Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Alseodaphnopsis ximengensis: A new species of Laurel from Yunnan Province, China.

Laurels, Lauraceae, are evergreen Dicotyledonous Plants found in tropical and warm temperate zones around the world, though they are most diverse and abundant in Southeast Asia and tropical America, where they form an important component of tropical rainforests. Most Laurels are evergreen trees, though one genus, Cassytha, comprises parasitic vines. Laurels appeared some time in the Cretaceous, though opinions about how early vary. These plants are fruit-producers, typically relying on Birds to spread their seeds.

In a paper published in the journal PLoS One on 18 October 2017, Yue-qing Mo of the Plant Phylogenetics & Conservation Group at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, and the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lang Li, also of the Plant Phylogenetics & Conservation Group at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Jian-wu Li of the Herbarium of the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Jens Rohwer of the Biozentrum Klein Flottbek at Universität Hamburg, Hsi-wen Li of the Herbarium at the Kunming Institute of Botany, and Jie Li, again of the Plant Phylogenetics & Conservation Group at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, describe a new species of Laurel from Yunnan Province in China, as part of a review of the Persia group of genera (which includes Avacados and their close relatives).

The new species is named Alseodaphnopsis ximengensis, where 'Alseodaphnopsis' refers to the similarity of the genus to the previously described genus 'Alseodaphne', and 'ximengensis' means 'from Ximeng' the species having been discovered in Ximeng County of Yunnan Province. The species forms evergreen trees with leathery leaves up to 11 cm in length,small white flowers and globular fruit up to 4.7 mm in diameter. The species was found growing in a seasonal rainforest at an altitude of 1300 m.

Alseodaphnopsis ximengensis. (A) Branchlet with inflorescences; (B) Branchlet with immature infructescences; (C) Branchlet with mature fruits; (D)-(F). Mature fruits; (G)-(H). Flowers. Jian-wu Li in Mo et al. (2017).

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Fireball meteor over Michigan causes Earthquake.

The American Meteor Society has received reports of a bright fireball meteor being seen over the Great Lakes region of North America at about 8.10 am local time (about 1.10 am GMT) on Tuesday 16 January 2018. People have reported seeing the event from Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ontario (Canada), with the majority of sightings coming from Michgan and Ohio. A fireball is defined as a meteor (shooting star) brighter than the planet Venus. These are typically caused by pieces of rock burning up in the atmosphere, but can be the result of man-made space-junk burning up on re-entry. The object was seen moving from northeast  to southwest over the eastern part of the state. 

The 16 January 2018 meteor seen from Michigan. Zack Lawler/WWMT.

The Object has been calculated to have been moving from east to west over the southeastern part of Michigan, and produced a loud booming noise that was recorded as a Magnitude 2.0 Earthquake by the United States Geological Survey. This has been interpretted as being indicative of a large, slow moving (about 45 000 km per hour) object, and it is thought likely that a number of meteorites will have reached the ground.

Map showing areas in southeast Michigan where sightings of the meteor were reported, and the route of the object (blue arrow). American Meteor Society.

Objects of this size probably enter the Earth's atmosphere several times a year, though unless they do so over populated areas they are unlikely to be noticed. They are officially described as fireballs if they produce a light brighter than the planet Venus. The brightness of a meteor is caused by friction with the Earth's atmosphere, which is typically far greater than that caused by simple falling, due to the initial trajectory of the object. Such objects typically eventually explode in an airburst called by the friction, causing them to vanish as an luminous object. However this is not the end of the story as such explosions result in the production of a number of smaller objects, which fall to the ground under the influence of gravity (which does not cause the luminescence associated with friction-induced heating).
 The recorded epicenter of the 16 January Michigan fireball-induced Earthquake (gold star) and areas where it was felt (blue and white squares). USGS.
These 'dark objects' do not continue along the path of the original bolide, but neither do they fall directly to the ground, but rather follow a course determined by the atmospheric currents (winds) through which the objects pass. Scientists are able to calculate potential trajectories for hypothetical dark objects derived from meteors using data from weather monitoring services.
Witness reports can help astronomers to understand these events. If you witness a fireball-type meteor over the UK you can report it to the American Meteor Society here.

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Asteroid 2018 AT2 passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2018 AT2 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 705 000 km (1.88 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 0.47% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly after 1.10 am GMT on Thursday 11 January 2018. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though were it to do so it would not have presented a significant threat. 2018 AT2 has an estimated equivalent diameter of 5-16 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 5-16 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to explode in an airburst (an explosion caused by superheating from friction with the Earth's atmosphere, which is greater than that caused by simply falling, due to the orbital momentum of the asteroid) in the atmosphere between 40 and 25 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface.

The calculated orbit of 2018 AT2. Minor Planet Center.

2018 AT2 was discovered on 12 January 2018 (the day after its closest approach to the Earth) by the University of Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey, which is located in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The designation 2018 AT2 implies that it was the 44th asteroid (asteroid T2) discovered in the first half of January 2018 (period 2018 A).
2018 AT2 has a 920 day orbital period and an eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 4.07° to the plane of the Solar System, which takes it from 0.97 AU from the Sun (i.e. 97% of he average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) to 2.72 AU from the Sun (i.e. 272% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, and considerably more distant from the Sun than the planet Mars). 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 the asteroid has occasional close encounters with the planet Mars, with the next predicted in December 2142.

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Monday, 15 January 2018

Landslide causes car to plunge into ravine in Johol State, Malaysia.

A passenger travelling in a car near the town of Mersing in Johol State, Peninsula Malaysia, on Sunday 14 January 2017 has been injured by a landslide that caused it to plunge into a ravine. The passenger has been identified as Swee Ah Peng, 60, who was one of three people in the vehicle when the road gave way beneath it, causing it to fall 15 m downslope, at about 2.30 pm local time. The incident happened following several days of heavy rain 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.

 The scene of a landslide in Johol State, Malaysia, on 14 January 2017. Bernama.
Malaysia has two distinct Monsoon Seasons, with a Northeast Monsoon driven by winds from  the South China Sea that lasts from November to February and a Southwest Monsoon driven by winds from the southern Indian Ocean from March to October. Such a double Monsoon Season is common close to the equator, where the Sun is highest overhead around the equinoxes and lowest on the horizons around the solstices, making the solstices the coolest part of the year and the equinoxes the hottest.
 The winds that drive the Northeast and Southwest Monsoons in Southeast Asia. Mynewshub.
Monsoons are tropical sea breezes triggered by heating of the land during the warmer part of the year (summer). Both the land and sea are warmed by the Sun, but the land has a lower ability to absorb heat, radiating it back so that the air above landmasses becomes significantly warmer than that over the sea, causing the air above the land to rise and drawing in water from over the sea; since this has also been warmed it carries a high evaporated water content, and brings with it heavy rainfall. In the tropical dry season the situation is reversed, as the air over the land cools more rapidly with the seasons, leading to warmer air over the sea, and thus breezes moving from the shore to the sea (where air is rising more rapidly) and a drying of the climate.
  Diagrammatic representation of wind and rainfall patterns in a tropical monsoon climate. Geosciences/University of Arizona.
Malaysia has become increasingly landslip-prone in recent years due to extensive deforestation, which leaves soil exposed to heavy tropical rainfall. Concerns have also been raised about the large number of construction sites on steep hillslopes in urban areas, where workers are particularly vulnerable to landslip events during the Monsoon Seasons.
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Comet C/2016 A1 (PANSTARRS) makes its closest approach to the Earth.

Comet C/2016 A1 (PANSTARRS) will make its closest approach to the Earth on Wednesday 17 January 2018 reaching a distance of 4.40 AU from the Earth (4.40 times as far from us as the Sun, or 657 785 000 km). At this distance the comet will not be naked eye visible, having a magnitude of 16.37, which means it would require a good telescope to observe it, and then only in the Northern Hemisphere, as it is currently in the constellation of Lynx, which cannot be seen from south of the Equator.
Image of C/2016 A1 (PANSTARS) taken on 2 November 2017 from Balen in Belgium. Alfons Diepvens.

C/2016 A1 (PANSTARRS) was discovered on 1 January 2016 by the University of Hawaii's PANSTARRS telescope. The name C/2016 A1 (PANSTARRS) implies that it is a non-periodic comet (C/) (all comets are, strictly speaking, periodic since they all orbit the Sun, but those with periods longer than 200 years are considered to be non-periodic), that it was the first comet (comet 1) discovered in the first half of January 2016 (period 2016 A) and that it was discovered by the PANSTARRS telescope.
The orbit and current position of Comet C/2016 A1 (PANSTARRS) . The Sky Live 3D Solar System Simulator.

C/2016 A1  (PANSTARRS) has an unknown orbital period and a highly eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 121° to the plain of the Solar System, that brings it to 5.33 AU from the Sun at perihelion (533% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, slightly inside the orbit of Jupiter); with its aphelion (distance form the Sun at the furthest point in its orbit) being unknown.
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Magnitude 7.1 Earthquake off the coast of Arequipa Province, Peru, leaves two dead.

The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 7.1 Earthquake at a depth of 36.3 km, roughly 40 km offshore of the city of Acari in Arequipa Province, Peru, slightly before 4.20 am local time (slightly before 9.20 am GMT) on Sunday 14 January. This event was felt across much of southern Peru, as well as parts of northern Chile. Two people are reported to have died as a result of this event, one of whom has been described as a 55-year-old man who died in a rock-fall triggered by the Earthquake in the Yauca District of Caravelí Province; no details of the second fatality have been released at this time. The Earthquake is also reported to have destroyed 63 homes across the region, injuring 65 people and making about 130 homeless.

Damaged homes following a Magnitude 7.1 Earthquake off the coast of southern Peru on 14 January 2017. Reuters.

Peru is on the west coast of South America and the western margin of the South American Plate, close to where the Nazca Plate, which underlies part of the east Pacific, is being subducted along the Peru-Chile Trench. The Nazca Plate passes under the South American Plate as it sinks into the Earth, this is not a smooth process and the plates repeatedly stick together then break apart as the pressure builds up, causing Earthquakes. As the Nazca Plate sinks further it is partially melted by the friction and the heat of the Earth's interior. Some of this melted material then rises through the overlying South American Plate, fuelling the volcanoes of Peru and neighbouring countries.

  The subduction of the Nazca Plate beneath the South American Plate, and how it causes Earthquakes and volcanoes. Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center.

Witness accounts of Earthquakes can help geologists to understand these events, and the structures that cause them. The international non-profit organisation Earthquake Report is interested in hearing from people who may have felt this event; if you felt this quake then you can report it to Earthquake Report here.

The approximate location of the 14 January 2017 Arequipa Earthquake. USGS.

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Sunday, 14 January 2018

Laccaria squarrosa: A new species of Deceiver from a relict Beech forest in Veracruz State, Mexico.

Deceivers, Laccaria spp., are Mushroom-producing Fungi that form mycorrhizal associations (associations between Fungi and Plants in which the Fungus receives sugars produced by the Plant and the Plant receives nutrients obtained from the soil from the Fungus) with a variety of forest trees. These Fungi are unusual in that they have four mating types (sexes) with each one capable of fertilising any of the others. The common name 'Deceivers' comes from the very variable cap colour of many of these Mushrooms, which makes them hard to identify.

In a paper published in the journal MycoKeys on 27 November 2017, Antero Ramos, Victor Bandala, and Leticia Montoya of the Red Biodiversidad y Sistemática at the Instituto de Ecología, describe a new species of Deceiver from a relict Mexican Beech cloud forest in Veracruz State, Mexico.

The new species is named Laccaria squarrosa, where 'squarrosa' means 'rough' or 'scaley' in reference to the surface covering of the Mushrooms. This species produces small orange or brown mushrooms 10-82 mm in diameter.

Laccaria squarrosa, basidiomes (Mushrooms). Scale bars are 10 mm. Ramos et al. (2017).

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