ESA rocks space weather

ESA – European Space Agency patch.

5 November 2018

This week, to coincide with the fifteenth annual European Space Weather Week, ESA is celebrating the dynamic phenomenon of space weather.

Coronal mass ejection

We’re taking a closer look at space weather, the ever-present solar wind and the ever-changing cycles of the Sun — a star that sees 11 years pass in relative calm followed by another 11 years of immense activity, driving sunspots, solar flares, Coronal Mass Ejections and solar-particle events.

It’s difficult to comprehend the size and sheer power of our Sun — a churning ball of hot gas 4.6 billion years old and 1.3 million times larger than Earth — that for the most part remains a regular, yet distant part of our lives.

Unpredictable and temperamental

In space, however, this hotly glowing star plays a remarkable role – dominating our solar system. Unpredictable and temperamental, the Sun has made life on the inner planets of the Solar System, save one exception, impossible, due to the intense radiation combined with the colossal amounts of energetic material it blasts in every direction, creating the ever-changing conditions in space known as ‘space weather’.

Solar events

Considering all of this, how did life come to thrive on Earth? Our magnetic field protects us from the solar wind, a constant stream of electrons, protons and heavier particles – ‘ions’ – from the Sun, and from Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), the Sun’s occasional outbursts of multi-billion-tonne clouds of solar plasma into space. The most extreme events, arrivals of fast CMEs or high-speed solar wind streams, disturb our protective magnetic shield, creating geomagnetic storms.

Serious problems for modern life

These storms have the potential to cause serious problems for modern technological systems, disrupting or damaging satellites in space and the multitude of services – like navigation and telecoms – that rely on them, or blacking out power grids and radio communication and creating a radiation hazard for astronauts in space.

Watching for solar hazards

While these events can’t be stopped, advance warning of an oncoming solar storm would give spacecraft controllers and power-grid and network operators time to take protective measures.

ESA Lagrange mission animation

ESA’s planned Lagrange mission will support provision of just such advance warnings.

Watching the Sun from a unique position in space, the Lagrange satellite will allow monitoring of the potentially hazardous sunspots and high-speed solar wind streams before they come into view from Earth, and detect solar events and their propagation toward the Earth with higher accuracy than is possible today. Data from the Lagrange mission will be transmitted to the Earth and distributed into ESA’s Space Weather Service Network in near real-time to generate warnings and forecasts.

Protective measures against space weather are becoming increasingly important, as much of modern human society becomes increasingly reliant on space-based services, vulnerable to the Sun’s unpredictable outbursts.

As a result, at ESA’s next Ministerial Council in 2019, space weather and the needed early warning services will be a main topic presented as part of the Agency’s vision for the future in the emerging domain of space safety and security.

This week, ESA will highlight the unique phenomenon of space weather, from the science behind it and how we study it, to its effect on satellites in space and ESA’s plans for the future.

Related links:

Lagrange mission:

Space Situational Awareness:

ESA Space Weather Service Network:

Space weather and its hazards:

Space Weather Segment:

Monitoring space weather:

Space weather missions:

Proba-2 Science Centre:

ESA’s SOHO home page:

Image, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA/A. Baker/NASA/Soho.

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Saber-toothed cats with oral injuries ate softer foods

Saber-toothed cats, the large felid predators that once roamed Southern California, may have eaten softer foods after suffering oral injuries, according to a new study. Microscopic damage patterns on teeth from fossilized cats show the injured predators transitioned to seeking softer prey, like flesh instead of bone, which healthy cats may have provided for them, according to the study.

Saber-toothed cats with oral injuries ate softer foods
Sabertooth cat from the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum that once roamed Southern California
[Credit: Larisa DeSantis]

Saber-toothed cats likely suffered injuries while felling large prey, according to the study’s lead author, vertebrate paleontologist Larisa DeSantis from Vanderbilt University, Tennessee.

The cat’s prey animals were larger 10,000 to 50,000 years ago, DeSantis says, and could have easily broken jaws or kicked teeth completely free from the socket, leading to subsequent and sometimes lethal infection. It’s unlikely that cats with such severe injuries could take down large animals and consume their soft, fleshy meat, she says, or even survive long after the injury.

“The fact that they’re eating food that really shouldn’t be available to them unless they’re being provided for, and that they’re living with these injuries for prolonged periods of time suggests they’re being provisioned food by other cats,” she says.

Microdamage patterns recorded in tooth enamel, like mountains and valleys in a topographic map, tell the history of an animal’s diet. These patterns allow researchers to glean information like whether a predator was scavenging on bone or eating tougher foods like flesh. Anthropologists have pioneered the same technique to explore the diets of early human ancestors.

Saber-toothed cats with oral injuries ate softer foods
Sabertooth cat lower jaw with deep root abscess. Note severe swelling
[Credit: Larisa DeSantis]

DeSantis and her colleagues compared the dental microwear patterns of injured versus uninjured cats, thanks to a large pathology collection available at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in Los Angeles, California. Many of the fossils show signs of prolonged infection and bone growth associated with healing — signs that the animals survived after what would have been fatal injuries if not part of a social group.

“What’s really exciting about this,” DeSantis says, “is that you see pretty clear evidence that they’re surviving for longer. That in itself gives you evidence of potential care within the social group.”

These findings further support the idea that saber-toothed cats were social animals, being an exception to the rule of non-sociality in the lion’s share of felid species. Saber-toothed cats consumed both flesh from fresh kills and utilized carcasses.

“There is a lot of evidence that Smilodon was a social and gregarious animal,” says Christopher Shaw, Collections Manager Emeritus at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum and coauthor on the study, “which implies that they hunted together and fed at group kills. This study adds another provocative aspect to the sociability within this species and, for the first time, addresses new evidence regarding food options and feeding behaviors for injured members of the social group.”

DeSantis’s interest in this work began in an earlier study, where she found that man-eating lions may have turned to human prey, in part, because of similar oral injuries. Preserved teeth of confirmed, man-eating lions stored at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, showed patterns of wear that were similar to captive zoo lions, which ate soft foods consisting mostly of beef and horse meat.

Source: Geological Society of America [November 05, 2018]



Chile to ask Britain’s Natural History Museum to return extinct mammal remains

Chile announced on Sunday that it will ask the Natural History in London to return the remains of a mylodon, an extinct mammal that lived in Patagonia about 10,000 years ago.

Chile to ask Britain's Natural History Museum to return extinct mammal remains
Megatherium americanum skeleton, Natural History Museum, London
[Credit: Ballista/WikiCommons]

Minister of National Assets Felipe Ward will travel in two weeks to London for talks over the remains of the ground sloth that roamed in the southern region shared by Argentina and Chile.

“We hope to have talks with the museum authorities… and seek to repatriate the mylodon’s remains; these are bones and skin that are in storage, not even being exhibited,” Ward told reporters.

The remains of the mylodon were taken to Britain in 1897 for research but were never returned to Chile, according to officials.

The mylodon was an ancestor of the sloth that measured about 2.5 meters (more than eight feet) and weighed about 3 tons.

German settlers discovered in 1896 remains of the mammal in a cave now known as “the cave of the mylodon,” in the region of Magallanes, about 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles) south of Santiago

On the trip to London, Ward will be joined by a delegation seeking the return of a statue important to the indigenous people of Easter Island, part of Chile.

They want to sculpt a replacement for the museum and recover the original, which was stolen from the island in 1868 by the English ship Topaze.

It is estimated that this moai, as the statues are known, was created between the year 1,000 and 1,600.

Chile also plans to ask the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo to return a large collection of historical pieces from Easter Island.

Source: AFP [November 05, 2018]