Bird gets lost — spawns a new species on a remote island

❝ If you get lost at sea and find yourself on an island you’d probably try to build a fire, pile some sticks and stones into a makeshift home and maybe even try to signal for help. When one misguided bird found himself in the same situation, he didn’t wallow in his own self pity; he created his own entirely new species.

RTFA. I’ve been hanging on to this one for a spell – and it’s fascinating.

Here comes another piece of the future

Kudos to Elon Musk, his peers like Jeff Bezos, and many more not-so-public figures striving to move our species forward to better times.

US goverments lost any sense of science leadership decades ago. Not as good a vote-getter as 19th Century bible-thumping and bigotry. Congress remains more concerned with job security than justice, myths of pearly gates instead of education and health.

The hopes and praise fall to Elon Musk. An immigrant who got round to becoming a citizen in this millennium.

Do we inhabit a universe whose occupants are mostly pond scum.

❝ …Most astrobiologists seem comfortable with the premise that life might be widespread. But their optimism doesn’t always extend to complex, intelligent life.

❝ It’s possible that we inhabit a universe whose occupants are mostly pond scum. After decades of seeing semi-humanoid aliens strut across the silver screen, it would be more than a little disappointing to think that the actual cosmic bestiary largely consists of plants and animals that are microscopic, or at best, no smarter than cane toads.

That situation would make humans very special, a circumstance that seems at odds with the enormous amount of real estate available for life, as well as the billions of years since the Big Bang during which intelligence could arise.

❝ So, could there be a plausible explanation for why the universe seems so short on keen-witted company?

RTFA for some useful reflection upon our species, the known universe and such.

It ain’t a blood moon, blue moon or supermoon. Still fun to see…

On Wednesday, humanity will be treated to a celestial trifecta: A supermoon (meaning it’s relatively close to Earth), but also simultaneously a blood moon (it’ll be orange or red), but also simultaneously a blue moon (the second full moon in one calendar month) will pass in the shadow of Earth, for a total lunar eclipse. It’s going to be righteous.

But supermoon? Blue moon? Blood moon? Yeah, let’s go ahead and pump the brakes on those terms, because the first was created by an astrologer, the second is highly subjective, and the third was only recently popularized by this-must-be-prophecy types…

It’s going to be great, I can assure you. It’s an eclipse, for heaven’s sake, regardless of the semantics. And it almost certainly won’t be the end of the world.

I’ll second that emotion. And leave out the nice guy “almost certainly” for folks who like to spook themselves.

Discovered: a family of viruses that dominate the oceans

❝ The ocean is crowded. As many as 10 million viruses can be found squirming in a single millilitre of its water, and it turns out they have friends we never even knew about.

Scientists have discovered a previously unknown family of viruses that dominate the ocean and can’t be detected by standard lab tests. Researchers suspect this viral multitude may already exist outside the water — maybe even inside us.

“We don’t think it’s ocean-specific at all,” says environmental microbiologist Martin Polz from MIT…

❝ The team calls their discovery Autolykiviridae, after Autolykos (“the wolf itself”): a character from Greek mythology, who as a trickster and thief proved similarly tricky to catch.

But Autolykiviridae has been caught, and now that we know about it, the discovery is helping scientists to fill in a large missing link in virus evolution.

RTFA. Fascinating stuff. Cue your favorite sci-fi music in the background though I think it unnecessary. Real science is already scary enough to some.

Dinosaur with iridescent feathers

Click to enlargeVelizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum

❝ The discovery that dinosaurs were feathery, not leathery, means we’ve had to rethink how they might have looked – and now there’s evidence that at least one dinosaur could have been as brilliantly coloured as some of the most jewel-hued modern birds.

Caihong juji, a name that means “rainbow with the big crest” in Mandarin, was a tiny, duck-sized dinosaur from China. The fossil it left behind indicates a bony crest on its beak, and a brilliant, iridescent ruff of feathers around its neck – the earliest evidence of a colour-based display…

❝ It’s difficult to tell for certain what colour the feathers were, but the fossil was so detailed that it preserved the shape of the melanosomes, the organelles inside cells responsible for pigmentation.

And when the team compared these melanosomes to those of living birds, they most closely resembled melanosomes found in the iridescent, rainbow-hued feathers of hummingbirds.

RTFA for more on the find – and analysis. And special thanks to UrsaRodinia.

Nikki Haley punked by her ignorance of geography

❝ A Russian comedy duo apparently pranked US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley, who assured them the US is closely following the situation on the fictional island of Binomo and will “continue to remind” Russia “what their place is.”

❝ Famous Russian pranksters Vovan and Lexus (Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexey Stolyarov) released the recording of yet another one of their prank calls, in which they allegedly tricked Nikki Haley into believing she was speaking with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki…

During the 22-minute conversation…the pranksters raised concerns over Russian interference in the political affairs of an imaginary South China Sea island – Binomo – which does not exist on the world map. Haley, however, seemed to be on top of things, claiming the US is watching the situation there very carefully.

RTFA. Presumably Ms Haley realized her mistake when she sought info from her staff about the problems on Binomo. Spoke to someone with more knowledge of geography.

Where’s the water going? Where will the water go?

❝ There’s still much that remains unknown about the Greenland ice sheet, which at roughly 650,000 square miles is more than twice the size of Texas. The sheet, up to two miles thick, contains enough ice that, if it all melted, would raise oceans around the world by 24 feet. Precisely how the ice melts — half or more by warming on the surface, the rest by ice sheet movement toward the sea, where it melts or calves off as icebergs — can greatly affect how much and how fast the seas rise.

Greenland is currently losing an average of about 260 billion tons of ice per year; at this rate, it would contribute about two inches to sea level rise by the end of the century. This ice loss is estimated through gravity measurements by satellites, but computer models that simulate physical processes are used to estimate the surface runoff. The field study was meant to improve those models by providing on-the-ground data on the flow of meltwater.

Science, of course, isn’t invoked just to give hope – or spread fear. Facts are facts. It takes corrupt politicians to turn them into fake news. RTFA.