Archivo: Science

It’s not just dads with beer bellies: Many objects in our solar system sport a bulge around their midsections, caused by fast rotations that tend to fling material outward at equatorial latitudes.

In the spring of 2012, while digging a hole for a thermal pool, construction workers in Grosseto, Italy, hit scientific pay dirt: layers of stratified soil and rock filled with prehistoric bones and artifacts close to 171,000 years old. Excavating the pool would have to wait. With further digging, the researchers found tantalizing evidence of early fire use—nearly 60 partially burned digging sticks made mostly of boxwood. The most likely creators of the sticks were Neandertals, who are known to have lived in Europe at that time. If our extinct cousins did indeed craft the sticks, they represent the earliest use of fire for toolmaking among Neandertals.

Sometime this summer, a spacecraft orbiting over the moon’s far side, out of contact with controllers on Earth, will release a lander. The craft will ease to a soft landing just after lunar sunrise on an ancient, table-flat plain about 600 kilometers from the south pole. There, it will unleash a rover into territory never before explored at the surface; all previous lunar craft have set down near the equator.

If you’re afraid of giant insects, climate change has a silver lining for you. A new study shows that as temperatures have increased over the past century, the world’s biggest beetles may have been shrinking, some downsizing by as much as 20% in 45 years.

The modern world would barely be recognizable to the mammoth and bison herds of ages past. Roads subdivide large stretches of land, and clusters of buildings and people have sprung up nearly everywhere. Indeed, humans have modified the environment so much, they may have cut the distance by which mammals—large and small—roam by some two-thirds, according to a novel analysis published today. That lack of movement could upend ecosystems and increase the number of human-animal conflicts, researchers say.

ENIGMA, the world’s largest brain mapping project, was “born out of frustration.”

After years of studying maps, Mormon scripture, and Spanish chronicles, Ferguson had concluded that the Book of Mormon took place around the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrowest part of Mexico. He had come to the jungles of Campeche, northeast of the isthmus, to find proof.

The most famous prize in mathematics, the Fields Medal, is often described as the Nobel Prize for math. Now, confidential correspondence from the 1950s provides a first window into the deliberations of early Fields Medal committees. The letters suggest the award was never intended to honor the most important discoveries in the field, but was meant to recognize promising up-and-coming talents.

For more than a decade, Colin Dundas, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona, has had a daily routine: inspecting a dozen or so high-resolution images beamed back every day from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). A few years ago, something surprising popped out from the planet’s sea of rust: a pale sliver of blue.

For the first time, scientists have produced evidence in living humans that the protein tau, which mars the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, spreads from neuron to neuron. Although such movement wasn’t directly observed, the finding may illuminate how neurodegeneration occurs in the devastating illness, and it could provide new ideas for stemming the brain damage that robs so many of memory and cognition.