Monthly Archives: March 2008

NOVA: Voyage to the Mystery Moon

A new NOVA is on the way. “Voyage to the Mystery Moon” is about Titan and the planet it goes around, Saturn.

Chronicling a bold voyage of discovery–the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn and its enigmatic moon Titan–“Voyage to the Mystery Moon” delivers striking images of these fascinating planetary bodies nearly a billion miles from Earth. Saturn’s broad rings hold myriad mysteries, and Titan, whose soupy atmosphere is similar to the one that enshrouded our planet billions of years ago, may hold clues to the origins of life. In hopes of answering some long-standing astrophysical questions, teams from NASA and the European Space Agency gamble years of effort to both ease the Cassini spacecraft into a workable orbit around Saturn and land the Huygens probe on Titan’s never-before-seen surface….

More information here.

New early human fossil

I have not read the paper yet, but there is a news report out. This will be in tomorrows nature:

MADRID, Spain – A small piece of jawbone unearthed in a cave in Spain is the oldest known fossil of a human ancestor in Europe and suggests that people lived on the continent much earlier than previously believed, scientists say.ADVERTISEMENTThe researchers said the fossil found last year at Atapuerca in northern Spain, along with stone tools and animal bones, is up to 1.3 million years old. That would be 500,000 years older than remains from a 1997 find that prompted the naming of a new species: Homo antecessor, or Pioneer Man, possibly a common ancestor to Neanderthals and modern humans.The new find appears to be from the same species, researchers said.A team co-led by Eudald Carbonell, director of the Catalan Institute of Human Paleo-Ecology and Social Evolution, reported their find in Thursday’s issue of the scientific journal Nature.The timing of the earliest occupation of Europe by humans that emerged from Africa has been controversial for many years.Some archeologists believe the process was a stop-and-go one in which species of hominins — a group that includes the extinct relatives of modern humans — emerged and died out quickly only to be replaced by others, making for a very slow spread across the continent, Carbonell said in an interview.

Ooops … gun goes off on commercial plane

An investigation is underway into how a gun carried by a US Airways pilot was discharged during a flight.No-one was hurt when the gun went off as the plane was preparing to land at Charlotte, North Carolina, on Saturday.A hole in a cockpit wall apparently caused by the shot is visible in photos obtained by AP news agency.Under a programme implemented after the 9/11 attacks, US airline pilots are allowed to carry guns on domestic flights following a training course….The gun discharged just before noon on Saturday aboard Flight 1536 from Denver to Charlotte, as the Airbus A319 plane was at about 8,000 feet and was approaching to land.


Berry Go Round #3

Welcome to Berry Go Round #3, the blog carnival deicated to all things botanical.The previous installment, Berry Go Round #2, is located here, at Further Thoughts. If you would like to submit an item to the next Berry Go Round, you may use this handy submission form. The Berry Go Round Home Page is here. Continue reading Berry Go Round #3

Science News Tidbits

New findings from Tibetan Plateau suggest uplift occurred in stages from
The vast Tibetan Plateau–the world’s highest and largest plateau, bordered by the world’s highest mountains–has long challenged geologists trying to understand how and when the region rose to such spectacular heights. New evidence from an eight-year study by U.S. and Chinese researchers indicates that the plateau rose in stages, with uplift occurring first in the central plateau and later in regions to the north and south.[]

Baby boys are more likely to die than baby girls from
Male infants in developed nations are more likely to die than female infants, a fact that is partially responsible for men’s shorter lifespans, reveals a new study by researchers from University of Pennsylvania and University of Southern California.[]

Corn’s roots dig deeper into South America from
Corn has long been known as the primary food crop in prehistoric North and Central America. Now it appears it may have been an important part of the South American diet for much longer than previously thought, according to new research by University of Calgary archaeologists who are cobbling together the ancient history of plant domestication in the New World.[]

Saving the rare Azores Bullfinch


Azores Bullfinch, known locally as Priolo, is confined to eastern São Miguel in the Azores, Portugal. It has suffered through widespread loss of native forest and invasion by exotic vegetation, which has largely overrun the remaining patches of natural vegetation within the species’s breeding range. These funds will enable the continuation of crucial habitat restoration work to increase the core range of this species. The exact number of bullfinches is unclear. In the 1990s the population was estimated at 200-300 individuals. However, surveys since 2002 have indicated a rise to around 340 individuals, a sign that habitat restoration is already having an effect.

Read about efforts to save this bird here.

Tower of London Lions

Two lion skulls found during excavations at the Tower of London originated in north-west Africa, genetic research suggests.The big cats, which were kept by royals during medieval times, have the same genetic make-up as the north African Barbary lion, a DNA study shows.Experts believe the animals were gifts to English monarchs in the 13th and 14th centuries….The two well-preserved lion skulls were recovered during excavations of the moat at the Tower of London in 1937. They have been radiocarbon dated to AD 1280-1385 and AD 1420-1480.

Rest of the story here.

PZ Myers Asteroid Confirmed

I believe I knew before PZ Myers did that an Asteroid had been named after him. I heard it on the radio. and much later on he confirmed it on his blog. See this post.[Correction: He knew, he was just being cool. See this.]Curiously, PZ claims that we do not know what the asteroid looks like. He relies on a description provided by his arch rival, Phil Plait. Why would he trust Phil Plait to describe his asteroid?Anyway, I went into the NASA archives (to which I have special access because of my work on the robot problem) and dug out a pretty clear photograph of the asteroid. Here it is: Continue reading PZ Myers Asteroid Confirmed

Is there a limit on the number of species in a clade?

ResearchBlogging.orgA “radiation” (sometimes called an “adaptive radiation”) is when a single ancestral species gives rise to a number of novel species, often in a fairly short (geological) period of time. Following this radiation event, it seems often to be the case that subsequent speciation is less common. In fact, many living clades that have only a small number of extant species have such radiations in their history. It is quite possible that the radiation event occurred for reasons local in time and space, such as a recent extinction leaving various niches open, or the presence of a particular adaptation suddenly enhancing fitness as it had not previously because of an ecological change.But one basic question (among many) that needs to be addressed when thinking of these issues of macroevolutionary patterning is this: For a given clade, where we can presume that there is a great deal of competition among closely related species, is there a sort of maximum limit on how many species you can get? In other words, as a clad starts to diversify, does it fill up the available eco-morpho-nichey space, which would eventually slow down the rate of speciation because new species become less likely to arise?The answer is a resounding: Probably! Continue reading Is there a limit on the number of species in a clade?


Yesterday it was announced that 4000 American Soldiers had been killed, in total, in Iraq. I am not sure if this counts contract soldiers (such as Blackwater; Added: See notes below. It does not.), and I do not know if it includes American deaths since the very beginning of Iraq involvement or since the current invasion (though I think the latter). It does not matter too much, as the number 4000 is a fairly arbitrary thing … if we used a numbering system other than base-10, some other number would feel like a milestone. But this does give us an order of magnitude of the sense of the size of the conflict.This number also means less in isolation than it would in the broader context of “casualties” estimates. We Americans have all had the experience of seeing an increasingly large number of (mostly) men on the street, in restaurants, wherever, in wheelchairs missing lower limbs, or otherwise maimed, and we have to assume that this is part of the conflict as well.It happens that over the last few days I’ve also been reading about other wars and conflicts, and I have been thinking about these numbers in a broader conflict. I have nothing wise or though provoking to say to you about this at this time, but I do think a look at numbers can be interesting. One could say that numbers mean nothing, and that it is the individual losses … to families and loved ones that matter. But the numbers to mean something, in fact, they mean a lot of things. So I’ve put some numbers together in one place for you to look at, be horrified by, to think about. Continue reading 4000


Attention:Berry Go Round Submissions are technically due today. But, I’m not going to assemble the carnival until quite late tonight, so you have several hours to get them to me.Gene Genie is to be published on March 30th, so please get those submission in as well. Any time up to the 29th or 30th will be fine.Thank you very much, you may now resume your activities.