An army of huge carnivorous "terror birds" -- some as big as 10 feet tall -- ruled South America for tens of millions of years before going extinct some 2.5 million years ago.
Now, with the discovery of a new species of terror bird called Llallawavis scagliai, paleontologists are gaining fresh insight into this fearsome family of top predators.
More than 90 percent of the bird's fossilized skeleton was unearthed in northeastern Argentina in 2010, making it the most complete terror bird specimen ever found.
“It’s rare to find such a complete fossil of anything, let alone a bird,” Dr. Lawrence Witmer, an Ohio University paleontologist who wasn’t involved in the new research, told Science magazine. “This is a very exciting find.”
Skeleton of Llallawavis scagliai on display at the Lorenzo Scaglia Municipal Museum of Natural Sciences in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Preserved skeleton of Llallawavis scagliai. Bones colored in gray were missing in the specimen. Scale bar equals 0.1 m.
Llallawavis likely lived around 3.5 million years ago, near the end of terror birds' reign, according to the researchers. It stood about four feet tall and weighed about 40 pounds.
“The discovery of this species reveals that terror birds were more diverse in the Pliocene than previously thought," Dr. Federico Degrange, a researcher at the Center for Research in Earth Sciences in Argentina and the leader of the team that identified the new species, said in a written statement. "It will allow us to review the hypothesis about the decline and extinction of this fascinating group of birds.”
CT scans of the bird's inner ear structures indicated that its hearing was tuned for low-pitched sounds, and that it likely produced these kinds of ostrich-like sounds too.
"Low-frequency sounds are great for long-[distance] communication, or if you're a predator, for sensing the movements of prey animals," Witmer told Live Science.
The researchers hope further analyses will yield insights into the bird's vision and other senses.
An article describing the findings was published online March 20 in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Jerdon's BabblerExcerpt from techtimes.comJerdon's Babbler is a species of bird that was believed to be extinct until this species unexpectedly resurfaced in Myanmar. This brown and white bird is roughly the size of a house sparrow.The bird was last ...
Most people have two eyes. Humans evolved to use them together (not all animals do). People form a continuous, stereoscopic panorama movie of the world within in their minds. With your two eyes tilted upward on a clear night, there's nothing standing between you and the universe. The easiest way to enhance your enjoyment of the night sky is to paint your brain with two channels of stronger starlight with a pair of binoculars. Even if you live in — or near — a large, light-polluted city, you may be surprised at how much astronomical detail you'll see through the right binoculars! Our editors have looked at the spectrum of current binocular offerings. Thanks to computer-aided design and manufacturing, there have never been more high-quality choices at reasonable prices. Sadly, there's also a bunch of junk out there masquerading as fine stargazing instrumentation. We've selected a few that we think will work for most skywatchers. There was a lot to consider: magnification versus mass, field of view, prism type, optical quality ("sharpness"), light transmission, age of the user (to match "exit pupil" size, which changes as we grow older), shock resistance, waterproofing and more.
The best binoculars for you
"Small" astronomy binoculars would probably be considered "medium" for bird watching, sports observation and other terrestrial purposes. This comes about as a consequence of optics (prism type and objective size, mostly). "Large" binoculars are difficult to use for terrestrial applications and have a narrow field of view. They begin to approach telescope quality in magnification, resolution and optical characteristics.
Most of our Editors' Choicesfor stargazing binoculars here are under $300. You can pay more than 10 times that for enormous binocular telescopes used by elite enthusiasts on special mounts! You'll also pay more for ruggedized ("mil spec," or military standard) binoculars, many of which suspend their prisms on shock mounts to keep the optics in precise alignment.
Also, our Editors' Choices use Porro prism optics. Compact binoculars usually employ "roof" prisms, which can be cast more cheaply, but whose quality can vary widely. [There's much more about Porro prisms in our Buyer's Guide.] We think your needs are best served by reviewing in three categories.
Small, highly portable binoculars can be hand-held for viewing ease.
Medium binoculars offer higher powers of magnification, but still can be hand-held, if firmly braced.
Large binoculars have bigger "objective" lenses but must be mounted on a tripod or counterweighted arm for stability.
Here's a detailed look at our Editor's Choice selections for stargazing binoculars:
Oberwerk in German means "above work." The brand does indeed perform high-level optical work, perfect for looking at objects above, as well as on the ground or water. Founder Kevin Busarow's Mariner series is not his top of the line, but it benefits greatly from engineering developed for his pricier models. The Oberwerk 8x40’s treat your eyes to an extremely wide field, at very high contrast, with razor-sharp focus; they are superb for observing the broad starscapes of the Milky Way. Just 5.5 inches (14 cm) from front to back and 6.5 inches wide (16.5 cm), the Mariners are compact and rugged enough to be your favorite "grab and go binoculars." But at 37 ounces, they may be more than a small person wants to carry for a long time.
Runner-Up: Celestron Cometron 7x50 (Cost: $30)
Yes, you read that price correctly! These Celestron lightweight, wide-field binoculars bring honest quality at a remarkably low price point. The compromise comes in the optics, particularly the prism's glass type (you might see a little more chromatic aberration around the edges of the moon, and the exit pupil isn't a nice, round circle). Optimized for "almost infinitely distant" celestial objects, these Cometrons won't focus closer than about 30 feet (9.1 meters). But that's fine for most sports and other outdoor use. If you're gift-buying for multiple young astronomers – or you want an inexpensive second set for yourself – these binoculars could be your answer. Just maybe remind those young folks to be a little careful around water; Celestron claims only that the Cometrons are "water resistant," not waterproof.
From the legendary Austrian firm of Swarovski Optik, these "bins" are perfect. Really. Very sharp. Very lightweight. Very wide field. Very versatile. And very expensive! Our editors would have picked them if we could have afforded them.
Honorable Mention: Nikon Aculon 7x50 (Cost: $110)
Nikon's legendary optical quality and the large, 7mm exit pupil diameter make these appropriate as a gift for younger skywatchers.
A solid, chunky-feeling set of quality prisms and lenses makes these binoculars a pleasant, 38oz. handful. A medium wide 5.8 degrees filed of view and large 7mm exit pupil brings you gently into a sweet sky of bright, though perhaps not totally brilliant, stars. Fully dressed in a rubber wetsuit, these SkyMasters are waterproof. Feel free to take them boating or birding on a moist morning. Their optical tubes were blown out with dry nitrogen at the factory, then sealed. So you can expect them not to fog up, at least not from the inside. Celestron's strap-mounting points on the Skymaster 8x56 are recessed, so they don't bother your thumbs, but that location makes them hard to fasten.
Runner-Up: Oberwerk Ultra 15x70 (Cost: $380)
The most rugged pair we evaluated, these 15x70s are optically outstanding. Seen through the Ultra's exquisitely multi-coated glass, you may find yourself falling in love with the sky all over again. Oberwerk's method of suspending their BAK4 glass Porro prisms offers greater shock-resistance than most competitors’ designs. While more costly than some comparable binoculars, they deliver superior value. Our only complaint is with their mass: At 5.5 lbs., these guys are heavy! You can hand-hold them for a short while, if you’re lying down. But they are best placed on a tripod, or on a counterweighted arm, unless you like shaky squiggles where your point-source stars are supposed to be. Like most truly big binoculars, the eyepieces focus independently; there’s no center focus wheel. These "binos" are for true astronomers.
Honorable Mention: Vixen Ascot 10x50 (Cost:$165)
These quirky binoculars present you with an extremely wide field. But they are not crash-worthy – don't drop them in the dark – nor are they waterproof, and the focus knob is not conveniently located. So care is needed if you opt for these Vixen optics.
Best Large Binoculars
Don't even think about hand-holding this 156-ounce beast! The SkyMaster 25x100 is really a pair of side-by-side 100mm short-tube refractor telescopes. Factor the cost of a sturdy tripod into your purchase decision, if you want to go this big. The monster Celestron comes with a sturdy support spar for mounting. Its properly multi-coated optics will haul in surprising detail from the sky. Just make sure your skies are dark; with this much magnification, light pollution can render your images dingy. As with many in the giant and super-giant class of binoculars, the oculars (non-removable eyepieces) focus separately, each rotating through an unusually long 450 degrees. Getting to critical focus can be challenging, but the view is worth it. You can resolve a bit of detail on face of the new moon (lit by "Earthshine") and pick out cloud bands on Jupiter; tha's pretty astonishing for binoculars.
Runner-Up: Orion Astronomy 20x80 (Cost: $150)
These big Orions distinguish themselves by price point; they're an excellent value. You could pay 10 times more for the comparably sized Steiners Military Observer 20x80 binoculars! Yes, the Orions are more delicate, a bit less bright and not quite as sharp. But they do offer amazingly high contrast; you'll catch significant detail in galaxies, comets and other "fuzzies." Unusually among such big rigs, the Astronomy 20x80 uses a center focus ring and one "diopter" (rather than independently focusing oculars); if you’re graduating from smaller binoculars, which commonly use that approach, this may be a comfort. These binoculars are almost lightweight enough to hold them by hand. But don't do that, at least not for long periods. And don't drop them. They will go out of alignment if handled roughly.
They are not pretty, but you're in the dark, right? Built around a tripod-mountable truss tube, these Barskas equilibrate to temperature quickly and give you decent viewing at rational cost. They make for a cheaper version of our Editors' Choice Celestron SkyMasters.
Not at all a practical cost choice for a beginning stargazer, but you can dream, can't you? These Steiner binoculars are essentially military optics "plowshared" for peaceful celestial observing.
Why we chose NOT to review certain types
Binoculars with active internal image stabilization are a growing breed. Most use battery-powered gyroscope/accelerometer-driven dynamic optical elements. We have left this type out of our evaluation because they are highly specialized and pricey ($1,250 and up). But if you are considering active stabilization, you can apply the same judgment methods detailed in our Buyer's Guide.
Comes with a camera?
A few binoculars are sold with built-in cameras. That seems like a good idea. But it isn't, at least not for skywatching. Other than Earth's moon, objects in the night sky are stingy with their photons. It takes a lengthy, rock-steady time exposure to collect enough light for a respectable image. By all means, consider these binocular-camera combos for snapping Facebook shots of little Jenny on the soccer field. But stay away from them for astronomy.
Take your new binoculars out under the night sky on clear nights, and you will fall in love with the universe. You will crave more ancient light from those distant suns. That may translate into a strong desire for bigger stereo-light buckets.
Caution: The next level up is a quantum jump of at least one financial order of magnitude. But if you have the disposable income and frequent access to dark skies, you may want to go REALLY big. Binocular telescopes in this class can feature interchangeable matching eyepieces, individually focusing oculars, more than 30x magnification and sturdy special-purpose tripods. Amateurs using these elite-level stereoscopes have discovered several prominent comets.
Enjoy your universe
If you are new to lens-assisted stargazing, you'll find excellent enhanced views among the binocular choices above. To get in deeper and to understand how we picked the ones we did, jump to our Buyer's Guide: How to Choose Binoculars for Sky Watching.
You have just taken the first step to lighting up your brain with star fire. May the photons be with you. Always.
Skywatching Events 2015
Once you have your new binoculars, it's time to take them for a spin. This year intrepid stargazers will have plenty of good opportunities to use new gear.
On March 20, for example, the sun will go through a total solar eclipse. You can check out the celestial sight using the right sun-blocking filters for binoculars, but NEVER look at the sun directly, even during a solar eclipse. It's important to find the proper filters in order to observe the rare cosmic show.
Observers can also take a look at the craggy face of the moon during a lunar eclipse on April 4. Stargazers using binoculars should be able to pick out some details not usually seen by the naked eye when looking at Earth's natural satellite.
Skywatchers should also peek out from behind the binoculars for a chance to see a series of annual meteor showers throughout the year.
Excerpt from usatoday.comMaybe it was a bird. Maybe it was a plane.But it was probably not a UFO.The Central Intelligence Agency had some fun Monday tweeting out its most popular stories of the year.No. 1? "Reports of unusual activity in the skies in t...
This was a great year for dinosaurs. Dreadnoughtus, "Jar Jar Binks," and a swimming Spinosaurus all made headlines — and 2015 could hold even more surprises.
It wasn't always like this. From 1984 to 1994, there were about 15 new dinosaur species named per year. This year, nearly one species was discovered every week.
"We're absolutely in a golden age of dinosaur discovery," David Evans, who oversees dinosaur research at the Royal Ontario Museum, told NBC News. "It is probably a better time to be a dinosaur paleontologist now than any other time in the last century."
The 'Jurassic Park' effect
When it comes to finding dinosaurs in the dirt, paleontologists are using the same tools that they were 30 years ago. Satellite images might give them a better view of dig sites, but for the most part the process has not changed much.
So why are there so many dinosaur discoveries these days? More people are looking for them. Evans estimates that the number of dinosaur paleontologists has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years.
Every paleontologist interviewed for this story pointed to one catalyst for the paleontology boom: Steven Spielberg's 1993 blockbuster "Jurassic Park."
"It put the most lifelike, scientifically accurate dinosaurs ever on the big screen," Evans said. "That helped the public moved beyond the classical view of dinosaurs as slow, dim-twitted creatures."
Famed Montana State University paleontologist Jack Horner admits he has a special affection for the film. He served as scientific adviser for the original "Jurassic Park" and was the inspiration for Dr. Alan Grant, the movie's protagonist. He also consulted on the upcoming "Jurassic World" starring Chris Pratt.
"'Jurassic Park' attracted an incredible number of people to the field," Horner told NBC News. "I'm hoping that we put together something cool with 'Jurassic World' that people will really like and get more children interested in paleontology."
Increased interest led to increased paleontology budgets for museums and universities, Evans said. That has made a big difference in places like China and Argentina, relatively unexplored areas where a new generation of paleontologists has unearthed most of the recent headline-grabbing discoveries.
"The number of dinosaur researchers is much higher now than in the '90s," Thomas Holtz, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Maryland, told NBC News. "Anytime you are exploring a region and a slice of time that hasn't been sampled before, chances are that everything you are finding is new."
2014 and beyond
Some of the biggest discoveries of the year were not new species. Instead, they were more complete fossils of dinosaurs the scientific community knew very little about.
Take Spinosaurus, a massive carnivore that was even bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex. While its teeth indicated it ate fish, scientists were divided on whether it roamed the land and water looking for prey.
This year, the matter was settled. A new paper showed that the dinosaur's unique body structure — tiny hind limbs, dense bones, crocodile-like receptors in its snout — was best suited for the water and caused it to waddle on land.
"That was probably the most significant find of the year," Horner said.
There were other big discoveries in 2014. Dreadnoughtus fossils discovered in Argentina belonged to a creature that measured 85 feet (26 meters) long and weighed about 65 tons (59 metric tons), or about as much as a dozen elephants.
ROCKINGHAM — The National Audubon Society is inviting Richmond County birdwatchers to participate in the longest-running citizen science survey in the world, the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Beginning Sunday, hundreds of birders and nature enthusiasts across North Carolina will take part in this long-standing tradition where data collected has helped to shape influential conservation efforts nationwide. As North Carolina’s landscape continues to evolve with changes... the data collected during the annual Christmas Bird Count is crucial to understanding the health of native and migrating bird populations throughout North Carolina. During the 2013 CBC, five snowy owls were spotted from Asheville to Wilmington, and local citizen scientists were on hand to detail the rare event. North Carolina’s birding circles are some of the top performing in the country, and last year, a record 51 counts across the state reported 1,113,012 individual birds from 225 species. “In a state where inspiring conservation action is vital to the health of birds facing the damaging effects of climate change, Audubon North Carolina is excited to be a leader in statewide conservation efforts,” Executive Director Heather Hahn said in a release. “As climate change continues to affect populations of the brown-headed nuthatch, American oystercatcher, wood thrush and many more iconic species, the data collected during this annual event becomes even more important to ongoing efforts to protect our birds.” Each year, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count mobilizes more than 70,000 volunteer bird counters in more than 2,400 locations across the Western Hemisphere. The Audubon Christmas Bird Count utilizes the power of volunteers to track the health of bird populations at a scale that professional scientists could never accomplish alone. Data compiled across North Carolina will record every individual bird and bird species seen in a specified area, contributing to a vast citizen science network that continues a tradition stretching back more than 100 years. Birders of all ages are welcome to contribute to this fun winter tradition and nationwide citizen science project, which provides ornithologists with a crucial snapshot of native bird populations during the winter months. Each individual count is performed in a count circle with a diameter of 15 miles. At least 10 volunteers, including a compiler to coordinate the process, count in each circle. The volunteers break up into small parties and follow assigned routes, which change little from year to year, counting every bird they see. In most count circles, some people also watch feeders instead of following routes.
For $25 a year, Google will keep a copy of any genome in the cloud.
Google is approaching hospitals and universities with a new pitch. Have genomes? Store them with us.
The search giant’s first product for the DNA age is Google Genomics, a cloud computing service that it launched last March but went mostly unnoticed amid a barrage of high profile R&D announcements from Google...
Google Genomics could prove more significant than any of these moonshots. Connecting and comparing genomes by the thousands, and soon by the millions, is what’s going to propel medical discoveries for the next decade. The question of who will store the data is already a point of growing competition between Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft.
Google began work on Google Genomics 18 months ago, meeting with scientists and building an interface, or API, that lets them move DNA data into its server farms and do experiments there using the same database technology that indexes the Web and tracks billions of Internet users.
This flow of data is smaller than what is routinely handled by large Internet companies (over two months, Broad will produce the equivalent of what gets uploaded to YouTube in one day) but it exceeds anything biologists have dealt with. That’s now prompting a wide effort to store and access data at central locations, often commercial ones. The National Cancer Institute said last month that it would pay $19 million to move copies of the 2.6 petabyte Cancer Genome Atlas into the cloud. Copies of the data, from several thousand cancer patients, will reside both at Google Genomics and in Amazon’s data centers.
The idea is to create “cancer genome clouds” where scientists can share information and quickly run virtual experiments as easily as a Web search, says Sheila Reynolds, a research scientist at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. “Not everyone has the ability to download a petabyte of data, or has the computing power to work on it,” she says.
Also speeding the move of DNA data to the cloud has been a yearlong price war between Google and Amazon. Google says it now charges about $25 a year to store a genome, and more to do computations on it. Scientific raw data representing a single person’s genome is about 100 gigabytes in size, although a polished version of a person’s genetic code is far smaller, less than a gigabyte. That would cost only $0.25 cents a year.
The bigger point, he says, is that medicine will soon rely on a kind of global Internet-of-DNA which doctors will be able to search. “Our bird’s eye view is that if I were to get lung cancer in the future, doctors are going to sequence my genome and my tumor’s genome, and then query them against a database of 50 million other genomes,” he says. “The result will be ‘Hey, here’s the drug that will work best for you.’ ”
At Google, Glazer says he began working on Google Genomics as it became clear that biology was going to move from “artisanal to factory-scale data production.” He started by teaching himself genetics, taking an online class, Introduction to Biology, taught by Broad’s chief, Eric Lander. He also got his genome sequenced and put it on Google’s cloud.
Glazer wouldn’t say how large Google Genomics is or how many customers it has now, but at least 3,500 genomes from public projects are already stored on Google’s servers. He also says there’s no link, as of yet, between Google’s cloud and its more speculative efforts in health care, like the company Google started this year, called Calico, to investigate how to extend human lifespans. “What connects them is just a growing realization that technology can advance the state of the art in life sciences,” says Glazer.
Datta says some Stanford scientists have started using a Google database system, BigQuery, that Glazer’s team made compatible with genome data. It was developed to analyze large databases of spam, web documents, or of consumer purchases. But it can also quickly perform the very large experiments comparing thousands, or tens of thousands, of people’s genomes that researchers want to try. “Sometimes they want to do crazy things, and you need scale to do that,” says Datta. “It can handle the scale genetics can bring, so it’s the right technology for a new problem.”
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