Thursday, October 22, 2009

Largest New Nephila Spider Discovery In 130 Years

A giant golden orb-web exceeding 1 meter in diameter, spun by a Nephila inaurata spider. Image Credit: Matjaz Kuntner

Largest New Nephila Spider Discovery In 130 Years

Scientists, Jonathan Coddington of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and Matjaz Kuntner of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, have found the world’s largest species of golden orb-weaver spider in the tropics of Africa and Madagascar. The discovery marks the first identification of a new Nephila spider since 1879.

Codding stated in a press release, “We fear the species might be endangered, as its only definite habitat is a sand forest in Tembe Elephant Park in KwaZulu-Natal. Our data suggest that the species is not abundant, its range is restricted, and all known localities lie within two endangered biodiversity hotspots: Maputaland and Madagascar.”

Tiny male Nephila spiders are dwarfed by their female counterparts. Image Credit: Matjaz Kuntner and Jonathan Coddington/PLoS ONE

This excerpted and edited from Wired Science -

Even-More-Gigantic Giant Orb Spider Discovered
By Hadley Leggett, Wired Science - October 20, 2009, 8:00 pm

Females of the new species, Nephila komaci, measure a whopping 4 to 5 inches in diameter, while the male spiders stay petite at less than a quarter of their mate’s size. So far, only a handful of these enormous arachnids have been found in the world.
----
The first potential specimen of the new species was uncovered by Coddington and his colleague Matjaz Kuntner in 2000. They found a huge female orb-weaver among a museum collection of spiders in Pretoria, South Africa, and she didn’t match the description of any known spider. Although they hoped the unusual-looking giant represented a new species, several dedicated expeditions to South Africa failed to find any live spiders of a similar description.

Then, in 2003, a second specimen from Madagascar was found at a museum in Austria, suggesting that the first spider hadn’t been a fluke. But despite a comprehensive search through more than 2,500 samples from 37 museums, no additional specimens turned up.
----
Finally, three live spiders have been found to prove the scientists wrong: A South African researcher found two giant females and one male in Tembe Elephant Park, proving that the new species was not extinct, just incredibly rare.

“Only three have been found in the past decade,” Kuntner wrote in an e-mail to Wired.com. “None by our team, despite focused searches. Only an additional two exist in old museum collections. Compared to thousands of exemplars of other Nephila species in museums, that is disproportionately rare.”
----
Like all Nephila spiders, females of the new species spin huge webs of golden silk, often more than 3 feet in diameter. In the report of the discovery of this rare spider, published Tuesday in PLoS One, the researchers also addressed the evolution of the dramatic size difference between male and female orb-weavers.
Reference Here>>

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Oblate Spheroid's Solar System Expands to 32 Exoplanets

Artist’s impression of Gliese 667C, a six Earth-mass exoplanet that circulates around its low-mass host star at a distance only 1/20th of the Earth-Sun distance. The host star is a companion to two other low-mass stars, which are seen here in the distance. Image Credit: ESO/L. Cal├žada

Oblate Spheroid's Solar System Expands to 32 Exoplanets

Astronomers have expanded the list of planets outside the solar system with their discovery of 32 new exoplanets using the European Southern Observatory's telescope in La Silla, Chile.

The expansion of The Earth's family was found through technology known as the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS). HARPS is a spectrometer that can find planets by detecting a twitch in a star caused by the gravity of an orbiting planet.

This finding revealed Monday by the scientists who operate HARPS adds to the more than 400 as the number of planets seen outside of our previously defined Solar System.



This excerpted and edited from Wired Science -

Exoplanets Galore! 32 Alien Planets Discovered, Including Super-Earths
By Hadley Leggett, Wired Science - October 19, 2009, 2:12 pm

Thirty-two new alien orbs have just been added to the growing list of exoplanets, including several that qualify as “super-Earths,” meaning they have a mass only a few times that of our planet and could potentially harbor Earth-like environments.

In the past five years, a special exoplanet-hunting device attached to a 3.6-meter telescope in La Silla, Chile, has spotted more than 75 alien planets, including 24 of the 28 known exoplanets with a mass less than 20 times that of Earth.
----
“These findings consolidate the results of simulations of planet formation predicting a large population of super-Earths,” astrophysicist Stephane Udry of Geneva University wrote in an email to Wired.com. “The formation models furthermore predict an even larger population of Earth-mass planets, providing solid scientific justifications for the development of ambitious programs (in space and on the ground) to look for those Earth-type planets.”

Udry’s announcement of the HARPS team’s findings Monday at an exoplanet conference in Portugal marks the end of the first phase of HARPS research, and scientists say the project has been even more successful than they originally expected.
----
The HARPS scientists focused their exoplanet-hunting efforts on certain kinds of stars, including stars similar to our sun and those with low mass (called Mdwarfs) or low metal content.

“By targeting M dwarfs and harnessing the precision of HARPS, we have been able to search for exoplanets in the mass and temperature regime of super-Earths,” co-author Xavier Bonfils of the Joseph Fourier University in France said in a press release, “some even close to or inside the habitable zone around the star.”
Reference Here>>

The HARPS scientists aim to find an Earth-like planet capable of supporting life outside of our Oblate Spheroid.

So, in signing off - it's "Exo, Exo" ... not "XO, XO"!