Wednesday, June 15, 2011

ScienceShot: Crocodile-Snouted Dinosaur Discovered Down Under - ScienceNOW

ScienceShot: Crocodile-Snouted Dinosaur Discovered Down Under - ScienceNOW

More than 100 million years ago, Australia was home to a unique blend of predatory dinosaurs. The latest to be added to the mix—thanks to a single neck vertebra that was found in Victoria and described today in Biology Letters—is a bizarre class of crocodile-snouted carnivores called spinosaurs. These peculiar dinosaurs have previously been found in South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, and the Australian fossil closely resembles a spinosaur known as Baryonyx from England. Combined with other fragmentary skeletons attributed to tyrannosaurs, raptors, and allosaurs, this as-yet-unnamed spinosaur may help paleontologists figure out when different dinosaur lineages arrived in Australia and, consequently, when and how the continent split from other land masses 80 million years ago. Prior to that time, all the southern continents were merged in a supercontinent known as Gondwana, and the new find—combined with other dino discoveries that indicate that Australian dinosaurs more closely resemble their counterparts in South America rather than Africa—suggests that Africa may have been the first to split off.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Abandoned Baboon Adopts Bush Baby Orphan In Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- An abandoned bush baby and a yellow baboon have formed an unlikely companionship at an animal orphanage in Nairobi.

The six-month-old female baboon, abandoned by its family in Maralal in Northern Kenya, is taking care of the three-month-old bush baby that was also abandoned by its family in central Kenya.

Charles Musyoki, a senior scientist for species and conservation at the Kenya Wildlife Service, said Friday it is likely that the animals formed the bond in order to cope in the new environment at the animal orphanage.

"This is a situation where two individuals are basically in need of each other because they need the bond to survive in the absence of their parents and their grouping. Therefore when both find themselves in such a situation they tend to bond and make friendships," Musyoki said.

He said the union between the two species is a rare occurrence that was last recorded in Kenya in 2002, when a lioness adopted and nurtured a young oryx, a large antelope that lions normally hunt.

Musyoki said the two animals would not have had such a relationship in the wild. The yellow baboon is active during the day and sleeps at night, while the bush baby is a nocturnal animal, he said.

"In the natural world they are very separated in terms of time," Musyoki said, adding that there is now a bond "in this captive environment because the two animals which are in distress, need each other for companionship, for friendship and play."

The two animals will have to be separated as they become older, he said.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Photos: Shape-Shifting Cuttlefish Can Mimic Pictures

Photos: Shape-Shifting Cuttlefish Can Mimic Pictures

Photograph courtesy Justine Allen, Marine Biological Laboratory

During recent research into how cuttlefish adopt camouflage positions, a common cuttlefish (left) raises two of its eight arms in apparent mimicry of artificial algae placed in its tank. The animal reacted similarly when shown a photo of green algae, said biologist Roger Hanlon.

It's been known that many cuttlefish—and their squid and octopus cousins—adjust their postures and rapidly change color to resemble nearby objects, a strategy to evade predators.

But the recent lab experiments are the first to confirm that cuttlefish use visual information to determine those gestures, according to Hanlon, of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Friday, June 3, 2011

David Foster Wallace: An Appreciation by David Gates - Newsweek

David Foster Wallace: An Appreciation by David Gates - Newsweek

"Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience . . . We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy's impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character's pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside." He once argued that the linguistic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein—one of the most terrifying thinkers who ever lived—was an artist because "he realized that no conclusion could be more horrible than solipsism."

"The rest is silence," says the dying Hamlet—these are his last words to us. But Wallace was no quietist: in his writing, at least, he never stopped wrestling with the "terrible master" in his own skull. Even beyond this life, he seems to have found silence unimaginable.*

An Unquiet Mind:

"I long ago abandoned the notion of a life without storms, or a world without dry and killing seasons. Life is too complicated, too constantly changing, to be anything but what it is. And I am, by nature, too mercurial to be anything but deeply wary of the grave unnaturalness involved in any attempt to exert too much control over essentially uncontrollable forces. There will always be propelling, disturbing elements, and they will be there until, as Lowell put it, the watch is taken from the wrist."

"We all build internal sea walls to keep at bay the sadnesses of life and the often overwhelming forces within our minds. In whatever way we do this--through love, work, family, faith, friends, denial, alcohol, drugs, or medication, we build these walls, stone by stone, over a lifetime. "
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Heroic Stars

"The heroic stars spending themselves,
Coining their very flesh into bullets for the lost battle,
They must burn out at length like used candles;
And Mother Night will weep in her triumph, taking home her heroes.
There is the stuff for an epic poem--
This magnificent raid at the heart of darkness, this lost battle--
We don't know enough, we'll never know.
Oh happy Homer, taking the stars and the Gods for granted.
-Robinson Jeffers, The Epic Stars

"Beautiful Fatalism" is a phrase from Ernest Hemingway used to describe warriors "who stayed loyal to a doomed cause."

Astronomer Pamela Gay on the Heat Death of the Universe:
Over time the stars will run out of the ability to burn stuff. The planet Earth actually has the same problem at a certain level. Someday, we’re going to run out of fuel. The Universe is someday also going to run out of reasonably accessible fuel.

Stars start burning by having hydrogen fuse in their core; then having helium fuse next. You can’t start off with a lump of carbon and get it burning, at least not easily. Eventually, we will have burned up all the nebulas. We will have burned up all the dust clouds. Everything that could easily be turned into a star and burned up is going to be burned up.

What’s left over is going to be in the form of white dwarfs. Is going to be in the form of if you take a red dwarf star it just sort of burns out and turns into charcoal. It’s going to be left over in the form of neutron stars and black holes. We’re going to have a bunch of stellar embers. In about a hundred trillion years there won’t be any stars that are actively burning the fusion processes things into higher elements.

Then you have a Universe filled with black holes, neutron stars and black dwarfs, right? And planets I guess whatever there was left orbiting all of this dead material.
We’re looking at a Universe where someday in the future, basically everything sits as close to absolute zero as atoms can get. Imagine the entire Universe basically becoming a Bose-Einstein's energy death.