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The Spin | England cricket tours to South Africa didn’t used to be extended sleepovers – The Guardian

England cricket tours to South Africa didn’t used to be extended sleepovers

ODI series will last less than a week – a far cry from 13,000-mile round trips made by steamer and 60-hour coach journeys

Sir Charles Aubrey Smith batting for the Hollywood Cricket Club circa 1932

A philosophical question: does England’s one-day international series in South Africa really count as an overseas tour? The first match takes place on Friday, the last on the following Wednesday. Two of the games are at the same ground in Bloemfontein and the other within day-tripping distance – you can get to Kimberley in less than two hours on the bus. It will be the briefest, slightest cricketing incursion an England team has made to the country. Perhaps, in a modern age of peripatetic players and bite-size schedules, any tour less than a week in length could be reclassified as an “intervention”, or possibly an “extended sleepover”.

Such a drive-by affair would have been a sci-fi fantasy to the first England team to make the journey, in the 19th century. When Major Robert Gardner Warton set sail from Dartmouth to Cape Town in 1888, with a party of seven amateurs and seven professionals, it was practically a pioneering expedition. The potential folly of the endeavour is perfectly captured by Richard Parry and André Odendaal in their overarching history of England’s tours to South Africa, Swallows and Hawke, which was published last year.

Even at the height of an era “characterised by overconfidence, arrogance, ignorance and a relish for risk”, the first cricket tour to southern Africa was a particularly ludicrous idea, say Parry and Odendaal. On the field, the hosts may not have been expected to present too much of a challenge – most of the matches were played against odds for that very reason – but the climate, distances, transport and overall logistics certainly did.

Fixtures were interspersed with journeys of enormous length and discomfort. A 13,000-mile round trip by steamer, with ample food and entertainment, was luxury compared to the travel required between games. With the development of the railways within the Transvaal Republic embargoed under President Kruger, the England team were required to cover nearly 800 miles of their tour by horse-drawn coach or cart.

Charles Aubrey Smith, who captained the side and displayed a flair for the theatrical long before he became a Hollywood actor, wrote a vivid report of the tour for the Sportsman magazine; it included an account of a 60-hour coach journey between Kimberley and Johannesburg, each player wedged tightly against the next. “How we hated our neighbours whose elbows were continually finding our ribs,” he wrote. “How we abused those behind for grinding our backs with their knees.”

Even that stretch wasn’t as painful as the leg to Pietermaritzburg, whose roads, according to Warton, were “strewn with large boulders over which we bumped mercilessly, until our heads and every joint of our bodies ached”.

A vintage illustration of Major Robert Gardner Warton

Either through optimism, poor planning or foolhardy courage, the team also attempted the treacherous mountain passes of the Outeniquas in the dark – until they nearly lost their top batter Bobby Abel over the side and Smith agreed to call a halt til dawn. On another occasion, a group of players were forced to steer a 10-horse coach in an overnight storm after realising the drivers were incapacitated through alcohol and fatigue.

Warton’s tour was a financial flop, but at least it didn’t end with its captain arrested for non-payment of debt as the following one did. If the first tour seemed reckless, the management of the second, led by Walter Read two years later, appears almost delusional. By the time the players landed on the Cape in December 1891, the kitty was already missing the £750 they owed for their ship’s passage.

Captain Read and the tour manager, Edwin Ash, sought emergency funding from a Scottish entrepreneur, James Logan, who had identified cricket as a tool for marketing his business and increasing his social cachet in his adopted country. It was left ambiguous whether Logan’s advance of £750 was a loan or investment; either way, after 14 weeks of Read’s unappealing, risk-averse brand of cricket, the crowds had ceased to show and Logan’s money was gone.

In Empire, War & Cricket in South Africa, Dean Allen recounts how Logan “fearing that he would not be repaid” had Read and Ash detained on their way to the boat that was to take them home to England. They spent three hours under arrest before their ship was finally allowed to depart. In the year to come, Logan would win his legal case against them in Cape Town’s supreme court and a judge ordered them to repay the original loan plus £107 in costs.

As Allen’s book demonstrates, this “moral victory” proved as effective a PR boost for Logan’s reputation as his initial sponsorship of the tour and he went on to shape the early development of cricket in South Africa.

What’s unavoidable in the freshly told histories of these early tours is the sense that a lot of people were on the make. Logan’s contributions to cricket covered over some seriously sharp business practice and one of the reasons Read and Ash’s tour went bust was because they were paying themselves more, as amateurs, than they offered the professionals.

Aubrey Smith, meanwhile, used his tour to network with mining moguls, and stayed on when the rest travelled home to set up an unsuccessful stockbroking business with his teammate Monty Bowden.

Perhaps it’s helpful to know, in the calendar-driven angst about the future of the game, that even cricket’s so-called golden age was as beholden to commercial interests as any other.

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This strange donkey orchid uses UV light to trick bees into thinking it has food – Phys.org

This strange donkey orchid uses UV light to trick bees into thinking it has food
A winter donkey orchid (left) and a prickly bitter-pea. Credit: Cal Wood/iNaturalist; caitlind164/iNaturalist, CC BY

If you’ve ever compared a frozen pizza to the photo on the box, you know the feeling of being duped by appetizing looks.

In our latest study published in Ecology and Evolution, we show that animals—in this case, bees—are also prone to being tricked into making poor decisions, which explains a lot about how gaps in perception are exploited in nature.

When Charles Darwin was testing the theory of evolution 150 years ago, he looked at the interaction between flowering plants and the animals that forage to collect nectar.

This helped establish that flowers have adaptations to promote easier pollinator access, making it beneficial for the animal who gets a food “reward” from them. At the same time, it means the plants get pollinated and can reproduce.

One perplexing problem is some that reproduce by pollination are non-rewarding—the animal doesn’t get nectar from visiting the flower. This is true of certain orchids, yet these flowers are still visited by pollinators and survive well in nature.

<div data-thumb="https://scx1.b-cdn.net/csz/news/tmb/2023/this-strange-donkey-or-2.jpg" data-src="https://scx2.b-cdn.net/gfx/news/2023/this-strange-donkey-or-2.jpg" data-sub-html="Flower shape and colour properties of an orchid (upper row) and a native pea flower (lower row) shown in the field, as individual flowers, and with spectral measurements. Credit: Scaccabarozzi et al., 2023, Author provided”>

This strange donkey orchid uses UV light to trick bees into thinking it has food
Flower shape and colour properties of an orchid (upper row) and a native pea flower (lower row) shown in the field, as individual flowers, and with spectral measurements. Credit: Scaccabarozzi et al., 2023, Author provided

A mistaken identity

With the benefit of modern scientific tools like a spectrophotometer that measures the amount of color, digital ultraviolet (UV) photography and computer modeling of how bees see the world, our international team set out to understand how some orchids have evolved dazzling floral displays.

Our chosen species was the winter donkey orchid (Diuris brumalis), endemic to Western Australia. This non-rewarding, food deceptive plant blooms at the same time as rewarding native pea plants (Daviesia).

As a result, native Trichocolletes bees appear to mistake the orchid for legume plants frequently enough that the orchid gets pollinated.

We quantified the flower color signals from both plants, revealing the main component of the visual information perceived by a bee was in the short wavelength UV region of the spectrum.

This made sense—while our vision sees blue, green and red wavelengths of light as primary colors, bees can see UV reflected light but lack a channel for perceiving primary red.

By using computer models of bee pollinator perception, we observed the orchid mimic species and the native pea plant species did actually look similar in color to bees.

<div data-thumb="https://scx1.b-cdn.net/csz/news/tmb/2023/this-strange-donkey-or-3.jpg" data-src="https://scx2.b-cdn.net/gfx/news/2023/this-strange-donkey-or-3.jpg" data-sub-html="UV photographs of orchid flowers (upper left panel) in natural state and also with applied UV blocking screen. Middle panels show false-colour photographs of flower appearance for a bee, and right hand panel a computer model of how bee vision perceives flower colours. Credit: Scaccabarozzi et al., 2023, Author provided”>

This strange donkey orchid uses UV light to trick bees into thinking it has food
UV photographs of orchid flowers (upper left panel) in natural state and also with applied UV blocking screen. Middle panels show false-colour photographs of flower appearance for a bee, and right hand panel a computer model of how bee vision perceives flower colours. Credit: Scaccabarozzi et al., 2023, Author provided

Putting a UV block on flowers

What was surprising, however, was the non-rewarding orchid flowers—pollinated by deception—actually have more conspicuous advertising for bee vision.

For example, the main display outer flower petals were significantly larger on the orchid plants, and also produced a stronger UV color signal.

To understand if such signaling was biologically relevant, we next conducted with the plants. We used a special UV sun-blocking solution to remove the strong UV signals in half of the orchid species, while the other half retained their natural appearance.

At the completion of the field season, several months latter, we could measure which plants were more successfully pollinated by bees, revealing the strong UV signals had a significant role in promoting pollination in the orchids.

A second interesting finding of the field experiments was the distance between the pea flowers and their copycat orchids was a major factor in the success of the orchids’ deception strategy.

If the orchids with strong UV signals were within close proximity—a meter or two—to the rewarding native pea flowers, the deception was less successful and few orchid flowers were pollinated. However, if the deceptive were about eight meters away from the rewarding model species, this produced the highest success rate in pollination.

Why deception works

It turns out a distance of about eight meters is important because of the way bee brains process color. When bees see a pair of colors in , they can evaluate them at the same time. This leads to very precise color matching. A similar process happens in —we also have to see colors at the same time.

However, seeing color stimuli with a time interval in between means the brain has to remember the first color, inspect the second color, and make a mental calculation about whether the two samples are indeed the same.

Neither bee brains, nor our own, are good at successive color comparisons. This is why when we purchase paint for a repair job we take a sample to get a precise match, rather than try and remember what we thought the color should look like.

Deceptive flowers are successful by exploiting this perceptual gap in how brains have to code information when need to fly several meters in search of more food.

By using a “look at me” strategy (essentially, better advertising than other plants) it is possible to survive in nature without actually offering a food reward to the pollinators. To do this, the plants need to be at an optimal distance from the plants they are mimicking. Not too close and not too far, and success is assured.

More information:
Daniela Scaccabarozzi et al, Mimicking orchids lure bees from afar with exaggerated ultraviolet signals, Ecology and Evolution (2023). DOI: 10.1002/ece3.9759

Provided by
The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.The Conversation

Citation:
This strange donkey orchid uses UV light to trick bees into thinking it has food (2023, February 2)
retrieved 2 February 2023
from https://phys.org/news/2023-02-strange-donkey-orchid-uv-bees.html

This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no
part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

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The world’s oldest fossils or oily gunk? Research suggests these 3.5 billion-year-old rocks don’t contain signs of life – Phys.org

The world's oldest fossils or oily gunk? Research suggests these 3.5 billion-year-old rocks don't contain signs of life
Credit: Saul Shepstein, Author provided

The Pilbara region of Western Australia is home to one of the most ancient surviving pieces of Earth’s crust, which has been geologically unchanged since its creation some 3.5 billion years ago.

Some of the oldest signs of life have been found here, in the North Pole area west of the town of Marble Bar, in black rocks composed of fine-grained quartz called chert.

Some features in the so-called “Apex chert” have been identified as the fossilized remains of microbes much like the bacteria that still survive today. However, scientists have debated the true origin of these features ever since they were discovered 30 years ago.

In new research published in Science Advances, we show the carbon-rich compounds also found in the chert may have been produced by non-biological processes. This suggests the supposed “fossils” are not remnants of early lifeforms but rather artifacts of chemical and geological processes.

Controversial Pilbara fossils

In 1993, American paleobiologist William Schopf spotted carbon-rich filaments in outcrops of the 3.45 billion year old Apex chert. He interpreted them as the charred remains of fossilized microbes similar to cyanobacteria, which were Earth’s first oxygen-producing organisms and are still abundant today.

The world's oldest fossils or oily gunk? Research suggests these 3.5 billion-year-old rocks don't contain signs of life
Veins of black chert found in the Pilbara open a window onto Earth as it was 3.5 billion years ago. Credit: Birger Rasmussen

The existence of fossilized cyanobacteria in such old rocks would imply that life was already pumping oxygen into the air more than a billion years before Earth’s atmosphere became rich in oxygen.

A key piece of evidence in favor of life was the association of with the ancient fossils. This is because living cells are made up of large , which comprise mainly carbon as well as hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and other elements.

In 2002, Schopf’s interpretation was challenged by English paleobiologist Martin Brasier and his team. They showed the “fossils” displayed a variety of shapes and sizes uncharacteristic of cyanobacteria, and indeed, inconsistent with microbial life. What’s more, they also showed the -bearing black cherts were not horizontal beds deposited on the seafloor, but angled veins cutting across the underlying layers of rock.

The fossil-bearing cherts appeared to have formed at high temperatures during . Brasier argued this environment was hostile to life and the “fossils” were, in fact, formed from graphite impurities in the rock. They also speculated that the carbon associated with the “fossils” may not even be biological in origin.

A lively debate ensued, and it has continued ever since.

<div data-thumb="https://scx1.b-cdn.net/csz/news/tmb/2023/the-worlds-oldest-foss-2.jpg" data-src="https://scx2.b-cdn.net/gfx/news/2023/the-worlds-oldest-foss-2.jpg" data-sub-html="Tiny structures like these, found in ancient black chert, have been interpreted as fossilised bacteria. Credit: Brasier et al.“>

The world's oldest fossils or oily gunk? Research suggests these 3.5 billion-year-old rocks don't contain signs of life
Tiny structures like these, found in ancient black chert, have been interpreted as fossilised bacteria. Credit: Brasier et al.

Microbes or hot fluids?

To try to determine where the carbon-rich deposits in the black chert veins came from, we took a very close look at them with a high-magnification electron microscope.

We found it did not come from fossilized bacteria. The oil-like substance occurs as residues in fractures and as petrified droplets, which have previously been mistaken for ancient fossils.

The textures in the black chert veins indicate they were formed when hot fluids rich in silica and carbon moved through cracks in lava flows below vents in the seafloor similar to modern “black smoker” vents. Upon approaching the seafloor, the hot fluids infiltrated layers of volcanic sediment, replacing it with black chert.

If the carbon came from such a hot fluid, this supports findings that the carbon-rich filaments in the Apex chert are not fossils. However, it also raises a new question.

Typically, organic compounds such as oil and gas, which are referred to as “fossil fuels” because they form from the dead remains of algae, bacteria and plants, are generated when these remains are buried and heated to temperatures above 65℃. Chemical reactions release organic compounds, which may accumulate to form oil and gas fields.

However, the sediments from the North Pole area are very thin (less than 50m thick), poor in organic molecules, and sandwiched between kilometers of lava flows. So, how did the organic compounds form in such surroundings?

The world's oldest fossils or oily gunk? Research suggests these 3.5 billion-year-old rocks don't contain signs of life
Black chert veins may have formed when water came into contact with lava at seafloor vents. Credit: NOAA

Seafloor vents on early Earth

A possible alternative pathway is suggested from experimental evidence and research on Martian meteorites. In the absence of traditional biological sources, some of the organic molecules in the chert veins could have formed by non-biological processes.

For instance, when hot water circulates through lava or other igneous rock, water and carbon dioxide can react with mineral surfaces to form organic compounds. Similar reactions have been proposed to explain the presence of organic molecules in Martian meteorites and in some igneous rocks on Earth.

The carbon in black cherts from the Pilbara outback may therefore represent relics of organic compounds that were produced by reactions between water and rock. Indeed, on the early Earth seafloor vents may have created more organic compounds than biological processes did, making it difficult to distinguish between authentic carbon-bearing fossils and oily artifacts.

While more work is underway, early results suggest life was only just surviving 3.5 billion years ago, struggling to gain a foothold in an inhospitable environment. The world then was wracked by regular volcanic eruptions that covered Earth’s surface in lava, and bathed in harsh solar radiation streaming through an atmosphere with no protective ozone layer.

Looking further back in time, the black cherts offer a glimpse of a lifeless planet. Reactions between water and rock at seafloor vents produced a cocktail of organic compounds, perhaps supplying the raw materials for the assembly of the first living cells.

More information:
Birger Rasmussen et al, Organic carbon generation in 3.5-billion-year-old basalt-hosted seafloor hydrothermal vent systems, Science Advances (2023). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.add7925

Provided by
The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.The Conversation

Citation:
The world’s oldest fossils or oily gunk? Research suggests these 3.5 billion-year-old rocks don’t contain signs of life (2023, February 2)
retrieved 2 February 2023
from https://phys.org/news/2023-02-world-oldest-fossils-oily-gunk.html

This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no
part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

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‘Angel Wings’ for Satellites Could Help Mitigate Space Junk – CNET

As futuristic as this sounds, real estate in space is booming. Major corporations and science research organizations are actively vying to send satellites into orbit for extraordinary reasons — developing free internet connection; enhancing GPS systems; monitoring climate change; even analyzing Albert Einstein’s trippy general relativity equations

But while humanity continues to advance technologically, experts are growing increasingly worried about a major issue: We’ve found a new area of the universe to pollute. As of 2021, NASA said, more than 27,000 pieces of orbital debris, or “space junk,” resided in our planet’s gravitational tides — and since then, SpaceX alone has sent hundreds more satellites up there

Typically, when they’re done with their equipment, scientists kind of just wait until stuff in Earth’s orbit starts deorbiting and eventually burns up in our atmosphere. This natural process, however, can take a very (very) long time. 

Thus, hoping to pave a cleaner future for our space-y dreams, the European Space Agency announced the strengthening promise of its innovative, prototype aluminum-coated sail. This device can ride up to orbit with a satellite and help it deorbit whenever.

The concept is called the Drag Augmentation Deorbiting System, or ADEO, braking sail — and in late December, the smallest of its kind completed its final successful demo mission since the program’s seminal one in 2018.

A silver space sail is seen with a gleaming star in the background.A silver space sail is seen with a gleaming star in the background.

An artist’s impression of ESA’s prototype braking sail concept.


ESA

How does it work?

Basically, ESA folded up the 3.5-square meter (38-foot) sail until it could fit in what essentially looks like a 10 centimeter (4 inch) jack-in-the-box package. Scientists then attached the component to a privately built spacecraft called the ION satellite carrier. ION was launched via a Falcon 9 rocket on June 30, 2021.

Then, in December 2022, the sail was deployed to showcase a silvery polyamide membrane secured to four carbon reinforced arms positioned in an X-shape. That increased what’s known as the satellite carrier’s atmospheric surface drag, which refers to a force generated by atoms near the top of the atmosphere that travel opposite to the relative motion of something in low Earth orbit. You can think of drag as friction, but with air.

With such a bolstered drag effect, the spacecraft started lowering its orbital altitude at an accelerated pace, expediting the satellite’s ultimate demise: burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.

“The ADEO-N sail will ensure that the satellite will re-enter in around one year and three months, while otherwise it would have reentered in four to five years,” Tiziana Cardone, an ESA structural engineer who oversaw the project, said in a statement.

Earth is seen in the distance from the ION satellite's perspective. Covering most of the screen is part of the breaking space sail.Earth is seen in the distance from the ION satellite's perspective. Covering most of the screen is part of the breaking space sail.

A camera view from the ION satellite after it unfurled the sail.


HTS

For a wonderful mental picture of all this, ESA thinks of the silver sail as the satellite’s “angel wings,” softly helping it float toward its death. The official name of ADEO’s latest mission was, aptly, “Show Me Your Wings.”

Going forward, the agency says this sail can also be scaled up or down depending on what kind of satellite it’s connected to. 

“The largest variation can be as big as 100 square meters and take up to 45 [minutes] to deploy,” the agency said in a press release. “The smallest sail is just 3.5 square meters and deploy in just 0.8 seconds!”

Passive drag systems like this one aren’t exactly a new concept. According to NASA, such devices represent the most “common deorbit device” for satellites orbiting in low Earth orbit, and present an advantage because they’re quite easy to deal with and can be stored super compactly. 

But what’s striking about ESA’s recent achievement with ADEO is that it seems to be working extremely well, keeping in line with widespread efforts to mitigate the huge issue of space junk. Last year, for instance, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a new “five-year rule” for deorbiting satellites, down from the previous 25 years, and ESA itself has a major initiative to address space pollution.

“We want to establish a zero debris policy, which means if you bring a spacecraft into orbit you have to remove it,” Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s director general, said in a statement last year.

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