Aug
06
2014

Bison painting at Altamira cave in Spain: Is it not amazing that we can instantly view on our computers this digital image of a bison painted 22,000 years ago by some unknown Paleolithic artist in a Spanish cave located 4300 miles from St. Paul, Minnesota? Just an observation.
Bison painting at Altamira cave in Spain: Is it not amazing that we can instantly view on our computers this digital image of a bison painted 22,000 years ago by some unknown Paleolithic artist in a Spanish cave located 4300 miles from St. Paul, Minnesota? Just an observation.Courtesy Public domain via Wikipedia
After being closed for a dozen years, officials at the famous cave at Altamira in Spain - known for its wonderful prehistoric paintings - have once again been allowing the public to view its fantastic painted images of bison, horses, and other imagery created by unknown artists some 22,000 years ago.

The state-owned Altamira is subsidized by Spain's Culture Ministry, and testing has been in the works to determine whether limited visitors would have damaging effects on the rare prehistoric art. Random visitors to the site are selected by lottery and suited up in protective clothing before entering the cave. Test-run entries has been going on regularly since February.

The cave was discovered in 1879 by amateur archaeologist, Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola. Visitors swarmed to view the discovery until officials closed it a hundred years later so scientists could study the effects of exposure to human traffic. It reopened for a while but only with limited access. It closed again in 2002 after mold was spotted forming on some of the walls and paintings.

A museum containing exact replicas of parts of the chamber and artwork were built near the cave entrance where visitors could experience the wonders of the paintings without fear of damaging them. The replicated experience has been popular with tourists (a quarter-million visitors per year) but, as some complain, the experience just isn't the same as seeing the real thing.

“It is the kind of difference in emotions that we might feel when we look at a painting of Rembrandt or the sunflowers of van Gogh but are then told that the paintings are in fact fakes,” said Altamira museum director, José Antonio Lasheras.
The last group of lucky participants will be allowed into the cave later this month and results of the testing is scheduled to be published in September.

SOURCES and LINKS
NYT story
UNESCO's Altamira information
Guardian story on cave reopening

Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska has several webcams set up to watch wildlife activity within the park. At the moment, the Brook Falls Bear camera seems to be the one to watch. Brown bears can often be seen during daylight hours fishing for sockeye salmon at the foot of the falls. A couple bruins were doing just that when I first checked it out. There are also some other links to webcams where you view the Alaskan wilderness.

If you want to expand your view of the world, check out explore.org, a world-wide philanthropic and educational organization that partners with the National Park Service and other organizations, and contains even more live cams, films, photos and blogs from various sites around the world.

Sun power: A new online mapping system tells you how strong the solar energy is where you live in Minnesota.
Sun power: A new online mapping system tells you how strong the solar energy is where you live in Minnesota.Courtesy Pujanak
Have you wondered how strong the sunshine is that falls near your home for solar power purposes? A team of University of Minnesota graduate students has mapped the solar suitability for locations all across the state. You can search it like a Google map and find out the power of the sunshine where you live.

Edward Drinker Cope: 19th century cabinet card photo
Edward Drinker Cope: 19th century cabinet card photoCourtesy Public domain via Mark Ryan
Today 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".

Cope biography by H. F. Osborn
Cope on Strange Science
Cope on Wikipedia
More Cope info

Jul
25
2014

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.

SOURCES
Siberian Times story
Geology Page story

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.

First lunar landing: Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
First lunar landing: Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969.Courtesy Mark Ryan
I 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.

LINKS
Forbes interview with Neil and Buzz
Apollo 11 mission
PBS - Race to the Moon

An ear to outer space: The Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico has picked up mysterious "fast radio bursts" (FRBs) that possibly originate from the farthest reaches of space. The findings confirm space sounds previously picked up by the Parkes radio telescope in Australia.
An ear to outer space: The Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico has picked up mysterious "fast radio bursts" (FRBs) that possibly originate from the farthest reaches of space. The findings confirm space sounds previously picked up by the Parkes radio telescope in Australia.Courtesy Public domain via Wikipedia
Astronomers 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.

SOURCE
Science
News.com Australia
Sky & Telescope

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:

Stromatolites at Shark Bay: the living fossils are featured in NOVA's "Australia: First 4 Billion Years".
Stromatolites at Shark Bay: the living fossils are featured in NOVA's "Australia: First 4 Billion Years".Courtesy Paul J. Morris
NOVA'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:

Part 1: Awakening
Part 2: Life Explodes
Part 3: Monsters
Part 4: Strange Creatures

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.