Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Rare miniature rock art found in Australia

June 2nd, 2020
Rare miniature rock art found in Australia

(credit: Brady et al. 2020)

Ancient artists used several techniques to paint images on rock. Sometimes they drew by hand, but other times they would place an object like a hand, a leaf, or a boomerang against the wall and spatter it with paint, leaving behind a spray of color surrounding a silhouette of the object. This may sound like a simple way to produce art, but there's new evidence that it could be a fairly complex process. People in northern Australia seem to have used beeswax to shape miniature stencils to paint on the walls of Yilbilinji Rock Shelter in Limmen National Park.

Welcome to Marra Country

The miniature images are part of a veritable gallery of rock art on the roof and rear walls of Yilbilinji. Over thousands of years, people came here to paint people, animals, objects, tracks, dots, and geometric motifs in striking red, yellow, black, and white. There’s even a European smoking pipe in the mix, which shows that at least some of the paintings must have been created after the colonists arrived.

Out of 355 images painted on the walls, only 59 are stencils—outlines of full-sized hands and forearms surrounded by sprays of white pigment (probably made with local kaolin clay). But 17 of those stencils are too small to have been done the usual way, by spattering an actual object with paint to leave a life-sized outline on the wall. They depict people—sometimes holding boomerangs and shields or wearing headdresses—crabs, echidna, at least two species of turtle, kangaroo pawprints, and geometric shapes.

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Posted in aboriginal australians, ancient people did stuff, anthropology, Archaeology, australia, cave art, dreamtime, experimental archaeology, indigenous communities, rock art, science | Comments (0)

Incredible fossil find is the oldest known parasite

June 2nd, 2020
Artist's depiction of what this brachiopod—and its parasites—would have looked like.

Enlarge / Artist's depiction of what this brachiopod—and its parasites—would have looked like. (credit: Zhifei Zhang (Northwest University))

From the perspective of a legacy-seeking critter deep in Earth’s history, there's little chance of you hitting the big time. The odds of getting fossilized are low enough. You need to die in the right kind of place, get buried before you are picked apart or decay, and encounter the right kind of chemistry underground that replaces your fleshy bits with enduring stone.

This unlikely chain makes capturing common life events like your last meal or developing embryos even more rare. But in the case of a newly published study, researchers were lucky enough to find what appear to be the earliest known parasites, still stuck to the hosts they targeted some 510 million years ago.

The find comes from Yunnan, China, where a sedimentary rock layer called the Wulongqing Formation is chock full of tiny fossil brachiopods of a species named (quite sensibly) Neobolus wulongqingensis. Back in the Cambrian Period, shortly after multicellular animal life bloomed into incredible variety, these creatures were living on the seafloor. A team led by Zhifei Zhang at China’s Northwest University discovered that N. wulongqingensis was not alone in the rock—many were adorned with whitish tubes on the exteriors of their shells.

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Posted in Cambrian, fossils, parasites, science | Comments (0)

The Atlantic’s third storm has formed in record time, and it’s a threat

June 2nd, 2020
Tropical Storm Cristobal formed in the Southern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.

Enlarge / Tropical Storm Cristobal formed in the Southern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday. (credit: NOAA)

Last year's Atlantic hurricane season ranked among the top five most-active years on record. Its third named storm, Chantal, did not form until August 20.

By contrast, today is June 2, and the Atlantic's third named storm of the year just formed. At around noon Eastern, the National Hurricane Center named Tropical Storm Cristobal—a system wobbling around the Southern Gulf of Mexico with 40mph winds.

This is the earliest ever in the Atlantic season (which, however imperfect, has records dating back to 1851) that the third named storm has formed in a given year. The previous earliest "C" storm was Colin, on June 5, 2016.

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After Crew Dragon soars, some in Congress tout benefits of commercial space

June 2nd, 2020
Sen. Ted Cruz, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and US Rep. Brian Babin stand in front of a flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket at Space Center Houston on Sunday.

Enlarge / Sen. Ted Cruz, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and US Rep. Brian Babin stand in front of a flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket at Space Center Houston on Sunday. (credit: Space Center Houston)

Although the saying probably originated with one of the greatest Roman historians, Tacitus, President John F. Kennedy popularized the phrase—"Success has a hundred fathers, and defeat is an orphan." This aphorism can be applied to commercial space now that SpaceX has successfully launched two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station on a Falcon 9 rocket inside Dragonship Endeavour.

Since this flight, several congressional leaders have begun speaking more about commercial space, an approach in which private companies self-invest in their hardware, own their vehicle, and sell services to NASA. Prior to Dragon's flight, no private spacecraft had ever flown humans into orbit before—only large government space programs in the United States, Russia, and China had done it. Now, private companies such as SpaceX are demonstrating their capabilities.

US Rep Brian Babin, a Texas Republican whose district includes Johnson Space Center, offered fulsome praise for SpaceX and its achievement after Dragon's flight. "Congratulations to SpaceX, who have never quit, and who have really revolutionized the launch business, and bringing costs down," he said. "These are going to be a great boon to our space program going into the future."

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Rigorous Hand-Washing Will Be Part of Covid-19’s New Normal

June 2nd, 2020
The simplest hygiene tasks are the toughest to maintain—take it from the health care experts who have advice about how to make the habit stick.

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The WIRED Coronavirus Glossary

June 2nd, 2020
Too many Covid-19 buzzwords? Here’s what they all mean.

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In Minneapolis, Neighbors Are Mobilizing—Offline

June 2nd, 2020
Worried about infiltration from extremist groups or police surveillance, residents are turning to pre-internet tactics to help protect homes and local stores.

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SARS-CoV-2 looks like a hybrid of viruses from two different species

June 1st, 2020
Image of a person holding a small bat.

Enlarge / Researchers examine a bat as part of their search for dangerous animal pathogens in the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative Lab in Yaounde, Cameroon. (credit: Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

One of the longest-running questions about this pandemic is a simple one: where did it come from? How did a virus that had seemingly never infected a human before make a sudden appearance in our species, equipped with what it needed to sweep from China through the globe in a matter of months?

Analysis of the virus' genome was ambiguous. Some analyses placed its origin within the local bat population. Others highlighted similarities to pangolins, which might have been brought to the area by the wildlife trade. Less evidence-based ideas included an escape from a research lab or a misplaced bioweapon. Now, a US-based research team has done a detailed analysis of a large collection of viral genomes, and it finds that evolution pieced together the virus from multiple parts—most from bats, but with a key contribution from pangolins.

Recombination

How do pieces of virus from different species end up being mashed together? The underlying biology is a uniquely viral twist on a common biological process: recombination.

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Posted in Biology, coronavirus, evolution, medicine, SARS-CoV-2, science | Comments (0)

New Ebola outbreak flares up as measles, COVID-19 rage in DRC

June 1st, 2020
Health workers operate within an Ebola safety zone in the Health Center in Iyonda, near Mbandaka, on June 1, 2018.

Enlarge / Health workers operate within an Ebola safety zone in the Health Center in Iyonda, near Mbandaka, on June 1, 2018. (credit: Getty | JUNIOR D. KANNAH )

A new outbreak of Ebola has ignited in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is still trying to stamp out an Ebola outbreak from 2018—and is now also battling a massive measles outbreak and COVID-19.

The new Ebola outbreak is in the western city of Mbandaka, the capital of the Équateur Province. The city—situated at the junction of the Congo and Ruki Rivers—is a major trade and travel hub and home to more than 1 million people.

On Monday, June 1, 2020, officials confirmed an outbreak with six cases so far (three confirmed, three probable). Four of the cases have died, and two are being treated. The World Health Organization reported that officials expect to find more cases as outbreak responses ramp up.

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Posted in Congo, COVID-19, drc, ebola, Infectious disease, outbreak, public health, science, virus, WHO | Comments (0)

New study challenges popular “collapse” hypothesis for Easter Island

June 1st, 2020
Moai statues in a row, Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile.

Enlarge / Moai statues in a row, Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile. (credit: De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images)

In his bestselling 2005 book Collapse, Jared Diamond offered the societal collapse of Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui), around 1600, as a cautionary tale. Diamond essentially argued that the destruction of the island's ecological environment triggered a downward spiral of internal warfare, population decline, and cannibalism, resulting in an eventual breakdown of social and political structures. It's a narrative that is now being challenged by a team of researchers who have been studying the island's archaeology and cultural history for many years now.

In a new paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the researchers offer intriguing evidence that suggests the people of Rapa Nui continued to thrive well after 1600. The authors suggest this warrants a rethinking of the popular narrative that the island was destitute when Europeans arrived in 1722.

"The degree to which their cultural heritage was passed on—and is still present today through language, arts, and cultural practices—is quite notable and impressive," co-author Robert DiNapoli, a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Oregon, told Sapiens. "This degree of resilience has been overlooked due to the collapse narrative and deserves recognition."

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Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, bayesian, easter island, Gaming & Culture, Jared Diamond, rapa nui, science | Comments (0)