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March 21, 2013 at 6:47 PM
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New map of universe raises new questions

PARIS, March 21 (UPI) -- The most detailed map of the signature radiation the big bang ever created could challenge current understanding of the universe, European scientists say.

The map created from the initial 15 months of data from the European Space Agency's Planck space telescope is the mission's first all-sky picture of the oldest light in the universe when it was just 380,000 years old, the ESA reported Thursday.

A hot dense soup of protons, electrons and photons at about 4,900 degrees F made up the early universe, and it was only when the protons and electrons joined to form hydrogen atoms that the light was set free, scientist said.

The light has been stretched out to microwave wavelengths, equivalent to a temperature of just a few degrees above absolute zero.

Regions of slightly different densities at very early times, indicated by tiny temperature variations, represent the seeds of the future structure of the universe, allowing cosmologists to determine the composition and evolution of the Universe from its birth to the present day.

While the Planck telescope map provides confirmation of the standard model of cosmology, its high precision also reveals peculiar unexplained features that may well require new physics to be understood, scientists said.

One is an unexpected asymmetry in the average temperatures on opposite hemispheres of the sky, which brings into question predictions of the standard model that the universe should generally look the same in any direction from which it observed.

Also, there is a cold spot that extends over a patch of sky much larger than expected, researchers said.

"The fact that Planck has made such a significant detection of these anomalies erases any doubts about their reality; it can no longer be said that they are artifacts of the measurements," Paolo Natoli of the University of Ferrara in Italy said. "They are real and we have to look for a credible explanation."

The anomalies could suggest the universe is in fact not the same in all directions on a larger scale than can be presently observed, some scientists say.

"Our ultimate goal would be to construct a new model that predicts the anomalies and links them together," George Efstathiou of Britain's Cambridge University said. "But these are early days; so far, we don't know whether this is possible and what type of new physics might be needed.

"And that's exciting."

Prehistoric reptile named for 9-year-old

SOUTHAMPTON, England, March 21 (UPI) -- A prehistoric flying reptile has been named for the 9-year-old British girl who found fossilized bones of the creature on the Isle of Wight, scientists said.

After the bones found by Daisy Morris were determined to be from a previously undiscovered species of pterosaur, a scientific paper was published in which the creature was dubbed Vectidraco daisymorrisae, the BBC reported Thursday.

Daisy started fossil hunting at age 3, her mother Sian Morris said, and found the bones "sticking out of the sand" on the beach in 2009 when she was 4 years old.

The family took the bones to expert Martin Simpson at the University of Southampton.

"I knew I was looking at something very special," Simpson said. "And I was right."

The finding was an example of how "major discoveries can be made by amateurs," he said.

Her mother said Daisy has shown a knack for fossil hunting.

"She has a very good eye for tiny little fossils and found these tiny little black bones sticking out of the mud and decided to dig a bit further and scoop them all out," she said of her daughter's discovery.

"We are all very proud of her."

Radar sees meteor crater under Russia lake

CHELYBINSK, Russia, March 21 (UPI) -- Scientists say a radar probe of a lake in Russia's Urals revealed a crater possibly created by a fragment of a meteor that exploded over the region last month.

The meteor broke into seven large fragments when it exploded over the city of Chelybinsk and one of the chunks is believed to have fallen into frozen Lake Chebarkul, creating a hole in the ice about 25 feet in diameter.

Scientists from Russia's Institute of Earth Magnetism, Ionosphere and Radio Wave Propagation carried out a study of the lakebed, RIA Novosti reported Thursday.

"A 3-D image of the bottom shows a 3-meter (10-foot) crater that could have very probably been created by impact with a large meteorite fragment," researcher Alexey Popov said.

The crater isn't directly beneath the hole in the ice but is around 30 feet to one side of it, he said.

Emergencies Ministry divers had searched the site in February but failed to find traces of the meteorite fragment in the thick layer of silt covering the lake bottom, officials said.

The meteorite that exploded over Russia Feb. 15 created a massive shock wave that blew out windows and damaged thousands of buildings around the city of Chelyabinsk, injuring 1,200 people.

Extinctions tied to Earth's volcanic past

NEW YORK, March 21 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say the abrupt disappearance of half of Earth's species 200 million years ago has been linked to a dated set of gigantic volcanic eruptions.

Researchers from Columbia University say the eruptions may have caused climate changes so sudden that many species were unable to adapt, and the pace of those changes could have occurred at a rate similar to that of human-influenced climate warming.

Geological deposits date the so-called End-Triassic Extinction at precisely 201,564,000 years ago, they said, exactly the same time as a massive outpouring of lava.

"This may not quench all the questions about the exact mechanism of the extinction itself," Columbia geologist Paul Olsen said. "However, the coincidence in time with the volcanism is pretty much ironclad."

The geologic deposits analyzed in the study were from the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province, a series of huge eruptions known to have started around 200 million years ago when nearly all Earth's land was massed into one huge continent.

The eruptions spewed an estimated 2.5 million cubic miles of lava in four sudden spurts over a 600,000-year span -- a period when pollen, spores and other fossils characteristic of the Triassic era disappeared, researchers said.

Deposits linked to the volcanic episodes have been found everywhere in the world the researchers have looked, leading Columbia paleomagnetism expert Dennis Kent to say the eruptions "had to be a hell of an event."

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