Saturday, June 30, 2007
Comment: This would certainly be an important find, if de Castro has it right. Some scientists will not doubt raise eyebrows at the rush to announce the discovery immediately - long before further analysis to corroborate the find is complete, and even longer before the find can be described in a scientific journal.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Now the news: Svante Pääbo and his team at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology believe they can sequence the entire Neanderthal genome. They may be able to reconstruct that of other species, like the mammoths and "cave bears" that once roamed Europe, but the Neanderthal project is definitely the "headliner" here. The German scientists report they have new techniques from getting "clean" fragments of DNA from specimens many thousands of years old and preventing them from being contaminated by modern microbes or human researchers. This should allow them to stitch together a complete genome using fragments from multiple individuals. This could answer the most intriguing question about Neanderthals - whether they were simply pushed aside by modern humans, eventually withering to extinction, or whether the two subspecies of Homo sapiens interbred.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
What may be the world's most mysterious bird has turned up - but the mystery has so far defied solution. Last year, ranger Robert Cupitt found the headless corpse of a small, drably-colored bird in Diamantina National Park, Queensland. It was a juvenile night parrot, a member of a species only very rarely reported and thought extinct by some authorities as long ago as 1915. Oddly (and inexcusably), it has taken months of delays and arguments between agencies and private groups to get a proper team set up to investigate the bird's survival. Birders blame the delay on a decision by the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency to keep the find quiet to avoid a flood of unqualified searchers coming in. That worked in the case of America's ivory-billed woodpecker, but in that case a search still began quickly.
Now the National Night Parrot Network will take up the cold trail and begin the arduous work of following up other sighting reports and searching for a "lost" avian species.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
A new expedition organized by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is setting out to change that. Equipped with NASA-funded remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) named Puma and Jaguar, the expedition will spend 40 days in July and August scouring scour the ridge for hydrothermal vent communities. NASA is interested because the technology used to plumb the depths of oceans on Earth might someday be used on Europa, Jupiter's ice-covered moon. A trove of new species is expected, and for good reason - everywhere new vents have been discovered, so have new life forms.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
So if you are a healthy European man or woman with a working knowledge of Russian and nothing to do for this next couple of years, this might be your opportunity to contribute to space exploration.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
(A poster on the cryptozoology blog Cryptomundo asked a whimsical, yet seemingly reasonable question: whether a "pygmy giant panda" would sort of even out to be just a "regular panda.")
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Meanwhile, the Russian and American crews camped on the International Space Station had a good day. The balky Russian computers, after a few days of nerve-racking unreliability, seem to have settled down, with four of the six computer "channels" restored. At the same time, the astronauts of the docked shuttle Atlantis have stapled down the 10-cm flap of loose insulation on the thermal shielding blanket covering on of the Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pods.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Chinese discoverer Xu Xing wrote that, after he found a leg bone he could not identify, "When I went back to my geologist colleague Lin Tan's lab to check the skeleton, I was shocked. I said to Tan, 'It is not a sauropod, it is not a tyrannosaurus, it is a tyrannosaurus-sized oviraptor. We have a gigantic chicken!' "
Gigantoraptor erlianensis stood almost five meters tall, weighed about 1.4 metric tons, and was well armed with claws. It had no teeth in its beaklike mouth, though, and paleontologists are not sure what kind of diet the creature had. It's believed to have had feathers, mainly for display, on the arms and tail. It is several times the size of any other dinosaurs in its family.
University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno commented, "But what kind of environment on Earth was this animal adapted to? It's off the charts, and with no teeth what did it eat? Did it use those long legs to escape from predators? It's clearly a pre-flight bird, but no one would have predicted its evolution, so the door seems open to a new way of living for a new kind of dinosaur."
Meanwhile, American astronauts James Reilly and John "Danny" Olivas will perform a spacewalk tomorrow, with one objective being to make a minor repair on the Shuttle's thermal insulation blanket.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
I was too late to catch the original show, but I saw Herbert's work on 16mm film in my school days. Herbert did great service for science and education. There have been worthy followers, like Bill Nye, but there was only one Mr. Wizard.
Thanks to Loren Coleman for circulating this item.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Long-range, unclear photos and videos of cryptozoological creatures have turned up online so often lately that cryptozoologist Loren Coleman coined the terms "blobsquatch" (an image in which an indistinct blob is supposed to be a sasquatch) and "tubesquatch" (suspicious or inconclusive video posted on YouTube or elsewhere on the Net). Meanwhile, the BBC distributed 50,000 cameras to people attending a music festival called "Rock Ness" and encouraged them to try capturing the "Loch Ness Monster."
I doubt (though I do not dismiss the possibility) that either sasquatch or Nessie will turn up in the flesh, but, if they do, they should have something to say about all the people who have exploited them. They might even be due some royalties.
Spock's blood is supposed to be green because his hemoglobin is based on copper, not iron (which actually would be highly inefficient). In the Canadian case, the 42-year old Earthman on the operating table was suffering from a very rare condition, possibly caused by using too much of the migraine drug sumatriptan, called Sulfhaemoglobinaemia. When this occurs, the red cells stop bonding with oxygen and bond with sulfur compounds instead. It's not fatal, as it resolves itself in the normal turnover of red cells, but it certainly is startling. Look for it to turn up on American television (probably Grey's Anatomy or House) next season.
There is some concern over a 10-cm "flap" where the corner of one of the heat-shielding fabric blankets near the Shuttle's tail has come loose. At least two shuttles have safely re-entered with similar damage, but NASA is evaluating the problem. If mission managers decide a repair is needed, the astronauts have procedures and tools to either tack down the fabric or put a cover of heat-shielding material over the spot.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
As readers of my books The Lost Ark (1993) and its successor The New Zoo (2002) may recall, loriciferan discoverer Prof. Reinhardt Kristensen (the loriciferans were the first of two entirely new phyla of animals revealed by him!) very kindly promised to name a new species of loriciferan after me - there were several new species that were still awaiting formal names and descriptions.
I was recently asked by a correspondent whether 'my' loriciferan had ever been named and described, and I was happy to confirm that it had. It is Pliciloricus shukeri, and in case anyone wishes to read about it the bibliographical reference to the paper in which its description appears is as follows:
Heiner, Iben, and Reinhardt Møbjerg Kristensen. 2005. Two new species of the genus Pliciloricus (Loricifera, Pliciloricidae) from the Faroe Bank, North Atlantic. Zoologischer Anzeiger, vol. 243, no. 3. 121-138.
Friday, June 08, 2007
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Whodunit? That we shall never know.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Sunday, June 03, 2007
NASA's Associate Administrator, Bill Gerstenmaier, put it this way: “Even though there are a lot of dimples on the tank, they’re very low mass. It has a slightly higher risk due to the number of repairs. It’s as good — almost — as a regular tank that we would go fly."
COMMENT: I'm not an engineer, and the people working on the Shuttle are among the best engineers you can find on this planet. That said, this decision makes me nervous. I'll be watching June 8 with fingers crossed that all goes well.
Saturday, June 02, 2007
While van Roosmalen is well known as a conservationist and for describing new species of monkeys, his work goes far beyond that. He has, for example, described the largest new mammal to be found since the early 1990s, the Giant peccary Pecari maximus. Awaiting description are a dwarf manatee, a possible new dolphin, another peccary, a tapir, and new species of deer and monkeys (many more monkeys). Most intriguing of all is the black and white jaguar (not a melanistic example of the common jaguar, but a distinct species which Bill Rebsamen so stunningly illustrated for my recent book Shadows of Existence: Discoveries and Speculations in Zoology (on which I corresponded with van Roosmalen during the research phase.)
It's possible, even likely, that some of the many specimens von Roosmalen has or is tracking down will prove to be something less than full species. He has, however, made a gigantic and underappreciated contribution to zoology. He has demonstrated that, as Bernard Heuvelmans, the founder of cryptozoology, once wrote, "The great days of zoology are not done."
Van Roosmalen's new website is a "must see"
Dr. Homer Joe Stewart taught at Caltech and contributed to rocket propulsion and other disciplines at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which he co-founded, for many decades. He had retired from the school in 1980. After WWII, he worked on rocket and missile propulsion systems for the WAC Corporal, Corporal, and Sergeant missiles, among other projects. In 1955, he chaired the Stewart Committee, which, in a controversial decision second-guessed ever since, selected the Navy's Vanguard satellite proposal (based on its potentially greater scientific return) over competing Army and Air Force ideas to become the nation's first satellite program. Stewart encouraged the Army team, headed by Wernher von Braun, to keep working on its idea in case Vanguard faltered. While Vanguard eventually became a significant success, it had a critical failure in a launch attempt shortly after Sputnik 1, and the Army team, in cooperation with JPL, was given the go-ahead to get something up as fast as possible. That project, on which Stewart assisted, became Explorer 1. Homer Joe Stewart was 91.
COMMENT: Erika Lishock and I would have liked to interview Stewart for our book on the first satellites, The First Space Race, but he was already in poor health and was not available. He made major contributions to defense, aerospace engineering, and the exploration of space. We salute a truly great man.