Fossils of forerunners of present day mammals found in China
Proof unearthed that primitive mammals from the Jurassic Era essentially glided in the sky
With the extent of fossils excavated from China, it is known as the ‘Country of Fossils’
China, August 10, 2017: There are a few things that can possibly leave a scientist, a history buff, and an excited 10-year-old child awestruck and the latest finding from China is certainly one of them! Two remarkable new species of delicate winged mammals were unveiled by paleontologists that are believed to have lived alongside dinosaurs nearly 160 million years ago.
The newly found fossils have been described in two papers published by a collective international team of scientists from the University of Chicago, and Beijing Museum of Natural History.
The specimens aren’t a first of a kind as previously mammalian gliders have been known to belong to the same time period. However, what sets them apart from all previous unearthing are the thin, furry membranes of skin attached to their fore and hind limbs that surprisingly are clearly preserved in the rock.
Paleontologists understand the Mesozoic Era (time between roughly 248 million to 65 million years ago), as the Age of the Dinosaurs. It was popularly believed that primitive mammals from the period were tiny herbivorous and insectivorous, who stayed aloof in the shadows. However, in recent years, this belief was revised that mammals of the time had evolved to forms what were predicaments to their present-day form.
The understanding has now been changed again with the unearthing of these rare fossils that have revealed that at a time when huge dinosaurs ruled the land, the mammals glided far overhead – like flying squirrels.
This has been revealed by the new found specimens’ well preserved skeletal system and their carbonized skin.
“Despite living in dinosaur-dominated ecosystems, early mammals diversified into many ecological niches”, Zhe-Xi Luo, Paleontologist at the University of Chicago told VOA, who led the research published in the journal Nature.
Named Maiopatagium furculiferum and Vilevolodon diplomyos, they were unearthed about 40 miles (65 km) away in Liaoning province and Hebei province respectively, and are now offering clues and scope for further studies about the evolution of mammals.
These two, along with another glider unearthed in 2006 are being touted as the leaders of the mammalian air-force that have since gone extinct.
Anatomy Of The Primitive Winged Mammals
Mammals are believed to have first appeared roughly 210 million years ago. However, these fossils have revealed that early mammals were not merely existing by cringing at the feet of the dinosaurs but instead, boasted a range of adaptations in anatomy, lifestyles and diet.
It has been revealed that both the fossils have extremely defined hand and feet, and the limbs of these gliding mammals are structurally different from those that simply walked on the ground or climbed trees. It was further notes that both the specimen has hands and feet similar to those in modern day bats (that appeared nearly 100 million years later).
The new found fossils also display very well-preserved teeth, which has helped in understanding the dietary habits of this ancient mammalian air force.
The teeth of Maiopatagium are simpler in terms of their construction and resemble those of fruit bats, suggesting that it ate soft plants and soft fruits. While on the other hand, Vilevolodon has a complex tooth crown with teeth resemble those of squirrels, suitable for eating seeds.
They both are gliders, however can be divided into segments of the same category based on their eating habits. The two specimens are different interns of their sizes also. Maiopatagium was about 9 inches (23 cm) long, similar in size to flying squirrels while Vilevolodon was a little smaller in comparison, more mouse-size.
After studying their hand and foot bones, the scientists concluded that the two must have used all four limbs to hang from trees, and grip tea branches with their feet like bats. They also display skeletal features in their forelimbs and shoulder joints that are believed to have given them the sustenance to glide.
“The gliding membranes were attached to the four limbs, likely at or near the wrists and ankles,” said David Grossnickle, a University of Chicago paleontologist as reported by VOA.
These traits when combined compliment the hypothesis that different group of mammals followed a similar route to evolution –
Land based, operating on all limbs
Tree climbing, using elongated toes of the fore and hind limbs
Gliding overhead the magnificent dinosaurs
The Jurassic Maiopatagium and Vilevolodon are believed to be the forerunners to modern mammals and show the earliest examples of gliding behavior among extinct mammal ancestors. They also share similar ecology with the present-day gliders, however with some significant differences.
These new unearthings are believed to have coexisted with other life varieties that were experimenting with flying such as small feathered dinosaurs like Anchiornis who were on the evolutionary route to become birds some million years later.
Country Of Fossils
In recent years, an increasing number of fossils have been unearthed from different provinces of China. More recently, a Jurassic site was excavated in Yunyang county that is being understood as the biggest Jurassic fossil site in the world. The 150-metre long ‘Dinosaur fossil wall’ that is currently being excavated by a team of paleontologists is believed to be home to a new batch of fossils. Scientists have, in its entirety found that it was home to five different species of dinosaurs. These discoveries have together led to the country now being seen as the ‘Country of Fossils’. (VOA)
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Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS
June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.
Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.
Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.
Confusion leads to mistakes
All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.
Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.
“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”
Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.
Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.
“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.
In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.
IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.
IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.
Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.
“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.
IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.
Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.
IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.
Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.
Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.
IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.
Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.
“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.
IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.
Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.
“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)
An orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth
It is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications
They can not be cracked by ever-improving computer algorithms
June 18, 2017: It was reported by scientists today that an orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth. It is a big step towards sending quantum keys from satellites — an approach that has been heralded as a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them.
A laser on China’s Micius satellite, which was launched last year and is dedicated to researches related to quantum satellite communications, spit out pairs of entangled photons from its position, 500 km above Earth. Then two telescopes on Earth – about 1200 km apart — had 5 minutes each day to look for them as the satellite passed over both telescopes. It was found that paired photons survived the journey through Earth’s atmosphere. They detected 1 entangled pair per second out of the 6 million sent in that time.
So how exactly does all this work?
A quantum key needs to be generated first by two people who are looking to communicate. Then, one person receives one of the entangled photons in the pair, the other person receives the other. When the received photons have measured the photons, they obtain bits of information strung together to create a key that they both have. That key can be used to encrypt and decrypt a message. The users can also share a portion of the key publicly to check if it has been compromised. In case if someone tries to intercept the communication at any point, they would then notice a difference between their strings.
There is a certain set of problems as well. Caltech’s John Preskill believes even though it is an important proof of concept, the feat doesn’t address one of the biggest problems with quantum communications. Currently, these messages can’t be sent long distances. Photons, using an optical fiber to carry a quantum signal, can only make it about 100 km before the dissipation of the light.
Quantum systems are similar to optical telecommunications here on earth and need repeaters that are able to amplify the message so it can be passed long distances. But amplifying a quantum message in the same way optical ones are done would effectively result in the destruction of the information. That is why satellite-based communication are being eyed by researchers. The reported 500 km from space is an improvement over optical. Quantum signals were measured in another study published today from a satellite 38,000 km away to a single point. But in deploying a global network which would likely be able to combine optical fiber and satellites, the repeater problem still stands.
Preskill has predicted that it is more likely we will first come up with another form of encryption for communication. “There will be other ways of doing classical public key cryptosystems that we won’t know how to break with quantum computers,” he added.
– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang