четверг, 16 января 2020 г.

Humanity's footprint is squashing world's wildlife


A new study says that the planet's wildlife is increasingly under the boot of humanity. Using the most comprehensive dataset on the "human footprint," which maps the accumulated impact of human activities on the land's surface, researchers from WCS, University of Queensland, and other groups found intense human pressures across the range of a staggering 20,529 terrestrial vertebrate species.

Humanity's footprint is squashing world's wildlife
Deforested landscape, Madagascar [Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS]
Of that figure, some 85 percent or 17,517 species have half their ranges exposed to intense human pressure, with 16 percent or 3,328 species entirely exposed.

The analysis found that threatened terrestrial vertebrates and species with small ranges are disproportionately exposed to intense human pressure. The analysis suggests that there are an additional 2,478 species considered 'least concern' that have considerable portions of their range overlapping with these pressures, which may indicate their risk of decline


The Human Footprint looks at the impact of human population (population density, dwelling density), human access (roads, rail), human land-uses (urban areas, agriculture, forestry, mining, large dams) and electrical power infrastructure (utility corridors). These human pressures are well known to drive the current species extinction crisis.

Though their findings are sobering, the authors say that the results have the potential to improve how species' vulnerability is assessed with subsequent benefits for many other areas of conservation. For example, the data can aid current assessments of progress against the 2020 Aichi Targets - especially Target 12, which deals with preventing extinctions, and Target 5, which deals with preventing loss of natural habitats.


Said the paper's lead author, Christopher O'Bryan of the University of Queensland: "Our work shows that a large proportion of terrestrial vertebrates have nowhere to hide from human pressures ranging from pastureland and agriculture all the way to extreme urban conglomerates."

Said senior author James Watson of WCS and the University of Queensland: "Given the growing human influence on the planet, time and space are running out for biodiversity, and we need to prioritize actions against these intense human pressures. Using cumulative human pressure data, we can identify areas that are at higher risk and where conservation action is immediately needed to ensure wildlife has enough range to persist. "

The researchers published their results in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.

Source: Wildlife Conservation Society [January 13, 2020]



* This article was originally published here

Scientists build first living robots


A book is made of wood. But it is not a tree. The dead cells have been repurposed to serve another need. Now a team of scientists has repurposed living cells -- scraped from frog embryos -- and assembled them into entirely new life-forms. These millimeter-wide "xenobots" can move toward a target, perhaps pick up a payload (like a medicine that needs to be carried to a specific place inside a patient) -- and heal themselves after being cut.

Scientists build first living robots
On the left, the anatomical blueprint for a computer-designed organism, discovered on a UVM supercomputer.
On the right, the living organism, built entirely from frog skin (green) and heart muscle (red) cells.
The background displays traces carved by a swarm of these new-to-nature organisms
as they move through a field of particulate matter [Credit: Sam Kriegman, UVM]
"These are novel living machines," says Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont who co-led the new research. "They're neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It's a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism."

The new creatures were designed on a supercomputer at UVM -- and then assembled and tested by biologists at Tufts University. "We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines can't do," says co-leader Michael Levin who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts, "like searching out nasty compounds or radioactive contamination, gathering microplastic in the oceans, traveling in arteries to scrape out plaque."

Bespoke Living Systems

People have been manipulating organisms for human benefit since at least the dawn of agriculture, genetic editing is becoming widespread, and a few artificial organisms have been manually assembled in the past few years -- copying the body forms of known animals. But this research, for the first time ever, "designs completely biological machines from the ground up," the team writes in their new study.


With months of processing time on the Deep Green supercomputer cluster at UVM's Vermont Advanced Computing Core, the team -- including lead author and doctoral student Sam Kriegman -- used an evolutionary algorithm to create thousands of candidate designs for the new life-forms. Attempting to achieve a task assigned by the scientists -- like locomotion in one direction -- the computer would, over and over, reassemble a few hundred simulated cells into myriad forms and body shapes. As the programs ran -- driven by basic rules about the biophysics of what single frog skin and cardiac cells can do -- the more successful simulated organisms were kept and refined, while failed designs were tossed out. After a hundred independent runs of the algorithm, the most promising designs were selected for testing.

Then the team at Tufts, led by Levin and with key work by microsurgeon Douglas Blackiston -- transferred the in silico designs into life. First they gathered stem cells, harvested from the embryos of African frogs, the species Xenopus laevis. (Hence the name "xenobots.") These were separated into single cells and left to incubate. Then, using tiny forceps and an even tinier electrode, the cells were cut and joined under a microscope into a close approximation of the designs specified by the computer.

Scientists build first living robots
A manufactured quadruped organism, 650-750 microns in diameter—a bit smaller than a pinhead
[Credit: Douglas Blackiston, Tufts University]
Assembled into body forms never seen in nature, the cells began to work together. The skin cells formed a more passive architecture, while the once-random contractions of heart muscle cells were put to work creating ordered forward motion as guided by the computer's design, and aided by spontaneous self-organizing patterns -- allowing the robots to move on their own.

These reconfigurable organisms were shown to be able move in a coherent fashion -- and explore their watery environment for days or weeks, powered by embryonic energy stores. Turned over, however, they failed, like beetles flipped on their backs.

Later tests showed that groups of xenobots would move around in circles, pushing pellets into a central location -- spontaneously and collectively. Others were built with a hole through the center to reduce drag. In simulated versions of these, the scientists were able to repurpose this hole as a pouch to successfully carry an object. "It's a step toward using computer-designed organisms for intelligent drug delivery," says Bongard, a professor in UVM's Department of Computer Science and Complex Systems Center.

Living Technologies

Many technologies are made of steel, concrete or plastic. That can make them strong or flexible. But they also can create ecological and human health problems, like the growing scourge of plastic pollution in the oceans and the toxicity of many synthetic materials and electronics. "The downside of living tissue is that it's weak and it degrades," say Bongard. "That's why we use steel. But organisms have 4.5 billion years of practice at regenerating themselves and going on for decades." And when they stop working -- death -- they usually fall apart harmlessly. "These xenobots are fully biodegradable," say Bongard, "when they're done with their job after seven days, they're just dead skin cells."


Your laptop is a powerful technology. But try cutting it in half. Doesn't work so well. In the new experiments, the scientists cut the xenobots and watched what happened. "We sliced the robot almost in half and it stitches itself back up and keeps going," says Bongard. "And this is something you can't do with typical machines."

Cracking the Code

Both Levin and Bongard say the potential of what they've been learning about how cells communicate and connect extends deep into both computational science and our understanding of life. "The big question in biology is to understand the algorithms that determine form and function," says Levin. "The genome encodes proteins, but transformative applications await our discovery of how that hardware enables cells to cooperate toward making functional anatomies under very different conditions."

To make an organism develop and function, there is a lot of information sharing and cooperation -- organic computation -- going on in and between cells all the time, not just within neurons. These emergent and geometric properties are shaped by bioelectric, biochemical, and biomechanical processes, "that run on DNA-specified hardware," Levin says, "and these processes are reconfigurable, enabling novel living forms."

A team of scientists at the University of Vermont and Tufts University designed living robots on a UVM supercomputer. 
Then, at Tufts, they re-purposed living frog cells -- and assembled them into entirely new life-forms. These tiny 
'xenobots' can move on their own, circle a target and heal themselves after being cut. These novel living 
machines are neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. They're a new class of artifact: 
a living, programmable organism. They could, one day, be used for tasks as varied as searching 
out radioactive contamination, gathering microplastic in the oceans, or travelling in human
 arteries to scrape out plaque [Credit: Sam Kriegman, Josh Bongard, UVM]

The scientists see the work presented in their new PNAS study -- "A scalable pipeline for designing reconfigurable organisms," -- as one step in applying insights about this bioelectric code to both biology and computer science. "What actually determines the anatomy towards which cells cooperate?" Levin asks. "You look at the cells we've been building our xenobots with, and, genomically, they're frogs. It's 100% frog DNA -- but these are not frogs. Then you ask, well, what else are these cells capable of building?"

"As we've shown, these frog cells can be coaxed to make interesting living forms that are completely different from what their default anatomy would be," says Levin. He and the other scientists in the UVM and Tufts team -- with support from DARPA's Lifelong Learning Machines program and the National Science Foundation -- believe that building the xenobots is a small step toward cracking what he calls the "morphogenetic code," providing a deeper view of the overall way organisms are organized -- and how they compute and store information based on their histories and environment.

Future Shocks

Many people worry about the implications of rapid technological change and complex biological manipulations. "That fear is not unreasonable," Levin says. "When we start to mess around with complex systems that we don't understand, we're going to get unintended consequences." A lot of complex systems, like an ant colony, begin with a simple unit -- an ant -- from which it would be impossible to predict the shape of their colony or how they can build bridges over water with their interlinked bodies.


"If humanity is going to survive into the future, we need to better understand how complex properties, somehow, emerge from simple rules," says Levin. Much of science is focused on "controlling the low-level rules. We also need to understand the high-level rules," he says. "If you wanted an anthill with two chimneys instead of one, how do you modify the ants? We'd have no idea."

"I think it's an absolute necessity for society going forward to get a better handle on systems where the outcome is very complex," Levin says. "A first step towards doing that is to explore: how do living systems decide what an overall behavior should be and how do we manipulate the pieces to get the behaviors we want?"

In other words, "this study is a direct contribution to getting a handle on what people are afraid of, which is unintended consequences," Levin says -- whether in the rapid arrival of self-driving cars, changing gene drives to wipe out whole lineages of viruses, or the many other complex and autonomous systems that will increasingly shape the human experience.

"There's all of this innate creativity in life," says UVM's Josh Bongard. "We want to understand that more deeply -- and how we can direct and push it toward new forms."

The results of the new research were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Author: Joshua E. Brown | Source: University of Vermont [January 13, 2020]



* This article was originally published here

Missing link in palaeognath evolution


Flinders researchers have studied the giant cassowary's eating, breathing and vocal structures and found a surprising missing link between two vastly different birds thought to be each other's closest relative, the small flights South American tinamou, and the New Zealand moa.

Missing link in palaeognath evolution
The relationships between palaeognaths the cassowary and close relatives, as determined
 from genetic data, has now been supported by morphological data
[Credit: Flinders University]
The iconic and colourful Australian cassowary, the second largest living bird, has been studied for hundreds of years. However, their solitary nature in the dense rainforests of northern Queensland has ensured that many fundamental aspects of these animals continue to elude scientists.

Researchers from Flinders University in South Australia recognised that the throat structures involved with breathing, eating and vocalising (the syrinx, hyoid, and larynx) were almost totally unknown.


Using advanced scanning technologies, the team at Flinders University were able to 3D image these structures, looking in detail at the anatomy and comparing them to that of other closely related birds.

"Scanning lets us see details that we wouldn't be able to otherwise, including the shapes of internal structures, without causing damage to them" says lead author on the paper, Flinders PhD candidate Phoebe McInerney.

The cassowary's closest relative is the Australian emu, so it was no surprise that they showed many similarities in the throat region.

Missing link in palaeognath evolution
The current relationships between palaeognaths (the cassowary and close relatives) as
determined from genetic data, with now, further support from morphological data
[Credit: Flinders University]
"What did surprise us though was that despite extensive variation in this region between cassowaries and other primitive birds, known as palaeognaths, the extinct New Zealand moa and the living South American tinamou were very similar," said McInerney.

Recent analysis of DNA has concluded that moa and tinamou are closest relatives. However, these results had been met with scepticism by some biologists: the moa was huge and flightless, and the tinamou is a small, flighted partridge-like bird.


And so, for many years, morphological similarities between the moa and tinamou eluded scientists, and yet, hidden deep within the throat, in a structure historically ignored, the answers have been uncovered: "The morphology of the often-neglected larynx has shown to be far superior than the other anatomical traits biologists previously used to infer evolutionary relationships for this group", says Associate Professor Trevor Worthy, a co-author on the study.

"The unexpected family tree for primitive birds based on genomic evidence is looking more and more convincing", says Professor Michael Lee, another co-author.

The researchers conclude that despite being historically overlooked, it is important not to forget the small things when studying evolutionary relationships among birds.

The results have been published in the international journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

Source: Flinders University [January 13, 2020]



* This article was originally published here

2020 January 16 NGC 247 and Friends Image Credit &...



2020 January 16

NGC 247 and Friends
Image Credit & Copyright: Acquisition - Eric Benson, Processing - Dietmar Hager

Explanation: About 70,000 light-years across, NGC 247 is a spiral galaxy smaller than our Milky Way. Measured to be only 11 million light-years distant it is nearby though. Tilted nearly edge-on as seen from our perspective, it dominates this telescopic field of view toward the southern constellation Cetus. The pronounced void on one side of the galaxy’s disk recalls for some its popular name, the Needle’s Eye galaxy. Many background galaxies are visible in this sharp galaxy portrait, including the remarkable string of four galaxies just below and left of NGC 247 known as Burbidge’s Chain. Burbidge’s Chain galaxies are about 300 million light-years distant. NGC 247 itself is part of the Sculptor Group of galaxies along with the shiny spiral NGC 253.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap200116.html



* This article was originally published here

On the trail of purple in Tunisia


As part of a DFG-funded project, a German-Tunisian team co-directed by LMU archaeologist Stefan Ritter have surveyed the ancient city of Meninx on the island of Jerba and reconstructed its trading links in antiquity.

On the trail of purple in Tunisia
German and Tunisian archaeologists uncover the remains of the Roman bathhouse of Meninx
[Credit: MAP/Stefanie Holzem)
The port of Meninx was unusually situated and well protected. Incoming ships first had to negotiate a deep and broad submarine channel in the otherwise shallow bay, before approaching the city itself via another channel that ran parallel to the coast for much of its length. They then had to traverse a wide stretch of shallow water to reach the city's wooden and stone quays, which extended seawards from the strand. From these piers, stevedores could readily unload cargoes and transport them to the nearby warehouses. We know all of this thanks to the work of LMU archaeologist Stefan Ritter and his team, which has allowed them to reconstruct the port facilities of Meninx on the island of Jerba off the coast of North Africa. The city was an important trading center in the time of the Roman Empire, and had commercial links with many other regions throughout the Mediterranean.


In the course of a DFG-funded project that lasted up until the end of 2019, Ritter, together with his colleague Sami Ben Tahar (Institut National du Patrimoine, Tunis) and a joint German-Tunisian team, has surveyed and explored the remains of Meninx and its port facilities. With the aid of magnetometer surveys, the researchers were able to map the highly unusual layout of the city, whose main streets ran parallel to the coastline. In addition, on the basis of their mapping data, they carried out exploratory excavations on selected temples and shrines, as well as commercial and residential buildings. "We even discovered a well preserved private bathhouse, which dates from the Roman imperial period and included mosaic floors, splendid wall paintings and a range of statuary," Ritter explains.

On the trail of purple in Tunisia
Reconstruction of the coastal zone of Meninx between the market building (Macellum, left) and the storage
 buildings (Horrea, right), with landing stage [Credit: MAP/Max Fiederling, Tobias Bitterer]
Based on their findings, Ritter and his collaborators believe that the city's prosperity rested in large part on a single commodity—the purple dye, which was obtained from the sea snail Murex trunculus. "We have good reasons to believe that the purple dye from Meninx was not exported as such, but was used locally to dye textiles, which were then sold further afield," says Ritter. The material, which was highly valued, was apparently exported all around the Mediterranean littoral and beyond. In exchange, the inhabitants of Meninx imported foodstuffs, wine, fine domestic pottery and marble sourced from Italy, Spain, Greece, Asia Minor and Egypt.


The settlement was founded in the 4th century BCE, when the Carthaginians were still the dominant force in the area. It reached its zenith during the period between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD, when Imperial Rome was at the height of its power and Meninx possessed its own theater and was adorned with other imposing urban structures. Owing to its location on the shores of a shallow bay, it was relatively well protected from attack. However, the harbor itself was accessible only via submarine channels that could be navigated only with the help of local pilots, says Ritter. The underwater investigations, which were carried out by the Bavarian Society for Underwater Archaeology, not only uncovered traces of the original harbor facilities and the tricky passage to the docks, they also brought to light a number of wrecks and the remains of piers. Together with their Tunisian colleagues, the LMU archaeologists now plan to extend their investigations on Jerba as part of a more comprehensive comparative study of the region's ancient heritage.

Source: Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich [January 13, 2020]



* This article was originally published here

2,500-year-old Scythian warrior grave found in Siberian ‘Valley of the Kings’


The 2,500-year-old tomb of a Scythian warrior has been found in the ‘Siberian Valley of the Kings’ in Russia.

2,500-year-old Scythian warrior grave found in Siberian ‘Valley of the Kings’
The skeletal remains of the 2,500-year-old Scythian warrior was found buried with a bronze battle axe, arrows,
an iron knife and fragments of a bow [Credit: Igor Pieńkos]
Buried with his weapon and golden ornaments, the warrior discovered by archaeologists from Jagiellonian University in Krakow was found in an untouched grave in an area known for both its rich burial sites and notorious grave-robbing.


The so-called ‘Siberian Valley of the Kings’, named after its Egyptian counterpart, is located in the Asian part of the Russian Federation.

It earned its name due to the numerous giant kurgan tombs, often full of treasures of thought to belong to royalty.

2,500-year-old Scythian warrior grave found in Siberian ‘Valley of the Kings’
The warrior discovered by archaeologists from Jagiellonian University in Kraków was found in an untouched grave
in an area known for both its rich burial sites and notorious grave-robbing [Credit: Igor Pieńkos]
The archaeological site of Chinge-Tey where Poles uncovered the new treasures is operated together with the State Hermitage Museum in Sankt Petersburg and Korean Seoul University, reports the Science in Poland website (Nauka w Polsce).

Dr. Lukasz Oleszczak, the Polish expedition’s head, told PAP: "For our research we chose an inconspicuous, almost invisible kurgan with a diameter of about 25 m.

“We hoped that it remained unnoticed by the robbers."

2,500-year-old Scythian warrior grave found in Siberian ‘Valley of the Kings’
The so-called ‘Siberian Valley of the Kings’, named after its Egyptian counterpart, is located
in the Asian part of the Russian Federation [Credit: Igor Pieńkos]
Of the two tombs they found only one was robbed, while the other was untouched.

He added: "Inside was a young warrior’s skeleton with full equipment. There area around his head was decorated with a pectoral made of gold sheet, a glass bead, a gold spiral for adorning the braid.”


Archaeologists also found the Scythian buried with a sharpening stone and his weapon – a bronze battle-axe with a stylized eagle's head, arrows, an iron knife, fragments of an bow – presenting an array of items a warrior roaming the Siberian wilderness would need.

2,500-year-old Scythian warrior grave found in Siberian ‘Valley of the Kings’
Of the two tombs they found only one was robbed, while the other was untouched
[Credit: Igor Pieńkos]
Dr. Oleszczak said: "Other well-preserved items were made of organic materials. Among them there is a leather quiver, arrow spars, the axe’s shaft and a belt.”

The findings date back to the 7th or 6th century BC. Scythians were nomad people from Central Asia, who expanded into Eastern Europe through their love of combat and war.

Their achievements were described by the Greek historian Herodotus.

2,500-year-old Scythian warrior grave found in Siberian ‘Valley of the Kings’
The new treasures were discovered at the archaeological site of Chinge-Tey
[Credit: Igor Pieńkos]
The Scythians buried their dead in kurgans, some resembling hills visible from afar.


The grave found this year was surrounded by a shallow trench. Inside archaeologists uncovered several dozen fragments of ceramic vessels and animal bones, mainly of cows, horses, goats or sheep.

Most probably they are traces of religious ceremonies and rituals, such as funeral wakes.

The Polish archaeologists will continue their work in Chinge-Tey, as there is still one grave they found, but were unable to fully examine.

Author: Joanna Jasinka | Source: The First News [December 31 2019]



* This article was originally published here

Astronomers Reveal Interstellar Thread of One of Life’s Building Blocks

Phosphorus-bearing molecules found in a star-forming region and comet 67P

ALMA view of the star-forming region AFGL 5142

Rosetta view of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Location of AFGL 5142 in the constellation of Auriga

Wide-field view of the region of the sky where AFGL 5142 is located



Videos 

ESOcast 215 Light: Interstellar Thread of One of Life’s Building Blocks Revealed
ESOcast 215 Light: Interstellar Thread of One of Life’s Building Blocks Revealed

Zooming into star-forming region AFGL 5142
Zooming into star-forming region AFGL 5142

Animated view of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko
Animated view of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Animated view of phosphorus-bearing molecules found in a star-forming region and comet 67P
Animated view of phosphorus-bearing molecules found in a star-forming region and comet 67P



ALMA and Rosetta map the journey of phosphorus

Phosphorus, present in our DNA and cell membranes, is an essential element for life as we know it. But how it arrived on the early Earth is something of a mystery. Astronomers have now traced the journey of phosphorus from star-forming regions to comets using the combined powers of ALMA and the European Space Agency’s probe Rosetta. Their research shows, for the first time, where molecules containing phosphorus form, how this element is carried in comets, and how a particular molecule may have played a crucial role in starting life on our planet.

"Life appeared on Earth about 4 billion years ago, but we still do not know the processes that made it possible," says Víctor Rivilla, the lead author of a new study published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The new results from the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is a partner, and from the ROSINA instrument on board Rosetta, show that phosphorus monoxide is a key piece in the origin-of-life puzzle.

With the power of ALMA, which allowed a detailed look into the star-forming region AFGL 5142, astronomers could pinpoint where phosphorus-bearing molecules, like phosphorus monoxide, form. New stars and planetary systems arise in cloud-like regions of gas and dust in between stars, making these interstellar clouds the ideal places to start the search for life’s building blocks. 

The ALMA observations showed that phosphorus-bearing molecules are created as massive stars are formed. Flows of gas from young massive stars open up cavities in interstellar clouds. Molecules containing phosphorus form on the cavity walls, through the combined action of shocks and radiation from the infant star. The astronomers have also shown that phosphorus monoxide is the most abundant phosphorus-bearing molecule in the cavity walls.

After searching for this molecule in star-forming regions with ALMA, the European team moved on to a Solar System object: the now-famous comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The idea was to follow the trail of these phosphorus-bearing compounds. If the cavity walls collapse to form a star, particularly a less-massive one like the Sun, phosphorus monoxide can freeze out and get trapped in the icy dust grains that remain around the new star. Even before the star is fully formed, those dust grains come together to form pebbles, rocks and ultimately comets, which become transporters of phosphorus monoxide.

ROSINA, which stands for Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis, collected data from 67P for two years as Rosetta orbited the comet. Astronomers had found hints of phosphorus in the ROSINA data before, but they did not know what molecule had carried it there. Kathrin Altwegg, the Principal Investigator for Rosina and an author in the new study, got a clue about what this molecule could be after being approached at a conference by an astronomer studying star-forming regions with ALMA: “She said that phosphorus monoxide would be a very likely candidate, so I went back to our data and there it was!

This first sighting of phosphorus monoxide on a comet helps astronomers draw a connection between star-forming regions, where the molecule is created, all the way to Earth.

The combination of the ALMA and ROSINA data has revealed a sort of chemical thread during the whole process of star formation, in which phosphorus monoxide plays the dominant role,” says Rivilla, who is a researcher at the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory of INAF, Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics.

Phosphorus is essential for life as we know it,” adds Altwegg. “As comets most probably delivered large amounts of organic compounds to the Earth, the phosphorus monoxide found in comet 67P may strengthen the link between comets and life on Earth.”

This intriguing journey could be documented because of the collaborative efforts between astronomers. “The detection of phosphorus monoxide was clearly thanks to an interdisciplinary exchange between telescopes on Earth and instruments in space,” says Altwegg.

Leonardo Testi, ESO astronomer and ALMA European Operations Manager, concludes:

Understanding our cosmic origins, including how common the chemical conditions favourable for the emergence of life are, is a major topic of modern astrophysics. While ESO and ALMA focus on the observations of molecules in distant young planetary systems, the direct exploration of the chemical inventory within our Solar System is made possible by ESA missions, like Rosetta. The synergy between world leading ground-based and space facilities, through the collaboration between ESO and ESA, is a powerful asset for European researchers and enables transformational discoveries like the one reported in this paper.



More Information
This research was presented in a paper to appear in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The team is composed of V. M. Rivilla (INAF-Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, Florence, Italy [INAF-OAA]), M. N. Drozdovskaya (Center for Space and Habitability, University of Bern, Switzerland [CSH]), K. Altwegg (Physikalisches Institut, University of Bern, Switzerland), P. Caselli (Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany), M. T. Beltrán (INAF-OAA), F. Fontani (INAF-OAA), F.F.S. van der Tak (SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, and Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, University of Groningen, The Netherlands), R. Cesaroni (INAF-OAA), A. Vasyunin (Ural Federal University, Ekaterinburg, Russia, and Ventspils University of Applied Sciences, Latvia), M. Rubin (CSH), F. Lique (LOMC-UMR, CNRS–Université du Havre), S. Marinakis (University of East London, and Queen Mary University of London, UK), L. Testi (INAF-OAA, ESO Garching, and Excellence Cluster “Universe”, Germany), and the ROSINA team (H. Balsiger, J. J. Berthelier, J. De Keyser, B. Fiethe, S. A. Fuselier, S. Gasc, T. I. Gombosi, T. Sémon, C. -y. Tzou).

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of ESO, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI). ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 16 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a Strategic Partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. Also at Paranal ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

Source: ESO/News



Links




      Contacts

      Víctor Rivilla
      INAF Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory
      Florence, Italy
      Tel: +39 055 2752 319
      Email: rivilla@arcetri.astro.it

      Kathrin Altwegg
      University of Bern
      Bern, Switzerland
      Tel: +41 31 631 44 20
      Email: kathrin.altwegg@space.unibe.ch

      Leonardo Testi
      European Southern Observatory
      Garching bei München, Germany
      Tel: +49 89 3200 6541
      Email: ltesti@eso.org

      Bárbara Ferreira
      ESO Public Information Officer
      Garching bei München, Germany
      Tel: +49 89 3200 6670
      Cell: +49 151 241 664 00
      Email: pio@eso.org




      * This article was originally published here

      Divers to retrieve Bronze Age artefacts from Swiss lake


      Archaeologists are diving into Switzerland’s Lake Thun to rescue the remains of Bronze Age pile dwellings before they wash away.

      Divers to retrieve Bronze Age artefacts from Swiss lake
      Erosion is causing the piles to topple and wash away [Credit: Archaologischer Dienst
      des Kantons Bern, Daniel Steffen]
      According to canton Bern’s education and culture authorities, the 3,500-year-old settlement is endangered by erosion and likely to disappear soon. From January through March, the divers will be working in front of Schadau Castle.


      Initial investigations revealed that the northern area of the site was in a worrying condition. The last remains of the pile dwellings now lie unprotected at the bottom of the lake. The erosion, which washes away up to 50cm of sediment per year, is caused by the strong natural current of the Aare river as well as boat traffic.

      Divers to retrieve Bronze Age artefacts from Swiss lake
      Various bronze objects from the Thun site [Credit: Archaologischer Dienst des
      Kantons Bern, Badri Redha]
      In 2014, a recreational diver turned in various bronze objects that he had found in Lake Thun. Archaeologists immediately launched an investigation and soon found piles and ceramic shards, which were clearly from prehistoric settlements. The piles date from the early Bronze Age, circa 1590 to 1540 BC. The three-month rescue excavation aims to document the valuable evidence before it disappears.


      Before the discovery five years ago, pile dwellings were hardly known in Lake Thun. However, graves from the Early Bronze Age had been found in Thun, Hilterfingen, Amsoldingen and Spiez.

      Divers to retrieve Bronze Age artefacts from Swiss lake
      Various pile dwellings existed in the lower basin of Lake Thun in the early and late Bronze Age. There are
       also numerous posts from the Middle Ages that are probably associated with fishing
      [Credit: 
      Archaologischer Dienst des Kantons Bern, Lukas Scharer]
      Meanwhile, several settlements from the early and late Bronze Ages have been found in the area. According to archaeologists, their dimensions are considerable and are in no way inferior to the large lakeside settlements on the edge of the Jura.

      Source: Swiss Info [January 06, 2020]



      * This article was originally published here

      Grange Burn Bronze Age Cairn, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, 12.1.20.This is a first; I’ve...

      Grange Burn Bronze Age Cairn, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, 12.1.20.

      This is a first; I’ve temporarily named this cairn (after the nearest stream in the same field) as I can’t find it labelled on a map or on the Megalithic Portal. It is situated in a field about half a mile north from Torhouse Stone Circle. I’m sure it must have a name; maybe someone can help. Although the cairn has been disturbed and filled with rusty farm junk, there appears to be an open cist. I don’t think it is a clearance cairn.



      * This article was originally published here

      Oldest known city view of Venice discovered


      A researcher from the University of St Andrews has unearthed the oldest known city view of Venice, dating from the 14th century.

      Oldest known city view of Venice discovered
      Image of Venice supplied by the Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, II.IV.101, fol. 1v. With permission of the
      Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali e per il turismo [Credit: Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence]
      The discovery, by Dr. Sandra Toffolo from the School of History, was made during research for her monograph “Describing the City, Describing the State. Representations of Venice and the Venetian Terraferma in the Renaissance,” which will be published in early 2020.

      The image is part of a manuscript containing the travel account of Niccolò da Poggibonsi, an Italian pilgrim who traveled to Jerusalem in 1346-1350. The manuscript was likely made shortly after he returned to Italy in 1350. During his pilgrimage, Niccolò passed through Venice and his description of the city is accompanied by a pen drawing of Venice.


      Dr. Toffolo, who specializes in the history of Venice in the Renaissance, discovered the image in May 2019 during her research in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence, and has worked on representations of Venice during the Renaissance for several years.

      When Dr. Toffolo discovered the image, she realized that the city view of Venice predates all previously known views of the city, excluding maps and portolan charts. The oldest extant map of Venice was made by Fra Paolino, a Franciscan friar from Venice, and dates from around 1330. Since the discovery, Dr. Toffolo has spent the last several months verifying the image through consulting books, manuscripts and articles.


      A series of small pinpricks discovered on the original manuscript image also suggests that the city view was more widely circulated. This technique was used to copy images: powder was sifted through the pinpricks onto another surface, thereby transferring the outlines of the image.

      Dr. Toffolo said: “The presence of these pinpricks is a strong indication that this city view was copied. Indeed, there are several images in manuscripts and early printed books that are clearly based on the image in the manuscript in Florence.

      “The discovery of this city view has great consequences for our knowledge of depictions of Venice, since it shows that the city of Venice already from a very early period held a great fascination for contemporaries.”

      Source: University of St Andrews [January 07, 2020]



      * This article was originally published here

      Castle Haven Iron Age Broch, Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, 12.1.20.

      Castle Haven Iron Age Broch, Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, 12.1.20.



      * This article was originally published here

      US returns 3,500 copper axe 'coins' to Mexico


      The United States returned a collection of over 3,500 pre-Hispanic copper coins to Mexican authorities in a ceremony in Miami on Monday.

      US returns 3,500 copper axe 'coins' to Mexico
      Credit: Giorgio Viera/EFE
      The coins were used in what are now Michoacán and Guerrero between the years 1200 and 1500, according to Jessica Cascante, spokesperson for the Mexican Consulate in Miami.


      A U.S. collector acquired them in Texas at a numismatic fair in the 1960s, she said, but at that time neither Mexico nor the United States was part of a UNESCO convention that guarantees the return of such heritage artifacts to their countries of origin.

      US returns 3,500 copper axe 'coins' to Mexico
      Credit: Giorgio Viera/EFE
      Cascante said the fragile, tongue-shaped coins, which are currently covered in verdigris, will be sent to Mexico in January.


      Agents of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) who headed the operation to recover the coins attended the presentation ceremony along with the Consul General of Mexico in Miami, Jonathan Chait.

      US returns 3,500 copper axe 'coins' to Mexico
      Credit: Giorgio Viera/EFE
      Mexican authorities notified the FBI of the existence of the coins in 2013 when they were taken to Spain for an auction. Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) then began authenticating the coins in order to request their return.


      As both countries were by then signatories to the UNESCO convention (Mexico in 1972 and the United States in 1983), the return process was completed six years later.

      US returns 3,500 copper axe 'coins' to Mexico
      Credit: Giorgio Viera/EFE
      Cascante did not divulge the name of the collector who obtained the coins in the 1960s, but said that he did so before it constituted a crime and turned them in voluntarily.

      “Now we’re just waiting for the physical material to arrive [in Mexico],” she said, adding that they are currently being packaged with the support of specialists from history museums in Florida.

      Source: Mexico News Daily [January 07, 2020]



      * This article was originally published here

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