In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists have used ancient DNA to reconstruct the family trees of dozens of individuals who lived in a small German valley around 4,000 years ago. The genealogies point to social inequality within individual households, which encompassed both high-status family members and unrelated, low-status individuals — possibly servants or even slaves — as well as mysterious foreign females related to no one else.
Sunday, 13 October 2019
Saturday, 12 October 2019
Friday, 11 October 2019
Twenty more moons have been discovered orbiting Saturn, giving the ringed planet 82 — at very least. The discovery establishes Saturn as the planet in our solar system with the most moons, surpassing Jupiter's 79. About 100 even tinier moons may be orbiting Saturn, still waiting to be found.
Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Organic chemists have created in the lab the nucleobases, adenine, uracil, cytosine and guanine — known as A, U, C and G — that could have served as the building blocks of RNA on an early Earth. The team put basic molecules through a series of conditions that could have existed way back when — cycling them from wet to dry, from hot to cold, and from acidic to basic, with chemicals occasionally flowing between two ponds. The results add credence to the idea that life arose from self-replicating, RNA-based genes before organisms developed the ability to store genetic information in the molecule’s close relative, DNA.
Wednesday, 2 October 2019
Scientists are expressing surprise after discovering a solar system 30 light-years away from Earth that defies current understanding about planet formation, with a large Jupiter-like planet orbiting a diminutive star known as a red dwarf.
Stars are generally much bigger than even the largest planets that orbit them. But in this case, the star and the planet are not much different in size.
The star, called GJ 3512, is about 12 per cent the size of our sun, while the planet that orbits it has a mass of at least about half of Jupiter.
Saturday, 21 September 2019
Tuesday, 17 September 2019
Two orthopaedic studies published in 2007 reported evidence to support species status for H. floresiensis. A study of three tokens of carpal (wrist) bones concluded there were differences from the carpal bones of modern humans and similarities to those of a chimpanzee or an early hominin such as Australopithecus. A study of the bones and joints of the arm, shoulder, and lower limbs also concluded that H. floresiensis was more similar to early humans and other apes than modern humans.
In 2015, the results of Bayesian analysis were published, which used more than 300 morphological characteristics of fossil hominins; the analysis was unable to distinguish between the different early hominin trees, but the greatest similarity of H. floresiensis was with Australopithecus sediba, Homo habilis and Dmanisi Man, raising the possibility that the ancestors of Homo floresiensis left Africa before the appearance of Homo erectus, possibly even becoming the first hominins to do so and evolved further in Asia.
A phylogenetic analysis published in 2017 suggests that H. floresiensis was descended from the same (presumably Australopithecine) ancestor as Homo habilis, making it a "sister species" to either H. habilis or to a minimally habilis-erectus-ergaster-sapiens clade, and its line much more ancient than Homo erectus itself. On the basis of this classification H. floresiensis is hypothesized to represent a hitherto unknown and very early migration out of Africa. A similar conclusion was suggested in a 2018 study dating stone artefacts found at Shangchen, central China, to 2.1 million years ago.
Ian Tattersall argues that the species is wrongly classified as Homo floresiensis as it is far too archaic to assign to the genus Homo.
By body mass, differences between modern pygmies and Homo floresiensis are even greater. LB1's body mass has been estimated at 25 kg (55 lb). This is smaller than that of not only modern H. sapiens, but also H. erectus, which Brown and colleagues have suggested is the immediate ancestor of H. floresiensis. LB1 and LB8 are also somewhat smaller than the australopithecines from three million years ago, not previously thought to have expanded beyond Africa.
In addition to a small body size, H. floresiensis had a remarkably small brain size. The brain of the holotype LB1 is estimated to have had a volume of 380 cm3 (23 cu in), placing it at the range of chimpanzees or the extinct australopithecines.
LB1's brain size is half that of its presumed immediate ancestor, H. erectus (980 cm3(60 cu in)). The brain-to-body mass ratio of LB1 lies between that of H. erectus and the great apes.
The bone structure of H. floresiensis shoulders, arms and wrists has been described as very different from that of modern humans, and much more similar to the bone structure of chimpanzees or an early hominin.
Tocheri et al. (2007) (including Morwood, Larson, and Jungers), compared three carpal bones believed to belong to LB1 with carpal bones of modern humans, some earlier hominids (that is, hominins), and African apes. They concluded that the carpals from the Liang Bua cave resembled ape carpal bones and were significantly different from the bones of H. sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis or even Homo antecessor, and that they were comparable to carpal bones of Australopithecus.
Sunday, 15 September 2019
Astronomers have spotted hints of water raining in the atmosphere of a planet beyond the Solar System. The discovery is a rare glimpse of water molecules around a distant world that is not much bigger than Earth. Named K2-18 b, the planet is 34 parsecs (110 light-years) from Earth in the constellation Leo. Notably, it lies in the ‘habitable zone’ around its star — the distance at which liquid water could exist, making extraterrestrial life possible in its hydrogen-rich atmosphere.
Saturday, 14 September 2019
The bubbles are gas structures that can be observed because electrons stirring inside them produce radio waves as they are accelerated by magnetic fields. This activity suggests that the bubbles are the remnants of an energetic eruption of hot gas several millions years ago.
Thursday, 12 September 2019
A team of archæologists analysed 257 footprints discovered at Le Rozel on the coast of Normandy. They found the footprints belong to a group of between 10 and 14 individuals, most of whom were children including a two-year-old.
Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Geologists have reconstructed, time slice by time slice, a nearly quarter-of-a-billion-year-long history of a vanished landmass that now lies submerged, not beneath an ocean somewhere, but largely below southern Europe. The only visible remnants of the continent—known as Greater Adria—are limestones and other rocks found in the mountain ranges of southern Europe. Scientists believe these rocks started out as marine sediments and were later scraped off the landmass’s surface and lifted up through the collision of tectonic plates. Yet the size, shape, and history of the original landmass—much of which lay beneath shallow tropical seas for millions of years—have been tough to reconstruct.
Friday, 6 September 2019
More than half a billion years ago, a strange, worm-like creature died as it crawled across the muddy sea floor. Both the organism and the trail it left lay undisturbed for so long that they fossilised. Now, they are helping to revise our understanding of when and how animals evolved.
The fossil, which formed some time between 551 million and 539 million years ago, in the Ediacaran period, joins a growing body of evidence that challenges the idea that animal life on Earth burst onto the scene in an event known as the Cambrian explosion, which began about 539 million years ago.
Thursday, 29 August 2019
The skull belongs to a species called Australopithecus anamensis, and it gives researchers their first good look at the face of this hominin. This species was thought to precede Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis. But features of the latest find now suggest that A. anamensis shared the prehistoric Ethiopian landscape with Lucy’s species, for at least 100,000 years.
Saturday, 24 August 2019
By bringing two types of data together, physicists have established the first estimate of the mass of the lightest of the elementary particles called neutrinos. Their results show that the lightest of the three neutrinos has a mass of at most 0.086 electronvolts, meaning it is at least 6 million times lighter than an electron.
Thursday, 22 August 2019
Palæoanthropologists have found an exceptionally high rate of bone growths in the ear canals of Neanderthals, which are caused by long-term exposure to cold water or wind chill. They say this is indirect evidence Neanderthals may have actively exploited aquatic environments for food and other resources.
Tuesday, 20 August 2019
Long after most chemists had given up trying, a team of researchers has synthesised the first ring-shaped molecule of pure carbon — a circle of 18 atoms. The chemists started with a triangular molecule of carbon and oxygen, which they manipulated with electric currents to create the carbon-18 ring. Initial studies of the properties of the molecule, called a cyclocarbon, suggest that it acts as a semiconductor, which could make similar straight carbon chains useful as molecular-scale electronic components.
Wednesday, 31 July 2019
Three newly discovered exoplanets could help researchers redefine the shaky line between rocky and gaseous planets, according to new observations from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). TESS, which marks its first year of operations this month, spotted the trio of planets some 73 light-years away from Earth. The exoplanets are of a type that does not exist in our solar system, being between the Earth and Neptune in size.
Wednesday, 24 July 2019
Researchers have developed a new building block for a quantum computer, bringing the technology a tantalising step closer. The team has built the first two-qubit gate between atom qubits in silicon, they report in the journal Nature. The quantum building block, which is capable of performing an operation of 0.8 nanoseconds, is around 200 times faster than existing spin-based two-qubit gates in silicon.
Friday, 12 July 2019
A 210,000-year-old skull seems to be the oldest Homo sapiens fossil ever found outside Africa by 30,000 years. It was discovered, along with another fossil skull nearby, in the Apidima cave in southern Greece in the 1970s, but has only now been analysed using modern techniques. The second skull is that of a Neanderthal, who lived more recently, potentially upending some theories about the order in which Neanderthals and modern humans came to Europe. “Our findings support multiple dispersals of early modern humans out of Africa,” say the researchers, and highlight just how complex the human story is.
Tuesday, 9 July 2019
Archaeologists have known for a century that the distinctive ceramic pots and other artefacts that suddenly appeared in the 12th century B.C.E. Philistine cities resemble artefacts from the Mycenaean empire of Greece, the ancient power that, according to myth, battled Troy. Egyptian hieroglyphics depict a sea battle with people from the north whom 19th century scholars called the "Sea Peoples."
The DNA data suggest a kernel of truth to Greek and Middle Eastern legends that describe survivors who moved south after the catastrophic collapse of great Bronze Age civilisations of the Mediterranean in the late 13th and early 12th centuries B.C.E.
The Levantine Philistines examined had inherited 25% to 70% of their DNA from southern European ancestors, and the closest matches were to ancient people from the Aegean, Sardinia, and Iberia. The remaining DNA was from local people, suggesting their European ancestors had quickly interbred with their new neighbours.
Friday, 5 July 2019
The mathematics hidden in materials keeps getting more exotic. Topological states of matter — which derive exotic properties from their electrons’ ‘knotty’ quantum states — have shot from rare curiosity to one of the hottest fields in physics. Now, theorists are finding that topology is ubiquitous, and recognising it as one of the most significant ways in which solid matter can behave.
Sunday, 30 June 2019
NASA will send a dual-quadcopter drone to hop across the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Named Dragonfly, the mission will launch in 2026 and arrive at Titan in 2034. Dragonfly will study the atmosphere as it flies around, and touch down for extended stays on the moon's surface. The drone will explore areas where methane- and ethane-rich lakes recently dried up — and in the process, might have left behind residue rich with organic compounds like those that may have existed on early Earth before life arose.
Friday, 28 June 2019
At half the weight of a paper clip, 'RoboBee X-wing' has achieved untethered flight using ultra-lightweight solar cells, powering piezoelectric actuators, via a stripped down circuit board. This technology is in its infancy, but could pave the way for a new generation of miniature drones.
Tuesday, 25 June 2019
NASA’s Curiosity rover has measured the highest level of methane gas ever found in the atmosphere at Mars’s surface. The reading taken last week at Gale Crater — 21 parts per billion — is three times greater than the previous record, which Curiosity detected back in 2013. Various spacecraft and telescopes have spotted methane on Mars over the past 16 years, but the gas doesn’t appear in any predictable pattern — deepening the mystery of its origin.
Saturday, 8 June 2019
Tissue mosaics arise as cells accumulate mutations — from DNA errors that creep in during cell division, or because of exposure to environmental factors. When a skin cell with a given mutation divides, it can create a patch of skin that is genetically different from its neighbours.
Wednesday, 5 June 2019
Researchers built an artificial atom out of a superconducting circuit to explore the quantum behaviour and were able to predict when the leap was about to take place. They could even interfere to reverse the jumps and stop them happening, which might come in handy for correcting errors in quantum computing.
Wednesday, 29 May 2019
Chimpanzees in Gabon were seen smashing tortoises' shells and sharing the meat with each other. One male chimp was seen stashing tortoise meat into a shell, storing it in a tree, and retrieving it the following day.
Capuchin monkeys crack open clam shells. Storing food for later retrieval is extremely common across animal species.
Friday, 24 May 2019
Minute fossils pulled from remote Arctic Canada could push back the first known appearance of fungi to about one billion years ago — more than 500 million years earlier than scientists had expected. These ur-fungi are microscopic and surprisingly intricate, with filament-like structures. Chemical analyses suggest that the fossils contain chitin, a compound found in fungal cell walls.
Thursday, 16 May 2019
These newly discovered archaea have genes that are considered hallmarks of eukaryotes. And deep analysis of the organisms’ DNA suggests that modern eukaryotes belong to the same archaeal group. If that’s the case, essentially all complex life — everything from green algae to blue whales — originally came from archaea.
Friday, 3 May 2019
Scientists have uncovered the most complete remains yet from the ancient-hominin group known as the Denisovans. The jawbone, discovered high on the Tibetan Plateau and dated to more than 160,000 years ago, is also the first Denisovan specimen found outside the Siberian cave in which the hominin was uncovered a decade ago — confirming suspicions that Denisovans were more widespread than the fossil record currently suggests.
Tuesday, 30 April 2019
Gravitational waves may have just delivered the first sighting of a black hole devouring a neutron star. If confirmed, it would be the first evidence of the existence of such binary systems. The news comes just a day after astronomers had detected gravitational waves from a merger of two neutron stars for only the second time.
|simulation of a black hole consuming a neutron star|
Wednesday, 24 April 2019
The enormous predator, named Simbakubwa kutokaafrika — “big lion from Africa” in Swahili — roamed what is now Kenya around 22 million years ago and was probably larger than a polar bear. However, Simbakubwa was not a cat, but one of a group of animals called hyaenodonts that includes some of the biggest predatory mammals ever to walk on Earth. Hyaenodonts were the top carnivores before hyaenas, cats, dogs and bears staged their global takeover.
Friday, 12 April 2019
The human family tree has grown another branch, after researchers unearthed remains of a previously unknown hominin species from a cave in the Philippines. They have named the new species, which was probably small-bodied, Homo luzonensis.
The shape of the H. luzonensis foot bones most resembles those of Australopithecus — primitive hominins, including the famous fossil Lucy, thought not to have ever left Africa.
Thursday, 11 April 2019
Astronomers have finally glimpsed the blackness of a black hole. By stringing together a global network of radio telescopes, they have for the first time produced a picture of an event horizon — a black hole’s perilous edge — against a backdrop of swirling light.
Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Friday, 29 March 2019
The new frogs are part of an informal group called microfrogs, which belong to the family Cophylinae. Their discovery brings the total number of Malagasy microfrogs to 108; on average, 10 new species are identified and described per year in the country.
Saturday, 23 March 2019
An experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, has seen a new difference in the way matter and antimatter behave — in decays of particles called D mesons.
Sunday, 17 March 2019
Thursday, 14 March 2019
Fossilised jawbones found in rocks along Victoria's Gippsland coast have been identified as belonging to a new species of plant-eating dinosaur the size of a wallaby that would have roamed the land between Australia and Antarctica.
Saturday, 16 February 2019
Monday, 31 December 2018
Thursday, 6 December 2018
These clocks are so accurate they'd lose just half a second if they lasted the age of the universe. The clocks' exquisite precision, outlined in Nature today, means they can measure how space-time distorts under gravity forces. Eventually, astrophysicists could enlist their help to detect mysterious dark matter.
Wednesday, 5 December 2018
Some 9 billion years ago, a pair of black holes — around 51 and 34 times the mass of the Sun — merged in a colossal collision. They formed a new black hole around 80 times the mass of the Sun, and the ensuing blast in their final seconds sent gravitational waves coursing through space-time. Travelling at the speed of light, those infinitesimally tiny ripples washed through Earth on July 29 last year.
Sunday, 25 November 2018
Astronomers have named the breathtaking pinwheel Apep, after the Egyptian god of chaos and destruction. At its centre are two massive, fast-spinning "Wolf-Rayet stars" which appear to be on the point of exploding. Stars like these are thought to be a source of long gamma ray bursts — a violent blast of radiation never before seen in our galaxy.
Wednesday, 21 November 2018
Barnard's star is the closest single-star system to us. Astronomers have detected signs of a frozen alien world 3.2 times the mass of Earth. If it is confirmed, it will be the second-closest exoplanet to Earth.
Friday, 16 November 2018
Goffin's cockatoos were trained to cut cardboard strips to use as tools. Tools were cut to the right length to reach food. Only the female cockatoo could adjust the tool width.
Wednesday, 14 November 2018
A number of caves in the Indonesian province of Kalimantan contain thousands rock art images of animals, hand stencils and symbols. Sophisticated dating of the paintings shows the earliest paintings were created at least 40,000-52,000 years ago. Paintings shifted from animals to humans at the peak of the Ice Age between 20,000-21,000 years ago.
Wednesday, 7 November 2018
Palæobiologists analysed fossilised eggshells for traces of pigments and found eggs laid by dinosaurs closely related to birds were coloured, while more distantly related dinosaurs were plain, which suggests that modern birds inherited their eggshell hues from dinosaurs, rather than evolving them independently.
Wednesday, 3 October 2018
A round frozen dwarf planet just 300 kilometres across, nicknamed the Goblin, has been discovered well beyond Pluto, further redefining our solar system. This is the third dwarf planet recently found to be orbiting on the frigid fringes of our solar system.
Goblin's orbit is extremely elongated — so stretched out, in fact, that it takes 40,000 years for it to circle the sun. At its most distant, the Goblin is 2,300 times further from the sun than Earth. That's 2,300 astronomical units (AU). One AU is the distance from Earth to the sun, or roughly 150 million kilometres. At its closest, the Goblin is 65 times farther from the sun than Earth, or 65 AU. Pluto, by comparison, is approximately between 30 and 50 AU.