Science & Technology


Dinosaur-Era Animal's Last Meal Found in Its Mouth

Ammonite Fossil
© S.Thurston
Although ammonite fossils are readily available, and are even sometimes sold as jewelry, no one previously knew much about their diet and lifestyle.

The last supper of an ammonite, a shelled cephalopod relative of squid and octopus, was stuck in the individual's mouth when it died, described in a new study published in the journal Science. Extremely powerful X-rays revealed that the Baculites ammonite's final meal was a small snail and three tiny crustaceans.

Ammonites, one of the Dinosaur Era's most abundant marine animals, first emerged around 400 million years ago before dying out, along with dinosaurs and numerous other animals, 65.5 million years ago.

"Unfortunately we do not know what killed the Baculites," lead author Isabelle Kruta of Paris' National Museum of Natural History told Discovery News.

Kruta and her team, however, were able to unveil amazingly vivid details about this specimen, and other ammonites that are all extinct.

In a scientific first, a process called synchrotron X-ray microtomography, which creates cross sections of 3D objects without harming them, was used on several ammonites. Some of the fossils were discovered at a site in Belle Fourche, S.D.
Cloud Lightning

Scientists Create 52 Artificial Rain Storms in Abu Dhabi Desert

© Getty Images
Fifty-two storms in Abu Dhabi this summer were artificially created.

Hail, lightning and gales came through the state's eastern region this summer thanks to scientist-puppetmasters.

As part of a secret program to control the weather in the Middle East, scientists working for the United Arab Emirates government artificially created rain where rain is generally nowhere to be found. The $11 million project, which began in July, put steel lampshade-looking ionizers in the desert to produce charged particles. The negatively charged ions rose with the hot air, attracting dust. Moisture then condensed around the dust and eventually produced a rain cloud. A bunch of rain clouds.

On the 52 days it rained in the region throughout July and August, forecasters did not predict rain once.

Woolly Mammoth Remains Find Modern Uses

Wooly Mammoth squeleton
© Grant Zazula/Government of Yukon
Grant Zazula, right, studies a massive woolly mammoth skull that was unearthed in June by a mining crew in central Yukon. Zazula has sent mammoth tusk and bone samples to scientists in Canada and Europe for use in medical and food research.
Scientists are hoping ancient woolly mammoth tusks and bones from Yukon will help their modern-day research, from finding a cure for osteoporosis to cracking down on mislabelled food products.

Some mammoth ivory is under the microscope of Stephen Sims, a University of Western Ontario physiology professor who hopes the ancient ivory can help make a breakthrough in modern human bone diseases.

"We're optimistic that we're going to be able to use ancient mammoth tusks to carry out modern medical research," Sims told CBC News.

The researcher has received a sample of tusk from Grant Zazula, a Yukon government paleontologist who has unearthed a number of woolly mammoth remains over the years.

"To be able to work with a lab like this that's trying to find the cure for osteoporosis or rheumatory arthritis, that's amazing," Zazula said.

"There's no way, as a paleontologist, that I would have ever foreseen this sort of application."

The 'Scientific Consensus' About Global Warming Turns Out to Be About Manipulating the Numbers

melting ice
© unknown
97% cooked stats

How do we know there's a scientific consensus on climate change? Pundits and the press tell us so. And how do the pundits and the press know? Until recently, they typically pointed to the number 2,500 - that's the number of scientists associated with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Those 2,500, the pundits and the press believed, had endorsed the IPCC position.

To their embarrassment, most of the pundits and press discovered they were mistaken - those 2,500 scientists hadn't endorsed the IPCC's conclusions, they had merely reviewed some part or other of the IPCC's mammoth studies. To add to their embarrassment, many of those reviewers from within the IPCC establishment actually disagreed with the IPCC's conclusions, sometimes vehemently.

The upshot? The punditry looked for and found an alternative number to tout: "97% of the world's climate scientists" accept the consensus, articles in the Washington Post, the U.K.'s Guardian, CNN and other news outlets now claim, along with some two million postings in the blogosphere.

This number will prove a new embarrassment to the pundits and press who use it. The number stems from a 2008 master's thesis by student Maggie Kendall Zimmerman at the University of Illinois, under the guidance of Peter Doran, an associate professor of Earth and environmental sciences. The two researchers obtained their results by conducting a survey of 10,257 Earth scientists. The survey results must have deeply disappointed the researchers - in the end, they chose to highlight the views of a subgroup of just 77 scientists, 75 of whom thought humans contributed to climate change. The ratio 75/77 produces the 97% figure that pundits now tout.

Crescent Sunrise: Spectacular photos of partial solar eclipse over Europe

Earlier today, the new Moon passed in front of the sun, slightly off-center, producing a partial solar eclipse and a fantastic crescent sunrise over Europe. Dennis Put sends this picture from Maasvlakte, The Netherlands:

© Dennis Put
"The eclipse was absolutely stunning!" says Put. "At first some major cloud fronts threatened to hide the event. I was very pleased to meet the two peaks of the crescent Sun rising above the clouds around 9 o'clock."

Karpen's Pile: A Battery That Produces Energy Continuously Since 1950 Exists in Romanian Museum

Karpen's pile
© Unknown
An old photo of Karpen's pile
The "Dimitrie Leonida" National Technical Museum from Romania hosts a weird kind of battery. Built by Vasile Karpen, the pile has been working uninterrupted for 60 years. "I admit it's also hard for me to advance the idea of an overunity generator without sounding ridiculous, even if the object exists," says Nicolae Diaconescu, engineer and director of the museum.

The invention cannot be exposed because the museum doesn't have enough money to buy the security system necessary for such an exhibit.

Half a century ago, the pile's inventor had said it will work forever, and so far it looks like he was right. Karpen's perpetual motion machine now sits secured right in the director's office. It has been called "the uniform-temperature thermoelectric pile," and the first prototype has been built in the 1950s. Although it should have stopped working decades ago, it didn't.

The scientists can't explain how the contraption, patented in 1922, works. The fact that still puzzles them is how a man of such a scientific stature such as Karpen's could have started building something "that crazy."

The prototype has been assembled in 1950 and consists of two series-connected electric piles moving a small galvanometric motor. The motor moves a blade that is connected to a switch. With every half rotation, the blade opens the circuit and closes it at the the start of the second half. The blade's rotation time had been calculated so that the piles have time to recharge and that they can rebuild their polarity during the time that the circuit is open

Comment: Though controversy always surrounds any invention claiming to produce "perpetual motion", it is the mandate of true science to investigate these claims. How many other such inventions have not been examined either to be authenticated or disproved?


Vast Solar Eruption Shocks NASA and Raises Doubts on Sun Theory

© unk
Transition Region and Solar Explorer
NASA reports an entire hemisphere of the sun has erupted. The U.S. space agency now admits the cataclysm puts existing solar theories in doubt.

We are forever being told that the sun is a vast gas ball of hydrogen and helium at the center of our solar system. But new evidence may help prove this isn't the case after all, according to solar experts who say the sun has an iron core.

A stunned NASA admits, "Astronomers knew they had witnessed something big. It was so big, it may have shattered old ideas about solar activity."

The vast global solar eruption covers ~10^9 km of the solar photosphere. The US space agency reports, "The whole solar hemisphere erupted simultaneously in an avalanche effect that had been triggered in the tiny solar core and propagated outwards" (NASA: Dec 13, 2010).

10-Year-Old N.B. Astronomer Becomes Youngest Person to Discover Supernova

© Abbey Ridge Observatory/The Canadian Press
The magnitude 17 supernova in galaxy UGC 3378, in the constellation of Camelopardalis, is shown in a photo released by The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada on Monday Jan. 3, 2011.
Frederiction - Kathryn Aurora Gray isn't interested in making a career out of astronomy when she grows up.

She might want to rethink that after becoming the youngest person to discover a supernova, or exploding star.

The 10-year-old Fredericton girl identified on the weekend a previously unseen burst of light in an expanse of stars 240 light-years away to better the previous record by four years.

"I was really excited. I had so much fun finding it," Gray said in an interview from her home Monday night. "I was so excited I didn't sleep that night waiting to find out."

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada confirmed the discovery Monday, saying the magnitude-17 supernova was found in galaxy UGC 3378 in the constellation of Camelopardalis.

The society also said Gray is the youngest person to ever make such a discovery.

The Death of Nemesis: The Sun's Distant, Dark Companion

Extinction Events
© Technology Review, MIT
Over the last 500 million years or so, life on Earth has been threatened on many occasions; the fossil record is littered with extinction events. What's curious about these events is that they seem to occur with alarming regularity.

The periodicity is a matter of some controversy among paleobiologists but there is a growing consensus that something of enormous destructive power happens every 26 or 27 million years. The question is what?

In this blog, we've looked at various ideas such as the Sun's passage through the various spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy (it turns out that this can't explain the extinctions because the motion doesn't have had the right periodicity).

But another idea first put forward in the 1980s is that the Sun has a distant dark companion called Nemesis that sweeps through the Oort cloud every 27 million years or so, sending a deadly shower of comets our way. It's this icy shower of death that causes the extinctions, or so the thinking goes.

Comment: What a load of hooey.


Partial Solar Eclipse January 4, 2011

The first solar eclipse of 2011 occurs at the Moon's ascending node in eastern Sagittarius. A partial eclipse will be visible from much of Europe, North Africa and central Asia (Figure 1).

The penumbral shadow first touches Earth's surface in northern Algeria at 06:40:11 UT. As the shadow travels east, Western Europe will be treated to a partial eclipse at sunrise. The eclipse magnitude [1] from European cities like Madrid (0.576), Paris (0.732), London (0.747), and Copenhagen (0.826) will give early morning risers an excellent opportunity to photograph the sunrise eclipse with interesting foreground scenery.

Greatest eclipse [2] occurs at 08:50:35 UT in northern Sweden where the eclipse in the horizon will have a magnitude of 0.858. At that time, the axis of the Moon's shadow will pass a mere 510 km above Earth's surface. Most of northern Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia also lie in the penumbra's path. The citizens of Cairo (0.551), Jerusalem (0.574), Istanbul (0.713), and Tehran (0.507) all witness a large magnitude partial eclipse.

A sunset eclipse will be visible from central Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and northwest China. The partial eclipse ends when the penumbra leaves Earth at 11:00:54 UT.

Local circumstances and eclipse times for a number of cities in the penumbral path are listed in Table 1. All times are in Universal Time. The Sun's altitude and azimuth, the eclipse magnitude and eclipse obscuration [3] are all given at the instant of maximum eclipse. When the eclipse is in progress at sunrise or sunset, this information is indicated by a '-'.