Stories tagged Earth and Space Science

Mar
07
2013

Como Bluff c. 1879: William Harlow Reed stands before the expanse of the eroded anticline in southeastern Wyoming where he discovered dinosaur remains on March 7, 1877. When Samuel Williston arrived to supervise and organize the quarrying of the rich fossil deposits for Yale paleontologist O. C. Marsh, he was told that "the bones are by the ton and extend for six or seven miles!". Watercolor by Arthur Lakes.
Como Bluff c. 1879: William Harlow Reed stands before the expanse of the eroded anticline in southeastern Wyoming where he discovered dinosaur remains on March 7, 1877. When Samuel Williston arrived to supervise and organize the quarrying of the rich fossil deposits for Yale paleontologist O. C. Marsh, he was told that "the bones are by the ton and extend for six or seven miles!". Watercolor by Arthur Lakes.Courtesy Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University
On this day in 1877, railroad worker William Harlow Reed came over a ridge-top with the remains of a freshly killed antelope slung over his shoulder, and spotted huge fossilized bones exposed on the side of the steep bluff located a half-mile south of Como Station, a desolate railroad stop on the High Plains of Wyoming. It was a discovery that would forever change his life.

Reed and station master, William Carlin, began collecting up as much as they could, dreaming of money and employment other than railroad work. They waited several months before announcing the discovery in a letter to Yale professor Othniel C. Marsh, at the time one of America's prominent paleontologists. When a crate of bones - along with the guarantee of many more - arrived at Yale, Marsh realized they were dinosaur remains and hired both men to excavate and send him as much as they could, and to keep out any interlopers to his claim. Marsh knew if he could keep it secret - at least for a short time - the fossils at Como Bluff could give him a huge advantage in his rivalry with Philadelphia paleontologist, Edward Drinker Cope, and their notorious Bone Wars.

Geology of Como Bluff and environs: Diagram created by the American Museum of Natural History, c. 1900.
Geology of Como Bluff and environs: Diagram created by the American Museum of Natural History, c. 1900.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The dinosaur-rich strata at Como Bluff (the Morrison Formation) are found in the exposed flanks of an anticline (an upward fold), the center of which has been carved out by erosion [see diagram]. All three periods of the Mesozoic Era (Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous) are represented in the rock layers found there. Besides dinosaurs, fossils of fish, crocodiles, flying and swimming reptiles have also been found there. A significant number of important Late Jurassic mammalian fossils were discovered and collected by William Reed from Quarry 9 on the east end of Como. Reed also discovered and removed the great Brontosaurus excelsus skeleton that stands today in Yale's Peabody Museum.

Professor Marsh visits Como Bluff: Yale paleontologist, O. C. Marsh (right), lunches with his field workers, William Harlow Reed (center), and Edward Ashley (left) during his 1879 visit to the quarries at Como Bluff. Painting by Arthur Lakes.
Professor Marsh visits Como Bluff: Yale paleontologist, O. C. Marsh (right), lunches with his field workers, William Harlow Reed (center), and Edward Ashley (left) during his 1879 visit to the quarries at Como Bluff. Painting by Arthur Lakes.Courtesy Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University
In the years following its discovery hundreds of tons of dinosaur remains quarried at Como Bluff were shipped to Yale and other institutions pushing America into the forefront of vertebrate paleontology, and heavily influencing how museums would be constructed throughout the world. Former denizens of Como Bluff: The American Museum of Natural History's iconic Allosaurus displayed in its fantastic pose over the remains of an Apatosaurus. Both specimens were collected at Como Bluff, the Allosaurus in 1879 by F. F. Hubbell (for E. D. Cope) and the Apatosaurus in 1897 by an AMNH field crew.
Former denizens of Como Bluff: The American Museum of Natural History's iconic Allosaurus displayed in its fantastic pose over the remains of an Apatosaurus. Both specimens were collected at Como Bluff, the Allosaurus in 1879 by F. F. Hubbell (for E. D. Cope) and the Apatosaurus in 1897 by an AMNH field crew.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The dinosaur halls at the American Museum of Natural History have several mounted specimens found at Como Bluff as does the Smithsonian in our nation's capitol. Well-known genera like Allosaurus, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus and Camptosaurus are just a few of the dinosaurs pulled from the mudstones and sandstones at Como Bluff. In the early 20th century it was thought that Como had exhausted its supply of dinosaur remains and exploration there for the most part tapered off for several decades. But in recent years, paleontologist Robert Bakker has been re-examining the quarries and uncovering additional secrets still buried in the Jurassic bluffs at Como.

Como Bluff today: The same year dinosaurs fossils were discovered at Como Bluff two other major dinosaur discoveries occurred in Colorado, one near the town of Morrison, and another farther south in Garden Park. Along with Como Bluff, the three sites were battlegrounds for the famous Bone Wars. Paleontologist Samuel Williston was present at all three sites in the early months of their discovery and said Como Bluff was the earliest.
Como Bluff today: The same year dinosaurs fossils were discovered at Como Bluff two other major dinosaur discoveries occurred in Colorado, one near the town of Morrison, and another farther south in Garden Park. Along with Como Bluff, the three sites were battlegrounds for the famous Bone Wars. Paleontologist Samuel Williston was present at all three sites in the early months of their discovery and said Como Bluff was the earliest.Courtesy Mark Ryan
William Reed worked for Marsh for several more years and the two men remained friends until the Yale professor's death in 1899. Reed continued in the field of paleontology, working independently, and for a time with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. He finished out his career as a popular geology professor and museum curator at the University of Wyoming, just sixty miles from Como Bluff, the great dinosaur graveyard that changed not only the course his life but also that of American paleontology.

Como Bluff was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It's also been designated as one of Wyoming's National Natural Landmarks by the National Park Service.

LINKS
Biography of William Harlow Reed

Marsh's Dinosaurs: The Collections from Como Bluff

Discovering Dinosaurs in the Old West: the Field Journals of Arthur Lakes

Journal of a recent dinosaur dig at Como Bluff

Feb
21
2013

This amazing video from NASA (via EarthSky) shows an incredibly gigantic eruption on the Sun's surface that produced three different types of events: a solar flare, a coronal mass ejection (CME), and a really interesting and rare phenomenon known as coronal rain.

Coronal rain occurs when hot plasma in the eruption cools and condenses then follows the outline of the normally invisible magnetic fields as it rains back to the Sun's chromosphere. I found that particularly amazing to see.
The images were gathered on July 19, 2012 by the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s AIA instrument. One frame was shot every 12 seconds over a span of 21.5 hours from 12:30 a.m. EDT to 10:00 p.m. EDT. The video plays at a rate of 30 frames per second, so each second equals 6 minutes of real time.

What's extra cool is when the scale of this thing is compared to the size of Earth­. If you were feeling small earlier today, you should be feeling microscopic after watching this.

SOURCE
EarthSky website

Feb
19
2013

Asteroid: A number of public and private researchers are keeping tabs on the asteroids and other space objects that could hit Earth.
Asteroid: A number of public and private researchers are keeping tabs on the asteroids and other space objects that could hit Earth.Courtesy NASA/JPL
Last week could have been called "Chicken Little Week" with the near miss of Earth by an asteroid and and the dazzling, but havoc-producing meteor crossing through the Russian skies. Have you taken off your safety helmet yet?

While it takes an extraordinary week like that to make most of us think about the dangers looming out in space, there are researchers dedicated to tracking the dangerous projectiles in space. Here's a great report on public and private research groups keeping track of the random traffic in the skies.

Interestingly, they claim that we only really spot about 10 percent of the miscellaneous space stuff that could collide with Earth. And, they're not just settling for trying to pinpoint where the problems are. They're trying to figure out ways to deflect or break-up potentially damaging space threats. Taking it one step higher, some are even investigating ways to mine key minerals from these threats to Earth.

Jan
11
2013

Nano at home!: Forget those super-sterile clean rooms.  The DIY Nano app lets you explore nanoscale science in the comfort of your own home!
Nano at home!: Forget those super-sterile clean rooms. The DIY Nano app lets you explore nanoscale science in the comfort of your own home!Courtesy NISE Network
When things get really really small (nanoscale small), they behave completely differently! For example, gold at the nanoscale can look purple, orange, or red; static electricity has a greater effect on nanoparticles than gravity; and aluminum (the stuff your benign soda cans are made of) is explosive at the nanoscale!

If you want to experience some of these nanoscale phenomena first-hand, check out whatisnano.org, or download the DIY Nano app. The website and the app were both created by the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net for short), and have videos and activity guides, complete with instructions and material lists, so you can do some nano experiments at home! The app was a Parents' Choice award winner for 2012, and was featured in Wired Magazine's review of apps. Definitely worth a look!

Have fun exploring nanoscale properties!

Jan
08
2013

More Earths on the horizon?: Who knows how many potential new Earths are out there circling other stars in the Milky Way?
More Earths on the horizon?: Who knows how many potential new Earths are out there circling other stars in the Milky Way?Courtesy NASA
We like to think of our home planet – Earth – as a pretty unique place. It's the only planet in our solar system capable of sustaining life. We look through telescopes and to see exotic looking planets of various sizes and shapes. But we're the one and only Earth, right?

A new census of planets in the Milky Way galaxy shakes up that thinking. New data collected by NASA's Kepler spacecraft pegs one in six stars in the Milky Way of having planets that are the same size as Earth. That one-sixth fraction translates into an estimate of about 17 billion planets that are the same approximate size as our home.

So we're not as exclusive as might like to think. But the exclusivity meters edges back toward us when you factor in the Goldilocks zone – a distance from the host star that's not too hot nor too cold to sustain life. So far, extended research on the new-found planets has identified only four Earth-sized planets that could possibly reside in a Goldilocks zone. The Kepler project has identified a total of 2,740 potential new planets with more research ongoing.

Jan
03
2013

GLOBE at Night
GLOBE at NightCourtesy GLOBE at Night
(This post is a copy and paste of an email I received for this interesting citizen scientist activity...)

What would it be like without stars at night? What is it we lose? Starry night skies have given us poetry, art, music and the wonder to explore. A bright night sky (aka light pollution) affects energy consumption, health and wildlife too. Spend a few minutes to help scientists by measuring the brightness of your night sky. Join the GLOBE at Night citizen-science campaign. There are 5 GLOBE at Night campaigns in 2013: January 3 - 12, January 31 - February 9, March 3 - 12, March 31 - April 9, and April 29 - May 8. Make a difference and join the GLOBE at Night campaign.

GLOBE at Night is a worldwide, hands-on science and education program to encourage citizen-scientists worldwide to record the brightness of their night sky. During five select sets of dates in 2013, children and adults match the appearance of a constellation (Orion or Leo in the northern hemisphere, and Orion and Crux in the southern hemisphere) with seven star charts of progressively fainter stars. Participants then submit their choice of star chart with their date, time and location. This can be done by computer (after the measurement) or by smart phone or pad (during the measurement). From these data an interactive map of all worldwide observations is created. Over the past 7 years of 10-day campaigns, people in 115 countries have contributed over 83,000 measurements, making GLOBE at Night the most successful, light pollution citizen-science campaign to date. The GLOBE at Night website is easy to use, comprehensive, and holds an abundance of background information. Through GLOBE at Night, students, teachers, parents and community members are amassing a data set from which they can explore the nature of light pollution locally and across the globe.

Listen to a fun skit on GLOBE at Night in a 7-minute audio podcast here.

Dec
04
2012

Lake Vida core drilling site
Lake Vida core drilling siteCourtesy NASA Ames/Chris McKay
Scientists working at the bottom of the world have discovered a hardy strain of bacteria living comfortably in a salty lake buried under 20 meters of ice in East Antartica.

The body of water, called Lake Vida, is nearly 3000 years old and might as well be situated on one of Jupiter’s moons. It’s by no means a vacation destination. Sunlight no longer reaches it. The bacteria living in it survive in a pitch-black environment, with sub-freezing temperatures, and in waters that contain seven times the amount of salt found in seawater,

"Lake Vida is a model of what happens when you try to freeze a lake solid, and this is the same fate that any lakes on Mars would have gone through as the planet turned colder from a watery past," says co-leader Peter Doran of the University of Illinois, Chicago. Scientists from NASA, the Desert Research Institute in Reno, and several other institutions make up the expedition team.

The microorganisms belong to a species new to science. They thrive in a briny mix rich in hydrogen, nitrous oxide, and carbon - not exactly your normal chemical stew for gracious living – but somehow the bacteria manage to extract energy from the concoction. The researchers think the high salt content interacting with minerals in lake sediments may be responsible for the unusual chemistry.

The discovery of life in Lake Vida could help in our search for life on other planets or beneath the surfaces of their icy moons.

"This system is probably the best analog we have for possible ecosystems in the subsurface waters of Saturn's moon Enceladus and Jupiter's moon Europa," said Chris McKay, of NASA’s Ames Research Center, and co-author of the paper published online recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

Other subsurface lakes in Antarctica are also under investigation, Lake Vostok, which I posted about previously, and Lake Ellsworth in West Antarctica. Both lakes are millions of years older, and buried under kilometers of ice rather than just meters. It will be interesting to see if some form of life can manage to survive in those even more extreme conditions.

Or perhaps not.

SOURCE and LINKS
NASA story
New Scientist story





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Oct
10
2012

Flying saucer cutaway from Project 1794: Recent declassified documents show the US Air Force worked on developing a flying saucer in the 1950s.
Flying saucer cutaway from Project 1794: Recent declassified documents show the US Air Force worked on developing a flying saucer in the 1950s.Courtesy National Archives
Someone contact Mulder and Scully. Recently declassified documents show that the US Air Force was actually working on building flying saucers in the 1950s. Known as Project 1794, the four digitized documents available on the National Archives website, indicate the program involved development of a disk-shaped aircraft capable of achieving air speeds between Mach 3 and Mach 4 (2,300-3,000 mph) and a height of 100,000 feet! Propulsion was based on the Coandă effect, created by high-speed rotation of the saucer's outer rim. Jet turbines supplied the power. Avro Canada, a Canadian aircraft manufacturer, was also in on this very secret project. The truth might out there, but we might have to wait until the remainder of the two full boxes of documents is digitized and posted online.

SOURCES
ExtremeTech.com
National Archives website

Oct
08
2012

Crystal Palace dinosaurs: These out-dated depictions of dinosaurs were created by artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins with scientific input from Sir Richard Owen - the comparative anatomist who coined the term "dinosaur". The sculptures, built in 1854, still grace the old grounds of the Crystal Palace in south London today (in Sydenham Park) and were some of the very first images of dinosaurs presented to the general public. More than a 150 years later International Dinosaur Month is celebrated now each October.
Crystal Palace dinosaurs: These out-dated depictions of dinosaurs were created by artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins with scientific input from Sir Richard Owen - the comparative anatomist who coined the term "dinosaur". The sculptures, built in 1854, still grace the old grounds of the Crystal Palace in south London today (in Sydenham Park) and were some of the very first images of dinosaurs presented to the general public. More than a 150 years later International Dinosaur Month is celebrated now each October.Courtesy Mark Ryan
I don’t have a clue who or what entity officially proclaimed October as International Dinosaur Month (and there doesn’t seem to be any official site online), but whoever it was, it’s a great idea! This means not only do we get to celebrate Earth Science Week (October 14-20), and National Fossil Day (October 17*) this month but we also get to celebrate everyone’s favorite prehistoric beasts! A quick Internet search brought up a couple teacher sites here, here and here each offering some interesting ideas on how to celebrate the great Mesozoic monsters this month. There's also this International Dinosaur Month site on Pinterest , and another Pinterest site (mine) featuring dinosaur postcards. Or you could go view some dinosaurs at a local or nearby museum. Below, I’ve included a few museum links to dinosaur-related exhibits, and a site that lists dinosaur exhibitions around the world. If you or your classes are celebrating dinosaurs this month or have other suggestions on how to do so, please let us know.

*The Science Museum of Minnesota will celebrate National Fossil Day on Saturday, October 20 this year.

Smithsonian NMNH
American Museum of Natural History
Dinosaur National Monument
Where to see dinosaurs around the world

Oct
04
2012

Scary and toothy <i>Pegomastax africanus</i>
Scary and toothy <i>Pegomastax africanus</i>Courtesy Photo and sculpting by Tyler Keillor via Zookeys
A fossil found in South Africa over 50 years ago has finally come to light as a new species of heterodontosaurid dinosaur and named Pegomastax africanus, or "thick jaw from Africa". No larger than a house cat, Pegamstax lived about 200 million years ago near the very beginning of the Jurassic period. The bizarre, two-legged herbivore had a beak like a parrot but also large, sharp vampire-like fangs that were backed up by a couple of equally nasty bottom teeth. Although unusual for a plant-eater, the sharp teeth would have been useful in nipping off leaves, twigs, and other tasty plant morsels, or for defending itself against predators or mating rivals. It may have also sported some nasty porcupine-like quills for further protection against predation.

Paleontologist Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago first laid eyes on the fossil while a graduate student at a Harvard University laboratory back in 1983. Other projects, however, diverted his attention from the rare specimen until recently when he finally found time to analyze it and publish his conclusions in the journal Zookeys.

News of the mini-dino “vampire" couldn’t have come at a better time, and all you little rug-rats out there who haven’t decided yet what to be for Halloween should find comfort in the announcement. A prickly Pegomastax costume would make for one scary night creature, and probably guarantee you bagfuls of delicious, (and perhaps, ironically) fang-rotting candy.

SOURCES
Zookeys article
NY Times story
BBC Science story