On the horizon

Dinosaur discovery

Scientists in Argentina have discovered a short-necked dinosaur, giving them a new appreciation for plant-eating animals known collectively as sauropods.

The dinosaur, which they dubbed Brachytrachelopan, lived in the late Jurassic period on Gondwana, one of two large super continents that split from their parent landmass Pangea some 200 million years ago. The new find is roughly half as long as the 90-foot-long Diplodocus, and sports a much shorter neck.

The late Jurassic period, which stretched from 154 million to 144 million years ago, was the heyday of sauropod evolution, according to paleontologists Oliver Rauhut and Kristian Remes, who led the research team. The long-necked variety have been found in North America, while an intermediate-length, short-necked relative has been uncovered in Tasmania - also part of Gondwana during this period.

The team suggests that their new animal specialized in munching low- hanging plants, instead of the wider variety of vegetation available to its long-necked kin. This would have limited its access to food, accounting for the smaller body size. The results appear in Thursday's edition of the journal Nature.

A galaxy's expanding waistline

The Andromeda Galaxy, long a staple for stargazers on a clear, dark night, has always been bigger than it looks. Now, a team of astronomers say that the giant spiral galaxy is more than twice as wide as previously believed. The "hoop" bounding her galactic skirts has stretched from roughly 80,000 light-years to 220,000 light-years across.

Astronomers led by CalTech's Scott Chapman and Rodrigo Ibata of the Observatoire Astronomique in Strasbourg, France, measured the motion of 3,000 stars once thought to make up the galaxy's extended halo. Instead, the stars are moving around the core. The stars appear to have come from smaller galaxies that long ago merged with Andromeda - as the Milky Way will in about 3 billion years.

Andromeda's larger dimensions may send theorists back to the computer terminal. "This giant disk is very hard to reconcile with computer simulations of forming galaxies," Dr. Ibata said. The work was unveiled Monday at the summer meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Minneapolis.

Siberia's shrinking lakes

Global warming is taking its toll on Arctic lakes, according to a study led by Laurence Smith, a geographer at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Dr. Smith and colleagues from the University of Alaska and the State University of New York at Syracuse compared satellite photos of more than 10,000 lakes across a 200,000 square-mile area of northern Siberia. The images, taken between 1973 and 2004, show that lakes covered 6 percent less area at the end of the study period. Eleven percent of the largest lakes lost enough water to cost them their ranking as "large" (covering roughly 100 acres or more). Some 125 lakes vanished, giving way to vegetation. The losses occurred despite a slight increase in average rainfall. In some patches, lakes grew in area and number. The growth resulted from the ground slumping where a continuous layer of permafrost had thinned. The slumped area then filled with water. The team's results appear in the journal Science.

Recycled diplomas?

Graduation festivities this week at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, has been billed as the nation's first known "zero-waste" graduation ceremony. The school has placed recycling bins in strategic locations to collect paper and plastic bottles. It will compost food wastes to use in its gardens and in community plots. Utensils, bowls, and cups will be made from starch-based materials. Pathways will be designated by woven kiwi vine, and electric buses will ferry visitors to events.

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