Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Astronaut anatomy

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly has just taken off for a yearlong stay on the International Space Station. He will perform sophisticated testing on himself and the results will be relayed so that researchers can understand the effects of long-term stints in space. Of the ocular analysis, UC-San Diego postdoctoral fellow Brandon Macias, a co-investigator on the project, says, "Our goal is to understand and measure the fluid shift that occurs in space. We hope to create a longitudinal map of changes: before, during, and after spaceflight.” And they have the perfect control for comparison of the results: Scott's identical twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fey ray

Diver Josh Stewart was trying to photograph the belly of a 15' (4.6 m) manta ray off the coast of Peru as part of a long-term identification project for Manta Trust when he found himself being tucked up and somersaulted. He describes, "I was just swimming down as I usually do to capture a manta ID shot and before I knew it, I was engulfed in the wings of this massive manta as I tumbled through the water. I suffered no injuries but it was certainly a big surprise.” (VIDEO HERE)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Quadruplet cows

A one in a million birth has occurred in Dekalb, Texas, U.S. The actual odds of a cow giving birth to four live calves is one in 11.2 million, but that is exactly what has happened to a run-of-the-mill red cow, as she is described by owners Jimmy and Dora Rumsey-Barling. In his 18-year career, local veterinarian Michael Baird has delivered twin, multiple, and even conjoined calves but has never seen anything like it. He remarks, "This is truly an amazing event if you are into this sort of thing.”

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Extra terrestrials

Two tiny examples of colorful Indonesian "vampire crabs" have been identified as new species, even though they have been known in the aquarium trade for many years. With bright purple or stunning orange claws and intense yellow eyes, the land crabs make popular pets, which is why competing dealers have kept the location where they find them so secret. The scientists found their habitat in Java, and as study co-author Christoph Schubart says of the dealers, "They start collecting in areas where scientists may not have made any expeditions so far, and suddenly the market is formed with some animals that no one has ever given a name.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tapir pallor

National Geographic contributing photographer Luciano Candisani set out to capture on film the legendary albino tapir said to roam the rainforest of southeastern Brazil. While unsuccessfully stalking the creature under cover of darkness, he met with success after setting up a camera trap, and describes, "My heart skipped a beat when, while reviewing the photos from one night, the white tapir suddenly appeared in one of the frames."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Beefy beakfuls

For reasons unknown, the rainbow lorikeets patronizing a backyard bird feeder north of Brisbane, Australia, have become carnivores. Instead of partaking in the seed meant for vegetarian birds including galahs, king parrots, and the lorikeets, they have been gorging themselves on the minced meat set out for magpies, currawongs, and kookaburras. Licensed wildlife carer Fran Sanders exclaims, "I'm absolutely amazed and horrified."

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mont et mer

When I went to France in 1999 with my friend Cris, we went out of our way to see the famed Mont Saint-Michel, driving up the causeway from the mainland to the entrance even though I couldn't climb the many steps up and around it, which made its interior inaccessible. Recent visitors were barred altogether when a supertide turned the ancient monastery into an island. Called "the tide of the century," it actually should've been dubbed "the tide of the generation," since it occurs regularly every 18 years.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Underserved in Amsterdam

A few years ago, Amsterdam couple Rob Hagenouw and Nicolle Schatborn started a food truck they call "Keuken van het Ongewenst Dier" (“The Kitchen of the Unwanted Animal”) to sell the meat that nobody wants in an effort to reduce unnecessary food waste. They offer up goose croquettes, pigeon rolls, and muskrat, with plans to extend the menu to include fallow deer, black crow, and parakeet. But their most popular item is the horse meat burger. Hagenouw describes. "'Ah, they have My Little Pony burgers,' little girls will say. Most of the time the girls eat the burgers; it's the mothers who don't like it."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Bipedal butcher

Some 230 million years ago, a crocodilian standing on its back legs at over 9' (3 m) tall vied for food with dinosaurs in what is now North Carolina, U.S. Other smaller animals in the crocodile family – which have survived to this day – were further down on the food chain, the equivalent of foxes. Although its bones were excavated a decade ago, this beast has been identified as a new species and its name translates as "Carolina butcher." Paleontologist Lindsay Zanno of North Carolina State University says, "It was clearly a top predator. That's a niche we didn't know animals like this were filling.”

Friday, March 20, 2015

Malarial marrow

A Yale University team has developed a new method to identify malaria in the bone marrow of ancient human remains. It is the first time researchers have been able to establish a diagnostic, human skeletal profile for the disease, which still infect millions of people a year. Identifying hemozoin, the polymer produced by the parasite that causes malaria, may allow scientists to track the spread of malaria back to its first appearance in human populations. Jamie Inwood, team leader and graduate student in archaeology, explains, “The data set we build with this will be revolutionary for establishing the epidemiological curve for malaria in ancient societies. By understanding how this parasite reacted to societal shifts in the past, we can aid in predicting its future behavior. We can understand the way it has evolved.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Colossal creature

"For the most part they are a gentle giant," says television host Jeff Corwin (UPPER RIGHT) of the giant stingray caught in Thailand’s Mae Klong River. With the help of a team including veterinarian Nantarika Chansue (LEFT) of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, he measured the record-breaking ray at 7.9' (2.4 m) across and 14' (4.3 m) long, with a weight estimated at up to 800 lbs (363 kg). In addition to its size, what does this specimen have in common with the 13-footer caught by aquatic ecologist Zeb Hogan in Cambodia? They were both released back into the wild.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


A 7-member team attempted to summit Mexico's highest mountain, Pico de Orizaba, In 1959, but they were overtaken by an avalanche. Four of the climbers were killed, but only one body was recovered at the time. The bodies of 2 of the missing men have just been found during a recent expedition. Luis Espinoza, who has now been mourning the loss of his fellow climbers for 56 years, commented, "I'll be at peace if they are."

Monday, March 16, 2015

Chinchorro change

Dating back 7,000 years – earlier than the Egyptians, the oldest mummies in the world are those of the Chinchorro, who lived along the coasts of northern Chile and southern Peru. Hundreds of them have been unearthed, with more being excavated regularly. Usually, the challenge is to conserve them after they are removed from their dry conditions under the desert sand. But these days, almost certainly due to climate change, they are deteriorating where they lay. Archaeologist Marcela Sepulveda of the Universidad de Tarapacá, observes, "When you excavate mummies you can see that degradation is already there."

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Station restoration

After 100 years, the hut and all of its contents left behind by the ill-fated Robert F. Scott expedition still stands like a time capsule in Antarctica. The New Zealand-based Antarctic Heritage Trust has just finished a 10-year restoration project necessitated by water seepage, age, and just being in the harshest environment on earth. Take a peek at the results (VIDEO HERE, PHOTOS HERE).

Friday, March 13, 2015

Turtle tummy

Professor of photographic sciences Ted Kinsman of the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York picked up a dead snapping turtle from the side of the road, x-rayed it, added false color to the 30 eggs he found inside, and won the Expert's Choice award for Photography at the 2015 Vizzies (SEE THE OTHER WINNING PHOTOGRAPHS HERE.)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Baltimore birds

Have a bird's-eye view of Baltimore from 33 stories up on a ledge of the Transamerica Building, where the latest generation of peregrine falcons has taken up residence. The Chesapeake Conservancy has provided a live feed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Aussie Au

Australian man 42-year-old Mick Brown hit the jackpot with his metal detector near Wedderburn, Victoria. Only 6" (15 cm) beneath the surface of the earth, he found a 6 lb (2.7 kg) gold nugget, worth about $107,000 U.S. ($141,000 Australian). Brown describes first mistaking the discovery for a big molten blob of copper, then the realization dawned, "I thought bugger me, it is, it's bloody gold."

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Bird ballet

The photo above shows a "murmurration" of starlings performing their synchronized aerial ballet in the sky above Utrecht, Netherlands. A group of statistical physicists figured out the how, but GrrlScientist explains the why: "Birds form these large flocks to protect themselves from predators, to share information regarding food sources, and to find mates for the upcoming breeding season." Follow the link for a mesmerizing video.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Princely pottery

I have seen a lot of Grecian urns, but never one pictured in situ. This gold-lipped one – decorated with scenes of Dionysus – was excavated from the tomb of a Celtic prince in what is now Marseille, France. The lavish 2,500-year-old burial mound also contained a chariot and a beautifully decorated copper cauldron. Some of the items may have been bestowed as diplomatic gifts by Mediterranean merchants hoping to open new trade channels, explains Dominique Garcia, president of France's National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (IMAGES HERE).

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Weasel on the wing

Amateur British photographer Martin Le-May was at Hornchurch Country Park in east London when he captured the almost unbelievable sight of a weasel riding on the back of a green woodpecker as it flies through the air. Wildlife expert Lucy Cooke explains: "This is a truly extraordinary image. The green woodpecker is a ground-feeding bird, but weasels normally attack rabbits. The woodpecker is not its usual prey. But weasels are fearless. A female weasel weighs less than a Mars Bar but is as ferocious as a lion, so this is why the woodpecker would have been able to take off with it on its back."

Friday, March 6, 2015

Eolian Eiffel

France has made a very powerful statement by installing 2 wind turbines in the Eiffel Tower. Engineer Jan Gromadzki, who oversaw the project for New York-based Urban Green Energy, explains, "This installation is definitely more symbolic. But it is still significant because the merchant spaces on the first floor do consume energy, and being able to offset that consumption is something people can really assimilate and understand."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Skelly spidey

Meet the two latest species of the flashy peacock spider, discovered in Queensland, Australia, by Madeline Girard, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. Officially named Maratus sceletus (IMAGE ABOVE) and Maratus jactatus (IMAGE HERE), she has playfully nicknamed them "Skeletorus" and "Sparklemuffin," respectively. Entomologist Jürgen Otto describes the mating dance of the spider pictured: "When [the male] got within a few centimeters of the female, he exploded into a firework of activity. The spinnerets were extended and flicked around at an amazing speed, one of the legs was flexed like he wanted to show off his muscles, and he moved constantly from one side of the grass blade to the other.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fact to fiction to fact

Step 1: Write a first novel - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - woven around a series of found photographs. Step 2: Publish said novel to great acclaim. Step 3: Travel with an urban explorer in Europe to find and document abandoned houses like the one described in the pages of his novel (VIDEO HERE).

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Winter waves

Photographer Jonathan Nimerfroh captured evidence of just how brutal the winter in Massachusetts has been. Waves off the coast of the island of Nantucket southeast of Boston had begun to freeze. He describes, "They were perfect dreamy slush waves. What an experience to be absolutely freezing on the beach watching these roll in while I mind-surfed them..."