Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Another Take on the Earth After Theia

Terrestrial aftermath of the Moon-forming impact.


Sleep et al


Much of the Earth's mantle was melted in the Moon-forming impact. Gases that were not partially soluble in the melt, such as water and CO2, formed a thick, deep atmosphere surrounding the post-impact Earth. This atmosphere was opaque to thermal radiation, allowing heat to escape to space only at the runaway greenhouse threshold of approximately 100 W m(-2). The duration of this runaway greenhouse stage was limited to approximately 10 Myr by the internal energy and tidal heating, ending with a partially crystalline uppermost mantle and a solid deep mantle. At this point, the crust was able to cool efficiently and solidified at the surface. After the condensation of the water ocean, approximately 100 bar of CO2 remained in the atmosphere, creating a solar-heated greenhouse, while the surface cooled to approximately 500 K. Almost all this CO2 had to be sequestered by subduction into the mantle by 3.8 Ga, when the geological record indicates the presence of life and hence a habitable environment. The deep CO2 sequestration into the mantle could be explained by a rapid subduction of the old oceanic crust, such that the top of the crust would remain cold and retain its CO2. Kinematically, these episodes would be required to have both fast subduction (and hence seafloor spreading) and old crust. Hadean oceanic crust that formed from hot mantle would have been thicker than modern crust, and therefore only old crust underlain by cool mantle lithosphere could subduct. Once subduction started, the basaltic crust would turn into dense eclogite, increasing the rate of subduction. The rapid subduction would stop when the young partially frozen crust from the rapidly spreading ridge entered the subduction zone.

Earth After Theia

Bounding Theia

I suspect the Grand Tack folks ought to think on this one.  It bounds the wandering jupiter in a big way.

DARPA Vision for Air to Ground Combat: Swarm Warfare

One of the most important jobs for an air force is suppressing enemy air defenses. It means hacking, jamming or otherwise blowing up radars and anti-aircraft missile sites — often during the opening stages of a war.

Now a new project from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency envisions a near-future strategy using a cargo plane converted into a missile and drone-packing mothership — all commanded by an F-35 stealth fighter.

Mysterious US Air Force X-37B Space Plane to Launch on May 6th

With its new homeport in renovated NASA space shuttle hangars off in the distance, the Air Force’s X-37 mini spaceplane will be launched from Cape Canaveral on May 6 for its fourth journey into orbit.

The Orbital Test Vehicle will be the primary payload aboard the next United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, the 54th Atlas 5 and ULA’s 96th mission overall. The launch has a codename AFSPC 5 for the Air Force Space Command flight No. 5.

Liftoff is targeted some time between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. EDT (1300-1700 GMT).

The Transion From Ice House to Greenhouse Paleoclimate Aptian Cretaceous

Black shales – from coolhouse to greenhouse (early Aptian)


Giorgioni et al


Approximately 120 Ma major volcanic outgassing on the Ontong Java Plateau resulted in perturbations of the global carbon cycle, in a change from cool to greenhouse climate conditions and in major changes in oceanography leading to widespread deposition of black shales during the early Aptian Oceanic Anoxic Event 1a (OAE1a). However, onset of black-shale deposition was diachronous and prior to OAE1a occurred under specific paleogeographic and paleoceanographic conditions. The goal of this study is to identify paleoceanographic constraints during coolhouse conditions that resulted in pre-OAE1a black-shale deposition and to investigate if and to what extent the short-term orbitally induced climate changes are also recorded in the sedimentary archive. We compared four lower Aptian pelagic sections from the former southern and northern continental margins of the Alpine Tethys Ocean and traced the evolution of carbon isotopes, carbonate and organic carbon content as well as palynofacies before and at the onset of OAE1a. Throughout the studied interval, the sections record frequent precession-controlled changes in carbonate content, which are reflected by limestone-marlstone alternations in the shallowest and most proximal Cismon core and by limestone-black-shale couplets in the deepest Pusiano section. Depth controlled sub-/anoxia is also suggested by the prominent OAE1a black shales, which occurred first in the deeper Pie del Dosso and Roter Sattel sections and only subsequently in the shallower Cismon core. However, contrary to expectations, the deepest Pusiano section exhibits – instead of an earliest onset of prominent OAE1a black shales – only a minor increase in TOC and a decrease in carbonate content. This suggests that the orbitally driven climate changes most strongly influenced water stratification and hence are most prominently expressed in the deepest sections. Conversely, the volcanically induced long-term climate changes seemed to more strongly affect organic matter production, the extension of the oxygen minimum zone and hence had the strongest impact on sections at intermediate depth.

Llallawavis scagliai: a new Mesembriornithinae Terror Bird From Pliocene Neogene Argentina had Good Eyesight, but not as Good Hearing

A new Mesembriornithinae (Aves, Phorusrhacidae) provides new insights into the phylogeny and sensory capabilities of terror birds


Degrange et al


Terror birds constitute the most outstanding group of the South American Cenozoic avifauna. Considered as apex predators, their hunting skills have recently been examined, but their diversity is still unresolved. Here we report a new terror bird from the late Pliocene of Argentina, represented by the most complete articulated skeleton of one yet found. Our phylogenetic analysis places this taxon among derived phorusrhacids (Mesembriornithinae). One of the most striking cranial features of the new species is the suppression of intracranial kinesis due to the presence of an independent ossified bone that increases the structural link between the lacrimal and jugal bars, and the absence of both palatal hinges. The new species possesses ossified tracheal rings and a tracheobronchial syrinx, as well as sclerotic ossicles to adjust the shape of the cornea during its diurnal vision, and reveals a mean hearing sensitivity (~2300 Hz) below the average for living species. The discovery of this new species provides new insights for studying the anatomy and phylogeny of phorusrhacids and a better understanding of this group's diversification.

Two new Species of Lepospondyl Batropetes From Permian Germany

Two new species of the genus Batropetes (Tetrapoda, Lepospondyli) from the Central European Rotliegend (basal Permian) in Germany




Two new species of Batropetes are described from the Lower Rotliegend of the Saar-Nahe Basin in western Germany. Batropetes palatinus, sp. nov., is characterized by a narrow, anteriorly elongated prefrontal, a slender postfrontal without an anterolateral process, a trapezoid postorbital, and a large quadrate in exterior view. Batropetes appelensis, sp. nov., is characterized by a high angular, ‘Z’-shaped angular-dentary suture, no indentation between stem and plate of interclavicle, and scapulocoracoid without ossified coracoid. The genus Batropetes is characterized by an average length of almost 8 cm, a short trunk with 17 or 19 presacrals depending on the species, large orbit with a raised rim, a large pineal foramen, three pits on the frontal, tricuspid teeth, a toothless palate, four short robust limbs, and completely ossified pectoral and pelvic girdles (except for the coracoids of B. appelensis and B. fritschi). Batropetes belongs to the Brachystelechidae, together with Carrolla and Quasicaecilia. Cladistic analysis reveals for the monophyletic genus Batropetes that B. appelensis forms a sister group to the remaining three species in the genus, and B. niederkirchensis is the sister group to B. palatinus and B. fritschi. The functional interpretation of the appendicular skeleton and the skull morphology suggest that all Batropetes species were terrestrial, living near the lakes in which they were preserved. They appear to have fed on small arthropods in the leaf litter or in the upper zone of the soil.

Monday, March 30, 2015

British MI6 Head: The Cyberwarfare Arms Race is ON

Spy agencies are caught in a "technology arms race" with terrorists and criminals, the new head of Britain's MI6 said on Monday in his first public comments since becoming chief.

Alex Younger defended the use of data by the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, after the release of documents by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden sparked criticism of sweeping mass surveillance by intelligence agencies.

"Using data appropriately and proportionately offers us a priceless opportunity to be even more deliberate and targeted in what we do, and so to be better at protecting our agents and this country," Younger said.

"The bad news is the same technology in opposition hands, an opposition often unconstrained by consideration of ethics and law, allows them to see what we are doing and to put our people and agents at risk," he said.

"So we find ourselves in a technology arms race."

Silk Road Dark Web/Bitcoin Insanity Comes Full Circle With Charges Against DEA, Secret Service Agents

Some DEA and Secret Service Agents Helped Themselves to Silk Road Bitcoins:

The federal government became owners of one of the biggest troves of Bitcoin, thanks to seizing millions of dollars in the digital currency from criminals associated with the online black market Silk Road.

Two federal agents who helped lead one of several investigations in the case allegedly decided they wanted some of the money for themselves, according to a new federal court documents.

The two now-former agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Secret Service are charged with wire fraud, money laundering and other offenses for allegedly stealing Bitcoin during the federal investigation of Silk Road, an underground illicit black market federal prosecutors shut down in 2013.

More info here.

The Dynamics of the Yellowstone Super Volcano

Korea Aerospace Industries on the Cusp of Winning 5th Gen KFX Korean Stealth Fighter Program?

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has been selected as the preferred bidder in South Korea’s proposed KFX fighter programme to build an indigenous fighter.

In an email to Flightglobal, KAI confirmed that Seoul’s Defense Acquisition Procurement Agency (DAPA) has awarded it preferred bidding status, with Lockheed Martin tapped as the foreign technical assistance company (TAC).


The KFX is envisaged as a two-engined fighter that is more advanced than the Lockheed Martin F-16, but not up to the standard of types such as the F-35 Lightning II. It will replace obsolescent types in the Korean air force’s inventory, namely the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom and Northrop F-5.

The Indonesian government has a 20% share in the programme. Seoul is expected to order 120 examples of the KFX, and Indonesia 80.

The Miocene Neogene Monsoonal Forests of Southwest China

Late Miocene vegetation dynamics under monsoonal climate in southwestern China


Li et al


To better understand vegetation dynamics and the Asian monsoonal climate in the Neogene, we reconstructed the vegetational succession and climate of Wenshan basin in southwestern China during the late Miocene (11.62-5.33 Ma). We used newly available palynological data and the results of a quantitative bioclimatic analysis. The late Miocene palynoflora in Wenshan basin resembles that of modern evergreen broadleaf vegetation in subtropical East Asia. Based on pollen elements and reconstructed palaeoclimates in 72 samples, we found the composition of the vegetation in the Wenshan basin fluctuated during the late Miocene and was likely driven by natural climate variability. Quantitative estimates suggest that the mean annual temperature (MAT) ranged from 16.6 to 17.5°C; the mean annual precipitation (MAP) was ~ 1500 mm; and the monsoon intensity index (MSI) ranged from 11.3 to 17.1. Our results indicate the Wenshan basin experienced a warm, wet, and temperate to subtropical climate. By comparison with other late Miocene sites in Yunnan, we show that temperatures differed slightly from region to region and, overall, annual and seasonal precipitation levels were higher in the late Miocene than at present, but with a weaker monsoon intensity than in the Wenshan basin today.

Cenomanian Cretaceous Morocco Have a Spinosaur Dominated Paleoecology

Overabundance of piscivorous dinosaurs (Theropoda: Spinosauridae) in the mid-Cretaceous of North Africa: The Algerian dilemma


Benyoucef et al


The informally called ‘Continental intercalaire’ is a series of continental and brackish deposits that outcrops in several regions of North Africa. The age of the series is not well-constrained, but its upper part, visible in the ‘Kem Kem beds’ in Morocco and in Bahariya in Egypt, is regarded as early Cenomanian in age. Spinosaurid remains are an important component of this series, but records of this dinosaur are surprisingly rare in Algerian localities of the ‘Continental intercalaire’. Here, we describe a vertebrate assemblage from two localities, Kénadsa and Menaguir, situated in the Guir basin, Western Algeria. The assemblage comprises hybodont sharks, sarcopterygian fishes, ray-finned fishes, turtles, crocodiles and dinosaurs. Among the latter, only teeth of theropods have been recovered and 94% belong to Spinosaurus. The assemblage is taxonomically very similar to the Moroccan and Egyptian assemblages mentioned above. This study: 1) suggests a likely early Cenomanian age for the Guir basin deposits containing the assemblage; 2) provides a new evidence of the homogeneity of the early Cenomanian vertebrate fauna throughout North Africa; and 3) confirms the overabundance of theropod dinosaurs, especially spinosaurs, in the assemblage showing a possible shortcut in the vertebrate food chain. The northern most locality, Menaguir, shows sedimentological and ichnological evidence of marine influences indicating that the palaeoenvironment shows spatial heterogeneities.

Archosauromorph Tanystropheids From Norian Triassic New Mexico

Late Triassic tanystropheids (Reptilia, Archosauromorpha) from northern New Mexico (Petrified Forest Member, Chinle Formation) and the biogeography, functional morphology, and evolution of Tanystropheidae


Pritchard et al


We report on tanystropheids from the Late Triassic (middle Norian) Hayden Quarry of northern New Mexico (Chinle Formation, Hayden Quarry). These elements, consisting of isolated vertebrae and appendicular bones, represent the first unambiguously identified tanystropheid from western North America and likely the latest occurrence of the group, postdating Tanytrachelos in the eastern United States. A new phylogenetic analysis of early saurians identifies synapomorphies of tanystropheid subclades, which are recognized in the recovered vertebrae and a calcaneum. The femora are consistent with referral to Tanystropheidae. There is no clear association of the remains, however, so we refrain from erecting a new taxon. The analysis also indicates that the Hayden Quarry tanystropheid fossils belong to a newly recognized clade including the Late Triassic taxa Langobardisaurus and Tanytrachelos. Because most tanystropheid specimens are two-dimensionally crushed skeletons, the Hayden Quarry tanystropheid fossils provide valuable insights into the three-dimensional osteology of derived tanystropheids. The most striking feature of the Hayden vertebrae is a rugose, flattened expansion of the neural spines in the dorsal, sacral, and caudal regions, probably linked to a ligamentous bracing system. These fossils and others from Late Triassic sites in the American West suggest that tanystropheids underwent a previously unrecognized radiation in North America just prior to their extinction.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Russian Claim NASA Agrees to Space Station After ISS; NASA Says They did not

Russians claims NASA agrees to new space station after ISS:
Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and its US counterpart NASA have agreed to build a new space station to replace the current ISS when its life cycle expires.

"We have agreed that Roscosmos and NASA will be working together on the program of a future space station," Roscosmos chief Igor Komarov told a news conference on Saturday.

NASA says 'No, we did NOT!"
NASA said March 28 it welcomed a Russian commitment to continue operations of the International Space Station beyond 2020, but indicated there were no firm plans to work together on a successor space station.

The agency responded to comments made by the head of Roscosmos, Igor Komarov, earlier in the day that suggested the two space agencies had not only agreed to extend operations of the ISS to 2024, but also to replace the ISS with a new station of some kind after 2024.

Why the Robopocalypse has Impaired Vision

Friday, March 27, 2015

While the FAA Stalls, Robopocalyptic Delivery Drones Take Off in China

While companies like Amazon are chomping at the bit to launch drone delivery services in the United States, packages are already soaring through the air in China.

Two years ago, residents in the city of Dongguang spotted experimental SF Express-branded delivery drones hovering overhead with packages in tow. SF Express is the country’s largest mail carrier, and it presently delivers roughly 500 packages a day via drone. Now, the company says it plans to expand its services and double the number a packages it sends each day, according to a Chinese news report.

The state of drone couriers in China couldn’t contrast more with the situation here in the United States.

The Tallest Building Planned for Europe is Going ino a Swiss Village?!

Californian firm Morphosis (headed by Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Thom Mayne) has revealed plans for a slim mirrored skyscraper that – if it goes ahead – will be the tallest building in Europe. The part where things get weird is that it's due to be located in Vals: a small Swiss village with a population in the region of just 1,000.

I have to admit, something like this is what I'd expected when I was younger and thinking "Future!" I have a hard time seeing it as economically viable though.

Russian Sukhoi T-50 Stealth Fighter First Order cut From 52 to 12

Russia's ambitious T-50 fighter plane project was meant to develop a rival to two futuristic US jetfighters, the F-22 Raptor and the planned F-35 Lightning-II.

But now, the T-50 appears to be rivaling the F-35 another way: in development troubles. The Kremlin is slamming the brakes on its "fifth generation" fighter program and cutting its initial rollout to a quarter of those originally planned.

The decision seems a setback for Vladimir Putin's sweeping $800 billion rearmament program, a vital component of the wider effort to restore Russia to its Soviet-era status as a major global superpower. However, the sharp slowdown in plans to procure the sophisticated new jet may represent an outbreak of wisdom on the part of Russian military chiefs, who will remember how the USSR was driven into bankruptcy by engaging in an all-out arms race with the US.

Financial constraints are the key reason cited for cutting the military order from 52 to 12 of the planes over the next few years, according to the Moscow daily Kommersant.

"Given the new economic conditions, the original plans may have to be adjusted," the paper quotes Deputy Defense Minister Yuriy Borisov as saying. The project to build a cutting-edge fighter plane, which is partly financed by India, will not be canceled, but held in abeyance while the Russian Air Force makes the most of its existing "fourth generation" MiG and Sukhoi combat aircraft, he added.

No one knows whether technical problems may also have played a role in the decision to shelve the fighter.

US Air Force, US Navy to Team up for "Joint Analysis of Alternatives" for 6th Generation Fighters

The Navy and the Air Force could team up for their early look into their next crop of fighters due out in 2030, the Navy’s director of air warfare told USNI News on Thursday.

Starting next year, the two services are in a position to set out on a joint analysis of alternatives (AoA) for the follow on to Navy’s Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter, said Rear Adm. Mike Manazir to USNI News following a House Armed Service Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces hearing on combat aviation.

“We’re partnering with the Air Force in their F-X program,” he said.
“We are pressing forward — subject to guidance from [Office of Secretary of Defense] (OSD) — and we are looking at doing a joint analysis of alternatives (AoA) so we can look at similarities and differences. We’re allowed to take a joint AOA and then define a service solution that would be good for each service.”

As part of the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, the Navy has set aside $5 million to start the F/A-XX work — planned to replace the Super Hornets in the 2030s.

“We feel we need a replacement for the gaps that will occur when the F-18 E and F Super Hornet — and somewhat the [EA-18G Growler] as well — start to go away from their service life perspective in about 2030,” he said.

The AoA — for the Navy — will focus replacing the capabilities of the fighter with a wide-range of options.

“So what we would look at is everything — from an airframe, to a family of systems, to continuing something we already have flying, to capabilities that we already have in the air wing or the joint world — to asses what we really need to replace the Super Hornet,” Manazir said.

The AoA will run in parallel with several other design and technology efforts across several agencies.

Japanese Jeep Carrier Izumo Commissioned

Late Permian Glossopteris Flora From Deglaciating Antarctica

Glossopteris flora in the Permian Weller Formation of Allan Hills, South Victoria Land, Antarctica: Implications for paleogeography, paleoclimatology, and biostratigraphic correlation


Tewari et al


The Permo-Triassic Victoria Group in South Victoria Land, Antarctica, is a heterogeneous sequence of glacial tillite beds, carbonaceous and non-carbonaceous fluvial deposits, and volcaniclastic strata. The carbonaceous beds are rich in plant fossils associated with coal seams. In Antarctica, the geological record of the Late Paleozoic Ice Age is restricted to the Early Permian. After deglaciation, the Glossopteris flora thrived in polar forests in Antarctica throughout the Permian but disappeared at the end-Permian extinction. Here we describe the first comprehensive record of the Glossopteris flora from the Permian Weller Formation of Allan Hills, South Victoria Land, Antarctica. The flora is well preserved and comprises pteridophytes and gymnosperms. The pteridophytes include the sphenopsid order Equisetales and the gymnosperms comprise Glossopteridales. Equisetales are represented by branched and unbranched axes, whereas, Glossopteridales are highly diverse encompassing Gangamopteris, Glossopteris, Surangephyllum, sterile scale leaves namely Scirroma sp., Nautiyalolepis sp., Utkaliolepis indica, Scale leaf A and scale leaf of male fructification Eretmonia. The flora of the Weller Formation shows close similarity with the Late Permian assemblages of India, South Africa and Australia. Gangamopteris, an index fossil of the Early Permian formations of different Gondwana continents, had extended stratigraphic range in the Late Permian Weller Formation of Allan Hills. Antarctica played a crucial role in the dispersal of Glossopteris flora because of its central position in Gondwana.

Harvard Geneticist Inserts Woolly Mammoth Genes Into Elephant Cells Using CRISPR

Researchers from Harvard University have successfully inserted genes from a woolly mammoth into living cells from an Asian elephant, the extinct giant's closest remaining relative.

Harvard geneticist George Church used DNA from Arctic permafrost woolly mammoth samples to copy 14 mammoth genes -- emphasizing those related to its chilly lifestyle.

"We prioritized genes associated with cold resistance including hairiness, ear size, subcutaneous fat and, especially, hemoglobin," Church told The Sunday Times.

Then, using a kind of DNA cut/paste system called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat), Church dropped the genes into Asian elephant skin cells.

The result? A petri dish of elephant cells functioning normally with mammoth DNA in them, marking the first time mammoth genes have been on the job since the creature went extinct some 4,000 years ago, as Sarah Fecht, from Popular Science, noted.

More Evidence of Martian Ground Water From the Arabia Terra

Monica Pondrelli and colleagues investigated the Equatorial Layered Deposits (ELDs) of Arabia Terra in Firsoff crater area, Mars, to understand their formation and potential habitability. On the plateau, ELDs consist of rare mounds, flat-lying deposits, and cross-bedded dune fields. Pondrelli and colleagues interpret the mounds as smaller spring deposits, the flat-lying deposits as playa, and the cross-bedded dune fields as aeolian. They write that groundwater fluctuations appear to be the major factor controlling ELD deposition.

Pondrelli and colleagues also note that the ELDs inside the craters would likely have originated by fluid upwelling through the fissure ridges and the mounds, and that lead to evaporite precipitation. The presence of spring and playa deposits points to the possible presence of a hydrological cycle, driving groundwater upwelling on Mars at surface temperatures above freezing. Pondrelli and colleagues write that such conditions in a similar Earth environment would have been conducive for microbial colonization.

Nidophis insularis: a Small Maastrichtian Cretaceous Snake Found in a Dinosaur Nest, but not Eating Eggs (hint, something small and toothy was eating it)

A Late Cretaceous madtsoiid snake from Romania associated with a megaloolithid egg nest – Paleoecological inferences


Venczel et al


Here we report on the taphonomy and paleoecological implications of the first record of a small madtsoiid snake (Nidophis insularis) closely associated with a megaloolithid dinosaur egg nest. Taphonomic and sedimentologic evidence suggest that the snake was buried autochthonously within or nearby the egg nest, with at least partially articulated skeleton. Count of growth rings on the vertebral zygapophyses indicates that the holotype of Nidophis belonged to an adult individual approaching the limit of its maximum body size of about 1 m length. The presence of layers of arrested growth on the zygapophyses, together with other independent data (e.g., paleomagnetic data, sedimentology, paleosol development stage, stable isotope geochemistry) indicates that Nidophis lived under a semi-arid, seasonally variable subtropical climate, having alternative periods of active feeding. The trunk vertebrae with relatively low neural spines and without prezygapophyseal accessory processes indicate a relatively heavy-bodied, slowly-moving animal, one that probably had a semifossorial habit and was an active forager, but definitively not a dinosaur nest raider as suggested for certain large madtsoiid snakes (the Indian Sanajeh). Potential prey items, available around the dinosaur nesting area, probably ranged from small squamate eggs to various small vertebrates. Finally, one anterior trunk vertebra of the holotype displays distinct bite marks left by a small-sized and pointed-toothed predator, most probably a crocodyliform or a theropod, thus documenting that madtsoiids were also preyed upon.

Did mommy bring home a snack?

Vascular Plants Survive Mass Extinctions Better Than Animals

Revisiting the origin and diversification of vascular plants through a comprehensive Bayesian analysis of the fossil record


Silvestro et al



Plants have a long evolutionary history, during which mass extinction events dramatically affected Earth's ecosystems and its biodiversity. The fossil record can shed light on the diversification dynamics of plant life and reveal how changes in the origination–extinction balance have contributed to shaping the current flora.

We use a novel Bayesian approach to estimate origination and extinction rates in plants throughout their history. We focus on the effect of the ‘Big Five’ mass extinctions and on estimating the timing of origin of vascular plants, seed plants and angiosperms.

Our analyses show that plant diversification is characterized by several shifts in origination and extinction rates, often matching the most important geological boundaries. The estimated origin of major plant clades predates the oldest macrofossils when considering the uncertainties associated with the fossil record and the preservation process.

Our findings show that the commonly recognized mass extinctions have affected each plant group differently and that phases of high extinction often coincided with major floral turnovers. For instance, after the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary we infer negligible shifts in diversification of nonflowering seed plants, but find significantly decreased extinction in spore-bearing plants and increased origination rates in angiosperms, contributing to their current ecological and evolutionary dominance.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Physicists Suggest Looking for Dyson Spheres Around White Dwarfs

Back in 1960, the physicist Freeman Dyson publish an unusual paper in the journalScience entitled “Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infra-red Radiation.” In it, he outlined a hypothetical structure that entirely encapsulates a star to capture its energy, which has since become known as a Dyson sphere.

The basic idea is that all technological civilizations require ever greater sources of energy. Once the energy of their home planet has been entirely exhausted, the next obvious source is the mother star. So such a civilization is likely to build a shell around its star that captures the energy it produces.

Of course, such a sphere must also radiate the energy it absorbs and this would produce a special signature in the infrared part of the spectrum. Such a source of infrared radiation would be entirely unlike any naturally occurring one and so provide a unique way of spotting such as advanced civilization.

Because Sun-like stars seem the most obvious homes for advanced civilizations, most studies of Dyson spheres have focused on the properties these kinds of systems would have when built within the habitable zone at a distance of about 1 astronomical unit.

These studies have revealed well-known limitations, however. Such spheres tend to be unstable and require huge volumes of material to build. But most problematic of all, anything or anyone on the surface of these spheres would experience low levels of gravity, a problem that could not easily be solved with known physics.

Today, Ibrahim Semiz and Salim Ogur at Bogazici University in Turkey, define an entirely new class of Dyson sphere. Instead of thinking about a sphere around a Sun-like star, Semiz and Ogur consider a sphere built around a white dwarf.

Introducing the Shipping Container Gardens From Freight Farms and Cropbox

Ensuring that the food we eat is locally and sustainably grown is not always easy, especially in cities where crop-growing space is at a premium. Firms like Freight Farms and Cropbox, however, have a solution to this problem. They offer shipping containers that are kitted out as self-contained farms.

We've already seen the humble shipping container reappropriated for all sorts of different uses, including as part of an inner city farm concept. Freight Farms and Cropbox actually deliver that concept, albeit more practically and one container at a time.

The containers offered by both companies feature hydroponic technology, which employs a mineral-based solution in which to grow crops rather than soil. This means that the quality of the produce is not affected by prevailing weather conditions and that the conditions can be precisely tailored.

According to Cropbox, such systems use up to 90 percent less water than traditional growing methods. Both firms offer LED lighting in their containers too, which also compares favorably to other lighting methods. Overall, Freight Farms says each one of its containers takes 30,000 kWh of electricity annually to run.

Amazon Pushes Robopocalypse Further in the Warehouse With a Challenge in Seattle, WA in May

Packets of Oreos, boxes of crayons, and squeaky dog toys will test the limits of robot vision and manipulation in a competition this May. Amazon is organizing the event to spur the development of more nimble-fingered product-packing machines.

Participating robots will earn points by locating products sitting somewhere on a stack of shelves, retrieving them safely, and then packing them into cardboard shipping boxes. Robots that accidentally crush a cookie or drop a toy will have points deducted. The people whose robots earn the most points will win $25,000.

Amazon has already automated some of the work done in its vast fulfillment centers. Robots in a few locations send shelves laden with products over to human workers who then grab and package them. These mobile robots, made by Kiva Systems, a company that Amazon bought in 2012 for $678 million, reduce the distance human workers have to walk in order to find products. However, no robot can yet pick and pack products with the speed and reliability of a human. Industrial robots that are already widespread in several industries are limited to extremely precise, repetitive work in highly controlled environments.

Pete Wurman, chief technology officer of Kiva Systems, says that about 30 teams from academic departments around the world will take part in the challenge, which will be held at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle (ICRA 2015). In each round, robots will be told to pick and pack one of 25 different items from a stack of shelves resembling those found in Amazon’s warehouses. Some teams are developing their own robots, while others are adapting commercially available systems with their own grippers and software.

The Submarines of Mine Enemies

China updates its Type 093T SSN:


Construction has started on Arkhangelsk , Russia's latest Yasen-class nuclear-powered multipurpose attack submarine.

The keel laying took place on Submariners' Day, 19 March, at Sevmash Shipyard in Severodvinsk near Arkhangelsk, Northern Russia.

The Yasen-class vessels are the first in Russia to be equipped with fourth-generation nuclear reactors, claimed to have an unrefuelled core life of up to 30 years, and spherical sonars.

DARPA Selects Northrop Grumman, AeroVironment for TERN Ship-board UAV Program Phase 2

DARPA has awarded prime contracts for Phase 2 of Tern, a joint program between DARPA and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR). The goal of Tern is to give forward-deployed small ships the ability to serve as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial systems (UAS). These systems could provide long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and other capabilities over greater distances and time periods than is possible with current assets, including manned and unmanned helicopters. Further, a capacity to launch and retrieve aircraft on small ships would reduce the need for ground-based airstrips, which require significant dedicated infrastructure and resources. The two prime contractors selected by DARPA are AeroVironment, Inc., and Northrop Grumman Corp.

My hope would be the TERN would be doing what is being touted for the UCLASS as an ISR platform.  A handful of TERNs could be based on the CVN and more scattered in the rest of the battlegroup.  The UCLASS would be then be the attack bird it ought to be.

Mars' Jerezo Crater Gives Hints of Two Separate Water Rich Periods in Martian Deep Time

Researchers from Brown University have completed a new analysis of an ancient Martian lake system in Jezero Crater, near the planet's equator. The study finds that the onslaught of water that filled the crater was one of at least two separate periods of water activity in the region surrounding Jezero.

"We can say that this one really well-exposed location makes a strong case for at least two periods of water-related activity in Mars' history," said Tim Goudge, a graduate student at Brown who led the work. "That tells us something really interesting about how early Mars operated."

The study is in press in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

The ancient lake at Jezero crater was first identified in 2005 by Caleb Fassett, a former Brown graduate student now a professor at Mount Holyoke College. Fassett identified two channels on the northern and western sides of the crater that appear to have supplied it with water. That water eventually overtopped the crater wall on the southern side and flowed out through a third large channel. It's not clear how long the system was active, but seems to have dried out around 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago.

Each of the crater's inlet channels has a delta-like deposit where sediment carried by water was deposited in the lake. In 2008, Bethany Ehlmann, another former Brown graduate student now a professor at Caltech, showed that those fan deposits are full of clay minerals -- a clear sign of alteration by water. The question of how exactly those minerals formed, however, remained open. Did the minerals form in place in the lake, or did they form elsewhere and get transported into the lake?

Royal Tyrrell Museum Lecture Series: Mammals During the PETM

Eriphostoma microdon: new Specimens of the Oldest Permian Gorgonopsid Found

New information on the morphology and stratigraphic range of the mid-Permian gorgonopsian Eriphostoma microdon Broom, 1911


Kammerer et al


New specimens of the oldest gorgonopsian taxon Eriphostoma microdon from the Pristerognathus Assemblage Zone (AZ) of South Africa significantly improve our understanding of the anatomy of this taxon. The new specimens consist of nearly complete skulls and lower jaws and allow for a more complete diagnosis of Eriphostoma than was possible based on the poorly preserved holotype. In addition to the characteristic palatal dentition and delta-shaped palatine bosses previously recognized for Eriphostoma, this taxon can be diagnosed by the presence of three close-packed upper postcanines occupying an indented margin of the maxilla, a large, tetragonal-to-rounded preparietal bone, and large, paired interorbital depressions expanding outwards in front of the pineal boss. The revised diagnosis permits Eoarctops vanderbyli, Galesuchus gracilis, and Scylacognathus parvus to be synonymized with Eriphostoma microdon, as previously suspected. Among gorgonopsians, Eriphostoma is most similar to Aelurosaurus and Gorgonops, although these similarities are likely plesiomorphic for Gorgonopsia. Eriphostoma ranges from the Tapinocephalus AZ (where it is the only valid gorgonopsian known from the Karoo Basin) through the Pristerognathus AZ (where it co-occurs with Gorgonops).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chinese ASAT Test on July 23, 2014 Missed Target

China’s recent test of a missile designed to shoot down satellites in low-earth orbit highlights a growing threat of space weapons, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command said on Tuesday.


n China’s space weapons buildup, dubbed “counterspace” arms by the Pentagon, Haney said the United States needs to be ready to deal with attacks on satellites in a future conflict.

“The threat in space, I fundamentally believe, is a real one. It’s been demonstrated,” Haney said, noting China’s 2007 anti-satellite missile test against an orbiting satellite that created tens of thousand of debris pieces.

“They’ve repeated this kind of test last summer, and during that test, fortunately, they did not do a hit-to-kill kind of thing,” he said, noting that no further debris was created.

“But just seeing the nature of these types of activities show how committed they are to a counter-space campaign,” Haney said. “So we have to be ready for any campaign that extends its way into space.”

The July 23 test of the anti-satellite missile was identified by defense officials as the DN-1 anti-satellite interceptor missile. China also has a second anti-satellite (ASAT) missile called the DN-2 that was tested in 2013 and is designed to hit satellites in high-earth orbit—the location of intelligence, navigation, and targeting satellites.

China, which is publicly opposing the development of space weapons, did not identify the test as an anti-satellite missile. Instead, the Defense Ministry described the test as a “land-based anti-missile technology experiment.”

Haney said the July test was similar to the 2007 ASAT test.

“The only difference this time [is that] it did not impact another satellite,” he said. “I’m not convinced that was their intention. But quite frankly, just the whole physics and the demonstration and everything that they did, I’m sure they collected data in order to further make this an operational capability. … This was also a test for capability in low earth orbit.”

Haney was asked what steps the United States is taking in response to the space weapons threat and declined to provide specifics.

Chasing Ice Captures Incredible Glacier Calving

At 1:50 I swear I could hear the words, "And now I am FREE!  MORTALS TREMBLE AT MY COMING!"

Kids on Pi Day @ the Exploratorium

So what color is her blouse?  #theblouse.  ;)

Russia Claims to Have Started PAK-TA: a Supersonic Transport Carrying 200+ Tons

A state-run Russian news site is reporting that the country has ambitions to build a huge, supersonic cargo plane capable of transporting tanks to the field in a matter of hours. While there's plenty of reason to be skeptical that transporting such heavy loads at high speeds is even feasible, let alone realistic, Russia's military is reportedly giving itself roughly the next decade to figure it out.

Russia's RT reports that the heavy transport craft, dubbed the PAK TA (Perspective Airborne Complex of Transport Aviation), could fly at supersonic speeds of up to 2,000 km/h (1,243 mph), carry up to 200 tons (181 tonnes) and have a range of 7,000 km (4,350 mi). The program could call for the construction of a fleet of 80 of the new craft to be built by 2024, giving the Russian military the capability to deliver 400 Armata heavy tanks or 900 more lightly armored vehicles to a battlefield in quick fashion.

The specs are sourced to an apparent anonymous leaker who claims to have attended a closed-door meeting with Russian military leaders and passed on details to the Russian language site, Expert Online.

According to the website Russian Aviation, Ilyushin Aviation Complex – an aircraft engineering outfit dating back to the early years of the Soviet Union – is handling the project. CEO Viktor Livanov is quoted as saying "Today it is just a project that may be implemented by 2030." He added that the exact specifications are still subject to negotiations and that the Russian Ministry of Defense is just one of several potential customers.

Whatever the real status of the PAK TA is at the moment and whatever their reasons, someone certainly seems to want the wider world to know that such an ambitious concept is being discussed.

Sen McCain to US Navy: Make UCLASS a Serious Attack Drone

Former Navy pilot Sen. John McCain wants the Navy to build its first carrier-based drone with the ability to carry two tons of weapons in a stealthy platform able to fly into harm’s way and not primarily as a reconnaissance aircraft. And McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Serves Committee, went straight to Defense Secretary Ash Carter to make his case in a letter today.

The Navy is in the midst of developing a final Request for Proposal for UCLASS — a process which has been delayed several times in the face of serious question about the balance between range, weapons payload size the reconnaissance mission — and McCain clearly wants the Navy to change direction.

As a former Navy congressional liaison, the chairman certainly knows how to work the system. He isn’t alone in pushing for the navy to change direction. Rep. Randy Forbes, chairman of the House Armed Services seapower subcommittee, has also weighed in on UCLASS. However, Forbes pushed for a smaller payload of at least 1,000 pounds.

The senator was pretty specific in his letter. He said the Navy should build a system: “unrefueled endurance several times that of manned fighters; a refueled mission endurance measured in days; broadband, all-aspect radar cross-section reduction sufficient to find and engage defended targets; and the ability to carry internally a flexible mix of at least 4,000 pounds payload.”

Spectral Variation on Kuiper Belt Objects

The Hubble Wide Field Camera 3 Test of Surfaces in the Outer Solar System: Spectral Variation on Kuiper Belt Objects


Fraser et al


Here we present additional photometry of targets observed as part of the Hubble Wide Field Camera 3 Test of Surfaces in the Outer Solar System. 12 targets were re-observed with the Wide Field Camera 3 in optical and NIR wavebands designed to compliment those used during the first visit. Additionally, all observations originally presented by Fraser and Brown (2012) were reanalyzed through the same updated photometry pipeline. A reanalysis of the optical and NIR colour distribution reveals a bifurcated optical colour distribution and only two identifiable spectral classes, each of which occupies a broad range of colours and have correlated optical and NIR colours, in agreement with our previous findings. We report the detection of significant spectral variations on 5 targets which cannot be attributed to photometry errors, cosmic rays, point spread function or sensitivity variations, or other image artifacts capable of explaining the magnitude of the variation. The spectrally variable objects are found to have a broad range of dynamical classes, absolute magnitudes, exhibit a broad range of apparent magnitude variations, and are found in both compositional classes. The spectrally variable objects with sufficiently accurate colours for spectral classification maintain their membership, belonging to the same class at both epochs. 2005 TV189 exhibits a sufficiently broad difference in colour at the two epochs that span the full range of colours of the neutral class. This strongly argues that the neutral class is one single class with a broad range of colours, rather than the combination of multiple overlapping classes.

Ardipithecus Teeth Found in Miocene Neogene Ethiopia?

Late Miocene hominin teeth from the Gona Paleoanthropological Research Project area, Afar, Ethiopia


Simpson et al


Since 2000, significant collections of Latest Miocene hominin fossils have been recovered from Chad, Kenya, and Ethiopia. These fossils have provided a better understanding of earliest hominin biology and context. Here, we describe five hominin teeth from two periods (ca. 5.4 Million-years-ago and ca. 6.3 Ma) that were recovered from the Adu-Asa Formation in the Gona Paleoanthropological Research Project area in the Afar, Ethiopia that we assign to either Hominina, gen. et sp. indet. or Ardipithecus kadabba. These specimens are compared with extant African ape and other Latest Miocene and Early Pliocene hominin teeth. The derived morphology of the large, non-sectorial maxillary canine and mandibular third premolar links them with later hominins and they are phenetically distinguishable and thus phyletically distinct from extant apes.

A key for Understanding Cisuralian Permian Tetrapod Ichnofaunas

The Gerola Valley site (Orobic Basin, Northern Italy): A key for understanding late Early Permian tetrapod ichnofaunas


Marchetti et al


A taxonomic study has been carried out on the historical Gerola Valley locality (Pizzo del Diavolo formation, late Cisuralian), which represents one of the best tetrapod ichnosites of the whole Southern Alps (North Italy). With respect to previous studies, the ichnoassociation is now enlarged and lists the following taxa: Amphisauropus, Dromopus, Erpetopus, Hyloidichnus, Limnopus, Varanopus. The optimal preservation of the material, which in some cases shows even traces of the skin, allowed the recognition of a new morphotype of Varanopus. The invertebrate ichnoassociation is newly described and is representative of impoverished Scoyenia and Mermia ichnofacies. A detailed facies analysis of the uppermost arenitic-pelitic lithofacies of the Pizzo del Diavolo formation, which revealed the most abundant fossil content (Locality 1) and of two new localities (pelitic facies, Localities 2, 3) shows a transition from shallow lacustrine to floodplain and alluvial fan environments under a generally dry climate. Besides the taxonomic revision of vertebrate tracks, the final aims of our study are: i) the depositional, palaeoenvironmental and climatic reconstruction of this sector of the Orobic Basin through an integration of palaeontological data and facies analysis; and ii) the regional correlation of this key stratigraphic succession with other coeval ichnofaunas in Pangaea.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

SaviOne: Hello! I'm Ready to Deliver....Hotels to the Robopocalypse

And the crowd goes frakin wild with their introduction.  :)

oh and Popular Science has a profile on the SaviOne.  Let's hope the PS/PM curse doesn't kill it.

Because Egypt: Return of the Grandiose MegaProjects

Architecture projects don't come much bigger or more challenging than building an entire new capital city from scratch, but that's what the Egyptian Government, Skidmore, Owings & Merril (SOM), and international group of investors Capital City Partners Limited intend with the Capital Cairo project. The recently-proposed city, seven times the size of Paris, and twelve times bigger than Manhattan, would measure approximately 700 sq km (270 sq miles) and be home to 7 million residents.

Planning of the as-yet unnamed city is being led by SOM, and if it goes ahead, it would be located to the east of the current city of Cairo and serve as something of a pressure valve for the existing capital's ever-growing population. The new city would house 7 million people and create an estimated 1.5 million new jobs.

"While we are at the earliest stages of design, the new city will be built on core principles that include places of education, economic opportunity, and quality of life for Egypt’s youthful population," says SOM's Philip Enquist, who is Partner in Charge of Urban Design and Planning at the firm. "The new city will be designed and built in harmony with nature as a showcase of environmentally sensitive development."

Iran Helps, ahem, al'Sadr's Militia Bring Robopocalypse to Iraqi Battlefield

Turn off the sound before you play that clip.  seriously.

Some small bit of info.

The Composition and Layout of a Wolfcampian/Lower Permian Woodland

Plant architecture and spatial structure of an early Permian woodland buried by flood waters, Sangre de Cristo Formation, New Mexico


Rinehart et al


Natural molds of 165 stems were found in life position in a 1 m-thick sandstone bed, lower Permian (Wolfcampian), Sangre de Cristo Formation, northern New Mexico. The sandstone represents a single flood event of a river sourced in the Ancestral Rocky Mountains. Most of the flood-buried plants survived and resumed growth. The stem affinities are uncertain, but they resemble coniferophytic gymnosperms, possibly dicranophylls. Stem diameters (N = 135) vary from 1 to 21 cm, with three strongly overlapping size classes. Modern forest studies predict a monotonically decreasing number (inverse square law) of individuals per size class as diameter increases. This is not seen for fossil stems ≤ 6 cm diameter, reflecting biases against preservation, exposure, and observation of smaller individuals. Stems ≥ 6 cm diameter obey the predicted inverse square law of diameter distribution. Height estimates calculated from diameter-to-height relationships of modern gymnosperms yielded heights varying from ~ 0.9 m to greater than 8 m, mean of ~ 3 m. Mean stand density is approximately 2 stems/m2 (20,000 stems/hectare) for all stems greater than 1 cm diameter. For stems greatre than than 7.5 cm or greater than 10 cm diameter, density is approximately 0.24 stems/m2 (2400 stems/hectare) and 0.14 stems/m2 (1400 stems/hectare). Stem spatial distribution is random (Poisson). Mean all-stem nearest-neighbor distance (NND) averages 36 cm. Mean NND between stems greater than 7.5 cm and greater than than 10 cm diameter is approximately 1.02 m and 1.36 m. NND increases in approximate isometry with stem diameter, indicating conformation to the same spatial packing rules found in extant forests and other fossil forests of varying ages. Nearest-neighbor distance distribution passes statistical testing for normality, but with positive skew, as often seen in extant NND distributions. The size-frequency distribution of the stems is similar to those of Jurassic, early Tertiary, and extant woodlands; the early Permian woodland distribution line has the same slope, but differs in that the overall size range increases over time (Cope's rule). The early Permian woodland is self-thinning; its volume versus density relationship shows a self-thinning exponent between − 1.25 and − 1.5, within the range seen in some extant plant stands (− 1.21 to − 1.7).

We now Have the Technology to Detect Relavistic Starships

Limits and Signatures of Relativistic Spaceflight


Yurtsever et al


While special relativity imposes an absolute speed limit at the speed of light, our Universe is not empty Minkowski spacetime. The constituents that fill the interstellar/intergalactic vacuum, including the cosmic microwave background photons, impose a lower speed limit on any object travelling at relativistic velocities. Scattering of cosmic microwave phtotons from an ultra-relativistic object may create radiation with a characteristic signature allowing the detection of such objects at large distances.

Step one. grab all the RAW kepler data.

Step two. write a search program like the supernova factory guys do.

Step Three.  Run, baby.  Run.  (or rather  debug, baby.  debug.  Then, run, baby.  Run!)

Step Four (probable).  Sigh with the lack of detections.

Step Five.  Grab everyone else's raw data too.  ;)

Rinse lather repeat.

An Impressive Hegetothere Notoungulate Assemblage from Oligocene Paleogene Argentina

The Hegetotheriidae (Mammalia, Notoungulata) assemblage from the late Oligocene of Mendoza, central-western Argentina


Cerdeño et al


This study describes new remains of Hegetotheriidae (Notoungulata), including a new species, from the Deseadan (late Oligocene) of Quebrada Fiera, Mendoza Province, Argentina. The assemblage is composed of four hegetotheriines, Prohegetotherium cf. P. sculptum, Prohegetotherium sp., Prohegetotherium schiaffinoi, and Prohegetotherium malalhuense, sp. nov., and the pachyrukhine Propachyrucos cf. P. simpsoni. The presence of Prosotherium cannot be totally discounted because lower molariforms are rather similar between the two pachyrukhine genera. The new species Prohegetotherium malalhuense, sp. nov., differs from all previously described hegetotheriines by having a lingually projecting, sharp parastyle and marked parastyle groove on the ectoloph of M2–3; talonid of m1–2 posterolabially projected; talonid of m3 with marked posterolabial groove; and the smaller size. Its phylogenetic affinities are not well resolved. Prohegetotherium is paraphyletic, with P. sculptum sister taxon to the remaining hegetotheres, and the new taxon more closely related to Hegetotherium mirabile than to P. schiaffinoi. The recognition of P. schiaffinoi and Prohegetotherium cf. P. sculptum emphasizes that the fauna from Quebrada Fiera shares elements with roughly contemporaneous Deseadan faunas from northern and southern latitudes, but important faunal particularities distinguish the region as well. The record of pachyrukhines at Quebrada Fiera more closely resembles Deseadan faunas in Patagonia than temporally correlative faunas from Bolivia and Uruguay, and indicates the presence of suitable habitats in mid-latitudes of Argentina for this hypselodont clade. Faunal affinities together with particular taxa from Quebrada Fiera appear to support a significant faunal provinciality in South America during the late Oligocene.

Was the Ediacaran/Cambrian Radiation Unique?

Was the Ediacaran—Cambrian radiation a unique evolutionary event?




The extent of morphologic innovation during the Ediacaran—Cambrian diversification of animals was unique in the history of metazoan life. This episode was also associated with extensive changes in the redox state of the oceans, in the structure of benthic and pelagic marine ecosystems, in the nature of marine sediments, and in the complexity of developmental interactions in Eumetazoa. But did the phylogenetic and morphologic breadth of this episode simply reflect the unusual outcome of recurrent evolutionary processes, or was it the unique result of circumstances, whether in the physical environment, in developmental mechanisms, or in ecological interactions? To better characterize the uniqueness of the events, I distinguish among these components on the basis of the extent of sensitivity to initial conditions and unpredictability, which generates a matrix of possibilities from fully contingent to fully deterministic. Discriminating between these differences is important for informing debates over determinism versus the contingency in the history of life, for understanding the nature of evolutionary theory, and for interpreting historically unique events.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Meet Sawyer: Baxter's Newest Robopocalyptic Sibling

Wait! What did Boeing Just Patent?! An Active Protection System for /Shockwaves/?!

Boeing's new patent may let the force be with you even in real life.

The aircraft and defense company has taken a cue from science fiction with its plan to develop a Star Wars-style force field that would use energy to deflect any potential damage.

Just liking the luminescent shields seen in the film, Boeing's "Method and system for shock wave attenuation via electromagnetic arc" could provide a real-life layer of protection from nearby impacts to targets.

The downside: It won't protect from direct hits.

The system can sense when a shock wave generating explosion occurs near a target. An arc generator then determines the small area where protection is needed from the shock waves.

It then springs into action by by emitting laser pulses that ionize the air, providing a laser-induced plasma field of protection from the shock waves.

"Explosive devices are being used increasingly in asymmetric warfare to cause damage and destruction to equipment and loss of life. The majority of the damage caused by explosive devices results from shrapnel and shock waves," the patent says.

Canadians as Naughty as Americans: the Cyber Activities of Canada's CSEC

Top-secret documents obtained by the CBC show Canada's electronic spy agency has developed a vast arsenal of cyberwarfare tools alongside its U.S. and British counterparts to hack into computers and phones in many parts of the world, including in friendly trade countries like Mexico and hotspots like the Middle East.

The little known Communications Security Establishment wanted to become more aggressive by 2015, the documents also said.

Revelations about the agency's prowess should serve as a "major wakeup call for all Canadians," particularly in the context of the current parliamentary debate over whether to give intelligence officials the power to disrupt national security threats, says Ronald Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab, the respected internet research group at University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs.

"These are awesome powers that should only be granted to the government with enormous trepidation and only with a correspondingly massive investment in equally powerful systems of oversight, review and public accountability," says Deibert.

Details of the CSE’s capabilities are revealed in several top-secret documents analyzed by CBC News in collaboration with The Intercept, a U.S. news website co-founded by Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who obtained the documents from U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Documents obtained from Edward Snowden reveal the extent of the cyberwarfare techniques used by Canada’s Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) – including the capacity and will to perform ‘false flag’ operations, where responsibility for cyberattacks, counterattacks or other intelligence-related activity is misattributed to individuals, groups or nation states.

The Intercept, in collaboration with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), has published limited details of CSEC’s cyberwarfare capabilities and disposition just as Canada’s C-51 bill – draft anti-terrorism legislation currently under criticism for its potential to silence legitimate protest – is under fierce debate in Canada’s House of Commons.

The ‘deception tactics’ outlined by the documents include ‘false flag’ techniques, carried out in order to ‘create unrest’. In a spectacular display of bureaucratic legerdemain, this process is apparently defined as ‘[altering] adversary perception’.

The new leak also reveals that CSEC uses ‘honeypot’ or ‘watering hole’ techniques in service of generating deceptive cyberactivity; though no greater detail is given on that point, the principle is one of presenting a tempting online target and attempting to gain advantage from the actors attracted to it.

Additionally the leaked information discloses CSEC’s cooperation with the NSA in service of an ‘active computer network access and exploitation on a variety of foreign intelligence targets, including CT [counter terrorism], Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Mexico’.

US Navy Asks Congress for Additional 12 F/A-18E/Fs and 8 F-35Cs Outside of Normal Budget

The U.S. Navy included 12 Boeing Co F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets and eight Lockheed Martin Corp F-35s on a list of "unfunded priorities" prepared for Congress, defense officials and other sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The Navy's list was reviewed by senior Pentagon officials and the Joint Chiefs of Staff this week, and should be sent to U.S. lawmakers in coming days, said the sources, who asked not to be named because the vetting is still under way.

Top Pentagon officials are skeptical about the weapons wish lists, and worry they help lawmakers "cherry pick" specific weapons programs to fund, while crowding out bigger priorities. However, they say they will not stand in the way of the military services complying with requests from lawmakers.

The total value of the additional 12 Boeing jets is around $1 billion, while the eight extra Lockheed jets would be just over $1 billion, the sources said.

A decision by Congress to fund the extra Boeing jets as part of the Navy's fiscal 2016 budget would help the company extend its St. Louis production line beyond the end of 2017, although it was not immediately clear for how long.

Link Between Milankovitch Cycle and Pleistocene Ice Age Questioned

A new international study casts doubt on the leading theory of what causes ice ages around the world -- changes in the way the Earth orbits the sun.

The researchers found that glacier movement in the Southern Hemisphere is influenced primarily by sea surface temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide rather than changes in the Earth's orbit, which are thought to drive the advance and retreat of ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere.
The study raises questions about the Milankovitch theory of climate, which says the expansion and contraction of Northern Hemisphere continental ice sheets are influenced by cyclic fluctuations in solar radiation intensity due to wobbles in the Earth's orbit; those orbital fluctuations should have an opposite effect on Southern Hemisphere glaciers.

"Records of past climatic changes are the only reason scientists are able to predict how the world will change in the future due to warming. The more we understand about the cause of large climatic changes and how the cooling or warming signals travel around the world, the better we can predict and adapt to future changes," says lead author Alice Doughty, a glacial geologist at Dartmouth College who studies New Zealand mountain glaciers to understand what causes large-scale global climatic change such as ice ages. "Our results point to the importance of feedbacks -- a reaction within the climate system that can amplify the initial climate change, such as cool temperatures leading to larger ice sheets, which reflect more sunlight, which cools the planet further. The more we know about the magnitude and rates of these changes and the better we can explain these connections, the more robust climate models can be in predicting future change."

How Mesozoic Mammals Moved

A multivariate approach to infer locomotor modes in Mesozoic mammals


Chen et al


Ecomorphological diversity of Mesozoic mammals was presumably constrained by selective pressures imposed by contemporary vertebrates. In accordance, Mesozoic mammals for a long time had been viewed as generalized, terrestrial, small-bodied forms with limited locomotor specializations. Recent discoveries of Mesozoic mammal skeletons with distinctive postcranial morphologies have challenged this hypothesis. However, ecomorphological analyses of these new postcrania have focused on a single taxon, a limited region of the skeleton, or have been largely qualitative.

For more comprehensive locomotor inference in Mesozoic mammals, we applied multivariate analyses to a morphometric data set of extant small-bodied mammals. We used 30 osteological indices derived from linear measurements of appendicular skeletons of 107 extant taxa that sample 15 orders and eight locomotor modes. Canonical variate analyses show that extant small-bodied mammals of different locomotor modes have detectable and predictable morphologies. The resulting morphospace occupation reveals a morphofunctional continuum that extends from terrestrial to scansorial, arboreal, and gliding modes, reflecting an increasingly slender postcranial skeleton with longer limb output levers adapted for speed and agility, and extends from terrestrial to semiaquatic/semifossorial and fossorial modes, reflecting an increasingly robust postcranial skeleton with shorter limb output levers adapted for powerful, propulsive strokes. We used this morphometric data set to predict locomotor mode in ten Mesozoic mammals within the Docodonta, Multituberculata, Eutriconodonta, “Symmetrodonta,” and Eutheria. Our results indicate that these fossil taxa represent five of eight locomotor modes used to classify extant taxa in this study, in some cases confirming and in other cases differing from prior ecomorphological assessments. Together with previous locomotor inferences of 19 additional taxa, these results show that by the Late Jurassic mammals had diversified into all but the saltatorial and active flight locomotor modes, and that this diversification was greatest in the Eutriconodonta and Multituberculata, although sampling of postcranial skeletons remains uneven across taxa and through time.

Massive Earthquake(s?) at the Triassic-Jurassic Extinction

Intense and widespread seismicity during the end-Triassic mass extinction due to emplacement of a large igneous province


Lindström et al


Multiple levels of earthquake-induced soft-sediment deformations (seismites) are concentrated in the end-Triassic mass extinction interval across Europe. The repetitive nature of the seismites rules out an origin by an extraterrestrial impact. Instead, this intense seismic activity is linked to the formation of the Central Atlantic magmatic province (CAMP). By the earliest Jurassic the seismic activity had ceased, while extrusive volcanism still continued and biotic recovery was on its way. This suggests that magmatic intrusions into sedimentary strata during early stages of CAMP formation caused emission of gases (SO2, halocarbons, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) that may have played a major part in the biotic crisis.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Indonesia has Lost its Patience, Delcares China has no Right to South China Sea

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said China'a claims to the majority of the South China Sea have "no legal foundation in international law," he told Japan's Yomiuri newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.

This was the first time Widodo, who took office in October, has taken a position on the South China Sea dispute.

Oops! Another Guest Blog Post at the Power and the Money: The Calm Before the Storm

I have had another guest blog post on the situation in Ukraine up for a few days at Noel's The Power and the Money.  The post is entitled 'The Calm Before the Storm.'

Friday, March 20, 2015

General Curtis LeMay and General Thomas Power Get Their Orions

It turns out the Orion Project was closer to happening in some ways than has been publicly acknowledged. It seems if not for McNamara's people, the US Air Force was going to push through building a fleet of Orion spacecraft. At the center of it all was the ever infamous Generals Curtis LeMay and Thomas Power. Power went as far sign off on a requirement for a 'Strategic Earth Orbit Base' and LeMay pushed the civilian leadership of the US Air Force to get Orion added to the 1962 USAF budget for the tune of $1.36 Billion. As much as my space cadet side sorta wishes for it, the adult side of me is glad the Secretary of the Air Force Zuckert killed it and he did so because McNamara would have been against it.

 That does make for an interesting what-if.

Let's say right after the Cuban Missile Crisis, McNamara gets hit by a car in DC.  He's dead.  

LeMay takes another crack at after McNamara is dead.

We'll handwave he gets it.  We also handwave in the exception to the Partial Test Ban Treaty the US attempted to get for propulsion.  Even so, the probable outcome of Orion getting funded in 1963 is it gets cancelled around 1968.  Nixon comes on and, well, problem.  They honestly need a decade worth to get an Orion working.  This would probably end up like the MOL or Dynasoar.

LeMay would probably want to at least get a flight out before he retires.  That took place in 1965.  However, that was due to his hostility with McNamara who is in this Alternate Time Line (ATL) now dead.  LeMay was initially a supporter of Nixon, so its possible with the different SecDef, LeMay could skip over the stupidity of running with Wallace and end up keeping his job for a time at least.

Even so, I bet he'd push for a first launch of an Orion in 1968. This would probably end up something like the 880 ton version.  It becomes a space station, America's first.  If it were up to me, I'd dump the propulsion module and let it fall into the Pacific.  300 tons of spacestation would be rather impressive.  The ISS masses about 450 tons and Skylab was about 100 tons.  It would be imaginable the space station would have twice the volume of Skylab.  It would probably need a reboost or risk coming back into the atmosphere.    The second Orion launch in 1972 of the full size (4,000 ton) version does the reboost.

With the launch of the 4,000 ton Orions, we see a new Orion launched each year from 1972 to 1978 and one last in 1981 (unmanned as a cargo haul, redesigned to larger mass as a one off).  The militarized Orions would carry 12 orbital bombardment missiles of roughly the equivalent of the Polaris missile (call it 30 tons).  Each of these would have 10 warheads.  The remaining payload would have sufficient supplies and whatnot for 10 years of operation without resupply for the crew of 16 (open ended life support, about the best we could do at the time, requires 10 lbs/per person/day).

However, Orions cannot be left in LEO.  They would be extremely vulnerable to a nuclear strike.  This means placing them out at one of the LaGrange Points.  L-1 is easiest to get to.  So they go into a Halo Orbit at the L-1 point.  Crew cycling would take place every year.  An Orion would come down to LEO to dock with the space station.  The 'acclimated' replacement crew would have been ferried up by 5 Saturn IBs.  The crew rotating out would ride back down to the surface on the Apollo capsules.  This would continue until an alternate Space Shuttle was developed. Given what we got from the space shuttle OTL, we'd probably see the USAF purchasing a total of 5 of them.  These would compliment the 5 for NASA.

Five missions per year would be to the space station for personnel exchange for the Orions.  Another five missions per year would be to reboost and resupply the aging space station. 

With Carter or whomever takes over ultimately from the Nixon/Ford era, the Orion Program gets cancelled.  Or rather new built ones do.  The last three Orions built get retasked to be NASA spacecraft and unarmed.  Prior to handing over to NASA, they do a supply run for the other Orions at the L-1 point.  This would extend the Orion mission to 1992 minimum.   However, when the resupply run is done, it is acknowledged the Orions will need to be decommissioned in 1992.

While there is a study and the beginning of a replacement done under Reagan - the Strategic Offensive Initiative - it gets canned by 1989 without building much hardware.  Edward Teller had argued to place advanced weaponry on the Orions such as lasers and whatnot to counter the Soviet nuclear arsenal.  He thought the next generation Orions could be built as strategic defense as well as offense.  This muddied the waters and the program objectives and as the Cold War drew to a close, very few were interested in flying new Orions.

In 1992, the Orions were decommissioned.  The Bush administration used the 500th Year Anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the Americas to do so in a spectacular war.  Starting in 1988, Bush negotiated their withdrawal and the ban of nuclear weapons in space.  NASA was tasked with reusing the Orions.  These were not to be used as manned spacecraft, but rather as the first interstellar unmanned probes.  The first four Orions would launch off to Alpha Centauri (133 years to arrive), Barnard's Star (187 years), epsilon Eridani (330 years) and tau Ceti (400 years).  The fifth weaponized Orion was stripped of its thrust plate and its pulse bombs transferred to the NASA Orions.  It remained in place at the L-1 point as a space station and refurbished to that end (christened Columbus Station). 

The actual nuclear weapons we deweaponized and transported back to Earth under treaty obligatory supervision.  Under the treaty the plutonium was rebuilt as pulse bombs for the NASA Orions under Russian observation.  This would provide enough fuel for another two full loads.  However, it was agreed after this, nonnuclear or rather non-plutonium using propulsion would have to be used.

In the mean time...

NASA in 1980 used one of its Orions to build the first permanent Moon base similar to Operation Deep Freeze.  The last three Saturn Vs were not put out to pasture or used for Skylab, but to supply the Orion's mission.  After the initial push a base of 40 people was regularly resupplied from Earth.  The base, at the lip of the Shackleton Crater near the south pole has grown and is still operational today.  However, after 1982, no Orions were involved in the base.

On 1982, the two manned NASA Orions launched on their first mission to Mars.  Two carried carried 250 ton crewed landers (and 500 tons of fuel for another landing and take off: they were chemical rockets) which had been brought up by the unmanned Orion in 1981, the last retasked, rebuilt unmanned Orion.  These landers were SSTOs...Martian SSTOs, much easier than on Earth.  Six sites were surveyed on the first mission.  The famous picture of the astronaut saluting the Viking probe and the associated group picture of the 20 astronauts around it became quite famous.

The second Mars Mission took place in 1984.  It followed a similar pattern to the first mission, surveying another six sites.  A third mission took place in 1986 doing likewise.

In 1988, Operation Ares was launched and built a Martian base.  This was done near the Valles Marineris.  An 800 ton unmanned cargo lander was dropped from one of the Orions and the other brought another 200 ton unmanned lander as well.  The crewed lander put down and they spent the next 3 months building out the base.  A crew of 20 was left behind for the next two years.  It would be the last time both Orions would go to Mars.  Resupply missions to Mars would take place every two years, but one only have one Orion at a time.  The last Orion run to Mars would be in 2001.  The Mars base was semi self sufficient at that time and supported by other means for the rest.

In April 1993, the second Orion would embark for Jupiter for a 18 month mission (galileo flew in 1982 on time).  Landings would take place on three of the Galilean Moons: twice on Europa and once on Callisto and Ganymede.  A second expedition would be mounted in October 1996. And a final one in 2000.

The last mission for the Orions would be to Saturn.  It was a stretch.  They launched in 2005.  They would land on Titan and Enceladus; however, the crews were much smaller than the Mars or Jupiter missions, totally only 12 each.  The Orions would return to earth in 2008 where they would be decommissioned at Columbus Station.  Their thrust plates would be destroyed under treaty obligation.  The rest habitable sections of the ships would be remodeled and used as part of Columbus station.

Since there was no good replacement for them in the near term, it would not be until 2038 when the first laser implosion fusion powered ships were launched until their capability was replaced.

The Lunar Base by their end had an international population of about 1,000: multiple nations were landing and using the lunar base for science and exploration.  There are no native selenites.

Mars has a population of 203.  OTOH, there are three native born Martians.