Why Are the Vermilion Cliffs So Red?


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Why Are the Vermilion Cliffs So Red?

The red Vermillion Cliffs of Arizona

Credit: tobkatrina/Shutterstock

If you’ve ever visited the Grand Canyon, Arizona’s Vermillion Cliffs or the astonishingly rainbow-colored hills of China’s Zhangye National Geopark, you likely noticed they have one thing in common: red-colored rocks.

How did these rocks get so red? The answer involves iron, which bonds with other elements to form minerals famous for their red, rusty hue.

To start at the beginning, the iron on Earth came from ancient supernova events, the collapse of large stars that ran out of energy and “died.” After these stars collapsed (due to extreme gravity at their centers), they released a vast amount of new energy, which fused together elements, creating heavier elements, including iron (Fe).

After the force from such a collapse got too immense, the collapsing star exploded outward, sending the elements into space, said Jessica Kapp, a senior lecturer and associate department head of the geosciences department at the University of Arizona. [Photo Timeline: How the Earth Formed]

“When Earth first formed, it grabbed up a bunch of these elements from the space around it, including iron,” Kapp told Live Science in an email.

In Earth’s early history, during the Archean era (4 billion to 2.5 billion years ago), there was little oxygen in the atmosphere. Without oxygen, iron can dissolve in water, and so Earth’s early Archean oceans carried large amounts of dissolved iron, said Terry Engelder, a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University.

However, single-celled organisms began producing oxygen through photosynthesis — a process that uses sunlight to power a reaction between water and carbon dioxide, leading to the creation of carbohydrates and oxygen.

That oxygen got into the oceans and bonded with the iron, leading to the creation of iron-oxide minerals, such as hematite (Fe2O3), which is often red in color, and magnetite (Fe3O4).

“An oxidation reaction you might be familiar with is rusting — when metal reacts with the oxygen in the air and becomes rust,” Kapp said. “In rocks, it is little grains of minerals like hematite and magnetite that have iron in them. Those minerals experience oxidation and become rust, turning the rocks red.”

The creation of these minerals led to the formation of the banded iron formations, the most important iron deposits in the world, Engelder said. The formations are “banded” because they contain layers of hematite between layers of silica, which were laid down as sedimentary rock layers during the during the late Archean to mid-Proterozoic (an era lasting from 2.5 billion to 541 million years ago), according to a 2016 study in the journal Geoscience Frontiers.

The Danxia Rainbow Mountains, located within the National Geopark of Zhangye in China.

The Danxia Rainbow Mountains, located within the National Geopark of Zhangye in China.

Credit: Kattiya.L/Shutterstock

For instance, banded iron formations appear in Carajas, Brazil; Lake Superior, Canada; Hamersley Basin, Western Australia; regions in northern China; and the Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota.

In the case of the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona, the red color comes from iron-rich minerals that are interspersed with the sedimentary rock at that site.

“Red sandstones are very common in the western United States,” Kapp said. “[They] can be found in places like Sedona, Arizona, and in the Mojave Desert of California at Red Rock Canyon State Park.”

Other red rock formations that contain oxidized iron minerals include the Chugwater Formation in Wyoming, Montana and Colorado and theRedwall Limestone cliff of the Grand Canyon, which was stained red by the iron-oxide minerals leaching out from the layers above it.

Original article on Live Science.

Why Are Atheists Generally Smarter Than Religious People?


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Why Are Atheists Generally Smarter Than Religious People?

Credit: patrice6000/Shutterstock

For more than a millennium, scholars have noticed a curious correlation: Atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people.

It’s unclear why this trend persists, but researchers of a new study have an idea: Religion is an instinct, they say, and people who can rise above instincts are more intelligent than those who rely on them.

“Intelligence — in rationally solving problems — can be understood as involving overcoming instinct and being intellectually curious and thus open to non-instinctive possibilities,” study lead author Edward Dutton, a research fellow at the Ulster Institute for Social Research in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. [Saint or Spiritual Slacker? Test Your Religious Knowledge]

In classical Greece and Rome, it was widely remarked that “fools” tended to be religious, while the “wise” were often skeptics, Dutton and his co-author, Dimitri Van der Linden, an assistant professor of psychology at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, wrote in the study.

The ancients weren’t the only ones to notice this association. Scientists ran a meta-analysis of 63 studies and found that religious people tend to be less intelligent than nonreligious people. The association was stronger among college students and the general public than for those younger than college age, they found. The association was also stronger for religious beliefs, rather than religious behavior, according to the meta-analysis, published in 2013 in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.

But why does this association exist? Dutton set out to find answer, thinking that perhaps it was because nonreligious people were more rational than their religious brethren, and thus better able to reason that there was no God, he wrote.

But “more recently, I started to wonder if I’d got it wrong, actually,” Dutton told Live Science. “I found evidence that intelligence is positively associated with certain kinds of bias.”

For instance, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that college students often get logical answers wrong but don’t realize it. This so-called “bias blind spot” happens when people cannot detect bias, or flaws, within their own thinking. “If anything, a larger bias blind spot was associated with higher cognitive ability,” the researchers of the 2012 study wrote in the abstract.

One question, for example, asked the students: “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” The problem isn’t intuitive (the answer is not 10 cents), but rather requires students to suppress or evaluate the first solution that springs into their mind, the researchers wrote in the study. If they do this, they might find the right answer: The ball costs 5 cents, and the bat costs $1.05.

If intelligent people are less likely to perceive their own bias, that means they’re less rational in some respects, Dutton said. So why is intelligence associated with atheism? The answer, he and his colleague suggest, is that religion is an instinct, and it takes intelligence to overcome an instinct, Dutton said. [8 Ways Religion Impacts Your Life]

The religion-is-an-instinct theory is a modified version of an idea developed by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, who was not involved in the new study.

Called the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis, Kanazawa’s theory attempts to explain the differences in the behavior and attitudes between intelligent and less intelligent people, said Nathan Cofnas, who is pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom this fall. Cofnas, who specializes in the philosophy of science, was not involved with the new study.

The hypothesis is based on two assumptions, Cofnas told Live Science in an email.

“First, that we are psychologically adapted to solve recurrent problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors in the African savanna,” Cofnas said. “Second, that ‘general intelligence’ (what is measured by IQ tests) evolved to help us deal with nonrecurrent problems for which we had no evolved psychological adaptations.”

The assumptions imply that “intelligent people should be better than unintelligent people at dealing with ‘evolutionary novelty’ — situations and entities that did not exist in the ancestral environment,” Cofnas said.

Dutton and Van der Linden modified this theory, suggesting that evolutionary novelty is something that opposes evolved instincts.

The approach is an interesting one, but might have firmer standing if the researchers explained exactly what they mean by “religious instinct,” Cofnas said.

“Dutton and Van der Linden propose that, if religion has an instinctual basis, intelligent people will be better able to overcome it and adopt atheism,” Cofnas said. “But without knowing the precise nature of the ‘religious instinct,’ we can’t rule out the possibility that atheism, or at least some forms of atheism, harness the same instinct(s).”

For instance, author Christopher Hitchens thought that communism was a religion; secular movements, such as veganism, appeal to many of the same impulses — and possibly ‘instincts’ — that traditional religions do, Cofnas said. Religious and nonreligious movements both rely on faith, identifying with a community of believers and zealotry, he said.

“I think it’s misleading to use the term ‘religion’ as a slur for whatever you don’t like,” Cofnas said.

The researchers also examined the link between instinct and stress, emphasizing that people tend to operate on instinct during stressful times, for instance, turning to religion during a near-death experience.

The researchers argue that intelligence helps people rise above these instincts during times of stress. [11 Tips to Lower Stress]

“If religion is indeed an evolved domain — an instinct — then it will become heightened at times of stress, when people are inclined to act instinctively, and there is clear evidence for this,” Dutton said. “It also means that intelligence allows us to be able to pause and reason through the situation and the possible consequences of our actions.”

People who are able to rise above their instincts are likely better problem-solvers, Dutton noted.

“Let’s say someone had a go at you. Your instinct would be to punch them in the face,” Dutton told Live Science. “A more intelligent person will be able to stop themselves from doing that, reason it through and better solve the problem, according to what they want.”

The study was published May 16 in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.

Original article on Live Science.

The Mummy Returns: Egyptian Dignitary’s Face and Brain Reconstructed


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The Mummy Returns: Egyptian Dignitary’s Face and Brain Reconstructed

The mummified head of Nebiri, an Egyptian dignitary who lived under the reign of the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Thutmoses III.

Credit: Francesca Lallo

An international team of researchers has reconstructed the face and brain of a 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummy, revealing a unique “packing” embalming treatment.

Consisting of a well-preserved head and canopic jars containing internal organs, the remains belong to Nebiri, an Egyptian dignitary who lived under the reign of the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Thutmoses III (1479–1425 B.C.).

Nebiri’s mummy became famous two years ago when he was diagnosed with the oldest ever case of chronic heart failure. [Photos: The Amazing Mummies of Peru and Egypt]

He was between 45 [and] 60 years old when he died,” Raffaella Bianucci, a bioanthropologist in the Legal Medicine Section at the University of Turin, told Live Science. “His tomb in the Valley of the Queens was plundered in antiquity and his body deliberately destroyed.”

In 1904, Italian Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli found what remained of the mummy, now housed at the Egyptian Museum in Turin.

Now, after his desecration, Nebiri has been brought back to life through modern forensics. Using a type of computed tomography and facial reconstruction techniques, the researchers produced an impressive facial approximation.

Nebiri appears as a man with a prominent nose, wide jaw, straight eyebrows and moderately thick lips.

Scientists have reconstructed the face of Nebiri, an Egyptian dignitary.

Scientists have reconstructed the face of Nebiri, an Egyptian dignitary.

Credit: Philippe Froesch

“The reconstruction is nice, but this is not just art in my eyes,” Philippe Charlier, a forensic pathologist and physical anthropologist at the University of Paris 5, told Live Science. “It is a serious forensic work based on the latest techniques of facial reconstruction and soft tissues over skull superposition. Beyond beauty, there is anatomical reality.” [Image Gallery: The Faces of Egyptian Mummies Revealed]

Preliminary chemical data presented at the World Mummy Congress held in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 showed that the linen bandages had been treated with a complex mixture of an animal fat or plant oil, a balsam or aromatic plant, a coniferous resin and heated Pistacia resin. The recent CT scans revealed the bandages were carefully inserted almost everywhere in the head, in the nose, ears, eyes and mouth.

Researchers reconstructed the brain of Egyptian dignitary Nebiri.
Researchers reconstructed the brain of Egyptian dignitary Nebiri.

Credit: Philippe Froesch

Nebiri’s mummified head is the result of a “perfect packing,” Bianucci, Charlier and colleagues explained in a paper published in the journal Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology.

Additional packing was introduced into the mouth to fill the cheeks.

“The meticulous packing created a barrier to protect the body from insect colonization. At the same time, it had a cosmetic purpose, allowing the facial features and neck to maintain their original lifelike appearance,” Bianucci said.

Intriguingly, CT scans showed a tiny hole in a honeycomb-like bone structure known as the cribriform plate, which separates the nasal cavity from the brain. However, the brain was not taken out.

“Given the meticulous treatment of the head, it can be speculated that the perforation of the cribriform plate was not performed to extract the brain, but to insert the linen packing,” the researchers wrote.

Indeed, fragments of linen strips can still be seen within the dehydrated cerebral tissue.

Using data from the CT scan, the researchers could perform a 3D brain surface reconstruction, which allowed them to reconstruct soft tissues destroyed or modified by post-mortem alterations.

“No anatomical anomalies were detected,” Bianucci said.

The elaborate treatment of the head is like the embalming found in the nonroyal couple Yuya and Thuya, the researchers noted. DNA analysis conducted in 2010 identified the couple as the great-grandparents ofTutankhamun.

“We were able to add strength to the argument that Nebiri was [a] high elite,” the paper’s first author, Robert Loynes, at the KNH Center for Biomedical Egyptology at the University of Manchester in England, told Live Science.

Loynes noted the head is a rare example of a high-status funerary treatment of an early 18th Dynasty nonroyal individual.

“It’s a unique finding that predates the developments seen in later 18th to 20th Dynasty kings, queens and kin,” Loynes said.

Dario Piombino-Mascali, an anthropologist at the University of Messina in Sicily, who next month will begin a mummy field school in Sicily (giving students field experience investigating mummies), found it striking that the head alone could reveal so much about mummification.

“Using a combination of non-invasive techniques, the researchers have been able to find a particular treatment of the brain, which did not require its removal,” Piombino-Mascali, who is not involved in the study, told Live Science.

At the crossroads of forensic anthropology and osteo-archaeology, the research opens new possibilities for the study of mummies.

“The brain reconstruction was produced from the Dicom file of the CT scan and, therefore, could be reproduced on any other mummy which had been CT scanned,” Loynes said.

Original article on Live Science