Friday, August 30, 2019

science news 30.8.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


astrobiology

Hints of a volcanically active exomoon
A rocky extrasolar moon (exomoon) with bubbling lava may orbit a planet 550 light-years away from us. This is suggested by an international team of researchers led by the University of Bern on the basis of theoretical predictions matching observations. The 'exo-Io' would appear to be an extreme version of Jupiter's moon Io.
Might just be bubbling imagination, but then again, it might be true.



Artist's composition of a volcanic exo-Io undergoing extreme mass loss. The hidden exomoon is enshrouded in an irradiated gas cloud shining in bright orange-yellow, as would be seen with a sodium filter. Patches of sodium clouds are seen to trail the lunar orbit, possibly driven by the gas giant's magnetosphere.
Credit: © University of Bern, Illustration: Thibaut Roger


earth

Deep-sea sediments reveal solar system chaos: An advance in dating geologic archives
In a study published in the journal Science, Richard Zeebe from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and Lucas Lourens from Utrecht University used geologic records from deep-sea drill cores to extend the astronomical time scale beyond 50 million years, by about 8 million years. Using their new chronology, they provide a new age for the Paleocene-Eocene boundary (56.01 Ma) with a small margin of error (0.1%).


evolution

Ancient teeth shed light on Miocene 'mouse' migration


environment

Burgundy wine grapes tell climate story, show warming accelerated in past 30 years


neuroscience

Blue Brain finds how neurons in the mouse neocortex form billions of synaptic connections


cultural heritage

Scientists explore aged paint in microscopic detail to inform preservation efforts


humans

First human ancestors breastfed for longer than contemporary relatives

Cooper's Ferry archaeological finds reveal humans arrived in Idaho more than 16,000 years ago


People transformed the world through land use by 3,000 years ago
I'd call that a conservative estimate ...


Thursday, August 29, 2019

science news 29.8.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


astrobiology

Newly discovered giant planet slingshots around its star

Canadian astronomers determine Earth's fingerprint
which could be used to identify a planet beyond our Solar System capable of supporting life.


evolution

Paleontologists discovered diversity of insect pollinators in 99-million-year old amber



Buratina truncata, the new long-proboscid species of Paradoxosisyrinae from Burmese amber.
Credit: Alexander Khramov


A 3.8-million-year-old fossil from Ethiopia reveals the face of Lucy's ancestor


zoology

New insights into genetic basis of bird migration
A gene newly associated with the migratory patterns of golden-winged and blue-winged warblers could lend insight into the longstanding question of how birds migrate across such long distances.


climate change

Climate change affects floods in Europe


humans

After 10-year search, scientists find second 'short sleep' gene
After a decade of searching, the UC San Francisco scientists who identified the only human gene known to promote 'natural short sleep' -- lifelong, nightly sleep that lasts just four to six hours yet leaves individuals feeling fully rested -- have discovered a second.



Wednesday, August 28, 2019

science news 28.8.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


astrobiology

The dark side of extrasolar planets share surprisingly similar temperatures


ecology

How bees live with bacteria

Native approaches to fire management


behaviour

Crows consciously control their calls



Carrion Crow vocalizing
Credit: Tobias Machts


climate change

Arctic permafrost melting will aggravate the greenhouse effect


sustainable tech

Water harvester makes it easy to quench your thirst in the desert


humans

Seeing it both ways: Visual perspective in memory

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

science news 27.8.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.



earth

Utah's red rock metronome
"At about the same rate that your heart beats, a Utah rock formation called Castleton Tower gently vibrates, keeping time and keeping watch over the sandstone desert. Swaying like a skyscraper, the red rock tower taps into the deep vibrations in the earth -- wind, waves and far-off earthquakes."
As a rhythmically challenged musician, I have a conflicted relationship with metronomes, but this one sounds fascinating ...


evolution

Filter-feeding pterosaurs were the flamingos of the Late Jurassic


light and life

The secret of fireworm is out: molecular basis of its light emission


ecology

Urban living leads to high cholesterol...in crows

Wild ground-nesting bees might be exposed to lethal levels of neonics in soil



A female squash bee (University of Guelph)
Credit: University of Guelph


environment

New threat from ocean acidification emerges in the Southern Ocean

"Scientists investigating the effect of ocean acidification on diatoms, a key group of microscopic marine organisms, phytoplankton, say they have identified a new threat from climate change -- ocean acidification is negatively impacting the extent to which diatoms in Southern Ocean waters incorporate silica into their cell walls. The findings are important in the context of global climate change because of the implications for global carbon and silicon cycles and ultimately ocean productivity."


conservation

Northern white rhino eggs successfully fertilized
"After successfully harvesting 10 eggs from the world's last two northern white rhinos, Najin and Fatu, on August 22nd in Kenya, the international consortium of scientists and conservationists announces that 7 out of the 10 eggs (4 from Fatu and 3 from Najin) were successfully matured and artificially inseminated. This was achieved through ICSI (Intra Cytoplasm Sperm Injection) with frozen sperm from two different northern white rhino bulls, Suni and Saut, on Sunday, August 25th."

Beaver reintroduction key to solving freshwater biodiversity crisis


medical

Mosquito incognito: Could graphene-lined clothing help prevent mosquito bites?


humans

The beginnings of trade in northwestern Europe during the Bronze Age


--------------

From the news media

Near-total ban imposed on sending wild African elephants to zoos


Monday, August 26, 2019

soundscape ecology

Open Archive Day


Animals not only make various noises, many of them also rely on the soundscape of their environment for crucial information. It therefore makes a lot of sense to tune into the sounds of nature and use that to study the interactions between species, aka ecology.

My debut feature on soundscape ecology came out a year ago and is now in the open archives:


Listening to the sounds of the biosphere




The presence of species like song birds, crickets or frogs can be detected in ambient sound recordings with the help of artificial intelligence.



Friday, August 23, 2019

no pain all glory

Almodovar's Pain and glory (Dolor y gloria) is released in the UK today, and I went into the first showing in Oxford, at lunchtime today. (A grand total of 4 other people showed up too.) He's now the only Spanish director whose films reliably get released in UK cinemas (in contrast to these films that don't get shown here), so it's also a case of use it or lose it.

If I've got all my numbers crunched the right way, this is his 21st feature length film as a writer-director, and it's the 18th I've seen (I still need to catch up with some of the wilder ones from before 1988). So a few words are in order (also, this blog has an almodovar tag that needs feeding).

As the media (even in the UK) have widely reported, this one has Antonio Banderas playing a thinly disguised, ageing and ailing version of San Pedro himself, which is of course hilarious for those of us who still remember a barely adult Banderas in the very early Almodovar movies. We're anchored in a very up-to date present (watch out for graffiti representing the #metoo type slogan "hermana yo si te creo" which dates from 2018), looking back at the director's distant past, from his childhood to the early movies. Various clever tricks help to bring back the ghosts from the past, and it's all very warm-hearted, life-affirming and all that. As always, it doesn't harm to have Penelope Cruz on board, ironically playing San Pedro's mother.

All my favourite Almodovar films have female protagonists (Volver, La flor de mi secreto, Todo sobre mi madre, etc. ), but given that this one was about himself, he didn't really have that choice, and right now, just hours after seeing it for the first time, I think I like it almost as much as some of the great female-led ones. Having said that, I will go back and watch Volver for the 3rd time (at least - can't believe I've only seen it twice, must be a bug in the bookkeeping), and Julieta, also for the third time.

Anyhow. Enough of me rambling. Here's a proper review from Peter Bradshaw, who saw it at Cannes.


Thursday, August 22, 2019

science news 22.8.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


evolution

20-million-year-old skull suggests complex brain evolution in monkeys, apes


ecology

Environmental DNA proves the expansion of invasive crayfish habitats


light and life

Separate polarization and brightness channels give crabs the edge over predators



This is the fiddler crab Afruca tangeri.
Credit: Kate Feller, University of Minnesota


humans

Nordic Bronze Age attracted wide variety of migrants to Denmark

Earliest evidence of artificial cranial deformation in Croatia during 5th-6th century

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

science news 20.8.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


ecology

Researchers develop tools to help manage seagrass survival


climate change

New study offers roadmap for detecting changes in the ocean due to climate change


birds

These migratory birds will risk their lives for a good nap
more about the crazy ways birds sleep (including during flight) in my feature on the evolution of sleep which came out yesterday.



bio-inspired

New artificial compound eye could improve 3D object tracking



Researchers have created a bio-inspired compound eye that is helping scientists understand how insects sense an object and its trajectory with such speed. The compound eye could also be useful for 3D location systems for robots, self-driving cars and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Credit: Le Song, Tianjin University


sustainable tech

Bottles made of lignocellulose, perfumes of apples


humans

Variation in the shape of speech organs influences language evolution







Monday, August 19, 2019

the science of sleep

Why do we have to sleep? Well, ok, for humans it is easy to come up with a whole range of reasons why we need a certain budget of sleep - our lives are tiring, our complex brains need rebooting once a day, and sleep does all sorts of good things for us.

However, as research keeps discovering sleep behaviour in more and more primitive animals, including invertebrates that don't even have a brain, the phenomenon is getting harder to explain. If they want a bit of a rest at night, that could be easily regulated in a circadian cycle which most multicellular organisms have anyway. But why did our common animal ancestors, more than half a billion years ago, go to the trouble of evolving a budgeting mechanism of the kind that troubles us when we missed out on sleep and have to catch up?

The short answer is, we don't really know - but the quest to understand this does yield some very interesting insights into the hidden lives of all sorts of animals. My feature on this issue is out now:


The reasons of sleep

Current Biology Volume 29, issue 15, pages R775-R777, August 19, 2019


Restricted access to full text and PDF download

(will become open access one year after publication)


Magic link for free access

(first seven weeks only)


Oh, and if I got my maths right, this is the 200th feature in this series - since I took on the challenge to write a feature for every issue, back in February 2011. Since the first one, there have only been three or four issues without one, for one reason or another.



Most mammals are very much like humans in their sleep behaviour. Attempts to explain the evolution of sleep with the mental benefits it has for humans and other mammals are undermined, however, by the findings that some of its features are shared across the animal kingdom. (Photo: RoyBuri/Pixabay.)

Saturday, August 17, 2019

the lost world of tumblr

Eight months after the Great Tumblr Purge, the site appears to be going the way of MySpace now. Press reports of its sale to the owners of WordPress this week suggested the price tag was just $3 million, down by a factor of 300 on what Verizon paid for it just two years ago. Which reminds us, again, of MySpace in the doomed tenure of Murdoch's empire.

Here is a very detailed article in El Mundo which cites the $3 million price as a fact, while the Guardian calls it unconfirmed.

(UPDATE 21.8. I like this analysis asking: Could WordPress + Tumblr create an alternative to Facebook? which would be good but I'm not terribly optimistic.)

Since the purge, I have made it a habit to log into tumblr just once a week to inspect the damage. The situation is very much as it was in January - the art has gone, much of the porn is still there. Clearly censorship has done a brilliant job at blowing this up.



Screenshot of my tumblr archive when I still had one (mid Dec 2018). At that time, I shared a bit more NSFW content than usual in protest against the censorship, upon which I was sent to the naughty corner - no archive, no profile pic, posts can only be accessed by scrolling in a sidebar, so older posts are basically unretrievable (they don't show up in searches either).

One of the effects of the purge is that some NSFW artsy things that would have been all the rage on tumblr are now a bit harder to find. Following my December listing of free the nipple things, here are a few more things that should be on tumblr but don't have a home there any more.

La perla expuesta (a Spencer Tunick style art project connecting public spaces with human forms, which happened in Guadalajara, Mexico, last year apparently).

Performance Leonardo Otero (this is the title of the youtube video, don't know anything else about it, but it also seems to be set in Mexico).

Tove Lo live - a compilation of revealing moments ...

... and speaking of LGBTQ-related synth pop, here's t.A.T.u. in a Sept. 2013 reunion concert which I only just discovered. The notorious stage kisses have given way to hugs, and there are dancers with hilarious costumes and inflatable props, so what's not to like? This has given me some serious noughties nostalgia now. And made me realise that I need to work on reviving my Russian.

Reminiscing of the lost world of tumblr also reminded me of Clayton Cubitt's iconic series of videos Hysterical Literature, which has since then been transferred into many other languages including:
Spanish (?),
Catalan,
Portuguese,
Russian,
Chinese (?) ...
and here's author Candice Dawn using the format to promote her book Reclaiming Eros
and here is one of the original videos with the artist's explanations of his thinking.

PS sadly the alternative site 2mblr which I mentioned in previous posts never became fully functional - last time I checked it still worked as an uncensored archive but not as a live site where you can blog and reblog things. And the last time they copied content across from tumblr appears to have been in early May, so maybe they have given up entirely now?


Friday, August 16, 2019

science news 16.8.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


evolution

Early species developed much faster than previously thought, OHIO research shows
We're talking Ordovician biodiversity explosion here (not origin of life). Only 500 million years ago.

The composition of fossil insect eyes surprises researchers
"Eumelanin -- a natural pigment found for instance in human eyes - has, for the first time, been identified in the fossilized compound eyes of 54-million-year-old crane-flies. It was previously assumed that melanic screening pigments did not exist in arthropods."

Extinct Caribbean bird yields DNA after 2,500 years in watery grave


Dinosaur brains from baby to adult



Head posture if the lateral (horizontal) semi-circular canal is parallel to the ground, in hatching (A), juvenile (B) and adult (C) Psittacosaurus lutjiatunensis.
Credit: Images courtesy of Claire Bullar and IVPP. Images not to scale.


sustainable materials

Green chemists find a way to turn cashew nut shells into sunscreen


humans

Care less with helmet
"A bike helmet suggests safety -- even if the wearer is not sitting on a bike and the helmet cannot fulfil its function."


Thursday, August 15, 2019

science news 15.8.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

How many Earth-like planets are around sun-like stars?


evolution

What a group of bizarre-looking bats can tell us about the evolution of mammals


ecology

Hard-working termites crucial to forest, wetland ecosystems

Flashlight fish use bioluminescence to school at night




Flashlight fish (Anomalops katoptron)
Credit: D. Gruber (2019)


plants

Sticky proteins help plants know when -- and where -- to grow


environment

New study: Fracking prompts global spike in atmospheric methane


humans

Neanderthals commonly suffered from 'swimmer's ear'
"Abnormal bony growths in the ear canal were surprisingly common in Neanderthals"

A society's cultural practices shape the structure of its social networks

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

science news 14.8.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

James Webb Space Telescope could begin learning about TRAPPIST-1 atmospheres in a year
There's a conference on exoplanet climates happening here at Oxford right now, live-streamed here:
http://exoclimes2019.org/ As I'm old enough to remember the discovery of the first exoplanet, I was shocked to see there are so many people studying what was the stuff of imagination just a short while ago.


diatoms

Scientists discover key factors in how some algae harness solar energy


plants

How plants synthesize salicylic acid


zoology

Interbreeding turned grey squirrels black -- study


environment

Coca and conflict: the factors fuelling Colombian deforestation

Study examines how media around the world frame climate change news

Arctic could be iceless in September if temps increase 2 degrees


quantum information

Schrödinger's cat with 20 qubits



In quantum computing, a cat state - named after the famous analogy of Schrödinger's cat -- is a quantum state composed of two diametrically opposed conditions simultaneously. Together with experts from Forschungszentrum Jülich, an international team has now succeeded in placing 20 entangled quantum bits in such a state of superposition.
Credit: Forschungszentrum Jülich / Annette Stettien


humans

Study reveals the emotional journey of a digital detox while travelling

Apples, tea and moderation -- the 3 ingredients for a long life

---------------

from the news media

a human-sized penguin

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

science news 13.8.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

Methane not released by wind on Mars, experts find
"New study rules out wind erosion as the source of methane gas on Mars and moves a step closer to answering the question of whether life exists on other planets."


evolution

Ancient pigs endured a complete genomic turnover after they arrived in Europe
"New research led by Oxford University and Queen Mary University of London has resolved a pig paradox. Archaeological evidence has shown that pigs were domesticated in the Near East and as such, modern pigs should resemble Near Eastern wild boar. They do not. Instead, the genetic signatures of modern European domestic pigs resemble European wild boar."


birds

Scent brings all the songbirds to the yard
"Lehigh University scientists found that not only can chickadees smell, but the males and females prefer the smell of their own species over the smell of the opposite species. These preferences could be impacting hybridization. Their results have been published in an article entitled: 'Conspecific olfactory preferences and interspecific divergence in odor cues in a chickadee hybrid zone' in Ecology and Evolution."



"The sense of smell has been very understudied in birds, particularly songbirds, because they frequently have such impressive plumage and song variation," says Amber Rice, an evolutionary biologist at Lehigh University. "Some other recent work has documented that species of songbird can smell and prefer their species' odors, but this is the first example in currently hybridizing species that we know of."
Credit: Lehigh University


Scientists identify brain region that enables young songbirds to change their tune


environment

New study shows impact of largescale tree death on carbon storage

Wildlife trafficking and more hinder nations' sustainable development
"Transnational environmental crime, or TEC, has become the largest financial driver of social conflicts in the world,"

Diet change needed to save vast areas of tropics, study warns


---------------


From the news media:

I admired the conversion of industrial land around Kings Cross station to a very chic urban landscape last Tuesday (I came to visit Word on the Water - a bookshop in a narrowboat, and the rest came as bonus discoveries), but now the Guardian tells me I have been a guinea pig in surveillance using facial recognition. I did notice on the day that the site was surprisingly free of the grittier parts of London life, so maybe that could be related?

Monday, August 12, 2019

alaska without the sea ice

Open Archive Day

Sea ice in the Arctic continues to decline. Right now, the shores of Alaska are reported to be free of ice, with the nearest ice shelf 240 km away. Lots of people aren't hesitating to exploit these new economic opportunities with activities that inflict further damage on the environment.

It still drives me mad when I see ads for Arctic cruises (eg through the North West Passage, where the Franklin expedition perished in 1845-47), but a year ago I channelled that rage into a feature about the damage done by ships in places that should really be covered by ice.


My feature is now in the open archives:

Arctic shipping threatens wildlife






Marine mammals, including these beluga whales in the pack ice in West Greenland, are set to suffer from the growing number of ships using the Northwest Passage. (Photo: Kristin Laidre/University of Washington.)


PS Here's the Guardian on the damage caused by polar cruises (13.8.)

Friday, August 09, 2019

science news 9.8.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


evolution

Control theory: Mother nature is an engineer
"In the last 150 years, engineers have developed and mastered ways to stabilize dynamic systems, without lag or overshoot, using what's known as control theory. Now, a team of University of Arizona researchers has shown that cells and organisms evolved complex biochemical circuits that follow the principles of control theory, millions of years before the first engineer put pencil to paper."


ecology

These sharks use unique molecules to glow green
A slightly belated PR as the story was already in the Guardian yesterday.


climate change

Over a century of Arctic sea ice volume reconstructed with help from historic ships' logs



The US Revenue Cutter Thetis moored to sea ice near King Island, Alaska, in 1903.
Credit: Coast Guard Museum Northwest



Stony corals: Limits of adaption
"Corals have been dominant framework builders of reef structures for millions of years. Ocean acidification, which is intensifying as climate change progresses, is increasingly affecting coral growth. Scientists from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and the University of California have now answered some questions regarding whether and how corals can adapt to these changes by having gained important insights into the regulatory processes of coral calcification."


sustainable tech

Installing solar panels on agricultural lands maximizes their efficiency, new study shows


humans

Ethiopian rock shelter earliest evidence of high-altitude prehistoric life

Decoding touch
"Study in mice reveals several distinct molecular mechanisms underlying abnormal touch sensitivity in autism spectrum disorders. Gene mutations in the peripheral nervous system lead to touch aversion and interfere with normal brain development in young mice, underscoring importance of early intervention. Treatment with an old experimental compound that selectively targets the peripheral nervous system without entering the brain reduces abnormal touch sensitivity, normalized certain social behaviors."

Great Scots! 'it's' a unique linguistic phenomenon
"A new study reveals that in a number of varieties of English spoken in Scotland, the rules of contraction (it's for it is) seem to differ unexpectedly, and asserts that such differences may shed new light on our understanding of language."

Positive effect of music and dance on dementia proven by New Zealand study

Thursday, August 08, 2019

science news 8.8.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

New insights into the origin of life
"... energetically feasible interactions between just two small molecules -- hydrogen cyanide and water -- could give rise to most of the important precursors of RNA and proteins."


ecology

Blue sharks use eddies for fast track to food



Blue sharks are considered a "near threatened" species due to heavy fishing pressure on populations across the globe.
Credit: Nuna Sá


health

Fast-food availability near commute route linked to BMI

33% of new childhood asthma cases in europe attributable to air pollution

Air pollution cuts are saving lives in New York state
"Lower air pollution levels saved an estimated 5,660 lives in New York State in 2012, compared to 2002 levels, according to a new study."

Marijuana legalization reduces opioid deaths



--------------

From the news media

Ooooooh, green-glowing sharks, lovely!




Wednesday, August 07, 2019

science news 7.8.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

Dead planets can 'broadcast' for up to a billion years
"Astronomers are planning to hunt for cores of exoplanets around white dwarf stars by 'tuning in' to the radio waves that they emit."


evolution

NZ big bird a whopping 'squawkzilla'
"Australasian palaeontologists have discovered the world's largest parrot, standing up to 1m tall with a massive beak able to crack most food sources. The new bird has been named Heracles inexpectatus to reflect its Herculean myth-like size and strength -- and the unexpected nature of the discovery."



Reconstruction of the giant parrot Heracles, dwarfing a bevy of 8cm high Kuiornis -- small New Zealand wrens scuttling about on the forest floor.
Credit: Dr Brian Choo, Flinders University


behaviour

Staring at seagulls could save your chips
Can't you just imagine the many hours of tireless fieldwork that were necessary to come to this result?


conservation

Industrial fishing behind plummeting shark numbers


food and drink

Guacamole lovers, rejoice! The avocado genome has been sequenced


quantum information processing

Striped glow sticks
"It may be possible to reach new levels of miniaturization, speed, and data processing with optical quantum computers, which use light to carry information. For this, we need materials that can absorb and transmit photons. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, Chinese scientists have introduced a new strategy for constructing photonic heterostructure crystals with tunable properties. Using a crystalline rod with stripes that fluoresce in different colors, they have developed a prototype of a logic gate."


------------


From the news media:


Tardigrades alive on the Moon?



Tuesday, August 06, 2019

science news 6.8.2019

I took a couple of weeks off from the arduous task of filter-feeding the daily science news. Did I miss anything important?
No? Good, back to business:

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

A new lens for life-searching space telescopes


evolution

Intense look at La Brea Tar Pits explains why we have coyotes, not saber-toothed cats

It would take 50 million years to recover New Zealand's lost bird species
"Half of New Zealand's birds have gone extinct since humans arrived on the islands. Many more are threatened. Now, researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on August 5 estimate that it would take approximately 50 million years to recover the number of bird species lost since humans first colonized New Zealand."



This image shows a Kakapo bird.
Credit: Andrew Digby / Current Biology


ecology

Road verges provide refuge for pollinators
"... but they must be managed better, new research shows."

Seaweed sinks deep, taking carbon with it

Restoring forests means less fuel for wildfire and more storage for carbon
See also my feature on reforestation, out this week.


catalysis

Stanford scientists create artificial catalysts inspired by living enzymes


energy

Improving the magnetic bottle that controls fusion power on Earth
"The exhaustive detection method that discovered the error field in the initial run of the NSTX-U tokamak could serve as a model for error-field detection in future tokamaks."


humans

Recursive language and modern imagination were acquired simultaneously 70,000 years ago
"A genetic mutation that slowed down the development of the prefrontal cortex in two or more children may have triggered a cascade of events leading to acquisition of recursive language and modern imagination 70,000 years ago. This new Romulus and Remus hypothesis, coined by Dr. Vyshedskiy, a neuroscientist from Boston University, might be able to solve the long-standing mystery of language evolution."


-------------

in other news ...

It's Hiroshima day today.




Monday, August 05, 2019

plant a billion trees

As the world is slowly waking up to the fact that the climate crisis is real, a popular response is to plant some trees - after all they do CO2 removal for a living. Recent research has looked into the scale of reforestation physically possible and its impact on the climate. The good news is that it can have a significant effect - but not if people plant monocultures of unsuitable trees for commercial purposes.

My feature about the dos and donts of reforestation is out now:

How to bring back our planet’s forests

Current Biology Volume 29, issue 15, pages R715-R718, August 5, 2019

FREE access to full text and PDF download




Volunteer helpers of the organisation One Tree Planted at a forest restoration project in Guatemala. (Photo: One Tree Planted, onetreeplanted.org)

Sunday, August 04, 2019

just blow

All our instruments series, episode 16

Approaching the millennium, we're now firmly in the realm of instruments bought for the children with various flimsy excuses. This one was a present for the young flautist in the family, but never found much use. Trying to record a half-decent video with it, I realised why - it isn't all that easy to get a proper sound out of it. Even though I spend a fair amount of time each day producing sounds by blowing across a similar-sized hole on a flute, this set of panpipes seems to want a different kind of embouchure or angle or I don't know what. I'm only playing the bottom row anyway, as the access to the top row seems to be limited by my chin colliding with the pipes of the bottom row. So this instrument seems to be trouble all round, but it is very decorative dangling from the shelves.



(The background texture in this photo is another instrument to be discussed later in the series ... )

It doesn't have any marks re origin or maker, and I can't remember where I bought it. May have been from Tumi, who had a lovely Latin American / Fairtrade shop in Little Clarendon Street in the 90s. Nowadays I believe the company still exists but only trades online. Oooh, good guess, here are the pipes, still: Zampona 11/12, although sadly sold out at the moment.

So, anyhow, here's my rather embarrassing series of attempts to play some notes on it:



I do like the sound though, on the rare occasions when I manage to produce it.


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