Shelby S. Putt has a theory "Human-Like Thinking"
evolved much earlier that perviously thought.(Photo
credit - University of Iowa)
Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Thinking" Evolved Earlier than Thought - By using highly
advanced brain imaging technology to observe modern humans
crafting ancient tools, an Indiana University neuroarchaeologist
has found evidence that human-like ways of thinking may
have emerged as early as 1.8 million years ago, which predates
Neanderthals by nearly 600,000 years. "This is a significant
result because it's commonly thought our most modern forms
of cognition only appeared very recently in terms of human
evolutionary history," said Shelby S. Putt, a postdoctoral
researcher with The Stone Age Institute at Indiana University,
who is first author on the study. "But these results suggest
the transition from apelike to humanlike ways of thinking
and behaving arose surprisingly early." The authors of the
study measured the brain activity using a near-infrared
spectroscopy -- a device that resembles a lightweight cap
with numerous wires used to shine highly sensitive lasers
onto the scalp -- to observe brain activity of volunteers
as they were taught to create different types of primitive
tools. By identifying the amount and type of brain activity
required to produce a certain tool the researchers can gauge
how advanced in its thinking the hominoid that made them
may have been.
Earth had "Silicate Rain" - How did we get the crust
of the Earth? Conventional theory holds that all of the
early Earth's crustal ingredients were formed by volcanic
activity. Now, however, McGill University earth scientists
Don Baker and Kassandra Sofonio have published a theory
with a novel twist: that a Mars-sized planetoid plowed into
the proto-Earth around 4.5 billion years ago, melting the
Earth and turning it into an ocean of magma. The atmosphere
following that collision, however, consisted of high-temperature
steam that dissolved rocks on the Earth's immediate surface
-- "much like how sugar is dissolved in coffee," Baker explains.
This is where the new wrinkle comes in. "These dissolved
minerals rose to the upper atmosphere and cooled off, and
then these silicate materials that were dissolved at the
surface would start to separate out and fall back to Earth
in what we call a silicate rain." To test this theory, Baker
and co-author Kassandra Sofonio, a McGill undergraduate
research assistant, spent months developing a series of
laboratory experiments designed to mimic the steamy conditions
on early Earth. Their resulting paper, published in the
journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, posits
a new theory of "aerial metasomatism" -- a term coined by
Sofonio to describe the process by which silica minerals
condensed and fell back to earth over about a million years,
producing some of the earliest rock specimens known today.
Not Decedents of Contemporary Hominids - A study on
the bones of Homo floresiensis, (sometimes referred
to as "the hobbits" due to their small stature) discovered
on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, has found that
they most likely evolved from an ancestor in Africa and
not from Homo erectus, which lived at the same time. "The
analyses show that on the family tree, Homo floresiensis
was likely a sister species of Homo habilis. It means these
two shared a common ancestor," Dr Argue said. "It's possible
that Homo floresiensis evolved in Africa and migrated, or
the common ancestor moved from Africa then evolved into
Homo floresiensis somewhere." Homo floresiensis is known
to have lived on Flores until as recently as 54,000 years
ago. The study was the result of an Australian Research
Council grant in 2010 that enabled the researchers to explore
where the newly-found species fits in the human evolutionary
Diabetes Cure - A potential cure for Type 1 diabetes
looms on the horizon and the l approach would also allow
Type 2 diabetics to stop insulin shots. The discovery, made
at The University of Texas Health Science Center, increases
the types of pancreatic cells that secrete insulin. Researchers
have a goal to reach human clinical trials in three years,
but to do so they must first test the strategy in large-animal
studies, which will cost an estimated $5 million. The strategy
has cured diabetes in mice. "It worked perfectly," Dr. Doiron,
assistant professor of medicine at UT Health, said. "We
cured mice for one year without any side effects. That's
never been seen. But it's a mouse model, so caution is needed.
We want to bring this to large animals that are closer to
humans in physiology of the endocrine system." Diabetes
occurs when Beta cell in the pancreas stop making insulin.
This approach works by using a "gene transfer" where a virus
as used as a vector, or carrier, to introduce selected genes
into the pancreas converting non-Beta cells to Beta cells.
Zone" for Supernova Near Earth Revised - Researchers
looking at a nearby supernova that occurred 150 million
years ago have revised the estimate of how close an exploding
star would need to be to Earth to cause a mass extinction.
"People estimated the 'kill zone' for a supernova in a paper
in 2003, and they came up with about 25 light years from
Earth," said University of Kansas researcher Adrian Melott,
professor of physics and astronomy. "Now we think maybe
it's a bit greater than that. They left some effects out
or didn't have good numbers, so now we think it may be a
bit larger distance. We don't know precisely, and of course
it wouldn't be a hard-cutoff distance. It would be a gradual
change. But we think something more like 40 or 50 light
years. So, an event at 150 light years should have some
effects here but not set off a mass extinction." The distance
of 40 or 50 light years is still reassuring as the only
known candidate for a supernova near us is the star Betelgeuse,
about 600 light years away.
Kettle Mystery Solved? - A scientist from the Minnesota
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) thinks he's solved
the mystery of the famous Devil's Kettle Falls. The Brule
River splits into two and one half flows continues down
to Lake Superior while the other seemly disappears forever
down a hole in the ground. For years, researchers have tried
to figure out where it goes, but hydrologist Jeff Green
thinks he has evidence that the water almost immediately
re-enters the river. He and colleagues set up water flow
gauging equipment just above and below the falls and found
the amount of water going by to be almost identical: 123
cubic feet per second above and several hundred feet below
it was almost the same at 121 feet per second. Their conclusion
is that the water must re-enter the stream within that distance.
This fall the DNR team will try to confirm this by putting
dye in the water. One concern, with this technique, however,
is that it's been tried before without success.
Quote of the Month - "The
art and science of asking questions is the source of all
knowledge.." - Thomas Berger
New at the Museum:
V-3: Hitler's Super Cannon -
The Third Reich produced a number of "Vengeance" weapons
during WW II. Most people are familiar with the V-1: the
first ever cruise missile and the V-2: the first ever ballistic
missile used in war. There was a lesser known third Vengeance
weapon the German's deployed, however. It wasn't a missile,
however, but a gun. A really big gun. So large some people
call it a "Super Cannon."
Picture of the Month - What
is this this?
WOW in SETI - What do you know about the WOW signal,
and have scientists found any possible source (other than
aliens)? Could it have even been faked? Or is it more likely
to be a genuine signal from aliens? If that's the case,
why haven't we heard any more? - Jonathan .
This signal (called the "WOW" signal because that's what
the scientist who first saw the data wrote on the printout)
was observed by the "Big Ear" radio telescope at Ohio State
University on August 15, 1977. The Big Ear was part of a
SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project
run by the college for almost 30 years. The signal was the
closest thing to an alien contact that the project - or
anybody else involved in SETI - has ever found.
are several things that make the signal so interesting.
The first is the strength. It is extremely high: The most
powerful signal ever received from space from an unknown
source. Second is its duration. Almost exactly 72 seconds.
This is significant because the Big Ear was a fixed radio
antenna which swept the sky as the earth turned and 72 seconds
was exactly the length of time it would take for the antenna
to sweep by a pinpoint source in space. Also the growth
and decay pattern of the signal is exactly what one would
expect for a fixed celestial source, making it unlikely
it was an earthbound transmitter. Third is its frequency:
It is very near the frequency of hydrogen and very concentrated.
"line" is considered to be by most scientists the logical
frequency to choose if you where trying to broadcast to
another civilization. The fact that that signal did not
extend much above or below that frequency is a strong indication
that the broadcast was artificial, as natural sources a
rarely so concentrated.
intriguing aspect of this signal is that is that it was
only observed from one of the Big Ear's two "horns" but
not the other. They scanned the same section of sky about
two minutes apart, so in that short period something, or
somebody, stopped the transmission.
fascinating as the signal was, it has never been found again
despite many researchers revisiting that location in the
sky using, in many cases, much more sensitive equipment.
This both deepens the mystery and makes it almost impossible
to hope for a solution. The follow up surveys have almost
eliminated the possibly of some weird natural source. However,
the lack of any additional signals also makes it seem very
unlikely that aliens are trying to contact us. Most scientists
believe that they definitely would try more than once (although
we ourselves have only sent a sent an outbound signal once).
The only way we may have missed their additional signals,
if they exist, is if they are being repeated at very long
intervals (at least 14 hours apart).
science, unless something is repeatable, it doesn't count
for much. Some have suggested that the signal may have been
a man-made space probe that the SETI team wasn't aware of,
but there is no way of proving that one way or another.
So, the mystery continues. We can only hope that if E.T.
was trying to contact us, he tries to phone again, soon.
a question? Click here to
send it to us.
Telescope Dedicated - On June 3rd, 1948, the famous
(5.08 m) Hale telescope at the Palomar Mountain Observatory
in California was dedicated. With a mirror of 200 inches
(5.08m) it was the largest in the world at the time. So
large, in fact, after casting it took 11 months to cool.
The 20-ton glass disk then took years of grinding and polishing.
The telescope was named after Dr. George Ellery Hale who
conceived, designed and the device. Unfortunately, he didn't
live to see it completed.
Check Out Saturn - On June 3, Saturn will be at opposition
to the sun (which means it will be exactly opposite the
sun in Earth's sky) Expect it to rise in the east-southeast
near sunset, reaching its highest position in the southern
sky in the middle of the night, and setting in the west-southwest
around sunrise. If you have a small telescope you may even
be able to see the famous rings. They are highly visible
at this point as the planet is tipped toward Earth.
Ghostbuster Film Inspires Dino Name - Scientists have
unveiled a new species of dinosaur the looks a lot like
the monster from the original 1984 hit film "Ghostbusters"
and have named it Zuul crurivastator after then film's evil
supernatural villain, Zuul. The dinosaur was unearthed from
the Judith River Formation in Montana and now at the Royal
Ontario Museum in Canada. Ghostbusters star Dan Aykroyd
stopped by to meet the new fossil and take some publicity
shots for the museum. The animal is a ankylosaur, a heavily
armored dinosaur with a club like tail that was used for
defense. In fact, the second portion of the name, crurivastator,
literally translates to "Destroyer of Shins."
and Meep are on a well deserved vacation. In their place
we feature highlights from their past adventures.
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