Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Numerous experts have supported the idea that all those megafauna were essentially hunted to extinction. I've always had a problem with the idea that this is the whole answer. Where, in historical times, is one example where we can say with certainty that indigenous people have hunted a an entire ecosystem of large, wide-ranging species to extinction? If all the largest animals in N. America were wiped out, along with their predators, why did Africa (until modern poaching) teem with elephants, rhinos, hippos, and the predators that fed on them? Humans had perhaps 2 million years to spread out and hunt in Africa, but only 13,000 years or so in N. America.
OK, enough editorial comment. Read for yourself why, according to a team led by James Kennett of the University of California, Santa Barbara, it looks likely a celestial body, most probably a comet, had a hand in the mass extinctions. I'm not sure from reading that that I would call it established fact, but it's certainly an intriguing possibility.
Thanks to Kris Winkler for this item.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Monday, May 28, 2007
Experts with a U.S.-funded wildlife conservation program in war-ravaged Sudan have found a treeless island in the nation’s southern swamps that is home to “hundreds” of elephants. One participant, Tom Catterson, said, "We flew out of a cloud, and there they were. It was like something out of Jurassic Park.” The poachers who have ravaged Sudan’s elephants and other wildlife apparently never knew of this remote spot, whose location is being kept secret.
COMMENT: OK, this episode concerns a chaotic, poor, war-torn nation where travel was difficult and wildlife officers were few. But still… hundreds of elephants living unknown until now? The example will bring smiles, not only to wildlife conservationists, but to cryptozoologists who speculate on what else we might have missed.
“Go to the ant, thou sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise.”
The words of King Solomon come to mind amid new research on how army ants move efficiently over terrain which, from an ant’s point of view, is full of holes and other obstacles. The answer: living pothole-fillers. Scott Powell and Nigel Franks of the University of Bristol reported that ants of the species Eciton burchellii fill holes by climbing into them, adjusting their bodies to fit, and letting their sisters march over them. If the hole is too big, several ants will climb in. The behavior observed in Central and South America was duplicated in the laboratory, where ants marching over boards with holes drilled into them essentially took individual action to make the march of the colony more efficient. When the horde has passed, the “filler” ants clamber up and rejoin the march.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
I promise to be more faithful about keeping you up to date on the wide world of science and technology.
By the way, we are coming up quickly on the 50th anniversary of Sputnik (October 4). That is two days before my birthday, and I always wish Mom has been able to rush it just a bit so I could share in the occasion. Anyway, the July issue of Air&Space includes a list of 50 ways to celebrate the occasion. I wrote them a letter reminding them they had missed the obvious: Read a book! Naturally, I recommend the most complete, yet concise explanation of those years:
The First Space Race
by Matt Bille and Erika Lishock
Foreword by Dr. James A. Van Allen
Texas A&M University Press
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Accompanying the article above in The Economist is an editorial discussing just how complex this whole business of describing species really is. Whether a scientists uses morphology, reproductive isolation (aka the Biological Species Concept or BSC) or DNA, classifying and bounding a species remains a fuzzy business.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
(Okay, I put this in just so I could write that headline...)
Thursday, May 10, 2007
They eventually will, of course, but I think Doohan would appreciate the irony of the situation. Cooper, whose metaphysical pursuits made him a bit of an oddball among the technically-minded astronaut corps, would definitely love it.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Just one more reminder the sea holds more for us to discover...
Schirra was a naval officer, a combat pilot in Korea, and later a test pilot before being picked for Project Mercury. He said of his Mercury comrades: "We shared a common dream to test the limits of man's imagination and daring."