Monday, October 23, 2017

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New prehistoric marine predator discovered

Palaeontologists have identified a new species that could shed light on the origins of crocodiles.

Nicknamed the 'Melksham Monster' after the town in England where it was first discovered, the 10ft predatory reptile, which dates back 163 million years, is officially known as Ieldraan melkshamensis.

The find is particularly interesting because the Geosaurini - the sub-family of prehistoric crocodiles to which this new species belonged - was previously believed to have arisen much later.

"It's not the prettiest fossil in the world, but the Melksham Monster tells us a very important story about the evolution of these ancient crocodiles and how they became the apex predators in their ecosystem," said Davide Foffa, a PhD student at Edinburgh University.

"Without the amazing preparation work done by our collaborators at the Natural History Museum, it would not have been possible to work out the anatomy of this challenging specimen."

Ieldraan melkshamensis was undoubtedly one of the most fearsome predators of its time and would have dominated the warm, shallow seas of the Middle Jurassic.

Its huge jaws and razor-sharp serrated teeth would have no doubt spelled certain doom for any hapless creature unfortunate enough to have caught its gaze.

Source: BBC News
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Friday, October 20, 2017

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Can Aliens observe the earth?

Astronomers have identified nine planets from which intelligent aliens could possibly be watching us.

While much work has been done over the years to look for signs of intelligent life out there in the cosmos, there has been little consideration of the possibility that someone might be watching us.

In a recent study, scientists from Belfast set out to determine where the best vantage points would be for an extraterrestrial civilization who wanted to observe what we were up to.

The research involved identifying the parts of the sky from which the planets in our solar system could be seen passing in front of the Sun from the perspective of a distant observer on another world.

Surprisingly, it turned out that the rocky terrestrial planets such as the Earth and Mars would be the easiest to spot.

"Larger planets would naturally block out more light as they pass in front of their star," said Robert Wells from Queen's University Belfast. "However the more important factor is actually how close the planet is to its parent star. Since the terrestrial planets are much closer to the sun than the gas giants, they'll be more likely to be seen in transit."

The scientists ultimately detected 68 extrasolar planets from which at least some of the planets in our solar system could be observed and at least 9 that would be "ideally placed" for observing the Earth.

None of these planets however are currently believed to be habitable.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

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'Vampire' kangaroos lived longer than thought

An extinct species of fanged kangaroo survived five million years longer than previously believed.

An analysis of fossilized teeth discovered at the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in north Queensland has revealed that these wallaby-sized fanged marsupials went extinct around 10 million years ago, which is five million years later than earlier studies had suggested.

The discovery means that existing extinction theories concerning the species will now have to be thrown out because the timing of their disappearance no longer fits.

"Northern Queensland was predominantly covered in rainforest when these fanged kangaroos first appear in the fossil record," said Univesity of Queensland PhD student Kaylene Butler.

"Every hypothesis we have about their extinction doesn't line up with the timing of when they went extinct so we kind of have to start from scratch now."

There are however two major events at the time of their disappearance that could help to explain it.

"You were starting to see the extension of open grasslands and open woodlands and at the same time you were also seeing potential ancestors of modern kangaroos on the scene," said Butler.

"Potentially the answer is that the fanged kangaroo was outcompeted in food and resources."

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

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China's space station is falling back to Earth

The Chinese space agency's Tiangong 1 space lab is going to hit the ground within the next few months.

Launched back in 2011, Tiangong 1 - or 'Heavenly Place' - was part of China's efforts to assert itself as a major player in the space industry and to create a manned orbital laboratory for scientific research.

Last year however, following months of speculation over peculiarities observed in Tiangong 1's orbit, China's CNSA space agency revealed that it had lost control of the station and that it would be plummetting back to Earth, sparking fears over the risk of falling debris.

Most recently, it has emerged that the station's descent has accelerated and that there is a high chance that it will crash-land either before the end of this year or at the beginning of the next.

While it is next to impossible to predict exactly where it will come down, the chances of it striking a populated area are extremely remote and it is a lot more likely to fall in to the ocean.

Most of the debris will have also burnt up in the atmosphere long before it reaches the ground.
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Saturday, October 14, 2017

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Evidence of a great lake discovered on Mars

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has identified the site of an ancient lake on the Red Planet's surface.

Mars might be a cold, barren wasteland today, but millions of years ago its surface would have been alive with rivers and lakes of liquid water that could have possibly supported primitive life.

Now scientists have discovered even more strong evidence of the planet's watery past in the form of a colossal lake that would have held ten times as much water as all the Great Lakes combined.

The site was identified thanks to the detection of large mineral deposits hidden beneath the surface.

"Even if we never find evidence that there's been life on Mars, this site can tell us about the type of environment where life may have begun on Earth," said NASA's Paul Niles.

"Volcanic activity combined with standing water provided conditions that were likely similar to conditions that existed on Earth at about the same time - when early life was evolving here."
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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

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Giant James Webb Space Telescope is delayed again

James Webb Space Telescope
The launch of the giant orbital telescope has been delayed from October 2018 to Spring 2019.

The result of a long-running international collaboration between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency, the James Webb Space Telescope will provide scientists with an unmatched view of the cosmos thanks to a resolution and sensitivity that is unrivalled by anything that has come before.

Its primary goals will be to image some of the first stars and galaxies to have formed after the Big Bang, to study the formation and evolution of galaxies, to better understand the formation of stars and planets and to study the origins of life in the universe.

It should even be able to provide more clear direct imaging of planets in orbit around distant stars.

For now though, all this will have to wait just a little bit longer as the launch of the James Webb has been pushed back again, this time until the beginning of 2019.

"The change in launch timing is not indicative of hardware or technical performance concerns," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

"Rather, the integration of the various spacecraft elements is taking longer than expected."
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Thursday, October 5, 2017

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Giant prehistoric frog could eat small dinosaurs

A giant, beach ball-sized frog that lived 70 million years ago had a bite that would have been strong enough to snap up small dinosaurs.
At the size of a beach ball, the giant Beelzebufo ampinga was the largest frog to have ever lived - at least that we know of. But it was similar to the modern Ceratophrys frogs, and now scientists have used those similarities to make a fascinating discovery.
Ceratophrys frogs are also known as Pacman frogs, for their round bodies and almost comically large mouths. They're grumpy creatures, sitting quietly in wait and snapping at anything that passes by with force.
It's these Ceratophrys frogs that researchers studied to determine the bite force of Beelzebufo.They used a custom-made force transducer, two plates covered with leather. When the frog bites down on the plates, they act as scales that can accurately measure the force of the bite.
So the team used it to scale the bite force up for the mouth size of Beelzebufo, around 15.4 centimetres (6 inches) wide, and found a bite force of up to 2,200 Newtons (around 224 kg or 494 lb).A Ceratophrys frog was found to have a bite force of 30 Newtons or approximately 3 kilograms.
By then scaling up this figure, it was determined that a Beelzebufo with a mouth six inches wide would have managed a bite force of 2,200 Newtons - the equivalent of a similarly sized snapping turtle.

"At this bite force, Beelzebufo would have been capable of subduing the small and juvenile dinosaurs that shared its environment," said researcher Marc Jones of the University of Adelaide.
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