суббота, 3 ноября 2018 г.

New antimatter gravity experiments begin at CERN

CERN – European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

3 Nov 2018

Image above: The ALPHA-g experiment being installed in CERN’s Antiproton Decelerator hall. (Image: CERN).

We learn it at high school: release two objects of different mass in the absence of friction forces and they fall down at the same rate in Earth’s gravity. What we haven’t learned, because it hasn’t been directly measured in experiments, is whether antimatter falls down at the same rate as ordinary matter or if it might behave differently. Two new experiments at CERN, ALPHA-g and GBAR, have now started their journey towards answering this question.

ALPHA-g is very similar to the ALPHA experiment, which makes neutral antihydrogen atoms by taking antiprotons from the Antiproton Decelerator (AD) and binding them with positrons from a sodium-22 source. ALPHA then confines the resulting neutral antihydrogen atoms in a magnetic trap and shines laser light or microwaves onto them to measure their internal structure. The ALPHA-g experiment has the same type of apparatus for making and trapping antiatoms, except that it is oriented vertically. With this vertical set-up, researchers can precisely measure the vertical positions at which the antihydrogen atoms annihilate with normal matter once they switch off the trap’s magnetic field and the atoms are under the sole influence of gravity. The values of these positions will allow them to measure the effect of gravity on the antiatoms.

The GBAR experiment, also located in the AD hall, takes a different tack. It plans to use antiprotons supplied by the ELENA deceleration ring and positrons produced by a small linear accelerator to make antihydrogen ions, consisting of one antiproton and two positrons. Next, after trapping the antihydrogen ions and chilling them to an ultralow temperature (about 10 microkelvin), it will use laser light to strip them of one positron, turning them into neutral antiatoms. At this point, the neutral antiatoms will be released from the trap and allowed to fall from a height of 20 centimetres, during which the researchers will monitor their behaviour.

After months of round-the-clock work by researchers and engineers to put together the experiments, ALPHA-g and GBAR have received the first beams of antiprotons, marking the beginning of both experiments. ALPHA-g began taking beam on 30 October, after receiving the necessary safety approvals. ELENA sent its first beam to GBAR on 20 July, and since then the decelerator and GBAR researchers have been trying to perfect the delivery of the beam. The ALPHA-g and GBAR teams are now racing to commission their experiments before CERN’s accelerators shut down in a few weeks for a two-year period of maintenance work. Jeffrey Hangst, spokesperson of the ALPHA experiments, says: “We are hoping that we’ll get the chance to make the first gravity measurements with antimatter, but it’s a race against time”. Patrice Pérez, spokesperson of GBAR, says: “The GBAR experiment is using an entirely new apparatus and an antiproton beam still in its commissioning phase. We hope to produce antihydrogen this year and are working towards being ready to measure the gravitational effects on antimatter when the antiprotons are back in 2021”.

Introducing ALPHA-g, a new experiment to measure the effect of gravity on antimatter

Video above: Jeffrey Hangst at the Antiproton Decelerator hall, explaining the ALPHA-g set-up in the run-up to the start of the experiment. (Video: Jacques Fichet/CERN).

Another experiment at the AD hall, AEgIS, which has been in operation for several years, is also working towards measuring the effect of gravity on antihydrogen using yet another approach. Like GBAR, AEgIS is also hoping to produce its first antihydrogen atoms this year.

Discovering any difference between the behaviour of antimatter and matter in connection with gravity could point to a quantum theory of gravity and perhaps cast light on why the universe seems to be made of matter rather than antimatter.


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 22 Member States.

Related article:

Chasing a particle that is its own antiparticle:

Related links:

ALPHA experiment: https://home.cern/about/experiments/alpha

Antiproton Decelerator (AD): https://home.cern/about/accelerators/antiproton-decelerator

ELENA deceleration ring: https://home.cern/about/updates/2016/11/new-ring-slow-down-antimatter

Linear accelerator: https://home.cern/tags/linear-accelerator

Antimatter: https://home.cern/topics/antimatter

For more information about European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Visit: https://home.cern/

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Ana Lopes.

Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link

Sunbrick or Birkrigg Stone Circle, Cumbria, 3.11.18.A lovely stone circle on a very wet...

Sunbrick or Birkrigg Stone Circle, Cumbria, 3.11.18.

A lovely stone circle on a very wet and blustery Autumn day.

Source link

HiPOD (3 November 2018): Light-Toned Material in Tyrrhena Terra …

HiPOD (3 November 2018): Light-Toned Material in Tyrrhena Terra

   – The objective of this observation is to examine light-toned material in the middle of a crater. Layers seem to be there, which is why HiRISE resolution is needed. (256 km above the surface. Black and white is less than 5 km across; enhanced color is less than 1 km.)

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

2018 November 3 Lunar LOVE Image Credit & Copyright: …

2018 November 3

Lunar LOVE
Image Credit & Copyright: Masaru Takeo – courtesy: Junichi Watanabe (NAOJ)

Explanation: A more creative search by a group of amateur astronomers in the Ehime Prefecture of Shikoku Island, Japan has found lunar L-O-V-E. Their secret was an examination of this sharp image of the First Quarter Moon. To discover it for yourself you’ll need to look closely at details of the shadow and light along the terminator, the line between lunar night and day Created by the contrast of shadowed crater floors with sunlit walls and ridges, the letter V is not too hard to find near the center of the image. Letters L and E are a bit more challenging though, but can be teased out of shadow and light along the terminator at the bottom. Of course, on the cratered surface of the Moon the O is easy … . Moonwatchers on planet Earth should understand that like the famous lunar X, also seen here, these lunar letters are transient and only appear along the terminator in the hours around the Moon’s first quarter phase. So your next chance for lunar L-O-V-E is the first quarter Moon on November 15.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap181103.html

Meat and fish market unearthed in ancient Greek city of Aigai

An ancient meat and fish market called ‘macellum’ by the Romans (Greek makellon) has been unearthed in the 2,200-year-old city of Aigai in the western Turkish province of Manisa’s Yunusemre district.

Meat and fish market unearthed in ancient Greek city of Aigai

Credit: DNA

Excavation works, carried out by Manisa Celal Bayar University’s archaeology department, have recently ended in the ancient city.

Meat and fish market unearthed in ancient Greek city of Aigai

Credit: DNA

The head of the excavations, Yusuf Sezgin, and his team unearthed the 1,900-year-old meat and fish market with new, detailed information in this year’s works. The small square-like structure is on a terrace adjacent to the ground floor of an agora building, which is known as the city centre.

“In the first years when we started excavations, this place was covered. Very few parts of it were visible. We had no idea what it was. But after the excavations we realized that this is a macellum, the meat-fish market. It was like the butcher of modern day. But in antiquity, butchers and fishermen were together. The stones on the floor are placed in lime mortar. So the water is accumulated there. There are two channels that allow the fresh water to enter and the dirty water out. There must have been fish in this water. This place is 13 kilometres from the sea. On the other hand, Aigai means goat in Greek. So, we believe that goat meat was sold here, too,” he added.

Source: Hurriyet Daily News [October 29, 2018]



A surfeit of lampreys: First evidence of stomach-turning medieval delicacy found in...

Keratin ‘teeth’ belonging to the gruesome lamprey fish have been identified in London’s archaeological record for the first time. The exceptionally rare discovery was made by Alan Pipe Senior Archaeozoologist at MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology), as he examined environmental samples from excavations near Mansion House station in London.

A surfeit of lampreys: First evidence of stomach-turning medieval delicacy found in London
Lamprey keratin ‘teeth’ (probably river lamprey) recovered during excavations near
Mansion House station in London [Credit: Museum of London Archaeology]

Lampreys are an extremely primitive lineage of eel-like fish which at 360 million years old, pre-date the dinosaurs. Some species of lamprey are parasitic, feeding on other fish. It may be hard to stomach, but lampreys were a popular delicacy among the nobility in medieval Britain (and continue to be eaten in Spain and Finland).
The story goes that Henry I had such a hankering for this scary snack that his doctor deemed the cause of his untimely death “a surfeit of lampreys” – though this may be a fanciful embellishment on the part of Henry of Huntingdon, his chronicler. Even recently, they have been popular with the royals: a lamprey pie was made for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

As lampreys have no bones or jaws, they leave little trace in the archaeological record. They are only known from two other sites in the UK: Coppergate in York and Dundrennan Abbey in Scotland. Even their ‘teeth’ are unlikely to be preserved, since they are made of keratin (the same as hair and nails), which is much softer than enamel or dentine, making this discovery all the more remarkable.

A surfeit of lampreys: First evidence of stomach-turning medieval delicacy found in London
Mouth of a river lamprey [Credit: Roger Sweeting (2016),
Freshwater Biological Association]

MOLA Senior Archaeozoologist Alan Pipe said: “Almost everything we know about the popularity of lampreys in medieval England comes from historical accounts. It is incredibly exciting, after 33 years of studying animal remains, to finally identify traces of the elusive lamprey at the heart of the historic City of London, preserved in the water-logged ground near the Thames.”
It remains to be seen what conclusions can be drawn from the site as a whole (archaeological remains are being analysed by our specialists), but the presence of the coveted lamprey could be an early indicator of the high status of its medieval occupants.

Once fairly common, the three species of lamprey found in the British Isles (brook, river and sea: two of which feed parasitically on other fish) are now protected species, and they are making a comeback thanks to efforts to reduce river pollution.

Author: Emily​ Wilkes | Source: Museum of London Archaeology [October 29, 2018]



Chinese archaeologists find Bronze Age ruins in Jilin province

A team of archaeologists said on Sunday that they have unearthed Bronze Age ruins including the remains of ancient houses and ash pits along with animal bones, bronze ware and stone tools in China’s Jilin province.

Chinese archaeologists find Bronze Age ruins in Jilin province
Jointly launched by researchers from countries including China, France and the US, the ongoing excavation
started in July and is hovering around 1,000 square metres [Credit: Xinhua]

The finds were discovered on a sand dune near Dajinshan village in Shuangliao city, according to the School of Archaeology of Jilin University.
Fang Qi, the archaeologist who headed the excavation, said researchers speculate that the ruins might serve as evidence of a living and fishing place for ancient people near the Eastern Liaohe river based on large quantities of unearthed life utensils, animal bones, fishbones, mussels and shellfish, reports Xinhua news agency.

The ruins are around 150 metres long and 100 metres wide.

Jointly launched by researchers from countries including China, France and the US, the ongoing excavation started in July and is hovering around 1,000 square metres.

After the excavation is completed, the archaeologists will send 20 carbon samples to the University of Oxford for more precise age testing.

“The new discovery will shed some light on the living and working conditions of ancient people along the Eastern Liaohe river basin, and enrich people’s understanding of ancient life in the region,” Fang said.

Source: Devdiscourse News Desk [October 29, 2018]



Sharing life with the planets next door

How life could be shared between planets in close proximity to one another has received a greater insight thanks to new analytics based on previously known and new calculations. The findings are allowing researchers to understand how likely life might be on a given planet in such tight-knit systems if that world shows signs of habitability.

Sharing life with the planets next door
An artist’s impression of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system
[Credit: SETI Institute]

It began with a blasphemous-at-the-time idea: that life exists throughout the universe, and it can travel without supernatural interference. Anaxagoras, a 5th-century BC Greek philosopher, called this concept ‘panspermia’. Kelvin, Helmholtz and Arrhenius advanced the idea in the 19th and 20th centuries by examining how life could be carried to and from Earth. In 2009, Stephen Hawking went beyond our solar system with the idea when he suggested that “Life could spread from planet to planet or from stellar system to stellar system, carried on meteors.”

Dr. Dimitri Veras, an astrophysicist at the University of Warwick in the UK, and lead author of a new paper on the subject, says that, “Within the last century, [panspermia] has been focused on life transport within the solar system, including Earth.”

The TRAPPIST-1 system, which is 41 light years away and includes seven planets packed into an orbit smaller than Mercury’s, changes this Earth-centric idea. The TRAPPIST-1 sun is an ultra-cool red dwarf, so even though the seven nearby planets orbit closely, they are possibly all still in the habitable zone for life, to varying degrees depending upon the make-up of their atmospheres. That makes them a perfect model for exploring the idea of panspermia, per Hawking, anywhere in the universe.

Three stages

But back to our solar system, where the “foundation for panspermia-related processes has been established,” according to Veras’ paper. That includes evidence that life can survive the three stages of traveling from one planet to another: initial ejection, the journey through space between planets, and impact onto a new planet. Each stage presents challenges to the survival of life, of course.

Veras wanted to create an analytical system to quantify each of these parts to create a better understanding of the probability of the whole.

He had some information to start with: Microbes can possibly survive ejection from a planet with life on it, as per previous studies, and even a voyage through interplanetary space, if shielded from the radiation and cold. Less is known about how well a microbe that endured space travel could survive impact on a new planet, which would be necessary for life to complete the voyage from one planet to another.

Sharing life with the planets next door
The orbits of the planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system are tightly arranged, especially when compared to our Solar System
or even the moons of Jupiter, increasing the chances that life could be shared between them
[Credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech]

Since impact includes more unknowns than ejection and transit between planets, Veras had less-detailed information to work with in this area of his calculations. “The physics of re-entry features complexities that are not present with the ejection and voyage phases through space,” he says. “For example, frictional heating during re-entry can lead to the formation of a fusion crust [the outer layer of the meteorite that melts and ablates during atmospheric entry] on the surface of the meteorite.”

When it came to figuring out how to calculate the tricky physics of atmospheric entry onto a new planet, Veras tells Astrobiology Magazine that, “Equations regarding the physics of impact have already been established and used for solar system applications [so] we converted those for use in a general extra-solar system.”

To understand the probability of ejected material traveling from one planet to another, Veras combined his equations into analytics as a way to figure out the whole system of panspermia, not just parts of it.

“Usually, the dynamics of panspermia is studied with numerical simulations, however, these can be slow to run and must be tailored to an individual system,” says Veras. “Alternatively, analytics are much faster to use and are general enough to be applicable to a wide variety of systems.”

Sharing life

Now that there’s an observable multi-planet system – TRAPPIST-1 – with more than one world in the habitable zone, astrobiologists can use these analytics to understand the probability of life being shared between planets in these extra-solar locales. The closeness of the planets in this new system means that the chance they can share material is high. Can Veras’ analytics guarantee that, if life began on one of the planets, that life may then existor not exist thanks to panspermia on a given planet? His equations are not meant to do that – Veras admits that they are “not exact,” but “provide a sufficiently good approximation,” – but rather their aim is to give astrobiologists another tool with which to assess new planetary systems.

Amaya Moro-Martin, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland, who has previously published a paper on the probability of panspermia between different planetary systems, says Veras’ analytics are “An impressive piece of work that takes into account a wide range of physical processes that are involved in panspermia.”

Looking forward, Moro-Martin thinks Veras’ work will be useful for when new planetary systems are discovered. “The framework that it establishes will help others assess whether, from the dynamical point of view, panspermia could have been feasible, given the system characteristics,” she says.

Astrobiologists need to ensure that they are not limiting life to what’s already known; aliens could look very different from what we expect. “”The difficulty here is that the experiments that test survival against the hazards of outer space and atmospheric entry will be based on the organisms we are familiar with, and we have no clue what extra-solar organisms might be like,” says Moro-Martin, “which opens a fascinating world of possibilities.”

Author: Starre Vartan | Source: Astrobiology Magazine [October 30, 2018]



Astronomers witness slow death of nearby galaxy

Astronomers from The Australian National University (ANU) and CSIRO have witnessed, in the finest detail ever, the slow death of a neighbouring dwarf galaxy, which is gradually losing its power to form stars.

Astronomers witness slow death of nearby galaxy
CSIRO’s powerful Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope [Credit: CSIRO]

The new peer-reviewed study of the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), which is a tiny fraction of the size and mass of the Milky Way galaxy, uses images taken with CSIRO’s powerful Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope.

Lead researcher Professor Naomi McClure-Griffiths from ANU said the features of the radio images were more than three times finer than previous SMC images, which allowed the team to probe the interactions between the small galaxy and its environment with more accuracy.

“We were able to observe a powerful outflow of hydrogen gas from the Small Magellanic Cloud,” said Professor McClure-Griffiths from the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at ANU.

“The implication is the galaxy may eventually stop being able to form new stars if it loses all of its gas. Galaxies that stop forming stars gradually fade away into oblivion. It’s sort of a slow death for a galaxy if it loses all of its gas.”

Professor McClure-Griffiths said the discovery, which is part of a project that investigates the evolution of galaxies, provided the first clear observational measurement of the amount of mass lost from a dwarf galaxy.

Astronomers witness slow death of nearby galaxy
A radio image of hydrogen gas in the Small Magellanic Cloud as observed by CSIRO’s ASKAP telescope
[Credit: Naomi McClure-Griffiths et al, CSIRO’s ASKAP telescope]

“The result is also important because it provides a possible source of gas for the enormous Magellanic Stream that encircles the Milky Way,” she said.

“Ultimately, the Small Magellanic Cloud is likely to eventually be gobbled up by our Milky Way.”

CSIRO co-researcher Dr David McConnell said ASKAP was unrivalled in the world for this kind of research due to its unique radio receivers that give it a panoramic view of the sky.

“The telescope covered the entire SMC galaxy in a single shot and photographed its hydrogen gas with unprecedented detail,” he said.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe, and is the main ingredient of stars.

“ASKAP will go on to make state-of-the-art pictures of hydrogen gas in our own Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds, providing a full understanding of how this dwarf system is merging with our own galaxy and what this teaches us about the evolution of other galaxies,” Dr McConnell said.

The study is published in Nature Astronomy.

Source: Australian National University [October 30, 2018]



Nature in steep decline due to human activities: WWF Living Planet Report 2018

A comprehensive overview of the state of our natural world, the Living Planet Report 2018 presents a sobering analysis of the impact of humans on the world’s wildlife, forests, oceans, rivers, and climate, and the implications for vital services nature provides. The Living Planet Index (LPI) indicates that global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles declined, on average, by 60 per cent between 1970 and 2014, with freshwater species hit hardest. The top threats to species are directly linked to human activities, including habitat loss and degradation, and overexploitation of wildlife.

Nature in steep decline due to human activities: WWF Living Planet Report 2018
Credit: Scott S Warren/National Geographic Creative

The findings also demonstrate that the window for action is closing rapidly, and underline the urgent need for the global community to collectively rethink and redefine how we value, protect and restore nature.

“We cannot build a prosperous future for Europe and its citizens on a depleted planet, so economic and environmental agendas must converge if we are to build a sustainable Europe for all,” said Ester Asin, Director of WWF’s European Policy Office. “With the upcoming EU elections and the resulting renewal of key decision-making bodies, Europe has the opportunity to revive its global leadership on climate change and nature conservation, by taking decisive actions at home and driving a new global deal for nature and people. Europe must lead by example by adopting an ambitious post-2020 EU diversity strategy, and integrating biodiversity and climate protection into all relevant sectoral policies.”

WWF is calling for a comprehensive framework agreement for nature and people under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which must galvanize action to protect and restore biodiversity. At EU level, WWF is asking for an ambitious post-2020 biodiversity strategy to halt and reverse nature loss, mainstreaming of climate and biodiversity protection into key economic sectors through its agriculture, water, infrastructure and development, and climate and energy policies, a reflection of these priorities in the next EU budget, and full implementation and enforcement of the Birds and Habitats Directives and the Water Framework Directive.

Rivers, lakes & wetlands suffer worst biodiversity decline

Freshwater ecosystems, such as rivers, lakes and wetlands, are continuing to deteriorate at breakneck speed, with species abundance declined by 83% since 1970. Lakes, rivers and wetlands are critical for people, nature and economies, yet they are under growing pressure from pollution, dam development, and soaring demand for water to irrigate farms and fuel hydropower plants. In Europe, only 40% of surface waters are currently considered healthy (EEA, 2018), despite EU Member States’ legal obligation to protect and restore all freshwater bodies under the Water Framework Directive – the law which protects all freshwater bodies in the EU and obliges Member States to restore those which have already been damaged to good health. But there is now a strong push from EU Member States to weaken this law.

“Without full, effective implementation of the Water Framework Directive, it will be impossible to defend our rivers and lakes, and the incredible biodiversity that depends on them”, said Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF’s European Policy Office. “It’s time we heard a little less conversation and saw a lot more action from EU Member States, and that they seriously stepped up their game to make this visionary law work not just on paper, but in practice!”

The WWF European network, together with 100 NGOs across Europe, is currently running the #ProtectWater campaign to keep the EU water law strong, calling citizens to have their say in the current European Commission’s public consultation.

Source: WWF [October 30, 2018]



Blowing Bubbles in the Gamma-ray Sky


Did you know our Milky Way galaxy is blowing

bubbles? Two of them, each 25,000 light-years tall! They extend above and below

the disk of the galaxy, like the two halves of an hourglass. We can’t see them

with our own eyes because they’re only apparent in gamma-ray light, the highest-energy light in the



We didn’t even know these humongous structures were smack in the middle of

our galaxy until 2010
. Scientists found them when they

analyzed the first two years of data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

They dubbed them the “Fermi bubbles” and found that in addition to being really

big and spread out, they seem to have well-defined edges. The bubbles’ shape

and the light they give off led scientists to think they were created by a

rapid release of energy. But by what? And when?


One possible explanation is that they could be

leftovers from the last big meal eaten by the supermassive black hole at the

center of our galaxy. This monster is more than 4 million times the mass of our

own Sun. Scientists think it may have slurped up a big cloud of hydrogen

between 6

and 9 million years ago
and then burped jets of hot gas

that we see in gamma rays and X-rays.


Another possible explanation is that the bubbles

could be the remains of star formation. There are massive clusters of stars at

very the center of the Milky Way — sometimes the stars are so closely packed they’re a million times more dense than in the outer

suburb of the galaxy where we live
. If there was a burst

of star formation in this area a few million years ago, it could have created

the surge of gas needed to in turn create the Fermi bubbles.


It took us until 2010 to see these Fermi bubbles

because the sky is filled with a fog of other gamma rays that can obscure our

view. This fog is created when particles

moving near light speed bump into gas, dust, and light in the Milky Way. These

collisions produce gamma rays, and scientists had to factor out the fog to

unveil the bubbles.


Scientists continue to study the possible causes

of these massive bubbles using the 10 years of data Fermi has collected so far.

Fermi has also made many other exciting discoveries — like the the collision of superdense neutron stars

and the nature

of space-time
. Learn more

about Fermi and how we’ve been celebrating its first decade in space

Make sure

to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space:

Giant flightless birds were nocturnal and possibly blind

If you encountered an elephant bird today, it would be hard to miss. Measuring in at over 10 feet tall, the extinct avian is the largest bird known to science. However, while you looked up in awe, it’s likely that the big bird would not be looking back.

Giant flightless birds were nocturnal and possibly blind
Giant nocturnal elephant birds are shown foraging in the ancient forests of Madagascar at night
[Credit: John Maisano/University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences]

According to brain reconstruction research led by The University of Texas at Austin, the part of the elephant bird brain that processed vision was tiny, a trait that indicates they were nocturnal and possibly blind. The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

A nocturnal lifestyle is a trait shared by the elephant bird’s closest living relative, the kiwi — a practically blind, chicken-size denizen of New Zealand — and a clue that is helping scientists learn more about the elephant bird’s behavior and habitat, said Christopher Torres, a Ph.D. candidate who led the research.

“Studying brain shape is a really useful way of connecting ecology — the relationship between the bird and the environment — and anatomy,” Torres said. “Discoveries like these give us tremendous insights into the lives of these bizarre and poorly understood birds.”

Julia Clarke, a professor at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences and Torres’ Ph.D. adviser, co-authored the study. Torres is a student in UT’s Department of Integrative Biology in the College of Natural Sciences.

Elephant birds were large, flightless and lived in what is now Madagascar until a mixture of habitat loss and potential human meddling led to their demise between 500 and 1,000 years ago.

“Humans lived alongside, and even hunted, elephant birds for thousands of years,” Torres said. “But we still know practically nothing about their lives. We don’t even really know exactly when or why they went extinct.”

Scientists had previously assumed that elephant birds were similar to other big, flightless birds, like emus and ostriches — both of which are active during the day and have good eyesight. But Torres and Clarke revealed that elephant birds had distinctly different lifestyles through reconstructions of their brains.

Giant flightless birds were nocturnal and possibly blind
A digital brain reconstruction of the recently extinct elephant bird revealed that its optic lobes were virtually absent,
a trait it shares with the closely-related kiwi and which indicates that it was nocturnal and possibly blind.
This is in contrast to the distantly related tinamous, which is active during the day and can see
[Credit: C. Torres/The University of Texas at Austin]

Bird skulls wrap tightly around their brains, with the turns and curves of the bone corresponding to brain structures. The researchers studied the skulls of two species of elephant birds. By using CT-imaging data of the two elephant bird skulls, the researchers were able to create digital brain reconstructions called endocasts. In addition to the elephant bird skulls, the researchers also created endocasts for close relatives of the elephant bird, both living and extinct.

In both elephant bird skulls, the optic lobe — a bundle of brain nerves that controls eyesight — was very small, with the structure almost absent in the larger species. The lobe had the most in common with that of a kiwi, which Torres said came as a “total shock” because of the kiwi’s poor vision and nocturnal behavior.

“No one has ever suspected that elephant birds were nocturnal,” Torres said. “The few studies that speculated on what their behavior was like explicitly assumed they were active during the day.”

Andrew Iwaniuk, an associate professor at the University of Lethbridge and an expert on brain evolution in birds who was not involved with the research, said that he had a similar reaction to the findings.

“I was surprised that the visual system is so small in a bird this big,” he said. “For a bird this large to evolve a nocturnal lifestyle is truly bizarre and speaks to an ecology unlike that of their closest relatives or any other bird species that we know of.”

In addition to vision, the endocasts rendering of the olfactory bulb — the part of the brain that processes the sense of smell — helped shed light on the habitats where elephant birds lived. The larger of the two species of elephant bird had a large olfactory bulb, a trait associated with forest dwelling. In contrast, the smaller elephant bird species had a smaller olfactory bulb, possibly indicating that it lived in grasslands. The smaller species also appears to have somewhat keener vision, which means it may have been more active at dusk than during the pitch black of night.

“Details like these not only tell us about what the lives of elephant birds were like, but also what life in general was like on Madagascar in the distant past,” Clarke said. “As recently as 500 years ago, very nearly blind, giant flightless birds were crashing around the forests of Madagascar in the dark. No one ever expected that.”

Source: University of Texas at Austin [October 30, 2018]



Ancient Karpas mosaics restored

Greek and Turkish Cypriot archaeologists have finished cleaning and stabilising the ancient mosaics adorning the floor of the ancient Ayia Triada Basilica in the Karpas peninsula in northern Cyprus, it emerged on Tuesday.

Ancient Karpas mosaics restored
Credit: Ali Tuncay

The announcement was made by the co-chairmen of the technical committee on cultural heritage Ali Tuncay and Takis Hadjidemetriou on social media.

Ancient Karpas mosaics restored
Credit: Ali Tuncay

“The Ayia Triada 5th and 6th AD mosaics shine in the beautiful nature of Karpasia,” Hadjidemetriou said.

Ancient Karpas mosaics restored
Credit: Ali Tuncay

“It is a miracle of cooperation between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. A miracle which can spread everywhere, for everyone and everything,” Hadjidemetriou said.

Source: Cyprus Mail [October 30, 2018]



Dinosaurs put all coloured birds’ eggs in one basket, evolutionarily speaking

A new study says the colours found in modern birds’ eggs did not evolve independently, as previously thought, but evolved instead from dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs put all coloured birds' eggs in one basket, evolutionarily speaking
Fossil theropod dinosaur egg (front), with corvid eggs in a nest. Fossil Deinonychus
and oviraptor eggs were probably similar in colouration to corvid eggs
 [Credit: Jasmina Wiemann/Yale University]

According to researchers at Yale, the American Museum of Natural History, and the University of Bonn, birds inherited their egg colour from non-avian dinosaur ancestors that laid eggs in fully or partially open nests. The researchers’ findings appear in the online edition of the journal Nature.
“This completely changes our understanding of how egg colours evolved,” said the study’s lead author, Yale paleontologist Jasmina Wiemann. “For two centuries, ornithologists assumed that egg colour appeared in modern birds’ eggs multiple times, independently.”

Dinosaurs put all coloured birds' eggs in one basket, evolutionarily speaking
Illustration of a hatching Deinonychus chick from a blue egg with brown spots.
The diversity researchers recovered for dinosaur egg colours mirrors that
found for modern bird eggs [Credit: Jasmina Wiemann/Yale University]

The egg colours of birds reflect characteristic preferences in nesting environments and brooding behaviours. Modern birds use only two pigments, red and blue, to create all of the various egg colours, spots, and speckles.
Wiemann and her colleagues analyzed 18 fossil dinosaur eggshell samples from around the world, using non-destructive laser microspectroscopy to test for the presence of the two eggshell pigments. They found them in eggshells belonging to Eumaniraptoran dinosaurs, which include small, carnivorous dinosaurs such as Velociraptor.

Dinosaurs put all coloured birds' eggs in one basket, evolutionarily speaking
An assortment of paleognath and neognath bird eggs and a fossil theropod egg (on the right)
[Credit: Jasmina Wiemann/Yale University]

“We infer that egg color co-evolved with open nesting habits in dinosaurs,” Wiemann said. “Once dinosaurs started to build open nests, exposure of the eggs to visually hunting predators and even nesting parasites favoured the evolution of camouflaging egg colors, and individually recognizable patterns of spots and speckles.”
Co-author Mark Norell, the Macaulay Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, noted that “Coloured eggs have been considered a unique bird characteristic for over a century. Like feathers and wishbones, we now know that egg colour evolved in their dinosaur predecessors long before birds appeared.”

Author: Jim Shelton | Source: Yale University [October 31, 2018]



Major corridor of Silk Road already home to high-mountain herders over 4,000 years ago

Using ancient proteins and DNA recovered from tiny pieces of animal bone, archaeologists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH) and the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography (IAET) at the Russian Academy of Sciences-Siberia have discovered evidence that domestic animals -cattle, sheep, and goat — made their way into the high mountain corridors of southern Kyrgyzstan more than four millennia ago, as published in a study in PLOS ONE.

Major corridor of Silk Road already home to high-mountain herders over 4,000 years ago
Iron Age rock art near the city of Osh shows the tall, beautiful horses that drove important Silk Road trade
[Credit: William Taylor]

Long before the formal creation of the Silk Road — a complex system of trade routes linking East and West Eurasia through its arid continental interior- pastoral herders living in the mountains of Central Asia helped form new cultural and biological links across this region.
However, in many of the most important channels of the Silk Road itself, including Kyrgyzstan’s Alay Valley (a large mountain corridor linking northwest China with the oases cities of Bukhara and Samarkand), very little is known about the lifeways of early people who lived there in the centuries and millennia preceding the Silk Road era.

In 2017, an international team of researchers, led by Dr. Svetlana Shnaider (IAET), Dr. Aida Abdykanova (American University of Central Asia), and Dr. William Taylor (MPI-SHH), identified a series of never-before-seen habitation sites along the mountain margins that form Kyrgzstan’s southern border with Tajikistan. Test excavations and survey at these sites produced archaeological animal bones that promised to shed light on how people used the Alay region in the past.

Major corridor of Silk Road already home to high-mountain herders over 4,000 years ago
Map of the study region, showing the Alay Valley and important geographic features
[Credit: William Taylor]

When Taylor and colleagues analyzed the bones that had been recovered, however, they were so small and badly broken that researchers could no longer use their size and shape to identify which species they originally belonged to.
“We were crushed,” says Shnaider. “To get so close to understanding the early economy of one of the most important channels of the Silk Road -and come up empty-handed — was incredibly disheartening.”

However, Taylor and his colleagues then applied a technique known as Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry, or ZooMS. This method uses laser-based, mass spectrometry to identify the peptide building blocks that make up collagen inside the bone itself — peptides that differ across animal taxa, and produce unique “fingerprints” that can be used to identify otherwise unrecognizable pieces of bone.

Major corridor of Silk Road already home to high-mountain herders over 4,000 years ago
Horses next to the beautiful high peaks of the Alay Valley, southern Kyrgyzstan
[Credit: William Taylor]

With this technique, Dr. Taylor and his colleagues discovered that people living in the Alay Valley began herding sheep, goat, and cattle by at least 4300 years ago. Combining their work with ancient DNA research at France’s University of Toulouse, they also found that in later centuries, as Silk Road trade flourished across the region, transport animals like domestic horses and Bactrian camel became increasingly significant in Alay.
For Taylor, this research is especially exciting because of the range of possibilities it points to for archaeological research across the high mountains of Inner Asia. In many parts of the region, fragmented assemblages like the ones analyzed in this study are commonplace in the archaeological record.

“This study shows us that biomolecular methods like ZooMS and ancient DNA can take the fragmented piles of bone that have been almost worthless to archaeologists,” he says, “and open up a whole new world of insights into the human story across Central Asia.”

Source: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History [October 31, 2018]




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