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 Post subject: from current journals as of 2017 01 29
PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 2:02 am 
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Joined: Fri Apr 04, 2008 10:48 am
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Location: Broomfield, Colorado
Sky and Telescope March 2017
Celestial Calendar
The Best Occultation of 2017
KGB recounted our adventures at last year’s Aldebaran grazing occultation. There is another occultation on March 4th; it will not be a graze for me and KGB - unless we want to drive to Fargo – but most of the continental US gets a full-fledged occultation. The graze line is along the northern tier of the US and southern Canada, with Vancouver and Toronto favored. Frames from a video taken at the July graze show a partial occultation of Aldebaran; i.e., the edge of the Moon only covered part of Aldebaran’s disk. For predictions see Later in March (night of 10-11), asteroid 1343 Nicole will occult a 6.3 magnitude star in Leo for about 3 seconds. The asteroid itself is 15th magnitude, so you won’t see it without a fairly impressive telescope, but the star will be just barely naked eye visible and easy in small binoculars. Map and data at

Scientific American February 2017
Learn Morse Code, Semi-consciously
Google Glasses come equipped with transducers in the temples. In an experiment with two groups of 12, one was shown letters of the alphabet only while the second group was shown the letter accompanied by the transducer tapping out the Morse code for it. Then each group was asked to try and learn Morse in four 1-hour sessions. The group that received the transducer signals was 94% accurate after training, while the other group was 47% accurate. The study authors are working on “computing gloves” that will assist the wearer in typing Braille or playing the piano.
The Exercise Paradox
It is generally assumed that physically active people burn more calories that couch potatoes. This might be true for Westerners, but metabolic studies of traditional hunter-gatherers, who are obviously pretty physically active, burn about the same calories per day as anybody else. This couples with the observation that humans burn way more calories than great apes but also carry much more body fat suggests we’ve evolved to need a lot mor energy – possible to power brains – but also spend in efficiently.
Blind Medicine
The technetium-99 shortage, mentioned before, still looms. The Chalk River reactor in Canada shut down on October 31, 2016. None of the other proposed methods are on line yet. The world’s remaining production reactors all use highly enriched uranium and are all scheduled to be shut down by 2020 to prevent diversion to weapons programs. Technetium-99 is used in about 30 million medical tests annually.

Sky and Telescope February 2017
News Notes
Retrograde Rock “Stands Up” in Orbit
Asteroid 471325 (apparently somebody has changed the asteroid designation system) is in a retrograde orbit tilted 110° to the ecliptic. There is another trans-Neptunian object with a highly tilted retrograde orbit, and four others with prograde orbits, and in approximately the same orbital plane. Solar system dynamists are somewhat puzzled, since precession should scatter the objects (“Centaurs”) in a few million years.
Green Bank Goes Independent
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, was scheduled to be decommissioned on October 16, 2016, as the NSF shifted funding elsewhere. The NRAO has put together a plan to become independent; NSF will provide 60% of operating funding until 2018 but the NRAO (which will presumably get a name change) has to come up with the rest. Funders so far are Listen, a SETI organization; the North American Observatory for Nanohertz Gravitational Waves, and West Virginia University.
Astronomy Travel
Imaging Adventure: Dry Tortugas
Dry Tortugas National Park is about 70 miles west of Key West (it’s geologically one of the Florida Keys) and is home to Fort Jefferson, a brick structure built in the 1800s. The park is only accessible by boat or seaplane. Most visitors are day trippers, but overnight camping is allowed; however, visitors are limited to 60-70 pounds of gear and there is no fresh water, food, or electrical power available. Author Richard S. Wright, Jr., was able to bring in some astronomy equipment under the weight limit (by co-opting his family to sacrifice some of theirs) and noted the island had the darkest skies he had ever seen.

The Geological Society of America Bulletin January-February 2017
Triggering of the largest Deccan eruptions by the Chicxulub impact: Comment and Reply
The original article was published in the GSA Bulletin in 2015 and suggested the Chicxulub impact hard sorta kinda maybe something to do with the Deccan Traps in India and therefore volcanism killed the dinosaurs after all. (There's a previous thread but I'm out of urls) Here four Indian geologists (who you might possibly suspect of wanting to support the Deccan extinction theory out of national pride, but don’t) critique the idea, noting that the the interpretation of a “contact” between two lava flows was based on Google Earth and a Shuttle Radar Topography mission, not on “ground truth”; that faults perceived to be interrupted by the supposed different flows are in fact continuous, and that a photograph in the original article purported to show a weathering horizon between flows is actually an artificially sculpted road cut. All in extremely polite language, of course.

Skeptical Inquirer January-February
News and Comment
Return of the Phantom Clowns
There was a spate of “evil clown” reports late last year, which made it all the way to the President’s office. Most of these turned out to be hoaxes (for example, a woman who reported being attacked by a clown later admitted it was because she was late for work. It’s noted, however, that John Wayne Gacy does definitely qualify as a “creepy clown”.
Special Report
Survey Shows Americans Fear Ghosts, the Government, and Each Other
Every year there’s a Chapman University poll on American fears, paranormal beliefs, and conspiracy theories. The poll found 46.6% of people polled believed in hauntings, 39.6% in ancient advanced civilizations, 27% in ancient astronauts, 24.7% in modern alien visits, 19.1% in telekinesis, 14.1% in astrology, and 13.5% in Bigfoot. In the conspiracy theory department, the government was responsible for 9-11 (54.3%); the JFK assassination (49.6%); alien encounters (42.5%); global warming (42.1%); world government (32.9%); Barack Obama’s birth certificate (30.2%); the AIDS virus (30.2%); the death of Antonin Scalia (27.8%); and faking the moon landings (24.2%).

Science 20 January
NAS: Pot does help with chronic pain
There is “conclusive or substantial evidence” that marijuana or related compounds can effectively treat chronic pain, nausea caused by chemotherapy, and spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The report urges more research but notes DEA rules make research difficult.
News in Depth
Science suffers in cold war over polar base
More on the trials and tribulations of the Belgian Antarctica base. Apparently the original founder of the base is essentially staging a sit-in down there, with a small crew. The Belgian government has retaliated by refusing to give him the satellite access codes so he can’t communicate with the outside world. The two parties have traded various accusations of corruption and malfeasance.
Your self-driving car could kill radio astronomy
Emerging technologies – LED streetlights, automobile collision avoidance radar, and car-to-car radio communication – threaten astronomy. As LED lights replace high pressure sodium lights, they increase the amount of sky glow – because the atmosphere scatters blue LED light better than the yellow HPS lights. The car-to-car wifi just increased overall radio background, but the radar can cause problems if maneuvering car happens to point right at a radio telescope.
Technology beats corruption
Aid agencies generally prefer to give in-kind donations - food, clothes, etc. – because they are less likely to be stolen enroute to the people who need them. In fact, the often deliberately send inferior goods – the article give an example of very poor quality rice in Indonesia – because that is less likely to be intercepted by corrupt officials along the way. However, the advent of biometrics – in an example from India, fingerprint readers and smart cards – allow direct transfer of money without interception – in two Indian examples, “leakage” from two programs was reduced by 41% and 47%.

Nature 19 January 2017
News in Focus
Reproducibility project yields muddy results
The Reproducibility Project was originally intended to attempt to reproduce results from 50 key oncology papers; these had to be scaled down to 29 due to funding. There have been previous attempts to do this – the bioscience firm Amgen announced in 2012 that it had failed to replicate 47 of 53 “landmark” papers – but Amgen, perhaps fearing lawsuits, didn’t identify the papers involved. The Reproducibility Project will; it’s noted “careers are on the line”. So far seven studies have been done and five published. One of the five failed, two produced “substantially identical results”, and the remaining two were “uninterpretable”. The “uninterpretable” results came when something went wrong with methods, rather than results; rather than vary methods (which would essentially be doing new research) the reproducers simply stopped at that stage.
Gates Foundation demands open access
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has demanded that all research it funds be published in open-access journals. This puts Science, Nature, and the New England Journal of Medicine all off limits.
News Feature
Next Stop, Mars
NASA is preparing a sample return mission to Mars. The first step (launched late 2020, arriving early 2021) will send a Curiosity-like rover to Mars equipped with a core drill that will store samples in titanium tubes; blank and duplicate samples will be included. The next step – date to be determined – will involve landing a launch vehicle on Mars; the rover will bring the samples to it, and place them onboard; the Mars Ascent Vehicle will lift them into Martian orbit. Finally, yet another mission will rendezvous with the orbiting samples and return them to Earth.
Asgard archaea illuminate the origin of eukaryotic cellular complexity
Some time back there was a note on a newly discovered “microorganism” belonging to a new group, the Lokiarchaeota. (I'd give a link but I'm out of urls; you can use the "Search" function with "Lokiarchaeota" to find it). “Microorganism” is in quotes because no actual organism was observed or cultured; instead drill cores brought up loose bits of DNA from a submarine feature off the coast of Greenland named Loki’s Castle. Some of that DNA, although it clearly belonged to an archaeon, also coded for proteins otherwise only known from eukaryotes. Now other members of the group, collectively known as the Asgard archaea and including Odinarchaeota, Lokiarchaeota, Thorarchaeota, and Heimdallarchaeota, have been discovered at other locations around the world; the Thorarchaeota and Heimdallarchaeota are even closer to eukaryotes than Lokiarchaeota. Note again that no actual organisms are involved; it’s all loose bits of DNA.
Hurricane intensification along the United States coast suppressed during active hurricane periods
The gist: higher sea surface temperatures vary inversely with vertical wind shear. Higher sea surface temperatures lead to more hurricanes forming, but the corresponding lower vertical wind shear means hurricanes intensify more slowly. During times of high hurricane frequency, the Atlantic basin dynamics lead to formation of a “protective barrier” of low vertical wind shear along the US east coast. Conversely when there are fewer hurricanes overall the ones that make landfall in the US are likely to be more intense.
Hyoliths are Paleozoic lophophorates
Hyoliths are little, conical shelly things from the Paleozoic. Well preserved ones have a operculum covering the opening of the cone and two curved spines (called “helens” in the literature; I have no idea why) projecting from the opening. Nobody was quite sure what hyoliths were, all the betting favored some relation to molluscs. Now there are some hyoliths with soft tissue preservation from the Burgess Shale and Spence Shale, and they turn out to be lophophorates, probably most closely related to brachiopods within that group. The helens are supposed to be a not very effective motile system – just enough to get the opening of the cone off the sea floor.

Nature 12 January 2017
Seven Days
US antibiotic ban
The FDA issued regulations prohibiting feeding “medically important” antibiotics to farm animals sole as a growth enhancer.
Peanut policy
The NIH recommends feeding foods containing peanuts the infants before they reach 6 months. Clinic trials showed infants feed peanut products were 81% less likely to develop peanut allergies later in life.
News in Focus
Chinese health app arrives
The Chinese startup iCarbonX will analyze genomic, physiological and behavioral data to provide customized health information to consumers. iCarbonX founder Jun Wang noted that several Western companies, including Google and IBM, are working on similar applications but it will be easier, cheaper and faster to do in China since Chinese are already used to sharing information.
Chemists warn against deceptive molecules
If you are a Facebook user you’ve probably seen numerous posts from woowoos extolling the virtues of turmeric, which is claimed to cure numerous diseases ranging from cancer to male pattern baldness. Thousands of research papers and more than 120 clinical trials have disclosed no such benefits. It turns out the principle active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has a number of properties that cause it to give false positives on common drug screening tests. Curcumin and similar compounds are called PAINs, for “pan-assay interference compounds”.
Feature News
The Big Cull
New Zealand is starting an ambitious program to eliminate all vertebrate invasive species – rats, bushtail possums, and stoats. The program will spread poison bait from drones and use “skull crushing” traps. The total cost is expected to be around NZ$9 G (around US$6 G); it’s claimed that invasive species cost around NZ$3.3 G/year in “lost productivity”. It’s suggested that “gene drive” techniques might be used, but noted that there could be severe problems if there was a “reverse invasion” – if a “suicide possum” somehow managed to make its way back to Australia. A New Zealand biologist notes “We’re good at killing things … People are really willing to kill for conservation. It’s kind of a national pastime”. However, the usual animal-rights groups are opposed. And there’s no mention of what the most successful vertebrate invasive species in New Zealand is.
Compare voting systems to improve them
The authors write software for political decision making and take advantage of the recent US presidential election to do a little marketing. The note that rank-ordering is a popular voting system; instead of voting for a single candidate voters rank candidates by order of preference and the highest total wins – this is the system used in Australia. However, it can be “gamed” (and Australian political parties hand out strategy guides so voters can do exactly that). One suggestion is handing out “official” ballots using the current voting system, plus test ballots with one or more alternative systems, and seeing how the results compare.

GSA Today January 2017
The Gulf of Mexico and the Canada Basin: Genetic Siblings on Either Side of North America
A picture is worth a thousand words department. This is a guilty confession because I’m supposed to know this stuff, but I’ve read numerous geology articles talking about “back arc basins” but never quite understood them before. (And will now try to explain in words). Oceanic crust subducts and creates an island arc – Japan or the Philippines, say. So far so good. Behind that arc – in the direction the slab is moving – the crust subsides, creating a “back arc basin” – the Sea of Japan or the South China Sea. The authors contend that the Gulf of Mexico and the Canada Basin (off the north coast of Canada and Alaska) are variants on the back arc basin idea; rather than subsiding uniformly the crust being the subduction zone is torn and the basin is roughly shaped like a slice of pie.

Proceedings of the US Naval Institute January 2017
All the Queen’s Ships
The article suggests the navies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom should be under a common command, to be called CANZUK. It’s claimed – that’s the first I’ve heard of it – that a political union is being discussed as well, in the wake of Brexit.

Nature 15 December 2016
World View
Simply studying populism is no longer enough
Author Matthijs Rooduijn is an associate professor of sociology at Utrecht University; he argues that sociologists and other scientists should no longer just study “populism” but should “actively take part” in efforts to resist it. Rooduijn does concede that a “little bit” of populism is a force for good. He also notes that fascism and national socialism are not populism because they are not democratic.
News Features
The myth buster
I’m not quite sure what to make of this article. Swedish epidemiologist Hans Rosling complains that “campuses are full of siloed people who do advocacy about things they don’t understand.” Rosling had acted as a physician in some of the nastiest places in the world: Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania before becoming a sort of advocate for accurate global statistics. Rosling finds that advocacy organizations tend to exaggerate statistics that support whatever effort they are advocating for. In particular he notes that the real problem in a lot of places is poverty and not health issues – at least not directly; “Extreme poverty produces diseases. Evil forces lie there.” According to Nature, he’s rather unpopular with various parties because of this attitude. He’s coming out with a book (tentatively titled Factfulness, presenting his ideas. The software Rosling developed was acquired by Google and is now available at It’s fun to play with. I wonder how good some of the data is. The general tone of the article is a little odd. As if Nature wanted to praise Rosling without offending any of the groups he criticizes. Therefore there are general comments (like the “siloed people” one above) but no specific mention of groups or policies Rosling thinks are wrong.

Geology January 2017
Conodonts in Silurian hypersaline environments: Specialized and unexpectedly diverse
Extreme environments – hypersaline in this case – are normally depauperate; species diversity is low (although an individual species might be abundant). This paper examines Silurian hypersaline beds in Estonia and finds (to the author’s surprise, as expressed in the title) that the conodont fauna was diverse.
Fluidized-sediment pipes in Gale crater, Mars, and possible Earth analogs
KGB and I ran across in sedimentary dike in a recent New Mexico trip. (I'd give a url to a picture but I'm out). Most of this type of feature is volcanic – lava is forced through existing rock and/or soil in vertical cylinders (pipes), vertical linear features (dikes), or horizontal linear features (sills). This can also happen with sediments, usually when a layer of lighter sediment is overlain by a deposit of heavier sediment (or just thicker sediment); seismic events or just weight distribution can inject fluidized sediment up through overlying sediment or rock (I learned from this article that the general name for this sort of thing is “injectites”). The Curiosity rover has found surface evidence of sedimentary pipes on Mars that look almost identical to features in southeastern Utah. One interesting thing is almost all the Martian features seem to be cylindrical pipes, while most of the Earth features I’ve seen are linear dikes.
Biomineralization and global change: A new perspective for understanding the end-Permian extinction
The authors examine two brachiopod families at the Permian-Triassic boundary. Brachiopods have a shell composed of layers of calcite and organic material. At the PTB one brachiopod group, the Rhynchonellata, shows a decrease in the size of calcite structures (implying more organic material, although that isn’t normally preserved). The other group studied (Strophomenata) did not form smaller structures; the Strophomenata went extinct at the PTB and the Rhynchonellata did not (and are still extant). The authors contend that the smaller calcite structures were a response to ocean acidification.
Demise of Ediacaran dolomitic seas marks widespread biomineralization on the Siberian plateau
The Ediacaran/Cambrian boundary is marked by the appearance of mineralized organisms (things with shells or other hard parts). One suggestion is that mineralization was a response to predation; things needed some sort of armor to survive being chewed on by other things. Another suggestion is there was a change in ocean chemistry allowed mineral deposition. The authors here go for option 2, claiming that prior to the Cambrian ocean chemistry was dolomitic/aragonitic, with a very shallow “chemocline” for oxygen; i.e. oxygen only penetrated to shallow ocean depths. After the Cambrian boundary seas were more aragonitic. One set of evidence provided is a change in the nature of cements in sedimentary rocks, with the preCambrian cements dolomitic/aragonitic and the Cambrian cements aragonitic.
Isotopic signatures of mercury contamination in latest Permian oceans
Mercury enrichments in lower Aptian sediments support the link between Ontong Java large igneous province activity and oceanic anoxic episode 1a
Do mercury isotopes record the signature of massive volcanism in marine sedimentary records?
The authors note mercury spikes are associated with large volcanic inputs (were talking things like the Siberian flood basalts here, not you friendly local volcano). The thing here is that as far as volcanic eruptions are concerned, mercury is a gas, and once it makes it into the atmosphere is spreads all over the planet. Mercury has a bunch of stable isotopes; the “baseline” isotope is ²⁰²Hg; changes in mercury isotopic concentration in sedimentary rock are expressed as deviations from ²⁰²Hg (i.e., not as changes in total mercury concentration but changes what proportion of that mercury is ²⁰²Hg). The other common mercury isotope is ᴵ⁹⁹Hg. Thus a decrease in ²⁰²Hg (δ²⁰²Hg) is an increase in ᴵ⁹⁹Hg and vice versa. The lower weight isotope (ᴵ⁹⁹Hg) is favored by plant uptake. So it works like this: an overall spike in mercury, regardless of isotopic concentration, represents an increase in volcanic activity. A decrease in ²⁰²Hg proportion indicates an increase in input from biomass sources – detritus runoff and wildfires for example; this is supported by the observation that decreases in δ²⁰²Hg are seen in nearshore, shallow water deposits – input from runoff – while the δ²⁰²Hg for deep marine water stays fairly constant. Two articles and a commentary.
Electron microscopy reveals evidence for simple multicellularity in the Proterozoic fossil Chuaria
Another entrant in the contest for first multicellular organism. Chuaria is a microscopic organism, probably originally spherical but now preserved as circular carbonaceous compressions in Tonian age rocks. (Tonian is late, but not latest, Proterozoic). Electron micrographs presented in the article show little circular subfeatures within the fossils. I don’t know; the circular features are apparent enough but don’t seem to be connected with each other but simply scattered through the circular carbon film. Perhaps individual cells embedded in some sort of matrix (that’s my suggestion, not the authors). The authors suggest Chuaria might be the simplest stage of multicellularity, where cells are associated somehow but don’t exhibit any intercellular communication.

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