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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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Scientists capture most-detailed radio image of Andromeda galaxy to date – UBC News

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‘Disk of galaxy’ identified as region where new stars are born

Scientists have published a new, detailed radio image of the Andromeda galaxy – the Milky Way’s sister galaxy – which will allow them to identify and study the regions of Andromeda where new stars are born.

Sofia Fatigoni

The study – which is the first to create a radio image of Andromeda at the microwave frequency of 6.6 GHz – was led by University of British Columbia physicist Sofia Fatigoni, with colleagues at Sapienza University of Rome and the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics. It was published online in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

“This image will allow us to study the structure of Andromeda and its content in more detail than has ever been possible,” said Fatigoni, a PhD student in the department of physics and astronomy at UBC. “Understanding the nature of physical processes that take place inside Andromeda allows us to understand what happens in our own galaxy more clearly – as if we were looking at ourselves from the outside.”

Prior to this study, no maps capturing such a large region of the sky around the Andromeda Galaxy had ever been made in the microwave band frequencies between one GHz to 22 GHz. In this range, the galaxy’s emission is very faint, making it hard to see its structure. However, it is only in this frequency range that particular features are visible, so having a map at this particular frequency is crucial to understanding which physical processes are happening inside Andromeda.

In order to observe Andromeda at this frequency, the researchers required a single-dish radio telescope with a large effective area. For the study, the scientists turned to the Sardinia Radio Telescope, a 64-metre fully steerable telescope capable of operating at high radio frequencies, located in Italy.

The Sardinia Radio Telescope, located in Sardinia, Italy. Credit: S. Fatigoni et al (2021)

The Sardinia Radio Telescope, located in Sardinia, Italy. Credit: S. Fatigoni et al (2021)

It took 66 hours of observation and consistent data analysis for the researchers to map the galaxy with high sensitivity.

They were then able to estimate the rate of star formation within Andromeda, and produce a detailed map that highlighted the ‘disk of the galaxy,’ as the region where new stars are born.

“By combining this new image with those previously acquired, we have made significant steps forward in clarifying the nature of Andromeda’s microwave emissions and allowing us to distinguish physical processes that occur in different regions of the galaxy,” said Dr. Elia Battistelli, a professor in the department of physics at Sapienza and coordinator of the study.

“In particular, we were able to determine the fraction of emissions due to thermal processes related to the early stations of new star formation, and the fraction of radio signals attributable to non-thermal mechanisms due to cosmic rays that spiral in the magnetic field present in the interstellar medium,” Fatigoni said.

Final image of the Andromeda galaxy after averaging over the whole bandwidth at 6.6 GHz. Credit: S. Fatigoni et al (2021)

Final image of the Andromeda galaxy after averaging over the whole bandwidth at 6.6 GHz. Credit: S. Fatigoni et al (2021)

For the study, the team also developed and implemented software that allowed them to test new algorithms to identify never-before-examined lower emission sources in the field of view around Andromeda at a frequency of 6.6 GHz.

From the resulting map, researchers were able to identify a catalog of about 100 ‘point sources’ including stars, galaxies and other objects in the background of Andromeda.

Interview language(s): English, Italian

Note for reporters: Sofia Fatigoni is based in Rome, Italy and is available for interviews until 3 p.m. PST.

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To help chart the cosmos, Western space researchers turn to crowd sourcing – CBC.ca

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Western University researchers have tapped the help of hundreds of amateur and professional astronomers in an effort to make sure no meteor is unable to slip by the Earth undetected.

To do that, they’re relying on the observations taken from 450 cameras in 30 different countries manned by “enthusiastic amateur astronomers” made up of professional and citizen scientists.

That data is then sent to Western University as part of what’s called the Global Meteor Network (GMN), headed by Denis Vida.

“So we have a lot of enthusiastic amateur astronomers, citizen scientists and also professionals that build, operate and maintain these cameras,” Vida told CBC’s Chris dela Torre during Afternoon Drive. “And every night they inspect the data set and send their data to a central server here at the University of Western Ontario.”

It’s not just about observing meteors – it’s about tracking what’s left of the ones that make it to the earth’s surface too.

“So we also observe a meteorite dropping fireballs,” said Vida. “They’re quite rare over an area of let’s say the country the size of France or Spain. Could only expect two to three of those fireballs a year that drop more than, let’s say, 300 grams of meteorites on the ground.”

“So because these events are very rare, it is important to observe 24/7.”

Vida explained that when one of their cameras spot one of them, they collect the data and find its location so they can retrieve what’s left for analysis – and analysis needs to happen quickly.  

“There are certain things in them, like some radionuclide to decay very quickly, but those can tell us how old the meteorite is, how long it was after it was ejected from the parent asteroid that it fell on the ground,” he said.

Vida explained that what ends up on the ground are just “several kilograms of materials” by the time they reach the earth’s surface. They aren’t hot either. They cool down on their descent.

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Global push to monitor meteor showers led by Western University – CTV News London

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MIDDLESEX CENTRE, ONT. —
London, Ont.’s Western University is leading a worldwide effort to monitor meteor showers and meteorite falls.

The Global Meteor Network (GMN) includes more than 450 cameras in 23 countries – hosted by amateur and professional astronomers.

The goal of the project, led by Denis Vida, a postdoctoral associate at Western, is to ensure unique or rare space events are not missed.

Vida explained in a statement, “Other astronomers can pool their resources to build a big telescope on top of a mountain where the skies are dark and clear year-round, but meteor astronomers need spatial coverage most of all.”

Meteors can occur anywhere in the world, happen close to earth and often burn up at around 100 km above the surface — so they can only be well observed from within about 300 km and need to be seen by cameras in at least two places to get the exact location.

That’s where the Global Meteor Network comes in.

In March, the network helped locate a rare portion of a meteorite that landed in Winchcombe, England on Feb. 28 and figure out where in space it originated.

“Its role in the recovery and analysis of the Winchcombe meteorite fall is proof positive that GMN works,” said Vida.

The first system to observe meteorites was installed at Western in 2017, and it continues to grow as the cost of meteor cameras has declined.

GMN also publishes the orbits of all observed meteors around the world within 24 hours of observation. The location of cameras and meteor data can be seen here.

The network also hopes to better understand flight patterns and flux capacities of meteorites, and even predict future events.

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