Airborne laser discovers Roman goldmines

Airborne laser discovers Roman gold mines

A Light Detection and Ranging laser system attached to an aircraft has discovered ancient mining works in Spain – and the complex hydraulics system used by the Romans in the 1st century B.C. to extract gold, including channels, reservoirs and a double river diversion.

Las Medulas, in northeast Spain, was known to be the largest opencast gold mine of the Roman Empire. But the laser system found the mining area extended many miles more. “The volume of earth exploited is much greater than previously thought and the works performed are impressive, (the Romans) having achieved actual river captures,” said Javier Lozano, a geologist at Spain’s University of Salamanca and co-author of the study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Lozano stressed that the real discoverer was the LiDAR technology: “Unlike traditional aerial photography, this airborne laser detection system allows the visualization of archaeological remains under vegetation cover or intensely ploughed areas.”

New plant species found only near Charleston

Discovering a rare new species of life isn’t restricted to globetrotters visiting remote locations like the Amazon rainforests. University of South Carolina botanical curator John Nelson and Douglas Rayner, a biologist at Wofford College, in Spartanburg, S.C., have identified a long-hidden plant found nowhere but South Carolina.

The new species – Stachys caroliniana – made its debut on the international botanical stage last week with a peer-reviewed publication describing its unique characteristics. It has taken some time for S. caroliniana to get its due, but that’s not surprising given the rarity of this new example of what is commonly called a hedge-nettle or woundwort.

Rayner collected the first specimen in 1977 in northernmost Charleston County. It was from a population of plants that has not been located since. In 1984, when working with Rayner at the predecessor of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, Nelson found the same species on Cat Island, along the Santee River south of Georgetown, S.C.

With a couple dozen plants to examine, Nelson was able to make the case that it was a new Stachys species.

How to turn human waste into rocket fuel for NASA

Buck Rogers couldn’t have seen this one coming: At NASA’s request, University of Florida researchers have figured out how to turn human waste – yes, that kind – into rocket fuel.

Dumping it on the moon’s surface is not an option, so the space agency entered into an agreement with the University of Florida to develop test ideas. Pratap Pullammanappallil, an associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Florida, developed with then-graduate student Abhishek Dhoble an anaerobic digester process, which kills pathogens from human waste and produces biogas – a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide – by breaking down organic matter in waste. Their process could produce 76.6 gallons of methane per crew per day, all in a week, Pullammanappallil said.

“Methane can be used to fuel the rockets. Enough methane can be produced to come back from the moon.”

The study was published in the journal Advances in Space Research.