Scientists have found that the fossilized remains of an adult sabre-toothed cat show signs that it lived with a congenital hip condition, suggesting that it lived in a social group with other cats who were able to help it hunt and feed.
The researchers identified the cat’s pelvic bone showed evidence of long-term hip dysplasia, a developmental birth defect that is common in modern times in dogs and cats, but also well-known in humans.
The cat’s fossilized remains were found in the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, an area the size of several city blocks. The pits have preserved the remains of animals that were trapped in sticky tar over tens of thousands of years.
Paleontologists have found a wealth of fossil remains in excavation of the pits.
The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, which is part of the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, is home to a collection of the remains of about more than 2,000 extinct sabre-toothed cats, as well as many other animals, including other extinct animals like ground slots to mammoths.
Hips don’t lie
The team of researchers, including paleontologist Mairin Balisi, decided to investigate a puzzling pattern.
A surprising number of fossils of Smilodon fatalis, the sabre-toothed cat that lived in the Los Angeles area up until about ten thousand years ago, showed evidence of hip damage.
The injuries were previously assumed to have been sustained from the aggressive hunting style required to bring down much larger prey than themselves, like bison.
But an in-depth study of that one pelvic bone found something else, which overturned that previous assumption.
“A CT scan of this specimen at Cedar Sinai Hospital here in Los Angeles found no evidence of fractures,” said Balisi, who is also a postdoctoral fellow at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum.
“If this had been from an injury, there would have been fractures preserved in the bone. Instead, symptoms that supported the diagnosis of hip dysplasia were found,” she told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald.
Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip socket doesn’t fully cover the ball portion of the thigh bone. Normally the top of the femur fits into the hip socket to create the hip joint. But in the case of hip dysplasia, there is an incomplete formation, or deformation of the hip socket.
“This condition would have degenerated over the animal’s life, and so it would have started limping,” Balisi said. “At some point, bone was rubbing on bone, and we see evidence of that in the skeleton. Hunting would have been painful and difficult.”
The team’s findings were published last month in Nature.
Why might big cats with bad hips be social?
The fact that this sabre-toothed cat lived to adulthood with such a debilitating condition suggested to Balisi and her colleagues that it had help from other cats to survive.
This implied a degree of sociality in sabre-toothed cats not fully understood before. Cats today show a range of social behaviours but frequently live as largely solitary, territorial hunters.
“It reached the same size as adult specimens that we have at the Tar Pits without this condition,” Balisi said. “That suggests to us that it must have had enough food. We infer that it must have had help with some sort of food provisioning happening.”
This may have taken the form of group hunting, in which the disabled cat wouldn’t have had to take on the physically demanding role of taking down a large animal by itself.
This idea prompted Balisi to take a second look at some of the other sabre-toothed cat pelvic specimens in the collection. She wondered if they too had been mistakenly identified as having suffered an injury, instead of hip dysplasia.
“We did look at dozens of other specimens in the pathology collection at the La Brea Tar Pits, but it’s difficult to make a definitive diagnosis of hip dysplasia without CT scans,” she said.
“These specimens do show external signs that might be interpreted as hip dysplasia. Now with our study, we are prompted to reevaluate this.”
If such reevaluation does find widespread evidence of hip dysplasia in sabre-toothed cats, it could help reinforce the case that these animals were consistently social. However, Balisi said other evidence will likely still be required, because it’s difficult to be certain when it comes to understanding how extinct animals behaved.
“Sociality is very difficult to infer in the fossil record.” she said.
“[However,] I think that it would be safe to say from our study that sabre-toothed cats lived in social groups. They were probably more social like lions rather than more solitary like tigers and leopards.”
Written and produced by Mark Crawley.
'Use this technology to monitor the progression': How space tech can help the world fight the pandemic – USA TODAY
SpaceX and NASA Crew-3 mission finally launch into space after delays
After several delays, the SpaceX and NASA Crew-3 mission finally launched into space with four astronauts.
USA TODAY, Storyful
Michael Strahan, former football star and host of “Good Morning America,” will be taking off with a crew of five other passengers on Dec. 9, amidst a global pandemic and rising cases of the new omicron variant.
Strahan won’t be the first civilian in space. In September, the Inspiration4 launch sent four civilians (a physician’s assistant, an aerospace worker, a professor and a billionaire) into orbit. In October, William Shatner became the oldest person to go into space, at the age of 90.
Civilian spaceflight launches have had a shining spotlight in a time when COVID devastated regions all over the globe. Some, like Prince William, have even criticized the obsession on spaceflight, saying billionaires and companies should focus more on addressing issues closer to Earth.
But could technology developed for space help us battle the pandemic?
An article released in September in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Medicine investigated how space-based technologies could be used to help manage and prevent pandemics.
How much a seat into space costs: William Shatner went to space. Here’s how much it would cost you.
Telemedicine was ‘developed by space agencies’
When astronauts are in space, for example, their medical information is meticulously tracked, the paper says.
In fact, astronauts often run medical experiments in space to help researchers better understand how the human body reacts to the properties of space, according to Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA.
For the SpaceX Inspiration4 launch, McAlister said, civilians conducted a series of experiments, such as drawing blood in space, and shared the data with researchers on Earth.
“Telemedicine was actually developed by space agencies as well in order to provide care, monitor the care of astronauts,” says Dr. Farhan Asrar, a medical doctor and global faculty member at the International Space University. Asrar was a contributor to the Nature Medicine article.
Similarly, Asrar points out, telemedicine can be used to monitor and assess COVID patients remotely without the risk of infecting healthcare workers.
Asrar says that wearable technology has already been used by Canadian astronauts to monitor several key parameters of health, such as blood pressure, temperature, breathing rate and heart rate, all of which were streamed hundreds of miles from Earth aboard the International Space Station.
These wearable devices can be used by healthcare workers to detect early on whether they are developing and spreading symptoms, the paper suggests.
Using satellite imagery to monitor progression
Satellite imagery could contribute to pandemic planning and the distribution of vaccines against COVID-19, according to the paper.
Satellites launched into space have already helped plot disease transmission during the Ebola outbreak, the paper points out. In the fight against polio, satellite images found marginalized and previously unknown villages in Nigeria, assisting with eradication efforts.
“There are several parameters which you can monitor using satellites,” Asrar says. “We can monitor temperatures that are ideal for these infectious conditions so that if an outbreak is occurring, you can use this technology to monitor the progression.”
Asrar cites using satellite monitoring on mosquito populations as a potential way to predict outbreaks of malaria.
How does COVID-19 affect me?: Don’t miss an update with the Coronavirus Watch newsletter.
Isolation and developing techniques to preserve mental health
One more thing we can learn from astronauts is the science of managing isolation, the paper says.
Astronauts often have to be in space for days or months on end, with little or no contact with their loved ones. In a similar sense, social distancing guidelines have prevented people from gathering and made those with limited technological resources even more isolated, the paper points out.
In another article published in Nature in May of 2020, astronauts shared ways that they dealt with isolation in space, including having a carefully managed daily routine and structuring work around an inspiring mission.
Both research papers suggest that by understanding how astronauts cope with isolation, we can develop better techniques for preserving our mental health during the pandemic.
Feel like you’re surviving, not thriving: Join us at Keeping it Together, a newsletter about wellness and living life amid COVID-19.
Follow Michelle Shen on Twitter @michelle_shen10
NASA’s DART Kinetic Impactor Spacecraft Launches in World’s First Planetary Defense Test Mission – SciTechDaily
Lighting up the California coastline early in the morning of November 24, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried <span aria-describedby="tt" class="glossaryLink" data-cmtooltip="
“>NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft off the planet to begin its one-way trip to crash into an asteroid.
DART — a mission designed, developed, and managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office — is the world’s first full-scale mission to test technology for defending the planet against potential asteroid or comet hazards. The spacecraft launched Wednesday morning at 1:21 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
As just one part of NASA’s larger planetary defense strategy, DART will send a spacecraft to impact a known asteroid that is not a threat to Earth, to slightly change its motion in a way that can be accurately measured via ground-based telescopic observations. DART will show that a spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a target asteroid and intentionally collide with it. It’s a method called kinetic impact, and the test will provide important data to help humankind better prepare for an asteroid that might post an impact hazard to Earth, should one ever be discovered.
“The Double Asteroid Redirection Test represents the best of APL’s approach to space science and engineering: identify the challenge, devise an innovative and cost-effective technical solution to address it, and work relentlessly to solve it,” said APL Director Ralph Semmel. “We are honored that NASA has entrusted APL with this critical mission, where the fate of the world really could rest on our success.”
At 2:17 a.m. EST, DART separated from the second stage of its launch vehicle. Minutes later, mission operators at APL received the first spacecraft telemetry data and started the process of orienting the spacecraft to a safe position for deploying its solar arrays. Almost two hours later, the spacecraft successfully unfurled its two 28-foot-long roll-out solar arrays. They will power both the spacecraft and NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster – Commercial (NEXT-C) ion engine, one of several technologies being tested on DART for future application on space missions.
“The DART team overcame the technical, logistical and personal challenges of a global pandemic to deliver this spacecraft to the launch pad, and I’m confident that its next step — actually deflecting an asteroid — will be just as successful,” said Mike Ryschkewitsch, head of APL’s Space Exploration Sector. “It gives me a lot of assurance that if we ever have to embark on an urgent planetary defense mission, we have the people and the playbook to make it happen.”
DART’s one-way trip is to the Didymos asteroid system, which comprises a pair of asteroids — one small, the other large — that orbit a common center of gravity. DART’s target is the asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, which is approximately 530 feet (160 meters) in diameter and orbits Didymos, which is approximately 2,560 feet (780 meters) in diameter. Since Dimorphos orbits the larger asteroid Didymos at a much slower relative speed than the pair orbits the Sun, the slight orbit change resulting from DART’s kinetic impact within the binary system can be measured much more easily than a change in the orbit of a single asteroid around the Sun.
The spacecraft will intercept the Didymos system in late September of 2022, intentionally slamming into Dimorphos at roughly 4 miles per second (6 kilometers per second) so that the spacecraft alters the asteroid’s path around Didymos. Scientists estimate the kinetic impact will shorten Dimorphos’ orbit by several minutes, and they will precisely measure that change using telescopes on Earth. The results will be used to both validate and improve scientific computer models that are critical to predicting the effectiveness of kinetic impact as a reliable method for asteroid deflection.
“It is an indescribable feeling to see something you’ve been involved with since the ‘words on paper’ stage become real and launched into space,” said Andy Cheng, one of the DART investigation leads at APL and the individual who came up with the idea of DART. “This is just the end of the first act, and the DART investigation and engineering teams have much work to do over the next year preparing for the main event — DART’s kinetic impact on Dimorphos. But tonight we celebrate!”
DART’s single instrument, the camera DRACO (Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation), will turn on a week from now and provide the first images from the spacecraft. DART will continue to travel just outside of Earth’s orbit around the Sun for the next 10 months until Didymos and Dimorphos will be a relatively close 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth.
A sophisticated guidance, navigation, and control (GNC) system, working with algorithms developed at APL called SMART Nav (Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real Time Navigation) will enable the DART spacecraft to identify and distinguish between the two asteroids and then, working in concert with the other GNC elements, direct the spacecraft toward Dimorphos, all within roughly an hour of impact.
Provided by the Italian Space Agency, the Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube) will ride along with DART and be released prior to impact. LICIACube will then capture images of the DART impact, the resulting ejecta cloud and possibly a glimpse of the impact crater on the surface of Dimorphos. It will also look at the back side of Dimorphos, which DRACO will never have a chance to see, gathering further data to enhance the kinetic models.
Space can help to solve the biggest challenges facing our planet. Here’s how – Euronews
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
In Earth’s more than four billion years of existence, it has had so many monumental moments.
The first human to discover the use of fire, the first to invent the wheel. The first human to walk on the Moon, the creation of the internet. So much evolution. Earth has witnessed the formation of life, the destruction of species, advancements in technology and society, and, ultimately, the regression of its own health.
We are at a historical cornerstone in time right now. As forests burn with fire and cities flood with water, unprecedented challenges are facing Europe and the world at large. Right now is the moment to contribute with bold, shared ambitions to solutions enabled by space.
Ambition: More important than ever
Ambition. It’s a word I use a lot. Ambition is what has driven humans to achieve the momentous, the impossible, the unimaginable.
It is what drove Europeans to explore and cross the Atlantic to new lands and later to send the first radio signals across the same body of water. It drove Europeans to discover the antibiotic penicillin and to save millions of lives with it thereafter.
To discover the theory of general relativity. To send the first space probe to perform a detailed study of a comet, dispatch a lander to its surface, and in a spectacular finale, land on the comet itself.
Ambition. Our planet’s youth is bursting with ambition (mixed with disappointment, anger, and a smudge of hope, admittedly and, well, understandably), as we saw recently in the streets of Glasgow and beyond during COP-26.
It’s been said that ‘ambition is the road to success. But persistence is the vehicle you arrive in’.
Space missions need the strength of a united Europe
So, we must move from ambition to persistence and action on what was laid out in Agenda 2025 (the strategy I developed to raise Europe’s game in space). A strategy that moves towards tangible, programmatic, and systematic commitments that create dialogue, inspiration, and change.
This is precisely what the Matosinhos Manifesto, the resolution adopted unanimously on 19 November 2021 at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Intermediate Ministerial Meeting in Portugal, does.
It represents strength in numbers. The strength of a united Europe to deliver services to its citizens by accelerating space for the betterment and advancement of its people and of the planet overall.
A Europe that puts the user and citizen at the centre of its space activities.
Three initiatives to drive missions forward
The Manifesto is a commitment to focus on three initiatives called “Accelerators”, to speed up the use of space to solve today’s biggest challenges. To focus on space for a green future, to better understand the current state of Earth, to develop scenarios and solutions for sustainable life on this planet and to contribute effectively to achieving climate neutrality.
Then we must move from studying, observing, and understanding the planet towards action based on the deep knowledge that we gain. This is where the second Accelerator comes into play: The need to develop a rapid and resilient crisis response system to support stakeholders to decisively act on crises facing Europe.
And we cannot focus on the first two without ensuring their protection. Therein lies the third Accelerator: the protection of space assets to contribute to safeguarding and protecting our assets from space debris and space weather threats.
Beyond this, we also need our own ‘giant leap’ moment to inspire young Europeans to become more inquisitive about STEM topics so that we can continue to strengthen and enhance these fields for future generations.
New space economy
Inspirational missions will help drive innovation in the new space economy that is beginning to take shape. The Inspirators mission is to catapult Europe’s position as a global leader in space technology, innovation and deep-space scientific exploration.
To promote commercialisation, a modern, forward-looking European entrepreneurial landscape, multilateral cooperation, education, the development of human capital and STEM.
Think missions to icy moons, to unveil secrets about the origins of life or space exploration to take European astronauts beyond the International Space Station.
The passing of the Matosinhos Manifesto recently has created the necessary momentum to reach beyond our ambitions and jump-start into action.
The next steps and decisions will be formulated and taken at the European Space Summit and the ESA Council Meeting at ministerial level, both to be held in 2022.
- Josef Aschbacher is the European Space Agency’s Director General. To learn more about the Accelerators and the Matosinhos Manifesto, please visit vision.esa.int
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