Friday, December 29, 2017

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"Double whirlpools" observed for first time

For the first time, scientists have recorded a bizarre phenomenon in fluid dynamics, which up until now had only ever been theoretically predicted, but never observed in the wild.

Huge whirlpools known as eddies, which can measure hundreds of kilometers across, are relatively common, however now it turns out that, under certain conditions, pairs of these swirling vortices can actually join together to form double whirlpools capable of traveling large distances across the sea.

"Ocean eddies almost always head to the west, but by pairing up they can move to the east and travel ten times as fast as a normal eddy, so they carry water in unusual directions across the ocean," said oceanographer Chris Hughes from the University of Liverpool.

"What we found was a pair of eddies spinning in opposite directions and linked to each other so that they travel together all the way across the Tasman Sea, taking six months to do it."

It turns out that these double whirlpools, which have been dubbed 'modons', have been appearing on satellite imagery for decades, but until now nobody had known what they were.

"My thinking is that these linked, fast moving eddies could 'suck-up' small marine creatures and carry them at high speed and for long distances across the ocean," said Hughes.

"You would get particular blobs of water where the biology and the conditions are totally different from the surrounding area," Hughes told Popular Science.

"It's quite possible there are shoals of particular types of fish following these eddies for their special conditions. Fish would actually actively follow the eddies by choice because of what's in them."
The findings are reported in Geophysical Research Letters.
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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

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Helicopter drone could one day explore Titan

NASA is considering a mission to Saturn's moon Titan that would use a drone to scout across large areas.
Titan is a place that, on the outset, appears to possess many things that seem uncannily familiar - oceans, rivers, snow-capped mountains and even an active weather system.

Take a closer look however and it soon becomes apparent that Titan couldn't be more alien. Its rivers and oceans aren't filled with liquid water but with an exotic form of liquid hydrocarbons, while its snow-capped peaks are actually dusted with a coating of methane, not water ice.

While the Huygens probe managed to catch a glimpse of this alien world back in 2005, scientists have since longed for an opportunity to explore a much larger part of Titan's surface.

Now though, it looks as though such a mission might actually be on the cards, that is, at least, if it is selected by NASA as one of two finalists for the space agency's robotic exploration program.

The plan would see a helicopter drone known as the Dragonfly land on Titan by parachute before taking off and exploring vast swathes of the moon's surface.

After each flight, it would return to its landing site so that it could recharge its batteries with its radioisotope thermoelectric generator.

Other sites of interest could then be visited on subsequent flights.

"Titan is a fascinating ocean world," said Elizabeth Turtle, principal investigator for Dragonfly.

"There's so much amazing science and discovery to be done on Titan, and the entire Dragonfly team and our partners are thrilled to begin the next phase of concept development."

Exploring Titan holds a daunting set of challenges. But as we’ve seen in recent years, NASA and its partners have the capability to meet those challenges.

Dragonfly is part of NASA’s New Frontiers program. New Frontiers missions are planetary science missions with a cap of approximately $850 million. New Frontiers missions include the Juno mission to Jupiter, the Osiris-REx asteroid sample-return missions, and the New Horizons mission to Pluto.
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Monday, December 18, 2017

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Glowing trees could replace street lights

By using embedded nanoparticles in leaves, scientists at MIT have created plants that glow in the dark paving the way for trees to replace streetlights.

The breakthrough, which could pave the way for environmentally-friendly public lighting solutions that don't even require electricity, has the potential to revolutionize how we light up our homes and cities.

To give the plants their glowing ability, Professor Strano (the senior author of the study) and his colleagues used luciferase, the same substance that gives fireflies their glow.

After immersing the plants in a solution containing these particles and exposing them to high pressures, the scientists were able to produce plants that glowed for nearly four hours,however researchers are looking to expand on the idea and create larger plants that glow indefinitely.

"The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself."

"Our target is to perform one treatment when the plant is a seedling or a mature plant, and have it last for the lifetime of the plant," said study senior author Professor Michael Strano.

"Our work very seriously opens up the doorway to streetlamps that are nothing but treated trees, and to indirect lighting around homes."

"Plants can self-repair, they have their own energy, and they are already adapted to the outdoor environment," said Professor Strano. 
"We think this is an idea whose time has come.”
Source: Independent
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'Extinct' mammal found alive in Australia

The crest-tailed mulgara was once widely distributed across sandy deserts in inland Australia.
The crest-tailed mulgara - a small carnivorous marsupial - was thought to have died out a century ago.

At a time when species are disappearing from our planet on a regular basis, the news that this particular variety of mulgara has survived against all odds is particularly welcome.

It was discovered by a team from the University of New South Wales in Sturt National Park.

"The crest-tailed mulgara was once widely distributed across sandy desert environments in inland Australia, but declined due to the effects of rabbits, cats and foxes," said Dr Rebecca West.

"The species weighs around 150 grams and has pale blonde fur and a thick tail with a distinctive black crest."

The discovery is particularly timely as scientists with the Wild Deserts project are planning to remove several types of predator from the region to help support the return of native mammal species.

"The aim of this project is to return mammal species not seen in their natural habitat for over 90 years in Sturt National Park," said National Parks and Wildlife Service area manager Jaymie Norris.

"Rabbits, cats and foxes will be eradicated from two 20-square-kilometre fenced exclosures in Sturt National Park, before locally extinct mammals are reintroduced."

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

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The Ropen

The Ropen (Flying demon) is the local name of a cryptid on Umboi Island, Papua New Guinea that glows while flying, and which is held by many cryptozoologists as a possible living pterosaur.


It is said to produce a light, possibly to attract fish. According to the book Searching for Ropens, it is "any featherless creature that flies in the Southwest Pacific, and has a tail-length more than 25% of its wingspan." On the Island, the word "ropen" refers to a large nocturnal creature that glows briefly as it flies. The ropen is the subject of folklore  but it is also believed by some natives to be a real animal. Descriptions vary, but it is often said to be batlike, and sometimes, pterosaur-like.

The ropen is believed to be nocturnal and to exhibit bioluminescence. Purportedly it lives on a diet of fish, though there have been some reports of the creature feasting on human flesh, especially from grave robbery. 

Despite popular myth, the Ropen itself was not fabricated by creationists. It was first sighted in 1935 by famous biologist Evelyn Cheesman, who believed in evolution and was well respected in the scientific community.

At least five light expeditions, 1994-2004, were conducted by American creationists, including Carl Baugh, Paul Nation, Jonathan Whitcomb, Garth Guessman, and David Woetzel (usually one or two Americans at a time). Only about three sightings resulted from these investigations: only distant, brief views of the ropen-light; essentially no shape was seen by explorers on these expeditions.

In October of 2004, Genesis Park staff conducted a three week trip to the remote Siassi island off the western coast of Papua New Guinea, somewhat south of the Manus island group. The goal was to hike into the mountainous interior of Siassi to follow-up on intriguing reports received from coastal communities on the south of the island. Dozens of interviews were conducted and the credibility of witnesses was carefully tested by the use of black and white profiles. After carefully collating the dozens of interviews, a composite drawing (below) of most likely characteristics possessed by the Ropen was assembled.

In November, 2006 one of the earlier explorers, Paul Nation returned to Papua New Guinea and videotaped two lights on a ridge above Tawa, a remote village on the mainland. Indava is what the creature is called by the local villagers and one described it in terms of a small airplane. These nocturnal, apparently bioluminescent creatures appeared to have colonized the top of a cliff where they sleep during the day. Investigators believe that these creatures are similar to the ropen, if not the same species.

In March of 2007, Paul Nation returned to Tawa Village. The temperatures at night had dropped to below 40 degrees Fahrenheit with wind and rain which made him conclude that the indavas had left the cliff. Villagers told Nation that the creatures live in trees without any permanent colony location. During this second expedition to the Tawa area, Nation learned to distinguish between distant automobile headlights (bright-white, with slow movement) and the dimmer yellow lights made by the creatures. Indava's fly mostly above the tree canopy, following ridges on hills and mountains where there are neither roads nor automobiles.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

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Google's AI has built another, superior AI

Google's AI can learn and improve over time.
The Google Brain project has created an AI that is capable of designing a 'child' AI superior to itself.

The new artificial intelligence, which is known as AutoML (Automated Machine Learning), acts as a controller neural network that can develop a child AI network for specific tasks.

To demonstrate the system, Google researchers tasked AutoML with developing a child AI known as NASNet that can recognize objects ( cars, trees, people etc. ) in video footage in real-time.

By analyzing the performance of NASNet, implementing improvements and then repeating this process thousands of time, AutoML was able to create an AI that superseded all other versions.

The resulting NASNet child AI was 1.2% more accurate and 4% more efficient that any existing human-made version of the same system.

"We hope that the larger machine learning community will be able to build on these models to address multitudes of computer vision problems we have not yet imagined," the researchers wrote. 
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Monday, December 4, 2017

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Large sphinx head recovered in California

The head is made of Plaster of Paris.
Archaeologists discovered the artifact in Santa Barbara County, however all is not quite as it seems.
Far from being a relic built by the ancient Egyptians, the 300-pound sphinx head is actually something a little more recent - a prop from the pioneering 1923 movie The Ten Commandments.

In an effort to mimic Egypt's sandy landscape, part of the Hollywood blockbuster was shot in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes on an enormous set measuring 800ft across and 12 stories high.

Featuring a huge gate, pharaoh statues and 21 sphinxes, the set required the skills of 1,300 craftsmen and used 25,000 pounds of nails and 250 tons of plaster of Paris.

Once filming had concluded, director Cecil B. DeMille demanded that the entire thing be buried in the sand. The exact reason for this remains unclear, however it is believed that he had either wanted to prevent other directors using it or had run out of money and couldn't afford to dismantle it.

Fast-forward almost 100 years and now, for the first time, archaeologists have managed to unearth one of the original intact sphinx heads from the site of the movie set.

"Movie sets just don't exist anymore from that Golden Age of Hollywood," said Doug Jenzen, executive director of the Dunes Center.

"This represents an opportunity to save a piece of American history before it's destroyed."
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Thursday, November 30, 2017

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Earthworms can breed in Martian soil

Worms are important for future indoor gardens on Mars.
Researchers in the Netherlands have found that earthworms can reproduce in Mars soil simulant obtained from NASA. The result could be important as scientists aim to determine whether people can keep themselves alive on the Red Planet by growing their own crops on Mars soil.

The results of a recent experiment suggest that the soil on Mars is likely to be suitable for agriculture.

Scientists in the Netherlands using a Mars soil simulant obtained from NASA have discovered that earthworms are not only able to live in it, but can even reproduce.

The findings indicate that future settlers on Mars should be able to grow their own crops.

"The best surprise came at the end of the experiment when we found two young worms in the Mars soil simulant," said Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University and Research.

"The positive effect of adding manure was not unexpected, but we were surprised that it makes Mars soil simulant outperform Earth silver sand." Wamelink said in a statement released by the university.

Worms are very important for a healthy soil, not only on Earth but also in future indoor gardens on Mars or the Moon. They thrive on dead organic matter such as old plant remains, which they eat, chew and mix with soil before they excrete it.

The researchers have also succeeded in growing edible crops in the makeshift Mars soil as well.

"The only species that has resisted our efforts so far is spinach," the team wrote.
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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

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Big earthquakes to occur more often in 2018

We could be in for a hard time.
A periodic slowing of the rotation of the Earth is likely to result in an upsurge in earthquakes next year.

In a paper presented last month at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado in Boulder and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana in Missoula highlighted the link between seismic activity and the rotational speed of the planet.

"The correlation between Earth's rotation and earthquake activity is strong and suggests there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes next year," said Bilham. "Major earthquakes have been well recorded for more than a century and that gives us a good record to study."

The researchers looked back at five separate periods in Earth's history during which there had been an abnormally large number of earthquakes and found that these all coincided with a temporary reduction in the Earth's rotational speed.

"In these periods, there were between 25 to 30 intense earthquakes a year," said Bilham. "The rest of the time the average figure was around 15 major earthquakes a year."

As it happens, we have been experiencing one of these periodic slowdowns now for four years.

"The Earth is offering us a five-year heads-up on future earthquakes," said Bilham.

"Next year we should see a significant increase in numbers of severe earthquakes. We have had it easy this year. So far we have only had about six severe earthquakes."

"We could easily have 20 a year starting in 2018."
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Thursday, November 23, 2017

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Entire family of mammoths goes on sale

Mammoths roamed earth around 10,000 years ago.
The skeletons, which include a one-year-old baby, were discovered by builders in Siberia 15 years ago.

For the first time ever, museums are being offered the opportunity to exhibit an entire family of woolly mammoth skeletons thanks to an auction taking place in West Sussex, England today.

The prehistoric family consists of an adult male and female, an infant aged 8 or 9 and a young baby.

The baby mammoth skeleton is particularly prized, with only one other known almost complete infant mammoth skeleton in the world.

The family of four mammoths on sale in Sussex
According to Summers Place natural history specialist Rupert van der Werff, the mammoths arrived at the auction house in 16 crates and had to be assembled 'like a difficult 3D puzzle'.
Most mammoths died out around 10,000 years ago, with a tiny population enduring on isolated Wrangel Island - off the northern coast of eastern Siberia - until 1650 BC.
The sale had been expected to fetch somewhere in the region of $500,000, however despite significant interest from museums the exhibit has yet to find a buyer.
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Friday, November 17, 2017

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Mystery surrounds poisoned trees in Norfolk

The trees are protected due to their age and historical significance. 
Authorities have been investigating a recent 'attack' on a number of protected 200-year-old trees.

The incident, which occurred at Koolunga House in Gorleston, England, saw unknown individual drill holes in the trunks of eight protected trees before pouring a poisonous substance inside.

"It's a real mystery as to why anyone would want to do it," said council leader Graham Plant. "I don't know what their motive is, but they are doing it and it's got to stop."

Residents of the property have offered a monetary reward for information leading to the culprit's arrest.

The trees, which have been damaged but may not have to be felled, include a horse chestnut tree and beech trees.

"This is part of Gorleston's history, and it isn't just in Koolunga, there's been a 200-year-old beech tree that's been attacked at a neighbouring garden," said Plant.

"It's somebody who has got a motive and their reason for doing things, I don't care what they are, we will do what we can to protect those trees."

Source: BBC News
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Monday, November 13, 2017

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Prehistoric shark found off coast of Portugal

This ancient species was around during the time of the dinosaurs.
Considered to be a 'living fossil', the frilled shark has remained unchanged for over 80 million years.

The extremely rare shark, which would have swam the prehistoric seas at the same time Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops roamed the land, is only seldom observed by scientists.

Usually found up to 4,200ft beneath the surface, the frilled shark can grow up to 6ft and possesses a unique set of gills that, unlike those of other fish, stretch all the way across its throat.

It also has a particularly unusual set of teeth designed to help it latch on to its prey.

This latest specimen, which was caught off the Algarve coast, was discovered by European Union researchers who were working on a project to 'minimize unwanted catches in commercial fishing'.

In total, only a very small number of frilled sharks have ever been observed alive.
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Friday, November 10, 2017

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Barbary Lion

The Barbary lion was considered one of the biggest lion subspecies. They had dark, long-haired manes that extended over the shoulder and downwards to the belly. It is said that they developed the colors and size of their manes due to ambient temperatures, their nutrition, and their level of testosterone. It is also possible that they developed such long manes due to the temperature in the Atlas Mountains, which is much lower than other regions in Africa.


The Barbary lion once roamed the deserts of Morocco, Algeria,Maghreb and other regions around Atlas Mountains.The Atlas Mountains had cold temperatures when compared to other parts of the African region, especially in the winter. The Barbary lions lived in prides, even when there were not many of them left, especially in the eastern Maghreb.


The Romans greatly admired Barbary lions and used them in the Colosseum to battle with gladiators.The Romans killed thousands of lions in their games, the Arab empire that followed squeezed the remaining animals into smaller territories.

In Algeria, they lived in the forest-clad hills and mountains between Ouarsenis in the west, the Pic de Taza in the east, and the plains of the Chelif River in the north. There were also many lions among the forests and wooded hills of the Constantine Province eastwards into Tunisia and south into the Aurès Mountains. By the middle of the 19th century, their numbers had been greatly diminished. The cedar forests of Chelia and neighbouring mountains harboured lions until about 1884.The last survivors in Tunisia were extirpated by 1890.

The last known wild Barbary lion was shot in the Moroccan part of the Atlas Mountains in 1942. However, several people reported sightings of the Barbary lions in the 1950's in Morocco and Algeria although it was never proven. Some people say that small populations may have even survived until the early 1960's, but it is not known for sure. These lions used to be offered to royal families of Morocco and Ethiopia and were known as the "royal" lions. It is said that some of these "royal" lions survived until the late 1960's, until a respiratory disease just about wiped them all out.

There have been numerous sighting over the past three decades, but none of them have been genetically proven. Several zoos around the world claim to have Barbary lions in their collections. In all likelihood most if not all of these big cats are not real Barbary lions but rather hybrids with lions from sub-Saharan Africa.

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Friday, November 3, 2017

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Mysterious void found inside Great Pyramid

Khufu's pyramid was built by Pharoah Khufu during 4th dynasty.
Physicists have used the by-products of cosmic rays to reveal a large, previously unidentified chamber inside the 4,500-year-old Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt. The find is the first discovery since the nineteenth century of a major new space inside the pyramid.

Egyptologists have been quick to dismiss any idea of finding lost treasure in the 30-metre-long void. “There’s zero chance of hidden burial chambers,” says Aidan Dodson, an Egyptologist at the University of Bristol, UK, who studies ancient Egyptian tombs. But experts hope that the finding will lead to significant insights into how this spectacular pyramid was built.

Khufu's Pyramid was built during the fourth dynasty under Pharaoh Khufu, who reigned from 2509 to 2483 BC. Despite being one of the oldest and largest monuments in the world, there is no consensus about how it was constructed.It famously contains three large interior chambers and a series of passageways, the most striking of which is the 47m-long, 8m-high Grand Gallery.
"We don't know whether this big void is horizontal or inclined; we don't know if this void is made by one structure or several successive structures," explained Mehdi Tayoubi from the HIP Institute, Paris.
"What we are sure about is that this big void is there; that it is impressive; and that it was not expected as far as I know by any sort of theory."

"To better understand its internal structure, we imaged the pyramid using muons, which are by-products of cosmic rays that are only partially absorbed by stone," the scientists reported in Nature.

"The resulting cosmic-ray muon radiography allows us to visualise the known and potentially unknown voids in the pyramid in a non-invasive way."

This study reported the discovery of the chamber of at least 30m in length, situated above the Grand Gallery of the pyramid.

"While there is currently no information about the role of this void, these findings show how modern particle physics can shed new light on the world's archaeological heritage," the scientists said.

Ultimately the plan is to try drilling a tiny hole in the adjoining wall so that a small robot can be sent through in to the hidden area to find out what might lie inside.

Permission from the Egyptian authorities will need to be given however before this can go ahead. 

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

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Mystery ancient stone structures found in Saudi desert

Several of the mysterious 'gates' can be seen in this image.
Over 400 unexplained structures have been discovered in the Saudi Arabian desert using Google Earth.

Found by Australian researcher David Kennedy whose team has already identified thousands of archaeological sites in the Middle-East, these peculiar man-made edifices seem to defy explanation.

Thought to have been constructed between 2,000 and 9,000 years ago by the ancestors of the modern-day Bedouin people, the structures are only visible when viewed from high above.

"You can't see them in any intelligible way at the ground level but once you get up a few hundred feet, or with a satellite even higher, they stand out beautifully," said Kennedy.

"I refer to them as Gates because when you view them from above they look like a simple field gate lying flat, two upright posts on the sides, connected by one or more long bar."

"They don't look like structures where people would have lived nor do they look like animal traps or for disposing of dead bodies. It's a mystery as to what their purpose would have been."

He said not much was known about the people who built them, but they were believed to be ancestors of the modern-day Bedouin.

Their discovery came about by chance after a Saudi doctor who was interested in the area's history contacted him, having heard about his work in Jordan.

"He said 'I'm interested in the heritage of my country, I've spotted on Google Earth that there are some rather strange structures in the lava fields'," Kennedy told broadcaster ABC.

"He sent the coordinates of them to me and I had a look and I was bowled over by them."

Kennedy, a founding director of the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa project, specializes in aerial archeology.

Since 1997, he and his team have photographed tens of thousands of stone-built structures, mostly in Jordan, ranging from giant circles to animal traps and funerary monuments.
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Saturday, October 28, 2017

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Scorching hot exoplanet 'snows' sunscreen

Artist’s illustration showing the scorching-hot exoplanet Kepler-13Ab, which orbits very close to its host star, Kepler-13A.
Astronomers have observed an extrasolar planet with some of the weirdest weather conditions ever seen.

Six times more massive than Jupiter and situated at a distance of 1,730 light years from the Earth, Kepler-13Ab, with often sees dayside surface temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, is one of the hottest extrasolar planets ever discovered,
 Kepler-13Ab is "tidally locked," always showing the same face to its star. So, it has a dayside and a nightside.)

Situated extremely close to its parent star and with an orbital period of 1.8 Earth days, this distant world is tidally locked so that one side of the planet is always facing its star.

Now astronomers believe that strong winds may also carry titanium dioxide - one of the active ingredients in sunscreen - around to the planet's cooler side where it condenses in to clouds.

The peculiar 'snow' then falls in to the lower atmosphere where it stays due to the planet's gravity.

"These observations of Kepler-13Ab are telling us how condensates and clouds form in the atmospheres of very hot Jupiters, and how gravity will affect the composition of an atmosphere," said study lead author Thomas Beatty from Pennsylvania State University.

"When looking at these planets, you need to know not only how hot they are, but also what their gravity is like."

"In many ways, the atmospheric studies we're doing now on these gaseous, 'hot Jupiter' kinds of planets are test beds for how we're going to do atmospheric studies of terrestrial, Earth-like planets," he said in the same statement. "Understanding more about the atmospheres of these planets and how they work will help us when we study smaller planets that are harder to see and have more-complicated features in their atmospheres." 

As its name suggests, Kepler-13Ab was discovered by NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, back in 2011. The planet is part of a triple-star system that includes the hot Jupiter's host star, Kepler-13A, and two companion stars (Kepler-13B and Kepler-13C).
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'Mega-carnivore' dinosaur found in Africa

An enormous meat-eating dinosaur measuring up to 30ft in length once roamed what is now Southern Africa.

Discovered by a team of researchers from universities in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, this prehistoric behemoth was part of a group of carnivorous dinosaurs known as 'megatherapods'.

Its footprints were found in the Maseru District of Lesotho - a small country in Southern Africa.

The discovery of such a large carnivorous dinosaur dating back to the Early Jurassic epoch was particularly unexpected as meat-eaters from that time were typically much smaller.

"The latest discovery is very exciting and sheds new light on the kind of carnivore that roamed what is now Southern Africa," said Dr Fabien Knoll from the University of Manchester.

"That's because it is the first evidence of an extremely large meat-eating animal roaming a landscape otherwise dominated by a variety of herbivorous, omnivorous and much smaller carnivorous dinosaurs. It really would have been top of the food chain."
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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

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Supervolcano could erupt sooner than previously thought.

The enormous supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park could erupt with only a few years' warning.

The natural beauty and hot springs of Yellowstone National Park attract thousands of tourists from all over the world on an annual basis, but not far below the park's serene surface is an increasingly large chamber of molten hot magma with the potential to erupt at any time.

When the inevitable does eventually happen, the Yellowstone supervolcano will cause untold devastation across hundreds of square miles and impact the climate on a global level.

The last time an eruption occurred was 631,000 years ago, suggesting that another one is long overdue, however exactly when this might happen has long remained a bit of a mystery.

Now scientists studying fossilized ash deposits from earlier eruptions have reached the unsettling conclusion that a future eruption could occur with far less warning than previously thought.

Rather than knowing about such an eruption centuries or even thousands of years in advance, we may only have mere decades to prepare and perhaps even less time than that.

"It's one thing to think about this slow gradual buildup - it's another thing to think about how you mobilize 1,000 cubic kilometers of magma in a decade," said geochemist Kari Cooper.
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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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