Even in the wildest corner of your yard (or prairie) mice will run on wheels

Yes, I know this is a couple years old. But, I somehow missed it first time round.

In 2009, neurophysiologist Johanna Meijer set up an unusual experiment in her backyard. In an ivy-tangled corner of her garden, she and her colleagues at Leiden University in the Netherlands placed a rodent running wheel inside an open cage and trained a motion-detecting infrared camera on the scene. Then they put out a dish of food pellets and chocolate crumbs to attract animals to the wheel and waited.

Wild house mice discovered the food in short order, then scampered into the wheel and started to run. Rats, shrews, and even frogs found their way to the wheel—more than 200,000 animals over 3 years. The creatures seemed to relish the feeling of running without going anywhere.

The study “puts a nail in the coffin” of the debate over whether mice and rats will run on wheels in a natural setting, says Ted Garland, an evolutionary physiologist at the University of California, Riverside, who was not involved in the work. More importantly, he says, the findings suggest that like (some) humans, mice and other animals may simply exercise because they like to. Figuring out why certain strains of mice are more sedentary than others could help shed light on genetic differences between more active and sedentary people…

On average, the backyard mice she and colleagues observed ran in 1 to 2 minute stints, roughly the same duration as that seen in lab mice, they reported online…in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The team also set up a second wheel in a nearby nature preserve of grassy dunes and attracted a similar crowd of enthusiasts.

Simulation of 2017 Hurricanes and Aerosol Tracking

How can you see the atmosphere? By tracking what is carried on the wind. Tiny aerosol particles such as smoke, dust, and sea salt are transported across the globe, making visible weather patterns and other normally invisible physical processes.

❝ This visualization uses data from NASA satellites, combined with mathematical models in a computer simulation allow scientists to study the physical processes in our atmosphere. By following the sea salt that is evaporated from the ocean, you can see the storms of the 2017 hurricane season.

3-Tons of Dead Feral Pigs Made for a Helluva Experiment


Before

❝ In nature, mass mortality sometimes happens. More than 200,000 saiga antelopes in Kazakhstan drop dead in a matter of weeks; 337 dead whales wash up in a remote fjord in southern Chile; some 300 reindeer in Norway are felled by a single bolt of lightning— all that has happened since 2015. There’s evidence such spectacular displays of death are increasing in frequency due to climate change…

The problem is the die-offs are unpredictable. Once one has happened, scientists can’t go back in time to make the baseline measurements that would allow them to say how exactly an ecosystem has been changed by a sudden jolt of animal carcasses…

❝ …The team needed an immense mass of dead animals. Luckily, wildlife biologist Marcus Lashley of Mississipi State had connections with people at state and federal agencies who are responsible for combatting a wildlife pest that currently plagues Mississippi and many other states.

A few phone calls later, the dead feral pigs started streaming in…

❝ …on July 5th, 2016, with the help of some technicians graciously loaned to them by colleagues, they dragged 6,000 pounds of dead pigs into their study plots and left them to rot.

Almost immediately, camera traps recorded dozens of vultures descending on the piles of pigs. Sticky traps to collect insects had to be changed daily because “you couldn’t have stuck another one on there,” Brandon Barton of Mississippi State University says. The writhing maggot swarms on the carcasses were several inches deep.

Vultures and maggots were to be expected, of course, but the intensity of the response awed the researchers. “We were completely unprepared for what happened,” Barton says…The biological response was so extreme that the researchers had to abandon some of their sampling methods…

❝ Even now, more than a year later, the sites remain ecologically scarred. “Will they ever go back to normal? Probably not,” Barton says…Though not much is left of the three tons of dead pig they started with, the researchers plan to continue monitoring their experimental plots until they’re indistinguishable from the surrounding forest—which may be never, they note. “We’re going to measure this for the rest of our careers,” Lashley predicts.

RTFA. Truly interesting. I’ve blogged before about decomp, learning from the natural processes is an important part of criminology. This study takes a look at death in another direction.

An interesting read. If you’re up for it.

Search for the ghost particle of the universe


Moving Day 2006 – Click to enlargeMichael Latz/AFP

❝ On the outskirts of Karlsruhe, in south-west Germany, engineers have buried a giant, stainless steel device, bigger than a blue whale, inside the town’s institute of technology. The machine looks for all the world like a grounded zeppelin or a buried blimp.

In fact, the apparatus is one of the world’s biggest vacuum chambers. Air pressure inside it is lower than that on the surface of the moon and it has been installed to help solve a single, intricate problem: finding the mass of the universe’s most insignificant entity, the neutrino.

❝ “We have pushed technology to the limit in building Katrin,” says the project’s leader, Guido Drexlin. “Apart from creating a near perfect vacuum inside its huge chamber, we also have to keep the temperature of the tritium, which is the machine’s source of neutrinos, inside the device to a constant 30C above absolute zero. We have also had to take incredible care about the magnetic fields inside the machines. Essentially, we have had to demagnetise the whole building…”

❝ It has taken more than a decade of planning and construction to put Katrin together. Its price tag, just over €60m, has been met by the German taxpayer via the country’s state-funded Helmholtz Association, with a further €6m chipped in by US, Russian, Czech and Spanish scientists who will have a minor involvement with the project.

Final trials are now being completed and full operations are set to begin in June, though it will take a further five years of gathering data before scientists can expect to have enough information to make an accurate assessment of the neutrino’s mass.

“Even then, we may have to go to a second phase of operations to get our answer,” says Drexlin. “We are moving into unknown territory here.”

OK. Anyone here who believes Trump’s bullshit about government, nature or society may as well leave, now.

Here’s the link, again, to the article – for folks who appreciate government sponsorship of basic scientific research that brings more knowledge to our species.

Einstein’s theory of happiness sold for $1.3M at auction

While Albert Einstein’s theory of happiness may be relative, it fetched $1.3 million at a Jerusalem auction…

The Nobel-winning scientist’s musings, on a handwritten note, may not be as famous as his groundbreaking theory of relativity, but they still shed light on one of the great modern minds.

Winner’s Auctions and Exhibitions said Einstein was traveling in Japan in 1922 when he was told he would be awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. In Tokyo, Einstein scribbled the note in German to a bellboy after he did not have cash to give him a tip.

“A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness,” it reads.

RTFA for more advice from a smart guy.

Wanderer from another star system

❝ Telescopes only picked it up a week ago, but it’s likely been traveling through interstellar space for millions of years.

For centuries, skywatchers have chronicled the comings and goings of thousands of comets. Every one of them has come from someplace in our own solar system, either the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune or the much more distant Oort Cloud at the fringes of the Sun’s realm.

But an object swept up just a week ago by observers using the PanSTARRS 1 telescope atop Haleakala on Maui has an extreme orbit — it’s on a hyperbolic trajectory that doesn’t appear to be bound to the Sun. Preliminary findings, published earlier today by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, suggest that we are witnessing a comet that escaped from another star

❝ Now it’s headed out of the solar system, never to return. It passed closest to Earth on October 14th at a distance of about 24,000,000 km (15,000,000 miles), and astronomers worldwide have been tracking it in the hopes of divining its true nature — especially whether it’s displaying any cometary activity…

❝ This object entered the solar system moving at 26 km (16 miles) per second. At that speed, in 10 million years it would traverse 8,200,000,000,000,000 km — more than 850 light-years.

I guess this brief look was sufficient. If there is any communication back to intelligent lifeforms, they now know there is little of value here excepting the usual commodities probably found in other solar systems.

Thanks, UrsaRodinia

“WOLVES COOPERATE, DOGS SUBMIT” — Redux


Wolf Science Center/Vetmeduni Vienna

❝ Following domestication, dogs should be more tolerant and cooperative with conspecifics and humans compared to wolves. This is at least often hypothesized. But looking at wolves and dogs in more naturalistic living conditions, however, speaks for a more cooperative behavior of wolves. Researchers at the Messerli Research Institute at Vetmeduni Vienna have now shown that the wild ancestors are actually excelling their domesticated relatives in teamwork. In an experimental approach dogs failed to cooperatively pull the two ends of a rope at the same time to obtain a piece of food. The wolves, on the other hand, showed perfect teamwork. They even waited for a partner to come before pulling the rope ends together for food. The study was published in PNAS.

❝ Dogs were domesticated so that man had a perfect companion at his side. Therefore, a lot of importance has been attached to properties such as tolerance and cooperative behavior. In line with this there are many hypotheses that dogs have also become more tolerant and co-operative with conspecifics compared to wolves. But The socio-ecological background of wolves, shows that they depend on cooperation for many aspects of their life from hunting to pup rearing, speaking against these theories.

❝ Researchers from the Wolf Science Center of the Vetmeduni Vienna now tested with a so-called “loose-string” test setup, whether the domesticated dog really is the better team player. The study showed that wolves can perfectly work together, if they need to co-operate for a piece of food. Similarly raised and kept dogs – although having the same interest in the task – in contrast were not able to co-operate and failed the test.

Must put the freebie publication of this study on my watch list.

A new astrophysics just began — sparked by 2 stars colliding 130 million years ago


The spiral galaxy NGC 4993

❝ Some 130 million years ago, in a galaxy far away, the smoldering cores of two collapsed stars smashed into each other. The resulting explosion sent a burst of gamma rays streaming through space and rippled the very fabric of the universe.

On Aug. 17, those signals reached Earth — and sparked an astronomy revolution.

❝ The distant collision created a “kilonova,” an astronomical marvel that scientists have never seen before. It was the first cosmic event in history to be witnessed via both traditional telescopes, which can observe electromagnetic radiation like gamma rays, and gravitational wave detectors, which sense the wrinkles in space-time produced by distant cataclysms. The detection, which involved thousands of researchers working at more than 70 laboratories and telescopes on every continent, heralds a new era in space research known as “multimessenger astrophysics.”

This is the breakthrough scientists have been waiting for since the initial detection of gravitational waves two years ago. Now, for the first time, they are able to observe the universe using two fundamental forces: light and gravity. By combining traditional visual astronomy with the Nobel Prize-winning work of gravitational wave researchers, astronomers have new means to probe some of their field’s most enduring mysteries: the unknown force that drives the accelerating growth of the universe, the invisible matter that holds galaxies together, and the origins of Earth’s most precious elements…

One of those times I wish I was 60 or 70 years younger, ready to direct my life’s studies. Amazing stuff happening and it’s only going to get more interesting with the kind of growth in computing horsepower we’re looking at.