Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ukraine: Crunch, Bunch, Lunch?

There is little good news in Eastern Ukraine.  The government of Kiev seems to be overly cautious or unable to roll back the Little Green Men.  Turchynov has stated Kiev can only hope to contain the spread of the rebellion at this point rather than take back the Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts.  That's a bad sign for hopes of Kiev succeeding in holding Ukraine together.

To make matters worse, lawlessness is spreading in the LGM occupied territories.  LGM have begun confiscating cars and extorting money from passersby and robbing stores.  

To add insult to the already horrible injury, Men in Black (not Will Smith) have started causing provocations in Kiev following up the Neo Nazi march in Kiev with attacks all over the city.

The successes of Kiev though are not on the home front, but with the West.  

Yatsenyuk has successfully convinced Europe to continue the implementation of the association agreement.

Likewise, the IMF has formally approved the $17 billion for Ukraine.  The first tranche is expected around May 5th.

Russia is paying in spades for Crimea and probably the Donbass: they are in a recession and from the looks of things they are going to go into a depression. 

Profiling the Altcoins: Bitcoins Competitors

At a bitcoin conference in Miami this January, Jeffrey Tucker, a laissez-faire economist and libertarian icon, made an unexpected observation. “There are people in this room who would think bitcoin is a little old-fashioned,” he quipped. Well, that was fast. After all, it was only five years ago that bitcoin appeared on the scene and provided the world with the first open-source, decentralized alternative to government controlled currencies. And it’s really only in the last year that bitcoin has begun to gain traction as a payment option.

Now bitcoin faces competition. Hundreds of bitcoin knockoffs—“altcoins,” as they are commonly called—have been built.

The software that underpins bitcoin is open-source, so anyone can copy and tweak the code to create their own digital currency. You can even pay someone to do it for you: The owner of a Web site called Coingen, for example, promises to start a new bitcoin clone for anyone who pays a fee of 0.05 bitcoin. All you have to do is give it a name.

Stanford Flirts With the Robopocalypse

Neurogrid: A Mixed-Analog-Digital Multichip System for Large-Scale Neural Simulations


Benjamin et al


In this paper, we describe the design of Neurogrid, a neuromorphic system for simulating large-scale neural models in real time. Neuromorphic systems realize the function of biological neural systems by emulating their structure. Designers of such systems face three major design choices: 1) whether to emulate the four neural elements—axonal arbor, synapse, dendritic tree, and soma—with dedicated or shared electronic circuits; 2) whether to implement these electronic circuits in an analog or digital manner; and 3) whether to interconnect arrays of these silicon neurons with a mesh or a tree network. The choices we made were: 1) we emulated all neural elements except the soma with shared electronic circuits; this choice maximized the number of synaptic connections; 2) we realized all electronic circuits except those for axonal arbors in an analog manner; this choice maximized energy efficiency; and 3) we interconnected neural arrays in a tree network; this choice maximized throughput. These three choices made it possible to simulate a million neurons with billions of synaptic connections in real time—for the first time—using 16 Neurocores integrated on a board that consumes three watts.

Saudi Arabia Shows Off DF-3 Ballistic Missiles

Saudi Arabia publicly displayed its Dong Feng-3 (DF-3) ballistic missiles for the first time in a 29 April parade marking the end of what was billed as its largest ever military exercise.

The parading of the missiles will be seen as the latest Saudi step to publicise its ballistic missile capability, which has included media coverage of the opening of the Strategic Missile Force's new headquarters in Riyadh in 2010.

The DF-3 (US designation: CSS-2) is a single-stage, liquid-fuel ballistic missile that was developed by China in the 1960s. It is estimated to have a range of 2,500 km with a 2,000 kg warhead, but suffers from poor accuracy.

It was confirmed in March 1988 that China had transferred an unspecified number of DF-3 missiles with conventional warheads to Saudi Arabia. The estimates of the number of missiles delivered to the kingdom range between 30 and 120.

Saudi television footage of the parade at Hafr al-Batin Airbase in the northeast of the kingdom showed two missiles with DF-3 written on them in Latin script. The missiles were mounted on the same towed erector launchers that have been seen in photographs of Chinese DF-3s. These launchers can only travel on paved surfaces, but provide an adequate level of mobility for firing from the prepared launch pads at Saudi ballistic missile bases.

Speculation that Saudi Arabia is in the process of replacing its DF-3s was fuelled by the circulation of a photograph of Prince Fahd bin Abdullah bin Muhammad al-Saud visiting the Strategic Missile Force headquarters in Riyadh during his brief tenure as deputy defence minister in 2013. The photograph shows senior officers presenting him with a display case containing models of three missiles, including one that looks like a DF-3. There has been speculation that one of the other two missiles in the case is a Chinese DF-25 (CCS-5) with a pointier nose for a conventional warhead.

In January, a Newsweek story cited an unnamed "well-placed intelligence source" as saying Saudi Arabia began replacing its DF-3 from 2007, when it bought solid-fuel DF-25 missiles. The source said the United States approved the transfer after CIA analysts inspected the missiles and were satisfied that they were not designed to carry nuclear warheads.

Congress Directs Pentagon to Evaluate Railgun for Missile Defense

The strategic forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee requested on 29 April that the US Department of Defense outline a plan for determining if the Electro-Magnetic (EM) Railgun could be an affordable alternative for missile defence.

The language, approved during the subcommittee's markup of the US House of Representative's version of the fiscal year 2015 (FY 2015) defence authorisation bill, requested both the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) provide a report by November 2015 that includes: an agreed series of test events to determine the suitability of the EM Railgun technology for transfer to MDA for further development activity; necessary funding in FY 2016 and future years to conduct testing; opportunities to use existing MDA test events and assets to evaluate features of a railgun system; and opportunities to leverage other military service development and test activities to ensure the most cost-effective commitment of funds.

Before the Dead Sea Died: What Lived in Paleo Lake Hula

Fish and ancient lakes in the Dead Sea Rift: The use of fish remains to reconstruct the ichthyofauna of paleo-Lake Hula


Zohar et al


In this study we use fish remains recovered at the Acheulian site of Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov, dated to 0.78 Ma years ago, to reconstruct for the first time the fish community of paleo-Lake Hula. From Area A at the site, we identified 13 species belonging to three of the five recent native families of freshwater fish: Cyprinidae (carps), Cichlidae (Tilapinii, St. Peter fish), and Clariidae (catfish). The identified taxa included species endemic to Lake Hula, Tristramella simonis intermedia (Cichlidae) and Mirogrex hulensis (Cyprinidae), demonstrating continuity in the fish community for the last 0.8 million years. In addition, some of the species-specific bones exhibited different morphotypes that raise the possibility of the past existence of other endemic species of cyprinids and catfish in the lake, including the large molluskivores Luciobarbus sp. (formerly Barbus). The paleoenvironmental implications of the identified ichthyofauna for the complexity of the aquatic habitat of paleo-Lake Hula are discussed.

The Proposed Io Volcano Observer

Io Volcano Observer (IVO): Budget travel to the outer Solar System


McEwen et al


The IVO mission would make multiple close encounters with Io while orbiting Jupiter in an inclined elliptical orbit. The payload includes narrow-angle and wide-angle cameras (NAC and WAC), dual fluxgate magnetometers (FGM), a thermal mapper (ThM), dual ion and neutral mass spectrometers (INMS), and dual plasma ion analyzers (PIA). The mission is designed to answer key outstanding questions about Io, especially the nature of the intense active volcanism and internal processes that drive the volcanism. IVO can collect and return 20 Gb of compressed science data per Io encounter, 100 times the total Io data return from the 8yr Galileo tour.

Meet Cori: The $70 Million Next Gen Supercomputer for the Day job @ NERSC

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Research Scientific Computing (NERSC) Center and Cray Inc. announced today that they have signed a contract for a next generation of supercomputer to enable scientific discovery at the DOE’s Office of Science (DOE SC).

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), which manages NERSC, collaborated with Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories to develop the technical requirements for the system.

The new, next-generation Cray XC supercomputer will use Intel’s next-generation Intel® Xeon Phi™ processor –- code-named “Knights Landing” -- a self-hosted, manycore processor with on-package high bandwidth memory and delivers more than 3 teraFLOPS of double-precision peak performance per single socket node. Scheduled for delivery in mid-2016, the new system will deliver 10x the sustained computing capability of NERSC’s Hopper system, a Cray XE6 supercomputer.

NERSC serves as the DOE SC’s primary high performance computing (HPC) facility, supporting more than 5,000 scientists annually on over 700 projects. The $70 million plus contract represents the DOE SC’s ongoing commitment to enabling extreme-scale science to address challenges such as developing new energy sources, improving energy efficiency, understanding climate change, developing new materials and analyzing massive data sets from experimental facilities around the world.


To highlight its commitment to advancing research, NERSC names its supercomputers after noted scientists. The new system will be named “Cori” in honor of bio-chemist and Nobel Laureate Gerty Cori, the first American woman to receive a Nobel Prize in science.

Technical Highlights

Cori the supercomputer will have over 9300 Knights Landing compute nodes and provide over 400 gigabytes per second of I/O bandwidth and 28 petabytes of disk space. The contract also includes an option for a “Burst Buffer,” a layer of NVRAM that would move data more quickly between processor and disk, allowing users to make the most efficient use of the system while saving energy. The Cray XC system features the Aries high-performance interconnect linking the processors, which also increases efficiency. Cori will be installed directly into the new Computational Research and Theory facility currently being constructed on the main Berkeley Lab campus.

A Ceratopsian Dinosaur From Hauterivian/Berremian Cretaceous Japan

The First Basal Neoceratopsian Dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Kanmon Group in Kyushu, Southwestern Japan


Tanoue et al


An isolated tooth specimen from the Lower Cretaceous Kanmon Group in Kyushu Island, south-western Japan was initially identified as a hadrosaurid. It is reidentified herein as a neoceratopsian tooth based on the presence of a wide and prominent primary ridge on the crown, a shallow indentation on the right side of the primary ridge in non-occlusal view, and a horizontally oriented cingulum at the base of the crown. The poorly developed cingulum and shallow indentation suggest that it does not pertain to a ceratopsid, but is only referable to a basal neoceratopsian. This represents the first basal neoceratopsian specimen from the Lower Cretaceous of Kyushu Island.

Tetrapod & Invertebrate Trace Fossils From Early Permian Argentina

Tetrapod and invertebrate trace fossils from aeolian deposits of the lower Permian of central-western Argentina


Krapovickas et al


Abundant tetrapod footprints are described from the Early Permian Yacimiento Los Reyunos Formation including both collected and in situ specimens. The slabs come from several quarries at the Sierra Pintada and Sierra de las Peñas area, south-west of Mendoza, Argentina. The trace fossil assemblage, which constitutes one of the oldest known from Gondwana, comprises excellent-preserved tetrapod tracks (Chelichnusduncani, Chelichnusgigas and ‘pear-like’ footprints) and invertebrate simple sub-horizontal (Palaeophycustubularis) and vertical (Skolithos isp.) burrows formed in a aeolian dune field. The analysis of the tetrapod track producers indicates the presence of at least three different taxa of sprawling to semi-erect therapsids, thus suggesting the presence of members of this clade, or closest relatives, in the Early Permian of southern Gondwana. Moreover, a series of measurements and simple indexes were developed to estimate body proportions and locomotion styles of the putative trackmakers. The new assemblage, analysed in the context of other known Permian assemblages from Pangea, is one the few known in Gondwana to be present in an aeolian environment. The evaluation of the assemblage, in the light of aeolian ichnofacies (Chelichnus, Octopodichnus and Entradichnus), shows that it has common elements with the Chelichnus and Entradichnus ichnofacies.

Precisely Dating the Lower/Middle Cambrian Mass Extinction

High-precision dating of the Kalkarindji large igneous province, Australia, and synchrony with the Early–Middle Cambrian (Stage 4–5) extinction


Jourdan et al


The voluminous Kalkarindji flood basalts erupted in Australia during the Cambrian and covered greater than 2 x 106 km2. New U-Pb and 40Ar/39Ar age data from intrusive rocks and lava flows yielded statistically indistinguishable ages at ca. 511 Ma, suggesting a relatively brief emplacement for this province. A zircon age of 510.7 ± 0.6 Ma shows that this province is temporally indistinguishable at the few-hundred-thousand-year level from the Early–Middle Cambrian (Stage 4–5) boundary age of 510 ± 1 Ma, which marks the first severe extinction of the Phanerozoic and an extended marine anoxia period. Sulfur concentration measurements ranging from less than 50 to 1900 μg/g, and fractal analysis of extensive explosive volcanic breccias, suggest that blasts and phreatomagmatic explosions have contributed to injection of large amounts of sulfur into the stratosphere. In addition, magma intrusions in oil, gas, and sulfate deposits may have generated significant emission of CH4 and SO2 which, along with volcanic gases, would have combined to cause an oscillation of the climate and led to the Cambrian extinction.

China's Economy set to Eclipse United States *THIS* Year?!

The US is on the brink of losing its status as the world’s largest economy, and is likely to slip behind China this year, sooner than widely anticipated, according to the world’s leading statistical agencies.

The US has been the global leader since overtaking the UK in 1872. Most economists previously thought China would pull ahead in 2019.

The figures, compiled by the International Comparison Program hosted by the World Bank, are the most authoritative estimates of what money can buy in different countries and are used by most public and private sector organisations, such as the International Monetary Fund. This is the first time they have been updated since 2005.

After extensive research on the prices of goods and services, the ICP concluded that money goes further in poorer countries than it previously thought, prompting it to increase the relative size of emerging market economies.

The estimates of the real cost of living, known as purchasing power parity or PPPs, are recognised as the best way to compare the size of economies rather than using volatile exchange rates, which rarely reflect the true cost of goods and services: on this measure the IMF put US GDP in 2012 at $16.2tn, and China’s at $8.2tn.

In 2005, the ICP thought China’s economy was less than half the size of the US, accounting for only 43 per cent of America’s total. Because of the new methodology – and the fact that China’s economy has grown much more quickly – the research placed China’s GDP at 87 per cent of the US in 2011.

For 2011, the report says: “The US remained the world’s largest economy, but it was closely followed by China when measured using PPPs”.

With the IMF expecting China’s economy to have grown 24 per cent between 2011 and 2014 while the US is expected to expand only 7.6 per cent, China is likely to overtake the US this year.


Let the Race to Mars Begin! Russians Want Their Own Space Launch System

A project to build a new super-heavy carrier rocket was included into the draft new Federal Space Program (FSP) Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko said on Thursday.

“A [super] heavy carrier rocket was included into the new FSP. Work is still under way, with the first stage envisaging the construction of a rocket capable of lifting from 70 to 80 metric tons,” Ostapenko said, adding that such rockets would be enough for projects scheduled for the next 20 or 30 years.

The second stage of the project is to build a carrier rocket capable of lifting from 100 to 120 metric tons of payload into the low-earth orbit.

A year ago, Russia said that it will develop new technology including huge new rockets for manned flights to the moon and Mars, by the same year that the Americans are aiming for Mars – 2030.

Ukraine: The Sound of the Floor Giving Way?

The situation has worsened in Ukraine.

Lugansk has had numerous government buildings taken over by the Little Green Men.

Pervomaysk has likewise had buildings seized by LGM.

There are reports Mariupol and Berdyansk are next to fall to the LGM.

The police seem to have all but given up or gone over in Donetsk. Something similar seems to be happening in Lugansk.

A very weird bit was an actual Neo Nazi banner and torch light march came into the Maidan in Kiev. The Euromaidan defense force stopped them at the entrance to the Maidan. No one seems to know who the people were. Or what they were doing there. THey claimed to be supporting Ukraine against Russia, but no one seems to understand who they were or where they came from. The entire incident was bizarre. The only thing which makes sense is they are actually doing theater for the Rusian cameras, but even that seems...excessive and odd. it definitely produced fodder for the Russian cameras.

On the positive.

The Ukrainian army has cleared two more checkpoints into Slavyansk.

US Secretary of State Kerry has come out and stated they have intercepted enough communications between the commanders on the ground in Eastern Ukraine and the folks controlling them in Russia to say this was not a local operation. This is a special forces driven takeover of eastern and southern Ukraine, not an uprising by locals.

Likewise, a sorta troublesome and cryptic response was made by the US: if the Russians cross the border, the US' response would be immediate and the consequences would be 'dramatic.' I spell some cojones growing. Or a bluff. Where's the 3rd Stryker?  Is the Bush still in the Aegean?

Frankly, the Ukrainians need to take the gloves off and go into Slavyansk.  Once that's done, turn on the other cities.  The longer they wait, the more likely they will lose eastern and southern Ukraine.  Turchynov: DO IT!  No one other than the Russians are going to blame you.  YOU ARE LOSING YOUR COUNTRY!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

All MIT Students to be Given $100 of BitCoin

Each of the 4,500-plus undergraduates at MIT will soon get $100 in bitcoin as part of a project launched by a pair of students who announced today that they’ve raised a half million dollars to fund the effort.

Organizers said they hope to establish “an ecosystem for digital currencies” at the Cambridge campus that will allow professors and researchers to study how students use bitcoin as well as to promote other academic and entrepreneurial activity around bitcoin.

The MIT Bitcoin Project is being led by Jeremy Rubin, a sophomore studying computer science at MIT , and Dan Elitzer, a first-year graduate student in MIT’s Sloan business school and president of the MIT Bitcoin Club, the students said in an announcement.

“Giving students access to cryptocurrencies is analogous to providing them with Internet access at the dawn of the Internet era,” said a statement from Rubin.

The duo said they have received more than $500,000 in pledges — primarily from alumni — to cover the $100 bitcoin handouts, which are scheduled to be distributed to undergraduates in the fall. The money will also fund other aspects of the project, including related “infrastructure” and informational activities.

In the months leading up to the campus-wide bitcoin giveaway, Rubin and Elitzer said they plan to educate student and businesses around campus about bitcoin — including at an “expo” scheduled for Saturday — and will help merchants set up systems to accept the digital currency.

Chinese 3D Printer for Concrete Houses

Orbital Sciences & ATK Merging

Orbital Sciences Corporation and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) are to merge their aerospace and defence groups to create a new USD4.5 billion company to be called Orbital ATK, Inc, the companies announced on 29 April.

Orbital ATK will operate in a range of markets including space launch vehicles and propulsion systems, tactical missiles and defence electronics, satellites and space systems, armament systems and ammunition, and commercial and military aircraft structures and related components.

Liberty launch vehicle is completely toast, but it makes you wonder if they might not revive the capsule ATK was proposing to compete with SpaceX's Dragon for human spaceflight.

TALOS Hobbled? Congress Tries to Rein in SoCOM & US Army Powered Armour Effort

Lawmakers today moved to tighten congressional control over U.S. Special Operations Command’s new “Iron Man” battle suit, expressing concerns that program officials are already mishandling the complex effort.

SOCOM recently launched a new website to promote its vision of elite commandos outfitted in futuristic, battle suits like those depicted in Hollywood blockbusters such as Marvel’s Iron Man series.

The Tactical Assault Light Operators Suit effort, known as TALOS, would provide operators with full-body ballistic protection and increased physical performance. It would also feature embedded antennas and computers designed to give operators increased situation awareness. It’s even supposed to keep the wearer cool in hot weather and warm in cold climates.

Despite “aggressive marketing efforts by USSOCOM,” members of the House Armed Services Committee want to know more about the program before funding is approved.

“The committee understands that present efforts are being used to survey current technologies and to better inform future requirements documents, and that USSOCOM intends to deliver a fully functional prototype assault suit by August 2018,” according to language in the Fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Bill released by the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities.

“The committee is concerned that these requirements are not being properly coordinated with related or complementary efforts at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Command.”


How Greatly Impacted was India by the Beginning Holocene Megafaunal Extinctions

Continuity of mammalian fauna over the last 200,000 y in the Indian subcontinent


Roberts et al


Mammalian extinction worldwide during the Late Pleistocene has been a major focus for Quaternary biochronology and paleoecology. These extinctions have been variably attributed to the impacts of climate change and human interference. However, until relatively recently, research has been largely restricted to the Americas, Europe, and Australasia. We present the oldest Middle–Late Pleistocene stratified and numerically dated faunal succession for the Indian subcontinent from the Billasurgam cave complex. Our data demonstrate continuity of 20 of 21 identified mammalian taxa from at least 100,000 y ago to the present, and in some cases up to 200,000 y ago. Comparison of this fossil record to contemporary faunal ranges indicates some geographical redistribution of mammalian taxa within India. We suggest that, although local extirpations occurred, the majority of taxa survived or adapted to substantial ecological pressures in fragmented habitats. Comparison of the Indian record with faunal records from Southeast and Southwest Asia demonstrates the importance of interconnected mosaic habitats to long-term faunal persistence across the Asian tropics. The data presented here have implications for mammalian conservation in India today, where increasing ecological circumscription may leave certain taxa increasingly endangered in the most densely populated region of the world.

Microbial Trace Fossils in Impact Glass

Enigmatic tubular features in impact glass


Sapers et al


We describe the first putative microbial trace fossils hosted in meteorite impact glass. We conducted optical and scanning electron microscopy, energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy on postimpact tubular features hosted in impact glasses from the Ries impact structure (Germany). The morphologies of the tubules are inconsistent with known mineralogical crystallization mechanisms, and combined with evidence of organic molecules suggest that these tubules cannot be formed through purely abiotic processes. The simplest and most consistent explanation of the data is that biological activity played a role in the formation of the tubular textures in the Ries glasses, likely during postimpact hydrothermal activity. As impact glass is a ubiquitous substrate on rocky bodies throughout the Solar System and likely common on the early Earth, the preservation of biological activity in impact glass has significant astrobiological implications for life on early Earth as well as for the search for life on other planets.

Evidence of Hunting at the Dawn of the Holocene Quaternery Below Lake Huron

A 9,000-year-old caribou hunting structure beneath Lake Huron


O'Shea et al


Some of the most pivotal questions in human history necessitate the investigation of archaeological sites that are now under water. Nine thousand years ago, the Alpena-Amberley Ridge (AAR) beneath modern Lake Huron was a dry land corridor that connected northeast Michigan to southern Ontario. The newly discovered Drop 45 Drive Lane is the most complex hunting structure found to date beneath the Great Lakes. The site and its associated artifacts provide unprecedented insight into the social and seasonal organization of prehistoric caribou hunting. When combined with environmental and simulation studies, it is suggested that distinctly different seasonal strategies were used by early hunters on the AAR, with autumn hunting being carried out by small groups, and spring hunts being conducted by larger groups of cooperating hunters.

Cougars Survived the Beginning Holocene Megafaunal Extinction due to Dietary Generalism

Cougars may have survived the mass extinction that took place about 12,000 years ago because they were not particular about what they ate, unlike their more finicky cousins—the saber-tooth cat and American lion. Both perished along with the woolly mammoth and many of the other supersized mammals that walked the Earth during the late Pleistocene.

That is the conclusion of a new analysis of the microscopic wear marks on the teeth of cougars, saber-tooth cats and American lions described in the April 23 issue of the journal Biology Letters.

"Before the Late Pleistocene extinction six species of large cats roamed the plains and forests of North America. Only two – the cougar and jaguar – survived. The goal of our study was to examine the possibility that dietary factors can explain the cougar's survival," said Larisa R.G. DeSantis, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University, who co-authored the study with Ryan Haupt at the University of Wyoming.

For their investigation, DeSantis and Haupt employed a new technique called dental microwear texture analysis. DMTA uses a confocal microscope to produce a three-dimensional image of the surface of a tooth. The image is then analyzed for microscopic wear patterns. The analysis of the teeth of modern carnivores, including hyenas, cheetahs and lions has established that the meals an animal consumes during the last few weeks of its life leave telltale marks. Chowing down on red meat, for example, produces small parallel scratches while chomping on bones adds larger, deeper pits.

The researchers analyzed the teeth of 50 fossil and modern cougars, and compared them with the teeth of saber-tooth cats and American lions excavated from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles and the teeth of modern African carnivores including cheetahs, lions and hyenas.

Leptorophus raischi: a new Branchiosaurid Temnospondyl From Early Permian Germany

First evidence of the branchiosaurid temnospondyl Leptorophus in the Early Permian of the Saar-Nahe Basin (SW Germany)




A new branchiosaurid temnospondyl is described from an Early Permian lake deposit at Obermoschel, Germany. The new taxon has a triangular skull outline and shares derived features with Leptorophus, a genus formerly only known from the Permian of Saxony. The new species L. raischi is characterized by the following autapomorphies: (1) Interorbital distance narrower, with laterally concave frontal margin; (2) teeth larger, conical with strong base; (3) tabular horn larger; (4) basal plate of parasphenoid posterolaterally more bulbous; (5) palatine and ectopterygoid more robust and wide; (6) palatine ramus of pterygoid shorter; (7) base of cultriform process more slender with straight lateral margins. Phylogenetic analysis confirms that the new species forms the sister taxon to Leptorophus tener. The occurrence of Leptorophus in the Saar-Nahe Basin is consistent with the immigration of vertebrate taxa from basins in Central and Eastern Germany (Raumbach invasion).

Evidence of a Microbial Resurgence After the Cambrian Explosion

Mass-occurrence of oncoids at the Cambrian Series 2–Series 3 transition: Implications for microbial resurgence following an Early Cambrian extinction


Zhang et al


The traditional Lower–Middle Cambrian transition (Cambrian Series 2–Series 3 transition) is marked by the first major biotic extinction of the Phanerozoic Eon. This biotic crisis has been arguably linked to changes in ocean chemistry and/or marine environments but their casual relationships remain controversial. To better understand the microbial responses to paleoceanographic changes across this critical transition, we have studied the environmental conditions for mass–occurrence of oncoids in the western North China Platform. Oncoids at the Lower-Middle Cambrian transition form 1–3-m-thick massive beds, show spherical-subspherical morphology, and contain 8–14 light-dark cortical laminar couplets. The light laminae are thicker and contain densely intertwined filamentous cyanobacteria that have calcified sheaths and a prostrate growth pattern. The dark laminae are thinner and rich in organic matter relics, pyrite framboids, and heterotrophic bacteria. In most oncoids, cortical laminae show the same growth orientation for more than five light-dark laminar couplets, suggesting much less frequent grain overturning than generally thought. Both light and dark laminae contain well-preserved organomineralization fabrics/textures including extracellular polymeric substances (EPS), nanoglobules, polyhedrons, and micropeloids, suggesting oncoid formation in shallow-marine environments with high alkalinity and active sulfate reduction. The presence of pyrite framboids and heterotrophic bacterial relics implies anoxic/dysoxic bottom-water conditions. Stratigraphic correlation indicates that time-equivalent oncolites and other microbialites are widespread not only in North China, but also in other Early Cambrian successions globally. The mass-occurrence of oncoids coincides with the Kalkarindji large igneous province of Australia, a prominent negative δ13C excursion (ROECE or Redlichiid-Olenellid Extinction Carbon isotope Excursion), a significant increase in 87Sr/86Sr, and a large positive shift in δ34S. The coincidence of these events suggests that the Early Cambrian biotic crisis may have been caused by an ocean anoxic event resulting from enhanced volcanic release of CO2, global warming, and increased continental weathering. Preservation of massive oncolites is likely related to decreased metazoan grazing following an Early Cambrian biotic crisis, during which archaeocyathids and many Early Cambrian trilobite taxa went extinction. The oncoid mass-occurrence provides evidence for the resurgence of microbial life in anoxic/dysoxic marine shelf environments concomitant with the Early Cambrian extinction event.

Japan Starting to Experience a Thaw With its Neighbors?

ON THE face of it, conditions are hardly propitious for an improvement in Japan’s strained relations with its East Asian neighbours. This week over 150 Japanese lawmakers paid their respects during the spring festival at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, which honours not only Japan’s war dead but also convicted war criminals. South Korea and China were duly incensed.

Then, on the eve of a state visit to Japan (he goes on to South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines), Barack Obama became the first American president to assure Japan that the Senkakus, a clutch of uninhabited islands also claimed by China, fell squarely under America’s defence obligations to its treaty ally. On arrival in Tokyo on April 23rd, he met informally with Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, at a famous sushi bar before an official summit the following day.

Other barriers to better regional relations include a military radar station Japan has started building this month on Yonaguni, its westernmost island; and the court-ordered impounding of a Japanese merchant ship in a Chinese port in lieu of two Chinese vessels expropriated by Japan in the 1930s.

Yet growing diplomatic activity suggests relations may soon become more constructive than all this acrimony suggests.

Little Scotlanders Try to Convince EU to Allow an Independent Scotland

An independent Scotland would be a more constructive member of the European Union than a reluctant Britain, Scottish first minister Alex Salmond said on Monday.

He believed EU members would welcome an "enthusiastic" Scotland into the bloc should it vote to end the 307-year-old union with England in a referendum on September 18, he said.

Remaining part of the EU is fundamental to the nationalists' vision of an economically viable independent Scotland. However, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said Scotland would have to reapply to the EU as a new state.

Spain, which faces Basque and Catalan separatist movements, also opposes automatic membership to the 28-nation bloc.

Salmond took his campaign to Bruges in Belgium on Monday, seeking to persuade Europeans that keeping Scotland within the EU fold was very much in their own interest.

#1 Economic Threat to World? China's Lending Bubble

Just as the global economy has all but recovered from debt-fueled crises in the United States and Europe, economists have a new worry: China. They see a lending bubble there that threatens global growth unless Beijing defuses it.

That's the view that emerges from an Associated Press survey this month of 30 economists. Still, the economists remain optimistic that Beijing's high-stakes drive to reform its economy — the world's second-largest — will bolster Chinese banks, ease the lending bubble and benefit U.S. exporters in the long run.

"They've really got to change the way they do business," said William Cheney, chief economist at John Hancock Asset Management. "But they have a good track record of doing just that. I'm an optimist about their ability to make this transition."

The source of concern is a surge in lending by Chinese banks. The lending was initially encouraged by the government during the 2008 global financial crisis to fuel growth. Big state-owned banks financed construction of homes, railroads and office towers. But much of the lending was directed by local officials for pet projects rather than to meet business needs.

On Monday, the International Monetary Fund issued a warning about China's private debt. It released a report citing "rising vulnerabilities" in China's financial system, including lending outside traditional banks. Lending by that "shadow" banking system now equals one-quarter of China's economy, the report said.

The IMF also pointed to recent defaults in credit card and other debt sold to investors by banks and heavy debts owed by local governments.

If it continues, "this could spark adverse financial market reaction both in China and globally," the IMF said.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ukraine Warms up

I missed an important event.  The Ukrainians were attacked at the Kramartorsk airport. A helicopter and a transport plane were destroyed.

Despite encircling Slavyansk, Kostyantynivka was overrun and taken over by the Little Green men. This is south of Kramatorsk.

There have been intermittant attacks on the Ukrainian army encampments.  Grenade launchers and other attacks.

 One army base had 500 unarmed civilians walk up and demand the disarmament of Ukrainian soldiers.  They refused and the crowd left.  There may have been a hope the Ukrainian army would kill the civvies.

In Donetsk, pro russian titushki attacked a pro Ukrainian march.  They kidnapped at least four people.

The total number of hostages taken in Slavyansk is supposed to have reached 40, including the OSCE observers.   While I generally COMPLETELY disagree with the Russians, what Europe was thinking by sending the observers to Slavyansk is something I cannot fathom.

The mayor of Kharkov was shot by a sniper.  He's been in surgery and now fighting for his life.

There has been little good on the Ukrainian side.  

The US has imposed more sanctions.  Congress is moving to ban purchases of all military and aerospace components.  This is where things get hairy.  The International Space Station will be effected and we do not currently have another way to it except through the Russians.  This will also cripple the Atlas V, Antares and Delta IV launchers.

The EU has likewise imposed more sanctions.

Bitcoin Value Slides on Further Bank of China Warnings

The price of bitcoin lost 14 percent over the weekend as one the largest bitcoin exchanges in the world confirmed that transactions have been affected by a clampdown from the Chinese government.

BTC China - in the top five of the most commonly used bitcoin exchanges, according to - said over the weekend that it had suspended yuan deposits from the China Merchant Bank, following guidance the bank had posted on its website. CEO of BTC China Bobby Lee confirmed to CNBC that the exchange had also received a telephone call from the bank Monday, formally directing the exchange to cease transactions from its account.

Triassic Kraken Returns! MUHAHAHA! (ahem)

Japanese Design, Plan (?) Solar Power Satellites

Imagine looking out over Tokyo Bay from high above and seeing a man-made island in the harbor, 3 kilometers long. A massive net is stretched over the island and studded with 5 billion tiny rectifying antennas, which convert microwave energy into DC electricity. Also on the island is a substation that sends that electricity coursing through a submarine cable to Tokyo, to help keep the factories of the Keihin industrial zone humming and the neon lights of Shibuya shining bright.

But you can’t even see the most interesting part. Several giant solar collectors in geosynchronous orbit are beaming microwaves down to the island from 36 000 km above Earth.

It’s been the subject of many previous studies and the stuff of sci-fi for decades, but space-based solar power could at last become a reality—and within 25 years, according to a proposal from researchers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The agency, which leads the world in research on space-based solar power systems, now has a technology road map that suggests a series of ground and orbital demonstrations leading to the development in the 2030s of a 1-gigawatt commercial system—about the same output as a typical nuclear power plant.

It’s an ambitious plan, to be sure. But a combination of technical and social factors is giving it currency, especially in Japan. On the technical front, recent advances in wireless power transmission allow moving antennas to coordinate in order to send a precise beam across vast distances. At the same time, heightened public concerns about the climatic effects of greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels are prompting a look at alternatives. Renewable energy technologies to harvest the sun and the wind are constantly improving, but large-scale solar and wind farms occupy huge swaths of land, and they provide only intermittent power. Space-based solar collectors in geosynchronous orbit, on the other hand, could generate power nearly 24 hours a day. Japan has a particular interest in finding a practical clean energy source: The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant prompted an exhaustive and systematic search for alternatives, yet Japan lacks both fossil fuel resources and empty land suitable for renewable power installations.

SpaceX Plans Multiple Tests for Rocket Reusability

While Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and NASA monitored the Falcon 9 second stage as it powered a Dragon cargo spacecraft on the third cargo resupply (CRS-3) mission to the International Space Station (ISS) from Kennedy Space Center on April 18, another group of launch specialists was looking elsewhere. They were tracking the descent of the first stage to a controlled, gentle splashdown and demonstration of what they hope will clear the way for routine powered-booster recoveries on land.

The test was another step toward SpaceX's aim of fundamentally reducing launch costs by employing completely reusable rocket boosters that can be quickly refueled for another flight without rebuild or refurbishment. To achieve this target, which could see the first test flight of a reused booster as early as 2015, the company plans to guide a discarded first stage to a powered landing at a yet-to-be-determined site along the Florida coastline this year.

While SpaceX remains coy about the exact fate of the modified Falcon 9 first stage, the overall results appear to be encouraging despite the apparent breakup of the booster after it landed in heavy seas. Additional encouragement comes from the successful first vertical launch and recovery test flight of the Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) development unit 1 at SpaceX's rocket facility in McGregor, Texas, the day before the CRS-3 flight.

“We are starting to connect the dots,” says SpaceX CEO and chief designer Elon Musk, who confirmed on Twitter shortly after launch that the “landing in Atlantic was good.” The “dots” Musk refers to range from development and testing of specific guidance, navigation, control and landing technology using dedicated test vehicles such as the F9R Dev 1 and a scaled predecessor called the Grasshopper, to key tests of reusable technology during actual launches. However, Musk cautions that all the dots need to be joined before SpaceX can claim success: “To be reusable, it must be both rapid and complete, like an aircraft or a car.” Having to replace parts or refurbish stages between flights will defeat the object of saving costs. “The only thing that changes is reloading propellant and expendables, and the vehicle is designed for that,” he adds.

Rapid and Sustained Surface Ocean Acidifcation During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum?

Rapid and sustained surface ocean acidification during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum


Penman et al


The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) has been associated with the release of several thousands of petagrams of carbon (Pg C) as methane and/or carbon dioxide into the ocean-atmosphere system within ~10 thousand years (ky), on the basis of the co-occurrence of a carbon isotope excursion (CIE), widespread dissolution of deep sea carbonates, and global warming. In theory, this rapid carbon release should have severely acidified the surface ocean, though no geochemical evidence has yet been presented. Using boron-based proxies for surface-ocean carbonate chemistry, we present the first observational evidence for a drop in the pH of surface and thermocline seawater during the PETM. Planktic foraminifers from a drill site in the North Pacific (ODP Site 1209) show a ~0.8‰ decrease in boron isotopic composition (δ11B) at the onset of the event, along with a 30-40% reduction in shell B/Ca. Similar trends in δ11B are present in two lower resolution records from the South Atlantic and Equatorial Pacific. These observations are consistent with significant, global acidification of the surface ocean lasting at least 70 ky and requiring sustained carbon release. The anomalies in the B records are consistent with an initial surface pH drop of ~0.3 units, at the upper range of model-based estimates of acidification.

Preserved Flora and Organics in Impact Remains

Preserved flora and organics in impact melt breccias


Schtulz et al


Impact cratering can destroy life from local to global scales and result in sudden turnovers of dominant genera and/or species. Here we report that it can also preserve components of the local biology present at the time of impact. We have investigated floral matter encapsulated within Cenozoic Era impact glasses produced by separate bolide impacts into the loessoid sediments of Argentina that occurred between 9.2 Ma (Miocene) and 6 ka (Holocene). The encapsulation preserved not only macro-scale morphological biosignatures such as vascular bundles, veins, phytoliths, and papillae, but also structures down to the cellular level. In the best-preserved samples we also found evidence for organic matter. While fossilization typically occurs over an extended time period as minerals slowly replace organic matter and the host rock lithifies under pressure, the process documented here is instantaneous. Preservation of morphological and chemical biosignatures in impact events can provide snapshots of the ecology in environments that do not otherwise promote a diverse fossil record. We suggest that this would provide a new strategy for identifying signs of possible early life on ancient Mars, where similar target conditions once existed.

Detecting Neandertals in the Rio Secco Cave in the Northern Adratic Region

Detecting Human Presence at the Border of the Northeastern Italian Pre-Alps. 14C Dating at Rio Secco Cave as Expression of the First Gravettian and the Late Mousterian in the Northern Adriatic Region


Talamo et al


In the northern Adriatic regions, which include the Venetian region and the Dalmatian coast, late Neanderthal settlements are recorded in few sites and even more ephemeral are remains of the Mid-Upper Palaeolithic occupations. A contribution to reconstruct the human presence during this time range has been produced from a recently investigated cave, Rio Secco, located in the northern Adriatic region at the foot of the Carnic Pre-Alps. Chronometric data make Rio Secco a key site in the context of recording occupation by late Neanderthals and regarding the diffusion of the Mid-Upper Palaeolithic culture in a particular district at the border of the alpine region. As for the Gravettian, its diffusion in Italy is a subject of on-going research and the aim of this paper is to provide new information on the timing of this process in Italy. In the southern end of the Peninsula the first occupation dates to around 28,000 14C BP, whereas our results on Gravettian layer range from 29,390 to 28,995 14C years BP. At the present state of knowledge, the emergence of the Gravettian in eastern Italy is contemporaneous with several sites in Central Europe and the chronological dates support the hypothesis that the Swabian Gravettian probably dispersed from eastern Austria.

A Kimmeridgian Jurassic Pliosaur Appears to Have had a Shark-like Sensory System

Complex rostral neurovascular system in a giant pliosaur


Foffa et al


Pliosaurs were a long-lived, ubiquitous group of Mesozoic marine predators attaining large body sizes (up to 12 m). Despite much being known about their ecology and behaviour, the mechanisms they adopted for prey detection have been poorly investigated and represent a mystery to date. Complex neurovascular systems in many vertebrate rostra have evolved for prey detection. However, information on the occurrence of such systems in fossil taxa is extremely limited because of poor preservation potential. The neurovascular complex from the snout of an exceptionally well-preserved pliosaur from the Kimmeridgian (Late Jurassic, c. 170 Myr ago) of Weymouth Bay (Dorset, UK) is described here for the first time. Using computed tomography (CT) scans, the extensive bifurcating neurovascular channels could be traced through the rostrum to both the teeth and the foramina on the dorsal and lateral surface of the snout. The structures on the surface of the skull and the high concentrations of peripheral rami suggest that this could be a sensory system, perhaps similar to crocodile pressure receptors or shark electroreceptors.

Marine Reptile Cymatosaurus Skull From Anisian Triassic Germany

A well preserved skull of Cymatosaurus (Reptilia: Sauropterygia) from the uppermost Buntsandstein (Middle Triassic) of Germany




A sauropterygian skull from the uppermost Buntsandstein (earliest Anisian, uppermost Röt-Formation, Cölestinschichten) of Wogau (Thuringia, eastern Germany) is described in detail and assigned to a new species of Cymatosaurus, Cymatosaurus erikae. Cymatosaurus erikae n. sp. differs from all other species of the genus by a unique combination of dental and cranial features, including nasals that do not reach the external naris or the anterior margin of the orbit, frontals that do not enter the orbital margin and closely approach but do not enter the temporal fenestra, at least two maxillary teeth anterior to the fangs, a long parietal that extends up to the orbit and narrows posteriorly without forming a sagittal crest, unfused vomers, narrow and elongate palatines, and inclined quadrates and quadrate condyles. The new specimen shows a completely closed palate as in nothosaurids, but retains an open occiput. A small lacrimal (recorded here for the first time in Cymatosaurus) is probably present. These features are plesiomorphic for sauropterygians. This combination of features makes it conceivable that Cymatosaurus might actually be a stem-nothosaur rather than a stem plesiosaur, as previously suggested. A phylogenetic analysis of Cymatosaurus species indicates that C. erikae is the sister-taxon of C. latifrons and C. fridericianus. Cymatosaurus gracilis (Schrammen, 1899) is reconsidered and re-established as a valid species of the genus, contrary to previous suggestions.

An Ediacaran-like Disc Shaped Fossil From Cambrian China

Affinities and Taphonomy of a Cambrian Discoid from Guizhou, South China


Yang et al


Disc-like fossils from siltstones of the Taozichong Formation (Cambrian) in the Qingzhen area, Guizhou, South China are reported here. They are similar to some Ediacaran and Phanerozoic discoidal fossils, and assigned to Tirasiana? disciformis? Palij, 1976. Based on the study of 43 specimens, dewatering or fluid escape structures, soft-sediment loading, scratch circles or other inorganic origins are ruled out, and the fossil is interpreted as a discoidal body fossil of unknown affinities rather than trace fossils. Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy and elemental mapping analyses reveal that the discoid fossils contain higher concentrations of C, Fe, and P than the surrounding matrix, indicating the possible presence of pyrite, apatite, and organic carbon as a result of authigenic mineralization in association with decay and early diagenetic processes. The possible presence of extracellular polymeric substance suggests that the discs were surrounded by thin microbial mats composed primarily of extracellular polymeric substances, which facilitated their fossilization by promoting conditions that are favorable to secondary mineral precipitation. The new specimens provide useful information about the phylogenetic affinities of these early discoidal fossils and help us to better understand the taphonomic modes of non-biomineralizing organisms in Ediacara-type and Burgess Shale-type biotas.

China: Unions a Comin?

THE Pearl river delta in the southern province of Guangdong is no stranger to strikes, most of them small and quickly resolved. But a walk-out by workers at factories owned by a Taiwanese company, Yue Yuen, the world’s largest maker of branded sports shoes, including big names such as Nike and Reebok, has been remarkable for its scale and duration. It began on April 5th and has grown to involve tens of thousands of employees. On a sprawling industrial estate, angry workers watched by riot police rage about an issue few cared much about until recently: their pensions. For bosses and officials, this is a worrying sign of change.

The government has imposed a virtual news blackout on the unrest in the city of Dongguan, a place synonymous with the delta’s manufacturing heft (nearly 80% of its 8.3m people have moved there from other parts of China over the past three decades, or are the children of such migrants). Foreign journalists have been allowed onto Yue Yuen’s main estate in Gaobu township, a Dongguan suburb, but strikers complain that Chinese media are kept away. This contrasts with a relatively free rein given to Chinese reporters in 2010 to report on a large strike over pay by workers at a factory owned by Honda in Foshan, another delta city. That incident involved putting pressure on a Japanese company, an uncontroversial target for most Chinese. This latest, bigger strike (one of the largest in years involving a non-state enterprise in China) has touched a more sensitive government nerve.

India Tests Anti Ballistic Missile

India successfully test-fired a new anti-ballistic missile on Sunday in a step towards developing a missile defence system which only an elite club of countries has built.

India, which shares borders with arch-rival Pakistan and giant China, both of whom are nuclear-armed, is developing the system that aims to shield it against a ballistic missile attack.

The test was conducted off the east coast on Sunday morning, the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) told the Press Trust of India news agency.

“The trial was conducted successfully and all the mission objectives were met,” said DRDO spokesman Ravi Kumar Gupta.

Is Middle East Repiratory Syndrome (MERS) About to Become an Epidemic?

Saudi Arabia confirmed 26 more cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has killed nearly a third of sufferers, and said 10 more people have died from the disease.

The confirmations follow Egypt's announcement on Saturday that it had confirmed its first case of MERS in a man who had recently returned to the country from Riyadh, where he was working.

Saudi Arabia, where MERS was discovered around two years ago and which remains the country most affected, has now had 339 confirmed cases of MERS, of which 102 have been fatal.

The 143 cases announced since the start of April represent a 73 percent jump in total infections in Saudi Arabia this month.

The new cases were announced in two statements published on the Health Ministry website on Saturday and Sunday.

The 10 confirmed on Saturday included seven in Jeddah, the focal point for the recent outbreak, two in the capital Riyadh and another in Mecca. Two MERS patients died.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ukraine the Grinding Stalemate

The news out of Ukraine has been slow as of late.    

The Little Green Men have taken some OSCE observers hostage.  The LGM claim the OSCE had a spy amongst them. 

The LGM have retreated from the Kramatorsk airport according to reports.

They have instead taken Kranatorskogo's airport. 

They have seized the broadcasting station in Donetsk and turned off the Ukrainian channels.  They have substituted Russian channels instead.

There have been small clashes everywhere, but they are relatively small.

The counter offensive seems to have largely paused.  This is probably because of the OSCE hostages the Little Green Men have taken.  As of now, the Ukrainian army could crush Slavyansk.  They have around 15k troops ringing the city.

The Russians have complained of the troops and moved theirs even closer to border.

The US is preparing more sanctions.  This time its aimed at the defense and - supposedly - energy industries.  They ought to hit the financial industry.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade has been deployed to the Baltics.  Sadly, not Ukraine. 

How Vesta's Asymmetrical Craters Formed

Asymmetric craters on Vesta: Impact on sloping surfaces


Krohn et al


Cratering processes on planetary bodies happen continuously and cause the formation of a large variety of impact crater morphologies. On Vesta whose surface has been imaged at high resolution during a 14 months orbital mission by the Dawn spacecraft we identified a substantial number of craters with an asymmetrical shape. These craters, in total a number of 2892 ranging in diameter from 0.3 km to 43 km, are characterized by a sharp crater rim on the uphill side and a smooth one on the downhill side. The formation of these unusual asymmetric impact craters is controlled by Vesta's remarkable topographic relief. In order to understand the processes creating such unusual crater forms on a planetary body with a topography like Vesta we carried out the following work packages: (1) the asymmetric craters show various morphologies and therefore can be subdivided into distinct classes by their specific morphologic details; (2) using a digital terrain model (DTM), the craters are grouped into bins of slope angles for further statistical analysis; (3) for a subset of these asymmetric craters, the size-frequency distributions of smaller craters superimposed on their crater floors and continuous ejecta are measured in order to derive cratering model ages for the selected craters and to constrain possible post-impact processes; (4) three-dimensional hydrocode simulations using the iSALE-3D code are applied to the data set in order to quantify the effects of topography on crater shape and ejecta distribution. We identified five different classes (A to E) of asymmetric craters. Primarily, we focus on class A in this work. The global occurrence of these crater classes compared with a slope map clearly shows that these asymmetric crater types exclusively form on slopes. We found that slopes, especially slopes>20°, prevent the deposition of ejected material in the uphill direction, and slumping material superimposed the deposit of ejecta on the downhill side. The combination of these two processes explains the local accumulation of material in this direction. In the subset of asymmetric craters which we used for crater counts, our results show that no post-impact processes have taken place since floors and continuous ejecta in each crater show comparable cratering model ages within the uncertainties of the cratering chronology model. Therefore the formation, or modification, of the asymmetric crater forms by processes other than impact can be excluded with some certainty.

Is Phobos' Giant Crater Stickney 4.2 Billion Years old?

The age of Phobos and its largest crater, Stickney


Schmedemann et al


We derived crater production functions and chronology functions of Phobos for two scenarios, which likely represent the end-members of its dynamical evolution. Case A assumes that Phobos has been in its current orbit about Mars since its formation. Case B assumes a recent capture of Phobos and the impact history of an average Main Belt Asteroid. We determined the age of an average surface to the west of the Stickney crater and of the interior of the Stickney crater. The results indicate i) the formation or major collision of Phobos about 4.3 Ga (Case A) or 3.5 Ga (Case B) ago, ii) the Stickney crater is about 4.2 Ga (Case A) or 2.6 Ga (Case B) old and iii) grooves probably formed between 3.1–3.8 Ga (Case A) or 44–340 Ma (Case B). Thus, Stickney seems to be older than the investigated grooves on Phobos.

Phobos Surface Geology and Geomorphology

The surface geology and geomorphology of Phobos


Basilevsky et al


The martian moon Phobos is 26 × 22.8 × 18.2 km in size, and the major landforms on its surface are craters and grooves. We analyzed the visible craters on the surface of Phobos where ~1300 craters ≥200 m in diameter, ~70 craters ≥1 km, and ~30 craters ≥2 km are identified; Stickney, the largest crater on Phobos, is about 8 km in diameter. Most craters are undoubtedly of impact origin although some small craters may be pits formed by drainage of regolith into subsurface fractures. The presence of the observed impact crater population implies that the upper hundreds of meters to a few kilometers of Phobos are heavily fractured. Using the available digital terrain model of Phobos (the dynamic version), the 24 craters larger than 2 km in diameter have been subdivided into three morphologic classes on the basis of their prominence; they are characterized by the following values of d/D ratios and maximum steepness of their inner slopes: greater than 0.1 and greater than 20o, 9 craters; 0.05–0.1 and 10–20o, 7 craters; and less than 0.05 and less than 10o, 8 craters. This subpopulation of Phobos craters has a considerably larger number of craters with shallowly sloping walls compared to lunar highland craters; this may be due to several factors including the very small surface gravity of Phobos.

Most craters on Phobos are bowl-shaped, some with a complex morphology in their interiors, including concentric, flat-bottomed and with central-mounds. The size of these craters with complex morphology is indicative of layering in the target material, both regolith covering bedrock and layers within the regolith. The thickness of the regolith estimated by different techniques varies from ~5 to 100 m. Layering within the regolith does not appear to be continuous, but more lens-like. The regolith of Phobos obviously accumulated by direct crater ejecta deposition and through the return of the ejecta high-velocity fraction that escaped to near-Mars space during the impact events. The Phobos regolith may be deficient in the less than 300 μm size fraction and contain martian material with concentrations ~250 ppm in the upper 0.5 m, and 1–2 orders of magnitude lower at greater depth. Downslope movement of material is revealed by downslope-trending albedo streaks and mounds on the floors and slopes of craters hundreds of meters to kilometers in size, commonly on crater inner slopes and sometimes on the outer slopes of crater rims. The albedo streaks are probably traces of geologically recent talus and avalanche emplacement. The mounds are interpreted to be landslide deposits. The different degrees of mound morphologic sharpness may be considered as an indication of their different age.

Through the geologic analysis of the MRO HiRISE color images of Stickney crater and its vicinity, we documented the distribution and mutual relations of red and blue units of the surface material of Phobos. We conclude that the red and blue “primary” materials may form relatively large blocks comprising the interior of Phobos. Crater ejecta and downslope movement of material redeposit these materials, forming secondary and tertiary derivatives of these color material units and their mixtures.

The grooves on Phobos are typically 100–200 m wide and several kilometers long and can be mapped in several intersecting systems (families) with approximately the same groove orientations within each family. They often crisscross relatively large craters, including crater rims, showing continuity with no gaps. Groove systems often intersect each other showing no lateral offsets at the intersections. At least one of groove families extends along a longitude for about 130o and this should have implications for groove formation mechanisms. Grooves similar to those on Phobos are seen on other small bodies: Eros, Lutetia and Vesta. Three different mechanisms of formation of Phobos grooves are discussed: 1) grooves as fractures/faults, 2) grooves as tracks of rolling and bouncing boulders, and 3) grooves as chains of craters formed by ejecta from impact craters on Mars. The mechanism(s) of groove formation require additional studies.

We conclude that the surface of Phobos is an arena for a variety of geologic processes. The leading role belongs to impact cratering with associated target destruction, material ejection from the crater and often from Phobos, and subsequent deposition partly with temporary residence in near-martian space. Shaking by impacts and surface stirring by day-night temperature changes cause granular surface material to move down along-slope driven by very low, but nevertheless efficient, surface gravity. A sample return mission is crucially important for a better understanding of the geological processes operating on Phobos. In addition to Phobos material, a returned sample will probably contain pieces of material from Mars. A series of outstanding questions to guide future exploration is listed.

Is Phobos' Interior Homogenous?

The Phobos Geodetic Control Point Network and Rotation Model


Oberst et al


A new global control point network was derived for Phobos, based on SRC (Mars Express), Phobos-2, and Viking Orbiter image data. We derive 3-D Cartesian coordinates for 813 control points as well as improved pointing data for 202 SRC and Viking images in the Phobos-fixed coordinate system. The point accuracies vary from 4.5 m on the Phobos nearside, to up to 67.0 m on the farside, where we rely on Viking images (average point accuracy: 13.7 m). From tracking of the control points we detect a librational motion synchronous to the Phobos orbital period and measure a libration amplitude of 1.09°, in agreement with predictions from shape information assuming a uniform interior. This suggests that the interior of Phobos is homogeneous – but small local mass anomalies, e.g., associated with crater Stickney, cannot be ruled out. Our new control point network has a higher number of data points and a higher point accuracy than previous data products and will be an important basis for accurate shape models and maps.

Possible Animal Embryos From Lower Cambrian China

Possible Animal Embryos from the Lower Cambrian (Stage 3) Shuijingtuo Formation, Hubei Province, South China


Broce et al


Fossilized animal embryos from lower Cambrian rocks provide a rare opportunity to study the ontogeny and developmental biology of early animals during the Cambrian explosion. This paper reports possible animal embryos, along with sponge spicules, hyolithelminths, and linguliformean brachiopods, from the upper Shuijingtuo Formation limestone (Cambrian Stage 3) at Changyang, Hubei Province, South China. This limestone unit has carbonate carbon and oxygen isotopic compositions similar to the upper Shuijingtuo limestone in the Yangtze Gorges area. The Shuijingtuo embryo fossils were exposed by physical fracturing, extracted with acetic acid maceration, and observed in thin sections. They were examined using light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopic elemental mapping, and micro-focus X-ray computed tomography. Most of them are poorly preserved, with a phosphatic envelope (interpreted as a chorion or fertilization envelope) surrounding sparitic calcite. In some specimens, a polygonal pattern is present on the surface, and these are interpreted as multicelled blastula embryos. In others, sets of grooves are present on the surface of a calcitic spheroidal structure, presumably representing the calcitic interior within the chorion; these grooves are superficially similar to annulations of Markuelia embryos, but their biological significance is unknown. Although their phylogenetic and taxonomic placement is largely unconstrained, the Shuijingtuo animal embryos indicate that chorions are taphonomically more robust and are selectively phosphatized. Embryos within the chorions, on the other hand, can be completely lost or entirely replaced by calcite, with only poorly preserved surficial structures. This style of preservation can be explained by a taphonomic switch from early phosphatization to later calcitization. This study illustrates the importance of combining physical fracturing with widely used acid digestion methods in the study of calcitized animal embryos, and it alludes to the possibility that many empty phosphatic vesicles recovered by acid digestion from Cambrian carbonates may be fossilized chorions.

US Navy Testing Over the Horizon Air Defense Systems

The Navy is preparing for another test of a new cruise missile defense system that can identify and destroy threats from beyond the radar horizon, Lockheed officials said.

The system, called Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air, or NIFC-CA, uses a Standard Missile 6 and an airborne sensor to track and destroy approaching cruise missiles at much longer distances than existing technologies can.

“The NIFC-CA capability pushes out the engagement envelope that these ships have not had previously. You are pushing the engagement envelope beyond the radar horizon,” said Jim Sheridan, director of Aegis U.S. Navy programs at Lockheed Martin. “There’s an airborne sensor that’s involved. Once the missile leaves the ship you are actually firing it at something that the ship itself cannot see because the engagement takes place beyond the horizon.”

The test is slated for this coming June aboard the USS John Paul Jones, DDG 53. The first test firing, which involved a successful demonstration of the defensive technology, took place last August aboard a Navy cruiser — the USS Chancellorsville, CG62.

“This is the next step in the testing. Previously it was tested from a cruiser configuration and now we’re testing it in a destroyer configuration. Some of the parameters of the target and the flight profile are a little different. Let’s just characterize it as a more stressful test than the one on board the USS Chancellorsville,” Sheridan added.

The SM6 interceptor missile uses an active seeker to zero in on an approaching target at distances greater than a ship’s on-board sensors can detect. Sheridan said the SM6 used for NIFC-CA leverages technology similar to the active guidance system engineered into an air-to-air beyond visual range missile, the AIM-120 Advanced-Air-to-Air Medium Range Missile.

Renminbi Isn't Likely to Replace the Dollar Any Time Soon

OUTSIDE China, Mao Zedong is out of fashion these days, remembered less as a revolutionary hero than as a tyrant. But the currency which sports his image on its banknotes is making headway abroad. In Hong Kong some cash machines dispense the “redback”, as the yuan or renminbi is known. In Mongolia 60% of cash in circulation is estimated to be Chinese. The yuan, whose internationalisation really began only in 2009, is now reckoned the seventh-most-used currency in the world, up from 13th a year ago. When China, the world’s biggest trading nation, becomes in the next few years its biggest economy too, many Chinese expect the currency to match its status, ready to challenge the dominance in the global monetary system enjoyed by the American dollar. They will probably be disappointed.

Friday, April 25, 2014

My Son's Art

He made that for me at daycare.

Is the US Navy Waffling on the F-35?

Boeing’s recent strategy to question the effectiveness of the F-35’s stealth capabilities against the latest air defense radars brings to mind similar questions that were raised about another expensive next generation stealth aircraft about 13 years ago.

In 1991, Pentagon tests found that Northrop Grumman’s B-2 Spirit was less capable of evading radars with its stealth bat wing design than initially expected. These problems along with cost overruns cut the B-2 program by more than 70 percent.

The Air Force had planned to field 75 of the B-2 bombers, but Congress ended the program at 21 aircraft as costs skyrocketed. If you include all procurement costs, the B-2 cost $929 million per aircraft. It almost makes the F-35 sound like a steal with its procurement costs at $162 million per aircraft.

However, the current debate deals with the F-35 and doubling down on more EA-18 Growlers to increase the Navy’s electronic attack capabilities. Boeing has pushed the Navy to buy more Growlers. The Navy has requested 22 Growlers in its unfunded priorities lists with the possibility of buying up to 50 more.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said its a top Navy priority to increase the number of Growlers aboard each carrier from five to seven. The logic had been that with F-35Cs, the Navy’s need for electronic attack aircraft would diminish, not increase. But that’s assuming the Navy stays on board with the Joint Strike Fighter Program.

Lockheed Wins $25 Million Fiber Laser Contract

The U.S. Army has awarded Lockheed Martin a $25 million contract to design, build and test a 60-kilowatt electric laser to be integrated and tested in a truck-mounted weapon system demonstrator. The laser weapon is designed to significantly improve the warfighters' ability to counter rockets, artillery, mortars and unmanned aerial threats.

Under a contract managed by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command's Technical Center, the Lockheed Martin-provided laser will be integrated on the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD). This ruggedized laser builds on the corporation's work under the current Robust Electric Laser Initiative (RELI) contract for the Army.

"Lockheed Martin continues to advance its high-energy fiber laser technology to provide a proven, affordable weapon architecture that supports the size, weight, and power constraints our customers face," said Paula Hartley, vice president of Advanced Product Solutions for Lockheed Martin's Mission Systems and Training business. "Our solution is much smaller, lighter and more electrically efficient than others in the market and can bring tremendous value to the Army and other military customers."

The corporation's electric laser system implements multiple compact, rugged fiber laser modules to generate a high power output beam with excellent beam quality and high electrical efficiency. A unique spectral beam combining process is used to combine many fiber lasers into a single beam of light that retains the high beam quality of the individual fiber modules while reaching the 60 kilowatt mark.

Earlier this year, Lockheed Martin announced it had demonstrated a 30-kilowatt fiber laser, the highest power ever documented while retaining beam quality and electrical efficiency. The internally funded research and development demonstration was achieved by combining many fiber lasers into a single, near-perfect quality beam of light—all while using approximately 50 percent less electricity than alternative solid-state laser technologies.

The Consequences of the Tethys Marine Regression From Tarim, China During the Eocene Paleogene

Timing, cause and impact of the late Eocene stepwise sea retreat from the Tarim Basin (west China)

Bosboom et al


A vast shallow epicontinental sea extended across Eurasia and was well-connected to the Western Tethys before it retreated westward and became isolated as the Paratethys Sea. However, the palaeogeography and the timing of this westward retreat are too poorly constrained to determine potential wider environmental impacts, let alone understanding underlying mechanisms of the retreat such as global eustasy and tectonism associated with the Indo-Asia collision. Here, an improved chronostratigraphic and palaeogeographic framework is provided for the onset of the proto-Paratethys Sea retreat at its easternmost extent in the Tarim Basin in western China is provided. Five different third-order sea-level cycles can be recognised from the Cretaceous–Palaeogene sedimentary record in the Tarim Basin, of which the last two stepped successively westwards as the sea retreated after the maximum third incursion. New biostratigraphic data from the fourth and fifth incursions at the westernmost margin of the Tarim Basin are compared to our recent integrated bio-magneto-stratigraphic results on the fourth incursion near the palaeodepocentre in the south-western part of the basin. While the fourth incursion extended throughout the basin and retreated at ~ 41 Ma (base C18r), the last and fifth incursion is restricted to the westernmost margin and its marine deposits are assigned a latest Bartonian–early Priabonian age from ~ 38.0 to ~ 36.7 Ma (near top C17n.2n to base C16n.2n). Similar to the fourth, the fossil assemblages of the fifth incursion are indicative of shallow marine, near-shore conditions and their widespread distribution across Eurasia suggests that the marine connection to the Western Tethys was maintained. The lack of diachronicity of the fourth incursion between the studied sections across the southwest Tarim Basin suggests that the sea entered and withdrew relatively rapidly, as can be expected in the case of eustatic control on a shallow epicontinental basin. However, the westward palaeogeographic step between the fourth and fifth incursions separated by several millions of years rather suggests the combined long-term effect of tectonism, possibly associated with early uplift of the Pamir-Kunlun Shan thrust belt. The fourth and fifth regressions are time-equivalent with significant aridification steps recorded in the Asian interior, thus supporting climate modelling results showing that the stepwise sea retreat from Central Asia amplified the aridification of the Asian interior.

Mars had Surface Water 200,000 Years Ago

The southern hemisphere of Mars is home to a crater that contains very well-preserved gullies and debris flow deposits. The geomorphological attributes of these landforms provide evidence that they were formed by the action of liquid water in geologically recent time.

Evidence of liquid water

When sediment on a slope becomes saturated with water, the mixture may become too heavy to remain in place, leading to a flow of debris and water as a single-phase unit. This is called a debris flow. Debris flows on Earth often cause significant material destruction and even human casualties, when they occur in built-up areas. During a debris flow, a mixture of stones, gravel, clay and water moves rapidly down a slope. When the sediment subsequently stops, it displays characteristic surface features such as lobate deposits and paired levees along flow channels.

It is these landforms that Andreas Johnsson has identified on Mars. The research group has been able to compare the landforms on Mars with known debris flows on Svalbard with the aid of aerial photography and field studies. The debris flows on Mars provide evidence that liquid water has been present in the region.

"Our fieldwork on Svalbard confirmed our interpretation of the Martian deposits. What surprised us was that the crater in which these debris flows have formed is so young," says Andreas Johnsson of the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Gothenburg.

After the ice age

Crater statistics allowed Andreas Johnsson and his co-authors to determine that the age of the crater to be approximately 200,000 years. This means that the crater was formed long after the most recent proposed ice age on Mars, which ended around 400,000 years ago.

"Gullies are common on Mars, but the ones which have been studied previously are older, and the sediments where they have formed are associated with the most recent ice age. Our study crater on Mars is far too young to have been influenced by the conditions that were prevalent then. This suggests that the meltwater-related processes that formed these deposits have been exceptionally effective also in more recent times," says Andreas Johnsson, principal author of the article.