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.

—Josie Garthwaite”

-- 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."”



A Model Burster: Researchers Find the First Neutron Star that Bursts as Predicted

2:12:22 AM, Friday, March 09, 2012

“For the first time, researchers at MIT and elsewhere have detected all phases of thermonuclear burning in a neutron star. The star, located close to the center of the galaxy in the globular cluster Terzan 5, is a “model burster,” says Manuel Linares, a postdoc at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

Linares and his colleagues from MIT, McGill University, the University of Minnesota and the University of Amsterdam analyzed X-ray observations from NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellite, and discovered the star is the first of its kind to burst the way that models predict. What’s more, the discovery may help explain why such a model star has not been detected until now. A paper to be published in the March 20 issue of The Astrophysical Journal details the group’s findings.

“These are extreme laboratories,” Linares says. “We can study fundamental physics by looking at what happens on and around the surface of neutron stars.”

A white-hot environment

Neutron stars typically arise from the collapse of massive stars. These stellar remnants are made almost entirely of neutrons, and are incredibly dense — about the mass of the sun, but squeezed into a sphere just a few miles wide. For the past three decades, astrophysicists have studied neutron stars to understand how ultradense matter behaves.

In particular, researchers have focused on the extremely volatile surfaces of neutron stars. In a process called accretion, white-hot plasma pulled from a neighboring star rains down on the surface of a neutron star with incredible force — equivalent to 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of matter slamming into an area the size of a coin every second. As more plasma falls, it forms a layer of fuel on the neutron star’s surface that builds to a certain level, then explodes in a thermonuclear fusion reaction. This explosion can be detected as X-rays in space: The bigger the explosion, the greater the X-ray intensity, which can be measured as a spike in satellite data.

Researchers have developed models to predict how a neutron star should burst, based on how much plasma the star is attracting to its surface. For example, as more and more plasma falls on a neutron star, explosions should occur more frequently, resulting in more X-ray spikes. Models have predicted that at the highest mass-accretion rates, plasma falls at such a high rate that thermonuclear fusion is stable, and occurs continuously, without giant explosions.

However, in the last several decades, X-ray observations from nearly 100 exploding neutron stars have failed to validate these theoretical predictions.

“Since the late 1970s, we mostly saw bursts at low mass-accretion rates, and few or no bursts at all at high mass-accretion rates,” Linares says. “It should be happening, but for three decades, we didn’t see it. That’s the puzzle.”

Spikes in the data

In late 2010, the RXTE satellite detected X-ray spikes from a binary star system — two stars bound by gravity and orbiting close to each other — in Terzan 5. Linares and his colleagues obtained data from the satellite and analyzed the data for characteristic spikes…”



Video of Hissing Cockroach Giving Birth

2:01:11 AM, Friday, March 09, 2012

-- That is all. Enjoy.



LEGO Space Shuttle Launched into Space

6:50:04 PM, Tuesday, March 06, 2012

From the blog of Raul Oaida, who is behind this project:“2001: A Brick Odyssey

This is the full story on how the Space Shuttle took flight once more.

I've always been profoundly inspired by spaceflight, the Lego Shuttle was the only space program I could afford.

The story begins in mid-November 2011 with me trying to find someone to support a rocketry project of mine entitled 'October Sky', I found Steve Sammartino on twitter one night and asked and for his Skype in a PM, him thinking I was another person from the business world accepted my request.

We chated a bit and he wasn't too sure about my October Sky, then I mentioned one of the things in my 'to-do' list would be a high altitude balloon experiment.

I showed him my previous work (steam engines, a jet engine and and some rocketry)he was impressed by my passion & determination and decided to fund my cosmic experience.

We had to send something up, so after some debate Steve came up with the Lego Space Shuttle as a payload, which was a brilliant idea!. He is also teaching me valuable skills and we are progressing from something small (the Lego Shuttle), to something way bigger (Top Secret), so stay tunned!

The biggest problem was getting a flight clearance, in my country (Romania) there is A LOT of bureaucracy and a 45 day (minimum) waiting period and even then there would be next to no chance for me, a teenager getting such a thing.

After some research I found out every EU country has different regulations for this things, Germany was by far the best with my father being there for work.

I only got all the equipment through mail right before Christmas, on the 21st-22nd I built the rig and on the 23rd left for Germany.

The first days had terrible conditions, the jet streams kept dropping my shuttle into the Czech Republic, and on one particular day the prediction software was indicating a 350km Est landing site (far far away!).

On 31st of December things looked better (250km S-E), it was a now or never moment!

We got everything in the car and found a small muddy field near Lauda-Königshofen to deploy our gear.

We were in a big hurry to launch within the flight window appointed so we quickly filled the balloon, tied the parachute, payload and released it into the heavens.

After this I checked with my laptop in the chase-car to see if it's sending data and we started getting the first position reports (every 10 minutes). After about 30 minutes we headed off in the general direction of the balloon losing contact at 18000m (GPS signal limit). I waited anxiously to re-gain contact which happened in about 1 hour from the loss of contact, only it was 200km away by now.

A couple more position reports and it was on the ground 240km S-E in a very remote densely forested area of S-E Germany (2-3 houses here and there).

We passed by the shuttle a couple of times before noticing it in the snow, it was undamaged.

After playing the video we were in total awe, I still find it hard to belive that it was actually up there!

Equipment used:

1600g Weather Ballon.

Rocketmodel parachute - slowing things down on the descent.

Spot GPS - for recovery.

GoPro Hero - video camera.

Kodak Zx1 - video camera which took shit images I couldn't even use.

New Trent - external battery for the GoPro (broke down before leaving for Germany) .

Handwarmers - keepin' it warm at -50 Celsius.

40mm Sytrofoam - building the box.

Fishingwire - attached the shuttle by 5 wires.

LED Beacon - in case of night recovery.

Balsa wood - made the camera arm from it to obtain that filming angle.

And of course: Lego Shuttle model 3367.”



Borders Fossils Fill 'Gap' in Evolution Story

6:29:41 PM, Tuesday, March 06, 2012

“(BBC) A collection of fossils described as a breakthrough in the study of evolution is set to be unveiled.

The fossils, discovered in the Borders, are going on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The find is said to unearth a "missing chapter" of the evolution story and overturn a long-held theory about evolution on Earth.

Scientist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough described the discovery as "wonderful and exciting".

Romer's Gap, named after the American palaeontologist Alfred Sherwood Romer, is a gap in the fossil record, showing little evidence of life on land between around 345 and 360 million years ago.

The gap led some palaeontologists to conclude that there were low levels of oxygen during that time, which limited evolution on land.

However, the newly-unveiled fossils suggest that a wide diversity of amphibians, plants, fish and invertebrates all existed during the 15 million-year period and are said to shed light on a period that previously had been almost blank.

The fossils were unearthed by palaeontologist Stan Wood following a 20-year search.

One notable amphibian specimen has been nicknamed Ribbo due to its prominent and well-preserved vertebrate structure.

It has provided scientists with enough information to interpret what the creature may have looked like as it roamed the Tweed basin around 350 million years ago.

Nick Fraser, keeper of natural sciences at National Museums Scotland, said: "This is a real 'eureka' moment in palaeontology.

"These fossils aren't much to look at in and of themselves, but they may prove to be profoundly important in advancing our understanding of the earliest development of land-dwelling life as we know it today.

"For that reason, we are tremendously excited to be able to give people the chance to see these fascinating objects first-hand."

Evolution's Missing Chapter runs from Tuesday until 29 April.

Sir David Attenborough said: "One is accustomed these days to hear of sensational new fossil finds being made in (other) parts of the world.

"But to learn of a site in this country, which must surely be counted among the most extensively explored, in geological terms, is wonderful and exciting."”



Oxygen Envelops Saturn's Icy Moon

9:59:39 PM, Monday, March 05, 2012

“(BBC) A Nasa spacecraft has detected oxygen around one of Saturn's icy moons, Dione.

The discovery supports a theory that suggests all of the moons near Saturn and Jupiter might have oxygen around them.

Researchers say that their finding increases the likelihood of finding the ingredients for life on one of the moons orbiting gas giants.

The study has been published in Geophysical Research Letters.

According to co-author Andrew Coates of University College London, Dione has no liquid water and so does not have the conditions to support life. But it is possible that other moons of Jupiter and Saturn do.

"Some of the other moons have liquid oceans and so it is worth looking more closely at them for signs of life," Prof Coates said.

The discovery was made using the Cassini spacecraft, which flew by Dione nearly two years ago. Instruments on board the unmanned probe detected a thin layer of oxygen around the moon, so thin that scientists prefer to call it an "exosphere" rather than an atmosphere.

But the discovery is important because it suggests there is a process at work around the solar system's gas giants, Saturn and Jupiter, in which oxygen is released from their icy satellites.

It seems that highly charged particles from the planets' powerful radiation belts split the water in the ice into hydrogen and oxygen.

Dione's sister moon, Enceladus is thought to harbour a liquid ocean below its icy surface. The same is thought to be true of Europa, Callisto and Ganymede which orbit Jupiter.

Prof Coates is among a group of scientists lobbying the European Space Agency to send an orbiter to explore Jupiter's icy moons - known as the Juice mission.

"These are fascinating places to look for signs of life," he said.

As is Titan, Saturn's largest satellite. Its nitrogen and methane atmosphere is reminiscent of the early Earth, according to Prof Coates.

"It may be an Earth waiting to happen as the outer Solar System warms up," he said.

Nasa is developing a proposal to send a landing craft, or lander, to float on one of the planet's oily lakes.”



A Tiny Horse That Got Even Tinier as the Planet Heated Up

2:27:38 AM, Sunday, March 04, 2012

“”(NYT) Rising seas, killer storms, droughts, extinctions and money wasted on snowblowers are not the only things to worry about on a warming planet. There is also the shrinking issue.

It happened to Sifrhippus, the first horse, 56 million years ago. Sifrhippus shrank from about 12 pounds average weight to about eight and a half pounds as the climate warmed over thousands of years, a team of researchers reported in the journal Science on Thursday.

The horse (siff-RIP-us, if you have to say the name out loud) lived in what is still horse country, in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming, where wild mustangs roam.

Sifrhippus was not much like the mustangs or any other modern horses. It was the size of a cat, ate leaves rather than grass and counts as a horse only in scientific classification. It might have made a nice pet if anyone had been around to domesticate it, but the first hominids were a good 50 million years in the future.

Its preserved fossils, abundant in the Bighorn Basin, provide an excellent record of its size change over a 175,000-year warm period in the Earth’s history known as the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, when temperatures are estimated to have risen by 9 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit at the start, and dropped again at the end.

Scientists have known that many mammals appear to have shrunk during the warming period, and the phenomenon fits well with what is known as Bergmann’s rule, which says, roughly, that mammals of a given genus or species are smaller in hotter climates.

Although the rule refers to differences in location, it seemed also to apply to changes over time. But fine enough detail was lacking until now.

In Science, Ross Secord, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Jonathan Bloch, of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida in Gainesville; and a team of other researchers report on the collection and analysis of Sifrhippus fossils from the Bighorn Basin.

They report that the little horse got 30 percent smaller over the first 130,000 years, and then — as always seems to happen with weight loss — shot back up and got 75 percent bigger over the next 45,000 years.

The fossils indicate that at its smallest Sifrhippus weighed about eight and a half pounds, and at its largest about 15 pounds.

Using fine-grained detail on both climate and body size, the researchers concluded that the change in size was, as suspected, driven primarily by the warming trend.

“It seems to be natural selection,” said Dr. Secord. He said animals evolved to be smaller during warming because smaller animals did better in that environment, perhaps because the smaller an animal is, the easier it is to shed excess heat.

Paul L. Koch, head of the department of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a specialist in reconstructing ecosystems and climates from many millions of years ago, said, “The paper lets us see the effect of warming on mammals where the climate change is really large.”

Dr. Koch, who was not involved in the study, said he thought that the question of whether natural selection was the cause of the changes was still open, and that the disruption of ecosystems during the warming period might have led smaller animals to migrate to new locations.

The current warming period is occurring on a scale of hundreds of years, not thousands, and scientists can only speculate on whether modern mammals will shrink.

“It’s difficult to say that mammals are going to respond in the same way now,“ Dr. Secord said. “If I had to guess,” he said, he thinks some will get smaller. And, he said, some studies have shown some birds to be getting smaller in response to warming.

If warming continues at the highest rate projected, he said, there’s another question: “Can mammals keep up?””



Physicists Measure the Skin of a Nucleus

2:20:45 AM, Sunday, March 04, 2012

“A large atomic nucleus is like a chocolate truffle with a gooey interior and a harder shell. Inside, the nucleus contains a mixture of protons and neutrons. Outside, it's covered with a nearly pure layer of neutrons—the "neutron skin." Now, for the first time, nuclear physicists have measured the thickness of that skin in a fairly direct way. More-precise future measurements could transform the study of all nuclei and even of neutron stars.

"This single piece of data would provide an extremely useful and extremely important constraint on theoretical models," says Witold Nazarewicz, a nuclear theorist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who was not involved in the new study.

In the past, experimenters have tried to measure the distribution of neutrons in nuclei by pelting the nuclei with protons, antiprotons, or particles called pions. These particles all interact with the nucleus through the strong nuclear force, which is so complicated that to interpret the results, researchers have to resort to approximate theoretical models. As a result, the answer you get depends on which model you use.

Now, one team has measured the neutron distribution in a way that relies a lot less on theory. At the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (JLab) in Newport News, Virginia, physicists with the Lead Radius Experiment (PREX) fired electrons at a thin sheet of lead-208. Each lead-208 nucleus has 82 protons and a whopping 126 neutrons, making it especially rich in the latter. Electrons do not feel the strong force but instead interact with the nucleus primarily through the electromagnetic force. So the tug of the protons' electric field deflects the trajectories of the electrons. By studying that deflection, researchers can measure the distribution of protons to determine a nucleus's "proton radius."

PREX researchers went a big step further to measure the neutron distribution and the "neutron radius" of lead-208 (from which they would subtract the proton radius to get the thickness of the neutron skin). To do that the team had to tease out the effects of a third, much fainter force, the weak nuclear force. Through that force, the electrons interact primarily with the neutrons in the nucleus. Unlike the electromagnetic force, the weak force affects electrons differently depending on which way they spin—whether spiraling to the right like a football thrown by a right-handed quarterback or to the left like a pigskin thrown by a southpaw. Thus, the weak force should produce a slight asymmetry in the deflection of right- and left-spinning electrons that can reveal the distribution of the neutrons.

So the PREX team bombarded lead-208 nuclei with pulses of electrons all spinning the same way—either to the right or to the left—and compared the results. "The thing that makes the experiment hard is that when you flip the spin [from one bunch to the next], you don't want to change anything else," says JLab's Robert Michaels, co-spokesperson for the PREX team. "If you change the energy or the trajectory of the beam, you introduce a systematic error" that could fake a signal.

PREX researchers measured a 0.656-parts-per-million asymmetry in the probability that right- or left-spinning electrons would be deflected by a certain angle. From that asymmetry, they deduced a neutron radius of 5.78 millionth of a nanometer, as they report in a paper in press at Physical Review Letters. Subtracting the known proton radius revealed a neutron skin 0.33 millionths of a nanometer thick, give or take about 50%.

So what's a measure of lead-208's neutron skin good for? Quite a lot. The incredibly complex mathematical theory of the nucleus contains terms that depend on the difference of the proton distribution and the neutron distribution. Measuring the neutron skin of lead-208 could bring key parameters in those terms into much sharper focus, Nazarewicz says. That, in turn, could lead to much better estimates of how many neutrons can be crammed into heavy nuclei or of which nuclei are involved in the so-called r process, a cascade of nuclear reactions inside exploding stars that forge half the elements heavier than iron throughout the universe, Nazarewicz says.

Nailing down such parameters would have equally big implications for the theory of neutron stars, says James Lattimer, a theoretical astrophysicist at Stony Brook University in New York state. "That directly tells you the radius of a neutron star [of a given mass] and a lot of other things like the thickness of its crust, the response of its surface to explosions, et cetera," Lattimer says.

Alas, the uncertainty on the PREX measurement is still too large to pin down the parameters, Lattimer says. "It's a very important experiment and has the potential to constrain theory very nicely, but it's not there yet," he says. JLab's Michaels says the PREX team will run the experiment next year and aims to reduce the uncertainty to one-third its current value. "Then it becomes a very interesting result," he says.

Something else physicists will be watching for: The PREX measurement suggests that the neutron skin of lead-208 is twice as thick as more-precise but model-dependent methods indicate. Right now, the PREX result has too much uncertainty to pose a direct challenge to earlier estimates. But if the new value holds up as the uncertainty shrinks, things could get really interesting, Nazarewicz says: "Then, there is something wrong with all theoretical models." There's a possibility to set your skin a-tingling.”



Bar-Coded Condoms Track Where You Have Sex Because It's The Future

11:34:25 PM, Thursday, March 01, 2012

“Discovery News reports that Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest has distributed 55,000 condoms around local colleges and universities that feature implanted QR codes, which track when and where people have sex. The reported data is then collected on a website called

It's sort of the Foursquare of sex: each condom has a barcode which the user can scan with their Smartphone to upload their location as well as general details of their sexual experience (anonymously). An unconventional way to promote public health? Yes. But it does sound kind of fun, right?

A rep for Planned Parenthood says of the check-in system: "Condoms are an essential tool in preventing unintended pregnancy and stopping the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV... We hope the site promotes discussions within relationships about condoms and helps to remove perceived stigmas that some people may have about condom use. Where Did You Wear It attempts to create some fun around making responsible decisions."

Too futuristic for you? Would you participate in the safe-sex check-in game?”

-- Um, awesome...? o.O



Ancient Penguin Weighed 130 Pounds

11:09:45 PM, Thursday, March 01, 2012

“The tallest and heaviest ever known penguin stood nearly 5 feet tall and tipped the scales at around 130 pounds, according to a 27-million-year-old fossil found in New Zealand.

The penguin, Kairuku grebneffi lived in what is now New Zealand and likely speared fish and squid with its curved beak. In comparison, today's largest penguin is the Emperor penguin, which measures just over 3 feet tall and weighs approximately 85 pounds.

Yet another new big fossil penguin, Kairuku waitaki, was also recently discovered. It lived alongside K. grebneffi. The finds by an international team of researchers was described in the latest Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

"The Kairuku penguins were the last generation of so-called "giant penguins," the term indicating any fossil penguins that were much larger than the living largest Emperor penguin," co-author Tatsuro Ando of the Ashoro Museum of Paleontology in Japan told Discovery News.

Ando explained that these big flightless birds emerged around 50 million years ago and thrived for about 25 million years before dying out. It remains a mystery as to why they disappeared, "but probably the drastic change in paleoenvironment was the cause of their demise," he said.

The researchers, led by Daniel Ksepka of North Carolina State University, analyzed the near-complete fossils for the penguins, which were unearthed at New Zealand's Waitaki Region. This area was known as Zealandia during prehistoric times, and it was a veritable penguin paradise.

"For much of its history, New Zealand has been sitting in the middle of the Southern Ocean, the sea that circles Antarctica," co-author Ewan Fordyce of Otago University told Discovery News. "For millions of years, it has provided suitable land for rookeries (breeding grounds) and access to rich food resources in nearby seas."

To this day, New Zealand is a center of diversity for penguins. Out of the 17 existing species of penguin, six live and breed in New Zealand.

The two new fossil species, from a distance, would have looked like modern penguins, Fordyce said.

"Up close, however, it is clear that both species had relatively longer bills and a more slender body than in living species," he explained. "The wing was probably able to flex a little more."

Their long beaks would have enabled these penguins to spear prey, such as fish and squid. Sharks and shark-toothed dolphins, a type of prehistoric super strong dolphin with heavily toothed jaws, probably hunted the enormous penguins, which could have snapped back with their beaks.

The research team, which also included Craig Jones, mentioned that the oldest known penguin so far is Waimanu from New Zealand.

"It lived 55-60+ million years ago, not long after the extinction of dinosaurs," Fordyce said.

Ksepka said one theory holds that penguins lost their ability to fly after the Cretaceous mass extinction. DNA evidence indicates that the closest living relatives of penguins are tubenose seabirds, such as albatrosses and petrels. Since the latter can dive to significant depths, the scientists suspect that the first penguins could both fly and dive underwater.

Nicholas Pyenson, curator of Fossil Marine Mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, told Discovery News that the authors of the new paper "are spot on with their conclusions about the early evolution of penguins."

Stig Walsh, senior curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at National Museums Scotland, suspects that even taller penguins might be unearthed in the future but, for now, K. grebneffi is the height and weight champ.”



New Twist in Antimatter Mystery

3:04:37 PM, Wednesday, February 29, 2012

“( Physicists have taken a step forward in their efforts to understand why the Universe is dominated by matter, and not its shadowy opposite antimatter.

A US experiment has confirmed previous findings that hinted at new phenomena outside our understanding of physics.

The results show that certain matter particles decay differently from their antimatter counterparts.

Such differences could potentially help explain why there is so much more matter in the cosmos than antimatter.

The findings from scientists working on the CDF experiment have been presented at a particle physics meeting in La Thuile, Italy.

CDF was one of two multi-purpose experiments at the now-defunct Tevatron particle smasher in Illinois.

Physicists think the intense heat of the Big Bang should have forged equal amounts of matter and its "mirror image" antimatter. Yet today we live in a Universe composed overwhelmingly of matter.

Antimatter is relatively uncommon, being produced at particle accelerators, in nuclear reactions or by cosmic rays. Getting to the bottom of where all this antimatter went remains one of the great endeavours of particle physics.

The latest results support findings from the LHCb experiment at the Large Hadron Collider, which were announced in November 2011.

Both CDF and LHCb have been looking at the process by which sub-atomic particles called D-mesons decay - or transform - into other ones. For example, D mesons are made up of particles known as charm quarks, and can decay into kaons and pions.

Our best understanding of physics so far, known as the Standard Model, suggests the complicated cascades of decay of D-mesons into other particles should be very nearly the same - within less than 0.1% - as a similar chain of antimatter decays.

But the LHCb team reported a difference of about 0.8%, and the team from CDF have now presented data showing a difference of 0.62%.

Getting such a similar measurement as LHCb was "a bit of a surprise", according to CDF's spokesperson Giovanni Punzi, because it is a "very unusual result".

He told BBC News: "That two separate experiments have found this using different methods - different environments - is very interesting."

Prof Punzi, from the University of Pisa and Italy's National Nuclear Physics Institute (INFN), said this was likely to "change the minds of many people about this being just one of those effects, to something that will be considered a confirmed observation - because of this independent result"…”



Nature Spectacular - Massive Crab Migration in Cuba

1:35:15 AM, Wednesday, February 29, 2012


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