TIME Archaeology

Human Ancestor ‘Little Foot’ Lived 3.7 Million Years Ago

Undated handout photo shows the Little Foot skull
Reuters The Little Foot skull is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters April 1, 2015.

The findings shed light on the connections between early human ancestors

New research indicates that a mysterious skeleton dubbed “Little Foot” lived around the same time as human ancestor Lucy’s species, suggesting a diverse landscape of pre-humans in Africa during the same period.

Scientists initially believed that Little Foot was far older than Lucy’s species, but according to research published in the journal Nature this week the skeleton is roughly 3.7 million years old.

Lucy, who lived about 3.2 million years ago, was an Australopithecus afarensis, a species of early upright walkers in east Africa that lived between 2.9 and 4.1 million years ago and is believed to be a direct human ancestor, predating the Homo lineage by more than a million years.

Scientists aren’t clear how to categorize Little Foot, who was found in a cave in South Africa in the 1990s. But the age of the skeleton helps shed light on the diversity of the Australopithecus human ancestors.

“The most important implication from dating Little Foot is that we now know that australopithecines were in South Africa early in their evolution,” lead author Darryl Granger, a geochronologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, told Live Science. “This implies an evolutionary connection between South Africa and East Africa prior to the age of Little Foot, and with enough time for the australopithecine species to diverge.”

TIME space

See Photos of the Shortest Lunar Eclipse of the Century

The full "blood moon" lunar eclipse lasted just five minutes

TIME space

Watch the ‘Blood Moon’ Total Lunar Eclipse

The moon will was totally eclipsed for about five minutes

The shortest “blood moon” total lunar eclipse this century was observed by early-bird stargazers on Saturday morning.

At 6:16 a.m. EDT, the moon first entered the Earth’s shadow and was totally eclipsed for about five minutes beginning at 7:58 a.m., according to NASA. While the entire United States was able to see at least a partial eclipse, those west of the Mississippi River had the best views, uninterrupted by the sunrise.

This was the third lunar eclipse in a series of four known as a “tetrad,” following those in April and September last year. The final one of the series will occur on Sept. 28, 2015.

Want a primer on the “blood moon”? Read TIME Science Editor Jeffrey Kluger’s explanation of the phenomenon here.


How to Watch the Shortest Lunar Eclipse of the Century on Saturday

APTOPIX Lunar Eclipse
Wilfredo Lee—AP The Earth's shadow begins to fall on the moon during a total lunar eclipse, as seen above Miami, Oct. 8, 2014.

The West Coast, India and parts of China and Russia will have the best view

The moon will line up directly inside Earth’s shadow Saturday morning, creating a nearly 5-minute lunar eclipse—the shortest of the century.

At 6:16 a.m. EDT, the moon will first enter the Earth’s shadow and will be totally eclipsed at 7:58 a.m., according to NASA.

Those on the West Coast of the United States will have a better chance of seeing the eclipse than those east of the Mississippi River, who will only be able to see a partial eclipse because of the sunrise. India, western China and parts of Russia will be able to see portions of the eclipse after sunset, while Greenland, Iceland, Europe, Africa and the Middle East won’t be able to see it at all.

Those that can’t walk outside to see the Blood Moon can check it out online at the Los Angeles-based Griffith Observatory’s website, the skywatching service Slooh, or here at TIME. You can also tweet to NASA astronomer Mitzi Adams (@NASA_Marshall), who will be taking questions using the hashtag #eclipse2015 from about 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. EDT.

It will be the third lunar eclipse in a series of four known as a “tetrad,” following those in April and September last year. The final one of the series will occur on September 28, 2015.

Want a primer on the Blood Moon before taking a look? Read TIME Science Editor Jeffrey Kluger’s explanation of the phenomenon here.

TIME animals

Animals May Be Able to Predict Earthquakes 3 Weeks in Advance

Getty Images

New study shows dramatic changes in animal behavior before an earthquake

Animals may be able to sense an earthquake coming as long as three weeks before it happens, well before humans can, a new international study found.

By examining footage from motion-sensor cameras in Peru’s Yanachaga National Park, scientists found that animal activity declined significantly in the month before a major 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck, according to a study published in Physics and Chemistry of the Earth. During the three weeks before the earthquake, the cameras recorded about a third as many animal sightings as usual, and in the five to seven days before the quake, the cameras recorded no animals at all. The researchers think that animals may be more sensitive to positive ions in the air that build up when rocks in the earth’s surface are stressed leading up to an earthquake, which may cause them to flee.

This is not the first time researchers have noted this phenomenon—scientists in China and Japan have been studying it for a while, noting that lab rats have a harder time sleeping ahead of an earthquake.

(h/t CNN)

TIME Archaeology

‘Romeo and Juliet’ Dinosaurs Found Buried Together

Getty Images A pair of omnivorous Caudipteryx, a member of the oviraptorosaur family, feathered dinosaurs from the Early Cretaceous period.

The couple was unearthed after 75 million years

Researchers uncovered a dinosaur couple that had been buried together for more than 75 million years and gave them the nicknames “Romeo and Juliet.”

The dinosaurs, a pair of oviraptors, were found to have physical differences suggesting they were male and female, similar to the gender differences seen in modern birds, the researchers wrote in the journal Scientific Reports. They were discovered within about 20 centimeters of each other in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia.

It’s likely that the love birds were killed in a sand dune collapse brought on by heavy rains, and therefore buried alive—suggesting a more apt pair of nicknames might be Aida and Radamès.

[Scientific Reports]

TIME climate change

Quarter of Global Forest Losses Caused by Fires in Russia, Canada, Study Shows

Blazes also contributed greatly to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change

Forest fires in large parts of Canada and Russia resulted in almost a quarter of global forest losses between 2011 and 2013, a new study revealed.

The study was conducted by researchers from Global Forest Watch, who analyzed the loss of forests by combining over 400,000 pictures of the earth’s surface. They found that a total of 18 million hectares were lost in 2013, with Canada and Russia being the most significant contributors to forest cover losses in the preceding two years.

A more worrying implication from the fires in the two countries is their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change.

“If global warming is leading to more fires in boreal forests, which in turn leads to more emissions from those forests, which in turn leads to more climate change,” study co-author Nigel Sizer told the Guardian. “This is one of those positive feedback loops that should be of great concern to policy makers.”

The other three main contributors to global deforestation between 2011 and 2013 were Brazil, the U.S. and Indonesia, although the latter’s losses fell to their lowest level in over a decade in 2013 in what is seen as an encouraging sign.

TIME weather

This Amazing NASA Video Shows Every Rainstorm on Earth for 10 Days

Take a worldwide tour of global precipitation

NASA has released a stunning visualization of every rainstorm, snow storm, hurricane and everything else that occurred on Earth from August 4 – 14, 2014. The time lapse video was made possible by data from NASA’s one-year-old Global Precipitation Measurement satellite mission, which scientists are using to understand the Earth’s freshwater resources and natural disasters.

TIME spiders

Spiders Run Faster in Warm Weather, Study Shows

Yuri Cortez—AFP/Getty Images A worker of the Chapultepec Zoo shows a pink tarantula (Grammostola Rosea) on March 19, 2015 in Mexico City.

Looking forward to spring?

And now for the most terrifying science news of the day: a new study shows that tarantulas move faster in warmer weather.

A study published in The Journal of Experimental Biology tested Texas brown tarantulas’ speeds in a variety of temperatures, Science Magazine from AAAS reports. The hotter the temperature, the faster the spiders scuttled.

Speeds at the warmest temperature tested—40°C (104°F)—were 2.5 times faster than speeds at the coldest—15°C (59°F).

The reason for the spiders’ temperature sensitivity has to do with the fact that their eight legs are not controlled by muscles. Instead, a hydraulic fluid called hemolymph courses through the appendages to make them flex and extend, and the flow of the fluid is sensitive to temperature.

So arachnophobes, beware of the desert.

TIME Environment

How Costa Rica Went 75 Days Using Only Clean Electricity

Costa Rica Hydropower
Getty Images A man overlooks a hydropower facility in Costa Rica.

While governments from countries around the world this week have outlined how they plan to curb their carbon emissions, Costa Rica may seem like it’s showing off. The Central American country’s state utility company announced last week that it went the first 75 days of 2015 without using fossil fuels like coal or oil for electricity. The country expects to rely on renewable energy for more than 95% of the total electricity consumed this year.

It’s good news, but as is often the case with climate policy, the devil is in the details. A number of factors make the accomplishment less significant than it appears at first glance. Fossil fuels have been used to produce only a tiny fraction of Costa Rican electricity for decades—today, renewable energy accounts more than 85% of the total electricity produced—and popular support for climate change measures is strong. More importantly, trumpeting the elimination of fossil fuels for electricity elides the tougher reality that Costa Rica—like nearly every other country in the world—relies heavily on the use of fossil fuels for transportation.

“We don’t want this be a 75-day story, we want this to be a 365-day story,” said Monica Araya, executive director of Nivela, a Costa Rica-based climate change think tank. “We need to have a conversation about how to go beyond hydro, and not just about clean electricity, but clean energy.”

Read More: White House Outlines Plans to Cut Carbon Emissions by up to 28%

F0r Costa Rica, the road to eliminating fossil fuels in electricity has been decades long. Even before climate change became a global concern, Costa Rica has long been able to rely on clean energy sources for nearly all of its electricity, thanks to a tropical location well suited for carbon-free hydropower. In fact, the majority of Costa Rica’s electricity has been generated by hydropower in every year since 1989, according to data provided by Nivela.

Energy experts praised the use of renewable resources, but they also warned that hydropower may not be reliable in the future as climate patterns change. Today, other renewable energy sources in Costa Rica—particularly, geothermal and wind power—provide a significant proportion of energy, but hydropower still reigns supreme. Costa Rica needs to prepare for a climate that may not receive as much rain—which would dilute hydropower—by adding solar and wind power capacity.

Much more needs to be done, even beyond the utility sector. “It’s important to be precise—you’re only talking about electricity,” said Carolina Herrera Jáuregui, Latin America Advocate at the National Resources Defense Council. “The majority of the energy of used is through the transportation sector.”

Unlike many of its regional counterparts, nearly 75% of the Costa Rican economy is based on service businesses that rely much more on energy for transportation than for electricity. And transporting people and goods around Costa Rica—especially for the booming tourism industry—generally means traveling in a car or another personal vehicle, which emits more carbon than other means like trains, which are largely absent in the country.

Still, Costa Ricans show widespread support for efforts to curb climate change. Around 80% of the population has heard about climate change and essentially all of those who have heard of climate change believe in it, according to a United Nations report. A wide majority also supports new renewable energy projects, including 87% who support wind power plants and 77% who support geothermal plants. Less than a quarter support the further use of oil.

Popular understanding of climate change may not be surprising in a country known for designating more than a quarter of its area as national park land and for eliminating its army and subsequently investing heavily in education. “These things put us on a pathway that was friendlier to people and eventually friendlier to our natural capital,” said Araya.

In the decades-long battle against climate change, the significance of Costa Rica’s achievement will likely rest in the example they set for other countries as this December’s climate change conference in Paris approaches rapidly. “The movement that you see in Latin America is a very positive thing,” said Araya. “It’s easier in the U.S. and elsewhere to move if you see others moving.”

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