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Teasing strange matter from the ordinary


In a unique analysis of experimental data, nuclear physicists have made the first-ever observations of how lambda particles, so-called “strange matter,” are produced by a specific process called semi-inclusive deep inelastic scattering (SIDIS). What’s more, these data hint that the building blocks of protons, quarks and gluons, are capable of marching through the atomic nucleus in pairs called diquarks, at least part of the time. These results come from an experiment conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.

It’s a result that has been decades in the making. The dataset was originally collected in 2004. Lamiaa El Fassi, now an associate professor of physics at Mississippi State University and principal investigator of the work, first analyzed these data during her thesis project to earn her graduate degree on a different topic.

Nearly a decade after completing her initial research with these data, El Fassi revisited the dataset and led her group through a careful analysis to yield these unprecedented measurements. The dataset comes from experiments in Jefferson Lab’s Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF), a DOE user facility. In the experiment, nuclear physicists tracked what happened when electrons from CEBAF scatter off the target nucleus and probe the confined quarks inside protons and neutrons. The results were recently published in Physical Review Letters.

“These studies help build a story, analogous to a motion picture, of how the struck quark turns into hadrons. In a new paper, we report first-ever observations of such a study for the lambda baryon in the forward and backward fragmentation regions,” El Fassi said.

In like a lambda, out like a pion

Like the more familiar protons and neutrons, each lambda is made up of three quarks.

Unlike protons and neutrons, which only contain a mixture of up and down quarks, lambdas contain one up quark, one down quark and one strange quark. Physicists have dubbed matter that contains strange quarks “strange matter.”

In this work, El Fassi and her colleagues studied how these particles of strange matter form from collisions of ordinary matter. To do so, they shot CEBAF’s electron beam at different targets, including carbon, iron, and lead. When a high-energy electron from CEBAF reaches one of these targets, it breaks apart a proton or neutron inside one of the target’s nuclei.

“Because the proton or neutron is totally broken apart, there is little doubt that the electron interacts with the quark inside,” El Fassi said.

After the electron interacts with a quark or quarks via an exchanged virtual photon, the “struck” quark(s) begins moving as a free particle in the medium, typically joining up with other quark(s) it encounters to form a new composite particle as they propagate through the nucleus. And some of the time, this composite particle will be a lambda.

But the lambda is short-lived — after formation, it will swiftly decay into two other particles: a pion and either a proton or neutron. To measure different properties of these briefly created lambda particles, physicists must detect its two daughter particles, as well as the beam electron that scattered off the target nucleus.

The experiment that collected this data, EG2, used the CEBAF Large Acceptance Spectrometer (CLAS) detector in Jefferson Lab’s Experimental Hall B. These recently published results, “First Measurement of ? Electroproduction off Nuclei in the Current and Target Fragmentation Regions,” are part of the CLAS collaboration, which involves almost 200 physicists worldwide.


This work is the first to measure the lambda using this process, which is known as semi-inclusive deep inelastic scattering, in the forward and backward fragmentation regions. It’s more difficult to use this method to study lambda particles, because the particle decays so quickly, it can’t be measured directly.

“This class of measurement has only been performed on protons before, and on lighter, more stable particles,” said coauthor William Brooks, professor of physics at Federico Santa María Technical University and co-spokesperson of the EG2 experiment.

The analysis was so challenging, it took several years for El Fassi and her group to re-analyze the data and extract these results. It was her thesis advisor, Kawtar Hafidi, who encouraged her to pursue the investigation of the lambda from these datasets.

“I would like to commend Lamiaa’s hard work and perseverance in dedicating years of her career working on this,” said Hafidi, associate laboratory director for physical sciences and engineering at Argonne National Lab and co-spokesperson of the EG2 experiment. “Without her, this work would not have seen fruition.”

“It hasn’t been easy,” El Fassi said. “It’s a long and time-consuming process, but it was worth the effort. When you spend so many years working on something, it feels good to see it published.”

El Fassi began this lambda analysis when she herself was a postdoc, a couple of years prior to becoming an assistant professor at Mississippi State University. Along the way, several of her own postdocs at Mississippi State have helped extract these results, including coauthor Taya Chetry.

“I’m very happy and motivated to see this work being published,” said Chetry, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at Florida International University.

Two for one

A notable finding from this intensive analysis changes the way physicists understand how lambdas form in the wake of particle collisions.

In similar studies that have used semi-inclusive deep inelastic scattering to study other particles, the particles of interest usually form after a single quark was “struck” by the virtual photon exchanged between the electron beam and the target nucleus. But the signal left by lambda in the CLAS detector suggests a more packaged deal.

The authors’ analysis showed that when forming a lambda, the virtual photonhas been absorbed part of the time by a pair of quarks, known as a diquark, instead of just one. After being “struck,” this diquark went on to find a strange quark and forms a lambda.

“This quark pairing suggests a different mechanism of production and interaction than the case of the single quark interaction,” Hafidi said.

A better understanding of how different particles form helps physicists in their effort to decipher the strong interaction, the fundamental force that holds these quark-containing particles together. The dynamics of this interaction are very complicated, and so is the theory used to describe it: quantum chromodynamics (QCD).

Comparing measurements to models of QCD’s predictions allows physicists to test this theory. Because the diquark finding differs from the model’s current predictions, it suggests something about the model is off.

“There is an unknown ingredient that we don’t understand. This is extremely surprising, since the existing theory can describe essentially all other observations, but not this one,” Brooks said. “That means there is something new to learn, and at the moment, we have no clue what it could be.”

To find out, they’ll need even more measurements.

Data for EG2 were collected with 5.014 GeV (billion electron-volt) electron beams in the CEBAF’s 6 GeV era. Future experiments will use electron beams from the updated CEBAF, which now extend up to 11 GeV for Experimental Hall B, as well as an updated CLAS detector known as CLAS12, to continue studying the formation of a variety of particles, including lambdas, with higher-energy electrons.

The upcoming Electron-Ion Collider (EIC) at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory will also provide a new opportunity to continue studying this strange matter and quark pairing structure of the nucleon with greater precision.

“These results lay the groundwork for upcoming studies at the upcoming CLAS12 and the planned EIC experiments, where one can investigate the diquark scattering in greater detail,” Chetry said.

El Fassi is also a co-spokesperson for CLAS12 measurements of quark propagation and hadron formation. When data from the new experiments is finally ready, physicists will compare it to QCD predictions to further refine this theory.

“Any new measurement that will give novel information toward understanding the dynamics of strong interactions is very important,” she said.

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Swimming secrets of prehistoric reptiles unlocked by new study


Some of the most extraordinary body transformations in evolution have occurred in animals that adapted to life in water from land-living ancestors, such as modern whales, turtles and seals. During the Mesozoic, from 252 to 66 million years ago, while the dinosaurs stomped about on land, many groups of reptiles took to the seas, such as the iconic ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, crocodiles and mosasaurs.

In a new paper, published in the journal Palaeontology, a Bristol team of palaeobiologists used state-of-the-art statistical methods to perform a large-scale quantitative study, the first of its kind, on the locomotion of Mesozoic marine reptiles.

The researchers collected measurements from 125 fossilised skeletons, and used these to explore changes in swimming styles within lineages and through time, discovering that there was no explosive radiation at the beginning of the Mesozoic, but a gradual diversification of locomotory modes, which peaked in the Cretaceous period.

Lead author Dr Susana Gutarra of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences said: “Changes in anatomy in land-to-sea transitions are intimately linked to the evolution of swimming. For example, sea lions’ flippers have relatively short forearm and large hands, very different from the walking legs of their ancestors. The rich fossil record of Mesozoic marine reptiles provided great opportunity to study these transitions at a large scale.”

Co-author Beatrice Heighton, said: “We included measurements from living aquatic animals, such as otters, seals and turtles, of which we know their swimming behaviour. This is very important to provide a functional reference for the ancient species, with unknown swimming modes.”

In the aftermath of the end-Permian extinction, about 250 million years ago, various groups of reptiles became aquatic hunters, populating the early Mesozoic seas.

Co-author Dr Tom Stubbs said: “After this devastating event, there was a gradual diversification of locomotory modes, which contrasts with the rapid radiation described previously for feeding strategies. This is fascinating because it suggests a ‘head-first’ pattern of evolution in certain lineages.”

This paper sheds light into the swimming of specific groups. Dr Ben Moon explained: “Ichthyosaurs were highly specialised for aquatic locomotion from very early in their evolution. This includes their close relatives, the hupehsuchians, which had a morphology unlike any other known aquatic tetrapod. Further, we see overlap between mosasaurs and ichthyosaurs, which is indicative that mosasaurs evolved a swimming mode by oscillating flukes, different from the eel-like body undulation suggested in the past.

“In contrast, we don’t find evidence of convergence between ichthyosaurs and metriorhynchids (the highly aquatic crocodyliform thalattosuchians). This group retained quite primitive-looking hindlimbs, which seems incompatible with swimming by fluke oscillation.”

This study also delves into the evolution of size, a feature related to locomotion, animal physiology and ocean productivity. Professor Mike Benton said: “We know that transition to life in water is usually accompanied by an increase in body mass, as seen in cetaceans, and one of our previous studies shows that large sizes benefit aquatic animals in reducing the mass-specific costs of drag. Thus, it was essential to explore this trait in the wider ensemble of Mesozoic marine reptiles.”

Dr Gutarra added: “Body size follows a similar trend to the diversification of locomotory modes, and the widest spread of body size also occurred in the Cretaceous, confirming a strong connection between the two. The rate of increase and the maximum limits to body size seems to vary a lot between groups. This is a fascinating observation. We need to explore further what factors influence and limit the increase in body mass in each group.”

This research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the European Research Council (ERC).

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More women than men move out after widowhood, study finds


Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Significantly more women than men move out when their partners pass away. This, according to a University of Copenhagen study that investigates the settlement patterns of Danish widows and widowers. According to the researcher, the gender gap indicates inequalities that are important to consider when planning housing for the growing proportion of senior citizens.

More than 280,000 people in Denmark over the age of 50 are widows or widowers. Losing one’s causes upheaval in a variety of ways. One of these many parameters can have to do with moving out. However, the residential mobility of Danish women and men after the loss of a partner can diverge significantly. This is the finding of a University of Copenhagen study.

“There is a clear between widows and widowers when it comes to housing and where one settles—especially in relation to how much one moves. Widows and widowers seem to be affected differently by their new living situation,” says Aske Egsgaard-Pedersen, a geographer and former Ph.D. student at UCPH’s Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management.

Using registry data, he studied the patterns of residential changes for tens of thousands of Danish widows and widowers between the ages of 50 and 90 over a 25-year period.

Women are much more mobile

The study demonstrates that widows move far more than widowers following the passing of a partner. While just over 30% of all widows move into new homes after the death of their partner, this is true for only 20% of widowers. At the same time, a slightly larger proportion of women than men move into residential care.

Furthermore, widows are statistically more likely to move than other women for up to four years after the death of their partner, compared to only two years for widowers. Likewise, widows are also more likely to move than widowers in the years immediately following the death of their partner.

“We were unable to determine the underlying causes of the differences we observed. But a significant amount of previous research indicates that widows are generally worse off financially than widowers because men typically have a higher income and larger retirement savings. So, one reason may be that widows experience a greater—and longer lasting—deterioration of their financial situations than widowers, which makes it necessary for them to move into something cheaper,” says Aske Egsgaard-Pedersen.

He adds, “But at the same time, several studies indicate that women often have stronger social networks than men and thereby experience more in the situation. This may make them less ‘afraid’ than men of moving into a residential situation that, in reality, might be more appropriate. So, this could be part of the explanation for the gender difference in the statistics.”

Fewer square meters

The study also demonstrates that both women and men downsize after transitioning into widowhood. Where widowers reduce the size of their residences by 9 m2 on average, widows reduce their living space by 12 m2.

“It isn’t surprising that both sexes move into smaller residences. But, here too, there is a statistical gender difference in how much smaller their home becomes. Again, it is natural to point to as a possible cause,” says the researcher.

Better housing alternatives for the elderly

Aske Egsgaard-Pedersen points out that there is a need for qualitative research into the underlying causes.

“Even in a Nordic country where gender equality is a big deal, there remains a way to go before there are for men and women when they lose their life partners. Here, we should take a closer look at what can be done to support both men and women during a difficult phase of their lives and be attuned to the fact that widows and widowers are not all the same, with the same behaviors or needs,” says Aske Egsgaard-Pedersen.

Geographer and associate professor Høgni Kalsø Hansen of the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources Management agrees.

He believes that more knowledge about what causes widows and widowers to move, and what prevents them from doing so, can benefit both individuals and society:

“The figures from this study also show that the majority of both widows and widowers remain in their homes—this applies to 70% of women and 80% of men. And, of course, that’s fine if that’s what they want. But if many of them—perhaps men in particular—actually stay put because they are experiencing social challenges, something should be done to create attractive alternatives for them,” says Høgni Kalsø Hansen.

“This issue might be considered with regards to housing and by, for example, planning more smaller-sized homes that are both economically and socially attractive—and where an active life and networks are available for them to take part in. At the same time, this would release housing stock into the market. Instead of constantly building new buildings, we could make better use of the existing housing.”

The results from the study have been published in the journal Housing Studies.

More information:
Aske Egsgaard, Home after widowhood: a longitudinal study of residential mobility and housing preferences following a partner’s death, Housing Studies (2022). DOI: 10.1080/02673037.2022.2135169

More women than men move out after widowhood, study finds (2023, April 17)
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Solar sails could guide interplanetary travel, says new study (Update)


Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Space travel has brought us to our next-door neighbor, the moon, and to the depths of our larger solar community inhabited by giants such as Saturn and Jupiter.

In 1982, Voyager 2 whisked past Uranus closer than any other spacecraft has since, and now is sailing—46 years after its launch—through interstellar space, some 133 AU (approximately 19.9 billion km) from Earth.

But there have been few comparable satellite missions in recent years. Cost is the main obstacle, but time frame is also a factor. The design for such long journeys takes years to calculate, and planning and construction of a space vehicle would take about a decade. Factoring in the time a satellite would require to reach distant targets means our next peek into the stars will likely not come any time soon.

A team of scientists led by Slava Turyshev of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, which launched the Voyager satellites back in 1977, is anxious to get space exploration back on track. The team proposes a novel means of travel that could get us to the stars faster and cheaper.

In a paper released on the arXiv preprint server, Turyshev and more than two dozen fellow researchers from the United States and Europe proposed merging miniature satellite units with a solar energy process that would create a fast, inexpensive, lightweight mode of travel.

Solar sailing is a process by which the pressure generated by the sun’s radiation is harnessed for propulsion. Recent innovations in this technology were demonstrated in a successful crowdfunded 2019 mission undertaken by the Planetary Society’s LightSail-2 project.

The researchers explain, “Solar sails obtain thrust by using highly reflective, lightweight materials that reflect sunlight to propel a spacecraft while in space. The continuous photon pressure from the sun provides thrust, eliminating the need for heavy, expendable propellants employed by conventional on-board chemical and electric propulsion systems, which limit mission lifetime and observation locations.”

They say that sails are far less expensive than heavy equipment currently used for propulsion, and that the ever-present continuous solar photon pressure from the sun makes thrust available for a broad range of vehicular maneuvers, such as hovering or rapid orbital plane changes.

Solar sails and miniaturization “have advanced in the past decade to the point where they may enable inspiring and affordable missions to reach farther and faster, deep into the outer regions of our solar system,” the report says.

The researchers refer to the merging of these two technologies as the Sundiver Concept.

“Fast, cost-effective and maneuverable sailcraft that may travel outside the ecliptic plane open new opportunities for affordable solar system exploration,” the report states, “with great promise for heliophysics, planetary science, and astrophysics.”

With enhanced maneuverability, the can easily deliver small payloads to multiple destinations if required, and can dock with related modular craft. The reliance on the sun and the miniaturization of the carrier, which requires no dedicated launch site, will prove to be significant cost savers, the researchers add: “A substantial reason for the high costs is our [current] reliance on slow and expensive chemical propulsion, operating at the limits of its capabilities, effectively rendering the current solar system exploration paradigm unsustainable. A new approach is needed.”

The Universe Today web site observed this week that with the project gaining support from NASA, in a few years we may “begin to see a fleet of ultra-fast probes zipping throughout the solar system. That would be quite a sight.”

More information:
Slava G. Turyshev et al, Science opportunities with solar sailing smallsats, arXiv (2023). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2303.14917

Journal information:

© 2023 Science X Network

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Researchers describe sea-level rise in southwest Greenland as a contributor to Viking abandonment


Regional setting and ice history. (A) The Eastern Settlement of Southern Greenland. The inset shows the entirety of Greenland; dark gray depicts grounded ice cover at present, light gray is land, and white is ocean. Eight black stars show locations of the Viking sites considered herein and also Nanortalik, where Late Holocene relative sea-level data have been collected (11). B is Brattahlid, D is Dyrnaes, G is Gardar, H is Hvalsey, N is Narsaq, N2 is Nanortalik, S1 is Site 1, S2 is Site 2, and uS is Undir Solarfjollum. (B) The tetrahedral grid across Southern Greenland used in the sea-level simulation (top 72 km of Earth’s interior is shown in light gray; surface shading reflects grid resolution and is discussed in Material and Methods Section 3B) with ice mask (blue to white gradient) overlain. The ice mask is estimated from ref. 12. The yellow box shows an area encompassing the Eastern Settlement and the area of ice growth (the same area is shown in Fig. 3A). The green box shows an area with several important Viking settlements, where coastal flooding is assessed (also seen in Fig. 4A). For more details, Section 3A. (C) Time-varying growth for our ice history, normalized to a maximum value of 1.0, and adapted from refs. 13–15. Credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2209615120

Vikings occupied Greenland from roughly 985 to 1450, farming and building communities before abandoning their settlements and mysteriously vanishing. Why they disappeared has long been a puzzle, but a new paper from the Harvard University Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS) determines that one factor—rising sea level—likely played a major role.

“There are many theories as to what exactly happened,” to drive the Vikings from their settlements in Greenland, said Marisa J. Borreggine, lead author of the “Sea-Level Rise in Southwest Greenland as a Contributor to Viking Abandonment,” which published this week [April 17] in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“There’s been a shift in the narrative away from the idea that the Vikings completely failed to adapt to the environment and toward arguments that they were faced with a myriad of challenges, ranging from social unrest, economic turmoil, political issues, and ,” said Borreggine, a doctoral candidate in the Harvard Griffin GSAS in EPS.

“The changing landscape would’ve proven to be yet another factor that challenged the Viking way of life. Alongside these other challenges,” said Borreggine, who works in the Mitrovica Group led by Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science Jerry X. Mitrovica. This likely led “to a tipping point before they abandoned the settlement.”

The departure of these Viking settlers coincided with the beginning of the period known as the Little Ice Age, which had a particular impact on the North Atlantic. But while cooling and freezing might seem likely to lower sea levels, a variety of factors combined to have the opposite effect in Greenland.

With the waters of the North Atlantic “contributing to that new ice volume, intuition might suggest that sea level should go down,” Borreggine noted. However, a closer look at previously published geomorphological and paleoclimate data and the researchers’ modeling of ice-sheet growth suggested that the opposite occurred in Greenland, focusing on the Vikings’ Eastern Settlement. “What we study in our group is , a process that leads to changes in the , the rotation axis, and crustal deformation as the ice grows or melts,” said Borreggine.

In a first for this kind of research, Borreggine noted, “We were able to apply that analysis of non-uniform sea-level change and more accurate sea-level physics to this longstanding archeological question of ‘Why exactly did Vikings abandon the Eastern Settlement?'”

What the researchers found was striking: Not only were sea levels drawn up by gravity, other factors—including the subsidence of Greenland’s land mass—made the settlement more prone to flooding.

Focusing on the period of Viking habitation from 1000 to 1450, “There’s already a background trend of sea-level rise upon Viking arrival in the Eastern Settlement,” they said. “It’s been rising for a few thousand years.” But there’s also a local effect: “Crustal subsidence, or the sinking of land and the gravitational pull of water toward the growing ice sheet.”

“Not only do you have the ground being pushed down, you also have the sea surface going up,” Borreggine noted. “It’s a double whammy.”

During this period, researchers found that the settlers experienced “up to 3.3 meters of sea-level rise throughout their occupation. That’s two to six times the rate of 20th-century sea-level rise. So it was pretty intense,” they said.

Archaeological research into the life of the Vikings who settled in Greenland together with this novel application of sea-level science fleshed out this compelling story. Noting the partially drowned ruins of a Viking warehouse, Borreggine pointed out that one analysis done by the group found that 75% of Viking sites are within a thousand meters of an area of flooding. “This flooding was pervasive,” they observed.

The impact of rising seas can also be seen in the changing diet of the Vikings; as they shifted from their own agricultural products to more marine-based foods, perhaps as their fields became saturated with salt or flooded. Such a shift, said Borreggine, reveals that “they were attempting to adapt to the .”

This paper “…shows the advantages of interdisciplinary research, bringing ideas from one field to another and contributing powerful new insights,” said Mitrovica, noting that Borreggine “has shown that in addition to the various challenges the Vikings faced as the climate descended into the ice age, they also faced pervasive flooding—an insight that only someone like Marisa, with deep expertise in the sea-level physics, could have had.”

If the lasting impact of rise sounds familiar in understanding current efforts to mitigate climate change, Borreggine noted the parallels—and one major difference. “The Vikings didn’t really have a choice,” they said. “They couldn’t stop the Little Ice Age. We can do work to mitigate climate change. The Vikings were locked into it.”

More information:
Borreggine, Marisa, Sea-level rise in Southwest Greenland as a contributor to Viking abandonment, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2209615120.

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Harvard University

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Scientists discover pristine deep-sea coral reefs in the Galápagos Marine Reserve: Observations using the human-occupied vehicle Alvin are the first of deep-sea coral reefs in the Galápagos Marine Reserve


Scientists have discovered extensive, ancient deep-sea coral reefs within the Galápagos Marine Reserve (GMR) — the first of their kind ever to be documented inside the marine protected area (MPA) since it was established in 1998. The first reef observed was found at 400-600m (1,310-1,970 feet) depth at the summit of a previously unmapped seamount in the central part of the archipelago and supports a breathtaking mix of deep marine life.

Cresting the ridge of a submerged volcano, and stretching over several kilometers, the impressive reef structure was first recorded by Dr. Michelle Taylor (University of Essex, UK) and Dr. Stuart Banks (Charles Darwin Foundation, Ecuador) while diving in the deep-sea research submersible Alvin, operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI, USA).This is the first time

HOV Alvin has explored this region within the GMR. The submersible recently completed upgrades that included improved high-quality still and ultra-high definition 4K video imaging systems, as well as enhanced sampling capabilities.

Taylor and Banks are part of an international group of scientists onboard the US Navy-owned and WHOI-operated research vessel R/V Atlantis, that is undertaking the Galápagos Deep 2023 expedition. The expedition is led by scientists at WHOI, University of Bristol (UK), Boise State University (USA), and University of Essex, in collaboration with the Galápagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), Charles Darwin Foundation and Ecuadorian Navy’s Oceanographic and Antarctic Institute (INOCAR). The expedition is funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) in the UK.

Commenting on this groundbreaking discovery, the Minister of Environment of Ecuador, Jose Antonio Dávalos said: “This is encouraging news. It reaffirms our determination to establish new marine protected areas in Ecuador and to continue promoting the creation of a regional marine protected area in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. The richness of the yet explored depths of our ocean is another reason to strive towards achieving the commitments of the Global Ocean Alliance 30×30, which aims to protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030, aligning sustainable economic activities with conservation.”

Prior to this discovery, Wellington Reef off the coast of Darwin Island in the far north of the archipelago was thought to be among the few structural shallow coral reefs in the Galápagos Islands to have survived the 1982-83 El Niño event. The new discovery made during dives by scientists in the HOV Alvin shows that sheltered deep-water coral communities have likely persisted for centuries in the depths of the GMR, supporting rich, diverse, and potentially unique marine communities.

Dr Stuart Banks, Senior Marine Researcher at the Charles Darwin Foundation, and national observer on this expedition adds: “The captivating thing about these reefs is that they are very old and essentially pristine, unlike those found in many other parts of the world’s oceans. This gives us reference points to understand their importance for marine natural biodiversity heritage, connectivity with regional MPAs, as well as their role in providing goods and services such as carbon cycling and fisheries. It also helps us reconstruct past ocean environments to understand modern climate change. Open waters cover over 95% of the known GMR, of which less than 5% have been explored through modern research expeditions. It’s very likely there are more reef structures across different depths waiting to be explored. We’ll forge ahead with the Galapagos National Park Directorate and partners to help ensure that such newly discovered habitats are

folded into the GMR and Hermandad Marine Reserve planning process and recognized as part of their considerable world heritage value.”

Dr Michelle Taylor, co-lead of the expedition and Chair of the Deep Sea Society from the University of Essex notes the importance of this discovery for deep sea habitats: “The discovered reefs are novel for several reasons — in shallow reefs where finding 10-20% of coral cover would be considered a relatively unhealthy reef, in the deep-sea this is the norm. Dead coral skeletons making up the remaining 80-90% still provide homes for a huge diversity of life, which is less reliant on the live sections of coral. However, the reefs we’ve found in the last few days have 50-60% live coral in many areas, which is very rare indeed. They are pristine and teeming with life — pink octopus, batfish, squat lobsters and an array of deep-sea fish, sharks, and rays. These newly discovered reefs are potentially of global significance — a canary in the mine for other reefs globally — sites which we can monitor over time to see how pristine habitats evolve with our current climate crisis.”

Dr Daniel J. Fornari, co-lead of the expedition, marine geologist, and Emeritus Research Scholar at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who has mapped and sampled the marine environment in the Galápagos for over 20 years notes: “Exploring, mapping and sampling the Galápagos Platform with Alvin and Atlantis represents an opportunity to apply 21st-century deep-submergence and seafloor mapping technologies and innovative deep-sea imaging techniques to reveal the beauty and complexity of the volcanic and biological processes that makes the Galápagos so unique.”

Scientific findings such as this help inform effective management and conservation actions. The discovery also comes at a time when the Eastern Tropical Pacific countries of Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Ecuador are actively collaborating through a regional Marine Corridor (CMAR) initiative to protect and responsibly manage the ocean upon which we as people depend. Newly declared MPAs such as the Hermandad Marine Reserve (HMR) now connect seamounts in Ecuadorian waters to offshore marine environments such as Costa Rica’s Cocos Island National Park. Natural oceanographic and marine processes transcend national boundaries, which underscores the need for special measures that protect foraging grounds, migratory routes for marine life and sustain responsible fisheries.

Video of reef: https://youtu.be/yttzKl95TiQ

For more information about the expedition objectives, scientists and the R/V Atlantis and HOV Alvin, please visit: https://galapagosdeep2023.com/

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A newly uncovered ancient Roman winery features marble tiling, fountains of grape juice and an extreme sense of luxury


View of the excavated winery at the Villa of the Quintilii on the Via Appia Antica, Rome. Credit: S. Castellani, Author provided

Recent excavations at the Villa of the Quintilii uncovered the remains of a unique winery just outside Rome.

The mid-third-century CE building located along the Via Appia Antica portrays a sense of opulence and performance almost never found at an ancient production site.

This exciting complex illustrates how elite Romans fused utilitarian function with luxurious decoration and theater to fashion their social and political status.

I was one of the specialist archaeologists to study this newly excavated site. The details of this discovery are outlined in our new article in Antiquity.

The Villa of the Quintilii

From names stamped on a lead water pipe, we know the 24 hectare ancient Roman villa complex was owned by the wealthy Quintilii brothers, who served as consuls in 151 CE.

The Roman emperor Commodus had the brothers killed in 182/3 CE.

He took possession of their properties, including this villa, initiating long-term imperial ownership.

The site has been long known for its decorative architecture, including colored marble tiling, high-quality statuary recovered over the last 400 years, and a monumental bathing complex.

A newly uncovered ancient Roman winery featured marble tiling, fountains of grape juice and an extreme sense of luxury
Aerial view of the excavated winery at the Villa of the Quintilii. Production areas are at the top (A–D), and the cellar (E) with adjacent dining rooms (F) in the lower half of the image. Credit: M.C.M s.r.l and adaptation in Dodd, Frontoni, Galli 2023, Author provided

Less known is an enormous circus for chariot racing built during the reign of Commodus.

From 2017-18, during an attempt to discover the starting gates of the circus, the first traces of a unique winery were revealed.

A luxury Roman imperial winery

This large complex was built on top of the circus starting gates, which dates it after the reign of Commodus.

The complex possesses features commonly found in ancient Roman wineries: a grape treading area, two wine presses, a vat to collect grape must (the juice of the grapes along with their skins, seeds and stems) and a cellar with large clay jars for storage and fermentation sunk into the ground.

However, the decoration and arrangement of these features is almost completely unparalleled in the ancient world.

Nearly all the production areas are clad in marble veneer tiling. Even the treading area, normally coated in waterproof cocciopesto plaster, is covered in red breccia marble. This luxurious material, combined with its impracticalities (it is very slippery when wet, unlike plaster), conveys the extreme sense of luxury.

A newly uncovered ancient Roman winery featured marble tiling, fountains of grape juice and an extreme sense of luxury
Reconstructed ancient Roman wine press at the Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii, Italy. Credit: E. Dodd, Author provided

Two immense mechanical lever presses sit either side of the treading area to press the already trodden grape pulp.

The size and scale of these presses working up and down in harmony would have contributed to the theater of the production process.

The produced from treading and pressing flowed from these areas into a long rectangular vat, where an impression from a stamp named the short-reigning emperor Gordian (deposed 244 CE). This confirms a date of construction or renovation.

But it is here the real performance would have begun.

The liquid grape must poured like a striking fountain out of the vat and through a façade around one meter in height that closely resembles a Roman nymphaeum (a monumental decorated fountain).

While must flowed out of the three central niches, water flowed out of those on either end and was then channeled back underground through a system of lead pipes.

This niched facade was originally clad in a decorative veneer of brightly colored white, black, gray and red marble. Some pieces remain attached and more were found loose in the excavated layers.

A newly uncovered ancient Roman winery featured marble tiling, fountains of grape juice and an extreme sense of luxury
View from the excavated dining room over the cellar with its facade of niches and fountains and up to the raised production areas. Credit: E. Dodd, Author provided

A system of thin open white marble channels conveyed the grape must from the façade into an open-air cellar area.

Here it was fed into 16 buried clay jars (dolia defossa) large enough for a person to fit inside. The remains of eight were uncovered during excavations.

Three rooms paved in opulent geometric marble tiling, like those found in other areas of the villa, were arranged around the cellar.

We might imagine the emperor and his retinue reclining, eating and watching the spectacle of production and tasting freshly pressed must.

Theatrical vintage ritual in ancient Italy

The only other example like this facility can be found at Villa Magna, 50 kilometers to the south-east near Anagni.

This similarly opulent marble-clad winery was in use just before the Villa of the Quintilii, from the early second to early third century CE, with an area for dining that enabled a view of the production spaces.

A newly uncovered ancient Roman winery featured marble tiling, fountains of grape juice and an extreme sense of luxury
Geometric coloured marble floor tiling (opus sectile) discovered in one of the dining rooms. Credit: S. Castellani, Author provided

In Marcus Aureliusletters to his tutor Fronto, we are given a rare glimpse into the activities of Villa Magna around 140-145 CE. He describes the imperial party banqueting while watching and listening to the workers treading grapes.

It is likely this formed part of a vintage ritual, tied to the ceremonial opening of the harvest. Perhaps this ritual also occurred at the slightly later Villa of the Quintilii facility.

Lavish marble-clad spaces marked areas fit for the imperial party and the winery was the “theater” for this sacred performance.

One tantalizing question remains unanswered: was the Roman emperor’s spectacular, ritual winery moved in the early third century CE from Villa Magna to the Villa of the Quintilii?

More information:
Emlyn Dodd et al, The spectacle of production: a Roman imperial winery at the Villa of the Quintilii, Rome, Antiquity (2023). DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2023.18

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More than 100 pre-Hispanic religious sites linked to ancient Andean cults discovered in Bolivia


Photographs of the walled concentric sites in the Rio Lauca area of Carangas. Credit: P. Cruz; from GoogleEarth images.

A trio of archaeologists from the National Scientific and Technical Research Council, Argentina, the French National Center for Scientific Research and the Institute of Research for Development, France, has found more than 100 pre-Hispanic religious sites that they believe are linked to ancient Andean cults in Bolivia. In their paper published in the journal Antiquity, Pablo Cruz, Richard Joffre and Jean Vacher, describe the sites they found and highlight one in particular that stood out from the rest.

In this new effort, the researchers were studying hilltops in the Carangas region of Highland Bolivia, which was once home to pre-Hispanic people. By studying images captured by satellites and also examining multiple sites on the ground, the researchers learned more about the sites and to make some guesses regarding their nature and use.

The sites were concentric circles of walls created on hilltops using mostly local material. Most sites featured multiple circles. In all, the research team was able to identify 135 such hilltop sites—all were dated to between AD 1250 and 1600. They note that the large numbers of fragments found at all of the sites had once been part of plates, jars or bowls—this, they suggest, indicates that the sites had served a ceremonial purpose. Prior research has shown that the people of the region conducted rites known as wak’a, which could have been related to the rings on the hilltops.

More than one hundred pre-Hispanic religious sites linked to ancient Andean cults discovered in Bolivia
Photograph and site plan of Waskiri. Credit: P. Cruz.

The group also found one site, Waskiri, that stood out from the others due to both its size and intricacy. It was 140 meters in diameter and was made using two circled walls, one inside the other, the second somewhat smaller. The two rings were connected by adjoining enclosures and contained many ceramic fragments. Also, there was what the researchers describe as a plaza at the center of the ring structure, which also featured ceramic fragments. According to the researchers, the design of the circles suggests they may have had an Incan influence.

The team says the sites represent a rich area of study for a part of the Andes that has not been studied well due to its harsh, cold climate.

More information:
Pablo Cruz et al, A pre-Hispanic religious landscape on the arid Andean altiplano of Bolivia, Antiquity (2023). DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2023.44

© 2023 Science X Network

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Motherhood negatively affects women’s earnings for a decade, finds Australian study


Adjusted predictions of time around first birth for male-breadwinner, equal-earner and female-breadwinner households, with controls. Notes: HILDA Survey, 2001–2019. Credit: Australian Journal of Social Issues (2023). DOI: 10.1002/ajs4.264

A University of Queensland study has shown having a baby negatively affects a mother’s employment earnings for up to 10 years.

Researchers from UQ’s Life Course Center used data from the Household Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey to investigate the impact of on earnings across a period spanning 10 years prior to and 10 years after the birth of a child. The results are published in the Australian Journal of Social Issues.

Lead author and Master of Philosophy student Ruth Steinbring said that while previous research found an immediate “motherhood penalty” on women’s earnings, this study was one of the first to examine the long-term trajectory of household earnings through the transition into parenthood.

“We know that parenthood is a key contributor to loss of earnings for women, but we did not know whether or at what point women started to regain their lost earnings,” Ms. Steinbring said.

“While there is an expectation over the long term that couples will gradually return to pre-parenthood earnings arrangements, our study results do not support this.

“Parenthood affects men and women differently and the gender gap in earnings is still evident up to 10 years after the first birth.”

The study shows the share of households with male breadwinners rises sharply post-parenthood and has still not returned to pre-parenthood levels 10 years on.

It also shows a large decrease in the number of equal-earner households. However there is less fluctuation in the number of female-breadwinner households from pre- to post-parenthood.

Ms. Steinbring said it made economic sense for the person who earned more to continue working.

“Our study confirms that parenthood entrenches the male-breadwinner model, but it also shows that there are some couples who make it work with a female breadwinner and we can learn from those households,” Ms. Steinbring said.

“Current policy mainly focuses on supporting women after the birth of a child, but our research suggests that improving ‘s earnings prior to giving birth can also help improve equality.”

Co-author and Life Course Center Director Professor Janeen Baxter said the study provides valuable new insights into the role of parenthood in over a lifetime.

Professor Baxter said the findings suggest structural, economic and cultural pressures to conform to a male-breadwinner model, and unequal sharing of household and childcaring responsibilities, continued to be a strong influence on post-parenthood .

“This study highlights the need for policymakers to also consider the years prior to parenthood as a key period where targeted supports can foster greater long-term gender equality,” Professor Baxter said.

More information:
Ruth Steinbring et al, Taking the long view: Long‐term couple earnings arrangements across the transition to parenthood, Australian Journal of Social Issues (2023). DOI: 10.1002/ajs4.264

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SpaceX will try to launch most powerful rocket ever Monday


A prototype of Starship, a huge rocket made by SpaceX, sits on a launchpad in Boca Chica, Texas in February 2022.

SpaceX plans to carry out its first test flight on Monday of Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, designed to send astronauts to the Moon and eventually beyond.

The is scheduled to take place at 7:00 am (1200 GMT) from the sprawling Texas base of the private space company owned by billionaire Elon Musk.

Fallback times are scheduled later in the week if Monday’s attempt is postponed.

The US space agency NASA has picked the Starship capsule to ferry its to the Moon as part of the Artemis III mission, set for late 2025 at the earliest.

Starship consists of a reusable capsule that carries crew and cargo and the first-stage Super Heavy booster rocket.

The 164-foot (50-meter) tall Starship spacecraft sits atop the 230-foot tall Super Heavy rocket.

SpaceX conducted a successful test-firing of the 33 Raptor engines on the first-stage booster of Starship in February.

The Super Heavy booster was anchored to the ground during the test-firing, called a static fire, to prevent it from lifting off.

The rocket has never flown in its full configuration, powered by the first stage.

“Success maybe, excitement guaranteed!” Musk tweeted late Friday.

NASA will take astronauts up to itself in November 2024 using its own heavy rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), which has been in development for more than a decade.

Starship is both bigger and more powerful than SLS.

It generates 17 million pounds of thrust, more than double that of the Saturn V rockets used to send Apollo astronauts to the Moon.

SpaceX foresees eventually putting a Starship into orbit, and then refueling it with another Starship so it can continue on a journey to Mars or beyond.

The idea of a reusable launcher, Musk’s broad strategy, is to reduce the price. Each Starship flight could eventually cost “less than $10 million,” he said early last year.

Other super heavy rockets under development include Blue Origin’s New Glenn, China’s Long March 9 and Russia’s Yenisei.

© 2023 AFP

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