Photo: The Strangest Ancient Sea Monsters

[Ancient life was very strange. But the weirdest was the Claw-faced sea monster. It just amazes me that such animals could live. Jan]

The fossil record is filled with strange marine animals that would look like sea monsters if they were alive today.

From the creepiest Cambrian critters to massive marine reptiles, wonderfully weird sea creatures have inhabited our oceans for over half a billion years. We’ve put together a list of 25 of the strangest ancient sea monsters ever to have lived, all of which went extinct long before humans came along.

The only reason we know that these evolutionary marvels existed is because some left behind fossilized remains in rocks. Modern researchers are still interpreting these fossils and making fresh discoveries all the time, so be sure to keep up with the latest Live Science fossil news.

You can view all the images and the rest of the story here:

NASA may build more than one moon base for Artemis lunar missions

[NASA has been slow and inept on these moon missions. Jan]

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — NASA’s goal of returning astronauts to the moon by 2025 has long been part of a long-term plan to build a sustainable base on the lunar surface. But that plan may include more moon bases than you might expect.

Jim Free, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration systems development, said Monday (April 17) that the agency’s Artemis program may ultimately build several bases around the moon instead of a single Artemis Base Camp at the lunar south pole as unveiled in 2020.

"It’s really hard to say we’re going to have a single base camp," Free told reporters here in a briefing at the 38th Space Symposium. "Because if we miss a launch window, we might have to wait a month to go back to that place."

Instead, NASA may work with its international partners to establish a series of moon camps spread across the lunar surface to maximize science and exploration. The agency, Free said, is studying whether it is a better idea to have a distributed approach with multiple moon bases, including some potentially contributed by international partners like the European Space Agency, Canada or Japan, who have all signed on as Artemis program partners.

"So we can maybe have two or three sites to go to that help our science diversity, because the reason we’re doing Artemis in the first place is for science," Free said.

NASA’s Artemis program originally aimed to roll out a base camp on the moon in stages using an orbiting Gateway station, landers, rovers and habitats as seen in this timeline illustration. The plan may now include additional moon bases, an official said April 17. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA’s Artemis Base Camp called for a primary moon base at the lunar south pole, possibly at Shackleton Crater, which has long been on the agency’s candidate list to explore on an Artemis mission because it is known to harbor water ice in its shadowed regions. The base would serve as a hub for crewed Artemis moon landings and support a team of four astronauts for up to a week at a time.

Under the Base Camp plan, the habitat would include power infrastructure, radiation shielding, facilities for waste disposal and a landing pad for visiting crews. It would also be home to a lunar rover that astronauts could drive around the moon and a "habitable mobility platform" that crews could use to visit other locales on the moon for up to 45 days at a time.

But having multiple, smaller Artemis bases on the moon may yield better science and access to the lunar surface, Free said Monday. However, NASA won’t be building those extra habitats anytime soon, he added.

NASA’s next Artemis mission is Artemis 2, which will launch four astronauts around the moon no earlier than November 2024. NASA unveiled the crew of Artemis 2 earlier this month. The first crewed Artemis moon landing, the Artemis 3 mission, is slated for sometime in 2025.

"Artemis 3 is get the crew down, let them stay for six and a half days and get them back," Free said. "And we’re slowly going to build the time that we will have the crew spend, and then the number of crew, on the surface."

As those longer and bigger missions develop, NASA hopes to send lunar rovers for Artemis astronauts to drive on the moon, starting with an unpressurized rover and leading to a truck-like pressurized vehicle. Japan’s space agency has teamed up with Toyota to build such a moon truck. A permanent habitat would then follow for rotating crews, Free said.

"So we’re probably looking at the later missions, like [Artemis] 7, 8 and 9, where we’re starting to look at adding permanent habitation on the surface," he added.

On Tuesday (April 18), NASA’s deputy administrator Pam Melroy will speak at the Space Symposium to "discuss progress toward a blueprint for sustained human exploration throughout the solar system," NASA has said(opens in new tab). You can watch that speech, called "Our Next Steps to the Moon and Beyond," on NASA TV (opens in new tab)and YouTube(opens in new tab).

It will detail NASA’s planned architecture for Artemis moon missions, plans for Mars and beyond, Free said.


Science: The fish that might live more than 500 years! – How long do Greenland sharks live?

[I find this amazing. And it has to do with their metabolism. Jan]

Scientists estimate the Greenland shark lives at least 250 years. They may live over 500 years.

Scientists have suspected for a while that Greenland sharks lived extremely long lives, but they didn’t have a way to determine how long. The age of other shark species can be estimated by counting growth bands on fin spines or on the shark’s vertebrae, much like rings on a tree. Greenland sharks, however, have no fin spines and no hard tissues in their bodies. Their vertebrae are too soft to form the growth bands seen in other sharks. Scientists could only guess that the sharks lived a long time based on what they knew — the sharks grow at a very slow rate (less than 1 cm per year) and they can reach over 6 meters in size.

But recent breakthroughs allowed scientists to use carbon dating to estimate the age of Greenland sharks. Inside the shark’s eyes, there are proteins that are formed before birth and do not degrade with age, like a fossil preserved in amber. Scientists discovered that they could determine the age of the sharks by carbon-dating these proteins. One study examined Greenland sharks that were bycatch in fishermen’s nets. The largest shark they found, a 5-meter female, was between 272 and 512 years old according to their estimates. Carbon dating can only provide estimates, not a definitive age. Scientists continue to refine this method and may provide more accurate measurements in the future. But even at the lower end of the estimates, a 272-year lifespan makes the Greenland shark the longest-lived vertebrate.

One theory to explain this long lifespan is that the Greenland shark has a very slow metabolism, an adaptation to the deep, cold waters it inhabits. A NOAA remotely operated vehicle doing a dive off New England encountered a Greenland shark at a depth of 783 meters, but these sharks are known to dive as deep as 2,200 meters. They’re also the only shark that can withstand the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean year-round.

The slow metabolism could explain the shark’s slow growth, slow aging, and sluggish movement — its top speed is under 2.9 kilometers per hour. Because the sharks grow so slowly, they aren’t thought to reach sexual maturity until they’re over a century old. That means removing mature Greenland sharks from the ocean affects the species and the ecosystem for many decades. Though the Greenland shark used to be hunted for its liver oil, the majority of Greenland sharks that end up in fishing nets and lines now are caught by accident. Reducing bycatch is critical in conserving this unique species.


Science: American Students at a University will BEAT NASA to the MOON – With a Moon Rover!

[For a number of years, as I've been doing various research, I've been just dumb struck by what American University students can do! It just blows my mind! And I've also seen what groups of Adults, who are enthusiasts, actually have achieved. The things they can build, including ROCKETS, is just beyond belief. Well, look at this. This is the result of all kinds of technology that is becoming available to the common person. I have myself looked into some of this stuff for my own purposes. In this case the students have built their own tiny robot moon rover. I need to show people what Science students and private groups of adults can do. It will blow people's minds. Jan]

At this link you can see a photo and video of the little Moon Rover. It seems to me it will be controlled from Earth, probably via NASA:

Students set to land first US rover on the moon — before NASA

By Joanna Thompson published 3 days ago

Students at Carnegie Mellon University are sending America’s first lunar rover to the moon this May, beating NASA to the punch by about a year.

After 65 years of lunar exploration, the United States is finally going to put its first autonomous rover on the moon. But this mission won’t be helmed by NASA engineers — instead, it is the brainchild of a dedicated group of college students.

The Iris rover was developed by students, faculty and alumni at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania over the span of three years. It is being carried to the moon as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, the agency’s foray into partnering with the commercial space industry. Initially, it was scheduled to launch in late 2021 or early 2022, but setbacks in NASA’s moon agenda delayed the launch to this spring.

The mission represents America’s first moon rover (NASA’s Viper rover is scheduled to launch next year), as well as the first rover to be developed by university students. The 4.4 pound (2 kilograms) rover has a chassis as big as a shoebox, and its carbon-fiber wheels are the size of bottle caps. Its 60-hour-long mission will be a primarily visual one: snapping images of the moon’s surface for geographic study. It will also test new localization techniques as it transmits data about its position back to Earth.

In addition to Iris, the Carnegie Mellon team plans to send along an art installation called the MoonArk, a tiny time capsule filled with poems, music, pictures and small objects. The project is meant to convey a narrative "that is moving to people now, but also 1,000 years down the road," Dylan Vitone(opens in new tab), an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon and MoonArk director said in a statement(opens in new tab). A second, identical ark is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

MoonArk and its pint-sized rover companion will hitch a ride to space aboard United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan centaur rocket, and be shuttled down to the lunar surface by Pittsburgh-based space company Astrobiotic’s Peregrine lander. Launch is currently scheduled for May 4 — which, fittingly, the internet has christened international Star Wars Day — from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

"Hundreds of students have poured thousands of hours into Iris," Raewyn Duvall, a research associate at Carnegie Mellon University and commander of the mission said in a statement(opens in new tab). "We’ve worked for years toward this mission, and to have a launch date on the calendar is an exciting step."


Video & Article: Incredible new Technology: A FIRST: This plane will fly into Space TWICE A DAY!!

[If you look at the people standing around this amazing little plane, you'll see who is responsible for this lovely amazing little plane. Drones are going to the next level … flying into space! Jan]

Here’s the short video:

The Mk-II Aurora aims to become the first plane to fly to space twice a day.

Dawn Aerospace’s robotic space plane flew with a rocket engine for the first time last month, taking a major step toward the company’s goal of building a fully and rapidly reusable craft.

Last week, the 15.7-foot-long (4.8 meters) Mk-II Aurora flew three times, and "all test objectives were achieved," Dawn representatives said in a statement(opens in new tab) issued on Wednesday (April 5). The company also released a one-minute video showing the sleek space plane flying over New Zealand’s stunning South Island, close to the Glentanner Aerodrome where the tests were carried out.

In August 2021, the Mk-II Aurora debuted with five test flights using surrogate jet engines, but the plan was always to pivot to a rocket-powered engine. In the latest series of tests, which took place once each day from Wednesday (March 29) to Friday (March 31), the Mk-II Aurora flew to a height of 6,000 feet (1,830 m) at speeds of 196 mph (315 kph), which is similar to those the space plane had achieved during its 2021 test flights, Dawn team said in Wednesday’s update.

Dawn Aerospace’s robotic Mk-II Aurora space plane flew with a rocket engine for the first time in March 2023.

"This is a phenomenal achievement for our small, but extremely capable, team in New Zealand and the Netherlands," Stefan Powell, the CEO of Dawn Aerospace, said Wednesday in a different statement(opens in new tab). "To my knowledge, Dawn now operates the most rapidly reusable rocket-powered aircraft in the world."

The latest test flights aimed mainly to validate the plane’s rocket engine. So the height reached by the plane was not a key factor, and future flights are expected to increase both speed and altitude.

The Dawn team envisions its Mk-II Aurora, which can carry a small payload of 2.2 pounds (5 kilograms), not only to be able to fly more than 62 miles (100 kilometers) high, but to do so twice per day when it carries out commercial operations, such as sending satellites into space. When that manifests, Mk-II Aurora will become the first fully reusable satellite launcher.

Back in December 2020, Dawn Aerospace was approved to fly the Mk-II Aurora out of a conventional airport alongside civil airplanes. This approval, granted by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority, the agency responsible for the country’s aviation safety and security, was another major win for the company.

Airports usually wait until launched rockets exit Earth’s atmosphere and sometimes even reroute commercial flights because rockets can leave debris in their wake that can impact passenger planes. Dawn’s team says the Mk-II Aurora stands out in this regard because it is designed to take off and land on a runway, just like an airplane. The space plane thus would not need any special restrictions or dedicated runways.

View from the engine bay of Dawn Aerospace’s Mk-II Aurora space plane during a test flight in March 2023.

All of these milestones, including the success of the latest test flights, advance Dawn’s goal to produce reusable space planes in a scalable and sustainable way, as the company looks toward achieving 100 to 1,000 flights per plane.

"Sustainability is important to us," Powell said in his statement on Wednesday. "Beyond being the responsible thing to do, there is no point in building something if we aren’t going to be able to use it."

As of late 2022, Dawn had raised $13 million to build a successor to Mk-II Aurora that would be able to carry a 550-pound (250 kg) payload to orbit.


Science: 900 new microbes: Never-before-seen microbes locked in glacier ice could spark a wave of new pandemics if released

Stunned scientists have uncovered more than 900 never-before-seen species of microbes living inside glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau. Analysis of the microbes’ genomes revealed that some have the potential to spawn new pandemics, if rapid melting caused by climate change releases them from their icy prisons.

In a new study, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences took ice samples from 21 glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau — a high-altitude region in Asia wedged between the Himalayan mountain range to the south and the Taklamakan Desert to the north. The team then sequenced the DNA of the microscopic organisms locked inside the ice, creating a massive database of microbe genomes that they named the Tibetan Glacier Genome and Gene (TG2G) catalog. It is the first time that a microbial community hidden within a glacier has been genetically sequenced.

The team found 968 microbial species frozen within the ice — mostly bacteria but also algae, archaea and fungi, the researchers reported June 27 in the journal Nature Biotechnology(opens in new tab). But perhaps more surprisingly, around 98% of those species were completely new to science. This level of microbial diversity was unexpected because of the challenges associated with living inside glaciers, the researchers said. "Despite extreme environmental conditions, such as low temperatures, high levels of solar radiation, periodic freeze-thaw cycles and nutrient limitation, the surfaces of glaciers support a diverse array of life," the study authors wrote.

The researchers aren’t sure exactly how old some of these microbes are; prior studies have shown that it is possible to revive microbes that have been trapped in ice for up to 10,000 years, according to the study.

This is not the first time that scientists have found a surprising abundance of microbes living in Tibetan glaciers. In January 2020, a team that analyzed ice cores from a single glacier uncovered 33 different groups of viruses living within the ice, 28 of which had never been seen before.

The surprising microbial diversity within glaciers, coupled with an increase in melting glacial ice due to climate change, boosts the chances that potentially dangerous microbes — most likely bacteria — will escape and wreak havoc, researchers said. "Ice-entrapped pathogenic microbes could lead to local epidemics and even pandemics" if they are released into the environment, the authors wrote.

Evidence suggests that some of the newfound bacteria could be very dangerous to humans and other organisms. The team identified 27,000 potential virulence factors — molecules that help bacteria invade and colonize potential hosts — within the TG2G catalog. The researchers warned that around 47% of these virulence factors have never been seen before, and so there is no way of knowing how harmful the bacteria could be.

Even if these potentially pathogenic bacteria do not survive for long after escaping their glaciers, they can still cause problems, the researchers said. Bacteria have the unique ability to exchange large sections of their DNA, known as mobile genetic elements (MGEs), with other bacteria. So even if the glacial bacteria die shortly after being thawed out, they can still pass on some of their virulence to other bacteria they encounter. This genetic interaction between glacier microbes and modern microorganisms "could be particularly dangerous," the scientists wrote.

The Tibetan Plateau glaciers could be a hot spot for unleashing future pandemics because they feed fresh water into a number of waterways, including the Yangtze River, the Yellow River and the Ganges River, which supply two of the most populated countries in the world: China and India. Pandemics spread quickly through highly populated areas, as the world witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But this potential problem won’t just affect Asia. There are more than 20,000 glaciers on Earth covering around 10% of the planet’s land mass, and each glacier is likely to have its own unique microbial communities. In April 2021, a study using satellite images of glaciers found that nearly every glacier on Earth showed an accelerated rate of ice loss between 2000 and 2019, which increases the risk that pandemic-spawning microbes could escape anywhere on the planet. The researchers warned that the "potential health risks [of these microbes] need to be evaluated" before they are released from their icy prisons.

However, there is a silver lining to this new study. Genetic records of microbial communities, such as the TG2G catalog, could be used as "toolkits" for bioprospecting — exploring natural systems to find valuable new compounds that can be used in medicine, cosmetics and other beneficial technologies. That makes databases like TG2G very important, especially if the newly discovered species go extinct in the future; an outcome that is all too likely if they cannot adapt to the changes in their frozen habitat, the researchers wrote.