Sunday, 31 August 2014

Two new species of Scorpion from Pakistan.

There are thought to be about 50 described species of Scorpion from Pakistan, although these have not been systematically reviewed since 1900. Since 1995 there have been sixteen published studies on specific Scorpions in Pakistan, and seven wider studies that have mentioned Scorpions within the country. Given this state of knowledge there are likely to be many undiscovered species within the country, and there is considerable room for expanding our knowledge of the known species.

In a paper published in the American Museum Novitates on 24 June 2014, Muhammed Tahir of the Scorpion Systematics Research Group at the American Museum of Natural History and the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Sargodha, Sharokh Navidpour of the Razi Reference Laboratory of Scorpion Research at the Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute and Lorenzo Prendini, also of the Scorpion Systematics Research Group at the American Museum of Natural History, describe two new species of Scorpion from Pakistan. 

Both new species are placed within the genus Razianus, which currently contains only a single species, Razianus zarudnyi. Razianus zarudnyi has previously only been recorded from Iran, though Tahir et al. also record its occurrence in Iraq for the first time, from a specimen collected at Bazair in Baghdad Province in 1934 and found in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History.

The first new species is named Razianus birulai, in honour of A.A. Byalynitskii-Birulya, who described the first species assigned to the genus Razianus under the name Hemibuthus zarudnyi in 1903 (it was not assigned to the genus Razianus until 1987). Razianus birulai is a 26.0-28.9 slender yellow Scorpion with red markings, described from three specimens (two male and one female) found under rocks in rocky, mountainous desert at altitudes of 1090-1458 m, in the Loralai District of Balochistan Province, Pakistan. 

Razianus birulai, male (top) and female (bottom), both in dorsal view. Scale bars are 5 mm. Tahir et al. (2014).

The second new species described is named Razianus farzanpayi, in honour of R. Farzanpay, who first described the genus Razianus. Razianus farzanpayi is a slender dark brown Scorpion with reddish-brown markings, 20-23 mm in length. The species is described from two male and four female specimens collected from under rocks in rocky, mountainous deserts in the Miranshah District of Khyber Pakhtoon Khawa Province and the Barkhan District of Balochistan, at altitudes of 931-1104 m. 

Razianus farzanpayi male (top) and female (bottom), both in dorsal view. Scale bars are 5 mm. Tahir et al. (2014).

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Wood Scorpions of the genus Euscorpius are found in Europe from Iberia to Russia, as well as North Africa and southwest Asia, and is therefore one of the best studied Scorpion genuses, with eighteen described species grouped into four subgenera, and numerous subspecies. Despite this it is thought that there is still...




Scorpions are thought to have been among the earliest...



Scorpions are distinctive predatory Arachnids, with an instantly recognizable bodyform. They have eight walking legs plus a pair of grasping claws and a long, flexible tail ending in a venomous stinger; some species are capable of killing a human being with their sting...



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Five workers still missing following landslide at Nicaraguan gold mine.

Twenty three miners have been rescued after a landslide trapped them underground at the Bonanza Mine in Northern Nicaragua on Thursday 28 August 2014, leaving five of the 28 workers below ground at the time of the incident unaccounted for, and believed to be trapped in a shaft 800 m bellow the ground. The incident happened following heavy rainfall in the area. Landslides are a common problem after severe weather events, as excess pore water pressure can overcome cohesion in soil and sediments, allowing them to flow like liquids. Approximately 90% of all landslides are caused by heavy rainfall.

Rescue workers at the Bonanza Mine on Friday 29 August 2014. AFP.

The mine lies within an area under concession to Colombian-owned HEMCO, but formal production ended some years ago. Instead the mine is accessed by informal miners called 'guiriseros' who are permitted to work the mine by the company, as long as they sell it any gold they find. HEMCO reportedly ordered these miners to cease production in June this year, after two were killed in an incident at the mine, but appears to have continued to purchase gold from miners who ignored this ban. Artisanal miners in Nicaragua can reportedly earn as much as US$3000 a month selling gold to concession-owners, in a country where 44.7% of the population is described as living below the poverty line, providing a strong incentive for miners to keep working even in dangerous conditions.

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Eruptions in the Holuhraun lava field.

Lava began to erupt from a fissure in the Holuhraun lava field, no the north of the Vatnajökull Glacier in central Iceland, late in the evening of Thursday 28 August, and has continued to do so for the next three days. The lava field lies to the northeast of  Bárðarbunga, a volcano beneath the Vatnajökull Glacier, which began to undergo seismic activity (Earthquakes) on 19 August, and it is though likely that a magma intrusion has risen through fissures beneath the volcano and now migrated to the lava field.

Fresh lava eruptions in the Holuhraun lava field on Friday 29 August 2014. News Hub.

Seismic activity beneath volcanoes can be significant, as they are often caused by the arrival of fresh magma, which may indicate that a volcano is about to undergo an eruptive episode. Bárðarbunga last erupted in about 1862, and has undergone several periods of raised seismic activity since then, most recently in 1996 and 2010, so there is no reason to believe that this weeks events will automatically lead to an eruption from the volcano itself.

The approximate location of the Holuhraun lava field. Google Maps.

Iceland lies directly upon the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a chain of (mostly) submerged volcanoes running the length of the Atlantic Ocean along which the ocean is splitting apart, with new material forming at the fringes of the North American and European Plates beneath the sea (or, in Iceland, above it). The Atlantic is spreading at an average rate of 25 mm per year, with new seafloor being produced along the rift volcanically, i.e. by basaltic magma erupting from below. The ridge itself takes the form of a chain of volcanic mountains running the length of the ocean, fed by the upwelling of magma beneath the diverging plates. In places this produces volcanic activity above the waves, in the Azores, on Iceland and on Jan Mayen Island.

The passage of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge beneath Iceland. NOAA National Geophysical Data Center.

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The Icelandic Met Office recorded a Magnitude 5.0 Earthquake at a depth of 3 km beneath the Vatnajökull Glacier slightly before 8.15...



Iceland has evacuated around 300 people from the area around the Bárðarbunga Volcano following a rise in seismic activity this week...



The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 4.8 Earthquake at a depth of 10.3 km roughly 8 km south of the...


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Brooding behaviour in a Deep-sea Octopus.

Most Octopus reproduce only once in their life cycle, with the female undertaking an extended period of brooding in which she tends her eggs, keeping them clean and oxygenated and protected from predators, expiring at the end of this period. In most species the female does not feed at all during this period. Species producing more developed offspring will tend to have longer brooding periods, as will species with brooding their offspring in cooler waters, where development occurs more slowly. Females of the Deep-sea Octopus Graneledone boreopacifica have previously been observed to brood a clutch of young for over 20 months, though the full reproductive cycle has never been observed, and it is therefore assumed to be somewhat longer. Even this partial observation gives the species the longest known brooding period of any Octopus, with the next longest being 14 months for the full cycle in the Arctic Octopus, Bathypolypus arcticus.

In a paper published in the journal PLoS One on 30 June 2014, Bruce Robison of the Research Division at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Brad Seibel of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Rhode Island and Jeffrey Drazen of the Department of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii, describe the full brooding period of the Deep-sea Octopus Graneledone boreopacifica for the first time.

Robison et al. first observed a female Deep-sea Octopus on an isolated rocky outcrop in the Monterey Submarine Canyon off the coast of central California at a depth of 1397 m using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in April 2007. At that time the female was a pale purple in colour and was moving over the rock surface. When the ROV returned to the same sight in May 2007 (38 days later) the same Octopus was seen to be nursing a clutch of eggs and had faded to almost white in colour. This provided a unique opportunity for the observation of a full brooding cycle in a female Deep-sea Octopus. 

Graneledone boreopacifica, female brooding her eggs on a nearly vertical rock face at a depth of 1397 m. The pale columns are stacks of eggs deposited and left behind by the Snail Neptunea amianta. Near the Octopus are two Lithodid Crabs and a nonbrooding Graneledone can be seen above and to the right of the brooder. The mantle length of the specimen, when first encountered, was 21.2 cm. Robison et al. (2014).

The Octopus had a distinct, enabling the confirmation that the same animal was being observed throughout the study. While it was not possible to observe continuously, the ROV did revisit the sight 18 times over the next four and a half years, on each occasion finding the Octopus brooding her eggs, until the final visit in October 2011, when the eggs were observed to have hatched and the mother was absent.

Graneledone boreopacifica, brooding female, May, 2007, on the rock face, covering the recently deposited clutch of eggs. The arrow points to a circular scar on arm L1, which provides additional confirmation. Robison et al. (2014).

This confirms that the Deep-sea Octopus Graneledone boreopacifica, has the longest known brooding period of any Octopus, at approximately 53 months. This also exceeds the brooding period of any known non-Octopus species; exceeding the 2 month continuous brooding period of the male Emperor Penguin, the 4-5 month period of the Magellan Plunder Fish, Harpagifer bispinis, (the longest known brooding period of any Vertebrate) and the 20 months of the Mysid Crustacean Gnathophausia ingens, which until now was the longest known brooding period of any animal. It also exceeds the longest gestation periods known in live bearing species, outlasting the 20-21 months seen in Elephants, the 42 months of the Frilled Shark and the 48 months seen in Alpine Salamanders.

Empty egg cases, October 2011. This is a composite figure, showing empty egg cases, and attachment sites (indicated by green cement residue), used to enumerate the number of egg cases in the clutch, after hatching. Robison et al. (2014).

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 Egg masses of the Diamond-shaped Squid in the Canary Islands.

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Asteroid 2013 QD33 passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2014 QD33 passed by the Earth at a distance of 5 515 000 km (14.35 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 3.7% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly before 6.45 am GMT on Wednesday 27 August 2014. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though had it done so it would have presented only a minor threat. 2014 QD33 has an estimated equivalent diameter of 20-62 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 20-62 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to break up in the atmosphere between 22 and 7 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface, though an object towards the upper end of this range would be likely to explode in the atmosphere with the energy of about 10 megatons of TNT, so being directly underneath it would probably be fairly unpleasant.

The calculated orbit of 2014 QD33. JPL Small Body Database Browser.

2014 QD33 was discovered on 20 August 2014 (seven days before its closest approach to the Earth) by the University of Hawaii's PANSTARRS telescope on Mount Haleakala on Maui. The designation 2014 QD33 implies that it was the 829th asteroid (asteroid D33) discovered in the second half of August 2014 (period 2014 Q).

2014 QD33 has a 657 day year orbital period and an eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 3.1° to the plane of the Solar System, which takes it from 0.81 AU from the Sun (i.e. 81% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) to 2.14 AU from the Sun (i.e. 214% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, considerably more than the distance at which the planet Mars orbits the Sun). It is therefore classed as an Apollo Group Asteroid (an asteroid that is on average further from the Sun than the Earth, but which does get closer). This means that close encounters between 2014 QD33 and the Earth are fairly common, with the next one predicted for December 2066.

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The Alpha Aurigid Meteor shower occurs each year between 25 August and 6 September, peaking between 11.30 pm GMT on 31 August and 0.30 am GMT on 1 September. However the shower is notoriously hard to observe, having been recorded only in the years 1911, 1929, 1930, 1935, 1979, 1980, 1986, 1994 and 2007 (some of these observations occurred before the 'official' discovery of the...




Asteroid 2008 RG1 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 10 210 000 km (26.56 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 6.8% of the average distance between the Sun and the...



Comet C/2014 E2 (Jacques) passed the Earth at a distance of 0.56 AU (i.e. 56% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, about 84 million km) on Thursday 28 August 2014. This is not a close...


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Magnitude 3.9 Earthquake in western Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 3.9 Earthquake at a depth of 20.5 km in western Bosnia and Herzegovina, slightly after 8.15 pm local time (slightly after 6.15 pm GMT) on Saturday 30 August 2014. There are no reports of any damage or casualties associated with this event, but people have reported feeling it as far away as Split in Croatia.

The approximate location of the 30 August 2014 Bosnia and Herzegovina Earthquake. Google Maps.

The western Balkan Peninsula forms the eastern margin of the Adriatic Plate, a piece of the African Plate that has broken away and is now wedged into the southern part of the Eurasian Plate. This is being squeezed by the impact of Africa into Europe from the south, which is pushing western Italy, which sits on the Eurasian Plate, to the east, and Greece and Turkey, which sit on the Aegean and Anatolian Plates, to the west. This squeezing leads to uplift around the margins of the Adriatic Plate, in the Apennine Mountains of central Italy and the mountain ranges of the west Balkan Peninsula. This is not a smooth process, and earthquakes in the region are fairly common.

Outline map showing the approximate positions of the Eurasian (EU), Adriatic (AD) and African (AF) Plates. Di Bucci & Mazzuli (2003).

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The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 4.9 Earthquake at a depth of 10 km in the Sarandë District of southern...



The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 4.6 Earthquake at a depth of 28.5 km, roughly 4 km to the south of the...



The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 4.9 Earthquake at a depth of 10 km, roughly 7 km east of the town of...


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The Alpha Aurigid Meteors.

The Alpha Aurigid Meteor shower occurs each year between 25 August and 6 September, peaking between 11.30 pm GMT on 31 August and 0.30 am GMT on 1 September. However the shower is notoriously hard to observe, having been recorded only in the years 1911, 1929, 1930, 1935, 1979, 1980, 1986, 1994 and 2007 (some of these observations occurred before the 'official' discovery of the shower by Cuno Hoffmeister and Artur Teichgraeber in 1935, but have subsequently been linked to the shower), though the shower occurs between the New and First Quarter Moons this year, so it may be possible to observe it. The shower has its radiant (the point from which the meteors appear to radiate) in the constellation of Auriga.

The radiant of the Alpha Aurigid Meteors. Copper Mountain Mesa.

Meteor showers occur when the Earth crosses the orbit of a comet or similar body, encountering millions of tiny particles left behind in that body's trail, even if it is not close by itself. The Alpha Aurigid Metoers are thought to originate from the tail of the comet C/1911 N1 (Kiess). This is a Long Period Comet (comet with a period of longer than 200 years), thought to visit the inner Solar System only once every 2497 years, last having done so in August 2011, when it came to about 0.2 AU from the Earth (i.e. about 20% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun). The orbit of C/1911 N1 (Kiess) is highly elliptical, and tilted at an angle of 148° to the plane of the Solar System (or 58° with a retrograde orbit - an orbit in the opposite direction to the planets) and takes the comet from 0.68 AU from the Sun (68% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, slightly inside the orbit of Venus) to 367 AU from the Sun (367 times as far from the Sun as the Earth, or 20 times as far as Neptune, but within the inner part of the Oort Cloud).

The orbit and current position of comet C/1911 N1 (Kiess). JPL Small Body Database Browser.

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The Perseid Meteor shower lasts from late July to early September each year, and are expected to be at a peak on 12-13 August 2014, slightly after the Full Moon on 10 August, which may make the meteors harder to spot...



The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower will be at a peak on Monday 5/Tuesday 6 May 2014, with up to 45 meteors per hour at it's peak, radiating from the constellation of Aquarius. This does not spend long above the horizon in...




The Ursid Meteors are expected to peak on 22 December this year, with the shower being potentially visible to some extent between 17 and 26 December. The extent of the shower is variable, some years...



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