Thursday, August 31, 2017

Weird Planets

A couple years ago, one of the panels I ‘moderated’ at mid-west sf conventions was about some of the definitely-odd exo-planets that had been found. Since astronomers are scientists and are never happy with what they know, they keep looking out into space. And they keep finding things, a certain percentage of which can be called ‘weird’. So I thought I’d take a fresh look at their current list of odd-balls. This could take more than one post, because I’ve found 3 different lists; one of 8 planets, one of 10 planets, and another of 20 planets.


Yes, this is definitely going to take more than 1 posting, because I scrolled down the google page of search results, and found more lists. I decided I would not bother with other lists of 8 or 10, because they were probably just repeats or rewrites of one of the lists I already had. But I did decide to look at the list of 25 planets, because... well, I didn’t yet have a list that large.

That gives me - potentially - 63 planets to look at. Of course, I am hoping that there are some that are on more than 1 list, just to whittle that number down a bit. I mean, weird is weird, right? So each of the planets on the list of 8 should also be on the larger lists. Right?

Maybe. NASA’s list of 20 planets calls them ‘intriguing exoplanets’, and ‘intriguing’ does not necessarily equal ‘weird.’

Well, Jumping Jupiters. I spent so much time researching these planets that it’s time to post a blog, and all I’ve gotten written is this intro. Which is rather long for an intro to a blog post.

But, being an intro to a series of blog posts, maybe it isn’t too long. Okay, consider this the intro to the entire series of blog posts on ‘weird planets’. Next week, we’ll look at 1 - or maybe 2 - of the exoplanets that show up on the most lists that I’m working with. Exactly what will make them ‘weird’?

I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Just Another Sink Hole

When you live in Florida, you get used to hearing about sink holes. When one opens up, it is filled with sand and rocks and everyone hopes it doesn’t continue to cause problems, especially if it occurred in a road. Before we moved here, I occasionally heard about a sink hole opening in other places, and they always seemed to swallow a car or two. But sink holes can be fickle things; some start out small and continue to grow until they are huge. Some seem to be bottomless pits that refuse to be filled, no matter how much sand and rocks are thrown into them.

Recently, I heard about a ‘sink hole’ in northern Wyoming, near the base of the Bighorn Mountains. Called Natural Trap Cave, it was discovered in 1970, when it was believed to be some 25,000 years old. Theory says that it opened up alongside a migratory trail used by many species, and they just kept falling in.

Located in a National Park, the sinkhole is 15 feet wide and (currently) 85 feet deep. Chances are that once an animal fell in, it wasn’t getting back out again. When it was first discovered, there was some digging of the bottom of the hole for a few years before it was closed up and left alone. In 2014, a new batch of scientists returned to do some more digging. They were only there for 2 weeks during August of that year, and before they could dig, they had to figure out how to safely get themselves and their gear to the bottom and up again. But what they found when they did get there was stunning; North American lions and American cheetahs, both of which went extinct about 12,000 years ago. During the 70s, scientists had discovered mammoths, short-faced bears, giant camels, and collared lemmings in the pit. Also discovered (but I’m not sure when) were dire wolves, tiny rodents that need to be studied by microscope, bison, grey wolves and horses.

Even though it was August, the scientists reported the hole was like a refrigerator. So much so that some of the skeletons still include DNA, so there will be huge strides in our knowledge of prehistoric genetics.

The 2014 group of paleontologists planned to continue their excavations another 2 years. They estimated that the depth of the pile of dead creatures could be 33 feet, and the digs of the 70s and 2014 had barely scratched the surface. With that said, they thought the bottom of this heap might have animals 100,000 years old.

If that turns out to be true, then this sink hole can’t be only 25,000 years old. That would make this one great, great grand-pappy of a sink hole. And amazingly stable for a sink hole, too.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Unique Argentina Dino

Sometime around 2012, an Argentina rancher found an old bone sticking up out of the dirt. Intrigued, he scratched around, trying to dig it up, then contacted paleontologists at the local museum to come see what he had.

He had found some big bones. And when the paleontologists dug around, they discovered the remains of 6 of the biggest titanosaurs ever discovered.

Titanosaurs lived about 100 million years ago, on all the continents, including Antarctica, which was not covered in snow and ice, and may or may not have been located at the south pole at the time. The ‘Titans’ were herbivores. The most complete skeleton was for a young adult some 122 feet long (its neck was 39 feet) and weighing 70 tons (about the same weight as 10 modern African elephants). One of the femurs uncovered was 8 feet long; long enough to be a living room sofa, if it were more comfortable to sit on. How big would it have gotten when it was fully grown? How did it get that big? And what kind of creature - if any - could consider one of these dinner?

As I stated, there were (at least) 6 individuals found at this dig site, which at the time these Titans died, would have been the flood plain of a river. ALL of them were young adults. But they didn’t die as one group; there were at least 3 separate events that took lives, which may have been a few years to centuries apart. A theory is that the youngsters got separated from their herd and died from stress and hunger.