Did you miss these stories last week ? Catch up with news and editorials on science, biodiversity, conservation and discovery.
Badlands and bison: The Oglala Sioux and National Park Service are working out the terms for the first tribal national park in the south half of the Badlands National Park (South Dakota). The legislation would also give the Sioux the right to reintroduce buffaloes back to the grasslands. To preserve genetic diversity, it’s likely to be a herd of up to 1,000 on the land where once millions roamed.Listen to the South Dakota Public Radio story Washington Post article
3 Goldilocks planets plus Voyager 1 heads for interstellar space: Three so-called Goldilocks planets (not too hot, not to cold, as in porridge) have been discovered through NASA’s Kepler satellite which observes more than 150,000 stars. An article published last week in Science confirms the findings. They are part of a 5-planet system orbiting the star Keplar 69, that may offer Earth-like conditions. Researcher Thomas Barclay says, “This represents the first super-Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a star like our sun.” Listen to the NPR radio story
Are we there yet? No plaintive appeals from the kids: it is the scientists who are trying to determine whether NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, which has been traveling for 35 years, and is now 11.5 billion miles from Earth, is finally ready to leave our solar system and enter interstellar space. The 35-year-long voyage itself is big news: the spacecraft weighs only about 1600 pounds and would fit inside a cube that’s smaller than a suburban kids’ bedroom (13 feet on a side). Scientists are looking at specific data and measures to determine whether Voyager 1 is at the heliopause and ready to pass through the “heliosheath,” which is the edge of our solar system, with who-knows-what awaits. Check out NASA News. Story at New York Times
Bristol Bay–bye bye sockeye: A June 2012 editorial in the New York Times sounded the alert that development of a gigantic gold and copper mine in Bristol Bay (Alaska) – where one of the richest salmon fisheries can be found – would have devastating effects. The Pebble Mine, a Canadian-British consortium, would inaugurate large-scale pit mining that imperils the $2.2 billion fishing industry in the region.
Fast forward one year: A new Washington Post editorial makes clear that the benefits of the proposed huge pit mine (billions of dollars’ worth of gold, copper and molybdenum) have to be weighed in a thorough EPA assessment that considers the impacts on one of the last unspoiled habitats, severe wetlands contamination and the destruction of an irreplaceable regional sockeye salmon economy. The Post says, “If it’s a choice between mine and habitat, habitat should win.” Read the Washington Post editorial
Another take: Op-ed by Callan J. Chythlook-Sifsof, a US Olympic Team snowboarder, who was raised in an indigenous Yupik Eskimo village.
Endangered whales: Iceland and Japan (never stopped)hunting The International Court of Justice (The Hague) is hearing a suit brought by Australia against Japan for its killing of whales, hundreds of them, during the annual hunt. What is ludicrous is that the market for whale meat for human consumption by Japanese has declined! Some of the whale meat is actually being fed to dogs.“You don’t kill 935 whales in a year to do scientific research, you don’t even need to kill one whale,” Bill Campbell, who heads Australia’s legal team, was quoted in a New York Times story. “We are saying what Japan is doing is blatantly commercial, it’s not science, it has to stop,”he added.
Japan claims it is conducting scientific research on the mammals. Australia claims that the Japanese have killed 10,000 whales since the moratorium was implemented in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission on commercial whaling activity. Australia’s suit say that the Japanese are using the research claim as a subterfuge to conduct commercial whaling. Read the full New York Times story.
Meanwhile, Iceland has resumed killing fin whales – a threatened species – the second largest mammal on Earth (only blue whales are larger). Fin whales are listed on the International Union for Conservation’s Red List as a threatened species. US NOAA lists them as endangered throughout their range. Fin whales can weigh up to 80 tons and live to up to 90 years old. The Icelandic kill quota this year is 184 fin whales. No hunting took place in 2011 and 2012 because of the downside in the Japanese market. Listen to the NBC News story.
The Natural Resources Defense Council has drafted a public petition urging the U.S. government to impose economic sanctions on Iceland in response to the hunt; other groups are also taking action. The Care 2 web site includes news and a petition.
Horse DNA from 7000 generations ago: Paleogenomics – the study of ancient genomes from fossilized bone — is showing the way in reconstructing evolutionary history. DNA from the genome of a horse (fossilized bone) that lived about 700,000 years ago – in the Yukon Territory (Canada) – predates anything ever known or genomically identified. The New York Times reports, “The [scientists] concluded that the genus that gave rise to modern horses, zebras and donkeys — Equus — arose about four million years ago, twice as far back as had been thought.” The findings predate by tenfold the earliest dating of species from paleogenomics. Read the full story.
Retirement ahead for research chimps: In an announcement June 26, Director Dr. Francis Collins said that the National Institutes of Health will retire all but about 50 champs that NIH has been using for medical research purposes. The primates will go to sanctuaries. That announcement came just two weeks after the US Fish & Wildlife Service proposed to place both wild and captive chimps on the endangered species list. Nearly one million chimpanzees have disappeared in the wild since 1900, according to figures supplied by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). NIH is seeking additional funding from Congress to house the research animals in sanctuaries. Read the full story New York Times editorial
Cambodia: two important discoveries A new bird species has been discovered in the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, by Simon Mahood, who says the discovery was “serendipitous.” The Cambodian tailorbird appears in an article in the Oriental Birdclub’s journal Forktail in August. With 10,000+ known bird species in the world, there’s always room for one more! See the Forktail journal plus a video of the tailorbird. New York Times article
What ho! A second important announcement also surfaced this month: Australian archeologists have located the existence of the lost city of Mahendraparvata – some 1200 years old –buried under the jungle, that was contemporaneous with the urban center of Angkor Wat. Scientists used lidar laser scanning technology in helicopters to fly over the site and detect the city’s network of canals and roads. The “lost” city is just 25 miles west of Angkor Wat in mountainous Phnom Kulen region Story in Christian Science Monitor
More on the Khmer empire and the airborne lidar laser scanning technology used to find the hidden urban area. New York Times