Rare Fossils Reveal New Species of Ancient Gliding Mammals

This week, paleontologists unveiled two remarkable new species of dainty gliding mammals that lived alongside dinosaurs nearly 160 million years ago.

While they are not the first mammalian gliders known from this time period, these specimens are unique because they have thin, furry membranes of skin attached to their front and back limbs that are clearly preserved in the rock.

It is pretty obvious from looking at these fossils that they are gliders, due to the carbonized skin,” says study coauthor David Grossnickle, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago.

Named Maiopatagium furculiferum and Vilevolodon diplomyos, the two new species are offering clues to the ways various mammals have taken to the skies over evolutionary time scales.

Gliding is one of the cutest and one of the most striking locomotor adaptations,” says study coauthor Zhe-Xi Luo, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago.




Both of the new gliders were found in the Liaoning region of China, which is famous for its stunning power of preservation.

The Jurassic-era lake sediments have yielded some of the finest fossils in the world, including scads of feathered dinosaurs and a myriad of early mammals with carbonized fur and soft tissue.

Even without the conspicuously preserved skin, the newfound animals’ well-preserved skeletal structures give away their gliding ability, the team reports in a pair of papers published this week in the journal Nature.

Grossnickle notes that the limb proportions of gliding mammals are quite different from those that simply climb trees or walk on the ground, and the two new specimens have limb proportions that are similar to modern gliding mammals.

 

Both fossils also have notable hands and feet, says Jin Meng, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History who was not involved in either study.

Our toes are very short because we have to walk on the ground,” he says. “These animals have much longer fingers, showing they have adaptations for grabbing on trees in the forest.

Grossnickle adds that in both fossils, the hands and feet are very similar to those on modern bats.

These things could be using all four limbs to roost like bats,” he says, and it’s even possible they spent time hanging upside-down from tree branches like modern flying lemurs.

The two new gliding mammals are among 10 similar species known to have lived in this area during the Jurassic, and that diversity means there were plenty of ecological niches for them to occupy.

Taken together, the traits of these fossil gliders seem to back up the hypothesis that different groups of mammals followed a similar evolutionary pattern of being land-based, then moving to tree-climbing, then to gliding.

Modern rodents and flying squirrels followed this pattern, along with Australian marsupials like sugar gliders.

In the Jurassic forests, this group independently evolved this kind of locomotion like other living mammals that also glide,” says Meng. “Mammals started experimenting with different locomotion types very early on.

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Hydropower vs. Geothermal – Which Renewable Energy Is Best?

Hydroelectric is the use of moving water to turn turbines that generate electricity, usually through the building of dams or pump stations on rivers.

And hydroelectricity is the king of renewable energy, making up 70% of the renewable energy produced around the world. And for good reason.

They’re kind-of the perfect energy source. It’s stable, base-load energy that’s flexible. If you need more electricity, just release more water into the turbines.

They’re cheap to run and maintain once they’re built and they’re 95% efficient at generating energy, compared to 33% for coal and 15% for solar.

And of course they create no pollutants, consume no fuel, and the water never stops flowing.

The Three Gorges Dam in China is actually the largest energy plant of any kind in the world and generates just under a hundred terawatt hours per year all by itself.

So, hydro is kinda perfect. The problem is, it’s location-specific.

If you don’t live by a large river, you’re not going to be able to use it. Luckily, most cities were built near rivers, but not all rivers are large and powerful enough to make enough difference to justify the cost of building them.

Which is also a problem. While they produce free energy for decades and even centuries after they’re built, hydroelectric dams are huge engineering projects that cost tons of money up front.

(By the way, the whole ‘expensive at first but then free for decades’ thing is a common theme amongst renewable energies)

They also create reservoirs and lakes that flood a lot of land whose landowners may not want to give up.

There are some concerns about the disruption of fish habitats, but… that’s not at the top if my list of concerns.

So each hydroelectric plant is a birds nest of legal and construction challenges to overcome but even so, the number of hydropower plants are expected to double by 2050.

 

Another base load energy source is geothermal energy.

Geothermal uses the heat from natural geologic hotspots to turn turbines that generate electricity.

Iceland and the Philippines are major producers of geothermal power, which can be used in huge commercial plants to power entire cities or just pump the heat directly into homes for heating.

It’s a consistent flow of energy so it never runs out, but the efficiency isn’t great. Only an average of 12% efficiency.

Which really just means it will take longer for the investment to build it to pay off because once it’s turned on, it’s just free energy basically. And the efficiency is getting better, with newer plants getting over 20%.
https://www.geothermal-energy.org/pdf

Even in Iceland, which is covered in hotspots and has a very progressive attitude toward clean energy, it only accounts for 30% of their energy production.

So it’s not likely to become a major source of energy worldwide

And as if all that wasn’t enough of a bummer, it also turns out that geothermal can produce greenhouse gasses.

Geologic hotspots churn up all kinds of stuff from inside the Earth, stuff like sulfur dioxide and silica emissions, and heavy metals like mercury, arsenic and boron.

These can get in the reservoirs and eventually the water supply.

Oh, and by the way, one of the methods they use to open up geothermal wells is hydraulic fracking. Yeah. That hydraulic fracking.

Let’s drill down and inject extremely high pressure water and other chemicals… Right over a volcano.

 

What could go wrong?

Earthquakes. That’s what.

Just like fracking for natural gas has caused earthquakes in Oklahoma…

(zoom in)
Earthquakes. In Oklahoma.

A geothermal well that was drilled in Switzerland set off an earthquake that measured a 3.4 on the Richter scale.

(pained)
Geothermal… Why do you hurt me so?

I used to think geothermal was really cool. Used to.

So am I wrong about this? Do you have experience using geothermal, or working in hydro plants? Are my numbers garbage? Let me know in the comments

The next video in this series will focus on biomass energy and harnessing the motion of the ocean to make power.

The Fermi Paradox, Cyborgs, And Artificial Intelligence – My Interview With Isaac Arthur

In this week’s live stream, I’m going to share clips of my interview with Isaac Arthur, which you can find the full version on the Answers With Joe Podcast:
http://answerswithjoe.com/fermi-para…

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The Fermi Paradox, Cyborgs, And Artificial Intelligence – My Interview With Isaac Arthur

Isaac Arthur runs the YouTube channel Science and Futurism With Isaac Arthur, where he goes into incredibly deep dives on subjects like megastructures, future space colonies, aliens, and little things like farming black holes (like you do). Here we touch on a few of those topics and do a little shop talk about life as YouTubers.

If you enjoy this episode, check out Isaac’s channel at www.isaacarthur.net

The Top 5 Places We Could Colonize In Our Solar System

The 5 best options for colonizing in our solar system are:

  • The moon
  • Mars
  • Europa
  • Titan
  • Venus

 

The moon

Gravity: 1/6 that of earth

Air pressure: none

Temperature: extreme (253 in sun, -253 in shade)

Why go – a place to launch to other places Orbiting at 2288 mph (3683 kph) – significant boost

Advantages: Instant communication with Earth Good place to learn how to colonize where Experts are available 24/7

Advantages: Lighter gravity means we could build bigger there
Advantages: could dome over craters to create housing
Advantages: water ice in some pole craters

One place we have talked a lot about is Mars

 

Mars

Gravity: Just over 1/3 (38%)

Air Pressure: .6% if Earth’s

Temperature: 70 in day (20C), -100 at night (-73C)

Why go: Most comfortable temperature-wise and gravity-wise, but pressure is still abysmal

Down-side: Thin atmosphere means not enough to support life but enough to make landings difficult.

Terraforming option – most potential for terraforming. Melting ice caps could pump CO2 into the air and thicken the atmosphere as well as warm the planet

 

Europa

Gravity: 13% of Earth’s

Air pressure: barely exists – mostly oxygen

Temperature: -260F -160C

This seems like a swing and a miss, but there’s something interesting under the surface of Europa

Tidal heating causes a sea of liquid water beneath the surface.
One of the best options for finding life in the solar system
Underwater habitats might be the answer.

Downside: radiation carried by Jupiter’s magnetic field would pose an issue

 

Titan

Gravity: 13% of Earth’s

Air pressure: 1.5x that of Earth

Temperature: -290F, -179C

Of all the places in the solar system, Titan’s air pressure is most like Earth’s You could just walk around on the surface without a suit, except for the fact that it’s so cold methane flows in rivers.

Could use the methane for fuel

But I promised something controversial, and here it is, my personal favorite option for colonizing another planet… Venus.

 

Venus

Gravity: 91% of Earth’s

Air Pressure: 100x that of Earth

Temperature: 872F, 467C

Now I know what you’re saying, you’re saying Joe, that only meets one of the three criteria, how can you possibly pick that as your number one?

Because those numbers are for the planet’s surface. Up in the clouds, it’s a different story.

Venus’ air pressure is insane. On the surface, it would crush you like a soda can. But about 50 kilometers up in the atmosphere, it’s about the same as here.

Which means that just like a ship can float on top of the water, we could build colonies that float on the upper atmosphere of Venus.

It would still be hot, but manageable.

And I know people will always say, but what if you fall? Or if you drop something, you’ll never get it back.

Well, I go back to the ship on the sea analogy. If you fall off the boat, you’re likely to drown. If you drop your phone over the side, you’ll never see it again. But we still have cruise ships carrying thousands of people and entire navies floating around out there.

Plus the communication time would be smaller than anywhere else.

Elon Musk’s Tesla Master Plan Is About To Become Reality

This Friday is a day that over 400,000 people have been waiting for since March of 2016. Tesla is officially handing out the first production line Model 3s to reservation holders.

(over footage)
They first introduced the Model 3 16 months ago to huge fanfare, more than $130,000 people put a thousand dollars down before the car was even revealed.

And, full disclosure, I’m one of them. (hold up card) Now, I didn’t put money down before I saw it, I was adamant about that, I had to see it first. But when I saw it, I was like, “eh, why not?”

I can always get the deposit back if I change my mind.

Now I know it’ll be a while before I get mine and that’s fine, my Jetta diesel isn’t going anywhere.

And before you call me a Tesla fanboy in the comments, I cop to it, I’m a fan. And I’m going to assume most of you watching this are fans because… why else would you watch this video, unless you get off on hating things, which… I dunno, that sounds miserable way to live your life to me, but… Kay.

So this is kind-of a big deal, so I wanted to talk about what this launch event means, both to Tesla and the car industry, and throw in my own thoughts and concerns along the way.

Hold on tight because this video’s going into Ludicrous mode.

The Fermi Paradox, Cyborgs, And Artificial Intelligence – My Interview With Isaac Arthur

Isaac Arthur runs the YouTube channel Science and Futurism With Isaac Arthur, where he goes into incredibly deep dives on subjects like megastructures, future space colonies, aliens, and little things like farming black holes (like you do). Here we touch on a few of those topics and do a little shop talk about life as YouTubers.

If you enjoy this episode, check out Isaac’s channel at www.isaacarthur.net