“Thigh bone” spotted on Mars is just rock, NASA asserts

No need to worry, folks. It’s certainly not the bone of an alien or a hyper-ape, and there’s nothing anachronistic about it. Just a rock. Yup, no biggie. thigh-bone-on-mars.jpg

NASA released Curiosity’s “thigh bone” Mars rock photo with an explanation on Thursday.
 
In the photo description, NASA officials wrote that while “this Mars rock may look like a femur thigh bone,” it is not the fossilized remains of a mysterious Martian. “Mission science team members think its shape is likely sculpted by erosion, either wind or water.”
 
The Curiosity rover has found evidence that Ma
rs was once a habitable place in the ancient past, but there is no evidence that creatures large enough to leave a bone behind ever existed on the planet.
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Leading scientist ejected by audience after ‘trying to crowd surf’ at classical music concert

This may be the most perfect headline ever written, and I am so glad to live in a world where such absurd things sometimes happen.

The distinguished gentleman in question was a member of the Royal Society; the venue, the Bristol Old Vic; the tune, Handel’s Messiah.
Before the performance, [Bristol Old Vic Artistic Director] Mr Morris invited the audience to bring their drinks into the standing area in front of the stage and instructed them: “Clap or whoop when you like, and no shushing other people.”
 
But Dr Glowacki, a Royal Society Research Fellow, was so overcome during the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ he began lurching from side to side with his hands raised and whooping before attempting to crowd-surf, witnesses claimed.
 
Irritated by the distraction, audience members proceeded to physically eject the Bristol University academic from the area, in what Mr Morris claims is the first such incident at a classical concert since the 18th century.
That man is an inspiration to all of us. Original article here.
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The tree that owns itself

This is one of those times when I’ll let an excerpt from a Wikipedia article do all the talking:

A photograph of the Son of Tree That Owns Itse...

A photograph of the Son of Tree That Owns Itself taken by myself on a humid day in 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Tree That Owns Itself is a white oak tree, widely assumed to have legal ownership of itself and of all land within eight feet (2.4 m) of its base. The tree, also called the Jackson Oak, is located at the corner of South Finley and Dearing Streets in Athens, Georgia, United States. The original tree fell in 1942, but a new tree was grown from one of its acorns, and planted in the same location. The current tree is sometimes referred to as the Son of The Tree That Owns Itself. Both trees have appeared in numerous national publications, and the site is a local landmark.
How extraordinary! Legend has it that sometime between 1820 and 1832, one Colonel William Henry Jackson deeded the original tree to itself. I can only hope that this proud line of self-owning trees will endure indefinitely.
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Google sends lone employee to map abandoned island city

Urban exploration enthusiasts, this one’s for you. Google recently sent an employee with hand-held Street View cameras to map out the abandoned Battleship Island (also known as Hashima), which was briefly the most densely-populated point on the planet. Others call it Ghost Island: originally populated as a coal mining facility starting in the late 1800s, the location was abandoned when Japan largely shifted to petroleum in the 1960s. Check out some footage below:

How fascinating and eerie it must have been to wander among the silent structures, standing lonely and forgotten against the sea. You can see more pictures at weburbanist
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Scientists discover binary supermassive black hole

The thought of a single supermassive black hole lurking at galaxy’s center is enough to send shivers down one’s spine (given a bit of contemplation and the right kind of personality). But two? That’s a new ballgame altogether.

Actually, astronomers suspect that these binary supermassive black hole systems are probably the result of galactic collisions. Awesome! 
To date, only a few candidates for close binary supermassive black holes have been found. All are in active galaxies where th

An artist's conception of a supermassive black...

An artist’s conception of a supermassive black hole and accretion disk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ey are constantly ripping gas clouds apart, in the prelude to crushing them out of existence. In the process of destruction, the gas is heated so much that it shines at many wavelengths, including X-rays. This gives the galaxy an unusually bright centre, and leads to it being called active.


On 10 June 2010, Dr Fukun Liu from Peking University in China with colleagues spotted a tidal disruption event in the galaxy SDSS J120136.02+300305.5 (J120136 for short). They were scanning the data for such events and scheduled follow-up observations just days later with XMM-Newton and NASA’s Swift satellite.

Full article here
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This “living rock” is one of the weirdest creatures out there.

Pyura_chilensis_living_rock.jpegKnown among the scientific community as Pyura chilensis, this critter filters nutrients from the water, much like a barnacle or sponge. Stranger still:

it[ has] clear blood[, which] mysteriously secretes a rare element called vanadium. Also, it’s born male, becomes hermaphroditic at puberty, and reproduces by tossing clouds of sperm and eggs into the surrounding water and hoping they knock together.

According to Scientific AmericanP. chilensis “belongs to the Ascidiacea class of non-moving, sac-like marine invertebrate filter feeders that are otherwise known as sea squirts.”

Credit for this critter goes to grist.
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Newly-discovered plant species “eats metal”

A bit of a sensationalist headline, I’m afraid — I had hoped for giant Venus Fly Traps going around munching on cars and discarded rebar. This is still pretty interesting, though: 

A new plant species with an unusual lifestyle – it eats nickel for a living – has been discovered, according to a recent study.

Scientists from the University of the Philippines, Los Baños have discovered Rinorea niccolifera, a plant species that accumulates up to 18,000 ppm of the metal in its leaves without poisoning itself, according to Edwino Fernando, lead author of the report and professor, said in a statement.

Nickel hyperaccumulation is such a rare phenomenon with only about 0.5 to 1 percent of plant species native to nickel-rich soils having been recorded to exhibit the ability. 

In addition to just being plain interesting, this could be helpful for humans, too: plants that accumulate heavy metals can be used to clean up contaminated sites. 

Check out the original article here.
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The curious case of Chicago’s wild parrots

Chicago is probably the last place you’d expect to find a population of wild parrots. But they’re there. 
While the birds are native to South America, they’ve survived in Chicago since at least the 1960s. Locals have a number of theories (bordering on urban legends) about their origins: 
  • A University of Chicago experiment went awry and the birds escaped
  • The birds escaped from a holding pen at O’Hare
  • A truck on its way to a pet store overturned and let the parrots loose
  • The government put them here
  • etc.
According to University of Chicago ornithologist Dr. Stephen Pruett-Jones, however, the answer is straightforward: “They got here through the pet trade and the pet trade really peaked in the mid to late 1960s.” How do the birds survive Chicago’s harsh winters? Backyard bird feeders! (They also tend to build nests atop electrical transformers for warmth.) 
You can read much more here, or check out WBIZ’s podcast on the subject below:

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MERS virus appears in Indiana

MERS, also known as the Middle East Respiratory syndrome, had previously been confined to a handful of nations in that region. To date, the virus has sickened more than 8,000 and killed nearly 800. Now, it appears to be on the move. 

On Friday, the CDC confirmed the first case of the MERS virus in the United States:

MERS-CoV

MERS-CoV (Photo credit: NIAID)

On May 2, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the first confirmed U.S. case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).  Public health officials are assuring citizens that there is very low risk to the general public.  Still, the Daily Herald reports that CDC officials are contacting individuals that may be at risk and will respond if others are showing symptoms.

On April 24, the patient traveled by plane from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Chicago, IL, via London, England.  The patient then took a bus from Chicago to Indiana.  On the April 27, the patient began to experience respiratory symptoms and went to an emergency department in an Indiana hospital the next day and was admitted that same day. 

More information available here. The media, of course, tends to blow these stories out of proportion. Even so, I like to keep my eye on potential pandemics. Call it a survival instinct. (Especially since this patient passed through Chicago, where I live…)

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