Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Weird News & Scientific Wonders From Around The World
Rare 'white' elephant captured in Burma
A rare "white elephant", a traditional symbol of good fortune and power in south-east Asia, has been captured in Burma, state media reports.
Reports say the 2m (6.5ft) female elephant was tracked down in Maungdaw in the west of the country.
White elephants are only nominally white - they often look reddish-brown in the sun, and light pink when wet.
Analysts say the animal is likely to be brought to the capital, Naypyidaw, for the military ruler, General Than Shwe.
Goce satellite views Earth's gravity in high definition
It is one of the most exquisite views we have ever had of the Earth.
This colourful new map traces the subtle but all pervasive influence the pull of gravity has across the globe.
Known as a geoid, it essentially defines where the level surface is on our planet; it tells us which way is "up" and which way is "down".
It is drawn from delicate measurements made by Europe's Goce satellite, which flies so low it comes perilously close to falling out of the sky.
Scientists say the data gathered by the spacecraft will have numerous applications.
One key beneficiary will be climate studies because the geoid can help researchers understand better how the great mass of ocean water is moving heat around the world.
The new map was presented here in Norway's second city at a special Earth observation (EO) symposium dedicated to the data being acquired by Goce and other European Space Agency (Esa) missions.
Europe is currently in the midst of a huge programme of EO development which will see it launch some 20 missions worth nearly eight billion euros before the decade's end.
The Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (Goce) is at the front of this armada of scientific and environmental monitoring spacecraft.
Launched in 2009, the sleek satellite flies pole to pole at an altitude of just 254.9km - the lowest orbit of any research satellite in operation today.
The spacecraft carries three pairs of precision-built platinum blocks inside its gradiometer instrument that sense accelerations which are as small as 1 part in 10,000,000,000,000 of the gravity experienced on Earth.
GRAVITY - A MOVING TARGET
The 'standard' acceleration due to gravity at the Earth's surface is 9.8m per second squared
In reality the figure varies from 9.78 (minimum) at the equator to 9.83 (maximum) at the poles
This has allowed it to map the almost imperceptible differences in the pull exerted by the mass of the planet from one place to the next - from the great mountain ranges to the deepest ocean trenches.
'Sex' drove fossil animal traits
Several prehistoric creatures developed elaborate body traits in order to attract members of the opposite sex, according to new research.
The purpose of the exaggerated crests and sails found in many fossil animals has long been controversial.
Some scientists said sails helped to regulate body temperature and that head crests helped flying reptiles steer during flight.
Now a study say these traits became so big because of sexual competition.
The findings, by an international team of researchers, is published in the journal American Naturalist.
One of the prehistoric animals looked at by the researchers were pterosaurs - flying reptiles which became extinct at the time of the dinosaurs.
The study suggests the relative size of the head crest compared to the body of the pterosaur was too large for it to have been dedicated to controlling the animal's body temperature or its flight.
They also looked at mammal-like creatures called Eupelycosaurs, which lived before the time of the dinosaurs.
This group, which included the animals Dimetrodon and Edaphosaurus, carried large elaborate "sails" along their backs.
By using known relationships between body size and metabolic activity - the process behind heat generation - in living organisms, the scientists concluded that the features were "too exaggerated" to have played a role in the control of body temperature.
Co-author Dr Stuart Humphries, from the University of Hull said: "One of the few things that haven't changed over the last 300 million years are the laws of physics.
"So it has been good to use those laws to understand what might really be driving the evolution of these big crests and sails."
His colleague, Dr Joseph Tompkins, from the University of Western Australia, commented: "The sails of the Eupelycosaurs are among the earliest known examples of exaggerated secondary sexual traits in the history of vertebrate evolution.
"Indeed, the sail of Dimetrodon is one of the largest secondary sexual traits of any animal."
Co-author Dr Dave Martill from the University of Portsmouth said: "Pterosaurs put even more effort into attracting a mate than peacocks whose large feathers are considered the most elaborate development of sexual selection in the modern day.
"Peacocks shed their fantastic plumage each year, so it's only a burden some of the time, but pterosaurs had to carry their crest around all the time."
UFO Researcher Dennis Whitney quits after alleged threat
Mysterious new crop circles at UFO capital of Britain in Wiltshire