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Dragon Man may be Homo sapiens' closest relative – EarthSky

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In 1933, bridge construction workers in Harbin, a city in Northeastern China, discovered a large and nearly intact skull. The skull was brought to paleoanthropologists in 2018, and after many studies, the researchers announced in late June 2021 that the cranium belonged to a male who lived approximately 146,000 years ago. This skull represents a new human species, the researchers said. They named it Homo longi, or Dragon Man, and said it might be the closest relative to modern humans, Homo sapiens. If so, Dragon Man would replace Neanderthals as the closest kin in our lineage and change what we know of human evolution.

Scientists published their findings in three different studies in the peer-reviewed journal The Innovation on June 25, 2021.

The Harbin cranium

The new species’ name of Homo longi derives from the province where the Harbin cranium was discovered, Heilongjiang. Heilongjiang translates into English as Black Dragon River, which gives the species its nickname of Dragon Man.

The cranium is the largest Homo skull ever found. The large size puts it in the range of modern humans, while other characteristics still separate it from us. The skull has larger, nearly square eye sockets, thick ridges along the brow, a wider mouth and larger teeth. Qiang Ji, a professor of paleontology at Hebei GEO University, explained:

The Harbin fossil is one of the most complete human cranial fossils in the world. This fossil preserved many morphological details that are critical for understanding the evolution of the Homo genus and the origin of Homo sapiens … While it shows typical archaic human features, the Harbin cranium presents a mosaic combination of primitive and derived characters setting itself apart from all the other previously named Homo species.

From left to right are the skulls of Peking Man, Maba, Jinniushan, Dali and Harbin crania. Image via EurekAlert/ Kai Geng.

A day in the life of Dragon Man

According to dating methods, Dragon Man walked the Earth at least 146,000 years ago, during the Middle Pleistocene. He was a large individual, approximately 50 years old, and lived in a small community in a forested, floodplain area. Xijun Ni, a professor of primatology and paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Hebei GEO University, said:

Like Homo sapiens, they hunted mammals and birds, and gathered fruits and vegetables, and perhaps even caught fish.

Sturdy barefooted 'dragon man' with fur loincloth, holding a stone tool, near birch trees.
Artist’s concept of Dragon Man. Image via EurekAlert/ Chuang Zhao.

Dragon Man’s large size might have allowed it to adapt to harsh conditions, making it easier for the species to travel and spread throughout Asia. Homo longi and Homo sapiens might have mingled on the continent. Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the Nature History Museum in London, said:

We see multiple evolutionary lineages of Homo species and populations coexisting in Asia, Africa and Europe during that time. So, if Homo sapiens indeed got to East Asia that early, they could have a chance to interact with H. longi, and since we don’t know when the Harbin group disappeared, there could have been later encounters as well.

A closer relative than the Neanderthals

The discovery of Dragon Man pushes the Neanderthals farther away from us in lineage and moves our common ancestor even farther back in time. Ni said:

It is widely believed that the Neanderthal belongs to an extinct lineage that is the closest relative of our own species. However, our discovery suggests that the new lineage we identified that includes Homo longi is the actual sister group of H. sapiens … The divergence time between H. sapiens and the Neanderthals may be even deeper in evolutionary history than generally believed, over one million years.

It’s possible Homo sapiens diverged from Neanderthals 400,000 years earlier than scientists originally thought.

Front and side view of hairy bearded man with large brow ridges.
Artist’s concept of what Dragon Man would have looked like, based on information from his skull. Image via The Innovation.

The discovery of Dragon Man adds another piece of the puzzle to the mystery of evolution on Earth. Ni said:

Altogether, the Harbin cranium provides more evidence for us to understand Homo diversity and evolutionary relationships among these diverse Homo species and populations. We found our long-lost sister lineage.

Bottom line: Scientists have determined that a skull found in China is a new species, which they named Homo longi, or Dragon Man. They believe Dragon Man is the closest relative to modern humans, Homo sapiens.

Source: Geochemical provenancing and direct dating of the Harbin archaic human cranium

Source: Late Middle Pleistocene Harbin cranium represents a new Homo species

Source: Massive cranium from Harbin in northeastern China establishes a new Middle Pleistocene human lineage

Via EurekAlert

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Facial Recognition—Now for Seals – Hakai Magazine

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Have you ever looked at a seal and thought, Is that the same seal I saw yesterday? Well, there could soon be an app for that based on new seal facial recognition technology. Known as SealNet, this seal face-finding system was developed by a team of undergraduate students from Colgate University in New York.

Taking inspiration from other technology adapted for recognizing primates and bears, Krista Ingram, a biologist at Colgate University, led the students in developing software that uses deep learning and a convolutional neural network to tell one seal face from another. SealNet is tailored to identify the harbor seal, a species with a penchant for posing on coasts in haulouts.

The team had to train their software to identify seal faces. “I give it a photograph, it finds the face, [and] clips it to a standard size,” says Ingram. But then she and her students would manually identify the nose, the mouth, and the center of the eyes.

For the project, team members snapped more than 2,000 pictures of seals around Casco Bay, Maine, during a two-year period. They tested the software using 406 different seals and found that SealNet could correctly identify the seals’ faces 85 percent of the time. The team has since expanded its database to include around 1,500 seal faces. As the number of seals logged in the database goes up, so too should the accuracy of the identification, Ingram says.

The developers of SealNet trained a neural network to tell harbor seals apart using photos of 406 different seals. Photo courtesy of Birenbaum et al.

As with all tech, however, SealNet is not infallible. The software saw seal faces in other body parts, vegetation, and even rocks. In one case, Ingram and her students did a double take at the uncanny resemblance between a rock and a seal face. “[The rock] did look like a seal face,” Ingram says. “The darker parts were about the same distance as the eyes … so you can understand why the software found a face.” Consequently, she says it’s always best to manually check that seal faces identified by the software belong to a real seal.

Like a weary seal hauling itself onto a beach for an involuntary photo shoot, the question of why this is all necessary raises itself. Ingram believes SealNet could be a useful, noninvasive tool for researchers.

Of the world’s pinnipeds—a group that includes seals, walruses, and sea lions—harbor seals are considered the most widely dispersed. Yet knowledge gaps do exist. Other techniques to track seals, such as tagging and aerial monitoring, have their limitations and can be highly invasive or expensive.

Ingram points to site fidelity as an aspect of seal behavior that SealNet could shed more light on. The team’s trials indicated that some harbor seals return to the same haulout sites year after year. Other seals, however, such as two animals the team nicknamed Clove and Petal, appeared at two different sites together. Increasing scientists’ understanding of how seals move around could strengthen arguments for protecting specific areas, says Anders Galatius, an ecologist at Aarhus University in Denmark who was not involved in the project.

Galatius, who is responsible for monitoring Denmark’s seal populations, says the software “shows a lot of promise.” If the identification rates are improved, it could be paired with another photo identification method that identifies seals by distinctive markings on their pelage, he says.

In the future, after further testing, Ingram hopes to develop an app based on SealNet. The app, she says, could possibly allow citizen scientists to contribute to logging seal faces. The program could also be adapted for other pinnipeds and possibly even for cetaceans.

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NASA launches nanosatellite in preparation for lunar 'Gateway' station – Yahoo News Canada

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The rocket carrying the Capstone satellite lifts off. (NASA)

Nasa has launched a tiny CubeSat this week to test and orbit which will soon be used by Gateway, a lunar space station.

It’s all part of the space agency’s plan to put a woman on the moon by 2025.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (Capstone) mission launched from New Zealand on Tuesday.

Jim Reuter, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, said: “Capstone is an example of how working with commercial partners is key for Nasa’s ambitious plans to explore the moon and beyond.

“We’re thrilled with a successful start to the mission and looking forward to what Capstone will do once it arrives at the Moon.”

Read more: Astronomers find closest black hole to Earth

The satellite is currently in low-Earth orbit, and it will take the spacecraft about four months to reach its targeted lunar orbit.

Capstone is attached to Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon, an interplanetary third stage that will send it on its way to deep space.

Over the next six days, Photon’s engine will periodically ignite to accelerate it beyond low-Earth orbit, where Photon will release the CubeSat on a trajectory to the moon.

Capstone will then use its own propulsion and the sun’s gravity to navigate the rest of the way to the Moon.

The gravity-driven track will dramatically reduce the amount of fuel the CubeSat needs to get to the Moon.

Read more: There might once have been life on the moon

Bradley Cheetham, principal investigator for CAPSTONE and chief executive officer of Advanced Space, “Our team is now preparing for separation and initial acquisition for the spacecraft in six days.

“We have already learned a tremendous amount getting to this point, and we are passionate about the importance of returning humans to the Moon, this time to stay!”

At the moon, Capstone will enter an elongated orbit called a near rectilinear halo orbit, or NRHO.

Once in the NRHO, Capstone will fly within 1,000 miles of the moon’s north pole on its near pass and 43,500 miles from the south pole at its farthest.

It will repeat the cycle every six-and-a-half days and maintain this orbit for at least six months to study dynamics.

“Capstone is a pathfinder in many ways, and it will demonstrate several technology capabilities during its mission timeframe while navigating a never-before-flown orbit around the Moon,” said Elwood Agasid, project manager for Capstone at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

“Capstone is laying a foundation for Artemis, Gateway, and commercial support for future lunar operations.”

Nasa estimates the cost of the whole Artemis mission at $28bn.

It would be the first time people have walked on the moon since the last Apollo moon mission in 1972.

Just 12 people have walked on the moon – all men.

Nasa flew six manned missions to the surface of the moon, beginning with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969, up to Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt in December 1972.

The mission will use Nasa’s powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the Orion spacecraft.

Watch: NASA launch paves way for moon orbit station

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The year’s biggest and brightest supermoon will appear in July & here’s when you’ll … – Curiocity

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Summer is here and with it? Sunshine – and some serious moonshine (of the visible variety, of course). This upcoming month, look up in anticipation of the biggest and brightest event of the year, the July Buck supermoon – which will hover over North America on July 13th.

Appearing 7% larger and lower in the sky, this particular event will be one well worth keeping an eye on when it rises above the horizon.

This will be the closest we’ll get to our celestial neighbour in 2022 (357,418 km) and while North America won’t get to see it when it reaches peak illumination at 2:38 pm ETC., it’ll still look pretty dang impressive after the sunsets.

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Not sure when the moon rises in your area? Here’s the earliest that you’ll be able to see the moon in various cities across the continent according to the Farmer’s Almanac.

  • Seattle, Washington  – 9:50 pm PDT
  • Vancouver, British Columbia – 10:02 pm PDT
  • Calgary, Alberta – 10:35 pm MST
  • Edmonton, Alberta – 10:49 pm MST
  • Toronto, Ontario – 9:34 pm MST
  • Montreal, Quebec – 9:18 pm MST

Until then, cross your fingers for a clear sky, friends! It’s going to be incredible.

Happy viewing.

JULY BUCK SUPERMOON 

When: Wednesday, July 13th

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