четверг, 4 апреля 2019 г.

Fireball over North & South Carolina on April 4th, 2019 6:50am EST

Over 495 reports from 8 states

The AMS has received over 495 reports so far about of a slow and bright fireball seen above South and North Carolina on Thursday, April 4th 2019 around 6:50am EDT (10:50 Universal Time). The event was mainly seen from the Carolinas but we also received reports from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

If you witnessed this event and/or if you have a video or a photo of this event, please

Submit an Official Fireball Report

If you want to learn more about Fireballs: read our Fireball FAQ.

AMS Event #1561-2019 – Witness location and estimated ground trajectory


The preliminary 3D trajectory computed based on all the reports submitted to the AMS shows that the fireball was traveling from West to East and ended its flight East of Ivanhoe, NC.

AMS Event #1561-2019 – Estimated 3D trajectory

Videos and Photos

The event has been caught by Pat Branch from Greenville, PA on an AMS AllSky6 camera system:

We also received numerous videos of the event from witnesses – all of them can been seen from the AMS Event #1561-2019 page.


Several thousand meteors of fireball magnitude occur in the Earth’s atmosphere each day. The vast majority of these, however, occur over the oceans and uninhabited regions, and a good many are masked by daylight. Those that occur at night also stand little chance of being detected due to the relatively low numbers of persons out to notice them.

Additionally, the brighter the fireball, the more rare is the event. As a general thumb rule, there are only about 1/3 as many fireballs present for each successively brighter magnitude class, following an exponential decrease. Experienced observers can expect to see only about 1 fireball of magnitude -6 or better for every 200 hours of meteor observing, while a fireball of magnitude -4 can be expected about once every 20 hours or so.


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Learning from Primates As explorers, we like to create maps of…

Learning from Primates

As explorers, we like to create maps of the worlds we discover. To better understand the world within our heads, an ambition for neuroscientists has been to map the architecture of the human brain and its connections. The brains of other mammals have already been tackled, but the recently created 3D model of the marmoset brain may provide us with a new level of detail. Based on several entire brains, the map was created by combining experimental and computational methods (pictured are connections in different colours, overlaid on MRI scans). With a smaller size and flatter surface than the brain of other primates the team could map marmoset brain neural connections with an unprecedented high level of detail. Similarities between the marmoset brain and our own, mean this new method and dataset could help us learn more about the complexity of human brain connectivity and how it’s affected by disease.

Written by Gaëlle Coullon

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Russian Cargo Ship Reaches Space and Races to Station

ROSCOSMOS – Russian Vehicles patch.

April 4, 2019

Image above: Russia’s Progress 72 resupply ship blasts off on time from Kazakhstan to the International Space Station. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

Carrying more than three-and-a-half tons of food, fuel and supplies for the International Space Station crew, the unpiloted Russian Progress 72 cargo spacecraft launched at 7:01 a.m. EDT (4:01 p.m. Baikonur time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The resupply ship reached preliminary orbit and deployed its solar arrays and navigational antennas as planned. Following a 2-orbit rendezvous, the Russian cargo craft will dock to the orbiting laboratory at 10:25 a.m. NASA Television coverage of rendezvous and docking will begin at 9:45 a.m.

Progress MS-11 launch

Progress 72 will remain docked at the station for about three months before departing in July for its deorbit in Earth’s atmosphere.

The Progress is the first of three cargo resupply ships delivering supplies to the six crewmembers aboard the space station this month. Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket with its Cygnus cargo spacecraft will launch from Pad 0A of Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore on April 17. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and cargo Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to launch from Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida the following week.

Related links:

Pirs docking compartment: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/pirs-docking-compartment

NASA TV: https://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/NASA TV/SciNews.

Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link

Untangling the evolution of feeding strategies in ancient…

Untangling the evolution of feeding strategies in ancient crocodiles http://www.geologypage.com/2019/04/untangling-the-evolution-of-feeding-strategies-in-ancient-crocodiles.html

2019 April 4 Messier 2 Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, G….

2019 April 4

Messier 2
Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, G. Piotto et al.

Explanation: After the Crab Nebula, M1, this giant star cluster is the second entry in 18th century astronomer Charles Messier’s famous list of things with are not comets. M2 is one of the largest globular star clusters now known to roam the halo of our Milky Way galaxy. Though Messier originally described it a nebula without stars, this stunning Hubble image resolves stars across the central 40 light-years of M2. Its population of stars numbers close to 150,000, concentrated within a total diameter of around 175 light-years. About 55,000 light-years distant toward the constellation Aquarius, this ancient denizen of the Milky Way, also known as NGC 7089, is 13 billion years old.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap190404.html

Star formation in galactic centres

Stars form from the gas and dust in molecular clouds via a series of complex processes that are currently only partly understood, and the evolution of these clouds drives the evolution of the stellar populations in the universe. Astronomers studying the formation of stars have, over the past decades, concentrated on a few select regions of active star formation: the solar neighborhood, the disc of the Milky Way, and the neighboring Magellanic Cloud galaxies.

Star formation in galactic centres
An IRAC/Spitzer Space Telescope infrared image of the center of our galaxy. The infrared penetrates much of the dust
 to reveal the stars of the crowded galactic center region. Older, cool stars are blue; reddish dust clouds are associated
 with young stars in stellar nurseries. The galactic center lies some 26,000 light-years away, toward the constellation
Sagittarius. The image spans the region called the Circum-Molecular Zone, and new simulations appear to have
 resolved some of the mysteries around the nature and evolution of molecular clouds in this zone
[Credit: Susan Stolovy (SSC/Caltech) et al., NASA SPitzer/IRAC]

This range of environments is limited, however, and not representative of the conditions under which most stars in the Universe formed. For instance, the densities, pressures, and motions of the gas in these local environments are considerably lower than those thought to be present during the time of peak cosmic star formation about ten billion years ago. Moreover the disparate conditions make it difficult to untangle evolutionary effects.

Recent Galactic plane surveys at a wide range of wavelengths using facilities like the Submillimeter Array and ALMA telescopes have made it possible to study cloud evolution and star formation in the Central Molecular Zone (CMZ), the central 1500 light-years of the Milky Way, whose extreme physical conditions more nearly resemble those at the peak of cosmic star formation.

CfA astronomers Eric Keto and Qizhou Zhang and their colleagues carried out a series of computer simulations of massive molecular clouds in a CMZ environment with the goal of characterizing their morphological and kinematic evolution as they orbit the galactic center in this dense, complex region. These computations are the first specifically aimed at modeling the clouds in the CMZ ridge and were designed to compare against recent observations.

The team finds that the CMZ environment causes the clouds to be compressed, with stress and shear forces fragmenting them and developing features such as filaments and spinning, pancake-like structures. The simulations are able to reproduce key observed features like the “Brick,” a very dense, flattened molecular cloud that, despite its dense gas, lacks star formation activity; the simulations can mimic its general morphology, inclination, and velocity gradients.

The results reveal that the evolution of molecular clouds near galactic centers is closely coupled to their orbital dynamics. When accompanied by accretion of gas, these clouds can evolve to produce the starbursts observed in many galactic nuclei.

The study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Source: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics [April 01, 2019]



Climate change threat to dolphins’ survival

An unprecedented marine heatwave had long-lasting negative impacts on both survival and birth rates on the iconic dolphin population in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Researchers at UZH have now documented that climate change may have more far-reaching consequences for the conservation of marine mammals than previously thought.

Climate change threat to dolphins' survival
Dolphin mother and calf in Shark Bay [Credit: Sonja Wild]

Shark Bay in Western Australia in early 2011: A heatwave causes the water temperatures to rise to more than four degrees above the annual average. The extended period caused a substantial loss of seagrass, which drives the Shark Bay ecosystem, in this coastal area, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Researchers from UZH have now investigated how this environmental damage has affected survival and reproduction of dolphins. They used long-term data on hundreds of animals collected over a ten-year period from 2007 to 2017.

Their analyses revealed that the dolphins’ survival rate had fallen by 12 percent following the heatwave of 2011. Moreover, female dolphins were giving birth to fewer calves – a phenomenon that lasted at least until 2017.

“The extent of the negative influence of the heatwave surprised us,” says Sonja Wild, former PhD candidate at the University of Leeds and first author of the study. “It is particularly unusual that the reproductive success of females appears to have not returned to normal levels, even after six years.” There are several possible explanations for this phenomenon, for instance neglect of calves, increased newborn mortality, delayed sexual maturity or a combination thereof, but researchers have not yet been able to investigate them in detail.

Climate change threat to dolphins' survival
Three dolphins over seagrass [Credit: Simon J Allen, Shark Bay Dolphin Research Alliance]

Interestingly, the heatwave did not have the same effect on all dolphin groups. Dolphins that use sponges as tools – a socially learned foraging technique that helps dolphins to locate food in deep water – were not as badly affected as those that do not use this technique.

“Nevertheless, our work raises concerns that such sudden events might have quite negative long-term effects even in groups of marine mammals that are known to adapt usually well to novel environmental conditions,” says Sonja Wild.

The UZH researchers show in their study for the first time that marine heatwaves not only affect or-ganisms at lower levels of the food chain, but also might have considerable long-term consequences for the animals at the top, such as dolphins.

“Marine heatwaves are likely to occur more frequently in the future due to climate change,” says study leader Michael Krützen, professor at the Department of Anthropology at UZH. “This is worrying not only for the long-term prospects of marine mammal populations, but also for the entire oceanic ecosystems.”

The study is published in Current Biology.

Author: University of Zurich [April 01, 2019]



How much hunting is too much hunting?

One of the main challenges in wildlife conservation biology is to understand what factors affect vulnerable wildlife populations over time. Scientists have been trying to understand these factors to estimate how much hunting in a season is sustainable, but the lack of long-term monitoring data, especially in remote areas such as the Arctic, makes this task very difficult to accomplish.

How much hunting is too much hunting?
Credit: Grant Gilchrist

In a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists at the University of Ottawa used a novel method to bypass this lack of data and track how nesting bird populations changed over time, even before population census data were collected.

Professor Jules Blais and his team analyzed sediment cores from the bottom of small lakes and ponds in Canada’s Eastern Arctic to examine the levels of a range of chemical compounds in the cores’ composition.

“When birds colonize an area, they begin to fertilize the local environment, drastically changing the nutrient levels in the water,” explained lead author Dr. Kathryn Hargan, a W. Garfield Weston postdoctoral fellow and a L’Oréal-UNESCO postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa at the time the research was done. “Over time, sediments slowly accumulate at the bottom of lakes, archiving a detailed history of the biological changes in those bodies of water, much like tree rings reveal historical information.”

The common eider, an Arctic seaduck prized by the Inuit for its meat and down, once numbered in the millions, but reports by Northerners and some wildlife surveys suggested substantial reductions in recent decades. Although hunting pressures were suspected to be the cause of the population decline, this study was able to demonstrate that the eider population decline observed in the seaduck’s main breeding range coincided with increased sales in firearms and motorized boats in Greenland, indicating eider harvest at that time was unsustainable.

In the Hudson Strait near Cape Dorset, Nunavut – the common eider’s main nesting and breeding area – the scientists found evidence that populations declined in the mid to late 20th century, during a period of intense hunting by Greenlanders and the relocation of nearby Inuit communities. In more isolated eider nesting sites, with lower hunting pressure, scientists found that populations remained stable.

“The fact that traces of hunting practices over the last century can be detected in the nutrient profiles of pond sediment in the Arctic is fascinating,” added Prof. Blais. “Tools such as these offer a new perspective into tracking environmental changes going back hundreds of years, and can potentially revolutionize wildlife conservation efforts.”

Author: Orian Labrèche | Source: University of Ottawa [April 01, 2019]



Caption Spotlight (3 April 2019): Clay-Rich Terrain in Eridania…

Caption Spotlight (3 April 2019): Clay-Rich Terrain in Eridania Basin

HiRISE reveals small-scale shapes that often correlate with mineral units and provides information about stratigraphy (i.e., what’s on top and relative ages). This image was acquired for co-analysis with a spectrometer instrument also on our spacecraft called CRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars). It shows polygonal units that match clay-rich areas. Plus, this region is colorful!

This location, in Eridania Basin, was the site of an ancient lake, so these clay-rich sediments may have been habitable.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Crew Waits for Express Delivery, Works Human Research and Next Spacewalk

ISS – Expedition 59 Mission patch.

April 3, 2019

Human research and spacewalk preparations are underway aboard the International Space Station today. A Russian cargo rocket is also preparing to blast off Thursday morning and resupply the Expedition 59 crew.

Astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch took turns this morning testing their vision. They tested their visual acuity and contrast sensitivity using an eye chart in the Destiny lab module.

Image above: The International Space Station orbits 256 miles above the Aegean Sea. This view looks from east to west, from Greece to the boot of Italy and the island of Sicily. The sun’s glint radiates off the Ionian Sea in between the two nations. Image Credit: NASA.

The station residents also collected more blood and urine samples today aboard the orbital lab. They spun the samples in a centrifuge and stored them in a science freezer. Scientists will later analyze the samples on the ground to understand how living in space affects human physiology.

Upcoming spacewalkers Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques reviewed next week’s spacewalk and tagged up with specialists on the ground. Both astronauts also checked out their spacesuit batteries and glove heaters.

Image above: An astronaut aboard the International Space Station snapped this image of the South Indian Ocean in March 2019, as the station flew 265 miles above this cloudy formation. The station functions as an orbital laboratory, orbiting the Earth about every 90 minutes. Image Credit: NASA.

They will set their spacesuits to battery power Monday at 8:05 a.m. EDT then exit the Quest airlock into the vacuum of space. The spacewalkers will spend about six-and-a-half hours installing truss jumpers to provide a redundant power source for the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Tasks to be performed during U-S- EVA 54

In Kazakhstan at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a Russian Progress 72 (72P) resupply ship stands ready to launch on a two-orbit trip to the station. The 72P will liftoff Thursday 7:01 a.m. and dock to the Pirs docking compartment at 10:25 a.m. NASA TV will broadcast the launch and docking of the spaceship carrying more than three tons of food, fuel and supplies.

Related links:

Expedition 59: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition59/index.html

Destiny lab module: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/joint-quest-airlock

Human physiology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

Quest airlock: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/joint-quest-airlock

Canadarm2 robotic arm: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/mobile-servicing-system.html

Pirs docking compartment: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/pirs-docking-compartment

NASA TV: https://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/Yvette Smith.

Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link

inthemarshes: met-egyptian-art: Bell with heads of a ram, a…



Bell with heads of a ram, a jackal, and a bovine wearing a yoke ending in uraei, Egyptian Art

Gift of Lily S. Place, 1923

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Medium: Leaded bronze


From the site:

Bells appear in Ancient Egypt about the 8th century BC. Bell in the picture is from the Ptolemaic period, leaded bronze.


WWF sounds alarm after 22 kilos of plastic found in dead whale

An 8-metre (26-foot) sperm whale was found dead off Sardinia with 22 kilograms (48.5 pounds) of plastic in its belly, prompting the World Wildlife Foundation to sound an alarm Monday over the dangers of plastic waste in the Mediterranean Sea.

WWF sounds alarm after 22 kilos of plastic found in dead whale
The whale is lifted up onto a truck after being recovered off Sardinia island, Italy
[Credit: SEAME Sardinia Onlus via AP]

The environmental group said the garbage recovered from the sperm whale’s stomach included a corrugated tube for electrical works, plastic plates, shopping bags, tangled fishing lines and a washing detergent package with its bar code still legible.

The female whale beached off the northern coast of Sardinia last week, within the vast Pelagos marine sanctuary that was created as a haven for dolphins, whales and other sea life.

“It is the first time we have been confronted with an animal with such a huge quantity of garbage,” Cinzia Centelegghe, a biologist with the University of Padova, told the Turin daily La Stampa.

The exam also determined that the whale was carrying a fetus that had died and was in an advance state of decomposition. Experts said the mother whale had been unable to digest calamari due to the huge amount of plastic it had ingested, filling two-thirds of its stomach.

WWF said plastic is one of the greatest threats to marine life and has killed at least five other whales that had ingested large amounts of it over the last two years from Europe to Asia.

WWF sounds alarm after 22 kilos of plastic found in dead whale
The dead whale lies in the water in Porto Cervo, Sardinia island, Italy
[Credit: SEAME Sardinia Onlus via AP]

Another sperm whale died off the Italian island of Ischia, near Naples, last December with plastic bags and a thick nylon thread in its stomach, but plastic was not the cause of death.

The World Wildlife Foundation said between 150,000 and 500,000 tons of plastic objects and 70,000 to 130,000 tons of micro-plastics wind up in Europe’s seas each year.

To combat the phenomenon, the European Parliament last week approved a new law banning a wide range of single-use plastic products, including plates and straws, starting in 2021.

Italy’s environment minister, Sergio Costa, lamented the whale’s death and said he planned to propose a new law this week to limit the use of plastics.

The law will permit fishermen to bring plastics recovered at sea to land for proper disposal, which they currently are barred from doing. Costa also pledged Italy would be one of the first countries to enact the European single-use plastics ban and appealed to the mayors of Italian cities and coastal towns to adopt the ordinances in advance of the 2021 law.

“We have been using disposable plastics in a carefree way in these years, and now we are paying the price,” he said. “The war on disposable plastics has started. And we won’t stop here.”

Author: Colleen Barry | Source: The Associated Press [April 01, 2019]



Scientists construct new family tree for perching birds

Scientists have reconstructed the tree of life for all major lineages of perching birds, also known as passerines, a large and diverse group of more than 6,000 species that includes familiar birds like cardinals, warblers, jays and sparrows. Louisiana State University (LSU) researchers led the massive project using 221 bird specimens from 48 countries, including 56 tissue samples from the LSU Museum of Natural Science’s Collection of Genetic Resources. Using these samples, they extracted and sequenced DNA representing all passerine families, and they used these sequence data to understand how passerine species are related and to study when and how passerines diversified in relation to Earth’s history.

Scientists construct new family tree for perching birds
LSU Postdoctoral Researcher Carl Oliveros holds a Luzon Hawk Owl
(Ninox philippensis) in the Philippines [Credit: Carl Oliveros, LSU]

“In addition to inferring how these species are related, our in-depth study found that changes in global temperature or colonization of new continents were not the sole drivers of passerine diversification, as previously suggested. Instead, our results indicate more complex mechanisms were at play to spark bursts of passerine speciation around the globe,” said lead author Carl Oliveros, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences at LSU.
As many birders know, the number of passerine families has jumped from 46 to 137 over the last three decades. Oliveros and colleagues reviewed the evolutionary relationships they reconstructed among all passerine families and found two African species, the Green Hylia and the Tit-hylia, belong to a distinct new passerine family. They also found molecular support for the recognition of five additional families that have been proposed in other studies, bringing the total number of passerine families to 143.

“In our on-going work piecing together the evolutionary history of all bird species, natural history museum research collections like the one we have here at the LSU Museum of Natural Science have been absolutely essential. By sequencing DNA from these invaluable specimens using new technologies, we can begin to understand how species evolved over the course of millions of years at a resolution that is unprecedented,” said co-author Brant Faircloth, an assistant professor in the LSU Department of Biological Sciences and a faculty associate at the LSU Museum of Natural Science.

Scientists construct new family tree for perching birds
Cape Sugarbird (Promerops afer) perched atop a Protea (also known as a sugarbush) along the coast of the Western Cape,
 South Africa. Both the sugarbird clade and Protea, their preferred source of nectar, are endemic to southern Africa
[Credit: Daniel J. Field, University of Cambridge]

This study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first publication from OpenWings, a research project supported by the National Science Foundation whose goal is to reconstruct the evolutionary history of all bird species.
“This study showcases the critical importance of museum collections in explaining the living world,” said David Cannatella, a program director at the National Science Foundation, which funded this research. “By integrating modern, cutting-edge analysis of bird specimens with the legacy of natural history, the authors have uncovered valuable insights into how Earth history has influenced species diversity and what it means for the future of life on Earth.”

“This study is an exciting prelude to the types of analyses we can do for all bird families and all bird species, moving into the future,” Oliveros said.

Source: Louisiana State University [April 01, 2019]



Building blocks of DNA and RNA could have appeared together before life began on Earth

Scientists for the first time have found strong evidence that RNA and DNA could have arisen from the same set of precursor molecules even before life evolved on Earth about four billion years ago.

Building blocks of DNA and RNA could have appeared together before life began on Earth
Credit: Scripps Research Institute

The discovery, published in Nature Chemistry, suggests that the first living things on Earth may have used both RNA and DNA, as all cell-based life forms do now. In contrast, the prevailing scientific view–the “RNA World” hypothesis–is that early life forms were based purely on RNA, and only later evolved to make and use DNA.

“These new findings suggest that it may not be reasonable for chemists to be so heavily guided by the RNA World hypothesis in investigating the origins of life on Earth,” says co-principal investigator Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, PhD, associate professor of chemistry at Scripps Research.

Krishnamurthy and his lab worked on the study with the lab of John Sutherland, DPhil, of the UK Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge, as part of the New York-based Simons Foundation’s Collaboration on the Origins of Life.

RNA (ribonucleic acid) and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) are chemically very similar, but chemists have never been able to show how the one could have been converted to the other on the early Earth, except with the help of enzymes produced by early organisms. Due in part to this lack of a demonstrated pre-life or “pre-biotic” chemical path connecting RNA to DNA, researchers in this field have been inclined to think that the simpler, more versatile one, RNA, was the basis for the first life forms–or at least for an early stage of life prior to the emergence of DNA. RNA is able to store genetic information as DNA can, is able to catalyze biochemical reactions as protein enzymes can, and otherwise probably could have performed the basic biological tasks that would have been necessary in the first life forms.

Although origin-of-life researchers in recent decades have largely come to embrace the RNA World hypothesis, Sutherland, Krishnamurthy, Harvard’s Jack Szostak and others have accumulated evidence that RNA and DNA may have arisen more or less all at once in the first life forms.

In a study published in 2017 for example, Krishnamurthy and colleagues at Scripps Research identified a compound that plausibly was present on the pre-biotic Earth and could have performed the crucial task of linking RNA building blocks into larger, chain-like RNA strands–and could have done the same for the building blocks of DNA and proteins.

In the new study, the scientists combined insights from that investigation with recent findings from Sutherland and his lab on a compound called thiouridine. The latter was likely present on Earth before life arose, and could have been a chemical precursor of the nucleoside building blocks of early RNAs. The team showed that in a few chemical-reaction steps, which plausibly could have occurred in a pre-biotic world, they could convert this precursor of an RNA building-block into a DNA building block–deoxyadenosine, which forms the letter “A” in the modern, four-letter DNA code. Alternatively they could convert thiouridine into deoxyribose, which is very closely related to deoxyadenosine and may also have been a precursor of early DNA building blocks.

The finding should make it easier for scientists to accept the possibility that DNA and RNA arose together and were included in the first life forms. Some researchers including Sutherland have suggested that RNA and DNA might even have been mixed together to make the first genes. No such organism is known to occur naturally now, but a recent paper by Scripps Research’s Peter Schultz, PhD and colleagues described an engineered bacterium that can survive with genes made of an RNA/DNA mix.

Krishnamurthy suspects that, however life arose, RNA and DNA with their respective strengths and shortcomings would swiftly have sorted themselves into the rather strict division of labor seen in all cells today: DNA for the stable long-term storage of genetic information, and RNA for its own special set of tasks including the short-term storage and transport of genetic information and the making of proteins.

“There is the beginning of a realization in the field that RNA and DNA could have been mixed together initially but later separated according to the things they do best,” Krishnamurthy says.

Source: Scripps Research Institute [April 01, 2019]



Fossil fly with an extremely long proboscis sheds light on the insect pollination origin

A long-nosed fly from the Jurassic of Central Asia, reported by Russian paleontologists, provides new evidence that insects have started serving as pollinators long before the emergence of flowering plants. Equipped with a proboscis twice the length of the body, this fly predates the first angiosperms by about 40-45 million years. This suggests that insect pollination began to evolve in association with ancient gymnosperms.The results of the study are published in Gondwana Research.

Fossil fly with an extremely long proboscis sheds light on the insect pollination origin
Late Jurassic acrocerid fly Archocyrtus kovalevi [Credit: Alexander V. Khramov
& Elena D. Lukashevich]

Archocyrtus kovalevi is only known as a single compression fossil found in the Late Jurassic rocks in Southern Kazakhstan. The fossil, estimated to be about 160 million years in age, first came into light in 1996, but its original description did not contain any photos. It is no wonder that nobody believed at first that this fly had evolved a proboscis of such proportions so early in time. Despite not having seen the specimen itself, skeptics said that the long structure next to the fly’s body was not a genuine proboscis, but must be a piece of plant or other stray object. As a result, a remarkable finding fell into oblivion for more than 20 years.

To dig up the truth about the enigmatic fossil, paleontologists from Borissiak Paleontological Institute (Moscow) reexamined it using modern microscopic techniques and element distribution analysis. This allowed them to confirm the presence of a long proboscis, which has an easily discernible food canal and is identical to mouthparts of living long-proboscid flies in all other respects. Measuring 12 mm long, mouthparts of A. kovalevi is 1.8 times longer than the body. It means that this tiny fly ranks first among all the Mesozoic insects in having the longest proboscis relative to body size.

A. kovalevi is the earliest fossil record of extant family Acroceridae, or small-headed flies. Nowadays, there are a few species of small-headed flies with a proboscis longer than body found in the Americas and South Africa. The present-day members of Acroceridae use their oversized proboscis to draw nectar from long tubular flowers, acting as pollinators in the process. The unusual thing is that A. kovalevi existed at the time when not a single flower was blooming. The first flowering plants emerged much later, in the Early Cretaceous, and at first had small, inconspicuous flowers. So what was the proboscis of A. kovalevi used for?

“There is a well-known story about Charles Darwin, who famously predicted the existence of a pollinating moth with a long proboscis after seeing the deep nectar spur of the Madagascar orchid. We have to argue the other way round and conclude from the ancient long-nosed fly that we see to a plant which it may have pollinated”, said Alexander Khramov, the first author of the study and a senior researcher at Borissiak Paleontological Institute.

Luckily, researchers did not need to go too far in their guesses. Dozens of cones of the plant called Williamsoniella karataviensis have been collected from the same strata as the fly. This plant belongs to Bennettitales, an extinct group of the Mesozoic gymnosperms, many of which had showy, flower-like reproductive organs, and on this ground scientists have long suspected them to be insect pollinated. W. karataviensis fits into this picture perfectly. It has bisexual cones consisting of twelve petal-like bracts (modified leaves) arched over the ovules (precursors of seeds). Like modern Gnetales, a relict group of gymnosperms pollinated by insects, including flies, ovules of W. karataviensis could have produced sugary pollination drops.

The depth of the cones of W. karataviensis roughly matches the length of proboscis of A. kovalevi, so the pieces of the puzzle come together: small-headed flies first evolved an extremely long proboscis to get an access to the sugary secretions hidden deep in the cones of ancient gymnosperms. It is highly probable that they did pollination work in return for sweet reward. It follows that the foundation of pollination mutualism between plants and insects had been laid long before the first true flowers adorned the Earth. When the Mesozoic gymnosperms left the stage, Acroceridae and probably some other long-proboscid insects offered their pollinating services to newly emerged flowering plants.

Source: AKSON Russian Science Communication Association [April 01, 2019]



Complex artefacts don’t prove brilliance of our ancestors

Artefacts such as bows and arrows do not necessarily prove our ancestors had sophisticated reasoning and understanding of how these tools worked, new research suggests.

Complex artefacts don't prove brilliance of our ancestors
Artefacts such as bows and arrows do not necessarily prove our ancestors had sophisticated reasoning
and understanding of how these tools worked, new research suggests
[Credit: University of Exeter]

Instead, such items could have emerged from an “accumulation of improvements made across generations” — with each generation understanding no more than the last.

The new study, by the University of Exeter and the Catholic University of Lille, does not question humanity’s capacity for “enhanced causal reasoning” — but argues this did not necessarily drive the development of technologies such as bows, boats and houses.

Researchers used “chains” of volunteers to tackle an engineering problem, with each volunteer able to learn from the last. Solutions improved with each “generation” — but those at the end of the chain had no more understanding of key concepts than their predecessors.

“We tend to explain the existence of complex technologies by saying humans have big brains and superior causal reasoning abilities,” said Dr Maxime Derex, of the University of Exeter and the Catholic University of Lille.

“But – as our study shows – you don’t have to understand how something works in order to improve it. Artefacts from hundreds or thousands of years ago do not necessarily show that their makers had a plan or a theory about how something would work.”

The study used 14 chains of five French university students, each aiming to optimise a wheel that rolled down a track — moving faster or slower depending on the adjustment of moveable weights on its four spokes.

Complex artefacts don't prove brilliance of our ancestors
The participants could modify the position of 4 weights attached to the wheel’s spokes, in an attempt to increase its speed
along the sloping rail. Two factors have an impact on this speed: the distribution of the mass around the wheel’s axis,
or moment of inertia (the closer the weights to the axis, the greater its speed), and the position of the wheel’s
centre of mass (the higher it is, the greater the acceleration) [Credit: Maxime Derex]

Each participant had five attempts to minimise the time it took for the wheel the reach the end of the track, and all but the first participant in each chain got details of the last two configurations used by the previous person.

Afterwards, researchers tested each participant’s understanding by asking them to predict which of two wheels would cover the distance faster.

The study found: “The average wheel speed increased across generations while participants’ understanding did not.”

A further 14 chains of students completed the same process, but this time they could write down a theory to pass to the next participant.

Wheel speed rose at a similar rate as that seen in groups who passed on no written instructions, but once again understanding “barely changed across generations.”

The researchers said: “Most participants actually produced incorrect or incomplete theories despite the relative simplicity of the physical system.”

The findings prove the power of “cultural transmission, without the need for an accurate causal understanding of the system,” they said.

“Our experiment indicates that one should be cautious when interpreting complex archaeological materials as evidence for sophisticated cognitive abilities such as reasoning, problem solving or planning, since these abilities are not the sole driver of technological sophistication,” said Dr Alex Mesoudi, of the University of Exeter.

The paper is published in Nature Human Behaviour.

Source: University of Exeter [April 01, 2019]



How 3D printing is transforming our relationship with cultural heritage

A few years ago, we were promised that 3D printing would transform the world. In 2011, The Economist featured a 3D-printed Stradivarius violin on its front page, claiming that 3D printing “may have as profound an impact on the world as the coming of the factory did”. These enormous hopes for digital fabrication, and especially 3D printing, may have seemed overinflated. But perhaps the impacts are finally materialising.

How 3D printing is transforming our relationship with cultural heritage
3D printed puzzle of an Iron Age pot [Credit: © Brighton Museum & Art Gallery,
Myrsini Samaroudi & Karina Rodriguez Echavarria]

The last few years have seen a steady period of experimentation and incremental technical advances. Fabricators realised that 3D printing had many limitations that needed to be taken on board for its successful application. In addition, the public’s initial excitement seemed, to many, to be overblown. But despite this, enthusiastic claims about the technology should not be considered utterly absurd. The technology and its applications just need a bit more time, testing and evaluation to enter into our everyday lives.

Over the last decade, museums and other cultural institutions around the world have constituted one of the most exciting test-beds for 3D printing. This is probably driven by the nature of objects and sites which cultural institutions study, collect and display. Given their fragility and historical importance, collection objects cannot be touched and are normally exhibited to people behind enclosed glass displays.

Please touch

But this is changing. One of the most well-known digital fabrication projects is the replica of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, made by the company Factum Arte. The replica – or facsimile, as the company calls it – allows tourists to experience the inside of the King’s tomb without harming the original burial site.

Meanwhile, the American Museum of Natural History has asked students to digitise, print and assemble dinosaur bones and identify species like palaeontologists do, and the MediaLab of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has created edible replicas of museum artefacts from ingredients like chocolate, cheese and rice for visitors to enjoy through taste.

And in January, Google’s Arts and Culture institute, the non-profit organisation CyArk and the American 3D printing manufacturer Stratasys announced an extended collaboration on the Open Heritage project. They aim to bring important monuments and artefacts around the world to life by physically producing small-scale versions of cultural heritage sites.

All of these examples demonstrate the breadth of 3D printing applications in cultural heritage. Some deployments might seem unusual. Others might spark discussions about the originality of artwork compared to “fake” reproductions or about the right to capture and widely distribute 3D printable models of museum artefacts online. Nonetheless, they all seem to contribute to the same quest: enabling people to learn, enjoy and better appreciate cultural heritage through multi-sensory experiences.

How 3D printing is transforming our relationship with cultural heritage
The traditional way of engaging with cultural heritage: through glass
[Credit: aaabbbccc/Shutterstock]

The power of replicas

Of course, replicas have long been produced. Copies of museum objects to touch have been made for centuries using traditional methods. After all, the material aspect of objects has a key role in our ability to perceive and understand the world through meaningful experiences. Being able to touch, explore the shape, feel the weight and even smell the replica of an artefact has the potential to transform cultural heritage experiences. In reality, these connections are the closest that most people could ever have with heritage objects.

What is new about digitally-fabricated replicas is that they can be extremely accurate with regards to the shape of the original – the reproduction process uses, among other means, high-tech laser scanners. The power of digitally fabricated replicas also lies in their digital nature. This means they can easily be stored, edited and shared across the world.

People interested in cultural heritage can access these digital replicas, for example from museum websites, and print them at home or at a nearby Fablab on a desktop 3D printer. Most importantly, these digital representations can also be easily manipulated or customised to satisfy different audience requirements under different interpretation scenarios.

Overcoming barriers

Given the variety of applications and the popularity of the technology, exploring the way people perceive replicas and relate to them is therefore becoming more crucial. In our research, we seek to illuminate an audience’s connections with the physicality of replicas. Only by analysing these connections will we be able to design and produce the best possible replicas and activities to satisfy the needs of the audience.

Our research examines the potential of replicas to engage diverse audiences of cultural institutions. For example, visually impaired people can now experience custom-made replicas of objects to enhance their understanding of historical artefacts.

When testing a 3D printed relief of a Victorian environmental display from the Booth Museum in Brighton with visually impaired visitors, we discovered that people need particular guidance when navigating the relief and its individual shapes. Visually impaired people find complex forms more challenging to understand. Visitors also discussed the idea of realism, saying that they would like to have complementary material to touch, such as feathers. The existence of sound to complement the experience was also reported to be of great importance.

In addition, when examining people’s interactions with 3D printed artefacts at the new Archaeology Gallery of the Brighton Museum, we observed that visitors were hesitant to touch replicas or try hands-on activities with replicas. Interestingly, it seems that some of the “no-touch” qualities of the original artefacts have been inherited by the replicas. In these cases, clear guidance, thoughtful design and audience motivation should make the replicas and the environments in which they are displayed as inviting as possible for visitors to interact with.

Despite the efforts of the cultural heritage sector, it seems that physical barriers are still raised between museum artefacts and people. And perhaps the learned mental barrier is greater than the physical one. But research and practice can find ways to overcome this legacy: one replica at a time.

Authors: Myrsini Samaroudi & Karina Rodriguez Echavarria | Source: The Conversation [April 01, 2019]



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Moriond 2019 feels the strong force

CERN – European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

3 April, 2019

Pentaquarks, charmed beauty particles and more from the Moriond conference’s second week, which is devoted to studies of the strong nuclear force

Last week, physicists from all over the world gathered in La Thuile, Italy, for the second week of the Rencontres de Moriond conference. This second week of the annual meeting features new and recent findings in all things related to quantum chromodynamics (QCD) – the theory of the strong force that combines quarks into composite particles called hadrons – and to high-energy particle interactions. This year, results from the main experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb) included new pentaquarks, new charmed beauty particles, a more precise measurement of matter–antimatter asymmetry in strange beauty particles, and new results from heavy-ion collisions.

Discovery of new pentaquarks

The LHCb collaboration announced the discovery of new five-quark hadrons, or “pentaquarks”. Quarks normally aggregate into groups of twos and threes, but in recent years the LHCb team has confirmed the existence of exotic tetraquarks and pentaquarks, which are also predicted by QCD. In a 2015 study, the LHCb researchers analysed data from the decay of the three-quark particle Λb into a J/ψ particle, a proton and a charged kaon and were able to see two new pentaquarks (dubbed Pc(4450)+ and Pc(4380)+) in intermediate decay states. After analysing a sample of nine times more Λb decays than in the 2015 study, the LHCb team has now discovered a new pentaquark, Pc(4312)+ as well as a two-peak pattern in the data that shows that the previously observed  Pc(4450)+ structure is in fact two particles.

Image above: A Bs candidate decaying to a J/psi and a phi, where the J/psi decays to two opposite-charge muons (red lines) and the phi decays to two opposite-charge kaons (blue). The event was recorded by ATLAS on 16 August 2017 from proton–proton collisions at 13 TeV. (Image: CERN).

Charmed beauty particles in focus

Notwithstanding significant progress over the past two decades, researchers’ understanding of the QCD processes that make up hadrons is incomplete. One way to try and understand them is through the study of the little-known charmed beauty (Bc) particle family, which consists of hadrons made up of a beauty quark and a charm antiquark (or vice-versa). In 2014, using data from the LHC’s first proton–proton collision run, the ATLAS collaboration reported the observation of a Bc particle called Bc(2S). A very recent analysis by the CMS collaboration of the full LHC sample from the second run, published today in Physical Review Letters and presented at the meeting, has unambiguously observed a two-peak feature in this dataset that corresponds to Bc(2S) and to another Bc particle called Bc*(2S). Meanwhile, the LHCb team, which in 2017 reported no evidence for Bc(2S) in its 2012 data, has now analysed the full 2011–2018 data sample and has also observed the Bc(2S) and Bc*(2S), lending support to the CMS result.

Image above: An event recorded by CMS showing a candidate for the Bc(2S*). The signature for this new particle is the presence of two pions (green lines) and a Bc meson, that decays into a pion (yellow line) plus a J/psi that itself decays to two muons (red). (Image: CERN).

Matter–antimatter asymmetry in strange beauty particles

The meeting’s second week also saw the announcement of a new result concerning the amount of the matter–antimatter asymmetry known as CP violation in the system of strange beauty (Bs) particles, which are made of a bottom quark and a strange quark. Bs mesons have the special feature that they oscillate rapidly into their antiparticle and back, and these oscillations can lead to CP violation when the Bs decays into combinations of particles such as a J/ψ and a ϕ. The amount of CP violation predicted by the Standard Model and observed so far in experiments is too small to account for the observed imbalance between matter and antimatter in the universe, prompting scientists to search for additional, as-yet-unknown sources of CP violation and to measure the extent of the violation from known sources more precisely. Following hot on the heels of two independent measurements of the asymmetry in the Bs system reported by ATLAS and LHCb during the meeting’s first week, a new result that combined the two measurements was reported during the second week. The combined result is the most precise measurement yet of the asymmetry in the Bs system and is consistent with the small value precisely predicted by the Standard Model.

Heavy-ion progress

The ALICE collaboration specialises in collisions between heavy ions such as lead nuclei, which can recreate the quark–gluon plasma (QGP) that is believed to have occurred shortly after the Big Bang. ALICE highlighted its observation that three-quark particles (baryons) containing charm quarks (Λc) are produced more often in proton–proton collisions than in electron­–positron collisions. It also showed that its first measurements of such charmed baryons in lead–lead collisions suggest an even higher production rate in these collisions, similar to what has been observed for strange-quark baryons. These observations indicate that the presence of quarks in the colliding beams affects the hadron production rate, shedding new light on the QCD processes that form baryons. The collaboration also presented the first measurement of the triangle-shaped flow of J/psi particles, which contain heavy quarks, in lead–lead collisions. This measurement shows that even heavy quarks are affected by the quarks and gluons in the QGP and retain some memory of the collisions’ initial geometry. Finally, ALICE also presented measurements of particle jets in lead–lead collisions that probe the QGP at different length scales.

For other results, check out the conference page: http://moriond.in2p3.fr/2019/QCD/


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 23 Member States.

Related articles:

LHCb experiment discovers a new pentaquark

LHCb sees a new flavour of matter–antimatter asymmetry

ATLAS observes light scattering off light

Related links:

Rencontres de Moriond: http://moriond.in2p3.fr/

Physical Review Letters: https://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.122.132001

Standard Model: https://home.cern/science/physics/standard-model

Large Hadron Collider (LHC): https://home.cern/science/accelerators/large-hadron-collider

ATLAS experiment: https://home.cern/science/experiments/atlas

LHCb experiment: http://lhcb-public.web.cern.ch/lhcb-public/Welcome.html

Antimatter: https://home.cern/science/physics/antimatter

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: CERN.

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NASA and MIT’s Transforming Wing Could Change How Planes Are Built

NASA logo.

April 3, 2019

Composed of hundreds of small, identical pieces, the shape-shifting wing can automatically morph to the most efficient shape for a given stage of flight.

Image Credits: NASA Ames Research Center/Eli Gershenfeld

NASA is no stranger to transforming aircraft. Consider the ten-engine drone called Greased Lightning, which can shift from VTOL into cruise mode in midflight.

A new project from NASA and MIT explores shape-shifting aircraft further, but from a distinctly different direction. This new wing technology, made up of hundreds of identical pieces, is the foundation for aircraft with flexible wings that transform dynamically in flight to create the optimal shape for their moment-to-moment flight conditions.

Outlined in the journal Smart Materials and Structures, and by MIT News, the approach involves building one wing surface out of a series of injection-molded structures made of polyethylene resin, which are coated with a layer of polymer material. This creates a lightweight and flexible structure that could be morphed and changed in flight. By tweaking the flexibility of specific structures in specific locations, researchers could dial in the wing’s response to airflow conditions so it automatically would transform into an ideal aerodynamic shape for the various stages of flight, such as takeoff and cruising.

Image Credits: NASA Ames Research Center/Kenny Cheung

As research engineer Nicholas Cramer at NASA Ames, the paper’s lead author, explains in MIT News: “We’re able to gain efficiency by matching the shape to the loads at different angles of attack. We’re able to produce the exact same behavior you would do actively, but we did it passively.”

Researchers tested a hand-constructed model in NASA’s Langley Research Center wind tunnel. Eventually, they hope, robots could take on the construction dirty work. And given that the design is modular and the structural subunits are cheap to produce, the approach could also make it much easier to prototype unusual but perhaps more aerodynamically efficient wing designs.

Sensory Networks

MADCAT also uses new sensory systems developed to give real-time feedback on airflow around a wing, for both testing and in-flight purposes.

Each wing is equipped with a series of sensors taking in real-time data from the surroundings. Usually, this kind of network will have each sensor send back raw data, leaving significant lag and processing time.

Image above: An individual voxel used for the MADCAT project. Image Credit: NASA.

Instead, the system designed for MADCAT groups sensors in the skin of the wing around nodes— small data collection centers. Once the data is gathered, it  is processed and passed along to a neighboring node. These work together like a funnel, with each set of sensors taking in data and combining it with its neighbors’, sending information – rather than unprocessed raw data – to the next stage. In other words, the sensors don’t just pass along recorded values – they say what those values actually mean, and can report and interpret airflow patterns in real time, adjusting the structure of the plane’s wing accordingly.

Modeling a Mid-Sized Plane

The final testing phase for MADCAT has successfully completed, significantly increased from its original demonstration as an adaptive drone at the one-meter scale. Recent testing has proven the scalability of this model, using MADCAT to develop a mid-sized plane with a 14-foot wing span with even fewer types of parts than the original model.

NASA Designs Ultra-light Wings That Change Shape During Flight

This combination of adaptive algorithms, lightweight materials and modular design all make the MADCAT wing a unique technology with the potential to revolutionize air vehicle designs. The project has proven modular ultralight wing design can work on a large scale. As this technology continues to develop and make its way into industry, our planes will become not only more cost effective in their design, construction, and repairs, but increasingly versatile, able to adapt to changing weather conditions or scientific objectives on the fly. MADCAT is forging the path to a smarter, greener and more efficient aviation future.

Related article:

What is MADCAT?

Related links:

MIT News: https://phys.org/news/2019-04-mit-nasa-kind-airplane-wing.html

Smart Materials and Structures: https://iopscience.iop.org/journal/0964-1726

NASA Ames Research Center: https://www.nasa.gov/ames

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: Popular Mechanics/Eric Limer.

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Bennu in Stereo

NASA – OSIRIS-REx Mission logo.

April 3, 2019

This set of stereoscopic images provides a 3D view of the large, 170-foot (52-meter) boulder that juts from asteroid Bennu’s southern hemisphere and the rocky slopes that surround it. The stereo pair was created by stereo image processing scientists Dr. Brian May, who is also the lead guitarist for the rock band Queen, and Claudia Manzoni. In January, May and Manzoni formally joined NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission science team as collaborators to create stereoscopic data products, which will be used by the team while selecting a sample collection site on Bennu.

“I’m proud to have been adopted as a collaborator on the OSIRIS-REx team, along with my colleague Claudia Manzoni,” said May. “Our passion is producing stereoscopic (3-D) images from the astounding data that the OSIRIS-REx mission has been collecting.”

The two images in this stereo pair were taken from slightly different viewpoints, with one of the images meant for the left eye and the other for the right. The two images are then combined by the brain to give the perception of depth. To see the pair in 3D, cross your eyes and relax your vision until there are three images, then focus on the center image. Tilt your head as needed to bring the image into focus. A version of the image suitable for viewing through a stereoscope can be found here: https://www.asteroidmission.org/bennus-boulder-1-stereo-pair-stereoscope-version/

OSIRIS-REx orbiting around Bennu

The cropped and processed images were obtained on December 1 and 2, 2018, by the PolyCam camera during the spacecraft’s final approach toward the asteroid.

OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer):

Image, Animation, Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/Goddard/University of Arizona.

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https://t.co/hvL60wwELQ — XissUFOtoday Space (@xufospace) August 3, 2021 Жаждущий ежик наслаждается пресной водой после нескольких дней в о...