Monday, March 31, 2008

Your Honor, Please save the Earth

A lawsuit filed in U.S. Federal court seeks an injunction against starting up the Large Hadron Collider, the world's most costly physics experiment. Why? Because, according to one physicist offering two or three theories most of his colleagues reject as extremely far-fetched, it could destroy the Earth and possibly the universe. The suit was quite pointlessly filed in Hawaii even though the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, which operates the LHC in Geneva, doesn't come under American jurisdiction. CERN insists the system has had many safety reviews, the latest of which completed its report this past January.

NewSpace and capitalist realities

An in-depth article from the online version of Reason magazine looks at the people, ventures, and ideas sometimes bundled under the term "NewSpace" and analyzes which private space efforts may make the jump to reality. (Hint: At least one private spaceplane will fly: the zero-gravity football league will have a a tougher time.)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Hunting of the Wolf

When the gray wolf population in the Rocky Mountain regions was declared healthy enough to lose Endangered Species Act protection, wildlife-protection groups feared the animals would be subjected to legal hunts. They were right. Idaho has already made plans let hunters kill 100-300 wolves to keep the population in the state to what state wildlife officials deem a manageable number and reduce livestock predation.
COMMENT: There are an estimated 41 breeding pairs in Idaho in a population of about 800 wolves. That doesn't strike me as enough to ensure genetic diversity and allow the population to survive severe winters, epidemics, and other natural threats. Ranchers are already allowed to kill animals menacing livestock. Creating this hunting season seems way, way premature.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A voice from the distant past

Thomas Edison is credited, rightfully, with inventing the first system to record sounds and play them back. It now turns out, though, that the history of recording the human voice dates back to a time before the U.S. Civil War. French researchers have uncovered a perfectly preserved sheet of paper marked by a "phonautograph" on August 9, 1860. The invention represented sound waves as markings traced on a sheet of paper smoked dark by an oil lamp. Ten seconds of a French folk song lay awaiting modern technology that could reconstruct the sound.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke letter from 1956

Posted on the Res Communis blog by my old space law mentor, Dr. Joanne Gabrynowicz, this 1956 letter (just discovered in an archive) by Clarke gives his thoughts on how satellites would provide three worldwide services: TV broadcasting, person-to-person communications, and location services. Pretty darn impressive.

Post-WWII view of German transatlantic rocket

This inaccurate but interesting article from 1947 shows a conflation of two ideas from Wernher von Braun's German missile team - one for a manned version of the V-2 derived A-9 rocket (never flown) and one for a two-stage transatlantic missile. The author put them together and thought this meant the Nazis had planned to send a manned "spaceplane" rocket against New York. In practice, von Braun lacked the time, resources, and materials to make such a technological leap. To Americans in 1947, though, it seemed the Germans had been capable of just about anything.

Mapping Apollo 11

How far did the Apollo 11 astronauts walk on the Moon? This unique site overlays their travels on a soccer field. It turns out that, if you look at distance covered in two dimensions, they didn't walk as far as they probably thought. Armstrong roved the furthest of the two, but still didn't walk very far off the soccer field.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

First in the Americas?

It'sd an endlessly fascinating debate: who first set foot in North America, and when? A butchered bison bone is the latest evidence, and it puts hunters on what are now islands off Washington state some 14,000 years ago - at least 2,000 years earlier than the "standard" accepted timeline for the arrival of the early Clovis people much further north.
COMMENT: While debates rage about the dating of many apparent pre-Clovis sites, this is one more chip off what used to be a rock-solid theory - "Clovis first." My impression is that, while the Clovis people might prove to be the first "important" colonizers - the first who left present-day descendants in significant numbers - the idea they were here before anyone else is headed for a gradual extinction.

The first European?

The first alleged species (there's still some dispute as to taxonomy) that could be called "human" in the European fossil record is represented by six partial skeletons from Spain, dated to 800,000 years ago and christened Homo antecessor. Now the antessessor's antesessor may have been found. A human-like jaw fragment, about 5 cm long and sporting several teeth, has been found in the same area and dated to 300,000 - 400,000 years further back. The history of human development, and its presence in Europe, is still very much in the process of being written.

More on Jumpstart

Here is SpaceDev, Inc.'s press release on its selection as prime contractor for the main satellite payload on the ORS Jumpstart mission, slated for June of this year.

Don't forget the Conference on Small Satellites

I am likely to miss the 2008 AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, which is a shame, because there's no space conference I've ever attended with such a "family" feel and so much expertise available on one subject. The theme this year is "Small Satellites - Big Business." Early registration is open until 8 July. Don't miss out if this is your area of interest. I hope to be back next year.

I should mention you can still register for the other conference with a focus on microspacecraft, the 6th Responsive Space Conference, to be held the end of April in Los Angeles. Go to

ORS: The Army does its part

While DoD is still trying to figure out what kind of doctrine and operational role should be developed for Operationally Responsive Space (ORS), work continues at both Air Force and Army space organizations. The Army's SMDC just awarded $69M to Ducommun / Miltec to look at vehicles and technologies for ORS missions, though details were not released. (Miltec being a subsidiary specializing in missile defense work. It also, as you can see if you go to, has a logo which uses a really unfortunate-looking version of the letter "i.")

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The first real test of responsive space

SpaceX's Falcon 1, still looking to make its first successful orbital launch, has a USAF contract to integrate and launch a payload on a four-month schedule. By traditional space standards, this is an unheard-of schedule (or it has been since the 1950s and early 60s, when truly rapid integration and launch on a schedule now considered "impossible" was routine).
In a mission known as Jumpstart, the Falcon will carry an Air Force satellite from SpaceDev, Inc., a rideshare adapter experiment for a Malaysian organization, and two 1-kg CubeSat payloads.

As Air Force Colonel Kevin McLaughlin explained, "The Jumpstart mission is an exciting and important milestone for the ORS Office. It brings together a diverse government and industry team to demonstrate numerous ORS enablers needed to bring space power to our deployed forces."

COMMENT: When I led a study of small rapid-response launchers for Air Force Space Command back in 1996, we worked out a plan involving a 48-hour reaction time. (A quicker response did not seem worth the added expense or the trouble of conflicting with the timelines needed for NOTAMs and treaty notifications.)
The reviewer from the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center said we were hopelessly uninformed: a launch campaign always took many months. I messaged back to ask him if he'd ever heard of an ICBM. (I'm an old Titan II crew commander. We kept a complex, over-age liquid-fuel system and payload ready for instant launch, although I'll grant you that range safety was not exactly a priority.)
We never got an answer.

Space tourism race heats up

We're years away from the first space tourist on a private launcher, and already we have competition on vehicles, business models, and prices. It still seems "far out," but smart people with deep pockets are on board. It'll be exciting to watch, even if I never get to go.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Smallsat Update, item 2

Smallsats also offer university students a chance for real-world engineering experience. This article mentions one example, at Montana State University. Students are building Explorer-1 (Prime), repeating the experiment carried on the original Explorer I 50 years ago. A December launch is hoped for.
COMMENT: David Klumpar, director of MSU's Space Science and Engineering Lab, is a Van Allen disciple who, some time before the great physicist's passing, called Van Allen and told him they were planning on repeating his experiment. As David told me the story in 2006, Van Allen's dryly humorous response was, "Well, I hope you don't prove me wrong."

Smallsat update, item 1

England's Surrey is the best-known specialty builder of small spacecraft, and there are firms in the US, Sweden, and France, among others, which build smallsats. But there's also South Korea, and this article highlights how one man took seven colleagues and built the country's first private satellite R&D organization, Satrec Initiative.
COMMENT: this illustrates one of the good things about small satellites: the cost of entry to the market is much lower than that for the most lucrative segment, the big GEO COMSATS. Smallsat expertise has spread around the world to governments, companies, and universitities, and continues to spread.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Great white shark does the hustle

OK, maybe no one but me will get the Dickie Goodman joke from 1975 in that headline....
In February, the Monterey Bay Aquarium released one of its most popular exhibits, a young great white shark, with a tracking device attached. The shark headed south, not an unknown pattern among great whites, but it surprised everyone with the alacrity of its journey. The animal has passed the southern tip of Baja and is still heading SE to the waters off Mexico. The shark has been making a net movement southward of over 43 km a day, which is very impressive to scientists who note it's undoubtedly not swimming in a straight line, but making the usual detours for hunting and whatever other reasons a shark detours. Why the creature is in such a rush is unknown, which reminds us that relatively little about these predators is known. Experiments like this, though, can help fill in some of the blank pages in the shark's scientific dossier.

Where is the shark today? See for yourself. Look up the "Juvenile White Shark" entry on

The end of the "Moon Hoax" looniness?

OK, maybe some conspiracy nuts will never be convinced, but one of the side benefits or the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter now in the works is that mission managers intend to capture images of the Apollo. Surveyor, Ranger, and Lunkhod landing sites. According to Mark Robinson of Northwestern University's Center for Planetary Sciences, Principal Investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), "We will image the Apollo sites and you will see the descent stages sitting on the surface." The LRO will map the Moon from an altitude of only 50km.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Cool new species from the cold waters

The New Zealand research vessel Tangaroa has completed a 35-day voyage through the icy waters of the Ross Sea to bring back new findings on Antarctic marine biodiversity and habitats, collecting images and samples of some startling marine life. While it's not yet certain which finds represent genuine new species, some surely do, and the collection is a spectacular one. The scientists aboard reported starfish 60 cm across, jellyfish with tentacles reaching nearly 4 m, and a host of smaller invertebrates.

Shuttles coming and going

With the shuttle Endeavour winding up an arduous but successful mission to install a huge two-armed robot named Dextre on the International Space Station (ISS), things look on track for the May 25 launch of the shuttle Discovery with a Japanese laboratory module. The August 28 launch of Atlantis to service the Hubble telescope is not as certain. Since differing orbits make a "safe haven" at the ISS impossible for Atlantis in the event of a mishap, NASA wants Discovery available for a short-notice flight if a rescue mission is needed. Safety-related modifications to the external tank (ET) and other issues at the Michoud assembly facility, however, mean there might not be a flight-ready tank available for the standby shuttle until October. If the Shuttle is to complete its planned slate of missions by the planned retirement date of 2010, it needs to make four more flights in 2008 (May, August, October and December), followed by four in 2009 and up to three in 2010.
COMMENT: The 2010 date is increasingly looking difficult to hit, and there is hardly any margin for unexpected events. The result could well be "schedule pressure," a term which sends a shiver down the spine of NASA managers who remember the Columbia accident. The date should be slipped a year (which, yes, means using money from Constellation and probably slipping that program a year) to allow for safer completion of the scheduled missions and possibly one or two more additional flights to add experiments now in limbo to the ISS.

Water on Titan?

Liquid water in an environment as distant and hostile as Saturn's great moon, Titan, seems very far-fetched indeed. But analysis of radar images and the moon's rotation using data from the Cassini spacecraft indicate a liquid ocean, probably of water mixed with a small amount of ammonia, is "sloshing" about under 100 km of ice. This is not definitive, but it's certainly tantalizing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Quotes from Arthur C. Clarke

Some Clarke quotes, which I remind us the man had a powerful and broad intellect.

Clarke's Laws:
1.. "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is
possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is
impossible, he is very probably wrong."
2.. "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to
venture a little way past them into the impossible."
3.. "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from

"New ideas pass through three periods:
- It can't be done.
- It probably can be done, but it's not worth doing.
- I knew it was a good idea all along!"

"Human judges can show mercy. But against the laws of nature, there is no appeal."

"As our own species is in the process of proving, one cannot have superior science and inferior morals. The combination is unstable and self-destroying."

"For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert."

"Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all."

"Sometimes I think we're alone in the universe, and sometimes I think
we're not. In either case the idea is quite staggering."

Concerning UFOs: "They tell us absolutely nothing about intelligence elsewhere
in the universe, but they do prove how rare it is on Earth."

"We are just tenants on this world. We have just been given a new lease, and a warning from the landlord."

"Somewhere in me is a curiosity sensor. I want to know what's over the
next hill. You know, people can live longer without food than without
information. Without information, you'd go crazy."

"We should always be prepared for future technologies, because
otherwise they will come along and clobber us."

"CNN is one of the participants in the (Persian Gulf) war. I have a fantasy where Ted Turner is elected president but refuses because he doesn't want to give up power."

"It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value."

"There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum."

"At the present rate of progress, it is almost impossible to imagine any technical feat that cannot be achieved - if it can be achieved at all - within the next few hundred years."

"I'm sure we would not have had men on the Moon if it had not been for Wells and Verne and the people who write about this and made people think about it. I'm rather proud of the fact that I know several astronauts who became astronauts through reading my books."

"It may be that the old astrologers had the truth exactly reversed, when they believed that the stars controlled the destinies of men. The time may come when men control the destinies of stars."

"The inspirational value of the space program is probably of far greater importance to education than any input of dollars... A whole generation is growing up which has been attracted to the hard disciplines of science and engineering by the romance of space."

"If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run - and often in the short one - the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative."

When asked what he considered the one event in the 20th century he never would have predicted:
"That we would have gone to the Moon and stopped."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Farewell, Arthur C. Clarke

The space visionary, science fiction writer, and all-around inquirer into the universe around us, Arthur C. Clarke, has died at the age of 90. Clarke first became widely known after WWII for his articles describing the use of the geosynchronous orbit - the "Clarke belt" - for satellite communications. He went on to write many books on space and even more in the realm of science fiction. His seminal work, 2001: a Space Odyssey, is as original and striking now as it was in the 1960s. Clarke's curiosity encompassed everything from the Star of Bethlehem to cryptozoology. He also devised Clarke's Law, which has influenced countless writers of SF and science: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Earth has sent one of its finest minds on the final journey.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Vanguard 1 turns 50

James Oberg offere here a well-written salute to Vanguard 1. The tiny "grapefruit," one of the pioneering milestones of the Space Age, has been in orbit 50 years and, if not collected for a museum, will be there for centuries to come. Oberg and space entrepreneur Dennis Wingo discuss the possibility of a retrieval, maybe as the result of an X-Prize type challenge to reward whoever can bring the satellite back.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Neanderthal language

Edmund Blair Bolles reports from the Evolang (Evolution of Language) conference in Barcelona that there's new evidence Neanderthals had a spoken language. To recent reports that a gene associated with language (the FoxP2 gene) matches in Neanderthals and modern humans, archaeologist Francisco D’Errico adds the new argument that the evidence Neanderthals used symbolic communication (like body pigment) and transmitted the symbols' meaning between groups and generations shows they must have had speech.
COMMENT: I see the logic, but, to this amateur, the definitive "this is proven" position argued strongly by D'Errico still seems a little bit of a reach. This one is creating plenty of stir in the archaeological and anthropological communities.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

New bird from Indonesia

From the vast Indonesian archipelago comes the latest new bird species, a small green and white creature dubbed the Togian white-eye Zosterops somadikartai.
It was first spotted in 1997 by Mochamad Indrawan of the University of Indonesia. Now, with the discovery in hand, Indrawan says, "This finding of the bird is only the beginning given the vast opportunities with Indonesian landscapes and seascapes of endemic flora and fauna." American expert Patricia Rasmussen, who did the taxonomic work on the type specimen, adds, "What this discovery highlights is that in some parts of the world there are still virtually unexplored islands where few ornithologists have worked. The world still holds avian surprises for us."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Yet more on the hobbits

A new discovery has confused the case of Flores Island "hobbits" even more, something I would not have thought possible. In the periodic "Hobbit Watch" column from Scientific American, Kate Wong discusses new findings from the Pacific island of Palau. South African paleoanthropologist Lee Berger has published his findings on small human bones, some 1,400 to 2,900 years old. These are definitely from the modern species Homo sapiens, but the size and some other characteristics are reminiscent of the Flores people. Berger suggests "...that Flores LB1 may represent a congenitally abnormal individual drawn from a small-bodied population of H. sapiens." Maybe. And maybe not. Berger doesn't claim to have a definitive solution, just a new hypothesis. And so the tramping of hobbit feet through the corridors of science, as confusing in their way as the mines of Moria, goes on for now.

Cassini's dramatic flyby

The huge ice geysers spouting from Saturn's moon Enceladus have facinated planetary scientists ever since they were discovered. With the billion-dollar Cassini probe's main mission at Saturn nearly complete, NASA decided to make a somewhat risky detour and sent the spacecraft within 50km of the moon's surface to take images and other measurements of the giant geysers. Raw imagery and a live play-by-play were posted on NASA's blog to take the people of Earth along on this successful mission. A software glitch momentarily took out an instrument to analyze the particles in the geyser, but other instruments gathered a great deal of data, and the images are stunning.

Dolphin rescues whales

Dolphins are well known for coming to the aid of their kin in ways such as pushing an ailing dolphin to the surface to breathe. But a dolphin rescuing members of another cetacean species has never been documented - until now. In New Zealand, two pygmy sperm whales which repeatedly stranded themselves despite efforts of human rescuers were apparently saved by a dolphin which herded the disoriented whales back toward the open sea. The dolphin, known locally as Moko, was a common sight in the area and thus could be presumed familiar with the local beaches, sandbars, and safe channels. One rescuer, Juanita Symes, said, "Moko just came flying through the water and pushed in between us and the whales. She got them to head toward the hill, where the channel is. It was an amazing experience. The best day of my life." Dolphin experts consulted were somewhat surprised but thought the descriptions of the event were likely true.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A unique whale from Alaska

There have been two sightings off Alaska and the Aleutians, in 1993 and 2001, of what appeared to be a white orca, or killer whale. The animal had assumed a bit of a legendary aura, but now we know it's very real. Scientists have photographed the whale in question, and, though it's not an albino or solid white, its mix of white and light yellow-brown coloration marks it as a most unusual animal. I haven't found any references to any past specimens so colored, although there was a partial albino, kept in captivity from 1970-72, known as Chimo.
About this new oddity, Holly Fearnbach, a research biologist with the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, said, "I had heard about this whale, but we had never been able to find it. It was quite neat to find it."
COMMENT: There are no plans to capture this whale: indeed, such captures are no longer permitted in American waters. Keeping any whale in captivity has become controversial. However, my daughter, who is 11, just returned from her first visit to Sea World. Watching orcas only feet away from her instilled in her an awe and a sensitivity for the animals that videos never could.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Meanwhile, in 10,000 BC

Here's a fun review of archeology and prehistoric biology as painted by the new epic 10,000 B.C. The verdict: nothing, but nothing, makes scientific sense. (Domesticated mammoths? In Egypt? Saber-tooth cats bigger than grizzly bears? The Pyramids under construction 12,000 years ago?) However, Seth Shostak says it's a fun trip if you can turn off your brain long enough to hop on a woolly mammoth and just enjoy the ride.

Jules Verne is aloft

The European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), designed to service the International Space Station, (ISS), is in orbit. The first ATV, dubbed the "Jules Verne," was lofted by an Ariane 5 booster Saturday morning with a cargo including food, fuel, spare parts, and oxygen to bound for the ISS.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Seabird seen after 80 years

Beck's petrel, a seabird not seen since its discovery in the 1920s, has been photographed alive. Israeli ornithologist Hadoram Shirihai was on a ship in the Bismarck Archipelago of the southwestern Pacific when he spotted more than 30 of the birds. Pseudobulweria becki is classified as critically endangered by BirdLife International, and until now was thought possibly extinct.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Wolf in Massachusetts

A healthy adult gray wolf weghing 39kg has been killed in Massachusetts after using a local sheep farm as a buffet. The animal is the first confirmed wild wolf in all of New England since a specimen killed in Maine in 1993. It has been 167 years since a confirmed wild specimen was taken in this state. Biologists presume the animal came down from Canada, although the length of its migration is very surprising. Some experts think Canadian wolves are slowly infiltrating the northeastern US, and there are other individuals humans have either not seen or misidentified. There have been reported wolf sightings in most of the New England states, although so far they have been rare and scattered.

Concerning hobbits

As I mentioned once or twice, a debate I follow whose duration seems destined to be measured in geologic time is the one over Homo floresiensis - the "hobbits" of Flores Island, Indonesia.

Round 257 or so (I lose count) is based on a new paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.
"Are the small human-like fossils found on Flores human endemic cretins?"
Peter J. Obendorf, Charles E. Oxnard and Ben J. Kefford.
The point: "We hypothesize that these individuals are myxoedematous endemic (ME) cretins, part of an inland population of (mostly unaffected) Homo sapiens."
In English: the fossils of the main specimen, LB1, indicate "congenital hypothyroidism."
The entire paper is online at the link above.

My take: I'm not about to wade into the details of a debate whose fine points are pretty much understood only by Ph.D.s. I will note only the problem I've had with all the non-species explanations, that they are based entirely, or almost entirely, on LB1. This is inescapable, since LB1's is the only cranium and the only near-complete skeleton we have, but it also means everyone is generalizing from one specimen. The new-species researchers are more likely to cite features of the other, less complete, specimens that appear in multiple individuals. That does not mean the new-species people are right (although the scientific romantic in me can't help but hope they are), only that I don't think anything is definitive yet. This is not going to be settled until we have more fossils, especially craniums (crania?).
I also note that, as a general rule, the idea that such cretins grew to maturity, which these fossils show they did, seems unlikely in a primitive hunter-gatherer culture. Such cultures tend not to expend the effort to keep marginally functional members alive and well-fed. It's not a hard rule, but it's something else to think about.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

NSF seeks scientific microsatellites

From the National Sciencer Foundation comes this announcement of grant funds available for CubeSat-based science missions. For those who believe in the potential of miniature spacecraft, this is exciting stuff. A CubeSat bus is 10cm on a side, and a CubeSat weighs about 1 kg. The concept got its start as an educational tool from a Stanford University laboratory, SSDL. The NSF proposal is a recognition that tiny satellites, launched cheaply as secondary payloads, can do important work as well as providing opportunities for the next generation of aerospace engineers.


National Science Foundation;
CubeSat-based Science Missions for Space Weather and Atmospheric Research
DESCRIPTION: Lack of essential observations from space is currently a major limiting factor in space weather research. Recent advances in sensor and spacecraft technoloandshy;gies make it feasible to obtain key measurements from low-cost, small satellite missions. A particularly promising aspect of this development is the prospect for obtaining multi-point observations in space that are critical for addressing many outstanding problems in space science. Space-based measurements from small satellites also have great potential to advance discovery and understanding in other areas of atmospheric sciences. To take full advantage of these developments, NSF is soliciting research proposals centered on small satellite missions.
The overarching goal of the program is to support the development, construction, launch, operation, and data analysis of small satellite science missions to advance space weather and atmospheric research. Equally important, it will provide essential opportunities to train the next generation of experimental space scientists and aerospace engineers.
To facilitate launch of the satellites as secondary payloads on existing missions, the focus of the program is on CubeSat-based satellites. Launch of the satellites will be through the standardized CubeSat deployment system, the Poly Picosatellite Orbital Deployer (P-POD). Launch of the P-PODS will be as auxiliary payloads on DOD, NASA, or commercial launches. This will be arranged directly by NSF and is not part of this solicitation. Beginning in 2009, NSF expects to launch two to four P-PODs every year, accommodating at least as many (three to six) individual satellite missions. This solicitation covers proposals for science missions to include satellite development, construction, testing and operation as well as data distribution and scientific analysis.



POSTED DATE: 20080228


CURRENT DUE DATE FOR APPLICATION: Full Proposal Deadline(s): May 28, 2008 February 10, 2009 February 10, Annually Thereafter



CATEGORY OF FUNDING ACTIVITY: Science and Technology and other Research and Development










AGENCY NAME: National Science Foundation


CONTACT: NSF support

First primate in North America traced

Christopher Beard of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has studied fossils over 55 million years old to identify what appears to be the oldest primate known from the New World. Less than 8 cm in length, Teilhardina magnoliana apparently crossed a land bridge from what is now Asia to plant its tiny feet in North America.

A hibernating fish?

Yes indeed. British researchers have found that the cod Notothenia coriiceps enters a dormant state during the long Antarctic winters.
COMMENT: Adaptation knows very few boundaries. We're still learning about how it works and how life permeates every environment, from hydrothermal vents to clouds.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Farewell, Scott Norman

Who is Scott T. Norman? Those not involved in cryptozoology won't know, and perhaps won't care. But they should.
Scott, who died this past week from a blood clot at the too-young age of 45, is an example of an overlooked figure in science these days, the dedicated amateur enthusiast. Such people have always been the unsung heroes of science. With the exception of some specialized groups (bird-counters and asteroid hunters come to mind), 21st-century science tends to pay little heed to the amateur.
Scott was enraptured by cryptozoology only in the last decade of his tragically short life, but he threw himself into the quest to learn more about the unconfirmed animals that might be out there. In addition to creating some of the leading websites to collect and disseminate information, Scott befriended almost everyone in this field, shared his enthusiasm with everyone he met, and, most significantly, put his money and his body where his heart was. Scott went tramping through the least-known regions of Africa, largely at his own expense, to chase down reports of unknown apes and reptiles.
He never found anything definitive, but that's not the point. The point is that cryptozoology, science in general, and the world at large need people like Scott.
We'll miss you, Scott. I hope you have your answers now.

Cryptozoological Realms, just one of Scott's Web endeavors, is found here:

Pioner Anomaly shows up in other spacecraft

The anomalous change in velocity (tiny though it may be) detected in tracking the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft is no longer an isolated event. A study of six other space probes has revealed anomalies in the velocity of five of them.
JPL astronomer John Anderson, who discovered the Pioneer anomaly, says, "I am feeling both humble and perplexed by this. There is something very strange going on with spacecraft motions. We have no convincing explanation for either the Pioneer anomaly or the flyby anomaly."
I believe it was Haldane who said the universe was not only stranger than we imagined, but stranger than we could imagine....