Stolen from A Blog Around the Clock.
There’s news of new dinosaur publication from Coturnix, which is rather exciting for a couple of reasons.
One is that it seems to be an intrinsically interesting dinosaur. Structural Extremes in a Cretaceous Dinosaur is a publication of a dinosaur which is like a mini Diplodocus, mini being a relative description. What makes it very strange are the bones, there’s not a lot to them. The skull is described as a featherweight PLoS paper. This seems to be the same throughout the skeleton. Co-author Jeffrey Wilson said: “The vertebrae are so paper-thin that it is difficult to imagine them coping with the stresses of everyday use — but we know they did it, and they did it well.” The mounting of the skull on the spine means that it’s also more evidence as to whether Nigersaurus and Diplodocus ate like giraffes from high food sources, or from the ground like cows. You can read about it in the December National Geographic, or if you want to see where these facts come from go to the source in PLoS One, which is the second exciting thing.
The publication of the paper shows a really clever piece of thinking in publishing. Rather than just seeing publication as either commercial or non-commercial, the team working on Nigersaurus are using the strengths of both methods of publishing. In this instance the commercial publication in National Geographic is going to get the work far more attention than a purely open access publication would. At the same time, the open access publication means that the data will be accessible to anyone with internet access until the apocalypse. I’m currently having trouble tracking down publications that are barely a century old, so this is very attractive. It’s not an isolated example, the Archaeological Institute of America publishes their journal
with open-access free online but has a commercial publication with Archaeology magazine, which shows that organisations can work with both traditional copyright and open-access rather than one to the exclusion of the other. Yet I can’t recall this kind of co-operation being done with such a major find before.
Hopefully there’ll be many more successes for PLoS One in many more disciplines.
Two science-based blog carnivals have gone online recently. At Pharyngula the Creation Museum Carnival has just gone live. I appreciate the freedom of speech issue. If someone wants to spend millions of dollars fighting against science that it their right, but there’s no need to agree with or even respect dishonesty.
[Cross-posted to Revise & Dissent]
Drilling for Ithaca. © Robert Bittlestone.
Some tremendously exciting news was announced yesterday. Ithaca, the home of Odysseus from Homer’s Odyssey, may have been located. The reason why I’m finding it so exciting isn’t so much that from what they’ve found, but from the way that different strands of evidence are coming together to confirm the idea.
Locating Ithaca has long been a puzzle, complicated by the fact that Homer may have been making some of the description up for dramatic effect. For instance he refers to wealthy Corinth, which was nowhere special at the time of Trojan Wars and didn’t become a major power till much later. So there was the possibility that something similar was true of Ithaca.
Ithaca was described in the Odyssey:
I am Odysseus, Laertes’ son, world-famed
For stratagems: my name has reached the heavens.
Bright Ithaca is my home: it has a mountain,
Leaf-quivering Neriton, far visible.
Around are many islands, close to each other,
Doulichion and Same and wooded Zacynthos.
Ithaca itself lies low, furthest to sea
Towards dusk; the rest, apart, face dawn and sun.Odyssey 9, 19-26 (trans. James Diggle)
The island known in modern times as Ithaki is currently thought to be Ithaca, but there are problems. Ithaki is hilly, among other islands and slopes to the east. Paliki would be a much better fit for the description, but there’s a problem there too. Paliki isn’t an island, it’s a peninsula on Kephalonia. Robert Bittlestone has looked at the isthmus connecting Paliki to the rest of the island and he’s come up with a solution. He thinks the isthmus is infill of a marine channel and that, in ancient times, Paliki was an island. However the isthmus is up to 180 metres above sea-level. Is this reasonable?
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NASA has announced the discovery of liquid water on Mars thanks to MGS images.
The clue is that the continual imaging by the MGS has enabled the team to track changes in the surface over time. The really exciting thing is that the team think that this shows evidence of material being moved by water today. The traces are light streaks in gulleys.
Photo by NASA
There are a few reasons why the scientists are arguing for the existence of water. One is the colour of these streaks. Usually when the dust gets disturbed on Mars, the surface gets darker. This is seen in the tracks the Mars rovers make, the trenches Viking made and the scars of impacts from space. These streaks are a lot lighter. Why the streaks are lighter is unknown, but there are couple of possibilities.
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I went to see An Inconvenient Truth this week. It’s on a short run outside of London making it briefly a slightly more convenient truth. I was rather impressed. There’s little new in the film, at not to those living in Europe, but what is there is put together and presented very well. The film tackles four basic issues, What is Global Warming? What’s causing it? Why does it matter? What can we do about it?
The explanation of Global Warming is simplfied, it solely about CO2 in Al Gore’s film, which skips over the problems that might be caused by things like Methane clathrates. For the sake of explaining the problem this is a very smart move, because it allows him to then concentrate on one issue for tackling the cause. The common rejoinder from industry is that warming and cooling follows a natural cycle. Gore’s able to show that this is true it does. He’s then able to follow this up by showing the range of natural variation, and how modern carbon dioxide levels are way waaaay in excess of natural variation. Some of the more powerful scenes in the film explore why this matters. In the preview above you can see that a feasible rise of sea level caused by the melting of Greenlandic or a portion of Antarctic ice will cause large scale flooding of densely populated coastal areas.
The weakest part of the film, from a European perspective is the call to action. He says nothing wrong, but it’s all very old news over here. This is very much a section for the North American audience where being green is a matter of envying your neighbour’s gas guzzler. One scene is about proposed improvements in fuel efficiency by the state of California which are being opposed by the motor industry and it’s hard not to laugh. They’re pitiful. California wants to be, in twelve year’s time, where China is today. If this really is a problem for Ford or General Motors then who in their right mind would buy an American car?
This aside, it is a very good introduction to the problem. Like all politicians Gore cannot tell jokes, but he comes close on a couple of occasions. What he does do is get across his message clearly, effectively and powerfully. Visual aids are used well, but so is his presence as a speaker. As an example of science communication its hard to beat.
Above is a view of a Google Earth model we’re using to demonstrate some of the equipment we have in the i-Science labs for the pi-CETL launch evening. Click on Sunrise Alignment and you’ll see the view from Stonehenge to the rising sun in midsummer. Click on Sunset alignment and you’ll see the view in the direction through Stonehenge to the setting midwinter sun. There’s also a moonrise alignment to the most southerly rising of the moon, which can be viewed along the long side of the station stone rectangle. It’s for the students to improve it or otherwise, but you can download a version to play with.
The ESA has imaged a face on Mars, but that’s old news. They’ve also imaged the Cydonia region which is home to another face. It’s good news because the region has been difficult to study – not because of alien interference but because of dust storms. That’s part of what makes Mars an interesting place. It’s not as actove as Earth or Io, but it isn’t geologically static either.
Though obviously we can’t rule out alien intervention.
Out of work no longer? Photo by sculpture grrrl.
There’s an interesting article in the current New Scientist about reverse archaeology. Here’s the problem: The USA has thousands of tons of amazingly lethal waste to dispose of. What they’re going to do build a storage facility and leave the stuff there for 250,000 years. It’s potent stuff and it’s going to be a serious danger for at least the next 10,000 years so it would be helpful to leave a warning. There are a few problems.
One is language. How many people are fluent in Latin, which was a major language till quite recently? What’s your ancient Greek like? How good are your hieroglyphs? These languages have all only existed for a fraction of the time that these warnings need to last. How do you leave a message for the future? Signs are going up in major languages, but the US military have asked anthropologists for help. Their suggestion is pictures, the proposal is two faces, one showing fear and the other disgust. Another is a comic strip of a man digging and then becoming sick.
Once you have your message how to you display it? You need a billboard that will last 10,000 years. Serious and Delirious descibes the plan as ‘Evil Stonehenge’. It does look like the military will be returning to Stone Age technology to hold the message.
The final problem is making sure the message is believed. This could be where it fails. The waste will be under a mound with magnets and radar reflectors, which in a few thousand years time might be the epitome of mystical weirdness. Now at the mysterious keep out signs warning of a deadly curse which must not be disturbed.
Now who wouldn’t want to open that mound pronto?
This is how a planet ends.
Photo: The International Astronomical Union/Lars Holm Nielsen
The elephants were gathered on the savannah a respectful distance from Nellie, the matriarch. She had to break some bad news to one of the herd. Nellie looked down with her big regretful eyes at the somewhat smaller member of the herd standing in front of her. “There’s no easy way of telling you this.You were adopted,” she said to the tiny creature. “In fact you might not even be an elephant. We think you’re an ant.”
The vote of the IAU has been announced. The press are saying it’s a turn around from the position they took on Sunday, but it’s not. Before there were going to be eight classical planets and Pluto as a planet. Now there are eight planets and Pluto as a dwarf planet. Quite simply “One of these things is not like the others…”
It’s not the first time that astronomers have changed their mind about something being a planet. The difference is that this time round the ejected planet has come away with quite an honour.
It helps if you know what a planet is – which is where the fuss started.
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