Stanleycaris hirpex has another eye between its eyes. Image Credit: Sabrina Chapelli Royal Ontario Museum
Finding a three-eyed extinct species is strange enough – discovering its beautifully preserved brain and nervous system when it has been dead for half a billion years is a paleontologist’s dream. The Royal Ontario Museum in Canada has announced not just one such fossil, but 84 of them, and they’ll change the way we think about invertebrate evolution.
The Burgess Shale has been exciting biologists for a century, revealing the sudden appearance of numerous strange life forms with body architecture like nothing we see today. One of the early discoveries looked so much like a bad acid trip it was named Hallucigenia, and the discoveries set off a war among prominent paleontologists on how to interpret the findings.
The announcement of exceptional specimens of the marine predator Stanleycaris hirpex, previously known only from fragments, could bring the Burgess back to center stage. The discovery is published in the journal Current Biology.
To the amateur, the most distinctive feature of Stanleycaris is its large central eye on the front of its head, to go with those on stalks on either side.
Reconstruction of a transparent Stanleycaris with digestive system in red and nervous system in biege, with a side view below. Image Credit: Sabrina Cappelli, © Royal Ontario MuseumImage Credit: Sabrina Cappelli, © Royal Ontario Museum
“While fossilized brains from the Cambrian Period aren’t new, this discovery stands out for the astonishing quality of preservation and the large number of specimens,” said University of Toronto PhD student Joseph Moysiuk in a statement. “We can even make out fine details such as visual processing centers serving the large eyes and traces of nerves entering the appendages. The details are so clear it’s as if we were looking at an animal that died yesterday.”
Stanleycaris was a Radiodont, an order of extinct animals whose closest living relatives are arthropods – spiders, scorpions, and horseshoe crabs among others. Radiodonts included some of the Cambrian’s most fearsome predators, including Titanokorys and Anomalocaris. The specimens were at most 8 centimeters (3.5 inches) long, making S. hirpex the smallest radiodont ever found, but still larger than most of its potential prey.
“These fossils are like a Rosetta Stone, helping to link traits in radiodonts and other early fossil arthropods with their counterparts in surviving groups.” Moysiuk said.
The most noticeable feature of S. herpex‘s brain is that it had two components: one connected to the eyes, the other to the frontal claws. Modern arthropods have brains segmented into three sectors, but entomologists have not known until now when and how this evolved. The segmentation of Stanleycaris‘s brain suggests arthropods may have had protocerebrums and deutocerebrums when they broke away from the radiodonts, with the third part, the triptocerebrum, appearing later.
Stanleycaris fossils may look like a sockpuppet but the dark areas are nervous tissue and there is a third eye at the front. Image Credit: Royal Ontario Museum
Third eyes have never been reported in radiodonts previously, but Dr Jean-Baron Caron, Moysiuk’s supervisor, noted; “Since most radiodonts are only known from scattered bits and pieces, this discovery is a crucial jump forward in understanding what they looked like and how they lived.”
On closer examination, the authors found evidence of similarly placed eyes in previously described Cambrian species related to modern arthropods. The paper discusses the possibility that two close-set eyes fused together, or that what was once a single compound eye split.
Stanleycaris hirpex must have been abundant in Cambrian times. The paper describes 268 specimens, or which almost a third have visible brains, collectively revealing S. hirpex in greater detail than any other radiodont. Other notable features are a trunk composed of 17 segments (an obsession with even numbers seems to have been very much a post-Cambrian thing) and the swimming flaps seen in larger radiodonts.
Stanleycaris has a brain segmented into two parts, making it a predecessor of the tripartite brain of modern arthropods. Image Credit: Jean-Bernard Caron © Royal Ontario Museum
STEVE appears over Canada during 'surprise' solar storm – Livescience.com
In the dark of Sunday night and Monday morning (Aug. 7 and 8), a surprise solar storm slammed into Earth, showering our planet in a rapid stream of charged particles from the sun. The resulting clash of solar and terrestrial particles in Earth‘s atmosphere caused stunning auroras to appear at much lower latitudes than usual — and, in southern Canada, triggered a surprise cameo from the mysterious sky phenomenon known as STEVE.
Alan Dyer, an astronomy writer and photographer based in southern Alberta, Canada, caught the wispy ribbons of green and violet light on camera as they shot through the sky.
“STEVE lasted about 40 minutes, appearing as the … aurora to the north subsided,” Dyer wrote on Twitter (opens in new tab) on Aug. 8. “STEVE was ‘discovered’ here so he likes appearing here more than anywhere else!”
As Dyer noted, the strange sky glow called STEVE was first described by citizen scientists and aurora hunters in northern Canada in 2017. STEVE is typically composed of an enormous ribbon of purplish light, which can hang in the sky for an hour or more, accompanied by a “picket fence” of green light that usually disappears within a few minutes.
The glowing river of light may look like an aurora, but it’s actually a unique phenomenon that was considered “completely unknown” to science upon its discovery. Today, scientists have a slightly better idea of what’s going on.
STEVE (short for “strong thermal velocity enhancement”) is a long, thin line of hot gas that slices through the sky for hundreds of miles. The hot air inside STEVE can blaze at more than 5,500 degrees Fahrenheit (3,000 degrees Celsius) and move roughly 500 times faster than the air on each side of it, satellite observations have shown.
Whereas the northern lights occur when charged solar particles bash into molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere, STEVE appears much lower in the sky, in a region called the subauroral zone. That likely means solar particles aren’t directly responsible for STEVE, Live Science previously reported. However, STEVE almost always appears during solar storms like Sunday’s, showing up after the northern lights have already begun to fade.
One hypothesis suggests that STEVE is the result of a sudden burst of thermal and kinetic energy in the subauroral zone, somehow triggered by the clash of charged particles higher in the atmosphere during aurora-inducing solar storms. However, more research is needed to uncover the true secrets of STEVE. In the meantime, we can simply bask in its otherworldly glow and wave back at its twinkling green fingers.
Originally published on Live Science.
Perseid meteor shower: when to catch it in Manitoba | CTV News – CTV News Winnipeg
The peak of a spectacular space light show is expected to happen by the end of the week.
The Perseid meteor shower is expected to be at its best and brightest the night of Aug. 12 going into the morning of Aug. 13.
Scott Young, an astronomer at the Manitoba Museum, said this is an annual event that will produce dozens of shooting stars throughout the night.
“Every meteor is a piece of dust from outer space that is crashing into the earth at tremendous speed and basically vaporizing in a poof and a flash of light, and that it is what we see as a meteor,” he said. “On certain nights of the year, the earth in its orbit around the sun actually goes through a cloud of dust, sort of like an interplanetary dust bunny, essentially, and all that dust hits on the same night … and so we are basically crashing through the dust left behind by a comet.”
The cloud of dust was left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed by the earth in 1992. Since then, the meteor shower has reached its peak between Aug. 11 and 13.
For those who are looking to enjoy the meteor show, Young suggests people get away from city lights, especially this year as the shower also coincides with a full moon.
“The moon can wash out those fainter meteors, and also if you are in the city, city lights will also wash out those fainter meteors. If you want to see the best show, you want to go late Friday after midnight, into the early morning hours of Saturday.”
If people can’t see the shower that night, Young says not to worry as the Perseid meteor shower is already happening right now and will continue to the end of August. As long as people are away from bright lights, Young says they should be able to see some shooting stars.
He recommends going to places like Birds Hill Provincial Park to enjoy the shower, but noted if people can find a place that is away from direct light, whether that be a park within the City of Winnipeg, or even a person’s backyard, he suggests people will be able to see something.
Once the meteor shower is over, however, Young does have a cautionary tale to share.
“We get dozens calls of people seeing an interesting rock on the ground and thinking that they’ve found a meteorite. There are no meteorites that will fall and actually land on the ground from this shower. These are little pieces of dust and they completely vaporize in the atmosphere. You might find meteorites out there, but they are very, very rare and so don’t get all excited about every rock that you find after this. The odds are it’s a meteor-wrong and not a meteorite.”
Young said weather-permitting, the Manitoba Museum will livestream the shower on its social media channels.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured two festive-looking nebulas – Tech Explorist
The image shows NGC 248, about 60 light-years long and 20 light-years wide. They are two nebulas, situated to appear as one. The nebulas, together, are called NGC 248.
Initially discovered in 1834 by the astronomer Sir John Herschel, NGC 248 resides in the Small Magellanic Cloud, located approximately 200,000 light-years away in the southern constellation Tucana.
Small Magellanic Cloud is a dwarf galaxy that is a satellite of our Milky Way galaxy. The image is part of a study called Small Magellanic Cloud Investigation of Dust and Gas Evolution (SMIDGE).
The dwarf satellite galaxy contains several brilliant hydrogen nebulas, including NGC 248. Intense radiation from the brilliant central stars is heating hydrogen in each nebula, causing them to glow red.
The study’s principal investigator, Dr. Karin Sandstrom of the University of California, San Diego, said, “The Small Magellanic Cloud has between a fifth and a tenth of the amount of heavy elements that the Milky Way does. Because it is so close, astronomers can study its dust in great detail and learn about what dust was like earlier in the history of the universe.”
“It is important for understanding the history of our galaxy, too. Most of the star formation happened earlier in the universe, at a time when there was a much lower percentage of heavy elements than there is now. Dust is a critical part of how a galaxy works, how it forms stars.”
The image is part of a study called Small Magellanic Cloud Investigation of Dust and Gas Evolution (SMIDGE). The data used in this image were taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys in September 2015.
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