(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘asteroid

“When the world changes faster than species can adapt, many fall out”*…

 

Dinosaurs

 

(Roughly) Daily recently considered the newly-unearthed fossil record of the asteroid strike that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.  But what if that asteroid had missed?

An asteroid slammed down and did away with all the dinosaurs, paving the way for such developments as the human race, capitalism, and posting on the internet: it’s the story we all know and love. Yet if things had shaken out differently—if the asteroid had stayed in its place, and the dinosaurs allowed to proceed with their business—what would things have looked like?

Would the earth be a pristine, unsmogged paradise, or would the dinosaurs have somehow evolved into even more rapacious profiteers/industrialists, wrecking the world with their dinosaur refineries and dinosaur dark money? The latter scenario being totally implausible, what’s a likely answer to the question of what our world would look like if that asteroid never hit it?…

Nine scientists– geologists, paleontologists, and evolutionary biologists– provide some fascinating “alternative history”: “What If the Asteroid Never Killed the Dinosaurs?

* Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

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As we explore the road not taken, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that the American Museum of Natural History was incorporated.  Its founding had been urged in a letter, dated December 30, 1868, and sent to Andrew H. Green, Comptroller of Central Park, New York, signed by 19 persons, including Theodore Roosevelt, A.G. Phelps Dodge, and J. Pierpont Morgan.  They wrote: “A number of gentlemen having long desired that a great Museum of Natural History should be established in Central Park, and having now the opportunity of securing a rare and very valuable collection as a nucleus of such Museum, the undersigned wish to enquire if you are disposed to provide for its reception and development.”  Their suggestion was accepted by Park officials; the collections were purchased– and thus the great museum began.  It opened April 27, 1871.

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“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.”*…

 

fossil record

In one fell swoop, Robert DePalma may have filled in the gap in the fossil record

 

On August 5, 2013, I received an e-mail from a graduate student named Robert DePalma. I had never met DePalma, but we had corresponded on paleontological matters for years, ever since he had read a novel I’d written that centered on the discovery of a fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex killed by the KT impact. “I have made an incredible and unprecedented discovery,” he wrote me, from a truck stop in Bowman, North Dakota. “It is extremely confidential and only three others know of it at the moment, all of them close colleagues.” He went on, “It is far more unique and far rarer than any simple dinosaur discovery. I would prefer not outlining the details via e-mail, if possible.” He gave me his cell-phone number and a time to call.

I called, and he told me that he had discovered a site like the one I’d imagined in my novel, which contained, among other things, direct victims of the catastrophe. At first, I was skeptical. DePalma was a scientific nobody, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Kansas, and he said that he had found the site with no institutional backing and no collaborators. I thought that he was likely exaggerating, or that he might even be crazy. (Paleontology has more than its share of unusual people.) But I was intrigued enough to get on a plane to North Dakota to see for myself…

Douglas Preston recounts what he found: the young paleontologist looks increasingly likely (as other scientists assess his work) to have discovered a record of the most significant event in the history of life on Earth, the missing fossil evidence that recounts the almost-instant extinction of most life on the planet: “The Day the Dinosaurs Died.”

See a second-by-second visualization of the event here.

And for more on the threat that asteroids still present, and how we can protect the Earth from a repeat of that mass extinction, visit the B-612 Foundation.

* Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience

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As we extricate heads from the sand, we might spare a thought for a scientific forebearer of DePalma’s, Edward Drinker Cope; he died on this date in 1897. A paleontologist and comparative anatomist (as well as a noted herpetologist and ichthyologist), Cope led many natural history surveys in the American West for the precursors of the U.S. Geological Survey, making important finds on his trips, including dinosaur discoveries.

220px-Cope_Edward_Drinker_1840-1897 source

 

 

Written by LW

April 12, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I’m sure the universe is full of intelligent life. It’s just been too intelligent to come here.”*…

 

couldoumuamu

Artist’s impression of the first interstellar asteroid/comet, “Oumuamua”

 

Or not…

On October 19th, 2017, the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System-1 (Pan-STARRS-1) in Hawaii announced the first-ever detection of an interstellar asteroid, named 1I/2017 U1 (aka, ‘Oumuamua). In the months that followed, multiple follow-up observations were conducted that allowed astronomers to get a better idea of its size and shape, while also revealing that it had the characteristics of both a comet and an asteroid.

Interestingly enough, there has also been some speculation that based on its shape, ‘Oumuamua might actually be an interstellar spacecraft (Breakthrough Listen even monitored it for signs of radio signals!). A new study by a pair of astronomers from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) has taken it a step further, suggesting that ‘Oumuamua may actually be a light sail of extra-terrestrial origin…

As for what an extra-terrestrial light sail would be doing in our solar system, [Harvard astronomers Shmuel Bialy and Prof. Abraham Loeb] offer some possible explanations for that. First, they suggest that the probe may actually be a defunct sail floating under the influence of gravity and stellar radiation, similar to debris from ship wrecks floating in the ocean. This would help explain why Breakthrough Listen found no evidence of radio transmissions.

Loeb further illustrated this idea in a recent article he penned for Scientific American, where he suggested that ‘Oumuamua could be the first known case of an artificial relic which floated into our solar system from . What’s more, he notes that lightsails with similar dimensions have been designed and constructed by humans, including the Japanese-designed IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative with which he is involved.

“This opportunity establishes a potential foundation for a new frontier of space archaeology, namely the study of relics from past civilizations in space,” Loeb wrote. “Finding evidence for space junk of artificial origin would provide an affirmative answer to the age-old question “Are we alone?”. This would have a dramatic impact on our culture and add a new cosmic perspective to the significance of human activity.”

On the other hand, as Loeb told Universe Today, ‘Oumuamua could be an active piece of alien technology that came to explore our solar system, the same way we hope to explore Alpha Centauri using Starshot and similar technologies”…

More provocative detail at “Could ‘Oumuamua be an extraterrestrial solar sail?

* Arthur C. Clarke

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As we ask if we’re alone, we might recall that it was on this date in 1572 that Wolfgang Schüler first noted a supernova in the W-shaped constellation of Cassiopeia.  It was subsequently seen by other observers, including Tycho Brahe, who included an account of the sighting in his De nova stellaConsequently, the supernova– one of eight visible to the naked eye in historical records– is known as “Tycho’s Supernova.”

Tycho_Cas_SN1572

Star map of the constellation Cassiopeia showing the position (labelled I) of the supernova of 1572; from Tycho Brahe’s De nova stella

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Written by LW

November 6, 2018 at 2:01 am

“What is common to many is least taken care of”*…

 

comic2-1755

As an evolutionary biologist who received my PhD in 1975, I grew up with Garrett Hardin’s essay “The Tragedy of the Commons,” published in Science magazine in 1968. His parable of villagers adding too many cows to their common pasture captured the essence of the problem that my thesis research was designed to solve. The farmer who added an extra cow gained an advantage over other farmers in his village but it also led to an overgrazed pasture. The biological world is full of similar examples in which individuals who behave for the good of their groups lose out in the struggle for existence with more self-serving individuals, resulting in overexploited resources and other tragedies of non-cooperation…

Unbeknownst to me, another heretic named Elinor Ostrom was also challenging the received wisdom in her field of political science. Starting with her thesis research on how a group of stakeholders in southern California cobbled together a system for managing their water table, and culminating in her worldwide study of common-pool resource (CPR) groups, the message of her work was that groups are capable of avoiding the tragedy of the commons without requiring top-down regulation, at least if certain conditions are met (Ostrom 1990, 2010). She summarized the conditions in the form of eight core design principles: 1) Clearly defined boundaries; 2) Proportional equivalence between benefits and costs; 3) Collective choice arrangements; 4) Monitoring; 5) Graduated sanctions; 6) Fast and fair conflict resolution; 7) Local autonomy; 8) Appropriate relations with other tiers of rule-making authority (polycentric governance). This work was so groundbreaking that Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009…

David Sloan Wilson on the design principles that can solve the tragedy of the commons: “The Tragedy of the Commons: How Elinor Ostrom Solved One of Life’s Greatest Dilemmas.”

For more on the tragedy of the commons, see here— also the source of the cartoon above.

* Aristotle

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As we share and share alike, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that we– the entire population of the earth– narrowly avoided total obliteration, as the 500,000 ton asteroid/planetoid 69230 Hermes failed to collide with our planet.  It missed by twice the distance of the Moon… but that’s only three seconds.  (In 1989, the earth had an even closer approach, but by the smaller 4581 Asclepius.)

69230 Hermes

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Written by LW

October 30, 2018 at 1:01 am

“There is music in the spacing of the spheres”*…

 

… just one of the collections to be found at NASA’s Soundcloud stream.

Here’s a collection of NASA sounds from historic spaceflights and current missions. You can hear the roar of a space shuttle launch or Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind” every time you get a phone call if you make our sounds your ringtone. Or, you can hear the memorable words “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” every time you make an error on your computer…

Or just listen with wonder…

* Pythagoras

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As we tune our ears, we might send celestial birthday greetings to Fred Lawrence Whipple; he was born on this date in 1906.  An active astronomer at the Harvard College Observatory for over 70 years, Whipple discovered a variety of asteroids and comets, came up with the “dirty snowball” cometary hypothesis, and designed the Whipple shield (which protects spacecraft from impact by small particles by vaporizing them).

You can hear a comet like the ones that Whipple studied here.

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Written by LW

November 5, 2014 at 1:01 am

Like a big pizza pie, that’s amore…

 

As October, National Pizza Month, draws to a close, Flowing Data offers a rigorous examination of pizza chains across the U.S. and the relative proximity of their outlets in different areas.  It’s the handiest of guides– and one to use:  surely Americans can improve on last year’s statistics; surely we can do better than 251,770,000 pounds of pepperoni consumed…

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As we ask for extra crushed red pepper, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 we– the entire population of the earth– narrowly avoided (by twice the distance of the Moon… but that’s only three seconds) obliteration as the 500,000 ton asteroid/planetoid 69230 Hermes failed to collide with our planet. (In 1989, the earth had an even closer approach, but by the smaller 4581 Asclepius.)

69230 Hermes

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Written by LW

October 30, 2013 at 1:01 am

It’s not too early to think about *next year’s* Fathers Day…

From the silly…

The Cabana Islander holds up to 6 people. Impractical in a swimming pool, it’s really only useful in a big body of water, like an ocean, where you might fall asleep and drift out to sea.

The only good thing about this $364 piece of inflatable plastic is that when you do, inevitably, wake up somewhere over the horizon, you’ve got up to five other family members or friends to eat. Just make sure you bring someone weak when you set sail for disaster, since you’ll need to conserve as much energy as possible in the process of overpowering them to eat their body.

…through the sillier…

This computer mouse hides a digital scale inside and has a little compartment to stash a tiny amount of weed. This would be more practical if a desktop computer wasn’t a big square box with a ton of empty space where you could put a full-sized scale and several ounces of weed.

Customers who bought this also bought a plastic bic lighter that you can store an even tinier amount of weed in. Who are all these customers and what are they doing with their tiny pieces of weed?

… to the tasteless…

 “I have a clean!”  Thanks once again, capitalism, for reminding us that one of the greatest Americans in history can be reduced to a joke for a few thousand bucks. We laugh and destroy the few people willing to put their lives at stake to ensure a better future for the next generation. One day the sun will swallow the Earth, and the rest of the universe will breathe a sigh of relief.

…and the downright insulting…

“Unless your the worlds most fuckable man, you need Sure Fuck Cologne!” (sic) says the manufacturer.   They also brag it “drives women into a Hot Sexual Frenzy!”  If that’s true, it must smell an awful lot like having a full-time job.

… it’s all at The Worst Things for Sale.

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As we contemplate commercial creativity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1178 that “The upper horn of the moon split in two … a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out fire, hot coals & sparks”: an asteroid or comet collided with the moon resulting in a violent explosion that created the Giordano Bruno crater.

The upper horn [of the moon] split in two.  From the midpoint of the division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals and sparks. Meanwhile the body of the Moon which was below writhed, as it were in anxiety, and to put it in the words of those who reported it to me and saw it with their own eyes, the Moon throbbed like a wounded snake. Afterwards it resumed its proper state. This phenomenon was repeated a dozen times or more, the flame assuming various twisting shapes at random and then returning to normal. Then, after these transformations, the Moon from horn to horn, that is along its whole length, took on a blackish appearance.
Gervase, Friar and Chronicle at Canterbury, who witnessed the event

NASA photo of the Moon’s Giordano Bruno crater

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Written by LW

June 18, 2013 at 1:01 am

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