SCIENCE 

Oldest DNA from a Homo sapiens reveals surprisingly recent Neanderthal ancestry

Ewen Callaway

Nature | April 07, 2021

The skull of a modern human female individual from Zlatý kůň
The skull of a modern human female individual from Zlatý kůň. Credit: Marek Jantač

Scientists have sequenced the oldest Homo sapiens DNA on record, showing that many of Europe’s first humans had Neanderthals in their family trees. Yet these individuals are not related to later Europeans, according to two genome studies of remains dating back more than 45,000 years from caves in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic1,2.

The research adds to growing evidence that modern humans mixed regularly with Neanderthals and other extinct relatives, says Viviane Slon, a palaeogeneticist at the University of Tel Aviv in Israel. “It’s different times, different places, and it happens again and again.”Read More »

SCIENCE 

Ancient southern Kalahari was more important to human evolution than previously thought

Benjamin Schoville, Jessica von der Meden, Robyn Pickering, Wendy Khumalo

Down To Earth | April 01, 2021

Ancient southern Kalahari was more important to human evolution than previously thought. Photo: Benjamin Schoville

The Kalahari is a huge expanse of desert in southern Africa, stretching across Botswana and into the northernmost part of South Africa’s Northern Cape province.

It’s in the Northern Cape that we studied and described a new archaeological site, Ga-Mohana Hill, for research just published in Nature.

Our international team, made up of researchers from South Africa, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and Austria, has found evidence for complex symbolic behaviours 105,000 years ago.Read More »

PHYSICS

Is the standard model broken? Physicists cheer major muon result

Davide Castelvecchi

Nature | April 07, 2021

The Muon g-2 ring sits in its detector hall amidst other equipment
The storage-ring magnet used for the g – 2 experiment at Fermilab. Credit: Reidar Hahn/Fermilab

Muons keep on misbehaving. An experiment in the United States has confirmed an earlier finding that the particles — massive, unstable cousins of the electron — are more magnetic than researchers originally expected. If the results hold up, they could ultimately force major changes in theoretical physics and reveal the existence of completely new fundamental particles.Read More »

PHYSICS

Long-awaited muon physics experiment nears moment of truth

Davide Castelvecchi

Nature | March 30, 2021

Muon g-2 experiment at Fermilab
The storage-ring magnet used for the g – 2 experiment at Fermilab. Credit: Reidar Hahn/Fermilab

After a two-decade wait that included a long struggle for funding and a move halfway across a continent, a rebooted experiment on the muon — a particle similar to the electron but heavier and unstable — is about to unveil its results. Physicists have high hopes that its latest measurement of the muon’s magnetism, scheduled to be released on 7 April, will uphold earlier findings that could lead to the discovery of new particles.Read More »

SCIENCE

Why is the Moon bright? Is Easter a full moon? How long does a full moon last? Your Moon questions answered by an astronomer

Jonti Horner

The Conversation | March 29, 2021

If you stepped outside on the weekend and thought, “Gosh, the full moon looks nice tonight”, you are not alone.

According to Google Trends, Moon-related searches are up by more than 60% over the past week in Australia, led by Western Australia and Queensland.

Technically, the Moon is currently “waning gibbous” which means the moment of maximum fullness has passed, and it’s now starting to look smaller. But it’s still quite spectacular.

As someone teaching first-year astronomy at the moment, where much time is spent discussing the Moon, here are my answers to some of the most common recent Moon questions.Read More »

NATURE

What is a derecho? An atmospheric scientist explains these rare but dangerous storm systems

Russ Schumacher

Thunderstorms are common across North America, especially in warm weather months. About 10% of them become severe, meaning they produce hail 1 inch or greater in diameter, winds gusting in excess of 50 knots (57.5 miles per hour), or a tornado.

The U.S. recently has experienced three rarer events: organized lines of thunderstorms with widespread damaging winds, known as derechos.

Derechos occur mainly across the central and eastern U.S., where many locations are affected one to two times per year on average. They can produce significant damage to structures and sometimes cause “blowdowns” of millions of trees. Pennsylvania and New Jersey received the brunt of a derecho on June 3, 2020, that killed four people and left nearly a million without power across the mid-Atlantic region.Read More »

UNIVERSE

No Sign Of Planet Nine? Trail Runs Cold for Hypothetical World

Jonathan O’Callaghan

Nature | February 19, 2021

A blue planet seen in front of the Milky Way.
The hypothetical ninth planet (illustration). Credit: Shutterstock

Planet Nine is dead; long live Planet Nine? For some years, scientists have debated the existence of an unseen planet at least five times the mass of Earth in the outer reaches of the Solar System. Now, the hypothesis has been dealt a blow by a new analysis of distant, icy objects, which questions the evidence that they are under the gravitational pull of a huge planet.

The findings do not rule out the possibility of a ninth planet orbiting the Sun, and astronomers say more data will be needed to put the debate to rest.Read More »

SCIENCE AND ART

How to Shape a Productive Scientist–Artist Collaboration

Virginia Gewin

The Nature | February 17, 2021

Yunchul assembling the Chroma at the studio.
Seoul artist Yunchul Kim assembles his latest work, Chroma, a 15-metre-long structure of laminated polymer in the form of a torus knot.Credit: Yeongho Kim, courtesy of the artist.

Art can be a powerful medium for exploring the deeper meaning of scientific endeavours. Collaborations between scientists and artists are under way around the world, and daily postings to social media with the #SciArt hashtag suggest that the often-disparate domains are merging in fresh and exciting ways. Although many such collaborations aim mainly to engage and educate the general public about science, scientists and artists are recognizing that creative partnerships can turn science into captivating art.Read More »

SCIENCE 

Million-Year-Old Mammoth Genomes Shatter Record for Oldest Ancient DNA

Ewen Callaway

The Nature | February 17, 2021

An illustration of the steppe mammoths that preceded the woolly mammoth
Ancient DNA retrieved from different mammoth species is illuminating a complex evolutionary picture.Credit: Beth Zaiken/Centre for Palaeogenetics

The million-year-old genome is here. Mammoth teeth preserved in eastern Siberian permafrost have produced the oldest ancient DNA on record, pushing the technology close to — but perhaps not past — its limits.

Genomic DNA extracted from a trio of tooth specimens excavated in the 1970s has identified a new kind of mammoth that gave rise to a later North American species. The findings were published in Nature on 17 February1.Read More »

GENDER DISPARITY 

Pay Gap Widens Between Female and Male Scientists in North America

Chris Woolston

The Nature | February 11, 2021

Dozens of women and men attend a rally and march for international Women's Day on March 8, 2018, NYC.
People protest gender wage gaps at a 2018 rally for International Women’s Day in New York City. The wage gap persists among female and male PhD holders in North America.Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty

In North American academia and industry, female scientists with PhDs earn substantially less than do their male counterparts, find two reports that examine wages in the United States and Canada.

The US National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates tracked more than 55,700 people who earned PhDs between 1 July 2018 and 31 June 2019, including more than 33,900 PhD recipients in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and more than 9,000 in psychology and social sciences.Read More »