Category: Technology

Reflections on the future

Father’s Day ….

….. was OK in the morning but for some reason I was in a dark mood in the afternoon.

(And if you want to skip today’s post I don’t blame you at all. This is not my usual style albeit it is important.)

I was reflecting on the state of the world. Global population was well in excess of seven billion people. The longevity of those people was increasing. That’s good news. The health standards were increasing. That’s also good news.

However, the pressure on farming is intense. More and more land is required. The natural world is under supreme pressure. Extinction rates of many natural species are soaring.

Planet Earth has far too many people!

OK, maybe in time the population level will come down but right now it is too high.

Then in came Tom Engelhardt’s latest essay. I read it and reflected. Is it too dark to post? Then Jeannie said that if you really want to share it then publish it.

Here it is, published with Tom’s kind permission.

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Tomgram: Engelhardt, Trump Change

Posted by Tom Engelhardt at 4:23pm, June 16, 2019.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

If Donald Trump Is the Symptom…
Then What’s the Disease?

By Tom Engelhardt
Don’t try to deny it! The political temperature of this country is rising fast. Call it Trump change or Trump warming, if you want, but grasp one thing: increasingly, you’re in a different land and, whatever happens to Donald Trump, the results down the line are likely to be ever less pretty. Trump change isn’t just an American phenomenon, it’s distinctly global. After all, from Australia to India, the Philippines to Hungary, Donald Trumps and their supporters keep getting elected or reelected and, according to a recent CNN poll, a majority of Americans think Trump himself will win again in 2020 (though, at the moment, battleground-state polls look grim for him).

Still, whether or not he gets a second term in the White House, he only seems like the problem, partially because no president, no politician, no one in history has ever gotten such 24/7 media coverage of every twitch, tweet, bizarre statement, falsehood, or fantasy he expresses (or even the clothes he wears). Think of it this way: we’re in a moment in which the only thing the media can’t imagine saying about Donald Trump is: “You’re fired!” And believe me, that’s just one sign of a media — and a country — with a temperature that’s anything but 98.6.

Since you-know-who is always there, always being discussed, always @(un)realdonaldtrump, it’s easy enough to imagine that everything that’s going wrong — or, if you happen to be part of his famed base, right (even if that right isn’t so damned hot for you) — is due to him. When we’re gripped by such thinking and the temperature’s rising, it hardly matters that just about everything he’s “done” actually preceded him. That includes favoring the 1%, deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants, and making war (unsuccessfully) or threatening to do so across significant parts of the planet.

Here, then, is the question of the day, the sort you’d ask about any patient with a rising temperature: If Donald Trump is only the symptom, what’s the disease?

Blowback Central

Let me say that the late Chalmers Johnson would have understood President Trump perfectly. The Donald clearly arrived on the scene as blowback — the CIA term of tradecraft Johnson first put into our everyday vocabulary — from at least two things: an American imperium gone wrong with its never-ending wars, ever-rising military budgets, and ever-expanding national security state, and a new “gilded age” in which three men (Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett) have more wealth than the bottom half of society and the .01% have one of their own, a billionaire, in the Oval Office. (If you want to add a third blowback factor, try a media turned upside down by new ways of communicating and increasingly desperate to glue eyes to screens as ad revenues, budgets, and staffs shrank and the talking heads of cable news multiplied.)

Now, I don’t mean to sell Donald Trump short in any way. Give that former reality TV star credit. Unlike either Hillary Clinton or any of his Republican opponents in the 2016 election campaign, he sensed that there were voters in profusion in the American heartland who felt that things were not going well and were eager for a candidate just like the one he was ready to become. (There were, of course, other natural audiences for a disruptive, self-promoting billionaire as well, including various millionaires and billionaires ready to support him, the Russians, the Saudis… well, you know the list). His skill, however, never lay in what he could actually do (mainly, in these years, cut taxes for the wealthy, impose tariffs, and tweet his head off). It lay in his ability to catch the blowback mood of that moment in a single slogan — Make America Great Again, or MAGA — that he trademarked in November 2012, only days after Mitt Romney lost his bid for the presidency to Barack Obama.

Yes, four years later in the 2016 election, others began to notice the impact of that slogan. You couldn’t miss the multiplying MAGA hats, after all. Hillary Clinton’s advisers even briefly came up with the lamest response imaginable to it: Make America Whole Again, or MAWA. But what few at the time really noted was the crucial word in that phrase: “again.” Politically speaking, that single blowback word might then have been the most daring in the English language. In 2016, Donald Trump functionally said what no other candidate or politician of any significance in America dared to say: that the United States was no longer the greatest, most indispensable, most exceptionable nation or superpower or hyper-power ever to exist on Planet Earth.

That represented a groundbreaking recognition of reality. At the time, it didn’t matter whether you were Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Marco Rubio, you had to acknowledge some version of that formula of exceptionalism. Trump didn’t and, believe me, that rang a bell in the American heartland, where lots of people had felt, however indirectly, the blowback from all those years of taxpayer-funded fruitless war, while not benefitting from infrastructure building or much of anything else. They experienced blowback from a country in which new billionaires were constantly being created, while the financial distance between CEO salaries and those of workers grew exponentially vaster by the year, and the financing of the political system became a 1% affair.

With that slogan, The Donald caught the spirit of a moment in which both imperial and economic decline, however unacknowledged by the Washington political elite, had indeed begun. In the process, as I wrote at that time, he crossed a psychologically taboo line and became America’s first declinist candidate for president. MAGA captured a feeling already at large that tomorrow would be worse than today, which was already worse than yesterday. As it turned out, it mattered not at all that the billionaire conman spouting that trademarked phrase had long been part of the problem, not the solution.

He caught the essence of the moment, in other words, but certainly didn’t faintly cause it in the years when he financed Trump Tower, watched his five Atlantic City casinos go bankrupt, and hosted The Apprentice. In that election campaign, he captured a previously forbidden reality of the twenty-first century. For example, I was already writing this in June 2016, five months before he was elected president:

“In its halcyon days, Washington could overthrow governments, install Shahs or other rulers, do more or less what it wanted across significant parts of the globe and reap rewards, while (as in the case of Iran) not paying any price, blowback-style, for decades, if at all. That was imperial power in the blaze of the noonday sun. These days, in case you hadn’t noticed, blowback for our imperial actions seems to arrive as if by high-speed rail (of which by the way, the greatest power on the planet has yet to build a single mile, if you want a quick measure of decline).

“Despite having a more massive, technologically advanced, and better funded military than any other power or even group of powers on the planet, in the last decade and a half of constant war across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, the U.S. has won nothing, nada, zilch. Its unending wars have, in fact, led nowhere in a world growing more chaotic by the second.”

Mind you, three years later the United States remains a staggeringly powerful imperial force, with hundreds of military bases still scattered across the globe, while its economic clout — its corporations control about half the planet’s wealth — similarly remains beyond compare. Yet, even in 2016, it shouldn’t have been hard to see that the American Century was indeed ending well before its 100 years were up. It shouldn’t have been hard to grasp, as Donald Trump intuitively did, that this country, however powerful, was already both a declining empire — thank you, George W. Bush for invading Iraq! Mission Accomplished! — and a declining economic system (both of which still looked great indeed, if you happened to be profiting from them). That intuition and that slogan gave Trump his moment in… well, dare I call it “the afternoon sun”? They made him president.

MTPGA

In a sense, all of this should have been expectable enough. Despite the oddity of Donald Trump himself, there was little new in it, even for the imperial power that its enthusiasts once thought stood at “the end of history.” You don’t need to look far, after all, for evidence of the decline of empires. You don’t even have to think back to the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, almost three decades ago in what now seems like the Stone Age. (Admittedly, Russian President Vladimir Putin, a brilliant imagineer, has brought back a facsimile of the old Soviet Union, even if, in reality, Russia is now a rickety, fraying petro-state.)

Just take a glance across the Atlantic at Great Britain at this moment. And imagine that three-quarters of a century ago, that modest-sized island nation still controlled all of India, colonies across the planet, and an impressive military and colonial service. Go back even further and you’ll find yourself in a time when it was the true superpower of planet Earth. What a force it was — industrially, militarily, colonially — until, of course, it wasn’t.

If you happen to be looking for imperial lessons, you could perhaps say that some empires end not with a bang but with a Brexit. Despite all the pomp and circumstance (tweeting and insults) during the visit of the Trump royal family (Donald, Melania, Ivanka, Jared, Donald Jr., Eric, and Tiffany) to the British royals, led by a queen who, at 93, can remember better days, here’s something hard to deny: with Brexit (no matter how it turns out), the Earth’s former superpower has landed in the sub-basement of history. Great Britain? Obviously that adjective has to change.

In the meantime, across the planet, China, another once great imperial power, perhaps the greatest in the long history of this planet, is clearly on the rise again from another kind of sub-basement. That, in turn, is deeply worrying the leadership, civilian and military, of the planet’s “lone superpower.” Its president, in response, is wielding his weapon of choice — tariffs — while the U.S. military prepares for an almost unimaginable future war with that upstart nation, possibly starting in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, the still-dominant power on the planet is, however incrementally, heading down. It’s nowhere near that sub-basement, of course — anything but. It’s still a rich, immensely powerful land. Its unsuccessful wars, however, go on without surcease, the political temperature rises, and democratic institutions continue to fray — all of which began well before Donald Trump entered the Oval Office and, in fact, helped ensure that he would make it there in the first place.

And yet none of this, not even imperial decline itself, quite captures the “disease” of which The Donald is now such an obvious symptom. After all, while the rise and fall of imperial powers has been an essential part of history, the planetary context for that process is now changing in an unprecedented way. And that’s not just because, since the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, growing numbers of countries have come to possess the power to take the planet down in a cataclysm of fire and ice (as in nuclear winter). It’s also because history, as we’ve known it, including the rise and fall of empires, is now, in a sense, melting away.

Trump change, the rising political temperature stirred by the growing populist right, is taking place in the context of (and, worse yet, aiding and abetting) record global temperatures, the melting of ice across the planet, the rise of sea levels and the future drowning of coastlines (and cities), the creation of yet more refugees, the increasing fierceness of fires and droughts, and the intensification of storms. In the midst of it all, an almost unimaginable wave of extinctions is occurring, with a possible million plant and animal species, some crucial to human existence, already on the verge of departure.

Never before in history has the rise and decline of imperial powers taken place in the context of the decline of the planet itself. Try, for instance, to imagine what a “risen” China will look like in an age in which one of its most populous regions, the north China plain, may by century’s end be next to uninhabitable, given the killing heat waves of the future.

In the context of both Trump change and climate change, we’re obviously still awaiting our true transformative president, the one who is not a symptom of decline, but a factor in trying to right this country and the Earth before it’s too late. You know, the one who will take as his or her slogan, MTPGA (Make The Planet Great Again).

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs TomDispatch.com and is a fellow of the Type Media Center. His sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands,Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 Tom Engelhardt

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I’m 74. I don’t know how long I’ve got.

Part of me wants to live for a long time. That’s why I am vegan and trying to stay as fit as I can. (I’m also aware that Jeannie’s Parkinson’s Disease is a terminal disease and that in the latter stages she will need me to look after her.)

But then again I’m not sure I want to live in a world that continues to degrade especially continues to degrade in natural ways.

What’s the answer?

What do others who are on or around my age think about it?

What is the disease?

More on meteorites.

I saw this story very late yesterday.

This was read quickly towards the end of the day, as in yesterday, but I thought it well worthwhile rescheduling my doggie article until Saturday and putting this in for today.

Later on yesterday it was read more thoroughly and it is full of fascinating information such as the weight of meteorites that fall onto Planet Earth each day. I wasn’t aware of that.

Anyway, hope you too find it of interest.

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The tell-tale clue to how meteorites were made, at the birth of the solar system

By

Professor of Astronomy, Wesleyan University

and

Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University

June 6th, 2019.

April 26, 1803 was an unusual day in the small town of L’Aigle in Normandy, France – it rained rocks.

Over 3,000 of them fell out of the sky. Fortunately no one was injured. The French Academy of Sciences investigated and proclaimed, based on many eyewitness stories and the unusual look of the rocks, that they had come from space.

The Earth is pummeled with rocks incessantly as it orbits the Sun, adding around 50 tons to our planet’s mass every day. Meteorites, as these rocks are called, are easy to find in deserts and on the ice plains of Antarctica, where they stick out like a sore thumb. They can even land in backyards, treasures hidden among ordinary terrestrial rocks. Amateurs and professionals collect meteorites, and the more interesting ones make it to museums and laboratories around the world for display and study. They are also bought and sold on eBay.

Despite decades of intense study by thousands of scientists, there is no general consensus on how most meteorites formed. As an astronomer and a geologist, we have recently developed a new theory of what happened during the formation of the solar system to create these valuable relics of our past. Since planets form out of collisions of these first rocks, this is an important part of the history of the Earth.

This meteor crater in Arizona was created 50,000 years ago when an iron meteorite struck the Earth. It is about one mile across. W. Herbst, CC BY-SA

The mysterious chondrules

Drew Barringer (left), owner of Arizona meteor crater, his wife, Clare Schneider, and author William Herbst in the Van Vleck Observatory Library of Wesleyan University, where an iron meteorite from the crater is on display. W. Herbst

About 10% of meteorites are pure iron. These form through a multi-step process in which a large molten asteroid has enough gravity to cause iron to sink to its center. This builds an iron core just like the Earth’s. After this asteroid solidifies, it can be shattered into meteorites by collisions with other objects. Iron meteorites are as old as the solar system itself, proving that large asteroids formed quickly and fully molten ones were once abundant.

The other 90% of meteorites are called “chondrites” because they are full of mysterious, tiny spheres of rock known as “chondrules.” No terrestrial rock has anything like a chondrule inside it. It is clear that chondrules formed in space during a brief period of intense heating when temperatures reached the melting point of rock, around 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, for less than an hour. What could possibly account for that?

A closeup of the Semarkona meteorite showing dozens of chondrules. Kenichi Abe

Researchers have come up with many hypotheses through the last 40 years. But no consensus has been reached on how this brief flash of heating happened.

The chondrule problem is so famously difficult and contentious that when we announced to colleagues a few years ago that we were working on it, their reaction was to smile, shake their heads and offer their condolences. Now that we have proposed a solution we are preparing for a more critical response, which is fine, because that’s the way science advances.

The flyby model

Our idea is quite simple. Radioactive dating of hundreds of chondrules shows that they formed between 1.8 and 4 million years after the beginning of the solar system – some 4.6 billion years ago. During this time, fully molten asteroids, the parent bodies of the iron meteorites, were abundant. Volcanic eruptions on these asteroids released tremendous amounts of heat into the space around them. Any smaller objects passing by during an eruption would experience a short, intense blast of heat.

To test our hypothesis, we split up the challenge. The astronomer, Herbst, crunched the numbers to determine how much heating was necessary and for how long to create chondrules. Then the geologist, Greenwood, used a furnace in our lab at Wesleyan to recreate the predicted conditions and see if we could make our own chondrules.

Laboratory technician Jim Zareski (top) loads a programmable furnace as co-author Jim Greenwood looks on, in his laboratory at Wesleyan University. This is where the synthetic chondrules are made. W. Herbst

The experiments turned out to be quite successful.

We put some fine dust from Earth rocks with compositions resembling space dust into a small capsule, placed it in our furnace and cycled the temperature through the predicted range. Out came a nice-looking synthetic chondrule. Case closed? Not so fast.

Two problems emerged with our model. In the first place, we had ignored the bigger issue of how chondrules came to be part of the whole meteorite. What is their relationship to the stuff between chondrules – called matrix? In addition, our model seemed a bit too chancy to us. Only a small fraction of primitive matter will be heated in the way we proposed. Would it be enough to account for all those chondrule-packed meteorites hitting the Earth?

A comparison of a synthetic chondrule (left) made in the Wesleyan lab with a heating curve from the flyby model, with an actual chondrule (right) from the Semarkona meteorite. The crystal structure is quite similar, as shown in the enlargements (bottom row). J. Greenwood

Making whole meteorites

To address these issues, we extended our initial model to consider flyby heating of a larger object, up to a few miles across. As this material approaches a hot asteroid, parts of it will vaporize like a comet, resulting in an atmosphere rich in oxygen and other volatile elements. This turns out to be just the kind of atmosphere in which chondrules form, based on previous detailed chemical studies.

We also expect the heat and gas pressure to harden the flyby object into a whole meteorite through a process known as hot isostatic pressing, which is used commercially to make metal alloys. As the chondrules melt into little spheres, they will release gas to the matrix, which traps those elements as the meteorite hardens. If chondrules and chondrites form together in this manner, we expect the matrix to be enhanced in exactly the same elements that the chondrules are depleted. This phenomenon, known as complementarity, has, in fact, been observed for decades, and our model provides a plausible explanation for it.

The authors’ model for forming chondrules. A small piece of rock (right) — a few miles across or less — swings close to a large hot asteroid erupting lava at its surface. Infrared radiation from the hot lava briefly raises the temperature on the small piece of rock high enough to form chondrules and harden part of that object into a meteorite. W. Herbst/Icarus

Perhaps the most novel feature of our model is that it links chondrule formation directly to the hardening of meteorites. Since only well-hardened objects from space can make it through the Earth’s atmosphere, we would expect the meteorites in our museums to be full of chondrules, as they are. But hardened meteorites full of chondrules would be the exception, not the rule, in space, since they form by a relatively chancy process – the hot flyby. We should know soon enough if this idea holds water, since it predicts that chondrules will be rare on asteroids. Both Japan and the United States have ongoing missions to nearby asteroids that will return samples over the next few years.

If those asteroids are full of chondrules, like the hardened meteorites that make it to the Earth’s surface, then our model can be discarded and the search for a solution to the famous chondrule problem can go on. If, on the other hand, chondrules are rare on asteroids, then the flyby model will have passed an important test.

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Perfect timing!

Funny what falls from the sky!

Mud ball meteorites!

We took a rafting trip down the Rogue River yesterday (the 4th) and when I have finished transferring the photographs from my iPhone to my computer I will write a post on the journey.

But for today’s post I want to republish an item that appeared also yesterday in EarthSky.

And it does involve dogs!

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Mud ball meteorites rain down in Costa Rica

“Mud ball” meteorites – full of clays, organics and water – are unique among space rocks. And a lot of them fell in April 2019 on a small town in Costa Rica, much to the delight of scientists.

This meteorite from the fall at Aguas Zarcas, Costa Rica, in April hit a doghouse. Luckily, the dog – Rocky – was unharmed. Image via Michael Farmer/ASU.

Meteorite falls on Earth are fairly common, but not all meteorites are the same. Some of them are “mud balls,” rich in clays, organic compounds and water-bearing minerals, called carbonaceous chondrites. They are of great interest to scientists, due to their unique composition, and now a bunch more prime specimens have been found, which rained down after a large fireball was seen over Aguas Zarcas, a small town in Costa Rica, on April 23, 2019.

The fireball was a meteor, or space rock, entering the Earth’s atmosphere that broke apart into hundreds of smaller pieces. When the pieces of this rock hit the ground, their name changed to meteorite. One meteorite fragment weighed about two pounds and smashed through the roof of a house, destroying the owner’s dining table. Another one crashed through the roof of a dog house, narrowly missing a sleeping dog. Close calls!

The doghouse with the hole in its roof from the April 2019 meteorite in Costa Rica. The dog, Rocky, was sleeping in the doghouse at the time; he was unharmed, but probably surprised! Image via Michael Farmer/ASU.

Several of the meteorites were collected and sent to Arizona State University (ASU) for study, donated by meteorite collector Michael Farmer. ASU will also be able to purchase additional meteorites from the fall, thanks to a private donor. This is the first time in 50 years that the university has had a chance to analyze such pristine samples of extraterrestrial mud balls. As Laurence Garvie, a research professor at ASU and a curator for its Center for Meteorite Studies, said:

Many carbonaceous chondrites are mud balls that are between 80 and 95 percent clay. Clays are important because water is an integral part of their structure. These had to be collected quickly and before they got rained on. Because they are mostly clay, as soon as these types of meteorites get wet, they fall apart.

Luckily, the researchers were able to collect their samples before it rained again, and they got a nice little haul, too, about 55 pounds (25 kilograms) of the precious space rocks.

A composite element map from one of the meteorites showing the distribution of different minerals. Orange-yellow colors show tochilinite, deep-blue colors represent olivine, and red colors are pentlandite and pyrrhotite. Image via ASU.

Analysis of the meteorites was carried out at ASU’s campus in Tempe, Arizona. According to Garvie:

I was in the lab by 5 a.m. the next morning after picking up the samples to get them ready for the initial analyses. Classification of new meteorites can be like a race with other institutions, and I needed ASU to be first so that we’ll have the recognition of being the collection that holds and curates the type specimen material.

Air-sensitive meteorites like these are kept in special nitrogen cabinets. The nitrogen gas helps to preserve the meteorites, which can degrade easily due to their composition. As Garvie explained:

If you left this carbonaceous chondrite in the air, it would lose some of its extraterrestrial affinities. These meteorites have to be curated in a way that they can be used for current and future research, and we have that ability here at ASU.

This mud ball meteorite fragment from April’s meteorite fall in Aguas Zarcas, Costa Rica, looks a bit like an arrowhead. Image via ASU.

The classification of these meteorites is part of a broader international classification effort. Garvie is also working with Karen Ziegler from the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico. They studied the oxygen isotopes of the meteorites, to determine how similar they are to other carbonaceous chondrites.

Sandra Pizzarello, an organic chemist from ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences, is also involved in the studies, focusing on the organic content of the meteorites. These kinds of organics could have provided the material needed for life to begin on Earth.

Additional scientific analysis will follow later, but first the meteorites need to be approved, classified and named by The Meteoritical Society‘s nomenclature committee. This group of 12 scientists is responsible for approving all meteorite samples for study.

These new meteorite samples are currently on display at ASU’s Tempe campus in the Center for Meteorite Studies collection.

So, why are mud ball carbonaceous chondrite meteorites so significant?

They are thought to originate from asteroids that are leftovers from early planetesimals, planets that started to form in the early solar system billions of years ago but now no longer exist. Those planets had organic materials and water, making them places where the chemical precursors to life could have started. In the case of the asteroid that these new meteorites originated from, Garvie said:

It formed in an environment free of life, then was preserved in the cold and vacuum of space for 4.56 billion years, and then dropped in Costa Rica last week.

As CMS Director Meenakshi Wadhwa also said:

Carbonaceous chondrites are relatively rare among meteorites but are some of the most sought-after by researchers because they contain the best-preserved clues to the origin of the solar system. This new meteorite represents one of the most scientifically significant additions to our wonderful collection in recent years.

Because these meteorites contain so much mineral-bound water, they could also be useful in learning how water can be extracted from asteroids, a great resource for future astronauts. According to Garvie:

Having this meteorite in our lab gives us the ability, with further analysis, to ultimately develop technologies to extract water from asteroids in space.

Location of Aguas Zarcas in Costa Rica. Image via Google Maps.

The last time a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite fall similar to this one occurred was in 1969 near Murchison, Australia. Those meteorites were curated by another ASU professor and founding director of ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies, Carleton Moore.

The meteorites in Aguas Zarcas have also been found to be similar in composition to asteroid Bennu, now being explored by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Bennu is thought to be a remnant carbonaceous chondrite planetesimal. OSIRIS-REx is carrying ASU’s Phil Christensen-designed Thermal Emissions Spectrometer (OTES) instrument, which is being used to make mineral and temperature maps of the asteroid.

Garvie and other scientists will be studying these mud ball meteorites for years to come, unlocking more secrets as to how our solar system formed and evolved, and how the ingredients of life originated and were spread throughout the solar system, including to Earth.

Bottom line: This new meteorite fall in Costa Rica has provided scientists with a great opportunity to study multiple mud ball meteorites, one of the most unusual kinds of meteorites known to exist, and one that could help answer the question of how life started on Earth.

Via ASU

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I don’t know about you but I found this very interesting indeed. I guess I hadn’t looked at meteorites as different entities, depending on the source, before.

Fascinating!

Must repeat that closing paragraph again: “Garvie and other scientists will be studying these mud ball meteorites for years to come, unlocking more secrets as to how our solar system formed and evolved, and how the ingredients of life originated and were spread throughout the solar system, including to Earth.

Breathing problems in certain dogs

This is of interest to many but especially lovers of bulldogs and similar.

There was an article on May 17th in The Smithsonian that caught my eye. So much so that I wanted to republish it for you.

Here it is.

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Breathing Problems in Pugs and Bulldogs Might Have a Genetic Component

It might not be their smushed-up snouts after all

They’re all good dogs. ( Frank Gaglione / Getty)

By Jason Daley

smithsonian.com
May 17, 2019
Smushed-up faces are what make certain dog breeds, like French and English bulldogs or pugs, so ugly-cute. But those good looks come with a cost. Many dogs in these breeds suffer from a disease called Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). The compact architecture of their skull results in deformation, which make their nostrils or soft palate too small, obstructing airflow and leaving the pups gasping for breath. Researchers long thought that the main cause was their shortened faces. But genes found in another breed suggest that the shortness of breath might be in their DNA, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS Genetics.

Ed Cara at Gizmodo reports that veterinarians began to notice that another small breed of dog, the Norwich terrier, was increasingly coming down with similar respiratory symptoms, a disease called upper airway obstructive syndrome. Unlike flat-faced pugs and bulldogs, however, the Norwich—bred for chasing rodents—has a nice, proportional skull. That got study author Jeffrey Schoenebeck, a veterinary scientist at the University of Edinburgh, wondering if the breathing problems in all the small dogs were genetic.

“That made us wonder if there was something similar shared across these different breeds, or if we were seeing two different diseases that just looked very similar,” he says.

Schoenebeck and his team decided to dig into the terrier’s DNA to find out. The team assessed 401 Norwich terriers for signs of the airway syndrome and also examined their genomes. Cassie Martin at Science News reports the researchers discovered one gene mutation in particular, ADAMTS3, was associated with the breathing disorder. Dogs with two copies of the mutation showed signs of fluid retention and swelling around the lungs. They had worse breathing scores than dogs with just one copy of the mutation or the normal gene.

When the team examined the genome of bulldogs and pugs, they also found that ADAMTS3 was common, meaning their funky faces might not be the only cause of BOAS.

“BOAS is a complex disease. Although skull shape remains an important risk factor, our study suggests that the status of ADAMTS3 should be considered as well,” Schoenebeck says in a press release. “More studies are needed to dissect the complex nature of this devastating disease.”

Cara reports that Norwich terrier breeders are already inadvertently combating the mutation. In Switzerland, Schoenebeck’s team has been working with breeders to give dogs breathing tests, identifying pups likely to develop the disease. As a result, the younger generation of terriers is less like to develop the disease than older dogs.

“In the 90s, something like 80 percent of the Norwich terriers that came into their clinic had poor breathing and this mutation,” Schoenebeck tells Cara. “But it’s decreasing further and further over time. They didn’t know it at the time, but they were actually selecting against this thing that we think is causing this disease.”

The genetic finding means that researchers can now screen directly for the mutation, and perhaps rid the terrier population of the disease.

The problem in flat-faced breeds may not be quite as simple to deal with. Wonky skull shape still makes the risk of developing BOAS higher, and the gene mutation adds to that risk. The team needs to do a similar study with bulldogs to figure out how much of their breathing problems come from their genes and how much comes from their cute little smushed-up skulls.

Smushed-up faces are what make certain dog breeds, like French and English bulldogs and pugs, so ugly-cute. But those good looks come with a cost. Many dogs in these breeds suffer from a disease called Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). The compact architecture of their skull results in deformation, that make the nostrils or soft palate too small, obstructing airflow and leaving the pups gasping for breath. Researcher long thought that the main cause was their shortened faces. But genes found in another breed suggest that the shortness of breath might be in their DNA.

Ed Cara at Gizmodo reports that veterinarians began to notice that another small breed of dog, the Norwich Terrier, was increasingly coming down with similar respiratory symptoms, a disease called Upper Airway Syndrome. Unlike flat-faced pugs and bulldogs, however, the Norwich, bred for chasing rodents, has a nice, proportional skull. That got Jeffrey Schoenebeck of the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburghand and lead author of the study in the journal PLOS Genetics wondering if the breathing problems in all the small dogs were genetic.

“That made us wonder if there was something similar shared across these different breeds, or if we were seeing two different diseases that just looked very similar,” he says.

Schoenebeck and his team decided to dig into the terrier’s DNA to find out. The team assessed 401 Norwich Terriers for signs of the airway syndrome and also examined their genomes. Cassie Martin at Science News reports the researchers discovered one gene mutation in particular, ADAMTS3, was associated with the breathing disorder. Dogs with two copies of the mutation showed signs of fluid retention and swelling around the lungs. They had worse breathing scores than dogs with just one copy of the mutation or the normal gene.

When the team examined the genome of bulldogs and pugs, they also found that ADAMTS3 was common, meaning their funky faces might not be the only cause of BOAS.

“BOAS is a complex disease. Although skull shape remains an important risk factor, our study suggests that the status of ADAMTS3 should be considered as well,” study leader Jeffrey Schoenebeck says in a press release. “More studies are needed to dissect the complex nature of this devastating disease.”

Cara reports that Norwich Terrier breeders are already inadvertently combating the mutation. In Switzerland, Schoenebeck’s co-authors have been working with breeders to give dogs breathing tests, identifying doggos likely to develop the disease. As a result, the younger generation of terriers is less like to develop the disease than older dogs.

“In the 90s, something like 80 percent of the Norwich Terriers that came into their clinic had poor breathing and this mutation,” Schoenebeck tells Cara. “But it’s decreasing further and further over time. They didn’t know it at the time, but they were actually selecting against this thing that we think is causing this disease.”

The genetic finding means that researchers can now screen directly for the mutation, and perhaps rid the terrier population of the disease.

The problem in flat-faced breeds may not be quite as simple to deal with. Wonky skull shape still makes the risk of developing BOAS higher, and the gene mutation adds to that risk. The team needs to do a similar study with bulldogs to figure out how much of their breathing problems come from their genes and how much comes from their cute little smushed-up skulls.

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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How great it would be if the problem facing these flat-faced breeds was slowly done away with.

G3PUK!

The story of me gaining my radio amateur licence.

As I spoke about yesterday in my introduction, when my mother remarried my sister and I had a new man about the house, so to speak. He was Richard Mills.

I was 13 or thereabouts and already struggling with my school work (the result of my father’s sudden death). And ‘Dad’ as we called him was finding his feet in the strange world of going from having no children to instantly having two step children!

Anyway, Dad found a theme with me that I enjoyed: building a shortwave radio receiver. It was full of learning for me and over the years I became hooked on listening to radio stations both near and far transmitting in morse code. I also joined the Harrow Radio Society and went across to their weekly meetings by tube and bus. (Despite the Society no longer being at the Harrow address it is amazing that they are still going strong.)

It was also a time when there was a great deal of ‘radio surplus’ equipment going for next to nothing and I ‘upgraded’ to an R-1152 receiver.

War surplus R-1152 receiver.

In time I became sufficiently old to take driving lessons and pass my driving licence. I then got a secondhand car. It helped because then I could drive up to Bushey and spend Sunday mornings at the house of Ron Ray. Ron was a keen amateur. On Sunday mornings Ron had a small group of people who wanted to pass the morse code test and apply for a licence.

I was already a member of the RSGB, the Radio Society of Great Britain, and that surely encouraged me further to study for my amateur licence.

In time, I sat the exam and much to my amazement passed!

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So that is the story of me and amateur radio.

Well, almost the full story.

In 1963 I volunteered for the Royal Naval Reserve, London Division. In time I was accepted and chose the join the radio branch, my G3PUK status coming in useful, because I reckoned that when we went to sea, on flat-bottomed minesweepers, it was better to be sick into a bucket between the knees than be sick on deck!

So there you are – G3PUK!

The Morse Code is 175 years old!

Two days of nostalgia follow! (You have been warned!)

As many of you already know, my father died fairly suddenly on December 20th, 1956. I had turned 12 some six weeks previously.

After about a year my mother remarried. His name was Richard Mills. Richard came to live at the house in Toley Avenue and had the unenviable task of taking on a new ‘son’ and ‘daughter’. (My sister, Elizabeth, some four years younger than I.)

Richard was a technical author in the newly-arrived electronics industry and one day he asked me if I would like to build a short-wave receiver. He coached me in the strange art of soldering wires and radio valves and other components and in the end I had a working receiver. That led, in turn, to me studying for an amateur radio licence. More of that tomorrow.

But the point of the introduction is to relay that The Morse Code is 175 years old on the 24th May.

Read more:

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Simply elegant, Morse code marks 175 years and counting

The elegantly simple code works whether flashing a spotlight or blinking your eyes—or even tapping on a smartphone touchscreen

There’s still plenty of reason to know how to use this Morse telegraph key. (Jason Salmon/Shutterstock.com)

By
Ph.D. Student in Electrical Engineering, University of South Carolina

May 21st, 2019

The first message sent by Morse code’s dots and dashes across a long distance traveled from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore on Friday, May 24, 1844 – 175 years ago. It signaled the first time in human history that complex thoughts could be communicated at long distances almost instantaneously. Until then, people had to have face-to-face conversations; send coded messages through drums, smoke signals and semaphore systems; or read printed words.

Thanks to Samuel F.B. Morse, communication changed rapidly, and has been changing ever faster since. He invented the electric telegraph in 1832. It took six more years for him to standardize a code for communicating over telegraph wires. In 1843, Congress gave him US$30,000 to string wires between the nation’s capital and nearby Baltimore. When the line was completed, he conducted a public demonstration of long-distance communication.

Morse wasn’t the only one working to develop a means of communicating over the telegraph, but his is the one that has survived. The wires, magnets and keys used in the initial demonstration have given way to smartphones’ on-screen keyboards, but Morse code has remained fundamentally the same, and is still – perhaps surprisingly – relevant in the 21st century. Although I have learned, and relearned, it many times as a Boy Scout, an amateur radio operator and a pilot, I continue to admire it and strive to master it.

Samuel F.B. Morse’s own handwritten record of the first Morse code message ever sent, on May 24, 1844. Library of Congress

Easy sending

Morse’s key insight in constructing the code was considering how frequently each letter is used in English. The most commonly used letters have shorter symbols: “E,” which appears most often, is signified by a single “dot.” By contrast, “Z,” the least used letter in English, was signified by the much longer and more complex “dot-dot-dot (pause) dot.”

In 1865, the International Telecommunications Union changed the code to account for different character frequencies in other languages. There have been other tweaks since, but “E” is still “dot,” though “Z” is now “dash-dash-dot-dot.”

The reference to letter frequency makes for extremely efficient communications: Simple words with common letters can be transmitted very quickly. Longer words can still be sent, but they take more time.

Going wireless

The communications system that Morse code was designed for – analogue connections over metal wires that carried a lot of interference and needed a clear on-off type signal to be heard – has evolved significantly.

The first big change came just a few decades after Morse’s demonstration. In the late 19th century, Guglielmo Marconi invented radio-telegraph equipment, which could send Morse code over radio waves, rather than wires.

The shipping industry loved this new way to communicate with ships at sea, either from ship to ship or to shore-based stations. By 1910, U.S. law required many passenger ships in U.S. waters to carry wireless sets for sending and receiving messages.

After the Titanic sank in 1912, an international agreement required some ships to assign a person to listen for radio distress signals at all times. That same agreement designated “SOS” – “dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot” – as the international distress signal, not as an abbreviation for anything but because it was a simple pattern that was easy to remember and transmit. The Coast Guard discontinued monitoring in 1995. The requirement that ships monitor for distress signals was removed in 1999, though the U.S. Navy still teaches at least some sailors to read, send and receive Morse code.

The arrow points at the chart label indicating the Morse code equivalent to the ‘BAL’ signal for a radio beacon near Baltimore. Edited screenshot of an FAA map, CC BY-ND

Aviators also use Morse code to identify automated navigational aids. These are radio beacons that help pilots follow routes, traveling from one transmitter to the next on aeronautical charts. They transmit their identifiers – such as “BAL” for Baltimore – in Morse code. Pilots often learn to recognize familiar-sounding patterns of beacons in areas they fly frequently.

There is a thriving community of amateur radio operators who treasure Morse code, too. Among amateur radio operators, Morse code is a cherished tradition tracing back to the earliest days of radio. Some of them may have begun in the Boy Scouts, which has made learning Morse variably optional or required over the years. The Federal Communications Commission used to require all licensed amateur radio operators to demonstrate proficiency in Morse code, but that ended in 2007. The FCC does still issue commercial licenses that require Morse proficiency, but no jobs require it anymore.

Blinking Morse

Because its signals are so simple – on or off, long or short – Morse code can also be used by flashing lights. Many navies around the world use blinker lights to communicate from ship to ship when they don’t want to use radios or when radio equipment breaks down. The U.S. Navy is actually testing a system that would let a user type words and convert it to blinker light. A receiver would read the flashes and convert it back to text.

Skills learned in the military helped an injured man communicate with his wife across a rocky beach using only his flashlight in 2017.

Other Morse messages

Perhaps the most notable modern use of Morse code was by Navy pilot Jeremiah Denton, while he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. In 1966, about one year into a nearly eight-year imprisonment, Denton was forced by his North Vietnamese captors to participate in a video interview about his treatment. While the camera focused on his face, he blinked the Morse code symbols for “torture,” confirming for the first time U.S. fears about the treatment of service members held captive in North Vietnam.

Navy pilot Jeremiah Denton, a prisoner of war, blinks Morse code spelling out ‘torture’ during a forced interview with his captors.

Blinking Morse code is slow, but has also helped people with medical conditions that prevent them from speaking or communicating in other ways. A number of devices – including iPhones and Android smartphones – can be set up to accept Morse code input from people with limited motor skills.

There are still many ways people can learn Morse code, and practice using it, even online. In emergency situations, it can be the only mode of communications that will get through. Beyond that, there is an art to Morse code, a rhythmic, musical fluidity to the sound. Sending and receiving it can have a soothing or meditative feeling, too, as the person focuses on the flow of individual characters, words and sentences. Overall, sometimes the simplest tool is all that’s needed to accomplish the task.

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I do hope you read this article in full because it contains much interesting information. Many people will not have a clue about The Morse Code and, as you can see above, it is still relevant.

Finally, I can still remember the The Morse Code after all these years!

It’s time to change our habits.

Funny how things evolve!

A week ago I was casually reading a copy of our local newspaper, the Grants Pass Daily Courier, and inside was a piece by Kathleen Parker, a syndicated columnist, entitled It’s the end of everything – or not.

I found it particularly interesting especially a quotation in her piece by Robert Watson, a British chemist who served as the chair of the panel of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The IPBES had recently published the results of the three-year study by 145 authors from 50 countries.

So I wrote to Kathleen Parker asking if I might have permission to quote that excerpt and, in turn, received her permission to so do.

Here it is:

Robert Watson wrote in a statement that:

“the health of ecosystems on which we and all species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundation of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

But, Watson also said, it’s not too late to repair and sustain nature – if we act now in transformative ways.

It is time to change our habits both at an individual level and the level of countries working together.

Moreover we haven’t got decades. We have got to do it now!

How much time do we have left?

A post from Patrice Ayme.

I have subscribed to Patrice Ayme for some time now. I don’t know who he is because he writes under a pseudonym, or a nom-de-plume. (And, indeed, I may have the gender incorrect but I’m pretty sure it’s a male.)

Patrice writes frequently and doesn’t mince his words.

But then he writes about really serious matters and often has criticism for the ‘ruling classes’.

Such as he has in the post that was published on the 6th May. I left a comment:

It’s extremely worrying and not something that can be put off. The clock is at 5 minutes to midnight. In Britain Extreme Resistance are pursuing a campaign that may just produce a political outcome. And, indeed, the English Government have come up with goals to combat climate change.

So keep banging your drum, Patrice, and hope that urgent action across the world isn’t too far away.

To which Patrice replied:

Dear Paul:
thanks! Here I am fighting with my daughter’s school, which has decided to install artificial, plastic grass. It’s horrendous for the environment, and it endangers the lives of children (in many ways, including a disease called “SUBEROSIS” caused by organic cork.) Here real ecologist take it hard, and have started to burn artificial plastic flame retardant fields: 13,000 were recently installed in the USA, a proof of mass corruption…
Feel free to use my essay on your site, BTW, of course…
And thanks again…
P

Now I hadn’t heard of Suberosis before, but no problem, a quick web search brought up Wikipedia and this:

Suberosis is a type of hypersensitivity pneumonitis usually caused by the fungus Penicillium glabrum (formerly called Penicillum frequentans) from exposure to moldy cork dust.[1][2] Chrysonilia sitophilia, Aspergillus fumigatus, uncontaminated cork dust, and Mucor macedo may also have significant roles in the pathogenesis of the disease.[1]

Cause

Cork is often harvested from the cork oak (Quercus suber) and stored in slabs in a hot and humid environment until covered in mold.[1] Cork workers may be exposed to organic dusts in this process, leading to this disease.[1]

I don’t fully understand how the laying of artificial grass leads to possible Suberosis.

But I have decided to republish even though it has nothing to do with dogs! (Well, not directly.)

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Nature Collapsing, Plutocracy Thriving

Both phenomena are related. The more nature collapses, the more plutocracy thrives (see the multi-centennial fall of Rome, for reference). Small people and other losers have no interest to see nature collapse. However, plutocracy does. Because Pluto-Kratia, Evil-Power, is best expressed and justified during war-like states, and civilizational collapse sure qualifies.

Plutocracy survived the collapse of the Roman and Carolingian empires with flying colors. In the Roman case, most noble families had a bishop in their midst. The collapse of the Renovated Empire of the Romans (Renovatio Imperii Romanorum) and its renewal by the Ottos and Capets brought the feudal order, another plutocratic success.

Now is no different: we have a terminal CO2 crisis bringing in extreme, sudden temperature, acidification and ocean rises: 1% of US CO2 is from state subsidized private jets. Nobody notices, because media have made sure to create entire generations just preoccupied by celebrities, not by what is going on, which is really most significant.

Nor has the media been keen to notice the likes of Biden annihilated the Banking Act of 1933, in the 1990s, bringing in the age of the financial plutocracy… itself a heavy financier of fossil fuels. So all what some schools are thinking of is installing “Apps”, and plastic grass, instead of teaching sustainable global citizenship. We are cruising towards an apocalypse, at an increasing pace: the Sixth Mass Extinction. The United Nations just came up (May 6, 2019) with an analysis made by 132 countries and 455 scientists: one million species are disappearing. For example, nearly all amphibians.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/06/world/one-million-species-threatened-extinction-humans-scn-intl/index.html

One problem with burning forests in the tropics is that what is left are often extremely poor soils (differently from northern European soils, which are very forgiving, explaining in great part why north west Europe replaced the Greco-Roman world…) Cattle grazing on a tract of illegally cleared Amazon forest in Pará State, Brazil. In most major land habitats, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century,,, [Credit Lalo de Almeida for The New York Times]

In Africa, burned forest is often replaced by lateritis, a soil which is red, baked, hard… for the good reason that it is full of Aluminum.

It is the Sixth Mass Extinction, but this time the dinosaurs have thermonuclear weapons.

What to do? Get involved, get aware, protest. Protests can become unbearable to the powers that be.

This is the way the fascist government of Brunei on the island of Borneo was just dealt with. It drew powerful international condemnation when it rolled out its interpretation of sharia laws on April 3. Now, the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, reverted his decision: after all, the country won’t enforce Islamic laws that include stoning to death for rape, adultery and gay sex.

Killing all the people who got killed in World War Two was atrocious. However, what is now unfolding has the potential to be way way worse. Einstein said he didn’t know which weapons will be used to fight World War Three, but next it would be sticks and stones. That was naively optimistic. If we acidify further the ocean with acid from CO2, we may kill the Earth’s oxygen making mechanism. Not really news, as this was clear five years ago already:

https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/global-hypoxia/ 

Many behave as if there will be no tomorrow, because they feel that way! It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, it has to be resisted.

What’s needed, beyond recording what’s going on, is interpreting it, going beyond, building ideas, and moods meant to last. Only deeper thinking can do this, and ensure a planet capable of lasting. Because we are not at the regional level anymore. When climate change, plus nefarious human impact, forced the Harappan civilization to abandon its homeland, the Indus valley, it was dealing with forces it had no idea existed. Maybe there are such forces out there. But there are also plenty of forces we can see, and which are plenty lethal enough, at civilizational scale, and the scale of the entire biosphere. Stop. And think. One million species are marching towards extinction, among the plants and animals we know.

Patrice Ayme

***

***

From NYT:

WASHINGTON — Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday [May 6, 2019] in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline, the assessment found, by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in. When combined with the other ways humans are damaging the environment, climate change is now pushing a growing number of species, such as the Bengal tiger, closer to extinction.

As a result, biodiversity loss is projected to accelerate through 2050, particularly in the tropics, unless countries drastically step up their conservation efforts.

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I’m in the autumn of my life and may not live to see the consequences of what we are doing to Nature and to the Planet.

Then again, if some of the predictions bear true, I won’t have to live an awful lot longer to experience real change.

It’s time for a complete re-analysis of our relationship with the natural world.

We go back a very long time

The ancient history of man and dog!

And when I say ‘man’ I am of course referring to the species.

For a couple of weeks ago Meilan Solly of The Smithsonian wrote about the relationship 4,500 years ago of man and dog.

In Neolithic times there was an important relationship, as there is today. Maybe our dogs have become more of the ‘pet’ rather than the working dog that they are assumed to be then.

But here’s the article.

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Thanks to Facial Reconstruction, You Can Now Look Into the Eyes of a Neolithic Dog

The collie-sized canine was buried in a cavernous tomb on Scotland’s Orkney Islands around 2,500 B.C.

Experts believe the Neolithic dog is the first canine to undergo forensic facial reconstruction (Santiago Arribas/Historic Environment Scotland)
By Meilan Solly
SMITHSONIAN.COM, 

Some 4,500 years ago, a collie-sized dog with pointed ears and a long snout comparable to that of the European grey wolf roamed Scotland’s Orkney Islands. A valued member of the local Neolithic community, the canine was eventually buried alongside 23 other dogs and at least eight humans in a cavernous tomb known as the Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn.

Now, 118 years after archaeologists first chanced upon its resting place, the prized pup’s image is being reimagined. As Esther Addley reports for the Guardian, experts believe the dog is the first canine to undergo forensic facial reconstruction. Its likeness, commissioned by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and the National Museum of Scotland, is set to go on view in Orkney later this year.

“Just as they’re treasured pets today, dogs clearly had an important place in Neolithic Orkney, as they were kept and trained as pets and guards and perhaps used by farmers to help tend sheep,” Steve Farrar, interpretation manager at HES, explains in a statement. “But the remains discovered at Cuween Hill suggest that dogs had a particularly special significance for the farmers who lived around and used the tomb about 4,500 years ago.”

It’s possible, Farrar adds, that the Neolithic group viewed dogs as their “symbol or totem,” perhaps even dubbing themselves the “dog people.”

Cuween Hill dates to around 3,000 B.C., Sky News reports, but radiocarbon dating places the dog’s actual interment some 500 years later. It remains unclear why the animal was buried so many centuries after the tomb’s creation, but archaeologists posit the timing may point toward the ceremony’s ritual value within the community. As HES observes, the fact that the Orkney residents placed canine remains alongside those of humans could also speak to their belief in an afterlife for both parties.

According to the Scotsman, forensic artist Amy Thornton drew on a CT scan to create a 3-D print of the animal’s skull. After layering clay approximations of muscle, skin and hair onto this base, she cast the model in silicone and added a fur coat designed to mimic that of the European grey wolf. Interestingly, Thornton notes, the process played out much as it would for a human facial reconstruction, although “there is much less existing data” detailing average tissue depth in canine versus human skulls.

The model is the latest in a series of technologically focused initiatives centered on Orkney’s Neolithic residents. Last year, HES published 3-D digital renderings of the chambered cairn on Sketchfab, enabling users to explore the tomb’s four side cells, tall central chamber and entrance passage. First discovered in 1888 but only fully excavated in 1901, the impressive stone structure held 24 canine skulls and the remains of at least eight humans.

In an interview with the Guardian’s Addley, Farrar explains that the reconstruction aims “to bring us closer to who [the dog’s owners] were and perhaps give a little hint of what they believed.”

“When you look at a Neolithic dog, it somehow communicates human relationships,” Farrar concludes. “… I can empathise with the people whose ingenuity made Orkney such an enormously important place. When this dog was around, north-west Europe looked to Orkney.”

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“When you look at a Neolithic dog, it somehow communicates human relationships,” Farrar concludes.

That’s a powerful statement.

Now if one goes across to the website for Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn one reads this:

History

An ancient site for burials

Built between 3000 and 2400 BC, this is an excellent example of a Neolithic chambered tomb. It has four cells opening off a central chamber, which is accessed down a passage. Entrance into the tomb today is through the original passage.

Secondary burials at the Cuween Hill could reflect a continued reverence for the site. A recently discovered settlement nearby is probably contemporary with the cairn, and would likely have been connected.

Tomb of the dogs

Exploration at the tomb in 1901 found:

  • Remains of at least eight humans – five skulls on the floor of the chamber, one at the entrance and two in side cells
  • The skulls of 24 dogs on the chamber floor

The dog remains suggest the local tribe or family perhaps had a dog as their symbol or totem, or there may have been a belief in an afterlife for animals.

The tomb is completely unlit, which serves to both add to the atmosphere and discourage vandalism and graffiti. It also means the tomb is largely free of green algal growth.

The stonework at Cuween Hill is of particularly high quality. The roof of one of the cells is likely to be original, elsewhere the walls and corbelled roofs have survived to a considerable height.

As I said, we go back a very long time!

It stretches the mind beyond imagination!

The most incredible story of all!

I first read the story early yesterday morning in The Guardian Newspaper.

But then I saw another version of the same story on the BBC News site, from which I republish it in its entirety.

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First ever black hole image released

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

The first ever picture of a black hole: It’s surrounded by a halo of bright gas.

Astronomers have taken the first ever image of a black hole, which is located in a distant galaxy.

It measures 40 billion km across – three million times the size of the Earth – and has been described by scientists as “a monster”.

The black hole is 500 million trillion km away and was photographed by a network of eight telescopes across the world.

Details have been published today in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Prof Heino Falcke, of Radboud University in the Netherlands, who proposed the experiment, told BBC News that the black hole was found in a galaxy called M87.

“What we see is larger than the size of our entire Solar System,” he said.

“It has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun. And it is one of the heaviest black holes that we think exists. It is an absolute monster, the heavyweight champion of black holes in the Universe.”

The image shows an intensely bright “ring of fire”, as Prof Falcke describes it, surrounding a perfectly circular dark hole. The bright halo is caused by superheated gas falling into the hole. The light is brighter than all the billions of other stars in the galaxy combined – which is why it can be seen at such distance from Earth.

The edge of the dark circle at the centre is the point at which the gas enters the black hole, which is an object that has such a large gravitational pull, not even light can escape.

Taking the temperature of black holes

Hawking: Black holes store information

Dozen black holes at galactic centre

DR JEAN LORRE/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY I have suspected that the M87 galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its heart from false colour images such as this one. The dark centre is not a black hole but indicates that stars are densely packed and fast moving.

The image matches what theoretical physicists and indeed, Hollywood directors, imagined black holes would look like, according to Dr Ziri Younsi, of University College London – who is part of the collaboration.

“Although they are relatively simple objects, black holes raise some of the most complex questions about the nature of space and time, and ultimately of our existence,” he said.

“It is remarkable that the image we observe is so similar to that which we obtain from our theoretical calculations. So far, it looks like Einstein is correct once again.”

But having the first image will enable researchers to learn more about these mysterious objects. They will be keen to look out for ways in which the black hole departs from what’s expected in physics. No-one really knows how the bright ring around the hole is created. Even more intriguing is the question of what happens when an object falls into a black hole.

What is a black hole?

  • A black hole is a region of space from which nothing, not even light, can escape
  • Despite the name, they are not empty but instead consist of a huge amount of matter packed densely into a small area, giving it an immense gravitational pull
  • There is a region of space beyond the black hole called the event horizon. This is a “point of no return”, beyond which it is impossible to escape the gravitational effects of the black hole
Presentational white space

Prof Falcke had the idea for the project when he was a PhD student in 1993. At the time, no-one thought it was possible. But he was the first to realise that a certain type of radio emission would be generated close to and all around the black hole, which would be powerful enough to be detected by telescopes on Earth.

He also recalled reading a scientific paper from 1973 that suggested that because of their enormous gravity, black holes appear 2.5 times larger than they actually are.

These two previously unknown factors suddenly made the seemingly impossible, possible. After arguing his case for 20 years, Prof Falcke persuaded the European Research Council to fund the project. The National Science Foundation and agencies in East Asia then joined in to bankroll the project to the tune of more than £40m.

The eventual EHT array will have 12 widely spaced participating radio facilities

It is an investment that has been vindicated with the publication of the image. Prof Falcke told me that he felt that “it’s mission accomplished”.

He said: “It has been a long journey, but this is what I wanted to see with my own eyes. I wanted to know is this real?”

No single telescope is powerful enough to image the black hole. So, in the biggest experiment of its kind, Prof Sheperd Doeleman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, led a project to set up a network of eight linked telescopes. Together, they form the Event Horizon Telescope and can be thought of as a planet-sized array of dishes.

KATIE BOUMAN Information gathered is too much to be sent across the internet. Instead the data was stored on hundreds of hard drives which were flown to a central processing centre.
JASON GALLICCHIO

Each is located high up at a variety of exotic sites, including on volcanoes in Hawaii and Mexico, mountains in Arizona and the Spanish Sierra Nevada, in the Atacama Desert of Chile, and in Antarctica.

A team of 200 scientists pointed the networked telescopes towards M87 and scanned its heart over a period of 10 days.

The information they gathered was too much to be sent across the internet. Instead, the data was stored on hundreds of hard drives that were flown to a central processing centres in Boston, US, and Bonn, Germany, to assemble the information. Prof Doeleman described the achievement as “an extraordinary scientific feat”.

“We have achieved something presumed to be impossible just a generation ago,” he said.

“Breakthroughs in technology, connections between the world’s best radio observatories, and innovative algorithms all came together to open an entirely new window on black holes.”

The team is also imaging the supermassive black hole at the centre of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

Odd though it may sound, that is harder than getting an image from a distant galaxy 55 million light-years away. This is because, for some unknown reason, the “ring of fire” around the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way is smaller and dimmer.

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ooOOoo

One of the most remarkable things about this story is that it continues to validate the theories of Albert Einstein (1879-1955). That is doubly impressive.

The film, How to see a Black Hole: The Universe’s Greatest Mystery,    is a most interesting account of the skills that were utilised by the team, and the luck of that same group in pulling it all together.

This is clearly the start of a new journey in astronomy.

I will leave you by repeating the image of the black hole.

The first ever picture of a black hole: It’s surrounded by a halo of bright gas.