Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Links

For your reading pleasure.

First off, Jesse Leimkuehler sends in a link about the discovery of a new rainforest--in Illinois!
Scientists exploring a mine have uncovered a natural Sistine chapel showing not religious paintings, but incredibly well preserved images of sprawling tree trunks and fallen leaves that once breathed life into an ancient rainforest.

Replete with a diverse mix of extinct plants, the 300-million-year-old fossilized forest is revealing clues about the ecology of Earth’s first rainforests.

It's an amazing discovery, and you can read about it here.

Next up, maybe you thought it was poutine, but it's actually a giant fungus:
Scientists have identified the Godzilla of fungi, a giant, prehistoric fossil that has evaded classification for more than a century, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

A chemical analysis has shown that the 20-foot-tall (6-metre) organism with a tree-like trunk was a fungus that became extinct more than 350 million years ago, according to a study appearing in the May issue of the journal Geology.

Twenty feet tall. Read about it (and check out the photo) here:

John Catania sent in a link to an article about ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene), a "transparent plastic related to Teflon." Here are a few details:
[EFTE is] replacing glass and plastic in some of the most innovative buildings being designed and constructed today. Its selling points? Compared to glass, it’s 1% the weight, transmits more light, is a better insulator, and costs 24% to 70% less to install. It’s also resilient (able to bear 400 times its own weight, with an estimated 50-year life-span), self-cleaning (dirt slides off its nonstick surface), and recyclable.

There are pictures of some of the buildings that have used this material, and they are freaking astonishing. Have a look here.

Sirius sends in a link to photos from the Hubble telescope. It's a spectacular collection, and you can see them here.

There's a new hypothesis about the diversity of species being related to fluctations in cosmic ray exposure. Here's an excerpt:
The rise and fall of species on Earth might be driven in part by the undulating motions of our solar system as it travels through the disk of the Milky Way, scientists say.

Two years ago, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley found the marine fossil record shows that biodiversity—the number of different species alive on the planet—increases and decreases on a 62-million-year cycle. At least two of the Earth’s great mass extinctions—the Permian extinction 250 million years ago and the Ordovician extinction about 450 million years ago—correspond with peaks of this cycle, which can’t be explained by evolutionary theory.

Now, a team of researchers at the University of Kansas (KU) have come up with an out-of-this-world explanation. Their idea hinges upon the fact that, appearances aside, stars are not fixed in space. They move around, sometimes rushing headlong through galaxies, or approaching close enough to one another for brief cosmic trysts.

In particular, our Sun moves toward and away from the Milky Way’s center, and also up and down through the galactic plane. One complete up-and-down cycle takes 64 million years— suspiciously similar to Earth’s biodiversity cycle.

It's a fascinating theory, and you can read about it here.

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