Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Multicelluar Life is 2.1 *BILLION* Years Old!

Scientists unveiled fossils from west Africa Thursday that push back the dawn of multicellular life on Earth by at least 1.5 billion years.

Just how complex the newly discovered organisms are is sure to be hotly debated.

But there can be no doubt that the creatures unearthed from the hills of Gabon, visible to the naked eye, have upended standard evolutionary timelines.

"The cursor on the origin of complex multicellular life is no longer 600 million years ago, as has long been maintained, but more like 2.1 billion years," said Abderrazak El Albani, a researcher at the University of Poitiers and lead author of the study.

The findings were published in the British journal Nature.

I am SO going to be reading that paper first thing.

That's gotta hurt, Ward.

These Are Not The Same (i think)

Inlets. I'm looking at the inlets and the bauplan is too broad in the top two.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010



For some reason I've been entranced by the World Cup this year...

Anyways, light on blogging this week. My family is back on Sat and I have a billion things to get wrapped up before then.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is Lissamphibia Paraphyletic?

(cladogram from here)

If Eocaecilia nests within Lepospondyli...that would mean that Caecilians are not closely related to salamanders and frogs at all.

How accepted (or not) is this?

Finally! Tesla IPO on June 29th

It's about time....sheesh.

I have a horse in this race, but not the way you think.

There Was Gnawing

Paleontologists have discovered the oldest mammalian tooth marks yet on the bones of ancient animals, including several large dinosaurs. They report their findings in a paper published online June 16 in the journal Paleontology.

Nicholas Longrich of Yale University and Michael J. Ryan of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History came across several of the bones while studying the collections of the University of Alberta Laboratory for Vertebrate Palaeontology and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. They also found additional bones displaying tooth marks during fieldwork in Alberta, Canada. The bones are all from the Late Cretaceous epoch and date back about 75 million years.

The pair discovered tooth marks on a femur bone from a Champsosaurus, an aquatic reptile that grew up to five feet long; the rib of a dinosaur, most likely a hadrosaurid or ceratopsid; the femur of another large dinosaur that was likely an ornithischian; and a lower jaw bone from a small marsupial.

The researchers believe the marks were made by mammals because they were created by opposing pairs of teeth—a trait seen only in mammals from that time. They think they were most likely made by multituberculates, an extinct order of archaic mammals that resemble rodents and had paired upper and lower incisors. Several of the bones display multiple, overlapping bites made along the curve of the bone, revealing a pattern similar to the way people eat corn on the cob.

The animals that made the marks were about the size of a squirrel and were most likely gnawing on the bare bones for minerals rather than for meat, said Longrich. "The bones were kind of a nutritional supplement for these animals."

kewl! no time!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mars Was Once One Third Ocean

I had a post about an applet that let you set the height of the Mars and Venus oceans to see how it would look.

World Building Query: All other things being the same, the photic zones for Mars and Venus (given terraforming) are going to be different than Earth's. Mars' will only penetrate to 50m (guessing here since there is 1/4 the light) whereas Venus would have 400m (twice the light).

Personal preference is for Venus to have a +700m depth in the applet making the deepest parts of its world ocean no more than around 1800m deep. With Mars, I prefer a +350 m depth which makes parts of the Hellas Planitia/Sea deeper than 7850m. Still not even as close as the Mariana Trench.

CoRoT Also Discovers Exoplanets

I Foresee Many UFO Reports

Kepler Finds 750 Exoplanet Candidates

The Kepler spacecraft has found over 750 candidates for extrasolar planets, and that is just from data collected in the first 43 days of the spacecraft's observations. "This is the biggest release of candidate planets that has ever happened," said William Borucki, Kepler's lead scientist. "The number of candidate planets is actually greater than all the planets that have been discovered in the last 15 years."

This is an astounding amount of potential exoplanets from data taken during such a short period of time, however Borucki added that they expect only about 50% of these candidates to actually turn out to be planets, as some may be eclipsing binary stars or other artifacts in the data. But still, even half would be the biggest group discovery of exoplanets ever.

And the exciting part is that 706 targets from this first data set have viable exoplanet candidates with sizes from as small as Earth to around the size of Jupiter. The team says the majority have radii less than half that of Jupiter.

The Kepler team has found so many candidates, that they are sharing. They will keep the top 400 candidates to verify and confirm with observations from other telescopes – with observations done by Kepler team members. And today they have released the other 350 candidates, including five potential multiple planet systems.

However, some astronomers are upset about this and think the Kepler team should release all of their findings from the first year, as is typically done with NASA data.

That is just awesome. 750 candidates. As noted...more than what has been discovered altogether previously.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Yet Another Ceratopsian: Ojoceratops fowleri

He was roaming around northwestern New Mexico some 70 million years ago.

This week, he was reintroduced to the world.

Ojoceratops fowleri, one of the largest known horned dinosaurs, was actually discovered in 2005 in the Four Corners area in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness.

The discovery of the Ojoceratops fowleri bones, the events surrounding it and the details about the new ceratopsid dinosaur were released Thursday in a study published in the book The Horned Dinosaurs.

"Ojoceratops is a very distinctive beast," Robert M. Sullivan, senior curator of paleontology and geology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania, said in a news released issued by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. Sullivan led the series of expeditions to recover the bones.


Sullivan described the dinosaur in the (Mechanicsburg, Pa.,) Patriot-News on Tuesday as a three-horned vegetarian bigger than a hippopotamus and smaller than an elephant, about 17 to 20 feet in length.

"Based on other bones, such as the lower jaw and predentary, found in the same rock formation, Ojoceratops rivaled the size of Torosaurus and some of the larger specimens of Triceratops," Lucas said.

The original discovery in 2005 was made by then-field assistant and current Montana State University Ph.D. student Denver Fowler.

Hattip Paleoblog.

We need a need ceratopsian cladogram!!! This is getting ridiculous! How many new ceratopsians are in that book?!

Sometimes He Just Does These Things...

This is a call out on Charlie Stross. I really like the guy. We've interacted online since around 1995. The largest part of that was on usenet in rec.arts.sf.written and soc.history.what-if. These days it has largely been through James Nicoll's livejournal that we bump into one another. That he has gone on to be a successful SF writer is pretty damned kewl.

Charlie has some quirky beliefs. Impending Peak Oil and his 'faith' in the Singularity. We rabidly disagree on those. That's fine. We also frequently disagree on politics. However, occassionally, he goes off and writes something that is pure wtf-ism.

Today's example is why we are in Afghanistan. o.O The NY Times wrote up an article boasting that the US military had just found a treasure trove of mineral deposits in Afghanistan. Something on the order of $1 trillion worth. The majority of it is supposed to be iron and copper, but there are substantial deposits of rare earth elements and lithium.

The problem is...this isn't a new discovery. It's based on the Soviet work done during the 1970s/80s when they were in the boxing ring there. Furthermore, the recent work on Afghanistan's mineral wealth is three years old!

It's not the military that found it. Civvies did the work, geological survey and whatnot. This wasn't based on some grand sat survey like he implies. See above. It was the Soviets, not Landsat or whatever.

One of the biggest sources in the NYT article happens to be a ministry in Afghanistan that is notoriously corrupt. In fact, one of the worst.

It took about 30 seconds of digging to find that info out.

The CF in Afghanistan isn't based on resource grabbing. Sorry, Charlie.



30 seconds...

Arizona's Republicans Must be INSANE!

Buoyed by recent public opinion polls suggesting they're on the right track with illegal immigration, Arizona Republicans will likely introduce legislation this fall that would deny birth certificates to children born in Arizona - and thus American citizens according to the U.S. Constitution - to parents who are not legal U.S. citizens. The law largely is the brainchild of state Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican whose suburban district, Mesa, is considered the conservative bastion of the Phoenix political scene. He is a leading architect of the Arizona law that sparked outrage throughout the country: Senate Bill 1070, which allows law enforcement officers to ask about someone's immigration status during a traffic stop, detainment or arrest if reasonable suspicion exists - things like poor English skills, acting nervous or avoiding eye contact during a traffic stop.

But the likely new bill is for the kids. While SB 1070 essentially requires of-age migrants to have the proper citizenship paperwork, the potential "anchor baby" bill blocks the next generation from ever being able to obtain it. The idea is to make the citizenship process so difficult that illegal immigrants pull up the "anchor" and leave.

The question is whether that would violate the U.S. Constitution. The 14th Amendment states that "all persons, born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." It was intended to provide citizenship for freed slaves and served as a final answer to the Dred Scott case, cementing the federal government's control over citizenship.


I thoroughly understand the frustration over illegal immigration. We have been locked in a struggle with dealing with the USCIS and its stupidity in trying to get Lyuda's citizenship for the past three years. We can't even have her family come and visit because of the stupid immigration rules. We sit here more than a bit jealous and angered over the fact that others come across the border relatively easily.


Arizona is going down the path of nullification. Oh, they are skirting the line, but damnit, it is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States that being born in the US - irrespective of whether or not your folks are citizens - grants you citizenship! This is an incredible slippery slope otherwise. How many people can prove they are citizens? They may have their birth certificate...somewhere.

This is fscking insane.

Note: I have been a borderer. I have lived in areas with high illegal immigration. I have been frustrated. However,






This is WRONG!

The greater Republican Party better put immense pressure on the Arizonians to withdraw even considering this bill or I and many others will be defecting to the Democrats. Furthermore, we'll be working our damnest to crush the party.

Yes, I am a Republican and I find this abhorrent.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mesozoic Marine Reptiles Were Warm Blooded?!

(image source: here)
Giant reptiles that ruled dinosaur-era seas might have been warm-blooded, a new study says.

Researchers found that ancient ocean predators possibly regulated their body temperatures, which allowed for aggressive hunting, deep diving, and fast swimming over long distances.

"These marine reptiles were able to maintain a high body temperature independently of the water temperature where they lived, from tropical to cold-temperate oceanic domains," said study co-author Christophe Lécuyer, a paleontologist at Université Claude Bernand Lyon 1 in France.

The prehistoric reptiles may have had body temperatures as high as 95 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit (35 to 39 degrees Celsius)—comparable to those of modern dolphins and whales, Lécuyer noted. (See whale pictures.)

Most modern reptiles and fish are cold-blooded, which means their internal temperatures vary along with those of the surrounding water.

Since the modern oceans' top predators—such as tuna and swordfish—are to some degree warm-blooded, this made the team wonder if ancient marine reptiles might have been, too, Lécuyer said.

Tuna and swordfish are homeothermic, or capable of keeping their body temperatures relatively constant, despite changing environmental temperatures. The predators are also partially endothermic, which means they can generate and retain enough heat to raise their body temperatures to high but stable levels.

Most animals thought of as warm-blooded, including mammals and birds, are also both homeothermic and endothermic.

Fossil Teeth Provide Sea-Reptile Clues

While dinosaurs dominated land during the Mesozoic period (251 million to 65 million years ago), three kinds of large swimming reptiles reigned in the seas—the dolphin-like ichthyosaurs, the serpentine mosasaurs, and the Loch Ness monster-like plesiosaurs. (See a prehistoric time line.)

By studying fossil teeth of fish that would have lived alongside these creatures, Lécuyer and colleagues were able to determine the teeth's oxygen isotopes, or atomic structures.

The levels of oxygen isotopes in teeth reflect those of the blood, which in turn reflect animals' body temperatures.

The team compared these results with oxygen-isotope compositions in modern-day fish that live in a variety of hot and cold environments.

Since most modern fish are cold-blooded, this data helped the team figure out the ocean temperatures of the ancient species' habitat.

Then the researchers compared oxygen-isotope data from the fossilized fish teeth with those seen in fossil-reptile teeth from the same areas.

"Enthralling" Sea-Reptile Findings

Homeothermy and endothermy in ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs would make sense, as past studies of their body plans suggested the creatures were pursuit predators that needed to keep active, according to the study, published tomorrow in the journal Science.

The new data for mososaurs, which scientists suspect hunted by ambush, were more ambiguous, but are consistent with the idea that these reptiles could control their body temperatures to some degree, the authors write.


In a way, that mosasaurs were possibly cold blooded makes sense since they are relatively derived varanids. Even

Is the Oort Cloud Alien?

Many of the most well known comets in history, including Halley, Hale-Bopp and McNaught, may have been born in orbit around other stars and not the Sun, according to a new study by Queen's University astronomy professor Martin Duncan and an international team of astronomers.

"Anyone who has seen a long tail comet in the night sky may be looking at material from another star," says Professor Duncan.

The researchers used computer simulations to show that the Sun may have captured small icy bodies from its sibling stars while it was in its birth star cluster, and this created a reservoir for observed comets.

Although the Sun currently has no companion stars, it is believed to have formed in a cluster containing hundreds of closely packed stars that were embedded in a dense cloud of gas. During this time, each star formed a large number of small icy bodies (comets) in a disk from which planets formed. Most of these comets were gravitationally slung out of these prenatal planetary systems by the newly forming giant planets, becoming tiny, free-floating members of the cluster.

The Sun's cluster came to an end when its gas was blown out by the hottest young stars. The researchers' computer models show that the Sun then gravitationally captured a large cloud of comets as the cluster dispersed.

"The process of capture is surprisingly efficient and leads to the exciting possibility that the cloud contains a potpourri which samples material from a large number of stellar siblings of the Sun," says Professor Duncan.

Evidence for the team's scenario comes from the roughly spherical cloud of comets (called the Oort cloud) which surrounds the Sun. Exactly how the Oort cloud was created has been a mystery for more than 60 years.

"We have a new model of how the Oort cloud formed. We're not the first to suggest this could happen but we are the first to show it in a detailed computer simulation," adds Professor Duncan.

Paper here.

Russofrench Naval Deal Stuck Due to Tech Transfer Requirements

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin begins a visit to France on Thursday for talks with leaders and to open a big exhibition, but a row over a warship sale could put a damper on the fete.

Putin told AFP in an interview on the eve of his visit that a deal on the Mistral-class assault ship, now under negotiation for more than five months, is possible only if the vessel comes equipped with cutting-edge technology.

France has said it will not lump sophisticated radar systems and other sensitive technology into the deal, which would be the first sale of advanced military hardware by a NATO member to Russia.

"For us, this deal is interesting only if it is accomplished with a parallel transfer of technology," Putin told AFP.


I would be shocked if the French gave away their best $tech to the Russians. For the Russians to expect They call Americans naive!

South Korea's Naro-1 Rocket Likely Exploded


It seems that SK's Naro-1 likely exploded about two minutes after liftoff. My sympathies.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Turtles: Back to Parareptilia You Go!

The position of turtles based on molecular (1: e.g. Hugall et al. 2007) and morphological datasets (2: e.g. deBraga & Rieppel 1997; 3: Gauthier et al. 1988). The addition of key fossils eliminates the apparent disagreement among morphological datasets in support of turtles outside Diapsida (3). The Permian ‘parareptile’ Eunotosaurus shares uniquely derived features with turtles that help fill important gaps in the evolutionary origin of the turtle shell. Bootstrap (top) and Bremer (bottom) support values are provided for the Eunotosaurus-turtle clade. Star indicates complete shell.

Transitional fossils and the origin of turtles

1. Tyler R. Lyson (a,*)
2. Gabe S. Bever (a)
3. Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar (b)
4. Walter G. Joyce (c)
5. Jacques A. Gauthier (a)

a. Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, USA

b. Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA

c. Institut für Geowissenschaften, University of Tübingen, 72076 Tübingen, Germany

* Author for correspondence (


The origin of turtles is one of the most contentious issues in systematics with three currently viable hypotheses: turtles as the extant sister to (i) the crocodile–bird clade, (ii) the lizard–tuatara clade, or (iii) Diapsida (a clade composed of (i) and (ii)). We reanalysed a recent dataset that allied turtles with the lizard–tuatara clade and found that the inclusion of the stem turtle Proganochelys quenstedti and the ‘parareptile’ Eunotosaurus africanus results in a single overriding morphological signal, with turtles outside Diapsida. This result reflects the importance of transitional fossils when long branches separate crown clades, and highlights unexplored issues such as the role of topological congruence when using fossils to calibrate molecular clocks.

The tug of war continues over the turtles! Once anapsida then parareptilia, then diapsida and back once more into parareptilia! Oy!

That said, I am beginning to think that the molecular clock isn't nearly as regular as is often assumed. I get the distinct feeling that there are bursty times of rapid mutation and other quieter moments of stasis and little change. Perhaps the molecular clock just needs more fiber in its diet, eh?

Comix and BP

Off to the Welder!

Monday, June 07, 2010

Bigelow Aerospace's Space Stations in the NY Times

Salties Use Ocean Currents for Oceanic Travel

How did the world's largest living reptile, the saltwater crocodile, reach so many South Pacific islands separated by huge stretches of water despite being a poor swimmer?

Apparently, like a surfer catching a wave, these goliaths can ride currents on the ocean surface to cross large areas of open sea, researchers now reveal.


There were already many anecdotal accounts of large crocodiles sighted far out at sea, but nothing confirmed. Now, for the first time, using sonar transmitters and satellite tracking, scientists now find that saltwater crocodiles actually do ride surface ocean currents for long-distance travel, enabling them to voyage from one oceanic island to another.

"Because these crocodiles are poor swimmers, it is unlikely that they swim across vast tracts of ocean," said researcher Hamish Campbell, a behavioral ecologist from University of Queensland in Australia. "But they can survive for long periods in saltwater without eating or drinking, so by only traveling when surface currents are favorable, they would be able to move long distances by sea."


Working at the remote Kennedy River in northeastern Australia, the team of scientists - which included the late Steve Irwin, "The Crocodile Hunter" - tagged 27 adult seawater crocodiles with sonar transmitters, employing 20 underwater receivers deployed along a 39-mile-long stretch of the river (63 km) to track the reptiles' every move for more than 12 months. They found both male and female adult crocodiles undertook long-distance journeys, regularly traveling more than 30 miles (48 km) from their home area to the river mouth and beyond into open sea.

The scientists also discovered the "salties" always began long-distance travel within an hour of the tide changing, allowing them to go with the flow. They halted their journeys by hauling out onto the river bank or diving to the river bottom when the currents turned against them.


After they made their discovery on the river, Campbell and his colleagues re-analyzed archival data from the few crocodiles that have been satellite tracked while undertaking ocean travel. By overlaying the reptiles' movements with surface current estimates, they found the strategy of ocean-swimming crocodiles was similar to what they employed with rivers.

One satellite-tagged crocodile, 12.6-foot-long male (3.8 meters) - left the Kennedy River and travelled 366 miles (590 km) over 25 days, timing its journey to coincide with a seasonal current system that develops in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Another croc - a 15.8-foot-long male (4.8 meters) - traveled more than 255 miles (411 km) in only 20 days through the Torres Straits, which are notorious for strong water currents. When the reptile arrived at the straits, the currents were moving opposite to his direction of travel - he then waited in a sheltered bay for four days and only passed through the straits when the currents switched to favor his journey.

These findings could explain why this crocodile species did not split into many other species despite occupying islands across such a large range, where in principle populations could have been isolated and diverged from their relatives over time.

"Regular mixing between the island populations probably occurs," Campbell said. "Crocodilians have crossed major marine barriers during their evolutionary past."


Friday, June 04, 2010

SpaceX Falcon9 Launch Live Webcast

The Falcon 9 is cleared for launch, they are at a hold for weather right now, but they are getting set to fly. The link - for those of you that still do not realize that every title is a link to the source on The Dragon's Tales - is also here.

UPDATE: They had an abort just after ignition.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

No, Really! Sauropods Were Dinosaurian Giraffes!

The long necks of the largest dinosaurs that ever lived might have been raised high after all, a new study now suggests.

The sauropod dinosaurs, which included titans such as Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus, and Apatosaurus (once known as Brontosaurus), are well-known for the very long necks they usually sported. The lengthy neck extended the animal's reach ggrabbing food.

However, it has recently proven controversial as to whether sauropods actually ever held their heads up high to dine on hard-to-reach leaves because of all the energy needed to pump blood to such heights. Most researchers, for instance, do agree that Apatosaurus and Diplodocus likely kept their necks low while grazing.

Now, at least for some of these sauropods, research suggests the goliaths did indeed hold their heads up high.

Andreas Christian, a functional morphologist at the University of Flensburg in Germany, investigated Euhelopus zdanskyi, a moderately sized sauropod that lived during the Early Cretaceous sometime between 130 million and 112 million years ago. It was estimated to weigh some 8,400 pounds (3,800 kilograms) and roughly 36 to 39 feet (11 to 12 meters) in length from nose tip to tail tip.

The neck and head of Euhelopus together were thought to have weighed 460 pounds (210 kg), and the distance from the base of the neck to the snout stretched about 15 feet (4.6 m). After calculating the stresses the cartilage at its neck joints must have felt given this weight and length, Christian found the most likely pose it adopted was somewhat like a giraffe's - a nearly straight neck inclined at roughly 45 degrees from the ground that would have taken little work to raise up vertically for a few minutes.

Although pumping blood to such heights requires a lot of energy, Christian discovered this proved cost-effective if food was spread out, as the energy gained from being able to forage on hard-to-get lofty leaves would be much less than if they otherwise had to move their massive bulks long distances to feed. Similar findings held true for Brachiosaurus.

"Distribution of food was important for the optimal feeding strategy," Christian said. Different sauropods may have used their necks in different ways depending on the kinds of vegetation they were most used to feeding on, he added.

I wonder what the SVotW would say about the study? Anyone have a link to the study?