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 on: Today at 05:19 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
July 28, 2015

How cosmic winds affect galactic evolution

by Chuck Bednar
Red Orbit

While astronomers already knew that cosmic winds travelling through galaxies could cause star formation to come to an end by sweeping out interstellar material, new observations of a nearby galaxy have given them a better look at exactly what this process entails.

Their research, led by experts from Yale University and detailed in the Astronomical Journal, looked at Hubble images of a spiral galaxy in the Coma cluster, which is located approximately 300 million light years away and is the closest high-mass cluster to our solar system.

Lead author and Yale astronomer Jeffrey Kenney, who first encountered these images back in 2013, analyzed them to see how the cosmic wind was eroding dust and gas located at the leading edge of the galaxy. The wind, also known as "ram pressure", is caused by the orbital motion of the galaxy through hot gas in the cluster, the researchers explained in a statement Monday.

Kenney found a series of intricate dust formations on that disk’s edge as cosmic wind started to make its way through the galaxy, and while the gas and dust appeared to be piled up in one long ridge on the leading side, he found head-tail filaments protruding from the dust front that might have been caused by the separation of dense gas clouds from lower density gas.

Loss of gas will mark the end of star formation

Lower-density clouds of interstellar gas and dust can be easily carried by the cosmic winds, the study authors explained, but higher-density clouds cannot. As the winds blow, the denser gases begin to separate from lower density gas, which gets blown down stream. However, both higher and lower density lumps appear to be bound together, likely by magnetic fields.

“The evidence for this,” the Yale astronomer said, “is that dust filaments in the [Hubble Space Telescope] image look like taffy being stretched out. We're seeing this decoupling, clearly, for the first time.” He noted that the dust filaments in this Hubble image are similar to those found in the iconic “Pillars of Creation” image, except that they are roughly 1,000 times larger.

The images reveal that the bulk of the dust and gas is being pushed away by external forces, and that this results in the destruction of most of the cloud. Only the densest material, the pillars, are left behind, but even they have a limited shelf life. Since gas is required for the formation of new stars, once it is removed, the area is no longer able to act as a stellar nursery.

While in the Eagle Nebula, which is home to the “Pillars of Creation,” the pressure comes from the radiation emitted by nearby massive stars, the pressure in the Coma galaxy is produced by the orbital motion of the galaxy through hot gas in the cluster. While new stars are currently still being born in both types of pillars, they represent the last generation that will form in either.

 on: Today at 05:18 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
July 28, 2015

Data indicates polar shifts could be linked to South Africa

by Chuck Bednar
Red Orbit

For the first time, researchers have recovered a magnetic field from ancient minerals from the Iron Age in southern Africa, and the information has helped them discover that the area of the Earth’s core beneath this region could play a key role in reversals of the planet's magnetic poles.

The study, which appears in the latest edition of the journal Nature Communications, used the measurements collected by University of Rochester geophysicist John Tarduno and colleagues from Witwatersrand University and Kwa-Zulu Natal University in South Africa, along with the ongoing weakening of Earth's magnetic field during an analysis of polar reversals.

Such reversals of the North and South Poles have taken place at irregular points throughout the planet’s history, with the last one occurring about 800,000 years ago. The researchers noted that once a reversal starts, it can take up to 15,000 years to complete, and the core region beneath southern Africa may have been the origin site of some of these events.

Tarduno’s team said that while it has long been believed that polar reversals started at random locations, the data they collected from five sites along the border separating South Africa from Botswana and Zimbabwe indicates that this might not actually be the case after all.

Collecting the data from burnt ancient villages

According to study co-author Rory D. Cottrell, a scientist in the UR Paleomagnetism Research Lab and the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, the agricultural populations living throughout southern Africa during the Iron Age lived in semi-permanent villages. They based their economy on herding cattle, sheep, and goats, and cultivating millet, beans, and peas.

These villages consisted of mud huts, grain bins, and animal kraals, and during times of sustained drought, poor growing seasons and unexpected cattle deaths, the villages would be burned as part of a ritualistic cleansing. These burnt features enable researchers “a snap-shot look at the Earth’s magnetic field throughout the past 2000 years,” Cottrell explained via email.

“The fires were hot enough to reset magnetic minerals (primarily magnetite) above their Curie Temperature,” or the temperature where a material’s magnetic characteristics change from being unable to retain a permanent magnetic field to “freezing” the magnetic field as the material cools down. “We sampled burnt features from localities in southern Africa to look at what magnetic fields were recorded for different time periods throughout the Iron Age of southern Africa.”

The Earth’s magnetic field has been decreasing in dipole intensity for the past 160 years. The study authors attributed this observed 16 percent decrease in field strength to the weakening field in the area known as the South Atlantic Anomaly, which stretches from the part of Africa where the research took place, all the way to South America and beyond.

Findings may reflect the South Atlantic Anomaly’s longevity

While Cottrell noted that these changes (which are also called secular variation of the magnetic field) “are not uncommon,” there has been speculation that the planet is in the beginning stages of a field reversal. In a statement, Tarduno pointed out that this is only speculative at this point, as weakening magnetic fields can recover without leading to a complete polar reversal.

The researchers’ analysis of burnt structures in southern Africa revealed that there was “more change in magnetic field direction and intensity than has been seen over the last 160 years. This may speak to the longevity of the South Atlantic Anomaly, how it has changed through time,” Cottrell said. Based on models of magnetic observatory measurements, they found that this area has fluctuated magnetically in terms of both size and intensity over the past century.

“Imagine a cup full of sharpened pencils,” he explained. “Each hemisphere has their pencils generally pointing in a single direction (into the cup in the northern hemisphere, out of the cup in the southern hemisphere). Each pencil represents the magnetic field vector at a particular locality at Earth's surface. At the SAA, there [are a] number of pencils pointed in the wrong direction. So when you add all of the pencil vectors together, it is overall a smaller length (oppositely pointed pencils will effectively cancel each other out).”

“It is thought that the weak field at the SAA is related to core-flux expulsions, and these core-flux expulsions may be related to the large low shear velocity provinces (LLSVP) located at the core-mantle boundary,” Cottrell added. “The dipole field at the core-mantle boundary has lobes of lower field values (green blobs) near the edges of the LLSVP. Changing (growing) core-flux expulsions may be a focal point for magnetic dipole reversals.”

 on: Today at 05:16 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
July 28, 2015

How a meteor impact caused the ‘Big Freeze’

by Eric Hopton
Red Orbit

Scientists have finally proven the connection between a meteor impact and a subsequent anomalous global cooling event known as the “Younger Dryas”.

The Big Freeze named after a flower

Approximately 12,800 years ago, near the end of the Pleistocene period, a period of cold climates and drought swept the earth. Scientists call this “Big Freeze” the Younger Dryas. This near-glacial period took its name from a flower (Dryas octopetala) that thrives in cold conditions and flourished in Europe at the time.

Geologist James Kennett, professor emeritus at the UCSB Department of Earth Science, along with an international team, has tied the impact and cooling events together. They also narrowed the date right down to a 100-year range sometime between 12,835 and 12,735 years ago. The team’s findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers used Bayesian statistical analyses of 354 dates taken from 30 sites on more than four continents. Bayesian statistics allowed the researchers to calculate more robust age models through multiple, progressive statistical iterations that considered all related age data.

Cause and effect finally proved

“This range overlaps with that of a platinum peak recorded in the Greenland ice sheet and of the onset of the Younger Dryas climate episode in six independent key records,” explained Kennett in a press release. “This suggests a causal connection between the impact event and the Younger Dryas cooling.”

Kennett and colleagues have previously identified a thin layer, the “Younger Dryas Boundary” (YDB) which is rich in high-temperature spherules, melt-glass, and nanodiamonds. The only explanation for these materials is cosmic impact. However, to connect the YDB impact and the Younger Dryas freeze, the team had to prove the YDB layer was the same age across the planet. With this latest research, they have done just that.

All together, the locations cover a huge range of distribution, reaching from northern Syria to California and from Venezuela to Canada.

Kennett and colleagues tried to determine if the dates for the layer in all of these sites are in the same time window and whether, statistically, they come from the same event. “Our analysis shows with 95 percent probability that the dates are consistent with a single cosmic impact event,” Kennett concluded.

Supporting evidence

The team’s own data relied mostly on radiocarbon dating to determine date ranges for each site. But, to “back-up” their findings they also examined six other different types of independently derived age data.

A lot of the extra data came from counting annual layers in ice and lake sediments. Two core studies taken from the Greenland ice sheet revealed an anomalous platinum layer, a clear marker for the YDB.

A study of tree rings in Germany also showed evidence of the YDB, as did freshwater and marine varves, the annual laminations that occur in bodies of water. Even stalagmites in China displayed signs of abrupt climate change around the time of the Younger Dryas cooling event.

“The important takeaway is that these proxy records suggest a causal connection between the YDB cosmic impact event and the Younger Dryas cooling event,” Kennett said. “In other words, the impact event triggered this abrupt cooling. The chronology is very important because there’s been a long history of trying to figure out what caused this anomalous and enigmatic cooling,” he added.

“We suggest that this paper goes a long way to answering that question and hope that this study will inspire others to use Bayesian statistical analysis in similar kinds of studies because it’s such a powerful tool.”

 on: Jul 28, 2015, 12:50 PM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Bernie Electrifies Crowds In Louisiana With Climate Change Message

July 27, 2015
Julie Dermansky

"I hear that you have somewhat of an oil industry here," said Bernie Sanders, Democratic candidate for President, drawing laughter from the crowd of 4,500 at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner, Louisiana on Sunday evening.

The audience whistled and cheered when Sanders said we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels. He acknowledged the transition would be painful for some, and that those economically impacted by the loss of jobs must be taken care of. But in no uncertain terms he said it was America's moral obligation to lead the world in saving this planet from the ravages of climate change.

VIDEO: Bernie Sanders speaks about the need to fight climate change at a Democratic fundraising event in New Orleans:

Sanders addressed the disparity of wealth in America, the healthcare system, racism, gun control, and climate change during a riveting speech that led to a standing ovation.

On Saturday night, after local politicians took the stage at an annual Democratic Party fundraiser dinner and other Democratic Presidential candidates including Hillary Clinton got their messages across via pre-made videos, Sanders took the stage. His team was too busy to make a video, he quipped to the crowd, so he decided to show up in person.

Hillary Clinton's video message plays during a Democratic fundraising dinner in New Orleans. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

After speaking about the importance of doing away with Citizens United, Sanders credited Pope Francis for doing a good job highlighting the need for action on climate change.

"The scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us climate change is real, climate change is caused by human activity, climate change is already causing devastating problems, and if we do not get our act together the situation will only become worse in years to come," he said.

Though Clinton may be the front-runner, and announced her own climate action initiative on Sunday, Sanders' speech at the fundraising event had the audience on its feet.

"I have always been a Sanders supporter," Dr. Gilda Reed, a University of New Orleans professor and former candidate for Louisiana's 1st Congressional District, told DeSmog. At first she didn't believe he was a viable candidate, but she does now.

"We can shift the perception that Bernie Sanders is unelectable," Dr. Reed said.

Reed and her husband hosted a gathering at their Metairie home before the rally.  Sanders told the guests he wasn't going to give them a speech, instead he has some questions for them. 

"Why do you think I'm in Louisiana in the summer?" Sanders asked supporters at the Reed's home. His answer: The Democratic Party has blown it by throwing in the towel in southern "red states." 

Some in the Reed's living room told Sanders that many voters in the New Orleans area feel their voices don't matter, a situation Sanders intends to change.

VIDEO: Sanders talks about the Koch Brothers in the Reed's living room:

He reiterated his criticism of the Democratic part at the rally.

"I think my colleagues in the Democratic Party have made a very, very serious mistake and that is they've kind of written off half of America, including Louisiana," Sanders said. "I'm here to tell you that the time is now for us to fight in 50 states.

VIDEO: Bernie Sanders at the Pontchartrain Center explaining why he's in Louisiana:

Sanders also criticized the mainstream media for not talking about real issues like income inequality and climate change, and described how he hopes to change that with his candidacy.

"Bernie is contagious," Reed said after the hour-long rally. "He has the fighting spirit I wish I had had when I ran. He is saying all the things I believe, that many of the other Democrats believe, but if we say them in Louisiana, it would be political suicide."

Somehow, Sanders can do it, she said.

 on: Jul 28, 2015, 07:56 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Killer of Cecil the lion was American, Zimbabwe officials claim

Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force alleges trophy hunter shot one of Africa’s most famous lions near Hwange national park

Ashifa Kassam
Tuesday 28 July 2015 14.29 BST

Conservationists in Zimbabwe have accused an American man of being the alleged killer of Cecil, one of Africa’s most famous lions and the star attraction at the Hwange national park.

On Tuesday, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said the man thought to have paid $50,000 (£32,000) for the chance to kill Cecil was not a Spaniard as originally believed, but the US citizen Walter Palmer, from a small town near Minneapolis. The man left the lion skinned and headless on the outskirts of the park, the ZCTF’s Johnny Rodrigues said in a statement.

The hunt took place around 6 July. “They went hunting at night with a spotlight and they spotted Cecil,” Rodrigues said. “They tied a dead animal to their vehicle to lure Cecil out of the park and they scented an area about half a kilometre from the park.”

The hunter first shot at Cecil with a bow and arrow but failed to kill the lion. “They tracked him down and found him 40 hours later when they shot him with a gun,” Rodrigues said.

A spokesman for Palmer told the Guardian that the hunter was “obviously quite upset over everything”.

“As far as I understand, Walter believes that he might have shot that lion that has been referred to as Cecil,” the spokesman said. “What he’ll tell you is that he had the proper legal permits and he had hired several professional guides, so he’s not denying that he may be the person who shot this lion.”

“He is a big game hunter; he hunts the world over.”

Two people who accompanied the hunter were identified by authorities and arrested earlier this month, including Theo Bronkhorst, the founder of Bushman Safaris Zimbabwe which is believed to have organised the hunt.

The 13-year-old lion was wearing a GPS collar as part of an Oxford University research project that has been running since 1999, making it possible to trace his last movements. Rodrigues said the hunters tried to destroy the collar, but failed.

The whereabouts of Cecil’s head remained unknown. Amid concerns that it would be sent as a trophy to Spain, conservationists and politicians had called on the European Union to ban the import of lion heads, paws and skins as hunters’ trophies from African countries that cannot prove their lion populations are sustainable.

In 2009, the New York Times interviewed the Minnesota dentist Walter J Palmer, about his slaying of an elk that was touted as a kill for the archery record books. Palmer had paid $45,000 at auction to take part in the hunt, with the proceeds used to help fund the elk habitat. The article noted that at the time of the hunt Palmer was on probation for lying to authorities over the exact location where he had killed a black bear in northern Wisconsin in 2006. Click here to read this article about the shit stain called Walt Palmer:

A 2008 photo album on Flickr shows Palmer posing next to a variety of slain animals, from a wood bison to a lion. In another online photo, Palmer sits with a bow and arrow next to a slain rhino, the caption stating that the photo was taken in South Africa: click here to view the human shit stain called Walt Palmer...

The ZCTF said on Tuesday that it continued to mourn Cecil. Rodrigues pointed out that the hunter was believed to have paid just $50,000 to kill a creature that would have brought millions of dollars worth of tourism to the reserve.

Conservation authorities said they were also dealing with the likely consequences of Cecil’s death for his six cubs. “The saddest part of all is that now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho, will most likely kill all Cecil’s cubs so that he can insert his own bloodline into the females.”


Minnesota dentist named as killer of Zimbabwe’s famed, human-loving Cecil the lion

Travis Gettys
28 Jul 2015 at 11:52 ET 

A Minnesota dentist has taken down his website after a British newspaper identified him as the American hunter who killed Zimbabwe’s most famous lion.

Walter Palmer, a trophy hunter who operates River Bluffs Dental in Bloomington, is believed to have paid about $55,000 to bribe wildlife guards July 1 at Hwange National Park, reported The Telegraph.

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force confirmed that Palmer — who has been previously fined for illegal hunts — spotted Cecil the lion at night and tied a dead animal to his vehicle to lure the famed cat out of the park.

That tactic is known as “baiting” and is used by big-game hunters to justify their killings as legal.

Investigators said Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, and he and a companion found the wounded and suffering cat the following morning and killed it.

Palmer then removed the cat’s skin and head and left its carcass near the outskirts of the park — where hunting is prohibited.

“He never bothered anybody,” said Johnny Rodrigues, the head of Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. “He was one of the most beautiful animals to look at.”

The 13-year-old big cat was known to the park’s visitors and seemingly enjoyed human contact, according to reports.

The 55-year-old Palmer, of Eden Prairie, said the reports were inaccurate.

“Obviously, some things are being misreported,” he said.

Palmer was assisted by professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst, who reported the “mistake” to park authorities the following day.

Bronkhorst and the landowner whose property borders the national park have each been charged with poaching in the case.

Photos of Palmer posing with large and exotic animals he has killed are widely shared on hunting blogs and other websites.

The father of two boasts that he has killed polar bears, bison, grizzly bears, cougars and many other animals.

He paid $45,000 in 2009 to legally shoot an elk as part of a fundraiser to establish a habitat for the animals.

Palmer, who learned to shoot at age 5, pleaded guilty in 2008 to making a false statement to federal wildlife officials about exactly where he killed a black bear during a guided hunt in Wisconsin and fined nearly $3,000 and sentenced to a year of probation.

He joked with reporters that his life revolved around shooting because he “doesn’t have a golf game.”


Click here to view some videos about Cecil the lion:

and and

 on: Jul 28, 2015, 07:40 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Dogs trained to sniff out bombers on the move

Originally published July 27, 2015 at 7:23 pm

For many years, dogs were trained to find homemade bombs planted in a parked car or stashed in a village bazaar. That focus changed when scientists and trainers were faced with a new challenge: how to detect such a bomb that is on the move, carried by a would-be bomber.

The New York Times

OPELIKA, Ala. — All dressed up in a shiny new red shirt, little Opelika could not stand still in the anteroom of the City Council chambers. And who could blame her? In a few minutes she would meet the mayor of this Alabama city for which she is named. Her meltingly calm mother, Lily, ignored her fidgeting.

They were being honored this day for their community service, and midway through the presentation, as little ones will do, Opelika stole the show from the starchy lawmakers: She barked.

Opelika and Lily, yellow Labrador retrievers, are part of the Canine Performance Sciences Program at Auburn University, which breeds and trains dogs to use their powerful sense of smell to keep people safe. After a year of preparation, Opelika will probably be placed with a government agency or a private security firm to sniff out bombs, narcotics or other threats.

For about half of that year, she will live in a state prison, where inmates who have earned the right to work with the program’s dogs lavish time and attention on them to hone their detection skills and reinforce basic socialization.  

It’s a lot for a 6-week-old puppy like Opelika to take on; most dogs spend their early months learning little more than how not to gnaw on the living-room furniture. But program organizers say the regimen produces highly disciplined dogs whose abilities rival or surpass cutting-edge technology.

The dogs, mostly Labradors — a breed chosen for its sociability and physical resilience — emerge from the prisons “more mature mentally,” said Jeanne Brock, a chief instructor at Auburn. “They have more stamina and endurance.” And along the way, moments of startling humanity come to light: One older inmate, Brock recalled, cried when he met his puppy. “I haven’t touched a dog in 40 years,” he told her.

Moving targets

A couple of miles from the verdant quadrangles of Auburn’s main campus sits the Canine Performance Sciences building. Its otherwise humdrum conference room is crowned with the skin of a 13.5-foot python caught in the Florida Everglades, where Auburn dogs stalked invasive snakes.

For many years, dogs here were trained to find improvised explosive devices — homemade bombs — that had been planted in a parked car or stashed in a village bazaar. That focus changed somewhat about eight years ago, when Auburn’s scientists and trainers were approached with a new challenge: how to detect an IED that is on the move, carried by a would-be bomber.

“The first application we were pointed toward was mass transit,” said Paul Waggoner, a program co-director. The idea was to preserve crowd flow while identifying suspicious individuals. If you make people walk through checkpoints like the kind in airports, Waggoner explained, then “mass transit becomes nonmass transit.”

What was the most effective way, Waggoner and his colleagues wondered, for dogs to patrol crowded areas? They found their answer in the work of Gary Settles, a mechanical-engineering professor at Penn State whose research had shown that humans produce thermal plumes that emanate from our bodies and entrain gaseous particles. Most of these particles, like traces of perspiration or perfume, are benign, but the plume can also betray contact with hazardous materials, like those used in bombs.

Instead of screening each person, then, the dogs could inspect the “human aerodynamic wakes” that trail behind people in motion and alert a handler to the presence of explosives.

If that sounds fairly straightforward, “it’s a bigger challenge than you think,” Waggoner said. “Dogs naturally want to interrogate things and people, and not open space.”

Among the first animals trained under the new protocol were dogs deployed by Amtrak in 2007, and the rail service has used more than 70. Dogs schooled in vapor wake detection have also guarded the New York City subway system, presidential inaugurations and sporting events at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Buoyed by the dogs’ advances in tracking air currents, Waggoner and Craig Angle, a co-director of the Canine Performance Sciences Program, began experimenting with even more elusive targets, including pathogens. In a video shown to a visitor, a dog named Baxter sniffs at the cabinets in a vacant house used as a research site, alerting when he finds a swab of a nasty cattle virus. Researchers are interested in, among other things, whether dogs can be used to find viruses that affect livestock, in the hope that ranchers would no longer need to destroy entire herds to eliminate a few infected animals.

No one knows precisely what makes a dog’s sense of smell so sensitive, but Waggoner and others say olfaction may be “the most ‘preserved’ sense — it’s probably the most ancient one.” Dogs’ eyes and ears remain closed for about 14 days after birth, Waggoner said, but “pups come out smelling; that’s how they interact and get around the world.”

By most estimates, dogs have 40 times as many olfactory receptors as humans do — 220 million versus 5 million. Studies using rats, another animal with superior smelling abilities, have indicated that even when 95 to 98 percent of the receptors are degraded, a sharp sense of smell remains intact.

Yet what might be most striking is not that dogs can detect odors at parts per trillion (“like a splash of Kool-Aid in a swimming pool,” Angle said) but that they can discriminate among so many scents. Arson investigators have witnessed this for years, as dogs sift through smoldering ruins to find accelerants.

“Think of it like picking out someone’s voice in a crowded conversation,” Waggoner said. “Dogs can detect a very small sample amidst a lot of odor noise.”

A dog’s brain

Since their program’s inception, Auburn’s trainers have known that the dogs must be continually rewarded, primarily through toys and verbal encouragement, when they have given an alert they have found a target odor. Until recently, however, the scientists could only speculate on the brain activity behind the dogs’ extreme drive.

That picture is becoming clearer now, through a neuroscience project financed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In the study, Gopikrishna Deshpande, Waggoner and their colleagues are using functional magnetic resonance imaging recordings to better understand what happens in a dog’s brain when the animal is presented with odors and with photographs and videos of human faces. (Auburn is one of only a handful of sites studying fully awake, unrestrained animals with MRI, largely because it takes months of painstaking training to get the dogs to lie with the stillness the machines require.)

Deshpande said early data revealed that dogs presented with a learned odor show increased activity in two brain areas: the hippocampus, where memories are stored, and the caudate nucleus, which is associated with rewarding feelings. “Say you eat something good, or buy something that makes you feel good,” he said. “That part of the brain will show blood flow.”

They are also focusing on the default mode network. The more integrated the network is with the rest of the brain, the higher the likelihood of “referential thinking,” a foundation necessary for sophisticated emotional states, like empathy.

Though the research is in its early stages, Waggoner said it could have implications for identifying which dogs will succeed in detection roles and which will thrive as assistance animals.

“Left of Boom”

On a day cold by Alabama standards, a black Lab named Gus ignored the biting wind and sprinted through a pavilion in a grassy clearing at a training site to scrutinize half a dozen wooden boxes, each with a hole in the top. One of the boxes hid a powder that mimics explosive chemicals, and when Gus alerted on it, he was given a toy.

Gus and his sister Gala had returned to Auburn days earlier, after six months with their prison handlers. While Gus had immediately stood out, Gala was tentative, “a little more squirrelly,” said Terry Fischer, a chief instructor. As she hunted targets in the brush and gamy husks of felled trees, she looked to her trainer Bart Rogers for help. “Coyote or whatever else she’s smelling out here, it just shut her down,” he said.

In the next few weeks, Fischer and Rogers would work with the dogs on increasingly challenging tasks, adding to the number of boxes and then moving on to vehicles and complex settings like warehouses and power plants.

If one of the Auburn research projects proves viable, dogs like Gala will no longer be able to seek aid from their handlers. Borrowing driverless-car technology, the scientists are exploring ways to set dogs off on their own. The goal, Waggoner said, is to examine wide areas where bomb-making components are stored “before they’re live.”

“It’s about getting to what people call ‘left of boom,’” he added.

“We will find it”

Among people who work with dogs, it is widely understood that the first year of an animal’s life is vital for imprinting. That is when it learns how to socialize, and grows accustomed to the sights and sounds of its environment. For the Auburn dogs, this is when they must grasp the kind of trusting but strict relationship they will have with their eventual handlers.

Originally, Auburn relied on local families to foster the puppies, said James Floyd, former director of the Canine Performance Sciences Program. Despite the precise guidelines the volunteer hosts were given to maintain the dogs’ fitness and not spoil them, Floyd said, “you’d visit to check on them and there they’d be, up on the couch, watching TV, being fed potato chips.”

About 80 percent would fail to meet the rigorous detector-dog standards: “They had been raised as pets,” said Brock, the Auburn instructor. “The main problem was lack of structure.” (Dogs that drop out are offered for adoption or retained for noninvasive research.) Knowing that service animals had been successfully trained in prisons, the program leaders decided in 2004 to place dogs at Bay Correctional Facility, in Florida. The failure rate fell quickly with the shift to a more stringent environment, and now Auburn has partnerships with five prisons in Florida and Georgia.

One of them is Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, Ga., which houses men serving sentences of up to 25 years, for “multiple DUIs to murder, and just about everything in between,” said Grady Perry, a former warden.

Perry and his “hall team” led a visitor past the library and the barbershop to the dog-training room, where, on a Friday morning, 10 inmates in white shirts, white pants and slip-on shoes stood in a line, steely and silent.

James Reeves, the co-manager of the prison’s dog program, retrieved a black Lab named Keisha from the dog dormitory. She bounded in, and though she looked alarmed by her audience, she quickly found the target odor. In response, the inmates whooped and hollered and clapped, and one of them tossed her a red ball.

Next up was her littermate Kevin (litters are named by letter), who sent his reward skittering across the floor toward the warden’s feet. As Perry bent to pick it up, one of the inmates approached. “I’ll get it, Warden,” said the man, the words “God’s Child” tattooed across his Adam’s apple in gothic letters. “It’s all slimy.”

Some of the Coffee trainers are old pros — one was working with his 10th dog — while others are new to the program. They live in a dedicated dorm, where the dogs’ crates nestle against the inmates’ bunks.

Perry says he is tremendously proud of the Auburn partnership, crediting it with improving inmates’ morale and behavior. “The incident rate in that unit is almost nonexistent,” he said. “That dog program just kind of calms everyone.”

Not every inmate is eligible. To apply, inmates must have a high-school diploma or its equivalent and be free of disciplinary reports for a year — a considerable challenge, Perry said.

“These aren’t heinous individuals,” he said. “They’re men who’ve made mistakes, serious ones, and they deserve to be forgiven. And the sooner they can forgive themselves, the sooner we can.”

Working with the dogs, he said, speeds that process. “A lot of these guys have never been given a lot of responsibility, and this is their chance not only to be a responsible adult but a responsible citizen,” he said.

That sense of duty is explained in a mantra displayed on a wall:

You Can Design It

You Can Make It

You Can Hide It


We Will Find It

 on: Jul 28, 2015, 07:27 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Little seabird’s advocates hope protection plan is near

Originally published July 27, 2015 at 7:50 pm

State and federal officials are expected to soon propose alternatives for saving the marbled murrelet from extinction, a sign of progress that will be welcome news for the Murrelet Survival Project, a campaign to save the bird.

By Miguel Otárola
Seattle Times staff reporter

In 1992, a small, speedy seabird called the marbled murrelet was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Its home — the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest — had dwindled, leaving it few places to nest.

Twenty-three years later, the population of the bird has continued to decline. By some counts, its numbers are 50 percent lower than they were a decade ago.

Now its advocates have joined together in a new campaign to save the bird, which can fly at up to 100 mph, swims underwater and has a roundish body. Maria Mudd-Ruth, whose 2005 book about the species was reissued in 2013, described it as a “brown potato with a beak.”
Marbled-murrelet fast facts

• Diving seabird that nests in old-growth forests

• Webbed feet combined with slender pointed wings help birds ‘fly’ underwater to catch fish and crustaceans.

• Needs tree branches at least 6 inches in diameter on which to nest

• Because it is a rapid but imprecise flier, it needs large spaces between branches so it can land. This bird also drops straight off a branch to gain speed for takeoff.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Murrelet Survival Project, which started last August, is pressuring the state and federal governments to come up with a long-term conservation plan, aimed at increasing the murrelet’s nesting habitat.   

The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are expected to announce several alternatives as early as September, and they’ve scheduled a special meeting next month to discuss the options.

Environmentalists are hopeful that a plan to help the species will be in place by sometime next year.

Creating the right plan may be especially difficult, however, because for its survival the bird depends on avoiding detection.

“The murrelet is a headache, for anyone who either loves it or hates it,” Mudd-Ruth said. “It is a very challenging species to work with.”

Longtime concern

The marbled murrelet has been part of state conservation efforts since the early 1990s.

That was back when environmentalists’ biggest concern was the northern spotted owl, a species also classified as threatened.In 1994, the Clinton administration adopted the Northwest Forest Plan, aimed at balancing protection of the owl with the economic value of logging.

Protection of the owl’s habitat also helped the murrelet because it limited timber logging in federal old-growth forests. Then in 1997, Endangered Species Act protections were extended to state-owned lands, too. Logging was prohibited in known nesting sites of the murrelet and in a 100-meter buffer around them.

But scientists still didn’t know much about the murrelet until 2008, when the DNR released a report on the bird’s nesting patterns in Southwest Washington and the Olympic Peninsula. The report listed reasons for the seabird’s decline and some suggestions to help with its recovery.

But DNR has yet to act on those recommendations.

“The whole time, it’s been a very, very slow process,” said Kevin Schmelzlen, the campaign coordinator for the Murrelet Survival Project. Without pressure, he said, he doubts the DNR would take murrelet conservation seriously.

But Kyle Blum, the department’s representative for marbled-murrelet updates, said the extra time was necessary.

“I would say that one of the reasons that it’s taken as long as it has … is that we’re so committed to create these decisions based on science,” Blum said.

Meanwhile, the DNR has allowed logging in a section of the Olympic Experimental State Forest in northwest Washington, near a known marbled murrelet management area. The Washington Forest Law Center filed a lawsuit to stop that project, but lost.

That’s what led environmental groups to band together to form the Murrelet Survival Project.

“At that point,” Schmelzlen said, “we definitely lost some faith in DNR to act in good faith, and realized we need to proactively press this.”

Pressure on DNR

Schmelzlen leads the Murrelet Survival Project, which has members from the Seattle Audubon Society, the Sierra Club and the Washington Forest Law Center. Its main goal is to motivate DNR to choose a long-term conservation strategy based on findings from the 2008 report — and to do so swiftly.

So far, the effort has succeeded in getting conversations about the murrelet going between timber-dependent counties and conservation communities, said Mudd-Ruth, the murrelet book author, who works with Schmelzlen.

The bird also has been discussed at every Board of Natural Resources meeting in 2015, and the DNR and Fish and Wildlife Service have hired a University of Wisconsin researcher to look at each proposed alternative and its impact on the state murrelet population.

Along with pressuring state and federal agencies, the Murrelet Survival Project has worked to generate public awareness about the species.

The Washington Environmental Council created a petition, which now has almost 5,500 signatures, asking the state lands commissioner to prohibit logging in marbled-murrelet management areas and to create a larger buffer of 150 meters around known nesting sites.
Proposals coming

After the board releases its ideas for long-term conservation in August, the public will have a chance to comment on them. Schmelzlen believes the plan will be in place by the end of 2016.

The goal is to produce something that can last 50 years, enough time for younger trees to grow, creating much more murrelet habitat.

One issue is how the conservation plan might be affected by DNR’s constitutional mandate to make money from logging for state school construction. Environmentalists such as Schmelzlen and Mudd-Ruth hope that one day DNR won’t be expected to raise revenue that way.

“DNR is caught between a rock and a hard place right now,” Mudd-Ruth said. “They have an agenda that’s not sustainable.”

But the advocates believe the murrelet can — and should — be saved. It’s unethical, Schmelzlen said, to consciously choose to let it go extinct.

“There’s a lot of species out there where there’s no good option,” he said. “But here we have a way.”


Marbled-murrelet fast facts

• Diving seabird that nests in old-growth forests

• Webbed feet combined with slender pointed wings help birds ‘fly’ underwater to catch fish and crustaceans.

• Needs tree branches at least 6 inches in diameter on which to nest

• Because it is a rapid but imprecise flier, it needs large spaces between branches so it can land. This bird also drops straight off a branch to gain speed for takeoff.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 on: Jul 28, 2015, 07:00 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Giant Crater on Saturn Moon Tethys Dazzles in Spectacular Photo

by Mike Wall, Senior Writer     
July 28, 2015 07:00am ET

A huge impact crater shines brightly on Saturn's icy moon Tethys in a gorgeous new photo taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

The image highlights an impact basin on Tethys called Odysseus, which, at 280 miles (450 kilometers) across, is nearly half as wide as the Saturn moon itself. (The diameter of Tethys is about 660 miles, or 1,062 km).

The photo shows that Odysseus is considerably brighter than the surrounding landscape.

"This distinct coloration may result from differences in either the composition or structure of the terrain exposed by the giant impact," NASA officials wrote in a description of the image, which was released today (July 27).

Odysseus "is one of the largest impact craters on Saturn's icy moons, and may have significantly altered the geologic history of Tethys," NASA officials added.

Cassini captured the image on May 9, when it was about 186,000 miles (300,000 km) from Tethys. The photo's resolution is about 1.1 miles (1.8 km) per pixel, NASA officials said.

Tethys is the fifth-largest of Saturn's 62 known moons; only Titan, Rhea, Iapetus and Dione are bigger. Tethys, which is composed primarily of water ice, was discovered by the Cassini mission's namesake, Italian astronomer and mathematician Giovanni Domenico Cassini, in 1684.

Odysseus isn't the only outsize feature on Tethys; the satellite also features a 1,240-mile-long (2,000 km) canyon called Ithaca Chasma that's 62 miles (100 km) wide in places.

The $3.2 billion Cassini-Huygens mission — a collaboration involving NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency — launched in 1997 and arrived in the Saturn system in 2004. In January 2005, the mission's Huygens lander touched down on the surface of Titan, the ringed planet's largest moon.

Cassini will continue circling Saturn and studying the gas giant and its many moons until September 2017. The spacecraft will then end its mission with a bang, performing an intentional death dive into Saturn's thick atmosphere.

 on: Jul 28, 2015, 06:58 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

NASA's Curiosity Rover Eyes Weird Rock On Mars

by Mike Wall, Senior Writer   
July 28, 2015 07:30am ET

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity went out of its way to investigate a rock the likes of which it has never seen before on the Red Planet.

Measurements by Curiosity's rock-zapping ChemCam laser and another instrument revealed that the target, a chunk of bedrock dubbed Elk, contains high levels of silica and hydrogen, NASA officials said.

The abundance of silica — a silicon-oxygen compound commonly found here on Earth in the form of quartz — suggests that the bedrock may provide conditions conducive to the preservation of ancient carbon-containing organic molecules, if any exist in the area, the officials added. So Curiosity's handlers sent the rover back 151 feet (46 meters) to check Elk out.

"One never knows what to expect on Mars, but the Elk target was interesting enough to go back and investigate," ChemCam principal investigator Roger Wiens, of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said in a statement.

Elk lies near a spot on the lower reaches of the 3.4-mile-high (5.5 kilometers) Mount Sharp, called Marias Pass, whose rocks Curiosity had been studying. Marias Pass is a "geological contact zone" where dark sandstone meets lighter mudstone.

"We found an outcrop named Missoula where the two rock types came together, but it was quite small and close to the ground," Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in the same statement. "We used the robotic arm to capture a dog's-eye view with the MAHLI [Mars Hand Lens Imager] camera, getting our nose right in there."

ChemCam had fired at the Elk bedrock from the top of a small hill close to Marias Pass, which Curiosity had summitted before taking a look at the contact zone. After looking at the Missoula outcrop, the 1-ton rover began moving on, but an analysis of ChemCam's data persuaded the team to turn Curiosity around for a closer look at Elk, mission team members said.

"ChemCam acts like eyes and ears of the rover for nearby objects," Wiens said.

As Curiosity gathers data, mission engineers continue to investigate a short circuit that cropped up in the rover's sample-collecting drill in February. No short circuits occurred during a July 18 engineering test, so the Curiosity team plans to conduct some drilling trials on rocks in the near future, NASA officials said.

Curiosity has been exploring Mars' 96-mile-wide (154 km) Gale Crater for nearly three years now. The six-wheeled robot touched down on the night of Aug. 5, 2012, on a mission to determine if Gale could ever have supported microbial life.

Curiosity scientists answered this question early in the mission, finding that Gale Crater once harbored an extensive lake-and-stream system that could have supported microbial life, if such organisms had ever evolved on the Red Planet.

 on: Jul 28, 2015, 06:49 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Protected birds faring better in Europe

EU birds directive is having a positive impact on threatened populations as Dalmatian pelicans, griffon vultures, red kites and cranes see their numbers rise

Press Association
Tuesday 28 July 2015 06.01 BST

Birds which have been given the highest level of protection by European rules are faring significantly better than other bird species, research has shown.

The study found birds protected as “annex 1” species under the EU’s birds directive, which requires governments to take action to conserve them, are more likely to have increasing populations than those that are not annex 1.

The protection was having a positive impact on threatened European bird populations even in the face of climate change, which is already affecting species, the study published in the journal Conservation Letters said.

100 British conservation groups oppose review of EU wildlife laws...Read more:

But long-distance migrants did not see a significant benefit from the protection, suggesting efforts to conserve them in Europe were being outweighed by problems along their migration route or in their African wintering grounds.

The research, conducted by the RSPB, BirdLife International and Durham University, found the positive impact of the directive existed in both the short and long term, and threatened birds fared better in countries which had been EU members longer.

The study comes as the European commission conducts a review of the birds and habitats directives, a move which conservationists warn poses the biggest single threat to UK and EU wildlife in a generation.

They fear the commission’s review of the legislation, which in the case of the birds directive has been protecting wildlife since 1979, means the rules are at risk of being weakened by people who mistakenly regard them as a block on growth.

Threatened UK birds listed as annex 1 species such as avocets, white-tailed eagles, bitterns, red kites, cranes, corncrakes, ospreys and marsh harriers, have seen numbers increase significantly over the last 25 years, the RSPB said.

RSPB scientist Dr Fiona Sanderson, lead author of the paper, said: “We analysed information on all bird species breeding across the European Union.

“Our findings confirm that species with the highest level of protection under the birds directive, such as Dalmatian pelican, spoonbill, griffon vulture and greater flamingo, are more likely to have increasing populations, and that these results are most apparent in countries that have been members of the European Union for longer.”

RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said: “With such strong evidence of the effectiveness of Europe’s nature laws, coupled with record levels of public support across Europe, the European commission has a strong mandate to ensure these laws are maintained.

“These laws are delivering for Europe’s nature and its citizens, and now is not the time to jeopardise the effectiveness of these laws and the progress made.

“Instead we should realise the full power of the laws, and implement them to help more species.”

More than half a million people across Europe, including 100,000 from the UK, have backed calls by conservationists for the Commission not to amend the legislation.

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