Tag Archives: mojave desert

Fecal Transplants Let Packrats Eat Poison

Herbivores Dine on Toxic Plants, Thanks to Gut Microbes

Woodrats lost their ability to eat toxic creosote bushes after antibiotics killed their gut microbes. Woodrats that never ate the plants were able to do so after receiving fecal transplants with microbes from creosote-eaters, University of Utah biologists found. (more…)

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A New Tool in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life: A Tricked-Out Point-and-Shoot

UA engineers have turned an off-the-shelf digital camera into an imaging device that could be key in the search for life forms on other planets.

The next time a NASA rover blasts off to explore Mars or some other planet, it might be equipped with a new type of “do-it-all” camera developed by an engineering team at the University of Arizona.

The prototype of the “Astrobiological Imager” – described in a research paper featured on the cover of a recent issue of the journal Astrobiology – consists of an off-the-shelf digital point-and-shoot camera with some surprisingly simple modifications. A slightly more sophisticated version, mounted on a rover, could do what even NASA’s latest and greatest Mars rover, Curiosity, can’t: identify, photograph and even analyze patches of soil or rocks from afar and in extreme close-up, all with the same camera.  (more…)

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Small Asteroid to Whiz Past Earth Safely

The small near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass very close to Earth on February 15, so close that it will pass inside the ring of geosynchronous weather and communications satellites. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office can accurately predict the asteroid’s path with the observations obtained, and it is therefore known that there is no chance that the asteroid might be on a collision course with Earth. Nevertheless, the flyby will provide a unique opportunity for researchers to study a near-Earth object up close.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 will be closest to Earth on Feb. 15, at about 11:24 p.m. PST (2 p.m. EST and 1924 UT), when it will be at a distance of about 27,700 kilometers (17,200 miles) above Earth’s surface. Although this is close enough for the asteroid to pass inside the ring of geosynchronous satellites, located about 35,800 kilometers (22,200 miles) above the equator, it will still be well above the vast majority of satellites, including the International Space Station. At its closest, the asteroid will be only about 1/13th of the distance to the moon. The asteroid will fly by our planet quite rapidly, at a speed of about 17,400 mph (7.8 kilometers per second) in a south-to-north direction with respect to Earth. (more…)

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Degraded Military Lands To Get Ecological Boost From CU-led Effort

Some arid lands in the American West degraded by military exercises that date back to General George Patton’s Word War II maneuvers in the Mojave Desert should get a boost from an innovative research project led by the University of Colorado Boulder.

Headed up by CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Nichole Barger, the research team is focused on developing methods to restore biological soil crusts — microbial communities primarily concentrated on soil surfaces critical to decreasing erosion and increasing water retention and soil fertility.  Such biological soil crusts, known as “biocrusts,” can cover up to 70 percent of the ground in some arid ecosystems and are dominated by cyanobacteria, lichens, mosses, fungi and bacteria, she said. (more…)

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Crows React to Threats in Human-like Way

Cross a crow and it’ll remember you for years.

Crows and humans share the ability to recognize faces and associate them with negative, as well as positive, feelings. The way the brain activates during that process is something the two species also appear to share, according to new research being published this week.

“The regions of the crow brain that work together are not unlike those that work together in mammals, including humans,” said John Marzluff, University of Washington professor of environmental and forest sciences. “These regions were suspected to work in birds but not documented until now. (more…)

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Mojave Desert Tests Prepare for NASA Mars Roving

Team members of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission took a test rover to Dumont Dunes in California’s Mojave Desert this week to improve knowledge of the best way to operate a similar rover, Curiosity, currently flying to Mars for an August landing.

The test rover that they put through paces on various sandy slopes has a full-scale version of Curiosity’s mobility system, but it is otherwise stripped down so that it weighs about the same on Earth as Curiosity will weigh in the lesser gravity of Mars. (more…)

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Uncertain Future for Joshua Trees Projected with Climate Change

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Temperature increases resulting from climate change in the Southwest will likely eliminate Joshua trees from 90 percent of their current range in 60 to 90 years, according to a new study led by U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Ken Cole.

The research team used models of future climate, an analysis of the climatic tolerances of the species in its current range, and the fossil record to project the future distribution of Joshua trees. The study concludes that the species could be restricted to the northernmost portion of its current range as early as the end of this century. Additionally, the ability of Joshua trees to migrate via seed dispersal to more suitable climates may be severely limited. (more…)

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