Human Evolution Led to an Extreme Thirst for Water

Asher Y. Rosinger

Scientific American | July 01, 2021

Human Evolution Led to an Extreme Thirst for Water

We trekked through the Bolivian Amazon, drenched in sweat. Draped head to toe in bug repellent gear, we stayed just ahead of the clouds of mosquitoes as we sidestepped roots, vines and giant ants. My local research assistant Dino Nate, my partner Kelly Rosinger and I were following Julio, one of my Tsimane’ friends and our guide on this day. Tsimane’ are a group of forager-horticulturalists who live in this hot, humid region. Just behind us, Julio’s three-year-old son floated happily through the jungle, unfazed by the heat and insects despite his lack of protective clothing, putting my perspiration-soaked efforts to shame.

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China’s Mars rover returns first images — scientists say the view is promising

Nature | May 20, 2021

View from the Zhurong Mars rover of its landing platform and departure ramp
An image taken to the front of Zhurong, shows the ramp down from its lander deployed, ready for it to roll off and explore an invitingly flat plain.Credit: China National Space Administration

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has revealed the first images from Mars taken by its Zhurong rover, which arrived on the planet’s surface on Saturday. Scientists say that the shots — which show the rover with its solar panels unfurled and the ramp from its lander deployed — hint that it has arrived at a safe, ideal site from which it can begin exploring.

“The first images show, first and foremost, a terrain that will be easy to drive over,” says Alfred McEwen, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson.Read More »


The Longest Known Earthquake Lasted 32 Years

Stephanie Pappas

Scientific American | May 26, 2021

The Longest Known Earthquake Lasted 32 Years
Credit: Tim Phillips Getty Images

A devastating earthquake that rocked the Indonesian island of Sumatra in 1861 was long thought to be a sudden rupture on a previously quiescent fault. But new research finds that the tectonic plates below the island had been slowly and quietly rumbling against each other for 32 years before the cataclysmic event.

This decades-long, silent earthquake—known as a “slow-slip event”—was the longest sequence of its kind ever detected. It was too subtle and gradual to be noticed during its course, but a new study indicates it may have precipitated the massive 1861 temblor of at least magnitude 8.5, which in turn triggered a tsunami that killed thousands of people. The new study could help today’s scientists watch for dangerous quakes more effectively.Read More »


Why the China Mars rover’s landing site has geologists excited

Smriti Mallapaty

Nature | May 18, 2021

Illustration of the the Chinese State Administration's Mars rover and lander on Mars
China’s Mars rover Zhurong has yet to drive off its lander and start exploring.Credit: Xinhua/Alamy

Now that they know the general landing location of China’s Zhurong Mars rover, scientists are rushing to analyse satellite images and geological maps to pinpoint intriguing features. Of particular significance is a possible mud volcano — a type of landform that no Mars rover has visited before.

“We want to propose the plan for the rover,” says Xiao Long, a planetary geologist at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, who says scientists across China will now have the tantalizing opportunity to influence Zhurong’s journey.Read More »


One million coronavirus sequences: popular genome site hits mega milestone

Nature | April 23, 2021

A lab assistant works on positive COVID tests for sequencing at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Positive COVID tests are prepared for sequencing to study variants at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty

More than 1.2 million coronavirus genome sequences from 172 countries and territories have now been shared on a popular online data platform, which is a testament to the hard work of researchers around the world during the pandemic.

Sequence data have been crucial to scientists studying the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the epidemiology of COVID-19 outbreaks and the movement of viral variants across the planet.Read More »


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 »


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 »


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 »


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 »


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 »