Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Britian Planning Laser Demonstrator & Lockheed Destroys a Truck With a 30 KW Laser

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has disclosed plans to compete the build and demonstration of a prototype high power laser directed energy weapon.

A supplier briefing for the project - known as the Laser Directed Energy Weapon Capability Demonstrator (LDEW CD) - is to be hosted by the MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) in mid-April. The announcement of this event has followed the release of a prior information notice in February.

According to Dstl, the aim of the capability demonstrator "is to enhance the UK's understanding of the capability of laser-based weapon system, as well as assisting in the prediction of the anticipated system performance". It added that the project "will consist of system studies and hardware trials, culminating in a number of practical demonstrations".

No details of the power, laser type, or proposed platform for the LDEW CD project have been released to date. However, Dstl has confirmed that the project demonstrations will be required to establish five key metrics: the ability to detect, acquire and track targets at range and in varying weather conditions with sufficient precision; the ability to generate and precisely control a high energy laser; control of the irradiance of the laser; management of power and cooling demands whilst enabling operation of the laser over a prolonged period; and control requirements, particularly managing the risks such that the laser is safe to operate.

Dstl said it expects to award a single contract to cover the design, build, and test of the capability demonstrator. However, it added that, given the broad range of capabilities required to meet the LDEW CD research requirement, it "is not expected that a single supplier would be able to fulfil this requirement in its entirety". This infers an expectation that industry players will coalesce into multi-disciplinary teams to bid for the contract.


The battlefield of the future recently came a step closer, as a Lockheed Martin laser weapon took out a truck in a field test. The 30-kW fiber laser weapon system was fired at a small truck mounted on a test platform, the laser beam disabled the running engine and drivetrain within seconds.

The recent field test used Lockheed's Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA) ground-based prototype, single-mode laser, which is based on the company's Area Defense Anti-Munitions (ADAM) laser weapon system. It incorporates the 30-kW Accelerated Laser Demonstration Initiative (ALADIN) fiber laser developed by Lockheed.

ATHENA uses a process that the company calls Spectrum Beam Combining. Though laser weapons have been successfully tested in the past, Lockheed says that even though such systems could acquire, track, and destroy targets, they lack practicality as a tactical weapon because the inefficient nature of the lasers resulted in them being too large, needing too much power, and being difficult to cool.

Spectrum Beam Combining overcomes these limitations by using fiber laser modules where the active gain medium consists of an optical fiber doped with a rare-earth element such as erbium, ytterbium, neodymium, or others. The optical fibers are flexible, so the laser can be thousands of meters long for greater gain, while taking up very little space because it can be coiled like a rope. The large surface-to-volume ratio means that it's easy to cool. In addition, fiber laser are very durable and project a high-quality beam using 50 percent less electricity than an equivalent solid-state laser.


Climate Change Accounts for 10% of European Crop Yield Stagnation

The fingerprint of climate trends on European crop yields


Moore et al


Europe has experienced a stagnation of some crop yields since the early 1990s as well as statistically significant warming during the growing season. Although it has been argued that these two are causally connected, no previous studies have formally attributed long-term yield trends to a changing climate. Here, we present two statistical tests based on the distinctive spatial pattern of climate change impacts and adaptation, and explore their power under a range of parameter values. We show that statistical power for the identification of climate change impacts is high in many settings, but that power for identifying adaptation is almost always low. Applying these tests to European agriculture, we find evidence that long-term temperature and precipitation trends since 1989 have reduced continent-wide wheat and barley yields by 2.5% and 3.8%, respectively, and have slightly increased maize and sugar beet yields. These averages disguise large heterogeneity across the continent, with regions around the Mediterranean experiencing significant adverse impacts on most crops. This result means that climate trends can account for ∼10% of the stagnation in European wheat and barley yields, with likely explanations for the remainder including changes in agriculture and environmental policies.

Evidence of Radiation Chemistry on Dwarf Planet Makemake



Brown et al


The dark, reddish tinged surfaces of icy bodies in the outer solar system are usually attributed to the long term irradiation of simple hydrocarbons leading to the breaking of C–H bonds, loss of hydrogen, and the production of long carbon chains. While the simple hydrocarbon methane is stable and detected on the most massive bodies in the Kuiper Belt, evidence of active irradiation chemistry is scant except for the presence of ethane on methane-rich Makemake and the possible detections of ethane on more methane-poor Pluto and Quaoar. We have obtained deep high signal-to-noise spectra of Makemake from 1.4 to 2.5 μm in an attempt to trace the radiation chemistry in the outer solar system beyond the initial ethane formation. We present the first astrophysical detection of solid ethylene and evidence for acetylene and high-mass alkanes—all expected products of the continued irradiation of methane, and use these species to map the chemical pathway from methane to long-chain hydrocarbons.

Lower Jaw Fossil Pushes Earliest Example of Genus Homo to Piacenzian Pliocene Neogene

A fossil lower jaw found in the Ledi-Geraru research area, Afar Regional State, Ethiopia, pushes back evidence for the human genus -- Homo -- to 2.8 million years ago, according to a pair of reports published March 4 in the online version of the journal Science. The jaw predates the previously known fossils of the Homo lineage by approximately 400,000 years. It was discovered in 2013 by an international team led by Arizona State University scientists Kaye E. Reed, Christopher J. Campisano and J Ramón Arrowsmith, and Brian A. Villmoare of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

For decades, scientists have been searching for African fossils documenting the earliest phases of the Homo lineage, but specimens recovered from the critical time interval between 3 and 2.5 million years ago have been frustratingly few and often poorly preserved. As a result, there has been little agreement on the time of origin of the lineage that ultimately gave rise to modern humans. At 2.8 million years, the new Ledi-Geraru fossil provides clues to changes in the jaw and teeth in Homo only 200,000 years after the last known occurrence of Australopithecus afarensis ("Lucy") from the nearby Ethiopian site of Hadar.

Found by team member and ASU graduate student Chalachew Seyoum, the Ledi-Geraru fossil preserves the left side of the lower jaw, or mandible, along with five teeth. The fossil analysis, led by Villmoare and William H. Kimbel, director of ASU's Institute of Human Origins, revealed advanced features, for example, slim molars, symmetrical premolars and an evenly proportioned jaw, that distinguish early species on the Homo lineage, such as Homo habilis at 2 million years ago, from the more apelike early Australopithecus. But the primitive, sloping chin links the Ledi-Geraru jaw to a Lucy-like ancestor.

"In spite of a lot of searching, fossils on the Homo lineage older than 2 million years ago are very rare," says Villmoare. "To have a glimpse of the very earliest phase of our lineage's evolution is particularly exciting."

The PaleoEcology of a Frasnian Devonian Coral Reef From Russia

Paleoecology and sedimentary environment of the Late Devonian coral biostrome from the Central Devonian Field, Russia


Zaton et al


The upper Frasnian coral biostrome, well-exposed in the Russkiy Brod quarry, Central Devonian Field, Russia, has been studied in detail with respect to paleoecology and sedimentary environment. The biostrome, formed by auloporid tabulates and solitary and colonial rugose corals, originated in an offshore environment characterized by calmer periods with slow or halted sedimentation, and more energetic periods when sedimentation rate increased. The episodic, higher sediment influx and stronger hydrodynamic regime are not only well-expressed in the microfacies, but also in the variability of colony integration of the rugose corals observed even within single coralla. Distinct development of constrictions, rejuvenescences and deflection of growth directions in rugose corallites may also indicate unstable sedimentary conditions. The latter features, however, may have, in part, also resulted from syn vivo biotic interaction with the associated auloporids. Both the facies and paleontological observations suggest that the biostrome originated by the colonization of deposited bioclasts by pioneering auloporids, creating the framework for settlement of later generations of auloporids and rugose corals. Apart from abundant auloporids representing a single species and associated rugose corals, the other encrusters are not numerous and poorly diversified, represented by dominating foraminifers, followed by single species of productid brachiopods, stromatoporoids, microconchids and cornulitids. The coral-associated macrobenthos has similarly a low diversity, being represented by single species of spiriferid and rhynchonellid brachiopods, and gastropods. Being developed in an offshore carbonate sedimentary system devoid of any organic-rich deposits, and characterized by extremely low abundance and diversity of suspension-feeding organisms, the biostrome is considered to have originated in a low productivity, oligotrophic environment strictly dominated by heterozoan coral communities. Its development in a well-oxygenated, oligotrophic environment during the time when organic-rich, black Kellwasser facies developed elsewhere, additionally attests for multi-causal scenarios for the Frasnian-Famennian event, during which other factors were responsible in different paleogeographic and facies settings.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Russian Project 4202 Boost Glide Hypersonic Weapon Test Failure on February 26th

Russia appears to have conducted a flight test of the Project 4202 vehicle on February 26, 2015 from one of the silos in Dombarovskiy. Project 4202 is believed to be some kind of a hypersonic vehicle that will be delivered by the UR-100NUTTH/SS-19 missile. (See also the earlier post.)

Project 4202 launches have never been officially acknowledged, but bits of information appear here and there and there are enough dots to connect, so there is a fairly high degree of certainty that the launch indeed took place. ([RSNF] must say that [RSNF] can claim no credit for finding the dots - most of them have been discovered by others.)

First, TsENKI (Center for Operation of Space Ground-Based Infrastructure) in its 2014 acquisition plan listed two Project 4202-related contracts. In the document, the launch is scheduled to take place in January 2015, but it was later postponed. Industry sources were said to confirm that the test was moved to February.

And indeed, on February 26, 2015 a note on a Russian site, which is known to be well connected and generally reliable, said something to the effect that a test is upcoming. The post has been removed since, but only after it was updated to say that the test was unsuccessful.

Finally, a number of people have found a message posted by someone from Yasnyy (which is the name of the city at the Dombarovskiy missile base) later on February 26. The author said that in Yasnyy people felt a missile launch that took place around 13:00 local time (that would be 8:00 UTC).

Jan Scheuermann is the new Clint Eastwood, Becomes First Person to fly F-35 Simulator With Just her Mind

Jan Scheuermann, a quadriplegic and the pioneering patient for an experimental Pentagon robotics program, continues to break ground in freeing the mind from the limitations of the body.

The 55-year-old mother of two in 2012 agreed to let surgeons implant electrodes on her brain to control a robotic arm. More recently, she flew an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter simulator using nothing but her thoughts, an official said.

Arati Prabhakar, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, cited the breakthrough last week at the first annual Future of War conference. The event was organized by the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C.

The Preferred Habitat of the Earliest Angiosperms

Leaf energy balance modelling as a tool to infer habitat preference in the early angiosperms


Lee et al


Despite more than a century of research, some key aspects of habitat preference and ecology of the earliest angiosperms remain poorly constrained. Proposed growth ecology has varied from opportunistic weedy species growing in full sun to slow-growing species limited to the shaded understorey of gymnosperm forests. Evidence suggests that the earliest angiosperms possessed low transpiration rates: gas exchange rates for extant basal angiosperms are low, as are the reconstructed gas exchange rates for the oldest known angiosperm leaf fossils. Leaves with low transpirational capacity are vulnerable to overheating in full sun, favouring the hypothesis that early angiosperms were limited to the shaded understorey. Here, modelled leaf temperatures are used to examine the thermal tolerance of some of the earliest angiosperms. Our results indicate that small leaf size could have mitigated the low transpirational cooling capacity of many early angiosperms, enabling many species to survive in full sun. We propose that during the earliest phases of the angiosperm leaf record, angiosperms may not have been limited to the understorey, and that some species were able to compete with ferns and gymnosperms in both shaded and sunny habitats, especially in the absence of competition from more rapidly growing and transpiring advanced lineages of angiosperms.

Two new Mammal Localities From Lower Cretaceous Siberia

Two new mammal localities within the Lower Cretaceous Ilek Formation of West Siberia, Russia


Averianov et al


Two new mammal localities have been discovered in the Lower Cretaceous Ilek Formation of West Siberia, Russia, during a field work in 2014. The Smolenskii Yar locality in the Chebula District of Kemerovo Province produced an upper molariform tooth (M2) of a Gobiconodontidae indet. The Ust’-Kolba locality in the Tisul’ District of Kemerovo Province yielded a lower molar (m2) of the zhangheotherian Kiyatherium sp. These are the ninth and tenth Mesozoic mammal localities for Russia. The Kiyatherium-bearing vertebrate assemblage from the Shestakovo 3 and Ust’-Kolba localities is likely to be the youngest within the Ilek Formation, reflecting the time after the extinction of the Tritylodontidae.

A new Large Tetrapodomorph Sarcopterygian from the Late Devonian of Iran

A new large tetrapodomorph sarcopterygian from the Late Devonian of Iran


Davesne et al


Remains of a large sarcopterygian were collected in the Middle-Late Devonian Zarand Formation of Southeastern Iran. These remains consist of incomplete jaw bones of uncertain identification, preserved in a dense and heterogeneous rock matrix. The use of CT scan microtomography and 3D visualization enabled unraveling their overall anatomy as well as the microstructure of one tooth. This large tooth shows eusthenodont-type plicidentine, found only in Devonian tetrapodomorph sarcopterygians and more specifically suggesting affinities with the family Tristichopteridae. This discovery constitutes the first occurrence of a large tetrapodomorph in the Devonian of Iran and the Middle East.

Monday, March 02, 2015

20 Year old Military Satellite Experiences Unexplained Temperature Spike, Explodes

A 20-year-old military weather satellite apparently exploded in orbit Feb. 3 following what the U.S. Air Force described as a sudden temperature spike.

The “catastrophic event” produced 43 pieces of space debris, according to Air Force Space Command, which disclosed the loss of the satellite Feb. 27 in response to questions from SpaceNews.

The satellite, Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13, was the oldest continuously operational satellite in the DMSP weather constellation.

Launched in 1995, DMSP-F13 provided thousands of hours of weather imagery to Air Force and Navy forecasters before transitioning to a backup role in 2006. The Air Force said its sudden loss would have minimal impact.

“Because this satellite was no longer used by the National Weather Service or the Air Force Weather Agency, the impact of the loss of this satellite is minimal,” the Air Force said. “We anticipate real-time weather data for tactical users will be slightly reduced without this satellite, but its data was not being used for weather forecast modeling.”

The Air Force still has six DMSP satellites in service following the launch last April of DMSP-F19. A seventh satellite, DMSP-F20, was under consideration for a 2016 launch as recently as November.

Air Force Space Command said DMSP-F13’s power subsystem experienced “a sudden spike in temperature” followed by “an unrecoverable loss of attitude control.” As DMSP operators were deciding to “render the vehicle safe” the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, identified a debris field near the satellite.

Sweetman: Has Boeing Already won the UCLASS Competition With its "P-AEA" Program "win?"

What’s going on with the Pentagon’s longest-running drama, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (Uclass) program? After years of factional intrigue that made Borgia politics look like a Dick & Jane reader, the debate about Uclass specifications has been declared not over, but deferred. (How can there not be enough data to make a decision?) But instead of redoubling their lobbying, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman appear to have walked away.

In January, market analysts grilled Boeing CEO Jim McNerney about the future of the company’s St. Louis operations, which were facing the shutdown of their fighter programs. He seemed unworried—and whatever you think of Boeing/Lockheed Martin’s chances in the Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) contest, neither side has a contract in hand.

Then the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings website reported that Uclass had been designated RAQ-25. Under Pentagon rules, programs don’t get designators; only vehicles do.


A classified P-AEA program started in 2011-12. It may have involved flight demonstrations. Quite recently, Boeing won it, hence McNerney’s confidence about St Louis’s future. It’s been designated RAQ-25, indicating it has a strike capability, and as well as pathfinding for the LRSB, it takes on the MQ-X role. RAQ-25 is somewhere in that $7 billion slush fund.

Work’s comments about “capabilities that we already have” indicate he and other leaders are pushing for a joint Air Force/Navy program based on the RAQ-25. The delay in Uclass allows time for a carrier variant to be demonstrated, and competitors have deemed the battle half over.

Theia Formed in the Same Region as the Earth

A primordial origin for the composition similarity between the Earth and the Moon


Mastrobuono-Battisti et al


Most of the properties of the Earth-Moon system can be explained by a collision between a planetary embryo and the growing Earth late in the accretion process. Simulations show that most of the material that eventually aggregates to form the Moon originates from the impactor. However, analysis of the terrestrial and lunar isotopic composition show them to be highly similar. In contrast, the compositions of other solar system bodies are significantly different than the Earth and Moon. This poses a major challenge to the giant impact scenario since the Moon-forming impactor is then thought to also have differed in composition from the proto-Earth. Here we track the feeding zones of growing planets in a suite of simulations of planetary accretion, in order to measure the composition of Moon-forming impactors. We find that different planets formed in the same simulation have distinct compositions, but the compositions of giant impactors are systematically more similar to the planets they impact. A significant fraction of planet-impactor pairs have virtually identical compositions. Thus, the similarity in composition between the Earth and Moon could be a natural consequence of a late giant impact.

Lost City, Rumored "City of the Monkey God," Discovered in Honduran Rain Forest

An expedition to Honduras has emerged from the jungle with dramatic news of the discovery of a mysterious culture's lost city, never before explored. The team was led to the remote, uninhabited region by long-standing rumors that it was the site of a storied "White City," also referred to in legend as the "City of the Monkey God."

Archaeologists surveyed and mapped extensive plazas, earthworks, mounds, and an earthen pyramid belonging to a culture that thrived a thousand years ago, and then vanished. The team, which returned from the site last Wednesday, also discovered a remarkable cache of stone sculptures that had lain untouched since the city was abandoned.

In contrast to the nearby Maya, this vanished culture has been scarcely studied and it remains virtually unknown. Archaeologists don't even have a name for it.

Christopher Fisher, a Mesoamerican archaeologist on the team from Colorado State University, said the pristine, unlooted condition of the site was "incredibly rare." He speculated that the cache, found at the base of the pyramid, may have been an offering.

"The undisturbed context is unique," Fisher said. "This is a powerful ritual display, to take wealth objects like this out of circulation."

The tops of 52 artifacts were peeking from the earth. Many more evidently lie below ground, with possible burials. They include stone ceremonial seats (called metates) and finely carved vessels decorated with snakes, zoomorphic figures, and vultures.

The most striking object emerging from the ground is the head of what Fisher speculated might be "a were-jaguar," possibly depicting a shaman in a transformed, spirit state. Alternatively, the artifact might be related to ritualized ball games that were a feature of pre-Columbian life in Mesoamerica.

Diversity patterns of Devonian Plant Zosterophyllopsida Tied to PaleoGeography

Diversity patterns of the vascular plant group Zosterophyllopsida in relation to Devonian palaeogeography


Cascales-Miñana et al


The Zosterophyllopsida originated in the Silurian and became prominent vascular components of Early Devonian floras worldwide. An updated dataset of zosterophyllopsids at species level is analysed to compare the taxic composition of five putative palaeophytogeographic units, Laurussia, Siberia, northwestern Gondwana, Kazakhstan and northeastern Gondwana (i.e. Australia, China and the Shan-Thai block). The high level of endemicity shown by each unit confirms the phytogeographic differentiation and the occurrence of geographical barriers preventing massive floral exchanges between the corresponding regions for the Late Silurian-Early Devonian time interval. Statistical analyses conducted on the three largest datasets, those corresponding to Laurussia, Siberia and northeastern Gondwana, indicate that the diversity dynamics of the group followed the same pattern in these regions. Almost all taxic diversity measures show that specific diversity was greatest in the middle and late Pragian. Diversity dropped significantly thereafter; however, residual diversity reveals genuine regional patterns. From this, we show that the radiation of the Zosterophyllopsida may have stopped earlier in northeastern Gondwana and Siberia than Laurussia. We propose that the onset of these extinctions resulted from the competitive replacement of the zosterophyllopsids by increasingly diversified lycopsids and basal euphyllophytes whose evolution could have been favoured by external factors.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

This is Bob. Bob Says hi. Oh no, Bob Died...and we ate him!

For my daughter's birthday, we went to Ocean Beach in San Francisco.  It was her request, actually, and we, of course! forgot the sun screen.  We had a blast.  However, it seems Poseidon(*) is pleased with my daughter and offered up a surprise for us: we were playing at the water's edge when my daughter spotted something in the surf.  The water receded and there crawling back to the ocean as quick as possible was a dungeness crab.  My daughter loves dungeness crab.  We quickly rushed over and snatched it up (albeit carefully).  We kept it alive until we almost got home, but in the process we named the crab "Bob."  This was because of the silly little ... idk... short goofy story my daughter had been telling us kids are saying about a character named Bob.

There are two variants of that story.

"This is Bob.  Bob likes sharp objects.  Oh no!  Bob died!"


"This is Bob.  Bob says hi!  Oh no!  Bob died."

So.  The crab we caught in the surface was taken home, boiled and steamed, then eaten.


Bob died.

We ate him.

He was delicious.

*.  My daughter is a huge fan of the Percy Jackson series.

The Next Downshift

We've reached the next step in the blog transition I started back in November.  Originally, I was going to do this at the end of March.  Time crunches have dictated I pull this forward.

Posts will now be done every two hours (9,11,1, 3 & 5).

The general themes are going to be TJ & earlier paleo posts at 9 am.  Vertebrate paleo, paleoanthropology & some archaeology  at 11 am.  1 PM will be planetary science & space exploration oriented.  3 PM will be the sole militaria post.  5 PM will be the grab bag of robopocalypse, crypto currencies, hacking, international politics/economics & sf bay area architecture.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Google's Architectual Plans for Mountain View

How to Allow Interaction With Reality While in Virtual Reality

Augmented reality provides a live view of the real world with computer generated elements superimposed. Pilots have long used head-up displays to access air speed data and other parameters while they fly. Some smartphone cameras can superimpose computer-generated characters on to the view of the real world. And emerging technologies such as Google Glass aim to superimpose useful information on to a real world view, such as navigation directions and personal data.

But there’s a related problem that most people will not yet have considered. Imagine wearing a virtual reality headset and that you are immersed in a virtual world quite unlike the physical one around you. Now suppose you want to take a sip of water from a cup on the desk in front of you.

The only way to succeed is by feeling your way to the cup while still immersed in the virtual world or by removing the virtual reality headset and returning to the physical world. Neither of these is particularly good, say Pulkit Budhiraja and pals at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who have come up with a solution.

These guys have been testing ways of superimposing physical reality onto a virtual reality experience. The goal is to find a way to allow users to interact with real physical objects while they remain immersed in a virtual world—a kind of augmented virtual reality

Budhiraja and co began by modifying an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset with a pair of cameras that produce a stereo view of the real world in front of the headset. They then came up with four different ways of superimposing the real world images onto the virtual world for the task of picking up and drinking from a cup, while remaining immersed.

Quantum Teleportation can Transfer two Properties With Fidelity

Suppose you see a beautiful table in a museum and you would like to have the same one at home. What could you do? One strategy is to accurately measure all its properties — its form (length, height and width) and its appearance (material and colour) — and then reproduce an identical copy for your living room. But this 'measure-and-reproduce' strategy would fail if the table were a quantum particle, such as a photon or an electron orbiting an atomic nucleus. The no-cloning theorem of quantum mechanics tells us that it is impossible to copy such a particle perfectly. On page 516 of this issue, Wang et al. show how to get around this apparent limitation of quantum physics. In a beautiful extension of previous experiments, they demonstrate how to transfer the values of two properties of a photon — the spin angular momentum (the direction of the photon's electric field, generally referred to as polarization) and the orbital angular momentum (which depends on the field distribution) — through quantum teleportation onto another photon.

Prototype Quantum Radar Built

A prototype quantum radar that has the potential to detect objects which are invisible to conventional systems has been developed by an international research team led by a quantum information scientist at the University of York.

The new breed of radar is a hybrid system that uses quantum correlation between microwave and optical beams to detect objects of low reflectivity such as cancer cells or aircraft with a stealth capability. Because the quantum radar operates at much lower energies than conventional systems, it has the long-term potential for a range of applications in biomedicine including non-invasive NMR scans.

The research team led by Dr Stefano Pirandola, of the University's Department of Computer Science and the York Centre for Quantum Technologies, found that a special converter - a double-cavity device that couples the microwave beam to an optical beam using a nano-mechanical oscillator - was the key to the new system.

The device can either generate microwave-optical entanglement (during the signal emission) or convert a microwave into an optical beam (during the collection of the reflection beams from the object). The research is published in Physical Review Letters.

Life Could Exist on Titan

A new type of methane-based, oxygen-free life form that can metabolize and reproduce similar to life on Earth has been modeled by a team of Cornell University researchers.

Taking a simultaneously imaginative and rigidly scientific view, chemical engineers and astronomers offer a template for life that could thrive in a harsh, cold world - specifically Titan, the giant moon of Saturn. A planetary body awash with seas not of water, but of liquid methane, Titan could harbor methane-based, oxygen-free cells.

Their theorized cell membrane, composed of small organic nitrogen compounds and capable of functioning in liquid methane temperatures of 292 degrees below zero, is published in Science Advances, Feb. 27. The work is led by chemical molecular dynamics expert Paulette Clancy and first author James Stevenson, a graduate student in chemical engineering. The paper's co-author is Jonathan Lunine, director for Cornell's Center for Radiophysics and Space Research.

Are China and America Destined for War?

There is no geo-strategic relationship of more importance than that of the U.S. and China. Yet, tensions between Washington and Beijing over the last few years have been building. Over the last few weeks I have been exploring on these pages some of the pathways the unthinkable could happen: a U.S.-China war. We have also been exploring the various paths to victory both sides could utilize. While all of this is important, it is also important to take a step back and look at the U.S.-China relationship from another viewpoint of equal and possibly even greater value—a dilemma in the relationship that is creating its own set of tensions: the budding high-tech security dilemma pitting Washington and Beijing against one another.

While both sides have benefitted from decades of fruitful economic, cultural, and diplomatic ties since the restoration of formal relations in the 1970s, the dynamic of this important relationship is becoming increasingly competitive. Due to a host of factors such as the loss of a common foe (the Soviet Union), existing Asia-Pacific alliance dynamics, economic competition, territorial claims and counterclaims in the East and South China Sea and the rapid deployment of advanced conventional weapons platforms on both sides Washington and Beijing find themselves in an increasingly dangerous security dilemma.

Long Range Strike Bomber Vital for US Nuclear Deterrent

Completing development of the classified Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) programme is essential to the US nuclear deterrent because of the advanced age of the US Air Force's (USAF's) existing bomber fleets, the military official responsible for US strategic deterrence said on 26 February.

"Our air leg is supported today by the B-2 and the B-52 aircraft," said US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) chief Admiral Cecil Haney during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. "The B-52, which was last off the assembly line in 1962, will be used out until at least the 2040 time period. It is very important we invest in the long-range bomber."

Is US Navy Submarine Production Headed for a Bottleneck?

It’s a problem the US Navy wants to have, but it’s still a problem. If the service gets enough money both to build its top priority, the Ohio Replacement Program nuclear missile submarine, and to keep producing its vaunted Virginia-class attack subs, then so much new work will be hitting the shipyards so rapidly that they’ll be hard-pressed to ramp up production fast enough.

There are just two shipyards in the country that can build nuclear-powered submarines, Virginia’s Newport News and New England’s Electric Boat, which along with their network of specialized suppliers have recently ramped up to building two Virginias a year. But the Navy wants to start buying a bigger, more powerful, and correspondingly harder-to-build version of the Virginia no later than 2019. Then in 2021, the Navy will officially start its first Ohio replacement. That’s not just another sub: “An Ohio is about twice a Virginia in terms of the workload,” Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley told reporters yesterday.

“It’s a fairly steep growth [in production] compared to what it’s been in the past 10 to 20 years, absolutely, ” Stackley said when I pressed him on the point.

Is it a potential bottleneck in production?

Understanding a Campanian Cretaceous Rocky Shore Ecology From Sweden

Rocky shore taphonomy—A comparative study of modern and Late Cretaceous analogues


Sørensen et al


Rocky shores are rare in the fossil record due to erosion under both sea-level rise and fall. In contrast, modern rocky shores are well-studied, but little is known about the evolution of their ecosystems due to the rarity of ancient counterparts. Reconstruction of these ancient ecosystems is thus essential to get an insight into their evolution. A high-diversity Late Cretaceous (Campanian) rocky shore fauna is found in southern Sweden. The original composition of the shelly fauna cannot be interpreted by direct examination of the preserved fauna due to the effects of taphonomic processes. Life and death assemblages from a modern rocky shore fauna from Thailand have previously been analysed and a hypothetical fossil assemblage was reconstructed in order to attempt an interpretation of the Campanian life assemblage. This study shows a low taxonomic agreement between the original Campanian life assemblage and the fossil assemblage, due to taphonomic processes, and high environmental fidelity with only a few out-of-habitat species represented. The modern life assemblage showed in an earlier study, a high loss of species before onset of fossilisation. This suggests that the faunal composition of the Campanian life assemblage cannot be easily reconstructed, and time averaging by generations of death assemblages makes this even more difficult. The Campanian aragonitic fauna is poorly represented and the rarity of moulds after aragonitic species is interpreted as due to taphonomic processes and not to lower richness of aragonitic species in the Cretaceous. This is supported by comparison with the high richness of aragonitic species found on a Late Cretaceous rocky shore in Germany. An originally high-diversity gastropod fauna is thus interpreted to have dominated the intertidal zone in the Campanian example, and the rare moulds of each of the aragonitic species indicate a high taphonomic loss in spite of rapid burial. Calcitic species-richness is higher in the Campanian fauna than in the modern life, death, and constructed hypothetical fossil assemblages. This is interpreted as reflecting time averaging of generations of calcitic species and low loss of calcitic species by taphonomic processes in the Campanian fauna. It is thus assumed that the original Campanian fauna experienced a change in faunal composition from a gastropod-dominated life assemblage to a bivalve-dominated fossil assemblage due to dissolution of aragonite and excellent preservation of calcite. Reconstruction of ancient rocky shore shelly faunas can thus be considerably improved by comparison with analogous modern rocky shore faunas.

Explaining the Plume Differences Between Europa and Enceladus

Linking Europa's plume activity to tides, tectonics, and liquid water


Rhoden et al


Much of the geologic activity preserved on Europa's icy surface has been attributed to tidal deformation, mainly due to Europa's eccentric orbit. Although the surface is geologically young (30 - 80 Myr), there is little information as to whether tidally-driven surface processes are ongoing. However, a recent detection of water vapor near Europa's south pole suggests that it may be geologically active. Initial observations indicated that Europa's plume eruptions are time-variable and may be linked to its tidal cycle. Saturn's moon, Enceladus, which shares many similar traits with Europa, displays tidally-modulated plume eruptions, which bolstered this interpretation. However, additional observations of Europa at the same time in its orbit failed to yield a plume detection, casting doubt on the tidal control hypothesis. The purpose of this study is to analyze the timing of plume eruptions within the context of Europa's tidal cycle to determine whether such a link exists and examine the inferred similarities and differences between plume activity on Europa and Enceladus.

Evidence of air Pollution From Spanish Conquest of the Inca Found in Glacier Ice Cores

In the 16th century, during its conquest of South America, the Spanish Empire forced countless Incas to work extracting silver from the mountaintop mines of Potosí, in what is now Bolivia--then the largest source of silver in the world. The Inca already knew how to refine silver, but in 1572 the Spanish introduced a new technology that boosted production many times over and sent thick clouds of lead dust rising over the Andes for the first time in history.

Winds carried some of that pollution 500 miles northwest into Peru, where tiny remnants of it settled on the Quelccaya Ice Cap.

There it stayed--buried under hundreds of years of snow and ice--until researchers from The Ohio State University found it in 2003.

In the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they report discovery of a layer within a Quelccaya ice core that dates to the Spanish conquest of the Inca, contains bits of lead and bears the chemical signature of the silver mines of Potosí.

The core provides the first detailed record of widespread human-produced air pollution in South America from before the industrial revolution, and makes Quelccaya one of only a few select sites on the planet where the pre-industrial human impact on air quality can be studied today.

"This evidence supports the idea that human impact on the environment was widespread even before the industrial revolution," said Paolo Gabrielli, a research scientist at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at Ohio State and corresponding author of the study.

Lonnie Thompson, Distinguished University Professor of earth sciences at Ohio State and co-author of the study, called the find "another keyhole into the past of human activity in that part of the world," and suggested that further investigation could ultimately help us better understand the fate of pollution circulating in the atmosphere today.

Previously, Thompson has called the Quelccaya ice cores a "Rosetta Stone" for gauging Earth's climate history. The samples were cut from ice that formed over 1,200 years as snow settled on the Peruvian Andes. Layer by layer, the ice captured chemicals from the air and precipitation during wet and dry seasons for all those years. Today, researchers analyze the chemistry of different layers to measure historical changes in climate.

For this study, the researchers used a mass spectrometer to measure the amount and type of chemicals present in the ice dating back to 800 AD. They looked for antimony, arsenic, bismuth, molybdenum and especially lead. That's because the refining process that the Spanish introduced to South America involved grinding silver ore--which contains much more lead than silver--into powder before mixing it with mercury in a process called amalgamation. So atmospheric pollution from silver production would chiefly contain traces of lead particulates.

The mass spectrometer revealed some spikes in the concentrations of these elements in the years before Spanish rule, but those layers all likely coincide with natural contamination sources, such as volcanic eruptions. Starting just before 1600, however, the Quelccaya ice began capturing much larger quantities of these elements, and the high amounts persisted until the early 1800s, when South American countries declared independence from Spain.

Ichthyosaurus anningae: a new Fish Lizard From Hettangian/Sinemurian–Pliensbachian Jurassic England

A new species of Ichthyosaurus from the Lower Jurassic of West Dorset, England, U.K.


Lomax et al


We describe a new species of Lower Jurassic (Hettangian/Sinemurian–Pliensbachian) ichthyosaur, Ichthyosaurus anningae, sp. nov., from west Dorset, England, U.K. The holotype of I. anningae (DONMG:1983.98), at least a subadult, is from the lower Pliensbachian Stonebarrow Marl Member (Charmouth Mudstone Formation). It is the most complete ichthyosaur known from this time interval worldwide. The species is assigned to Ichthyosaurus on the basis of humerus, forefin, and pectoral girdle morphologies. Diagnostic features of the species include a short, robust humerus with prominent processes; a femur in which the proximal width is almost as large as the distal width; and a very small femur relative to the humerus (humerus/femur ratio >1.7). Four other specimens, at least three of which are juveniles, are referred to this species. The new species may display sexual dimorphism in humeral morphology, but this cannot be confirmed due to a lack of stratigraphic information. With the recognition of I. anningae, at least three and possibly as many as five ichthyosaur species, representing three genera, are known from the Pliensbachian.

Totally Tubular! Ediaracan NeoProterozoic Sinotubulites Fossils in Detail

New material of the biomineralizing tubular fossil Sinotubulites from the late Ediacaran Dengying Formation, South China


Cai et al


Sinotubulites is a late Ediacaran biomineralizing tubular fossil with a probable animal affinity. It is characterized by millimeter- to centimeter-sized and multi-layered tubes open at both ends. The tube consists of two morphologically different walls: a multi-layered inner wall with weak ornamentations and a multi-layered outer wall with transverse or oblique corrugations and sometimes longitudinal ridges. The majority of previously published Sinotubulites species are considered as synonymous with the type species: S. baimatuoensis. Three new species—S. triangularis n. sp., S. pentacarinalis n. sp., and S. hexagonus n. sp.—are reported from the late Ediacaran Beiwan Member of the Dengying Formation in southern Shaanxi Province, South China. The three new species are similar to the type species in having nested, multilayered inner and outer tube walls. However, they are different in their polygonal cross sections and longitudinal ridges. S. baimatuoensis is more or less circular in cross section and lack longitudinal ridges on the outer tube wall, whereas S. triangularis, S. pentacarinalis, and S. hexagonus are respectively triangular, pentagonal, and hexagonal in cross section with three, five, and six longitudinal ridges on the exterior surface of the outer wall. The new material adds to the diversity of late Ediacaran biomineralizing animals. The triradial, pentaradial, and hexaradial tubes of S. triangularis, S. pentacarinalis, and S. hexagonus share some intriguing similarities in body symmetry with some early Cambrian tubular fossils, although these Cambrian tubes are not open at both ends. Still, it would be interesting to explore the tantalizing possibility of evolutionary continuity of triradial, pentaradial, and hexaradial tubular animals across the Precambrian–Cambrian boundary.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Robear: Cult of the Kawaii Infects the Robopocalypse

The population of Japan is ageing, and fewer children being born. This creates a variety of problems -- not the least of which is a shortage of caregivers for the elderly, as the elderly population grows while the younger population shrinks. To help compensate, the country has been exploring a different solution: robots.

In the case of research institute RIKEN, cuddly teddy bear-faced robots that can lift and carry a mobility impaired patient, or help them stand and provide a support to lean on while walking.

ROBEAR is actually the third iteration of the bear-faced bots, the first and second of which were named RIBA and RIBA-II respectively -- although none have arrived on the market yet.

"The polar cub-like look is aimed at radiating an atmosphere of strength, geniality and cleanliness at the same time," research team leader Toshiharu Mukai told AFP. "We voted for this design among options presented by our designer. We hope to commercialise the robot in the not-too distant future."

Amazon Receives Patent for Mobile Manufacturing & Delivery

There is little doubt that some of the world’s largest corporations are investigating 3D printing as a means to both make and save money across the board. Amazon, for example, has slowly been inching its way into the space, partnering with several key companies, including Mixee Labs, to offer customizable 3D printed products to their customers.

As the world’s leading ecommerce provider, Amazon seems to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to selling us anything from printer paper to giant $1 million robots. Thus far, it appears as if the company’s decision to enter the 3D printing space has paid off, as they continue to expand the program in both scale and scope.

If you know much about Amazon, then you know that they obsess with getting products to consumers as fast as physically possible. In fact, they have recently launched One-Hour Delivery in Manhattan, and is pushing for delivery via drones. Usually though, the faster a product is shipped, the more money it will cost the company that is shipping it, and ultimately this comes back to the consumer. For example, Amazon needs to stock literally millions of products at warehouse hubs as close to their customers as possible. Warehouse space is not cheap, especially when considering the millions of square feet needed by a company like Amazon.

What if Amazon could avoid same of these storage costs and get items to users even faster with the use of new, rapidly advancing technologies like 3D printing? Well, that’s just what they are looking into.

Late last week United States Patent and Trademark Office published a patent filing by Amazon Technologies, Inc. which outlines a method of 3D printing on-demand within mobile manufacturing hubs. According to Amazon, such a setup could save the company time and money on several fronts.

The multiplicity of items offered may require the electronic marketplace owner/operator to maintain a large inventory requiring sufficient space to store the inventory,” states the filing. “An electronic marketplace may also face the challenge of time delays related to the process of finding the selected item among a large inventory. Increased space to store additional inventory may raise costs for the electronic marketplace. Additionally, time delays between receiving an order and shipping the item to the customer may reduce customer satisfaction and affect revenues generated. Accordingly, an electronic marketplace may find it desirable to decrease the amount of warehouse or inventory storage space needed, to reduce the amount of time consumed between receiving an order and delivering the item to the customer, or both.”

By utilizing ‘mobile manufacturing apparatuses Amazon would be able to send an STL file to a mobile unit that’s closest to a customer, providing it with instructions to print out an item which was ordered. When the item has been completed, it could then be within miles of the customer who ordered it and quickly delivered or picked up.

First 3D Printed Jet Engines Created

Working with colleagues from Deakin University and CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), researchers from Australia's Monash University have created the world's first 3D-printed jet engine. While they were at it, they created the world's second one, too. One of them is currently on display at the International Air Show in Avalon, Australia, while the other can be seen at the headquarters of French aerospace company Microturbo, in Toulouse.

A team from the Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing and spin-off company Amaero started with an older gas turbine engine contributed by Microturbo. Still in working order, the small engine was used for auxiliary power in aircraft such as the Falcon 20 business jet.

Led by Prof. Xinhua Wu, the team proceeded to take the engine apart, and scan all the individual components. Using computer models obtained from those scans, a laser sintering process was then utilized to selectively melt metal alloy powder, building up two copies of each component in successive layers. When those parts were subsequently assembled, two metal replicas of the original engine were produced.

Physicists Propose Experiment to Detect Neutrons From Other Universes

One of the more exciting ideas in high energy physics is the possibility that our three-dimensional universe is embedded in a much bigger multidimensional cosmos. Physicists call these embedded universes “branes” and say that it should be possible for stuff from our brane to leak into other branes nearby and vice versa.

Today, Michael Sarrazin at the University of Namur in Belgium and a few pals say they have worked out to detect this leakage by measuring whether neutrons can bypass barriers by leaping into another brane and back again.

These guys are proposing to measure this effect by placing a neutron detector close to a nuclear reactor to see whether neutrons appear unexpectedly as a result of being transported out of the reactor via another braneworld.

Oak Ridge National Lab Model Attempts to Predict County Level Population Growth in US

Researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a population distribution model that provides unprecedented county-level predictions of where people will live in the U.S. in the coming decades.

Initially developed to assist in the siting of new energy infrastructure, the team's model has a broad range of implications from urban planning to climate change adaptation. The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We do a census every 10 years because those data help us do long-term socioeconomic planning," said Budhendra Bhaduri, who leads ORNL's Geographic Information Science and Technology group. "Population projection numbers are important, but many pressing societal needs also require an understanding of where people are going to be. This has always been a challenge; we've never had a good method to make future projections spatially explicit."

The new model builds on years of research in the development of two other ORNL technologies that supply geographical distribution of population: LandScan Global provides one-kilometer resolution for the world and LandScan USA provides 90-meter resolution for the U.S. Incorporating regional variables such as land cover, slope, distances to larger cities, roads and population movement allowed the researchers to refine future population distributions by county.

"We took the U.S. national population total and downscaled to the county level to examine how local population growths vary geographically," said ORNL's Jacob McKee, the study's lead author.

In the study's projections for 2030 and 2050, the researchers set constraints for each contiguous U.S. county under a business-as-usual scenario based on historical conditions. The team's analysis of this scenario found that sprawl growth was projected to be most prevalent in the following counties: El Dorado, CA, Maricopa, AZ, and Riverside, CA.

Cities in the Past and the Present are the Same

Despite notable differences in appearance and governance, ancient human settlements function in much the same way as modern cities, according to new findings by researchers at the Santa Fe Institute and the University of Colorado Boulder.

Previous research has shown that as modern cities grow in population, so do their efficiencies and productivity. A city's population outpaces its development of urban infrastructure, for example, and its production of goods and services outpaces its population. What's more, these patterns exhibit a surprising degree of mathematical regularity and predictability, a phenomenon called "urban scaling."

But has this always been the case?

SFI Professor Luis Bettencourt researches urban dynamics as a lead investigator of SFI's Cities, Scaling, and Sustainability research program. When he gave a talk in 2013 on urban scaling theory, Scott Ortman, now an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at CU Boulder and a former Institute Omidyar Fellow, noted that the trends Bettencourt described were not particular to modern times. Their discussion prompted a research project on the effects of city size through history.

To test their ideas, the team examined archaeological data from the Basin of Mexico (what is now Mexico City and nearby regions). In the 1960s -- before Mexico City's population exploded -- surveyors examined all its ancient settlements, spanning 2000 years and four cultural eras in pre-contact Mesoamerica.

Using this data, the research team analyzed the dimensions of hundreds of ancient temples and thousands of ancient houses to estimate populations and densities, size and construction rates of monuments and buildings, and intensity of site use.

India Freezes AMCA Stealth Fighter Configuration

Indian fighter designers freeze AMCA configuration, now seek funding
While New Delhi negotiates for a small share of Sukhoi T-50 development, its defense ministry engineers prepare a fighter that would be 80% Indian.The designers have now frozen the configuration of a proposed medium-weight Indian fighter that they expect to fly early in the 2020s. General Electric is the preferred supplier of propulsion for the twin-engine, stealthy Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

link (paywall).

Orbital ATK Test Fired Hit-to-kill Anti RPG Helicopter Active Protection System

Launched from a fixed ALE-47 Countermeasures Dispense System, the HAPS Kill Vehicle (KV) was able to perform pitch maneuvers and fly to a detonation point that simulated the location of an incoming rocket-propelled grenade (RPG).

The HAPS system consists of an Engagement Management Module, a slightly-modified Counter Measures Dispense System, such as the ALE-47, and the KVs that launch from the counter-measures dispenser.

If it works for helicopters, you can bet it can for tanks.  Whoa nelly then!

US Navy Looking to Accelerate Virginia Payload Module Schedule

The Navy is looking into the feasibility of accelerating design and development work on the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) in case the service decides to begin production earlier than the 2019 planned start, Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley said Wednesday at a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing.

The VPM will add 28 missile tubes to Block V Virginia-class attack submarines (SSN-774), to provide more strike capability from undersea as the fleet prepares to lose the Ohio-class SSGN guided missile submarine fleet in the mid-2020s. The Navy planned to start VPM construction in conjunction with the next Virginia-class multiyear contract in 2019, but Stackley said that the SSGNs represent a 600-missile capacity and that sooner is better when it comes to rebuilding that strike capacity.

Stackley told the HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee that he had spoken to the Program Executive Office for Submarines and to the submarine industrial base “to take a look at, can we in fact complete those design and development activities earlier than the 2019 timeframe to give the Navy and the nation the option to determine whether or not we want to advance Virginia Payload Modules earlier than the submarine build cycle.”

“We’re looking at first, can we pull [design and development] to the left a year, and the other aspect is what would be our ability to increase the rate of production of VPMs beyond one per year, which is in our current long-range plan.,” Stackley later elaborated. “Affordability comes into play, industrial base capacity comes into play.”

He said the discussions were ongoing and he would know by March or April what the options were in terms of accelerating VPM progress, though subcommittee chairman Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) pressed for the information sooner to help inform ongoing budget discussions in Congress.


Evidence of Albian/Cenomanian Cretaceous Environmental Pertubation From Peru

Record of Albian to early Cenomanian environmental perturbation in the eastern sub-equatorial Pacific


Navarro-Ramirez et al


The present paper documents and discusses a new Albian–early Cenomanian carbon isotope (δ13Ccarb and δ13Corg) curve from the subequatorial Eastern Pacific in Peru. Chemostratigraphic evidences for the expression of the OAE1b set and for OAE1c and OAE1d are presented. This dataset is relevant inasmuch as previous work is strongly biased towards study sites in North America (Western Interior Basin), in Europe (Tethys) and the Pacific realm. A comparison of the carbon isotope stratigraphy obtained in Peru with published sections from the Central and Western Pacific, the Western Atlantic and Northern and Western Tethys reveals an overall good agreement supporting the global nature of the isotope patterns described here. The δ13C from Peru record is constrained by biostratigraphic evidence and 87Sr/86Sr isotope stratigraphy using well-preserved oyster shells. Furthermore, we document the development of a heterozoan epeiric-neritic mixed carbonate-siliciclastic ramp in the Western Platform of Peru and its corresponding sedimentary facies associations. This dataset was used to elucidate the complex interplay of climatic changes, nutrient supply, and platform drowning, leading to the following conclusions: (i) An upper Aptian–lower Albian major change from siliciclastic-dominated to carbonate sedimentation coincided with the impact of the Kilian Level. (ii) A lower Albian incipient platform drowning linked to the impact of the Paquier Level. (iii) A lower middle Albian major demise of neritic carbonate production that coincides with the Leenhardt Level, followed by middle Albian condensed sedimentation that reports prominent negative values in δ13Ccarb prior to the onset of OAE1c. (4) Finally, renewed carbonate ramp production during the upper Albian–lower Cenomanian. The data shown here represent the foundation for future work documenting the mid–Cretaceous of Peru and its implications for the palaeoceanography of the SE subequatorial Pacific.

Record-breaking Storm Activity on Uranus or did Uranus get Whacked?

Record-breaking storm activity on Uranus in 2014


de Pater et al


In spite of an expected decline in convective activity following the 2007 equinox of Uranus, eight sizable storms were detected on the planet with the near-infrared camera NIRC2, coupled to the adaptive optics system, on the 10-m W.M. Keck telescope on UT 5 and 6 August 2014. All storms were on Uranus’ northern hemisphere, including the brightest storm ever seen in this planet at 2.2 μm, reflecting 30% as much light as the rest of the planet at this wavelength. The storm was at a planetocentric latitude of ∼15°N and reached altitudes of ∼330 mbar, well above the regular uppermost cloud layer (methane-ice) in the atmosphere. A cloud feature at a latitude of 32°N, that was deeper in the atmosphere (near ∼2 bar), was later seen by amateur astronomers. We also present images returned from our HST ToO program, that shows both of these cloud features. We further report the first detection of a long-awaited haze over the north polar region.

Monkeys Have a Human-like Thirst for Knowledge?

Monkeys are notoriously curious, and new research has quantified just how eager they are to gain new information, even if there are not immediate benefits. The findings offer insights into how a certain part of the brain shared by monkeys and humans plays a role in decision making, and perhaps even in some disorders and addictions in humans.

The study, by researchers at the University of Rochester and Columbia University, shows that rhesus macaques have such robust curiosity that they are willing to give up a surprisingly large portion of a potential prize in order to quickly find out if they selected the winning option at a game of chance.

Zoneait nargorum: a new Metriorhynchoid Thalattosuchian From Aalenian/Bajocian Jurassic Oregon

A new metriorhynchoid (Crocodylomorpha, Thalattosuchia) from the Middle Jurassic of Oregon and the evolutionary timing of marine adaptations in thalattosuchian crocodylomorphs




Metriorhynchid thalattosuchians represent the most extreme archosaurian adaptation to the marine realm. Metriorhynchids possess aquatic adaptations throughout the skeleton. These adaptations were so extensive that some have suggested that they lost the ability to move on land, yet their evolutionary timing remains unresolved. The closest relatives of the metriorhynchoids, the teleosauroids, lack these aquatic adaptations, and the earliest metriorhynchoids are known exclusively from cranial material. Here I describe a partial skull with associated forelimb elements of a new marine crocodylomorph, Zoneait nargorum, gen. et sp. nov., of Aalenian–Bajocian age from the Snowshoe Formation of east-central Oregon. Phylogenetic analysis identifies Zoneait as the sister taxon to Metriorhynchidae. It possesses a derived skull with orbits that are more laterally directed and prefrontals that are more expanded than in other basal metriorhynchoids. The preserved forelimb elements are less derived. The humerus is elongate in comparison with that of other metriorhynchoids. The ulna is slightly reduced in length and flattened but resembles the teleosauroid condition more so than the plate-like element of metriorhynchids. This suggests that marine adaptations in metriorhynchoids were acquired in mosaic fashion, with modifications of the skull preceding forelimb reduction, with this forelimb reduction occurring first in the zeugopodial elements, prior to reduction of the humerus. This evolutionary timing has important implications for the transition from nearshore ambush predation to pelagic open-marine predation in Thalattosuchia, suggesting that adaptations related to prey detection and capture preceded the locomotor adaptations that allowed these organisms to fully invade the oceans.

Or was it Just Transitional? Marine Anoxic Episode Recorded in Cryogenian NeoProterozoic Canada

Chemostratigraphy of the Shaler Supergroup, Victoria Island, NW Canada: A record of ocean composition prior to the Cryogenian glaciations


Thomson et al


A new δ13Ccarb curve combined with δ13Corg values is presented for the upper Shaler Supergroup (∼900 to ∼720 Ma), Amundsen Basin, northwestern Canada. The dataset fills gaps in the existing stratigraphic record and makes correlations with adjacent basins more robust. There is a pronounced negative δ13C excursion in the Wynniatt Formation that can be correlated with a putative worldwide negative carbon isotope excursion, namely the Bitter Springs stage. However, in the Amundsen Basin, the δ13Ccarb excursion drops to anomalously negative values (-14‰), which we attribute to local overprints wherein isotopically light carbon in pore waters, released by oxidation of methane and organic matter during sulphate and iron reduction, was incorporated into authigenic carbonate cement. We document basin euxinia and anoxia during the same time interval using a multi-proxy approach; specifically, Fe-speciation and redox-sensitive trace metal data. Patterns of pronounced enrichment in Mo, V, and U concentrations in euxinic black shales suggest that the Bitter Springs stage was a transitional period in Earth's redox evolution, from the more reduced global oceans during the mid-Proterozoic to the more oxygenated oceans during the Phanerozoic.

PaleoOceans Returned to Archean-like Conditions During Late Cryogenian NeoProterozoic!

Extreme ocean anoxia during the Late Cryogenian recorded in reefal carbonates of Southern Australia


van Smeerdijk Hood et al


The Neoproterozoic was a time of great change in the Earth's surface and marine environments, including extensive climate variability, the widespread oxygenation of the oceans and the accompanying rise of animal life. However, the timing of ocean oxygenation remains uncertain, particularly in regard to Cryogenian seas, which were disrupted by large periods of global glaciation. Interglacial Cryogenian reef complexes in the Northern Adelaide Fold Belt of Australia contain abundant primary marine dolomite cements. These cements have well-preserved textural and growth zonation, indicating they preserve their original marine chemistry and can be used as geochemical proxies for Late Cryogenian paleooceanography. Analysis of marine cements from peritidal nearshore facies, shallow platformal facies and deep framework facies of the reef complexes reveals significant geochemical gradients with paleo-depth. While nearshore cements have low Fe contents and commonly contain iron-oxide inclusions, the shallow and deep cements have very high Fe concentrations. Chalcophile elements (Cu, Cd, Pb, Zn, etc.) are most abundant in the nearshore cements, whereas rare earth elements are found in highest concentrations in the deeper facies cements. Rare earth element profiles are unusual, with shallow and deep facies having convex profiles with negligible Ce/Ce* anomalies and positive Eu/Eu* anomalies.

Being constrained by sedimentology, this carbonate geochemistry provides a window into interglacial Cryogenian ocean chemistry and structure. The marine cements reveal pronounced chemical stratification in this Late Cryogenian ocean. A thin veneer of oxic surface waters existed at the ocean surface, in peritidal facies, with increasingly anoxic and Fe-rich seawater at depth. The distribution of strongly chalcophile elements like Cd and Cu across the chemocline suggests that although ferruginous, deeper anoxic waters probably contained some dissolved sulphide. These conditions describe a ferro-sulfidic ocean and encompass some of the most extreme anoxia yet documented during the late Precambrian. A return to Archean-like ocean conditions at this time suggests large-scale disruption of the ocean system during the Neoproterozoic.

I have to wonder if this is another example of a Great Dying.