10/27/2004

Science Update

As some of you may be aware, politics is not my only interest. I am also interested in science as well. So, I decided it would be a good idea to take a break from the body strewn landscape that is politics and instead post on science for today.

There has been some rather stunning things occurring on the science front while everyone's attention has been diverted to politics.

Anthropology:
Scientists have discovered a new species of humans. This was a highly localized race called Homo floresiensis. It existed only on the small island of Flores east of Java and northwest of Australia, hence the name, which translated means "Flores man".

It is not every day that there's a new species of humans added to the rolls (this is only the eighth species in genus homo) and this one is particularly interesting. It is interesting as it is the only species of man that displays isolated population dwarfism. These humans were on average, only about 3 feet tall! This mutation often occurs in isolated populations with low predatorial pressure and a scant food supply. This type of mutation has produced dwarf rhinos, pigs, squirrels, deer and yes, (how's this for a oxymoron?) dwarf mammoths!

Scientists theorize that Homo floresiensis is descended from Homo erectus stocks that migrated to the island about one million years ago. Radio carbon dating of samples indicates that this race of small humans thrived from about 95,000 up until 12,000 years ago. This is interesting because it makes them contemporaneous with other species of humans, namely Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalenis and yes, plain old Homo sapiens (you and I). It also places their extinction at the verges of recorded history.

While Homo floreseinsis' skull was only the size of a grapefruit, scientists have none-the-less unearthed "child-sized" stone tools indicating they were capable of tool making. Excavations also revealed charred bones of fish and animals indicating they not only hunted and fished, but also cooked their food.

Another interesting fact is that the local language still contains a term, "Ebu Gogo", referring to a race of 3 foot tall humans that lived on the island. Having survived up until 12,000 years ago, it is very probable that they may have interacted with modern humans and the survival of this linguistic reference might be proof of that interaction.

All of the Homo floreseinsis fossils have been found under a deposit of volcanic ash, suggesting that volcanism may have ended this isolated race.

Space Exploration:
The Cassini spacecraft executed a close range flyby of Titan (Saturn's largest moon), approaching within 745 miles of the moon's surface. This moon has been the center of a good bit of speculation recently. First off, because it's the only moon in the solar system that possesses a measurable atmosphere and second because it may also have liquid-methane oceans on its surface. Seeing the surface is however difficult, as it is shrouded by a thick hydrocarbon atmosphere that scatters light and occludes the surface features. NASA has designed special cameras and sensors to be able to peel back this shroud of smog and get a look at the surface. Unfortunately scientists have yet to come to a consensus regarding the images returned from this first close encounter. Radar imaging of the moon's surface captured during this rendezvous will be released on Friday and that might help to start clearing up some of the confusion.

In January of next year, Cassini will deploy the Hyugens probe, dropping it into Titan's atmosphere, where it will descend on a parachute and send back readings of the atmospheric composition.

This will only get more interesting as time progresses


...And the last item for today...

Lunar Eclipse:
If you get a chance, y'all step outside tonight and have a look at the moon. This will be your last chance to see a lunar eclipse until 2007. What you will see is typically referred to as a "blood moon" as the moon passes through the Earth's shadow it's glossy white pallor will slowly change to a deep red color before changing back when it emerges from the other side. See the article for a chart illustrating the best viewing times in your area!

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Blogger The G-man said...

Damn it! No lunar eclipse viewing for me! I look up and all I see are clouds!

9:42 PM  
Blogger gecko said...

You didn't miss much. i had a great view, my kid was all hyped up from earing about it at school (with homework to boot!) and all it looked like to me was someone threw a muddy brown screen over it! Come to think of it, I guess this is the only lunar eclipse I have ever seen, so I had greater expectations. At least I can say I saw one, I guess.

Great post once again; very informative. I remember from childhood hearing about pigmys (sp?) in movies; are they not also small humans? You are a great reference source, since you can read so fast and I cannot! I had to print off the post on baby shooting, so I'll get to that soon. It was 12 comments when I printed it the first time then 21 when I commented. Now it's up to what, 42?!? I'm sure I have some 'splainin' to do...

10:58 PM  
Blogger The G-man said...

Yes there are indeed a group of people known as pygmies. Pygmies however aren't a different species they're just plain old Homo sapiens and further they aren't as short as Homo floresiensis. Your average pygmy falls between 4½ and 5 feet in height. Homo floresiensis was only 3 feet tall.

9:38 AM  
Blogger gecko said...

Thanks!

9:43 PM  

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