By Mercedes Kirkel This past week I went on a hike with my good friend, Susan. We chose a trail by the San Francisco Bay that Susan used to frequent but hadn’t been on in a number of years. The weather was beautiful, the wildflowers bursting forth, birds gracing our path, and all seemed […]
A U.S.cyberspace operations center It should be apparent to all by now that agencies within the U.S. Department of Defense and also within the U.S. intelligence community are actively engaged in programs that utilize the synthetic telepathy technolo...
Artist's illustration of the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane in orbit. The mysterious spacecraft is scheduled to launch on its fourth mission on May 20, 2015. Credit: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
The United States Air Force's X-37B space plane will launch on its fourth mystery mission next month. The unmanned X-37B space plane, which looks like a miniature version of NASA's now-retired space shuttle orbiter, is scheduled to blast off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 20.
"We are excited about our fourth X-37B mission," Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said in a statement. "With the demonstrated success of the first three missions, we’re able to shift our focus from initial checkouts of the vehicle to testing of experimental payloads."
The X-37B's payloads and specific activities are classified, so it's unclear exactly what the spacecraft does while zipping around the Earth. But Air Force officials have revealed a few clues about the upcoming mission.
"The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (AFRCO) are investigating an experimental propulsion system on the X-37B on Mission 4," Capt. Chris Hoyler, an Air Force spokesman, told Space.com via email.
"AFRCO will also host a number of advance materials onboard the X-37B for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to study the durability of various materials in the space environment," Hoyler added.
The Air Force owns two X-37B space planes, both of which were built by Boeing's Phantom Works division. The solar-powered spacecraft are about 29 feet long by 9.5 feet tall (8.8 by 2.9 meters), with a wingspan of 15 feet (4.6 m) and a payload bay the size of a pickup-truck bed. The X-37B launches vertically atop a rocket and lands horizontally on a runway, like the space shuttle did.
One of the two X-37B vehicles flew the program's first and third missions, which were known as OTV-1 and OTV-3, respectively. ("OTV" is short for "Orbital Test Vehicle.") The other spacecraft flew OTV-2. Air Force officials have not revealed which space plane will be going to orbit on the upcoming mission.
OTV-1 launched in April 2010 and landed in December of that year, staying in orbit for 225 days. OTV-2 blasted off in March 2011 and circled Earth for 469 days, coming down in June 2012. OTV-3 launched in December 2012 and stayed aloft for a record-breaking 675 days, finally landing in October 2014.
A recovery team processes the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane after the robotic spacecraft's successful landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Oct. 17, 2014. The touchdown marked the end of the X-37B’s third space mission. Credit: Boeing
If Air Force officials know how long OTV-4 is going to last, they're not saying.
"The X-37B is designed for an on-orbit duration of 270 days," Hoyler said. "Longer missions have been demonstrated. As with previous missions, the actual duration will depend on test objectives, on-orbit vehicle performance and conditions at the landing facility."
The secrecy surrounding the X-37B and its payloads has fueled speculation in some quarters that the vehicle could be a space weapon of some sort. But Air Force officials have repeatedly refuted that notion.
"The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space, and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth," Air Force officials wrote in on online X-37B fact sheet.
"Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control; thermal protection systems; avionics; high-temperature structures and seals; conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems; and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry and landing."View Article Here Read More
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. View Article Here Read More
AMSTERDAM—Insecure about your height? You may want to avoid this tiny country by the North Sea, whose population has gained an impressive 20 centimeters in the past 150 years and is now officially the tallest on the planet. Scientists chalk up most of that increase to rising wealth, a rich diet, and good health care, but a new study suggests something else is going on as well: The Dutch growth spurt may be an example of human evolution in action. The study, published online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows that tall Dutch men on average have more children than their shorter counterparts, and that more of their children survive. That suggests genes that help make people tall are becoming more frequent among the Dutch, says behavioral biologist and lead author Gert Stulp of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
"This study drives home the message that the human population is still subject to natural selection," says Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University who wasn't involved in the study. "It strikes at the core of our understanding of human nature, and how malleable it is." It also confirms what Stearns knows from personal experience about the population in the northern Netherlands, where the study took place: "Boy, they are tall."
For many years, the U.S. population was the tallest in the world. In the 18th century, American men were 5 to 8 centimeters taller than those in the Netherlands. Today, Americans are the fattest, but they lost the race for height to northern Europeans—including Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, and Estonians—sometime in the 20th century.
Just how these peoples became so tall isn't clear, however. Genetics has an important effect on body height: Scientists have found at least 180 genes that influence how tall you become. Each one has only a small effect, but together, they may explain up to 80% of the variation in height within a population. Yet environmental factors play a huge role as well. The children of Japanese immigrants to Hawaii, for instance, grew much taller than their parents. Scientists assume that a diet rich in milk and meat played a major role.
The Dutch have become so much taller in such a short period that scientists chalk most of it up to their changing environment. As the Netherlands developed, it became one of the world's largest producers and consumers of cheese and milk. An increasingly egalitarian distribution of wealth and universal access to health care may also have helped.
Still, scientists wonder whether natural selection has played a role as well. For men, being tall is associated with better health, attractiveness to the opposite sex, a better education, and higher income—all of which could lead to more reproductive success, Stulp says. Yet studies in the United States don't show this. Stulp's own research among Wisconsinites born between 1937 and 1940, for instance, showed that average-sized men had more children than shorter and taller men, and shorter women had more children than those of average height. Taken together, Stulp says, this suggests natural selection in the United States pulls in the opposite direction of environmental factors like diet, making people shorter instead of taller. That may explain why the growth in average American height has leveled off.
Stulp—who says his towering 2-meter frame did not influence his research interest—wondered if the same was true in his native country. To find out, he and his colleagues turned to a database tracking key life data for almost 100,000 people in the country's three northern provinces. The researchers included only people over 45 who were born in the Netherlands to Dutch-born parents. This way, they had a relatively accurate number of total children per subject (most people stop having children after 45) and they also avoided the effects of immigration.
In the remaining sample of 42,616 people, taller men had more children on average, despite the fact that they had their first child at a higher age. The effect was small—an extra 0.24 children at most for taller men—but highly significant. (Taller men also had a smaller chance of remaining childless, and a higher chance of having a partner.) The same effect wasn't seen in women, who had the highest reproductive success when they were of average height. The study suggests this may be because taller women had a smaller chance of finding a mate, while shorter women were at higher risk of losing a child.
Because tall men are likely to pass on the genes that made them tall, the outcome suggests that—in contrast to Americans—the Dutch population is evolving to become taller, Stulp says. "This is not what we've seen in other studies—that's what makes it exciting," says evolutionary biologist Simon Verhulst of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who was Stulp's Ph.D. adviser but wasn't involved in the current study. Verhulst points out that the team can't be certain that genes involved in height are actually becoming more frequent, however, as the authors acknowledge.
The study suggests that sexual selection is at work in the Dutch population, Stearns says: Dutch women may prefer taller men because they expect them to have more resources to invest in their children. But there are also other possibilities. It could be that taller men are more resistant to disease, Stearns says, or that they are more likely to divorce and start a second family. "It will be a difficult question to answer.”
Another question is why tall men in Holland are at a reproductive advantage but those in the United States are not. Stulp says he can only speculate. One reason may be that humans often choose a partner who's not much shorter or taller than they are themselves. Because shorter women in the United States have more children, tall men may do worse than those of average height because they're less likely to partner with a short woman.
In the end, Stearns says, the advantage of tall Dutchmen may be only temporary. Often in evolution, natural selection will favor one trend for a number of generations, followed by a stabilization or even a return to the opposite trend. In the United States, selection for height appears to have occurred several centuries ago, leading to taller men, and then it stopped. "Perhaps the Dutch caught up and actually overshot the American men," he says.
Excerpt from newhistorian.com The history of the evolution of early humans has been challenged. Until now, one of the most dominant theories about our evolution claimed that our genus, Homo, had evolved from smaller early humans becoming taller, heavier and longer-legged. This process eventually resulted in Homo erectus, which was able to migrate out of Africa and colonise Eurasia.
Whilst we know that small-bodied H. erectus, averaging less than five feet tall and weighing under 50 kilograms, were living in southern Europe by 1.77 million years ago, the origin of the larger body size associated with modern humans has been elusive.
The paucity of knowledge about the origins of larger members of the Homo genus is primarily a result of a lack of evidence. Previous estimates of body size had been based on well-preserved specimens which were easy to assign a species to. Since these samples are rare and disparate in terms of both space and time, little is known about geographical and chronological variation in the body sizes of the early Homo.
A joint study between the Universities of Cambridge and Tübingen has shown that increases in body size occurred thousands of years after H. erectus left Africa; this growth in Homo body sizes primarily took place in the Koobi Fora region in modern Kenya.
“The evolution of larger bodies and longer legs can thus no longer be assumed to be the main driving factor behind the earliest excursions of our genus to Eurasia,” said Manuel Will, co-author of the study which has been published in the Journal of Human Evolution.
By using tiny fragments of fossil, the team were able to estimate our earliest ancestors’ height and body mass. Their findings, rather surprisingly, indicate a huge diversity in body size; this is particularly surprising as the wide variation we see in humans today was thought to be a relatively recent development.
“If someone asked you ‘are modern humans 6 foot tall and 70kg?’ you’d say ‘well some are, but many people aren’t,’ and what we’re starting to show is that this diversification happened really early in human evolution,” said Dr Jay Stock, co-author of the study.
Stock and Will are the first scientists in 20 years to compare the body size of humans from between 2.5 and 1.5 million years ago. They are also the first to use fragmentary fossils – many as small as toes, none longer than 5cm – to estimate body sizes.
By comparing measurements of fossils from sites in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Georgia, the researchers have revealed substantial regional variation in the size of early humans. Groups who lived in South African caves, for example, were 4.8 feet tall on average. Some of the skeletons found in Kenya’s Koobi Fora region would have stood nearly 6 feet tall, a height comparable to the average height of modern British males. “Basically every textbook on human evolution gives the perspective that one lineage of humans evolved larger bodies before spreading beyond Africa. But the evidence for this story about our origins and the dispersal out of Africa just no longer really fits,” said Stock.
It appears that Stock and Will have rewritten the history of the development of early humans; diversity has deep roots amongst the Homo genus.View Article Here Read More
Originally Posted at in5d.com The following is the alleged result of the actions of one or more scientists creating a covert, unauthorized notebook documenting their involvement with an Above Top Secret government program. Government publications and information obtained by the use of public tax monies cannot be subject to copyright. This document is released into the public domain for all citizens of the United States of America. THE ‘MAJIC PROJECTS’ SIGMA is the project whic [...]
Two new fossil discoveries push the timeline back on the appearance of burrowing and tree-climbing mammals. Fossils of the shrew-sized creatures found in China date to the age of the dinosaurs and show that mammals of that period were already highly specialized, well-performing animals. One of the rodent-like animals was likely a long-clawed tree-dweller, while the other was shovel-pawed tunnel-digger.
The little tree-climber, Agilodocodon scansorius, is the earliest arboreal mammal ever discovered. A report published this week in Science Magazine highlights its traits suited for its habitat, including long claws, spade-like front teeth for gnawing into bark, and flexible elbows and ankles. It is believed to have weighed up to 40 grams, a bit less than a typical hotdog without condiments, and lived about 165 million years ago in what is Mongolia today.
“When we got into the study of Agilodocodon, we realized that the outline for the horny sheath of the claws is preserved,” Zhe-Xi Luo, professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago, said in an interview. “Those soft tissues are not preserved in the vast majority of mammals. It has a very long, curved narrow claw — one feature to show that it is a good climber.”
In a report published in the same issue of Science, the other mammal, called Docofossor brachydactylus, is described to have stood no more than 9 centimeters tall and weighed only 17 grams, about the size of a juvenile mouse. Docfossor is the earliest underground-dwelling mammal ever found and shares similarities with the African golden mole, having short, wide digits suitable for digging. The little digger is estimated to have lived some 160 million years ago in what is today Ganggou Fossil Site in China’s Hebei province.
Both fossils are of creatures that belong to the order Docodonta. The discoveries are the first to provide full skeletons of this order, which had previously been characterized by evidence from fossils of teeth, jaws, and bits of skull.View Article Here Read More