Monday, April 27, 2015

Evidence of the Smithian/Spathian Triassic Extinction From South China

High amplitude redox changes in the late Early Triassic of South China and the Smithian–Spathian extinction


Sun et al


The Early Triassic was a time of remarkably high temperatures, large carbon cycle perturbations and episodes of widespread ocean anoxia. The sediments in the Nanpanjiang Basin of South China provide superb opportunities to examine the sedimentary response to these extreme conditions especially during the crisis interval at the Smithian–Spathian (S-S) boundary. We have investigated a deep water section at Jiarong and a shallower water section at Mingtang. These contain a range of facies including black shales, micritic limestone units and rudaceous carbonate event beds that include flat pebble conglomerates and breccia debrites that bear similarities to the hybrid event beds seen in clastic turbidite successions.

Redox proxies (pyrite framboids and trace metals) reveal that widespread anoxia in the late Smithian persisted into the Novispathodus pingdingshanensis Zone of the early Spathian before a sharp transition to highly oxygenated “griotte facies” (red marine strata) in the Icriospathodus collinsoni Zone that records an “oxic rebound”. Benthic faunas are locally common but of low diversity and dominated by thin-shelled bivalves and ostracodes with small foraminifers and exceptionally rare fish remains. Bioturbation was intense only in the early–middle Spathian (I. collinsoni conodont zone) Griotte facies. Anoxia and extremely high temperatures probably played a role in severely restricting the abundance of fish and the small sizes of marine invertebrates at this time. The presence of ooids and seafloor fan cements in our study sections indicates highly saturated conditions rather than acidification at the end of the Smithian.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Dr Nizar Ibrahim's Ted Talk on Spinosaurus and the Kem Kem Beds

Report: Japan Considering Landing a Rover on the Moon in 2018

Japan’s space agency announced this week that the country would put an unmanned rover on the surface of the moon by 2018, joining an elite club of nations who have explored Earth’s satellite.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), divulged the plan to an expert panel, including members of the cabinet and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry last week.

“This is an initial step and a lot of procedures are still ahead before the plan is formally approved,” a JAXA spokesperson told reporters.

If it is approved, the agency will reportedly use its Epsilon solid-fuel rocket technology to carry and deploy a SLIM probe — the acronym stands for “Smart Lander for Investigating Moon” — on the surface of the celestial body.

Japanese media estimates that the mission will cost in the region of $83.4 million to $125 million. JAXA spokesperson Chihito Onda said that this estimate is realistic.

Liquid Mercury Found Beneath Teotihuacan's Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent in Mexico

An archaeologist has discovered liquid mercury at the end of a tunnel beneath a Mexican pyramid, a finding that could suggest the existence of a king’s tomb or a ritual chamber far below one of the most ancient cities of the Americas.

Mexican researcher Sergio Gómez announced on Friday that he had discovered “large quantities” of liquid mercury in a chamber below the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent, the third largest pyramid of Teotihuacan, the ruined city in central Mexico.

Gómez has spent six years slowly excavating the tunnel, which was unsealed in 2003 after 1,800 years. Last November, Gómez and a team announced they had found three chambers at the tunnel’s 300ft end, almost 60ft below the the temple. Near the entrance of the chambers, they a found trove of strange artifacts: jade statues, jaguar remains, a box filled with carved shells and rubber balls.

Quasars, Blazars and a Ted Talk

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Choose Your Path Wisely Through the Robopocalypse

Societal, Economic, Ethical and Legal Challenges of the Digital Revolution: From Big Data to Deep Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Manipulative Technologies




In the wake of the on-going digital revolution, we will see a dramatic transformation of our economy and most of our societal institutions. While the benefits of this transformation can be massive, there are also tremendous risks to our society. After the automation of many production processes and the creation of self-driving vehicles, the automation of society is next. This is moving us to a tipping point and to a crossroads: we must decide between a society in which the actions are determined in a top-down way and then implemented by coercion or manipulative technologies (such as personalized ads and nudging) or a society, in which decisions are taken in a free and participatory way and mutually coordinated. Modern information and communication systems (ICT) enable both, but the latter has economic and strategic benefits. The fundaments of human dignity, autonomous decision-making, and democracies are shaking, but I believe that they need to be vigorously defended, as they are not only core principles of livable societies, but also the basis of greater efficiency and success.

EU Funds Pan-Robots to Advance Robopocalypse Bound "Factory of the Future"

No good deed goes unpunished and that goes double for robots. They may improve manufacturing efficiency, but an improvement in one place often shows up a glaring inefficiency somewhere else. In an effort to help supply logistics keep up with robotic manufacturing, the EU's Pan-Robots project is working to create warehouse robots that are faster, more efficient, and safer than both manual operations or current robotic systems.

Robots are already being used routinely in factories for manufacturing and packaging, but a factory is more than just an assembly line or a packing station. It has a logistical tail feeding from the supply warehouse to the production area, but this bit still depends on slow, costly, error-prone, manual labor to get the job done. Subsequently, it's a bit of a bottleneck as workers with forklifts try to keep up with the machine they're feeding. This problem becomes particularly acute in businesses that use a just-in-time model, where a delay anywhere along the supply route can have a cascading failure effect as each stage runs out of materials.

Many firms are trying to automate the warehouse phase of their operations with Automatic Guided Vehicles (AVG) with some success, but the Pan-Robots project sees a lot of room for improvement through the use of on-board cameras, laser scanners, 3D maps, and intelligent systems that would make them not only more efficient, but also safer.

Made up of six partners from five EU nations, Pan-Robots is an EU-funded project to the tune of €3,33 million (about US$3.6 million) to develop new technologies for the “Factory-of-the-Future” (FoF). Currently, the project is aiming at producing more advanced on-board camera systems and laser scanners to help the robots to navigate warehouses using 3D maps under the guidance of a control center.

Mars, Life and a Ted Talk

Friday, April 24, 2015

First Three X-37b Missions Were Vehicle Characterization, 4th Next Month for Experiments

The U.S. Air Force on Friday made its first public confirmation that the X-37B unmanned space shuttle will be launched next month on the fourth flight of an Orbital Test Vehicle.

“We are excited about our fourth X-37B mission,” said Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. “With the demonstrated success of the first three missions, we’re able to shift our focus from initial checkouts of the vehicle to testing of experimental payloads.”

The Air Force said its Rapid Capabilities Office had collaborated with several partners to test “new experiments on this fourth flight for the X-37B program.”

What’s more, the mission will test the performance of an experimental propulsion system jointly developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory and Space and Missile Systems Center, as well as a NASA advanced materials investigation.

“We’re very pleased with the experiments lined-up for our fourth OTV Mission OTV-4,” Walden said. “We’ll continue to evaluate improvements to the space vehicle’s performance, but we’re honored to host these collaborative experiments that will help advance the state-of-the-art for space technology.”

Russia Releases Images of American LACROSSE Spy Satellite


Photochemical Control of the Distribution of Venusian Water

Photochemical control of the distribution of Venusian water


Parkinson et al


We use the JPL/Caltech 1-D photochemical model to solve the continuity diffusion equation for the atmospheric constituent abundances and total number density as a function of radial distance from the planet Venus. The photochemistry of the Venus atmosphere from 58 to 112 km is modeled using an updated and expanded chemical scheme (Zhang et al., 2010 and Zhang et al., 2012), guided by the results of recent observations and we mainly follow these references in our choice of boundary conditions for 40 species. We model water from between 10–35 ppm at our 58 km lower boundary using an SO2 mixing ratio of 25 ppm as our nominal reference value. We then vary the SO2 mixing ratio at the lower boundary between 5 and 75 ppm holding the water mixing ratio of 18 ppm at the lower boundary and find that it can control the water distribution at higher altitudes. SO2 and H2O can regulate each other via formation of H2SO4. In regions of high mixing ratios of SO2 there exists a “runaway effect” such that SO2 gets oxidized to SO3, which quickly soaks up H2O causing a major depletion of water between 70 and 100 km. Eddy diffusion sensitivity studies performed characterising variability due to mixing show less of an effect than varying the lower boundary mixing ratio value. However, calculations using our nominal eddy diffusion profile multiplied and divided by a factor of four can give an order of magnitude maximum difference in the SO2 mixing ratio and a factor of a few difference in the H2O mixing ratio when compared with the respective nominal mixing ratio for these two species. In addition to explaining some of the observed variability in SO2 and H2O on Venus, our work can also shed light on the observations of dark and bright contrasts at the Venus cloud tops observed in the ultraviolet spectrum. Our calculations produce results in agreement with the SOIR Venus Express results of 1 ppm at 70–90 km (Bertaux et al. (2007) by and using an SO2 mixing ratio of 25 ppm SO2 and 18 ppm water as our nominal reference values. Timescales for a chemical bifurcation causing a collapse of water concentrations above the cloudtops (greater than 64 km) are relatively short and on the order of a less than a few months, decreasing with altitude to less than a few days.

How to Detect Earthquakes (Venusquakes?) on Venus From Orbit

Detecting an "earthquake" on Venus would seem to be an impossible task. The planet's surface is a hostile zone of crushing pressure and scorching temperatures--about 874 degrees F, hot enough to melt lead--that would destroy any of the normal instruments used to gauge seismic activity. But conditions in Venus' atmosphere are much more hospitable, and it is here that researchers hope to deploy an array of balloons or satellites that could detect Venusian seismic activity--using sound.

These kinds of low frequency or infrasonic sound waves, much lower than an audible voice, are already measured on Earth. The rumbling or "hum" can be generated by sources as diverse as volcanoes, earthquakes, ocean storms and meteor air blasts. In recent years, says Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher Stephen Arrowsmith, infrasonic observations have undergone a renaissance of sorts, especially as a relatively inexpensive way to monitor atmospheric nuclear weapons tests. But last year, a team of experts convened by the Keck Institute for Space Studies began thinking of ways to use infrasonic observations to get a better look at the geological dynamics of Venus.

At about 50-60 kilometers above Venus' surface, the temperature and pressure conditions are much more like those on Earth, albeit with a denser atmosphere. This dense atmosphere helps translate any seismic waves into infrasonic waves that can be detected with instruments floating above the planet's surface, says Jim Cutts, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory researcher who participated in the Keck conference. Infrasonic waves can be "felt" as either fluctuations in pressure, or as light emissions called airglow, or electron disruptions in Venus' upper atmosphere.

Arrowsmith and colleagues say that barometric pressure changes might be detected with a series of balloons in the Venus cloud layer at 55 kilometers above the surface, such as those launched by the Soviet Union in Venus' atmosphere in the 1980s. In a second talk, Philippe Lognonné and colleagues discuss a complementary way to analyze the planet's infrasonic waves, using orbiting satellites to detect airglow. In both cases, the first goal will be determine what the noise-to-signal ratio might be for these two techniques. The researchers want to know if the instruments onboard a balloon or satellite will be sensitive enough to detect and identify a seismic signal in the midst of other infrasonic waves, and how large of a seismic event might be detected by these observations.

Plate Tectonics Shut Down on Venus Before Great Volcanic Resurfacing

The history of tectonism on Venus: A stratigraphic analysis


Ivanov et al


The surface of Venus displays several tectonized terrains in which the morphologic characteristics of the original materials are almost completely erased by superposed tectonic structures whose large dimensions (»100 km) suggest formation related to mantle convection. The characteristics of these tectonized terrains are in contrast to volcanic units in which tectonic structures are less significant or absent and thus do not obscure the volcanic character of the units. We describe the temporal distribution of tectonized terrains, their stratigraphic relationships with volcanic units, and how these outline the major episodes in the geological evolution of Venus. Five major tectonized units make up ~20% of the planet: 1) tessera (t, 7.3%), 2) densely lineated plains (pdl, 1.6%), 3) ridged plains/Ridge belts (pr/rb, 2.4%), 4) groove belts (gb, 8.1%), and 5) rift zones (rz, 5.0%). Clear relationships of relative age are often seen among the tectonic and volcanic units at the global scale and define three contrasting regimes of volcanic and tectonic resurfacing. The majority of tectonized terrains (t through gb) are the products of tectonic resurfacing and are embayed by the vast volcanic plains and, thus, are older. There are no units with either mildly- or non-tectonized surfaces that interleave the tectonic terrains, which would be expected if the tectonic resurfacing operated only during specific repetitive phases in discrete regions. These tectonized terrains (t through gb) thus define a tectonically dominated regime of resurfacing that occurred at a global-scale near the beginning of the observable geological history of Venus. This ancient tectonic regime began with formation of tessera and was followed by formation of pdl and pr/rb. Groove belts formed near the end of this regime. Branches of groove belts compose the tectonic components of many coronae, suggesting that these features are genetically related (e.g., mutual development of mantle diapirs and zones of extension) and that coronae may have punctuated the final stages of the ancient tectonic regime. This regime was followed by emplacement of the vast volcanic plains, such as shield and regional plains, the surfaces of which are extensively deformed by the global network of wrinkle ridges. Emplacement of the plains defines the second, volcanically dominated regime, representing a time when surface tectonic deformation related to the mantle convection waned. Rift zones are the stratigraphically youngest manifestations of regional-scale tectonic deformation on Venus. Rifts are spatially and temporarily associated with the youngest lava flows and often cut the crest areas of large, but isolated, dome-shaped rises. Structures of rift zones always cut the surface of the vast plains, which means that rifts are separated in time from the ancient tectonic regime, post-date the regional plains, and represent a new phase of tectonism that was contemporaneous with the late volcanism of lobate plains. Rift zones and lobate plains define the third, network rifting-volcanism regime, of resurfacing that was related to late stages of evolution of the dome-shaped rises.

Albian Cretaceous Wyoming and Montana had a Diverse Mammal Population

Tribosphenic mammals from the Lower Cretaceous Cloverly Formation of Montana and Wyoming


Cifelli et al


We report a diverse assemblage of tribosphenidan mammals from several localities in the Cloverly Formation (Lower Cretaceous, Albian) of Montana and Wyoming. This unit is of historical significance for yielding well-known dinosaurs (e.g., Deinonychus antirrhopus, Tenontosaurus tilletti) and early mammals (e.g., Gobiconodon ostromi, Montanalestes keeblerorum). We provisionally identify 13 taxa (five of which are formally recognized), including Pappotherium pattersoni, a new species of the deltatheroidan Oklatheridium (O. wiblei, sp. nov.), a eutherian (Montanalestes, previously named), and two new basal tribosphenidans (Argaliatherium robustum, gen. et sp. nov., and Carinalestes murensis, gen. et sp. nov.). An unnamed taxon, represented by associated but almost edentulous dentaries, is interpreted to have had four incisors, a single-rooted canine, three premolars, and four molars, indicating that the metatherian tooth formula was established by the Albian. In addition, an indeterminate lower molar fragment preserving twinned talonid cusps and a buccal postcingulid provides the earliest evidence for Marsupialiformes. We also provide a more detailed description of the associated dentaries (holotype) of Montanalestes keeblerorum. The mammalian fauna from the Cloverly Formation shares several taxa with the roughly contemporaneous Trinity Group of Oklahoma and Texas, an observation that also applies to the dinosaur fauna, suggesting some degree of latitudinal homogeneity among described terrestrial vertebrates in this part of the North American Early Cretaceous.

Claim: Cryogenian NeoProterozoic Sponge Fossils are not Sponges, but Microbial Traces

Assessing the veracity of Precambrian ‘sponge’ fossils using in situ nanoscale analytical techniques


Muscente et al


Paleontological inferences, molecular clocks, and biomarker fossils indicate sponges evolved in the Cryogenian, but Precambrian sponge fossils are rare, poorly substantiated, and controversial. Spicule-like microstructures (SLMs) hosted in phosphatized fossils from the Ediacaran Doushantuo Formation (∼635–551 Ma) at Weng’an of South China have been interpreted as cylindrical siliceous monaxons, and their hosting fossils as the oldest demosponges in the fossil record. In order to assess their veracity as the oldest spiculate demosponges, we utilize a suite of in situ nanoscale analytical techniques—including scanning electron microscopy, synchrotron X-ray fluorescence mapping, X-ray absorption near edge structure (XANES) spectroscopy, focused ion beam electron microscopy, and transmission electron microscopy—to evaluate the ultrastructures and elemental, chemical, and mineralogical compositions of the SLMs. Our data decisively shows that the SLMs are carbonaceous in composition and rectangular in transverse sections, and therefore, are not cylindrical siliceous spicules. Instead, the SLMs may be microbial strands, axial filaments of early hexactinellids, or acicular crystals molded by organic matter. Regardless, our new data invalidate the oldest and only Precambrian demosponges with mineralized spicules. These results indicate that interpretations of Precambrian sponge fossils should be scrutinized with compositional, mineralogical, and ultrastructural data collected using in situ analytical techniques. In addition, our conclusions affirm that no unequivocal biomineralizing sponges occur below the Ediacaran–Cambrian boundary. If hexactinellids and demosponges did diverge in the Cryogenian as suggested by molecular clocks and biomarkers, they either evolved biomineralization long after their divergence or their biomineralized spicules were never preserved until after the Ediacaran–Cambrian boundary. In either case, the dearth of biomineralizing sponge fossils in the Precambrian and their abundance in the early Cambrian must reflect a geobiologically significant aspect of the Precambrian–Phanerozoic transition.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mini Crazy Thought: Triton for Carrier ISR and 2 Different UCLASS for Strike and Fleet Defense?

There is a fight right now about whether or not to make the UCLASS an ISR bird with a small strike capability or a primarily deep strike stealthy bird.

The navy already has an ISR bird.  Its the MQ-4C Triton.  Why not fly a variant (D?) off the carriers for ISR?  After all, they landed and flew a C-130 off the Forrestal as a test and the C-130 has the same wingspan as the Triton.  Most likely, the Triton would need to have an upgrade due to the fact it needs to be able to be launched off the deck and that's nontrivial.  However, between an orbit of Tritons (long distance, long endurance) and the dispersed capability of the TERN (medium endurance and distance) launched from the destroyers, cruisers and frigates, the ISR role is more than taken care of.  In fact, there ought to be a 24/7 ISR patrol if there are 5 Tritons and two TERNs per surface ship (meaning 8 per carrier battle group) of a Triton and two TERNs.

If that is the case, then the UCLASS ought to be a strike asset which can carry an ISR payload if necessary, but its main emphasis ought to be penetration and strike.  In that case, I'd guess that would mean something along the lines of Boeing, Northrop or Lockheed's designs.  The UCLASS strike asset then becomes useful for 'first day' or high risk operations.  If that is the case, a wing of 12 UCLASS would probably be appropriate.

However, in the articles I've seen on the FA-XX, the navy has expressed a desire for a F-14 replacement.  The F-14's role was as a fleet defense fighter or interceptor to prevent Soviet bombers from taking out the carrier battle group.  While the F/A-18E/F has semi filled this role since the F-14's retirement, it has a shorter combat radius (390 nm vs 500 nm) and lower maximum speed (mach 1.8 vs mach 2.34).  No drone currently being considered under the UCLASS would have the speed of either the F/A-18E or the F-14, but it actually has a longer range (18+ hours at 400 mph, there and back again is 3600 miles for an Avenger).  So that makes you wonder...could you take one of the UCLASS proposals and turn it into a Fleet Defense Fighter?

Let's take the public stats of General Atomics' Avenger Tail #2.  Tail #2 is supposed to have an internal weapons bay capacity of 1,600 kg (which we'll skip for now) and an external capability on 6 hard points of 2,900 kg.  We'll work with the external mount points first. 

As an aside, for the moment, we are going to ignore the fact you will have to do some nontrivial upgrades (like an AAW radar at the minimum!) except to acknowledge they need to happen and will have some nontrivial impacts on the aircraft design (bigger engine to produce more power for the radar and other kit which reduces range, payload, etc).

This is an air defense UCAV.  Its meant to shoot down incoming missiles and aircraft beyond the range of the surface ships defense capabilities.  The F-14 carried the Phoenix missile for this role.  This missile, while having excellent speed and range, was a monster in weight and also was retired over a decade ago.  The nearest equivalent is the British Meteor.  While possibly slower than the Phoenix, the Meteor is far, far lighter at less than half the weight.  Assuming we can mount more than one missile per external hard point, we can easily get a total of 12 Meteors on the Avenger#2.  The weight is 2,220 kg.  We are left with 680 kg: it might be then possible to mount another four AMRAAMs (no, you couldn't quite get 4 more meteors, sorry).  Not that it makes sense to consider it, but you could place 2 Stingers or Starstreak on the two remaining hard points (assuming each hard point could be used as a triple mount).  Unfortunately, 2 Sidewinders are too heavy (each is 85 kg and left over total is 72 kg...doh).

Just with this alone, you've outgunned the F-14 (at most 6 Phoenix or 4 Phoenix and 2 AMRAAM and 2 Sidewinders) or the F/A-18E/F (4 AMRAAM and 2 Sidewinders).  Here we have 12 Meteors and 4 AMRAAMs: the missile firepower of almost 3 F-14s.  However, we're not done: we have the internal weapons bay left and 1,600 kg.

Avenger with HELLADS laser

In terms of mass, you could run off and do another 8 Meteors, but in terms of volume, probably not.  I am going to suggest you do not want to 'waste' this weight with missiles.  Rather, DARPA is already planning on doing a test with General Atomics which points the way for how to use the internal weapons bay.  You put a HELLADS into it.  A what?  A Laser.  A 150 kilowatt laser.

General Atomics is already planning on putting their HELLADS laser on one of the Avenger UCAVs in 2018.  Lasers have a really, really cheap 'bullets' (ie cost per shot).  They also cannot be dodged and despite the popular sentiment you only need to mirror surface a munition, keeping it clean so that works is almost impossible.

Why use a laser?  Consider.

Place your Fleet Defense Avenger at 8,230 m (27,000 ft) at 160 km (100 mi) from the carrier between the carrier and the threat.  The distance to the horizon is 324 km (~202 mi) and theoretically, that's your engagement range.  Let's assume China or Russia have developed a kick ass, hypersonic antiship missile which flies at Mach 10 and flies almost at torpedo heights.  The Avenger will have a total engagement time before the missile passes the Avenger is 100 seconds and from the Avenger to the carrier is 50 seconds.  If it takes 20 seconds (average, pessimistically) to bag a missile with a laser, then the Avenger will take down seven with the laser and 12 with the Meteors and four with the AMRAAMs (optimistically).

The reality is modern antiship missiles have a max speed of around Mach 5.  Therefore half that of the kick ass ASM described above.  That brings the total kills from the laser now up to 15.  If you are assuming a 3M-54 Klub, then it flies at Mach .8 for most of its range and then speeds up when close the target.  Assuming 'close' means 50 km, then even before the Klubs pass the Avenger, the laser will have bagged over 67 missiles: the Klub would be obsolete, really, under these circumstances.

The immediate reaction might be to argue to replace the missiles on our Avenger with more lasers.  First of all, it will cause other problems (power generation will probably be insufficient) and if the weather is too poor, the laser will not work as well and may be constrained to four or less kills.  It is best to hedge the bets then with the laser and missiles on our Fleet Defense Avenger.

At any rate, a single FD Avenger, as a Fleet Defense Fighter/Interceptor then has the kill capability of 3 F-14s (assuming 6 Phoenix per F-14).  Now for the moment, let's assume the FD Avenger is deployed in the same numbers as the F-14 Tomcat used to be: 14 per carrier.  The equivalent potential kills would be as much as 42 Tomcats.  For fleet defense, that's excellent.  Furthermore, they can stay in the air on patrol for far, far longer than an F-14: 3x as much each.

Note, our FD Avengers are not air superiority fighters and cannot engage in dogfights or what have you.  They are meant for fleet defense, which is a very different role.  They also cannot jump to Mach 2.3 and go hunting on the other side of the fleet formation.  They are moved into position and then stay on station.  They are not interceptors in the traditional sense.


So, what does our carrier air wing look like?  Given Carrier Tritons, UCLASS and the FD Avenger?

The assumption is we'd still have 5 E-2x as our AWACS (etc).

There are 'now' 5 Tritons for ISR.

We would have 10 strike UCLASS.

There would be 14 FD Avengers. 

There would be 6 F-18G Growlers.

That would leave us with 20 F-35c and 24 F/A-18E/F (or FA-XX, later).

There would be a total of 6 SH-60 Seahawk for search and rescue and/or antisub work.

The 'nice' thing about the airwing above is it can potentially be put onto the carrier decks far faster than what will likely happen with the FA-XX.  Theoretically, you could squeeze in another 10 aircraft, especially if the total personnel and deck space for the drones than manned aircraft, but the aircraft carrier might pop like a balloon then from being overfull.

So, a mini crazy thought: use the Triton for ISR from the carrier and two different UCLASS for the separate missions of deep strike and fleet defense.

The Vertex Tilt Rotor UAV

The kickstarter link is here.

OECD Robopocalypse Study: Self Driving 'Taxi bots' Would Have a Huge, Positive Impact

Transportation experts say car-congested cities could become a thing of the past, provided people are prepared to ride-share with a robot driver.

A study published Thursday by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development suggests that widespread use of "taxibots" could cut by 90 percent the number of cars needed to perform the same number of journeys per day.

Researchers used data from Lisbon, Portugal, to simulate how such self-driving, communal cabs would affect traffic. Even with only one passenger per ride and no complementary public transport, the number of cars still dropped by 77 percent.

New Russian Armored Fighting Vehicles Semi Unveiled

The Russian Ground Forces' new suite of armoured vehicles have been officially revealed for the first time by the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD), ahead of their formal debut at the 9 May Moscow Victory Day Parade.

The new vehicles are principally clean-slate designs and represent the biggest change in Russia's armoured fighting vehicle families since the 1960s and 1970s.

The official MoD website published pictures of the vehicles - albeit with their weapon systems covered - following the unofficial leaking of images and footage of them rehearsing for the parade in recent days.

US Air Force Wants A-10 Replacement, has no Money for it

The Air Force wants a less costly next-generation aircraft for close air support to replace the A-10, but there is no funding available for it and there likely will not be in the future, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Wednesday .

Given a better budget environment, the service would want a new aircraft that could primarily focus on providing close support for ground troops, carry a lot of ordnance and do so more cheaply than other aircraft in the service's fleet, Welsh said. But it is not a realistic proposal today, he said.

"We need a low-threat CAS platform in the near future, if the money will allow it," Welsh said at an event sponsored by Defense One in Washington, D.C. "It doesn't today, but we would certainly like to have something like that, that operates more efficiently than what we have today, that carries more firepower and does so in a low-threat environment."

This is the mission of the A-10, which the Air Force is targeting again for retirement. The service has said it would like to keep the aircraft around for the end of its planned service life, which is until about 2030. However, it does not have enough money to support the aircraft and its infrastructure. Other aircraft for now can pick up the slack in the mission of close air support until the F-35 comes on line.

hmm.  How about we transfer the A-10s to the Ukrainian Air Force and outsource our CAS needs until we have a replacement.  After all, I am sure the Ukrainians will quickly have lots of experience using them.  They'd love them some белемніт/бородавочник to go rooting through the Donbass.  Then again maybe maybe we need to put together a літати козак unit modeled on the 飞虎队.

Baiting and joking aisde, the best course is to take DARPA's PCAS to the next step and make the A-10 into the QA-10 (image source).

X-47B UCAV Aerial Refueling Video

Two new Eocene Paleogene South American Platyrrhines Which Verify African Origin for New World Monkeys

Eocene primates of South America and the African origins of New World monkeys


Bond et al


The platyrrhine primates, or New World monkeys, are immigrant mammals whose fossil record comes from Tertiary and Quaternary sediments of South America and the Caribbean Greater Antilles. The time and place of platyrrhine origins are some of the most controversial issues in primate palaeontology, although an African Palaeogene ancestry has been presumed by most primatologists. Until now, the oldest fossil records of New World monkeys have come from Salla, Bolivia, and date to approximately 26 million years ago, or the Late Oligocene epoch. Here we report the discovery of new primates from the ?Late Eocene epoch of Amazonian Peru, which extends the fossil record of primates in South America back approximately 10 million years. The new specimens are important for understanding the origin and early evolution of modern platyrrhine primates because they bear little resemblance to any extinct or living South American primate, but they do bear striking resemblances to Eocene African anthropoids, and our phylogenetic analysis suggests a relationship with African taxa. The discovery of these new primates brings the first appearance datum of caviomorph rodents and primates in South America back into close correspondence, but raises new questions about the timing and means of arrival of these two mammalian groups.

Mars Recon Orbiter Spots Curiosity Rover on Mount Sharp

Loss of Bioturbation During Permian Mass Extinction

Loss of the sedimentary mixed layer as a result of the end-Permian extinction


Hofman et al


The end-Permian mass extinction resulted in the most dramatic degradation of marine bottom communities during the Phanerozoic. One result of this extinction was the long-recognized, extreme reduction in bioturbation of the Early Triassic seafloor. Several lines of evidence (i.e., preferential preservation of epifaunal and very shallow-tier infaunal trace fossils; paucity of mid- and deep-tier trace fossils; absence of mottled bioturbation textures; dominance of cohesive substrates; widespread occurrence of microbially induced sedimentary structures in open-marine environments; ecological composition of Early Triassic communities) show that the reduction in bioturbation was so extreme that the sedimentary mixed layer was eradicated at an interregional scale for the only time since it was established in the early Palaeozoic. The consequences of this for ecosystem function and geochemical cycling must have been profound and yet they have received little consideration. Biogenic mixing of sediments is fundamental to geochemical cycling in extant marine ecosystems, and it also governs ecologically limiting factors such as nutrient fluxes, benthic primary production, and availability of ecospace. The collapse of biogenic sediment mixing during the Early Triassic must have affected geochemical properties of sediments and the seawater, as reflected in the geologic record of the sulphur cycle. Additionally, many of the proxies traditionally used to infer Early Triassic seawater anoxia may rather reflect poor sediment oxygenation arising from the extinction of bioturbators. Because of its impact on seawater and sediment chemistry, the loss of the mixed layer may have been an important, but hitherto little-considered constraint on the recovery from the end-Permian mass extinction.

Did Ediacaran NeoProterozoic Kotlinian Mass Extinction Pave way for the Cambrian Explosion?

Ediacaran biota in the aftermath of the Kotlinian Crisis: Asha Group of the South Urals


Kolesnikov et al


The Asha Group of the South Urals is dominated by laminated shales and thin siltstone–sandstone alternations interpreted as a prograding low-energy inner shelf depositional system. The succession includes several thick sharp-based sandstone bodies comprising interstratified fine- to medium-grained fine-laminated, planar-laminated, hummocky-, convolute- and wave-bedded, planar and trough cross-bedded sandstones, occasionally pebble- to boulder conglomerates, regarded as tidal, deltaic and shoreface depositional systems. The sandstone shoreface bodies are interpreted as forced-regressive deposits stranded in offshore positions during subsequent transgressions. Although palaeoecological and taphonomic context of the Asha Group is favourable for the Ediacara-type biofacies, the associated fossil assemblages nevertheless are depauperate and consist of frondomorph holdfast structures, palaeopascichnids, microbial colonies, arumberiamorph structures, as well as lithified microbial substrates (shagreen texture, biolaminites). In terms of fidelity and fossil completeness, preservation of Ediacaran fossils in the Asha Group is by no means inferior to that seen in other Ediacaran macrofossil localities. The low biodiversity of Ediacaran macrofossils can be attributed to a relatively young Ediacaran age of the Asha Group, which is constrained by a U–Pb zircon date of 547.6 ± 3.8 Ma from an ash bed in the lower part of the sedimentary succession. The uppermost part of the Asha Group has yielded bilobed burrows with a backfill structure suggesting an affinity with the ichnogenus Didymaulichnus from the Ediacaran–Cambrian boundary strata. The Asha Group therefore offers an important glimpse into the history of the Edacaran biota in the aftermath of the Kotlinian Crisis that caused extinction of dickinsoniomorphs, tribrachiomorphs and bilateralomorphs in wave- and current-agitated shoreface depositional systems ∼550 million years ago, but did not significantly affect frondomorphs and palaeopascichnids.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Robopocalypse has Come for the Barista

If robots are going to become part of our everyday lives, they'll need to learn to work with everyday things. That means being able to read instruction manuals and figuring out how to use new machines. That's the plan of researchers at Cornell University, who have programmed a robot barista that can not only make a latte, but figure out how to use an unfamiliar espresso maker.

Developing robots is more than a matter of mechanical engineering. There's also the problem of how to teach them how to carry out tasks. For research and factory robots, this can be done by programming them directly, or by guiding them through their paces using controllers like keyboards, joysticks, or Waldos. However, if robots are to work in more human environments like homes, offices, shops, and restaurants, they need to be able to learn by themselves.

Led by Ashutosh Saxena, assistant professor of computer science, the Cornell team set about developing a robot barista that can use its experience and that of other robots, along with text materials, to deduce how to use an unfamiliar machine. If the robot barista has operated three other coffee machines, reasons Saxena, then it should be able to figure out a fourth.

Ted's Sons

My brother, Ted, is nine years younger and in the US Army: he's career and following the family tradition.  He has two sons, Theo (in glasses and 10) and Chris (blond and looking like a little clone of his dad at age 5, save the ears from his mom!).

While US Navy's FA-XX Will be Unmanned, US Air Force F-X 6th Gen Fighter Will be Manned

The Air Force will not follow the Navy into an all-unmanned future strike fleet, as pilots will be needed in the cockpits of most of its combat fleet for the foreseeable future.

While the Air Force will increase its reliance on remotely piloted and possibly autonomous aircraft, there will be no replacement for a fighter pilot, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Wednesday.

"Having the human brain as a sensor in combat is still immensely important in our view," Welsh said at an event sponsored by Defense One in Washington, D.C.

Welsh's comments follow a statement last week from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus that the service's F-35C "should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly." The Navy will need fighter pilots for possible dog fighting, but unmanned aircraft will handle strike missions, Mabus said.

"Unmanned systems, particularly autonomous ones, have to be the new normal in ever-increasing areas," Mabus said April 15 at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition outside Washington.

The Navy is increasing its development of unmanned systems by creating a new staff office for unmanned weapons systems and a new position for deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for unmanned systems.

The Air Force wants to increase its reliance on unmanned aircraft in situations such as long-term flight and the need to keep a view on a target for a long time, and to "not worry about the limitations of the human body," Welsh said. The service is working on this by increasing the use of its RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude surveillance drones while moving to retire the unmanned U-2 spy plane. The service is buying more MQ-9 Reaper drones and looking to pare down its U-28A and MC-12 Liberty surveillance fleet.

Even the next-generation stealth bomber will be optionally manned in the future, while it will start out with pilots in its cockpit.

However, the F-35 will not be the Air Force's last manned fighter, Welsh said.

"The Air Force needs a number of platforms, and in this time frame, manned platforms will be the most beneficial," Welsh said.

Do Enceladus' Geysers Feed Saturn's E Ring?



Mitchell et al


We examine Cassini Imaging Science Subsystem images of the E ring taken over a period of almost 7 yr, from 2006 September to 2013 July, in which long, sinuous structures dubbed tendrils are present. We model these structures by numerically integrating the trajectories of particles launched from the sources of the most active geysers recently located along the four main fractures crossing the south polar terrain of the moon, and producing from these integrations synthetic images that we then compare to the real ones. We include the effects of charging and the electromagnetic forces on the particles in addition to the gravity of Saturn and Enceladus. We demonstrate that these structures are produced by the highest velocity particles erupting from the most active geysers and entering Saturn's orbit, and not perturbations of E ring particles by Enceladus. The detailed structures of the tendrils change with the orbital position of Enceladus, a finding likely to be the result of the diurnal variability in the source activity.

Do Methane Storms Drive the Dune Orientation on Titan?

Methane storms as a driver of Titan's dune orientation


Charnay et al


Titan's equatorial regions are covered by eastward propagating linear dunes. This direction is opposite to mean surface winds simulated by Global Climate Models (GCMs), which are oriented westward at these latitudes, similar to trade winds on Earth. Different hypotheses have been proposed to address this apparent contradiction, involving Saturn's gravitational tides, large scale topography or wind statistics, but none of them can explain a global eastward dune propagation in the equatorial band. Here we analyse the impact of equinoctial tropical methane storms developing in the superrotating atmosphere (i.e. the eastward winds at high altitude) on Titan's dune orientation. Using mesoscale simulations of convective methane clouds with a GCM wind profile featuring superrotation, we show that Titan's storms should produce fast eastward gust fronts above the surface. Such gusts dominate the aeolian transport, allowing dunes to extend eastward. This analysis therefore suggests a coupling between superrotation, tropical methane storms and dune formation on Titan. Furthermore, together with GCM predictions and analogies to some terrestrial dune fields, this work provides a general framework explaining several major features of Titan's dunes: linear shape, eastward propagation and poleward divergence, and implies an equatorial origin of Titan's dune sand.

Chinese Scientists Have Geneticaly Modified Human Embryos Using CRISPR

In a world first, Chinese scientists have reported editing the genomes of human embryos. The results are published in the online journal Protein & Cell and confirm widespread rumours that such experiments had been conducted—rumours that sparked a high-profile debate last month about the ethical implications of such work.

In the paper, researchers led by Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, tried to head off such concerns by using 'non-viable' embryos, which cannot result in a live birth, that were obtained from local fertility clinics. The team attempted to modify the gene responsible for β-thalassaemia, a potentially fatal blood disorder, using a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9. The researchers say that their results reveal serious obstacles to using the method in medical applications.

"I believe this is the first report of CRISPR/Cas9 applied to human pre-implantation embryos and as such the study is a landmark, as well as a cautionary tale," says George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "Their study should be a stern warning to any practitioner who thinks the technology is ready for testing to eradicate disease genes."

X-47B Salty Dog 502 Successfully Completes Aerial Refueling From Tanker

The Navy successfully tested autonomous aerial refueling for the first time with its Northrop Grumman X-47B test unmanned aerial vehicle on Wednesday, marking the end of the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Air Vehicle demonstrator (UCAS-D) program, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) told USNI News shortly after the aircraft landed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

Cruising over the Chesapeake Bay, the X-47B — call sign Salty Dog 502 — successfully maneuvered behind an contracted Omega Aerial Refueling Services Boeing 707 tanker and took on more than 4,000 pounds of fuel before heading back to Pax River at about 1:15 P.M. EST, NAVAIR spokesperson Jamie Cosgrove told USNI News.

The probe-and-drogue refueling test was successfully completed during the first of two test windows NAVAIR had on Wednesday and days before the availability of the Omega tanker was to expire, USNI News understands.

Tracing Europe's First Farmers

Tracing the genetic origin of Europe's first farmers reveals insights into their social organization


Szécsényi-Nagy et al


Farming was established in Central Europe by the Linearbandkeramik culture (LBK), a well-investigated archaeological horizon, which emerged in the Carpathian Basin, in today's Hungary. However, the genetic background of the LBK genesis is yet unclear. Here we present 9 Y chromosomal and 84 mitochondrial DNA profiles from Mesolithic, Neolithic Starčevo and LBK sites (seventh/sixth millennia BC) from the Carpathian Basin and southeastern Europe. We detect genetic continuity of both maternal and paternal elements during the initial spread of agriculture, and confirm the substantial genetic impact of early southeastern European and Carpathian Basin farming cultures on Central European populations of the sixth–fourth millennia BC. Comprehensive Y chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA population genetic analyses demonstrate a clear affinity of the early farmers to the modern Near East and Caucasus, tracing the expansion from that region through southeastern Europe and the Carpathian Basin into Central Europe. However, our results also reveal contrasting patterns for male and female genetic diversity in the European Neolithic, suggesting a system of patrilineal descent and patrilocal residential rules among the early farmers.

Viewing Some Ediacaran NeoProterozoic Fossils as Animals Without the Constraints of Phylogenetics

The advent of animals: The view from the Ediacaran


Droser et al


Patterns of origination and evolution of early complex life on this planet are largely interpreted from the fossils of the Precambrian soft-bodied Ediacara Biota. These fossils occur globally and represent a diverse suite of organisms living in marine environments. Although these exceptionally preserved fossil assemblages are typically difficult to reconcile with modern phyla, examination of the morphology, ecology, and taphonomy of these taxa provides keys to their relationships with modern taxa. Within the more than 30 million y range of the Ediacara Biota, fossils of these multicellular organisms demonstrate the advent of mobility, heterotrophy by multicellular animals, skeletonization, sexual reproduction, and the assembly of complex ecosystems, all of which are attributes of modern animals. This approach to these fossils, without the constraint of attempting phylogenetic reconstructions, provides a mechanism for comparing these taxa with both living and extinct animals.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Disney/CMU 3d Fabric Printer ...with a bit more accuracy

Zeynep Tufekci @ NYT: Robopocalypse Will Empower Employers, Replace & Enslave Workers

THE machine hums along, quietly scanning the slides, generating Pap smear diagnostics, just the way a college-educated, well-compensated lab technician might.

A robot with emotion-detection software interviews visitors to the United States at the border. In field tests, this eerily named “embodied avatar kiosk” does much better than humans in catching those with invalid documentation. Emotional-processing software has gotten so good that ad companies are looking into “mood-targeted” advertising, and the government of Dubai wants to use it to scan all its closed-circuit TV feeds.

Yes, the machines are getting smarter, and they’re coming for more and more jobs.

Not just low-wage jobs, either.


But computers do not just replace humans in the workplace. They shift the balance of power even more in favor of employers. Our normal response to technological innovation that threatens jobs is to encourage workers to acquire more skills, or to trust that the nuances of the human mind or human attention will always be superior in crucial ways. But when machines of this capacity enter the equation, employers have even more leverage, and our standard response is not sufficient for the looming crisis.

Machines aren’t used because they perform some tasks that much better than humans, but because, in many cases, they do a “good enough” job while also being cheaper, more predictable and easier to control than quirky, pesky humans. Technology in the workplace is as much about power and control as it is about productivity and efficiency.

France, India Expect to Finish Rafale Negotiations by May's end

India and France aim to finalise the deal for 36 Dassault Rafale fighters for the Indian Air Force (IAF) by the end of May, according to defence industry sources.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is believed to have insisted on this deadline with his French counterpart Francois Hollande in Paris, soon after announcing the fighters' procurement on 10 April.

Once inked, the IAF will be the first customer, after the French Air Force, to acquire Rafales. Egypt has also agreed to buy 24 Rafales.

Meanwhile, a delegation comprising senior French government officials and top Dassault executives is expected in New Delhi over the next few days to begin negotiating the fighter contract, which is estimated at around USD5-6 billion. French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is likely to be part of this delegation, but no confirmation of his inclusion was possible.

Industry sources familiar with the ongoing talks between the two governments told IHS Jane's that Dassault is reported to have agreed to more than double its annual Rafale building capacity from 11 to 24 aircraft. The company had slowed down Rafale production rate to around 11 platforms per year as no new orders were forthcoming.

The French government is also believed to have persuaded its air force to reduce its Rafale induction until the IAF contract is fulfilled.

Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar told the Mail Today newspaper on 16 April that the accounting process for the Rafales would be completed within 2-3 months and deliveries would begin in 18 months. "So roughly it [the contract] will take three years," he said.

Evidence of a Crater Lake in the Siberian Traps in During the Permian Extinction

An integrated carbon isotope record of an end-Permian crater lake above a phreatomagmatic pipe of the Siberian Traps


Fristad et al


The largest mass extinction in Earth history occurred at the end-Permian (~ 252 million years ago) and is marked by a global negative carbon isotope excursion and the onset of Siberian Trap volcanism, prompting diverse hypotheses on the link between flood basalt volcanism, carbon cycle perturbations, and mass extinction. Phreatomagmatic pipes associated with Siberian Trap volcanism have been proposed as conduits for the release of 12C-enriched carbon gases from thermogenic and/or magmatic sources to the end-Permian atmosphere. Some of the pipes have preserved crater-lake sediments of volcaniclastic origin. This study examined the preserved evidence for 12C-enriched carbon release into the Western Oktyabrsk crater in east Siberia from the underlying volcanic basin. We find that the 13C/12C ratio of the carbonate cement, organic matter, and long-chain n-alkanes in the lacustrine crater sediments support the hypothesis that 12C-enriched carbon infiltrated the basal crater sediments and lake water immediately after crater formation. The values and trends of δ13CCarb, δ13CTOC, and δ13Cn-alkanes in the crater sediments are consistent with 12C-enriched carbon with isotopic values similar to that of carbon sourced from thermogenic and/or 12C-enriched magmatic sources. This implies that carbon release through the pipes in the Tunguska Basin may explain the source of the global negative carbon isotope perturbations, and their coincidence with Siberian Trap volcanism, at the end-Permian.

Oxygen-17 Evidence of the PaleoClimate of Snowball Earths Past

Revealing the climate of snowball Earth from Δ17O systematics of hydrothermal rocks


Herawartz et al


The oxygen isotopic composition of hydrothermally altered rocks partly originates from the interacting fluid. We use the triple oxygen isotope composition (17O/16O, 18O/16O) of Proterozoic rocks to reconstruct the 18O/16O ratio of ancient meteoric waters. Some of these waters have originated from snowball Earth glaciers and thus give insight into the climate and hydrology of these critical intervals in Earth history. For a Paleoproterozoic [∼2.3–2.4 gigayears ago (Ga)] snowball Earth, δ18O = −43 ± 3‰ is estimated for pristine meteoric waters that precipitated at low paleo-latitudes (≤35°N). Today, such low 18O/16O values are only observed in central Antarctica, where long distillation trajectories in combination with low condensation temperatures promote extreme 18O depletion. For a Neoproterozoic (∼0.6–0.7 Ga) snowball Earth, higher meltwater δ18O estimates of −21 ± 3‰ imply less extreme climate conditions at similar paleo-latitudes (≤35°N). Both estimates are single snapshots of ancient water samples and may not represent peak snowball Earth conditions. We demonstrate how 17O/16O measurements provide information beyond traditional 18O/16O measurements, even though all fractionation processes are purely mass dependent.

PaleoArchean Apex Microfossils are Hydrothermal Minerals, NOT Biogenic Fossils

New analysis of world-famous 3.46 billion-year-old rocks by researchers from the University of Bristol, the University of Oxford and UWA (the University of Western Australia) is set to finally resolve a long running evolutionary controversy.

The new research, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, shows that structures once thought to be Earth's oldest microfossils do not compare with younger fossil candidates but have, instead, the character of peculiarly shaped minerals.

In 1993, US scientist Bill Schopf described tiny carbon-rich filaments within the 3.46 billion-year-old Apex chert (fine-grained sedimentary rock) from the Pilbara region of Western Australia, which he likened to certain forms of bacteria, including cyanobacteria.

These 'Apex chert microfossils' - between 0.5 and 20 micrometres wide - soon became enshrined in textbooks, museum displays, popular science books and online reference guides as the earliest evidence for life on Earth. In 1996, these structures were even used to test and help refute the case against 'microfossils' in the Martian meteorite ALH 84001.

Even so, their curious colour and complexity gave rise to some early questions. Gravest doubts emerged in 2002, when a team led by Oxford's Professor Martin Brasier (co-author of this current study) revealed that the host rock was not part of a simple sedimentary unit but rather came from a complex, high-temperature hydrothermal vein, with evidence for multiple episodes of subsurface fluid flow over a long time. His team advanced an alternative hypothesis, stating that these curious structures were not true microfossils but pseudofossils formed by the redistribution of carbon around mineral grains during these hydrothermal events.

Although other research teams have since supported the hydrothermal context of Professor Brasier, the 'Apex microfossil' debate has remained hard to resolve because scientific instrumentation has only recently reached the level of resolution needed to map both chemical composition and morphology of these 'microfossils' at the sub-micrometre scale.