

The accretion theory has so far been backed up by observations: Most of the planet-harboring stars discovered to date are relatively young and have moderate to high amounts of metals.

But there may be an observational bias, Setiawan said: Astronomers may think the accretion model is correct because planet hunters have been targeting mostly young, sunlike stars.

"To verify this issue, it is necessary to do a planet-search survey around [older] metal-poor stars," Setiawan said.

Clock Ticking for Oldest Worlds

Despite the newfound planets' longevity, it's unlikely the worlds will survive for another 13 billion years.

The parent star will soon transform into a red giant, Setiawan said, one of the last stages of a sunlike star's life.

During this stage, the star will swell in size and most likely engulf any nearby planets.”

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Lamborghini Batman is Pulled Over in Maryland

7:56:09 AM, Saturday, March 31, 2012

"There really should be more Superheroes in the real world, and it seems like this unnamed wealthy philanthropist agrees. He has taken it upon himself to give some sick kids in the hospital a very special visit.

The man was first seen a few days ago, in full Batman regalia, pulled over by Montgomery County Maryland Police. He was standing next to a black convertable Lamborghini Gallardo with yellow detailing, which doubles as this generous caped crusader’s Batmobile.

The story that unfolded revealed that he was apparently pulled over because his Batmobile did not have plates on it. He allegedly had the plates in the car, but was unable to make them fit in the Lamboghini’s plateholder.

Why he was still in the Batman suit was simply for convenience. The latex outfit is difficult to get in and out of, so he wears it to his appearance and changes out of it at home.

I imagine if I was incredibly wealthy I would have a hot car too. But this guy goes one step beyond, spending his spare time putting a smile on the face of some young unfortunate soul in the hospital. He’s a true Batman if there ever was one."

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Simulations Unravel Mysteries of 2009 Jupiter Impact

6:46:34 PM, Friday, March 30, 2012

“(PhysOrg.com) -- During July of 1994, both amateur and professional astronomers were captivated as comet Shoemaker/Levy 9 broke apart and slammed into the atmosphere of Jupiter. While these types of impacts are generally rare, a second impact event occurred fifteen years later in July of 2009. The object responsible for the 2009 impact was not directly observed, so astronomers could only make inferences about the object based on the disturbances in the Jovian atmosphere, as shown in the image above.

New research by Jarrad Pond (University of Central Florida), and a team from the University of Central Florida and University of California, Santa Cruz aims to help determine the object responsible for the 2009 impact on Jupiter. Without a direct observation of the event, the team used numerical simulations in order to better understand the object responsible for the large disturbance of the Jovian atmosphere.

Using three dimensional hydrodynamics code, the team modeled the impacts of eight simulated impactors. The team used impactors of .5 and 1km, with different densities and compositions (basalt or ice). By using the same impact angle (69 degrees) and impact velocity 61.4 km/sec), the team was able to narrow down the potential size and composition of the object responsible for the July 2009 impact…”

-- This is an unusually image heavy article for PhysOrg.com, follow the link for the rest of the article.

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Einstein Proved Correct on View of the Universe

6:35:27 PM, Friday, March 30, 2012

“(telegraph.co.uk) The new test of Einstein's view of the universe has proved him right with ''incredible accuracy'' and is helping scientists to understand the mysterious acceleration of the universe.

A team of cosmologists have announced at the National Astronomy Meeting being held at the University of Manchester, the most accurate measurement ever made from when the expansion of the universe began to accelerate.

It means that the phenomenon can be explained using just Einstein's general theory of relativity and the cosmological constant - the simplest theoretical explanation for the acceleration of the universe.

The results will be used to understand what is causing the acceleration and why, and will shed new light on dark energy - the name adopted for the fundamental agent driving the acceleration about which little is known.

The cosmologists from the University of Portsmouth and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics have examined the period between five and six billion years ago when the universe was almost half its present age and made measurements of extraordinary accuracy - within 1.7 per cent.The findings support Einstein's general theory of relativity which predicts how fast galaxies, separated by large distances, should be moving toward one another and at what rate the structure of the universe should be growing.

The conclusions are consistent with the concordance model of a universe that bloomed from the big bang 13.7 million years ago.

Team member Dr Rita Tojeiro said: ''The results are the best measurement of an intergalactic distance ever made, which means cosmologists are closer than ever to understanding why the universe's expansion is accelerating.

''One of the great things about Einstein's general theory of relativity is that it is testable. Our results support the theory and are fully consistent with the notion that constant vacuum energy - empty space creating a repulsive force - is driving the acceleration of the universe.

''These are profound statements that describe the physics of our universe at the most fundamental level.

''Critically, the results find no evidence that dark energy is simply an illusion stemming from our poor understanding of the laws of gravity - Einstein's theory has passed its most stringent test yet at extra-galactic scales.''

The experiment was designed to follow up on an observation made in 1998, when scientists studied the brightness of mighty stellar explosions to deduce that the universe's expansion is, against all odds and against our understanding of fundamental physics, becoming increasingly fast.

The new discoveries are based on work by a collaboration of astronomers from across the globe representing the Baryon Acoustic Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), part of the third Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III), which is mapping the three-dimensional positions of more than one million galaxies.

Professor Will Percival, head of this team at the university's Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, said: ''Dark Energy was only discovered 14 years ago, and there's this feeling that we are still riding the wave of discovery.

''It's a very exciting time to be a cosmologist.''

Meanwhile, Einstein's brain has gone on show as a star attraction at an exhibition of human brains.

Other brains on display at The Wellcome Trust, London, include those of Charles Babbage and William Burke.

The exhibition, Brains: the mind as matter, includes more than 150 objects such as rare images of real brains, artworks, manuscripts, artefacts, videos and photography.

Curator Dr Marius Kwint, art historian and University of Portsmouth lecturer in visual culture, said: ''The exhibition shows how a single, fragile organ has become the object of modern society's most profound hopes, fears and beliefs, and some of its most extreme practices and advanced technologies.

''The different ways in which we have treated and represented real, physical brains open up a lot of questions about our collective minds.

''The brain is the most complex entity in the known universe and the exhibition is a fascinating exploration of how humans have tried to come to terms with this infinitely mysterious organ.''”

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World Water Day

6:08:20 PM, Friday, March 30, 2012

"March 22, is World Water Day, an event established by the United Nations in 1993 to highlight the challenges associated with this precious resource. Each year has a theme, and this year's is "Water and Food Security." The UN estimates that more than one in six people worldwide lack access to 20-50 liters (5-13 gallons) of safe freshwater a day to ensure their basic needs for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. And as the world's population grows beyond 7 billion, clean water is growing scarcer in densely populated areas as well as in remote villages. Collected here are recent images showing water in our lives -- how we use it, abuse it, and depend on it."

-- I know I'm late, but the photos and the message are too good not to share! Follow the link and check them out.

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Say Hello to an Extraterrestrial Ocean, the Enceladan Ocean, - and Maybe Extraterrestrial Life

3:14:09 PM, Friday, March 30, 2012

“(TIME Science) It's hard enough for kids to remember all the known oceans and seas — Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Norwegian, Barents — and now they can add one more to the list: the Enceladan Ocean. The name is lovely, and the place is nifty, but there's not much chance of visiting it soon. It's located on Enceladus, one of Saturn's 66 known moons. While Enceladus has been familiar to us since it was first spotted in 1789, the discovery of its ocean, courtesy of the venerable Cassini spacecraft, is a whole new and possibly game-changing thing.

Enceladus has always been thought of as one of the more remarkable members of Saturn's marble bag of satellites. For one thing, it's dazzlingly bright. The percentage of sunlight that a body in the solar system reflects back is known as its albedo, and it's determined mostly by the color of the body's ground cover. For all the silvery brilliance of a full moon on a cloudless night, the albedo of our own drab satellite is a muddy 12%, owing mostly to the gray dust that covers it. The albedo of Enceladus, on the other hand, approaches a mirror-like 100%.

Such a high percentage likely means the surface is covered with ice crystals — and, what's more, that those crystals get regularly replenished. Consider how grubby and gray a fresh snowfall becomes after just a couple of days of splashing road slush and tromping people. Now imagine how a moon would look after a few billion years of cosmic bombardment by incoming meteors.

When the Voyager probes barnstormed Enceladus in 1982, they found that the moon is indeed covered in ice and being constantly repaved. Vast valleys and basins were filled with fresh, white cosmic snow. Craters were cut clean in half, with one side remaining visible and the other covered over. Most remarkably, Enceladus orbits within Saturn's E ring — the widest of the planet's bands — and just behind the moon is a visible bulge in the ring, the result of the sparkly exhaust from ice volcanoes that trails Enceladus like smoke from a steamship. It's that cryovolcanism that's responsible for the regular repaving.

In 2008, Cassini confirmed that the cryovolcanic exhaust is ordinary water, filled with carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, potassium salts and other organic materials. Tidal pumping — or gravitational squeezing — by Saturn and the nearby sister moons Tethys and Dione keeps the interior of Enceladus warm, its water deposits liquid and the volcanoes erupting. The big question was always, How much water is there? A lake? A sea? A globe-girdling ocean? The more there is and the more it churns and circulates, the likelier it is that it could cook up some life.

The answer to that question finally came this week, thanks to Cassini images of stress cracks known as tiger stripes in the ice on the Enceladan surface. Cassini scientists were particularly interested in a pair of tiger stripes in the moon's warmer polar regions, since they are very deep and comparatively wide and seem to change over time.

The new images revealed that the cracks indeed widen and narrow and do so more than was once thought. The two sides of the cracks also move laterally relative to each other, the same way the two banks of the San Andreas Fault can slide forward and back and in opposite directions. And the greatest shifting, as expected, occurs after Enceladus makes its closest approach to Saturn.

"This new work gives scientists insight into the mechanics of these picturesque jets," says Terry Hurford, a Cassini associate at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "[It] shows that Saturn really stresses Enceladus."

The fact that Enceladus becomes as dramatically distorted as it does is a powerful indicator of just how much water it contains. A watery world, after all, is a flexible world, and for Enceladus to be so elastic, it must contain a very large local ocean or perhaps even a globe-girdling one. Portions of that ocean may be not just bathwater warm but outright hot.

Enceladus is not the only moon in the solar system that is home to such a feature. Jupiter's Europa is even more certain to contain a global ocean of its own. On both worlds, organics plus water plus warmth plus time could be more than enough to get biology going.

"Cassini's seven-plus years ... have shown us how beautifully dynamic and unexpected the Saturn system is," says project scientist Linda Spilker at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The idea that that system might also be a living one has just become a little more plausible.”

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