Archive for January, 2005

Controlled Burns Aid New England Forests

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: January 27, 2005   View Article

For at least 5,000 years before Europeans arrived in North America, Native Americans periodically set vast swaths of New England on fire. Settlers brought the practice to a halt by the mid-18th century. But today conservationists are again burning the forest to restore the ecosystem and dampen the fire risk to some towns.

Tim Simmons is a restoration ecologist with the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program in Westborough. Speaking of the early Native Americans, Simmons said fire “was sort of a Leatherman [or multi-tool] of their time. They used it for everything.”

Handheld Scanners to ID Species Instantly?

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: January 26, 2005   View Article

Imagine a muggy summer night—steak sizzling on the barbeque, cold drink in hand, and hundreds of insects mobbing the porch light. Suddenly a mosquito dive-bombs your bare arm. You flatten it with a smack but not before it sucks a drop of your blood. Did you just contract the West Nile virus?

If Paul Hebert gets his way, in about ten years all you’ll need to do is feed a fragment of the flattened bug into your handheld scanner for analysis. Moments later, the little machine will identify the species with a photo and description, allowing you to determine if you are at risk.

Spare PC Power Aids Climate Scientists

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: January 26, 2005   View Article

Thousands of people around the world have loaned the unused power of their personal computers to help scientists model Earth’s past and future climate.

The project aims to illuminate the range of possible climate changes in the 21st century. Results so far suggest Earth’s climatologic future is even more uncertain than previously believed.

Scientists Recreate Genome of Ancient Human Ancestor

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: January 25, 2005   View Article

Scientists have recreated part of the genetic code of an extinct, shrewlike creature that is thought to have been the most recent common ancestor of most placental mammals, including humans.

Placental mammals give birth to live young, and they descended from a common ancestor scientists simply call the “boreoeutherian ancestor.” The creature scurried about the woodlands of Asia more than 70 million years ago.

Mars Rovers Exceed 1 Year Mark – And Expectations

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: January 24, 2005   View Article

A year ago today scientists erupted in riotous applause when a robotic rover named Opportunity safely bounced to a stop on Mars. Today, long after the end of its 90-day initial mission, the rover continues to dazzle the world with insight into Mars’s wet past.

“I never, ever would have imagined the opportunity to literally be standing here a year later and saying yet again, ‘We’re back, and we’re still on Mars,'” departing NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe told reporters gathered for a celebration earlier this month. The occasion was to mark the one-year anniversary of the successful landing and deployment of Spirit, Opportunity’s twin rover which plopped down on to the opposite side of the red planet on January 3, 2004.

New Fossils Help Piece Together Human Origins

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: January 21, 2005   View Article

Fossil fragments of an early species of hominid have been unearthed with rhino, giraffe, monkey, hippo, and antelope remains in Africa. Hominids are upright-walking primates including modern humans and extinct and related forms. The new fossils are helping scientists piece together the earliest chapters of human evolution.

The fossils were unearthed from the Gona Study Area at As Duma in Ethiopia’s Afar region and are dated to between 4.3 and 4.5 million years ago.

Hot-Water Worms May Use Bacteria as Shield

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: January 17, 2005   View Article

Scientists who recently returned from a deep-ocean expedition said they are a step closer to understanding how life thrives around cracks spewing scalding water at the bottom of the ocean.

The scientists were exploring hydrothermal vents along the East Pacific Rise about 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) west of Costa Rica as part of the Extreme 2004: Exploring the Deep Frontier expedition.

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