Friday, 19 December 2014

Asteroid 2014 KF39 passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2014 KF39 passed by the Earth at a distance of 16 780 000 km (43.68 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 11.2 % of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly after 6.10 pm GMT on Thursday 18 December 2014. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though had it done so it would have presented only a minor threat. 2014 KF39 has an estimated equivalent diameter of 17-54 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 17-54 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to break up in the atmosphere between 25 and 7 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface. 

 The calculated orbit of 2014 KF39. JPL Small Body Database Browser.

 2014 KF39 was discovered on 20 May 2014 by the University of Hawaii's PANSTARRS telescope on Mount Haleakala on Maui. The designation 2014 KF39 implies that it was the 981st asteroid (asteroid F39) discovered in the second half of May 2014 (period 2014 K).
2014 KF39 has a 388 day year orbital period and an eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 3.6° to the plane of the Solar System, which takes it from 0.96 AU from the Sun (i.e. 96% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) to 1.12 AU from the Sun (i.e. 1.12% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun). It is therefore classed as an Apollo Group Asteroid (an asteroid that is on average further from the Sun than the Earth, but which does get closer). This means that close encounters between the asteroid and Earth areextremely  common, with the last having occured in July this year and the next predicted in November 2015.

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Asteroid 2014 WM365 passed by the Earth at a distance of 8 165 000 km (21.26 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 5.4 % of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun)...
 Asteroid 2014 WD497 passed by the Earth at a distance of 6 144 000 km (15.95 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 4.1 % of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun)...
Asteroid 2014 WY365 passed by the Earth at a distance of 3 381 000 km (8.81 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 2.3 % of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun)...
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A new species of Hupehsuchian from the Early Triassic of Hubei Province, China.

The Hupehsuchians are a group of Marine Reptiles known only from the Early Triassic of Hubei Province, China. Their origins and relationships are obscure, though it has been suggested that they might be related to Ichthyosaurs. They typically have heavily ossified, dense bones on their trunk (which is usually an adaptation to diving or bottom feeding in Marine Reptiles and Mammals, as it helps to reduce buoyancy), combined with inflexible bodies and elongate, flattened snouts.

In a paper published in the journal PLoS One on 17 December 2014, Xiao-hong Chen of the Wuhan Centre of the China Geological Survey, Ryosuke Motani of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of CaliforniaDavis, Long Cheng, also of the Wuhan Centre of the China Geological Survey, Da-yong Jiang of the Laboratory of Orogenic Belt and Crustal Evolution at Peking University and Olivier Rieppel of the Center of Integrative Research at The Field Museum in Chicago, describe a new species of Hupehsuchian from the Early Triassic Jialingjiang Formation at Yangping in Yuan’an County in Hubei Province.

The new species is named Eohupehsuchus brevicollis, where ‘Eohupehsuchus’ means ‘dawn-Hubei-Crocodile’ and ‘brevicollis’ means ‘short neck’. It is a small Hupehsuchian with an estimated length of about 40 cm, though much of the tail is missing giving it a preserved length of 23.6 cm. It has an elongated flattened snout, lacking any teeth, and the shortest known neck of any Hupehsuchian, with only six cervical vertebrae.

Eohupehsuchus brevicollis. Scale bar I cm. Chen et al. (2014).

As a new species notably smaller than other members of the group, which are also known from the same area, it was natural to consider the possibility that Eohupehsuchus brevicollis is in fact a juvenile of another species. However the long bones (limb bones) of the specimen appear well ossified, which is generally taen as a sign of maturity (these bones ossify slowly as an animal grows, and once fully ossified have little potential for further growth), and the number of neck vertebrae is smaller than any other known member of the growth, which, since vertebrates do not usually grow new vertebrae as they grow, strongly implies that it is a new species.

Pectoral and pelvic regions of Eohupehsuchus brevicollis. (A) Pectoral region. (B) Pelvic region. Symbols: Cl, clavicle; Co,coracoid; F, femur; Fi, fibula; H, humerus; h#, hemal spine; Icl, interclavicle; Il, ilium; Is, ischium; n#, neural spine; Pb, pubis; r#, rib; Sc, scapula; v# vertebralcentrum. Colors: blue, vertebral centra; brown, neural spine first segment; green, neural spine second segment; light blue, rib; light green, limb elements;light purple, hemal spines; light yellow, girdle elements; orange, gastral elements; pink, dermal armour second layer; red, dermal armour first layer; red-purple,dermal armour third layer; yellow, parapophysis. Scale bars are 1 cm long. Chen et al. (2014).

The tip of the left forelimb of Eohupehsuchus brevicollis appears to have been lost before burial, probably implying predation or scavenging. Since there are no other signs of scavenging, Chen et al. favour predation as an explanation (i.e. the tip of the limb was bitten off before the animal died), though there is no sign of any healing, which would suggest that the injury occurred shortly before death, though it is unlikely to have been fatal in itself.

Forelimbs of Eohupehsuchus brevicollis. Symbols: bb, broken bones that are kinked from damage; bp, broken bone pieces thatare dislocated; i, intermedium; i–v, metacarpal; H, humerus, R, radius; r, radiale; U, ulna; u, ulnare; 1–5, distal carpal. Scales are 1 cm long. Chen et al. (2014).

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The Pliosaurs were Mesozoic marine reptiles that arose in the Late Triassic or Early Jurassic and persisted till the Late Cretaceous. They were related to modern lizards and snakes, but were fully aquatic, the largest species reaching 15 m in length. All species seem to have been strict carnivores, and at least one species gave birth to live young. Plesiosaurs are thought to have been fully aquatic from their first appearance; they are...

Placodonts were a group of Sauropterygian Reptiles (a group related to Snakes and Lizards that includes the better known Pliosaurs and Plesiosaurs which survived to the end of the Mesozoic) from the mid-to late Triassic. They were large animals, ranging one to...

The Ichthyosaurs were a group of marine tetrapods that resembled dolphins. They appear in the fossil record in the mid-Triassic about 245 million years ago, and survive till the mid-Cretaceous, about 90 million years ago. During the Jurassic they appear to have been the top marine predators, but in the Cretaceous they were...

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Magnitude 1.2 Earthquake in Ross and Cromarty, Scotland.

The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 1.2 Earthquake at a depth of 8 km close to the town of Alness in Ross and Cromerty County, Scotland (about 25 km north of Inverness), slightly after 3.45 am GMT on Wednesday 17 December 2014. There is no danger of any damage or injuries from an Earthquake this small, though it may have been felt locally.

 The approximate location of the 17 December 2014 Ross and Cromarty Earthquake. Google Maps.

Earthquakes become more common as you travel north and west in Great Britain, with the west coast of Scotland being the most quake-prone part of the island and the northwest of Wales being more prone  to quakes than the rest of Wales or most of England. 

The precise cause of Earthquakes in the UK can be hard to determine; the country is not close to any obvious single cause of such activity such as a plate margin, but is subject to tectonic pressures from several different sources, with most quakes probably being the result of the interplay between these forces.
Britain is being pushed to the east by the expansion of the Atlantic Ocean and to the north by the impact of Africa into Europe from the south. It is also affected by lesser areas of tectonic spreading beneath the North Sea, Rhine Valley and Bay of Biscay. Finally the country is subject to glacial rebound; until about 10 000 years ago much of the north of the country was covered by a thick layer of glacial ice (this is believed to have been thickest on the west coast of Scotland), pushing the rocks of the British lithosphere down into the underlying mantle. This ice is now gone, and the rocks are springing (slowly) back into their original position, causing the occasional Earthquake in the process. 
(Top) Simplified diagram showing principle of glacial rebound. Wikipedia. (Bottom) Map showing the rate of glacial rebound in various parts of the UK. Note that some parts of England and Wales show negative values, these areas are being pushed down slightly by uplift in Scotland, as the entire landmass is quite rigid and acts a bit like a see-saw. Climate North East.
Witness accounts of Earthquakes can help geologists to understand these events, and the structures that cause them. If you felt this quake, or were in the area but did not (which is also useful information) then you can report it to the British Geological Survey here.
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The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 1.0 Earthquake at a depth of 7 km on the southeastern Isle of Skye slightly after 12.30 pm British Summertime...

The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 2.9 Earthquake at a depth of 5 km roughly 10 km to the west of Fort William in Highland County, Scotland, slightly after 7.35 pm British Summertime (slightly after 6.35 pm GMT) on Thursday 3 July 2014. This is a large quake for Scotland, but not dangerous and there are...
The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 1.4 Earthquake at a depth of 2 km in the Torridon Hills of western Ross and...
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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Two new species of Homoscleromorph Sponge from Norway.

The Homoscleromorph Sponge Oscarellalobularis was long considered to be a widespread and highly variable species of Demosponge, showing a variable morphology and coming in a variety of colours. Since this species lacked any mineralized spicules, which were for a long time the most reliable means of classifying Sponges, it received little attention from taxonomists. However in 2012 it was revealed by molecular taxonomic methods that the Homoscleromorpha, were not Demosponges at all, but were in fact only very distantly related, and the subsequent promotion of the Homoscleromorpha to full Class status, equivalent to the Demospongiae, Calcarea andHexactinellida. This generated a great deal of interest in Homoscleromorph Sponges, leading to molecular methods being applied to the taxonomy of the group which have led to a far better understanding of relationships within the group and revealed a number of new species.

In a paper published in the journal PLoS One on 30 May 2013, a team of scientists led by Eve Gazave of the Institut Jacques Monod at the Université ParisDiderot and the Mediterranean Institute of Biodiversity and Ecology at Aix-MarseilleUniversité describe two new species of Sponges from populations off the coast of Norway previously assigned to Oscarella lobularis, as part of a wider study into genetic relationships within the genus Oscarella.

The first new species is named Oscarella bergenensis, meaning ‘from Bergen’, as the species was described from specimens collected in Bergen Fjords. This is an orange-red encrusting Sponge reaching 4-8 mm in thickness, with its oscula (exhalent pores; Sponges are filter feeders which take in water through tiny canal openings all over their bodies, but expel it through one or more larger openings called ‘oscula’) raised 2-4 mm above the surrounding surface, which is smooth with small folds. The species was collected at depths of 3-10 m, on the stems of Kelps and granite rock-faces.

Oscarella bergenensis, external morphology in vivo. (o) Osculum. Gazave et al. (2014).

The second new species is named Oscarella nicolae, in honour of Nicole Boury-Esnault, a Sponge biologist and taxonomist. The species is a yellow-ivoryish encrusting Sponge 1.5-3.0 mm thick, with oscula on raised cylindrical tubes ~3 mm above the surface of the Sponge. This species produces a great deal of mucus, and was collected at depths of 3-10 m, on the stems of Kelps and granite rock-faces.

Oscarella nicolae, external morphology in vivo. (o) Osculum. Gazave et al. (2014).

See also…

Reworked Late Ordovician Sponges have been collected from Miocene to Pleistocene across a wide area of northern Europe for over two centuries. These are associated with the course of the Baltic River...

The shallow water reefs around Bonaire and Klein Curaçao in the Caribbean Netherlands are well studied and are considered a biodiversity hotspot, but the...
Sponges (Porifera) are generally considered to be the oldest extant animal group, with a fossil record that extends considerably into the Precambrian; phylogenomic analysis suggests they are the sister group to all other animals, which also suggests an early origin for the group.
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Sharks teeth and scales from the Devonian of Estonia and the Leningrad Region of Russia.

The Main Devonian Field outcrops on the northwestern East European Platform in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, northern Belarus and the Leningrad, Pskov, Novgorod and Vologda regions of Russia. This field represents extensive shallow-water deposits, from which a wide variety of Fish fossils have been recovered. Shark (Chondrichthyan) remains are rare however, with the most abundant Shark taxa recorded being Karksiodus mirus, which is known only from five fragmentary teeth from the Middle Devonian deposits at Aruküla Cave and Karksi, both in Estonia.

In a paper published in the Estonian Journal of Earth Sciences on 20 September 2014, Alexander Ivanov of the Faculty of Geology at St. Petersburg StateUniversity and the Institute of Geology and Petroleum Technology at KazanFederal University and Tiiu Märss of the Institute of Geology at the Tallinn Universityof Technology describe several new specimens of Karksiodus mirus from the Karksi locality and five new localities in the Leningrad Region of Russia.

The Karksi locality in South Estonia produced four of the previously described five specimens, and further investigation yielded three new specimens, as well as a number of Shark scales which may belong to the species (there is no way of determining this).

Chondrichthyan remains from the Burtnieki Regional Stage of the Karksioutcrop, Estonia. (A, B) Tooth of Karksiodus mirus, (A) occlusal and (B) oblique basal views.(CE) Chondrichthyan scales; (C, D) first specimen in (C) lateral and (D) crown views; (E) second specimen in crown view. Scale bars equal 200 µm.Abbreviations: cc, central cusp; ic, intermediate cusp; lvc, large vascular canal opening; tbc, transverse basal vascular canal. Ivanov & Märss (2014).

The first Russian location is on the right bank of the River Lemovzha (a tributary of the Luga), 2.5 km upstream of the village of Khotnezha, where a cliff exposure of sandstones, siltstones, clays and marls 20 m high and 40 m long has produced a variety of Devonian Fish species. A single tooth was recovered from a fossiliferous sandstone layer, which has also produced Chondrichthyan scales assigned to the morphospecies Karksilepis parva. These scales have also been recorded at the Karski locality, making this the second time the two have been found together.

Karksilepis parva; scale in oblique crown view; Lemovzhalocality; Aruküla Regional Stage. Scale bar is 200 µm. Ivanov & Märss (2014).

Karksiodus mirus; Lemovzha locality; Aruküla Regional Stage; (C) lateral and (D) oblique lingual views. Abbreviations:str., striation on tooth; tbc, transverse basal vascular canal. Scale bars equal 200 µm. Ivanov & Märss (2014).

The second Russian location is in Siverskij village on the right bank of the River Oredezh, where an outcrop 10 m high and 60 m long and comprising sandstones with occasional conglomerates has produced a variety of vertebrate fossils, albeit mostly as isolated elements. Two teeth attributed to Karksiodus mirus were recovered from separate sandstone layers here.

Tooth of Karksiodus mirusfrom the Siverskij locality; Aruküla Regional Stage; (A) lingual and (B) labial views. Scale bars equal 200 µm. Ivanov & Märss (2014).

The third Russian location is at Zaitsevo Quarry, 1.2 km to the east of Stroganovo Railway Station in the Gatchina District, where layered sandstones, siltstones and clays have produced a variety of vertebrate fossils, mostly as isolated, and often fragmentary, elements. A single tooth was recovered from a sandstone layer here.

Karksiodus mirus from the Zaitsevo locality; Aruküla Regional Stage; (G) oblique basal and (H) occlusal views. Abbreviations:lvc, large vascular canal opening; tbc, transverse basal vascular canal.Scale bars equal 200 µm. Ivanov & Märss (2014).

The fourth Russian location is from an area of the Kemka River, 9 km upstream of where it meets the Luga, where a series of fossil producing outcrops are found at a point where the river passes through a canyon-like valley. A 7 m high and 40 m long outcrop of sandstones, siltstones, mudstones and clays yielded a single tooth of Karksiodusmirus from a carbonate cemented sandstone layer, which was obtained by dissolving the rock in dilute acetic acid.

Tooth of Karksiodus mirus from the Kemka locality; Burtnieki Regional Stage; oblique basal view.Abbreviations:lvc, large vascular canal opening; tbc, transverse basal vascular canal. Scale bar equals 200 µm. Ivanov & Märss (2014).

The final Russian location is at Novinka Quarry, about 1.1 km south of Novinka Village in the Gatchina District, where a variety of vertebrate remains have been recovered as isolated elements from sandstones, siltstones and clays. Teeth of Karksiodus mirus were recovered from a siltstone layer here.

Tooth of Karksiodus mirus from the Novinka locality; Burtnieki Regional Stage; occlusal view. Abbreviation:cc, central cusp.Scale bar equals 200 µm. Ivanov & Märss (2014).

The additional specimens provide new information on the structure of the teeth of Karksiodus mirus. These are variable in size, ranging from 0.5 to 2.3 mm, and having 2-4 cusps. Internally the teeth have a complex vascular system with four different types of vascular canals.

Karksiodus mirus, microstructure of tooth from Kemka locality; Burtnieki Regional Stage.(A)Longitudinal section from the base and the lateral cusp (details in B and C shown by frames); (B) detail of basemicrostructure; (C) detail of the microstructure on the cusp/base boundary; (D) detail of the microstructure of the cusp. Scale barsequal 100 µm. Abbreviations: avc, ascending vascular canal; dt, dentine tubules; hvc, (sub)horizontal vascular canal; lvc, large vascular canalopening; pc, pulp canal; tbc, transverse basal vascular canal; vco, vascular canal opening.Scale bar equals 200 µm. Ivanov & Märss (2014).

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Palaeontological studies of the Arctic during the Early-to-Middle Eocene have revealed a world in which the ice-free Arctic Ocean was surrounded by lush warm-temperate rainforests, inhabited by creatures such as Alligators, Turtles and Hippo-like Mammals. The...

The Giant Shark, Carcharocles megalodon, is one of the more charismatic creatures of the recent fossil record, a relative of modern Mackerel Sharks that is thought to have been able to reach about 18 m in length, known from the Middle Miocene to the end of the Pliocene, with some claims of the species persisting into the Pleistocene. It is interpreted to have had a life-style similar to the modern Great White Shark, which preys...

Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus) are the largest extant Shark species, and indeed the largest living Fish...
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Sinkhole appears in garden of home in Berkshire, England.

A large sinkhole has appeared in the garden of a house in the village of Upper Basildon near Reading in Berkshire, England. The hole measures about 10 m across and 5 m deep, and first appeared on 5 December 2014, since when it has been growing steadily. This is the second such hole to affect the homeowners this year, a smaller hole having appeared on their drive in February, temporarily trapping their car.

 The December 2014 Upper Basildon Sinkhole. BBC.

Sinkholes are generally caused by water eroding soft limestone or unconsolidated deposits from beneath, causing a hole that works its way upwards and eventually opening spectacularly at the surface. Where there are unconsolidated deposits at the surface they can infill from the sides, apparently swallowing objects at the surface, including people, without trace. Potash, a potassium salt, is readily soluble and can be dissolved quickly if water gains access to deposits, leading to the rapid formation of sinkholes.

On this occasion Clive Edmonds of engineers Peter Brett Associates who are investigating the incident suspects that the incidents may be linked to Victorian brick factory that used to occupy the site, tunnels associated with which run about 16 m bellow the ground in the area. Both holes opened up after periods of extended high rainfall, which may have led to the weakening of supports in the tunnels and sediments above the tunnels losing cohesion and slumping into the void spaces.

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A sinkhole was discovered on Thursday 21 August 2014 at Cowshill in the Weardale District of County Durham, northeast England. At the time the hole was about 5 meters across, but it has been growing ever since, and by Monday 25 August had reached about 35 meters wide, raising fears it may threaten the home of the landowners on whose property it...

A seven-year-old girl has escaped with cuts and bruises after falling into an 8 m sinkhole near her home in Shuttlewood, Derbyshire. Daisy-Mae Jones was...
Three homes were evacuated after a 7.5 m wide sinkhole oppened up in Rippon, North Yorkshire, on...
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A new species of Burr Marigold from Rapa in the Austral Islands, French Polynesia.

The Austral Islands are a group of eight volcanic islands to the south of the Society Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean. Rapa is the second largest of these, covering about 40 km2, and reaching about 650 m above sea-level. The island is generally rugged with many steep basalt cliffs, and a small area of cloud forest on the top of its highest peak, Mont Perau. It is also extremely remote, being nearly 1200 km southeast of Tahiti, 3700 km northeast of the north island of New Zealand, and 8500 km southwest of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. As such it has a high rate of endemism among its plants and animals, with 238 native (i.e. not introduced by man) plants (152 flowering plants plus 86 ferns) including 85 species found only in the Austral Islands (65 flowering plants plus 20 ferns) and 73 are found only on the island of Rapa (53 flowering plants plus 20 ferns), though many of these are threatened by introduced animals, most notably Cows and Goats.

In a paper published in the journal PhytoKeys on 3 October 2014, Vicki Funk of the US National Herbarium in Washington DC and Kenneth Wood of the National TropicalBotanical Garden in Hawai’i describe a new species of Burr Marigold from Rapa. The species is was discovered by a National Geographic Society expedition to the island in March-April 2002, which included scientists from the New York Botanical Garden, the Délégationà la Recherche de la Polynésie Française and the National Tropical Botanical Garden. This expedition was originally planned to last for a month, but a delayed supply ship trapped the scientists for two months. The leader of this expedition, Timothy Motley of the New York Botanical Garden subsequently died, and the whereabouts of the majority of the specimens collected by the first expedition is unknown. A second expedition visited the island in December 2002 and collected more specimens, which were sent to the Paris Herbarium, however these also appear to have been lost.

The new species is placed in the genus Rapa, and given the specific name meyeri, in honour of Jean-Yves Meyer of the Délégation à la Recherche de la PolynésieFrançaise, for his research on the plants of Rapa and work on preserving the islands biodiversity. The species is a small sub-shrub reaching 25 cm tall with 3-4 branches reaching about 8 cm. It has fleshy, toothed leaves and yellow flowers. The species was found growing high on a cliff, and could be collected only by rope.

Bidens meyeri: Close up of a flowering plant, note the gloved finger holding the plant. Jean-Yves Meyer in Funk & Wood (2014).

Bidens meyeri is considered to be Critically Endangered under the terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, as it is known from only two specimens growing on a single ledge on a northeast facing cliff 272 m above sea-level. The cliff had several small ledges with granular soil, and patches of steep slope with patches of low forest and shrubland. This environment is threatened by potential fires, habitat degradation, feral goats and competition with introduced plants.

Jean-Yves Meyer climbing with Bidens in his teeth, note yellow flowering plant on the cliff face just above his left hand. Ron Englund in Funk & Wood (2014).

See also…

Living in limestone habitats requires special adaptations from plants; as such areas tend to have thin layers of alkaline soil over porous bedrock, leading to frequent periods of aridity. Since exposed limestones are most frequently found in upland areas surrounded by areas of lowlands with different environmental conditions, the...

Hawkweeds (Hieracium spp.) are herbaceous flowering plants in the Aster Family (Asteraceae), closely related to Dandelions. There are numerous species in Europe, Africa, Asia, and North and South America, though the precise number of species is open to dispute, as most Hawkweeds are triploid (have three sets of chromosomes, which means that they cannot reproduce sexually (which requires an even number of chromosomes sets, which can then... New species of Daisy from Brazil.                 Daisies of the genus Trichocline are found across southern South America, with a single species from Australia. They are small perennial herbs with red, yellow, orange, or rarely white flowers found on sandy or rocky grasslands, shrublands, or human-modified areas such as roadsides with exposed soil, mostly at high...

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