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Can preserved proteins reveal paint-by-numbers plumage?

Some of the most compelling dinosaur fossils are those found with clearly defined feathers. Feathers may seem fragile and unlikely to be preserved, but in fact they’re composed of durable keratin, one of the toughest natural proteins. Additionally, some fossil feathers unearthed are speckled with tiny black dots, which, according to different studies, could be remnants of either bacteria or melanosomes. Melanosomes are organelles that produce and store melanin, the main source of pigment in feathers. If melanosomes are indeed preserved in some ancient fossils, they could reveal information about dinosaur coloration and plumage — and represent further evidence of preserved proteins in dinosaurs.
 

16 Oct 2017

Getting there and getting around Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff is a two- to three-hour drive from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) and a four-hour drive from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (LAS). The small but conveniently located Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (FLG) also offers several flights daily to Phoenix.

04 Oct 2017

A great time to land on Mars

The 2020 window represents an especially good opportunity for missions looking to reach the Martian surface because of favorable environmental conditions on the planet early in 2021 when the spacecraft will arrive. The elliptical shape of Mars’ orbit means that the planet is, at times, much closer to or farther from the sun, so the amount of sunlight hitting the planet varies dramatically through the Martian year. Meanwhile, the tilt of Mars’ axis, as on Earth, leads to a progression of seasons as the orientations of the northern and southern hemispheres with respect to the sun change regularly and oppositely. The combination of Mars’ orbit and tilt drives an annual cycle of swings in atmospheric pressure of up to about 25 percent as carbon dioxide freezes out of, or sublimes into, the atmosphere.

15 Sep 2017

Making oxygen with MOXIE

The MOXIE (Mars OXygen In-situ resource utilization Experiment) instrument on NASA’s 2020 rover is designed to demonstrate technology that can generate oxygen from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. Scaled-up versions of the technology could one day be used to produce the large amounts of fuel needed to boost rockets back off the planet’s surface, as well as to create breathing oxygen for human settlements.

 
15 Sep 2017

Getting there and getting around Bolivia's Antiplano

Bolivia’s main gateway, El Alto International Airport (LPB), is located 13 kilometers southwest of the country’s capital, La Paz. It hosts regular, year-round flights to and from major destinations in South America, including Lima and Cuzco, Peru, Santiago, Chile, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, as well as connecting flights to Miami on American Airlines and Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. (Dulles) and Orlando, Fla., on Avianca. Several regional airlines, including Boliviana de Aviación (BoA) and Amaszonas, offer multiple flights daily from La Paz to Uyuni. The hour-long flight typically costs about $150 one way. We found the South American carriers to be extremely efficient; it’s important to arrive at the airport two hours in advance because the flights often depart early!

13 Sep 2017

Getting there and getting around Austria's Salzkammergut

Salzburg boasts Austria’s second-busiest airport, with nonstop flights to cities throughout Europe and connecting flights to a number of North American gateways. Munich, Germany, just 145 kilometers and 1.5 hours away on the A8 autobahn, has direct flights from North America. Picking up a rental car is easy at either airport. Austria’s official language is German, but many Austrians are fluent in English. Road signs are in German but are easily followed by English speakers.

11 Aug 2017

Getting there and getting around Grand Junction, Colorado

Grand Junction is a 4.5-hour drive from major airports in both Denver and Salt Lake City. The smaller but more convenient Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT) offers nonstop, year-round service to Denver, Salt Lake City, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and Las Vegas, and seasonal service to Los Angeles.

05 Jul 2017

Getting there and getting around Kalahari

There are three gateway cities to the Kalahari, all of which are at least a day’s drive from the Okavango Delta. Although it’s the farthest (about 12 hours away), the O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg, South Africa, is the region’s largest and often has the best airfares and car-rental rates. Two closer alternatives, each about an eight-hour drive away, are Botswana’s Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (GBE) in Gaborone and Namibia’s Hosea Kutako International Airport (WDH) in Windhoek. Maun (MUB) is Botswana’s primary tourist hub and the delta’s main service town. Most accommodations there provide a free minibus transfer from the airport.

12 Jun 2017

Warning: Ash Ahead!

One of the next-generation tactics being pursued by engineers is the use of ash-sensing equipment installed on airplanes that could warn of an ash cloud ahead and allow pilots time to adjust their flight path to avoid the cloud. “If you’re driving a car and you see a hazard up ahead, you can navigate around it,” says Fred Prata of the University of Oxford in England. “Every aircraft has radar equipment with which [pilots] can see weather systems and fly around them. This is the same concept, but adapted to image volcanic ash.”

02 Apr 2017

Ash vs. airplanes

Between 1953 and 2009,* there were 129 reported incidents of airplane-ash encounters, with 79 of those causing some degree of airframe or engine damage. Twenty-six involved significant or severe damage, and nine involved some degree of engine shutdown during flight. Most of the encounters occurred within 24 hours of the onset of ash production during an eruption and within 1,000 kilometers of the source volcano. All flights landed safely.

02 Apr 2017

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