Saturday, October 22, 2016

Generation of Highly Inclined Trans-Neptunian Objects by Planet Nine


Batygin et al


The trans-Neptunian region of the solar system exhibits an intricate dynamical structure, much of which can be explained by an instability-driven orbital history of the giant planets. However, the origins of a highly inclined, and in certain cases retrograde, population of trans-Neptunian objects remain elusive within the framework of this evolutionary picture. In this work, we show that the existence of a distant, Neptune-like planet that resides on an eccentric and mildly inclined orbit fully accounts for the anomalous component the trans-Neptunian orbital distribution. Adopting the same parameters for Planet Nine as those previously invoked to explain the clustering of distant Kuiper belt orbits in physical space, we carry out a series of numerical experiments which elucidate the physical process though which highly inclined Kuiper belt objects with semi-major axes smaller than 100 AU are generated. The identified dynamical pathway demonstrates that enigmatic members of the Kuiper belt such as Drac and Niku are derived from the extended scattered disk of the solar system.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Doubts About Planet Nine?

Consequences of a Distant Massive Planet on the Large Semi-major Axis Trans-Neptunian Objects


Shankman et al


We explore the distant giant planet hypothesis by integrating the large semi-major axis, large pericenter Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs) in the presence of the giant planets and an external perturber whose orbit is consistent with the proposed distant, eccentric, and inclined giant planet, so called planet 9. We find that TNOs with semi-major axes greater than 250 au experience some longitude of perihelion shepherding, but that a generic outcome of such evolutions is that the TNOs evolve to larger pericenter orbits, and commonly get raised to retrograde inclinations. This pericenter and inclination evolution requires a massive disk of TNOs (tens of M$_\Earth$) in order to explain the detection of the known sample today. Some of the highly inclined orbits produced by the examined perturbers will be inside of the orbital parameter space probed by prior surveys, implying a missing signature of the 9th planet scenario. The distant giant planet scenarios explored in this work do not reproduce the observed signal of simultaneous clustering in argument of pericenter, longitude of the ascending node, and longitude of perihelion in the region of the known TNOs.

Shaping of the inner Oort cloud by Planet Nine


Michaely et al


We present a numerical calculation of the dynamical interaction between the proposed Planet Nine and an initially thin circular debris disk around the Sun for 4Gyr, accounting the secular perturbation of the four giant planets. We show that Planet Nine governs the dynamics in between 1000-5000AU and forms spherical structure in the inner part (~1000AU) surrounded by an inclined disk aligned to its orbital plane. This structure is the outcome of mean motion resonances and secular interaction with Planet Nine. We compare the morphology of this structure with the outcome from a fly-by encounter of a star with the debris disk and show distinct differences between the two scenarios. We predict that this structure serves as a source of comets and calculate the resulting comet production rate to be detectable.

Explaining the Short Rotation Period of Hi'iaka, Haumea's Largest Satellite


Hastings et al


Hi'iaka is the larger outer satellite of the dwarf planet Haumea. Using relative photometry from the Hubble Space Telescope and Magellan and a phase dispersion minimization analysis, we have identified the rotation period of Hi'iaka to be ~9.8 hrs (double-peaked). This is ~120 times faster than its orbital period, creating new questions about the formation of this system and possible tidal evolution. The rapid rotation suggests that Hi'iaka could have a significant obliquity and spin precession that could be visible in light curves within a few years. We then turn to an investigation of what we learn about the (presently unclear) formation of the Haumea system and family based on this unexpectedly rapid rotation rate. We explore the importance of the initial semi-major axis and rotation period in tidal evolution theory and find they strongly influence the time required to despin to synchronous rotation, relevant to understanding a wide variety of satellite and binary systems. We find that despinning tides do not necessarily lead to synchronous spin periods for Hi'iaka, even if it formed near the Roche limit. Therefore the short rotation period of Hi'iaka does not rule out significant tidal evolution. Hi'iaka's spin period is also consistent with formation near its current location and spin up due to Haumea-centric impactors.

News From Pluto: Clouds on Pluto, Landslides on Charon

By the end of this week, all the data gathered by the New Horizons spacecraft during its July 2015 flyby of the Pluto system will have finished downloading to Earth and be in the hands of the science team. Bonnie Buratti, a science team co-investigator said they have gone from being able to look at the pretty pictures to doing the hard work required to study the data. During today’s press briefing from the Division of Planetary Sciences conference, the New Horizons team shared a few interesting and curious findings they’ve found in the data so far.

While the famous global view of Pluto appears to show a cloud-free dwarf planet, Principal investigator Alan Stern said the team has now take a closer look and found handful of potential clouds in images taken with New Horizons’ cameras.

“Clouds are common in the atmospheres of the solar system,” Stern said during the briefing, “ and a natural question was whether Pluto, with a nitrogen atmosphere, has any clouds.”

ESA's Exomars Schiaparelli Lander Lost

Essential data from the ExoMars Schiaparelli lander sent to its mothership Trace Gas Orbiter during the module’s descent to the Red Planet’s surface yesterday has been downlinked to Earth and is currently being analysed by experts.

Early indications from both the radio signals captured by the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), an experimental telescope array located near Pune, India, and from orbit by ESA’s Mars Express, suggested the module had successfully completed most steps of its 6-minute descent through the martian atmosphere. This included the deceleration through the atmosphere, and the parachute and heat shield deployment, for example.

But the signals recorded by both Pune and Mars Express stopped shortly before the module was expected to touchdown on the surface. Discrepancies between the two data sets are being analysed by experts at ESA’s space operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

The detailed telemetry recorded by the Trace Gas Orbiter was needed to better understand the situation. At the same time as Schiaparelli’s descent, the orbiter was performing a crucial ‘Mars Orbit Insertion’ manoeuvre – which it completed successfully. These important data were recorded from Schiaparelli and beamed back to Earth in the early hours of Thursday morning.


In fact, ESA stated the lander may have exploded.

NASA appears to have found what may be the wreckage.

Boeing CST-100/Starliner First Flight Delayed 6 Months

Boeing is delaying a series of test flights of its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle by up to six months, pushing back the first operational mission of the capsule until the end of 2018.

Boeing spokesman William Barksdale said Oct. 11 that a number of development and production issues with the spacecraft led the company to reschedule the test flights that are part of its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with NASA. News of the delay was first reported by Aviation Week.

Under the revised schedule, a pad abort test of the CST-100, previously scheduled for October 2017, is now planned for January 2018. An uncrewed CST-100 flight, called the Orbital Flight Test, has shifted from December 2017 to June 2018.

A crewed flight test of the CST-100 to the International Space Station, carrying a NASA astronaut and Boeing test pilot, has been delayed from February to August 2018. If that schedule holds, Being anticipates flying its first operational, or “post-certification,” CST-100 mission to the ISS in December 2018.

China Launched Shenzhou-11 Carrying two Taikonauts, Docks With Chinese Space Station Tiangong-2

The Chinese spacecraft Shenzhou-11 – and its crew of two taikonauts – has successfully docked with the Tiangong-2 space module at 19:24 UTC. The docking begins a month long mission in which the crew will conduct a series of experiments aimed at progressing China’s ambitions in space.

Orbital ATK's Antares Rocket Returns to Flight With ISS Cyrngus Resupply Mission

In its first flight in nearly two years, an Orbital ATK Antares successfully launched a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station Oct. 17.

The Antares lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia, at 7:45 p.m. Eastern, at the end of a five-minute launch window. The launch shifted from the beginning to the end of the window because of an unspecified but minor engine issue.

The launch itself went as planned, as the RD-181 engines in the first stage and the Castor 30XL motor in the second stage accelerated the Cygnus spacecraft, on a mission designated OA-5, into orbit. The Cygnus separated from the Antares’ upper stage nine minutes after liftoff.

The launch was the first for the Antares since an October 2014 mission that suffered an engine failure seconds after liftoff, causing the vehicle to fall back to the ground and explode. That explosion caused $15 million in damage to the launch site. Orbital ATK decided shortly after that accident to replace the AJ26 engines previously used on the Antares with new RD-181 engines from NPO Energomash.

UN Using a Sierra Nevada DreamChaser for First UN Space Mission?

The United Nations plans to purchase a dedicated mission on a Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Dream Chaser spacecraft in 2021 to give developing nations an opportunity to fly experiments in space.

At a press conference during the International Astronautical Congress here Sept. 27, the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) said the agreement to fly the dedicated Dream Chaser mission is part of a broader effort by the office to increase access to space to emerging nations.

“Our project is the first-ever United Nations space mission,” said Simonetta Di Pippo, director of UNOOSA. “The mission has one very important goal: to allow United Nations member states to conduct research that cannot be done on Earth.”

The mission, she said, will be open to all nations, but with a particular emphasis on those nations that don’t have the capabilities to fly their own experiments in space. UNOOSA will soon start the process of soliciting payload proposals, with a goal of selecting payloads by early 2018 so that the winning countries have time to build them for a 2021 launch.

Neither SNC nor UNOOSA disclosed the cost of the mission. Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems division, said that the mission will be financed by several ways, with the countries selected to fly experiments paying at least some of the cost of the flight.

Robopocalypse Report #92


Amazon just patented mini personal drones.

Attachments are made to transform drones into search and rescue tools.

Barbers are safe from a drone led robopocalypse.

Drones are starting to deliver blood in Rwanda.

Drones and VR were used to understand the Plain of Jars.

A drone was wirelessly powered.

FAA is being sued over the drone registry.

Intel now has its own commercial drone, the Falcon 8+.

Medical drones in Africa face challenges.

Mini folding drones!

Modular drones for kids!

The Passport selfie taking drone is ready.

Pegasus is the uber of delivery by drone.

Satellites may not be needed for next generation nav systems.

SenseFly has upgraded its agri drone.

Uber has drones harassing drivers in Mexico.

Verizon is testing drones for use as flying cell towers.

Yamaha's unmanned helicopters can now be used for agricultural purposes.

Self Driving Cars:

Will kids need to actually learn to drive in the future?  Or will it go the way of horseback riding?

Drivers who are aggressive are looking forward to self driving cars hitting the road because they think they will be easier to bully.

The Apple Car, Project Titan, appears to be dead.  However, will other companies want Apple's tech?

BMW is edging closer to self driving cars in its new 5 series.

Britain has its first self driving vehicles acting as taxis in London in a very limited fashion.

The Brits have also demoed self driving connected cars.

Easymile is getting legal permission to driverless buses in San Ramon, California and California is pushing forward with self driving cars in general.

Faraday Future's Formula E racer is interesting.

Google's self driving cars have logged over two million miles.

Iveco put forward their vision for trucking, especially self driving.

Mercedes has stated its self driving cars will save its drivers rather than pedestrians.

Renault-Nissan has started a self driving car division.

Rinspeed's Oasis self driving vehicle is being prepped for CES 2017.

Tesla has been asked to rename the Autopilot software in Germany. 

Germany has also stated Tesla drivers must pay attention.

Tesla will be shipping the self driving tech on all its cars, whether or not they are self driving.

Tesla's Musk is saying negative coverage of self driving vehicles is killing millions.

Tesla has also stated it is against the Ts & Cs of owning a Tesla to send it out to autonomously pick up people for money (aka uber).

A Tesla S just rear-ended a motorcycle while in Autopilot mode.

Toyota is very unhappy with the regulations for self driving cars in California.  In fact, all car makers and Google are stating these regs are nonsense.

Transport Systems Catapult has placed the first self driving cars in London as a trial carrying passengers.

Self driving tricycles?

A self driving uber went the wrong way on a one way street.

Uber is getting big on its autonomous plans.

3d Printing:

Australian architect Gardiner is looking to start a revolution by combining CNC, 3d printing and wax moldings.

Electric 4ekolka is the latest entrant into the 3d printed car race.

3d printed bone is coming!

And 3d printed liver!

Blue Body Labs is offering customized clothing...

Dubai announced plans for 3d printed housing.


The first British robot has been restored.

Chanel's fashion ... robots?

Disney researchers have created a one legged bot.

Say hello to the Ghost Minotaur bot. 

Google dumped a robotic arm project. 

Japanese bots!

Kobi is a new bot for garden work.

Micro bots directed by light?

Nilfisk teamed with CMU to produce a floor scrubbing bot.

A robo sub is being sent to investigate sonar contacts near where MH370 is suspected to have gone down.

A robot put a Cessna through basic maneuvers.

Robotics + CT scanners may be an improvement.

Soft bot tech mimics human muscles.

This surgery robot has haptic feedback.

Sweating robots?

Meet the Thorvald agricultural bot, a British agro bot.

Toyota is selling the Kirobo robot.

Zume pizza has bots to make the pizzas.


A paralyzed individual participated in the cybathalon.

The cybathalon gets profiled.

A 3d printed prosthetic was made for a violin player lacking an arm.

A robotic arm made for a paraplegic man gives him a sense of touch.

A young girl has been testing prosthetic arms.

Software Bots:

60 Minutes 'interviewed' a robot.

Can AI help farmers?

AI is now able to defeat people at Doom completely.

Amazon is hiring a number of people for its Alexa. Alexia is being integrated into Ford Focuses and to make coffee.

Apple has hired its first director of AI research.

Baidu has a voice recognition software that is supposedly more accurate than a QWERTY keyboard.

Has China eclipsed the US in AI research?

The CIA has software bots, it's so-called Syren Servers, to predict uprisings days in advance.

Google is trying to catch up to Amazon's software assistant/home automation.  What will it work with?

Google's assistant uses jokes from Pixar and Onion writers.

Google's neural network AI can now learn from its own memories and can be used to navigate the London Tubes.

IBM Watson is being used to help at hospitals.

Insilico Medicine is using a bot to ID genes associated with longevity.

Machine learning coupled with big data are increasingly impacting our lives.  Potentially in understanding bad drug interactions.

Machine learning is also being used to ID cancer cells.

Microsoft claims its voice recognition software is better than human professionals now.

Saya has crossed the uncanny valley.

Tech giants are in an AI race.

The White House is open sourcing its chat bot.

Your next nurse might be a bot.

Yahoo is open sourcing its machine learning system to classify porn!

Computer Advances:

Can neural network based chips compute more efficiently?


How to build human-robot trust?

Robopocalypse has been mocked by SNL.

The Robopocalypse will make work obsolete and we will need a guaranteed minimum income.

Woz is no longer worried about the Singularity.

Dr Sebastian Thrun loves the robopocalypse.

Dr Stephan Hawking has stated AI will be the best or worst thing to happen to Humanity.

South Korea is investing $450 million in its robotics industry.

The White House has stated the robopocalypse has the potential to greatly increase American wealth, but warns not to let the robopocalypse impoverish the average person. 

The Coming Cyber War #19

Cyber Warfare:

The United States had a cyber attack today with a massive DDOS attack on a key company on the internet causing outages mainly on the East Coast.

Is cyber defense the great space race of our generation?

Destructive cyber attacks are coming.

The IoT Botnet Mirai's software has been released to the public.  DHS is warning about this malware specifically.

Hackers are attacking the US voting systems.

NATO states cyberattacks complicate defense.

Nyotron is bringing a cloud based cyber defense to militaries. 

The US has officially stated Russia is responsible for the hacks on the election system Stateside.  The Russians have responded that's part of the 'anti-Russian hysteria.' sweeping the US.  The hacks, some think, are meant to shake trust in American democracy.  The rhetoric against Russia has been stepped up.  The US government has stated it will doing a proportionate response against Russia.  But how?  Supposedly the CIA (really?  CIA?) is preparing to conduct a cyber attack against Russia.

A warning has been sent out Russian hackers might be attempting to attack the US Presidential election.

The US military needs to get cool to attract cyber experts?  Use a cyber ROTC?  Perhaps.  Or perhaps it needs to pay industry rates...

The British have stated they are actively conducting cyberwarfare operations against Daesh.

Russia, cyber coercion and the classic whodunit.

Cyber Security:

3d printing systems have cyber security issues.

Buzzfeed hacked and had false stories released.

Is cyber security best incentivized by a carrot or a stick?

One election system vendor uses developers in Serbia. 

IAEA has stated at least one nuclear power plant was successfully hacked and had its operations disrupted.

IoT might be really, really bad for the internet.

Johnson & Johnson's insulin pumps are hackable.

MITRE is offering a bounty on rogue IOT devices.

Most businesses do not inspect their cloud services for malware.  And the clouds have lots of it.

Sixgill is moving from defense to detection in software.

Spotify users were hacked through malware carrying ads.

Cyber Espionage: 

Apple watches have been banned from British Cabinet meetings due to hacking fears.

Assange promises more secrets to be revealed about Clinton and Google.  Some more were revealed for the Clinton campaign.  Supposedly, a nation state cut off Assange's internet access.  That nation?  Ecuador!  The host embassy he has asylum with.  Ecuador has stated they did so because Assange was interfering with the US election and not because they were being pressured. 

Gufficer dumped Clinton Foundation data again.

An NSA officer was caught stealing secrets.  He stole apparently tens of terabytes of data.

Trump's email servers are hopelessly hackable.

Yahoo had a regular program of scans of user emails for the NSA and denied it.  (Apple, Google, and Microsoft denied they have a similar programs.)  Yahoo's scans were under a surveillance law that is expiring.  Calls are being made to declassify the program the Yahoo email scans were being done under.  The tool being used apparently was a hacking tool, rather than an email filter.  Verizon wants a $1 billion reduction in the price for purchasing Yahoo due to the lack of disclosure on the email scans.  In fact, Verizon is now saying this is a material breach.  In an odd twist, Yahoo is demanding to know who in the government ordered the monitoring.

A Russian spy ship might have tapped internet cables coming out of Syria.

Cyber Crime:

4Chan hackers are claiming to have wiped a Clinton aide's phone remotely.

A new android malware tries to trick users into taking a picture of themselves holding an ID card.

The Clinton Foundation is warning their donors against phishing.

Apparently, darknet users are strongly against animal trafficking.  

DDOS attacks actually have a changing effect.

Hackers who attacked French TV have still not been found.

Hackers have also hit 6,000 online stores looking for credit card #s over an 18 month period.

Another group of hackers is attacking the SWIFT network.

A huge debit car system breach has affected millions in India and over ten banks.

How hackers got into Podesta and Powell's email accounts.

Malware is not a problem on the Wikileaks site according to Julian Assange.

A Republican Senate Committee website has been hacked.

A Russian hacker has been detained in the Czech Republic for possible extradition to the US.  Russia has strongly criticized the US over the arrest and has named the individual.

The StrongPity malware is infecting users via legitimate software installers.

Carbonate deposits from the ancient aqueduct of Béziers, France as Evidence of Local Environment During Roman Empire


Passchier et al


Carbonate deposits from a Roman aqueduct in Béziers, southern France, record environmental conditions during the late first century C.E. These deposits formed in a steep section of the aqueduct with a high flow velocity, which caused rapid deposition of up to 11 mm of calcite per year over a period of 22–24 years. The microstructure, trace element and stable isotope composition show that regular deposition was interrupted by high-discharge events, probably in response to heavy rainfall during autumn and winter, transporting colloidally- and particle-bound elements and depositing calcite with elevated δ18O values. Individual autumn high-discharge events coincide with abrupt decreases in δ13C from − 8 to − 12‰ giving rise to a saw-tooth profile. In some years, several high flow events persisted throughout the winter, suppressing this profile. Event horizons of micrite capping sparite growth surfaces, enriched in Mg, may represent anomalously low water levels or periods when the channel fell dry. In comparison to carbonate deposits from Roman aqueducts in the Eastern Mediterranean, visible layering is less regular and pronounced in Béziers, reflecting a more complex precipitation pattern.

Paleolithic Papers #10


The hybrid individuals from different species of hominins might be easily identifiable.

There is now evidence supporting hominin 'hanky panky' between lineages through STDs.  Yes, STDs.

Introgression happened a lot more often than previously thought in the hominin lineage.

H. sapiens:

What species of horse was around during the painting of the Pasley Caves?

The reason some cave paintings of bison showed long horns and others short horns has been explained.

Cave etchings from 14,500 years ago, at the twilight of the Pleistocene have been found in Lekeitio, Spain.

Modern human DNA indicates a single Out of Africa event was the primary one.

Modern human teeth were found in the same cave where the Hobbits were.

Humans may not be able to live past 125 years.

Australian Aborigines genomic history has been profiled showing a divergence from Eurasians between 30,000 to 70,000 years ago.  Australian Aborigines are claimed to be the world's oldest culture.  I think this ignores the past papers stating the San people of Africa have been genetically divergent since around 100,000 years ago.

A new modern human track site has been found in Africa from 19.000 years ago.

H. neanderthalensis:

Châtelperronian hominins have been genetically tested and found to be Neandertals.

It appears antlers, rhino horns and fire were used in burials by Neandertals.

Neandertals seem to have had better teeth than we, modern humans, do.  John Hawks makes a commentary on the article.

Neandertal ossicles (ear bones) were different but as good as modern humans.

Did Neandertal introgression compromise the European immune system?

H. habilis:

OH-65 gives the earliest evidence of right handedness in hominins.


P. robustus

P. robustus teeth were recovered from Swartkrans Cave, South Africa.  These suggest more variability in dimorphism than previously thought.


Calculating the bite strength of fossil hominins, especially australopithecines.

A. afarensis:

Did Lucy die from falling from a tree (the paper)?

A new specimen of A. afarensis was found from Nefuraytu, Ethiopia.

A. sediba:

The earliest known cancer in a hominin was found in A. sediba.

John Hawks refutes lichen grew on A. sebida bones.

The mandible ramus shape suggests A. sebida was a single, but variable species.

A. sediba's jaws were very australopithecine, but the rest of the cranium was rather different.


Is the human lineage innately violent (paper)?

The difference in gaits between members of the genuses Australopithecus & Homo.

Hunting for Stone Age sites in the Olduvai Gorge using drones.

Monkeys have been found making stone flakes for tools, creating some questions about the earliest hominin stone tools.

Dietary Ecology of Pleistocene Quaternary Camels


Yann et al


Wild members of Camelidae live in some of the most arid environments, including North Africa, Arabia, the Gobi Desert of China and Mongolia and high elevation environments in the Andes Mountains. A better understanding of the paleoecology of the three most abundant Pleistocene camelids (Camelops, Hemiauchenia, and Palaeolama) may clarify modern adaptations to arid environments. Mammalian tooth enamel δ13C values were used to compare diets of co-occurring species in California, Texas, and Florida and δ18O values were used to investigate climate. Carbon isotope analysis suggests Camelops was likely an opportunistic browser that consumed both C3 and C4 browse/CAM plants, potentially consuming C4 browse (e.g., saltbush). Hemiauchenia had an opportunistic and highly generalized diet, while Palaeolama was a specialized forest browser. Stable oxygen isotopes and aridity index values suggest that Ingleside was warmer than McKittrick Brea, but there are no significant differences in aridity between the two sites. Co-occurrence data from the Paleobiology Database suggest that Palaeolama was restricted to forested environments as it occurred with two browsers, Tapirus and Odocoileus, at 90.5% of all sites. Camelops and Hemiauchenia both co-occurred with a broader range of taxa, further suggesting these camelids lived in diverse habitats. The generalized diet of Hemiauchenia, the likely ancestor of modern South American camelids, allowed for the adaptations of extant Lama and Vicugna to survive in the arid environments of the Andes Mountains. Collectively, these data clarify the dietary ecology of extinct camelids and provide insight into the potential importance of generalist diets for increased resilience to changing environments and/or climates.

Permian Extinction NOT as Deadly as Originally Thought?




Procedures introduced here make it possible, first, to show that background (piecemeal) extinction is recorded throughout geologic stages and substages (not all extinction has occurred suddenly at the ends of such intervals); second, to separate out background extinction from mass extinction for a major crisis in earth history; and third, to correct for clustering of extinctions when using the rarefaction method to estimate the percentage of species lost in a mass extinction. Also presented here is a method for estimating the magnitude of the Signor–Lipps effect, which is the incorrect assignment of extinctions that occurred during a crisis to an interval preceding the crisis because of the incompleteness of the fossil record. Estimates for the magnitudes of mass extinctions presented here are in most cases lower than those previously published. They indicate that only ∼81% of marine species died out in the great terminal Permian crisis, whereas levels of 90–96% have frequently been quoted in the literature. Calculations of the latter numbers were incorrectly based on combined data for the Middle and Late Permian mass extinctions. About 90 orders and more than 220 families of marine animals survived the terminal Permian crisis, and they embodied an enormous amount of morphological, physiological, and ecological diversity. Life did not nearly disappear at the end of the Permian, as has often been claimed.

Evidence of the First Colonization of the Land by Plants


Mitchell et al


Land colonization by plants and their fungal and bacterial symbionts during the Paleozoic was fundamental to the evolution of terrestrial ecosystems, but how these early communities influenced mineral weathering and soil development remains largely unknown. We investigated cryptogamic ground covers (CGCs) in Iceland to identify modern analogous communities and to characterize soil structure and biologically mediated weathering features. Using a novel application of X-ray microcomputed tomography, we show that moss-dominated CGCs and their soils are not adequate analogues of early communities. Comparisons with the 407 Ma Rhynie Chert (Scotland) biota indicate that modern CGCs dominated by lichens, liverworts, and their associated symbionts (fungi, cyanobacteria) are more representative of early soil-forming communities. Liverwort and lichen soils are thin, and their depth and complexity are constrained by the size and growth form of the dominant plants or lichens. They are aggregated and stabilized by cyanobacteria, mycorrhizal and lichenized fungi, rhizoids, and associated exudates. Smectite was associated with liverwort but not with moss CGC soils. Soil grain dissolution features are diverse and attributable to different organisms (e.g., bacteria, fungi) and types of interaction (e.g., symbiosis). We postulate that such features provide a novel indirect means of inferring biotic interactions in paleosols.

Impact Ejecta Found at Paleocene-Eocene Boundary in New Jersey


Schaller et al


Extraterrestrial impacts have left a substantial imprint on the climate and evolutionary history of Earth. A rapid carbon cycle perturbation and global warming event about 56 million years ago at the Paleocene-Eocene (P-E) boundary (the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum) was accompanied by rapid expansions of mammals and terrestrial plants and extinctions of deep-sea benthic organisms. Here, we report the discovery of silicate glass spherules in a discrete stratigraphic layer from three marine P-E boundary sections on the Atlantic margin. Distinct characteristics identify the spherules as microtektites and microkrystites, indicating that an extraterrestrial impact occurred during the carbon isotope excursion at the P-E boundary.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Evidence Ediacaran Biota Members Survived Into the Cambrian


Yang et al


The Ediacaran–Cambrian transition records distinct evolutionary changes of metazoans. The Ediacaran fossils (i.e., Ediacara-type biota and tubular fossils) are contrasting with the diverse small skeletal fossils (SSFs) from the early Cambrian. The apparent dissimilarities hindered studies deciphering their evolutionary relationships. This also led to a popular assumption that there exists a mass extinction of the Ediacara biota and cloudinids at the Precambrian–Cambrian (Pc–C) boundary. Here we report for the first time a transitional fauna which consists of typical elements of Ediacaran, i.e. cloudinids and related tubicolous organisms, together with Cambrian SSFs including protoconodonts, anabaritids and siphogonuchitids from South China and Maly Karatau (Kazakhstan). The sediments yielding the transitional fauna are characterized by siliceous rocks in both regions and were previously considered to be unfossiliferous. Their chronostratigraphic assignment in South China has been debated for years. Based on the new fossil assemblage, the siliceous strata of the Daibu Member (Northeast Yunnan, South China) and the basal Kuanchuanpu Formation (South Shaanxi, South China) can be assigned to the earliest Cambrian SSF biozone (Anabarites trisulcatus–Protohertzina anabarica Assemblage Zone) and thus can be considered of early Cambrian in age. A new subzone of the earliest SSF zone in eastern Yunnan (South China) is proposed herein defined as Ganloudina symmetrica–Rugatotheca typica Interval Subzone. The new fauna demonstrates that the cloudinids, originally confined to the late Ediacaran, persisted into the Cambrian Fortunian, and no major extinction event occurred at the Pc–C transition.

Is India's Infrakrol Formation the Same age as China's Ediacaran Doushantuo Formation?


Joshi et al


Covering a time span from Ediacaran (base of Blaini pink carbonates) to Early Cambrian (base of Tal Group), the Krol belt in the Lesser Himalaya (India), occurs as a series of synclines from Solan, Himachal Pradesh in the north-west to Nainital, Uttarakhand in the south-east. Various lithostratigraphic divisions of this belt reveal many palaeobiological entities, namely cyanobacteria, algae, acritarchs, small shelly fossils and trace fossils. Globally, large acanthomorphic acritarchs of the Ediacaran Period are used as significant biostratigraphic tools for global correlation. In the Krol belt, reports of acanthomorphic acritarchs from the Infrakrol and Krol ‘A’ formations of the Krol Group have further supported this notion. This paper reports well-preserved microfossils including acanthomorphic acritarchs, sphaeromorphic acritarchs, coccoids namely Tianzhushania spinosa, T. polysiphonia, Papillomembrana compta, Schizofusa sp., Gloeodiniopsis lamellosa, Sphaerophycus medium, and the unnamed forms A, B and C from the chert nodules of the Infrakrol Formation exposed in the Nainital Syncline of the Kumaun Lesser Himalaya. A biostratigraphic correlation based on acanthomorphic acritarchs suggests that the Infrakrol Formation is coeval to the lower Tianzhushania assemblage zone of the Doushantuo Formation of south China. Tianzhushania and Papillomembrana are significant additions to the previous record of the Ediacaran acanthomorphic acritarchs from the Lesser Himalaya of India and provide an independent evidence for construction of both biozonation scheme and paleogeography.

Evidence of Euxinia in Terminal Ediacaran Oceans


Cui et al


The Ediacaran Period witnessed the first appearance of macroscopic animal life in Earth's history. However, the biogeochemical context for the stratigraphic occurrence of early metazoans is largely uncertain, in part due to the dearth of integrated paleobiological and chemostratigraphic datasets. In this study, a comprehensive geochemical analysis was conducted on the fossiliferous Khatyspyt Formation in Arctic Siberia, in order to gain insights into the Ediacaran paleoenvironments. This study was designed to specifically address the relationship between paleoredox conditions and Ediacaran fossil occurrences in the Khatyspyt Formation. Our data reveal a dramatic shift in pyrite sulfur isotope compositions (δ34Spyrite) from ca. − 20‰ to ca. 55‰, and this shift is intriguingly associated with the first occurrence of Ediacara-type macrofossils at the studied section, suggesting a possible link between seawater redox conditions and distribution of early macroscopic organisms. Based on multiple lines of sedimentological and geochemical evidence, we propose that the development of oceanic euxinia — which may be widespread in the continental margins due to enhanced oxidative weathering in the terminal Ediacaran Period — may have locally prohibited the colonization of Ediacara-type organisms and resulted in low δ34Spyrite values in the lower Khatyspyt Formation. In the middle and upper Khatyspyt Formation, progressive secular transition from euxinic to non-euxinic and more habitable conditions may have allowed for the colonization of Ediacara-type and other macro-organisms.

Did Earth Narrowly Escape a Third Snowball Earth Episode?


Pu et al


The snowball Earth hypothesis predicts that low-latitude glaciation lasted millions of years while CO2 built up to critical levels to culminate in catastrophic deglaciation in a supergreenhouse climate. The Gaskiers Formation of eastern Newfoundland (Canada) has been attributed to a snowball glaciation event, but the lack of robust paleomagnetic data and precise geochronological constraints has precluded tests of the hypothesis. Here we present high-precision U-Pb zircon geochronology (chemical abrasion–isotope dilution–thermal ionization mass spectrometry) from eight tuffs from multiple distant stratigraphic sections that bracket glacial diamictites and the first appearance of large Ediacaran fossils. Including internal error, deposition of the Gaskiers diamictite on the Avalon Peninsula is constrained to have been between 580.90 ± 0.40 and 579.88 ± 0.44 Ma, and the Trinity diamictite on Bonavista Peninsula was deposited between 579.63 ± 0.15 and 579.24 ± 0.17 Ma. Assuming approximately synchronous deglaciation, these results imply a maximum duration for deposition of the Trinity diamictite of ≤340 k.y.; this is inconsistent with the multimillion year duration predicted by the snowball Earth hypothesis. Our geochronologic data also constrain the first appearance datum of Ediacaran fossils to

Ediacaran Soft Bodied Fossils Were Preserved due to Silicia Rich Oceans?


Tarhan et al


The Ediacara Biota, Earth's earliest fossilized ecosystem of complex, macroscopic, multicellular organisms, occurs in terminal Ediacaran strata worldwide, yet how the fossils are preserved remains controversial. Ediacara assemblages consist of exceptionally preserved soft-bodied forms of enigmatic morphology and phylogenetic affinity. Many of these fossil assemblages are anactualistically preserved as casts and molds in sandstones ("Ediacara-style" preservation). Here we present evidence from the Ediacara Member of South Australia that Ediacara-style preservation was due to rapid, early-stage precipitation of silica cements, facilitated by the high silica saturation state of the oceans prior to the appearance of prolific silica biomineralizers. An early silicification model provides a coherent, mechanistic and empirically supported explanation for the widespread preservation of soft-bodied organisms of Ediacaran–early Paleozoic age as sandstone casts and molds. The prevalence of early silicification confirms that Ediacara-style fossil assemblages can provide an accurate window into life on the Ediacaran seafloor that can be used to reconstruct critical steps in the development and diversification of early animal ecosystems.

Evidence of an End Ediacaran Paleoenvironmental Disturbance


Smith et al


Evaluation of hypotheses that relate environmental to evolutionary change across the Ediacaran-Cambrian transition has been hampered by a dearth of sections that preserve both the last appearance of Ediacaran body fossils and the first appearance of Treptichnus pedum within carbonate-rich strata suitable for chemostratigraphic studies. Here, we report two new exceptionally preserved latest Ediacaran fossil assemblages from the Deep Spring Formation at Mount Dunfee, Nevada (USA). Further, we report these occurrences in a high-resolution carbon isotope chemostratigraphic framework, permitting correlation on a regional and global scale. The lower of the two horizons, at the base of the Deep Spring Formation, hosts a body fossil assemblage that includes Gaojiashania, other vermiform body fossils, and possible Wutubus annularis interbedded with Cloudina shell beds. The upper of the two fossil horizons, in the Esmeralda Member of the Deep Spring Formation, contains Conotubus and occurs within the basal Cambrian negative carbon isotope excursion, establishing it as the youngest Ediacaran fossil assemblage discovered to date. This is the first report of Gaojiashania, Conotubus, and Wutubus in Laurentia, extending the known stratigraphic ranges and biogeographic distributions of these taxa to a global scale. These data refine the relative ages of defining characteristics of the Ediacaran-Cambrian boundary and confirm that a large perturbation to the carbon cycle and surface ocean conditions coincided with the extinction of Ediacaran organisms.

Are Ediacaran Ambient Inclusion Trails Trace Fossils?


She et al


Ambient Inclusion Trails (AITs) are intriguing microtubular structures that commonly occur in association with pyrite in Precambrian organic-rich cherts and phosphorites. They are thought to be created by the migration of pyrite or other crystal grains through a lithified substrate driven by pressure solution from the in situ thermal decomposition of organic matter. New phosphorite samples of the Ediacaran Doushantuo Formation (South China) contain abundant AITs exhibiting diverse morphotypes, which may be distinguished from filamentous microfossils and endolithic microborings with a suite of morphological criteria based on optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Black shales of the Baizhu section contains abundant pyrite framboids whose size distributions reveal significant temporal variations of redox conditions in shallow marine waters that probably promoted the formation of the Doushantuo phosphorites.

AITs in the phosphorites are categorized into three types and further into five subtypes (I-a, I-b, II-a, II-b, and III) based on their morphologies and observed or interpreted associations with various kinds of terminal pyrite crystals. Among these, subtype II-a, single striated microtubes 2–10 μm wide, are interpreted to have resulted from migration of intact pyrite framboids. Those of subtype II-b, dense clusters of outward radiating microtubes with consistent widths and inward-facing cuspate ridges, likely have formed by explosive disintegration and propulsion of pyrite framboids due to highly concentrated carbon dioxide gas during the oxidation of organic matter. During early diagenesis, formation of euhedral and framboidal pyrites involve a suite of biogeochemical and physical processes including non-biological oxidation of organic matter and reduction of sulfate in the presence of ferrous iron. Following the burial of pyrites, further oxidative degradation of organic matter produced abundant CO2 gas, which drives the pyrites to move through the solid, but not yet fully lithified phosphatic gel composing granules. This model explains the formation of previously reported but unexplained star-burst type AITs and it may be tested by experimental studies.

Our new observations provide evidence for the widespread occurrence of AITs in the Doushantuo phosphorites and urge careful petrographic examinations and differentiation between AITs and morphologically similar biogenic microstructures.

Ediacaran Oceans had a Higher Sulfate Concentration


Zhou et al


Authigenic carbonate associated with anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM), usually via microbial sulfate reduction (MSR) or ferric iron reduction, is generally characterized by extremely low δ13C values (<− 30‰, VPDB). This has been used as one of the major diagnostic features for the recognition of hydrocarbon seep carbonate in the geological past. Previous reports on Precambrian authigenic carbonates are rare, limiting our understanding of the effects of their deposition on the Earth's carbon isotopic mass balance. In this study, mainly based on petrographic features and pronounced negative δ13C values as low as − 38.1‰, we discovered authigenic calcite cement immediately above the cap dolostone in the basal Ediacaran Doushantuo Formation in the Jiulongwan section, Yangtze Gorges area, South China. Our observations not only provide direct evidence for the involvement of AOM during carbonate precipitation in the early Ediacaran (~ 635 Ma), but also suggest that the seawater sulfate concentrations in the early Ediacaran may have been higher than previously thought.

Evidence of Fluctuating Paleoatmospheric Oxygen Levels Before and After the Cryogenian Marinoan (Snowball Earth) Glaciations


Rodler et al


Chromium isotopes constitute a powerful paleoenvironmental tracer recording fluctuations of atmospheric oxygenation and continental weathering thus facilitating the reconstruction of the redox state of ancient seawater. We use the δ53Cr signature coupled with REE+Y patterns and redox-sensitive trace elements to monitor environmental changes recorded by marine carbonates of the Otavi Group, Namibia. These carbonates were deposited in a platform and foreslope setting in subtropical latitudes during the Neoproterozoic and comprise the transition from a marine depositional setting through glaciation into a postglacial environment in four stages. Preglacial carbonates (Stage 1) yield positively fractionated δ53Cr values, increased U and Mn concentrations, indicative of mobilization during oxidative terrestrial weathering and stabilization in oxic surface waters. Carbonates deposited just before the Ghaub diamictites (Stage 2) record δ53Cr values (>+0.4 ‰) comparable to modern seawater and negative Ce anomalies (∼0.7) characteristic for oxygenated seawater. We interpret this as a pulse of intense oxidative weathering shortly before the advance of the glaciers. Marginal shale contamination persists in carbonates of both sections and is slightly elevated during the glacial aftermath; Cr is vulnerable towards detrital contamination. Early postglacial cap dolostones (Stage 3) were influenced by enhanced detrital contamination potentially supplied by freshwater particulate load, which was then drastically reduced in the overlying postglacial limestones in the upper Maieberg Fm (Stage 4) where near-preglacial δ53Cr values are reached again. REE+Y patterns along with Eu and Ce anomalies record a transformation from a marine, slightly anoxic and stratified water column with distal hydrothermal influence to a freshwater-influenced depositional environment with decreased hydrothermal activity and fluctuating oxic surface water conditions after glacial retreat. Here, we demonstrate that carbonate δ53Cr signatures are sensitive to changes in continental weathering balanced between detrital contamination and oxidative weathering on land and are capable of tracing fluctuating redox conditions prior and after one of the major syn-Marinoan glaciations.

Were There Anoxic Oceans During the Cryogenian NeoProterozoic?


Hood et al


Emerging geochemical proxies have improved our understanding of the broad-scale history of Earth's oxygenation. However, paleoredox work does not always include extensive consideration of sample preservation and paleoenvironmental setting. This is particularly an issue with marine carbonates, which although being potentially ideal ocean redox archives, are commonly altered during diagenesis. Here we provide new insight into the robustness of uranium isotopes (238U/235U ratios: δ238U values) as paleoredox tracers by determining texture-specific δ238U values from a well-described Cryogenian (Balcanoona) reef complex in South Australia. We found high variability in δ238U values between different carbonate components, even within a single sample. Petrographically, the best-preserved components from the Balcanoona reef are marine cements, which have a mean δ238U value of –0.23‰, essentially unfractionated from riverine inputs. These values are interpreted as reflecting a marine system with widespread anoxic and iron-rich settings. Less-well-preserved phases have δ238U values spanning almost the entire extent of the documented isotopic range. This integrated petrographic-geochemical work demonstrates the need for petrographic analysis and careful sample selection on a case-by-case basis in future carbonate metal isotope geochemistry.

Microfossils From the Eukaryotic Decline from Tonian NeoProterozoic Australia


Reidman et al


Estimates of Precambrian eukaryotic diversity and disparity indicate broad trends of increase in the Mesoproterozoic Era, leading to a peak and then rapid decline by ca. 750 Ma. The organic-walled microfossil assemblage presented here is representative of that mid-Neoproterozoic height of eukaryotic species richness. Organic-rich shales and siltstones of the mid-Neoproterozoic upper Alinya Formation, eastern Officer Basin, Australia, preserve an abundant and diverse assemblage of organic-walled microfossils deposited in a low-latitude, shallow marine setting. Use of scanning electron microscopy (SEM) revealed an unexpected level of morphological detail not visible in transmitted light microscopy. This led to the recognition of new species as well as establishment of degradational sequences, which aid in fossil recognition. In total, 26 taxa are described here; these include 21 previously named forms, four newly described species (Caelatimurus foveolatus, Culcitulisphaera revelata, Karenagare alinyaensis, and Morgensternia officerensis), and one new combination (Vidalopalla verrucata).

Microfossils From the Eukaryote Decline From Tonian NeoProterozoic Arizona


Porter et al


The ca. 780–740 Ma Chuar Group, Grand Canyon, Arizona, provides an exceptional record of life during the diversification of crown-group eukaryotes, just prior to the first Cryogenian glaciation. We document in detail the assemblage of organic-walled microfossils preserved in fine-grained siliciclastics throughout the unit. In contrast with earlier studies, we primarily used SEM to document fossil morphologies, augmented by transmitted light microscopy, FIB-SEM, and TEM. This resulted in the discovery of new species and the recognition of broad-ranging, intraspecific biological and taphonomic variation in other species. Twenty-two species and five unnamed morphotypes are described, including three new species: Kaibabia gemmulella, Microlepidopalla mira, and Volleyballia dehlerae; two new combinations: Galerosphaera walcottii and Lanulatisphaera laufeldii; and 17 previously described forms. The possible colonial green alga Palaeastrum dyptocranum Butterfield in Butterfield, Knoll, and Swett, 1994 and the index fossil Cerebrosphaera globosa (Ogurtsova and Sergeev, 1989) Sergeev and Schopf, 2010 (=C. buickii Butterfield, 1994) are described for the first time from Chuar rocks. Lanulatisphaera laufeldii, a locally abundant and globally widespread species characterized by submicrometer filamentous processes that form a reticulate network, may be a useful marker for the time interval just before the appearance of vase-shaped microfossils (VSMs) ca. 740 Ma.

Organic-walled microfossil assemblages decline in diversity upsection, coincident with the appearance of VSMs and intermittent euxinia within the basin. Whether this pattern is due to preservational bias related to greater water depth or the higher TOC of upper Chuar rocks or instead reflects biotic turnover related to the spread of euxinic water masses in the basin is unknown.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Pre Modern Japan may not Have Been as Isolated as Thought

Japanese archaeologists said Wednesday they have for the first time unearthed ancient Roman coins at the ruins of an old castle.

The discovery of 10 bronze and copper coins -- the oldest dating from about 300-400 AD -- in southern Okinawa caught researchers by surprise.

It was the first time Roman Empire coins have been discovered in Japan, thousands of kilometres from where they were likely minted.

"At first I thought they were one cent coins dropped by US soldiers," archaeologist Hiroki Miyagi told AFP.

Ancient Japan may have been far more cosmopolitan than previously thought, archaeologists said Wednesday, pointing to fresh evidence of a Persian official working in the former capital Nara more than 1,000 years ago.

Present-day Iran and Japan were known to have had direct trade links since at least the 7th century, but new testing on a piece of wood -- first discovered in the 1960s -- suggest broader ties, the researchers said.

Infrared imaging revealed previously unreadable characters on the wood -- a standard writing surface in Japan before paper -- that named a Persian official living in the country.

The official worked at an academy where government officials were trained, said Akihiro Watanabe, a researcher at the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

The official may have been teaching mathematics, Watanabe added, pointing to ancient Iran's expertise in the subject.

"Although earlier studies have suggested there were exchanges with Persia as early as the 7th century, this is the first time a person as far away as Persia was known to have worked in Japan (during the period)," he said.