Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore say fossils found in an Indian coal mine are pointing to a common ancestor for today’s horses, rhinos and tapirs.
The findings come from an analysis of a huge bounty of various teeth and bones discovered in an open-pit coal mine located just north-east of Mumbai, India.
The number of fossils was so large and varied that researchers had to take them back home so that they could sort through all of them in their own laboratories.
After examining and sorting the collection, the group found about 200 fossils belonging to an extinct and mysterious ancestor named Cabaytherius thewisse, an animal that could be the missing link in the evolution of the Perissodactyla group.
The Hopkins research team, writing in the online journal Nature Communications, says the mammals likely evolved on the Indian tectonic plate millions of years ago, long before it collided with the Eurasian plate.
To date, the oldest Perissodactyla fossils discovered go back to the Eocene epoch, about 55 to 56 million years ago. These new samples from India are about 54.5 million years old.
Research team leader Ken Rose, a professor of functional anatomy and evolution at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says because the fossils are slightly younger that previous samples,
“Many of Cambaytherium’s features, like the teeth, the number of sacral vertebrae, and the bones of the hands and feet, are intermediate between Perissodactyla and more primitive animals,” Rose says. “This is the closest thing we’ve found to a common ancestor of the Perissodactyla order.”
Rose said the fossil collection gathered from the Indian coal mine also offers some provocative geological information about the ancient shifting of Earth’s tectonic plates.
“Around Cambaytherium’s time, we think India was an island, but it also had primates and a rodent similar to those living in Europe at the time,” Rose says. “One possible explanation is that India passed close by the Arabian Peninsula or the Horn of Africa, and there was a land bridge that allowed the animals to migrate. But Cambaytherium is unique and suggests that India was indeed isolated for a while.”
Scientists speculate the Indian plate eventually crashed into the Asian continent about 55 to 60 million years ago.
Scientists Create Geologic and Tectonic Map of Vesta the Asteroid
A group of scientists used high-resolution images captured by NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft between 2011 and 2012 to create what they say is the first total geologic and tectonic map of the asteroid Vesta.
Details on the work appear in the December edition of the journal Icarus.
According to the researchers, their study of Vesta shows that the asteroid had a history of impacts by large meteorites.
“The resulting maps enabled us to construct a geologic time scale of Vesta for comparison to other planets and moons,” said research team leader David Williams of Arizona State University in a press statement. Read more here…
Cosmological Mystery May Have Simple Solution
Scientists studying the Higgs-Boson found that the production of these former mystery particles in the rapidly expanding universe should have created a bit of instability right after the Big Bang that would have led to the collapse of the newly-forming universe.
Researchers have been puzzled since as to why the collapse didn’t happen. Some of the scientists believe that the reason was due to some new and so far undiscovered physics.
Now, a team of scientists from the UK’s Imperial College London, Denmark’s University of Copenhagen, and Finland’s University of Helsinki say they believe gravity is what provided the universe with the stability that was needed to endure the rapid expansion.
The scientists outlined their findings in a study published by “Physical Review Letters.” Read more here…
People with Low Levels of Vitamin D are at Risk of Disease and Death
Vitamin D, also known as the Sunshine Vitamin, is important for maintaining good bone health and helping prevent cardiovascular disease.
A new study of 96,000 Danish people found that those with a deficiency in vitamin D are also at risk of other diseases, such as cancer, and are experiencing higher rates of death than those with normal levels of vitamin D.
Humans get their vitamin D from the rays of the sun, in the food they eat or by taking supplements.
What the study doesn’t show is the best way to increase levels of vitamin D in those with a deficiency in the vitamin. The researchers said that they still need to figure out just how much vitamin D would be needed to help those with a deficiency maintain a healthy level of the vitamin that would help prevent these diseases and lower mortality rates. Read more…
A Bit of Spice in Your Food Could Lengthen Your Life
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) found that spices and herbs, which are packed full of antioxidants, could be quite helpful to people who have high levels of triglycerides and other fatty elements in their blood.
While you need some triglycerides in your bloodstream to maintain good health, too high a level of this fatty compound may raise the risk of heart disease.
It’s been found that a person’s triglyceride levels rise soon after eating a meal high in fat.
The Penn State researchers, comparing the post-fatty meal triglyceride levels in people who ate their meal cooked with the high-antioxidant spices and herbs, had as much as a 30 percent lower level of triglycerides than those who ate a meal cooked without the added seasonings.
The high-antioxidant herbs and spices added to the meals of those with the lower triglyceride levels included garlic powder, rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, paprika, turmeric, ginger and black pepper. Read more…
Now a new study published in the journal “Nature Geoscience” has found that those ancient, warm periods on the Red Planet probably took place in brief and sporadic spurts of time.
“This new analysis provides a mechanism for episodic periods of heating and melting of snow and ice that could have each lasted decades to centuries,” said James W. Head, the study’s co-author and a professor of earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown University, in a university press release.
The researchers from Brown University in the U.S. and Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, suggest that the periods that saw warmth and flowing water on Mars some 3.7 billion years ago may have been the result of the expulsion of gases due to volcanic activity.
The U.S./Israeli study combined the impact of volcanic activity with fresh climatic data that gathered by the various Mars probes to create and update new Mars climate models.
Studying those newer climate models, researchers found several factors that would make it difficult for a warmer and wetter Red Planet to exist.
They said the Mars atmosphere was so thin it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the planet to retain enough heat to allow for water to flow freely on its surface. They also suggested that many years ago our sun wasn’t quite as powerful as it is today.
But ongoing research of the Red Planet’s geological features has suggested that when water flowed some 3.7 billion years ago, there was a lot of volcanic activity taking place, with gigantic volcanoes spewing out large amounts of lava.
Along with lava, ash and other , volcanoes also pumps out a good amount of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere.
While atmospheric sulfur dioxide here on Earth has been linked to the production of acid rain and global cooling, the researchers in this study believe that this gas may have affected the atmosphere of Mars differently.
To reach their findings the research team generated a model that examined how sulfuric acid might react with the extensive amounts of dust in the ancient Martian atmosphere.
The models suggested that the particles of sulfuric acid attached themselves onto the dust particles in the Martian atmosphere. The combined particles of dust and sulfuric acid would have reduced the ability to reflect the rays of the sun.
And they also found that the sulfur dioxide gas pumped into the atmosphere by the volcanoes would also have created a slight greenhouse effect that provided just enough warmth to the equatorial region of Mars to allow water to flow.
Professor Head, who spent a number of years conducting research in Antarctica, said that he thinks the climate of ancient Mars may have been comparable to the frigid, desert-like conditions Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys.
“The average yearly temperature in the Antarctic Dry Valleys is way below freezing, but peak summer daytime temperatures can exceed the melting point of water, forming transient streams, which then refreeze,” Head said. “In a similar manner, we find that volcanism can bring the temperature on early Mars above the melting point for decades to centuries, causing episodic periods of stream and lake formation.”
The researchers said that warm Martian temperatures and flowing water on its surface ended with the cessation of the Red Planet’s volcanic activity.
Analysis of observations gathered by the first two Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment (CIBER) missions shows that the universe shines much brighter that had been thought.
CIBER scientists found that infrared light in what were thought to be dark areas of space between galaxies is producing a glow that gleams as brightly as all the known galaxies combined.
This glow was first detected by scientists working with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
The team’s findings, which are outlined in a paper just published by the journal Science, could prompt scientists to rethink galaxy structure. Galaxy boundaries may not be as well defined as thought, but instead stretch out over a great distance to create an immense and interconnected ocean of stars.
Members of the CIBER team, which is an international group of scientists from various universities and government laboratories, hope their findings will help settle whether this infrared glow is something produced by a flow of individual stars stripped from their galaxies as a result of galactic collisions, or from the first galaxies formed in the universe.
“We think stars are being scattered out into space during galaxy collisions,” said the paper’s lead author, Michael Zemcov, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “While we have previously observed cases where stars are flung from galaxies in a tidal stream, our new measurement implies this process is widespread.”
The theory that this background light is produced by the stream of orphaned stars gained even more favor after the CIBER team noticed that the infrared light appeared to be too bright and too blue to originate from the earliest galaxies of the universe.
Those first galaxies, according to the CIBER team, would produce colors of light that would much more red than what was observed.
“The simplest explanation, which best explains the measurements, is that many stars have been ripped from their galactic birthplace, and that the stripped stars emit on average about as much light as the galaxies themselves,” said CIBER project principal investigator James Bock from Caltech and JPL.
From 2010 until 2013, the CIBER project launched a total of four suborbital “sounding rockets,” each carrying a package of instruments that allowed the international group of universities and government laboratories to characterize near infrared (IR) background light.
CIBER’s instruments took images of the cosmic background light at two infrared wavelengths shorter than can be detected by the Spitzer Space Telescope.
CIBER scientists had to make their observations and conduct their studies from instruments that were in flown into space since Earth’s own atmosphere also happens to glow brilliantly at the very same wavelengths of light that were needed to make their studies.NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory Video
A team of British and Italian scientists recently conducted research that suggests an ominous future for the universe.
In a paper just published by the journal Physical Review Letters, the scientists said a review of new astronomical data found that dark energy (a theoretical form of energy that cosmologists believe is responsible for the accelerated expansion of the universe) is increasing as it feeds off dark matter (a hypothetical form of matter that is invisible to electromagnetic radiation).
“This study is about the fundamental properties of space-time. On a cosmic scale, this is about our universe and its fate,” said Professor David Wands, Director of the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, and a member of the research team in a University press release. “If the dark energy is growing and dark matter is evaporating we will end up with a big, empty, boring universe with almost nothing in it.”
According to Wands, dark matter supplies the basis or a type of scaffolding for various cosmological structures to grow in the universe. So if indeed dark energy is consuming the dark matter, as their research indicates, the disappearance of this material is slowing down the growth of such structures in the universe.
Along with Wands, the research team also included his University of Portsmouth colleague Dr. Marco Bruni, Professor Alessandro Melchiorri and researchers Valentina Salvatelli and Najla Said from the Sapienza University of Rome.
To reach their findings, the team studied and analyzed the data from a number of astronomical surveys, which included the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. With the extensive data sets, they were able to study the growth of cosmological structures that the astronomical data from the surveys revealed, so they could test various models of dark energy that had been developed.
U.S. scientists Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess along with Brian Schmidt of Australia shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics for finding evidence that the Universe is not only expanding, but is doing so at an increasingly accelerated speed.
Both teams of scientists made their virtually identical findings after studying something called a Type 1a supernovae and noticed that more distant objects appeared to be moving faster.
These findings were said to have shaken the study of cosmology to its roots, according to a number of scientists.
“Since the late 1990s astronomers have been convinced that something is causing the expansion of our Universe to accelerate,” said Wands. “The simplest explanation was that empty space – the vacuum – had an energy density that was a cosmological constant.
Wand went on to say that there is, however, increasing proof that the simple models provided by the research of the 1990’s cannot explain many things scientists are now finding in fresher and more extensive astronomical data that’s being made available, such his team’s findings that found cosmic structures like galaxies and clusters of galaxies seem to be growing slower than expected.
Science Scanner: ISS Resupply Spacecraft Explodes, Tiny Decontamination Devices, Walking Workstations = Health/Happy Workers
Rocket With NASA’s Cargo Spacecraft Explodes Shortly After Liftoff/Russian Supply Mission Reaches ISS
You probably read about this elsewhere, but we’d be remiss if we were to omit mention of the two ISS resupply missions launched yesterday… one successful while the other crashed and burned, or perhaps more accurately, burned and crashed.
NASA’s resupply mission to the International Space Station ended in disaster after the Orbital Science’s Antares rocket that was to ferry the unmanned Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the space station exploded shortly after its 2022 UTC launch last night from the space agency’s Wallops Island Fight Center in Virginia.
However, a few hours after NASA’s attempted launch, the Russian space agency successfully sent up its resupply cargo ship which, according to NASA’s Space Station blog, docked with the ISS today at 1308 UTC.
“The crew of the International Space Station is in no danger of running out of food or other critical supplies,” said William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate in a prepared statement.
Both the US and Russian resupply missions were planned and scheduled in advance.
Microdevices Designed to Neutralize Chemical/Biological Warfare Agents
Scientists from the University of California, San Diego said they’ve come up with a unique new approach to handling threats posed by the use of chemical and biological weapons by terrorists or rogue governments.
The California researchers are developing tiny new spherical microrockets that will quickly deliver titanium dioxide, an agent that scientists say neutralizes dangerous biological and chemical agents, into environments that can be difficult to decontaminate.
The scientific team, led by UCSD’s Joseph Wang, outlined their new decontamination process in the journal ‘ACS Nano’. They created a delivery system by coating the titanium dioxide over tiny spherical cores of magnesium.
When these little orbs, with one tiny hole drilled into its shell, are introduced into watery environment the magnesium reacts to the water and produces hydrogen gas which quickly pushes the neutralizing titanium dioxide through the contaminated fluid.
The researchers tested their new micromotors and found that they were able to successfully neutralize not only nerve agents but also anthrax-like bacteria and were able to do so in much less time than with methods that are currently being used.
Healthier & Happier Workers Thanks to Walking Workstations
Most of us who work in offices are used to spending a lot of time sitting at our desks, but numerous studies have shown that too much sitting can be bad for our health.
As a result of this research, a number of office workers, including a number of my colleagues here at VOA, have switched from standard sitting workstations to those that allow you to work while standing up.
Some offices have taken the stand-up work station a step further and have introduced something called walking workstations. Instead of simply standing at your desk on the office floor, with the walking workstation you stand on a treadmill which can be switched on and off throughout the day, allowing workers to do a little walking while they work.
Researchers from the Department of Psychology in the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) recently conducted a study that found office workers using walking workstations had a higher level of satisfaction and weren’t as bored or stressed as those working with standing or sitting workstations.
“We found that the walking workstations, regardless of a person’s exercise habits or body mass index (BMI), had significant benefits,” said study co-author Michael Sliter, in a press release. “Even if you don’t exercise or if you are overweight, you’ll experience both short-term physical and psychological benefits.”
The study can be found online in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Occupational Health Psychology and will be published in the print edition of the journal in this coming January.
This animation shows a neutron star—the core of a star that exploded in a massive supernova. This particular neutron star is known as a pulsar because it sends out rotating beams of X-rays that sweep past Earth like lighthouse beacons. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) mission recently made a remarkable discovery that could lead to a better understanding of how collapsed remnants like black holes can grow and feed on matter at very high rates, something that scientists think had to be done very early in the history of the universe.
As they were making their observations the scientists also found some other very bright and incredibly luminous x-ray sources – ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs) – which they were quite sure were relatively massive black holes eating material at a very high rate.
Upon further investigation the team noticed that one of the objects was pulsing or flashing light. They then realized that it wasn’t a black hole they were observing but a pulsating neutron star (a dead star) called a pulsar.
And what they found wasn’t just any regular pulsar, but the brightest that had ever been seen, pumping out about 10 million times more energy than our sun and more than ten times brighter than any known object like it.
The team’s finding is challenging theorists to try and understand the physics of how this object, nicknamed the “Mighty Mouse” of pulsars, could be so bright.
Harrison, one of the first women to become a principal investigator of a NASA mission, said that this newly discovered object has so much mass packed into it that it’s equivalent to having the mass of the sun jammed into a region the size of the city of San Francisco.
“If you took a teaspoon of the neutron star it would weigh more than all the humans on Earth,” she said.
NuStar, one of NASA’s small ‘explorer missions’ is the first telescope that can offer finely focused images of the universe in the high energy part of the x-ray band (6 – 79 keV). Harrison said that since NuStar can focus so well it produces images that are 100 times crisper than any that had been offered in the high-energy part of the spectrum before.
X-ray electromagnetic radiation is emitted by some of the hottest, densest, most energetic regions in the universe.
Harrison helped create some of the instruments that are aboard the NuStar spacecraft.
One of the first things that Harrison and her colleagues had to do to get the NuStar mission off the ground was to develop x-ray lens that can focus the light as well as new kinds of detectors that work like digital cameras, but can make images in the high-energy x-ray range.
As members of the NuStar mission began their work, they found that the only available types of telescopes that would work in the part of the x-ray spectrum they would be focusing on were those that were based on ‘pinhole cameras’ which she said was a very crude technology.
In order to peer deep into the cosmos, Harrison said that ‘real telescopes’ were needed. So they worked with available x-ray mirror technology and developed and built telescopes that could be used to make observations at higher energies, as well as detectors that could actually stop the powerful beams of electromagnetic radiation to make images.
So as they prepared the NuStar for its June 13, 2012 launch, mission engineers and technicians packed it with instruments that were designed to collect images at energies beyond those of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton or X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission space telescope.
Although NuStar completed its two-year primary mission, NASA moved the x-ray space telescope onto a two-year mission extension.
NASA officials said they plan continued observations with not only NASA’s NuSTAR, but with its Swift and Chandra spacecraft to see if they can find some kind of an explanation for the behavior of the newly discovered pulsar.
Also, since the discovery of this unique pulsar was a bit of a surprise, members of the NuSTAR team will continue to closely observe other ultraluminous X-ray sources in hopes of finding even more pulsars.
Dr. Fiona Harrison talked about the pulsar discovery, the NuStar mission itself, what it’s like being one of the first female primary investigators of a NASA mission and how she balances her very busy scientific schedule with an active home life as a wife and mother on a recent radio edition of VOA’s Science World.
You can listen to the interview through the audio player below.