Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Joint Conference in Washington, DC on the use of CRISPR-Cas9 on Humans

Don't look now, but the future just pulled into town.

Hundreds of scientists, policymakers and the president's science adviser have gathered Tuesday in Washington for what will be a three-day summit on genetic engineering, with a focus on a new, relatively simple technique for manipulating genes. It's fast and flexible, and just about anybody with some lab equipment and a little know-how can potentially alter the human species. The technique is called CRISPR-Cas9, or simply CRISPR, and more generically referred to as "gene editing."

The summit kicked off early Tuesday morning at the headquarters of the National Academy of Sciences, which is one of the sponsors, along with the National Academy of Medicine, the Royal Academy (Britain), and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The Chinese scientists have been aggressive in using CRISPR, and one team made news this year when it reported results from experiments on nonviable human embryos.

“The overriding question is when, if ever, we will want to use gene editing to change human inheritance," summit chair David Baltimore of Caltech said in his introductory remarks.

Atlas V Cygnus Space Station Resupply Mission at 5:55 PM ET Thursday


This will be a bit of a make or break, I'd think, for Orbital ATK for the next round of the resupply contracts to the space station.

I'll post a live feed link an hour before the launch if I am able.

DARPA Cancels ALASA Responsive Micro Sat Launcher

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has scrapped plans to launch small satellites from a modified F-15 fighter jet after two tests of a new rocket fuel ended in explosions this year.

Instead DARPA will spend the next year studying how to harness the volatile nitrous oxide-acetylene propellant and, in parallel, modifications to existing small rockets that would enable the agency place small satellites on orbit on 24 hours notice at a cost of less than $1 million.

In March 2014, Boeing Defense Space and Security of Huntington Beach, California, won a contract potentially worth $104 million to build and demonstrate the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) system. The program was intended to demonstrate the capability to launch up to 45 kilograms of payload into low Earth orbit on short notice for as little as $1 million.

ALASA is one of a number of DARPA efforts to reduce the cost and turnaround time for launching national security satellites.

Boeing’s design featured a small expendable rocket launching from underneath a modified combat aircraft that would take off from a standard airport runway. Such a system would allow the Defense Department to launch from almost anywhere, DARPA said.

“The magic” in Boeing’s design, as DARPA officials described it, was the powerful nitrous oxide-acetylene propellant, also known as NA-7. The propellant would be “pre-mixed” to reduce the plumbing needed on the rocket, enabling it to carry more payload.

MQ-8C FireScout Completed Operational Assessment

The MQ-8C Fire Scout completed a three week operational assessment period Nov. 20 at Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu, California.

The OA included 11 flights totaling 83.4 flight hours where Fire Scout was tested against maritime and surveyed land targets to assess system performance, endurance and reliability of the unmanned helicopter.

“MQ-8C is meeting or exceeding its performance objectives and will deliver greater warfighting capabilities to the fleet in the future,” said Capt Jeff Dodge, Fire Scout’s program manager for Multi-Mission Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems.

The MQ-8C will provide twice the endurance and three times the payload as the existing MQ-8B. It has a range of 150 nautical miles and a payload capacity of more than 700 pounds which provides unique situational awareness and precision target support for the Navy on land and at-sea with its multiple intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.

Israel Details its Unmanned, Robopocalyptic Military Plans

Israel’s Ministry of Defense is eyeing new autonomous operating concepts and a spectrum of unmanned air, ground and sea systems, several of which could become functional within a decade.

In a rare public presentation earlier this month, Brig. Gen. Nir Halamish, head of the military research and development unit of the Ministry’s MAFAT Research and Development Bureau, outlined Israel’s unmanned vehicles blueprint through 2025.

Speaking at a conference of Israel Defense and the local chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Halamish cited MoD’s interest in unmanned flight, unmanned surface ships and autonomous underwater systems for countering mines.

He said MoD started a five-year program to advance civilian unmanned gliders for military missions, insisting the ministry and local industrial partners do not intend to “reinvent the wheel,” but rather are focusing on injecting military-grade robustness for maneuvering forces.

In the realm of ground vehicles, he noted that Israel is the only country in the world to deploy unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) for persistent, around-the-clock border control missions. The experience Israel has accumulated with UGVs operating at its border with Gaza will be replicated in other areas.

“These [UGVs] are the first at any event, which prevents our soldiers from coming into contact with the enemy at the outset,” he said.

Knowledge gained from unmanned border patrol missions will eventually be expanded to a point where UGVs will be part and parcel of maneuvering ground forces. Halamish cited.

A Pleistocene Quaternary Petrified Forest From Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

In situ ∼2.0 Ma trees discovered as fossil rooted stumps, lowermost Bed I, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania


Habermann et al


The discovery of fossil rooted tree stumps in lowermost Lower Bed I from the western Olduvai Basin, Tanzania, age-bracketed by the Naabi Ignimbrite (2.038 ± 0.005 Ma) and Tuff IA (1.88 ± 0.05 Ma), provides the first direct, in situ, and to date oldest evidence of living trees at Olduvai Gorge. The tree relicts occur in an interval dominated by low-viscosity mass flow and braided fluvial sediments, deposited at the toe of a largely Ngorongoro Volcano-sourced volcaniclastic fan apron that comprised a widely spaced network of ephemeral braided streams draining northward into the Olduvai Basin. Preservation of the trees occurred through their engulfment by mass flows, post-mortem mold formation resulting from differential decay of woody tissues, and subsequent fluvially-related sediment infill, calcite precipitation, and cast formation. Rhizolith preservation was triggered by the interaction of root-induced organic and inorganic processes to form rhizocretionary calcareous root casts. Phytolith analyses were carried out to complete the paleoenvironmental reconstruction. They imply a pronounced seasonality and indicate a wooded landscape with grasses, shrubs, and sedges growing nearby, comparable to the low, open riverine woodland (unit 4c) along the Garusi River and tributaries in the Laetoli area. Among the tree stump cluster were found outsized lithic clasts and those consisting of quartzite were identified as Oldowan stone tool artifacts. In the context of hominin activity, the identification of wooded grassland in association with nearby freshwater drainages and Oldowan artifacts significantly extends our paleoenvironmental purview on the basal parts of Lower Bed I, and highlights the hitherto underrated role of the yet poorly explored western Olduvai Gorge area as a potential ecologically attractive setting and habitat for early hominins.

Blood Vessels From Campanian Cretaceous Hadrosaur Brachylophosaurus canadensis Confirmed

Researchers from North Carolina State University have confirmed that blood vessel-like structures found in an 80 million-year-old hadrosaur fossil are original to the animal, and not biofilm or other contaminants. Their findings add to the growing body of evidence that structures like blood vessels and cells can persist over millions of years, and the data not only confirm earlier reports of protein sequences in dinosaurs, they represent a significant advance in methodology.

Molecular paleontologist Tim Cleland, currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, began the work while a graduate student at NC State. He demineralized a piece of leg bone from a Brachylophosaurus canadensis, a 30-foot-long hadrosaur that roamed what is now Montana around 80 million years ago. Cleland analyzed the demineralized bone with high resolution mass spectroscopy and found several distinct proteins from the cellular components of the blood vessels. One of these proteins, myosin, is found in the smooth muscles associated with the walls of blood vessels.

A Study of Modern African Fauna and the Ecological Implications for the Megafaunal Extinctions Elsewhere

A continent-wide assessment of the form and intensity of large mammal herbivory in Africa


Hempson et al


Megafaunal extinctions and a lack of suitable remote sensing technology impede our understanding of both the ecological legacy and current impacts of large mammal herbivores in the Earth system. To address this, we reconstructed the form and intensity of herbivory pressure across sub-Saharan Africa ~1000 years ago. Specifically, we modeled and mapped species-level biomass for 92 large mammal herbivores using census data, species distributions, and environmental covariates. Trait-based classifications of these species into herbivore functional types, and analyses of their biomass surfaces, reveal four ecologically distinct continental-scale herbivory regimes, characterized by internally similar forms and intensities of herbivory pressure. Associations between herbivory regimes, fire prevalence, soil nutrient status, and rainfall provide important insights into African ecology and pave the way for integrating herbivores into global-scale studies.

Russia's Most Syrian Adventure #45

Here's another piece about how Russia is pounding the Turkey's allies in Syria.

The Russians stated they and American military officials have been meeting to discuss the attacks on Daesh/IS.

Putin has stated Turkey shot down the Su-24 to defend Daesh/IS oil supplies because Turkey is buying and selling oil from IS/Daesh. Erdogan says he'll resign if Putin's allegations are proven true.

Russia and Israel are going to broaden their cooperation in Syria.

The US may send more special forces to Syria.  This could make things more complicated for the Russian bombings.

The Day After #3

Should the US Marines be Embedded in Filipino Forces in the South China Sea to Dispute Chinese Claims?

An alternative policy would be to embed USMC personnel in their Filipino counterparts, while explicitly announcing that despite still not taking sides on the ultimate issue of sovereignty, the US considered the Second Thomas Shoal (and other disputed territories currently under actual control by Manila) to fall within the purview of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty. American policy would then be to actively seek to prevent changes on the ground, including expelling Filipino military personnel from the Second Thomas Shoal, while still pressing for a mediated (or arbitrated) solution, in line with US support for the international arbitration bid currently under consideration by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Preserving the status quo requires extensive work on the BRP Sierra Madre, or its replacement by another ship or structure. In other words, America would be moving from passive neutrality to active neutrality. From merely declaring that differences must be settled peacefully in accordance to international law, to helping freeze the status quo so that revisionist powers are not tempted to gain in the field of battle what they should only be claiming in the diplomatic table or the courtroom.

More Evidence of NeoArchean Subduction From the North China Craton

Discovery of Neoarchean suprasubduction zone ophiolite suite from Yishui Complex in the North China Craton


Santosh et al


The Archean tectonic realm of the North China Craton (NCC) is considered in recent models as a collage of several microblocks which were amalgamated along zones of ocean closure during late Neoarchean. Here we report the finding of a dismembered ophiolite suite from the southern margin of the Jiaoliao microblock in the interior of the unified Eastern Block of the NCC. The suite is composed of lherzolite, pyroxenite, noritic and hornblende gabbro, and hornblendite intruded by veins and sheets of leuco granite. Together with transposed layers and bands of metavolcanics and amphibolites, banded iron formation (BIF), and diabase dykes in the adjacent locations, the Yishui complex corresponds well with a dismembered suprasubduction zone ophiolite suite. Clinopyroxene in the pyroxenite and gabbroic rocks are Mg rich and range in composition from augite to diopside. Among orthopyroxenes, those in lherzolite shows the highest XMg of 0.84-0.85. Plagioclase in hornblende gabbro shows high anorthite content (An50 -64). Calcic amphiboles in the gabbroic rocks range in composition from ferropargasite to ferro-edenite, edenite and pargasite. Spinel inclusions in lherzolite are Cr-rich magnesiospinel. Geochemically, the mafic rocks from Yishui complex show subalkaline basaltic source, whereas the granitoids show volcanic arc affinity. The hornblende gabbro and gabbro, lherzolite and hornblendite show compositional similarity to E-MORB and N-MORB respectively. The lherzolite and hornblendite possess arc-related ultramafic cumulate nature, with overall features straddling the fields of IAT and IAT-MORB. The geochemical features are consistent with evolution in a suprasubduction regime with no significant crustal contamination. The majority of zircon grains in the Yishui suite exhibit magmatic texture and high Th/U ratios. Zircon grains from hornblendite define 207Pb/206Pb upper intercept age of 2538 ± 30 Ma. Zircons from the granite show ages of 2538 ± 16 Ma and 2503 ± 21 Ma, and those from the gabbros yield ages of 2503 ± 16 Ma and 2495 ± 10 Ma. The well defined major age peak at 2500 Ma is broadly coeval with Neoarchean ages reported from the microblocks in the North China Craton. The zircon Lu–Hf data from the Yishui suite display εHf(t) values between -2.5 and 5.0, with corresponding model ages suggesting magma derivation from Neoarchean juvenile sources together with limited reworked Paleo-Mesoarchean crustal components.

Our study is the first report of Neoarchean suprasubduction-type ophiolites from a locality far from the margins of the major crustal blocks and suture zones in the NCC and strengthens the concept that the craton is a mosaic of several microblocks with intervening oceans that closed along multiple subduction zones. We envisage that the amalgamation between the Xuhuai and the Jiaoliao microblocks resulted in the accretion of the Yishui suprasubduction zone ophiolitic assemblages onto the southern margin of the Jiaoliao microblock. The Neoarchean microblock amalgamation in the North China Craton provides new insights into continental growth in the early Earth and confirms that modern style plate tectonics might have been initiated early in the history of our planet.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Demography Matters on Ukrainian Migration Scenarios

I have been wanting for some time to do an extended analysis of the ongoing Ukrainian situation. For the time being, here's four articles which suggest interesting future trends for migration from Ukraine, since the end of the Soviet Union one of the largest sources of migrants in the world.

Good Grief: Comets and Asteroids Brought 15N Enriched Ammonia to Earth?!



Pizzarello et al


Large isotopic anomalies are found in meteoritic insoluble organic materials (IOMs) and, for nitrogen, show 15N-excesses up to ${\delta }^{15}$N ~ 5000‰. These 15N-enrichments are commonly ascribed to presolar origins, but the attribution seems contradicted by available data on N-isotopes' cosmic distribution. We report here that 15N hotspots in several IOMs are reduced by hydrothermal treatment and their loss correlates with 15N values of ammonia released upon treatment. Because released ammonia's 15N-enrichments also relate with meteorites' mineralogy, i.e., asteroidal processes, and no current models offer plausible explanations for the finding, we account for our data with a novel scenario whereby 15N-enriched ammonia produced in the solar nebula is incorporated by carbonaceous materials and delivered to early Earth by comets and meteorites. The proposal also implies that abundant reduced nitrogen, a required element in origins of life theories, could reach our nascent planet and other planetary systems affecting their habitability.

World Bank Launches $500M Carbon Market

The World Bank on Monday launched a $500 million market-based scheme designed to help developing countries pay for emission reductions and combat climate change.

Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland have jointly pledged an initial $250 million to get the so-called Transformative Carbon Asset Facility (TCAF) up and running next year, while the bank hopes further contributions will take the eventual total to $500 mln.

The scheme, which will reward countries for reducing emissions by paying a fee for each ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) reduced, was launched in Paris a day after senior officials from almost 200 nations met in the French capital for two-week talks aimed at thrashing out a global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The bank said the price per ton paid would be set on a case-by-case basis and said the scheme would support energy efficiency, renewable energy and waste management projects, as well as schemes to cut emissions in cities and from the transport sector.

For many of the developing countries involved access to finance from richer nations is a major requirement of any Paris deal.

American Martian Rovers With JPL Scientists for Scale

How to Build a Reusable Solar Sail for Mars

Mass breakdown model of solar-photon sail shuttle: The case for Mars


Vulpetti et al


The main aim of this paper is to set up a many-parameter model of mass breakdown to be applied to a reusable Earth–Mars–Earth solar-photon sail shuttle, and analyze the system behavior in two sub-problems: (1) the zero-payload shuttle, and (2) given the sailcraft sail loading and the gross payload mass, find the sail area of the shuttle. The solution to the subproblem-1 is of technological and programmatic importance. The general analysis of subproblem-2 is presented as a function of the sail side length, system mass, sail loading and thickness. In addition to the behaviors of the main system masses, useful information for future work on the sailcraft trajectory optimization is obtained via (a) a detailed mass model for the descent/ascent Martian Excursion Module, and (b) the fifty–fifty solution to the sailcraft sail loading breakdown equation. Of considerable importance is the evaluation of the minimum altitude for the rendezvous between the ascent rocket vehicle and the solar-photon sail propulsion module, a task performed via the Mars Climate Database 2014–2015. The analysis shows that such altitude is 300 km; below it, the atmospheric drag prevails over the solar-radiation thrust. By this value, an example of excursion module of 1500 kg in total mass is built, and the sailcraft sail loading and the return payload are calculated. Finally, the concept of launch opportunity-wide for a shuttle driven by solar-photon sail is introduced. The previous fifty–fifty solution may be a good initial guess for the trajectory optimization of this type of shuttle.

Japan, India Expected to Close US-2 Amphibious Aircraft (flying boat) Deal

India and Japan are set to firm up an agreement to jointly produce amphibious military aircraft during the upcoming visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in what could be the first defence deal between the two countries.

The US 2 amphibious aircraft, that has applications for search and rescue, surveillance as well as intelligence gathering, will be produced in India not only for domestic orders but will also be pitched jointly for exports in the region and beyond.

Indonesia Confirms Ordering Su-35s

Indonesia's defense minister had finally signed the official document approving to acquire Russia-made Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets to replace the would-be decommissioned F-5 E/F Tiger II operated by Indonesian air forces.

The document had been submitted to the National Development Planning (Bappenas) for the follow up.

Indonesian Air Forces Marshall Agus Supriatna has said recently that before the signing, the air forces has submitted the characteristics of fighter jets eligible to replace the F-5 E/F Tiger II which was in service since 1980.

According to Agus, the air forces proposed two options to replace the light attack F-5 E/F Tiger II. One is Sukhoi 35, the other is F-16 Viper produced by the United States producer Lokheed Martin.

"As the final user, the Indonesian Air Forces only submitted the technical specifications of fighter jets that we desire, capable to accomplish our missions," Agus was quoted as saying by a local media on Thursday.

A Push in the Australian Senate to Reexamine Whether or not to buy the F-35

A push to examine the wisdom of Australia's planned $24 billion fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters - ranking as the nation's largest ever defence purchase - is underway in the Senate.

Greens defence spokesman Peter Whish-Wilson on Friday has urged the Senate's standing committee on foreign affairs and trade to inquire into the suitability of the stealth jet for Australia's strategic interests.

The move comes after the election last month of new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on a promise to abandon plans to purchase the troubled fighter.

NATO to Offer Montenegro Membership

The Balkan state of Montenegro will on Wednesday be formally invited to join the NATO military alliance, diplomatic sources said, a move which could further strain already difficult ties with Moscow.

The offer is expected to come after a meeting of foreign ministers from the 28-nation alliance in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"The proposed text has been approved at (NATO) ambassador level," one source said Monday, asking not to be named. "After that, it would take at most a year and a half for Montenegro to become a member state," the source added.

Pre Mammalian Permian Therapsids Were Hairy: Evidence From Upper Permian Coprolites

Microbiota and food residues including possible evidence of pre-mammalian hair in Upper Permian coprolites from Russia


Bajdek et al


Coprolites (fossil faeces) provide direct evidence on the diet of its producer and unique insights on ancient food webs and ecosystems. We describe the contents of seven coprolites, collected from the Late Permian Vyazniki site of the European part of Russia. Two coprolite morphotypes (A, B) contain remains of putative bacteria, cyanobacteria, fungi, protists, invertebrate eggs, arthropod elements, undigested bone and tooth fragments, fish scales and elongated hair-like structures with hollow interiors. Content, size and shape of the coprolites together with the associated body fossil record suggest that the most probable scat-producers were carnivorous tetrapods; the bone-rich morphotype A reveals short food retention time and a fast metabolism and is therefore assigned to therapsid carnivores whereas morphotype B with rarer and degraded bones are assigned to archosauromorphs or other non-therapsid carnivores. The general coprolite matrix contains abundant micron-sized spheres and thin-walled vesicles which are interpreted as oxide and phosphatic pseudomorphs after microbial cells. From analyses of the undigested bones, we infer that they represent remains of actinopterygian fish, a therapsid and unrecognizable parts of amphibians and/or reptiles. Additionally, hair-like structures found in one coprolite specimen occur as diagenetically altered (oxide-replaced) structures and moulds (or partly as pseudomorphs) in a microcrystalline carbonate-fluoride-bearing calcium phosphate. This suggests that the latest Permian therapsids probably were equipped with hair-like integument or hairsuit. If true, this is by far the oldest evidence of this mammalian character in the stem group of mammals.

Europeans are Really all Turkish, well, Anatolian


The introduction of agriculture into Europe about 8,500 years ago changed the way people lived right down to their DNA.

Until recently, scientists could try to understand the way humans adapted genetically to changes that occurred thousands of years ago only by looking at DNA variation in today's populations. But our modern genomes contain mere echoes of the past that can't be connected to specific events.

Now, an international team reports in Nature that researchers can see how natural selection happened by analyzing ancient human DNA.

"It allows us to put a time and date on selection and to directly associate selection with specific environmental changes, in this case the development of agriculture and the expansion of the first farmers into Europe," said Iain Mathieson, a research fellow in genetics at Harvard Medical School and first author of the study.

By taking advantage of better DNA extraction techniques and amassing what is to date the largest collection of genome-wide datasets from ancient human remains, the team was able to identify specific genes that changed during and after the transition from hunting and gathering to farming.

Many of the variants occurred on or near genes that have been associated with height, the ability to digest lactose in adulthood, fatty acid metabolism, vitamin D levels, light skin pigmentation and blue eye color. Two variants appear on genes that have been linked to higher risk of celiac disease but that may have been important in adapting to an early agricultural diet.

Other variants were located on immune-associated genes, which made sense because "the Neolithic period involved an increase in population density, with people living close to one another and to domesticated animals," said Wolfgang Haak, one of three senior authors of the study, a research fellow at the University of Adelaide and group leader in molecular anthropology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

"Although that finding did not come fully as a surprise," he added, "it was great to see the selection happening in 'real time.'"

The work also supports the idea that Europe's first farmers came from ancient Anatolia, in what is now Turkey, and fills in more details about how ancient groups mixed and migrated.

Russia's Most Syrian Adventure #44

A Russian Airstrike in Lataminah

Over the past two months, 1,500 people have been killed by Russian airstrikes.

Russia's Su-34 strike fighters, the rough equivalent of the American F-15E, has started carrying air to air missiles.

France has warned Russia that Russia's airstrikes must only hit Daesh/IS.
Coalition forces conducted 15 airstrikes against IS/Daesh on Sunday.

Negotiations have started for the rebels to retreat from Homs, according to the Assadite government.

Assadites have denied they ever used chemicals weapons.

Putin and Obama are to hold talks on Syria and Ukraine while at the climate summit in Paris.  Putin is refusing to meet with Erdogan.

Here are some of the ways the sanctions imposed by Russia on Turkey will bite.  Even with the sanctions, Turkey will not apologize for the downed aircraft.  The Su-24 Fencer pilot's body has been shipped back to Russia.

There was a weird report that Turkey was blockading Russian ships crossing the Dardanelles.  I have significant doubts there.

The Day After #2

Scuffle in the South China Sea #15: Did the US Frak up and Accidentally ACKNOWLEDGE Chinese Territorial Claims?!

As it turns out, the USS Lassen reportedly did not engage in a FONOPS to demonstrate that the islands China has built exert no right to territorial waters reaching out 12 nautical miles. Instead, the U.S. ship reportedly conducted “innocent passage,” turning off its radars and grounding its helicopters as it transited within 12 nautical miles of the islands. Undertaking “innocent passage” is done only in another nation’s territorial waters.

In short, the United States, by its actions, may have actually recognized China’s claims. If the reports are correct, the United States treated the artificial island atop Subi Reef as though it were a naturally occurring feature, and therefore entitled to a 12 nautical mile band of territorial water. This is precisely the opposite of what had been announced.


Like it or not, the message that the White House is now repeatedly sending is that the United States, in fact, accepts that the Chinese artificial islands should be treated as national territory, like a natural feature. In short, the United States is acceding to China’s efforts to close off portions of the open ocean.

Oh FRAK!   *THAT* is a colossal frak up. 

Someone, PLEASE, tell me this is not what happened!

Tribrachidium: an Ediaracan NeoProterozoic Organism was a Suspension Feeder Hydrodynamic Modeling Reveals

Computer simulations have allowed scientists to work out how a puzzling 555-million-year-old organism with no known modern relatives fed, revealing that some of the first large, complex organisms on Earth formed ecosystems that were much more complex than previously thought.

The international team of researchers from Canada, the UK and the USA, including Dr Imran Rahman from the University of Bristol, UK studied fossils of an extinct organism called Tribrachidium, which lived in the oceans some 555 million years ago. Using a computer modelling approach called computational fluid dynamics, they were able to show that Tribrachidium fed by collecting particles suspended in water. This is called suspension feeding and it had not previously been documented in organisms from this period of time.

Tribrachidium lived during a period of time called the Ediacaran, which ranged from 635 million to 541 million years ago. This period was characterised by a variety of large, complex organisms, most of which are difficult to link to any modern species. It was previously thought that these organisms formed simple ecosystems characterised by only a few feeding modes, but the new study suggests they were capable of more types of feeding than previously appreciated.

Dr Simon Darroch, an Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University, said: "For many years, scientists have assumed that Earth's oldest complex organisms, which lived over half a billion years ago, fed in only one or two different ways. Our study has shown this to be untrue, Tribrachidium and perhaps other species were capable of suspension feeding. This demonstrates that, contrary to our expectations, some of the first ecosystems were actually quite complex."

Co-author Dr Marc Laflamme, an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, added: "Tribrachidium doesn't look like any modern species, and so it has been really hard to work out what it was like when it was alive. The application of cutting-edge techniques, such as CT scanning and computational fluid dynamics, allowed us to determine, for the first time, how this long-extinct organism fed."

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Robopocalypse Report #32


Amazon unveiled its new delivery drone design.  It reportedly has a range of 15 miles.

Corporate drone users are talking about airspace use for drones for safety reasons.

The FAA panel has actually recommended individual drones NOT be registered, but rather pilots of drones over 1/2 lbs.  Pilots must be 13 or older.  Just means the parents will register for their kids.  Drones are expected to be the holiday gift and the FAA is scrambling in preparation for what's expected to be hundreds of thousands of new drones taking to the air after this season.

The FAA may be testing an air traffic control system for drones.  Maybe.

Oregon is regulating drones, whatever the FAA may do.

Paradise Valley, the wealthy Phoenix suburb, is also regulating drones.

Wired went to the Drone Expo in San Jose and the saw the future.  The future looks like a swarm of bees, it seems.

DJI, the premier drone maker, is expanding into agricultural drones.

Some have started using drones to work vineyards.

Japan expects to be doing home deliveries by drone within three years.

The Work Horse Group might beat Google and Amazon to using drones for deliveries.

Geologists are using drones to hunt for oil.

Italy is looking into how to inspect infrastructure, specifically bridges and buildings, with drones.

Self Driving Cars:

The US Department of Transportation has signaled it will begin formulating rules for self driving cars.  This is pretty big.

What people REALLY want a self driving car for is to have it go park itself. 

Volvo has released photos of its concept car, promises the car will be on the road in Sweden by 2017 and will be taking on liability for any accidents caused by its cars.

Tesla is aggressively hiring for their self driving car project.

Quanergy has a breakthrough solid state LIDAR that will cost less than $1,000 per self driving car.

Roborace will have driverless, electric cars race one another.   This is a long way from DARPA's Grand Challenge!

Google's solution to self driving cars and pedestrians might be to have the car talk to the pedestrians.  I can see the hilarity of when hackers start adjusting what their cars say.  Especially in New York.

Some are really pessimistic about self driving cars.

Hino Motors has started testing a self driving bus on a driver track.

There are discreet levels of autonomy in self driving trucks it seems. 

Others are saying to calm down, the self driving truck isn't here soon.

3d Printing:

New South Wales, Australia has outlawed 3d printed guns.

New Balance has developed a 3d printed shoe sole.

Efesto's Industrial 3d Metal Printer is selling very, very well.

Desktop Metal has received Stratasys' backing. 

Lockheed Martin is jumping into 3d printing for satellite manufacture.

Siemens and Georgia Tech are trying to fill in missing pieces for 3d printing.

The implications of intellectual property law for 3d printing.


Italy's Walk-man robot.
NASA has selected two universities to further develop its Valkyrie humanoid robots.

The University of Tehran is also developing humanoid robots, their Surena series.

Robots have taken over parking 1,000 cars in Aarhaus, Denmark.

Pine cones inspired researchers in South Korea to develop a micro bot powered by humidity.

The SpencerBot may guide you through the airport in the near future.

Robots are being taught to say 'no' to human commands.  Some are calling this the start of Asimov's Three Laws.  Isn't that how Planet of the Apes started?

China is developing Pack Bots that can be used for recon, bomb disposal and attack for anti terror ops.

The Brits have developing swarming bots that use...pheromones?  

The Aussies are working on agricultural robots.

A hotel in Edmonton is planning on having robot waiters in one of its themed wings.

Despite there being 169 different robot models for sale on Taobao in China, none have sold.  Apparently, the Robopocalypse has not come for the wait staff in China as yet.

Another reason to hate Barbie: the Furbie-ized Hello Barbie might have been hacked and may be a security risk.

Field robots are coming to construction sites.

The bots are coming for food processing plants.


Yup, botanical cyborgs are a thing, too. (paper link)

You could be one, too.  Sorta.  Oy.

Software bots:

There is now a machine vision algorithm to analyze kids' drawings.

Software is apparently better at hiring people than people are now.

Software bots are apparently coming for the investment adviser.   *cough*baby cooper dollar bill*cough*  Google it.  I've linked too many times.


Whether the Robopocalypse is our doom or next great economic innovation is up to us.

Robots will bring more jobs than destroy in Britain according to this piece.

Britain, European Union Discussing Technicalities of Brexit

A European official says British Prime Minister David Cameron and European Council President Donald Tusk will meet Sunday night to discuss the technicalities of the process needed if the U.K. decides to exit the bloc in the next couple of years.

Following an EU summit on Turkey and the refugee crisis on Sunday afternoon, Cameron and Tusk will meet for pre-arranged talks to work out details of a so-called Brexit.

International Outrage at the American Legalization of Asteroid Mining

The Commercial Space Launch Act, which includes provisions allowing American companies the right to keep resources that they mine in space, was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama. While the act has been hailed as groundbreaking in the United States, the space mining title has gotten an angry reaction overseas. In a Friday article in Science Alert, Gbenga Oduntan, Senior Lecturer in International Commercial Law, University of Kent, condemned the space mining provisions as environmentally risky and a violation of international law. Ram Jakhu, a professor at Canada’s McGill University's Institute of air and space law, adds that space mining is a violation of the Outer Space Treaty and should not be allowed.

Oduntan’s environmental argument is expressed thus:

“So what’s at stake? We can assume that the list of states that have access to outer space - currently a dozen or so - will grow. These states may also shortly respond with mining programmes of their own. That means that the pristine conditions of the cradle of nature from which our own Earth was born may become irrevocably altered forever - making it harder to trace how we came into being. Similarly, if we started contaminating celestial bodies with microbes from Earth, it could ruin our chances of ever finding alien life there.

“Mining minerals in space could also damage the environment around Earth and eventually lead to conflict over resources. Indeed what right has the second highest polluter of Earth’s environment got to proceed with some of the same corporations in a bid to plunder outer space?”

Leaving aside the anti-American, anti-capitalist swipe, Oduntan’s argument could be applied to forbid even the peaceful exploration of space, lest space probes and astronauts “contaminate” the “pristine’ nature of space.

Both gentlemen try to invoke the Outer Space Treaty as binding against space mining, a dubious position. Oduntan attempts to claim that the notorious Moon Treaty, of which the United States is not a party to, is still binding as “customary law,” an odd position to take that suggest that the parties to an agreement can force their views on those countries that have chosen not to be parties by fiat.

An event of cosmic proportions occurred on 18 November when the US congress passed the Space Act of 2015 into law. The legislation will give US space firms the rights to own and sell natural resources they mine from bodies in space, including asteroids. Although the act, passed with bipartisan support, still requires President Obama’s signature, it is already the most significant salvo that has been fired in the ideological battle over ownership of the cosmos. It goes against a number of treaties and international customary law which already apply to the entire Universe.

The new law is nothing but a classic rendition of the "he who dares wins" philosophy of the wild west. The act will also allow the private sector to make space innovations without regulatory oversight during an eight-year period and protect spaceflight participants from financial ruin. Surely, this will see private firms begin to incorporate the mining of asteroids into their investment plans.

Supporters argue that the US Space Act is a bold statement that finally sets private spaceflight free from the heavy regulation of the US government. The misdiagnosis begins here. Space exploration is a universal activity and therefore requires international regulation.

The act represents a full-frontal attack on settled principles of space law which are based on two basic principles: the right of states to scientific exploration of outer space and its celestial bodies and the prevention of unilateral and unbridled commercial exploitation of outer-space resources. These principles are found in agreements including the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Moon Agreement of 1979.


We have a precedent!   Noel pointed out in email that asteroid mining only needs a Guano Islands Act: no sovereignty, but US can protect the islands and commercial interests.

SURPRISE! Coccolithophores, Calcium Shelled Plankton, Actually Grow MORE With Increased Carbon dioxide, NOT Less

Coccolithophores--tiny calcifying plants that are part of the foundation of the marine food web--have been increasing in relative abundance in the North Atlantic over the last 45 years, as carbon input into ocean waters has increased. Their relative abundance has increased 10 times, or by an order of magnitude, during this sampling period. This finding was diametrically opposed to what scientists had expected since coccolithophores make their plates out of calcium carbonate, which is becoming more difficult as the ocean becomes more acidic and pH is reduced.

These findings were reported in the November 26th edition of Science and based on analysis of nearly a half century of data collected by the long-running Sir Alister Hardy Foundation (SAHFOS) Continuous Plankton Recorder sampling program.

"The results show both the power of long-term time-series of ocean observations for deciphering how marine microbial communities are responding to climate change and offer evidence that the ocean garden is changing," said Dr. William Balch, senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and a co-author of the paper. "We never expected to see the relative abundance of coccolithophores to increase 10 times in the North Atlantic over barely half a century. If anything, we expected that these sensitive calcifying algae would have decreased in the face of increasing ocean acidification (associated with increasing carbon dioxide entering the ocean from the burning of fossil-fuels). Instead, we see how these carbon-limited organisms appear to be using the extra carbon from CO2 to increase their relative abundance by an order of magnitude.

"This provides one example on how marine communities across an entire ocean basin are responding to increasing carbon dioxide levels. Such real-life examples of the impact of increasing CO2 on marine food webs are important to point out as the world comes together in Paris next week at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change," Balch added.

"Something strange is happening here, and it's happening much more quickly than we thought it should," said Anand Gnanadesikan, associate professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins and one of the study's five authors.

Evidence From 24 Sites Within Chryse and Acidalia Planitia of a Briny Aquifier on Mars

Observations and modeling of northern mid-latitude recurring slope lineae (RSL) suggest recharge by a present-day martian briny aquifer


Stillman et al


Recurring slope lineae (RSL) are narrow (0.5–5 m) dark features on Mars that incrementally lengthen down steep slopes, fade in colder seasons, and recur annually. These features have been identified from the northern to southern mid-latitudes. Here, we describe how observations of northern mid-latitude RSL in northern Chryse Planitia and southwestern Acidalia Planitia (CAP) suggest that brines start flowing before northern spring equinox and continue for more than half a Mars-year (490 ± 40 sols, spanning solar longitude 337° ± 11°–224° ± 20°). All CAP RSL are found on the steep slopes of craters and their source zones are at or below the elevation of the surrounding plains. Spacecraft-derived surface temperature observations cannot resolve individual RSL, so thermal modeling was used to determine that CAP RSL have a freezing temperature of 238–252 K, freeze and melt diurnally, and flow only occurs within the top ∼8 cm of the regolith. Furthermore, we calculate that a typical CAP RSL has a water budget of 1.5–5.6 m3/m of headwall. Therefore, such a large water budget makes annual recharge via atmospheric or subsurface diffusion sources unlikely. Alternatively, we hypothesize that the most plausible RSL source is a briny aquifer with a freezing temperature less than or equal to the mean annual CAP surface temperature (220–225 K). The annual cycle is as follows: in late autumn, the shallowest part of the brine feeding the source zone freezes, forming an ice dam. As spring approaches, temperatures rise and the dam is breached. Brine is discharged and the RSL initially lengthens rapidly (greater than 1.86 m/sol), the lengthening rate then slows considerably, to ∼0.25 m/sol. Eventually, the losses equal the discharge rate and the RSL reaches its equilibrium phase. As brine flows in the RSL some of the water is lost to the atmosphere, therefore the freezing temperature of the brine within the RSL is higher (238–252 K) as the brine transitions to a super-eutectic salt concentration. In the late autumn, falling temperatures restore the ice dam and the H2O in the RSL slowly sublimates away. Overall, CAP RSL possess a significantly different seasonality and much longer duration than typical southern mid-latitude RSL, suggesting that RSL at different latitude bands have different source types. Lastly, CAP RSL are the best evidence that shallow groundwater may still exist on Mars.

ExoMars Mission Will Make its 2016 Launch Date. Barely.

Europe’s two-launch ExoMars mission to Mars in 2016 and 2018, which has run a budgetary obstacle course from the start, remains in deadlined-stressed mode with triple-shift work days on the eve of first mission’s shipment to Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome to prepare for a March launch, government and industry officials said Nov. 24.

Contrary to what several European Space Agency governments thought as they reluctantly financed the 1.2 billion-euro ($1.28 billion) ExoMars project — Europe’s principal space exploration mission — the industrial team led by Thales Alenia Space has been able to keep to the schedule and save the 2016 launch date.

Russia has Submitted its Offer of Su-35s to Indonesia

link. (in Indonesian)

French may be Negotiating to Build Factory for Rafale Fighters in India

India's largest-ever military deal is likely to bring in big business for the private sector with the French side looking to set up a production centre for the Rafale fighter aircraft as well as a low-cost executive jet in India, besides sharing vital aircraft technology for the indigenous Tejas project.

Russia to Upgrade its Missile Defense Systems

The Russian Aerospace Forces will receive a modernized missile defense system in the near future, Colonel Andrei Cheburin announced.

"I’m sure that in the short-term perspective we will receive an upgraded missile defense system," Cheburin told RSN Radio.

When China's J-20 Stealth Fighter Prototypes Took Flight

China Defense Blog has a post up about when the different J-20 stealth fighter prototypes took flight.

Academic Bun Fight: the Pleistocene/Holocene Boundary and the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis

Bayesian chronological analyses consistent with synchronous age of 12,835–12,735 Cal B.P. for Younger Dryas boundary on four continents


Kennett et al


The Younger Dryas impact hypothesis posits that a cosmic impact across much of the Northern Hemisphere deposited the Younger Dryas boundary (YDB) layer, containing peak abundances in a variable assemblage of proxies, including magnetic and glassy impact-related spherules, high-temperature minerals and melt glass, nanodiamonds, carbon spherules, aciniform carbon, platinum, and osmium. Bayesian chronological modeling was applied to 354 dates from 23 stratigraphic sections in 12 countries on four continents to establish a modeled YDB age range for this event of 12,835–12,735 Cal B.P. at 95% probability. This range overlaps that of a peak in extraterrestrial platinum in the Greenland Ice Sheet and of the earliest age of the Younger Dryas climate episode in six proxy records, suggesting a causal connection between the YDB impact event and the Younger Dryas. Two statistical tests indicate that both modeled and unmodeled ages in the 30 records are consistent with synchronous deposition of the YDB layer within the limits of dating uncertainty (∼100 y). The widespread distribution of the YDB layer suggests that it may serve as a datum layer.

That was really bad science

Problematic dating of claimed Younger Dryas boundary impact proxies




The PNAS paper by Kennett et al. (1) uses statistical methods in an attempt to improve the geochronological control for purported Younger Dryas boundary (YDB) impact proxies. The underpinning data for these analyses are problematic, however, as discussed by Meltzer et al. (2) and Holliday et al. (3). Several examples illustrate the problems. At Barber Creek the YDB zone is at ∼100 cm below the surface, but in situ wood charcoal dated to 10,500 ± 50 14C y B.P. (∼12.5 k cal yrs) is documented below 100 cm (3). The large SD for the modeled age of the YDB here (1) (12,865 ± 535 cal yrs) easily accommodates the high-precision date on the charcoal from below the spherule zone. At Blackville the sediments dated by optically stimulated luminescence are mixed and thus the dates cannot be considered reliable (3). The supposed impact proxies at Bull Creek are from 307- to 312-cm depth (3). The radiocarbon date of ∼12,960 cal yrs is from 298 to 307 cm and is a bulk sample on soil organic matter, thus representing a mean residence time for the soil carbon. Impact proxies are, therefore, older than ∼12,960 y by some unknown amount; they are also found in abundance in strata less than 3,000 y old. The Usselo soil in northwest Europe spans ∼1,400 y based on ∼50 radiocarbon ages, dating primarily to the Allerød and into the YD (2).


Reply to Holliday and Boslough et al.: Synchroneity of widespread Bayesian-modeled ages supports Younger Dryas impact hypothesis


Kennett et al


Holliday (1) rejects age-depth models for the Younger Dryas boundary layer (YDB) in Kennett et al. (2), claiming that they are incorrect for several reasons, including age reversals, high age uncertainties, and use of optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating. These same claims previously were presented in Meltzer et al. (3) and were discussed and refuted in Kennett et al. (2). These criticisms apply to nearly all dated archaeological and geological sequences, including the Odessa meteorite impact crater, where paradoxically, Holliday et al. (4) modeled an impact age using OSL dating (greater than 70% of dates used) with large uncertainties (to greater than 6,000 y) and age reversals (greatre than 40% of dates are reversals). Thus, Holliday (1) argues against a practice that he and many other researchers have used and continue to use today. In an ideal world, all dates would be in perfect chronological order with high accuracy and certainty, but such scenarios are rarely possible (2). It is because of such dating difficulties that Bayesian analysis is a powerful chronological tool, and is rapidly becoming the archaeological standard.

There Were Distinct Major Papionin Primate Clades in the Pliocene/Pleistocene South Africa

Cercopithecoid humeri from Taung support the distinction of major papionin clades in the South African fossil record


Gilbert et al


Associated cercopithecoid postcrania are rare in the Plio-Pleistocene fossil record, particularly in the case of South African karst cave sites. However, as clear postcranial differences between major papionin clades have been documented, it should be possible to assign isolated papionin postcrania to the Cercocebus/Mandrillus and Papio/Lophocebus/Theropithecus groups wherever sufficient anatomy is preserved. Here, we demonstrate that two partial humeri preserved at Taung, UCMP 56693 and UCMP 125898, are most likely attributable to the Cercocebus/Mandrillus and Papio/Lophocebus/Theropithecus clades, respectively. Univariate analyses (ANOVAs and t-tests) and multivariate analyses (discriminant function analyses) of humeral features, combined with a phylogenetic analysis of 24 humeral characters, all support our assessment. Given that the overwhelming number of craniodental specimens at Taung are attributable to two papionin taxa, Procercocebus antiquus (a member of the Cercocebus/Mandrillus clade) and Papio izodi (a purported fossil species of the modern genus Papio), we assign UCMP 56693 to Pr. antiquus and UCMP 125868 to P. izodi with a high degree of confidence. Implications for cercopithecoid evolution and biogeography are discussed, with a particular emphasis on these two fossil taxa.

Russia's Most Syrian Adventure #43

The airstrikes in Raqqa by Russians.  Note the accuracy of the guided weapons.  Also note they seem to have hit the same parking lot twice.  The second time you can see some sort of damage from the first strike or remnants thereof based on discolorations.

Airstrikes by Russians in Ariha today killed at least 18 (possibly as high as 40) and wounded dozens.

Putin has placed economic sanctions on Turkey for the shoot down.  Restrictions have been placed on Russian firms operating in Turkey, Turkish companies in Russia, Turkish goods have been restricted and Turkish citizens may no longer work for Russian firms.

There are reports of Turkish students in Russia being taken from dorms.

The Russian athletes competing in Turkey have been placed under special protection.

Russia has breached Israeli airspace repeatedly, too.

The American led coalition says the Russian report that the S-400 stopped the airstrikes in Syria is nonsense.

The Day After #1

Penciling in Details of the Hadean

Penciling in details of the Hadean




Some truly remarkable graphite is described by Bell et al. in PNAS (1). Graphite is, of course, the same material as found in pencil tips or in the anode of lithium ion batteries. Graphite is, however, also a very common material in Earth Science, and is often the form of carbon found in very old fossils that have been subjected to substantial heat. The graphite described in the Bell et al. article is remarkable because it is exceptionally old, dating to the Hadean eon. Officially, the Hadean is defined as the time period from the formation of the Earth until 4 billion y ago. Until recently, this has been a seemingly convenient definition, leaving it as the geological eon without a rock record on Earth. Over the past quarter century, however, the discovery and exploration of detrital zircon minerals from the Jack Hills conglomerates of Western Australia (2) have provided a new window into this early time. Jack Hills zircons crystallized in magma chambers at various times as far back as 4.4 billion y ago (3, 4). So far, these zircons and their inclusions are currently our only tangible record of the first half a billion years of Earth history. Based in part on the extreme age of some of these zircon minerals, along with similarly old age dates for a Martian meteorite (5), the Planetary Science and Earth Science communities now appreciate that planets form and cool rather quickly (6). No longer is the Hadean just a placeholder on our timelines between the formation of the Earth and the oldest known rocks

Saturday, November 28, 2015

I Smell BS: New Startup Aims to Start the Singularity by Uploading *YOU* Into an Android Bot

As advancements in technology continue at an ever-increasing pace, will there ever come a day when we’ll be able to use science to cheat death? Australian startup company Humai seems to think so; it claims to be working on a way to transfer a person’s consciousness into an artificial body after they’ve died.

“We want to bring you back to life after you die,” says Humai CEO Josh Bocanegra on the company’s website. “We’re using artificial intelligence and nanotechnology to store data of conversational styles, behavioral patterns, thought processes and information about how your body functions from the inside-out. This data will be coded into multiple sensor technologies, which will be built into an artificial body with the brain of a deceased human. Using cloning technology, we will restore the brain as it matures.”

In an interview with Australian Popular Science, Bocanegra said: “We'll first collect extensive data on our members for years prior to their death via various apps we're developing.” After death, the company will cryogenically freeze members’ brains until the technology is fully developed, at which point the brains will be implanted into an artificial body.

Wait.  I think Tom Scott already posited this one.  

China's Plans for a Clone Factory for Food

In Chinese mythology, the Monkey King is a beast with magical fur. All he has to do is pull out a hair, blow on it and it is instantly transformed into a clone of himself.

Xu Xiaochun, chief executive of BoyaLife, says the fable is not far from reality, as far as his Chinese biotechnology company is concerned. This week he announced an investment of $31m in a joint venture with South Korea’s Sooam Biotech that aims to clone 1m cows a year from their hair cells.

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Sometime next year, researchers in BoyaLife’s laboratory on the outskirts of the coastal city of Tianjin will take skin cells from a few carefully chosen cattle (Kobe beef is Mr Xu’s favourite). The scientists will extract the nucleus from each cell and place it into an unfertilised egg from another cow. The cloned embryos will then be implanted in surrogate dairy cows housed on cattle ranches throughout China.

His ambition is staggering. Starting with 100,000 cloned cattle embryos a year in “phase one”, Mr Xu envisages 1m annually at some point in the future. That would make BoyaLife by far the largest clone factory in the world.

Mr Xu says the latest techniques enable cloning to be carried out in an “assembly line format” at a rate of less than 1 minute per cell. Based on a four- hour shift and 250 working days a year, a proficient cloner would “manufacture” 60,000 cloned cow embryos a year, he says, adding that a team of 50 will be sufficient for the planned scale of the project. Mr Xu plans to have a staff of 300 and eventual total investment is estimated at $500m.

The Carbon Market is a Work in Progress

It was supposed to be the way the market would cut greenhouse gases by itself: governments selling companies permits-to-pollute, which they could trade among themselves. Over time, the number of permits would be reduced, and the cost to companies of failing to cut emissions would rise.

Yet, 10 years after the EU launched the world's biggest carbon trading scheme, the effectiveness of the concept is in question and climate activists are disenchanted or hostile.

While there is still support for national or regional markets, not least in China, which plans to launch the world's biggest scheme in 2017, any hopes of creating a global carbon market at next week's U.N. climate conference in Paris look wildly optimistic.

What Controls Sand Dune Migration in Martian Herschel Crater?

Present-day aeolian activity in Herschel Crater, Mars


Cardinale et al


In this report, we show evidence for ripple and dune migration in Herschel Crater on Mars.

We estimate an average dune migration of 0.8 m and a minimum ripple migration of 1.1 m in a time span of 3.7 Earth-years. These dunes and ripples are mainly shaped by prevailing winds coming from the north, however we also report the presence of secondary winds which elongate the barchans’ horns. Such a complex wind scenario is likely caused by the influence of winds blowing off the western crater rim as suggested by the Mars Regional Atmospheric Modeling System (MRAMS), an atmospheric mesoscale model. A multi-directional wind regime at the local scale is also supported by the observed bimodal distribution of the ripple trends. For the first time, a survey integrating the assessment of dune and ripple migration is presented, showing how dune topography can influence the migration patterns of ripples and how underlying topography appears to control the rates of dune migration.

Orbital ATK's Cygnus Encapsuled For March 2016 Launch on an Atlas V

Preparations for the first launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft in more than a year, and the first on an Atlas 5 rocket, have gone smoothly despite some changes in timing of loading cargo on the spacecraft, an Orbital ATK executive said.

An Atlas 5 is scheduled to launch the Cygnus craft from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Dec. 3. The launch will be the first for the Cygnus since the October 2014 failure of Orbital’s Antares rocket shortly after liftoff from Wallops Island, Virginia.

Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital purchased the Atlas 5 launch from United Launch Alliance shortly after the failure, and in August acquired a second Atlas 5 for a Cygnus mission planned for March 2016. While the Cygnus has not previously flown on the Atlas, integrating the cargo spacecraft to the rocket has gone well.

Wuh?! The Bride, Basra, Iraq

Basra, Iraq, is known as "the bride of the gulf," after its life-supporting fertile lands. Building vertically instead of outwards is one way to protect those lands and the new Bride vertical city does just that. It has its own own neighborhoods, schools, clinics and transport system.

London's Robopocalyptic Bicycle Storage Tower


Pittsburgh's Lower Hill District Rendering

725 Harrison Rendering


Homo naledi may Date From the Gelasian Pleistocene Quaternary (2 Million Years ago)

Estimating the age and affinities of Homo naledi




Recent discoveries of more than 1500 hominin fossils from the site of Rising Star in the South African Cradle of Humankind, attributed to a new species (Homo naledi), have attracted global interest. As yet no secure date for this extraordinary material has been obtained, and the relationship of this species to other Plio-Pleistocene taxa has been greatly debated in the media. Here I report results of morphometric analyses that may facilitate an assessment of the age and affinities of crania attributed to H. naledi.

pop sci write up.

The Inferred Aptian Cretaceous Paleoceanography of the South Atlantic

Late Aptian (Cretaceous) paleoceanography of the South Atlantic Ocean inferred from dinocyst communities of the Sergipe Basin


Carvalho et al


The late Aptian (Early Cretaceous) is a crucial time interval for understanding the paleoceanographic changes in the Southern Hemisphere. Oceanographic changes in the emerging South Atlantic Ocean during this interval are reflected in the stratigraphic distribution of dinoflagellate communities recorded in the Muribeca and Riachuelo formations of the Sergipe Basin in northeastern Brazil. The Subtilisphaera community, in the lower and middle parts of the section, appears to be related to the Subtilisphaera Ecozone and suggests the onset of Tethyan influence in the central South Atlantic, in a restricted to inner-neritic environment. The succeeding Spiniferites community, in the middle part of the section, represents the first significant transgression, probably of eustatic origin. The Cyclonephelium-Exochosphaeridium community, in the upper part of the section, appears to be related to an oceanic event characterized by intermittent dysoxic-anoxic conditions. The uppermost part of the section is dominated by the Spiniferites community, related to a progressive regional transgression and culminating in an open-marine, fully Tethyan environment in the central part of the widening South Atlantic.

Apidium zuetina: a new Anthropoid Primate From Oligocene Paleogene Libya

During upheaval in Libya in 2013, a window of opportunity opened for scientists from the University of Kansas to perform research at the Zallah Oasis, a promising site for unearthing fossils from the Oligocene period, roughly 30 million years ago.

From that work, the KU-led team last week published a description of a previously unknown anthropoid primate -- a forerunner of today's monkeys, apes and humans -- in the Journal of Human Evolution. They've dubbed their new find Apidium zuetina.

Significantly, it's the first example of Apidium to be found outside of Egypt.

"Apidium is interesting because it was the first early anthropoid primate ever to be found and described, in 1908," said K. Christopher Beard, Distinguished Foundation Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and senior curator with KU's Biodiversity Institute, who headed the research. "The oldest known Apidium fossils are about 31 million years old, while the youngest are 29 million. Before our discovery in Libya, only three species of Apidium were ever recovered in Egypt. People had come up with the idea that these primates had evolved locally in Egypt."

Beard said evidence that Apidium had dispersed across North Africa was the key facet of the find. He believes shifting climatic and environmental conditions shaped the distribution of species of Apidium, which affected their evolution.

"We've found evidence that climate change -- not warming, but cooling and drying -- across the Eocene-Oligocene boundary probably is the root cause in kicking anthropoid evolution into overdrive," he said. "All of these anthropoids, which were our distant relatives, were living up in the trees -- none of them were coming down. When the world became cooler and dryer in this period, what was previously a continuous belt of forest became more fragmented. This created barriers to gene flow and movement of animals from one part of forest to what used to be adjacent forest."

With a forest broken up, there was an inhibition of gene flow that through time resulted in speciation, or the creation of new species, according to the KU researcher.

"Animals that are sequestered become different species over millions of years," Beard said. "As the climate oscillates again, you've got different species of Apidium. As forests expand and contract, now you've got competition between species of Apidium that have never seen each other before. One species outcompetes the other, the other goes extinct, and we think that's what we're picking up with this Libyan Apidium, which is related to the youngest and largest species of Apidium known from Egypt."

Beard said that Apidium zuetina would have been physically similar to modern-day squirrel monkeys from South America, but with smaller brains, and would have dined on fruits, nuts and seeds.

"We know that Apidium was a very active arboreal monkey, a really good leaper," he said. "We know they actually had fused lower-leg bones just above the ankle joint. That's really unusual for anthropoid primates, and the only reason for it to happen is because you like to jump a lot, as it stabilized the join between those bones and the ankle."

The team identified Apidium zuetina through detailed analysis of its teeth.