To the uninitiated, they look like chipped rocks.
To Julio Mercader of the University of Calgary, they look like two-million-year-old messages from the dawn of human technology.
“It is really the beginnings of technological dependence,” said Mercader, lead author of a paper published Thursday in the journal Nature.
“The tools are from an early phase of that period that is marking a new relationship between humans and the environment.”
The paper presents the combined work of 29 scientists from three continents. They analyzed a few dozen stone tools found at Oldupai Gorge, an African site considered by many to be where humans first appeared. Dating back two million years, the hand axes, quartz flakes and rock cores are among the oldest tools ever found.
They are so old they predate Homo sapiens. They may have been the work of Homo habilis (“handy man”), whose remains have been found nearby.
Any artifacts of that antiquity are precious. Mercader said what makes these especially valuable is that researchers from a wide variety of disciplines have been able to place them in an environmental context that shows just how adaptable humans have been since the start.
The tools span a time period of about 235,000 years. “It maybe sounds like a lot,” said Mercader, “but in human evolution it is not a lot.”
At home in them all
Over that time, the site’s environment changed rapidly and often. It was a woodland, a lakeshore, a grassland, a meadow.
Those unimaginably ancient humans were at home in them all.
“No matter the change in the environment, the moment there is a disruption, a drastic change in the local ecology, humans move in right away,” Mercader said.
“There was a huge volcanic eruption that really blanketed the landscape with a solid mass of molten rock. The moment that cools down and there are new plants and animals coming in, humans are doing the same.
“What it shows is the huge versatility and flexibility of behaviour that allows early humans to exploit whatever environment that happens to be in their proximity. This has deep roots.”
The tools themselves are made from rocks that were found immediately adjacent or nearby. The makers seem to have carried around preferred stone cores they could use to knap a fresh flake when needed.
The tools didn’t change much over time, said Mercader.
“The technology is kept flexible enough and general enough so that no matter what, you can still exploit the environment. It’s like a Swiss Army knife.”
‘The excitement that makes you want to become an archeologist’
The discoveries are the result of years of work in the area.
Researchers — trained to know the difference between a tool and a naturally chipped rock — first walk the landscape, looking for exposed bits of fossil bone. Lots of bone fossils suggest other artifacts may be nearby and a test dig ensues.
“If we like what we see, we open more space.”
Mercader said the research is a textbook example of how scientists from different disciplines can collaborate to shed light on the far distant past.
“Working together with geoscientists and chemists and paleoecologists and paleogeographers, there is a lot we can infer from stone tools and the context in which they are found.”
And there’s nothing quite like holding in your hand a stone that some ancient toolmaker also held, Mercader said.
“That is the excitement that makes you want to become an archeologist.”
Scientists find a cloudless 'hot Jupiter' exoplanet with a four-day year – Yahoo Movies Canada
The Canadian Press
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive body proposed Monday that the bloc’s 27 nations impose more travel restrictions to counter the worrying spread of new coronavirus variants but make sure to keep goods and workers moving across EU borders. Amid concerns related to the production and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, the European Commission urged EU nations to reinforce testing and quarantine measures for travellers as virus mutations that are more transmissible threaten to overwhelm European hospitals with new cases. More than 400,000 EU citizens have already died from the virus since the pandemic first hit Europe last year. “The start of the EU vaccination campaign kicked off the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” EU Justice commissioner Didier Reynders said. “At the same time, new, more transmissible variants of the virus have surfaced. There is currently a very high number of new infections across many member states. And there is an urgent need to reduce the risk of travel-related infections to lessen the burden on overstretched healthcare systems.” Among the new measures, which need to be approved by EU nations before taking effect, is the addition of a new “dark red” colour to the EU’s weekly map of infections. Reynders said this new colour highlights areas where the rate of new confirmed infections in the last 14 days is 500 or more per 100,000 inhabitants. He said between 10 and 20 EU countries would already see that colour on all or part of their territory if it was in effect now. “We also think it is necessary for essential travellers arriving from dark red areas to get tested before travelling and to undergo quarantine, unless these measures would have a disproportionate impact on the exercise of their essential function,” Reynders said. Since the discovery of the new virus variants, several EU countries have already reinforced their lockdown measures. Belgium has introduced a ban on all nonessential travels for its residents until March, while France could soon start a third lockdown if a stringent 12-hour daily curfew already in place can’t slow down the spread of new infections. “We are suggesting stricter measures for dark red areas, because we must recognize the high level of cases,” Reynders said. Insisting that all non-essential travel is “strongly discouraged,” the commission repeated the need to keep the single market functioning so workers and goods can continue to cross borders smoothly, “Border closures will not help, common measures will,” Reynders said. The commission also proposed that travellers from outside the EU should face mandatory coronavirus testing before they depart, tests once they arrive, mandatory quarantines for up to 14 days and hand over data for contact tracing. It suggested EU citizens and residents take a coronavirus test upon arrival and could face further restrictions if they coming in from a country where a variant has been detected. ___ Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at: https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press
Astronomers discover huge exoplanet has the density of cotton candy – CBC.ca
Roughly 212 light years away in the Virgo constellation lies a super-large exoplanet that has astronomers revising their theory of how giant gas planets form.
The exoplanet, called WASP-107b, was discovered in 2017. At the time, it was difficult to accurately pinpoint its mass. But what astronomers did know is that it was already unusual.
It is a particularly large planet, roughly the size of Jupiter, but with an orbit that is just a mere nine million kilometres away from its host star, WASP-107, which is estimated to be about three billion years old.
To put that in perspective, Mercury, the closest planet to our sun, sits at 60 million kilometres. One year on WASP-107b takes roughly 5.7 days.
However, now, after years of observations using the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, a team of international astronomers have uncovered something else: WASP-107b is oddly light. In fact, it’s much lighter than what was thought was needed to build gas giants such as Saturn and Jupiter.
“What was really surprising about this planet is that people have known … that it’s about the size of Jupiter, so it’s a gas giant,” said Eve Lee, co-author of the study published in the Astrophysical Journal and an assistant professor in the department of physics at McGill University and McGill Space Institute in Montreal. “So if it’s a gas giant, then the usual expectation is that it would weigh just as [much] as gas giants. Except it didn’t.”
Jupiter is about 300 times the mass of Earth. But WASP-107b — while roughly the same size as our solar system’s biggest and most massive planet — is only 30 times that of Earth. That’s 1/10th the mass.
The international team of astronomers inferred from their observations that the core of the planet was just four times that of Earth. But in theory, it was believed that these giant planets with such a gaseous atmosphere would require a core that was at least 10 times that of Earth’s.
After a star forms, the remaining gas and dust — called a protoplanetary disk — come together to build planets. When it comes to the gas giants, it’s believed that a core that is 10 times more massive than Earth’s is required to build — or accrete — and hold on to the gas envelopes.
So what’s the deal with WASP-107b?
Lead author Caroline Piaulet of the Université de Montréal said there are two key elements in the theory of how this might have happened.
First, it’s believed that WASP-107b formed much farther out from its current location, likely around one astronomical unit, or the average distance between the sun and Earth, roughly 150 million kilometres. There, it began to accrete gas and dust relatively quickly.
Secondly, it began to cool rather quickly.
“When it cools down efficiently, it’s able to accrete efficiently because if it cools down, it’s going to shrink,” said Piaulet. “So it’s going to have more space to accrete more gas.”
Eventually, the planet migrated inward to its current position.
Yet another surprise
WASP-107b isn’t the only “super puff” planet, as they are often called. Lee said there are four others known, though WASP-107b is the puffiest.
So just how puffy is it?
“It’s usually compared to cotton candy, because it’s about the right density,” Lee said. “But it’s not the kind that you find at carnivals. It’s more like the kind that you buy at stores.”
And, as surprising as this super-puff planet was, there was yet another surprise in store: a second planet orbiting the star, WASP-107c.
The planet was detected because of the longer observation time and was found to be roughly one-third the mass of Jupiter. Its orbit around the star takes about three years, significantly longer than WASP-107b.
The discovery is just a reminder that, while we may think we have an understanding of how planets form, we still have a lot to learn about what lies beyond our own solar system. Even then, Piaulet said, we still don’t even know much about the cores of our own giant gas planets, such as Jupiter.
“What I found really exciting is that it’s kind of pushing our understanding of planet formation to its limits.”
SpaceX rocket deploys record-setting cargo – Phys.org
SpaceX on Sunday launched its Falcon 9 rocket carrying a record number of satellites on board, the private space company said.
The rocket successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 10:00 am (1500 GMT), 24 hours after its initial take-off had been scrubbed due to bad weather.
Andy Tran, a SpaceX production supervisor, said in a video of the launch that the Falcon 9 was carrying 133 commercial and government “spacecraft” as well 10 SpaceX satellites.
“The most spacecraft ever deployed on a single mission,” Tran said.
SpaceX is flying Falcon 9 under a “rideshare” program through which other firms and governments pay the Elon Musk-founded company to deliver their technologies to space.
Minutes after taking off, the Falcon 9’s main booster that had thrust the rocket to the edge of space separated from the rest of the craft and dropped back down to Earth in a controlled fall.
It landed itself on an unmanned spaceport drone ship called “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean, marking the booster’s fifth successful deployment and recapture.
In a series of tweets, SpaceX said all 143 satellites had been successfully deployed.
SpaceX aims to send thousands of small satellites into space to form a global broadband system called Starlink.
Scientists have expressed concerns about the number of objects clogging the space around Earth. SpaceX say their satellites are designed to burn up in the atmosphere within a few years.
© 2021 AFP
SpaceX rocket deploys record-setting cargo (2021, January 25)
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