New Dinosaur identified in Canada

A team of Palaeontologists have named a new four-horned dinosaur, Xenoceratops, from an assortment of fossilised bone fragments first collected in Canada in the 1950’s. Upon re-examination of the previously undescribed fossils, the palaeontologists realised the bones belonged to at least three individuals of a new type of plant-eating dinosaur. Once the fossils had been analysed more closely, it became apparent the dinosaurs (relatives of the famous Triceratops) would each have weighed an impressive two tonnes and grown to a colossal 20ft in length. The palaeontologists named the new dinosaur Xenoceratops which means ‘alien horned-face’ – a reference to the odd pattern of horns on the dinosaurs head, as well as the relative scarcity of horned dinosaur specimens from this period of the fossil record. Xenoceratops is believed it to have lived in the Late Cretaceous period (100-65 million years ago) at the same time as other dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus-Rex and Stegosaurus. The four horned giant is the latest in a series of new discoveries being made as part …

Star trails in the southern skies

The movements of the heavens above are sometimes hard to notice. This photo, however, shows clearly the stars rotating around the Earth’s rotational axis. The telescope in the foreground is the Yepun telescope (UT4) in the Very Large Telescope (VLT) complex at Paranal Observatory, Chile. The picture was taken by Farid Char, an astrophotographer from Chile. I asked him a few questions about his magnificent picture: How long does it take to create the picture? The photo is an artistic composition. I took several captures, then stacked them, but I superimposed a single frame to see the telescope quiet, otherwise it would appear distorted because of its continuous movement during the night. The basics of the picture are shown on its web section, but I can tell you is a composition of 867 single captures over a tripod (15” each), and the overall exposition was 4 hours 12 mins (from 23:50 h to 04:02 h local time). What does it mean to …

Flooding in the UK

Over the past week, heavy rain has lead to flooding across many parts of the UK causing millions of pounds worth of damage to homes and businesses, even taking a couple of lives. The most significantly affected area has been south-west England, closely followed by the Midlands, north-east England and Wales. With this in mind, we asked Sally Webb, our resident meteorologist, to walk us through exactly why this is happening? WHY IS IT SO BAD? The recent flooding is due to a succession of deep pressure systems moving across the UK. Each one has had a large frontal system associated with it and often a wrap-around occlusion (where a cold front catches up with a warm front) that becomes slow-moving. The depth of the system leads to the strong winds that have also battered many areas, knocking down trees and causing damage to buildings. Although the weather is not so unusual for autumn, it is unfortunate than the systems all seem …

Bookworms mimic their heroes

It has recently come to light that bookworms may actually absorb personality traits from their favourite characters. That’s not to say that, after a few chapters of Harry Potter, readers have inexplicably found themselves donning a mighty beard and waving a pink umbrella around (although I’m sure there’s a fair bit of that going on at most Halloween parties these days), the results seem to be lot more subtle than that. Researchers at Ohio State University examined a process known as ‘experience-taking’, a phenomenon that sees readers experiencing the emotions, thoughts and values of fictional characters in the books they’re reading. The researchers found that, after participants (all students of the university) had read a story in which a central character overcame obstacles in order to vote, said participants were much more likely to vote in a real world election several days later. Interestingly, experience-taking only seems to work when readers are able to forget about and forgo their own self-identity whilst reading. …

Aerosol map of the world

Greenhouse gases are not the only thing in the atmosphere to causes changes to our climate. This computer simulation from NASA (officially known as Goddard Earth Observing System Model, Version 5) shows aerosols spiralling through the atmosphere. While greenhouses gases tend to have a warming effect, aerosols cool the planet by reflecting more solar radiation back into space. Dominating the picture is an orange streak of sand, blown off the Saharan and Arabian deserts. Light blues in the northern and southern oceans are sea salt particles swirling around cyclones. In the north, gray smoke from fires, and white sulphates from industry emissions and volcanoes complete the picture. Over the years, a number of calls have been made to use aerosols to fight the increasing threat of global warming. It might seem sensible to release agents that causes cooling to balance the greenhouse gases that are causing warming. But as the picture above demonstrates, the atmosphere is an incredibly complex thing. Hundreds of factors determine what our climate …

The fish with the head of a fish and the body of – a different fish?

With the end of the year fast approaching, I thought it might be a good time to reflect upon my favourite science story of 2012 and, in true Unpopular Science style, it’s one that may well have passed you by. On a cloudy day in May, just north of Cambridge, an outlandish beast was dragged from the depths of Magpie Lake by fishing tackle expert, Mark Sawyer. Gazing upon his catch Sawyer, tackle editor of Angling Times, immediately found himself in awe of the curious creature before him. The fish was not one of the roach, bream or goldfish known to inhabit the lake, but instead seemed to be a bizarre chimaera of the three; with the head of a roach, the anal fin of a bream and the body and tail of a fan-tailed goldfish. The ‘Frankenfish’ as it was quickly dubbed did grab some media attention, with many experts commenting it was quite possibly the result of hybridisation (goldfish, …

Desert beauty revealed from space

Who knew so much geography could be crammed into such a beautiful image as this one. Taken by ESA’s ENVISAT satellite, this image shows the mountains of Tibesti on the borders of Chad and Libya. First of all, the dominant blue smudge are the mountains themselves – the highest range in the Saraha. Most have been created by now-dormant volcanoes, but some are still active in the region. Lava flows can just be seen on the western edge, flowing to the left. The highest peak – Emi Koussi can be seen as a darker circle in the lower right part of the dark area. Emi Koussi is a really interesting volcano, as scientists believe it is a good analogue Elysium Mons – one of the largest volcano on Mars. The white area at the top of the image is a depression in the landscape, caused by accumulating carbonate salts blown off the surrounding regions. When these carbonates dissolve in water …

Data travels beautifully across the internet

Maybe it’s an instagram of your cat doing something hilarious or maybe its a fake I’m-sick email to your boss, but the data we send every day from phones, laptops and tablets is all part of something much greater than the sum of its parts. Michael Rigley,from San Francisco, produced this beautiful visualisation showing how the multimedia messages we send everyday – text, emails and more – are passed throuugh the complex network known as the world wide web. In his own words: By visualizing the processes that underlie our interactions with this technology we can trace what happens to the information we feed into the network. But, along with all the data we knowingly send on, we also send out hundreds of bits of metadata – information that describes the nature of the message we send, and the nature of us. Metadata includes things like time messages were sent, links we’ve clicked on, search queries we’ve googled. All this data allows …

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