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Ancient shell horn can still play a tune after 18,000 years – Medicine Hat News



By Christina Larson, The Associated Press on February 10, 2021.

This photo provided by researcher Carole Fritz in February 2021 a prehistoric wall painting depicting a bison, in a French cave discovered in 1931. Using modern microscopy techniques to examine how a conch shell found at the site was modified and hiring a French horn player to test it out, they found the shell could produce C, C sharp and D notes. By carbon dating other related artifacts in the cave, researchers estimate the age to be around 18,000 years, making the modified conch the world’s oldest seashell instrument known. (Carole Fritz via AP)

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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These sea slugs cut off their own heads and grow an entirely new body – CNET



This image shows the head and body of an Elysia cf. marginata sea slug one day after separation.

Sayaka Mitoh

Most animals can’t lose their bodies and still survive. Two species of sacoglossan sea slugs aren’t most animals. A team of researchers observed sea slugs that severed their own heads and then regrew their bodies complete with hearts and other internal organs. The action of shedding a body part is called autotomy. It’s what lizards do when they lose a tail for self-preservation.

Dropping an entire body is much more dramatic than losing a tail. “We thought that it would die soon without a heart and other important organs, but we were surprised again to find that it regenerated the whole body,” Sayaka Mitoh of Nara Women’s University in Japan said in a Cell Press statement Monday. Mitoh is lead author of a study on the sea slugs published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.

The severed sea slug heads were able to feed within hours.

Sayaka Mitoh

The regenerating sea slugs were younger individuals. It took about a week to regrow the heart and they had completely regenerated their bodies within three weeks. The researchers suggest there may be “stem-like cells” where the neck severs that allow for the regrowth.

The younger sea slug heads were able to move and feed on algae shortly after separation, which seems to have been the key to their survival. Older slug heads didn’t feed.    

The unusual animals take a cue from plants. “The sea slugs in question already were unique in that they incorporate chloroplasts from algae they eat into their own bodies, a habit known as kleptoplasty,” said Cell Press. “It gives the animals an ability to fuel their bodies by photosynthesis.”    

The ability to regrow a body isn’t unheard of. Some species of jellyfish can regenerate after an injury. The self-decapitation part of the sea slugs’ process adds to the mystery though. The researchers suggest the action may be a way to get rid of internal parasites, but the impetus is unclear.

The surprising body regeneration process is already giving scientists ideas for further studies. Said Mitoh, “As the shed body is often active for months, we may be able to study the mechanism and functions of kleptoplasty using living organs, tissues, or even cells.”

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NASA is Considering a Radio Telescope on the Far Side of the Moon – Universe Today



The University of Colorado Boulder and Lunar Resources Inc. have just won NASA funding to study the possibility of building a radio telescope on the far side of the Moon. The project, called FarView, would harvest building materials from the Lunar surface itself, and use robotic rovers to construct a massive, intricate network of wires and antennas across 400 square kilometers. When complete, FarView would allow radio astronomers to observe the sky in low-frequency radio wavelengths with unprecedented clarity.

Radio telescopes work best in isolation. On Earth, if radio telescope operators want to ‘hear’ the sky without interference, they need to establish enormous exclusion zones around the telescope where cellphones, wi-fi, and even the spark-plugs from gasoline cars are banned. FarView proposes to put a telescope in the quietest place we can think of, away from Earthlings and our noisy gadgets. With this Lunar observatory, astronomers would be able to listen to the Universe more clearly than ever before, allowing them to go deeper back in time and space, perhaps even to the cosmic dark ages when the first stars were forming.

The Green Bank Radio Telescope, West Virginia, requires a large ‘Quiet Zone’ surrounding it to avoid interference. Credit: Geremia, Wikipedia Commons.

It just might work, although the plan is still in the earliest stages. FarView is funded by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which works with entrepreneurs to fund ideas that are innovative and technically sound, but largely untried and still in their infancy. NIAC projects are a glimpse at the possibilities of space exploration a decade or more in the future. It will be a long road yet to create the proposed Moon-based observatory.

Dr. Alex Ignatiev, Chief Technology Officer of Lunar Resources, is confident they can pull it off, and do so without breaking the bank. “We could build FarView at about 10% of the James Webb Telescope cost and operate for more than 50 years,” he said. It is an impressive goal.

Building with Lunar Soil

The key to keeping costs down is to build FarView using materials already available on the Moon, otherwise known as in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). ISRU has become a buzzword in recent years with regard to Lunar and Martian exploration, as it is will be necessary to sustain long-duration human activity on the Moon and Mars. In this instance, ISRU will allow FarView to reduce the expensive costs of escaping Earth’s pesky gravity well by building the telescope out of Lunar regolith.

The exact manufacturing process for FarView relies on two techniques. The first is molten regolith electrolysis (melting Lunar soil to separate the metals from the oxygen), and the second is vacuum deposition (laying down thin foil-like films of material). Lunar Resources has experience in both techniques on a small scale; they will need to be ramped up to create the enormous FarView observatory.

During a Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon presentation last December, Ignatiev explained that the regolith across the Moon is a mix of metallic oxides, with more iron in the Mares and more aluminum in the Highlands, and elements like silicon and magnesium available throughout. “Our challenge then in terms of doing manufacturing on the moon with raw materials,” he said, “is to break that regolith-oxygen bond…and obtain the raw elements from that regolith” using electric currents.

Artist’s depiction of a rover laying down antennas on the far side of the Moon. Credit: Lunar Resources.

A small robotic processing factory would extract these metals from the soil, and deposit them into a rover. FarView’s Principal Investigator, Ronald Polidan, told FISO that as the rover drives along, it “melts the regolith surface into a glass, then lays the metal antennas on that, with connecting wires and all the other necessary infrastructure.” Using this method, it would take 26 months to fabricate the 100,000 ten-meter-long dipoles required for the telescope. The rover would only be able to work during the Lunar days (about two Earth weeks long) and have to hibernate during the nights.

Challenges and Opportunities

Building a Lunar telescope sounds complicated, but its principles are fairly straightforward once the materials are extracted. Laying strips of metal foil across the surface of the Moon shouldn’t be too hard, and no large-scale load-bearing construction is necessary for it to work. The best part is that, in theory, the metal dipoles are serviceable and repairable, giving FarView a lengthy lifespan.

To begin operations, however, some other infrastructure will probably be required first. The team plans to build solar panels and batteries from regolith as well, providing power sources for the telescope. They hope ISRU techniques like these will be tested and proven in conjunction with the Artemis program in the coming years.

Finally, for FarView to succeed, some consideration will have to be given to communications. When China landed their Chang’e 4 lander on the far side of the Moon in 2019, they first had to put a communications satellite (Queqiao) at the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange point, to allow the lander to talk to Earth. NASA has no such satellite available yet – and cooperation with China in space has been politically difficult in recent years. A Lunar far side observatory is going to require some innovation: either in engineering, or in diplomacy.

Are Lunar Observatories the Future of Astronomy?

With new mega-constellations like Starlink coming online in the next few decades, Earth-based astronomy is becoming more and more challenging. These low-flying satellite swarms create bright streaks of light which pollute telescope imagery. Lunar observatories might seem like a promising alternative to sidestep this problem. But the fact is that for most types of telescopes, you just can’t beat the cost and convenience of building them on Earth, even if Starlink gets in their way occasionally. As such, it seems likely that Lunar observatories like FarView will only supplement Earth-based observatories, not replace them, at least not anytime soon. Not even with ISRU.

Streaks across Earth-based telescope imagery, caused by an early batch of Starlink satellites in November 2019. Image Credit: NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/CTIO/AURA/DELVE/Clara Martínez-Vázquez and Cliff Johnson.

FarView is exciting not because it solves the Starlink problem (which mostly affects optical telescopes anyways), but rather because FarView offers a unique opportunity for low-frequency radio astronomy, something not viable on Earth due to all of the radio noise we create. With FarView, we could learn things about the cosmic dark ages that just aren’t possible with Earth-based infrastructure. Its scientific value is huge. Just don’t count on it to act as a substitute for mega-constellation regulations, or streak-reducing brightness mitigation techniques. We’re still going to need those to ensure Earth-based astronomy can coexist with mega-constellations, because neither of them are going anywhere any time soon.

New ground-based telescopes like the Vera Rubin Observatory and the Extremely Large Telescope are going to do amazing things in the next decade. If and when FarView joins them, it might just ring in a new golden age of astronomy, with Earth, space, and Moon telescopes alike working together to understand our place in the Universe. It’s a goal worth pursuing, and with a little cooperation and ingenuity, it just might come sooner than we think.

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Video "Perseverance" robot moves to the surface of Mars for the first time –



The U.S. space agency “NASA” announced on Friday that the probe “Perseverance” had succeeded in traveling a few meters on Mars for the first time since it landed on the surface two weeks ago.

The six-wheeled mobile robot advanced four meters on Thursday afternoon, then turned itself to the left and then retracted about two and a half meters to check if its operating systems were working properly.

“Perseverance” was able to take pictures of its own wheels on the surface of Mars, published by NASA. The rover crossed six and a half meters in 33 minutes.

Search for clues to ancient life

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy as I used to be when I saw the wheel tracks,” said the engineer in charge of robot mobility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which designed the vehicle. The engineer noted at a press conference that the first phase of the investigation had progressed very well, completing its mission “a very important step”.

The spacecraft can travel up to 200 meters on each Mars (slightly longer than Earth). It travels at five times the speed of any other Curiosity rover still operating on Mars.

Mobile Android “Preference” has landed The surface of Mars on February 18th The last thing on the Gizero crater that scientists believe to have been a deep lake about 3.5 billion years ago.

Thirty rock samples from the planet will be explored in two years, and another vehicle will return to Earth to find evidence of ancient life on the Red Planet.

Scientists are now observing two journeys of a mobile robot to the delta formed by an ancient river flowing into the lake, as researchers place great importance on exploring it as it is likely to contain large amounts of debris.

The first laser shot from “Supercam”

Before that, the helicopter will launch a small “ingenuity” under the vehicle, which will become the first motor vehicle to fly in the atmosphere of another planet. NASA teams are looking for the best place to conduct this historic experiment “before the end of spring,” Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Hogg promised Friday.

PrioritySo far, its cameras have captured more than 7,000 images on Earth. On February 24, NASA released a remarkable panoramic image that collected several shots taken at the landing site of the mobile robot, showing the top of the Jessero crater.

One of the photos of the vehicle shows a light brown rock. In its analysis, a scientific instrument called “Supercom” was used for the first time. NASA expects to present the results next week.

The U.S. space agency also named the landing site “Perseverance” after Octavia e-Butler, a science fiction writer born in Pasadena, California, where JPL is located.

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