Thursday, February 28, 2008

Arctic Sea Monster!

The Monster!

The Monster!

The Monster!

The fiercest reptile ever to terrorize the oceans has been identified from a fossil on a frozen Arctic island.

The huge pliosaur, dubbed "The Monster" by its discoverers, dated from 150 million years ago and boasted 60 dagger-like teeth the size of cucumbers, which it used to rip chunks out of prey.

The 50-foot animal was one of the biggest marine predators to have ever swum and would have been able to take on "anything that moved" in the water.

It was built for speed and power, and with its armory of fangs would have been rivaled in ferocity only by an extinct shark, the megalodon, which lived about 16 million years ago.

Fossilized remains of the pliosaur, which had 10-foot-long jaws, were located on the island of Spitsbergen in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, inside the Arctic Circle.

It was one of 40 fossil creatures found close together on a mountain on Spitsbergen by a team of mainly Norwegian researchers from the University of Oslo Natural History Museum.

Jørn Hurum, who led the expedition, compared the animal to a "medium-sized blue whale with a three-meter-long crocodile skull."

It was twice as big as a killer whale.

The pliosaur, a type of short-necked plesiosaur, was the leading marine predator during the Jurassic Period and is thought to represent an unknown species.

Its body was designed to minimize drag while its enormous flippers propelled it forward in a motion like flying through the water.

A front flipper from "The Monster" was measured at almost 10 feet long.

Fossil bones from the specimen excavated last summer showed that it was almost 50 per cent bigger than the largest confirmed pliosaur, Kronosaurus, from Australia.

An ichthyosaur, another marine predator, from 210 million years ago has previously been identified as being 75 feet long. but its teeth were much smaller than the pliosaur's and it would have chased much smaller prey.

"The pliosaur was much, much fiercer," said Hurum. "The ichthyosaur would have been an oversized fat dolphin by comparison. This animal would have taken chunks out of anything that moved. It was the fiercest marine reptile and the biggest of its era. Its teeth and jaws could crush almost anything."

Dr. Patrick Druckenmiller, a plesiosaur specialist at the University of Alaska Museum, was involved in the discovery.

"Not only is this specimen significant in that it is one of the largest and relatively complete plesiosaurs ever found," said Druckenmiller, "it also demonstrates that these gigantic animals inhabited the northern seas of our planet during the age of dinosaurs."

In 2002 a fossil pliosaur from Mexico was nicknamed the Monster of Aramberri, amid claims that it was up to 65 feet long. However, the measurements have yet to be confirmed.

Angela Milner, associate keeper of paleontology at the Natural History Museum in London, said the find illustrated how different the world was when the animal ruled the seas.

"Svalbard was not so near the North Pole 150 million years ago — there was no ice cap and the climate was much warmer than it is today."

She added: "There are a few isolated bones of huge pliosaurs already known, but this is the first find of a significant portion of a whole skeleton of such a giant."

It has been suggested that the Loch Ness Monster could be a long-necked plesiosaur.

Skeptics, however, have pointed out that the loch is 10,000 years old, whereas plesiosaurs are thought to have died out 65 million years ago.

Check out the article at Fox News.

Sweet! That would be one kick-ass show at Sea World!

Monday, February 25, 2008

The End is Near!

Coronal Mass Ejection

Scientist have nailed down how and when the Earth will cease to exist.

The sun will slowly expand into a red giant, pushing the Earth further out into space, but not far enough.

Our home planet will be snagged by the sun's outer atmosphere, gradually plunging to its doom inside the fiery stellar furnace.

"The drag caused by this low-density gas is enough to cause the Earth to drift inwards, and finally to be captured and vaporized by the sun," explains astronomer Robert Smith of the University of Sussex in southern England.

Previous projections had all figured that the Earth would avoid falling into the sun, even during our star's red-giant phase.

The good news: This won't happen for another 7.6 billion years.

The bad news: Life on Earth will end long before then.

In fact, we've only got a billion years left before the slowly expanding sun boils off the oceans and reduces our planet to an uninhabitable cinder, says Smith.

That may sound like a long time, but in fact life on Earth's been around a lot longer than that — a total of 3.7 billion years, according to the latest estimates.

For those first three billion years, true, we were nothing but pond scum. Still, the new figures indicate the long story of life on our fair blue-green planet may be entering its last act.

Is there any way our future descendants can save themselves? Why, yes, explains Smith.

He cites a recent study emanating from the University of California, Santa Cruz. It proposes taming an asteroid to swing by the Earth every few thousand years, slowly nudging the Earth into higher solar orbit, enough to outpace the sun's own outward growth.

"This sounds like science fiction," says Smith. "But it seems that the energy requirements are just about possible and the technology could be developed over the next few centuries."

Check out the article at Fox News.

Holy crap does that sound like a bad day!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Target Practice?

U.S. Officials Plan to Shoot Down Satellite

US Navy Aegis Combat System

SM-3 Launch from US Navy Aegis Cruiser

WASHINGTON — Taking a page from Hollywood science fiction, the Pentagon said Thursday it will try to shoot down a dying, bus-size U.S. spy satellite loaded with toxic fuel on a collision course with the Earth.

The military hopes to smash the satellite as soon as next week — just before it enters Earth's atmosphere — with a single missile fired from a Navy cruiser in the northern Pacific Ocean.

One of the main goals of the satellite's destruction is to prevent any sensitive equipment from falling into the wrong hands.

"We are worried about something showing up on e-Bay," defense and intelligence expert John Pike said, adding that breaking up the satellite's pieces lessens the chance that sensitive U.S. technology could wind up in Chinese hands.

"What they have to be worried about is that a souvenir collector is going to find some piece, put it on e-Bay, and the Chinese buy it," said Pike, who is director of the defense research group

The dramatic maneuver may well trigger international concerns, and U.S. officials have begun notifying other countries of the plan — stressing that it does not signal the start of a new American anti-satellite weapons program.

Military and administration officials said the satellite is carrying fuel called hydrazine that could injure or even kill people who are near it when it hits the ground.

That reason alone, they said, persuaded President Bush to order the shoot-down.

"That is the only thing that breaks it out, that is worthy of taking extraordinary measures," said Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a Pentagon briefing.

He predicted a fairly high chance — as much as 80 percent — of hitting the satellite, which will be about 150 miles up when the shot is fired.

The window of opportunity for taking the satellite down, Cartwright said, opens in three or four days and lasts for about seven or eight days.

"We'll take one shot and assess," he said. "This is the first time we've used a tactical missile to engage a spacecraft."

Deputy National Security Adviser James Jeffrey discounted comparisons to an anti-satellite test conducted by the Chinese last year that triggered criticism from the U.S. and other countries.

"This is all about trying to reduce the danger to human beings," Jeffrey said. "Specifically, there was enough of a risk for the president to be quite concerned about human life."

There might also be unstated military aims, some outside the administration suggested.

Similar spacecraft re-enter the atmosphere regularly and break up into pieces, said Ivan Oelrich, vice president for strategic security programs at the Federation of American Scientists.

He said, "One could be forgiven for asking if this is just an excuse to test an anti-satellite weapon."

A key issue when China shot down its defunct weather satellite was that it created an enormous amount of space debris.

"All of the debris from this encounter, as carefully designed as it is, will be down at most within weeks, and most of it will be down within the first couple of orbits afterward," said Jeffrey. "There's an enormous difference to spacefaring nations in ... those two things."

He and others dismissed suggestions that this was simply an attempt by the U.S. to flex its muscles, and that officials were overstating the toxic fuel threat.

Left alone, the satellite would be expected to hit Earth during the first week of March. About half of the 5,000-pound spacecraft would be expected to survive its blazing descent through the atmosphere and would scatter debris over several hundred miles.

If the missile shot is successful, officials said, much of the debris would burn up as it fell. They said they could not estimate how much would make it through the atmosphere.

They said the largest piece that would survive re-entry would be the spherical fuel tank, which is about 40 inches wide — assuming it is not hit directly by the missile.

The goal, however, is to hit the fuel tank in order to minimize the amount of fuel that returns to Earth, Cartwright said.

A Navy missile known as Standard Missile 3 would be fired at the spy satellite in an attempt to intercept it just before it re-enters Earth's atmosphere.

It would be "next to impossible" to hit the satellite after that because of atmospheric disturbances, he said.

Known by its military designation US 193, the satellite was launched in December 2006. It lost power and its central computer failed almost immediately afterward, leaving it uncontrollable. It carried a sophisticated and secret imaging sensor.

Software associated with the Standard Missile 3 has been modified to enhance the chances of the missile's sensors recognizing that the satellite is its target. The missile's designed mission is to shoot down ballistic missiles, not satellites.

Other officials said the missile's maximum range, while a classified figure, is not great enough to hit a satellite operating in normal orbits.

"It's a one-time deal," Cartwright said when asked whether the modified Standard Missile 3 should be considered a new U.S. anti-satellite technology.

He said that if an initial shoot-down attempt fails, the military would have about two days to reassess and decide whether to take a second shot.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told reporters that analysis shows the hydrazine tank would survive a fall to Earth under normal circumstances, much as one did when the space shuttle Columbia crashed.

"The hydrazine which is in it is frozen solid, as it is now. Not all of it will melt," he said.

If the tank hits the ground it will have been breached because the fuel lines will have broken off and hydrazine will vent out, he said.

Jeffrey said members of Congress were briefed on the plan earlier Thursday and that diplomatic notifications to other countries were being made by the end of the day.

"It should be understood by all, at home and abroad, that this is an exceptional circumstance and should not be perceived as the standard U.S. policy for dealing with errant satellites," said House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton.

Check out the article at Fox News.

If you're interested in getting a look at this satellite before we blow it out of the sky, it will be easy to see with the unaided eye. Just go check out the Satellite US 192 page at for more info. I'm kinda hoping I can catch a glimpse of the explosion... provided I don't get a close-up view of any falling debris!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Mardi Gras 2008

One of many signature Bacchus floats

LSU coach Les Miles was a special guest in Bacchus this year!

A Zulu rider hands out one of the coveted coconuts!

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Clarinetist Pete Fountain, dressed in a tunic as one of King Arthur's knights, looked frail but happy Tuesday morning as he led 100 members of his Half-Fast Walking Club onto Uptown streets in what has become New Orleans' unofficial opening of Mardi Gras.

"Oh, I'm feeling fine. You always feel fine on Mardi Gras," said Fountain, 77. He's had health problems since Hurricane Katrina, but still plays two days a week at a Gulf Coast casino.

Mardi Gras - Fat Tuesday - is the often raucous end to the pre-Lenten Carnival season. The celebration characterized by family friendly parades uptown and in the suburbs - and by heavy drinking and lots of near-nudity in the French Quarter - is highlighted by 12 days of parades and parties.

Temperatures were expected to rise to about the record of 81 degrees in New Orleans, an indicator that flesh-flashing in the bawdy French Quarter was likely to be greater than usual.

While much of the county cast ballots in party primaries, the presidential race inspired some revelers to don costumes with political themes. Kim Disselliss, 49, simply taped a sign to her back that depicted Sen. Clinton dressed up as George Washington and read, "Monica Lewinsky's X-Boyfriend's Wife for President. 2 for 1 Sale."

While the walking club was on its way, floats of the Zulu parade headed for their starting point. Zulu, the black community's oldest parade, was to be followed by the Rex parade, with businessman John E. Koerner III reigning as Rex, King of Carnival and Monarch of Merriment.

Rex would be followed by hundreds of gaily decorated truck floats, many created by families and neighborhood Carnival clubs. Police expected the last floats wouldn't reach the end of the parade routes until late afternoon.

In suburban Jefferson Parish and elsewhere in south Louisiana, revelers lined up on parade routes or set up family picnics.

In Cajun country, costumed riders on horseback set out on their annual Courir du Mardi Gras, a town-to-town celebration. Hundreds of people registered for the Courir de Mardi Gras in Eunice, a bayou community 150 miles west of New Orleans. Hundreds were on horseback and scores of others rode along in pickup trucks or on flatbed trailers.

"It's just heritage. It's Louisiana. We're crazy," said Courir participant Cody Granger, 24, wearing what looked like surgical scrubs decorated with the New Orleans Saints' logo.

In a sign that New Orleans has yet to recover fully from the hurricanes of 2005, this year's King Zulu, businessman Frank Boutte, is still living in Houston because Katrina's flooding damaged his Lakefront home. Still, the Zulu parade was up to pre-storm standards, with 1,200 riders on 27 floats.

Zulu was being led by Mayor Ray Nagin, riding on horseback and clad as an Indian in buckskins and a white headdress.

Cathy and James Pavageau (PAH-vuh-go) of Metairie, setting up a tent in the median of St. Charles Avenue - the city's main parade route - said they thought the crowd was a bit bigger than it has been recently. Arriving at 6 a.m. let them get spots closer to Lee Circle in the past two years, but not this year, they said.

They expected about a dozen people to join them for the climax of a celebration marred this year by shootings that have injured nine people.

"We worry. But what can you do?" Pavageau said. "You can't just stay in your house. We just pray everything is OK."

Only sporadic violence has marred the celebration. At least eight people had been wounded by gunshots, five of them on Saturday.

Police said 1,100 officers, state troopers and National Guardsmen have been positioned along parade routes since the season began.

Check out the article at The Advocate.

We went and saw Spanish Town in Baton Rouge on Saturday, then Thoth and Bacchus in New Orleans on Sunday. Crowds are starting to come back to NOLA, which is a good sign!

Happy Mardi Gras!