September 8, 2012 - A Dinosaur's Last Meal * Was There Life On Mars? * Migrating Birds Leave on Time * Stellar Baby Boom * Silent Spring Turns 50

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On this week's program, we launch our 38th season on CBC Radio by celebrating another milestone - the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson's classic, Silent Spring. We mark the anniversary with an interview with Ms. Carson's most recent biographer. Before that we'll catch up with several Canadian scientists who had exciting summers. The first is a volcanologist who's involved with NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars ; next is an ornithologist who has timed the migration of wood thrushes with incredible precision; and finally an astronomer who unveiled a star-nursery in a massive galaxy cluster.  But first - a dinosaur's last meal. 

 



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A Dinosaur's Last Meal
dino-meal.jpgSinocalliopteryx capturing a Confuciusornis (Artwork: Cheung Chungtat)

A team of researchers from China and the University of Alberta have identified a pair of  carnivorous dinosaurs with the remains of their last meals in their guts.  The dinosaurs are wolf-sized, bipedal feathered predators called Sinocalliopteryx.  One fossil contained in its gut the remains of a small feathered dinosaur.  The other contained the remains of at least two primitive birds, in different stages of digestion.  Both predators must have died and been buried not long after their meals.  Scott Persons, a paleontologist and Ph.D student in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta, was part of the research team.  He's particularly excited about the find because knowing what these dinosaurs were eating tells a great deal about their behaviour, including what kind of hunters they likely were.
          
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Was There Life On Mars?

Several Canadian scientists are helping NASA's Curiosity rover search for signs of life on Mars.  Among them is Dr. Mariek Schmidt, a Volcanologist from the Earth Sciences Department at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario - currently working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.   Dr. Schmidt is part of a team transmitting commands to the rover, as well as analyzing data gathered by its Canadian-made Alpha-Particle X-Ray Spectrometer.  It is hoped that the spectrometer will find clay minerals, an indication of a wetter period on Mars, which may have supported life.

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Migrating Birds Leave on Time

thrush_geolocater.jpgWood Thrush fitted with geolocator.  CourtesyDr. Kevin Fraser
The annual migration route of many birds has been well documented.  But a new study by Dr. Kevin Fraser, from the Department of Biology at York University in Toronto, compared the migration pattern of the wood thrush over consecutive years and came up with startling results.  The 45-gram songbird migrates from its wintering grounds in Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica and Belize to the northeastern U.S., Ontario, Quebec and parts of the Maritimes.  With the aid of tiny geo-locators strapped to the bird, researchers discovered that the wood thrush begins its lengthy migration with uncanny regularity.  The songbird departs within the same three-day period every April, in some cases the same birds have taken flight on the very same day in consecutive years.  Given the changing climate and subsequent change in food availability, this inflexible flight schedule may negatively impact the survival of this already diminishing species.   

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Stellar Baby Boom

phoenix_lg.jpgIllustration of the Phoenix Cluster, image NASA/CXC/M.Weiss
A team led by Canadian astronomer Dr. Michael McDonald, a Hubble Fellow at the Kavli Institute of Astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has found a massive boom of baby stars in one of the brightest and largest galaxy clusters in the sky.  What's been named the Phoenix Cluster has many ordinary galaxies, dominated by an enormous central galaxy.  The gravity of this central galaxy is dragging in gas from elsewhere in the cluster, from which it is forming stars at a prodigious rate.  This gives new insight into the growth of large galaxies because it had been thought that this kind of large, old galaxy rarely formed its own new stars, but generally grew by swallowing up smaller galaxies. 
 

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Silent Spring Turns 50

carson.jpg  
It's 50 years this month since Rachel Carson's landmark book, Silent Spring, was first published.  Almost overnight, it created a new level of awareness about the natural world.  In fact, Carson and her book are credited with launching the environmental movement.  It alerted the public to the dangers of the uncontrolled use of pesticides - most notably DDT - which was ultimately banned as a result of Carson's warning.  Silent Spring is also credited for the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency only a few years after its publication.  To mark the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring, author William Souder has written a new biography of Rachel Carson.  On A Farther Shore, The Life And Legacy Of Rachel Carson explores the inspiration behind Silent Spring and explains why the book's message is still relevant today.   
 

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0