Rare Skulls Sparks Controversy Over Human Evolutionary Lineage. From CNN International: In the eastern European nation of Georgia, a group of researchers has excavated a 1.8 million-year-old skull of an ancient human relative, whose only name right now is Skull 5. They report their findings in the journal Science, and say it belongs to our genus, called Homo. The variation in physical features among the Dmanisi hominid specimens is comparable to the degree of diversity found in humans today, suggesting that they all belong to one species, Lordkipanidze said. But “if you will put separately all these five skulls and five jaws in different places, maybe people will call it as a different species,” he said. Now it gets more controversial: Lordkipanidze and colleagues also propose that these individuals are members of a single evolving Homo erectus species, examples of which have been found in Africa and Asia. The similarities between the new skull from Georgia and Homo erectus remains from Java, Indonesia, for example, may mean there was genetic “continuity across large geographic distances,” the study said. [Editor’s Note: This find highlights the challenges of trying to put together the human evolutionary tree with any degree of precision. We just do not currently have sufficient data to draw definitive conclusions and we likely never will. That does not make this science any less interesting. I am taking a Coursera class next year on “Human Evolution: Past and Future“.] which leads to:
No Known Hominin is Common Ancestor of Neanderthals and Modern Humans? From Science Daily: The search for a common ancestor linking modern humans with the Neanderthals who lived in Europe thousands of years ago has been a compelling subject for research. But a new study suggests the quest isn’t nearly complete. The researchers, using quantitative methods focused on the shape of dental fossils, find that none of the usual suspects fits the expected profile of an ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans. They also present evidence that the lines that led to Neanderthals and modern humans diverged nearly 1 million years ago, much earlier than studies based on molecular evidence have suggested.
Europa Contains Compounds That Led to Complex Life on Earth. From Daily Galaxy: Most scientists believe that the liquid seas are locked under tens of kilometers of ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa. Europa might not only sustain, but foster life, according to the research of University of Arizona’s Richard Greenberg, a professor of planetary sciences and member of the Imaging Team for NASA’s Galileo Jupiter-orbiter spacecraft. A recent study this past June led by NASA researchers shows that hydrogen peroxide is abundant across much of the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. The study concludes that if the peroxide present on the surface of Europa mixes into the ocean below, it could be an important energy supply for simple forms of life, if life were to exist there, in the same way that life exists in extreme habitats on Earth.
Astronomers Discover the Most Distant Known Galaxy. From Science Daily: University of California, Riverside astronomers Bahram Mobasher and Naveen Reddy are members of a team that has discovered the most distant galaxy ever found. The galaxy is seen as it was just 700 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was only about 5 percent of its current age of 13.8 billion years.
Ghostly Shape of Coldest Place in the Universe Revealed. From Science Daily: At a cosmologically crisp one degree Kelvin (minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit), the Boomerang Nebula is the coldest known object in the Universe — colder, in fact, than the faint afterglow of the Big Bang, which is the natural background temperature of space. Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope have taken a new look at this intriguing object to learn more about its frigid properties and determine its true shape, which has an eerily ghost-like appearance.
Discovery of Higgs Boson Results on Nobel Prize. From Reuters: Britain’s Peter Higgs and Francois Englert of Belgium won the Nobel Prize for physics on Tuesday for predicting the existence of the Higgs boson particle that explains how elementary matter attained the mass to form stars and planets. The insight has been hailed as one of the most important in the understanding of the cosmos. Without the Higgs mechanism all particles would travel at the speed of light and atoms would not exist. [Editors Note: I previously wrote about the comparisons between the Higgs Boson and the theology of Teilhard de Chardin, specifically The Divine Milieu.]
Focusing on Your Spouse Makes for Better Sex. From the Wall Street Journal (subscription required to view article): In 2007 a study from the University of Texas identified 237 expressed motives for sex. The reasons ranged from the mundane (stress reduction) to the spiritual (to get closer to God) and from the altruistic (to make the other person feel good) to the spiteful (to retaliate against a partner who cheated by cheating). Now, two studies by University of Toronto researchers published this month in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, have divided the most common reasons why people have sex—and the ones most relevant to long-term relationships—into two broad categories of motivation: approach and avoidance. Approach motives pursue a positive outcome. (“I want to increase intimacy with my spouse” or “I want to feel closer to my partner.”) Avoidance motives aim to evade a negative outcome. (“I want to avoid conflict” or “I don’t want to feel guilty.”) Each category is also divided into subcategories: self-focused or partner-focused. The researchers paid particular attention to partner-focused goals. “They have the greatest impact on the outcomes of a relationship,” says Amy Muise, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto and lead researcher on the study. On days when a person’s motivation to have sex is more positively oriented, he or she felt more satisfied—both in the relationship and sexually—and had a higher level of desire. Conversely, on days when someone was motivated to have sex by more negative goals, he or she felt less satisfied and less desire. Even more interesting, the researchers say: A person’s sexual motivation affected his or her partner’s gratification. When someone had sex for positive reasons, the partner felt more desire and relationship satisfaction. When someone had sex for negative reasons, the partner felt less satisfied in the relationship and less sexually satisfied.