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Archive for February, 2016

Video shows only known wild jaguar in U.S.

February 27, 2016 1 comment

An environmental advocacy organization released a video earlier this month that shows a jaguar wandering in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains, near Tucson. The big cat is the only one if its kind known to live in the wild in this country.

Jaguars (Panthera onca) were once relatively common in the American Southwest and had a range that extended all the way to southern Argentina.  A 1989 scientific paper concluded that hunters extirpated the big cat from the United States.

In 1997 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service designated the species as endangered within the country and in Mexico, Central America, and  South America. The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers jaguars to be near-threatened throughout their worldwide range.

Panthera onca is also protected by an international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, that prohibits exploitation of the animal for commercial purposes.

Jaguars are smaller than lions (Panthera leo) and tigers (Panthera tigris). Females generally  reach a mass of about 75 kilograms, while males usually grow to a size as large as about 95 kilograms. Some larger specimens have been reported.

Jaguars range far, if prey is not abundant, and eat a varied diet. Crepuscular in their hunting habits, they are known to eat more than 85 other species, including armadillos, birds, caimans, capybaras, deer, fish, pacas, peccaries (javelinas), and turtles.

Of all the big cats (lions, tigers, leopards, and snow leopards are the others), the jaguar is the least likely to attack a man.

Known in the Spanish language as “el tigre” the presence of the big cat near a major American city may be bringing a smile to some faces in southern Arizona.

“Just knowing that this amazing cat is right out there, just 25 miles from downtown Tucson, is a big thrill,” Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, said.

Cassini sends home picturesque view of Enceladus

February 26, 2016 Leave a comment

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made its last fly-by of Enceladus on Dec. 19. Since then it has been transmitting to Earth images taken of the ocean moon, including this beauty received Feb. 15:

Enceladus - last fly-by, Dec. 19, 2015 - received at Earth Feb. 15, 2016 - courtesy NASA, JPL, SSI, Justin Cowart

This view of Enceladus is from about 83,000 kilometers. The moon is captured in winter. It’s north pole is to the upper left, while its south pole is obscured by darkness in the lower right. Courtesy NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Space Science Institute, Justin Cowart.

 

Tech company video shows “Atlas” robot walk, respond to provocation

February 25, 2016 Leave a comment

A Massachusetts-based company released a video Wednesday that shows a bipedal robot walking out of its office and through the snow, attempting to pick up a package, and continuing to function after being subjected to a variety of abuses and provocations by an employee.

The video shows a robot named Atlas, built by Boston Dynamics, Inc.

According to the firm’s website, Atlas can climb and also “pick its way through congested spaces” with mechanical hands and feet.

In an interview with IEEE spectrum, Boston Dynamics, Inc.’s founder said that Atlas’ legs were built with the assistance of 3D printers.

Marc Raibert, who is also the company’s president, also said that Atlas represents another step in a quest to “make robots that have mobility, dexterity, perception and intelligence comparable to humans and animals, or perhaps exceeding them.”

Boston Dynamics, Inc. is a subsidiary of Alphabet, Inc., which is the holding company that includes Google.

 

NASA releases Cassini image of three Saturnian moons

February 23, 2016 Leave a comment

As NASA’s Cassini probe continues its exploration of Saturn and its moons, it sends home some amazing images of that distant region of our solar system.

Yesterday, NASA released an image showing three of the gas giant’s moons: Tethys, Enceladus, and Mimas. Here it is:

Three moons, obtained Dec. 2015, released Feb. 22, 2016

Tethys (above the rings), Enceladus (just below center and below the rings), and Mimas (below and to the left of Enceladus) appear in this image obtained by Cassini in visible light on Dec. 3, 2015. Courtesy NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory – California Institute of Technology, Space Science Institute.

According to NASA:

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 837,000 miles (1.35 million kilometers) from Enceladus, with an image scale of 5 miles (8 kilometers) per pixel. Tethys was approximately 1.2 million miles (1.9 million kilometers) away with an image scale of 7 miles (11 kilometers) per pixel. Mimas was approximately 1.1 million miles (1.7 million kilometers) away with an image scale of 6 miles (10 kilometers) per pixel.

Tethys’ diameter is about 1,066 kilometers. The cratered moon orbits Saturn from a distance of about 294,600 kilometers. That is about 20 percent farther from Saturn than the Moon is from Earth. Tethys is slightly less dense than liquid water, which suggests that its structure is mostly ice. This frigid moon is tidally locked to Saturn – it does not rotate and only one side of Tethys faces Saturn.

Enceladus is smaller than Tethys, with a diameter of about 500 kilometers. The host of a sub-surface liquid water ocean, Enceladus is covered by water ice and  reflects nearly all the sunlight that hits it. That makes it a very cold satellite. The surface temperature on the moon is about -201 degrees Celsius. It orbits Saturn from a mean distance of about 238,000 kilometers, which is about the same distance as Earth’s satellite is from our planet.

enceladus-small

This whimsical poster depicting Enceladus is part of NASA’s Visions of the Future project. You can see more at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/visions-of-the-future/. Courtesy NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory – California Institute of Technology.

Mimas is the smallest of Saturn’s major moons. It is heavily cratered, with a giant crater called Herschel stretching across about one-third of its surface. That feature has led Mimas to sometimes be called the “Death Star moon” because it evokes the fictional planet-destroying spacecraft in the Star Wars films. Mimas’ diameter is about 400 kilometers; it orbits Saturn from a mean distance of about 200,000 kilometers.

Scientists, in first, observe female orangutan kill another female

February 23, 2016 Leave a comment
Bornean orangutan

Bornean orangutans, like their Sumatran cousins, are arboreal and depend primarily on fruit for food. Courtesy Wikimedia.

Orangutans are gentle animals. Among Homo sapiens‘ closest relatives, the arboreal red apes from Asia got their name because the humans who discovered them thought they were “people of the forest.”

They are not immune from a willingness to commit violence. Conflict among male great apes is relatively common and male orangutans will rape females. Among females, fights that cause severe injury or death are unusual.

Now researchers have, for the first time, seen a female orangutan attack and kill another female. She didn’t act alone, either. Her male consort helped.

Orangutans do not live in groups. They tend toward the solitary. But females can have overlapping home territories. In the case described in a recent paper published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, a young female basically arranged the death of an older female.

The events occurred in 2014. The younger orangutan, named Kondor, and the older orangutan, Sidony, had clashed some years earlier. This time, Kondor enlisted the help of a male named Ekko, who was not yet mature enough to have the characteristic male cheek flanges. Kondor and Ekko copulated near Sidony, then Kondor broke off the sexual encounter and attacked the older female. Ekko prevented Sidony’s escape and also bit her repeatedly. An older male eventually intervened to protect Sidony, but she suffered such extensive injuries that she died two weeks after the fight.

Orangutans are mostly fruit-eaters, though they will also eat bark, leaves, and insects. Their offspring are dependent on parents for a long time. An infant orangutan can be expected to nurse for six years and females stay with their mothers until they are teenagers.

The two species of orangutan – Pongo abelii and Pongo pygmaeus – live on Sumatra and Borneo and are among the most endangered animals on the planet.Their habitat – forest – is under assault by human demand for palm oil and both species are victimized by poaching.

The Orangutan Conservancy estimates that only about 40,000 individuals survive.

Looking back at Cassini: A last look at Dione

February 23, 2016 Leave a comment

NASA’s Cassini probe is in its last year of operation, continuing to explore the Saturn system, and it seems appropriate to look back at some of the amazing images the spacecraft has sent home to Earth.

This one was taken on August 17, 2015, during the probe’s last flyby of Saturn’s moon Dione.

Dione, Aug. 2016

Icy Dione, as seen by Cassini last August. You can see some of the rings of Saturn, as well as the solar system’s second largest planet, in the background. Courtesy NASA.

Dione (Di-OH-nee) is a small moon, with a diameter of only about 1,120 kilometers, and it orbits Saturn at about the same distance as the Moon orbits Earth. Covered by ice for which one of Saturn’s rings is the main source, Dione has many craters. Some are as large as 100 kilometers across.

Like Earth’s sole satellite, Dione does not rotate. Only one side of the moon ever faces Saturn.

Giovanni Cassini discovered Dione in 1864. The moon takes its name from the mythological Greek goddess who was said by Homer to be the mother of Aphrodite.

January was hottest on record, 9th month in a row to set warmth record

February 21, 2016 Leave a comment

January continued a streak of hotter-than-average months, according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, going into the record books as the hottest January since climate records have been kept and continuing a recent streak of consecutive warmest monthly temperature benchmarks.

According to the National Centers of Environmental Information, a bureau of NOAA, the worldwide average atmosphere and ocean surface temperature was 1.04 degrees Celsius above the 2oth century average. That is the second-highest deviation from the global norm ever recorded in 137 years of record-keeping, trailing only December 2015.

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies released data last week indicating that January represented the greatest departure from the global average atmosphere and ocean surface temperature, with the worldwide measurement reaching 1.13 degrees above the global average of the last century.

Jan. 2016 temperatures
This graphic shows worldwide air and sea surface temperatures in January 2016. Courtesy NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The record-breaking warmth was especially pronounced in the Arctic, where temperatures above 75 degrees north latitude were 7 degrees Celsius above average and temperatures. That would explain the report released last week by the National Snow & Ice Data Center, which indicated that January’s Arctic ice pack is lower than it has been in any January in recorded history. The NSIDC data shows that January’s Arctic ice pack was more than a million square kilometers less than the 1981-2010 average.

January 2016 Arctic ice cover
This graphic shows the Arctic ice cover in January 2016 – 13.53 million square kilometers. The magenta-colored line shows the median January ice cover between 1981-2010; the black cross marks the geographic North Pole. Graphic courtesy National Snow & Ice Data Center.

The NOAA report indicated that Sub-Saharan Africa, most of South America, the Middle East, and southwestern Asia also experienced significant warmth last month. Some areas experienced anomalous rainfall, particularly the United Kingdom, Ireland, some parts of western Europe, New Zealand, parts of Brazil and southern South America, and parts of China. Others were abnormally dry. Those areas included parts of Mexico and northern South America, some areas in Australia, portions of Asia, and a small part of northwestern Africa.

January was also the ninth consecutive month in which the record for highest average monthly air and sea surface temperature has been broken, according to NOAA.

1976 was the last year in which Earth experienced a January that was colder than average.

 

 

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