Courtesy Public domain via Mark RyanToday marks the anniversary of the birth of Edward Drinker Cope, American naturalist and paleontologist born 174 years ago in Philadelphia. A child prodigy, Cope had little formal training in the natural sciences yet became very noted in several fields including herpetology, paleontology, and comparative anatomy. He published over 600 scientific papers during his lifetime, and described and named over 1000 prehistoric species, including several dinosaurs. Cope and his former friend, Yale paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh, became bitter rivals and were the principal generals in the famous "Bone Wars" that took place in the field of vertebrate paleontology from the late 1870s until their deaths in the late 1890s. Cope's huge 1000 page and wonderfully illustrated tome, The Vertebrata of the Tertiary Formations of the West is known as "Cope's Bible".
Last week oil company passengers flying in a helicopter spotted and videotaped a mysterious crater located in a remote area of northern Siberia. The crater which measures 80-100 meters across, seems to have appeared over night. Authorities have puzzled over its origin, and once the video appeared on-line, wild speculations flared up across the Internet regarding its origin. Did a meteorite create it? Is it the site of a crashed alien spaceship? Could it be another Tunguska event? Or a sinkhole? Or simply the result from a huge release of natural gas?
A group of Russian scientists from Russia's Academy of Science and the State Scientific Center of Arctic Research finally reached the extremely isolated location on the appropriately named Yamal peninsula (Yamal means "end of the world"). The peninsula is home to reindeer and indigenous reindeer herders but sets atop a vast natural gas reservoir which means a gas belch might be the most likely cause. One of the scientists, Anna Kurchatova from the Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre, speculates that climate change and warming climate may be causing the permafrost in the area to melt and become unstable, and in the process popping like a Champagne cork under the high underground pressures. But the researchers won't jump to any conclusion; they've been busy examining the sudden phenomenon, scaling its walls, measuring its dimensions, and collecting water and soil samples. Satellite images will also be examined to see if the exact time of origin has been captured by orbiting cameras.
It will be interesting to see what their study reveals. I'm going with the internal forces theory - some sort of fiery gas burp probably caused it. In the meantime, the scientists have also been taking lots of photographs at the site, which can be viewed on the Siberian Times website.
Every summer, we get to see incredible photos of massive mayfly hatchings somewhere along the Mississippi River. This year, however, a huge sudden hatching was captured on the National Weather Service radar based in LaCrosse, Wisc. Click through the link to see this incredible phenomenon.
Courtesy Mark RyanI remember clearly where I was on this historic day, July 20, in 1969. At around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I was sunning myself on a public beach on Park Point in Duluth, Minnesota when astronaut Neil Armstrong's voice came over my trusty transistor radio to announce that "The Eagle has landed". Apollo 11's Lunar Module (LEM) had set down and mankind had successfully landed on the Moon!
In this post-space shuttle, unmanned, watered-down era of space exploration, it may not seems like such a big deal now, but back then, during the Apollo Program era, it was a truly monumental and remarkable feat to witness especially when you consider it took less than ten years to accomplish from the time President Kennedy had challenged the nation in 1961.
Later that evening, like most of the world, I watched Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, take those amazing first steps and explorations of another celestial body in our universe. For a couple hours at least, while the two astronauts gathered rock samples and set up experiments, our often contentious species was able to put aside all our terrestrial troubles (and there were many at the time) and focus as a unified human family on a single, amazing achievement. When they had completed their historic exploration, Neil and Buzz re-entered the LEM and lifted off to rejoin fellow astronaut Michael Collins in lunar orbit in the command module Columbia, and returned safely back to Earth.
The Moon continues to dominate our night sky and I'm certain we'll travel there again sometime in the future, but those return visits will never be able to equal the excitement and awe felt when mankind first landed there in the tumultuous midst of the 20th century.
Courtesy Public domain via WikipediaAstronomers in Puerto Rico have now confirmed those mysterious and brief sound bursts first picked up by the Parkes radio telescope in 2012 as extragalactic, i. e. originating somewhere outside our galaxy, possibly as far as 9 billion light-years away.
The Arecibo radio telescope - located in the karst hills of Puerto Rico - has detected the same "fast radio bursts" (FRBs) coming from somewhere beyond the Milky Way. The FRBs, also known as "Lorimer bursts" are extremely short in duration occurring about every 10 seconds. The exact source of these FRBs is still up in the air - so to speak - but the new study indicates that at least they aren't coming from anywhere on Earth.
"Our result is important because it eliminates any doubt that these radio bursts are truly of cosmic origin,” said research team member, Victoria Kaspi, an astrophysics professor at McGill University in Montreal. "The radio waves show every sign of having come from far outside our galaxy – a really exciting prospect."
But what the space noises are exactly remains a mystery. Speculation includes all sorts of strange goings-on including evaporating black holes, a neutron star cannibalizing another neutron star, or magnetic pulses from magnetars, bizarre neutrons stars possessing super-powerful magnetic fields.
The study's co-author, James Cordes, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University posits that they could be "bursts much brighter than the giant pulses seen from some pulsars".
The study appeared in the July 10 issue of The Astrophsyical Journal.
The U.S. Marines this week demonstrated their new robotic mule in training exercises in Hawaii. The walking robot can carry up to 400 pounds of gear up to 20 miles before needing to be refueled. The Marines are hoping the robot will be able to lighten the loads of ground forces. Pretty cool, huh?
And, of course, Dave Letterman has already come up with a Top Ten list for the robotic mule:
Courtesy Paul J. MorrisNOVA's excellent 4-part documentary series "Australia: First 4 Billion Years" is scheduled to re-broadcast on July 16th, 23rd, 30th and August 6th. Check your local PBS schedule for times. But if the dates don't work for you, the entire series is (or at least was when I watched it) on YouTube. Here are the links:
The series is beautifully put together with gorgeous high definition video shot in locations all over Australia. The host, biologist Richard Smith, explains the science in a thoughtful and comprehensible manner while introducing viewers to many of the continent's stunning topographical features, and the strange and wonderful lifeforms - both past and present - found there. It's well worth your time.
Courtesy National Park ServiceYou don't go to Yellowstone National Park to look at the roads. The vast array of flora and fauna specimens to observe along with amazing geology make it one of our national treasures.
But the geology part is making it hard to see the bioiogical features of one section of the park. This week heat from underground thermals in the park's lower geyser basin has melted through the surface of the Firehole Lake Drive. And park staff has closed off that section of the park to foot traffic as well, noting that the stirring hot water and energy under the ground could be eroding away and the top surface just be "crust" covering vacant space below.
It's all just another reminder that we're just visitors to the natural forces at play in our wild word.
Courtesy Mark RyanBritish paleontologist Phil Manning from Manchester University has been using 21st century technology to study prehistoric injuries on dinosaur bones.
Courtesy Mark RyanManning and his team of researchers employed a particle accelerator called a synchrotron rapid scanning X-ray fluorescence (SRS-XRF) to analyze and compare the chemical compositions of both healed and healthy bone of a 150 million-year-old Allosaurus fragilis, and those of a modern turkey vulture (Cathartes aura). Both animals are members of a group known as archosaurs that includes pterosaurs, and alligators and other crocodilians. The SRS-XRF directed intense beams of light ten billion times brighter than our sun onto areas of fossilized dinosaur bone that showed signs of injuries (pathologies) and healing that had occurred while the creature was alive. The same instrument was used previously to analyze the remains of both Archaeopteryx and Green River Formation fossils, revealing organic traces not detectible in visible light.
In the current study. thin sections made from the toe bones of Allosaurus fragilis unearthed from the Cleveland-Lloyd quarry in Utah were prepared at a Temple University facility in Pennsylvania, and then sent to the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource in California for scanning. The Allosaurus sample was also analyzed at the Diamond Light Source (DLS) in Oxford, England.
During the analysis, a suite of trace-metal enzymes - copper, zinc, and strontium- all integral to the process of healing bone were detected. Copper plays a role in the strengthening the structure of collagen, zinc aids in ossification (the creation of new bone material), while strontium inhibits the break-down of bone cells. Enzymes composed from the same three elements are used for growth and repair in our own bones.
Normally when a bone suffers some kind of trauma, such as a fracture, the body repairs it by rebuilding new bone in much the same way it did when the skeleton first formed. Manning's fossil bone sections exhibited chemical ghosts of these essential elements in elevated amounts in the injured bone section than seen in the healthy bone surrounding it.
Courtesy Mark Ryan “It seems dinosaurs evolved a splendid suite of defense mechanisms to help regulate the healing and repair of injuries," Manning said. "It is quite possible you've got a reptilian-style repair mechanism combined with elevated metabolism, like that you'd find in alligators and birds respectively. So you've got a double whammy in a good way. If you suffer massive trauma, you've got the perfect set-up to survive it."
The SRS-XRF provides scientists with a superior method in analyzing and comparing the chemical processes involved with bone-building and healing that weren't discernible in the older histological examination methods used in studying thin sections, and could lead to further knowledge of how not only dinosaur bones - but our own - grow and repair themselves.
“The chemistry of life leaves clues throughout our bodies in the course of our lives that can help us diagnose, treat and heal a multitude of modern-day ailments. It’s remarkable that the very same chemistry that initiates the healing of bone in humans also seems to have followed a similar pathway in dinosaurs,” Manning said.