Thursday, November 20, 2008

Reconstruction of the Skull of Nicolas Copernicus Reveals Face of 16h-Century Astronomer

A skull discovered buried in the cathedral of Frombork in Poland has proved to be that of the astronomer Niclolas Copernicus, who put forth the heliocentric theory of the Sun being the center of the universe. The actual burial site of the famed priest-astronomer was unknown until now. Genetic material from the skull was matched with hair found in one of Copernicus's books.

Using modern reconstructive forensics graphics, Polish archaeologist Jerzy Gassowski and his team recreated the 16th-century astronomer's face. The result shows a resemblance to how he was depicted in many old illustrations and paintings, although in some, his jaw is pointed (left) and not square as his "younger" portraits show. SInce his jaw is not among the remains found, we can only speculate on whether he was square- or pointy-jawed. At least the nose is consistent in all of the pictures. Notice how they've even got the vest right?

Alas, poor Copernicus for he was ridiculed for saying the Sun was the center of the universe - but at least we now now him well.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

First Pictures of a Planet in the Fomalhaut System

Extrasolar planets are being discovered by astronomers routinely these days. It's now a fact that out galaxy is rich with planets of different sizes and distances from their parent stars. It's just like what science fiction writers have envisioned all this time. But while we used to only read about such discoveries and pictures of the new planets are always unavailable.

Now, for the first time, astronomers have shown pictures of a planet (Fomalhaut b) of the Fomalhaut (Arabic for "mouth of fish") system. The picture of the star, which is surrounded by a ring of gas that looks like the Eye of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings movies, was taken way back in 2006, but the discovery of Fomalhaut b was released only on November 13, 2008.

It is one of the first visible-light images of a planet that's 25 light years from our Sun. The camera used to capture it is mounted on the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronomer Paul Kalas and his team at the University of California in Berkeley, were responsible for the images.

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Cave People Had Bad Hair Days Too

We're not strangers to bad hair days. Everyone of us has had them time and again. But we always wonder why there are times when our hair goes bad. Now, scientists appear to have the answer, and it goes way back 300 million years ago with the conclusions taking their cues from the genetic research on a chicken and a lizard. Yes, it's true, we have learned much about the evolution of our hair from creatures with feathers and leathery scales.

What researcher Leopold Eckhart of the Medical University of Vienna in Austria found out and reported to LiveScience was that keratin, the building blocks of hair, had it's origins in claws. According to Eckhart, the common ancestor of reptiles and mammals (including birds), developed claws and that it was when mammals came to be 210 million years ago that they evolved into hair.

Eckhart and colleagues found a single humanlike gene of keratin in the chicken and six in the lizard. It must mean people are more related to the lizard than to the chicken - which must be why we prefer to eat chicken instead of lizards. Our cavemen ancestors probably felt a kinship to lizards, who knows. Anyway, they probably had their bad hair days as well, especially before the invention of the comb.

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