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May 17, 2016

Multicellular life existing earlier than initially thought

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Multicellular life existing earlier than initially thought

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Chinese scientists have encountered multicellular, potentially photosynthesising organisms within the fossil fossil record that date back 1,560 million years (1.56 billion). The discovery implies that single-celled prokaryotes became multicellular organisms capable of drawing and producing energy, almost 1 billion years earlier than previously thought. The palaeobiologist, Maoyan Zhu and his colleagues of the Chinese Academy of Science, found large and regular sized remains of these organisms, similar to algae living in shallow seas today, compressed within mesoproterozoi mudstone of the Gaoyuzhuang Formation, North China.

Prior to this, the earliest-known fossil assemblage containing macroscopic, Morphology (biology) morphologically complex lifeforms, was deep-water organisms of the early Ediacaran period, 635 to 565 million years ago. The geological period defined by the Australian site, the Ediacara Hills in the Flinders Ranges, is where the first clear multicellular life appears in the fossil record. The time period is also characterised by increasing oxygen levels in the atmosphere due to more abundant and complex, photosynthesising organisms.

The carbonaceous compressions that are linear (long and very narrow) to Leaf shape lanceolate (leaf-shaped) are up to 30 cm long and 8 cm wide, and according to Zhu displaying unprecedentedly large benthic organisms. They observed closely packed cells and organic carbon, indicating evidence of cellular remains. What’s significant to note about the newfound, ancient organisms is the condition of the atmosphere during the time period in which they emerged. Temperatures were very hot and atmospheric oxygen was notably low. These fossils represent one of the major transitions in evolution, according to geobiologist Shuhai Xiao of Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg.

Roughly 1.8 billion years ago, after the formation of the oceans, the first oxygen being released into the atmosphere, colossal environmental shifts and the emergence of simple, single-celled organisms— it was believed by scientists that evolutionary change slackened for a long time. The period was loosely termed the Boring Billion. Xiao says it’s been thought there was not a lot going on geochemically. What Zhu and his colleagues’ findings suggest is the contrary. Eukaryotes containing cells with nuclei and more complex membrane-wrapped machinery that lead to organisms such as plants and people, began evolving during this time.



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October 9, 2015

After Mars, NASA announces water ice on Pluto

After Mars, NASA announces water ice on Pluto

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Friday, October 9, 2015

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The blue haze of Pluto.
Image: NASA.

NASA released yesterday the first coloured pictures of Pluto‘s blue atmosphere and water ice on the surface taken by the space probe New Horizons.

NASA said the haze particles may be grey or red in colour, but the scattering of light producing blue colour indicates the size of the particles. Smaller particles results in the scattering of the blue light. Scientists calls those soot like grey-red particles tholins.

The scientists suggest nitrogen and methane in the upper atmosphere, exposed to the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, break and combine to form more complex macromolecules similar to a process first observed on Titan, Saturn‘s satellite. Some of them grow to tholins. Eventually they are coated with volatile gas frost and fall to the surface, contributing to its red color.

Water ice on Pluto.
Image: NASA.

The data collected from the probe’s Ralph spectral composition mapper shows several small zones of water ice on Pluto. Alex Parker from Southwest Research institute (SwRI) tweeted, “We expected water-ice to be there, but we’ve searched for water-ice in Pluto’s spectrum for decades and not seen it before now”.

“Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt?”, New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of SwRI remarked; “It’s gorgeous.” “This world is alive […] It has weather, it has hazes in the atmosphere, active geology.”

The space probe has traveled over 100 million km (over 60 million miles) further since gathering the data on its Pluto flyby of July 14.


Related news[]

  • NASA announces water on Mars” — Wikinews, October 1, 2015
  • “NASA’s New Horizons space probe performs first close planetary flyby of Pluto” — Wikinews, July 17, 2015

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  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg Atmosphere of Pluto

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October 8, 2015

After Mars, NASA announces water on Pluto

After Mars, NASA announces water on Pluto

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

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The blue haze of Pluto.
Image: NASA.

NASA released yesterday the first coloured pictures of Pluto‘s blue atmosphere and water ice on the surface taken by the space probe New Horizons.

NASA said the haze particles may be grey or red in colour, but the scattering of light producing blue colour indicates the size of the particles. Smaller particles results in the scattering of the blue light. Scientists calls those soot like grey-red particles tholins.

The scientists suggest nitrogen and methane in the upper atmosphere, exposed to the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, break and combine to form more complex macromolecules similar to a process first observed on Titan, Saturn‘s satellite. Some of them grow to tholins. Eventually they are coated with volatile gas frost and fall to the surface, contributing to its red color.

Water ice on Pluto.
Image: NASA.

The data collected from the probe’s Ralph spectral composition mapper shows several small zones of water ice on Pluto. Alex Parker from Southwest Research institute (SwRI) tweeted, “We expected water-ice to be there, but we’ve searched for water-ice in Pluto’s spectrum for decades and not seen it before now”.

“Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt?”, New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of SwRI remarked; “It’s gorgeous.” “This world is alive […] It has weather, it has hazes in the atmosphere, active geology.”

The space probe has traveled 100 million km further since July 14.


Related news[]

  • NASA announces water on Mars” — Wikinews, October 1, 2015
  • “NASA’s New Horizons space probe performs first close planetary flyby of Pluto” — Wikinews, July 17, 2015

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  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg Atmosphere of Pluto

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October 1, 2015

NASA announces water on Mars

NASA announces water on Mars – Wikinews, the free news source

NASA announces water on Mars

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

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Mars from the Viking Orbiter, 1980.
Image: NASA/USGS.

Warm season flows on slope in Newton Crater
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona.

On Monday, NASA announced that signs of liquid water have been found on Mars. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft found evidence of the liquid on the Martian surface, in long dark spots on the Red Planet thought to be formed because of water flow.

In a news conference, NASA’s planetary science director, Jim Green said, “We now know Mars was once a planet very much like Earth with warm salty seas and fresh water lakes […] but something has happened to Mars, it lost its water.”

Water is thought to flow down slopes in the warm summer months and dry up as the temperature drops seasonally. Scientists have different theories about the water’s origin, as perhaps from the Martian atmosphere or from ice below the surface.

In 2011, Lujendra Ojha proposed the theory of water on the Martian surface, after studying salt samples from Martian soil. The temperature of Mars is close to the freezing point of water, but the presence of salt lowers the freezing point. Alfred McEwen, professor of planetary geology at the University of Arizona, described the water as “briny”. Moreover, the recurring slope lineae (RSL) on the surface of Mars are found to slide down the slope in the hotter season indicating the presence of water.

NASA’s associate administrator John Grunsfeld said those observations gave a better picture about the planet’s resources that could be helpful in the future. Grunsfeld tweeted Water on Mars, not just frozen. Is anything drinking it? Someday we wil find out on our #JourneyToMars.

To mark this discovery, Google created a doodle in which Mars is sipping water.



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January 21, 2014

Cold as ice: Wikinews interviews Marymegan Daly on unusual new sea anemone

Cold as ice: Wikinews interviews Marymegan Daly on unusual new sea anemone

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In late 2010 a geological expedition to Antarctica drilled through the Ross Ice Shelf so they could send an ROV under it. What they found was unexpected: Sea anemones. In their thousands they were doing what no other species of sea anemone is known to do — they were living in the ice itself.

Edwardsiella andrillae and its habitat
Image: Daly et al.

Discovered by the ANDRILL [Antarctic Drilling] project, the team was so unprepared for biological discoveries they did not have suitable preservatives and the only chemicals available obliterated the creature’s DNA. Nonetheless Marymegan Daly of Ohio State University confirmed the animals were a new species. Named Edwardsiella andrillae after the drilling project that found it, the anemone was finally described in a PLOS ONE paper last month.

ANDRILL lowered their cylindrical camera ROV down a freshly-bored 270m (890ft) hole, enabling it to reach seawater below the ice. The device was merely being tested ahead of its planned mission retrieving data on ocean currents and the sub-ice environment. Instead it found what ANDRILL director Frank Rack of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, a co-author of the paper describing the find, called the “total serendipity” of “a whole new ecosystem that no one had ever seen before”.

The discovery raises many questions. Burrowing sea anemones worm their way into substrates or use their tentacles to dig, but it’s unclear how E. andrillae enters the hard ice. With only their tentacles protruding into the water from the underneath of the ice shelf questions also revolve around how the animals avoid freezing, how they reproduce, and how they cope with the continuously melting nature of their home. Their diet is also a mystery.

Cquote1.svg What fascinates me about sea anemones is that they’re able to do things that seem impossible Cquote2.svg

—Marymegan Daly

E. andrillae is an opaque white, with an inner ring of eight tentacles and twelve-to-sixteen tentacles in an outer ring. The ROV’s lights produced an orange glow from the creatures, although this may be produced by their food. It measures 16–20mm (0.6–0.8in) but when fully relaxed can extend to triple that.

Genetic analysis being impossible, Daly turned to dissection of the specimens but could find nothing out of the ordinary. Scientists hope to send a biological mission to explore the area under the massive ice sheet, which is in excess of 600 miles (970km) wide. The cameras also observed worms, fish that swim inverted as if the icy roof was the sea floor, crustaceans and a cylindrical creature that used appendages on its ends to move and to grab hold of the anemones.

NASA is providing funding to aid further research, owing to possible similarities between this icy realm and Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Biological research is planned for 2015. An application for funding to the U.S. National Science Foundation, which funds ANDRILL, is also pending.

The ANDRILL team almost failed to get any samples at all. Designed to examine the seafloor, the ROV had to be inverted to examine the roof of ice. Weather conditions prevented biological sampling equipment being delivered from McMurdo Station, but the scientists retrieved 20–30 anemones by using hot water to stun them before sucking them from their burrows with an improvised device fashioned from a coffee filter and a spare ROV thruster. Preserved on-site in ethanol, they were taken to McMurdo station where some were further preserved with formaldehyde.

This map shows the location of the Ross Ice Shelf in the Antarctic, and the two known localities for E. andrillae relative to McMurdo Station
Image: Daly et al.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png How did you come to be involved with this discovery?

Marymegan Daly: Frank Rack got in touch after they returned from Antarctica in hopes that I could help with an identification on the anemone.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What was your first reaction upon learning there was an undiscovered ecosystem under the ice in the Ross Sea?

MD I was amazed and really excited. I think to say it was unexpected is inaccurate, because it implies that there was a well-founded expectation of something. The technology that Frank and his colleagues are using to explore the ice is so important because, given our lack of data, we have no reasonable expectation of what it should be like, or what it shouldn’t be like.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png There’s a return trip planned hopefully for 2015, with both biologists and ANDRILL geologists. Are you intending to go there yourself?

MD I would love to. But I am also happy to not go, as long as someone collects more animals on my behalf! What I want to do with the animals requires new material preserved in diverse ways, but it doesn’t require me to be there. Although I am sure that being there would enhance my understanding of the animals and the system in which they live, and would help me formulate more and better questions about the anemones, ship time is expensive, especially in Antarctica, and if there are biologists whose contribution is predicated on being there, they should have priority to be there.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png These animals are shrouded in mystery. Some of the most intriguing questions are chemical; do they produce some kind of antifreeze, and is that orange glow in the ROV lights their own? Talk us through the difficulties encountered when trying to find answers with the specimens on hand.

MD The samples we have are small in terms of numbers and they are all preserved in formalin (a kind of formaldehyde solution). The formalin is great for preserving structures, but for anemones, it prevents study of DNA or of the chemistry of the body. This means we can’t look at the issue you raise with these animals. What we could do, however, was to study anatomy and figure out what it is, so that when we have samples preserved for studying e.g., the genome, transcriptome, or metabolome, or conduct tests of the fluid in the burrows or in the animals themselves, we can make precise comparisons, and figure out what these animals have or do (metabolically or chemically) that lets them live where they live.

Daly explained how she obtained these images of the anemone’s anatomy.
Image: Daly et al.

Just knowing a whole lot about a single species isn’t very useful, even if that animal is as special as these clearly are — we need to know what about them is different and thus related to living in this strange way. The only way to get at what’s different is to make comparisons with close relatives. We can start that side of the work now, anticipating having more beasts in the future.
In terms of their glow, I suspect that it’s not theirs — although luminescence is common in anemone relatives, they don’t usually make light themselves. They do make a host of florescent proteins, and these may interact with the light of the ROV to give that gorgeous glow.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What analysis did you perform on the specimens and what equipment was used?

MD I used a dissecting scope to look at the animal’s external anatomy and overall body organization (magnification of 60X). I embedded a few of the animals in wax and then cut them into very thin slices using a microtome, mounted the slices on microscope slides, stained the slices to enhance contrast, and then looked at those slides under a compound microscope (that’s how I got the pictures of the muscles etc in the paper). I used that same compound scope to look at squashed bits of tissue to see the stinging capsules (=nematocysts).
I compared the things I saw under the ‘scopes to what had been published on other species in this group. This step seems trivial, but it is really the most important part! By comparing my observations to what my colleagues and predecessors had found, I figured out what group it belongs to, and was able to determine that within that group, it was a new species.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png It was three years between recovery of specimens and final publication, why did it take so long?

MD You mean, how did we manage to make it all happen so quickly, right? 🙂 It was about two years from when Frank sent me specimens to when we got the paper out. Some of that time was just lost time — I had other projects in the queue that I needed to finish. Once we figured out what it was, we played a lot of manuscript email tag, which can be challenging and time consuming given the differing schedules that folks keep in terms of travel, field work, etc. Manuscript review and processing took about four months.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What sort of difficulties were posed by the unorthodox preservatives used, and what additional work might be possible on a specimen with intact DNA?

MD The preservation was not unorthodox — they followed best practices for anatomical preservation. Having DNA-suitable material will let us see whether there are new genes, or genes turned on in different ways and at different times that help explain how these animals burrow into hard ice and then survive in the cold. I am curious about the population structure of the “fields” of anemones — the group to which Edwardsiella andrillae belongs includes many species that reproduce asexually, and it’s possible that the fields are “clones” produced asexually rather than the result of sexual reproduction. DNA is the only way to test this.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Do you have any theories about the strategies employed to cope with the harsh environment of burrowing inside an ice shelf?

MD I think there must be some kind of antifreeze produced — the cells in contact with ice would otherwise freeze.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png How has such an apparently large population of clearly unusual sea anemones, not to mention the other creatures caught on camera, gone undetected for so long?

MD I think this reflects how difficult it is to get under the ice and to collect specimens. That being said, since the paper came out, I have been pointed towards two other reports that are probably records of these species: one from Japanese scientists who looked at footage from cameras attached to seals and one from Americans who dove under ice. In both of these cases, the anemone (if that’s what they saw) was seen at a distance, and no specimens were collected. Without the animals in hand, or the capability of a ROV to get close up for pictures, it is hard to know what has been seen, and lacking a definitive ID, hard to have the finding appropriately indexed or contextualized.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Would it be fair to say this suggests there may be other undiscovered species of sea anemone that burrow into hard substrates such as ice?

MD I hope so! What fascinates me about sea anemones is that they’re able to do things that seem impossible given their seemingly limited toolkit. This finding certainly expands the realm of possible.



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January 18, 2012

Meteorites in Morocco found to be from Mars

Meteorites in Morocco found to be from Mars

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

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Meteors that landed in Morocco last year have been confirmed to be from Mars (pictured).
Image: NASA.

Meteorites that fell to Earth during a meteor shower in July of 2011 have been confirmed to be from Mars. The rocks, discovered in Morocco, were likely ejected off the surface of the planet during an ancient asteroid impact.

This is believed to be the fifth time in history that people have observed what turned out to be chemically confirmed martian material falling to Earth. Out of the approximately 24,000 known meteorites to have fallen to Earth, only about 34 have been verified to be martian in origin. Fifteen of these rocks are attributed to the meteorite shower last July. Some of the rocks, which are very rare on Earth, are being sold from US$11,000 to $22,500 per ounce, which is about ten times more than the cost of gold.

Meteorites confirmed to be from Mars fell to Earth in 1815, 1865, 1911 and 1962. The sooner the rocks are recovered after landing on Earth, the less they are contaminated by its natural processes. This allows scientists to examine specimens and gain insight about the geology of Mars. “Because it’s so fresh, if you find organics in this sample, you can be pretty sure those organics are Martian,” Carl Agee, director of the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico, told Space.com.

Scientists postulate that a large object’s impact into Mars millions of years ago was the cause of the material’s ejection from the surface of the planet.



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August 3, 2011

Russian geographer Andrey Kapitsa dies aged 80

Russian geographer Andrey Kapitsa dies aged 80

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

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Satellite image of Lake Vostok

Andrey Kapitsa, the Russian geographer best known for his part in the discovery of Lake Vostok in Antarctica, has died in Moscow at the age of 80. He participated in four Soviet expeditions to the South Pole during his career.

Kapitsa was born to Physics Nobel Prize laureate Pyotr Leonidovich Kapitsa in Cambridge, England in 1931. He graduated from the Moscow State University‘s Faculty of Geography in 1953, and took part in the first of his four expeditions to the South Pole two years later. In 1967, he led the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences on a two year expedition through eastern Africa.

Along with other scientists, Kapitsa is credited with the discovery of Lake Vostok in eastern Antarctica. Lake Vostok, named after the polar research station, lies four kilometres below the ice and is around 15.5 thousand km². It is believed that the lake is home to ancient organisms, which have evolved over time.

Kapitsa’s body will lie in state on August 4 in the foyer of the Moscow State University’s Community Centre.



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March 30, 2011

First images received from orbit around Mercury

First images received from orbit around Mercury

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

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NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has sent the first images of Mercury taken from orbit back to Earth. (First image shown)
Image: NASA.

The first images of Mercury taken from orbit around the planet have been received from NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) probe. The images come after the spacecraft entered an orbit around the closest planet to the sun on March 17.

After various system examinations, the first images from the spacecraft were sent at 0520 EDT (0920 UTC).

Before arriving in orbit around Mercury, the MESSENGER spacecraft was launched in 2004, passed by Mercury twice in 2008 and once more in 2009. MESSENGER is the first artificial satellite to be placed in orbit around Mercury. Because Mercury is the innermost planet in the Solar System, the sun’s gravitational attraction altered the spacecraft’s approach to the planet. Because of this, a series of several maneuvers over three years was required to put the probe in orbit.

Although MESSENGER is the first probe to enter orbit around Mercury, it is not the first to fly by. Mariner 10 was the first to do this when it made three passes during the 1970s.

NASA is continuing to release images taken by the spacecraft as they arrive at Earth. MESSENGER is scheduled to begin it’s primary mission on April 4, consisting of various scientific and visual observations of the planet. Some of the scientific goals the probe is to accomplish are: determination of the geologic composition of Mercury, study of the planet’s magnetic field and internal composition, and transmission of more than 75,000 images back to Earth.



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July 12, 2010

Rosetta spacecraft passes Lutetia asteroid

Rosetta spacecraft passes Lutetia asteroid

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Monday, July 12, 2010

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The Rosetta spacecraft.
Image: IanShazell.

The unmanned Rosetta spacecraft made its closest approach to the Lutetia asteroid Saturday. Rosetta flew within 3,162 kilometers of the asteroid. The spacecraft took high-resolution photos and searched for traces of an atmosphere and magnetic effects. It also studied the composition and mass of the asteroid.

“As Rosetta drew close, a giant bowl-shaped depression stretching across much of the asteroid rotated into view,” said Holger Sierks of the Max Planck Institute, “The images confirm that Lutetia is an elongated body, with its longest side around 130 kilometers. I think this is a very old object. Tonight we have seen a remnant of the Solar System’s creation.” Around 400 photographs were taken during the flyby; however, it will take several days for in-depth data to be transferred to Earth.

“Little is known about asteroid Lutetia other than it is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) wide,” says American project scientist Claudia Alexander, “Allowing Rosetta’s suite of science instruments to focus on this target of opportunity should greatly expand our knowledge of this huge space rock, while at the same time giving the mission’s scientific instruments a real out-of-this-world workout.”

The Lutetia asteroid is the largest asteroid yet visited by a spacecraft. Throughout its 4.5 billion year lifespan, its surface has been bombarded repeatedly by other space debris. Very little is known about the asteroid and scientists hope that this flyby will help determine the asteroid’s origin. They hope to make their findings public at the Europlanet conference in Rome, Italy, late this September.

The Rosetta spacecraft, a project led by the European Space Agency, flew by the asteroid on its way to the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet. Launched in 2004, the spacecraft is expected to arrive at its final destination in 2014. Once there, it will deploy the Philae lander to explore the comet’s surface. The spacecraft’s visit to this asteroid marks the final major scientific milestone before it is put into hibernation mode to be reactivated in 2011.



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November 5, 2009

New ocean forming in African desert

New ocean forming in African desert – Wikinews, the free news source

New ocean forming in African desert

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

The African Wikinews Portal has more African news:

Geologists have confirmed that the African continent is being torn in two, forming a new ocean. An international collaboration has shown that a 35 mile long rift in the Afar region of the Ethiopian desert, which opened in 2005, is likely to be the beginning of a new sea.

The recent study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, brings together seismic data from the formation of the rift, showing that it is driven by similar processes to those at the bottom of oceans.

African and Arabian tectonic plates meet in the desert, and have been slowly pulling apart for roughly 30 million years. The same movement has also been parting the Red Sea. But this is only at a speed of less than 1 inch per year.

The sudden cracking in 2005, referred to by geologists as a “mega-dike intrusion”, opened up a rift over 20 feet wide in places. The study has found that this happened over only a few days. According to Cindy Ebinger, a co-author of the study from the University of Rochester: “We know that seafloor ridges are created by a similar intrusion of magma into a rift, but we never knew that a huge length of the ridge could break open at once like this.”

The investigation was led by Professor Atalay Ayele of Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. As well as Rochester, other groups involved included Eritrea Institute of Technology; National Yemen Seismological Observatory Center; University of Leeds, United Kingdom; Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, France; and Columbia University, New York.

“The whole point of this study is to learn whether what is happening in Ethiopia is like what is happening at the bottom of the ocean where it’s almost impossible for us to go,” said Ebinger. “Because of the unprecedented cross-border collaboration behind this research, we now know that the answer is yes, it is analogous.”



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