Posted in Astronomy, Biology, Carnivalia, Communicating science, Critical thinking, Humanity, Space
Tagged Astronomy, Biology, carnival, Carnivalia, Space
Another interesting specimen on display at Seattle’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture:
In particular, this is an example of Paraphysornis brasiliensis, a 22 million year old South American “terror bird.” These interesting creatures originated on the continent some 60 million years ago, when it was an island and so isolated from other land masses and their fauna. Lacking other apex predators to contend with, the group diversified to become the dominant predators in South America for much of the Cenozoic. Some species reached three meters (10 feet) in height, while this one stood a more modest two meters (six feet) and weighed about 180 kg (400 pounds).
About 2.5 million years ago, the Isthmus of Panama bridged North and South America, allowing land animals to pass between them. North America became a new home to migrating terror birds (ranging into modern-day Florida and Texas), while sabre-toothed cats expanded into South America. In the end, the cats won and the terror birds went extinct.
Two interesting pieces of history on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History — the casings of two bombs involved in the 1966 Palomares incident:
“Broken Arrow” is U.S. Defense Dept. (DOD) terminology for an accidental event that involves nuclear weapons, warheads, or components but that does not create the risk of nuclear war. The DOD officially recognizes that 32 Broken Arrow incidents have occurred since the first use of nuclear weapons in 1945. The 1966 accident over the Spanish town of Palomares was one of the more blood-curdling of these.
From the placard:
On January 17, 1966, a B-52 collided with a KC-135 tanker during a routine refueling operation over Palomares, Spain on the Mediterranean sea coast. The B-52 was carrying four nuclear bombs, which fell over 28,000 feet. One bomb fell into the sea and the other three bombs landed on the ground. The bomb that fell into the sea was recovered at a depth of 2,500 feet after an extensive underwater search. The bomb was dented but intact, and there was no radiation leakage.
With two of the three other bombs, the high explosives detonated on impact and released some radioactive materials. Approximately 1,400 tons of contaminated soil and vegetation were removed to the U.S. for storage at the Savannah River Site. A small parachute deployed on the other bomb, and it remained relatively intact.
The casings from the two bombs that did not detonate during the Palomares incident are on display at the museum, and pictured above. The one on the left was the bomb subsequently retrieved from the Mediterranean, while the one on the right was the sole bomb to reach land under a working parachute. Note that these are casings of B28 thermonuclear bombs — once the mainstay of the U.S. Strategic Air Command during the cold war, and capable of a range of explosive yields between 70 kilotons and 1.45 megatons.
But this incident isn’t exactly something we can consign to the history books just yet. While 2.2 hectares (5.4 acres) of land was decontaminated by removing soil with high levels of radioactivity back in 1966, studies conducted in the past decade have found lingering contamination. As recently as 2012, Spain formally asked the U.S. to finish the site cleanup.
Another excellent fossil on display at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, Washington — this one, an Ammonite:
To be particular, this is a Canadoceras newberryanum, and was collected on Sucia island in Washington state.
Ammonites first appeared about 400 million years ago and were once so plentiful globally that particular species can be used to date rock strata (i.e., they are index fossils) — this one dates to between 70.6 and 84.9 million years ago. But Ammonites had their good years and bad like all species, and the last of them died out with the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous.
While Ammonites look very similar to modern-day Nautilus shells, they’re actually only distant relatives. Of modern-day fauna, Ammonites are most closely related to squid and octopi.
On display in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois — it’s one of only two surviving Stuka dive bombers:
The Stuka (officially, the Junkers Ju 87) started its development early in the 1930s, and in spite of a problem-plagued development first saw active service just a few years later in 1936. Like many dive bombers, it was built for durability and so suffered from slow airspeed — it was lethal against ground targets, but only in areas in which the Nazis had air superiority. Once the Luftwaffe lost air superiority throughout Europe, the Stukas (shortened from the German Sturzkampfflugzeug, “dive bomber”) were easy pickings for allied fighters.
This particular Stuka was captured while on the ground for servicing in Libya in 1941; it was a gift to the museum from the British government in 1946. You’ll notice it lacks the usual “spats” on its landing gear — nothing at the museum indicates if it flew this way or if this configuration was an accident of its capture. Meanwhile, a 3rd Stuka was found in the Baltic in the 1990s and recovered in 2012, it is undergoing extensive restoration work before it can go in display at a museum in Berlin.
The past week’s selection of science-related blog carnivals:
Carnival of Space Number 346
Morsels For The Mind – 21/03/2014
In the midst of a display of Mimbres pottery, the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology has this… somewhat passive aggressive comment on NAGPRA.
NAGPRA is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a U.S. federal law passed in 1990 that requires museums and federal agencies to return certain Native American cultural items to their tribes of origin.
On the face of things, NAGPRA’s pretty simple — if human remains, funerary objects, or objects sacred to a tribe are found on federal or tribal lands, they need to be returned to the descendants of their original owners, for handling in accordance with their cultural beliefs and traditions. In practice, though, things get a bit trickier — particularly when it comes to identifying “lineal descendants and culturally affiliated” tribes when an artifact is hundreds or thousands of years old. Even Kennewick Man (some 9,000 years old) got caught up in this process. And then, of course, repatriated items are no longer available for scientific study.
Still, at its core, NAGPRA is really just a legal codification of the principle that Native American remains and funerary goods should be treated with the same respect as is due to remains of any other race. And it’s not as if there aren’t ample historical examples of disrespectful treatment of such remains.
This display left me deeply disappointed, as it seems a better approach could have been taken that would actually be thought-provoking rather than just provocative and more than a little petulant.
Posted in Astronomy, Biology, Carnivalia, Critical thinking, Humanity, Space
Tagged Astronomy, Biology, carnival, Carnivalia, History, Space