Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chilean Mastodon

This is the first intact mastodon skull found in Chile.  Yet it is a reminder that the genus made it not just into North America, but also into South America.

The extinction of large animals in the Northern Hemisphere can be explained by the event that I have named the Pleistocene nonconformity which initially decimated the extant populations.  We can easily surmise that the remainder was hunted out by early man who had the tools.  The problem I have with all that is the African Elephant particularly.  It never was successfully hunted by well equipped local tribesmen before the advent of modern arms.

That it could be hunted is irrelevant, it simply never was properly exploited.  Thus I find the human agency theory for both Americas uncomfortable, just as the Pleistocene Nonconformity also failed to actually eliminate all individuals.  And the argument of habitat change simply does not fly with a mastodon that eats brush.

As this item reminds us, this creature was able to populate every valley on earth at will, and only a handful ever pulled that feat off.

On top of that the mastodon was a forest dweller, quite able to protect itself.  Recall that no one in his right mind is going to sneak up on an elephant in the woods and stick a spear into its gut.  There is plenty of easier ways to make a meal.

They almost certainly would have been trapped in a pit at the least.  They were also likely too clever to run over a cliff or even be stampeded.   Certainly, African elephant do not look likely to ever stampede, unless it is over their tormentors.

The fact remains that the genus is incredibly successful.  Yet we have huge extinction events that can not be properly explained.  Even the Indian Elephant avoided extinction and it was exposed to some of the worse land disturbances if we accept the consequences of the Nonconformity.  In fact all obvious threats are just as obviously survivable.  These creatures were never thin on the ground and vulnerable to over hunting at all.  Besides, you would only learn to hunt them if they were common enough to make it worthwhile.  Even in Africa, that turned out to be an unattractive proposition.

On top of that, the end of the Ice Age would have naturally expanded their range and they would have easily adapted to warmer conditions.

One other option that does work is that they were deliberately hunted out by an ancestral human stock with access to modern tools.  We could today choose to eliminate all elephants quite easily and could also reduce or eliminate a few other inconvenient large creatures.  I prefer not to use that option, except that the genus was just too successful globally to simply disappear easily.

Builders unearth 2million-year-old skull and tusks of elephant's ancient relative

Last updated at 11:46 AM on 25th March 2011

The skull and tusks of a giant primitive elephant that died up to 2million years have been discovered by builders in Chile, it emerged today.

The mastodon, around the same size as modern elephants, is thought to have roamed  forests and plains before dying and sinking into a swamp that preserved it.

The find, beside a river, could allow scientists to piece together more information about the DNA they share with their much bigger relative, the woolly mammoth.

Preserved: The remains of a mastodon discovered on the building site of a hydroelectric plant in Chile

It could also shed more light on the origins of elephants.

The discovery was made by contrustion workers building a hydroelectric power plant beside a river in Padre Hurtaldo, near the Chilean capital Santiago.

Digging into the ground, they first noticed the pointed end of one of the 4ft long by 6in wide tusks.

Paleontologists were called in and, after further excavation, discovered what is Chile’s first ever discovery of a complete mastodon skull.

Directed by Rafael Labarca, of Chile’s PDI institute, told Chilean newspaper La Tercera: 'When we were in the excavation process we were aware that the bone continued.

Intact: The discovery's is the first complete skull of the ancient creature ever made in Chile

Big gnashers: The massive, crushing molar teeth that measure about 9in long

'Practically the whole skull complete and in perfect conditions, with its four molars and together with both tusks of almost four feet in length.

'In addition, inside the skull one was part of the vertebrae of the spine.'

Mastodons were around the same size as modern elephants but were much more heavily muscled and had furry coats to protect them from cold.

The ancestry of the elephant has long been a source of fascination for biologists.

Fossil evidence shows it began in Africa around 50million to 60million years ago with moeritheres, pig-like creatures with long snouts.

Brushing teeth: Paleontologist Consuelo Huidobro cleans the molars. They could provide clues about elephants

These animals evolved into a range of other species, many of them much larger, and spread across the globe, inhabiting every continent except Australasia and Antarctica.

The four-tusked trilophodon appeared 26million years ago and lasted until 2million years ago in Eurasia, Africa, and North America. Modern humans, by contrast, evolved only around 200,000 years ago.

Biggest of all was the imperial mammoth, which adapted to the cold in Eurasia, Africa, and North America during the Pleistocene epoch 2million years ago.

It is believed that they are the closest relative of the elephants. Unlike, mastadons which eat shoots and leaves, mammoths were grazers.

Both species appear to have survived until just a few thousand years ago and early humans would have been familiar with them.

Padre Hurtado: Where the mastodon was found

It is believed that the evolution and extinction of many modern elephant species may be closely tied up with the spread of the human race.

Both mammoths and mastodons are proboscids, but the former is assigned to the mammutidae family, while the latter is of the eliphantitae.

Most excavations of mastodons have been made in North America. Very few have been discovered in the southern part of the continent.

Previously, only fragments had been found in Chile, for example.

One of the biggest finds was made in 1993 at the Diamond Valley Lake reservoir outside of Hemet, California.

It yielded numerous remains and led to the site being nicknamed the "Valley of the Mastodons".

Current excavations are going on annually at the Hiscock Site in Byron, New York.

In July 2007, the longest mastodon tusks in the world – measuring 16ft and each weighing a ton – were discovered in Milia, north of Athens.

Read more:

Importance of Old Trees

I have posted many times on the need for forest refugia.  Here we get another lesson.  The older trees grow mosses and these mosses actually fix nitrogen which is then dropped onto the forest floor.

In fact, proper forest husbandry must include refugia in various shapes and sizes, but most likely best set in narrow strips that perhaps go for miles.  Such strips also cater to the needs of wildlife.  Such strips are usually best set right along the valley drainage to protect the fishery as well.  Yet hillside strips are also called for. 

This way planned timber harvesting can follow decadal programs rather easily while also preserving a lot of natural fertility and diversity.

Even better will be the day we simply practice selective logging from time to time that includes extensive brush clearing through burning.

I personally think that most forestry needs to be privately owned with a quota system put in place and designated refugia that is deliberately preserved. 

This shows us another control that can be put in place.  Just license the allowable cut on the basis of the number of healthy refugia trees whose age exceeds a certain standard.  Unhealthy trees would be removed posthaste but then one would wait for their replacements to reach the proper age before new cutting was allowed.  That should motivate everyone to be good and also careful.

Old trees 'important for forests'

Mar 15, 2011

"You need trees that are large enough and old enough to start accumulating mosses before you can have the cyanobacteria that are associated with the mosses," says Lindo. "Many trees don't start to accumulate mosses until they're more than 100 years old. So it's really the density of very large, old trees that are draped in moss that is important at a forest stand level. We surveyed trees that are estimated as being between 500 and 800 years old."

Using Wind to Stabilize the Grid

It appears the idea is to use small local energy sources such as windmills to allow islands to be cut out of the grid to prevent a failure mode from propagating further.  I do not see how that could work but we may presume there is a good reason for it, if only because it maintains a local base load that allows time to side step the problem.

In the event, this is more toward integrating alternative power into the grid in the best way possible.

If we have learned anything it is that diverse distributed energy sources hugely increase the robustness of the grid itself as was so recently shown in Japan were the wind is presently providing some system reassurance.

K-State Research Channels Powerful Kansas Wind To Keep Electricity Running

by Staff Writers

Manhattan KA (SPX) Mar 23, 2011

The Kansas wind can potentially provide abundant renewable energy that could power the disconnected portion of the network. For data collecting and testing purposes, the researchers plan to use the university's wind turbine north of campus, near the intersection of Denison and Kimball avenues, as well as four other wind turbines installed at the Riley County Public Works Facility.

One of Kansas' most abundant natural resources may hold the key to preventing major power outages. A team of Kansas State University engineers is researching ways to use Kansas wind and other distributed energy sources to avoid cascading failures.

Sakshi Pahwa, doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering, India, explored the topic for her recently completed master's project, "Distributed Sources and Islanding to Mitigate Cascading Failures in Power Grid Networks." The project was a winner at the recent Capitol Graduate Research Summit in Topeka.

Pahwa's co-advisers on the project include Caterina Scoglio, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Noel Schulz, Paslay professor of electrical and computer engineering and K-State's first lady. Pahwa is continuing this work for her doctoral research under Scoglio and Ruth Douglas Miller, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The research looks at using distributed energy sources to avoid cascading failures in power grids. A cascading failure occurs when an interconnected part of a power system fails and then triggers successive parts to fail - like the one that happened in the Northeast Blackout of 2003, a power outage that affected 55 million people in the United States and Canada.

To prevent cascading failures researchers are investigating a technique called islanding, which works to minimize the impact of a power system fault to a small area. Islanding prevents this fault from affecting other areas and stops further disturbances in the network.

"We used a network partitioning algorithm, and then depending on where the fault is I can disconnect that portion of the network," Pahwa said. "That disconnected portion can then be powered using renewable or distributed energy sources, such as wind turbines or solar panels, and the remaining parts are still being powered by conventional sources."

The Kansas wind can potentially provide abundant renewable energy that could power the disconnected portion of the network. For data collecting and testing purposes, the researchers plan to use the university's wind turbine north of campus, near the intersection of Denison and Kimball avenues, as well as four other wind turbines installed at the Riley County Public Works Facility.

The university turbine was installed for Wind for Schools, a project led by Miller, director of the Kansas Wind Application Center. The Riley County wind turbines were installed for the Resourceful Kansas project, a cooperative effort between Miller, Scoglio, Riley County and the Kansas City-based consulting firm GBA, and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

"We need to set up power systems that are reliable and stable so that when that wind is blowing, we can use that power, but when the wind isn't blowing, there are also stable systems," Schulz said. "That's what this project is about - modeling the network so we understand the different aspects for when there are changes, when the wind blows, when it doesn't and how that affects the power system."

Scoglio and Pahwa started the project when Pahwa was a master's student. As they began studying complex network systems, they turned to Schulz, a power grid expert who has done previous work with islanding. They also collaborated with power systems expert Anil Pahwa, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Shelli Starrett, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

"With the proper design and the right intelligence, some of the problems related to power failures can be prevented," Scoglio said. "We need to make sure that the communication network will monitor the network and detect the problem and will implement the reaction securely to implement these solutions."

Sakshi Pahwa's research aims to not only study the problem from a theoretical aspect, but also provide practical solutions to real-world problems. It also fits in with the Renewable Energy Standards Act, which was signed in 2009 and states that major Kansas utilities should be able to generate about 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2011 and 20 percent by 2020.

"This project benefits the state because it reduces carbon emissions through renewable energy," Pahwa said. "It is a good opportunity to create jobs, and renewable energy incorporation is also a support to the conventional sources so we don't need to import fuels from other countries. It helps the economy as well."

Pahwa's research was supported by the four companies involved in the K-State Electrical Power Affiliates Program: Westar Energy, Burns and McDonnell, Nebraska Public Power District and Omaha Public Power District. Schulz directs the program, which supports undergraduate and graduate research programs.

"This research is a benefit for Kansas and the whole nation because I think that innovation, coming from research and support from companies such as those that are part of the power affiliates, can really bring the country back to a better economic situation," Scoglio said. "Innovation comes with jobs and can really improve the whole nation."

Seedless Cherimoya

This item is important because we may just have a genetic protocol for producing seedless plants on demand. It may not be ready yet for prime time, but the possibility is now with us.

We forget that the seedless cultivars we do have were never anyone’s first choice in terms of flavor and many other characteristics.  Suddenly we can plan to optimize a variety and then proceed to produce a seedless version. 

How about a better banana?

If this methodology can be adapted to the rest of our universe of cultivars, we are about to witness a revolution in flavor and quality.

My first nominee is to produce a proper sweet seedless watermelon.  From that we can also produce dried watermelon without fuss.  Both would have tremendous commercial value.

Just how many varieties of grapes are there?  I would love to eat a strongly flavored concord grape without the seeds while retaining the interior structure.

Seedless cherimoya, the next banana?

Mark Twain called it "the most delicious fruit known to man." But the cherimoya, or custard apple, and its close relations the sugar apple and soursop, also have lots of big, awkward seeds. Now new research by plant scientists in the United States and Spain could show how to make this and other fruits seedless.

Going seedless could be a big step for the fruit, said Charles Gasser, professor of plant biology at UC Davis.

"This could be the next banana -- it would make it a lot more popular," Gasser said. Bananas in their natural state have up to a hundred seeds; all commercial varieties, of course, are seedless. A paper describing the work is published March 14 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers José Hormaza, Maria Herrero and graduate student Jorge Lora at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas in Malaga and Zaragoza, Spain, studied the seedless variety of sugar apple. When they looked closely at the fruit, they noticed that the ovules, which would normally form seeds, lacked an outer coat.

They looked similar to the ovules of a mutant of the lab plant Arabidopsis discovered by Gasser's lab at UC Davis in the late 1990s. In Arabidopsis, the defective plants do not make seeds or fruit. But the mutant sugar apple produces full-sized fruit with white, soft flesh without the large, hard seeds.

The Spanish team contacted Gasser, and Lora came from Malaga to work on the project in Gasser's lab. He discovered that the same gene was responsible for uncoated ovules in both the Arabidopsis and sugar apple mutants.

"This is the first characterization of a gene for seedlessness in any crop plant," Gasser said.

Seedless varieties of commercial fruit crops are usually achieved by selective breeding and then propagated vegetatively, for example through cuttings.

Discovery of this new gene could open the way to produce seedless varieties in sugar apple, cherimoya and perhaps other fruit crops.

The discovery also sheds light on the evolution of flowering plants, Gasser said. Cherimoya and sugar apple belong to the magnolid family of plants, which branched off from the other flowering plants quite early in their evolution.

"It's a link all the way back to the beginning of the angiosperms," Gasser said.

Provided by University of California - Davis

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Largest Spam Source Shut Down

For long suffering internet users this is a little light at the end of the tunnel.    The close cooperation between Microsoft and the US Marshalls is likely a harbinger of things to come.  Effective strategies to end this plague may well be on the way.  Tossing the perps in jail is certainly a good start and will plausibly send the small fry packing.

No one objects to legitimate advertising or even targeted advertising if only because sometimes you want to be the target.  The spammer’s only clients are obviously criminal fronts for all sorts of doubtful product and free intrusive advertising is their only way of penetrating the market.  Besides, I am getting tired of hitting the delete button every day to dispose of another Viagra offer or Nigerian fraudster.

Of course the worst are transmitting out of country and we have to try harder with them.

The only reason I control comment access on this blog is to block multiple spam attempts which do appear at times and they never quit in their efforts to bypass defenses.

World's biggest source of spam email shut down

The world's most prolific source of spam emails has been shut down in a series of coordinated raids by Microsoft and US federal authorities.

Three Spanish men with 'limited' hacking experience are believed to be behind the vast Mariposa botnet Photo: CLARE KENDALL

By Christopher Williams, Technology Correspondent 6:20PM GMT 18 Mar 2011

The Rustock botnet, an international network of virus-infected computers, had for years generated billions of emails per day, promoting unlicensed online pharmacies and cut-price impotence pills.

But on Wednesday, security firms noticed email traffic from Rustock completely collapsed. It has now been revealed that Microsoft, backed by US Marshals acting on a court order, seized servers that it's estimated covertly controlled almost a million Windows PCs.

“We think this has been 100 per cent effective," said Richard Boscovich, senior attorney in Microsoft's digital crimes unit, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The servers were rented from commercial internet hosting firms across the Mid West, who were apparently unaware of their role in Rustock. These "command and control" servers would issue instructions to infected home and business PCs worldwide.

The criminals behind the spamming business were named in Microsoft’s lawsuit only as “John Does 1-11”. To get the court order, which empowered it to seize equipment and so "decapitate" the botnet, Microsoft alleged the John Does infringed its trademarks in some of their emails.

The scale of the shut down is unprecedented. A report last month by SecureWorks, a computer security firm, said Rustock was the world's biggest source of spam.

“The reasons for this are due to the author’s relentless development of stealth tactics,” it said, referring to how Rustock was frequently updated to stay one step ahead of anti-virus packages.

Asherah Edited From Bible

Biblical research is a gift that keeps on giving.  It is our one clear window into the lifeways of the Bronze Age and its culture.  Other scraps have survived, but none so completely as that of the Bible unless we accept much older lineages for some of the Indian Scriptures.  We should address that.

In the meantime, the original pantheon consisted of Yahweh and Asherah which is mirrored by all the other pantheons throughout the Near East.  The cult of the one god appears to have been tolerated up to the Babylonian exile when the leaders chose to effectively suppress all other gods to create the modern Abrahamic religions.

The Levant acted as a religious crucible for the Mesopotamian – Hittite cults, The Egyptian cults including Atan, and the Cult of Baal which appears to be at least the Mediterranean Phoenician cult.  We also have the Atlantean cult of Zeus and Poseidon identified.

It is startling to uncover ideas and practice that properly explain the often otherwise unexplainable.  Cross fertilization of these cults easily produce and even explain the most bizarre assertions.

I wonder how many prayers to Yahweh can be profitably rewritten as a prayer to the mother goddess.


God's wife, Asherah, was a powerful fertility goddess, according to a theologian.

Fri Mar 18, 2011 07:00 AM ET 

God had a wife, Asherah, whom the Book of Kings suggests was worshiped alongside Yahweh in his temple in Israel, according to an Oxford scholar.

In 1967, Raphael Patai was the first historian to mention that the ancient Israelites worshiped both Yahweh and Asherah. The theory has gained new prominence due to the research of Francesca Stavrakopoulou, who began her work at Oxford and is now a senior lecturer in the department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter.

Information presented in Stavrakopoulou's books, lectures and journal papers has become the basis of a three-part documentary series, now airing in Europe, where she discusses the Yahweh-Asherah connection.

"You might know him as Yahweh, Allah or God. But on this fact, Jews, Muslims and Christians, the people of the great Abrahamic religions, are agreed: There is only one of Him," writes Stavrakopoulou in a statement released to the British media. "He is a solitary figure, a single, universal creator, not one God among many ... or so we like to believe."

"After years of research specializing in the history and religion of Israel, however, I have come to a colorful and what could seem, to some, uncomfortable conclusion that God had a wife," she added.

Stavrakopoulou bases her theory on ancient texts, amulets and figurines unearthed primarily in the ancient Canaanite coastal city called Ugarit, now modern-day Syria. All of these artifacts reveal that Asherah was a powerful fertility goddess.

Asherah's connection to Yahweh, according to Stavrakopoulou, is spelled out in both the Bible and an 8th century B.C. inscription on pottery found in the Sinai desert at a site called Kuntillet Ajrud.

"The inscription is a petition for a blessing," she shares. "Crucially, the inscription asks for a blessing from 'Yahweh and his Asherah.' Here was evidence that presented Yahweh and Asherah as a divine pair. And now a handful of similar inscriptions have since been found, all of which help to strengthen the case that the God of the Bible once had a wife."

Also significant, Stavrakopoulou believes, "is the Bible's admission that the goddess Asherah was worshiped in Yahweh's Temple in Jerusalem. In the Book of Kings, we're told that a statue of Asherah was housed in the temple and that female temple personnel wove ritual textiles for her."

J. Edward Wright, president of both The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and The Albright Institute for Archaeological Research, told Discovery News that he agrees several Hebrew inscriptions mention "Yahweh and his Asherah."

"Asherah was not entirely edited out of the Bible by its male editors," he added. "Traces of her remain, and based on those traces, archaeological evidence and references to her in texts from nations bordering Israel and Judah, we can reconstruct her role in the religions of the Southern Levant."

Asherah -- known across the ancient Near East by various other names, such as Astarte and Istar -- was "an important deity, one who was both mighty and nurturing," Wright continued.

"Many English translations prefer to translate 'Asherah' as 'Sacred Tree,'" Wright said. "This seems to be in part driven by a modern desire, clearly inspired by the Biblical narratives, to hide Asherah behind a veil once again."

"Mentions of the goddess Asherah in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are rare and have been heavily edited by the ancient authors who gathered the texts together," Aaron Brody, director of the Bade Museum and an associate professor of Bible and archaeology at the Pacific School of Religion, said.

Asherah as a tree symbol was even said to have been "chopped down and burned outside the Temple in acts of certain rulers who were trying to 'purify' the cult, and focus on the worship of a single male god, Yahweh," he added.

The ancient Israelites were polytheists, Brody told Discovery News, "with only a small minority worshiping Yahweh alone before the historic events of 586 B.C." In that year, an elite community within Judea was exiled to Babylon and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. This, Brody said, led to "a more universal vision of strict monotheism: one god not only for Judah, but for all of the nations."

PreColumbian Landscape Modification

This work demonstrates an important research tool.  I would like to see it extended to a number of geographically separated water sheds and to see the work extended back several thousands of years in time.

We should be able to establish the onset of corn culture and perhaps even determine the size of local populations with this approach provided we collect enough data to get excellent resolution.

There are plenty of questions that need to be answered with something more than a slew of undiscovered and even undiscoverable habitation sites.  Perhaps high schools could be recruited into the sampling program.

Agriculture disturbs natural sedimentation rates.  Let us take full advantage of this information.

Native Americans Modified American Landscape Years Prior To The Arrival Of Europeans

by Staff Writers

Waco TX (SPX) Mar 23, 2011

A new study by Baylor University geology researchers shows that Native Americans' land use nearly a century ago produced a widespread impact on the eastern North American landscape and floodplain development several hundred years prior to the arrival of major European settlements.

The study appears on-line in the journal Geology.

Researchers attribute early colonial land-use practices, such as deforestation, plowing and damming with influencing present-day hydrological systems across eastern North America. Previous studies suggest that Native Americans' land use in eastern North America initially caused the change in hydrological systems, however, little direct evidence has been provided until now.

The Baylor study found that pre-European so-called "natural" floodplains have a history of prehistoric indigenous land use, and thus colonial-era Europeans were not the first people to have an impact on the hydrologic systems of eastern North America.

The study also found that prehistoric small-scale agricultural societies caused widespread ecological change and increased sedimentation in hydrologic systems during the Medieval Climate Anomaly-Little Ice Age, which occurred about 700 to 1,000 years ago.
"These are two very important findings," said Gary Stinchcomb, a Baylor doctoral candidate who conducted the study. "The findings conclusively demonstrate that Native Americans in eastern North America impacted their environment well before the arrival of Europeans. Through their agricultural practices, Native Americans increased soil erosion and sediment yields to the Delaware River basin."

The Baylor researchers found that prehistoric people decreased forest cover to reorient their settlements and intensify corn production. They also contributed to increased sedimentation in valley bottoms about 700 to 1,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought.

The findings suggest that prehistoric land use was the initial cause of increased sedimentation in the valley bottoms, and sedimentation was later amplified by wetter and stormier conditions.

To conduct the study, the Baylor researchers took samples along the Delaware River Valley. Landforms were mapped based on relative elevations to Delaware River base flow and archaeological excavations assessed the presence of human habitation.

The Baylor researchers then used a site-specific geoarchaeological approach and a regional synthesis of previous research to test the hypothesis that the indigenous population had a widespread impact on terrestrial sedimentation in eastern North America.

"This study provides some of the most significant evidence yet that Native Americans impacted the land to a much greater degree than previously thought," said Dr. Steve Driese, professor and chair of Baylor's department of geology, College of Arts and Sciences, who co-authored the study. "It confirms that Native American populations had widespread effects on sedimentation."

XCOR and ULA Update

Time for an update on the progress around the XCOR.   This puts the company firmly into the engine development business with the resources to build out hugely improved engines for the aerospace industry.  Check previous posts to see the past demonstrations. (google XCOR on this site.

We can expect to see a line of engines with different power ratings come quickly although they are surely waiting for a shoe to drop somewhere. It appears to this outsider to be going wonderfully.

XCOR and ULA Demonstrate Revolutionary Rocket Engine Nozzle Technology; Also Sign Contract for Liquid Hydrogen Engine Development

XCOR test fires its Lynx 5K18 engine with lightweight aluminum nozzle;

United Launch Alliance (ULA) and XCOR to apply the nozzle and XCOR's liquid hydrogen

(LH2) pump technology to new LH2 engine development.  (Photo Credit: Mike Massee / XCOR)

March 22, 2011, Centennial, CO, and Mojave, CA, USA: United Launch Alliance (ULA) and XCOR Aerospace announced today their successful hot-fire demonstrations of a lighter-weight, lower-cost approach to liquid-fueled rocket-engine vacuum nozzles. The new nozzle technology, which uses aluminum alloys and innovative manufacturing techniques, is projected to be less costly and save hundreds of pounds of mass compared to nozzles in use today in typical large upper-stage rocket engine systems.

Under a 2010 joint risk-reduction program by XCOR and ULA, ULA facilitated an accelerated demonstration of the nozzle technology, which was developed in XCOR's Lynx reusable, suborbital-vehicle technology program. ULA sought to determine the nozzle technology's applicability to future expendable launch vehicle programs. Earlier in the same risk-reduction program, XCOR demonstrated the ability to pump liquid hydrogen (LH2) using cryogenic piston-pump technology it developed for the Lynx suborbital vehicle.

Based on the results of these successful technology demonstrations, ULA today announced a larger follow-on program with XCOR to develop a liquid oxygen (LOX)/LH2 engine.

Conceived as a lower-cost, risk-managed program compared to traditional engine development efforts, the multi-year project's main objective is to produce a flight-ready LOX/LH2 upper-stage engine in the 25,000 to 30,000 lbf thrust class that costs significantly less to produce and is easier to operate and integrate than competing engine technologies. If successful, the effort will lead to significantly lower-cost and more-capable commercial and US government space flights delivered by ULA. 

"ULA understands that we have to offer competitive prices to our government and commercial customers along with the outstanding and unmatched reliability they expect from us," said Dr. George Sowers, vice president of business development and advanced programs at ULA. "By working with XCOR, we see the potential to develop engines that offer the performance and reliability our customers need at a more affordable price."

XCOR Lynx 5K18 main engine being  prepped for a test series. 

The companies structured their LOX/LH2 engine development program with multiple "go / no-go" decision points and performance milestones to ensure a cost-effective and risk-managed approach to this challenging effort. As demonstrated during prior ULA and XCOR joint engagements, XCOR's small-company environment facilitates rapid turnaround for build and test cycles that drive innovative learning, while ULA's small company project management approach ensures their needs are met but does not stifle the creative process or saddle XCOR with excessive paperwork burdens typical of large government contracts. In addition, ULA is helping to bolster the Tier 2 and Tier 3 aerospace-industrial supply chain in the United States, which is critical to ensuring the United States aerospace sector remains competitive in the global marketplace.

"This announcement validates XCOR's business mantra of 'stay focused on propulsion, Lynx and the customer' and ULA is a great customer," said Andrew Nelson, Chief Operating Officer at XCOR. "And when you have innovative, safe, low-cost and fully reusable technologies that fly multiple times a day, those technologies will find other buyers, such as ULA. Whether it is non-toxic thrusters, fully reusable main-engine propulsion, cryogenic flight-weight piston pumps, or non-flammable cryogenically compatible composite tanks and structures - the future looks bright for XCOR."

The demonstrations announced today are from integrated engine/nozzle test firings with XCOR's Lynx 5K18 LOX/kerosene engine. The engine/nozzle combination demonstrates the ability of the aluminum nozzle to withstand the high temperatures of rocket-engine exhaust over numerous tests, with no discernable degradation of the material properties of the alloys.  The tests validated the design, materials and manufacturing processes used in the nozzle, and laid a foundation for scaling the design to EELV-sized engines. The results also demonstrate the reusability of the engine and nozzle combination which is essential for low-cost, daily suborbital flights by the Lynx and other vehicles.

"We are honored to work with the great team of individuals at ULA, a Tier 1 aerospace supplier," said Jeff Greason, XCOR CEO. "The critical engine technology we're developing for ULA may one day launch satellites, capsules and space stations for government and commercial customers. Customers such as the US Air Force, NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office, Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace all stand to benefit from this partnership. For a rocket engineer, there is nothing more exciting than firing a new engine for the first time. We can't wait for the day when we first fire the new hydrogen engine for ULA."

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United Launch Alliance - 50-50 joint venture owned by Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company - is the nation's rocket company, bringing together two of the launch industry's most experienced and successful teams - Atlas and Delta. ULA provides reliable, cost-efficient space launch services for the Department of Defense, NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office and other commercial organizations. ULA program management, engineering, test and mission support functions are headquartered in Denver, Colo. Manufacturing, assembly and integration operations are located at Decatur, Ala. and Harlingen, Tex. Launch operations are located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. For more information on the ULA joint venture, visit the ULA website at

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Giant Bunny

It has long been possible to breed out huge rabbits and it was quite likely that on some island we would run across a giant bunny.  That is now accomplished with the discovery of these fossils.

Obviously they failed to survive contact with man, but it would have been surprising if they had.

Anyway, it is Easter and this is an appropriate tale for the time

King of Rabbits: Ancient, Gigantic Bunny Discovered

Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 21 March 2011 Time: 03:02 PM ET

A reconstruction of Nuralagus rex in a landscape with a living European rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus in the foreground for comparison.

CREDIT: Meike Köhler 

Just in time for Easter, the skeleton of a giant rabbit has been discovered, one that was once about six times the size of today's bunnies.

The fossils of the giant were discovered on the island of Minorca off the coast of Spain, a fact reflected in the rabbit's scientific name, Nuralagus rex, "the Minorcan king of the rabbits." [Illustration of giant rabbit]

"I needed four years to recover a good sample of N. rex bones because they were in very hard red stone," paleontologist Josep Quintana at the Catalan Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona, Spain, told LiveScience. "To pull the bones out from the matrix, it was necessary to use some hundreds of liters of acetic acid, a very concentrated vinegar — very hard and patient work! But it was worthwhile, of course."

When the bunny lived approximately 3 million to 5 million years ago, it weighed about 26 pounds (12 kilograms), about six times the size of the living European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). [Fossils of Oldest Rabbit Relative Found]

The fact that it got so big on Minorca seems to follow the so-called "island rule." On islands, big animals often get smaller, due to limited food, while small animals often get bigger, due to lack of predators.

Foot bones of Nuralagus rex, the giant rabbit whose remains were discovered on the island of Minorca.

"For most of their over 40-million-year history, members of the rabbit family have fit well within the size range exhibited by relatively well-known modern members of the family. Now, discoveries on Minorca have added a giant to the mix, a 25-pound, short-legged rabbit," said rabbit researcher Mary Dawson at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who did not take part in this study.

As big as it was, N. rex might have been easy prey today — it lost the ability to hop. The long, springy spine of a typicalmodern rabbit was lost in N. rex, replaced by a short, stiff spine that would make leaping difficult.

"I think thatN. rex would be a rather clumsy rabbit walking — imagine a beaver out of water," Quintana said.

The giant probably also had poor hearing and vision, with relatively small eye sockets and internal ear parts. Its senses likely deteriorated for the same reason it got so large — it did not have predators to worry about. As such, it probably lacked another key trait often associated with rabbits — long ears. The bunny likely sported relatively small ears for its size.

Based on the rabbit's curved claws, the researchers suspect the animal was most probably a digger that lived on roots and tubers it unearthed. Its neighbors included bats, large dormice and giant tortoises.

Quintana proposes that this newfound giant might make a good mascot for the island. "I would like to use N. rex to lure students and visitors to Minorca," he said.

The scientists detailed their findings online today (March 21) in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.