Saturday, July 01, 2006


Was there life on Mars? Shiny rock coating may hold the answer

A mysterious shiny coating found on rocks in many of Earth's arid environments could reveal whether there was once life on Mars, according to new research.

The research, published in the July edition of the journal Geology, reveals that the dark coating known as desert varnish creates a record of life around it, by binding traces of DNA, amino acids and other organic compounds to desert rocks. Samples of Martian desert varnish could therefore show whether there has been life on Mars at any stage over the last 4.5 billion years.

The researchers hope that these results will encourage any future Mars Sample Return mission to add desert varnish to its Martian shopping list.

The source of the varnish, which looks like it has been painted onto the rocks, has intrigued scientists since the mid nineteenth century, including Darwin, who was so fascinated that he asked the geochemist Berzelius to investigate it.

Released by the Imperial College London on June 30th 2006. Further information can be obtained via the email link given at the bottom of the page.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006


Early Bird Caught The Fish: Fossils Depict Aquatic Origins Of Birds 115 Million Years Ago

News: "Gansus is very close to a modern bird and helps fill in the big gap between clearly non-modern birds and the explosion of early birds that marked the Cretaceous period, the final era of the Dinosaur Age,' said Peter Dodson, professor of anatomy at Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine and professor in Penn's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. 'Gansus is the oldest example of the nearly modern birds that branched off of the trunk of the family tree that began with the famous proto-bird Archaeopteryx." [Dinosaurs, Fossils, Evolution]

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Charles Darwin's patient letter up for auction

"Written in the aftermath of On the Origin of Species, the letter provides an insight into how Darwin's ideas were received, says Gabriel Heaton, a manuscript specialist at Sotheby's in London, which is auctioning the letter. It is expected to fetch between 20,000 to 30,000 pounds." [Auction, Evolution]

A Guardian (UK) article also states:

"The manuscript, which goes on sale on July 13, is signed by Darwin. As in The Origin of Species, he uses specific cases to make his point. For example, he discusses the origin of deafness in cats and why pigs in Florida are black.

Paul White, of the Darwin Correspondence Project at Cambridge University library, agreed the letter was important. "It's unusual in its detail," he said."

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Snake displays changing colours

"A snake with the ability to change its colour has been found in the rainforested heart of Borneo.

Researchers from Germany and the US discovered the water snake's chameleon-like behaviour by accident when they put it into a dark bucket.

The environmental group WWF, which supports conservation work in Borneo, says wildlife in the region is threatened by deforestation." [Color, Research, News, Evolution]

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Monday, June 26, 2006


Harriet the Giant Tortoise dies at 175

"Harriet the tortoise, one of the world's oldest known living creatures, has died in Australia aged about 175.

Senior vet Dr John Hangar told Australia's ABC that Harriet, a Giant Galapagos tortoise, had died of heart failure after a short illness.

'She had a very fairly acute heart attack and thankfully passed away quietly overnight,' Dr Hangar said.

Last year staff at Australia Zoo, where Harriet had lived for 17 years, held a party to celebrate her 175th birthday.

Some people believe that Harriet was studied by British naturalist Charles Darwin.

Darwin took several young Giant Galapagos tortoises back to London after his epic voyage on board HMS Beagle."

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Sunday, June 25, 2006


Dodo skeleton find in Mauritius

"Scientists say they have discovered part of the skeleton of a dodo, the large, flightless bird which became extinct more than 300 years ago.

One of the team in Mauritius said it was the first discovery of fully preserved bones which could give clues as to how the bird lived its life.

Last year, the team unearthed dodo bones in the same area, but said the current find was more 'significant'.

The bird is thought to have been hunted to extinction by European settlers.

No complete skeleton has ever been found in Mauritius, and the last full set of bones was destroyed in a fire at a museum in Oxford, England, in 1755.


'It's a wonderful collection,' said Dr Julian Hume, a research associate with London's Natural History Museum and a member of the largely Dutch-Mauritian team."

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