VenusExcerpt from theweek.comBy Kimberly Alters Despite being known for its "hellish" conditions, the planet Venus may actually have had oceans on its surface, according to a study in The Journal of Phy...
Drought may have driven the ancient Mayan Empire to collapse, new research suggests.
Minerals taken from Belize's famous underwater cave, known as the Blue Hole, as well as lagoons nearby, show that an extreme, century-long drought occurred between A.D. 800 and A.D. 900, right when the Mayan civilization disintegrated. After the rains returned, the Mayans moved north — but they disappeared again a few centuries later, and that disappearance occurred at the same time as another dry spell, the sediments reveal.
Rise and decline
From A.D. 300 to A.D. 700, the Mayan civilization flourished in the Yucatan peninsula. These ancient Mesoamericans built stunning pyramids, mastered astronomy, and developed both a hieroglyphic writing system and a calendar system, which is famous for allegedly predicting that the world would end in 2012.
But in the centuries after A.D. 700, the civilization's building activities slowed and the culture descended into warfare and anarchy. Historians have speculatively linked that decline with everything from the ancient society's fear of malevolent spirits to deforestation completed to make way for cropland to the loss of favored foods, such as the Tikal deer.
The evidence for a drought has been growing in recent years: Since at least 1995, scientists have been looking more closely at the effects of drought. A 2012 study in the journal Science analyzed a 2,000-year-old stalagmite from a cave in southern Belize and found that sharp decreases in rainfall coincided with periods of decline in the culture. But that data came from just one cave, which meant it was difficult to make predictions for the area as a whole, Droxler said.
The main driver of this drought is thought to have been a shift in the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), a weather system that generally dumps water on tropical regions of the world while drying out the subtropics. During summers, the ITCZ pelts the Yucatan peninsula with rain, but the system travels farther south in the winter. Many scientists have suggested that during the Mayan decline, this monsoon system may have missed the Yucatan peninsula altogether.
The team found that during the period between A.D. 800 and A.D. 1000, when the Mayan civilization collapsed, there were just one or two tropical cyclones every two decades, as opposed to the usual five or six. After that, the Maya moved north, building at sites such as Chichen Itza, in what is now Mexico.
But the new results also found that between A.D. 1000 and A.D. 1100, during the height of the Little Ice Age, another major drought struck. This period coincides with the fall of Chichen Itza.
The findings strengthen the case that drought helped usher in the long decline of the Mayan culture.
Excerpt from cnn.comImagine you're the kind of person who worries about a future when robots become smart enough to threaten the very existence of the human race. For years, you've been dismissed as a crackpot, consigned to the same category of peop...
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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.
According to a NASA statement, on December 23, the agency released the names of the four American companies selected for future developmental collaborations. The companies were chosen under the auspices of the Collaborators for Commercial Space Capabilities program, which facilities industry access to NASA’s spaceflight resources. The products of the partnerships will be made available to governmental and non-governmental entities within the next five years.
The four companies that have been chosen are the following: ATK Space Systems of Beltsville, Maryland, which is space transportation capacity; Final Frontier Design of Brooklyn, New York, which is developing space suits for intra-vehicular operations; Space Exploration Technologies of Hawthorne, California, which is developing space transportation means that could be used to facilitate future deep space missions; and United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado, which is developing new, less expensive launch vehicles with greater performance.
“These awards demonstrate the diversity and maturity of the commercial space industry. We look forward to working with these partners to advance space capabilities and make them available to NASA and other customers in the coming years,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA. Although NASA will contribute expertise, technology, evaluations and the resultant data and insights, it is up to the four companies to cover the costs of their collaboration with NASA. View Article Here Read More
New research from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), studying how memories are stored, finds that lost memories can be recovered—offering possible hope for patients suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
The finding contradicts the long-held belief that memories are stored at the connections between neurons, or synapses—areas that are destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease.
“Long-term memory is not stored at the synapse,” said lead author David Glanzman, a UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology and of neurobiology, in a statement. “That’s a radical idea, but that’s where the evidence leads.”
According to Glanzman, the nervous system can regenerate lost or broken synaptic connections. If synaptic connections can be restored, memory will return. “It won’t be easy, but I believe it’s possible,” he said.
The findings recently were published in the open-access journal eLife.
Glanzman said the finding that the destruction of synapses does not result in the destruction of memories could have important implications for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
“As long as the neurons are alive, the memory will still be there, which means you may be able to recover some of the lost memories in the early stages of Alzheimer’s,” Glanzman said. View Article Here Read More
Julian Wash, ContributorWaking TimesToday I wish to address to you a certain brand of loneliness. It is perhaps the most debilitating form of the condition. The state is sometimes referred to as “isolation” or the sense of being disconnected, apart, abandoned or simply “different” from everyone else you know. This situation is compounded when friends, coworkers and even family members begin seeing you differently. They’re not so much intrigued by your po [...]