By Christina Larson, The Associated Press on February 10, 2021.
WASHINGTON – A large conch shell overlooked in a museum for decades is now thought to be the oldest known seashell instrument – and it still works, producing a deep, plaintive bleat, like a foghorn from the distant past.
The shell was found during the 1931 excavation of a cave with prehistoric wall paintings in the French Pyrenees and assumed to be a ceremonial drinking cup. Archaeologists from the University of Toulouse recently took a fresh look and determined it had been modified thousands of years ago to serve as a wind instrument. They invited a French horn player to play it.
“Hearing it for the first time, for me it was a big emotion – and a big stress,” said archaeologist Carole Fritz.
She feared that playing the 12-inch (31-centimetre) shell might damage it, but it didn’t. The horn produced clear C, C sharp and D notes.
The researchers estimate it to be around 18,000 years old. Their findings were published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.
Conch shells have been used widely in musical and ceremonial traditions, including in ancient Greece, Japan, India and Peru. The shell instrument found in the Marsoulas cave is now the oldest known example. Previously, a conch shell instrument found in Syria had been dated to about 6,000 years old, said another Toulouse archaeologist, Gilles Tosello.
The latest discovery was made after a recent inventory at the Natural History Museum of Toulouse. The researchers noticed some unusual holes in the shell. Crucially, the tip of the shell was broken off, creating a hole large enough to blow through. Microscopic inspection revealed the opening was the result of deliberate craftsmanship, not accidental wear, according to Tosello.
By inserting a tiny medical camera, they found that another hole had been carefully drilled in the shell’s inner chamber. They also detected traces of red pigment on the mouth of the conch, matching a decorative pattern found on the wall of Marsoulas cave.
“This is classic, really solid archaeology,” said Margaret Conkey, an archaeologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the research. “This discovery reminds us that their lives were much richer and more complex than just stone tools and big game.”
Marsoulas cave is not located near an ocean, so the prehistoric people must have either moved around widely or used trading networks to obtain the shell, Conkey and the researchers said.
“What makes conch shells so interesting is that the spiral cavity formed by nature is perfectly adept at resonating musically,” said Rasoul Morteza, a composer in Montreal who has studied conch shell acoustics, and was not involved in the paper.
Using a 3D replica, the archaeologists plan to continue studying the horn’s range of notes. Tosello said he hopes to hear the ancient instrument played inside the cave where it was found.
“It’s amazing when there’s an object forgotten somewhere, and suddenly it comes again into the light,” he said.
Follow Christina Larson on twitter: @larsonchristina
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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Fireball caught on-camera over the sky in Chatham, Ont. – Global News
Those looking out at the night sky in Southwestern Ontario Friday night might have spotted a shooting star, or as it’s technically known, a fireball shooting across the sky.
This event was captured by several all-sky meteor cameras belonging to the NASA All Sky Fireball Network and the Southern Ontario Meteor Network, operated by Western University.
Peter Brown, Professor and Canada Research Chair of Meteor Physics Western Institute for Earth & Space Exploration, reported on Twitter the fireball was as bright as the moon and passed directly over Chatham, Ont.
He said the event happened Friday at 10:07 p.m. and that the fireball ended at 30 km height just north of Lake St. Claire near Fair Haven, Michigan.
In a tweet, he wrote “very small or no meteorites likely.”
According to NASA, the video data shows that the meteor appeared 90 kilometres above Erieau on the northern shore of Lake Erie and moved northwest at a speed of 105,800 kilometres per hour, crossing the U.S./Canada border before eroding over Fair Haven, Michigan.
NASA reports the meteor was likely caused by a fragment of a Jupiter family comet, though an asteroidal origin is also possible.
The space agency estimates the brightest of the fireball combined with the speed means any fragment would be at least two kilograms and around five inches in size.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Manitoba company helps land Perseverance rover on Mars with high-speed camera – CBC.ca
It’s only about the size of a loaf of bread. But a high-speed, tough-as-nails camera created by a company in Minnedosa, Man., played an instrumental role in landing NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars last week.
“You could run over it, it could fall, you could throw it out your window. That’s how tough they need to be,” Canadian Photonic Labs president Mark Wahoski said of the camera used in the monumental landing on Feb. 18.
His company, based in the southwestern Manitoba town — population around 2,500 — manufactures high-speed cameras for industrial, scientific and military markets, according to its website.
It took years to design the Perseverance camera in a way that would allow it to withstand the planet’s gravitational force — and snap images fast enough, Wahoski told host Marjorie Dowhos on CBC’s Radio Noon on Friday.
“It’s really hard to comprehend just how fast that is,” he said. “They go anywhere from normal, 30 frames per second — like your cellphone camera — all the way up to 250,000 frames per second.”
And the testing involved to make sure it’s up to the task before it gets sent into space is just as complex.
One of the simulations involved sending a metal sled with rocket engines strapped on top of it down a five-mile railroad bed in California, Wahoski said.
Another saw a helicopter lift a parachute, tied to that same rocket sled, up thousands of feet in the air before sending the sled down the track.
“On one of the tests, they determined they had to make this particular part stronger. So without those tests, the lander probably would not make it,” Wahoski said.
The Manitoba company’s relationship with NASA dates back roughly 15 years, he said — but much of the work that’s happened in that time has been cloaked in secrecy.
“A lot of it you can’t speak about…. You do the test and you do the support and you move on to the next project,” he said.
However, the attention around the Perseverance rover landing has been an exciting development, Wahoski said.
Once the landing finally happened, he said he had one word to describe how he felt: awesome.
“We had to just reflect back and say, ‘Oh gee, yeah, we did some of that.'”
NASA's Perseverance Rover Transmits to Earth from the Surface of Mars – UPI.com
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image during its descent to Mars, using its Descent Stage Down-Look Camera. This camera is mounted on the bottom of the descent stage and looks at the rover. This image was acquired on February 22, 2021 (Sol 1) at the local mean solar time of 10:37:31. A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, paving the way for human exploration of the Red Planet and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith. NASA/UPI
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