Sunday, 9 December 2012

The oldest known dinosaur, lighting up a space station and the black marble

Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.
Altweek 120812 The oldest known dinosaur, lighting up a space station and the black marble
While some refer to it as a lonely planet, we prefer to think of it as unique. Where else can you find such diverse biology that dates back millions of years, that also has a space station hovering delicately above it. A planet where several millennia of human evolution gave birth to the comedy animated gif? Precisely. One of a kind. This is alt-week.
wwThere are many challenges presented to humans when living in a space station. Not just the obvious basics such as sufficient resources of food and water, even the simple light bulb poses a problem. First of all, what happens if they run out? Beyond that there are other, more subtle, issues to deal with. Light and quality of sleep are well-known to be linked, as anyone who has ever pulled a night shift will attest. Now, what if you're working in an environment where there's a new dawn every 90 minutes screwing with your circadian rhythms? (Not to mention all the other issues like noise, and unnaturally floating in bed.) As supplies of the current fluorescent bulbs start to decline, NASA is taking the opportunity to refresh the lighting onboard the ISS with a new Boeing-developed solution, that will also help the astronauts get some quality rest. The new bulbs will house a "rainbow" of over 100 bulbs that can deliver three types of light. For general use, there's standard white light. However, when residents need to be a little more focused, a special blue-hue that has been found to stimulate alertness is generated. Likewise, when it's time to get some shut-eye, a warm red tone that promotes sleep can be dialled in. The first bulbs won't get to the station until 2015, but it's also expected the same technology might find its way into more earthly locations too.
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Palaeontologists are exercising some caution, but a recently published study reports evidence of a discovery that could be the oldest known dinosaur -- predating the previous eldest by up to 15 million years. The species -- called Nyasasaurus parringtoni -- is believed to have been six to ten feet in length, weighing between 45 and 130 pounds. The reason for the dose of caution is due to the skeleton being incomplete, with just one upper arm bone, and six vertebrae being recovered. Despite this, the finding very strongly suggests something of the dinosaur classification, that also fills in a "missing blank" between them and their earliest relatives. If proven, this could push the origin of dinosaurs back to a time when there was a wide variety of reptile families evolving, long before the dinosaur would become the dominant force on the planet. Whether this might inspire some Jurassic Park prequels, we don't know.
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Fast-forward a few ages, and we encounter the humble GIF image -- something of an internet staple. We've all been amused, bemused and irritated by them at some point in our time on the big 'ole W W W. But, love 'em or hate 'em, they persist. Of course, it's the animated variety that we're largely discussing here, and their broad influence hasn't gone unnoticed -- particularly by Legs Media, who produced the video below that gives a succinct, yet entertaining, summary of the image format's illustrious 25-year history. There are a few classics in there, and a few we're more than happy to have forgotten (we're looking at you Baby Cha-Cha). If you're hungry for more, however, head over to the Moving the Still blog which has been calling out for your submissions as part of its GIF festival.

Last up this week is one that, to be fair, needs no words. We'll give you some about it anyway, but the money is all in the graphic. NASA has compiled two month's worth of images of the Earth at night, and compiled them into an awe-inspiring animation. The pictures come from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) satellite, and have been referred to as "The Black Marble" in reference to the famous "Blue Marble" daylight pictures. But enough talk, head down below for the goods.

Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself?

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