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The Oldest Forest in the World Has Been Discovered in a New York Quarry – VICE

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Scientists have discovered the oldest forest in the fossil record at a quarry in the Catskill region of New York. These primordial woods flourished 386 million years ago, during the Devonian period, and contained at least three types of tree, one of which represents a “quantum leap” in plant evolution, according to a study published on Thursday in Current Biology.

The discovery pushes the empirical timeline of forests back millions of years, which has implications for understanding how these trees sparked an “energetic revolution,” meaning that their energy-efficient adaptations reshaped global ecosystems and climate, the authors said.

“The origin of big trees and forests seems to be coincident in time with some dramatic changes in the Devonian ecosystem and climate,” said lead author William Stein, an emeritus professor of biology at Binghamton University, in a call.

“In particular, there’s been pretty clear evidence that there was a drawdown of CO2 levels from the atmosphere during this time,” causing global cooling, he added. “This is important because we’re, in a sense, looking at the opposite trending effects currently with people, deforestation, and global warming.”

The root systems of this Devonian forest are preserved in an abandoned sandstone quarry near Cairo, New York. Though the site has been known for plant fossils since the 1960s, the new specimens were found within the last decade, and may have become noticeable due to years of weathering.

Aerial view of the root systems. Image: William Stein and Christopher Berry

Stein and his colleagues think the fossils represent three ancient tree families: Archaeopteris, Eospermatopteris, and an unidentified species that may have been a type of vascular plant called a lycopsid.

Eospermatopteris, which looked a little like a modern palm tree, was also found at the next oldest fossilized forest, located about 30 miles away in Gilboa, New York. But the real star of the study is Archaeopteris, because it “strikingly advanced for its time” and likely represents “the beginning of the future of modern forests,” Stein said.

“This was a large plant that had modern-looking secondary tissues—basically wood—and it was the first major player that we understand actually had leaves,” he explained. “It’s essentially identical to what you would expect to see today in modern conifers or flowering and seed plants as a whole.”

Unlike Eospermatopteris, which wasn’t able to penetrate very far into the soil with its roots, Archaeopteris grew specialized structural roots that expanded both laterally along the surface of the soil, and deep underground. This robust network could tap into more resources than Archaeopteris’ rivals, and that may explain why it evolved to be such an efficient and innovative photosynthesizer.

Though the Cairo site is a few million years older than Gilboa, Stein said that he shies away from calling it “the oldest forest” because the two sites may have represented one long-lived and relatively stable biome. “That’s our hypothesis: that they probably are just different ecological snapshots of the same longstanding forest,” he said.

Based on the patterns of the sediment, the Gilboa site was likely located in a river system that frequently experienced catastrophic floods, whereas the Cairo area seems to have been drier and less chaotic. Still, the remains of fish inside Cairo’s fossilized forest suggest that it did sometimes flood. These events may have been damaging to the woods at the time, but the sediment upheaval produced by them helped preserve these fascinating fossils.

Stein hopes that future exploration of the Catskills will reveal more clues about the first forests to emerge on Earth, and the role they played in reshaping our planet’s climate and ecology.

“We only have a sample of two sites like this,” he said, “so it leaves a lot to be done in terms of trying to figure out what actually did go on.”

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

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The detection of phosphine in Venus' clouds is a big deal – here's how we can find out if it really is life – The Conversation US

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On Sept. 14, 2020, a new planet was added to the list of potentially habitable worlds in the Solar System: Venus.

Phosphine, a toxic gas made up of one phosphorus and three hydrogen atoms (PH₃), commonly produced by organic life forms but otherwise difficult to make on rocky planets, was discovered in the middle layer of the Venus atmosphere. This raises the tantalizing possibility that something is alive on our planetary neighbor. With this discovery, Venus joins the exalted ranks of Mars and the icy moons Enceladus and Europa among planetary bodies where life may once have existed, or perhaps might even still do so today.

I’m a planetary scientist and something of a Venus evangelical. This discovery is one of the most exciting made about Venus in a very long time — and opens up a new set of possibilities for further exploration in search of life in the Solar System.

Venus as seen in the infrared by the Japanese Akatsuki spacecraft. The warm colors are from the hot lower atmosphere glowing through the cooler cloud layers above. Image credit: JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic.
JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic

Atmospheric mysteries

First, it’s critical to point out that this detection does not mean that astronomers have found alien life in the clouds of Venus. Far from it, in fact.

Although the discovery team identified phosphine at Venus with two different telescopes, helping to confirm the initial detection, phosphine gas can result from several processes that are unrelated to life, such as lightning, meteor impacts or even volcanic activity.

However, the quantity of phosphine detected in the Venusian clouds seems to be far greater than those processes are capable of generating, allowing the team to rule out numerous inorganic possibilities. But our understanding of the chemistry of Venus’ atmosphere is sorely lacking: Only a handful of missions have plunged through the inhospitable, carbon dioxide-dominated atmosphere to take samples among the global layer of sulfuric acid clouds.

So we planetary scientists are faced with two possibilities: Either there is some sort of life in the Venus clouds, generating phosphine, or there is unexplained and unexpected chemistry taking place there. How do we find out which it is?

A model of the Soviet Vega 1 spacecraft at the Udvar-Hazy Center, Dulles International Airport. Vega 1 carried a balloon to Venus on its way to visit Halley’s Comet in 1985.
Daderot

First and foremost, we need more information about the abundance of PH₃ in the Venus atmosphere, and we can learn something about this from Earth. Just as the discovery team did, existing telescopes capable of detecting phosphine around Venus can be used for follow-up observations, to both definitively confirm the initial finding and figure out if the amount of PH₃ in the atmosphere changes with time. In parallel, there is now a huge opportunity to carry out lab work to better understand the types of chemical reactions that might be possible on Venus — for which we have very limited information at present.

Antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope, on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes. The telescope was used to confirm the initial detection of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere.
ESO/C. Malin.

Once more unto the breach

But measurements on and from Earth can take us only so far. To really get to the heart of this mystery, we need to go back to Venus. Spacecraft equipped with spectrometers that can detect phosphine from orbit could be dispatched to the second planet with the express purpose of characterizing where, and how much, of this gas is there. Because spacecraft can survive for many years in Venus’ orbit, we could obtain continuous observations with a dedicated orbiter over a much longer period than with telescopes on Earth.

But even orbital data can’t tell us the whole story. To fully get a handle on what’s happening at Venus, we have to actually get into the atmosphere. And that’s where aerial platforms come in. Capable of operating above much of the acidic cloud layer – where the temperature and pressure are almost Earthlike – for potentially months at a time, balloons or flying wings could take detailed atmospheric composition measurements there. These craft could even carry the kinds of instruments being developed to look for life on Europa. At that point, humanity might finally be able to definitively tell if we share our Solar System with Venusian life.

A concept for an aerial platform at Venus. Two connected balloons could take turns to inflate, allowing the balloon to control the altitude at which it floats. An instrument package would then hang from below the balloons.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

A new dawn for Venus exploration?

Thirty-one years have elapsed since the United States last sent a dedicated mission to Venus. That could soon change as NASA considers two of four missions in the late 2020s targeting Venus. One, called VERITAS, would carry a powerful radar to peer through the thick clouds and return unprecedented high-resolution images of the surface. The other, DAVINCI+, would plunge through the atmosphere, sampling the air as it descended, perhaps even able to sniff any phosphine present. NASA plans to pick at least one mission in April 2021.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

I have argued before for a return to Venus, and will continue to do so. Even without this latest scientific discovery, Venus is a compelling exploration target, with tantalizing evidence that the planet once had oceans and perhaps even suffered a hellish fate at the hands of its own volcanic eruptions.

But with the detection of a potential biomarker in Venus’ atmosphere, we now have yet another major reason to return to the world ancient Greek astronomers called Phosphorus — a name for Venus that, it turns out, is wonderfully prescient.

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Texas youth hockey coach, 29, dies from coronavirus complications days after feeling sick – Fox News

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A 29-year-old North Texas youth hockey coach died late last month from coronavirus complications after feeling sick for just three days, according to reports.

Tyler Amburgey was a “loving husband and a loving father” who had played hockey since he was 7 years old, his wife, Aimee Amburgey, told WFAA-TV in Dallas. Their daughter, Rylee, is 8 years old.

She said her husband first thought he had caught a cold traveling from rink to rink like he usually did in late summer.

“It started out like originally…with him getting like all…normal cold symptoms,” she told the station.

He then started to suffer from nausea, sleeplessness, shortness of breath, fatigue and migraines, FOX 4 in Dallas reported.

UNITED KINGDOM SEES SPIKE IN CORONAVIRUS CASES, SECOND LOCKDOWN MAY BE LOOMING 

By the third day, Aug. 29, his wife said he finally canceled his hockey practice, where some players had already tested positive, and went to bed at their home in Lavon, Texas, north of Dallas.

Soon after, she found him unresponsive in bed. She called 911 but it was too late, she told WFAA.

The medical examiner said a sleeping pill Amburgey took combined with the virus to slow his heart until it stopped, his grandfather, Paul Hinds, told the Journal Star in Peoria, Illinois. Amburgey was a former Peoria Rivermen hockey player.

“He told us sleeping pills slow your heart rate, and in combination with COVID-19, which also slows your heart, Tyler’s heart stopped,” he said. “We were unaware he had COVID-19. No one knew that when he gathered to see him.”

Amburgey played for several minor league teams before becoming a coach, The New York Times reported.

FAUCI WOULD BET ON EFFECTIVE AND SAFE CORONAVIRUS VACCINE BY NOVEMBER OR DECEMBER 

He suffered several concussions and had five hip surgeries during his career. It’s unclear if any of that made him more vulnerable to the virus.

He only tested positive for the virus after his death, Hinds told the Journal Star.

“Hockey meant everything to him,” Aimee Amburgey told The Times. “When he got a new pair of skates, he was like a kid at Christmas. You never saw anyone so pumped up about new equipment, even shin guards.”

“I just want him to be remembered for more than just a person that… passed away from COVID,” she added.

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Nearly 30 youth players and coaches have tested positive for the virus this month, which could be linked to a recent tournament in the area, the Dallas County Health and Human Services said, FOX 4 reported.

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How to spot a Starlink satellite in the night sky – Trading U

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There are hundreds of SpaceX satellites in the sky. A successful sighting just requires a bit of luck, writes Abigail Beall

Space


16 September 2020

Denise Taylor/Getty Images

What you need

The Find Starlink website or something similar

A spot of sky viewed away from light pollution

OUR skies are filling up with satellites. Starting in May 2019, the firm SpaceX has deployed around 700 Starlink satellites into Earth orbit over 11 launches. SpaceX plans to deploy 12,000, and perhaps later 42,000, satellites with the aim of providing internet access to the entire world.

These satellites have the potential to change the way that the night sky looks. For comparison, there are only around 2600 satellites currently orbiting Earth. These days, …

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