Saturday, March 31, 2012

The names of moon rovers

Red Rover, Euroluna, JURBAN, Odyssey Moon, Synergy Moon, Italia, Puli Space and White Land Space are just a few names for moon rovers. In fact, they represent ambitious projects of designing and building rovers to compete in the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLPX), also called Moon 2.0 [1-4]. To win, a participating team has to get its moonbot to the lunar surface by 2015 and guide it around. Sponsored by Google and organized by the X Prize Foundation, you will not be surprised that successful moon missions have to send images and other data back to Earth: from moonbot to Googlebot. Teams are from Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Malaysia, the Netherlands, India, Israel, Italy, Russia, Spain and the United States of America.

 Not only is there a diverse mix of competitors, but also a diversity in design and technology. The Hungarian Puli Space rover with its dreadlocks, for example, looks like a sea urchin. The approximate radial symmetry will allow the Puli Space rover to conquer moon territory by rolling around via its flexible spines [5]. Another interesting approach is the swarm-bot design of  JURBAN with its individually moving parts that can line up and form a robotic earthworm [6]—better call it moonworm! The Jurban team, comprised of high school to doctoral students, designed redundancies in each of the semi-autonomous segments, such that, if one part fails, the swarm or centipede-like moonworm can split up, rearrange and still operate.

What a change from the 1960s and 1970s when only Soviet and US space invaders were competing cold-war style. Back then, the Soviet remote-controlled lunar rover named Lunokhods was the only robot that survived the temperature extremes on the moon, where surface temperatures can change from 248 degrees Fahrenheit at daytime to -274 deg. F. at night [4]. Planning a successful mission to and on the moon is not just rocket science, but materials science as well.     

In case you want to follow the ranging rovers you should be able to: they will send e-mails, twitter about their twists and targets and also post on Facebook. It is time to make the rovers your friends.

Keywords: astrobotics, lunabotics, moonbots, rocket science, engineering, terminology.

References, inspirations and more to explore
[1] Google Lunar X PRIZE:
[2] Wikipedia: Google Lunar X Prize [].
[3] X Prize Foundation: Google Lunar X PRIZE Announces Official Roster of Teams Competing in the $30 Million Race to the Moon. February 17, 2011. Listing of  29 participants:
[4] Michael Belfiore: Bound for the Moon. Scientific American April 2012, 306 (4), pp. 54-59. Also see: Shooting for the Moon [].
[5] Watch the Puli Space urchin rolling on the moon source with Hungarian Rhapsody music:
[6] Don't Count Out GLXP Team JURBAN:

Friday, March 30, 2012

Acronym in mathematics: AM-GM for arithmetic-mean/geometric-mean

The mathematical acronym AM-GM for arithmetic-mean/geometric-mean is frequently used while referring to the AM-GM inequality. The “means” are defined as

An = (x1 +...+ xn)/n   and   
Gn = (x1 ⋅...⋅ xn)1/n

for all  xk 0. The AM-GM inequality states that

An Gn .

The AM-GM equality is sometimes called the Cauchy inequality. In a recent note, Lech Maligranda shows that the AM-GM inequality is equivalent to what now is called the Bernoulli inequality [1]. The latter was proved in the 17th century by Isaac Barrow and Jacob Bernoulli:

xn 1 + n(x - 1)

for any natural number n  and x > 0.

Our acronym expands to AM-GM-HM, when the harmonic mean (HM or Hn) is included. In the AM-GM-HM inequalitiy the “means”are related as follows [2]:

  An Gn  Hn .

Keywords: mathematics, statements, relationships, inequalities, equivalence.

References and details
[1] L. Maligranda: The AM-GM Inequality is Equivalent to the Bernoulli Inequality. The Mathematical Intelligencer 2012, 34 (1), page 1. DOI: 10.1007/s00283-011-9266-8.
[2] Physics Forums > Mathematics > Calculus/Analysis > Inequalities > AM-GM-HM inequality:

Note: the harmonic mean is defined as

Hn = n/(1/x1 +...+ 1/xn).

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Vastitas Borealis, a lowland plain on Mars named for its vastness and northern location

The name for the Martian lowland plain Vastitas Borealis derives from the Latin words vastitas and boreus, meaning vastness (!) or desolation and northern, respectively. This name was coined by the Turkish-born astronomer of Greek descent, Eugène Michael Antoniadi (1870-1944), who is well known in planetary science for his magnum opus on the topography of the Red Planet: La planète Mars (1930) [1-3]. In this book, Antoniadi noted the distinct albedo feature of the vast area that encircles the northern polar region. In 1973, the name Vastitas Borealis was officially adopted by the International Astronomical Union [3].

As part of the Martian northern lowlands, the Vastitas Borealis is of continued interest along with the idea of an ancient ocean that may have filled the basins of the northern hemisphere. A stretch of  the southern extent of the Vastitas Borealis formation is marked by the Deuteronilus contact, interpreted to be a shoreline [4]. The Vastitas Borealis has long been suspected of being sedimentary in origin and this hypothesis is now strongly supported by the findings of recent radar-sounding surveys of the region, using  the MARSIS instrument on board of the  European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter and the SHARAD instrument of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter [5].

The Vastitas Borealis may be considered a vast and monotonous surface feature, but it is hiding scientific treasures underneath. 

Keywords: areology, planetary landscapes, oceanography, history, nomenclature.

References and more to explore
[1] The Encyclopedia of Science: Antoniadi, Eugène Michael (1870-1944) [].
[2] A. J. S. Rayl, C. Dressing and L. Lakdawalla: Space Topics: Planetary Exploration Timelines - A Mars Timeline: 1700 to 1959 []
[3] InfoRapid Knowledge Portal:
[4] L. M. V. Martel: Ancient Floodwaters and Seas on Mars. Planetary Science Research Discoveries (PSRD), July 16, 2003 [].
[5] J. Matson: Swimming on Mars. Scientific American April 2012, 306 (4), p. 22 [].

Related posts on naming Martian surface features:
Airy Crater, Columbia Hills, Eberswalde Crater, Gale Crater, Gusev Crater, Mie Crater, Planitia and Planum, Valles Marineris.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Australopithecus sediba: Sesotho word “sediba” means “fountain”

Australopithecus sediba was discovered in an African miner's pit in August 2008 by Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) in Johannesburg, South Africa [1]: Berger and his team found over 200 bones at that site north of Johannesburg. He named this location Malapa site based on the local Sesotho language, in which Malapa means “homestead.”  The Sesotho language also is the source for the scientific species name: sediba means “fountain”or “wellspring” [1] and can also be understood as “origin.” The common name for A. sedibas became “Karabo.” This name—meaning “answer” in Setswana language—was chosen by Omphemetse Keepile (a 17-year-old student from St. Mary's School in Johannesburg), who submitted the name for a competition and won [2].

The age of the fossil remains have been dated to about two million years ago.  The Malapa fossils include a large number of diverse body parts, some of them with traits that suggest a close relationship to modern humans, while others point towards the “opposite direction” of a closer connection with australopithecines.

Did A. sediba give direct rise to Homo erectus? On the time axis, A. sediba finds its place between very early hominids such as Ramapithecus and younger hominids such as Pithecanthropus erectus, now known as Homo erectus. Controversial viewpoints of how to fit A. sediba into the lineage of human ancestry are currently discussed. Certainly, Karabo provides new answers (and questions) as well as fresh interest in understanding the origins of humankind.

Keywords: paleontology, anatomy, hominids, primates, human evolution, nomenclature, Sotho-Tswana languages, Southern Bantu languages.

References and more to study and explore
[1] Kate Wong: First of Our Kind. Scientific American April 2012, 306 (4), pp. 30-39  [].
[2] Australopithecus sediba fossil named by 17-year-old Johannesburg student. June 4, 2010 [].

Thursday, March 15, 2012


WHEN IN DOUBT—“LOOK IT UP” IN The Encyclopaedia Britannica.  This is how “the sum of human knowledge” (11th edition) was advertised in the May 1913 issue of National Geographic Magazine [1]. In those days—unless you had the current edition on your bookshelves—you either had to go to a friend who did or you had to find a library stuffed with the 29 volumes.

The first edition with some 2,500 pages was published and printed in Edinburgh in 1768 by “a society of gentlemen in Scotland” [2]. The final print edition of 2010 has 32 volumes, containing, in addition to its huge content volume, 2,350 pages without any encyclopedic articles: these pages merely fill the two-volume index.

After 244 years Encyclopaedia Britannica is going out of print, but remains accessible online [3]. The entire content is available for free for one week (March 13 - 20, 2012):

Today, when in doubt, one probably googles a subject of interest before diving into encyclopedia volumes. Further, the internet-based open-source encyclopedia Wikipedia features over 3.5 million articles in its English-language version [4]. Wikipedia continues to expand, growing via updated and new contributions in  English and other languages. You as the user may became the author of a new article.

A comparison between the differing publication models of  Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia can easily turn into a discussion of authority versus cloud sourcing. Which resource is more reliable? When in doubt, consult both. When knowing more, contribute!

[1] Wikipedia about Encyclopædia Britannica:
[2] Encyclopaedia Britannica:
[3] Julie Bosman: After 244 Years, Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops the Presses. March 13, 2012 [].
[4] Encyclopædia Britannica about Wikipedia:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hominid genus Ramapithecus named after Hindu deity Rama

While Australopithecus is seen as Early Man, Ramapithecus has been considered as the earliest hominid. Milford H. Wolpoff critically discussed and challenged this interpretation [1] and today different evolutionary possibilities are regarded: Ramapithecus as an ancestor of  Australopithecus (an ancestor of modern humans) or as an ancestor of the nonhominid orangutan [2].

Whatever ancestry, the namesake of Ramapithecus is the Hindu deity Rama. The first specimen was found by the Englishmen Guy Pilgrim in 1910, while searching for fossils in the Siwaliks Hills of India [3]. The anthropologist H. L. Shapiro writes how the “Hindu god nomenclature” was employed by following discoverers of related fossils: twenty-one years later, the Yale graduate student G. Edward Lewis found fossilized fragments at the same locality and named one specimen Brahmapithecus [3], after Brahma of the Hindu trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. What about Vishnupithecus and Shivapithecus? Well, there is the genus Sivapithecus, of which fossils had also been found in the Siwalik Hills [4,5].

Obviously, Hindu gods do not only inspire religious and philosophical thinking, but charmingly contribute to scientific terminology.  Not just fossils, but space objects have been named after Hindu deities as well, such a the trans-Neptunian object (TNO) Varna.

Keywords: Hominidae, Miocene hominids, human evolution, paleontology, anthropology, anatomy, history, nomenclature, systematics, hinduism.

References and more to explore
[1] Milford H. Wolpoff: Ramapithecus and Homind Origins. Current Anthropology October 1982, 23 (5), pp. 501-522 [].
[2] >  Ramapithecus:
[3] Harry L. Shapiro: Peking Man. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974 (paperback edition); pp. 117-119.
[4] Modern Human Origins > Sivapithecus:
[5] David R. Begun: Sivapithecus is east and Dryopithecus is west, and never the twain shall meet. Anthropological Science 2004 [].

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Early names for “Early Man”

In the evolution chart of Homo sapiens, Australopithecines (hominids that lived about two to five million years ago) have their place before Homo erectus (about 200,000 to 2 million years ago, see Java Man) and “Neanderthal Man”  (about 45,000 to 200,000 years ago).  On the path from ape to man, Australopithecines were the first primates that walked in a bipedal manner broadly similar to that of  “Modern Man,”  as concluded from the scant fossil record [1]. Therefore, Australopithecines are often nicknamed “Early Man.”

The first Australopithecine fossils were discovered in 1924 near Taungs in South Africa: Raymond Dart (1893-1988) described the species and named it Australopithecus africanus, which means southern ape of Africa [2-4]. Ten years later the Scottish physician and paleontologist Robert Broom uncovered further Australopithecus fossils. Additional discoveries followed. Anthropologist H. L. Shapiro reports how all these exciting discoveries in Africa were enthusiastically announced to the scientific world by addressing Early Man with a parade of names: “Paranthropus robustus, Paranthropus crassidens, Plesianthropus transvaalensis, Australopithecus prometheus and Telanthropus capensisis” [4].  The reader will recognize references to African localities, mythology and anatomical characteristics in these names.

Shapiro writes how more names were added, for example Zinjanthropus boisei, known as “Zinj,” discovered in 1959 at Olduvai Gorge, Tanganyika, by members of the “Leakey dynasty.” But careful comparison of all  those variant types resulted in the recognition of mainly two Australopithecine species, differing by dental features and therefore by their diet: A. africanus and A. robustus [4]. Although they may have walked and chewed like humans today, they had much smaller brains, comparable to those of modern apes: early men and women probably didn't think about their names! 

Keywords: Hominidae, paleontology, anthropology, anatomy, history, nomenclature, systematics.

References and more to explore
[1] Edward O. Wilson: The Diversity of Life. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 1999; page 52.
[2] Australopithecus africanus > History of Discovery [].
[3] Chrissy Duhn: Raymond Dart [].
[4] H. L. Shapiro: Peking Man. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974 (paperback edition); pp. 113-116.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Pithecanthropus erectus named by Dutch physician Eugène Dubois after discovery of fossil remains on Java

The extinct hominid species Pithecanthropus erectus is known today as Homo erectus [1]. Fossilized bones of this species were found in the early 1890s by workers of Eugène Dubois, a Dutch Army medical officer, who searched for fossils in Java: the primate fossils including teeth, a lower jaw and an intact skullcap became known as Java Man [2].

Dubois published the discovery and a description of the fossils, which showed features between those of ape and human bones. He named the species associated with the fossil remains Pithecanthropus erectus: Pithecanthropus is derived from Greek and means “ape man.” The anthropologist H. L. Shapiro writes that “erectus was added [to the early scientific name] because the femur found near the skullcap was indistinguishable from that of modern man, its form and size indicating clearly that it was fully adapted for upright posture and a two-legged gait” [3]. However, it was disputed by some scholars if skull and femur came from the same individual.

The Java Man discovery triggered various speculations about human evolution via apes and man-apes. Following discoveries in China (Peking Man) and South Africa added further puzzle pieces to the study of human ancestry. Our understanding of links and dead-ends in the tree of man's and woman's evolution is far from complete and new discoveries may result in new branches and re-charted trees—progressively between ape-like and human. 

Keywords: anthropology, archaeology, primates, anatomy, human evolution, nomenclature, systematics.

References and more to explore
[1] The FreeDictionary >  Pithecanthropus erectus - former genus of primitive apelike men now Homo erectus:
[2] Fossil Hominids FAQ at the Archive > Biographies: Eugene Dubois:
[3] Harry L. Shapiro: Peking Man. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974; pp. 29-32.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Boulder nicknames

Exposed boulders found in the countryside are called erratics referring to their scattered localities. Such erratic rocks can be very large such as “The Big Rock” (Okotoks Erratic) in Alberta, which is part of the Foothills Erratics Train, a group of rocks carried to their current location by glacial ice movement during the ice age [1]. Erratics are found  in the once glaciated areas of North America between and north of New York and Vancouver as well as further south at higher altitudes in the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada.

Sometimes, erratics are called rubbing stones because bison scratched up against them [2]. Another nickname is “leaverites,” meaning “leave'er right there.” In context with an article by Hannah Holmes about glacier pushed boulders, photographer Fritz Hoffmann shows glacial erratics at various places in the United States, including a parking lot in Mystic, Connecticut, and Olmsted Point in Yosemite National Park [2]. Not following the leaverites dogma, Frederick Law Olmstedt designed Central Park by rearranging some erratics. Now New Yorkers may climb these boulders or rub them.  

Erratics are also found in northern parts of Eurasia. In Germany, an erratic rock is called Findling. Centuries before Olmstedt, some Findlinge were rearranged to form ritual structures such as Hünengräber  (for example between Nobiskrug and Upjever near Oldenburg [3]). Hünengrab means “grave yard of giants,” indicating the belief that such heavy granite rocks can only have been moved around by giants or that giants are buried underneath them. How such organized boulder assemblies really came together is still a mystery.

Particular erratics in Germany have nicknames too, for example the red-colored shore-line boulder „Klein Helgoland” of the Baltic island of Rügen. „Klein Helgoland” means „little Helgoland,” referring to the small North Sea Island with the name Helgoland, consisting of red sandstone.

Keywords: natural history, landscapes, ice age, geography.

References and more to explore
[1] Government of Alberta > Alberta History > Historic Sites > Oktotoks Erratic - "The Big Rock" [].
[2] Hannah Holmes and Fritz Hoffmann: How the Rock Got to Plymouth. National Geographic March 2012, 221 (3), pp. 90-105.
[3] V. Bleck: Die (bisher bekannte) Geschichte eines Findlings beim Nobiskrug [].
[4] Findlinge Rügen - Der Findling Uskam, bekannt als „Klein Helgoland” [].

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Arabian surgeonfish named for the orange, scalpel-shaped patch near its tail

The Arabian surgeonfish (Acanthurus sohal) is named for the two orange, scalpel-shaped markings on the skin of both sides of its body near the pectoral fins and tail. In a recent National Geographic article, Kennedy Warne illustrates the marine life in the waters that surround the Arabian Peninsula: Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Red Sea [1]. The bountiful seas include coastal mangrove, coral and sea grass habitats. Warne showcases Arabian surgeonfish on a coral reef in the Red Sea with a glimpse at their combat and grazing behavior. 

The surgery theme is also reflected in the names that have been given to the Arabian surgeonfish in other languages [2]:
French: Chirurgien zébré
German: Rotmeer-Doktorfisch
Spanish: Pez cirujano cebra
Arabian: Fardh and Faridh

The French, German and Spanish terms for surgeon are chirurgien, Chirurg and cirujano, respectively. In German, a physician is called Arzt or Doktor: the latter word appears in Rotmeer-Doktorfisch. Rotmeer means Red Sea. The French and Spanish names focus on the patterns of white stripes, indicated by zébré and cebra for zebra. Unfortunately, my language skills don't go far enough to explain the origin and meaning of the words Fardh or Faridh. Maybe some expert aids with insight?

Keywords: Acanthuridae, Perciformes, ichthyology, comparative linguistics, translation, Arabian world, marine habitats. 

References and more to explore
[1] Kennedy Warne: The Seas of Arabia. National Geographic March 2012, 221 (3), pp.66-89
Note: Warne touches on the battle between different interests of the oil and gas industry,  fishermen and environmentalists, but hints at improving legal protection and marine guardianship taking shape in and between Arabian nation states.
[2] Arabian surgeonfish (Acanthurus sohal) | Factsheet: