HOMO sapiens appeared at least 260,000 to 350,000 years ago.
That’s the conclusion being drawn from a new fossil find in Morocco.
Previously, the oldest known fossils clearly from our species were a bit less than 200,000 years old, from Ethiopia.
For the new work, scientists studied DNA extracted from human remains found in South Africa. The fossils came from three Stone Age hunter-gatherers who lived about 2000 years ago, and four Iron Age farmers who lived about 300 to 500 years ago.
The researchers compared their genetic material to DNA from other ancient people as well as a variety of modern-day humans.
The goal was to use differences to estimate when various populations split apart from each other. Since those splits had occurred between people, our species must have emerged by the time the splits happened, said Mattias Jakobsson of Uppsala University in Sweden.
Digital diorama at Moesgaard Museum from ART+COM on Vimeo.
Jakobsson and his team put the earliest split they could detect at 260,000 to 350,000 years ago. That’s when ancestors of today’s Khoisan peoples in Africa diverged from the ancestors of other people, they calculated in a paper released on Thursday by the journal Science.
Our species could have emerged much earlier, Jakobsson said.
But not everyone is convinced. The calculations relied on assumptions that could make splits seem older than they really were, said Todd Disotell, an anthropology professor at New York University who did not participate in the new study.
Disotell said he prefers prior DNA work that suggests an earliest split at around 200,000 years.
A HOUSE-SIZE asteroid will give Earth a near-miss this Thursday, passing inside the Moon’s orbit while giving experts a rare chance to rehearse for a real-life strike threat.
Dubbed 2012 TC4, the space rock will shave past at an altitude of less than 44,000 kilometres — just above the 36,000-km plane at which hundreds of geosynchronous satellites orbit the Earth.
That represents about an eighth of the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
NASA’s Mike Kelley, who leads the exercise to spot, track and intimately probe the transient visitor, insisted there was “no danger. Not even for satellites”.
“We’ve now been observing TC4 for two months, so we have very accurate position information on it, which in turn allows very precise calculations of its orbit,” which will not cross that of Earth nor its satellites, he said.
As its name suggests, the object was first spotted five years ago when it called on Earth at about double Thursday’s projected distance, before disappearing from view.
It is 15 to 30 metres wide — about the size of the meteoroid that exploded in the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk in central Russia in 2013 with 30 times the kinetic energy of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
The resulting shockwave blew out the windows of nearly 5,000 buildings and injured more than 1,200 people.
Corey S. Powell@coreyspowell
Asteroid 2012 TC4 will pass 8x closer than the Moon on Thursday, allowing a test of our space early-warning system. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/this-is-a-test-asteroid-tracking-network-observes-oct-12-close-approach …
2:30 AM – Oct 11, 2017
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While the Chelyabinsk event caught everyone unawares, TC4 is one of thousands of space rocks whose whereabouts are known. Millions are not.
On its 609-day loop around the Sun, TC4 will return to Earth in 2050 and 2079, according to Ruediger Jehn of the European Space Agency’s Near-Earth Object program in the Netherlands.
“We know today that it will also not hit the Earth in the year 2050, but the close fly-by in 2050 might deflect the asteroid such that it could hit the Earth in the year 2079,” he told AFP by email.
With a one-in-750 chance of hitting the planet then, TC4 is listed at number 13 on the “risk list” of objects posing even the remotest impact risk.
‘WE ARE PRACTISING’
“We need to make very precise observations to be able to better predict the return in the year 2050,” Jehn said.
Fly-bys like this one are actually quite common — about three objects similar in size to TC4 graze past at a similar distance every year.
What makes TC4 special is that it has been chosen to test the global asteroid pre-warning system, fed by a network of observatories, universities and labs around the world.
The asteroid’s close approach will allow teams to evaluate how accurate they were in predicting its orbit and size, while using telescopes to learn more about its composition.
“For us this is a test case,” said Jehn’s colleague Detlef Koschny. “We are practising for the real serious case.”
The passing asteroid will provide valuable learning experience for scientists.Source:News Limited
Many scientists believe the Earth will once again be hit by a space rock of the size that wiped out the dinosaurs, though nobody knows when.
And even if they become better at predicting a strike, there is very little to be done about it, for now.
Futuristic projects mooted to deflect or destroy incoming space rocks have come to nought so far, and the only strategy would be to evacuate people in zones at risk.
TC4 will make its closest approach to Earth about 4:40pm Thursday AEST, at a point south of Australia, according to ESA and NASA.
It will not be visible to the naked eye nor with regular binoculars, “but it can be seen in the night of 11-12 October until about 4.00am from European observatories,” Jehn said.
A NEW study suggests that a hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms may be the next step in treating people with depression.
The ingredient in question is called psilocybin, which is a naturally occurring psychedelic and reportedly works by “resetting” the brain.
A team of researchers at Imperial College London conducted a small study of 19 patients who were diagnosed with depression, in which they gave them a single dose of psilocybin and monitored their brain activity before and after.
The treatment produced “rapid and sustained antidepressant effects”, with half of the patients no longer showing signs of depression, along with a change in their brain activity that lasted up to five weeks.
The scans that were performed before the drug was administered and then again a day later revealed two key areas of the brain were impacted.
The amygdala, which is responsible for the response and memory of emotions particularly fear and anxiety, became less active.
And the default mode network, which relates to multiple interconnected regions of the brain, became more stabilised.
After the drug was administered patients reported feeling “rebooted” and showed signed of reduced stress and anxiety. Picture: Peter Dejong/APSource:Supplied
According to Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, the head of psychedelic research at Imperial, the drug seemed to have a “resetting” effect on the brain.
“Patients were very ready to use this analogy. Without any priming they would say, ‘I’ve been reset, reborn, rebooted’, and one patient said his brain had been defragged and cleaned up,” he told BBC News.
“Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary ‘kick start’ they need to break out of their depressive states and these imaging results do tentatively support a ‘reset’ analogy. Similar brain effects to these have been seen with electroconvulsive therapy.”
It is important to note that this study was conducted in a regulated environment by professionals and the research team warns people that self medicating isn’t guaranteed to return the same results.
Dr Carhart-Harris and his team have conducted similar trials before, administering 12 patients with small doses of psilocybin and recording relief from depression symptoms in eight of the original 12 subjects.
This time around they observed more closely the specific effects that the drug has on the brain.
It is acknowledged in the study that the results may be limited by the small number of subjects involved and the lack of a control group, but it is a promising start to finding a new way to help people who suffer from depression.
In order to expand their understanding on the role that this drug plays in relieving symptoms of depression they are set to start a new trial early next year comparing the effectiveness of psilocybin against a popular antidepressant.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Earth just sweated through the third hottest August and summer on record.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday the globe last month averaged 61.5 degrees (16.43 Celsius), which was a degree-and-a-half higher than the 20th century average, but behind 2016 and 2015.
The average temperature for June through August was 61.47 degrees (16.41 Celsius).
So far the year to date has edged out 2015 and is the second hottest January through August, averaging 58.88 degrees (14.88 Celsius), behind 2016.
Records go back to 1880.
NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch says even though records weren’t broken, it’s been warmer than 99 percent of the other months and a sign of long-term climate change.
In this photo released by the University of Hawaii, Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, HI-SEAS Joshua Ehrlich, Mission Specialist of Biology emerges Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, from his habitat, after eight months of living in isolation in a Mars-like habitat in Mauna Loa volcano, Big Island, Hawaii. The six NASA-backed research subjects were studied by researchers to understand better the psychological impacts of a long-term manned mission to space would have on astronauts. NASA hopes to send humans to Mars by the 2030s. (HI-SEAS V crew/University of Hawaii via AP) The Associated Press
By CALEB JONES, Associated Press
HONOLULU (AP) — Six NASA-backed research subjects who have been cooped up in a Mars-like habitat on a remote Hawaii volcano since January emerged from isolation Sunday. They devoured fresh-picked tropical fruits and fluffy egg strata after eating mostly freeze-dried food while in isolation and some vegetables they grew during their mission.
The crew of four men and two women are part of a study designed to better understand the psychological impacts a long-term space mission would have on astronauts.
“It?s really gratifying to know that the knowledge gained here from our mission and the other missions that HI-SEAS has done will contribute to the future exploration of Mars and the future exploration of Space in general,” science officer Samuel Paylor said Sunday.
The data they produced will help NASA select individuals and groups with the right mix of traits to best cope with the stress, isolation and danger of a two-to-three year trip to Mars. The U.S. space agency hopes to send humans to the red planet by the 2030s.
The crew was quarantined for eight months on a vast plain below the summit of the Big Island’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano. After finishing their stint, they feasted on pineapple, mango and papaya.
While isolated, the crew members wore space suits and travelled in teams whenever they left their small dome living structure. They ate mostly freeze-dried or canned food on their simulated voyage to Mars.
During the eight months in isolation, mission biology specialist Joshua Ehrlich grew fresh vegetables.
“Carrots, peppers, pak choy. Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, radishes, tomatoes, potatoes tons of parsley and oregano, I mean it was phenomenal, just that delicious fresh taste from home really was good,” Ehrlich said.
All of their communications with the outside world were subjected to a 20-minute delay — the time it takes for signals to get from Mars to Earth. The crew was tasked with conducting geological surveys, mapping studies and maintaining their self-sufficient habitat as if they were actually living on Mars.
The team’s information technology specialist, Laura Lark, thinks a manned voyage to Mars is a reasonable goal for NASA. The project is the fifth in a series of six NASA-funded studies at the University of Hawaii facility called the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS. NASA has dedicated about $2.5 million for research at the facility.
“There are certainly human factors to be figured out, that’s part of what HI-SEAS is for,” Lark said in a video message recorded within the dome. “But I think that overcoming those challenges is just a matter of effort. We are absolutely capable of it.”
The crew played games designed to measure their compatibility and stress levels and maintained logs about how they were feeling.
To gauge their moods they also wore specially-designed sensors that measured voice levels and proximity to other people in the, 1,200 square-foot (111-square meter) living space.
The devices could sense if people were avoiding one another, or if they were “toe-to-toe” in an argument, said the project’s lead investigator, University of Hawaii professor Kim Binsted.
“We’ve learned, for one thing, that conflict, even in the best of teams, is going to arise,” Binsted said. “So what’s really important is to have a crew that, both as individuals and a group, is really resilient, is able to look at that conflict and come back from it.”
The study also tested ways to help the crew cope with stress. When they became overwhelmed, they could use virtual reality devices to take them away to a tropical beach or other familiar landscapes.
Other Mars simulation projects exist around the world, but Hawaii researchers say one of the chief advantages of their project is the area’s rugged, Mars-like landscape, on a rocky, red plain below the summit of Mauna Loa.
The crew’s vinyl-covered shelter is about the size of a small two-bedroom home, has small sleeping quarters for each member plus a kitchen, laboratory and bathroom. The group shared one shower and has two composting toilets.
Energy from offshore wind in the UK will be cheaper than electricity from new nuclear power for the first time.
The cost of subsidies for new offshore wind farms has halved since the last 2015 auction for clean energy projects
Two firms said they were willing to build offshore wind farms for a guaranteed price of £57.50 per megawatt hour for 2022-23.
This compares with the new Hinkley Point C nuclear plant securing subsidies of £92.50 per megawatt hour.
Nuclear firms said the UK still needed a mix of low-carbon energy, especially for when wind power was not available.
The figures for offshore wind, from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, were revealed as the result of an auction for subsidies, in which the lowest bidder wins.
In the auction in 2015, offshore wind farm projects won subsidies between £114 and £120 per megawatt hour.
Emma Pinchbeck, from the wind energy trade body Renewable UK, told the BBC the latest figures were “truly astonishing”.
“We still think nuclear can be part of the mix – but our industry has shown how to drive costs down, and now they need to do the same.”
Bigger turbines, higher voltage cables and lower cost foundations, as well as growth in the UK supply chain and the downturn in the oil and gas industry have all contributed to falling prices.
The newest 8 megawatt offshore turbines stand almost 200 metres high, taller than London’s Gherkin building. But Ms Pinchbeck said the turbines would double in size in the 2020s.
Nuclear ‘still needed’
However, the nuclear industry said that because wind power is intermittent, nuclear energy would still be needed.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “It doesn’t matter how low the price of offshore wind is. On last year’s figures it only produced electricity for 36% of the time.”
EDF, which is building the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, said the UK still needed a “diverse, well-balanced” mix of low-carbon energy.
“New nuclear remains competitive for consumers who face extra costs in providing back-up power when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine,” the French firm said.
“There are also costs of dealing with excess electricity when there is too much wind or sun.”
EDF added that energy from new nuclear plants would become cheaper as the market matures, as has happened with offshore wind.
Eyes will be raised at this suggestion, as nuclear power has already received subsidies since the 1950s. But storage of surplus energy from offshore wind is still a challenge.
Onshore wind power and solar energy are already both cost-competitive with gas in some places in the UK.
And the price of energy subsidies for offshore wind has now halved in less than three years.
Energy analysts said UK government policy helped to lower the costs by nurturing the fledgling industry, then incentivising it to expand – and then demanding firms should bid in auction for their subsidies.
Minister for Energy and Industry Richard Harrington said: “We’ve placed clean growth at the heart of the Industrial Strategy to unlock opportunities across the country, while cutting carbon emissions.
“The offshore wind sector alone will invest £17.5bn in the UK up to 2021 and thousands of new jobs in British businesses will be created by the projects announced today.”
Michael Grubb, professor of energy policy at University College London, called the cost reduction “a huge step forward in the energy revolution”.
“It shows that Britain’s biggest renewable resource – and least politically problematic – is available at reasonable cost.
“It’ll be like the North Sea oil and gas industry: it started off expensive, then as the industry expanded, costs fell. We can expect offshore wind costs to fall more, too,” he said.
The subsidies, paid from a levy on consumer bills, will run for 15 years – unlike nuclear subsidies for Hinkley C which run for 35 years.
This adds to the cost advantage offshore wind has now established over new nuclear.
Prof Grubb estimated the new offshore wind farms would supply about 2% of UK electricity demand, with a net cost to consumers of under £5 per year.
Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, said: “This massive price drop for offshore wind is a huge boost for the renewables industry and should be the nail in the coffin for new nuclear.
“The government’s undying commitment to new nuclear risks locking us into sky high prices for years to come. Put simply, this news should be the death knell for Hinkley C nuclear station.”
Along with three offshore wind farm projects, biomass and energy from waste plants have secured subsidies for low-carbon energy, with a total of 11 successful schemes in the latest auction.
The £57.50 for new offshore wind power is not a true subsidy. It is a “strike price” – a guaranteed price to the generating firm for power it supplies.
When the wholesale market price for electricity is below that price, payments to the firm are made up with a levy on consumers.
However, when the wholesale price is above the strike price, the generator pays the difference back. It is a way of providing a certain return on investment for large energy projects.
It is impossible to predict what the final additional cost to consumers will be because it depends on market conditions, but it will almost certainly be a fraction of the strike price itself.
Experts warn that in order to meet the UK’s long term climate goals, additional sources of low-carbon energy will still be needed.
When it comes to man’s best friend, science may finally have solved the mystery of their gluttony – some Labradors, it seems, are genetically predisposed to being hungry.
That’s according to scientists who were discussing their ongoing mission to improve our favourite pets’ health at the British Science Association Festival in Brighton.
Several research teams in the UK are on a mission to improve canine health.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge have studied the appetite of Britain’s favourite dog breed, and suggest Labradors are genetically at risk of becoming overweight.
Roughly a quarter of British households own a pet dog, and Labrador retrievers remain our most popular canine companion.
However, this stereotypically “greedy” breed often suffers size-related health problems.
Blame the owners?
“Obesity is a serious issue for our dog population,” says Dr Eleanor Raffan from the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science.
“It has the potential to have a massive impact on pet welfare.”
In research supported by the Dogs Trust, Dr Raffan and her colleagues have analysed DNA from the saliva of Labradors across the UK. They found that particularly greedy individuals possess a gene mutation responsible for increasing their appetite.
“We found around a quarter of pet Labradors have at least one copy of this mutation in the gene,” Dr Raffan explains. Their increased appetite manifests itself as a “food obsession”, familiar to dog-owners as begging or scavenging for food.
In the past, the onus has been on owners to restrict the diet of their pets to prevent excessive weight gain.
But Dr Raffan’s research suggests the propensity for large appetites, and hence potential obesity, is hardwired into some individuals.
“We hope to shift the paradigm away from owner-blaming” says Dr Raffan. “It’s a bit more nuanced than just owners needing to be careful.”
Freedom from hunger
Dr Raffan cautions against any attempt to breed this “greedy mutation” out of Labrador lines. While it might predispose the dogs to obesity, a strong focus on food may also explain why Labradors are so easy to train and are such loyal human companions.
“If we try to get rid of the mutation, we might find we change the personality of the breed, and that would be a real shame,” she explains.
Yet their results raise an ethical conundrum. Owners and veterinary surgeons are responsible for providing five core so-called freedoms to animals in their care, including freedom from pain and disease, and freedom from hunger.
Obesity is a disease, and negatively impacts upon canine quality of life. “But equally, being hungry is a welfare issue,” says Dr Raffan. “And these dogs are genetically hungry.”
Dr Raffan hopes future research will improve the satiety of their diets, allowing a feeling of “fullness” without the potential for excessive weight gain.
Bearing the weight
Being overweight undoubtedly reduces a dog’s quality of life, and can also affect their ability to cope with arthritis and other underlying joint disorders.
At the University of Liverpool, scientists are using state-of-the-art imaging technology to study diseases affecting the knee joints of Labradors.
Damage to the canine cruciate ligament, similar to the injuries commonly suffered by professional human athletes, is the most common orthopaedic problem seen in veterinary practices. Injury to the knee ligaments is also more common in heavier dog breeds
“We’re trying to understand how the shape of the Labrador body and the way they walk might contribute to knee problems,” says Prof Eithne Comerford, a specialist in musculoskeletal biology.
Using high-speed x-ray cameras, the researchers film their canine patients walking through the lab, and watch their knee bones slide and twist in real-time.
The team hopes to understand how walking contributes to the risk of ligament injury and rupture in Labradors, with the ultimate goal of reducing lameness and suffering within the breed.
“This data will also help veterinary surgeons and engineers design better treatments for ligament damage in Labradors, like customised knee implants,” explains biomechanist Dr Karl Bates from the University of Liverpool.
Both research groups rely heavily on the good will of Labrador owners, both for collecting samples and entering their pets into experimental trials.
In addition to tackling diagnosed health issues, researchers hope to change the public’s perception of what “desirable” traits should characterise our favourite breeds.
“There is a real danger when we breed dogs to be cuddlier and cuter,” warns Dr Raffan. “I think people have seen so many overweight Labradors, they start to assume it’s normal”.
Criminal networks smuggling rhino horn out of Africa are turning it into jewellery to evade its detection in airports, an investigation has found.
Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic revealed an “emerging trend” of making and smuggling beads, bracelets and bangles and rhino horn powder.
The lead investigator told BBC News the trade in rhino horn was now “morphing” into a market for luxury items.
At least 7,100 rhinos are estimated to have been killed in Africa since 2007.
Today, about 25,000 of the animals remain.
Julian Rademeyer from Traffic explained that the production of rhino horn “trinkets” mirrored some of the patterns seen in the trade in ivory.
“It’s very worrying,” he told BBC News. “Because if someone’s walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them?
“Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns.”
The primary destinations for smuggled rhino horn remain the same; the largest markets are in China and Vietnam. But this investigation also found that smuggling routes constantly changed and adapted, becoming more complex in order to avoid countries and airports where law enforcement resources were being focused.
This shift in how horn is processed before it is moved could make it more difficult to detect.
“This is quite a preliminary assessment,” explained Mr Rademeyer, “but it’s vital that there’s information sharing about these new trends – particularly with law enforcement.”
He added that the market for medicinal rhino horn – believed by many to be a cure for a range of illnesses, from rheumatism to cancer – seemed to have “reduced somewhat”.
But owning rhino horn – particularly for wealthy men in Vietnam – is also seen as a status symbol.
“It’s about power – about showing off your wealth,” said Mr Rademeyer. “It’s been called the Ferrari factor – having something says you are wealthy and that you’re untouchable [by the law].”
Susie Offord-Woolley, managing director of the charity Save the Rhino International, said this kind of information was “essential” in order that law enforcement officers could be trained to identify rhino horn jewellery.
“The fact they’re carving [the horn] up now means these gangs are getting more concerned about security, and that’s a good sign,” she added.
At the current rate of poaching, Save the Rhino says that rhinos could be extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.
“That’s what we’re all trying to avoid,” said Ms Offord-Woolley.
And while this is a fight to save a species, she added, “this also affects so many people”.
She added: “In last 10 years, 1,000 rangers have been killed in Africa while on patrol protecting rhinos.