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Mike Siereveld
Mike Siereveld

Construction Workers in Michigan Discover Remains of a Mastodon Skeleton

Mike Siereveld
Mike Siereveld

Construction workers sometimes find themselves moonlighting as paleontologists after inadvertently digging up the remains of prehistoric creatures. In August, for example, a crew in Thornton, Colorado, found a 66-million-year-old adult triceratops skeleton while breaking ground for a public safety facility. Now, hot on the heels of that discovery, the Associated Press reports that workers in Michigan have unearthed bones that belonged to a male American mastodon that died between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago.

The discovery took place in the small town of Byron Center on August 31, when contractors for local home building company Eagle Creek Homes LLC stumbled across the bones while preparing the site of a new housing development.

"Our excavation crew, Bultema Excavating, was digging out a mucky soil area to move to another area in the development when they discovered something unusual in a load of muck," Joe Siereveld, an owner and partner in Eagle Creek Homes, tells Mental Floss. "Closer examination revealed that they were some type of large bones."

At this point, Eagle Creek Homes contacted experts at the University of Michigan to help identify the remains. There, Dan Fisher, director of the university's paleontology museum, "confirmed the bones belonged to a 20-to-30-year-old male mastodon that lived 10,000 to 12,000 years ago," Siereveld says.

Workers initially found only three large bones, but they've since dug up 12 more skeleton fragments, according to Siereveld. He and his business partner, Mike Siereveld, plan to donate their growing fossil collection—which appears to include parts of the extinct mammal's lower jaw, skull, limb bones, pelvis, and spine—to the University of Michigan for research and display.

For Mike Siereveld, the find was "a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he tells Mental Floss. But according to Fisher, it's not uncommon to find fossils like this in Michigan, as both mastodons and mammoths were once drawn to the region's lakes and vegetation. He estimates that around two to three similar discoveries are made in Michigan each year.

But occasionally, these kinds of bones can help scientists draw exciting new conclusions about early life in the Americas. In 2015, for example, Fisher was called to the scene after farmers in the state's Washtenaw County found a remarkably intact wooly mammoth skeleton. Evidence suggests that the mammal had been hunted and killed by humans 15,000 years ago—around 2000 years before humans are believed to have arrived in Michigan.

Check out more pictures of the newly discovered Michigan mastodon skeleton below:

Construction workers in Michigan discovered the remains of a mastodon skeleton, estimated to be around 10,000 years old.
Mike Siereveld

Construction workers in Michigan unearthed the remains of a mastodon skeleton, estimated by experts to be around 10,000 years old.
Mike Siereveld

[h/t AP]

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Scientists Analyze the Moods of 90,000 Songs Based on Music and Lyrics
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iStock

Based on the first few seconds of a song, the part before the vocalist starts singing, you can judge whether the lyrics are more likely to detail a night of partying or a devastating breakup. The fact that musical structures can evoke certain emotions just as strongly as words can isn't a secret. But scientists now have a better idea of which language gets paired with which chords, according to their paper published in Royal Society Open Science.

For their study, researchers from Indiana University downloaded 90,000 songs from Ultimate Guitar, a site that allows users to upload the lyrics and chords from popular songs for musicians to reference. Next, they pulled data from labMT, which crowd-sources the emotional valence (positive and negative connotations) of words. They referred to the music recognition site Gracenote to determine where and when each song was produced.

Their new method for analyzing the relationship between music and lyrics confirmed long-held knowledge: that minor chords are associated with sad feelings and major chords with happy ones. Words with a negative valence, like "pain," "die," and "lost," are all more likely to fall on the minor side of the spectrum.

But outside of major chords, the researchers found that high-valence words tend to show up in a surprising place: seventh chords. These chords contain four notes at a time and can be played in both the major and minor keys. The lyrics associated with these chords are positive all around, but their mood varies slightly depending on the type of seventh. Dominant seventh chords, for example, are often paired with terms of endearment, like "baby", or "sweet." With minor seventh chords, the words "life" and "god" are overrepresented.

Using their data, the researchers also looked at how lyric and chord valence differs between genres, regions, and eras. Sixties rock ranks highest in terms of positivity while punk and metal occupy the bottom slots. As for geography, Scandinavia (think Norwegian death metal) produces the dreariest music while songs from Asia (like K-Pop) are the happiest. So if you're looking for a song to boost your mood, we suggest digging up some Asian rock music from the 1960s, and make sure it's heavy on the seventh chords.

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Space
Watch NASA Test Its New Supersonic Parachute at 1300 Miles Per Hour
NASA/JPL, YouTube
NASA/JPL, YouTube

NASA’s latest Mars rover is headed for the Red Planet in 2020, and the space agency is working hard to make sure its $2.1 billion project will land safely. When the Mars 2020 rover enters the Martian atmosphere, it’ll be assisted by a brand-new, advanced parachute system that’s a joy to watch in action, as a new video of its first test flight shows.

Spotted by Gizmodo, the video was taken in early October at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Narrated by the technical lead from the test flight, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ian Clark, the two-and-a-half-minute video shows the 30-mile-high launch of a rocket carrying the new, supersonic parachute.

The 100-pound, Kevlar-based parachute unfurls at almost 100 miles an hour, and when it is entirely deployed, it’s moving at almost 1300 miles an hour—1.8 times the speed of sound. To be able to slow the spacecraft down as it enters the Martian atmosphere, the parachute generates almost 35,000 pounds of drag force.

For those of us watching at home, the video is just eye candy. But NASA researchers use it to monitor how the fabric moves, how the parachute unfurls and inflates, and how uniform the motion is, checking to see that everything is in order. The test flight ends with the payload crashing into the ocean, but it won’t be the last time the parachute takes flight in the coming months. More test flights are scheduled to ensure that everything is ready for liftoff in 2020.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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