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Cold Climates Correlate With Big Bodies For Human Ancestors – NPR

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A reconstructed Neanderthal skeleton, right, and a modern human version of a skeleton, left, on display at the Museum of Natural History in New York in 2003. A new study confirms that early humans who lived in colder places adapted to have larger bodies.

Frank Franklin II/AP

Frank Franklin II/AP

Big bodies are good for cold places.

That’s the gist of a foundational rule in ecology, which has been around since the mid-1800s: animals that live in colder places tend to have larger bodies, especially birds and mammals that need to regulate their body temperatures. For example, some of the largest whale and bear species have evolved in the coldest reaches of the planet.

The rule applies broadly to modern humans, too. Populations that evolved in colder places generally have bigger bodies.

That’s also true of human ancestors, a new study finds. The research offers conclusive evidence that human body size and climate are historically connected.

In general, our ancient relatives got much larger as they evolved. “Over the last million years, you see that body size changes by about 50 percent and brain size actually triples, which is a lot,” explains Andrea Manica, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Cambridge. “And there have been all sorts of theories about what might have underpinned those two big changes in size.”

Manica and a team of paleontologists and climate scientists in Germany and the United Kingdom set out to test one of those theories: that the local climate was driving brain and body growth. They examined about 300 fossils of human ancestors collected in Europe, Asia and Africa, and used the same basic climate data that scientists use to predict future climate change to estimate instead temperature and precipitation over the last million years.

“We reconstructed climate back in time, so we could say what the climate was when that specimen was alive,” Manica says.

The researchers found that human ancestors and Neanderthals living in colder places generally had larger bodies. Past studies suggested this might be true, but didn’t assemble such broad evidence. For one thing, past research often relied on rough, global estimates of the past climate, whereas the new study estimates what each human ancestor would have experienced in their region.

The new findings are “reasonably convincing,” says Mark Collard, who studies human evolution at Simon Fraser University in Canada and was not involved in the study. However, he suspects that the new analysis may overstate the relationship between temperature and body size because of uncertainties in both the fossil record and the climate data.

The authors of the new study also found that the rapid increase in human brain size over the last million years was not strongly correlated with climate. “For brains, you need other explanations,” says Manica, perhaps such as diet or social structures.

For decades, scientists who study human evolution have posited that what our ancestors ate — whether it was cooked or raw, included meat or only vegetables — influenced how our brains evolved. It’s also possible that more complex social structures and group communication are linked to brain growth in human ancestors.

“I suspect that social factors such as group size are more likely to influence brain size,” Collard says.

Modern humans need not worry that the new findings about body size and climate will show up in our daily lives.

The Earth is getting steadily hotter due to human-caused climate change. But human body size will not shrink as a result, at least not in the near future.

That’s because it takes many, many generations for humans to evolve. The average human generation is about 30 years, so it would take hundreds or even thousands of years of sustained warming before human body size changed in reaction to global warming. And, even then, the changes would be very slight — about 1 kilogram per 2 degrees of warming, Manica says.

“We’re not going to shrink tomorrow,” he says. “That’s the good news. But climate change is problematic for many other reasons.”

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NASA spots double crater on Moon caused by mystery rocket crash – ZDNet

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A rocket body impacted the Moon on March 4, 2022, creating a double crater.

Image: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Astronomers have finally identified the impact site of a mystery rocket that curiously created two craters on the dark side of the Moon. 

The rocket part hit the Moon on March 4, but astronomers only reported the discovery of the impact site last week. There’s now an eastern crater on the Moon about 18 meters in diameter (19.5 yards) that’s superimposed on a western crater measuring 16 meters in diameter (17.5 yards). 

Innovation

According to NASA, the double crater may indicate that the rocket body had large masses at each end. So far, no other rocket crashes on the Moon have created double craters, even though Apollo SIV-B craters were larger. 

SEE: NASA’s Mars helicopter has a problem. This clever software trick could fix it

Neither NASA nor any other astronomers have been able to confirm which nation or company’s rocket it was. 

“Typically a spent rocket has mass concentrated at the motor end; the rest of the rocket stage mainly consists of an empty fuel tank,” said Mark Robinson, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, in a NASA press release. 

“Since the origin of the rocket body remains uncertain, the double nature of the crater may indicate its identity.” 

Robinson is also the principal investigator for the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera and a new NASA lunar-imaging experiment called ShadowCam. 

Per the New York Times, there was speculation in January that the rocket part was the second stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 that was launched in 2015 on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for its “DSCOVR” Deep Space Climate Observatory project. But that was later ruled out.  

Bill Gray, the developer of Project Pluto astronomical software, first spotted the rocket in January and was tracking it as it approached the Moon. 

SEE: NASA delays its Psyche asteroid mission

He’d posited in January, as reported by Ars Technica, that it was the Falcon 9 part, but a NASA engineer said the launch trajectory didn’t fit with the orbit of the rocket. 

Gray later concluded the likely candidate was a Long March 3C rocket launched from China in 2014. 

But China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed in a statement on February 21 that “the upper stage of the rocket related to the Chang’e-5 mission entered into Earth’s atmosphere and completely burned up”. 

Gray disagrees with China’s assessment and thinks it got “two different, but similarly named, lunar missions mixed up”.  

He also argues some official agency like the US Space Force, or potentially some international agency, should be tracking space junk in far-away space, not just objects like astroids in lower orbit.  

“Many more spacecraft are now going into high orbits, and some of them will be taking crews to the moon. Such junk will no longer be merely an annoyance to a small group of astronomers,” wrote Gray on his Project Pluto blog.

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G2V Optics soars on aerospace opportunities – Taproot Edmonton

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G2V Optics has sent solar simulators to NASA to help test a spacecraft that aims to solve Earth’s growing space-junk problem. It’s the latest success in the Edmonton-based company’s evolution toward using its “Engineered Sunlight” technology to help aerospace organizations know what to expect from the sun once they get their devices into orbit.

“It’s a huge project, and … a fantastic feather in the cap of everybody in our team who worked on it,” G2V Optics CEO Ryan Tucker told Taproot. “And I think an awesome thing for Edmonton and our technology.”

G2V Optics has received US$822,100 in contracts from NASA since 2021. This project, the culmination of a two-year procurement process, is for the testing of OSAM-1, a spacecraft that is scheduled to be launched in 2026 to service Landsat 7, a satellite that is past its prime. If OSAM-1 can successfully dock with Landsat 7 and refuel it, then NASA will be a step closer to increasing the life expectancy of satellites, even those that were not designed to be serviced in orbit, and decrease the number of out-of-commission craft at risk of smashing into each other around our planet.

This is not the first foray into the space business for G2V Optics. In addition to a previous contract with NASA laboratories, the company has been working with the Centre nationale d’études spatiales (CNES) in France to enable the testing of technology involved in the 2024 Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission, in which a rover will land on Phobos and fly by Deimos.

“We don’t put anything into space. But we’re creating all the photons to make sure that everything works when they send it there,” Tucker said, noting that it’s fun to have a preview of the space research going on. “We kind of get to peek behind the curtain of these really interesting and exciting space exploration missions before they become public.”

Space is not where G2V Optics started when it was founded in 2015. After founder and CTO Michael Taschuk first developed the company’s light-emitting diode technology at the National Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Alberta, its first applications tended to be in food production, specifically to maximize the efficacy of vertical farming.

“From a technical perspective, (we) did remarkable things,” Tucker said. “We were able to grow 30% more biomass with the same amount of energy and improve what was possible by using the complexity of our technology. But we realized that we were too early for that market … it’s such a nascent industry that’s dealing with its own challenges around scaling.”

At the same time, solar cell researchers and aerospace companies were ready for what G2V makes.

“We all of a sudden started working in this sector, with this more complex requirement, that was a perfect fit for what we had developed,” Tucker said. “That’s the traction that you’re looking for, right? Your job as a startup is to find that fit. And it wasn’t exactly where we thought it was. But we were, I like to think, smart enough to listen to it and to chase it when we found it.”

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NASA rocket launches to test new orbit for moon missions – CBC News

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NASA wants to experiment with a new orbit around the moon that it hopes to use in the coming years to once again land astronauts on the lunar surface.

So it is sending up a test satellite from New Zealand. The initial stages of the launch went according to plan late Tuesday, with the rocket carrying the satellite reaching space.

If the rest of the mission is successful, the CAPSTONE CubeSat satellite — only about the size of a microwave oven — will be the first to take the new path around the moon and will send back vital information for at least six months.

Technically, the new orbit is called a near-rectilinear halo orbit. It’s a stretched-out egg shape with one end passing close to the moon and the other far from it.

Imagine stretching a rubber band back from your thumb. Your thumb would represent the moon and the rubber band the flight path.

“It will have equilibrium. Poise. Balance,” NASA wrote on its website. “This pathfinding CubeSat will practically be able to kick back and rest in a gravitational sweet spot in space — where the pull of gravity from Earth and the Moon interact to allow for a nearly-stable orbit.”

Eventually, NASA plans to put a space station called Gateway into the orbital path, from which astronauts can descend to the moon’s surface as part of its Artemis program.

Group effort

For the satellite mission, NASA teamed up with two commercial companies. California-based Rocket Lab launched the rocket carrying the satellite, which in turn is owned and operated by Colorado-based Advanced Space.

The mission came together relatively quickly and cheaply for NASA, with the total mission cost put at $32.7 million.

Getting the 25-kilogram satellite into orbit will take more than four months and be done in three stages.

First, Rocket Lab’s small Electron rocket launched from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. Just nine minutes later, the second stage called Photon separated and went into orbit around Earth. Over the next five days, Photon’s engines are scheduled to fire periodically to raise its orbit further and further from Earth.

Six days after the launch, Photon’s engines will fire a final time, allowing it to escape Earth’s orbit and head for the moon.

Photon will then release the satellite, which has its own small propulsion system but which won’t use much energy as it cruises toward the moon over four months, with a few planned trajectory course corrections along the way.

“Perfect Electron launch!” Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck tweeted Tuesday. “Lunar photon is in Low Earth Orbit.”

Rocket Lab spokesperson Morgan Bailey said it was the most ambitious and complex mission it has undertaken so far and comes after more than two years of work with NASA and Advanced Space. She said it will be the first time Rocket Lab has tested its HyperCurie engine that will be used to power Photon.

“Certainly lots of hard problems to solve along the way, but we’ve ticked them off one by one, and made it to launch day,” Bailey said.

Bailey said one of the advantages of the orbit is that, theoretically, a space station should be able to maintain continuous communication with Earth because it will avoid being eclipsed by the moon.

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