Scientists Crack the Macrauchenia Patachonica Case

Macrauchenia patachonica

The Macrauchenia patachonica lived during the last ice age and was recently added to the tree of life

Charles Darwin stumbled upon one of, what he called, the strangest animals ever encountered. The Macrauchenia patachonica was an extinct animal, whose fossils Darwin had found but neither him nor his colleague, Richard Owen, a British paleontologist, could figure it out. But now scientists have cracked down the Macrauchenia patachonica.

Scientists Crack the Macrauchenia Patachonica Case

The last member of the species died approximately 12,000 years ago. The Macrauchenia lived during the last ice age. It looked like a bulky camel without a hump, having the neck of a llama and a short trunk as a nose.

Ross MacPhee, study coauthor and a curator at the American Museum of Natural History, said about the animal that

“It was a fairly bulky quadruped, probably not very fleet of foot”.

He said that the most remarkable aspect of the Macrauchenia patachonica was its nose. The researchers do not know whether it was an actual trunk, as in the case of an elephant-like nose, or if it was more of an appendage, like the proboscis of a tapir, he added. Especially since the opening was, per MacPhee’s account, right between the eyes, not above its mouth.

In a previous study, for example, researchers tried to place the Macrauchenia patachonica on the tree of life by using ancient collagen. This was two years ago. MacPhee and his colleague, Michi Hofreiter, have built on the 2015-study by extracting mitochondrial DNA from a fossil found in South America. In addition to this, however, the researchers also used a different, new approach in order to recover the genome of the Macrauchenia patachonica.

Because the tests and results confirmed their hypothesis and approach, they have since included it in the tree of life, being related to the hypo, horse, and elephant. Their work regarding the Macrauchenia patachonica gave them hope for further research regarding other extinct species of whose fossils are still uncovered, discovered, and analyzed.

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Ancient Cat DNA – New Discoveries

Ancient cat DNA

Mutations in the ancient cat DNA lead to the next evolutionary step which brought us the modern cat

Scientists have discovered a staggering new thing about cats: that the domestication of cats started roughly 10,000 years ago, during the dawn of the Agricultural Age. This discovery was made during an expedition and analysis of 209 Ancient cat DNA samples taken from cats found in Hierakonpolis, Egypt. The study reveals the ways in which the Ancient wild cats took to human bonding.

Ancient Cat DNA Reveals Cat-Human Bonding

Naturally, it would be impossible to do away with the fact that it is highly unlikely for Ancient cats to bond with humans. But this was done because the wildcats hunted rodents feasting on the grain harvested by Neolithic farmers. Seeing that it was beneficial for them to keep the cats around, the Agricultural sapiens sought to make sure that cats remained in place.

The discovery was done a couple of years ago during research expeditions of Eva-Maria Geigl and her colleagues. According to her findings, the moment has its origins in modern-day Turkey. But, regardless of this, the process was a lengthy one.

As far as the research goes, it was only from and during the Middle Ages that some cats (the Felis silvestris) developed fur with patch-like patterns. And the next evolutionary step took place during the 19th, when they were bred to have fancy coats.

“This suggests that for a very long time, cats have not been subject to strong selection through breeding and that the present-day breeds, in particular, the fancy breeds, are mostly a modern ‘invention’ from the 19th century.” (Eva-Maria Geigl)

The process of sharing of the Ancient cat DNA started once with the commencement of trading. The main roots were Anatolia (corresponding with modern-day Turkey) and Egypt, later spreading through the Mediterranean. And, thus, everywhere humans would go, cats would follow. This, later, corresponded with the fact that these wildcats interbred with already present native cats. Thus, leading to mutations of certain genes within the Ancient cat DNA.

This is yet to be later covered. But it has sparked a, otherwise, postponed research initiative into the origins of the second most beloved pet after dogs.

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Jupiter Just Revealed The Presence Of Two Additional Moons

jupiter two additional moons

A team of astronomers recently announced their discovery of two additional moons orbiting Jupiter.

Scientists have been finding out and revealing quite a lot of news about Jupiter recently. Besides finding a way of confirming its being the oldest planet in our solar systems, a team of researchers spotted two additional moons in the gas giant’s planetary system.

Two Additional Moons Are Raising Jupiter’s Satellites Number

These two ‘new’ satellites were detected by Scott Sheppard from the Carnegie Institution for Science and his colleagues. They discovered S/2016 J 1 on March 8, 2016, and then S/2017 J 1 on March 26, 2017. Then, they presented them to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and its Minor Planet Electronic Circulars. This announced their official status earlier this month, on June 2 and June 5 respectively.

“We were continuing our survey looking for very distant objects in the outer solar system, which includes looking for Planet X, and Jupiter just happened to be in the area we were looking in 2016 and 2017,” stated Sheppard.

After spotting them, the researchers decided to ‘take a detour’, and take a closer look at the moonlets.

Presently, scientists do not know very much about these additional two moons. Observations seem to indicate that both S/2016 J 1 and S/2017 J 1 are very small satellites. They also appear to be only around one or two kilometers across.

Observations of S/2016 J 1 indicate that this completes a full orbit around Jupiter in around 1.65 years. S/2017 J 1 is vehiculated to take some 2.01 years in doing the same. This moonlet is estimated to be, on average, some 23,500,000 kilometers away from Jupiter.

Although S/2016 J 1 was discovered one year earlier, its orbit presented many uncertainties. But observations with the Subaru reflector on Mauna Kea helped solved these questions later on.

There is little to no further information on Jupiter’s moons number 68 and 69. Further research might help bring more data on these latest detected natural satellites.
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Mars’s Life Supporting Window Was Longer Than Initially Estimated

mars life supporting window

Mars’s life supporting window may have lasted longer than initially believed, according to a new study.

A new study offers evidence that Mars’s life supporting period may have been longer than initially believed, as it could have gone further back into the past. The researchers reached this conclusion after the Curiosity rover discovered “halos”.

Study results are available in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The Planet’s Groundwater lengthened Mars’s Life Supporting Window

The first evidence brought for Mars’s potential habitability came back in 2012. In August of that year, NASA’s Curiosity rover touched down inside the Gale Crater, a 96-miles wide structure. Observations of the area showed that it had once housed a potential lake-and-stream system sometime in its ancient years.

Now, the Gale Crater presented further evidence to sustain this theory and even lengthen Mars’s potential habitability period. Curiosity detected “halos” of silica-rich bedrock. These were noted to surround a series of structures situated near the crater’s floor.

These recent halos were established to be overlying ancient lake sediments. According to the mission team, they presented a high silica content. In turn, this seems to indicate that the halos detected in younger such rocks were very likely “remobilized” from older sedimentary rocks by “the water flowing through the fractures.”

“What this finding tells us is that, even when the lake eventually evaporated, substantial amounts of groundwater were present for much longer than we previously thought,” states Jens Frydenvang.

He is a scientist part of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and also of the University of Copenhagen. Frydenvang is the lead author of the new study as well. He continued by pointing out that the longer presence of groundwater basically extends Mars’s life supporting window.

Curiosity discovered these new silica halos as it was studying the lower north slope of Mount Slope. This is 3.4-miles high mountain situated in the center of the Gale Crater. The rover analyzed its new discovery with many instruments including its cameras, and an X-ray spectrometer. It also used its laser-firing Chemistry and Camera instrument.

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Bleaching Seems To Have Affected The Great Barrier Reef Even Worse

coral bleaching

Coral bleaching may have had an even worse than believed effect on the Great Barrier Reef.

For the past two years, coral reef bleaching has been affecting the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. As scientists have been trying to combat its effects, a new survey claims that the damage inflicted may be even worse than initially believed.

Coral Bleaching and its Worse Than Believed Effects

According to the National Ocean Service, bleaching occurs when the coral turns white due to stress caused by environmental conditions. The Great Barrier Reef is now experiencing its second consecutive year of such a phenomenon, caused by the warming waters.

Now, scientists are claiming that the affected areas are beyond repair. Biologist Terry Hughes, director of the Arc Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland Australia, stated that over 55% of the coral reef was bleached in 2016.

He also said that, when combined with 2017, two-thirds of the Northern parts of the Great Barrier Reef have already been bleached. Other areas around the world are also suffering from bleaching but were not included in this percentage.

Terry Hughes argues that greenhouse gas emissions are to blame for the dying reefs. He also mentioned that the window to limiting greenhouse gas emissions is getting smaller. That if we want to act on it, now is the time to do so.

While reducing greenhouse emission levels may not restore the worse affected corals, it may potentially help save the remaining ones. Also, it could possibly contribute to the disappearance of the primary cause.

Presently, a biologist is cross breeding coral to try and make them withstand the warmer temperatures. This could help increase their adaptability. In turn, it may contribute to reducing mass bleaching levels, possibly even prevent them.

A study published last year in the journal Nature also analyzed the effects and various consequences of the first of the two consecutive periods of bleaching.

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NASA Will Release A Big Announcement About Its Solar Probe Plus

solar probe plus spacecraft

NASA will be making a ‘big announcement’ about its upcoming Solar Probe Plus mission targeting the sun.

Extending its eye of exploration inward, NASA is ready to make a big announcement on May 31 regarding its new mission to explore the sun. The recently designed Solar Probe Plus will be launched in the summer of 2018 to examine the heart of our solar system. It will come closer to the star than any spacecraft launched before, approaching to within four million miles. That is well inside Mercury’s orbital distance, and it will be a part of space never before explored by humanity.

The Solar Probe Plus, Closer To the Sun Than Ever Before

The corona of the sun is the last area of the solar system to which NASA has yet to send a targeted probe. Some scientists consider it more important than most, as the activity of solar storms has a direct impact on our own planet’s ecosystem, not to mention our technology.A massive solar flare could send an electromagnetic pulse toward Earth, capable of knocking out satellites and affecting weather patterns. Some estimate that the damage could reach $2 trillion. Also, power could be knocked out in some areas for nearly a year. This probe will be specifically looking at just those solar weather patterns, and many other things happening within the corona.

The new spacecraft itself will require some specialized engineering to complete its mission. It is destined for places with immense heat and radiation values. The temperature alone will be around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Radiation in multiple bands will also be present, causing difficulties for sensors and transmitters alike.

The primary source of protection will be an 11.43 cm thick carbon-composite shield. NASA engineers believe this will be enough to protect the instruments but still allow them to transmit collected data back home.

This big announcement is probably just the beginning. The Solar Probe Plus is under construction now, with a launch window set for only 14 months away.

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Selam, A 3.3 Million Years Old Toddler, Brought New Data On The Spine

selam pelvis

Selam, the skeletal remains of a 3.3 million years old toddler, are bringing new data on the human spine.

The ancient skeleton of a 3.3 million years old baby, known as Selam, is bringing new evidence on the development of the human spine. This seems to indicate that humans were capable of walking around and running very much earlier than initially believed.

Selam is part of the Australopithecus afarensis, a species made famous thanks to “Lucy”. At the time, these were the earliest remains of a human ancestor. The skeleton of this baby was dated as being 3.3 million years old and was discovered in Dikika, Ethiopia.

Selam Comes With Unexpected Features

Selam presented quite an unexpected feature as its spine was noted to be very much similar to our own. This nearly complete skeleton displays 12 thoracic vertebrae and also has 12 pairs of ribs. It is one less than in most apps and comes sooner than expected.

This could make the Australopithecus afarensis a benchmark in the evolution process of ancient to modern human anatomy, according to the team.

“Selam has provided us the first glimpse into how our early ancestors’ spines were organized,” said Carol Ward. She is the study’s lead author and part of the University of Missouri School of Medicine.

Previous research also tried to determine the start of the transition point towards bipedalism. But evidence only showed this to have begun taking place some 60,000 years ago. Although Selam only reached around 2.5 years, the age of her remains, about 3.3 million years, is vital for this study.

The study team also underlined out the importance of the place on the spine where the thoracic vertebrae start transitioning to the lower back. In Selam’s case, this happens at the level of the 11th vertebra. This same location was noted in many of our ancestors, but not in modern humans. These have more vertebrae in their lower back.

Zeresenay Alemseged, who discovered Selam back in 2000, also pointed out its importance. He stated that this toddler skeleton represents one of the earliest evidence of the point and transition process of humans as they evolved to bipedalism.

Study results were released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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One Of The Strangest Stars In The Galaxy Is Dimming Again

strangest stars with light bursts

Because of its bizarre dimming, Tabby’s is seen as one of the strangest stars in the galaxy.

Astronomers have been very busy over the weekend after a team of specialists noted that one of the strangest stars in the galaxy is once again at work. Tabby’s star is the reason behind all this hassle as it is once again inexplicably and bizarrely dimming its light.

Tabby’s is officially known as KIC 8462858 but is also commonly called “Boyaijan’s star”. This cosmic body started raising questions as scientists noted its unusual pattern of inconsistent dimming and brightening. These have led to the emergence of many hypotheses. They range from comets, moons, to its being an alien megastructure.

Now, scientists are once again turning their attention to Tabby’s star following an urgent call. On May 19th, specialists asked as many people to turn their telescopes towards the sky in the hopes of gathering data on “Boyaijan’s star”.

One of the Strangest Stars is Dimming Once Again

The scientists to issue this call are hoping that thanks to the great number of telescopes trained towards the sky, they will manage to finally crack Tabby’s mystery.

“At about 4 a.m. this morning [May 19] I got a phone call … that Fairborn [Observatory] in Arizona had confirmed that the star was 3 percent dimmer than it normally is,” said Jason Wright.

He is an associate professor part of the Pennsylvania State University and manager of one of the studies on Tabby’s star. Wright took part in a live webcast on the matter.

He stated that this percentage confirms that the perceived dimming is not a statistical fluke. This also means that specialists have the chance to study the live dimming pattern of the star. Tabetha Boyajian, for whom the star is nicknamed, and her team, were the first to note these cycles back in September 2015.

Initially, scientists were expecting a regular series of brightening and dimming. This would be consistent with the star having a moon or being passed by a swarm of comets.

But Tabby’s changes are in line with neither. So scientists started taking greater attention to the cosmic body. Still, they were unable to predict the duration or appearance of the next dimming. So this latest pattern of dimming is a new chance at studying Boyajian’s.

It will offer scientists fresh new data on the matter, and more information than before. However, most point out that it will still take some time before an exact cause will be established.

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Opportunity, Mars’s Exploration Rover Just Reached Perseverance Valley

Perseverance Valley

NASA’s Opportunity just reached the main target of its current mission, the Perseverance Valley.

A NASA statement recently announced that the aerospace agency’s Mars Exploration Rover, the Opportunity, just reached the primary target of its current mission, the Perseverance Valley. The research team extended the rover’s current two-year mission so it could take a closer look at this interesting location.

The “Perseverance Valley” is a fluid-carved valley which was incised on the inert slope at the rim of a vast crater on Mars. Opportunity started getting close to the area in early May and has since started beaming back data.

Next Target: The Perseverance Valley

Images taken by the rover’s camera offer a better look at the different areas of this valley. Previously, researchers had to work with images captured from orbit above Mars. Now, they can start turning to the high-resolution images taken by the Opportunity.

“The science team is really jazzed at starting to see this area up close and looking for clues to help distinguish among multiple hypothesis about how the valley formed,” stated Matt Golombek.

He is an Opportunity Project Scientist and part of the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. Golombek points out that research has yet to determine how the Perseverance Valley came to exist.

This was carved into the rim of the Endeavour Crater, some billions of years ago, by a process still unidentified. Scientists put forth and are analyzing a number of possible factors. For example, water could have helped shaped this valley.

Or it could have been the result of a debris flow. As water lubricated a mix of boulders and mud, this may have helped form a path that later developed into a valley.

Perseverance Valley may have even appeared as the result of wind erosion, a much drier process than the other variants.

Now, Opportunity’s primary target for this mission is to try and determine which was the most likely cause. It will do so by gathering data from any of the remaining evidence. Scientists hope that this information will help them determine the most likely formation process.

Image Source: NASA

Research Spots Rare Phenomenon In Antarctica, The Dragon Skin Ice

dragon skin ice

Researchers recently spotted a rare and bizarre phenomenon in Antarctica known as the dragon skin ice.

An international team of researchers just revealed that they recently spotted a rare and odd phenomenon in Antarctica. Referred to as the “dragon skin ice”, this was last noted in the region back in 2007. The scientists that witnessed it are currently on their way to the Ross Sea. On their way there, they are also taking a closer look at sea ice of Antarctica.

Guy Williams is a researcher at the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies. He is also part of the Ross Sea international expedition and the one to release the news about this strange phenomenon.

“Dragon-skin ice is very rare, bizarre evidence of a darker chaos in the cryospheric realm, not seen in Antarctica since 2007,” said Williams.

The Rare Dragon Skin Ice, An Explanation

Scaly sheets of ice characterize this rare phenomenon. These are similar to either dragon scales or the microscopic structures on a butterfly’s wing. Dragon skin ice is considered a rare sight. As it is, some point out that it might be a phenomenon characteristic of the Antarctica winter, which is still quite unexplored.

Dragon skin ice is said to be an effect of winds or waves on slushy ice. As either one of them hits the ice, it goes to sculpt into it into this unique fashion. Williams also noted that dragon skin ice might be a variation of the so-called “pancake ice”. This is the name given to sea ice that forms into small disks and then stacks upon one another.

The dragon skin was observed among Antarctica’s coastal polynyas. This is an area of open waters well known for its considerable production of ice which is driven forth and kept active by the force of katabatic winds.

The team of scientists is quite interested in these winds and area. They are studying the impact of the polynyas on both the local and global oceanography.

At the time of the dragon skin ice report, the international team of 27 researchers and its U.S. icebreaker, the Nathan B. Palmer, were stuck. They were stalled by the intense waves and winds in the area. As such, they were waiting for them to calm them to continue their study of the water beneath the ice shelf.

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