Dr. Possum: Old, Blue, And Casting Away

(This was supposed to appear Monday morning. Yet here it is Thursday evening. I have no explanation for this, other than that I have been unable to post to this blog for the past three days, as I have been trapped on a New York City subway car by a menacing marsupial. I am sure this is only a coincidence. As our own gentle Dr. Possum would never be capable of such an act. Just sayin’.)

The time has arrived once again for science talk. New discoveries, new takes on old knowledge, and other bits of news are all available for the perusing in today’s information world. Over the fold are selections from the past week from a few of the many excellent science news sites around the world. Today’s tidbits include a dinosaur is named three decades after discovery, the dark side of the moon revealed, when galaxy clusters collide, a tiny frog is the world’s very smallest vertebrate, rare ultra-blue stars found in neighboring galaxy’s hub, planets around stars are the rule rather than the exception, and in ancient Pompeii trash and tombs went hand in hand. Pull up that comfy chair and grab a spot near the fireside. There is always plenty of room for everyone. Another session of Dr. Possum’s science education, entertainment, and potluck discussion is set to begin.

After waiting for three decades Fruitachampsa gets its name at last.

This animal was not like the alligators, caimans, gharials, and crocodiles we know today. (In technical terms, all those living lineages are crocodylians—a remaining portion of the larger and more varied group called Crocodyliformes to which Fruitachampsa also belonged.) Informally referred to as the “Fruita Form” in publications for years, this roughly three-foot-long archosaur had slender legs, a short skull, and rows of flat teeth with wrinkled, horizontal cusps socketed behind a small set of pointed teeth at the front of the jaws. As Jurassic expert John Foster dubbed the animal in his book Jurassic West, Fruitachampsa was “the house cat of the Morrison Formation.”

Yet the long wait for the description of the Fruita croc carried an advantage. Around the time of the animal’s discovery, there was nothing quite like Fruitachampsa. How the animal related to other crocodyliforms was unclear. Since 1975, however, additional discoveries of previously-unknown crocs have put Fruitachampsa in context. These discoveries have not been made elsewhere in the fossil-rich deserts of the American west. The closest relatives of Fruitachampsa—called shartegosuchids—have been found in the Mesozoic sediments of Mongolia, China, and Siberia.

The Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) aboard NASA’s lunar orbiter reveals new details of the dark side of the moon.

The LAMP team estimates that the loss of water frost is about 16 times slower than previously believed. In addition, the accumulation of water frost is also likely to be highly dependent on local conditions, such as temperature, thermal cycling and even geologically recent “impact gardening” in which micrometeoroid impacts redistribute the location and depth of volatile compounds.

Finding water frost at these new locations adds to a rapidly improving understanding of the Moon’s water and related species, as discovered by three other space missions through near-infrared emissions observations and found buried within the Cabeus crater by the LCROSS impactor roughly two years ago. During LRO’s nominal exploration mission, LAMP added to the LCROSS results by measuring hydrogen, mercury and other volatile gases ejected along with the water from the permanently shaded soils of the Moon’s Cabeus crater.

Galaxy clusters are representative of the universe. By studying their nature we learn more about our own galaxy.

…the researchers mapped the dark matter by observing distortions in light passing through the cluster from more distant objects—a method called weak gravitational lensing.

The map revealed that the two galaxy clusters within Perry’s Cluster had passed through each other—the spaces between the galaxies within the clusters are so vast that actual collisions are unlikely—and that most of the dark matter also had passed through without collision.

Not so with the gas clouds — they had collided and become stuck between the clusters, making a huge cloud of gas a thousand times hotter than the surface of the sun.

A new species of tiny frog (only 7mm in length) recently discovered in New Guinea is the world’s smallest vertebrate.

With more than 60,000 vertebrates currently known to man, the largest being the blue whale with an average size of more than 25 meters (75 feet) and the smallest previously being the small Indonesian fish averaging around 8 millimeters, there was originally some thought that extreme size in vertebrates might be associated with aquatic species, as perhaps the buoyancy offers support and facilitates the development of extremism. However, both new species of frogs (researcher) Austin described are terrestrial, suggesting that living in water is not necessary for small body size.

As NASA’s Hubble space telescope continues to peer into the universe new findings are a common affair these days. This time the report concerns the observation of rare ultra-blue stars in a neighboring galaxy.

Blue is typically an indicator of hot, young stars. In this case, however, the stellar oddities are aging, sun-like stars that have prematurely cast off their outer layers of material, exposing their extremely blue-hot cores.

Astronomers were surprised when they spotted these stars because physical models show that only an unusual type of old star can be as hot and as bright in ultraviolet light.

While Hubble has spied these ultra-blue stars before in Andromeda, the new observation covers a much broader area, revealing that these stellar misfits are scattered throughout the galaxy’s bustling center. Astronomers used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to find roughly 8,000 of the ultra-blue stars in a stellar census made in ultraviolet light, which traces the glow of the hottest stars. The study is part of the multi-year Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury survey to map stellar populations across the galaxy.

As data continues to arrive more and more exoplanets are being found leading to the conclusion that planets may be the rule rather than the exception around stars.

The astronomers then combined information about the three positive exoplanet detections with seven additional detections from earlier work, as well as the huge numbers of non-detections in the six year’s worth of data—non-detections are just as important for the statistical analysis and are much more numerous. The conclusion was that one in six of the stars studied hosts a planet of similar mass to Jupiter, half have Neptune-mass planets and two thirds have super-Earths. The survey was sensitive to planets between 75 million kilometres and 1.5 billion kilometres from their stars (in the Solar System this range would include all the planets from Venus to Saturn) and with masses ranging from five times the Earth up to ten times Jupiter.

Combining the results suggests strongly that the average number of planets around a star is greater than one. They are the rule rather than the exception.

Giving new meaning to the term ‘mixed use’ findings in ancient Pompeii show trash and tombs shared the same land.

…garbage was casually deposited on the floor of homes, in the streets and alleys outside of homes (sometimes at significant layered depths) and at the urban edge, along city walls (in large quantities over time).

In fact, there is no evidence that Pompeii had any centrally managed system for garbage disposal, and so, it’s likely people lived in very close proximity to their refuse as an accepted part of life.

And Pompeii’s cemeteries and tombs were simply another place for trash—as were almost any part of a home’s interior or exterior as well as alleys, streets and major roadways.

Tombs and cemeteries were certainly considered appropriate for the placement of “advertisements” of the time, everything from political “vote for me” material, promotions for sporting events or boasts of sexual conquest.

Other Worthy Stories of the Week
Underwater sound disturbs whales 120 miles away
New animal virus takes Northern Europe by surprise
Astronomers release unprecedented data set on celestial objects that brighten and dim
Evolution is written all over your face
Molecule in Earth’s atmosphere ‘could cool’ the atmosphere
Why do dew drops do what they do on leaves?”
New hope for Hemlocks
Wandering albatross alters its course in response to climate change
Planets with double suns are common
Saturn-like ring system eclipses Sun-like star
Good corn parents are predictable
Rare Chinese white dolphin gets DNA bank
Project to pour water into volcano to make power
Chandra finds largest galaxy cluster in early universe

For even more science news:

General Science Collectors:
Alpha-Galileo
BBC News Science and Environment
Eureka Science News
LiveScience
New Scientist
PhysOrg.com
SciDev.net
Science/AAAS
Science Alert
Science Centric
Science Daily
Scientific American
Space Daily

Blogs:
A Few Things Ill Considered Techie and Science News
Cantauri Dreams space exploration
Coctail Party Physics Physics with a twist.
Deep Sea News marine biology
Laelaps more vertebrate paleontology
List of Geoscience Blogs
ScienceBlogs
Space Review
Techonology Review
Tetrapod Zoology vertebrate paleontology
Science Insider
Scientific Blogging.
Space.com
Wired News
Science RSS Feed: Medworm
The Skeptics Guide to the Universe–a combination of hard science and debunking crap

NASA picture of the day.

For more see the NASA image gallery or the Astronomy Picture of the Day Archive

Space Station Flying By The Moon, NASA, Public Domain

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9 Responses to “Dr. Possum: Old, Blue, And Casting Away”


  1. 1 bluenred January 19, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    The part about the ads smeared over Pompeii tombs and cemeteries recalls Rudyard Kipling’s reaction when he journeyed to San Francisco, and found the rocks out by the Cliff House besmeared with ads for throat lozenges and petticoats. He regarded it as a wonder that the sea lions themselves had not been festooned with ads.

    • 2 possum January 20, 2012 at 5:11 am

      If humans were able to festoon those sea lions you can bet someone would. With the advent of modern electronics we can expect some such in the future.

  2. 3 bluenred January 19, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    As you might imagine, I like the bit about the “aging, sun-like stars that have prematurely cast off their outer layers of material, exposing their extremely blue-hot cores.” ; )

    Actually, that’s what I’m doing. Though I don’t think it’s premature. In fact, I think it late.

  3. 6 possum January 20, 2012 at 5:11 am

    Happy Friday. Great pictures! Thanks for the posting and the upscale decoration.

    And never underestimate us errant marsupials. We can be ferocious when cornered. 🙂

  4. 8 sally January 20, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Oh, tooo much to digest here! I am now chewing down one of those candy-like ant-acid goodies. It may take consuming the whole the bottle to make it through all of the above. Did you know Pliny the Elder said something like: “There’s nothing new in Nature” and then got buried with Pompeii ash? Is trhat true -or did I make that up inside my head? late xoxox.


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