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.”
It Might be ‘Snowing Microbes’ on One of Saturn’s Moons
|9:53:00 PM, Thursday, March 29, 2012|
“A NASA scientist says there's a good chance of finding extraterrestrial life inhabiting one of Saturn's tiny orbiting moons.
"More than 90 jets of all sizes near Enceladus's south pole are spraying water vapor, icy particles, and organic compounds all over the place," says Carolyn Porco, an award-winning planetary scientist and leader of the Imaging Science team for NASA's Cassini spacecraft. "Cassini has flown several times now through this spray and has tasted it. And we have found that aside from water and organic material, there is salt in the icy particles. The salinity is the same as that of Earth's oceans."
NASA says the watery jets are erupting through icy cracks in a "vast underground sea" on this moon's surface. And the sea may be home to microbes similar to those found in some of the deepest parts of our own planet's oceans. While there is no direct sunlight reaching beneath the surface, Saturn's own orbit may be creating enough heat beneath the surface of Enceladus to helped create the tiny life-forms.
When filmmaker James Cameron returned from his historic voyage to the bottom of the Mariana Trench this week, he said the virtually unexplored depths reminded him of an isolated lunar landscape.
But since the watery jets of Enceladus are spewing with enough velocity to reach into outer space, astronauts may not even need to make a heralding voyage to Enceladus, or beneath its icy surface.
"It's erupting out into space where we can sample it. It sounds crazy but it could be snowing microbes on the surface of this little world," Porco said. "In the end, it is the most promising place I know of for an astrobiology search. We don't even need to go scratching around on the surface. We can fly through the plume and sample it."
Life's Building Blocks May Have Formed in Dust Around Young Sun
|7:33:28 PM, Thursday, March 29, 2012|
“(SPACE.com) The organic molecules that were the building blocks for life on Earth could have formed in the dusty disk that surrounded our sun before the solar system had planets, a new computer model shows. What's more, the study suggests the process would be the same around other stars that acquired planets, which means some of those worlds, too, could be seeded with the pieces necessary for life.
Geophysicist Fred Ciesla and astrobiologist Scott Sandford showed in their computer model how the orbiting dust that provided the raw material for planets, asteroids and comets could have been exposed to the ultraviolet light needed to develop organic molecules.
"The origin of these organics has been a mystery," Ciesla told SPACE.com. "There have been a number of places where they have been thought to have formed, and none are mutually exclusive."
Scientists think Earth and the solar system's other planets were formed around 4.5 billion years ago, in a process that began with tiny grains of dust colliding into each other as they orbited the sun, sticking together, forming chunks of rock and gradually building up more and more mass until gravity took over, pulling the chunks together.
Ciesla, of the University of Chicago, and Sandford, of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., built a computer model of this protoplanetary disk of dust grains to test whether organic molecules could have formed there.
Organic compounds include basic molecules such as carbon and nitrogen, as well as more complex forms, such as amino acids and the nucleobases that form DNA and RNA.
Sandford had conducted previous experiments in the lab with sub-millimeter-size dust grains covered in ice. When these are exposed to the photons of ultraviolet light, Sandford found, the photons can break down the molecular bonds in the material, allowing atoms to recombine into more complex molecules.
Scientists were unsure, however, whether enough ultraviolet photons would have penetrated into the early sun's protoplanetary disk to allow organics to form there.
Ciesla and Sandford's model showed this wasn't a problem. In fact, the disk seems to have been dynamic enough that dust grains easily would be lofted onto the outer edges of the disk, where they would be exposed to the ultraviolet light from the sun necessary to form the complex molecules.
"It was exciting for us because it just fell out naturally," Ciesla said. "We didn't have to invoke any special conditions in our model. We just found everything we hoped would work out worked out perfectly."
That means it also should work out well around other stars.
"The dynamics and the processes that we've put in the model here, we don't expect them to be unique to our solar system," Ciesla said. "We expect this to be present in all planet-forming disks."
Still, the fact that organics could have formed in the disk doesn't explain exactly how they got onto Earth. When Earth formed, it would have been a molten mess, with temperatures high enough to destroy any organics present at the time.
However, scientists say organic compounds could have survived on the asteroids and comets left behind in the solar system after the planets formed. As these bodies pummeled the Earth over the eons, they could have deposited the building blocks for life.
The new findings are detailed in the March 30 issue of the journal Science.”
Up All Night on NASA's Flying Telescope
|4:30:00 PM, Thursday, March 29, 2012|
“The new SOFIA observatory isn't your average NASA project. Engineers took a 30-year old 747 airplane, cut a hole in the side and installed a 17-ton telescope. Most telescopes are either on the ground or somewhere in orbit, but SOFIA falls somewhere in the middle, flying around at about 40,000 feet.
I got the chance to hitch a ride on one of its recent research flights as the plane left Moffett Field at theNASA Ames Research Center. It's definitely not the kind of flight where you get a bag of peanuts and movie.
The researchers take advantage of the nighttime sky, so we left at dusk for 10-hour tour flying zigzags across the Pacific Ocean. Each leg of the journey is carefully calculated so the telescope can pinpoint a far away star. The plane interior is packed with computers and equipment. It also lacks insulation since much of it was removed to install the telescope, so it's both cold and loud inside.
At four in the morning, the astronomers are still hard at work. If they're as tired as I am, they certainly aren't showing it.
"For me, this is very exciting," says Ian McLean, a professor at the University of California-Los Angeles. He usually works on the ground. "All my career has been ground-based astronomy. So, it's only my second flight."
McLean says there's a good reason to do astronomy in the stratosphere. The atmosphere is thinner, which means it's easier for the telescope to see the stars. "It's almost as good as space," says McLean. "Not quite, but almost."
And unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, this telescope lands everyday, which means the scientists can update and fix the equipment. "By the time you get a mission into orbit, the technology you're using is relatively old. Here we can stay state of the art all the time," says McLean. NASA began developing SOFIA in 1997 and almost cancelled the project at one point. It flew its first science mission in November 2010 and now costs about $80 million a year to operate.
Searching for a "Holy Grail"
McLean says the SOFIA telescope could show astronomers something that's considered a Holy Grail in their field: seeing a star being born. It happens in huge, dusty clouds – stellar nurseries, as Mclean calls them. "The cloud is huge, light years across and it's gradually contracting to form a whole nursery of stars."
But there's a problem. Astronomers can't see what's happening inside the clouds because, once again, they're made of dust and it's hard to see through.
"We don't mean dust bunnies, but we mean little, tiny little grains of solid material. Doesn't matter how big a telescope you have, you can't see inside it," McLean says.
That's why SOFIA looks at a special kind of light called infrared light. If you look through a telescope on the ground, you're looking at the visible light from space – the light our eyes can see. Infrared light is invisible to us, but it penetrates space dust, which means the telescope can see through the dust too.
"You get to see what you can't see with your eye. It's like a window has been opened," says McLean. They're looking for exactly how stellar nurseries give birth to young stars. McLean says catching a star as it's forming can reveal clues about how own solar system formed.
But star birth isn't the only thing these researchers want to see. They're also looking at the way stars die.
A Star on the Way Out
As the plane makes as sharp right turn, the telescope focuses on an object called NGC 7027. It's a planetary nebula – also known as a dying star. McLean and his team are capturing an infrared image of the nebula, which is about 3,000 light years away. They can also see what it's made of.
"It has a distinctive shape. It's oval. There's a hole in the middle and that's because it literally is a shell of gas that came off the star," says McLean.
7027 is dying because the star has run out of fuel – the same fate that our sun will face in about five billion years. As it dies, the star casts off its outer layers, shedding huge amounts of material to form a cloud around it. But it's not entirely a sad story.
"It won't be wasted," says McLean. "The material that was thrown off by that star in its dying phase, somewhere, millions, perhaps billions of years from now, will find its way into a new star and the planets that form around it."
From dead stars come new stars – and planets like our own. The oxygen and nitrogen in our bodies were once formed inside a star. "The cosmos is within us," as astronomer Carl Sagan once said. "We're made of star stuff."
As sky begins to lighten, we descend towards the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in the Mojave Desert, where the plane is based. The SOFIA telescope is now undergoing service upgrades and then will return to the skies three times a week. Astronomers from around the world are lining up to get on board.”
Pesticides Hit Queen Bee Numbers
|4:11:37 PM, Thursday, March 29, 2012|
“(BBC) Some of the world's most commonly used pesticides are killing bees by damaging their ability to navigate and reducing numbers of queens, research suggests.
Scientific groups in the UK and France studied the effects of neonicotinoids, which are used in more than 100 nations on farm crops and in gardens.
The UK team found the pesticides caused an 85% drop in queen production.
Writing in the journal Science, the groups note that bee declines in many countries are reducing crop yields.
In the UK alone, pollination is calculated to be worth about £430m to the national economy.
And the US is among countries where a succession of local populations has crashed, a syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder.
Many causes have been suggested, including diseases, parasites, reduction in the range of flowers growing wild in the countryside, pesticides, or a combination of them all.
The neonicotinoids investigated in the two Science papers are used on crops such as cereals, oilseed rape and sunflowers.
Often the chemical is applied to seeds before planting. As the plant grows, the pesticide is contained in every part of it, deterring insect pests such as aphids.
But it also enters the pollen and nectar, which is how it can affect bees.
Dave Goulson from the UK's University of Stirling and colleagues studied the impact of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid on bumblebees.
They let bees from some colonies feed on pollen and sugar water containing levels of imidacloprid typically found in the wild, while others received a natural diet.
Then they placed the colonies out in the field.
After six weeks, colonies exposed to the pesticide were lighter than the others, suggesting that workers had brought back less food to the hive.
But the most dramatic effect was on queen production. The naturally-fed hives produced around 14 queens each - those exposed to the pesticide, just two.
"I wouldn't say this proves neonicotinoids are the sole cause of the problems bees face," said Dr Goulson, "but it does suggest they're likely to be one of the causes, and possibly a significant one.
"The use of these pesticides is so widespread that most bee colonies in areas of arable farming are likely to be exposed to them, so there is potential for them to be playing a significant role in suppression of bee populations on a pretty staggering scale."
The French research group investigated the impact of a different neonicotinoid, thiamethoxam, on the number of bees able to make it back to the colony after release.
Using tiny tags attached to the bees' backs, they showed that significantly fewer insects came back if they had previously been exposed to levels of thiamethoxam that they might encounter on farms.
Calculations showed the impairment was bad enough that the capacity of colonies survive could be severely compromised…”
Fossils Foot Bones Hint at Mystery Walker
|3:56:10 AM, Thursday, March 29, 2012|
"(BBC)Scientists have obtained a fascinating new insight into the evolution of humans and our ability to walk. It comes from the fossilised bones of a foot that were discovered in Ethiopia and dated to be 3.4 million years old.
The researchers say they do not have enough remains to identify the species of hominin, or human ancestor, from which the right foot came.
But they tell Nature journal that just the shape of the bones shows the creature could walk upright at times.
The fossil haul consists of eight elements from the forefoot - bones such as metatarsals and phalanges.
The specimens were pulled from clay sediments at Burtele in the central Afar region, about 520km north-east of the capital Addis Ababa.
It is a significant discovery because it demonstrates there was more than one pre-human species living in East Africa between three and four million years ago, each with its own method of moving around.
The other creature was the famous "Lucy" animal (Australopithecus afarensis), whose remains were first identified in the Afar in the 1970s.
Lucy's body was built for walking. Her big toe was aligned with the other four digits of the foot, and she had a human-like arch that allowed for very efficient locomotion.
The owner of the partial foot from Burtele was not afarensis; that can be said definitively.
The fossils indicate it had no arch and the big toe was opposed to the other digits, enabling the animal to grasp branches in a tree.
But the fact this creature could and would walk on the ground is evidenced by the nature of the bone joints. These were arranged such that the foot could push off, or toe-off - something only humans do as they walk, and something flat-footed apes cannot achieve.
"If you look at the lateral metatarsal head along with the proximal toe bone, the phalanx - that particular joint is really unique in hominids," explained team member Dr Bruce Latimer of Case Western Reserve University, US.
"You can see it's a very different kind of a joint, because when you toe-off and push forward in that last phase of walking, your toes are highly flexed. In order to achieve that, you have to change the base of the phalanx and the metatarsal head - you have to change both sides of the joint. And it's a highly characteristic type of change that we can pick out immediately," he told the BBC.
The scientists can only speculate as to identity of the Burtele species. Without skull and teeth elements, a formal classification is impossible.
The team says the animal's morphology is reminiscent in some respects to a 4.4-million-year-old creature known as Ardipithecus ramidus. Although, again, it is not ramidus.
"It may be a relic species that was lingering around until 3.4 or 3.3 million years ago, and which had its origins way back in Ardipithecus ramidus times," suggested team leader Dr Yohannes Haile-Selassie.
"But obviously we cannot put it into the Ardipithecus genus or call it a ramidus species because we do not have any craniodental elements associated with this foot.
"We've kept digging at the Burtele site; we have a few isolated teeth, but that's all," the Cleveland Museum of Natural History curator told BBC News.
It is, though, a remarkable thought that there were these two very distinct species effectively rubbing shoulders with each other 3.4 million years ago in what is now Ethiopia.
The landmark Lucy specimen unearthed in 1974 was found at Hadar, about 50km from Burtele. Other remains of afarensis have been discovered closer still.
Dr Isabelle De Groote is a palaeoanthropologist at London's Natural History Museum.
"I think this is really exciting," she said.
"We have so few foot remains, they so rarely preserve, that we tend to take great leaps through evolution where there are no specimens at all representing long periods of time," she commented.
"This new foot helps elucidate the process of how the bi-pedal foot evolved. We can see something of the sequence in how changes to bones occurred.""
NASA Probe Offers New View of Mercury: an Alien World Right in Our Back Yard
|12:34:22 AM, Wednesday, March 28, 2012|
“The overheated, underappreciated runt of the solar system is finally getting some attention.
Mostly ignored since a brief fly-by in the 1970s, Mercury, our solar system’s smallest, swiftest planet, received a longer house call last March: NASA’s $450 million Messenger probe, which achieved orbit, a tricky feat never before attempted.
Now, after poring over 100,000 images and reams of other Messenger data, space scientists have achieved consensus: Mercury is one weird world.
It is radically unlike the other rocky bodies of our solar system — Venus, Mars, Earth, the moon, and the moons of other planets. Its core is too big; its surface too scrunched. It looks shriveled, like a liposuction patient left with too much skin. It contains too much iron. Its internal structure — how the planet is built — is confounding. Its magnetic field is out of whack, asymmetrical. And its surface is strange, a jagged, ragged landscape of soaring escarpments, snaking faults, half-buried “ghost craters,” dead volcanos and mysterious pit-marked “hollows.”
“It’s been really spectacularly baffling,” said MIT’s Maria Zuber, of the Messenger data, which scientists reported on in two scientific articles and 57 presentations at the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference last week.
Mercury was long viewed as an inert lump, but Zuber and her colleagues now say it is still cooling and still shrinking, pushing up scarps — steep cliffs — that run for hundreds of miles. Not long ago (geologically speaking), volcanoes threw up showers of magma, which hardened into huge plains. There’s also evidence of mysterious explosions of interior gases that rocked the surface and left strange, pitted scars.
Massive interior forces have pushed and tilted huge stretches of the surface. Mercury’s biggest crater — the Caloris Basin, some 900 miles wide — has been so uplifted that much of its floor is taller than its rim. No other crater in the solar system looks like it.
“Everything is intriguing on the surface of Mercury,” said Nancy Chabot of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, which built Messenger. “It has landforms that we’ve never seen on the rest of the terrestrial planets.”
Mercury might even experience Mercury-quakes. “I would bet some of those faults are still active,” said Messenger’s lead scientist, Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution for Science.
And despite being the closest planet to the sun, it apparently has buried water ice surviving beneath permanent shadows thrown by craters. “We’re almost certain of it,” Solomon said.
‘Back to the drawing board’
Just how Mercury was formed is another baffler. It is heavy with iron and sulfur — much more than Earth contains. But all of the rocky inner planets coalesced from the same disk of material. So why is Mercury so strange? “It’s like children in the same family,” Zuber said. “Same genes, same environment, yet they turn out so different.”
Some theorists say a giant space rock smashed into Mercury early on, ripping off a thick outer layer. But Messenger data throw that theory into chaos. Sulfur and other “volatiles” survive on the surface; a huge collision should have wiped them clear…”
African Women And A Western Woman Compare Breasts
|3:37:52 PM, Monday, March 26, 2012|
This is a kind of lovely example of how different cultures are, and yet how similar individuals are no matter where they're from.
-- Follow the link for the rest of the photos. =)
The Sonixx – You Don’t Like Me
|3:13:14 PM, Monday, March 26, 2012|
'Flying Plankton' Escape Predatory Fish
|11:35:35 PM, Thursday, March 22, 2012|
"(BBC) Tiny shrimp-like creatures called copepods break through the ocean's surface and leap through the air to escape predators, US scientists say.
They have been investigating how the brightly-coloured Pontellid copepods, which live close to the surface, are so abundant yet so conspicuous to fish.
Writing in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the scientists say copepods travel further in air than in water.
Predators are also left confused about where they will land, they say.
Almost all commercially important fish, including cod, pollock and whiting, feed on copepods.
There are reports from the late-19th Century of copepods breaking through the water surface but observers at the time thought this was to allow them to moult.
A later report proposed jumping was part of an escape from predators but was not confirmed.
Dr Brad Gemmell of the University of Texas in Austin, who is behind the new study, said there had been little research on predator-prey interaction around the few millimetres below the ocean's surface, a "unique and important habitat".
He said he found it "paradoxical" that Pontellid copepods, in particular, were so abundant yet lived where they ought to be an easy target for fish.
Unlike other species of copepods, they do not migrate down to darker waters where they can hide during daylight hours.
Instead, they stay close to the surface and are often bright blue or green to protect them from UV radiation. They are also 3mm (0.1 inches) long, larger than other species.
This, said Dr Gemmell, would suggest they should have a poor survival rate.
However, his research shows they have the ability to jump out of the water, often travelling 10 to 20 times their own body length through the air, to escape hungry fish and get out of their perspective field.
The team's calculations show copepods use up to 39% of their kinetic energy to break through the surface tension of the water. Flying fish, by comparison, use less than 0.07%.
This means copepods have to balance the risk of being eaten with the cost to their fitness by avoiding unnecessary escapes, the paper suggests.
They also have to make sure they travel far enough to avoid being chased or coming under another attack.
It is suggested in the paper that certain species of copepods may have special adaptations to make it easier for them to jump out of the water, although further investigation is needed.
One suggestion is that the body surface of jumping copepods is more resistant to water than species that stay underwater.
Another is that they are able to inject chemicals to reduce the surface tension of the water by three to six times."
Prometheus - Official Full Trailer [HD]
|12:48:57 AM, Tuesday, March 20, 2012|
-- DO WANT to see. Aliens similarities, or not.
Crazy Car Accident
|12:15:53 AM, Tuesday, March 20, 2012|
-- Damn! That's why I always try and stay away from traveling in packs on a highway. Always try and have tons of space around me, but this nobody could see coming, or do anything about.
Human Fossils Hint at New Species
|11:46:17 PM, Monday, March 19, 2012|
“(BBC) The remains of what may be a previously unknown human species have been identified in southern China.
The bones, which represent at least five individuals, have been dated to between 11,500 and 14,500 years ago.
But scientists are calling them simply the Red Deer Cave people, after one of the sites where they were unearthed.
The team has told the PLoS One journal that far more detailed analysis of the fossils is required before they can be ascribed to a new human lineage.
"We're trying to be very careful at this stage about definitely classifying them," said study co-leader Darren Curnoe from the University of New South Wales, Australia.
"One of the reasons for that is that in the science of human evolution or palaeoanthropology, we presently don't have a generally agreed, biological definition for our own species (Homo sapiens), believe it or not. And so this is a highly contentious area," he told BBC News.
Much of the material has been in Chinese collections for some time but has only recently been subjected to intense investigation.
The remains of some of the individuals come from Maludong (or Red Deer Cave), near the city of Mengzi in Yunnan Province. A further skeleton was discovered at Longlin, in neighbouring Guangxi Province.
The skulls and teeth from the two locations are very similar to each other, suggesting they are from the same population.
But their features are quite distinct from what you might call a fully modern human, says the team. Instead, the Red Deer Cave people have a mix of archaic and modern characteristics.
In general, the individuals had rounded brain cases with prominent brow ridges. Their skull bones were quite thick. Their faces were quite short and flat and tucked under the brain, and they had broad noses.
Their jaws jutted forward but they lacked a modern-human-like chin. Computed Tomography (X-ray) scans of their brain cavities indicate they had modern-looking frontal lobes but quite archaic-looking anterior, or parietal, lobes. They also had large molar teeth.
Dr Curnoe and colleagues put forward two possible scenarios in their PLoS One paper for the origin of the Red Deer Cave population.
One posits that they represent a very early migration of a primitive-looking Homo sapiens that lived separately from other forms in Asia before dying out…”
China's Energy Machine: China’s Energy Consumption in Photos
|3:10:26 AM, Saturday, March 10, 2012|
“(Nat. Geo.) China's energy use, production, and ambitions are best captured by superlatives: The country is the world's largest energy consumer, and leading source of greenhouse gas emissions.
To power its tremendous economic growth, China has called on every fuel, every technology. It is the largest producer of coal and its greatest consumer, and yet China has more nuclear reactors under construction than any other nation. Its growing appetite for oil has kept gasoline prices high around the globe. And yet China's commitment to wind and solar power is so outsized that its young industries are now among the largest in the world.
When China's expected next president, Vice President Xi Jinping, meets this week in Washington, D.C. with President Barack Obama, energy disputes—solar industry subsidies, China's oil imports from Iran—may well be on the agenda.
But what does China's rapidly growing and changing energy landscape really look like?
Photographer Toby Smith of London spent two years working to gain access to China's new world of energy, in an effort to capture images rarely seen in the West. He sought to document not only the sources of the pollution that darkens the skies of Beijing and other cities, but the efforts to forge a cleaner energy future.
This blast furnace within a Baogang Group steel plant in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, is emblematic of China's emissions problems as the world leader in steelmaking, one of the most energy-intensive industries. In the past decade, China's steel industry has grown at the breakneck pace of 17 percent per year. Yet efficiency has improved since the 1990s, thanks in part to adoption of waste-heat recovery technology and a process known as top-pressure recovery for blast furnaces, which involves recycling fuel to produce electricity.
China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao pledged to use an "iron hand" to push efficiency improvements further, not least of all by forcing the closure of many small, inefficient steel mills. The country's latest five-year plan, for 2011-2015, estimates the Chinese steel industry will see annual growth slow to 5 to 6 percent.
-- Great slide-show. Follow the link for the rest of the images!
Thousands of Spiders Blanket Australian Farm After Escaping Flood
|3:01:57 AM, Saturday, March 10, 2012|
“Thousands of normally solitary wolf spiders have blanketed an Australian farm after fleeing a rising flood.
Reuters reports that the flooding has forced more than 8,000 Australian (human) residents from their homes in the city of Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. But for every temporarily displaced person, it appears several spiders have moved in to fill the void.
"What we've seen here is a type of wolf spider," Owen Seeman, an arachnid expert at Queensland Museum, told Reuters. "They are trying to hide away (from the waters)."
The Australian Museum's entomology collections manager Graham Milledge told Reuters that there's even a term for the phenomenon, "ballooning," and that it is typical behavior for spiders forced to escape rising waters.
You can watch a video here of researchers on the hunt for ballooning spiders from the safety of a hot air balloon.
Thankfully for local residents, the occupying arachnids are not likely to set up permanent residence, a la the 1977 William Shatner clunker "Kingdom of the Spiders." Weather reports say the flood waters in Wagga Wagga have begun receding, meaning that locals will soon be returning to their homes and the wolf spiders will also be returning to their natural underground habitats.
And it turns out the spiders are actually doing quite a bit of good while setting up shop above ground. The spiders are feasting on mosquitoes and other insect populations that have boomed with the increased moisture brought about by the rising waters.
"The amount of mosquitoes around would be incredible because of all this water," Taronga Zoo spider keeper Brett Finlayson told the Sydney Morning Herald. "The spiders don't pose any harm at all. They are doing us a favor. They are actually helping us out."
As amazing as this display may be, it's not the first time photographers have captured massive displaced spider migrations. One of the most famous pictures of 2011, above, showed millions of spiders and other insects in Pakistan that had formed massive web clusters in trees to escape rising floodwaters.
"It was largely spiders," Russell Watkins, U.K. Department for International Development, told National Geographic. "Certainly, when we were there working, if you stood under one of these trees, dozens of small, very, very tiny spiders would just be dropping down onto your head."”
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