This artist's impression shows the outermost planet
of the solar system, Neptune, and its small moon Hippocamp.
Hippocamp was discovered in images taken with the
NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. CREDIT
ESA/Hubble, NASA, L. Calçad
Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
A Chip Off the Old Moon -Astronomers using the NASA/ESA
Hubble Space Telescope, along with older data from the Voyager
2 probe, have revealed more about the origin of Neptune's
smallest moon. The moon, which was discovered in 2013 and
has now received the official name Hippocamp, is believed
to be a fragment of its larger neighbour Proteus. A team
of astronomers, led by Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute,
have used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to study the
origin of the smallest known moon orbiting the planet Neptune,
discovered in 2013. "The first thing we realised was that
you wouldn't expect to find such a tiny moon right next
to Neptune's biggest inner moon," said Mark Showalter. The
tiny moon, with an estimated diameter of only about 34 km,
was named Hippocamp and is likely to be a fragment from
Proteus, Neptune's second-largest moon and the outermost
of the inner moons. Hippocamp, formerly known as S/2004
N 1, is named after the sea creatures of the same name from
Greek and Roman mythology . The orbits of Proteus and its
tiny neighbour are incredibly close, at only 12 000 km apart.
Ordinarily, if two satellites of such different sizes coexisted
in such close proximity, either the larger would have kicked
the smaller out of orbit or the smaller would crash into
the larger one. Instead, it appears that billions of years
ago a comet collision chipped off a chunk of Proteus. Images
from the Voyager 2 probe from 1989 show a large impact crater
on Proteus, almost large enough to have shattered the moon.
"In 1989, we thought the crater was the end of the story,"
said Showalter. "With Hubble, now we know that a little
piece of Proteus got left behind and we see it today as
Volcanoes Kill The Dinosaurs? New Evidence Points To 'Maybe.'
- Princeton geoscientists Blair Schoene and Gerta Keller
led an international team of researchers who have assembled
the first high-resolution timeline for the massive eruptions
in India's Deccan Traps, determining that the largest eruption
pulse occurred less than 100,000 years before the mass extinction
that killed the (non-avian) dinosaurs. Fact: About 66 million
years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period, 75 percent
of plant and animal species went extinct, including the
dinosaurs (except those that evolved into birds). Fact:
About 66 million years ago, an enormous asteroid or comet
hit the Earth near what is now Chicxulub, Mexico, throwing
rock, dust and water vapor into the atmosphere. Fact: About
66 million years ago, a massive volcano erupted lavas in
India that are now called the Deccan Traps, burying much
of the subcontinent under more than 11,000 feet of basalt
(lava rock) and pouring poisonous gases into the atmosphere.
Princeton geoscientists Blair Schoene and Gerta Keller led
an international team of researchers who have assembled
the first high-resolution timeline for the eruptions in
India's Deccan Traps. Their research appears in the Feb.
22 issue of the journal Science. "Everyone has heard
that the dinosaurs died from an asteroid hitting the Earth,"
said Schoene, an associate professor of geosciences. "What
many people don't realize is that there have been many other
mass extinctions in the last 500 million years, and many
of them coincide with large volcanic outpourings" from the
massive volcanoes known as flood basalts or large igneous
provinces. Keller, a professor of geosciences, has argued
for decades that the eruption of the Deccan Traps caused
the dinosaur mass extinction.
Reveals America's First Social Media Networks - Long
before Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and even MySpace, early
Mississippian Mound cultures in America's southern Appalachian
Mountains shared artistic trends and technologies across
regional networks that functioned in similar ways as modern
social media, suggests new research from Washington University
in St. Louis. "Just as we have our own networks of 'friends'
and 'followers' on platforms like Facebook and Twitter,
societies that existed in North America between 1,200 and
350 years ago had their own information sharing networks,"
said Jacob Lulewicz, lecturer of archaeology in the Department
of Anthropology in Arts & Sciences. "Our study found a way
to reconstruct these indigenous communication networks,"
he said. "Our analysis shows how these networks laid the
groundwork for Native American political systems that began
developing as far back as 600 A.D." Embargoed for release
Feb. 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
the study utilizes sophisticated social network analysis
to map social and political connections that helped unite
friends and families in dozens of Native American villages
well before the arrival of European explorers. The findings
are based on a messaging archive that is preserved not in
bytes, but in bits of pottery sherds -- fragments -- unearthed
over many years in archaeology digs at dozens of Mississippian
culture sites scattered across southern Appalachia. Focusing
on subtle evolving changes in the technologies used to temper
and strengthen pottery and the cultural symbols used to
decorate them, the study provides a detailed chronological
map of how new pottery techniques signified connections
between these communities. The ceramics database includes
276,626 sherds from 43 sites across eastern Tennessee, and
88,705 sherds from 41 sites across northern Georgia. The
collection represents pottery created between 800 and 1650
A.D., a period that saw the gradual emergence and later
decline of powerful chiefdoms that controlled wide networks
of villages in the region.
Biologic Age Linked To Elevated Breast Cancer Risk - Biologic
age, a DNA-based estimate of a person's age, is associated
with future development of breast cancer, according to scientists
at the National Institutes of Health. Biologic age was determined
by measuring DNA methylation, a chemical modification to
DNA that is part of the normal aging process. The study
showed for every five years a woman's biologic age was older
than her chronologic or actual age, known as age acceleration,
she had a 15 percent increase in her chance of developing
breast cancer. The study was published online Feb. 22 in
the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Scientists
from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
(NIEHS), part of NIH, speculate that biologic age may be
tied to environmental exposures. If so, it may be a useful
indicator of disease risk. They used three different measures,
called epigenetic clocks, to estimate biologic age. These
clocks measure methylation found at specific locations in
DNA. Researchers use these clocks to estimate biologic age,
which can then be compared to chronologic age. The researchers
used DNA from blood samples provided by women enrolled in
the NIEHS-led Sister Study, a group of more than 50,000
women in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The study was specifically
designed to identify environmental and genetic risk factors
for breast cancer. The research team measured methylation
in a subset of 2,764 women, all of whom were cancer-free
at the time of blood collection. "We found that if your
biologic age is older than your chronologic age, your breast
cancer risk is increased. The converse was also true. If
your biologic age is younger than your chronologic age,
you may have decreased risk of developing breast cancer,"
said corresponding author Jack Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., head
of the NIEHS Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology Group. "However,
we don't yet know how exposures and lifestyle factors may
affect biologic age or whether this process can be reversed."
Were Domesticated By Humans In The Bronze Age - In
the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula, between the third
and second millennium BC, a widespread funeral practice
consisted in burying humans with animals. Scientists have
discovered that both foxes and dogs were domesticated, as
their diet was similar to that of their owners. The discovery
of four foxes and a large number of dogs at the Can Roqueta
(Barcelona) and Minferri (Lleida) sites stands out among
the many examples of tombs in different parts of the north-eastern
peninsula. These burials reveal a generalized funeral practice
that proliferated in the Early to Middle Bronze Age: that
of burying humans together with domestic animals. What is
most striking about these sites is the way of burying the
dead in large silos, along with their dogs and a few foxes.
"We discovered that in some cases the dogs received a special
kind of food. We believe this is linked to their function
as working dogs. Besides, one of the foxes shows signs of
having already been a domestic animal in those times," Aurora
Grandal-d'Anglade, co-author of a study on the relationship
between humans and dogs through their diet published in
the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences,
has said. "The case of the Can Roqueta fox is very special,
because it is an old animal, with a broken leg. The fracture
is still in its healing process, and shows signs of having
been immobilized (cured) by humans. The feeding of this
animal is very unusual, as it is more akin to a puppy dog's.
We interpret it as a domestic animal that lived for a long
time with humans," explains Grandal.
Quote of the Month - "Science
means constantly walking a tightrope between blind faith
and curiosity; between expertise and creativity; between
bias and openness; between experience and epiphany; between
ambition and passion; and between arrogance and conviction
- in short, between an old today and a new tomorrow."
- Heinrich Rohrer
New at the Museum:
Man Who Lived Through Doomsday - Early
on the morning of May 8th, 1902, the city of Saint-Pierre,
located on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, was
destroyed by an eruption of Mount Pelée. At 7:52 AM, a blast
from the volcano sent a pyroclastic flow down into the city
of 30,000, killing the entire population. Well, everybody
but one man: Ludger Sylbaris, who became known as the man
who lived through Doomsday. >Full
Picture of the Month - What
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of Egypt - We studied Ancient Egypt and I was
absent when we studied Queen Cleopatra. Who is she?
are several Cleopatra's in Egyptian history, but the
most famous one was Cleopatra VII. She was the last
Pharaoh of Egypt, at a time just before the country
was completely taken over by the Rome. Cleopatra herself
was not of Egyptian heritage, but Greek. In 331BC
Alexander the Great (who was from a section of Greece)
liberated Egypt when he defeated the Persian Empire.
After Alexander's death in 232BC, Egypt fell under
control of one of Alexander's generals, Ptolemy. The
Ptolemy family kept power there until Cleopatra was
born to her father, Ptolemy XII, in 69BC. Cleopatra
showed great interest in the traditions of Egypt and
was the only member of her family in 300 years that
bothered to learn the language. She followed the Egyptian
beliefs and while she ruled she was considered the
re-incarnation and embodiment of, Isis, the Egyptian
goddess of wisdom.
When her father died in 51 BC, a 17 year-old Cleopatra
and her 12-year-old brother, Ptolemy XIII, took over.
In addition to be siblings, Cleo and her brother were
married (a common trick used to keep power in the
family back then). Cleo attempted to push her husband/bother
into the background and get sole control of the kingdom,
but lost the battle and was forced to flee Egypt.
chance to get back into power came in 48BC when a
political miscalculation by her brother got the Roman
ruler Julius Caesar angry with him. Cleopatra took
advantage of this situation: It is said that she had
her servants bring an expensive Persian carpet to
Caesar as a gift. When it was unrolled, Cleopatra
tumbled out. Caesar, age 50, enchanted by her beauty
and youth (she was only 21) and fell in love with
her. He helped her returned her to the Egyptian throne
which led to Ptolemy XIII's death. Caesar and Cleo
had a son, Caesarion, together. It was Caesar's plan
to have Caesarion rule Egypt after his death and leave
Rome to grand-nephew, Octavian. Cleopatra, however,
wished her son to be heir to all of Rome.
Caesar was killed by members of the Roman Senate in
44BC, Cleopatra made Caesarion her co-regent and successor.
Later she allied herself with Mark Anthony, one of
the three men ruling Rome after Caesar's death. They
married and had children. It is likely that Cleopatra
had plans to take on Rome and make herself and her
son rulers of the known world, but the Romans, under
Octavian, attacked first. Anthony and Cleopatra's
forces were defeated at the naval battle off the coast
of Actium. Soon the armies of Rome were marching through
Egypt and Anthony was mortally wounded in battle.
Cleopatra was held under house arrest and commited
suicide (legend has it that she killed herself by
letting a deadly Asp snake bite her) in 30BC at the
age of 39.
Cleopatra is remembered for her immense beauty and
even more immense ambition. She ruled in a time when
Greek women were expected to be submissive to their
husbands. Instead of taking a back seat to men, however,
she cleverly used her charms to gain political advantages
over her enemies and was nearly successful in ruling
the known world.
Giant Sloth - On March 10th In 1797, Thomas Jefferson
presented a paper to the American Philosophical Society.
It was entitled "A Memoir on the Discovery of Certain Bones
of a Quadruped of the Clawed Kind in the Western Parts of
Virginia," in Transactions of American Philosophical Society.
This paper on a bear-sized extinct ground sloth is the first
American publication in paleontology and also the only paleontology
paper ever written by Jefferson. In 1822, this creature
was named Megalonyx jeffersoni by a French naturalist.
- On March 21st the Moon will be located on the opposite
side of the Earth as the Sun making its face fully illuminated.
Native Americans called this the Full Worm Moon because
this was the time of year the earth would become soft and
worms would first appear. This will be the last of three
supermoons for 2019 as it will appear bigger and brighter
Maverick Still Argues for UFO - Oumuamua, that interstellar
object discovered by astronomers in late 2017, and dismissed
by most as high speed rock, has a least one creditable scientist
that still thinks in might be an alien spaceship. Chairman
of Harvard University's astronomy department, Avi Loeb,
thinks its behavior doesn't fit any natural phenomenon he
can think of. "Considering an artificial origin, one possibility
is that 'Oumuamua" - pronounced Oh-mooah-mooah - "is a lightsail,
floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced
technological equipment," Loeb wrote in an article in Astrophysical
Journal Letters last November. Loeb thinks that his calculations
show that the object is accelerating as it moves away from
the sun as if it was catching the solar wind to increase
its speed. While Loeb's comments have excited UFO enthusiasts,
his thoughts have been met with skepticism by most of his
scientific peers. "A shocking example of sensationalist,
ill-motivated science," theoretical astrophysicist Ethan
Siegel wrote in Forbes magazine.
and Meep are on a well deserved vacation. In their place
we feature highlights from their past adventures.
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