Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Contribution of Water Filled Cracks to Enceladus' Plumes

Controlled boiling on Enceladus. 2. Model of the liquid-filled cracks


Ingersoll et al


Controlled boiling will occur on Enceladus whenever a long, narrow conduit connects liquid water to the vacuum of space. In a companion paper we focus on the upward flow of the vapor and show how it controls the evaporation rate through backpressure, which arises from friction on the walls. In this paper we focus on the liquid and show how it flows through the conduit up to its level of neutral buoyancy. For an ice shell 20 km thick, the liquid water interface could be 2 km below the surface. We find that the evaporating surface can be narrow. There is no need for a large vapor chamber that acts as a plume source. Freezing on the icy walls and the evaporating surface is avoided if the crack width averaged over the length of the tiger stripes is greater than 1 m and the salinity of the liquid is greater than 20 g kg−1. Controlled boiling plays a crucial role in our model, which makes it different from earlier published models. The liquids on Enceladus are boiling because there is no overburden pressure—the saturation vapor pressure is equal to the total pressure. Salinity plays a crucial role in preventing freezing, and we argue that the subsurface oceans of icy satellites can have water vapor plumes only if their salinities are greater than about 20 g kg−1.

Evidence of Water Discharges From Nili Fossae and Syrtis Major on Mars

Extensive aqueous deposits at the base of the dichotomy boundary in Nilosyrtis Mensae, Mars


Bandfield et al


Thermal emission imaging system (THEMIS) and Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) spectral datasets were used to identify high bulk SiO2 and hydrated compositions throughout the Nilosyrtis Mensae region. Four isolated locations were identified across the region showing short wavelength silicate absorptions within the 8–12 μm spectral region, indicating surfaces dominated by high Si phases. Much more extensive exposures of hydrated compositions are present throughout the region, indicated by a spectral absorption near 1.9 μm in CRISM data. Although limited in spatial coverage, detailed spectral observations indicate that the hydrated materials contain Fe/Mg-smectites and hydrated silica along with minor exposures of Mg-carbonates and an unidentified hydrated phase. The high SiO2 and hydrated materials are present in layered sediments near the base of topographic scarps at the hemispheric dichotomy boundary, typically near or within low albedo sand deposits. The source of the high SiO2 and hydrated materials appears to be from groundwater discharge from Nili Fossae and Syrtis Major to the south, where there is evidence for extensive aqueous alteration of the subsurface. Although discontinuous, the exposures of high SiO2 and hydrated materials span a wide area and are present in a similar geomorphological context to previously identified deposits in western Hellas Basin. These regional deposits may reflect aqueous conditions and alteration within the adjacent crust of the martian highlands.

Russia's Vostochny Spaceport Launches First Satellites

Russia's new Vostochny cosmodrome hosted its first rocket launch on Thursday, the Roscosmos space agency said, after a last-minute delay a day earlier led to President Vladimir Putin criticising the programme's officials.

The Soyuz 2.1a rocket carrying three satellites took off at 11.01 am local time (0201 GMT), the national space agency said in a statement, after the countdown was automatically halted for technical reasons 24 hours previously.

"The rocket launch was carried out successfully. All three satellites are now in orbit," Roscosmos said in a statement.

Russian television showed the Soyuz 2.1a taking off into a blue sky in light winds, though foreign media organisations including AFP were not allowed to enter the new space centre.

The Race to Finish the Joint Multi-Role Demonstrators for the Future Vertical Lift Program

In West Palm Beach, Florida, and Amarillo, Texas, two different aircraft are coming together in a sprint to the starting line of the Army’s much anticipated flight demonstrations of future helicopter concepts in 2017.

The Army plans to design and field a future vertical lift aircraft and is expected to kick off that program of record in the 2019 time frame. The expectation is to buy a new family of helicopters through a competition and field the new aircraft at some point in the early 2030s, although the Army has talked about speeding up that fielding timeline to the late 2020s.

But first the Army plans to demonstrate Joint Multi-Role (JMR) air vehicle capability at a 2017 flight demonstration in order to help the service fully define requirements for the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program.

A Bell Helicopter and Lockheed Martin team is mating the entire wing -- which is one big part -- onto the fuselage in Texas of its advanced tiltrotor concept the V-280 Valor, according to Vince Tobin, Bell’s vice president for advanced tiltrotor systems.

Sikorsky and Boeing have all of its Defiant coaxial helicopter parts in fabrication, some have already been delivered to the final assembly facility in Florida, Pat Donnelly, Boeing’s program director, said. Notably, the fuselage is in California being assembled and the team plans to conduct flight loads verification before shipping it to Florida.

China's 7th Hypersonic Boost Glide Weapon Test was a Success

China has successfully completed a seventh flight test of its new hypersonic glide vehicle last week in its northern central Shanxi province, according to an article on People’s Daily Online.

The “DF-ZF” glider can travel at speeds between Mach 5 and Mach 10, which is 5 to 10 times the speed of sound.

The Chinese news site reported that U.S. intelligence fears that Beijing may use DF-ZF to “deliver nuclear weapons bypassing even the most complex of missile defense systems,” citing an article in the Washington Free Beacon.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman first confirmed China’s hypersonic missile test in March 2015, saying that the missile test was not aimed at any country and was done for scientific research, according to the People’s Daily online.

A new Bolivian Fauna of Middle Miocene Climatic Optimum

New mammal faunal data from Cerdas, Bolivia, a middle-latitude Neotropical site that chronicles the end of the Middle Miocene Climatic Optimum in South America


Croft et al


We provide new and revised identifications of mammals from the early middle Miocene (Langhian age, Colloncuran South American Land Mammal Age [SALMA]) of Cerdas, Bolivia. We also formally name a new typothere notoungulate, Hegetotherium cerdasensis, sp. nov., that can be distinguished by the absence of an external talonid sulcus on m3 and its small size (15–25% smaller than Hegetotherium mirabile). We refer several typothere specimens from Nazareno, Bolivia, to H. cerdasensis, which suggests that the two sites are of similar age. We report the first sparassodont and astrapothere remains from Cerdas. Sparassodont remains include an associated basicranium and mostly complete mandible; the species appears to represent a new, small-bodied borhyaenoid. Astrapothere remains consist of many tooth fragments from a new species of the subfamily Uruguaytheriinae. A partial sloth dentary from Cerdas likely pertains to the subfamily Megatheriinae and is the first report of the family Megatheriidae from the site. A newly discovered peltephilid armadillo specimen includes a partial articulated carapace that supports recognition of the Cerdas taxon as a new species. The two dasypodids of Cerdas (one Euphractini, one Eutatini) represent two new species closely related to undescribed species from the late middle Miocene (Serravallian age, Laventan SALMA) of Quebrada Honda, Bolivia. The mammals of Cerdas indicate that (1) the middle latitudes (southern tropics) contributed significantly to the diversity of Miocene mammal communities in South America; and (2) the Middle Miocene Climatic Optimum was a key factor in the differentiation of South American mammal assemblages.

A Fish-Eating Enantiornithine Bird had Digestive Pellets

A Fish-Eating Enantiornithine Bird from the Early Cretaceous of China Provides Evidence of Modern Avian Digestive Features


Wang et al


Modern birds differ from their theropod ancestors in lacking teeth and heavily constructed bony jaws, having evolved a lightly built beak and a specialized digestive system capable of processing unmasticated food [ 1, 2 ]. Enantiornithes, the most successful clade of Mesozoic birds, represents the sister group of the Ornithuromorpha, which gave rise to living birds [ 3 ]. Nevertheless, the feeding habits of enantiornithines have remained unknown because of a lack of fossil evidence. In contrast, exceptionally preserved fossils reveal that derived avian features were present in the digestive systems of some non-enantiornithine birds with ages exceeding 125 million years [ 4, 5 ]. Here, we report a new piscivorous enantiornithine from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota of China. This specimen preserves a gastric pellet that includes fish bones. The new enantiornithine, like many modern piscivores and raptors, seems to have swallowed its prey whole and regurgitated indigestible materials such as bones, invertebrate exoskeletons, scales, and feathers. This fossil represents the oldest unambiguous record of an avian gastric pellet and the only such record from the Mesozoic. The pellet points to a fish diet and suggests that the alimentary tract of the new enantiornithine resembled that of extant avians in having efficient antiperistalsis and a two-chambered stomach with a muscular gizzard capable of compacting indigestible matter into a cohesive pellet. The inferred occurrence of these advanced features in an enantiornithine implies that they were widespread in Cretaceous birds and likely facilitated dietary diversification within both Enantiornithes and Ornithuromorpha.

A Fossil of an Injured Psittacosaurus Found

An Injured Psittacosaurus (Dinosauria: Ceratopsia) from the Yixian Formation (Liaoning, China): Implications for Psittacosaurus biology


Hedrick et al


We describe a Psittacosaurus specimen from the Lujiatun beds of the Yixian Formation in Liaoning, China with an abnormality on its left fibula. Although a large number of Psittacosaurus specimens are known, only a single example of a pathologic Psittacosaurus has been previously noted. The specific pathology in the current specimen is believed to be a healed fibular fracture as assessed through a combination of gross morphology, microcomputed tomography (microCT), and histology data. The fracture can be identified using microCT, but the degree of remodeling and the stage of fracture repair are best determined histologically. The fracture callus is made up of radially-oriented spokes of woven bone in a cartilage matrix and the original cortical bone prior to the fracture has been largely eroded. A transverse histologic section taken at the level of the fracture shows the displacement of the proximal and distal parts of the fibula. The Psittacosaurus appears to have survived the break considering the deposition of circumferential non-pathologic bone at the periosteal surface outside of the callus. The combination of gross morphological description, microCT data, and histologic data allowed for a full diagnosis of the abnormality. While some previous authors have preferred gross morphological description above other methods for assessing paleopathologies, it is evident based on this specimen that an amalgam of techniques provides greater clarity to paleopathology diagnoses. Although this Psittacosaurus lived in an environment with many predators, it was able to survive with a fracture on its hindlimb, which undoubtedly would have impacted its locomotion.

The Tides of Snowball Earth Would Have Been Greater

Tides of global ice-covered oceans




The tides of an ice-covered ocean are examined using a Cartesian representation of the elastic and fluid equations. Although unconstrained by any observations, the ocean tides of a Neoproterozoic “snowball” Earth could have been significantly larger than they are today. Time-mean tidal-residual circulations would then have been set up that are competitive with the circulation driven by geothermal heating. In any realistic configuration, the snowball Earth would have had an ice cover that is in the thin shell limit, but by permitting the ice thickness to become large, more interesting ice tidal response can be found, ones conceivably of application to bodies in the outer Solar System or hypothetical exoplanets. Little can be said concerning a reduction in tidal dissipation necessary to avoid a crisis in the history of the lunar orbit.

Scuffle in the South China Sea #42

In the tussle over the Chinese military plane flying to one of the disputed artificial islands, Russia is backing China. Definitely.

A-10s based in the Philippines have flown their first mission to dispute the Chinese claims in the South China Sea.  China objected to the flight.

The base the A-10s buzzed is a threat to Manila.

The US has challenged more than just China for Freedom of Navigation operations.  There were a total of 13 nations last year.

McCain says the operations in the South China Sea ought to be trumpeted, not hidden.

The American aircraft carrier in the South China Sea requested a port call in Hong Kong.  China did not allow the visit.

The US is selling weapons to...Vietnam.

Russia has launched Vietnam's first Gepard corvette/frigate.

China is risking becoming internationally isolated because of its actions in the South China Sea.

China is, on the other hand, joining the other claimants for the South China Sea in military exercises.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Live in SF or NY & Still Want Garden Fresh Veggies? The Foop is here!

f you've got a green thumb but no space to work your garden magic, a Japanese company might just have the thing to help quell your plant cultivation cravings.

Named the "Foop" (short for food and people) and developed by a company called C'estec, the smart device, roughly the size of a dual shelf toaster, lets you grow small crops of vegetables in your kitchen.

The product has come about to help those in Tokyo who want to grow plants and vegetables but, like may people living in large metropolitan cities, don't have sufficient garden space to do so.

The Foop houses a set of moisture-rich sponge pods, in which you'll plant your seeds. After that, you pair the device with your smartphone to monitor the growing conditions. You'll get a prediction of how long the plant will take to fully grow, as well as the ability to alter lighting, heat and humidity to ensure you get healthy and vibrant vegetables.

Modeling Enceladus' Jet Plumes

Controlled boiling on Enceladus. 1. Model of the vapor-driven jets


Nakajima et al


Plumes of water vapor and ice particles have been observed from the so-called tiger stripes at the south polar terrain (SPT) of Saturn’s satellite, Enceladus. The observed high salinity (∼0.5–2%) of the ice particles in the plumes may indicate that the plumes originate from a subsurface liquid ocean. Additionally, the SPT is the source of strong infrared radiation (∼4.2 GW), which is especially intense near (within tens of meters) the tiger stripes. This could indicate that the radiation is associated with plume activity, but the connection remains unclear. Here we investigate the constraints that plume observations place on the widths of the cracks, the depth to the liquid-vapor interface, and the mechanisms controlling plume variability. We solve the fluid dynamics of the flow in the crack and the interaction between the flow and ice walls assuming that the flows of water vapor and ice particles originate from a few kilometers deep liquid ocean. For a crack with a uniform width, we find that our model could explain the observed vapor mass flow rate of the plumes when the crack width is 0.05–0.075 m. A wider crack is not favorable because it would produce a higher vapor mass flow rate than the observed value, but it may be allowed if there are some flows that do not reach the surface of Enceladus due to condensation onto the ice walls or the crack is significantly tortuous. The observed heat flow can be explained if the total crack length is approximately 1.7 × 500 km. A tapering crack (a crack which is ∼1 m wide at the bottom of the flow and sharply becomes 0.05–0.075 m at shallower depths) can also explain the observed vapor mass flow rate and heat flow. Widths of 1 m or more are necessary to avoid freezing at the liquid-vapor interface, as shown in our paired paper (Ingersoll and Nakajima [2016] Icarus). The observed intense heat flow along the tiger stripes can be explained by the latent heat release due to vapor condensation onto the ice walls near the surface. The resulting buildup of ice causes the vents to seal themselves on time scales less than a year. We also find that the ice to vapor ratio of the plumes is sensitive to the ice mass fraction at the bottom of the flow (liquid–vapor interface). We find that the total mass flow rate of the plumes becomes larger when the crack width is larger, which is consistent with the observation that the flow rate increases near the orbital apocenter, where the crack is expected to be widest.

An Analog for Martian Aeolian Ridges Found in Iran's Lut Desert

Mega-ripples in Iran: A new analog for transverse aeolian ridges on Mars


Foroutan et al


A new terrestrial analog site for transverse aeolian ridges (TARs) is described in this study. The Lut desert of Iran hosts large ripple-like aeolian bedforms, with the same horizontal length scales and patterns of TARs on Mars. Different classes of TARs and different types of other aeolian features such as sand dunes, zibars, dust devil tracks and yardangs can be found in this area, which signify an active aeolian region. This area represents a unique site to study the formation and evolution of these enigmatic features, with potential relevance toward a better understanding of TARs on Mars.

China's Permanent Space Station to Begin Construction in 2018

China plans to launch the core of its permanent Tianhe-1 space station around 2018, with full assembling of the multi-module facility due to be complete about four years later, officials said last week.

The emerging space power is also developing two modules to dock with the core and several advanced technologies — including robotic arms and 3D printers — that will be placed aboard the station. Officials said the station will feature two robotic arms, two 30-meter solar panels and a Hubble-class telescope.

The space station will be serviced by crewed Shenzhou spacecraft capable of carrying up to three astronauts and Tianzhou cargo ships. The resupply ship will be tested for the first time next year with a flight to China’s Tiangong-2 space station.

Tianhe-1’s core module will be launched by China’s new Long March-5 heavy-lift booster, which will make its inaugural launch later this year. The launch vehicle is capable of lifting 25 metric tons into low Earth orbit.

Coming Cyberwar #9


The US military has been conducting cyber attacks on ISIS/Daesh. We reported the attacks earlier, but others are now catching up.

DARPA wants new ways to attribute cyber attacks.

Northrop is looking to develop AI for cyber defense.

Can the US & China back away from their cyber conflict?

Germany just stood up its own cyberwarriors.

Thinking 'slow' on cyber warfare.


Some are threatening to DDOS sites and demanding a ransom or else...even when they have never conducted a DDOS. And the businesses pay up!

Toy Maker Maitso's website had ransomware being served to customers.

Cisco has found backdoors installed on 12 million PCs.

Cyber Security:

There is a critical hole in our cell phone networks.

Critical infrastructure is vulnerable to cyberattack.

A nuclear power plant in Germany was found to be infected by computer viruses.

Terminator Times #9


Foxtrot Alpha looks at the DARPA Gremlin program as does Defense Update.

Defense Update looks at the US Navy CICADA program.

The Pentagon has been testing a UAV developed by MIT students.

Special Forces gunships will be getting an air launched UAV.

The USS Carl Vinson is the first American aircraft carrier to get a UAV command center.

The whistleblowers for the US drone campaigns are discussed at WiB.

The US Air Force is funding research by Cornell that may lead to miniature amphibious drones.

The MQ-XX will NOT be a strike platform and the Marine Corps is testing Fire Scout off their jeep carriers.  The General Atomics entry into the MQ-XX will be based off of their Avenger drone, which is not surprise.

The US Army is working on their control software for to better coordinate their UAVs on the battlefield.

One Congressman thinks the US Coast Guard needs its own drone fleet.

The Reaper is getting new sensors.

Textron is considering the next gen of its Shadow UAV.

New details are emerging on the Chinese man indicted for being a spy hunting drone tech.

A counterUAV system is being tested by the US Army. 

The DHS wants one as well.

China says ten countries have bought their UAVs.  The demand seems rather high.

China also details their CH-901 UAV and their loitering munition.

Finland is considering buying armed drones.

The British have selected General Atomics Predator B for its Protector UAV.

Israel's Rafael has unveiled its anti drone system.

Israel's UVision loitering munitions blur the line between missile and drone.

Turkey is looking to source its drone components from its own industrial base rather than abroad.

Can Turkey and the US actually work together on their drone tech

Azerbaijan wants more Israeli UAVs for its border conflict with Armenia.

Russia's United-40 UAV has started testing.

Warmate's expendable UAV has two customers.


What is the reality of Russia's dirty bomb armed Status-6 UUV?


The Chinese have developed a taser armed robot.

First There was Future Shock: now There is Future Chop!

Studying the Evolution of the Horse's Spine

Modern horses are expert runners. They reach top speeds using a special running gait in which they hold their back stiff as they move. A new study published today reveals that tiny fossil ancestors of modern horses may have moved quite differently to their living counterparts.

"Horses provide a perfect case-study on the evolution of running because they have such an amazing fossil record", explains author Dr. Katrina Jones, a post-doctoral researcher in Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. Dating back over 50 million years, the oldest horse ancestors were no bigger than a house cat. From those ancient horse ancestors, some lineages evolved larger sizes, grazing habit and limbs that were specialized for running. This new study suggests that the stiff-backed gait of modern horses likely evolved to save energy while running as horses got bigger through their evolution.

"For over a century, researchers studied the feet of fossil horses to explain how they evolved features specialized for running," explains Jones, "but very little is known about how the backbone might be involved in this famous transition." Four-legged mammals tend to move their lower back during running to help increase speed and regulate breathing. But horses are unusual because they restrict the motion of their lumbar spine to a single joint near their rump. Jones wanted to find out if this unusual pattern was shared by extinct horses, and how increasing size in horse evolution may have affected their back mobility and running style.

To understand the evolution of the back in fossil horses, Jones first examined the anatomy and mobility of the spine in modern domestic horses. The shape of the vertebral joints--bony connections between the vertebrae--help determine how much motion occurs at each joint. Armed with this information, Jones then measured the shape of vertebral joints in 16 species of fossil horses spanning their full size and age range.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Oceanic Hypoxia to Become Readily Apparent in 2030s

A reduction in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans due to climate change is already discernible in some parts of the world and should be evident across large regions of the oceans between 2030 and 2040, according to a new study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap oceans of oxygen, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other marine life struggling to breathe. But it's been difficult to determine whether this anticipated oxygen drain is already having a noticeable impact.

"Loss of oxygen in the ocean is one of the serious side effects of a warming atmosphere, and a major threat to marine life," said NCAR scientist Matthew Long, lead author of the study. "Since oxygen concentrations in the ocean naturally vary depending on variations in winds and temperature at the surface, it's been challenging to attribute any deoxygenation to climate change. This new study tells us when we can expect the impact from climate change to overwhelm the natural variability."

The Icy Moons of the Solar System may NOT be Friendly to Life Forming

Physicochemical Requirements Inferred for Chemical Self-Organization Hardly Support an Emergence of Life in the Deep Oceans of Icy Moons




An approach to the origin of life, focused on the property of entities capable of reproducing themselves far from equilibrium, has been developed recently. Independently, the possibility of the emergence of life in the hydrothermal systems possibly present in the deep oceans below the frozen crust of some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn has been raised. The present report is aimed at investigating the mutual compatibility of these alternative views. In this approach, the habitability concept deduced from the limits of life on Earth is considered to be inappropriate with regard to emerging life due to the requirement for an energy source of sufficient potential (equivalent to the potential of visible light). For these icy moons, no driving force would have been present to assist the process of emergence, which would then have had to rely exclusively on highly improbable events, thereby making the presence of life unlikely on these Solar System bodies, that is, unless additional processes are introduced for feeding chemical systems undergoing a transition toward life and the early living organisms.

Discovery of a Makemakean Moon

Discovery of a Makemakean Moon


Parker et al


We describe the discovery of a satellite in orbit about the dwarf planet (136472) Makemake. This satellite, provisionally designated S/2015 (136472) 1, was detected in imaging data collected with the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3 on UTC April 27, 2015 at 7.80±0.04 magnitudes fainter than Makemake. It likely evaded detection in previous satellite searches due to a nearly edge-on orbital configuration, placing it deep within the glare of Makemake during a substantial fraction of its orbital period. This configuration would place Makemake and its satellite near a mutual event season. Insufficient orbital motion was detected to make a detailed characterization of its orbital properties, prohibiting a measurement of the system mass with the discovery data alone. Preliminary analysis indicates that if the orbit is circular, its orbital period must be longer than 12.4 days, and must have a semi-major axis ≳21,000 km. We find that the properties of Makemake's moon suggest that the majority of the dark material detected in the system by thermal observations may not reside on the surface of Makemake, but may instead be attributable to S/2015 (136472) 1 having a uniform dark surface. This "dark moon hypothesis" can be directly tested with future JWST observations. We discuss the implications of this discovery for the spin state, figure, and thermal properties of Makemake and the apparent ubiquity of trans-Neptunian dwarf planet satellites.

Are the Dorsa Argentea on Mars eskers?

Are the Dorsa Argentea on Mars eskers?


Butcher et al


The Dorsa Argentea are an extensive assemblage of ridges in the southern high latitudes of Mars. They have previously been interpreted as eskers formed by deposition of sediment in subglacial meltwater conduits, implying a formerly more extensive south polar ice sheet. In this study, we undertake the first large-scale statistical analysis of aspects of the geometry and morphology of the Dorsa Argentea in comparison with terrestrial eskers in order to evaluate this hypothesis. The ridges are re-mapped using integrated topographic (MOLA) and image (CTX/HRSC) data, and their planar geometries compared to recent characterisations of terrestrial eskers. Quantitative tests for esker-like relationships between ridge height, crest morphology and topography are then completed for four major Dorsa Argentea ridges. The following key conclusions are reached: (1) Statistical distributions of lengths and sinuosities of the Dorsa Argentea are similar to those of terrestrial eskers in Canada. (2) Planar geometries across the Dorsa Argentea support formation of ridges in conduits extending towards the interior of an ice sheet that thinned towards its northern margin, perhaps terminating in a proglacial lake. (3) Variations in ridge crest morphology are consistent with observations of terrestrial eskers. (4) Statistical tests of previously observed relationships between ridge height and longitudinal bed slope, similar to those explained by the physics of meltwater flow through subglacial meltwater conduits for terrestrial eskers, confirm the strength of these relationships for three of four major Dorsa Argentea ridges. (5) The new quantitative characterisations of the Dorsa Argentea may provide useful constraints for parameters in modelling studies of a putative former ice sheet in the south polar regions of Mars, its hydrology, and mechanisms that drove its eventual retreat.

China's Human Spaceflight Plans for this Year

China will end a three-year hiatus in human spaceflight late this year with the launch of the two-person Shenzhou-11 spacecraft to the new Tiangong-2 space station, Chinese officials say. The crew will carry out a 30-day mission aboard the space station before returning to Earth.

Tiangong-2, which is set for launch sometime during the third quarter, is larger and more capable than the Tiangong-1 space station launched in 2011. The first station was visited by two three-person crews on missions lasting 12 and 15 days. The second crew landed in June 2013.

“We have specifically modified the interior of the new space lab to make it more livable for mid-term stays for our astronauts,” said Wang Zhongyang, a spokesman for the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

“Unlike Tiangong-1, Tiangong-2 will be our first genuine space lab,” he added.

Tiangong-2 is similar in design and size to the Soviet Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 space stations flown in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The new Chinese station has docking ports at both ends to allow for resupply missions.

China plans to send up its new Tianzhou-1 supply ship during the first half of 2017 to verify propellant transfer and other key technologies. The cargo vehicle will be launched by the new medium-lift Long March-7 rocket, which is scheduled to make its inaugural flight later this year.

Is the US Navy Serious About Buying the V-22s for Shipboard Logistics?

After years of hesitation, the Navy finally decided last year to buy 44 CMV-22B variant Ospreys to replace its C-2A Greyhound airplanes in Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) missions. But the way the Navy handled the V-22 in this year’s budget calls into question how firm its commitment to buying that many Ospreys really is. The Navy has so many competing, expensive and higher priorities that some Osprey partisans wonder if the money will be there for all those aircraft in the end even if, as expected, the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and Osprey makers Bell Helicopter and Boeing Co. negotiate a new multiyear contract – a bulk purchase at lower unit prices. In other words, the poverty penalty could come into play.

“The stress on the budget is real, it’s acute,” said one retired Marine general. “We don’t know right now how many airplanes the Department of the Navy is going to buy. If the multi-year falls apart, it could be less.”

Under an informal rule set by Congress, multiyear contracts are required to provide at least a 10 percent saving over annual contracts. Under the final year of the program’s second multiyear contract, the Marine Corps requested 16 Ospreys in fiscal 2017 at a “flyaway” price of $74.7 million apiece. Future projections released with this year’s budget show that price rising to $94.7 million per Osprey if they don’t get a new multiyear.

Famous Cases of Fossils Faux pas!

Helms Deep for Metazoan Reef Builders Found From Permian Extinction era Slovenia?

Equatorial Palaeotethys as the last sanctuary for late Permian metazoan reef-builders: New evidence from the Bellerophon Formation of Slovenia


Sremac et al


The rise and demise of warm-temperate Permian reefs and biostromes reflect the complex geologic history of this dynamic period. Environments suitable for reef-builders were devastated by the Guadalupian/Lopingian crisis, and Lopingian reefs have only been recorded at a small number of localities. The uppermost Permian limestones of the Bellerophon Formation, on the Vojsko Plateau (Slovenia), contain small, lenticular biostromes within a bioclastic wackestone/packstone lithofacies. The major biostrome builders are medium-sized coralline sponges (Demospongea and Calcarea), encrusted by smaller sponges, tube worms, sessile foraminifera, calcareous algae (Archaeolithoporella) and Shamovella (i.e., Tubiphytes), all of which are typically covered by microbial crusts. The biostromes are characteristically composed of bafflestone and bindstone, incorporating sporadic framestone. Narrow belts of floatstone surround the buildups, and sponge debris is also present in lenses within the mud matrix between metazoan bafflestones. The fossils are generally well-preserved, although the fine skeletal microstructure has been partially recrystallized. Sponges are heavily calcified, and ontogenic thickening of the skeleton can be observed in some encrusters. Framboidal pyrite, forming thin films on the inner walls of sponge chambers, suggests the presence of sulphate-reducing bacteria. These microbial symbionts may have enabled the sponges to survive in the anoxic marine environments of the uppermost Permian. The Changshingian sponge biostromes of the Vojsko Plateau represent the westernmost known occurrence of contemporary metazoan boundstones in the Palaeotethys.

Dawazisaurus brevis: a new Middle Triassic Eosauropterygian From China

Dawazisaurus Brevis, A New Eosauropterygian From the Middle Triassic of Yunnan, China


Chen et al


Dawazisaurus brevis (gen. et sp. nov.) is a newly discovered Triassic marine reptile, represented by a complete skeleton from Member II of the Guanling Formation of Luoping, Yunnan Province, China. This paper aims to (1) present a thorough description of the species, (2) make a detailed comparison to demonstrate if the species can be referred to any known sauropterygian taxa, and (3) conduct phylogenetic analyses to establish the internal relationships of the species with other sauropterygians. In addition, the discovery of Dawazisaurus provides a chance not only to test the phylogenetic patterns of the Sauropterygia obtained by previous studies but also to evaluate the previous hypotheses on the origin of the sauropterygian groups at different levels. D. brevis is an eosauropterygian, characterized by a unique combination of derived features such as a pair of large nasals joining in the formation of the internarial septum, a short trunk with 16 dorsal vertebrae; the zygapophyses of the trunk vertebrae very small or weakly developed; the posterior margin of the skull roof deeply V-shaped, and an ossified distal carpal 5. Phylogenetic analysis indicates that D. brevis appears to be more closely related to the Nothosauroidea than the Pistosauroidea within the Eosauropterygia.

PaleoArchean Crust in South Africa With Evidence of Subduction

Chronology of the oldest supracrustal sequences in the Palaeoarchaean Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa and Swaziland


Kröner et al


Zircon age data for felsic metavolcanic rocks of the Sandspruit and Theespruit formations, the two oldest supracrustal components in the Palaeoarchaean Barberton Greenstone Belt, show that these two successions are time-equivalent and constitute one single volcanic event at ca. 3530 Ma. The Sandspruit felsic rocks are ubiquitously metasomatized, intensely deformed and intruded by, and tectonically interlayered with, ca. 3450 Ma granitoid sills that are probably part of the Theespruit Pluton. One metasomatized Sandspruit sample contains abundant metamorphic zircons with a weighted mean 207Pb/206Pb age of 3220.1±1.6 Ma, reflecting a widespread metamorphic event in parts of the eastern Kaapvaal craton in South Africa and Swaziland.

Several samples of felsic metavolcanic rocks of the Theespruit Formation confirm a previously established magmatic emplacement age of ca. 3530 Ma, but slightly older rocks up to 3552 Ma were found in the easternmost exposure of the Theespruit sequence near the South African/Swaziland border and may represent a lower lithostratigraphic level than exposed farther west.

Hf-in-zircon isotopic data for most felsic metavolcanic rocks confirm earlier results suggesting that these rocks predominantly originated from melting of a felsic continental basement, possibly related to the oldest, ca. 3660-3550 Ma components of the Ancient Gneiss Complex in Swaziland. However, several Sandspruit samples also suggest that a juvenile source was involved in their generation, perhaps a mafic underplate. We see no evidence in the geochemistry and isotopic signatures of felsic volcanic rocks of the Sandspruit and Theespruit formations for partial melting of a metabasaltic protolith and for Palaeoarchean oceanic crust that formed in connection with subduction. We rather favour a plateau-type setting on older continental crust.

Is China's Economy Growing Again?

For now, China’s economy appears to be strengthening again. Real growth edged down to 6.7% year on year in the first quarter, but that figure, subject to fiddling by the authorities, is treated with scepticism by analysts. Instead, they pay more attention to a range of indicators that tell a different story. First, nominal growth—to which corporate earnings are more closely tied—jumped to 7.2% year on year, up from 6% in the final quarter of 2015. Second, the revival of the property sector—the most important part of the economy—gathered pace: the prices of new homes increased by 3.1% in March from a year earlier, the fastest growth since mid-2014. Third, industrial output rose by 6.8% year on year in March, compared with a subdued 5.4% average over the previous two months.


Or is it still being overly stimulated?

North Korea has Released Images of its Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile Test


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The World is Greening due to Increased Carbon dioxide

From a quarter to half of Earth's vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change on April 25.

An international team of 32 authors from 24 institutions in eight countries led the effort, which involved using satellite data from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer instruments to help determine the leaf area index, or amount of leaf cover, over the planet's vegetated regions. The greening represents an increase in leaves on plants and trees equivalent in area to two times the continental United States.

Green leaves use energy from sunlight through photosynthesis to chemically combine carbon dioxide drawn in from the air with water and nutrients tapped from the ground to produce sugars, which are the main source of food, fiber and fuel for life on Earth. Studies have shown that increased concentrations of carbon dioxide increase photosynthesis, spurring plant growth.

However, carbon dioxide fertilization isn't the only cause of increased plant growth--nitrogen, land cover change and climate change by way of global temperature, precipitation and sunlight changes all contribute to the greening effect. To determine the extent of carbon dioxide's contribution, researchers ran the data for carbon dioxide and each of the other variables in isolation through several computer models that mimic the plant growth observed in the satellite data.

Results showed that carbon dioxide fertilization explains 70 percent of the greening effect, said co-author Ranga Myneni, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University. "The second most important driver is nitrogen, at 9 percent. So we see what an outsized role CO2 plays in this process."

Surface Compositions Across Pluto and Charon

Surface Compositions Across Pluto and Charon


Grundy et al


The New Horizons spacecraft mapped colors and infrared spectra across the encounter hemispheres of Pluto and Charon. The volatile ices CH4, CO, and N2, that dominate Pluto's surface, have complicated spatial distributions resulting from sublimation, condensation, and glacial flow acting over seasonal and geological timescales. Pluto's H2O ice "bedrock" is also mapped, with isolated outcrops occurring in a variety of settings. Pluto's surface exhibits complex regional color diversity associated with its distinct provinces. Charon's color pattern is simpler, dominated by neutral low latitudes and a reddish northern polar region. Charon near infrared spectra reveal highly localized areas with strong NH3 absorption tied to small craters with relatively fresh-appearing impact ejecta.

Search of ALLWise Data Does NOT Find Planet Nine

The Hunt for Planet Nine: Atmosphere, Spectra, Evolution, and Detectability


Fortney et al


We investigate the physical characteristics of the Solar System's proposed Planet Nine using modeling tools with a strong heritage in studying Uranus and Neptune. For a range of plausible masses and interior structures, we find upper limits on the intrinsic Teff, from ~35-50 K for masses of 5-20 M_Earth. Possible planetary radii could readily span from 3 to 6 R_Earth depending on the mass fraction of any H/He envelope. We model the atmospheric temperature structure and spectra. Given its cold temperature, the planet encounters significant methane condensation, which dramatically alters the atmosphere away from simple Neptune-like expectations. We find the atmosphere is strongly depleted in molecular absorption at visible wavelengths, suggesting a Rayleigh scattering atmosphere with a high geometric albedo of 0.75. We highlight two diagnostics for the atmosphere's temperature structure, the first being the value of the methane mixing ratio above the methane cloud. The second is the wavelength at which cloud scattering can be seen, which yields the cloud-top pressure. Surface reflection may be seen if the atmosphere is thin. Due to collision-induced opacity of H2 in the infrared, the planet would be extremely blue (instead of red) in the shortest wavelength WISE colors if methane is depleted, and would, in some cases, exist on the verge of detectability by WISE. For a range of models, thermal fluxes from ~3-5 microns are ~20 orders of magnitude larger than blackbody expectations. We report a search of the AllWISE Source Catalog for Planet Nine, but find no detection.

How Much Will SpaceX's Reusable Rockets Really Reduce Launch Costs?

Now that SpaceX appears on the verge of being the first to reuse rocket hardware since NASA with the U.S. space shuttle, investors and competitors are sharpening their pencils to assess the business case.

The prima facie appeal of reusing rockets has always obscured the challenges of refurbishing, at low cost, a rocket stage and engine bloc that has suffered the stresses of hurtling through the atmosphere in advance of landing.

“It’s quite fundamental,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk said April 8 after the Falcon 9 first stage made a clean touchdown on a drone ship located offshore the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, as part of a successful mission to deliver supplies to the international space station for NASA. The stage has since been returned to port and will be repeatedly test-fired to determine its fitness for reuse as early as this year.

“It’s just as fundamental in rocketry as it is in other forms of transport – such as cars or planes or bicycles,” Musk said in a post-launch briefing.

NASA engineering veterans of the space shuttle would surely agree about its being fundamental. But after beating their heads against the problem for years, they also would say it’s much more difficult than hopping back into your car.

“The SSMEs were reusable,” Dan Dumbacher, former NASA deputy associated administrator for exploration systems development, said of the space shuttle main engines. “We tried to make them reusable for 55 flights. Look how long and how much money it took for us to do that, and we still weren’t completely successful for all the parts. I want to be realistic: We are not as smart as we think we are and we don’t understand the environment as well as we think we do.”

DARPA Awards 8 Contracts for First Phase of Ground X-Vehicle Technology for Future Armored Fighting Vehicles

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded technology research contracts to eight companies under the agency’s Ground X-Vehicle Technology (GXV-T) program, seeking to deliver crew/vehicle survivability through means other than traditional heavy passive armor solutions. DARPA expects these capabilities will be applicable to future ground combat vehicles, improving their combat efficiency and reduce cost.

“We’re exploring a variety of potentially groundbreaking technologies, all of which are designed to improve vehicle mobility, vehicle survivability and crew safety and performance without piling on armor,” said Maj. Christopher Orlowski, DARPA GXV-T program manager.

“DARPA’s performers for GXV-T are helping defy the ‘more armor equals better protection’ axiom that has constrained armored ground vehicle design for the past 100 years, and are paving the way toward innovative, disruptive vehicles for the 21st Century and beyond.” Orlowski added.

US Army Wants Active Protection Systems for Armored Fighting Vehicles

Alarmed by deadly battles in Ukraine, the Army wants to place miniaturized missile defense systems on its armored vehicles to protect them from anti-tank weapons. To reach this high-tech holy grail, which has painfully evaded the service in the past, the Army is taking a two-track approach. The fast track, as we’ve written previously, is to test off-the-shelf systems, like the Israeli Trophy, that are used today. But today’s defenses may fail against tomorrow’s missiles.

That’s why the Army is also pursuing a long-term alternative, a Modular Active Protection System designed to be easily improved as new dangers emerge. The vision for MAPS is a suite of plug-and-play defenses adaptable to different threats and to different Army vehicles.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate change since the Late Jurassic

Atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate change since the Late Jurassic (150 Ma) derived from a global carbon cycle model


Kashiwagi et al


A global carbon cycle model covering the Late Jurassic Period to Recent (150–0 Ma) with subaerial metamorphism and continental and oceanic hot spot volcanism was constructed. The model's results indicate that the OAE1a and Valanginian OAE (OAE: oceanic anoxic event) in the Cretaceous Period are related to increased atmospheric CO2 level due to hot spot volcanism. Furthermore, the model results based on high-resolution geochemical records demonstrate that decreases in CO2 associated with the termination of the OAE1a, OAE2, and perhaps the Valanginian OAE are attributable to a large amount of organic carbon burial. Moreover, the model results indicate that enhanced continental weathering and carbonate precipitation contributed to the decrease in atmospheric CO2 during the OAE1a period.

A comparison of the model results with proxy estimates of atmospheric CO2 indicates that CO2 degassings from the lithosphere and mantle, including those from subaerial metamorphism, partly contributed to high levels of atmospheric CO2 in the middle Cretaceous and the Eocene, but they are not sufficiently decisive to account for the suggested CO2 levels by the proxies. Differences in estimated CO2 between the model and the proxies in the middle Cretaceous can be explained by a complex evolution of the terrestrial plants from gymnosperms to angiosperms, and/or continental weathering assisted by arbuscular mycorrhizal and ectomycorrhizal fungi and a fluctuation of the climate sensitivity, which would have dynamically changed on geological time scales, whereas an increase in non-CO2 greenhouse gases could explain the CO2 difference in the Eocene warming.

discerning the Different Species of Cretaceous-Paleogene Multituberculate Genus Mesodma

Species Discrimination of Co-Occurring Small Fossil Mammals: A Case Study of the Cretaceous-Paleogene Multituberculate Genus Mesodma


Smith et al


The mammalian fossil record is largely composed of isolated teeth and tooth-bearing elements. In vertebrate microfossil assemblages with closely related, co-occurring species of mammals, it can be difficult to identify isolated teeth to species level because morphological differences among species may be slight and based on a single tooth position. Here we investigate the utility of the allegedly diagnostic lower fourth premolar (p4) for species-level identification in the genus Mesodma (Multituberculata, Neoplagiaulacidae). We conducted linear and geometric morphometrics on 86 p4s representing four Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) species of Mesodma that are common in deposits of the western interior of North America. Although Mesodma has been extensively discussed in the literature, these four species overlap considerably in p4 size and shape, making species-level identifications challenging. Using linear measurements, landmarks, and semilandmarks, we quantified p4 size and shape to understand morphological variation across the genus and uncover practical sources of morphological differentiation among the species represented here. Our results indicate (1) size is more important than shape for identifying p4s of Mesodma species; p4 shape varies across the genus, but cannot be used alone to identify isolated p4s to species; (2) M. garfieldensis and M. thompsoni cannot be distinguished from each other using p4 size or shape; we therefore subsume M. garfieldensis within M. thompsoni; and (3) M. formosa increased in size across the K-Pg boundary. In light of these results, we recommend that taxonomic diagnoses relying on isolated teeth incorporate quantitative analyses of morphology whenever possible to increase the accuracy of species-level identifications and paleofaunal studies that employ them.

SpaceX Announces Attempt to Send Dragon Capsule to Mars as Early as 2018

Planning to send Dragon to Mars as soon as 2018. Red Dragons will inform overall Mars architecture, details to come


They will do this either in 2018 or 2021.

The reason being they will want to take advantage of the free return trajectories that Inspiration Mars identified.

This will require a FalconHeavy because the F9 doesn't have the umph.

Did Seed Eating Save the Birds at the Cretaceous Paleogene Extinction?

When the dinosaurs became extinct, plenty of small bird-like dinosaurs disappeared along with giants like Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops. Why only some of them survived to become modern-day birds remains a mystery. Now, researchers reporting April 21 in Current Biology suggest that abrupt ecological changes following a meteor impact may have been more detrimental to carnivorous bird-like dinosaurs, and early modern birds with toothless beaks were able to survive on seeds when other food sources declined.

"The small bird-like dinosaurs in the Cretaceous, the maniraptoran dinosaurs, are not a well-understood group," says first author Derek Larson, a paleontologist at the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in Alberta and PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. "They're some of the closest relatives to modern birds, and at the end of the Cretaceous, many went extinct, including the toothed birds—but modern crown-group birds managed to survive the extinction. The question is, why did that difference occur when these groups were so similar?"

The team of researchers, which also included David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto and Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, began by investigating whether the extinction at the end of the Cretaceous was an abrupt event or a progressive decline simply capped off by the meteor impact. The fossil record holds evidence to support both scenarios, depending on which dinosaurs are being examined.

Delving into the bird-like dinosaurs, Larson collected data describing 3,104 fossilized teeth from four different maniraptoran families. Some were already published, but much of the information came from Larson's own work at the microscope, cataloging the shape and size of each tooth.

Did RNA Develop in Linked Puddles?

The crucibles that bore out early building blocks of life may have been, in many cases, modest puddles.

Now, researchers working with that hypothesis have achieved a significant advancement toward understanding an evolutionary mystery -- how components of RNA and DNA formed from chemicals present on early Earth before life existed.

In surprisingly simple laboratory reactions in water, under everyday conditions, they have produced what could be good candidates for missing links on the pathway to the code of life.

And when those components joined up, the result even looked like RNA.

As the researchers' work progresses, it could reveal that much of the original chemistry that led to life arose not in fiery cataclysms and in scarce quantities, but abundantly and gradually on quiet, rain-swept dirt flats or lakeshore rocks lapped by waves.

In turn, their work could increase our understanding of the probability of life's existence elsewhere in the universe.

The research from the NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution, headquartered at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is generously funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation and NASA. The recent results were published on April 25, 2016 in Nature Communications.

Pursuing the origins specifically of RNA, the close chemical relative of DNA, a research team led by Nicholas Hud, a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Georgia Institute of Technology and director of the CCE, worked with a pair of potential chemical ancestors of the nucleobases of RNA.

For roughly half a century, scientists have hypothesized that life, which uses DNA to store genetic information, was preceded by life forms that used RNA very broadly. And RNA may have had a precursor, proto-RNA, with different but similar nucleotides (the "N" in RNA).

"Early Earth was a messy laboratory where probably many molecules like those needed for life were produced. Some survived and prospered, while others eventually vanished," Hud said. "That goes for the ancestors of RNA, too."

Using two molecules known as barbituric acid and melamine, the researchers formed proto-nucleotides so strongly resembling two of RNA's nucleotides that it is tempting to speculate that they are indeed their ancestors.

The two ingredients would have been readily abundant for reactions on a prebiotic Earth, Hud said. "And they would have been well suited for primitive information coding," he added.

Because of the resemblances and properties, some scientists already have speculated on an ancestral role for melamine and barbituric acid.

But the CCE scientists are careful not to jump to that conclusion just yet.

"To claim ancestry, we would have to show a mechanism by which these nucleotides we made in the lab could turn into the existing nucleotides in RNA," said Ram Krishnamurthy, Hud's collaborator from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. "It's a complex path that we'd have to at least design on paper, and we're not there."

The Test Record of Russia's Project 4202 Hypersonic Warhead

As it turns out, there is more information about the Project 4202 test record than I knew existed. A Twitter post drew my attention to a very detailed table of Soviet/Russian launches that Jonathan McDowell keeps on his site. The table has an unusual amount of detail in that it includes serial numbers of launchers. (Jonathan also maintains a master list of all launches, which includes those for which serial numbers may not be available.)

In the list, the Project 4202-related launches are designated 15A35P, after a modification of the 15A35 UR-100NUTTH/SS-19 missile. There are nine tests of this type in the table and in general the details correspond to the information collected from other sources (note that I corrected a couple of dates in that table). There are important additions as well, but there are interesting differences and omissions. Below [on the other side of the link. ed] is a combined table that shows all known and suspected tests related to the program.

Iran Attempted Simorgh Launch Vehicle Flight: Success or Failure?

Iran conducted the first launch of the ‘Simorgh’ last week, Tehran’s largest satellite launch vehicle, and what the Pentagon views as a key element of its effort to build long-range missiles. Although Iran has not confirmed the test flight, both US and Russian sources reported the event, but the sources are not in agreement whether it was a success, part success or failure.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

SolarCity Alone to Install More Battery Storage in 2016 Than Entire US in 2015

It looks like Tesla is about to change the battery game – this time by installing more energy storage capacity in 2016 with SolarCity alone than all of the USA installed in 2015. In a recent filing with the SEC, it was found that Tesla foresees an almost 10X increase in sales to SolarCity for behind the meter storage.

The Geology (Hadeology) of Pluto and Charon Through the Eyes of New Horizons

The Geology of Pluto and Charon Through the Eyes of New Horizons


Moore et al


NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has revealed the complex geology of Pluto and Charon. Pluto's encounter hemisphere shows ongoing surface geological activity centered on a vast basin containing a thick layer of volatile ices that appears to be involved in convection and advection, with a crater retention age no greater than ≈10 Ma. Surrounding terrains show active glacial flow, apparent transport and rotation of large buoyant water-ice crustal blocks, and pitting, likely by sublimation erosion and/or collapse. More enigmatic features include tall mounds with central depressions that are conceivably cryovolcanic, and ridges with complex bladed textures. Pluto also has ancient cratered terrains up to ~4 Ga old that are extensionally fractured and extensively mantled and perhaps eroded by glacial or other processes. Charon does not appear to be currently active, but experienced major extensional tectonism and resurfacing (probably cryovolcanic) nearly 4 billion years ago. Impact crater populations on Pluto and Charon are not consistent with the steepest proposed impactor size-frequency distributions proposed for the Kuiper belt.

Kuiper Belt Object MakeMake has a Moon

Peering to the outskirts of our solar system, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a small, dark moon orbiting Makemake, the second brightest icy dwarf planet -- after Pluto -- in the Kuiper Belt.

The moon -- provisionally designated S/2015 (136472) 1 and nicknamed MK 2 -- is more than 1,300 times fainter than Makemake. MK 2 was seen approximately 13,000 miles from the dwarf planet, and its diameter is estimated to be 100 miles across. Makemake is 870 miles wide. The dwarf planet, discovered in 2005, is named for a creation deity of the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island.

The Kuiper Belt is a vast reservoir of leftover frozen material from the construction of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago and home to several dwarf planets. Some of these worlds have known satellites, but this is the first discovery of a companion object to Makemake. Makemake is one of five dwarf planets recognized by the International Astronomical Union.

The observations were made in April 2015 with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3. Hubble's unique ability to see faint objects near bright ones, together with its sharp resolution, allowed astronomers to pluck out the moon from Makemake's glare. The discovery was announced today in a Minor Planet Electronic Circular.

NASA Looking for Ideas for Advanced Mars Orbiter

NASA is soliciting ideas from U.S. industry for designs of a Mars orbiter for potential launch in the 2020s. The satellite would provide advanced communications and imaging, as well as robotic science exploration, in support of NASA’s Journey to Mars.

The orbiter would substantially increase bandwidth communications and maintain high-resolution imaging capability. It also may use experimental cutting-edge technologies, such as high-power solar electric propulsion or an optical communications package, which could greatly improve transmission speed and capacity over radio frequency systems.

China Supposedly Tested Multiple Warhead (MIRV) Nuclear Ballistic Missile

China has reportedly tested its newest intercontinental ballistic missile Dongfeng-41 (DF-41), which is the world’s longest-range missile.

The Dongfeng-41 is a Chinese nuclear solid-fueled road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile that can fire six to 10 nuclear multiple independently targetable warheads at a distance of more than 10 thousand kilometers.

The test of the DF- 41 overlapped with the visit of both the Chinese and US military leaders to the South China Sea, according to the US-based Washington Free Beacon, citing a source in the Pentagon.

The missile test also coincided with US Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s visit to the aircraft carrier USS Stennis, which was sailing in the South China Sea last week, the publication further noted.

France to Build Australia's new Attack Submarine (ssk)

France has beaten Japan and Germany to win an Australian mega-deal to build a fleet of 12 new submarines in Australia, for the Australian Navy SEA 1000 program. The decision was formally announced by Australian Defense Minister Malcolm Turnbull today. The SEA 1000 program is the largest acquisition program in the history of Australian defense, representing an investment of around $50 billion. The submarines will replace the six Collins class submarines (Kockums’ Type 471 submarine) commissioned between 1996 and 2003. The lead ship of the Collins class is expected to retire by the early 2030s.

The Australian Government’s requirements addressed by the new design are superior sensor performance, stealth characteristics and range and endurance similar to the current Collins Class submarine.

Industry watchers had anticipated a decision to come later in the year, but Turnbull’s gamble on a July 2 general election sped up the process. The submarines selected for the Australian Navy are based on a diesel-electric version of the 4,200-tonne Barracuda nuclear-powered submarine designed by DCNS. The first Barracuda submarine is expected to be commissioned with the French Navy next year. Subject to discussions on commercial matters, the design of the Future Submarine with DCNS will begin this year.

The variant offered by DCNS is a conventionally powered diesel-electric design of the submarine – named ‘Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A’, a version of the Barracuda specially designed for the Australian Navy. The boat has a length of 94 meters, and displacement of 4,000 tons (when submerged), 200 tons lighter than the French Barracuda. It is designed as a sea-going submarine for long range and long endurance.

Diet and locomotion, but not body size, differentiate mammal communities in worldwide tropical ecosystems

Diet and locomotion, but not body size, differentiate mammal communities in worldwide tropical ecosystems


Lintulaakso et al



To test whether tropical habitat groups across the world can be differentiated by using taxon-free mammalian community structures and to discuss the implications of this analysis for palaeoecological community studies.

Materials and methods

We used mammalian community data for 169 localities, which were assigned a priori to hierarchical Olson (1983) vegetation categories. Species over 500 g were classified into dietary, locomotion, and body mass groups and the resulting group structures were analysed using community structure analyses (NPMANOVA, CAP, SIMPER).


The test results show that the mammalian community structures are significantly different between all of Olson's categories. These differences are highest at Olson's major and minor ecosystem levels, and require the least number of variable categories. At the vegetation level, the number of variable categories required to distinguish between them becomes higher. Of the dietary groups, the number of frugivore–granivores, frugivore–omnivores, grazers and mixed feeders contribute most to these differences, while the number of arboreal, arboreal–terrestrial and subterranean–terrestrial species are the key locomotor groups. Body mass was not a good discriminator.

Main conclusions

As general ecosystem categories are broken down into more precisely defined habitats, it requires more detailed knowledge of the species adaptations to distinguish between them. Many of Olson's vegetation groups represent a continuum of cover that are, at least at the worldwide comparison, too detailed to differentiate when broad generalities are sought. We suggest using three worldwide tropical major ecosystems in mammalian community structure analyses: “Humid, closed forests”, “Seasonal or interrupted forests and grasslands”, and “Seasonal, open drylands”. Our results also demonstrate that community structures defined by both dietary and locomotor adaptations are powerful discriminators of tropical ecosystems and habitats across the continents we examined, but body mass should be interpreted with caution when the research question pertains to multiple continents.

Chicxulub Impact, not Deccan Traps, Killed Dinosaurs Based on Ocean Chemistry Evidence

Biogeochemical significance of pelagic ecosystem function: an end-Cretaceous case study


Henehan et al


Pelagic ecosystem function is integral to global biogeochemical cycling, and plays a major role in modulating atmospheric CO2 concentrations (pCO2). Uncertainty as to the effects of human activities on marine ecosystem function hinders projection of future atmospheric pCO2. To this end, events in the geological past can provide informative case studies in the response of ecosystem function to environmental and ecological changes. Around the Cretaceous–Palaeogene (K–Pg) boundary, two such events occurred: Deccan large igneous province (LIP) eruptions and massive bolide impact at the Yucatan Peninsula. Both perturbed the environment, but only the impact coincided with marine mass extinction. As such, we use these events to directly contrast the response of marine biogeochemical cycling to environmental perturbation with and without changes in global species richness. We measure this biogeochemical response using records of deep-sea carbonate preservation. We find that Late Cretaceous Deccan volcanism prompted transient deep-sea carbonate dissolution of a larger magnitude and timescale than predicted by geochemical models. Even so, the effect of volcanism on carbonate preservation was slight compared with bolide impact. Empirical records and geochemical models support a pronounced increase in carbonate saturation state for more than 500 000 years following the mass extinction of pelagic carbonate producers at the K–Pg boundary. These examples highlight the importance of pelagic ecosystems in moderating climate and ocean chemistry.

Why did Several Dinosaur Families go Locally Extinct ONLY in Europe During the Cretaceous?

Researchers have used 'network theory' for the first time to visually depict the movement of dinosaurs around the world during the Mesozoic Era - including a curious exodus from Europe.

The research, published today in the Journal of Biogeography, also reaffirms previous studies that have found that dinosaurs continued to migrate to all parts of the world after the 'supercontinent' Pangaea split into land masses that are separated by oceans.

Study lead Dr Alex Dunhill from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, said: "We presume that temporary land bridges formed due to changes in sea levels, temporarily reconnecting the continents."

"Such massive structures - spanning, for example, from Indo-Madagascar to Australia - may be hard to imagine. But over the timescales that we are talking about, which is in the order of tens of millions of years, it is perfectly feasible that plate tectonic activity gave rise to the right conditions for such land bridges to form."

In the study, the researchers used the Paleobiology Database that contains every documented and accessible dinosaur fossil from around the world. Fossil records for the same dinosaur families from different continents were then cross-mapped for different periods of time, revealing connections that show how they have migrated.

Some regions of the world, such as Europe, have extensive fossil records from a long history of palaeontology digs, while other parts of the world have been largely unexplored. To help account for this disparity in fossil records, which could otherwise skew the findings, the researchers applied a filter to the database records to only count the first time that a dinosaur family connection occurred between two continents.

The findings support the idea that, although continental splitting undoubtedly reduced intercontinental migration of dinosaurs, it did not completely inhibit it.

Surprisingly, the research also showed that all connections between Europe and other continents during the Early Cretaceous period (125-100 million years ago) were out-going. That is, while dinosaur families were leaving Europe, no new families were migrating into Europe.

Dr Dunhill said: "This is a curious result that has no concrete explanation. It might be a real migratory pattern or it may be an artefact of the incomplete and sporadic nature of the dinosaur fossil record."

Studing Gonium pectorale to Explaint he Origin of Complex Life

Throughout the history of life on Earth, multicellular life evolved from single cells numerous times, but explaining how this happened is one of the major evolutionary puzzles of our time. However, scientists have now completed a study of the complete DNA of one of the most important model organisms, Gonium pectorale, a simple green algae that comprises only 16 cells.

This microscopic organism is helping to fill the evolutionary gap in our understanding. The two year research project was a global collaboration between Kansas State University, Universities of Arizona and Tokyo, and Wits University. It is documented in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.

Pierre Durand, a researcher in the department of Molecular Medicine and Haematology and the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University is one of the project collaborators.

"The evolution from unicellular to multicellular life was a big deal. It changed the way the planet would be forever. From worms to insects, the dinosaurs, grasses, flowering plants, hadedas and humans, you just have to look around and see the extraordinary forms of multicellular existence," says Durand.

"It has been difficult to explain how this occurred because it was not an easy thing to have happened. So questions like 'why did single cells live together in groups at the very beginning of multicellularity when it puts them at a fitness disadvantage?' challenged us for a long time," says Durand. We still don't know most of the answers but this project has certainly filled one of the gaps in our current understanding.

There are many model systems for studying multicellularity but nothing quite like the volvocine green algae, the group to which G. pectorale belongs.

"The evolutionary transition to multicellularity has occurred numerous times in all domains of life, yet the evolutionary history of this transition is not well understood. However, the volvocine green algae include a diverse variety of unicellular, colonial, and multicellular species," says Durand.

US Government to Expected Announce Approval of Fighter Sales to Qatar & Kuwait

The U.S. government is poised to approve two long-delayed sales of Boeing Co fighter jets to Qatar and Kuwait, and could announce the multibillion-dollar deals during President Barack Obama's visit to the Gulf this week, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Both deals have been stalled amid concerns raised by Israel that equipment sent to Gulf states could fall into the wrong hands and be used against it, and by the Obama administration's broader decision-making on military aid to the Gulf.

However, the Pentagon and the State Department both have signed off on the sale of some 36 F-15 fighter jets to Qatar and 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to Kuwait, both built by Boeing. The White House is expected to follow suit shortly.

The sale to Kuwait is worth about $3 billion and the one to Qatar is probably close to $4 billion, sources familiar with the matter said.

China to Launch 150 Rockets to Space Over Next Three Years

China will launch about 150 of its Long March carrier rockets over the next five years, one of its space chiefs said on Friday, days ahead of celebrations marking the launch of the country’s first satellite 46 years ago.

“In the 13th Five-Year Plan period [2016-2020], we will see about 30 launches [of the Long March series] each year,” Chen Xuechuan, assistant president of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, told Xinhua.

There were 86 Long March missions in the five years from 2011 to 2015, and 48 from 2006 to 2010.

Monday, April 25, 2016

An Argument for a Guaranteed Income

Next time you're having an fight with somebody who doesn't like the idea of a universal basic income, you might employ some of these arguments from Yanis Varoufakis, Greece's former finance minister. In an interview with the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger, he not only refutes the usual arguments against the concept that the government should give everyone a minimum check every month, but he makes them sound quite ridiculous.

Evidence From the Small Moons of Pluto That Charon Formed From a Theia-like Impact With Pluto

The Small Satellites of Pluto as Observed by New Horizons


Weaver et al


The New Horizons mission has provided resolved measurements of Pluto's moons Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. All four are small, with equivalent spherical diameters of ≈40 km for Nix and Hydra and ~10 km for Styx and Kerberos. They are also highly elongated, with maximum to minimum axis ratios of ≈2. All four moons have high albedos ( ≈50-90 %) suggestive of a water-ice surface composition. Crater densities on Nix and Hydra imply surface ages ≳ 4 Ga. The small moons rotate much faster than synchronous, with rotational poles clustered nearly orthogonal to the common pole directions of Pluto and Charon. These results reinforce the hypothesis that the small moons formed in the aftermath of a collision that produced the Pluto-Charon binary.

Modified Orbital Parameters for Planet Nine

Dynamical impact of the Planet Nine scenario: N-body experiments


de la Fuente Marcos et al


The Planet Nine hypothesis has now enough constraints to deserve further attention in the form of detailed numerical experiments. The results of such studies can help us improve our understanding of the dynamical effects of such a hypothetical object on the extreme trans-Neptunian objects or ETNOs and perhaps provide additional constraints on the orbit of Planet Nine itself. Here, we present the results of direct N-body calculations including the latest data available on the Planet Nine conjecture. The present-day orbits of the six ETNOs originally linked to the hypothesis are evolved backwards in time and into the future under some plausible incarnations of the hypothesis to investigate if the values of several orbital elements, including the argument of perihelion, remain confined to relatively narrow ranges. We find that a nominal Planet Nine can keep the orbits of (90377) Sedna and 2012 VP113 relatively well confined in orbital parameter space for hundreds of Myr, but it may make the orbits of 2004 VN112, 2007 TG422 and 2013 RF98 very unstable on time-scales of dozens of Myr, turning them retrograde and eventually triggering their ejection from the Solar system. Far more stable orbital evolution is found with slightly modified orbits for Planet Nine.