Fossils shed light on bizarre reptile. A crocodile-sized creature that lived 242 million years ago was the first known vegetarian marine reptile, according to new fossil evidence.
Two specimens unearthed in China reveal details of the animal’s skull and how it fed.
Named Atopodentatus, scientists say its hammer-shaped skull helped it to feed on underwater plants.
Only a handful of marine reptiles, living or extinct, are known to be herbivores.
Dr Nick Fraser of National Museums Scotland, who worked on the fossil, said it belongs in the pages of a children’s storybook by Dr Seuss, which depicts animals with a strange jumble of features.
The reptile was “a bizarre, bizarre animal”, he explained.
“We envisage it scraping algae and the like off rocks underwater.
“Herbivorous marine reptiles are very rare – this is the oldest record that we know of.”
The first fossils of the creature were discovered a few years ago.
It was named Atopodentatus unicus, which is Latin for “unique strangely toothed”.
A reconstruction of the animal’s head
New fossils unearthed in China’s Yunnan Province by Chun Li of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing give a detailed picture of the animal’s skull.
The discoveries, unveiled in the journal, Science Advances, show that rather than having a zipper-like snout as previously thought, the animal had a wide hammer-headed jaw filled with peg-like front teeth.
Scientists used clay to make a model of the jaw to work out how the animal fed.
“To figure out how the jaw fit together and how the animal actually fed, we bought some children’s clay, kind of like Play-Doh, and rebuilt it with toothpicks to represent the teeth,” said co-researcher Olivier Rieppel of the Field Museum in Chicago.
“We looked at how the upper and lower jaw locked together, and that’s how we proceeded and described it.”
He said Atopodentatus also helps tell a bigger story about the world’s largest mass extinction 252 million years ago.
It lived at a time when the Earth was recovering from the loss of 90% of all marine mammals.
“The existence of specialised animals like Atopodentatus unicus shows us that life recovered and diversified more quickly than previously thought,” he said.
“And it’s definitely a reptile that no one would have thought to exist – look at it, it’s crazy!”
What you can make with clay and toothpicks
Other bizarre sea and river monsters
There are still many strange creatures lurking in the waters around the world. From the Monster of Lake Van in Turkey to the various unidentified creatures that live off the west of of Britain, the Golden Gate San Fransisco Bay monster to the Altamaha-ha river monster of Georgia in the USA.
Here’s a video from Animal X Natural Mystery Unit that looks at sea and river monsters.
The Northern Lights are one of the most spectacular natural phenomena.
The night sky is lit up by the most amazing colours.
WHAT ARE NORTHERN LIGHTS?
The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere.
The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora Australis’ in the south.
Auroral displays appear in many colours although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported.
The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.
WHAT CAUSES THE NORTHERN LIGHTS?
The Northern Lights are actually the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere. Variations in colour are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding.
The most common auroral color, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora.
The connection between the Northern Lights and sunspot activity has been suspected since about 1880.
Thanks to research conducted since the 1950’s, we now know that electrons and protons from the sun are blown towards the earth on the ‘solar wind’. (Note: 1957-58 was International Geophysical Year and the atmosphere was studied extensively with balloons, radar, rockets and satellites.
Rocket research is still conducted by scientists at Poker Flats, a facility under the direction of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks – see web page http://www.gi.alaska.edu/
The temperature above the surface of the sun is millions of degrees Celsius. At this temperature, collisions between gas molecules are frequent and explosive.
Free electrons and protons are thrown from the sun’s atmosphere by the rotation of the sun and escape through holes in the magnetic field. Blown towards the earth by the solar wind, the charged particles are largely deflected by the earth’s magnetic field.
However, the earth’s magnetic field is weaker at either pole and therefore some particles enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gas particles. These collisions emit light that we perceive as the dancing lights of the north (and the south).
The lights of the Aurora generally extend from 80 kilometres (50 miles) to as high as 640 kilometres (400 miles) above the earth’s surface.
Conspiracy theorists claim that ‘800-year-old cell phone’ was brought here by time traveling aliens
Conspiracy theorists are claiming that an “800-year-old cell phone” was left behind by time traveling aliens.
The London Daily Mail reported that an object which resembles a cell phone with cuneiform characters was reportedly found in Austria.
MysteriousUniverse.org reported that the object was recently found by archaeologists digging in Fuschl am See, an Austrian municipality.
But little is known about the apparent dig, leading many to believe the story is an elaborate hoax.
Conspiracy theorists and “alien hunters” have been discussing the object online and some seem to believe the object proves that aliens exist.
“It is evident from this cell phone like device that someone with an advanced knowledge of the future created it,” wrote Scott Waring, editor of UFO Sighting Daily.
The markings on the “phone” resemble that of Cuneiform, a system of ancient writing developed by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia.
“Researchers unearthed a mysterious artifact from the thirteenth century with cuneiform writing that strangely resembles a cell phone,” according to the conspiracy website tothedeathmedia.com.
The YouTube channel Paranormal Crucible posted a video about the alleged finding asking, “What is it? Is it evidence of an advanced civilization or time travel?”
“Until further analysis of this Cuneiform tablet is completed we can only speculate at what it truly represents,” according to Paranormal Crucible. “Maybe one day, our true history will become clear and the bright light of truth will finally reveal its secrets.”
Many people claim to have had an alien encounter. Even to have been abducted by aliens.
Here’s an interview with two such people who claim to have been abducted by aliens.
World’s first IVF puppies born to surrogate mother dog
By Helen Briggs
World’s first surrogate puppy
The world’s first “test tube” puppies have been born after years of attempts, say scientists in the US.
The in-vitro fertilisation success paves the way for conserving endangered breeds and could help in the fight against human and animal diseases, say researchers at Cornell University.
The seven beagle and cross-bred beagle-spaniel puppies were born to a surrogate mother.
They were from the same litter but have three sets of parents.
Frozen embryos were implanted in a female dog using techniques similar to those used in human fertility clinics.
Problems with freezing embryos have caused difficulties in the past, but the group say they have perfected this and other techniques.
Lead researcher Dr Alex Travis, from Cornell’s college of veterinary medicine, said: “We have seven normal happy healthy puppies.”
He added: “Since the mid-1970s, people have been trying to do this in a dog and have been unsuccessful.
“Now we can use this technique to conserve the genetics of endangered species.”
The researchers say IVF is a powerful tool to help endangered species of dog such as the African wild dog.
It could also be used in the study of inherited human and dog diseases.
Dogs share many similar diseases with humans – almost twice as many as for any other species.
Dr Travis said the work was an important milestone.
“In vitro fertilisation is a really powerful tool to help preserve endangered species of dog,” he told the BBC.
“IVF is also important for the health of our pets because it opens up the possibility that we could identify certain genes that cause disease and then fix those.”
The puppies were born in the summer.
Their existence was kept secret until the findings were formally announced to the scientific world this week.
They have reportedly been named Ivy, Cannon, Beaker, Buddy, Nelly, Red and Green, and all but one has gone to a new home.
The research, published in the journal PLoS One, has been described as a “major step forward” in medicine.
Prof David Argyle, head of the school of veterinary medicine at the University of Edinburgh, which was not part of the study, said the new techniques would help understanding of inherited diseases in both dogs and people.
“Importantly, it is becoming apparent that dogs and humans share many common biology, diseases and syndromes, and it is likely that these new techniques could have significant benefit for the study of human diseases as well as canine diseases,” he added.
The discovery was made two weeks into the thermal scanning project
Egypt pyramids scan finds mystery heat spots
From the BBC
An international team of architects and scientists have observed “thermal anomalies” in the pyramids of Giza, Egyptian antiquities officials say.
Thermal cameras detected higher temperatures in three adjacent stones at the bottom of the Great Pyramid.
Officials said possible causes included the existence of empty areas inside the pyramid, internal air currents, or the use of different building materials.
It comes as experts search for hidden chambers within the pyramids.
The tombs of the pharaohs Khufu (Kheops), Khafre (Khephren) and Menkaure (Mycerinus) were built in the Fourth Dynasty, about 2613-2494BC.
A team of architects and scientists from Egypt, France, Canada and Japan used infrared thermography to survey the pyramids during sunrise, as the sun heats the limestone structures from the outside, as well as at sunset when they cool down.
Cameras detected higher temperatures in three stones at the bottom of the Great Pyramid
In a statement, the Egyptian antiquities ministry said the experts had “concluded the existence of several thermal anomalies that were observed on all monuments during the heating-up or the cooling-down phases”.
“To explain such anomalies, a lot of hypotheses and possibilities could be drawn up: presence of voids behind the surface, internal air currents,” it added.
An “particularly impressive” anomaly was found at ground level on the eastern side of the Great Pyramid, also known as the Pyramid of Khufu, the statement said.
Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al-Damati (left) presented the findings on Monday
“The first row of the pyramid’s stones are all uniform, then we come here and find that there’s a difference in the formation,” Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al-Damati said as he showed reporters the three stones showing higher temperatures.
Other thermal anomalies were detected in the upper half of the Great Pyramid.
The structure will be the subject of further investigation during the Operation Scan Pyramids project, which began on 25 October and is expected to last until the end of 2016.
Animal X knows that there are some ancient and scary cults in Egypt. There’s the ancient Cat cult and the scary creature known as the Salaawa, a werewolf type creature.
People around the world have observed a rare celestial event, as a lunar eclipse coincided with a so-called “supermoon”.
A supermoon occurs when the Moon is in the closest part of its orbit to Earth, meaning it appears larger in the sky.
The eclipse – which made the Moon appear red – has been visible in North America, South America, West Africa and Western Europe.
This phenomenon was last observed in 1982 and will not be back before 2033.
But the definition of a supermoon is debated among astronomers.
The supermoon from Belgium
The view at Glastonbury in western England
A plane flies in front of the supermoon over Geneva, Switzerland
The partially eclipsed supermoon over the US city of Las Vegas
Skywatchers in the western half of North America, the rest of Europe and Africa, the Middle East and South Asia saw a partial eclipse.
From the UK, observers watched the Moon pass through the Earth’s shadow in the early hours of Monday morning. In North and South America the eclipse was seen on Sunday evening.
The supermoon, where Earth’s satellite is near its minimum distance from our planet, means that the Moon appears 7-8% larger in the sky
The moon looks rust-coloured during a total lunar eclipse – giving rise to its nickname Blood Moon. This is because the Earth’s atmosphere scatters blue light more strongly than red light, and it is this red light that reaches the lunar surface
During the eclipse, the Moon lies in front of the stars of the constellation Pisces
In a total lunar eclipse, the Earth, Sun and Moon are almost exactly in line and the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun.
As the full Moon moves into our planet’s shadow, it dims dramatically but usually remains visible, lit by sunlight that passes through the Earth’s atmosphere.
As this light travels through our planet’s gaseous envelope, the green to violet portions get filtered out more than the red portion, with the result that light reaching the lunar surface is predominantly red in colour.
Observers on Earth may see a Moon that is brick-coloured, rusty, blood red or sometimes dark grey, depending on terrestrial conditions.
Dr Robert Massey, deputy executive director of the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society, told BBC News that the eclipse is an “incredibly beautiful event”.
A supermoon occurs when a full or new moon coincides with a Moon that is nearing its minimum distance (perigee) to Earth.
The Moon takes an elliptical orbit around Earth, which means that its average distance changes from as far as 405,000km (its apogee) to as close as 363,000km at the perigee.
The coincidence between a supermoon and an eclipse means that Earth’s lone companion is expected to look 7-8% bigger. But Dr Massey added: “The definition of ‘supermoon’ is slightly problematic.
“Is a supermoon taking place at the perigee, the day before, the day after? Does a supermoon have to be a particularly close perigee, or can it be a bit further out? It’s not very well defined.”
He said a supermoon was to some extent a moveable feast compared with an eclipse, where the timing can be measured precisely.
As a result, Dr Massey explained, claims of the extreme rarity of a supermoon coinciding with an eclipse were overstated.
The supermoon should also not be confused with the Moon Illusion, which causes the Moon to appear larger near the horizon than it does higher up in the sky.
The eclipse began at 00:11 GMT, when the Moon entered the lightest part of the Earth’s shadow, known as the penumbra, and adopted a yellowish colour. At 02:11 GMT the Moon completely entered the umbra – the inner dark corpus of our planet’s shadow.
The point of greatest eclipse occurred at 02:47 GMT, when the Moon was closest to the centre of the umbra, with the eclipse ending at 05:22 GMT.
The Royal Astronomical Society says that unlike the solar equivalent, a total lunar eclipse event is safe to watch and needs no special equipment.
This clip from the BBC looks at our exploration of the stars.
At the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, scientists are engaged in one of the most important quests of modern astronomy. They’re scanning the universe for new planets.
Planets that might support life now or in the future. Planets that might be like earth. Our desire to reach out into space is a compulsion.
The more we soar, the greater that compulsion. In the 1970s, after decades of careful planning, 4 probes, Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Voyager One, and Voyager 2 were sent on missions to the outer limits of our solar system. Their journeys would last almost 30 years, and cover more than 8 billion miles. These probes brought mankind astonishing images of the planets in our solar system. Mankinds first giant leap was made with hot air in balloons. Tied to balloons, man could leave the ground and travel higher than ever before.
In 1960, a balloon carrying US airforce captain Joe Kittinger ascended to the edge of space, some 100,000 feet off the ground. Then he jumped out. In 4 minutes, Kittinger reached the speed of sound.
Scientists are using cutting-edge technology to map dinosaur tracks
Scientists are trying to reconstruct ancient Australian landscapes once roamed by some of the biggest dinosaurs to have ever walked the planet by surveying thousands of fossilised tracks in remote Western Australia.
Along a 100km stretch (62 miles) of coast in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, tens of thousands of dinosaur tracks are fossilised in sandstone.
The 130-million-year-old footprints are virtually the only record of dinosaurs in the western half of the continent.
They date to the Early Cretaceous Period when the continent was still connected by a land bridge to Antarctica and covered in towering conifer forests.
“These tracks are at least 15 to 20 million years older than the majority of dinosaur fossils that have been found at sites in eastern Australia,” says Dr Steve Salisbury, a palaeontologist from the University of Queensland.
“They provide a very detailed snapshot of the dinosaur fauna from a time and place where there’s almost nothing else,” he told the BBC.
Drones and low-speed aircraft sweep over the prints on the rare times they are exposed by the sea
The fossils also hold immense cultural value for local indigenous communities.
Dr Salisbury says they feature in an Aboriginal “song cycle” that extends along the coastline, and that “knowledge of the tracks probably extends back thousands of years”.
He was first invited to the region in 2011 by the Goolarabooloo people who were trying to halt the development of a proposed A$35bn ($24bn; £16bn) natural gas precinct at an area known as James Price Point, 50km north of Broome.
In 2013, two years after a section of the coast was granted National Heritage Status, the development was finally cancelled.
Dr Salisbury is now leading a project to digitally catalogue the fossils and reconstruct the landscapes these dinosaurs wandered through.
‘We’re talking huge, huge tracks’
To date, researchers have identified about 20 different types of tracks. The footprints include three-toed tracks belonging to carnivorous theropods that walked on two legs, as well as tracks believed to have been made by armoured dinosaurs like stegosaurs.
Some of the Broome dinosaur tracks are similar to those found at Lark Quarry in central-western Queensland, which the team recently determined were probably made by a large, two-legged plant-eating dinosaur similar to Muttaburrasaurus.
The Broome tracks are similar to those made elsewhere by Muttaburrasaurus
There are also large cylindrical depressions stamped into the earth by at least five different types of long-necked, long-tailed sauropods.
These are the only sauropod tracks in Australia and some of the depressions measure longer than 1.5m.
“They’re beyond the size that you normally expect dinosaur tracks to be,” says Dr Salisbury.
“We’re talking huge, huge tracks, probably made by some of the biggest animals to ever walk the planet.”
The tracks are found along coastal rock shelves and reefs, which are subject to some of the most extreme tides in Australia, with water levels rising 10 to 11m daily, he says.
Many are only exposed for a few hours each day, and only a few days each year, meaning the team has to work quickly.
“It’s a dynamic landscape, and we’ve seen tracks disappear altogether in the time we’ve been working there. Some get buried by shifting sands, while others are destroyed by pounding surf,” says Dr Salisbury.
To speed up the process of mapping and imaging the tracks, the team has adopted a range of new remote sensing technologies.
In addition to making physical moulds of the footprints using a rapid-setting silicon rubber and taking photographs on ground-mounted tripods, the team is now using a handheld LiDAR unit developed by Australia’s national science organisation, the CSIRO.
Dr Salisbury and colleagues can work out how the dinosaurs were moving by using the drones to view them from the air
They are also taking aerial photographs of the track sites using a remote controlled drone and a specialised, low-speed aircraft, which is also fitted with LiDAR.
A LiDAR uses pulsating laser light coupled with a global positioning system. It records the points where the laser light reflects off hard surfaces, combining data from multiple passes to generate a detailed 3D map of the coastline, says Prof Jorg Hacker, director of Airborne Research Australia at Flinders University.
Prof Hacker, the other main investigator on the project, says that for a 3km stretch of beach he usually spends about 1.5 hours flying his motor glider, making roughly 30 passes at altitudes between 20 to 100 metres.
Dr Salisbury says his team can now contextualise the tracks over larger geographic areas, and can better understand which direction the dinosaurs were travelling, whether they were walking or running, and if they were interacting or crossing the landscape in groups, searching for food, or trying to escape predators.
“We can, to a degree, accurately reconstruct scenes that happened 130 million years ago. That’s not imagination, that’s piecing it together from the evidence found in the rocks,” he says.
Best in the world?
“It’s a powerful way of bringing these ancient worlds back to life.”
Footprints require favourable circumstances to fossilise but when that happens a broad array of information is captured in the fossils, says Professor Anthony Martin, a palaeontologist from Emory University in the US specialising in animal tracks, who is not involved in the project.
“From a single, well-preserved dinosaur track way, we can determine the approximate type of dinosaur, its size, its speed, gait, and even how it was reacting to other dinosaurs or the landscape around it,” says Prof Martin.
“Once these tracks are properly surveyed, I would not be surprised if this area turns out to be one of the best dinosaur track sites in the world,” he says.
Once the dinosaurs died out Australia was occupied by the Mega Fauna. Wombats the size of a VW Beetle. Twenty foot tall Kangaroos and the largest carnivorous marsupial – Thylocaleo Carnifex – the Marsupial Lion.
Here is the documentary we made with NOVA and NHK on the excavation from a deep cave underneath Australia’s Nullarbor Plane, of the only fully intact thylacoleo skeleton
Stands like a human, seven feet tall, large hairy head, four tusks.
During the early months of 1932, an unknown creature terrorised the inhabitants of Victoria’s high country. It was said to stand like a human being, about 7 feet tall, and had a large hairy head with four white tusks that “gleamed in the moonlight”. And if that wasn’t frightening enough, it was “razor clawed” and “swift and savage in attack”.
Not the kind of animal you want to meet travelling through the bush in the dead quiet of night. But, according to the Muswellbrook Chronicle of 1 March 1932 that’s exactly what one unsuspecting nighttime traveller encountered.
The sensational story appeared under the headline: Mystery Animal Attacks Victorian Settler, Has Four Tusks.
“Myrtleford, in the Mount Buffalo district, has a mysterious animal, which stands like a human being, and is described as being 7ft high, with a large round hairy head, carrying four tusks. Search parties tried to capture the creature, but an all-night search failed to locate it. That the animal does exist and that it is savage is vouched for by Mr. William Nutall of Myrtleford.
“He was returning home from Brighton with his sister and a companion, when, nearing Europa railway station, he alighted from his horse to adjust the saddle gear, the others riding on. Suddenly, he said, he was attacked by the strange animal. It snarled at him and charged, tearing his shirt to ribbons.”
While the startled rider’s horse managed to break free, poor Nutall was chased onto the railway line. Luckily, for Nutall, the animal was prevented from continuing the pursuit by a wire fence, through which the terrified man made good his escape.
Runs like a clumsy deer, lurks in shadows & leaps on passing horsemen
Perth’s Sunday Times on 28 February 1932 reported in Mystery Animal Roaming Mountain Ranges that: “A mystery animal, shaggy and powerful, is terrorising dwellers in the mountain ranges between Bright and Yackandandah. Already the bush prowler has made three attacks on wayfarers and prints of a giant have been found in soft soil.
“Among many theories he is described as a grizzly bear, an old man kangaroo and a gorilla. Five men have seen it and each has his own ideas. It is claimed it walks by night, it is seven feet high, it has a hairy head, razor claws, four white tusks, it runs like a clumsy deer, and it lurks in shadows and leaps on passing horsemen.
“It was first heard of about a month ago by one of the Cherry brothers, farmers at Running Creek, who was going home about ten o’clock on a still, moonless night. He came to a gate and bent from the saddle of a horse to lift the catch. The gate opened and then there was a grunt and a scuffle and a bulky beast leapt at the horse’s head. The horse bolted with Cherry clinging to its back.
“Next morning he went down to the gateway and examined the ground. In a jumble of footmarks he discerned prints that suggested the foot of a grizzly bear. Other men claim to have had similar experiences. Bushmen are scouring the country in search.”
The following day, The Daily News reported that a search by horsemen during the weekend discovered no clue as to the creature’s hiding place.
“Myrtleford, near which the marauder made his last appearance, is in a panic, and townsmen are not resting until he has been captured. He has appeared four times since February. Twice he has attacked horse men. Once he leapt at a jinker in which two men were driving, and once he was seen in a farm paddock.”
While no clue as to the creature’s hiding place was found, its footprints were.
“Mr. A. Wilkie, Curator of the Melbourne Zoo, who has been given an imprint of the mystery animal’s foot, believes the animal is a small American black bear, probably an escapee from a travelling circus. No Australian animal makes a footprint exactly like the one described. ‘Ordinarily,’ said Mr. Wilkie, ‘the American bears do not attack a man unless in a devil of a humor. When it rushes on its prey it makes a snorting noise, strikes the victim a paralysing blow on the back of the neck, and rips with its teeth and claws.’ Mr. Wilkie added the terror might be a Himalayan or Java bear. These types stand 5ft. high. They walk on all fours but attack from an upright position, striking with the fore-paws.”
The Advocate of Burnie in Tasmania also ran the story on the same day in Mystery Beast Haunts Country Districts. Seven Feet High!
“Fear still haunts the Myrtleford Ranges between Bright and Yackandandah, and at dusk an unknown ‘terror’ sends women and children — and men, too — hurrying to the safety of their homes and barred doors.
“The mystery beast, which is said to be seven feet high, shaggy, razor clawed, and swift and savage in attack with its four great tusks, which gleam in the moonlight, has been lying low over the week-end, but local inhabitants are convinced that it is still prowling the district!
“The ‘terror’ was first seen months ago by a farmer of Running Creek named Cherry. It attacked him one night with a grunt and a scuffle, leaping at his horse’s head. The man and horse fled, and the next morning the print of a huge paw, like that of a grizzly bear, was claimed to have been seen in the soil.
“Since then two more men have been attacked, and the climax was reached last Thursday night, when a drover named Nutall was pursued by the ‘terror,’ which he described as being something like a gorilla.
“Yesterday afternoon a party of three horsemen, armed with rifles, went out to look for the marauder, but found no traces.
“They came back before nightfall! Further search parties will be organised during the week.”
But they never did find that shaggy-haired creature that was said to stand like a human 7 feet tall, and possessed razor sharp claws and 4 fearsome tusks that gleamed in the moonlight.
Here’s a clip from an Animal X Yowie expedition in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales in Australia.
Mars lost much of its atmosphere over time. Where did the atmosphere–and the water–go? The MAVEN mission’s hunt for answers will help us understand when and for how long Mars might have had an environment that could have supported microbial life in its ancient past.
Beware the Mars Hoax
From NASA Science News
There’s a rumor about Mars going around the internet. Here are some snippets from a widely-circulated email message:
“The Red Planet is about to be spectacular.”
“Earth is catching up with Mars [for] the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history.”
“On August 27th … Mars will look as large as the full moon.”
And finally, “NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN.”
Only the first sentence is true. The Red Planet is about to be spectacular. The rest is a hoax.
Here are the facts: Earth and Mars are converging for a close encounter this year on October 30th at 0319 Universal Time. Distance: 69 million kilometers. To the unaided eye, Mars will look like a bright red star, a pinprick of light, certainly not as wide as the full Moon.
Disappointed? Don’t be. If Mars did come close enough to rival the Moon, its gravity would alter Earth’s orbit and raise terrible tides.
Sixty-nine million km is good. At that distance, Mars shines brighter than anything else in the sky except the Sun, the Moon and Venus. The visual magnitude of Mars on Oct. 30, 2005, will be -2.3. Even inattentive sky watchers will notice it, rising at sundown and soaring overhead at midnight.
You might remember another encounter with Mars, about two years ago, on August 27, 2003. That was the closest in recorded history, by a whisker, and millions of people watched as the distance between Mars and Earth shrunk to 56 million km. This October’s encounter, at 69 million km, is similar. To casual observers, Mars will seem about as bright and beautiful in 2005 as it was in 2003.
Although closest approach is still months away, Mars is already conspicuous in the early morning. Before the sun comes up, it’s the brightest object in the eastern sky, really eye-catching. If you have a telescope, even a small one, point it at Mars. You can see the bright icy South Polar Cap and strange dark markings on the planet’s surface.
Above: Painted green by a flashlight, astronomer Dennis Mammana of California points out Mars to onlookers on Aug. 26, 2003, the last time Mars was so close to Earth. Photo credit: Thad V’Soske.
One day people will walk among those dark markings, exploring and prospecting, possibly mining ice from the polar caps to supply their settlements. It’s a key goal of NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration: to return to the Moon, to visit Mars and to go beyond.
Every day the view improves. Mars is coming–and that’s no hoax.
Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Production Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA
10 Need-to-Know Things About Mars
If the sun were as tall as a typical front door, Earth would be the size of a nickel, and Mars would be about as big as an aspirin tablet.
Mars orbits our sun, a star. Mars is the fourth planet from the sun at a distance of about 228 million km (142 million miles) or 1.52 AU.
One day on Mars takes just a little over 24 hours (the time it takes for Mars to rotate or spin once). Mars makes a complete orbit around the sun (a year in Martian time) in 687 Earth days.
Mars is a rocky planet, also known as a terrestrial planet. Mars’ solid surface has been altered by volcanoes, impacts, crustal movement, and atmospheric effects such as dust storms.
Mars has a thin atmosphere made up mostly of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2) and argon (Ar).
Mars has two moons named Phobos and Deimos.
There are no rings around Mars.
More than 40 spacecraft have been launched for Mars, from flybys and orbiters to rovers and landers that touched surface of the Red Planet. The first true Mars mission success was Mariner 4 in 1965.
At this time in the planet’s history, Mars’ surface cannot support life as we know it. A key science goal is determining Mars’ past and future potential for life.
Mars is known as the Red Planet because iron minerals in the Martian soil oxidize, or rust, causing the soil — and the dusty atmosphere — to look red.
Prof. Metin Sett at Harvard University is look at animals for ways to best get about on Mars. It’s called bio inspiration and he has come up with some amazing findings.