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Scientists discover massive 'swimming head' dating back 500 million years – CNET

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A series of staked rakes, all the better to swallow you with.


Lars Fields/Royal Ontario Museum

Scientists have discovered a huge, bizarre animal species that lived in primordial seas half a billion years ago during a period when most early aquatic creatures were about the size of a pea pod. The newly named Titanokorys gainesi, however, was a predatory arthropod that dwarfed smaller swimmers, measuring in at 19.7 inches (almost half a meter).

“Titanokorys is part of a subgroup of radiodonts, called hurdiids, characterized by an incredibly long head covered by a three-part carapace that took on myriad shapes. The head is so long relative to the body that these animals are really little more than swimming heads,” University of Toronto evolutionary biology Ph. D. student Joe Moysiuk, said in a statement.

Moysiuk is co-author of a study published Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science that details the discovery.

titanokorys-romip-65168-close-uptitanokorys-romip-65168-close-up

Fossil of Titanokorys gainesi carapace close up.


Jean-Bernard Caron / Royal Ontario Museum

“The sheer size of this animal is absolutely mind-boggling,”  said co-author Jean-Bernard Caron, from the Royal Ontario Museum. “This is one of the biggest animals from the Cambrian period ever found.”

The fossils were discovered within Kootenay National Park in the Canadian Rockies. The animals would have played a big and intimidating role in the seafloor ecosystems that dominated the planet at the time, as land is thought to have been largely barren of life. 

“Their limbs at the front looked like multiple stacked rakes and would have been very efficient at bringing anything they captured in their tiny spines towards the mouth. The huge dorsal carapace might have functioned like a plough,” said Caron, who is also an associate professor in ecology and evolutionary biology and Earth sciences at the University of Toronto, and Moysiuk’s Ph.D. adviser.

As if a giant swimming head with multiple rakes for limbs isn’t strange enough, Titanokorys would have also had multifaceted eyes and what the researchers describe as “a pineapple slice-shaped, tooth-lined mouth … and a body with a series of flaps for swimming.”

The new species is a larger relative of another extinct animal also found in the region’s Burgess Shale deposit. The similar and more common species is named Cambroraster falcatus in honor of its Millennium Falcon-shaped head carapace.

The researchers say the two species may have fought over prey on the sea floor, which I guess makes Titanokorys the equivalent of a prehistoric Tie Fighter?

Can’t wait to see the Cambrian version of the Death Star. Until that day, the new fossils will be on display at the Royal Ontario Museum starting in December. 

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900-year-old Chinese supernova mystery points to strange nebula – Space.com

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In the year 1181 AD, a new bright point of light as luminous as the planet Saturn appeared to Chinese and Japanese skygazers for a little more than six months before disappearing. Hundreds of years later, researchers believe they have finally found the source of this mysterious appearance.

The event, like the famous Crab Nebula-forming stellar explosion of 1054, is one of just a handful of bright nearby flashes noted in historical records, but unlike the Crab Nebula, the 1181 spectacle was tricky to pin down.

The historical record leaves a few clues that have been useful to modern astronomers. First, the timing: this “guest star” shined for 185 days, from Aug. 6, 1181, to Feb. 6, 1182. The record also indicates its place in the sky, which was a spot located between two Chinese constellations, Chuanshe and Huagai, near the modern Cassiopeia.

Related: Distant ‘Requiem’ supernova will be visible again in 2037, astronomers predict 

These cosmic puzzle pieces led a research team to the ancient flash’s likely culprit: a supernova whose remnants now form a fast-expanding nebula called Pa30. The nebula’s clouds move so quickly that, in the new research, scientists from Hong Kong, the U.K., Spain, Hungary and France found that Pa30’s dust and gas could travel the distance from Earth to the moon in a whopping five minutes. By using that speed and calculating backward, the researchers determined that the nebula would fit a supernova that exploded around 1181.

The team found that Pa30 formed from a rare and relatively faint type of supernova, called a ‘Type Iax supernova.’ “Only around 10% of supernovae are of this type and they are not well understood. The fact that SN1181 was faint but faded very slowly fits this type,” Albert Zijlstra, an astrophysicist at the University of Manchester in the U.K., said in a statement about the new research. 

False-color images of Parker’s star and the nebula Pa30, which scientists now believe are connected with reports of a supernova seen in 1181. (Image credit: The University of Hong Kong)

Scientists also found that Parker’s star, one of the hottest stars in the Milky Way, is also a likely counterpart to the supernova. The nebula and the star are thought to be the result of a massive collision and subsequent merger of two dim stellar corpses known as white dwarfs

“This is the only Type Iax supernova where detailed studies of the remnant star and nebula are possible,” Ziljlstra added. “It is nice to be able to solve both a historical and an astronomical mystery.”

The study was published on Wednesday (Sept. 15) in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters. 

Follow Doris Elin Urrutia on Twitter @salazar_elin. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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SpaceX's tourist crew 'healthy, happy and resting' – Phys.org

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Graphic on the four all-civilian passengers on SpaceX’s mission to orbit around the Earth, lauched September 15 from Florida.

SpaceX’s all-civilian Inspiration4 crew are “healthy, happy and resting comfortably,” the company said Thursday in its first update since the pioneering mission blasted off from Cape Canaveral the night before.

The four American space tourists “traveled 5.5 times around Earth, completed their first round of scientific research, and enjoyed a couple of meals” before going to bed, Elon Musk’s company said.

Musk tweeted that he had personally spoken with the crew and “all is well.”

After waking up, they will get their first look out of the Dragon ship’s cupola—a large observation dome that has been fitted onto the vessel for the first time, in place of a docking mechanism.

Billionaire Jared Isaacman, physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux, geoscientist Sian Proctor and aerospace data engineer Chris Sembroski are orbiting the globe at an altitude that at times reaches 590 kilometers (367 miles).

That is deeper in space than the International Space Station, which orbits at 420 kilometers (260 miles), and the furthest any astronauts have ventured from our planet since a 2009 maintenance mission for the Hubble telescope.

The mission aims to raise $200 million for St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and study the biological effects of deep space on the astronauts’ bodies.

Its main goal, however, is to prove that space is accessible to as the United States and like SpaceX seek to further commercialize the cosmos.

The space adventure bookends a summer marked by the battle of the billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos to reach the final frontier.

But these flights only offered a few minutes of weightlessness—rather than the three full days of orbit the Inspiration4 crew will experience, before splashing down off the coast of Florida on Saturday.


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In first, SpaceX to send all-civilian crew into Earth orbit


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A 900-year-old cosmic mystery has been solved by astronomers – CTV News

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TORONTO —
The mystery behind the origins of a supernova first spotted by 12th-century Chinese and Japanese astronomers has been solved, according to an international team of 21st-century astronomers.

New research, published Wednesday in The Astrophysical Journal, has linked astronomical reports from more than 800 years ago with a faint, fast-expanding nebula surrounding Parker’s Star, one of the hottest stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

The nebula, dubbed Pa30, fits the profile, location and age of the supernova, which was originally documented in 1181 AD.

“The historical reports place the guest star between two Chinese constellations, Chuanshe and Huagai,” Albert Zijlstra, astrophysics professor at the University of Manchester, said in a news release. “Parker’s Star fits the position well. That means both the age and location fit with the events of 1181.”

The first astronomers to lay eyes on the supernova, referred to as SN 1181, described it being as bright as the planet Saturn and remaining visible for six months, the authors of the study said.

Previous research has suggested Parker’s Star and the Pa30 nebula may be the result of the merging of two white dwarf stars. Such events are thought to lead to a rare and faint type of supernova called a “Type Iax” supernova.

“Only around 10 per cent of supernovae are of this type and they are not well understood. The fact that SN 1181 was faint but faded very slowly fits this type,” Zijlstra said. “It is the only such event where we can study both the remnant nebula and the merged star, and also have a description of the explosion itself.”

The key to unlocking the mystery of this historical supernova was the discovery that the Pa30 nebula is expanding at a velocity of more than 1,100 kilometres per second. From this, researchers were able to calculate the nebula’s age to be around 1,000 years old, which coincides with the events of 1181 AD.

“Combining all this information such as the age, location, event brightness and historically recorded 185-day duration, indicates that Parker’s Star and Pa30 are the counterparts of SN 1181,” Zijlstra said. “This is the only Type Iax supernova where detailed studies of the remnant star and nebula are possible.”

There have been five supernovae in the Milky Way in past millennium, and up until now, SN 1181 was the only one whose origins remained unknown.

“It is nice to be able to solve both a historical and an astronomical mystery,” Zijlstra said.

The team of astronomers who made the discovery hail from Hong Kong, the U.K., Spain, Hungary and France.

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