Oct
07
2006

Victoria crater, Mars: credit: NASA/JPL/UA
Victoria crater, Mars: credit: NASA/JPL/UA

Springtime on Mars

Our two little Mars rover robots survived another winter on Mars. Spirit, who has a bad wheel, sat on a hillside facing the sun. Opportunity, who spent several weeks spinning its wheels in a sand dune, has now reached a huge crater named Victoria. Progress will be slow during October, though, because the Sun's position near our radio path causes interference.

Rovers goal is to find evidence of water

Within two months after landing on Mars in early 2004, Opportunity found geological evidence for a long-ago environment that was wet. Deeper sediments exposed in craters allow a look into Mar's past. The Eagle Crater, in which Opportunity landed in 2004, gave geologists about 0.5 metres of layered rock to study. Endurance Crater, where Opportunity spent about six months, provided 7 metres of layers. Victoria Crater appears to be at least 60 metres deep.

"This is a geologist's dream come true," says rover principal scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, US. "Those layers of rock, if we can get to them, will tell us new stories about the environmental conditions long ago. New Scientist

Jim Bell of Cornell, lead scientist for the rovers' panoramic cameras says NASA plans to drive Opportunity from crater ridge to ridge, studying nearby cliffs across the intervening alcoves and looking for safe ways to drive the rover down.

"It's like going to the Grand Canyon and seeing what you can from several different overlooks before you walk down," Bell said.

Want see more

Oct
06
2006

Pliosaur: Credit: Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, Norway  Artwork by Tor Sponga, BT
Pliosaur: Credit: Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, Norway Artwork by Tor Sponga, BT

Marine reptile burial ground found

Norwegian scientists have discovered a "treasure trove" of fossils belonging to giant sea reptiles that roamed the seas at the time of the dinosaurs. The 150 million year-old Jurassic fossils were discovered while conducting fieldwork in a remote locality on the island of Spitsbergen, approximately 800 miles from the North Pole.

The Svalbard locality represents one of the most important new sites for marine reptiles to have been discovered in the last several decades. In terms of number, a remarkable 28 new individuals were documented during the short two-week field period, nine of which are believed to be significant discoveries. This tally, which includes 21 long-necked plesiosaurs, six ichthyosaurs and one short necked plesiosaur, ranks Svalbard as one of the most productive sites for marine reptiles in the world. The fossilized remains are also very well preserved, and most of the skeletons are articulated, with the bones still lying in their original life position. University of Oslo, Natural History Museum

A skeleton of a pliosaur promises to be one of the largest ever discovered. Over 30 feet long with a six foot skull, the find is referred to as "the monster". A large number of photos documenting these finds are on the Naturhistorisk museum website. A plesiosaur is pictured being eaten by the pliosaur. Ichthyosaurs were another food source represented in the fossil treasue trove.

Unconserved, these specimens would crumble due to repeated freezing and thawing during the cold winters and fairly temperate summers in Svalbard. The destruction of these fossils is being prevented by wrapping them in a “field jackets” and bringing them back to the museum.

Oct
06
2006

As I watched the praying mantis crawling on my hand, I noticed something brownish coming out of its bottom. At first I thought it was feces, but then it started wriggling around vigorously. Was it a tapeworm, or some unknown species of worm?

Praying mantis: This isn't the mantis with the hairworm. But any excuse to post a photo of a praying mantis is a good excuse to do it.
Praying mantis: This isn't the mantis with the hairworm. But any excuse to post a photo of a praying mantis is a good excuse to do it.Courtesy CatDancing

We brought the worm home in a bag and searched on the internet. It was a hairworm, a parasite that feeds on the insides of insects and brainwashes the insects into jumping into the water, where it completes its lifecycle. That makes sense because the praying mantis jumped off my hand into a wading pool just before I brought it onto land and the hairworm started coming out.
We've only found examples of hairworms coming out of grasshoppers and rarely emerging from damselfies/dragonflies. Has a hairworm ever before been observed coming out of a praying mantis? I found it on Oct. 4, 2006 at Kyodo no Mori in Fuchu-shi in Tokyo when my 4th grade class from ASIJ was on a field trip.
My name is Elsa and I am nine years old. I want to be either an entemologist or a herpetologist when I grow up.

Oct
05
2006

Skipjack herring: Illustration courtesy Duane Raver and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Skipjack herring: Illustration courtesy Duane Raver and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

I work at the Science Museum and I often learn unusual things during the course of my day. Some things are funny, some I store away to pull out in a Cliff Claven moment, and others make me want to run screaming to my desk to put them into this blog.

This is one of the latter.

Yesterday I learned that herrings may communicate with one another through their anuses by farting. I almost exploded when the person leading the meeting casually mentioned this fact. I ran back to my computer, and sure enough. Researchers at not one, but TWO institutions are studying the phenomena. Both the Institute of Coastal Research at the National Board of Fisheries in Sweden and the University of British Columbia, Vancouver have researchers looking into the matter.

Before this remarkable discovery, it was known that herrings communicated with one another through sounds produced by their swim bladder. Researchers thought that all the sounds they heard coming from the herring were coming from the swim bladder. But, and I am laughing as I type, they noticed that a stream of bubbles would leave the herring’s anus in time with the sounds they were hearing. Sure enough, they are connected, and that sound was soon dubbed by the quick-thinking researchers as a Fast Repetitive Tick (or FRT, if you will).

Researchers note that the unlike the gas we pass, these sounds are not produced by the digestive process, but rather a connection between the swim bladder and the anus. The exact purpose or reason behind the FRTs is not exactly known. One theory is that is a way for the herring to communicate with each other at night. Another is that is an anti-predator tactic. Seriously. Or, it could just be an incidental release of air from the swim bladder as the fish adjusts its buoyancy.

You can hear the herring communicating in this manner here.

Oct
05
2006

Ecotourism is the practice of visiting places where rare or exotic animals live and the popularity of ecotourism is growing at an amazing rate. Ecotourism can foster many beneficial effects for the special- interest sites that people visit: people can learn about the wonderful places and animals they see, donations help with conservation and preservation of the area and species, and tourism can be a source of income for surrounding communities.

However, ecotourism remains a routinely unregulated practice and scientists are starting to wonder about the effects that such high numbers of visitors will have on the wild animals, their populations, and the surrounding habitats, if the practice continues unchecked. Other problems , such as the amount of garbage that is accumulating at sites due to the tourism and the loss of natural resources that area communities are experiencing, have come to light and are generating concern from scientists and local peoples.

Scientists on the island of Damas, off the coast of Chile, are studying Humboldt penguins and the effects of ecotourism on the penguin population. They have reported a steady decline in the average number of offspring produced by each Humboldt female, as tourism to view the penguins has increased. Scientists fear if ecotourism practices are not regulated and the sites not managed, many exotic species and their habitats will disappear.

Oct
04
2006

The rise of the spread of the deer ticks are back on the road. Over the pass year, 2005, a total of 918 Lymes disease cases were reported at the the Minnesota Department of Health. Deer ticks are also known as black-legged tick. They carry a bacteria that causes the Lyme disease, which is an illness that can cause debilitating arthritis, for example. The deer tick also carry a bacteria that causes human anaplasmosis, which is a serious illness that usually begins with a high fever. So when you are going outdoors remember to wear protective clothings, such as wearing long sleeve shirts and pants, tucking in your pant legs into your socks. Frequently check to see if there are any ticks clinging on to your clothing or skin. Try to stay away from woody areas and bushy places. Or use tick repelling spray.

Oct
04
2006

I learned today that scienctists study and experiment women and men brain. The brains turned out to work the same in the science field. In universities men are more hired to be professors in science than women. There are more women applied than men because more women are going to school than men. Women don't usually get hired because they have different point of views, they have to leave soon because of family or bearing. In the future there will be people retiring so women might have to come into the science field because there are less men.

Oct
04
2006

I've heard a radio news show that talks about women who are interested in science. But not many jobs are being open to them. Many jobs that are science, like teaching science at college are given to men. Women who had been given chances to have a job that involves science, either doesn't do it because of family issues, like taking care of the kids and doing house chores. So they have to let go off their job.

Oct
03
2006

Pet Cat: This particular cat is not hypoallergenic, but Allerca has made other individuals of the species that are.  Photo Courtesy of A. Bellew.
Pet Cat: This particular cat is not hypoallergenic, but Allerca has made other individuals of the species that are. Photo Courtesy of A. Bellew.

Allergic to cats?

Well, it is now possible to cuddle up with one of the furry critters without battling sneezing fits and itchy eyes. A company called Allerca has developed the first hypoallergenic cat.

How do cat allergies work?

Cat allergy sufferers' antibodies overreact to the Feld1 protein that is secreted by the sebaceous glands on the skin of many cats. This overreaction can cause a wide range of problems including mild symptoms of itchy eyes and runny nose, swelling, breathing problems, hives and even more serious problems such as anaphylactic shock.

The cat allergen has been difficult to deal with because it is extremely small, about 10 times smaller than pollen or dust particles. Also, it is persistent. It can remain in the air for several months.

What did Allerca do?

Allerca began its research by attempting to genetically engineer a low allergy cat. They planned to use a biotechnology technique known as RNA inference. RNA inference makes it possible to silence specific genes. Allerca wanted to figure out how to quiet the Feld1 protein gene.

In the mean time, they ended up unintentionally discovering a naturally occurring hypoallergenic cat. They discovered three cats that produce a slightly different version of the Feld1 protein and this protein had no effect on cat allergy sufferers.

Their research has not yet been published in a scientific journal, but Allerca scientists told Nature that they plan to soon. The company has already begun marketing the cats, so you could purchase your own if you like. Although, it will cost you close to $4000. But if you are a hardcore cat lover who suffers from allergies, it might be worth it to live completely cat allergy free.

Oct
03
2006

Bristlecone pine: photo by Art Oglesby
Bristlecone pine: photo by Art Oglesby

Hurricane evidence found in tree rings

Human records of hurricanes go back less than 100 years. Can we somehow look at nature's record of weather within tree rings?

The moisture carried by hurricanes carries a different ratio of oxygen-18 to oxygen-16 than the normal rain that trees absorb. When that moisture falls near a tree, it is absorbed, and that ratio of oxygen is reflected in that year's ring.
Comparing the tree-ring data to the National Weather Service data over a 50-year period, the tree-ring data showed only one year in which their data reported a hurricane that was not in the list of recorded storms. Tennessee Today

Two University of Tennessee professors, Claudia Mora and Henri Grissino-Mayer, noted that this opens the door for research to go back even further than 220 years, as older trees are discovered in hurricane-prone areas, perhaps as old as 500 years.

Dendrochronology

Too bad bristlecone pines don't grow in the hurricane zones. The tree ring record in bristcones go back over 7000 years. Dendrochrology is the dating of past events (climatic changes) through study of tree ring growth. If you want to look tree rings of various trees, come to Collections Gallery at the Science Museum of Minnesota. We have one tree slice with 522 rings.

Abstract of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences article