Researchers say they’ve unearthed several fossils from Stupendemys geographicus, a massive freshwater turtle that grew up to four metres (13 feet) long and weighed more than one metric tonne. The fossilized remains include the largest shell ever recovered and the first piece ever found from the turtle’s lower jaw, according to a paper published in the journal Science Advances.
The beast, whose name means “stupendous turtle” in Latin, lived between seven million and 13 million years ago in the ancient wetlands that eventually turned into the Amazon rainforest in Peru, Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia.
“Stupendemys geographicus was huge and heavy. The largest individuals of this species were about the size and length of a sedan automobile if we take into account the head, neck, shell and limbs,” said Edwin Cadena, a paleontologist and lead author of the study.
The fossils also reveal that males of the species had large horns built into the front of their shells, which are thought to have been used for fighting with other males and fending off larger foes. Females did not have those same horns, according to Marcelo Sanchez, a paleobiologist who led the project at the University of Zurich’s Paleontological Institute and Museum.
“The two shell types indicate that two sexes of Stupendemys existed — males with horned shells and females with hornless shells,” Sanchez said in a news release from the university.
Modern male turtles have also been known to fight with one another, although they lack the shell-mounted weapons of their ancestors.
The stupendous turtle was massive by modern standards, but not when compared to some of the gigantic crocodile ancestors that occupied the same prehistoric swamps of its era. Among those prehistoric predators was the caiman Purussaurus, which measured 11 metres (36 feet) long, and the slightly smaller Gryposuchus, which was 10 metres (33 feet) long.
Fossil evidence shows the turtles definitely tangled with crocodilian predators from time to time, as one of the battle-scarred male shells had a five-centimetre (two-inch) tooth embedded in it.
The new fossils were found in the Tatacoa desert of Colombia and the Urumaco region of Venezuela. The specimens include the largest-ever recovered shell fossil, which measures 2.86 metres (9.4 feet) long.
Paleontologists have known about the turtle’s existence since the 1970s, but they haven’t found enough specimens yet to build a full profile of its behaviours.
The newly recovered jaw pieces are expected to shed some light on what the turtle ate, Cadena said.
“Its diet was diverse including small animals — fishes, caimans, snakes — as well as mollusks and vegetation, particularly fruits and seeds,” he told Reuters. “Putting together all the anatomical features of this species indicates that its lifestyle was mostly in the bottom of large freshwater bodies including lakes and rivers.”
Only one turtle in history was thought to be larger: the Archelon, an ocean-dwelling behemoth that measured 4.6 metres (15 feet) long and lived nearly 70 million years ago.
Paleontologists don’t know if these turtles were biters — but with their car-sized bodies, one probably wouldn’t want to find out.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
MIT developed a simulation to determine the best way to deflect an asteroid – TechSpot
Why it matters: Barring self-inflicted catastrophes like nuclear war or irreversible climate change, the biggest threat to humanity is likely to come from outer space in the form of a rogue asteroid. It’s the type of fodder that makes for a decent blockbuster film but the truth is, it’s a very real concern.
Scientists for decades have theorized how to avoid an impact and now, researchers have gone so far as to lay out a framework to help determine what method of intervention would be best to mitigate a threat.
Their decision method accounts for multiple factors including an asteroid’s mass and momentum, the amount of time scientists would have before an impending collision and its proximity to a gravitational keyhole, among others.
Sung Wook Paek, lead author of a paper appearing in the journal Acta Astronautica this month, said people have mostly considered strategies of last-minute deflection, when an asteroid is heading toward a collision with Earth. “I’m interested in preventing keyhole passage well before Earth impact. It’s like a preemptive strike, with less mess,” the researcher said.
Paek and his team developed a simulation to help determine the best type of defense based on an asteroid’s various properties. The simulation was tested with Apophis and Bennu, asteroids in which researchers already know the locations of their gravitational keyholes, with a variety of variables.
Time seemed to be the major differentiator. For example, with Apophis, if they have at least five years before it will pass through a keyhole, there would be time to send two scouts out – one to measure the asteroid’s dimensions and another to nudge it slightly off track as a test before sending a main impactor to deflect it at a later date. If keyhole passage is set to occur between two and five years out, there may only be time for a single scout. Should the asteroid pass through a keyhole within a year or less, it could be too late to intervene.
Using the simulation tool, Paek and team may be able to set up alternative deflection methods in the future, such as launching projectiles from the Moon or using defunct satellites as kinetic impactors.
The Earliest Sex Between Different Human Ancestors May Have Occurred 700,000 Years Ago – ScienceAlert
Our evolutionary history is full of inter-species sex.
Different human ancestor species seem to have mingled and mated far more than anthropologists previously realised. Neanderthals interbred with modern humans. Homo sapiens had sex with Denisovans.
And 700,000 years ago, according to a new study, a population of ancient humans mated with a distinct, unknown population that had separated from other human species at least 1 million years prior.
“This continues the story that we’ve been seeing in studies throughout the past decade: There’s lots more interbreeding between lots of human populations than we were aware of ever before,” Alan Rodgers, an anthropologist and the lead author of the new study, told Business Insider.
“This discovery has pushed the time depth of those interbreedings much farther back.”
According to his team’s research, published today in the journal Science Advances, the newly discovered interbreeding event took place in Eurasia, and it represents the earliest known example of mating between different populations of ancient humans.
The analysis, which compared DNA from Neanderthals, Denisovans, and modern humans from Europe and Africa, lends further credence to the idea that the our ancestors’ genes (and our own) came from myriad sources.
The oldest episode of interbreeding in the anthropological record
Then a 2018 study revealed that Denisovans – which disappeared about 50,000 years ago – passed on some of their genes to Homo sapiens.
But the interbreeding event that Rodgers and his colleagues found was far, far older. In that case, a group of humans who were ancestors of both Neanderthals and Denisovans (the study authors nicknamed them “neandersovans”) interbred with their predecessor species about 744,000 years ago.
Those predecessors, in turn, were part of a”superarchaic” group in Eurasia that was between 20,000 and 50,000 people in size.
A major implication of the study, then, is that human populations migrated from Africa to Eurasia three times during our long evolutionary history: once 1.9 million years ago, again 700,000 years ago, and then a final time 50,000 years ago.
The first of these waves involved the “superarchaics”. Then the neandersovans followed 700,000 years ago; they likely separated from the modern human lineage before they migrated north, the study suggests.
As that second wave of ancestors moved into Eurasia, the researchers wrote, they likely “interbred with indigenous Eurasians, largely replaced them, and separated into eastern and western subpopulations – Denisovans and Neanderthals.”
Then many hundreds of thousands of years later, modern humans left Africa, interbreeding with Neanderthals – and eventually Denisovans, too – as they spread through Eurasia.
“These same events unfolded once again around 50,000 years ago as modern humans expanded out of Africa and into Eurasia, largely replacing the Neanderthals and Denisovans,” the study authors wrote.
A population of ‘superarchaic humans’
Rodgers’ team’s discovery came after they compared publicly available modern human DNA with ancient DNA. The analysis revealed at least four watershed moments in which genetic material passed from one human species to another over the last 1 million years.
Three of those moments matched the results other studies had already found. But the oldest instance was a new find.
In addition to representing the oldest evidence of human interbreeding on record, the finding is also surprising because but the two populations that mated were far less closely related than other human groups previously known to have interbred.
Whereas modern humans and Neanderthals had been on separate branches of the evolutionary tree for about 750,000 years when they interbred, the newly discovered population and the “neandersovans” had been separated for more than 1 million years.
Several mysteries remain, however. Rodgers’ team isn’t sure what ancient species the “superarchaic” population belonged to.
All they know is that genetic evidence suggests the superarchaics separated from our human lineage about 2 million years ago, and that ancient humans were living in Eurasia at the time the species separation occurred.
“We’ve got fossil evidence of humans in Eurasia that dates back to 1.85 million years old,” Rogers said.
At least two groups of human species, or taxa, lived in Eurasia during the time the superarchaics broke off from our lineage. One, Homo erectus, was the first of our ancestors to walk upright. The other possible taxon was Homo erectus’ younger cousin, Homo antecessor, which inhabited modern-day Spain.
“Any of those taxa might be the superarchaics,” Rodgers said. “Or they might be some taxon we don’t know about yet.”
But regardless of which group the superarchaics belonged to, Rodgers said, the new evidence of interbreeding offers a glimpse into an ancient time period that researchers know very little about.
“We’re just shedding light on an interval on human evolutionary history that was previously completely dark,” he said.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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University of Alberta scientist to participate in NASA Mars mission – CTV News
Chris Herd might not be going to the Red Planet himself but he’ll play a key role in NASA’s Mars 2020 rover project slated to launch this summer.
Herd, a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta, has been chosen to analyze rock samples collected and stored with the intention of bringing them back to Earth through future missions to Mars.
“It was around the age of 13 that I wanted to work on rocks from Mars,” said Herd. “I wanted to be there when the rocks came back so for me to be chosen to be involved in a big mission and NASA’s next big mission to Mars, and the fact that it’s going to be collecting samples that will eventually come back to Earth, that really is the most exciting thing.”
The project marks the first time Martian meteorite and rock will be collected and stored. The hope is that the samples will provide key information about the planet’s geological history.
“We think that Mars may have had the conditions right for life at one point … especially the rocks that we’re going to look at,” said Herd. “So eventually the idea is to bring these samples back and really pour over them and tell us whether these actually have evidence for ancient life in them or not.”
Herd is one of 10 experts and the only Canadian selected by NASA for the project.
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