Blog Posts by Scott Sutherland

  • ‘Hidden dragon’ fossil from China fills ancient evolutionary gap

    Millions of years ago, dinosaurs may have ruled the Earth, but the skies were dominated by flying reptiles called pterosaurs, some of whom reached the size of a modern fighter jet. In a study published this week, paleontologists report discovering the progenitor to the largest of these massive flyers, filling in a large evolutionary gap in the process.

    From the fossil record that scientists have been able to uncover, pterosaurs — or 'winged lizards' — first appeared on Earth over 200 million years ago, during the Triassic period. They were fairly small back then, at least compared to the gargantuan pterodactyloids that were around in the later Jurassic period, and their evolution towards bigger species apparently stemmed from several changes to their anatomy over time. Fossil specimens of early pterosaurs showed smaller heads with toothy mouths, and short, stumpy 'pinky' fingers on their 'hand' that limited wing shape and size. Later, larger pterodactyloids had bigger heads, no teeth

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  • The above video takes us on an incredible journey through exoplanets we'd never dream of seeing in our lifetime.

    It's the creation of PhD student Tom Hands from the Theoretical Astrophysics group at the University of Leicester.

    Using the collected data in the Open Exoplanet Catalogue — which contains information on 1774 different exoplanets in 1081 star systems — Hands produced this great visualization to show us the variety of what's out there. The way Hands arranged this, we're basically zooming past all the planetary systems we've found that orbit a single star, so it leaves out binary systems and so forth, just for simplicity's sake.

    The first we encounter is the one orbiting the white dwarf star named WD 0806-661, which is about 63 light years from Earth. The single planet we've found orbiting it, WD 0806-661B, is a massive gas giant, roughly 10 times the size of Jupiter. It has the furthest distance we've ever seen between a planet and its star — 2,500 astronomical units (AU),

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  • Just a week after extensive flooding forced people from their homes and caused millions of dollars in damage to roads and bridges throughout southern New Brunswick, residents are being told to prepare themselves again as rainwater and the continued spring thaw pushed the province's rivers and streams to their limits.

    Heavy rainfall over the past few days through Atlantic Canada has been making things difficult for many Maritimers, but in southern New Brunswick, this latest deluge is putting the area at risk for more flooding and more hardship. A week ago, much of the province was under flood watches and warnings, which continued through the weekend and in many places along the St. John River, water levels still haven't gone down to safe levels yet.

    New Brunswick's Department of Public Safety has issued flood warnings for the St. John River, between Fredericton and Saint John, as well as regions around Grand Lake, east of Fredericton for the next few days. Water levels through that

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  • A recent rise in the number of cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has officials with the World Health Organization (WHO) concerned lately, especially since there are still so many uncertainties about exactly where the virus comes from and how it's spread from person to person.

    The MERS coronavirus was first discovered in April 2012, but it's taken until March 26 of this year for the official WHO-recorded number of cases worldwide to top 200, including 85 that were fatal. Just shy of a month later, the official number of cases that WHO is reporting (as of April 24) has jumped to 254, with a total of 93 deaths.

    However, since WHO depends on nations supplying it with official numbers, its totals often lag behind what's actually happening. This is especially true in this case, as Saudi Arabia — where the first cases of MERS showed up and the most cases have been reported — has shown a persistent reluctance to cooperate with requests for reports.

    As of Tuesday,

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  • Iceberg six times the size of Manhattan breaks off from Antarctica

    Back in November of 2013, NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites spotted a massive iceberg calving off from Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier. It's taken roughly five months to do it, but this city-sized block of ice has slowly migrated away from the continent, and is now floating out to sea.

    According to NASA's Earth Observatory, the estimated size of this iceberg, named B-31, is around 660 square kilometres (33 km long by 20 km wide).

    "While some mass was lost very early on in the life of B-31, it has remained pretty much the same shape since early December and is still about six times the size of Manhattan," Grant Bigg of the University of Sheffield, told NASA's Earth Observatory. "Going on measurements of Pine Island glacier before the calving — and hints of partial grounding in the history of the iceberg movement — we think it is possibly 500 meters thick."

    That makes B-31 so big that it would completely encase the city of Toronto, with room to spare, and only the last 50 or so metres

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  • Life on the International Space Station is fairly serious business, for the most part, and astronauts train for years to be included in one of the station's six-month-long expeditions. However, that doesn't mean that they don't know how to have fun once their work is done, and NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson proved this after Wednesday morning's spacewalk.

    The above picture, posted on Mastracchio's Twitter feed, is actually one he took of Swanson, as he noted that the spacesuit's arms made taking a selfie difficult. Swanson helped him out though, returning the favour with this cool photo of him in front of the station's Japanese modules.

    Although the above two pictures don't technically count as selfies, they are still very cool and evoke plenty of jealousy for the spectacular view they show off. Besides, some other photos that have shown up on NASA's ISS Instagram feed easily fall into the 'selfie' category and score Steve Swanson plenty of geek-cred.

    On April 7,

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  • Strong earthquake and aftershocks shake British Columbia coastline

    Buildings swayed and windows rattled along Vancouver Island and B.C.'s South Coast last night, as a magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck the region — one of over 20 powerful earthquakes that have shaken the Pacific Ring of Fire over the past month, which is slight uptick in activity over what's normally seen there.

    Just after 8:10 p.m. PT Wednesday night, a strong earthquake struck off the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, registering as an initial magnitude of 6.7, but was quickly downgraded to magnitude 6.6. The quake was shallow, with the US Geological Survey showing the epicentre focused 94 kilometres south of Port Hardy, and only around 11 kilometres under the ocean floor.

    The quake shook Vancouver Island and the coast of the mainland, rattling windows, causing light fixtures and window blinds to sway back and forth for minutes and gave residents from Port Hardy to Tacoma, Washington — nearly 500 kilometres to the southwest — a collective dizzy spell. Fortunately, the earthquake

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  • Just in time for Earth Day 2014, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released their monthly summary for March of this year, and the news isn't good for the planet.

    It may not have seemed like it to most of us living in Canada and the United States, but according to temperature data collected by NOAA from all around the world, over land and ocean, March 2014 is the fourth warmest March seen since record keeping began in 1880. NASA data agrees. It was also the warmest since March 2010, which is considered to be the warmest month of March on record so far, and 2010 was overall the warmest year on record.

    The warmest regions of the planet in March 2014 — when compared to the 30 years prior to 2010 — were across Asia and eastern Europe, through the western United States and in Australia. There was also a somewhat worrisome rise in temperatures though the Arctic over Alaska and the Yukon, and particularly in northern Siberia, courtesy of the polar vortex.

    It was

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  • Heavy rains add to flooding worries in New Brunswick

    Flood waters surround this cottage in Waterford, N.B. on April 16, 2014.Residents of New Brunswick desperately need a break from the flooding that has struck the province over the past week, but it appears that any relief will have to be delayed as heavy rains drenching the province today and tomorrow add even more water to already-overloaded streams and rivers.

    It's been a rough week across parts of Eastern Canada, as a rapid spring thaw combined with heavy rains filled waterways through eastern Ontario, southern Quebec and New Brunswick until they overflowed their banks. Evacuations were ordered in many regions as the waters rose, and states of emergency have been called to allow emergency workers to help those in need. While the spring thaw has continued into this week, adding even more melted snow to streams and rivers and raising the risk of ice jams across all these areas, a weather system pushing through the Maritimes is adding to the flood risk in New Brunswick as it dumps up to 30-40 mm of rain on the province over the next day or so.

    Water levels

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  • ISS astronauts successfully perform urgent repair spacewalk

    UPDATE 12:15 p.m. ET: The spacewalk performed by astronauts Mastracchio and Swanson went flawlessly. The two successfully swapped out the malfunctioning Multiplexer/Demultiplexer (MDM) backup computer with a spare MDM module that's been kept on board the station since 2001. NASA reported that this new MDM has booted up properly and it was looking good for taking over as the redundant computer on the station. The spacewalk took just over one and a half hours to complete.

    Original story follows.

    NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson are headed outside the International Space Station this morning, on an urgent spacewalk to fix the station's broken backup computer.

    This spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 9:20 a.m. ET, but unlike previous repair spacewalks, which took up to six hours to complete, this one is expected to only take 2.5 hours.

    [ More Geekquinox: Asteroid impacts are not as rare as we think. What to do about them? ]

    The computer being replaced is one that failed

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