Thursday, December 18, 2014

Holy shark!

When National Geographic mechanical engineer Alan Turchik was reviewing deep-sea footage from the Russian arctic and realized his camera had captured an elusive Greenland shark far from its usual habitat, the result was a bleep-filled clip (VIEW IT HERE). The animal is the largest shark species on earth, but little is known about it because it has no commercial value and is not fished. There is no market for the meat of the Greenland shark because of potentially toxic chemicals in their blood. Journalist Jane J Lee writes, "Sled dogs fed Greenland shark meat exhibited symptoms including stumbling, vomiting, convulsions, and explosive diarrhea."

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Doctor Syntax

British horse-lovers are hoping that the intact skeleton discovered during the excavation for the new National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art in Newmarket, Suffolk, U.K., are the bones of legendary racehorse Doctor Syntax. On the one hand, this former site of the Royal stables of King Charles II was where the animal was euthanized in 1838, the skeleton matches his height (15 hands). the wear and tear on its joints indicates that it was ridden, and the horse was buried carefully in a specifically dug grave. On the other hand, the smashed skull does not give evidence of the shotgun blast that killed the horse, there is no trace of any other injuries on the skeleton, and the teeth show that the buried horse was 18 to 20 years old whereas Doctor Syntax is believed to have died at the age of 28. Archaeologist Chris Faine of Oxford Archaeology states, "It was certainly a racehorse, all the evidence points to that. I don't think it could be Doctor Syntax, but you would have to carry out DNA tests to make sure."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gravity potato

I had no idea there was something called the Potsdam geoid – a.k.a. the "gravity potato" – let alone news about it. It has been revealed that the terrestrial gravity that the potato (IMAGE ABOVE) represents changes with time. The model, based on ground-based and satellite measurements compiled by the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, now includes seasonal fluctuations of water balance on the continents and climate-related variations including melting and growing ice masses. German researcher Frank Flechtner explains, "This allows the measurement of gravity in inaccessible regions with unprecedented accuracy, for example in Central Africa and the Himalayas."

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book biology

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin and the University of York have just tapped a new resource for tracing the breding history of sheep and other livestock over time. By analyzing DNA and collagen obtained from the parchment of books printed in the 17th and 18th centuries, scientists can establish the type of animals from which the parchment was made, compare their genomes with modern equivalents, and reveal how animal husbandry shaped their genetic diversity. Now vital historical information comes not only from the text, but the material on which it is written – provided librarians are willing to part with a .79" square (2x2cm) sample of a page. Geneticist Daniel Bradley of Trinity College Dublin remarks, “This pilot project suggests that parchments are an amazing resource for genetic studies that consider agricultural development over the centuries. There must be millions stored away in libraries, archives, solicitors’ offices and even in our own attics. After all, parchment was the writing material of choice for thousands of years, going back to the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cloud-filled canyon

For the second time in two years, visitors to the Grand Canyon in Flagstaff, Arizona, U.S., have been treated to a rare and strange weather event known as a temperature inversion. It occurs at night when skies are clear, winds are calm, and the ground rapidly loses heat stored during the day. A cold, moist air mass settled into the canyon last week, eventually creating a 500' (152 m) thick low stratus deck of clouds, along with fog that hovered at the canyon rim or spilled over. Grand Canyon National Park staff remarked on their Facebook page, "Almost looks like the tide coming in and going out" (VIDEO HERE).

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Taj tarnished

The most beautiful tomb in the world, India's Taj Mahal, requires routine cleaning to maintain its visual brilliance. A collaboration of Indian and American scientists have determined exactly what particulates are causing the gleaming white marble to take on a dingy brown cast. Air sampling and electron microscopy reveal that the discoloration is caused by the carbon coming from a variety of sources: fuel combustion, cooking and brick-making, trash and refuse burning, agricultural dust, and vehicle exhaust. The government has already taken steps to reduce vehicle and industrial emissions in the area. Michael Bergin, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology, notes, "Some of these particles are really bad for human health, so cleaning up the Taj Mahal could have a huge health benefit for people in the entire region. The health of humans and the health of the Taj Mahal are intertwined.”

Friday, December 12, 2014

Minirdis' makeover

One of 30 ancient Egyptian mummies at Chicago’s Field Museum is being prepared for travel. Minirdis, the 14-year-old son of a priest who lived 2,500 years ago, has dates in Los Angeles and Denver as part of an upcoming exhibition, "Mummies: Images of the Afterlife." The specialists will repair the boy's shroud and mask (IMAGES HERE), which have been torn and twisted, and his feet (IMAGE ABOVE) which have been detached and partially unwrapped. As delicate as mummies are, conservator J.P. Brown reassures that this one won't crumble to dust as in the movies: The last bit of Indiana Jones and all that. That’s not going to happen.”

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Nazca no-no


Peru is seeking criminal charges against members of Greenpeace, who staged a publicity stunt on Monday intended for delegates from 190 countries attending U.N. climate talks being held in Lima. The government claims that the activists left footprints adjacent to the ancient Nazca lines after entering a prohibited area next to the figure of a hummingbird. They laid big yellow cloth letters reading, “Time for Change! The Future is Renewable.” The government does not disagree with the message. The issue is the way Greenpeace drew attention to it. Deputy Culture Minister Luis Jaime Castillo declares, "It’s a true slap in the face at everything Peruvians consider sacred."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Build a better fogtrap?

In remote areas regions of countries including Chile, Peru, Guatemala, Namibia, Eritrea, Oman, and Nepal, fog collection is a relatively cheap and environmentally friendly source of water. Standard fog collectors using mesh have been proven to be very efficient in parts of America's Big Sur by Daniel Fernandez, a fog researcher at California State University, Monterey Bay (LINK TO TED TALK HERE). Another scientist, doctoral student Xin Heng at the University of Texas at Arlington, Is working on a new design based on a bird's beak. But climatologist Otto Klemm of the University of Münster, who has been interested in fog for the past 30 years, points out that innovation in this instance has some disadvantages. A solid apparatus may not be able to withstand the strong winds that mesh can. In addition, they may be more expensive and harder to maintain in remote regions. As he puts it, "The more engineering there is, the less is the chance that these will be applicable for poor people in semi-desert regions."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Eighteen lives lived

Sadly, Frank and Louie, the two-faced cat of Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S., passed on Thursday. Living longer than any other Janus cat on record, Frank and Louie reached the incredible age of 15. While reeling from the unexpected death of the cat she raised from a kitten, owner Marty Stevens admits, "I would love to do it again."

Monday, December 8, 2014

Gargoyles gone

The image above shows one of four remaining gargoyles on the structure formerly known as the Chestnut Street Congregational Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S. Another 8 of the 3,000 lb (1360 kg) stone ornaments were removed from the 119-year-old church in 2006 because of structural issues. The removal (IMAGE HERE) was carried out by the former Monaco Restorations, Inc. of Southbridge, and the gargoyles were taken to their warehouse instead of being stored in the basement of the church as was supposed to happen. When the company went bankrupt, their assets were sold off in 2012 by the Monson Savings Bank– including the monstrosities that still belonged to the church. Stephen S. Rolle, director of the city Division of Planning and Regulatory Services, told the Historical Commission earlier this month that recovery was unlikely: "The individual believes he legitimately purchased (the gargoyles) and he is not interested in returning them."

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Bat burritos

Knowing the ecological importance of bats does not make them any less creepy…until you see this. The Australian Bat Clinic has rescued a group of baby flying fox bats whose mothers succumbed to temperatures of 110°F (43°C) during a heat wave in that country. Often found still clinging to their dead mothers, the infants are swaddled in tiny blankets for warmth, but also to help them feel secure. When they reach maturity, the bats will be released into the wild, but until then, the clinic explains, "When baby bats first enter rehabilitation, it can be traumatizing for them as they have just been separated from their mothers to which they have formed strong bonds. Bat carers have to ensure that the baby bats not only are well fed, but that they are nurtured and feel safe in their temporary new home."

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Fossil frond

"The specimen is so well preserved that it is as if someone had nipped back in a time machine into the Eocene and got it," remarks senior botanist Martin Cheek of Kew Gardens in London about the leaves of a 35- to 47-million-year-old carnivorous plant preserved in Baltic amber. The fronds were discovered in the Jantarny amber mine near Kaliningrad, Russia, by researchers from the University of Göttingen in Germany. It caught its prey using the long, sticky hairs that are still present. The carnivore appears to be a member of the Roridulaceae genus and as such would have developed a symbiotic relationship with an insect to digest the captured prey, consume it, and fertilize the plant with its poop. Lead researcher Eva-Maria Sadowski exclaims, "We were all so excited when we discovered it because it's very beautiful and striking. It's amazing to look at something so old, yet so well preserved."

 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Zigzag

It was just 7 years ago that Dutch archaeologist Josephine Joordens of Leidens University noticed the scratchings in the mussel shell above. The faint etching of zigzags was found among a trove of fossils excavated in 1891 by Dutch paleoanthropologist Eugène Dubois and dated to at least 430,000 years old. The implications of this are huge! Based on discovery of South African cave paintings made 70,000 to 100,000 years ago, the ability to create geometric art was thought to have begun with Homo sapiens and to mark behavioral modernity and cognitive uniqueness that later blossomed into creativity. But the markings on the shell were deliberately scratched by Homo erectus. Remarks American paleoanthropologist Pat Shipman of Pennsylvania State University, "This raises the big, hairy question of what is 'modern human behavior' all over again."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Puzzling polyhedron

In the intervening centuries, there has been much speculation about the meaning of the strange 3-dimensional shape in the 1514 copper engraving by German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) entitled "Melencolia I." Was it intended to represent physics? Mathematics? Religion? Mathematician Günter M Ziegler of the Freie Universität Berlin ennumerates his favorite theories and tops the list with that of American mathematician and artist George Hart, who writes, One might speculate that the cube represents masculinity and truncating one in an upright position may have some Freudian symbolism.”

HALLOWEEN-Click for captions

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