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Thu, 27 Oct 2016
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Newly discovered fossils suggest 'unicorns' were real

© Sun Sentinel
'Siberian unicorns' roamed the Earth 29,000 years ago, study finds.
Columbus - Turns out, unicorns are not mystical fairy tale creatures, and scientists have the fossils to prove it.

We should point out first, however, that real unicorns are not pretty horses with wings and horns.

No, the real unicorn, known as Elasmotherium sibiricum, looked more like a hairy rhinoceros than a beautiful stallion. Unlike modern day rhinos, however, this one had a giant horn.


New study: Extraterrestrial impact preceded ancient global warming event

© Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Microtektites as first seen in a sediment sample from the onset of the Paeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.
A comet strike may have triggered the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a rapid warming of the Earth caused by an accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide 56 million years ago, which offers analogs to global warming today. Sorting through samples of sediment from the time period, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute discovered evidence of the strike in the form of microtektites - tiny dark glassy spheres typically formed by extraterrestrial impacts. The research will be published tomorrow in the journal Science.

"This tells us that there was an extraterrestrial impact at the time this sediment was deposited - a space rock hit the planet," said Morgan Schaller, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Rensselaer, and corresponding author of the paper.

"The coincidence of an impact with a major climate change is nothing short of remarkable." Schaller is joined in the research by Rensselaer professor Miriam Katz and graduate student Megan Fung, James Wright of Rutgers University, and Dennis Kent of Columbia University.

Schaller was searching for fossilized remains of Foraminifera, a tiny organism that produces a shell, when he first noticed a microtektite in the sediment he was examining. Although it is common for researchers to search for fossilized remains in PETM sediments, microtektites have not been previously detected. Schaller and his team theorize this is because microtektites are typically dark in color, and do not stand out on the black sorting tray researchers use to search for light-colored fossilized remains. Once Schaller noticed the first microtektite, the researchers switched to a white sorting tray, and began to find more.

At peak abundance, the research team found as many as three microtektites per gram of sediment examined. Microtektites are typically spherical, or tear-drop shaped, and are formed by an impact powerful enough to melt and vaporize the target area, casting molten ejecta into the atmosphere. Some microtektites from the samples contained "shocked quartz," definitive evidence of their impact origin, and exhibited microcraters or were sintered together, evidence of the speed at which they were traveling as they solidified and hit the ground.


Has the solar cycle mystery been solved? Gas giants are the key

On our star, the Sun, the sunspots are seen in a belt around the equator. Sunspots are cool areas caused by the strong magnetic fields where the flow of heat is slowed.
In the time before the current period of faith-based science, much good work was done on the role of the Sun in controlling climate. One of the best monographs from that time of innocence is Hoyt and Schatten's The Role of the Sun in Climate Change, published by Oxford University Press in 1997. That book starts with this paragraph:
About 400 years before the birth of Christ, near Mt. Lyscabettus in ancient Greece, the pale orb of the sun rose through the mists. According to habit, Meton recorded the sun's location on the horizon. In this era when much remained to be discovered, Meton hoped to find predictable changes in the locations of sunrise and moonrise. Although rainy weather had limited his recent observations, this foggy morning he discerned specks on the face of the sun, the culmination of many such blemishes in recent years. On a hunch, Meton began examining his more than 20 years of solar records. These seemed to confirm his belief: when the sun has spots, the weather tends to be wetter and rainier.
So the idea that sunspots and the solar cycle control climate is at least 2,400 years old. In the modern era, the appreciation of sunspots started again in 1610 with telescopic observations by Galileo, Thomas Harriot and others. The solar cycle was discovered by Samual Schwabe in 1843 after 17 years of observations, though William Herschel's correlation of sunspots and the wheat price in England dates from 1801. A 2003 paper by Pustilnik and Din entitled Influence of Solar Activity on State of Wheat Market in Medieval England confirmed Herschel's observation.

Comment: Could electric interactions some how be involved in how the phase of the gas giants affects output of the sun? Whatever the mechanism, this is fascinating news.

Further reading on electric universe theory and its implications for weather, climate, and more: Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection.


Researchers find babies first register heartbeat as early as 16 days after conception

© Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters
The first tick of a baby's heart happens as early as 16 days after conception, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Oxford.

Initially, analysts said the heart muscle contracted to beat eight days after conception in mice, roughly equating to 21 days in a human pregnancy. However, Oxford University teamed up with the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and found that the first heartbeat in babies happens much sooner.

BHF Professor Paul Riley, a leading researcher at the university said the team wanted to better understand how the heart develops.

"We are trying to better understand how the heart develops and ultimately what causes the heart defects that develop in the womb before birth and to extrapolate to adult heart repair," Riley said.

"By finding out how the heart first starts to beat and how problems can arise in heart development, we are one step closer to being able to prevent heart conditions from arising during pregnancy," he added.


Scientists find black widow spider DNA lurking inside virus

© Maria Jeffs/Shutterstock
Scientists have found some toxic DNA lurking inside a virus that infects bacteria. In addition to its own genes, the virus holds a gene for black widow spider venom and DNA from other animals, the researchers found. The findings suggest that either the virus snagged this foreign genetic material or that these other animals have stolen DNA from the virus, the researchers said.

Future research could find that such swapping across domains of life, from the most complex to the most ancient, is more common than previously thought, scientists say.

Stealing DNA

Viruses infect all three domains of the tree of life. The most complex forms of life on Earth — including animals, plants and fungi — belong to the domain Eukaryota, whose cells possess nuclei. The other two domains include the prokaryotes, the earliest forms of life — single-celled microbes that lack nuclei. There are two prokaryotic domains — the familiar Bacteria, as well as Archaea, which includes microorganisms that thrive in harsh environments such as hot springs and underground petroleum deposits.

Each virus infects just one domain of life. For instance, bacteriophages, which are viruses that attack bacteria, cannot infect eukaryotes, or cells with nuclei. In part due to this specificity, scientists have explored using these so-called "phages" in therapies to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Fireball 3

Increasing number of meteorite impacts recorded on the Moon

© NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
A new lunar crater, formed about three years ago.
Meteorites have punched at least 222 impact craters into the Moon's surface in the past 7 years. That's 33% more than researchers expected, and suggests that future lunar astronauts may need to hunker down against incoming space rocks.

"It's just something that's happening all the time," says Emerson Speyerer, an engineer at Arizona State University in Tempe and author of a 12 October paper in Nature1.

Planetary geologists will also need to rethink their understanding of the age of the lunar surface, which depends on counting craters and estimating how long the terrain has been pummelled by impacts.

Although most of the craters dotting the Moon's surface formed millions of years ago, space rocks and debris continue to create fresh pockmarks. In 2011, a team led by Ingrid Daubar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, compared some of the first pictures taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which launched in 2009, with decades-old images taken by the Apollo astronauts.

The scientists spotted five fresh impact craters in the LRO images. Then, on two separate occasions in 2013, other astronomers using telescopes on Earth spotted bright flashes on the Moon; LRO later flew over those locations and photographed the freshly formed craters2, 3.


New dwarf planet 2014 UZ224 discovered on edge of solar system

© JPL-Caltech / T. Pyle (SSC) / NASA
A new dwarf planet about half the size of Pluto has been discovered at the edge of our solar system, some 8.5 billion miles from the Sun.

The planet is called 2014 UZ224, measures about 530km (329 miles) in diameter and takes 1,100 years to orbit the Sun.

It was discovered by students from the University of Michigan and physicist David Gerdes, who uncovered it amongst a galaxy map created with his Dark Energy Camera (DECam) for a Dark Energy Survey project.

"Objects in the Solar System, when you observe them at one instant and then a little while later, they appear to be in a different place in the sky," Gerdes told NPR.

People 2

Epigenetic signatures: What your father did before you were born could influence your future

© Nature
It might not just be expectant mothers who have to pay attention to their lifestyle. Now a new study published in Science could be relevant to a growing body of research looking at ways in which the lifestyle and environment of men before they become fathers could influence the lives of their children and grandchildren.

We know that many human traits, such as weight, height, susceptibility to disease, longevity or intelligence, can be partly inherited, but researchers have so far struggled to identify the precise genetic basis for this. This may partly be due to limitations in our understanding of how genetics works, but now there is growing interest in the potential for something called "epigenetics" to explain this heritability.

Epigenetics refers to the information in the genome over and above that contained in the DNA sequence. This information takes a number of forms, but the most popular ones scientists have studied relate to the chemical modification (known as methylation and acetylation) of DNA and the proteins called histones that together make up the human genome.

Comment: Epigenetics: The keeper of the code

2 + 2 = 4

Intestinal diversity protects against asthma

© Thor Balkhed, Linköping University
Researchers at Linköping University, Sweden, study whether intestinal bacteria play a role in the development of allergy and asthma.
Children who develop asthma or allergies have an altered immune response to intestinal bacteria in the mucous membranes even when infants, according to a new study from Linköping University, Sweden, and Center for Advanced Research in Public Health, Spain. The results also suggests that the mother's immune defence plays a role in the development of asthma and allergies in children.

"The results confirm our idea that the intestinal flora (also known as the 'intestinal microbiota') early in life plays a role during the development of allergy symptoms. We believe that diversity among the bacteria contributes to strengthening the immune defence in the mucous membranes. In our new study we saw differences in the immune response against intestinal bacteria in children who subsequently developed allergy symptoms," says Maria Jenmalm, professor of experimental allergology at Linköping University and one of the authors of the study.


Air Force's X-37B secret mission space plane passes 500th day in orbit

© United Launch Alliance/Boeing
Artist's depiction of U.S. Air Force's unmanned X-37B space plane in orbit, solar array deployed, payload bay open.
The latest secretive mission of the United States Air Force's X-37B space plane has cruised beyond 500 days in Earth orbit since its launch last year.

The U.S. military launched the robotic X-37B space plane on May 20, 2015, marking the fourth flight for the Air Force program. A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lofted the spacecraft from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to kick off the OTV-4 mission (short for Orbital Test Vehicle-4).

© Boeing
Recovery crew members process the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle at Vandenberg Air Force Base after the program’s third mission complete.
Exactly what the winged space plane's duties are while it's in orbit continues to remain a tight-lipped affair. Similarly, how long the vehicle will remain in orbit has not been detailed. [The X-37B's Fourth Mystery Mission in Photos]

The first OTV mission launched in April 22, 2010, and concluded on Dec. 3, 2010, after 224 days in orbit. The second OTV mission — which used a different vehicle than the first — began March 5, 2011, and concluded on June 16, 2012, after 468 days on orbit. The subsequent OTV-3 mission reused the X-37B that flew on the first mission, and chalked up nearly 675 days in orbit.

So far, the U.S. military has not stated where the OTV-4 mission's craft will ultimately land once it's current flight ends. In the past, all three X-37B flights ended at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, gliding to a runway landing on autopilot.